Chapter 23

Disclaimer: I don't own DGM
_

The Millennium Earl was humming. The final performance of his new Level 5s was sadly not quite as good as he had hoped. It was the same problem he had already noticed before, the regression of abilities.

Level 1s were all the same, basically little more than cocoons, uniform and without anything that made them special. Once they had reached a certain point, the cocoon would burst and reveal a Level 2, secretly his favorite type of Akuma.

Those had semi-free will, they were individual and what made them his favorite, they had an ability that was not only unique to themselves, but completely unpredictable. There was no common element that tied the abilities together, and they were as diverse as one could imagine, going from guided missiles and sonic shrieks over freezing flames to the ability to mirror all kinds of things or turn humans into puppets by staring at them for five seconds. To the Earl it always felt like opening a present, you never knew what was inside before it was revealed.

The Level 3s were still great, much stronger and resilient, but not only did they lose their Level 2 ability, their new one always revolved around Dark Matter. They were still destructive, and he enjoyed the carnage they caused greatly, but there was just something missing, the diversity of the Level 2 was lost. He still enjoyed watching what they could do with Dark Matter, but he always knew it was Dark Matter, not like the Level 2 with their unexplainable abilities. In the end, it was like watching a magic-show where you knew how all the tricks worked. It could still be fun, but the real thrill just isn't there.

With Level 4s, it got really bad. Their abilities degenerated to the point nonexistence. They were faster, stronger, could after a bit of alteration turn their arms into machine-guns and had a scream that disrupted the connection with Innocence, but that was it! They were mass-production, dime a dozen. They could be tuned, like the one who had bullets that deepened all wounds if they were attempted to be healed by Innocence, but that was just the problem. The only way they had any special abilities if he gave them some, what fun was that? There were no surprises, nothing that goes against your expectations, how utterly boring.

For Level 5s he had tried a different route, after Allen Walker of all people succeeded where he had failed. So the Earl had merged multiple Level 4s together to create Level 5s. His first two experiments, for which he had used four Level 4s to create one Level 5 each, had been failures. Oh, they were alive, and ridiculously powerful, but they had the intelligence of beasts, and what was worse, they were uncontrollable, not even accepting him as their master. He had locked those away where they'd never be found and couldn't escape from, and decided to try the merge with less. First with three, but those were unstable and exploded, then with two, and there was his success. They were strong, they were fast, they were smart and most importantly, they were loyal.

There was only one flaw. Their abilities. While the Earl was happy that they developed them on their own and that there was again no way to predict what they were, it was even more limited than the Level 3s. They were either something mental, which he had so far only seen on one of them, or it was the ability to alter their bodies some way. It seemed that the power of Allen's Level 5s was beyond them, something that had been proven the moment those got serious. While his were a bit faster and stronger, their abilities were no match for Allen's creations. It was a shame, but for now, there was no way to change that. At least he had managed to add a immunity to internal interference into them, mainly so that if Cross decided to teach the Order how to control Akuma, they wouldn't be able to use them against him. The side-effect of making them immune against Influence-types was not too bad, just in case one decided to pull a musician.

However, it seemed that the Noah were less overjoyed at his success. Maybe he should have given some heads-up? Nah, if he did that, there'd have been no chance of testing the Akuma in a natural, read unprepared, setting. And here they came.

-0-

As coincident would have it, all Noah, Tyki carrying the still unconscious Allen, met in front of the dining room, the room the Earl usually was around this time. Cyril looked at Allen. "What happened to him?"

Tyki shrugged with his free shoulder. "Me, Allen and Road, who was still out cold, were attacked by one of the Earl's new toys. Allen told me to get Road away while he held the thing off. Course, back then we had no idea there were more than one. When we got to him, the first one was nowhere to be seen and Allen was holding the head of a second one, then he collapsed."

Cyril nodded. While he still didn't like Allen, he could respect him for taking on what apparently turned out to be two of those monsters by himself to buy Road time, when they had needed four men, well two men and two women, to deal with just one. Also, right now he had someone else he wanted to yell at, someone who would be behind that door if he knew what was good for him, because having to look for him would not raise anyone's mood.

To the Earl's luck and misfortune, he was indeed in the dining room. "Ah, you're just in time for the meal." He proclaimed happily, ignoring the glares he was getting. It turned out to be the wrong opening.

Alice lost her temper first. "Meal? After what you just did to us, you have the nerve to wave it off with FUCKING FOOD?"

The Earl smiled. "Now now, lets not blow things out of..." A number of spikes shot out of the table, missing him by inches.

Alice snarled. "Don't you dare finish that sentence. Those bastards went at us with every intention of killing us!"

Now Tyki spoke, calmer, but no less angry. "Earl, both Jasdevi and I had to turn into our true form to avoid being slaughtered, in my case the thing you sent tried to crush Road, who was not even conscious at the time, to death with a giant fist. That I didn't kill her was a miracle, so please don't speak of blowing the threat to our lives out of proportion. Those things tried to kill us all, and they damn near succeeded! Were you trying to end our lives?"

The Earl's smile faltered slightly. He now realized that with that one maneuver, he had destroyed much trust that had been once between them. Apparently he had burned some bridges he to this point had believed indestructible. He wasn't worried about mutiny, as there were certain... precautions in place to prevent such things, although Noah's Compassion had proved annoyingly resistant to them, having turned against him on a regular basis. From Moses over David to Simon Peter 'the rock' and finally Orpheus, Allen's direct predecessor. Every single one of them a menace in their own right, betraying him openly, Peter even for that man Jesus.

He was one of the few people that the Earl had feared. The man had the blood of the old humanity, but he was not awakened by anyone else. No, Jesus had done something that no man since the great flood had down, he had awakened himself. Indeed a child of god, and someone the Earl had stayed clear from, as he really did not want to tussle with a man that had managed to gain a demon-lord as a follower. No, Legion, or Judas Iscariot, was not someone the Earl had wanted to meet under any circumstances, as the demon was loyal to Jesus to a fault, which he had proven when he had completed Christ's final plan. The only good news was that after that, Legion had sealed himself away, the Earl quickly adding a few layers himself, and that Jesus had, as far as he knew, not left behind a legacy like Noah. No, the Children of Christ would have been a disaster for his plans, especially if they followed the belief of their ancestral father.

Either way, he had to do something. He could not afford to bring the Noah against him at this stage. The Order was getting stronger, the Cube was still keeping their headquarters fairly safe, without his Egg being there the invasion would never have succeeded, and once they stationed their headquarters into the old Arc, their base and by extension all Innocence they had, would be practically untouchable for him. He could not afford to have the Noah go on strike now.

He smiled, and was grateful that with his current face nobody could tell it was forced. "Now now, I had the utmost confidence in your abilities. I did tell my new little Akuma to make it realistic, I guess they may have gone a little overboard."

Alice snorted. "A little overboard, he says. More like bat-shit crazy. Have you actually seen what those motherfucking shitstains did? It tried to bash in my skull when I got close and found out the hard way that the bastard was immune to my power! My thanks to you Cyril, by the way. What was up with that? Why make them immune to our powers instead of, for example, more resistant to this Innocence-crap? And your new fucktoy nearly did bash in the skull of Mordred, wielder of your precious Excalibur, when he popped up behind him without a warning and blasted him through. The. Fucking. Wall!"

Now the Earl frowned. Losing Excalibur as a weapon on his side would have been a harsh blow, not to mention it would have made half the reasons for getting it pointless. He would have to be more careful in the future. "Well that's not good. I'll make sure that the next batch will have clearer instructions, and they won't attack you."

The Noah were obviously not satisfied, but the Earl cleaned his face and vanished, clearly indicating that for him, the conversation was over.

Cyril sighed. "We're not going to get anything better out of him for now. Still, I wonder what drove him to do that."

Road tilted her head. "What if he really didn't order it?"

Tyki shook his head. "You know it doesn't work that way. There are only two possibilities to why this attack happened. We are Noah, Akuma don't just attack us, and even if we accept the unlikely explanation of an internal error, on all five? Either the Earl explicitly ordered that attack to be done with lethal force, or he did not key us Noah into the Akuma's chain of command, or even as a priority and as such not to be killed. Honestly, I don't know which option is worse."

Lulubelle nodded. "I do not see any other possibilities either. That means that either the Earl purposefully left us out of those Akuma's priority list, which means that he does not trust us with them, or he has ordered them to attack and potentially kill us, which overrode our status as a priority."

Road frowned. "So he either sees us as untrustworthy... or expendable?"

Silence reigned after that.

-0-

Allen woke up with a groan. As he tried to lift himself up, he felt someone gently pushing him back down. The he heard Tyki's voice. "Whoa, take it easy there Allen, no need to rush. You've been through a lot, don't force yourself. How are you feeling?"

"Like I got ran over by a stampede." Allen muttered. "Seriously though, I am sore. I can hardly even move. Oh, hi everyone." He had just noticed that all Noah, the Deminoah and his Archangels had gathered, the last sitting at the side while the rest had apparently talked, though now all were looking at him, to Allen's discomfort that included Cyril.

Road was of course ignorant to any peril to Allen's life, as she beamed at him and jumped, arms outstretched. "AALLLLEEEEN!"

Tyki caught her in the air. "Not now Road."

Suddenly Allen remembered what had happened. "Those black things that attacked me, one said there were more of them! Is everyone alright?"

Tyki eased his fears, "Everyone's fine. Well, everyone that matters anyways... It's good that you're awake, perhaps you can shed some light into our discussion."

Allen shrugged. "I can try. What's bothering you?"

Cyril sighed. "Those black things were Level 5 created by the Millennium Earl. What bothers us is that he decided to test them by ordering to attack all of us with everything they had, and I can tell you, it was a close call in more than one case, mine included. And he waved everything off when we confronted him. That raised the question how much the Earl truly cares about us."

Allen frowned. "Won't it be bad if the Earl learns of this?"

Metatron looked up. "No need to worry master, we are within my territory. To the Earl and anything he might have sent to spy on us, no word of what is spoken will reach their ears. Instead they will believe we are comparing the abilities of the Earls Level 5s with each other and with us Archangels."

Allen nodded, more to himself. "I see. Well in that case, there is one thing that made me think. I believe that the Earl cares about the Noah-clan, but not about the Noah."

Road decided to voice everyone's thoughts. "Sorry Allen, but I think I speak for everyone if I say that I'm not sure I understand what you're saying."

Allen sighed. "Back when I sent Michael to the Order, he found two objects that were described as crystallized Noah, which I think means that the memories of Noah were sealed into those crystals. Anyways, the Earl said a few things that really made me wonder. He talked about the resurrection of Noah's memories, but he made it sound like a return of an old soldier rather than the birth of a new one. I think that for the Earl, it matters that the Noah are fighting on his side, but he doesn't particularly care who those Noah are."

Everyone was quiet after that, until Alice spoke, in a surprisingly polite and formal way, especially for her standards. "Now that you mention it, the fat marshmallow on multiple occasions welcomed me back, or spoke of my return. Rather than welcoming me as a new member in his ranks, he gave me a formal salute like I was a soldier who returned from sick-leave. And one question, was anyone sad when my predecessor croaked?"

Road nodded, holding her chest. "It hurt. It felt like a part of my heart had been torn out, and I've cried for almost an hour. The others were the same."

"Even the Earl?" Luciano asked.

The Noah, sans Allen and Alice, who had no way of knowing, exchanged baffled looks. Finally, Lulubelle shook her head. "Now that I think back, I'd have to say no. I was with the Earl when Skin was killed. He seemed unaffected by the loss and if anything, displeased. When comparing that to his fury at the loss of the Egg, I'd have to say that he might have sacrificed all of us if it would get him the Egg back." She frowned, obviously not liking the statement she had just given. She had always been loyal to the Earl, but was someone who would care more about an object he could recreate within a few years, still having around 20% to use as basis, than the lives of those he called his elite truly worthy of her loyalty?

If she was honest with herself, which she wasn't quite ready to be yet, the only answer could be no.

The discussion went on after that, but the results were less than satisfying. While the Earl received the benefit of doubt, the Noah were more careful now, and had secretly vowed to keep a closer eye on their employer.

-0-

In the Order, things had gotten into a a somewhat ordinary pattern. The exorcists were training, the researchers were working, and Levrier was pulling out his hair at the terror Lavi and Jesaia spread throughout both the old headquarters and the Arc. Kanda was not stepping in, as the duo of destruction was careful to not do anything that would bother Kanda, so the quiet swordsman left them in peace, since he didn't like Levrier all that much either. Komui of course found the whole thing terribly amusing, and watched gleefully as Levrier ran around like a headless chicken trying to reign in the newest catastrophe.

Dagmar had also found a new role. With her Innocence, she was able to help the other exorcists with their Innocence, from time to time telling them something that they themselves had not known, like explaining Crowry just how much Akuma-blood he could take when he was at a certain percentage of power, and that at 100%, in other words peak condition, he could safely absorb more blood than he could actually drink, or just how much of his blood he would have to leave in his body to use Bloody Crowry without harming himself, and that in that form, he could take in an entire ocean of Akuma-blood if he could find one, and as long as he remembered not to try and take it back into his body, all it would do was make him more powerful. Even the Generals learned a few things about their Innocence they had not known, although Dagmar noticed that Cross had shrouded himself in a magic that prevented her from learning anything about him.

Amongst the exorcist, the formerly blind girl had gained the nickname 'princess', roughly around the same time Valkyrie had been dubbed the 'dragon'. The older girl kept a close eye on Dagmar and fiercely driving off anyone who may cause the girl harm, namely Levrier and all who associated with him on a voluntary basis, and she had already, using her Hungry Ghost, sent a number of CROWs that had the mission to capture the little girl for Levrier's 'training' to the hospital as vegetables, although they indeed recovered after a few weeks, the message was clear. Stay the fuck away.

At the moment, Lavi and Jesaia were training, having already prepared the newest disaster for Levrier, when Lavi noticed the girls arriving. "Jesaia, look at that. A maiden, a princess, and her guardian dragon. Hi Lenalee, what's the rush? Did we miss a summon?"

Lenalee waved at Lavi. "Training hard I see Lavi. And you didn't miss a summon. Nii-san on the other hand..."

Jesaia laughed. "Let me guess. Levrier called for another pointless meeting and he ditched it, right?"

Val clapped. "Bravo Sherlock, your deduction is once more correct."

Jesaia grinned and bowed like an actor after a particularly great performance. "Thank you, thank you, far too kind. Do I get a prize, Watson?"

Val chuckled while she shook her head. "Don't push your luck, boy, or you'll lose it all. Anyways, Komui had the idea to see if our little princess here can locate hosts if she looks at Innocence, so Lenalee is bringing her down to Hevlaska."

Lavi grinned. "And as the princess's royal guardian dragon, you of course accompany her, right?"

Val grinned, hugged Dagmar from behind and rubbed her cheek against the girl's. "But of course."

Dagmar struggled half-heartily, in reality enjoying the family-like atmosphere of the exorcists. Lenalee was like the mother that watched over the flock. Lavi, Jesaia and Timothy were the annoying but lovable brothers that always lightened things up, while Kanda took the place of the serious older brother that kept everyone in line. The Generals were grandparents of sorts, although Cloud was more like an aunt that watched over everyone whenever she had the time. Cross was the perverted one, Tiedoll the odd one, and Zokalo was that really odd one nobody really liked to talk about. Why ruin a perfectly good conversation with that man? Crowry and Miranda were the slightly depressed but still lovable ones, while Marie was the responsible brother that everyone could talk to. As for Val, if one didn't count the fact that she might kill Dagmar at any moment, she would perfectly fit into the role of the fiercely protective older sister, that let nobody near the apple of her eye without a thorough inspection. And according to the stories she was told, Allen Walker had somewhat taken on the role of the kind father, that was there for everyone, tried to help everyone, and was the shoulder they could all lean on when they were weak. Considering the man still helped his friends even though he had officially become an enemy, it seemed to be true.

Not surprisingly for Dagmar, or anyone with a functioning set of eyes connected to a working brain, Jesaia tackled Lavi for the comment about Val being a dragon. If the boy's crush was any more obvious, 'I LOVE VALKYRIE' would glow on his forehead. And even though her eyes were not working correctly on Val, Dagmar would have to be blind to miss her infatuation with the blond Yankee. Amusing that the Noah-ish spy in the Order, just like her master and creator of sorts, had a reason for wanting to make sure that certain people stayed intact.

Another amusing thing was that amongst those that actually cared, only two people didn't notice the love in the air between that soon-to-be couple, and their names were Valkyrie Nocturn and Jesaia Harlequin.

Lenalee, Val and Dagmar started walking again, Lenalee holding her head as if the behavior of the duo of destruction had given her migraine. "Boys. I have no idea how they manage to get along if they fight all the time."

Val shrugged. "Pack schlägt sich, Pack verträgt sich."

Lenalee blinked. "What?"

Val shrugged. "It's a German saying. I'd translate it to 'peasant fights, peasant makes up', although it is pretty tricky to translate the word 'Pack'. It is a term generally used when one looks down on a crowd of people, but it's not really that insulting anymore. Anyways, they're male. Half of all male friendships involve beating each other to a pulp, laughing through broken teeth, getting drunk together and waking up best friends. I've given up trying to understand it when I was six. I don't know how it works, I just know that it does work. Just accept it, you'll live longer."

Lenalee chuckled. "I guess you're right."

Val smirked. "Of course I'm right. Now, into the darkness we ride!" She called out dramatically as they entered the elevator. "Watch out down there, here we come!"

-0-

Weeks passed, and in the Arc, things also returned to normal. The Noah were still distrustful and gave every of the Earl's Level 5s that occasionally wandered through the Arc a dirty look on sight, which was replied in kind, worrying the Noah even more, as these new Akuma obviously had less respect for them than they should. They didn't obey them, the only thing that was different with the second batch was that they apparently received the order not to attack.

Still, life went on, a few of the Noah occasionally leaving to follow a rumor about some strange event that could be caused by Innocence. Generally they drew straws. One day, Allen had drawn the shortest stick this time, the Earl came with a new mission.

"Well, there have been unexplainable disappearances in a small Bulgarian village, right in the middle of nowhere. Such a high rate of people vanishing into thin air is abnormal, and the Involvement of Innocence is a possibility. With a bit of luck, we may finally find the heart and end this tiresome war."

Allen nodded and stood up. "When do I leave?"

The Earl looked at him. "Right now."

'Figures.' Allen thought to himself. But all complaining would do no good, so he saved himself the trouble. His ride was probably already programmed.

-0-

Allen looked over the village from a hill. He had spent three days here, and had found out very little. The disappearances the Earl described had indeed occurred, but that was pretty much all he got. The villagers were deeply distrustful of strangers, even more so now that the numbers of missing people was climbing high. He had managed to coax his only piece of information out of a child, was nearly lynched for his effort when overly trigger-happy villagers thought he was about to steal the kid. He had to activate Crown Clown, which actually formed in the shape of wings, and the villagers had dropped to the floor, their heads in the dust, thinking they had attacked an angel. Allen wasn't complaining, as it had allowed him to make a break for it.

The little girl had told him that everyone who vanished had last been seen going into a specific part of the forest, which was the reason he was fighting himself through bushes and trees right now, muttering a number of curses at the world at large. "Stupid Earl. Stupid mission, stupid bushes, stupid thorns, stupid insects, stupid nettles..."

All in all, he felt fairly miserable. Not only because he had tripped over a root hidden in the bushes and landed face-first in a bunch of nettles, but also because he was feeling incredibly tense, but didn't know why. There was neither a suspicious sound, nor was there a suspicious absence of sound. Birds were singing, beetles and bloodsucking insects were buzzing, everything was like in a normal forest. Still, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and he felt as if there was a presence nearby watching him. An evil presence. An ancient enemy. Where did that come from?

He saw a clearing, and headed for it. Anything to get out of the thorns. He could use his Innocence, but it felt a little silly to use it for something so petty. And no, using it to keep Road from jumping on him was not petty, it was a crucial and necessary act of self-preservation, got that?

The clearing itself was fairly normal, a roughly circular clearing with a radius of around forty feet, with grass growing and not much else. On the far end of the clearing was a partially uprooted tree, probably from a storm. It seemed there was a burrow there, probably badgers or some other digging animals.

Allen frowned. There was a black haze of some kind seemed to come out of that burrow. He approached it carefully, Crown Clown draped around his shoulders. Now he heard the buzzing. Flies! That haze was a swarm of flies! Well, flies in such numbers meant that there was either a lot of excrement, or something dead in that burrow. Maybe the badger died of old age or something. Still, better make sure.

His nose told him that the smell of rotting meat was coming out of the hole. So much for feces. He waved his hand to shoo the flies away and leaned forward to peak into the hole. With a gasp, he jumped back.

He had found the missing villagers.

-0-

The sight was horrifying. Stuffed into the hole in the ground were a dozen bodies, carelessly tossed away after the life had left their bodies. They were all in various stages of decay, not surprising considering that the first disappearance had been almost a month ago, and that it was fairly warm. From what Allen could tell at the first glance, they all seemed to have died from a sharp weapon, like a knife or a sword, the latter being more likely considering the size of some of the cuts, although some of the stabs seemed to point at an ax, or a ridiculously wide blade. Bile rose up in his throat, and he emptied his stomach, tears dropping into the puddle of half-digested food. Whoever did this was deeply sick. They had murdered for no apparent reason, then just left the bodies to rot. What monster would do something like this?

It seemed he was about to find out, as Crown Clown billowed out, forming spikes, while actually being cut by a large blade. Allen jumped to the side before the giant sword could slay him, and just in the nick of time. With at THUMB, the sword dug deep into the ground he had been standing on a second prior.

Allen spun in the air, landing on his feet and looking at his attacker. If he had been looking for a muscled giant, he would have been sorely disappointed. His attacker looked to be around seventeen, athletic and lean, with curly black hair stopping just before his shoulders and seemingly bored brown eyes. He was wearing cheap old pants and a baggy shirt, making him look like an average young member of the working class. The only thing that didn't fit into that picture was the giant sword that the man had resting on his shoulder. The thing was huge!

The blade alone had to be ten feet long and three feet wide, its shape the classic European design, straight like an arrow with a tip shaped like an arrowhead. The hilt of the blade was maybe four feet long, a razor-sharp half-moon sitting on the end of it, allowing the wielder to make quick jabs after a sweeping attack. The thing had to weigh a ton, but the boy was carrying it with one hand. Also, it couldn't be a normal sword, as it had cut through Crown Clown like it was a piece of cloth.

That sword seemed to match some of the injuries on the mangled corpses, so Allen was doubtful that this was a joke. "Who are you?" He asked.

The man grinned. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

Allen's eyes narrowed. "Were you the one that did this?"

The grin widened. "Ah, you're admiring my handiwork. Pretty good for such an unhandy weapon, wouldn't you agree?"

Allen fought down the urge to attack. "Why did you kill them?"

The man grinned. "You want the truth? It was to lure you out, Noah."

Now Allen was shocked. "Who are you?" He repeated, his skin turning ashen as his hair changed from white to black.

The man giggled. "Wow, that's a nice trick. Let me try that." Then, to Allen's shock, his skin turned ashen, his hair darkened, and his eyes took on a golden shimmer.

At first Allen thought that the man was a Noah, until he noticed something. The stigmata. There was something wrong with the man's stigmata. His too was a chain of crosses, but his was tilted, looking like an x instead of a . "What are you?" Allen asked.

The man looked at him. "You don't deserve to know. But I'll tell you this much. When we are reborn, we choose a new name for ourselves. You can call me Damon Lizard." With that, the man now known as Damon dashed at Allen, the sword making a wide arch as it cut through the air.

Allen ducked, and the blade severed a tree like it was butter. "What is up with that sword?" Allen called out as it cut through another piece of his cloak that he had extended to capture Damon.

The not-Noah smiled evilly. "Magic." He answered.

Allen would have thought the man was making fun of him, but he himself knew it existed, as both the Earl and Cross Marian could use it. Heck, Mana had used it to transfer the Musician's mind into his body. So he narrowed his eyes. "So you're a mage? He asked, as he took a step back to avoid the crescent-blade.

Damon shrugged. "Sadly no. I had someone else do this for me. Cool, huh? You won't find much this baby can't cut, now HOLD STILL, DAMNIT!"

Allen gave him a pitying look. "Do I look like an idiot?" Then his face froze. "But how about I make you pay for your crimes?" With that, he rushed forward, the edge of his cape turning sharp as a blade.

Damon raised his blade to block, and the cloak was cut. Only then did he realize his mistake. The cloak simply reunited behind the blade and rushed forward. He tried to dodge, but still received a deep cut on his cheek. He hissed in pain as he felt the Innocence biting into his flesh. Still, he tried to keep up his pokerface. "My crimes? This is rich. A Noah speaking of crimes, of murder?"

Allen looked at him. "Perhaps from a Noah this sounds hypocritical, but I am both Compassion and a former exorcist! I still have my morals, I have never laid hand on the innocent, unlike you!" He shouted, the images of the poor souls who had been slaughtered and then stuffed into a hole like garbage.

Damon broke out into hysterical laughter. "Bwahaha. Innocent? That's rich? Hahaha. Tell me, what is innocence? Didn't they ever tell you? There are no innocent people! There are only lambs to the slaughter for the superior breed. You Noah are above the normal scum, and we're above you. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm restricted to you Noah, I slaughter humans too." His grin widened. "It's really fun. You should hear it. Buhu, not my child, no, take me, not my child. Leave my daddy alone. Take your hands off my sister..."

Something inside of Allen found the statement amusing, while a different part was insulted. However the second statement made his blood boil. This man... no, this thing before him was not making this up, he had heard those words. A low growl escaped his throat, and before Damon could do as much as blink, Allen's cloak had billowed and wrapped him plus sort up like a mummy, robbing him of the ability to move. Allen's eyes had turned cold, something, perhaps Compassion, told him that this monster could not be allowed to live for a single day longer, or there would be more tragedy, so without a moments hesitation, he charged at the currently paralyzed Damon, his cloak opening a hole right were his heart was, and stabbed his clawed arm through the maniac.

The cloak released him, and Damon stared at the hole in his chest in shock. Blood flowed from his lip, Allen had apparently nicked a lung, as the man tried to remain control of his body.

Against common belief, a body with his heart removed can still operate for roughly thirty seconds before the oxygen delivered by the blood is used up and the body shuts down. Damon staggered, trying to remain standing, but even as he fought, the sword slipped out of his fingers. He clutched his chest, trying to speak, but collapsed, face in the dirt.

Allen gave the body a final look, before turning to the tree with the corpses and giving a short bow of respect. "May you rest in peace." He spoke a few prayers for the deceased and was about to turn the bodies to dust, when he again felt that tingling sense of danger. Without thinking, he lunged to the side.

A oddly familiar sword the size of a pillar dug itself deep into the ground. Allen turned around, and saw a slightly bloodied, but perfectly healthy, only red spots and a hole in his shirt telling of the fatal injury he had received only minutes before. He had jumped to his sword and picked it up, before looking down on himself. "Ah man, now look what you did. You ruined my shirt."

-0-

Damon was, for the first time, grateful for his power. He knew that he had drawn the short end of the stick when it came to powers, lacking the destructive powers of his siblings, but at this moment, he wouldn't have traded them for all of the others combined. None of them would have gotten up after getting a high-powered Innocence-claw through the heart, what was he saying, the claw had annihilated his heart and a good piece of his lungs too, and the Innocence had left a burning that killed off all healing that his kind usually had. His ability however was Regeneration, something that he regarded as akin to immortality in a way. No matter how many time his opponent may slay him, Damon would not die. Chop off his head, and it would regrow, with all the information still in it! That was the reason he had decided to take on the last name Lizard, for no matter how many times you cut off its tail, you will not end it. As such, any fight would turn into a war of attrition, and since his regeneration also removed fatigue, there was no way he could lose in one of those.

Of course there was the matter of lacking offensive power, but the master had given him a solution for that. This sword was not only next to unstoppable, with the possible and honestly-spoken quite likely exception of Excalibur, but it also had a hidden ability the master had added. Of course there was that troublesome law of magic, that when a non-magician used magic, there was a price he had to pay, but his ability served him well in this regard.

-0-

Allen growled. "How on earth are you still standing?" He demanded. This guy felt just as bad as Mordred's brother and Friedrich Himmelhund. The Noah in him was demanding blood in a never-known intensity, and his Innocence had grown spikes, hooks and his claws were growing toothed serrations. It seemed to be hardly able to not jump off Allen and attack. Crown Clown was radiating raw hatred unlike anything Allen had ever felt before.

Damon grinned. "Wouldn't you like to know?" It was the same answer he had given him on his first question.

Allen took a calming breath. "So you have incredible healing."

Damon nodded. "Instantaneous."

Allen noticed a paradox. "If it's instantaneous, then why did you need over a minute to heal from the hole in your chest?"

Damon's gaze flickered to the claw, then to the cape, before he quickly refocused on Allen, trying to keep his pokerface. But he had already tipped his hand. Allen grinned. "It's the Innocence, isn't it? It's causing you pain and slowing your healing. I'm guessing if the contact is long enough, you wouldn't be able to heal and die."

Damon frowned. Damn, that kid was sharp. Oh well, he might be in for a surprise, or three. He smiled. "Maybe, maybe not. Only one way to find out, isn't there?" He jumped back, and focused. "Time to get serious." His lithe and almost skinny frame filled out, lean but very powerful muscles bulging under his shirt.

Allen's eyes widened as Damon suddenly disappeared. Before he could look around, a horrible impact hit the side of his face, sending him flying through four trees before he stopped. He could hardly groan before a vicious stomp to the chest forced him into a five-foot deep crater that hadn't been there before. "W-What...?" Allen stammered.

Damon laughed. "Tell me, have you ever heard of over-regeneration?"

Allen's confused look gave all the answer needed. Damon shrugged. "When doing exercise or anything exhausting, you put strain on your muscles, causing minor damage, really. Your muscles heal that in a day or so. However, it doesn't just heal, it makes the muscles stronger, so that they are better prepared should the strain return. I can control this regeneration as well, giving me an instant boost in strength and speed. And these aren't normal human muscles, they're equal, if not superior, to those of the Noah. So right now, even with your Innocence, I'm faster," Suddenly he was gone, and a superhuman kick to the ribs flung Allen into the air like a ragdoll. "stronger," He appeared before Allen, left fist raised. Allen tried to block, with the result that the bones in his arms felt like they had been reduced to powder. "and simply better than you!" With that, he appeared behind the flying Allen, elbowed him into the ground, before grinning. "So now DIE!" He slammed his hands together, entwined his fingers, pulled the two-handed fist up behind his head, and slammed it down on Allen's head.

This time the crater was wider and deeper. Almost twenty feet below the normal surface layed, face-down, the unmoving body of Allen Walker, blood flowing out from below the hood of the Innocence. Damon huffed. "Not so tough now, are you? The strongest of the Noah my ass. I didn't even need to use my sword. Weakling." He glanced at the fallen body one last time, before spitting in the crater and walking to his blade, laughing.

When he reached his sword, he couldn't hold it in any longer. "Man, if this guy is the strongest, how weak are the others? This will be a piece of..." He froze. Slowly, disbelievingly, he turned his head.

"No way." Blood pouring out from above the hairline, dyed in crimson stood Allen Walker like an angel of vengeance, his golden gaze oddly empty.

Damon pulled out the sword and tried to swing, but before he could as much as blink, Allen was in front of him, grabbing the sword's long hilt and twisting it out of Damon's hands. The moment the contact between master and weapon was broken, black lighting shot out, the magic in the blade refusing to be wielded by a Noah. Allen merely tossed the weapon forty feet away, before his empty eyes refocused on the attacker.

"Don't..." Shock was quickly replaced by anger, as Damon roared. "GET COCKY!" His fist swung at Allen, fast enough to scratch against the sound-barrier, strong enough to send Big Ben into the atmosphere... and hit empty space, as Allen had ducked beneath the blow, and sunk his own fist into his enemy's gut.

Damon felt as if he had been hit by a meteor. 'Where did he get that strength?' he wondered, until he noticed the absolute blank look on Allen's face. 'Oh no.' He just remembered what the master had told him about Noah in common and Compassion in particular.

"Noah are not an enemy you should underestimate. They are as strong and fast as you. And under no circumstance, absolutely none, should you attack Noah's Compassion alone. If you fight him, kill him as fast as you can, playing around WILL result in your death. While many believe that Compassion and Rage have nothing in common, a statement that is normally correct, there is one thing that makes both unique under the other Noah. They are berserkers. But while Rage is a classic berserker, in that he attacks with wild abandon with neither feeling nor care for pain or injury, Compassion is much worse. Instead of letting loose, he will become absolutely calm. He is a machine that identifies its target and will not stop or rest before it is silenced. Also, Rage will attack blindly, while Compassion will strike with absolute precision to reach the quickest, and most efficient solution, the target silent and the damage to the surrounding minimal. There have been Rages of Noah that have been permanently stuck in the berserker-form, while Compassion will only enter his when he feels a threat that he cannot overcome by himself. In that mode, they are many times stronger, faster, and more dangerous, especially since all of Compassion's brain-power will be used exclusively for the elimination of the enemy. So if you have to fight Compassion, you must kill him at all costs, before he enters..."

Damon paled. "The Genocide-mode." he whispered, before a kick to his side that his attempted punch had left open sent him shooting through the air. He tried to catch himself, and succeeded in skidding to a halt. Only now did he realize something. 'He's not wearing the cape! Where's the cape?'

Allen had not moved from the spot, instead pointing at Damon. Then he calmly called out, sounding utterly bored "Clown Belt: Iron Maiden"

White spikes shot out of the ground beneath Damon's feet, a few piercing them. Damon cried in pain as he felt the Innocence biting into his flesh like acid, and spun around to flee. Too little, too late. The cap had not simply dug itself beneath the ground, it had merely sent an outskirt of the cloak there, while the rest now rose up, the cape wide and every single inch of it clustered with long white spikes. Before Damon had a chance to do as much as curse, the cloak had closed in front of him, and the entire thing began to shrink, piercing his flesh with the spikes. He was unable to move a single finger, and the searing pain of the Innocence nearly drove him insane.

Allen snapped his fingers, turning away from the coffin-like cloak and its screaming prisoner. "Shred and Grind"

The spikes turned into blades, and began spinning, first on the circular axis of the cloak, then wildly, while the entire thing shrunk. Just as the cloak-turned-meat-grinder shredded away his fingers and feet, Damon understood that it would not stop until every cell in his body was torn by the Innocence at least once. Also, white waves of Innocence-energy had begun rippling through the torture-device, burning his remaining flesh from his cooking bones. He cried one last time as his face was torn from his skull, before said bone surrendered under the onslaught.

After five minutes, it was over. Crown Clown had vanished, and the only thing that had fallen out was fine dust. Allen nodded to himself. Then he saw that a drop of blood had been spilled outside of the Innocence. He had a suspicion that it would be enough, so he reactivated his Innocence and waited. Indeed, ten seconds later, the process began, and a new body was slowly forming. Allen waited until head and shoulders had formed, Damon obviously shocked, then put his index-claw on the regenerating attacker's forehead and swiping down. "Cross Grave"

The cross formed, and in an agonized wail, Damon repeated the performance of the first Level 3 Allen had used this on, he dissolved into nothing. Allen gave a sweeping look to see if he had overlooked another drop of blood, but the one that was there didn't do anything, not even after two minutes. So Allen deactivated his Innocence and turned towards where the gate should be. That moment was when it happened.

-0-

His body bent as if hit by an invisible fist. Wounds appeared on his body, and even his stigmata began to bleed. Slowly he turned around and saw a naked, but very much intact Damon. He tilted his head in confusion.

Damon laughed. "Surprised? I can completely regenerate from a single strand of DNA, and we shed thousands of skin-cells carrying that DNA every day. Do you know what that means? You can kill me for years, and I'll still come back for more! I am immortal! My first name Damon comes from Dämon, a word meaning demon! No matter how often you vanquish me, I shall climb back from the depths of hell and take vengeance!"

Allen's calm gaze didn't flicker. "What did you do?" He asked, speaking for the first time.

Damon laughed. "Oh, you mean those ouchies? You see, this sword has the ability to return any injury that my opponent has ever suffered back to the same state it was when it was made! Of course, I can't return all at once, and as I am not a magician, there is the price that it kills off my entire arm when I use it, but considering that I can heal that in a second, what better price for me to pay? It's the perfect weapon!" Damon's grin widened. "And now, how about I reopen that hole in your heart?"

He rushed at him, swiped his free left hand over the flat, wide side of the blade, before thrusting it into the air. A spear of light, no thicker than a spider's string, shot out and hit Allen in the heart. The boy staggered.

Damon grinned, grabbed his sword with both hands, the blade vertical to make a big hole without cutting the boy in half, and rushed forward, intending to run the annoying boy... no, highly dangerous enemy right through, piercing him with his sword like a piece of kebab. He was twenty feet away, ten, five, three...

Suddenly Allen's head snapped up, and his right fist slammed into the blunt side of his blade, making the tip swerve to the side, missing him by over a foot. Damon tried to pull back, only to realize that he couldn't move. Allen looked him. "You were misinformed. The hole in my heart was not healed, a piece of Innocence filled it."

Damon cursed. Of course, the wound was still as open as it had been on day one, so returning it to the state it had been on day one was useless. He tried harder to move with the same success as before, none. "What's going on?" He demanded.

Allen didn't answer immediately. Instead, he looked at the sword. "This should not exist." His hands glowed black, he grabbed the sword and it crumbled. "Dust to dust." Then he looked at Damon. "You should not exist."

Damon growled. "How are you holding me?" He demanded. Allen's wandered up, and Damon tried to follow his gaze. What he saw shocked him.

"Clown Belt: Spider Curtain" Allen stated. Above Damon's head floated Allen's Innocence, but it was different. The hood and mask were the same, just like the shoulders and the arms, however, there was no cloak. Where the cloak should be, an innumerable amount of threads sprouted, only visible since there were so many, before becoming too thinned out to really see.

Damon focused, and found that he was hopelessly tangled up in those threads. They were thinner than spiderweb, apparently didn't weigh anything and were impossible to tear. His sword probably could have, but there was no way Damon had the strength to tear these by himself with raw muscles, especially since they tightened the more he struggled, and he could already feel the pain of the Innocence these threads were made of. Wait a minute, Innocence could give off energy that would be utilized, but since when was it possible for Innocence to produce more of itself? Either way, he was in deep shit. "So, what are you waiting for? Kill me, again."

Allen looked at him. "I see. You cannot regenerate a new body while your old one still exists. That simplifies things." His hands regained their black glow.

Damon was not worried. His skin-particles were everywhere, and just for emergencies, there was always one of his hairs at headquarters. "So now you'll kill me by turning me to dust?"

Allen looked at him. "My power is Corruption. I will corrupt the concept of your existence until it collapses."

Damon blinked. "What?"

Genocide-Allen seemed chatty today. "I will not kill you. I will return things to the state before you were born."

Damon blinked, then he began to struggle wildly, the threads digging deep into his flesh, but he didn't care. He had finally understood that this guy wasn't going to kill him, he was planning on erasing his existence! "No. No! No, no, no no no NOOOOOOO!"

Allen cupped Damon's head and focused, not on the thing in front of him, but on what really defined the thing in front of him, what made him exist. His memories, his mind, his... soul, his place in the fabric of reality, and used his power until he could feel them collapse, their structure too corrupted to remain. Cutting the man out of reality was the truly draining part, but after that, he almost didn't have to do anything more, as Damon Lizard faded away into nothingness. He was not a part of reality, therefore he didn't exist. However, Allen had, not wanting to risk biting off more than he could chew if he messed with time as well, left the memory that Damon Lizard had, at one point, existed, untouched.

Allen blinked, and was back to his old self. His memories were fuzzy, but for the first time, they were there, and not just a blank space in his memory.

"I will explain what happened later. For now, it's best you return to the Arc." The musician's voice rang through Allen's head.

Allen nodded, too tired to say anything, and headed for the gate. It had been a long day.

-0-

Meanwhile, in a different place, a woman in her late twenties looked up from her book by sheer coincident, looking at a small pedestal which presented a single hair. Just as she was about to return to her book, the hair glowed black and faded into nothingness. She jumped up. "Impossible!" She cried.

"What's wrong?" a new voice asked. This one belonged to a muscular man in his thirties.

The woman pointed at the pedestal. "Krakat, Damon's hair just glowed black and... faded away!" She called out.

Now the man was concerned. "That's... worrying. But wouldn't we have felt it if he had died?"

She nodded. "I think so, but... I'm getting a really bad feeling."

Krakat nodded. "We will speak with the master. He will be able to locate Damon, wherever he may be."

The woman nodded. "I hope you're right."

-0-

Allen more or less stumbled through the gate. The Earl gave him a look. "What happened to you?"

"Long story." Allen muttered.

"I have time." The Earl answered.

Allen shrugged weakly. "No Innocence anywhere. What I found was a murdering lunatic, who was almost like a Noah. His skin turned black, his eyes turned golden, only his Stigmata were tilted. He attacked me."

The Earl looked curious. "What happened then?"

Allen looked him in the eye. "I killed him." With that, he left, the Earl not stopping him.

-0-

Allen had just reached his bed, when Michael entered, bowing. "Master, I thought you might want to hear of the news the Archangels have just received."

Allen groaned. "No rest for the guilty, huh? What is it?"

Michael bowed. "A new Noah will awaken soon."

Now Allen was wide awake. "What? Do you know which one?"

Michael was still bowing. "Uriel estimated it to be Loneliness."

"Of all the rotten luck..." The musician growled.
_

Chapter 23 is finished. Took a while, but it is done. To all doubters, I haven't canceled this story, nor do I have any intention to. All I said is that updates for this story will not be as regular as for the others.

Anyways, I have shown a few new twists, and introduced new players. Who are they? What are their goals? And for whom do they fight? Who knows? But yes, Damon was the watcher in the Excalibur-hunt whose arm was amputated. It simply regrew.

Well, surprisingly I don't have anything else to say, aside from the fact that I hate the programmers of for removing all of the breaks I had put in the story to make them easier to read. Seriously, what's with all the extensive, annoying and completely unnecessary changes to the website? Have these people never heard of 'Don't fix it if it ain't broken'?

Anyways,

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