Title: Soul Hunters
Category: Anime/Manga » Kyo kara Maoh!
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Published: 03-12-10, Completed: 01-05-11
Chapters: 39, Words: 275,095
Part 1: The Soul Hunters
Prologue: The Crypt of Souls
When Frey Lombard died, the last thing he felt was a pair of arms wrapped desperately around his waist. When he looked up, the last thing he saw was a handsome, tear-stained face hovering above him. When his vision failed, the last thing he heard was a familiar voice muttering something in his ears over and over again.
When Frey Lombard died, the last thing he remembered were the words his killer whispered regretfully…sorrowfully…repeatedly….
"I'm so sorry…"
And Frey didn't understand – or had death somehow diminished his ability to comprehend things? Why was the man apologizing? He couldn't help but think that the man was being stupid. Frey almost opened his mouth to tell him so, but then he remembered that he shouldn't. Things had changed. They were enemies now.
Frey stared at the face of the man who had just dealt him a fatal blow, the same man whom he had tried so hard to kill in return. The man looked…devastated.
Frey almost laughed, certain that had he succeeded and the other failed, he would have worn the exact same expression. He wouldn't have taken pleasure in the other man's death in spite of the things the man had done. Still, Frey was a bit surprised. He hadn't expected such a display of emotion here at the end of things.
He closed his eyes. He couldn't think anymore. He couldn't feel anymore. He was tired. He was going to die.
Something wet trickled down his cheek, and somewhere in his muddled brain, he realized that he was crying. No matter how much he tried to accept that this was the end, he couldn't help but feel a crushing sense of failure and regret.
Not just yet.
But it was already too late.
This couldn't be happening.
The guard paused, cursing under his breath, straining his muscles to the breaking point in a futile attempt to escape. He half-crawled, half-stumbled towards the door, unable to see clearly through the foul-smelling smoke that filled the air. Something was burning.
The guard cursed, louder this time, as his exhausted brain finally processed the cues present around him. The whole place was burning. He was going to burn.
He started to run, adrenaline pushing his unresponsive limbs to the limit. He was nearly there. The door was wide open. Just a few more steps—
A few paces to his right, something moved. Instinctively, the guard attempted to leap to the opposite direction, but his legs finally gave way and he fell to the floor with a thud. Through the haze, a large hand reached out and clamped mercilessly around his throat, pulling him up until his feet hovered inches above the ground. The guard stared, eyes wide with horror, as he came face to face with his attacker.
The man was huge, muscled, and undeniably strong. This was somebody the guard would have never willingly challenged to a fight, but as it were, he had no choice. He struggled, kicking his feet and flailing his arms, but he might as well have attacked a solid wall for all the good that it did. The guard let his body go limp in defeat.
To his surprise, his assailant put him down and shouted to somebody he couldn'tsee.
"Hey Ryuu! I found a live one!"
Another man materialized out of the fog. Catching his breath, the guard watched him approach. The second man had a very unusual appearance – extremely pale skin, a striking face framed with tresses of long, tangled, white hair, and silvery-white irises. He was also clad in an all-white garment that covered everything but his face. Had the guard believed in ghosts, he would have thought that he was seeing one just then.
The ghost-like man called Ryuu stood beside his companion and looked down at the guard with a calculating expression. "He will do," he said after a moment. "Take him, Tier. We're lucky someone is still alive."
"It wasn't my fault," Tier – the brawny man – complained, dragging the guard by the collar towards the center of the room. The guard groaned in pain.
"Oi, don't kill him yet," he heard Ryuu say. "Honestly, why couldn't you stop killing somebody just for one second?"
"I told you it wasn't my fault," Tier grumbled. "These guys are just so damn fragile."
The guard stared at the two men, bewildered. Then, as the smoke cleared a little, he began to understand what the argument was about. The usually spotless floor was littered with broken tiles, shards of glass, and…several dead bodies. The guard couldn't see the faces but he recognized the corpses' clothing – red and white cloaks trimmed with silver – just like his own. These were his comrades. And they were all dead.
The guard shut his eyes tightly, not wanting to see anything more. This wasn't supposed to happen. Hadn't the sentries said that there were only two intruders? How could a battalion of guards be defeated by only two men?
"—once! I struck them once with their own swords and they just keeled over," Tier continued in a disgruntled tone. "And I didn't even know how to use a sword!"
Ryuu snorted. "What's there to know? You aim, stick it in, then pull it out."
"Why does it sound so lewd, coming from you?"
"Everything sounds lewd to you."
The conversation went on to more mundane topics, and despite himself, the guard couldn't help but marvel at his captors' insensitivity – whether to the suffocating smoke or to the bloody corpses that lined the floor. They seemed quite absorbed in their argument, looking for all the world like walking in a burning room was a thing they do on a normal basis.
After a while, the two men stopped. The guard opened his eyes and looked around, recognizing the stone dais that stood at the very center of the room. This must have been the object of the intrusion.
Something stirred within the dais. With a blinding flash, a small and incredibly bright object flew out into the open ceiling. It catapulted out into the skies and disappeared, leaving a trail a bluish light in its wake.
"What was that?" he heard Tier ask.
"Souls," Ryuu answered, pointing at the dais. "Look, there are more."
The guard glanced surreptitiously at Ryuu, wondering how the man came about with that information. People have varying preconceptions of what souls look like, but only a few have ever really seen one – much less one from the origin – the Crypt of Souls.
The guard examined the intruders once more, wondering who they really were. At the moment, the two men were staring, mesmerized, at the objects floating idly within the confines of the dais. There were billions of them – orbs of various colors, sizes, and luminosity – all shimmering faintly in the smoke-filled room.
It was the brawny man who broke the silence. "You think he's in there?"
"I hope so," the ghostly guy answered quietly. An odd expression crossed his face but it was quickly gone before the guard could identify it.
"So how do we know which is the right one?" asked the other, taking in the sight of the countless, flickering orbs with a cautious expression.
The guard's eyes grew wide with comprehension. These men had broken in to steal a soul! He looked around frantically, trying to find someone or something that would help him through this situation. His eyes drifted to the entrance. Wouldn't the rest of the guards come?
Something moved. The guard bit his lip, hoping that it wasn't his imagination. He heard footsteps. Someone was approaching. The guard held his breath, unable to rejoice just yet. Then he caught a glimpse of a red and white cloak – the Crypt's colors!
For a second, the guard dared to hope. But then, the figure came close enough to be seen and the guard's breath hitched in his throat.
It was a most unusual sight. It was another guard alright – or more accurately, what remained of him. The other guard's head lolled from side to side, unsupported by an obviously broken neck. His body sported several fatal wounds, making it virtually impossible for him to have stood up and walked, much less be alive. But he – it – was striding purposefully towards the center of the room, heedless of the fact that his left limb was twisted at an awkward angle or that half of his other thigh was missing.
"What the hell—?" the guard exclaimed, shocked and repulsed at the same time. The two intruders, on the other hand, didn't seem surprised. Ryuu even looked faintly amused.
"Nice of you to drop by, Weisser," Ryuu called out cheerfully. "You look horrible."
"This was your fault," the walking corpse replied. "This was the least damaged body I could find."
"Sorry." Ryuu grinned, looking anything but apologetic. "What took you so long?"
"Aside from looking for a body with complete limbs?" the corpse retorted, shuffling forward awkwardly on two mutilated feet. "I dropped by my old room to get something."
"Your old room?"
"I used to live here, remember?"
The guard's mind reeled from everything he'd heard so far. Not only were these men after a soul but they had a former Soul Keeper amongst them! It was no wonder they were able to penetrate the Crypt's defenses so easily.
"Who's this?" The corpse's lifeless eyes turned to him and he shivered.
"Someone to answer our questions," Tier explained in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Have you asked him yet?"
"We were about to, before you came in," Ryuu answered.
The guard listened with growing trepidation. What could they possibly want from him?
"Relax," Tier said in what he obviously thought was a placating tone. It did nothing, however, to ease the guard's fears. "We're not going to hurt anyone as long as you help us."
The guard gaped at his captor in disbelief. Did the intruder expect him to believe that? He was already injured! His hands were bleeding profusely, an ugly gash marred his forehead, his neck hurt so badly, and by the looks of it, his legs might never heal completely. To add to that, all his comrades were dead! The guard would have loved to scream out his frustrations to the world, but he held everything in. Ryuu had bent down to look him in the eye, and while the man didn't look as intimidating as the muscular Tier, the guard had a feeling that of the two, Ryuu was the more dangerous one.
"We won't stay long," Ryuu said softly. "We're just looking for someone."
The guard's jaw dropped another inch. The man's tone suggested that he and his companions were just dropping by to pick up a friend; when in reality, they had broken into the Crypt of Souls, killed and decapitated all the guards they met along the way, and nearly demolished the Crypt itself. The evidence of their rampage lay around them – death and destruction as far as the eye could see.
"We're looking for someone," Ryuu repeated. "Which among them –" he gestured towards the millions of iridescent orbs hovering lazily above the dais – "is Frey Lombard?"
The guard stared back. The intruder couldn't seriously believe that he would answer him after all they had done, could he? Ryuu didn't appear to be joking though; if anything else, he had a dangerous glint in his eyes that indicated quite clearly that he expected an honest and swift reply - or else.
The guard shivered once more, stammering, "I-I don't k-know…"
"But you could find out, couldn't you?" Ryuu persisted.
Something round and heavy was set in front of him. The guard gawked at the object, recognizing a Soul Stone, a device that Keepers use to identify souls and pinpoint their exact locations.
Confused, the guard said, "I c-cannot activate that. Only Keepers can—"
"That won't be a problem," Ryuu interrupted. "Weisser…?"
The corpse nodded – his almost-severed head bobbed up and down – and placed a decaying hand atop the Stone. It flickered for a moment, then turned dark. Slowly, small dots of light appeared all throughout the Stone's black surface so that it now looked like a replica of a starlit sky. The corpse pulled his hand back and looked at the guard expectantly.
"I…I don't understand," the guard whimpered. "What do you want me to do?"
"Find out where Frey Lombard is."
"B-But…you're a Keeper! You activated the Stone! You should be able to—"
"Unfortunately," Ryuu cut in once again, "Weisser cannot do that anymore. We're not asking for much. We only need you to read the symbols. So…please." The last word was uttered so softly that the guard almost didn't hear it. But contrary to what the word meant, the guard felt that he wasn't being asked; rather, he was being ordered to comply.
The intruders fell silent, watching his every move. The guard stared at the Stone, willing it to show him where the needed soul was. The surface of the orb shimmered, showing one dot after another – one soul after another – with astonishing speed. Then it stopped, focusing on one tiny speck of light surrounded by several others.
The guard pointed. "I think…that's it…"
Tier whooped with glee. Ryuu stared at the dot wistfully. Only the corpse – the former Keeper, Weisser – spoke, "So, where is he?"
The guard squinted at the dot, trying to decipher the grids and symbols which he knew were visible only to his eyes. "He is…no longer here," he said after a while, and he could tell from the intruders' reactions that this was unwelcome news. The guard went on, "He was…Reborn…"
"When?" Ryuu asked, suddenly businesslike.
He squinted at the characters blinking below the dot's location. "About…eighty years or so ago…"
"Eighty years!" Tier exclaimed. "Is he still alive?"
"He must be," Weisser responded. "Otherwise, his soul would have returned here." To the guard, he commanded, "Find out where he was taken."
The guard obeyed, peering at the Stone once more. "In a place called…" – he paused, staring at the name – "…Shin…Ma…koku…"
The three intruders fell silent once more, but this time, the guard could feel that the stillness was more out of shock rather than anything else. This was something they hadn't expected at all.
He was right. Tier, who was the first to recover, swore loudly. Ryuu's eyes flashed dangerously. Only Weisser was unmoved.
"That was clever," the ex-Keeeper chuckled. "Well then, I think we're done here."
"Damn right, we are!" Tier said with feeling. "These Crypt bastards make me sick!"
Ryuu, with a far-away look in his eyes, nodded. "Let's go back."
The three men walked away. The guard stared after them, not daring to believe that he had escaped the fate the other occupants of the room had suffered. Were they really going to leave him here…alive?
A few steps away, he saw Ryuu turn. "By the way Weisser? Get rid of that body will you? You look ridiculous."
Weisser grinned, and the expression transferred onto the corpse's rotting face. "I told you, this was the only decent body I could find."
"What about that one?" To the guard's horror, Ryuu pointed at him.
"That one," Weisser replied, "is still alive."
Tier crushed his fists together. "Want me to take care of that?"
There was a brief silence as Weisser considered his comrade's offer. Then – "Okay."
The guard froze. Everything seemed so surreal. He was beginning to wonder whether he was just having a nightmare. But then, he was sure he wasn't dreaming. The pain and horror felt all too real.
"Tier," the guard heard Weisser say. "Don't break anything. I want the body to function well, got it?"
The guard slumped back against the dais, watching helplessly as Tier approached. The man was beside him in a second, his large hands gripping his head. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the walking corpse fall to the ground with a sickening thump.
The guard shivered uncontrollably. The pain came, and then –