The Devil's Checkmate

By Miaka

If anything happened to Miyako, Jeanne would never forgive herself. She found the racing of her heart was offbeat; something about the demon's true form had unsettled her and she tried putting it out of her head as she squinted into the darkness of the backstage.

"Jeanne!" a familiar voice squeaked from above. Jeanne looked up, surprised to find Access Time floating down towards her, radiating violet.

"Access? Is Sinbad here?" Jeanne raised her eyebrow.

"Actually, I'm just here to tell you there are light switches on the right stage wall," Access grinned.

As she darted over to the right part of the stage, Jeanne considered asking why Access hadn't brought Sinbad, but she decided against breaking her concentration. Blindly running her fingers across the wall Access mentioned, it took Jeanne less than a minute to find the switches. There were several, but only one was left down; Jeanne flicked it upwards. She looked over her shoulder and found she could actually see the far wall now; and attached to the center of that back wall, a ladder.

"Thanks, Access! Could you tell Fin I'm alright?" Jeanne requested, also wanting Access to stay out of danger. Access hesitated, as if considering. But when he saw Jeanne's wide, amethyst eyes, he nodded and flew off in the direction of the lobby. When he was gone, Jeanne took a deep breath and began her climb upwards. Within seconds, she was up in the rafters, walking over lights and ropes as she looked around. A door at the left stage platform caught her eye and, upon going through it, she found herself in a dim stairwell in which she could either go up or down.

Miyako was dropped down onto the opera house roof without warning. She felt the texture underneath her scratch her hands, and, after collecting herself, she lifted her palms up to see if they were not bleeding. Since there were few lights on the roof, it was hard to tell. But the scratches felt hot. She could make out the shadow of her captor standing over her. Very slowly, she lifted her head to face him. The gleaming eyes that met hers startled her; they glowed like golden lanterns with dark narrow slits in them. Miyako shuddered; to think she had mistaken the creature for an angel.

"What are you to Jeanne?" the demon asked. His voice was coy, and Miyako didn't like it. So she lowered her eyes and said nothing. The only door in sight was far away from her, and she would have to pass the demon to reach it. She didn't expect her chances of getting past him were very high.

"Hmph. You're either very smart or very stupid," he grinned at her defiance. Miyako refused to look at him, and so he knelt down and grabbed her chin, forcing her again to face him. Miyako glanced down at his hand, surprised that his fingers were neither fiery hot nor ice cold to the touch. She was trying to figure out why he hadn't killed her already when she noticed his eyes were suddenly directly in front of hers. This startled her frozen, and he smiled as he felt her shudder. When he spoke again, his voice was surprisingly soft. "By the way… I couldn't help but notice that Jeanne seemed surprised to see you. Could it be you weren't supposed to know what she was up to?"

At that, Miyako jerked her head away, prepared to retort in Jeanne's defense. The demon just snatched her by the pony tail and stood, dragging her up painfully with him. Miyako's cry blocked out the sound of the roof door opening. It didn't keep the demon from noticing, however; and when he did, he pulled tighter on Miyako's hair.

"Let her go. This is between you and me," Jeanne demanded, appearing on the roof. She took a few steps forward. The demon eased his grip on Miyako's ponytail and smiled. Miyako wished he would let go completely.

"But it isn't really, is it?" he chuckled. His laugh grew louder at the perplexed look on Jeanne's face that followed. "What are you fighting for, Jeanne?"

Jeanne paused, both surprised and annoyed. The demon wanted conversation?

"This girl? Your family? Mankind?" the demon went on, filling up the silence with a dramatic air. "Yourself? No," he paused to push Miyako behind himself. Jeanne watched helplessly as Miyako stumbled backwards to the floor. "We're all just chess pieces, Jeanne. Haven't you realized?"

Without blinking, she swung the sword out in front of her. Of course she was fighting for everything dear to her. What was the demon stalling for?

"Be quiet," she snapped at him. And seemingly at her request, he did go quiet. But he was smiling.

Something in the air rang. Jeanne turned her head right and instantly slashed her cheek against an invisible glass wire. Blood stung across the side of her face, and as she refocused her wild violet eyes to the demon, she saw him hold his arms crossed up in front of him. His talon fingernails twitched slightly; another unseen wire tore the skin just above her knee.

"You surprised me," the demon mused to her. "I thought you'd have questions. Ah, well. Less work for me." His arms flickered upwards, and at once, Jeanne felt her legs caught between two wires. She brought her sword to them both and leapt some distance to her left. The demon, undaunted, laughed a little and delicately waved one hand towards her. Jeanne could just barely make out the glinting wires shooting towards her, but she ducked in time and rolled out of reach.

"Very well, then," the demon drew her attention again. Now he looked irritated. "You," he turned back and looked down to Miyako, who had been silently rooting for Jeanne. "Why don't you…" he started to say, leaning over a little to haul her up to her feet. "Do something useful?" He flashed another wicked grin at Jeanne and swung Miyako out in front of him. Jeanne couldn't catch the gesture he made next with Miyako between them. But the next thing she knew, Miyako came flying at her, her bare hands outstretched to Jeanne's neck. Jeanne dropped her sword to bar Miyako away with her arms.

"…Maron!" Miyako whimpered, conscious to what she was doing but unable to stop. She suddenly kicked Jeanne hard in the shin. The blow shocked the strength out of Jeanne's arms momentarily, enough for Miyako to break through. And suddenly, the girl tackled the kaitou to the ground, choke-grasping Jeanne's narrow neck with a frightening hold. Jeanne gasped, desperately prying at Miyako's unnaturally strong hands. Miyako's shoulders trembled in resistance, but she could do nothing.

"Fight it, Miyako…" Jeanne urged her friend though her voice was but a rasp. Behind them both, the demon had stepped up to entertain himself. As he saw Jeanne's effort to talk, he pulled back on the wires controlling Miyako. Her hands tightened around Jeanne's neck. Jeanne, squinting against the pain and creeping loss of air, glanced around for her sword. It had fallen too far from her reach earlier for it to be of use now. Even if it had been nearer, she would not have been able to use it against Miyako. With her last ounce of strength, Jeanne forced her knee up against Miyako's stomach, knocking the girl off to the side. In a second, Jeanne was up on her feet again, sword in hand. Shocked, the demon lost his concentration, freeing Miyako to crouch over her stomach and recover from Jeanne's offense.

Leaving the demon not a second more, Jeanne charged at him with the sword. Before she reached him, he flew up onto the roof ledge, missing the swing of her attack. She looked up at him furiously, swinging again at his feet. With a laugh, he dodged the second attempt, hovering just beyond the roof's edge.

"I've made you angry," he noted with a hint of amusement.

"What did you mean by 'we're all chess pieces'!? Aren't you including yourself by saying that?" Jeanne demanded, never once lowering her weapon.

"Yes," he said, the reply surprising Jeanne. "I too am just a pawn. But the difference is, there's honor in what I'm fighting for. Your god is a useless, old being afraid of change. Mine… wants to reshape this self-destructing planet."

Jeanne raised her eyebrow. "Self-destructing?" she repeated. Distracted, Jeanne did not see the demon motion towards her. At once her weapon was torn away from her grasp by the invisible strings crafted by the demon; then, a number of the wires circled her waist and pulled her to the edge of the roof. Alarmed and caught off balance, Jeanne wavered in the air. She heard Miyako yell out in a panic behind her, but too late was it for her to grab anything that might save her and she suddenly felt herself falling forward, forward, off the top of the building.

Horrified, she shut her eyes and prayed.