Genius 34: Birds of Prey
A sudden feeling washed over him, as though he'd been drenched in ice-cold water. It was one he'd felt only a few times in the past.
The sudden increase in his heart-beat. The drying of his throat. It was as though warning bells were going off inside him. It was like someone had taken a massive stone block and placed it on his shoulders. A heavy 'force' that threatened to press him to the ground. He wasn't a martial artist or anything, but even he knew what this feeling was.
"Welcome... to your execution."
Kanji's eyes went wide.
He didn't need to look, to know that Yosuke and Chie felt it as well.
Standing not more than two feet beside them was a man, leaning idly against a streetlight.
They would have literally walked right by him, had they not felt the spike in murderous intent.
Chie swallowed hard, forcing herself to breath. 'Why?' She slowly forced gaze to turn to the side, letting her eyes settle on the figure that had just spoken.
'Why didn't we notice him before?'
His gray-white eyes, clouded like those of a blind man, opened just a sliver as a small but confident smile spread of his lips. Like Vulture and Shrike before him, the man wore clothing that railed entirely against the modern world. A bright yellow robe, lined in black, and patterned with ornate cross-like objects, fluttered in the slight breeze. A silver necklace stood out over his outfit, bearing a shining medallion shaped like a feather. Crowning all this was a midnight black cloak that wreathed his form.
He honestly looked like he'd stepped right out of an ancient Chinese battlefield.
Yosuke quickly reached for his daggers, hidden in the folds of his jacket, but forced himself to pause. His gaze had caught something moving beyond the cloaked man, on the other side of the street. A child was pointing at the robed Kuei, pointing out the oddity as a child is often prone to do.
His mother was quietly hushing the boy.
Yosuke bit off a curse. If they started fighting now... it would only drag bystanders into the fray.
However, just as the brown haired boy realized this, he witnessed a blue blur move beside him.
Chie narrowed her gaze along the sight of her pistol, aimed directly at the Kuei. "Hold it right there."
Yosuke didn't quite know if she'd thought that far along, but the fact that Chie was still in her police uniform was a boon to them at the moment. It might draw stares, but it would also keep people at a distance, to see a police officer confront someone.
However, Kanji realized with a chill, the threat of a firearm didn't seem to phase the Kuei at all.
"And what... pray tell, are you going to do... officer?" The white-eyed Kuei was obviously amused at the situation unfolding in front of him. "Arrest me?"
Chie ground her teeth together... Thoughts racing through her head. If they had any kind of confrontation now... it would only draw more people to them.
And that was one thing the youths couldn't allow. They couldn't allow normal people to get caught up in this mess. The Kuei had already killed innocents once before, just to send a message to the persona users.
Life... meant nothing to these spirits.
"But I've done nothing wrong..." The Kuei was still smirking openly, his deep voice steadied at a calm monotone. "Would you arrest, or heavens forbid, kill... an innocent man?"
"Don't gimme that garbage." Chie growled out with such a sense of anger that honestly surprised Yosuke.
The Chie he knew was an energetic, tomboyish girl with a good nature. But now, as he glanced toward his girlfriend, Yosuke only anger in her face.
"You bastards already killed four innocent people." Chie glared at the robed figure in front of her. "An innocent man? There's nothing innocent about you!"
"I believe..." Chie's explosive anger, however, splashed like water against a mountainside when compared to the Kuei's calm demeanor. "you lack a little something called proof." Although he'd been casually leaning against a light pole until now, the Kuei pushed himself off and took a step forward.
"Bastard...!" The three youths, in return, took a step back.
"Don't let 'im get in yer head, senpai." Kanji narrowed his gaze, taking up a stance of his own. "He's jus' tryin' to make us slip up!"
As if to derail their entire conversation, a thunderous crack split the sky, and the sound of a thousand mirrors shattering all at once deafened the world. The cloaked Kuei cast a wayward glance toward the black sky with a bemused expression.
He was well aware of who had set up the black boundary field... Only one among their number was capable of such a feat. 'He probably did it just to spite Eagle too...' With a quick shake, he dropped his gaze down in front of him...
...just in time to spot Kanji's large fist.
A loud metallic sound echoed out over the soundless area around them. Kanji's large fist had struck the metallic light pole. The Kuei had calmly moved around the pole and had his back to the three youths.
"Get outta the way, Kanji!" Chie yelled out, watching the Kuei walk out into the street as though he hadn't a care in the world. The bleach-haired boy ducked out of the way just in time to see Chie fire off several rounds from her gun.
However... none of the bullets would hit their target. They were intercepted by a large pillar of earth that had, almost soundlessly risen from the ground. Chie growled, the pillar had risen so fast that, by the time she'd squeezed off the second shot, she could no longer see the Kuei.
"Human history is long..." As if in spite of the three Persona users, the Kuei appeared to the left of the pillar that had risen up to protect him, a look of dismissal on his face. "But for as much as there is that changes... surprisingly little changes about the humans that make it."
Kanji cracked his knuckles. "There they go again." He shook his head roughly. "Sometimes I gotta wonder if you Kuei bastards came here ta fight, or jus' ta rant." He remembered Shrike had also prattled on and on. He glanced over toward Yosuke, who had since drawn his daggers, and received a nod from the brown haired boy.
The large boy dashed toward their opponent from the right, while Yosuke sped toward him from the right. He lashed out with a kick, while Yosuke's daggers flashed out at their foe. The Kuei, for his part didn't even seem to register that the two boys had started to attack.
"They prattle on and on about justice..." Soundlessly, two more pillars of stone raised themselves from the ground, one intercepting each boys attack. The Kuei didn't even shift his gaze away for a split moment, but rather seemed focused on Chie. "Tell me, little miss -policeman-..." A sickening smile spread across his face. "...What -exactly- is this... justice your lot speaks so highly of?"
"Justice..." Chie growled. He was taunting her. She -knew- he was taunting her. But the feeling rushing through her body as she recalled it all made her want to simply ignore her anger. Using those Magi to attack Reiko out of the blue. Taking Nanako hostage. Killing innocents who had nothing to do with their situation. Attacking her friends for no reason she could make out. Coming far too close to killing Yosuke... "...is making sure bastards like you don't get away with everything you've done!"
She fired and fired and fired again, until finally her gun had run out of ammunition. Once again, however, her bullets were intercepted by a large pillar rising up in front of the Kuei.
The otherworldly spirit however, merely shook his head. "Whatever happened to 'Innocent until proven guilty'?" The three pillars that now surrounded the Kuei were joined by several more, as though the lot of them were encasing the spirit.
"You're just twisting words! You guys came here ta kill us, didn't you?" Yosuke growled as he and Kanji dropped back to Chie's side.
For a time Yosuke, Chie, and Kanji lost sight of their opponent. Suddenly, he seemed to phase directly through the stone, almost as though he was truly the 'ghost' they had thought him to be.
No... Yosuke quickly recanted that thought. He was 'passing through' the stone pillars as though he, himself, was made of stone. The soil flowed around him, grasping on to him as though it were a living creature.
"Honestly... why do you humans bother making rules, if you are just going to ignore them?" The Kuei in front of them widened his sickened smirk, balled a hand into a fist, and slammed it against the pillar he'd just passed through.
"I am Osprey..." The large pillar of stone crumbled and split and, where the pillar once stood, a large halberd with an axe-like blade was impaled upon the ground, hewn as thought from the stone itself . "And I'll say it one more time." With that he grasped the massive stone halberd from the earth and nimbly spun it until it rested over his shoulder.
"Welcome... to your execution."
"Then... I suppose it's time we began this little game..."
Eagles voice drew Reiko's eyes back to his enemy. No matter how he hated it, he didn't have time to worry about Yukiko. And besides... the genius knew Yukiko was far from helpless.
"Or perhaps I should say... -end- this little game."
Reiko willed his erratic heartbeat back down to normal. With his 'announcement' Eagles intent to kill spiked up to levels the boy-genius would have called stifling.
With a simple sweep of his hand, a light formed in front of Eagle. He reached out toward it, grasping it as it took the shape of a sword. After a moment, the light began to recede, revealing a sword unlike any Reiko had ever seen before.
He was familiar, on some small level, with the fact that weapons of otherworldly origins far surpassed those made by humans. Even his own 'Asagiri' was of such a sturdy make that intercepting blows from a goddess like Izanami didn't even scratch it.
But the sword that Eagle now held in his hands did nothing short of take his breath away.
It was obvious to Reiko's eye that the sword, a cross-hilted longsword, was a masterpiece among masterpieces. The blade, hilt, and guard, all seemed to be made from a single piece of shining metal. His eyes even caught the strange winding, twisting, groove that had been etched into the length of the blade.
Comparing the sword that the Kuei held to even his own, was like comparing a national relic crafted by a world famous master swordsmith to a child's wooden toy sword. That such a gap in quality would be made apparent to even him, who didn't profess any real knowledge of the art of forging swords...
Reiko could only swallow the knot forming in his throat, hard.
The look on the genius' face seemed to amuse Eagle even further. "You've a good eye, boy." He idly held the sword over his shoulder as he strolled forward at a comfortable pace. "It would seem that the tales of your quality, that have reached my ears, weren't lies after all."
"I never expected to hear a compliment from one of you lot."
Eagle merely shrugged, his stroll coming to an end as he stood beside one of the dozens of tombstones that littered the area. Each one a representation of a human from the real world.
"When all you see is sheep..." He lowered the weapon down off his shoulder, idly scraping it against one of the tombstones. "Seeing something that isn't a sheep is worth pausing to look at." He took a step forward, his sword cresting over the cross-shaped tombstone and chinking against another tombstone right beside the first. "I've heard tell that your intellect is something that even the gods would praise...so I'm curious about one thing."
Reiko kept himself as loose as he could with the nearly ever present weight of Eagles murderous aura. The Kuei wasn't the only one gauging his opponent. Reiko could clearly tell... that Eagle was, among Kuei, what that silvery sword was among weapons.
On a level all on its own.
"And... what might that be?"
"This world..." Eagle swept his free hand around, motioning toward the misted and darkened world around them. He took another step forward, his sword still grating against tombstones as he walked. "...is filled with these markers." The Kuei's fiery eyes swept downward toward the next tombstone near him. "Each one of them... represents a human life. Each one of them explicitly states the beginning... and the end."
That... was certainly true. Reiko was familiar enough with this 'world' they were brought to. He'd been brought here often enough anyway. A section of Yomi, the underworld itself, slapped down right on top of the real world. He'd seen these tombstones that the people around him transfigured into when the black barrier field went up. Names of people marked them. And... under that, were two dates. One was obviously a date of birth. All the people around him had dates set well into the past for that one.
The other number, however, was of dates that had yet to come.
A prediction of the owners death.
"You... who are of uncommon stock. A breed set higher up on the chain than the rest of the trash that pollutes this world. What is your opinion on this fact, I wonder..." Eagle shrugged as his sword scraped against yet another tombstone. "I find it to be utterly... disgusting."
"Human lives... or the world that predicts their end?" Reiko kept his gray gaze steadily on the Kuei. He wasn't quite sure if Eagle was merely trying to lull him into lowering his guard... but he had spoken at length with Yosuke, Chie, and Kanji.
He knew that these spirits of the vengeful dead had a tendency for prose. It was almost as though, through the grudges they themselves fostered, they somehow grew stronger.
Eagle merely smirked at Reiko's question. "Humans... obviously. This black world, itself, isn't bad. It concerns itself only with endings and beginnings." For the first time since Eagle had started talking, his gaze returned to Reiko. "It's a bit dull... but it understands its place. Humans, on the other hand, are something else entirely. Their lives are nothing more than a series of connected moments. Understanding this fact makes it unspeakably easy to predict when their lives will end."
Reiko watched the Kuei sneer at the next tombstone that caught his gaze. "They are born. They live fruitless, dull, and predictable lives. A disgusting gray line, like the dash between the dates marked on these tombstones, that inevitably ends in their deaths." Finally, Eagle lifted his sword up. "And, like the sheep that they are...Even the slightest push from a creature with -real- strength..."
Reiko's eyes widened as he realized what Eagle was going to do. The Kuei had stopped in front of a tombstone as he spoke. The genius saw the 'death' date on the tombstone change from a day that was distant into the future and, in its place, today's date appeared.
Putting all his strength into his legs, he dashed forward...
...just in time to intercept Eagles blade from severing the stone monument in two. Their blades crossed, Reiko's gray eyes met Eagles fiery gaze. Behind his back, however, the date on the tombstone returned to the date in the future that had been inscribed upon it before hand.
"Is that your answer, boy?" Eagle looked down his nose at the ashen colored boy crossing blades with him. "I gave you a wide opening with which you could have struck me down... if only you had let this insignificant piece of trash die."
"It doesn't matter how insignificant that life is..." Reiko narrowed his gaze, forcing himself to ignore the weighty presence of Eagles blood lusting aura. "You don't have any right to it!"
"Hmph! I have -every- right to it. Any hunter has a right to the life of its prey. Any King has a right to the lives he tramples beneath him!" Eagle broke the crossing their swords had made and jumped back, opening some space between him and Reiko. "More over... Your words...they sound hollow to my ears."
"What?" Reiko's gaze widened just a sliver as he took in Eagles words.
"They had no spirit in them, as though you didn't mean them at all." The ornate silver sword that Eagle held was brought forward, pointing toward Reiko. "Surely someone of high intellect, like yourself, has had to fend off these sheep at every turn." The Kuei merely smirked as Reiko's gaze soured. "Surely as the sun rises, they come crawling to you, ceaselessly begging for your aid."
Reiko ground his teeth together. Eagles words tugged at something deep within his heart. It brought several images to his mind. And a voice that sounded eerily like his own.
"Go beg for scraps at someone else's table."
Perhaps... that was because it -was- his own.
That line, which he had spoken to the business representative that had approached him at Junes, was hardly alone. He'd given a similar, though not quite as acidic, response dozens of times over as representatives from colleges and business' from around the world had approached him.
That time at Junes had merely been the first time he'd vocalized his annoyance with them.
Eagle, it seemed, had realized the truth of what he'd spoke. "There is no need to hide that fact, boy. It is merely definitive proof that you are above the trash." His smirk widened. "It is the fate of those of us who walk over them. When we walk, everyone watches. When we talk, everyone listens." The spirit swept his blade out to the side.
Eagles authoritative tone brought Reiko back out of his head.
"Rather than hide it, It is a thing to be lauded. The fact that you are above this trash is the very reason I drew this sword." Eagles fiery gaze narrowed as he watched Reiko retake his fighting stance. "I wouldn't waste a sword of this quality on docile sheep. A clawed and fanged beast, capable of devouring sheep, however, might just be worth the time to hunt!"
The genius took a deep breath, focused himself inward, and rid himself of distractions. He released a hand from his sword and held it out, palm up. A glowing card twirled into existence and settled slowly into his palm. "Come to me! Helel!" The card ceased its twirl, and cracked like a plane of glass before shattering completely.
A figure phased into existence in front of the gray eyed boy. It stood slowly, regally, and with a snap, six pure white wings opened. His pale platinum colored hair swaying with the slight breeze, Helel's equally pale form now stood between the genius and the Kuei.
Joy seemed to flash for an instant over Eagles face, before it was swallowed up and faded away. "So -that- is a Persona, is it?" Even he, a True Ancient Kuei, had never seen something like the creature that stood in front of him. He -could-, however, tell that it radiated a sense of power and prestige worthy enough for Eagle to consider him an opponent.
Something -worth- waking him from his thousand year slumber!
He raised his ornate sword and pointed it toward the six-winged angel, an orb of light forming at its tip. Reiko's gaze widened. He recognized this feeling. This magic. Pure energy, unadorned and unattuned to the elements of the world around him. Nothing more than raw power that was eerily akin to his own Megido spells.
It seemed his choice of Persona had been a good one after all. Helel gripped his sword in one hand, and raised his free hand forward, a similar ball of raw energy forming within it.
There was a split moment of silence before the two orbs of light turned into beams of raw energy that collided and tore at each other in an ethereal display of magical might.
"Not good enough!" The calm in Eagles voice had vanished and, in its place, was something that could only be called a feral sense of excitement. However, what surprised Reiko was not the tone of the voice... but from where it came.
He spun quickly, as he heard Eagles voice from behind him. And there he spotted Eagle, with his sword pointed directly at the gray-haired boy. Again, there was a ball of ethereal white light twirling at its tip. Helel's magic had matched Eagles. Reiko wasn't so confident that his own magic could do the same.
Instead, he calmed himself and focused deep into the depths of his heart. He could hardly say he was a master at this... but it seemed like as good a time as any to see the fruits of his training.
As the energy Eagle had spawned began to descend on Reiko in a mass of swirling white light, he stretched out a hand and there...
A second tarot card twirled into it.
Eagle watched with some satisfaction as his magic poured down onto the boy. He didn't so much as flinch when the twirling mass of raw energy exploded, kicking up dust and fog alike. "Well..." He seemed almost disappointed for a moment, as the magical explosion vanished to show nothing more than a blasted landscape. "...I suppose a dog offers little in the way of a challen-!"
He sensed it, on the very edges of his perception. A blade, falling toward him. An intent to end his life. If he hadn't lived his mortal life constantly under such a feeling, he might have missed it entirely. He turned just in time to see Helel's blade slicing right toward his head.
He set his jaw and jumped backwards, so narrowly missing Helel's divine blade that the sword took a few strands of his hair before he managed to get out of range. He slid backwards until something stopped him. It felt like... an open hand?
A blast of raw energy sent Eagle sprawling forward as he twisted himself to regain his stance. His fiery eyes glowering at the source of the magic that seared his back.
"Be careful what you wish for, Eagle."
There, across from the Kuei, stood Reiko, his hand still outstretched from the magic he'd just unleashed. For a single moment, Eagle was left wondering how Reiko had avoided his magic at such a close range. That confusion didn't last long.
Settled behind the ashen genius was an angelic figure... An angelic figure that was -not- Helel. Eagles eyes saw the pale, six-winged angel settle defensively between Reiko and himself. No... This angelic figure was female, her long blonde hair falling over only a single pair of pure white wings. The strange Angel, who had her arms wrapped protectively around Reiko's neck from behind, seemed to be wearing a blindfold with the image of a single eye in its center.
Two angels had heeded his call.
Reiko's gaze and smirk seemed only -slightly- more feral than usual.
"Or you may find yourself devoured by the fangs of that very -beast-!"
The repeated 'whoosh' of his weapon twirling through the air was the only sound that the battle made. Osprey smirked as his massive stone-hewn halberd whirled around him. Again and again, it narrowly struck the youths that prodded at him from three sides.
Chie speedily ducked under the wide axe-like blade of the halberd , still feeling the brush of the breeze from its passing.
Now she knew what they meant with the phrase 'Death's Wind.' She knew it would only be a matter of instants before the blade had circled around and was aimed at her again.
Osprey himself was large and muscular, how he twirled an equally massive weapon around with such ease, was utterly beyond the young detective-in-training. She was quickly forced to backtrack out of the way of the whirling terror.
Kanji growled as he, too, was forced back. Maybe the story would have been different if he'd had his shield, but even then he wasn't entirely confident. The speed and power with which Osprey swung his weapon made him think that any attempt to merely block it would end horribly for himself.
Yosuke also darted inward. This kind of fight was where he'd usually excel. Using the agility he was always so proud of, he narrowly dodged the curved edge whirling its way toward him. Gripping his daggers tightly, he spun, putting all his weight behind the first slash.
A ghost of a smile appeared over Osprey's face as he brought the long haft of his pole-arm to the side, solidly blocking the dagger's slice. However, Yosuke's slice had been, from the very start, nothing but a feint.
The brown haired boy reared back with his other dagger and plunged it straight forward. Like an arrow to a bulls eye, Yosuke's dagger fell toward the Kuei's heart.
"You're too naive..."
That ghostly smirk never left Ospreys face.
From directly in Yosuke's blind spot, a soccer-ball sized stone flew through the air, colliding with the dagger-wielding boy. The blow sent him sprawling back, even as more similarly sized stones fell toward him like a hail of artillery.
Kanji dove forward, grabbing Yosuke by the collar and roughly dragged him out of the line of fire.
Chie took the opening. Osprey's weapon had, for a single moment, stopped moving. She plunged in, intent upon putting the entirety of her strength behind one of her infamous kicks. Though she had made sure to maneuver into one of his blind spots, Osprey casually sidestepped her kick as though he were a reed dancing in the wind.
"Too short sighted..."
He spun his weapon, letting its weight start the rotation, and let the long haft of the halberd collide squarely with Chie's stomach. Bent over the length of the pole, Chie's lungs rapidly found themselves without air.
Grasping his weapon of choice with both hands, Osprey spun. Chie, still bent over the weapon, was carried with the motion and suddenly found herself in the air before solidly colliding with what felt like another person.
The larger boy had started his charge only to have it squarely stopped as he clumsily caught Chie as she was propelled toward him.
"And too impatient..."
The three Persona users found themselves beside each other as they quickly tried to re-establish themselves before the Kuei decided to attack again.
A dry chuckle. Osprey looked at his three young opponents with amusement. "You three aren't especially bad... but you're too used to fighting on a small scale." The Kuei spun his weapon before roughly planting the haft of it into the ground, causing the area around him to crack. The stones he'd 'separated' in the action, instead of falling down to the earth again, rose up to defy gravity and hover around him.
"You children wouldn't last even two seconds on a -real- battlefield."
Chie gulped. He... wasn't wrong, now that she thought about it. Even as a group, the Persona users had never really fought more than a handful of enemies at a time. The spirit in front of them, however, had an entirely different kind of poise. Their last round of engagement had proven that.
A veteran general, a warrior scarred from being in the thick of battle and emerging time and time again with victory. The kind of man capable of 'watching' an entire army at once.
This realization brought another cold thought to Chie's mind. Compared to Vulture, Osprey was almost a polar opposite. That maddened Skull-Collector had an almost obsessive focus on his prey, once battle started. The Spirit before them seemed far more capable of looking at things in a broader, more inclusive view. Vulture... for all the hell he'd put Yosuke and Chie through, was infinitely -weaker- than the Kuei in front of them.
"Not going to attack?" Osprey settled into a stance, that same sense of dry humor about him. "Then I suppose it's my turn..."
As soon as the last word left his mouth, his form seemed to vanish.
Yosuke quickly glanced to the left... nothing. To the right... nothing.
"Shi-... Above!" Kanji yelled out as he dove away. Chie followed suit. However, Yosuke didn't move.
'It's just like before...' The brown haired boy grumbled in his thoughts, his eyes catching Osprey as the large man descended with his halberd aimed directly at him. 'It's just like it was with Reiko's shadow.' Their foe 'saw' more than they could...
If things kept going...they were going to lose.
Somehow, Yosuke was sure of that.
If there was anything that could be done to turn the situation around then it had to be done soon. Yosuke crossed his daggers, intending to take the immanent blow of Ospreys halberd. Running wouldn't win this fight.
The halberd's edge descended at a pace that was probably too fast for most to recognize... but for Yosuke it felt like an eternity. 'I'll turn this around...and attack him!'
As though he'd been thrown into an ice-cold pool.
He couldn't move. He couldn't think. He couldn't feel.
It was almost as though his body were no longer his own.
And the words whispered from his mind into his very soul.
'I'm... gonna... die...'
Just like before... He saw it all in slow motion. In place of Osprey and his deadly halberd, what he saw was Vulture... and his deadly claw aimed directly at his heart.
The image played out again... Vulture's claw impaling him straight through the heart. And then it vanished. And then it played again... and vanished... and played again.
'I'm... gonna... die...'
That's when he realized it.
Fear had paralyzed him again.
The image of Vulture tearing his very soul from his body played again and again in an overlapping cacophony of sound and image and pure, terrible, cold.
'I'm... gonna... die... again...'
Something collided into him, just before a horrible rush of wind took his hearing. And all he saw was dark.
But strangely enough... the horrible cold freezing him in place was gone...
A warmth enveloped him and he found that... despite not seeing or hearing anything... the fear that had so paralyzed him was receding.
The ringing in his ears slowly fell away... and his eyes began to refocus...
The brown haired boy found himself covered in something soft, warm, and blue. It took only an instant for him to make the connection.
"You're really..." a cough, as Chie slowly pulled herself off Yosuke. The two of them had ended up in a tangle of limbs on the ground. "...an idiot, Yosuke." The fondness in her voice matched her strained smile.
Yosuke watched her stand up, realizing she'd taken the brunt of the force of Ospreys attack, if not the actual blade. The two brunettes had been flung several yards back simply by the force of Ospreys blade impacting the earth.
If he'd taken that blade head on...
...then he really -would- have died.
"Stop trying to take everything on your shoulders..." Chie righted herself and glared at the offending Kuei.
He was leisurely dodging attacks from Kanji. Though the flurry of punches seemed to do little more than further amuse the spirit. Every time Kanji found an opening through which he could attack, he was interrupted by a flurry of stones flying at him. The counter-attack styled strategy was only further annoying the brawler.
"We'll watch each others backs... isn't that what you said when you asked me out?" Chie chuckled at that. "Sounds cheesy as hell, now that I think about it."
Yosuke shook his head, as though the fog behind it was finally clearing. He struggled to his feet with a deadpanned glare at Chie's back. "You seemed pretty impressed with it back then..."
She turned just enough to look a Yosuke, while keeping the battle between Osprey and Kanji in her field of vision. "Yes... I am." She didn't bother to hide the slight blush on her features.
Yosuke didn't miss the fact that she was speaking in present tense. He tried in vain to stifle his own blush.
Kanji swiftly dodged the axe-like head of Ospreys halberd as he brought it down before leaping back and opening some space between him and the Kuei. "Can ya -please- flirt later? I could use a hand here, senpai."
"Whose flirtin'?" Yosuke grumbled, a slight smirk on his face as he readied his daggers and took up a stance beside Kanji.
"Seriously... I don't think Yosuke -knows- how to flirt." Chie chuckled, clenching her fists and dropping into a stance of her own.
"Enough with the peanut gallery..." Yosuke grumbled again, glaring at the calm mannered Kuei. Osprey had his heavy stone halberd slung across a shoulder, watching them with the same dry sense of amusement he'd carried the entire time. "Lets wipe that smirk off his damn face!"
Naoto gasped for breath as she leaned against the wall of a convenience store. They were getting near to Junes.
The small-framed detective shifted slightly as she glanced over her shoulder at Rise.
The idol had a pained look on her sleeping face. Almost as though she were enduring a nightmare of sorts. She was sweating horribly as well... Whatever was afflicting her was not pleasant.
Whatever happened to Rise... it couldn't have been merely coincidence. Could it?
The breaks in the patterns as to how the Kuei attacked. The time. Their respective locations. And now incapacitating the one member of their party at could easily bring them back together.
That was odd.
Naoto grumbled, shifting Rise lightly. She was carrying the idol piggy-back... but her small frame didn't make having to carry someone in this kind of a situation any less of an ordeal.
No... All the previous breaks in the way the Kuei attacked pointed at someone who was far more blunt in terms of personality.
Pigeon was about as far from blunt and easy to read as could be. He was the type to set up a maze filled with devious traps... and watch his prey squirm.
This attack was more akin to a bull parading through a China shop. However, merely incapacitating Rise without revealing themselves... That felt more like the devious maze-master than the proverbial Bull.
Or was Rise's incapacitation really just luck of the draw?
Naoto growled, shaking her head roughly of the thoughts. There simply weren't enough facts to form any kind of hypothesis.
She had to find someone...anyone... and then perhaps turn this paralyzing situation around. Shouldering Rise once again, the Detective Prince darted forward, hoping she avoided any of the nasty denizens this place usually had roaming about.
She rounded another corner and paused... her gaze wide.
Six of those strange angler-like hounds were surrounding a figure whom she couldn't make out. Setting the comatose idol down in the alleyway where she stood, Naoto unholstered her revolver. Whoever it was being hounded by the hounds, as it were, she -could- tell they human. Or... at the very least, had human shape.
Not pausing to doubt herself, she rushed out and fired her weapon, felling four of the half-dozen hounds. The last two turned to leap at her just as she squeezed off the final two rounds of her revolver.
Naoto's gaze widened in shock. When she'd told herself to find someone... anyone...
She simply hadn't fathomed something like this.
The person she'd just saved...wasn't someone she'd been expecting to see.
His back pressed against the building, his iconic black Yasogami high uniform torn and bloodied, and his face practically frozen in terror...
There was no way she couldn't know him.
Gezi Bai. Dove. The person her contacts had said 'didn't exist.'
"Y-you... really... are Shirogane-san... right?"
"Dove-san...what are... how are... what's going on?"
"T-that's what I wanna ask!" Quickly glancing left and right, peering into the darkness, Dove finally returned his gaze toward the young detective. "I was just on my way to the store... and everything went black... and monsters... and tombstones..."
Naoto narrowed her gaze. Akihou's words about how Dove 'couldn't be trusted' quickly rang out in her head.
He was scared. Of that there was no doubt. She prided herself on seeing through other peoples lies... That was what made her the 'Detective Prince' after all. And all of her senses told her... this man wasn't lying about being terrified.
"Who -are- you Gezi-san?" She kept her gaze as calm as she could manage. "As far as I can tell, normal people can't enter this place." She cast her gaze toward the tombstones that were scattered about the area... each of them a representation of one such 'normal' person.
"Ok... I admit it..." He gave her an embarrassed smile... "I'm a mage. The Clock-Tower dispatched me here to watch Ryuujin-san during his mission... but this... they didn't say -anything- about this!" He swept his hand out toward the darkness.
Naoto's brows raised. Akihou -had- mentioned something like that before. The Clock-Tower sent 'Watchers' out to report on the various missions its operatives underwent. 'Talk about paranoid...' If she recalled, Akihou had mentioned that the previous Watcher had retreated in order to hand Sayako over to the Clock-Tower.
Akihou's mistrust had been misplaced.
Dove -had- appeared only -after- Sayako had been taken away, after all.
Shirogane Naoto let out a breath she hadn't remembered holding. "They sent you out here without telling you what was going on?" At his nod, she sighed again. "Long story short...We're Persona users... and there's a group of Chinese Spirits, Kuei, who'd rather have us dead."
"I've -never- seen magic of this level." Dove gulped again. " They must be -real- monsters..."
"They are." Briefly, Naoto remembered her skirmishes with the Kuei Crow. She shook her head and turned to retrieve Rise. "In just about every way I can think of."
"Ah?" Dove turned his gaze back to the detective as she brought Rise out of the alleyway. "Kujikawa-san? Is she alright?"
Naoto could only shrug. "I have no idea. She just collapsed out of no where earlier. It seems like she's having some kind of nightmare... but other than that I have no clue." She set down the comatose idol as Dove knelt on the other side of Rise.
"Sounds like she's been possessed by something." He stretched out a hand to brush away Rise's auburn bangs from her eyes. "Let me see if I can't help her..."
"Alrigh..." Before Naoto could even finish that single word... a strange feeling washed over her. Perhaps it was because of her usually cautious nature... or maybe it was all the training she'd had as a detective capable of spotting the most minute of details... but she couldn't help but wonder...
How had she gone from being completely distrusting of Dove... to being able to trust him with healing Rise...
She didn't have time to act on the revelation though.
A flash of light lanced over her shoulder... so close she could still feel the heat radiating off of it. The bolt of light hit Dove squarely in the center of his collarbone, sending the golden-haired boy flying backwards.
"I thought I told you -not- to trust him!"
That was... "Akihou!" She turned quickly to greet him. "He's a..." Her sentence started petering off as soon as she saw the kind of condition the orange haired mage was in. "...watcher..."
Akihou's form was covered in a literal myriad of cuts and scraps... his once pristine Yasogami uniform had been all but shredded. His orange hair, usually tied back in his iconic ponytail, was loose and matted with blood.
"No..." The orange haired Mage breathed deeply, obviously worse for the wear, and was barely able to maintain the bow of light he was currently holding. "He isn't..."
There came a distinct crackle followed quickly by a sizzle
"Oh me Oh my..."
Dove, who had landed on his back in the street, sat straight up. Akihou's arrow of light still sat, impaled at the center of his collarbone, but at the tip Naoto could now see a complex set of magical runes, not unlike those Akihou wore on his arm. The runes flickered with light one last time before going dark.
"You laced a magic-breaker spell into your light arrows..." Reaching up, almost as though he were plucking a leaf off a tree, he removed the arrow that was stuck into his person. The runic crest shattered like glass and vanished. "And it took me -so- long to make that suggestion crest."
'Suggestion?' Naoto blinked once... twice... and gasped. Suddenly a memory of Akihou rang through her ears...
"Magic... isn't all fireballs and thunderbolts, you know."
She cursed herself silently. -That- explained why even someone as cautious as her, complete with forewarning and damning evidence, had let herself trust the mysterious golden haired boy. He'd used a subtle form of magic that made people -want- to trust him.
"I'll praise you... Akihou Ryuujin. For being so stubborn." Dusting himself off slightly, Dove got to his feet, readjusting his coat. "However... I'd have thought someone like you was a bit more intelligent than that."
Naoto gathered Rise in her arms and retreated to Akihou's side.
Dove simply smirked.
"After all, last I left you... " Dove produced a book from the folds of his coat, leafed through a few pages and nodded to himself before snapping the small book closed. " You were little more than a bloodied pile of worthless meat." He shrugged in a showy manner, shaking his head slowly... "I had thought otherwise... but..."
And Naoto felt her blood run ice-cold. She -knew- those mannerisms.
"It seems you truly -want- to be a part of this tragic little play..."
A/N: Hola everyone. Yeah I know what everyone's thinking... What happened to getting the blood flowing? What can I say except that I may well be one of the most fickle writers alive? XD
Either way, here is the final portion of 'Birds of Prey' and now I can truthfully say I'm back to the parts that I've had pretty much planned out since I started writing this story. My own fickleness aside, this 'downtime' between the last Kuei Attack and the 'start' of this Kuei attack was difficult for me to write as it was something of a black hole in terms of story planning. I knew what came before, and knew what came after.
But trudging through this part proved a bigger barrier than I thought it'd be. Oh well... On to the next chapter :)
For those few who might be wondering. Osprey's theme song is 'Crisis Core FF7 - Soldier Battle' and Eagles actually doesn't come from a game. Eagles is 'Tsubasa Chronicle - Catastrophe.' Owls... well I won't spoil her just yet... wait 'n see :)
Till next time, R&R as ya like...