It was his chance. The assassin would never get a more perfect opportunity. With the blood of its last kill staining its hands crimson, the monster howled in laughter, cackling madly. The time had come, and the assassin moved. One foot off the branch he crouched on, one more off the trunk of the tree between him and the monster, then the path was clear, and a knife flashed in the red moonlit night.

CRUNCH

The killer heard the bone break before he saw her move. Less than a tenth of a second before the blade reached the monster, it had caught his knife hand out of the air, and him with it. It's reaction, regrettably, had been predictable from the outset, and therefore not unexpected. From the beginning he only had one hope, and as he dangled, the muscles in his throat straining to support his body weight, he felt it slip away. The bones of the arm which held his trusted blade were broken, and any ways, the arm was still trapped by the clawed hand of the vampire he had tried to stop. As its fingers slowly tightened around his neck, Shiki realized, as he stared into those golden eyes, so filled with hate, and yet, so brilliantly beautiful, that the moment when all hope was lost, might actually be worse than the death that would surely come after.

It had been a good time in Tohno Shiki's life. He was graduating from high school, he had found a wonderful woman, his sister and he were finally growing closer, and he had made such amazing friends.

Whack!

The flat of the slim, black handled blade curved under his knife and slammed into the side of his head. Struggling to regain his balance Shiki hurriedly countered the follow up blow that would have surely disabled him and leaped backwards for respite.

"Honestly Tohno-kun, you seem to have trouble focusing today, can't you fight at all if you don't seek to kill?"

Her hair cut short, her robes filled with the weapons of her trade, the executioner was smiling mischievously at the slim man who menaced her.

"Hah….sorry Senpai, I will train harder, I promise!" The man said good-naturedly, rubbing the fast forming bruise.

"Then try again, Tohno-kun"

Practiced continued, the difference in skill was obvious, of course, as was the difference in style. The blue haired executioner, Ciel the seventh, darted around on light feet, as much at home on the trees that surrounded the Tohno manor as she was on the ground. In quick succession she flowed back and forth from melee combat to ranged, wielding the long slim blades that were her trademark, her movements were graceful, precise, an acrobat performing, a true master at work. The man was moving too, but his were the darting strikes of a serpent, all twisting curves and blurred speed, as much animal as they were human. Even after all this time, Ciel could barely understand the movements of Tohno Shiki. A cut flashed across the key she wielded, the blade instantly shattering in her hand, and Shiki darted inside her range. Flipping away from a blurred strike to her face, she hurled a key from each hand at the assassin who was already charging forward. It was a mark how serious the training was that while her keys were deliberately aimed at non lethal areas, they still carried the force and accuracy that made her a threat against even the greatest of the ancestors. But Shiki was equal to the challenge. Curling his body away from one key, he used the momentum of his dodge to add speed to the reverse bladed strike he aimed at the other, and, like its brethren, his blade barely seemed to touch it before it too, broke and was killed.

Death perception, the trump card of Tohno Shiki. If use of her keys showed how serious Ciel was fighting, then the lack of Shiki's glasses certainly revealed his resolve. The eyes that could always find the end of things. This was the only way Ciel could really train Shiki was to include his eyes in their lessons. Leaping backward to the safety of the nearby trees, Ciel's arm snaked out, caught a branch to steady her, and grasped three more keys from her robes with her free hand. Gauging Tohno's speed, with practiced precision she spread the blades with her fingers so that none would impair the other two's flight, and hurled them at the approaching combatant.

…But he was no longer there. As the keys left her hands, the assassin himself leaped into the trees. She was accustomed to tracking the speed and movements of the great vampires, and Ciel's eyes flawlessly kept track of him until his location was momentarily obscured by a tree trunk. Ciel watched the other side, waiting for him to dart out, but he did not. Ciel instantly recognized the danger. Flash step. The trademark of the clan of demon hunters, when a trick of running to break an enemies' line of sight, even that of a faster enemy, It was no magic though, however it appeared, it was a technique. So where…. the flicker of a shadow was her only warning, Ciel kicked off from her perch, twisting in the air to see the knife pass through the space where her head had been. She took it as a kindness the blade had presented its flat edge. She suspected that one mistake, the shadow that had alerted her, had been when Shiki turned the blade so as to protect her life. Now she understood, it was not a movement she couldn't have done herself, but the assassin had a skill that sometimes amazed even her. As he had run, when he had crossed behind the tree, he had redirected his momentum somehow and ran up it instead, using that to vault into the air and over her line of sight, preparing to strike from above. A smile reached Ciel's face. A student's prowess was honor to his teacher. Ciel grimly, in the back of her mind, was proud of both Shiki, and herself.

It was perhaps ironic that she of all people was best suited to teach Shiki to fight her. Ciel's style was that of an executioner, she had faced beings that would always be stronger, faster, better then she was, Ciel was the monster who hunted monsters, the ancestors and ancestor candidates were her natural enemy and her prey. Against such as those, it was always true that she would be constantly outmatched, and yet she won time after time. Her training, and her style, thus, was exceptional in teaching someone to beat someone who was physically better then they themselves were, and so Shiki learned to fight against her.

However, the attack had failed, the chance had passed, and it was time to finish this match. Ciel flourished a double handful of keys and leaped up to meet him in the air, she noted with grim satisfaction the way Shiki used his abilities and inborn skill to react to her strikes, redirecting her faster and more powerful blows to non lethal (if painful) areas on his body.

This was one of the true reasons she agreed to help Shiki fight, this most essential part of the lesson. Ciel was too fast, Shiki simply could not keep up with her power, if he tried to set up for a killing stroke on one key, or even a hand of keys, the other hand would impale him, this was important for Shiki to understand, that his eyes were not invincible. If he could not find the killing stroke, he was just a man. And the chance for that stroke had long since passed, when he missed her in his assassination attack. A final strike parried his knife away from her face and countered by a slice that would have taken his head from his shoulders if she had not been gracious enough to pull the blow, so that the razor sharp blade of the key only lightly kissed his neck.

"Hah…..HAH…." with the end of the match, Shiki couldn't help but gasp for air.

Ciel's training wasn't just growing more intense; it was also lasting longer, forcing him to strain his reserves. Ever since the death of Roa, Shiki had found his body responded better, tired slower, did not weaken as fast as it used to, he was quite fit, for a boy who had spent most of his life teetering on the brink of death. But of course, Ciel's stamina was not something he could match.

"Tohno-kun, are you ok?" With the match over, the robed girl crouched next to him, concern showing on her open, honest face. She was breathing heavily to, but Shiki wondered if that wasn't just an act to make him feel better. He knew she could have fought for hours longer without losing any skill.

Shiki smiled good naturedly at his friend, straightening the glasses he had just placed on his head.

"Don't worry Senpai, just a few cuts Akiha will yell at me for. Well she would, if she wasn't yelling at me for…"

"YOO-HOO!" Shiki! Are you finished? Let's go play!"

"That" Tohno finished, grimacing in mock horror.

Ciel grinned and rolled her eyes knowingly. The golden haired vampire was not someone whom the executioner had ever thought would ever be a friend, but the last few years had been full of surprises. She was willing to admit, at least privately, she still had deep reservations about the greatest of the vampires running free, especially lately, but Arcueid had proved herself a great ally, a good person, and fanatically loyal to the young man whom the sight of which caused her face to light up. When the night of Wallachia had occurred, Ciel had done her best to protect the town from the nightmares that had spawned, but it had been the combined efforts of Atlasia, Tohno, and yes, the true ancestor, who had ended the threat caused by Wallachia once and for all.

"Go on, Tohno-kun, she will sulk if you take too long, I'll clean up and head home alone from here, but remember, you promised!"

Ciel pulled her own glasses from her robes and replaced them. If not for the executioner's garb, she would again be just another student. She was always leery of wearing them in the day, but they hid her keys which she needed for fighting, besides, the Tohno manor was well hidden, she wouldn't be seen until after she had changed back into her uniform. Yeah….he had promised. Tohno-kun probably knew she would have helped him either way, but even so, whenever she gave him a lesson, Shiki had agreed to use some of the meager savings he had collected to buy her Messian at some point afterward.

It drove his sister Akiha wild that Shiki was always sneaking out to work, to train, and to date, and he always complained that she bullied him mercilessly for it, but as she watched Shiki go, she couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Akiha. A brother like him must be hard to look out for.

As the pair left, Ciel surveyed the battlefield with a sigh. Black keys stuck in the ground and the nearby tree trunks from every angle, Shiki usually helped her pry everything loose, but Arcueid had been early today, both Arc and Shiki had become more attentive to each other lately. She mopped the sweat from her face and been collecting her tools, the sooner she started, the sooner she would be finished, after all.

...

Shiki still had some time before he needed to be home. Akiha of course had a stiff curfew, and Shiki really wished he kept to it better, despite what everyone thought he really didn't like to make Akiha mad but…

"Hmm? Something wrong Shiki?"

Arc seemed to have noticed that Shiki was lost in thought.

"It's nothing, really. Just wondering how long Akiha and Sion will be at it today."
"Hee hee…..Shiki, are they still trying to teach Akiha how to read your mind? Don't worry; I'll protect you from our big bad little sister!"

Shiki grimaced; Sion's continuing education of his sister in the use of etherlite was a sore subject with him. The implications of that training horrified him beyond all reason.
"I don't even want to think about it….do you feel like a soda before we head back?" Arcueid's red eyes lit up. She was so easy to please sometimes. Of course she didn't need to eat, but she enjoyed it all the same, and it seemed to make her happy when he bought her something. "Here, take a few notes and get us both something, I'm gonna sit down a second, fighting Ciel really takes it out of you. He waved off a momentary look of concern from his lover and found a good place to sit for him and Arc to enjoy. That line of thinking always gave him pause. It was true that the princess did not need any food; there was one thing she craved still. It was the crux of a problem he could no longer ignore. Blood. Fresh, human blood, to be precise. The white princess had once been someone whose perfection was such that she didn't even suffer from the vampire's thirst which afflicted the other true ancestors, but a cruel trick by a man who loved her, had awakened that need. Back when they first met, Arc had barely been able to control her bloodlust, weakened by the power stolen from her, as well as damage caused by Shiki himself. After Roa had died, some of Arc's power had returned, which she had immediately used to reinforce the seals on her hunger. A true ancestor who had sucked blood once was supposed to be forever a slave to it, but Arcueid in her amazing power, had regained herself, she had only drank the one time, and with her gifts had been able to resist the compulsion for eight hundred years. …But most of those years she had been asleep, or submerged in the relentless pursuit of her prey. Now, her life was a simpler one, she drove him insane sometimes, but he loved her. He wanted to show her that she had someone who would always care for her, something she had always wanted, even if she hadn't known. But her time was running out. Shiki was learning more about hunting vampires from Ciel, because it was necessary, the town's guardians had changed from four to three. There was his sister, Akiha Tohno, who guarded the town as a monster against monsters, the Seventh, who protected as an agent of the church, and he himself, the wild card who could always bring death. The power of the mighty true ancestor was no longer a ward on the town, though that was a closely guarded secret. Though she hated it, Arc was a threat to the unnatural world in name only, the rate of decay was increasing, and she was forced to use more and more of her powers to keep her blood lust in check. It had just been a few nights ago when he had finally understood they were out of time.

...

"Shiki...do you hate me?"

It was something out of the blue. They had been resting together in Arc's apartment, the sweat from the night's entertainment still covering both their bodies. Shiki could barely understand the question.

"What? Why would you think that?"

Arc smiled sadly. At night, with a lover, the walls came down, and it became possible to speak the thoughts and fears that one's heart usually held close and secret.
"Don't you hate vampires? You always kill them. You hate the thought of dying, but every monster you see is something that most be killed right?"

Shiki laughed, he had an easy manner that belied just how serious he knew Arc was being.

"Who knows? Maybe I do hate you; after all I try to kill you all the time!"

Arc's surprised look was the perfect set up, but before the hurt could begin to form, he laughed again.

"Don't you know? If you impale a vampire, they are supposed to go away, I try it all the time on you, but it never seems to work!"

Shiki leered theatrically at her naked body, and Arc, realizing what it meant, flushed red. Shiki loved that about her, he really couldn't help himself. No matter how knowledgeable she was in other areas, Arcueid's only knowledge of sex was with him, and he loved to tease her. She laughed helplessly, and Shiki knew he had won.

"Arcueid...I killed you once. That was what my instincts told me to do. It was the worst thing I have ever done. You, a vampire, then came to save me. Not from Nero, or Roa, but from hating myself. You, who could have, should have, hated me, redeemed me. You forgave me. I love you. For that and for every other reason it's possible to love someone. No, I don't hate you."

Arc smiled. Under the moon light Arcueid Brunestud sometimes seemed very much the fae, otherworldly being she was.

"Then...what would you think if I really was a monster? If everything that told you to kill me was right?"

Shiki had to think. He knew he could not joke around anymore, and she would know if he was lying.

"I...I don't know. I guess...I wouldn't want to see that. It would...hurt."
Shiki knew it sounded frail, but he couldn't put it any better. To watch Arc betray everything she loved and give into her blood lust would hurt more than anything in the world.

"I know...it would hurt me to Shiki, that's why"

"That's why you are leaving?"

Arc nodded unhappily.

"We seal ourselves in sleep when it becomes too much...I should of done it months ago but...but I was really having fun Shiki!"

Tears touched the princess's face. Shiki didn't know, and he suspected she didn't either, if they were happy or sad ones. Memories of fun times, and the pain of separation, they were one and the same. She had to go away; it was best, but...

"Yeah...I did to Arcueid, I had fun to. When?"

Arcueid had already thought it over. Shiki wondered if she hadn't almost hoped he would say he hated her, just to make parting hurt less.

"This week...is it…it's all we have left. I can't...stay any longer. But I promise, even when I'm gone, I'll be dreaming of you!"

Arc was looking like she was about to start sobbing, so Shiki held her close and kissed her. Sometimes it was best to reassure someone with your body and actions then words. Besides, as long as he kissed her, she didn't have to hear the tears in his voice either.

...

"Wake up sleepy head!"
Shiki snapped out of reminiscing to see the true ancestor was in front of him, offering him a can of cold tea.

"Don't tell me you are napping just from playing with Ciel a little; won't you ever get any stronger?"

Most of his friends and family did not approve of Shiki wanting to take a more active role in hunting, but Arc seemed to think it was all in good fun

"Oh, you don't know, I did pretty well today, I nearly beat her!"

Shiki boasted back, taking a sip of his tea. Arc popped her own can, a fizzy, carbonated beverage of the kind she had acquired quite a taste for, and took a large gulp.

"I don't believe it! You always say that, and you are the only one with bruises. Heeeee...but if you are nice, I'll beat her up for you, ok?"

"No! No...that...really isn't how training works"

Shiki always wondered how serious Arcueid was when she said something like that. She and Ciel had never, would never, be friends, but they had fought together and won, several times now, that was something which always created a bond between people, something that in its own way was even closer then friendship.

Shiki drained half the rest of his tea thirstily; it was good to feel some energy flowing back through him. He looked at Arc playfully

"So, what do you think about going to the beach tomorrow? All day?"

The look of delighted surprise mixed with confusion reminded Shiki why he fell in love with her in the first place. It was often he could tease Arcueid Brunestud off balance
"Whaa? B-but, don't you have school?"

"You are always telling me to take the day off and dragging me away, and the one time I offer you don't want to go? Well, I suppose we don't have to if you..."

"No! I mean, yeah, I mean, I love the beach, I mean, I really want to go with you!"

Arcueid was flustered, but even so, her eyes were dancing. He rarely went out of his way to treat her to something nice, so it would be a fun way to end the week. Shiki finished the rest of his tea and tossed it in a nearby waste bin. Arc tossed hers along with it, having already finished her drink a while back.

"I'm sure I can convince Kohaku to make us a lunch to take along with us if I promise not to tell Akiha, so, why don't we meet at the bus station tomorrow around nine?"
Arcueid normally walked home with Shiki, though Shiki privately suspected it was so she could tease Akiha as much as anything else, but today she jumped to her feet and was already looking toward her home

"OK Shiki, I'll get ready, we should have...lots...of...fun...Shiki?"

Tohno Shiki had been half ready to wave and head back to the mansion, but there was something in Arc's voice that made him pause and look back at her. He really should be reassured, Arc looked fine. Of course, maybe her smile was stretched out a little strangely, and maybe there was a strange mix of greed and strangled hope in her voice, but Arc was always emotional, so wasn't it was natural for her?

Yeah, it was natural, just like the hand he reached up to grasp his glasses was natural. Just like the cool steel of his knife in his hand was natural

"Shiki...Shiki...SHIKI...SHIK I..."

For a split second, Tohno Shiki didn't know who he was. Part of him wanted to go to her side, comfort her, find out what was wrong, another part of him, wanted to rip that sweater off and ravish her right there, in front of anyone. She wanted it to. Tohno Shiki knew the moods of the true ancestor well, there was no question, the breathy husk of her voice, and the arrogant thrust of her bosom, Arcueid was aroused to nearly the point of ecstasy...but not by him. Shiki could see it. The way her head cocked at the air, the flair of her nostrils, even in the lust that had completely overtaken her, there was also the murderous intent of a monster… the last part of Tohno Shiki screamed at him to shred what was in front of him, rip it, kill it, right now...

...Kill it while he could still be the one to kill Arcueid Brunestud.

"G-Guh?"
Tohno couldn't help falling to his knees, the knife felt slippery with sweat in his hand, it was only instinct that kept him from dropping it. With force, he slammed his half drawn glasses back onto his head. Kill Arc? How could he? He looked up at the blond princess.

Arcueid had gone tense, rigid, staring hungrily at a scene of normalcy, for there, more than a 40 yards away on the other side of the fountain, was a little girl, crying in the arms of her father. She had fallen, and ran her arm along a bench edge, causing it to drip blood. How could Shiki of noticed, after all, such accidents were common. To the father, it was probably just a chance to hug his girl and tell her it was all right.

...Certainly he didn't expect the scent of blood to reach the greatest of the vampires.

"Shiki..."

At that moment, Shiki realized something precious, something dear, was lost. That last desolate utterance had contained something...fear. And hopelessness, and a desperate apology, for that was the moment she who had been the bane of the 27, the true ancestor princess, and most importantly, the woman he loved, had finally broken at last.

Then she wasn't there. In the last year in which Arc had been using more and more of her relative power to seal her bloodlust, Shiki had almost forgotten the raw power and mesmerizing grace with which Arcueid usually moved and fought with. It wasn't just that she was able to vault the fountain with not even a kick step for momentum, it was the way she cleared it at just the right angle, the way she began a controlled fall just inches after clearing the top point...the way it brought he right to the foot of the father and daughter.

The father, a man who was entirely ordinary in features, mid forties, glasses, streaks of white in his hair, well, he couldn't be blamed for being taken back. But he could be killed for it. The scariest part was the shear casualness of it. Anyone watching might have though the offhand backhand strike Arc used to knock him back almost tame. Just a casual rolling of the shoulders, the utter lack of tenseness in the rest of the body carried the implicit knowledge that it had been done from only the muscle in his arm. Of course, that didn't stop it from lifting the doomed man off his feet and more than thirty feet into the air, his body spinning so fast it nearly blurred from the residual motion enforced by the direction of the vampire's strike.

But he was not the target. Arcueid had already marked hey prey. Frozen in shock, the little girl seemed torn between trying to scream and trying to run, unable to do either. Shiki knew the feeling; after all, he felt the same way. He had to step in, he had to protect her, find a way to save Arc, help her, stop her, something. Arc cruelly grabbed the girl by her wounded arm and with a look filled with both suffering and the most exquisite ecstasy, began to lick the blood off her arm.

"Oh god..."

Shiki clawed his way to his feet, the knife making a small clink against the rim of his glasses as he held his head in his hands, the murderous pulse at the foremost part of his mind, urging him on. But his movements were by definition slower than the vampire lord's. You see the girl hadn't been willing, so it wasn't surprising that she would attempt to pull away. Of course, then, it wasn't surprising when Arc made a simple twisting motion, and with a wet, ripping sound, tore the girl's arm off.

Sometimes man is most noble in his futility. The park wasn't empty, and the sound of screams brought passerby running. The wound was fatal, even if it had yet to claim her life, but as the golden haired monster raised the severed arm and greedily sucked at the blood leaking from the bottom, several came to help. Women made for the girl, hoping to pull her away, men ran to restrain Arc, a passing beat cop was desperately yelling in his radio for an ambulance even as he charged forward. In his mind, he must have hoped to tackle Arcueid, save the girl, restore order, something like that.

"Ah...hah...hah...I...I..."

I...can't. That was all Shiki could think as he watched her. She lifted the nearly dead child to her teeth; her face already literally stained with blood, and ripped her throat out with her teeth.

I can't.

It was not a clean kill, the torn veins pumped blood everywhere. Rationally, it was stupid, the more that escaped meant less to drink, but it was obvious. She wanted to be covered in the blood. She wanted the blood to go everywhere, for the sickening sharp smell to coat the area.

I can't. Can't what? Can't kill her?
I can't. Can't stop loving her?
I can't. Can't beat her?
I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't.

It was all of these things, but really, it was also something much simpler.

"I just can't...watch this."

And it was then, that the only one who might have saved anyone, fled the area. The mind of Tohno Shiki knew only that one fact, that he couldn't tolerate seeing this. With the screams of the people, and the howling, mocking laughter of a newly born demon lord behind him egging him on, Tohno ran sprinting from the park, murder and death in his wake.

"Senpai!"

Ciel was just finishing her work at the Tohno manor; she had been looking forward to getting home and a hot meal after a nice workout when Shiki's voice reached her.
"Tohno-kun? Your back early, I thought surely you..."

One of the things Tohno Shiki was least used to in the whole world, and least wanted to hear, was the sound of fear in Ciel's voice, and the shocked look in her eyes would of scared him if he wasn't already sickened and terrified.

"Shiki...merciful lord...!"

Shiki was also not at all used to hearing her swear, though she was a member of the church, Ciel rarely expressed her faith, and therefore swearing, when combined with the use of his first name, was enough to draw Shiki up short. Ciel had gone rigid, staring not at him, but behind him. Shiki's knife came up and he twisted around defensibly, scared of what he might find.

It was the sky, the daytime had been early evening, but night was already following. But the darkness was not pierced by the pale beautiful moonlight he and Arc both enjoyed; rather, the landscape was fast painting itself a dull, hateful red. The vampire's moon shone down, called by one who used it as a sign of her royalty, crowned herself queen with the red moonlight.

"It has happened, hasn't it Shiki? Merciful lord above, it happened after all."

Shiki wouldn't find the words to answer the executioner. Ciel's face was stern, cold. Though normally sweet and cheerful, the seventh was one who did not believe in mercy, or reprieve. The use of his name signified a great deal, her rare oath by the lord's name meant still more. Unlike him, here was one who had already made the decision to kill.

"It has happened, hasn't it?"

Her voice was rough, but not cruel. She already knew of course but...she wanted to hear him say it, that he recognized what had occurred.

"There….there was so much blood."

The tremble in his voice was clearly audible. For all his abilities, Shiki was someone who hated the sight of blood and death, who could feel bile rising in his throat, and had to breathe deeply to settle his stomach.

"...Tohno-kun, go back to the mansion and wait there, warn your sister. I will go and..."

"No! Senpai, you can't!"

In retrospect for Shiki, this was not a surprising decision for Ciel, she had always been one to challenge danger, and he knew her to be a deadly and merciless opponent, but the end result was not something that would change even though she was powerful, but the seventh would fight anyway, that was who she was, the people that died were innocents that the church had to protect, so she would attack if he let her.

"Tohno. This is no longer your concern, leave the demon lord to me."
Shiki wanted to hit her, he might have, if he didn't realize even in his emotional state that he didn't have a prayer of landing unless she let him.

"Senpai, you will die! She will kill you, and then she will kill Akiha, and then she will kill me, and then she will kill until there is nothing left! Is that what you want?"

Even Ciel was taken back at the force in Shiki's words.

"you can't beat her alone...for god's sake we can't even kill her together!"

At that the enormity of the situation crashed in on Shiki again. Arcueid had broken, she was gone, and the shell that remained had to be killed. She had to be stopped. That alone made Shiki want to vomit, but even after that, she couldn't be beaten. Arcueid alone was always the strongest, with her powers unchained; they would be ants fighting a fierce divinity.

"Tohno-kun..."

Ciel seemed to be at a loss for words, she probably knew what was going through his mind. Probably at the back of hers she wanted to say something comforting, something warm, but there wasn't time for that now.

"...Let's go see your sister. Right now."

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Akiha and Sion were already aware of the situation. The Tohno manor was ablaze with activity when Shiki and the executioner arrived. The most telling was the red color of his sister's hair. The blood ran from her lips, and Kohaku was favoring her chest. One demon was preparing to hunt another. On her own, Akiha might not have recognized exactly what peril awaited them, but with an alchemist at her side the situation was understood far before Shiki and Ciel burst in.

Sion and Ciel had never really seen eye to eye, but they were hurriedly outlining a battle plan when Shiki walked back in.

"You are sure you can predict the ancestor's movements, Atlasia?"

"I believe so. Anticipating her movements will be difficult and require very large modifiers to account for her speed, but it should fall within acceptable parameters of error. However..."

The purple haired alchemist looked pensive for a moment.

"There is no time for indecision Sion!"

It was Shiki's sister who had interjected, Akiha had been oddly quiet as she watched her brother pace back and forward, but it was clear patience was not her strong suit.
"Even now she is killing everyone who was in the park, People in MY town, the only reason she hasn't left yet is...!"

Akiha was a naturally cold person, but the implications made her feel ill, she couldn't finish the sentence. Of course the reason Arc hadn't left yet was there were still people to drink from; therefore, it was people dying that bought them time.
"That...is not the only thing, however." Sion's authoritative voice drew everyone's attention.

"The ancestor...yes, she will delight in her killing and will not leave as long as there are yet targets to hunt, but even after...while her patience is not unlimited, I believe it highly likely she will remain in the park for a time"

Ciel was the first to understand, predictably.

"The demon lord will wait. Wait for us to challenge her."

The alchemist nodded sadly.

"She has been weak for so very long, though drinking fills her with delight, she also revels in her new found power, she wants to be challenged, and she wants to prove her supremacy under the vampire's moon against powerful opponents. Yes, I believe she will stay for a time where she knows we can find her."

"What about...Yumizuka-san?"

As one, the maids and combatants looked over to Shiki, he continued to pace like a caged lion, in truth, none had really believed he was listening to the conversation, maybe he hadn't. But even so, he continued to speak in the same dull, sad monotone he had adopted.

"She is scared of Arc...hell, I suppose we all are now, but she is friends with Sion and I, maybe she will lend a hand?"

Shiki's red haired sister and the executioner shared a very rare moment of mutual feeling, in truth; they were not fond of the half reformed vampire. But it was true the situation was desperate.

"It's all right." Sion was quick to agree with Shiki.

"Our chances of battle improve with a powerful vampire like Satsuki, and it will give me a moment more to reform our plan. Time is at a premium, but that does not mean we shouldn't take what measures are available to turn the situation to our favor."
There really wasn't any response to that. And as Sion said, Time was short. Akiha and Ciel made ready to head straight to the park, where they could hopefully monitor the situation without being detected. Of course, Kohaku had to go with her master as well; Akiha only maintained the strength to call forward her demonic blood to this level of power when bolstered by a synchronizer. In the mean time, Shiki and Sion would attempt to recruit the rogue vampire.

"And that is the situation thus far," Sion concluded.

It hadn't taken long for them to locate the fledgling apostle; Sion had unerringly led the way to the vampire's nest. It was a small blessing during a horrible day, things could have gotten much worse if they had to search for her. As it was, Shiki was nearly sick with worry about his sister and his friend.

"Erm...won't...that person...also be there?"

The auburn haired vampire was wringing her hands with apprehension as she asked her question, in retrospect, Satsuki's fear about Ciel's presence was obvious, though with Sion's help, the vampire was able to drink without the need to kill a victim, and thus was not an immediate threat, Ciel had kept a very firm watch over the vampire's hunts, and more than once had brutally assaulted her, oddly, it was the closest thing that anyone had ever seen to mercy from the seventh.

"She wasn't pleased but..."

"She won't mind."

Shiki cut in, it normally wasn't like him to interrupt, but he was worried about another lecture that seemed brewing from the alchemist.

"Yumizuka..." Shiki sighed to himself, beginning to pace again, it seemed like he just couldn't keep still, he was too keyed up.

"We will fight without you but...man we could really use you, please. If we don't do something...Arcu...That Person...will not stop here. The church or someone else may get her eventually but, she will kill everyone here, and how many more besides?"
The girl was clearly moved by the unusual amount of passion Shiki spoke with. She glanced once at Sion, who returned the look and nodded gravely. It was, after all, just as he said.

"Well...can we beat her?"

The vampire wasn't suicidal, actually, it was an entirely logical question to ask, Shiki frowned, but inwardly, Sion blessed her for it, it was nice to see her friend could practice some self control and self preservation, even when pressed by Shiki, a man she had a singular weakness to. She grinned wickedly, it was unlike her, but she did so love when a situation began coming together.

"Yes, I believe so, you see, I have a plan..."

Ciel and Akiha were there to meet them when the three arrived on site. It was a mark of how serious things were that there was not tension or animosity between the two. Shiki looked around and spotted Kohaku further back, who offered a cheerful smile and a quick peace sign. In order to maintain Akiha's power at a level that could assist against the demon lord, her presence was required, but they would try and keep her as much out of the carnage as possible.

Sion's explanation of the plan was quick and to the point. The rest nodded too quickly and began final preparations, but Akiha wasn't satisfied.

"What about Nii-san?"

It was a fair point, Atlasia had made no mention of Tohno's role in her strategy.
"Including your brother in my calculations has always been difficult, so I do not intend to, instead, he shall stand as a random but potentially positive factor. Shiki, escape into the woods and conceal your killing intent. Do not attempt to engage her directly, but if an opportunity presents itself, attempt a devastating attack. I suggest you ensure the first one counts, because you will get no second strike."

Sion closed her eyes and nodded to herself once

"I doubt I need to tell you this, but the trees will be your ally. Other then maybe the executioner, none here has the ability to hide their aura as cleanly as you do, therefore you should not even enter with us, I leave it to you to choose, enter first, and prepare, or when battle is joined, then go and look for your moment."

Shiki took on a pensive look. After all, what was to be killed was...

But emotions were quick to leave his face. Despite herself, Sion felt a chill at the murderous intent she briefly felt from him, she worried about his heart for the battle, but it seemed he too had chosen his course of action, his hand was in his pocket, no doubt the cool steal of the nanaya blade was egging him on. After a second, he turned and darted into the park, her eyes lost his movement when he let into the trees, but she couldn't help but notice the small scratching noise as his foot connected with the bark. The slip was small, but completely out of character for Tohno Shiki. It's not that she didn't understand the reason but...such things did not bode well for victory. As for the others, they were already ready to go, the target, a demon lord. Such an animal was usually the natural prey of the true ancestor princess, exterminating this last one...despite its identity, might almost seem homage to the centuries she had protected from threats such as this.

She was waiting. Covered in blood from head to toe, the greatest of the true ancestors stood bathed in the red moon light, her smile was vicious, cruel, utterly without mercy. There was nothing not be said, such a thing could not be called Arcueid, it was just a monster in the end.

"Heee...Ciel...Oh I knew you would come, isn't this what you al..."

The executioner's reply was swift, and typical, her hands blurred in the air, in the space of two heart beats 6 keys were flying at the demon lord, with the executioner charging behind them. Anyone who knew Ciel would not have been surprised; she was never one to ignore a possible advantage, with a twitch of the long sleeved robes on her arms, a key fell into each hand, prepared to strike as her steps rang loud in the night.

To Shiki, this battle was an unimaginable conclusion, an inconceivable nightmare, but to Ciel, this fight was an inevitability, the only surprising part was Satsuki and Akiha's presence. And Tohno's, of course, how she wished she could of convinced him to stay home.

Arcueid leaped into the air to avoid the Ciel's attack, causing Ciel to nearly falter in surprise, despite all her power, and ability, Arc had set Ciel up for a perfect attack, unable to change her direction, now she was incapable of dodging and could only block a follow-up, and therefore was now vulnerable to an overwhelming attack, Ciel immediately brandished a double handful of keys and pivoted her momentum off one foot, turning a half circle as she launched numerous keys again and again, three, then six, then nine, then twelve, finally 15 keys had all been unleashed with deadly ferocity, it was a flawless attack, which swarmed an enemy under via shear weight of numbers...which was when she was forced to acknowledge the true nature of what they had come to destroy. With a negligent sweep of her arm, the air around arc contorted, becoming a living hammer that smacked her weapons harmlessly out of the air, forcing Ciel to jump back to dodge the attack that slammed with a loud crack into the earth she had been standing on.

Marble phantasm. The ultimate weapon of the true ancestor princess. Give an order, and the very earth would obey if there was even the slightest chance it could, it was an unequivocal command that signaled her status as a transcendent being. For Arcueid, that power was not one to be trifled with or used lightly, the lighthearted princess had never been willing to use that strength unless it was absolutely necessary, it strained her abilities, and further, had been something that violated, or at least directed the natural world, for the white princess, a symbol of the world, it had been a last resort. As she landed in a half crouch, the cackling, mad laughter of the demon said differently. Around her, the wind around her contorted again, accompanied by her mocking cackle, formed blades that harried the seventh as she was forced to put distance between her and the red princess, who commanded the world itself to destroy her.

Ciel was forced to dodge behind a thick oak tree as another salvo appeared, which was shredded in seconds, but that was enough time for a brown and yellow blur to flit out from behind arc and send her crashing away. Arcueid redirected her momentum by thrusting a clawed hand into the ground and sending herself flipping up onto her feet just in time to meet the rush of the new apostle. Satsuki was not the equal of course to Arcueid, before or after her transformation. A clawed hand was redirected harmlessly over golden hair, and a straight fist stuck for the young vampire's chest, a blow intended to with a single strike, end her life.

It didn't even come close, with a grace she never should have possessed, the red eyed vampire curled away and snapped a double fisted strike laterally toward Arcueid's neck, which the vampire lord was only just able to side step left and turn away the attack...just in time to see the pair of cleverly thrown keys that had been timed to enter the space she had now occupied, even before Satsuki had struck, the agent had thrown a perfect strike that would have sent keys ripping into her face and body, with a quick growl of anger, the air solidified and deflected aside the thin swords mere centimeters from her body, also forcing back Satsuki who had moved to follow up.

That was...ludicrous! Through her anger, Arcueid couldn't understand, playing herself back, blocking keys and pushing back Satsuki with blades of air, she sought to understand, that brat did not have that skill! Of all her foes, Satsuki's body had the most potential, but Ciel had always been her superior because of her skill against vampires, against Arcueid she was no threat, but in that exchange she had taken the better of it, it was absurd! She of course, had been going easy on her opponents to enjoy the fun, but not so they could make a fool of her! Angrily she rushed in against Satsuki. keys came to intercept her, she clawed them at out of the air and struck with a cross swipe of clawed hands to tear her limb from limb, causing her to leap backwards nearly 20 yards in quick retreat, the demon lord was quicker, she met her landing with a low kick that spun Satsuki in the air, only a quick on hand on the ground under her and a raised knee was able to intercept a vicious claw strike aimed at her pelvis, pushing off the ground she raised herself to her feet backpedaling, playing for defense, a rip in the air formed behind her and sliced at her middle, but the young girl turned a quick back flip and spun back over it, causing a dark red line of blood to darken the back of her uniform, a mark of how close the attack has been. the furious golden eyed vampire struck again and again, each time the strike was only just evaded, again and again a lethal blow was thrust, cutting only air, or uniform, or just the tip of skin, the end of the fight was not in doubt, Ciel was assaulted by the power of earth, and the force of a demon lord could only be superior to the poor vampire who had yet to realize her awesome potential, death was coming. It was perhaps not even the blood that was beginning to flow more and more freely from the assaulted vampire, but by the ever increasing volume of the laughter of the demon who delighted in death.

But another force was not ready to see it end, as another force stepped forward and challenged the supremacy of the demon lord.

"Hurk!" It was the closest thing to a cry of discomfort they had heard out of Arcueid yet, a low cross cut intended for Satsuki's legs slowed perceptively, allowing her to dance back, her arms desperately came up to turn aside a follow up rush and buy her a precious moment to recover, but Arcueid was preoccupied. Most people looking would have not seen it, but even those without mystic eyes would have known the source. One did not enter Misaki with intent to kill and not risk facing the red mistress of the locks.

"Get the hell out of my town." Akiha spoke plainly, her arms crossed in front of her surrounded by her overgrown red hair. It was not a martial arts stance, but also not surprising, rather like her brother, Akiha's weapon came from her eyes, that created a curse that trapped and killed its prey without hesitation or remorse.

Flash. In a step, the vampire lord, disappeared, even Ciel's trained eyes were not able to follow the bull rush as she ripped straight through the myriad of burning thread, an arm out stretched to seek the life of the half blood...but both she and Satsuki were still there to defend, as one, just as her blow was reaching its target, both Ciel and Satsuki, with flashing keys and vicious claws were there to push her back. Akiha did not have the physical ability to oppose the likes of a normal vampire, let alone Arcueid, and drawing support from the world Arc could not be stopped by such a nuisance as the threads of origami, the heat would not sear, and her life force could not be drained, she herself was of a level that could not be stopped by even the power of a crimson red vermilion, the most that could be said was she was tangled endlessly, her blows were blunted just a hair, off but a millimeter as they tore through that which had the power to end the life of even a dead apostle ancestor.
They had thought it too easy to stop her, she grinned even as she grudgingly turned her attention to the agent who thrust forward a straight hand strike with 2 black keys grasped between her knuckles, Arcueid's movements had not been so slowed she would be brought down by such a worthless human, she kicked aside the swords and slashed twice at the red eyed pretender who struck from the other side, and while they were both a hair off balance, sent a whirling vortex spinning towards the half breed, finish her, and the other two would fall without her support, but again it happened. With ability and a surety Arcueid knew full well she did not possess, the red haired girl twisted neatly in a half spin out of the way, without ever even needing to look at it, her gaze not even for a moment allowing the threads of origami to falter.
It could be said that shock and incomprehension were almost as much a part of the mad vampire's mind as her endless rage, the entire fight had been...wrong! Ciel had not changed, she acted as expected, but the others...Satsuki dodged every blow before it was thrown, when she attempted to manifest the marble phantasm to strike Akiha Tohno directly, again and again, as before, she evaded the invisibly strikes neatly and efficiently again and again, it looked easy for her. If she focused her assault on one, that one immediately switched to defensive and the others poured on the attack, if she struck for all at once with claws or her power they as one evaded, they were NOT this powerful! Blows that were evaded before they were even thrusts, it was like fighting an al...of course, that was their plan!

Cackling with renewed vigor, Arcueid sent a barrage of wind 360 degrees from her body that forced her assailants back, and faced them grinning madly...

"Oh...clever little bugs..." I see...you couldn't stand against my power, so you played a different game, isn't that right? I suppose you..."

The blood covered vampire looked balefully at Ciel.

"You didn't need any assistance; you know this dance yourself..."
She then directed her view over to Satsuki, who had moved protectively in front of Akiha to defend against a sudden rush.

"But you two...Just puppets dancing to the tune of a third rate performer!"

The distortion that came next dwarfed all that had come before it, swirls of compressed power flew in all directions even as earth and trees began to ripple and thrash, it was perhaps the first real demonstration of the unbridled power and wrath she commanded, the combatants had to fling themselves aside again and again to dodge the strikes that literally tore the earth asunder has she shredded the landscape, the conclusion was inevitable.

"Tch!" A void of air burst into a tree, shredding in its velocity signaled the appearance of the fourth combatant, Atlasia was forced to throw herself out of the way to avoid the destruction. The blond haired vampire grinned wickedly. She knew the truth.
It was etherlite. An alchemist predicted an enemy's move set and reacted accordingly, Akiha and Satsuki, who both possessed bodies capable of movements a normal human couldn't match, had been receiving instruction via the tiny fibers planted on their foreheads, too small even for the true ancestor to see, thus had been able to compensate for their lack of speed by an abundance of skill, and so they had been able to fight even her to a standstill. It wasn't impossible that they might have even won.

But...the flaw in the plan was that the king could be checked.

Sion moved first, leaping out of the way as the maddened vampire crossed nearly twenty meters in a flash and slammed both hands down into the area she had just occupied, but after that was only able to get her hands away from the snap kick that slammed into her arms and sent her spinning across the ground, driving up a cloud of dust with the force of the impact.

Yes, that was the flaw, the others had superior bodies, but Sion herself was merely human if she didn't acknowledge her vampire side, which she refused to do. Though she could read the movements, her body lacked the ability to respond. Out came the Sion's weapon, each crack of its muzzle signaled a small impact, Arc's assault was understood, so the bullets could be placed appropriately to hit her along her dash, but it was ultimately futile. Beautiful as the ability to hit something at her speed was, in the end, there was never a possibility that Arc would be even slowed down by such a thing. The first slash sprayed blood from the arm that interposed itself, but the follow up strike that would of taken her in half was stopped by the keys that forced her to momentarily backpedal, Ciel and Satsuki were finally there to intercept...but there was a difference this time, meeting them head on, a white arm turned aside the cut of a handful of keys and in the same motion, grabbed viciously at the shoulder of the red eyed vampire who was still readying her strike, and, hurled the vampire bodily more than 50 meters to slam limply into a tree. A flurry of claws knocked aside the defending swords and slashed out, Ciel could not stand against the onslaught and leaped desperately for the cover of the trees, but with a flicker of movement the red princess was next to her in the air, and again breaking through the agents guard, slammed a closed fist into her chest sending her spinning across the pavement. They were being overwhelmed. When not guided by Sion, Satsuki and Ciel weren't able to form the cohesive front that had matched the true ancestor, and Akiha wasn't able to follow her movements, the origami that had slowed her down wasn't keeping up with her, without those advantages, the power of the vampire lord was insurmountable. It was only sheer luck and the fact that she was just playing with them that had prevented one or more from taking a lethal blow already.
The vampire felt origami close around her again as she landed, pressing her down, annoying her. Impudent little red beetle. She readied herself, although strong, the half blood was all offense, she would suffer for the arrogance of trying to chain her down, nobody would ever do that again, she flew through the air, arms wide to grasp her and pin her long enough for arc to bite into her neck and drink the sweet nectar she had so long craved and for so long been denied.

Akiha's dodge caught her completely by surprise, effortlessly she slipped aside, Origami again enclosing, and before she could attack again, Satsuki was there, a flurry of claws and legs that set her back, again! As she attempted to fight her off, the seventh was right there beside her, protecting her, she couldn't pierce through, and that was when she understood her tactical flaw. Though eliminating Tohno would eradicate this miserable webbing, it was Atlasia who was the key, out of the corner of her eye, Arcueid could see her there with a focused look on her face as she manipulated the etherlite that so infuriated her. She was the one who gave them that ability to act in such perfect unity, annoying her, defying her! The marble phantasm erupted, sending waves of stone crashing down, but without being able to press her and absorbed in countering the combined attack of the vampire and the vampire hunter, she wasn't able to close her in a way she couldn't predict and evade. Infuriated, she blasted herself free with cutting vortexes and dashed again for the alchemist, in her mind it was obvious what the answer was. Press forward and make it a contest of pure speed, even if they reacted before her, they would still be behind her. It was not so easy, even as she pressed he attack and attempted to close with the alchemist, she would hurry to the side and one of the other two would strike, they had power even she couldn't ignore, so even though she ripped trees, earth, and the very air around her in furious assaults, they still pressed her back that vital half step that again and again allowed Sion to seek safety, back and forth again and again they crisscrossed the park in the same pattern.

It couldn't go like this forever, eventually someone would falter, the princess enjoyed power unending from the earth, she was as relentless as a tornado, but her foes were not, they tired. Finally the moment came, pressed to move and strike through the forest at faster than her top speed, Akiha finally stumbled in her attempt to leap over a shredded tree while maintain the binds that leashed the demon lord, and in that instance they failed, she struck. grabbing the agent bodily from the air as she darted in to attack, she physically whipped her into the brown haired vampire who had desperately attacked, the agent's body batting her aside a fraction of a second before her claws could find the demon lord's neck, their coordinated attack style their down fall in this instance, it had been child's play to anticipate their defensive maneuver and use that against them. Negligently she flipped the half conscious agent into the farthest parts of the park. If she wasn't mortally injured yet, Arcueid could look forward to playing with her in a moment; the true game was just ahead.
The alchemist tried to flit behind her back towards where her protectors lie, Arcueid was ready. A closed fist slammed into Atlasia's stomach connected that would of driven the alchemist dozens of feet in the air had not the vampire caught her by one foot, the cracking of bones in her ankle was clearly audible. Arcueid delighted in that sound...finally...this was the way it should be! She looked around and targeted a tree trunk that had mostly survived the onslaught and, setting her feet, hurled the unfortunate alchemist at it, determined to once and for all squish her like the miserable insect she was.

But...she was grinning.

"Now!" the flying girl shrieked.

At speeds no human eye could follow she had been hurled, but she began to slow almost immediately upon her release, actually coming to a full stop several meters before she would have lethally slammed into the target, and instead was literally hanging in thin air. Further, she was grinning, an almost maddened light in her violet eyes as she slammed a new clip into her gun, the etherlite formed black barrel replica, floating impossibly, the alchemist brought her other hand under her gun to steady her weapon.

That weapon! she had felt it before when they first fought, even weakened it would not kill her, but it was not an experience she cared to repeat, she prepared to vault the distance and cut out the alchemists heart before she could fire. Opening black barrel replica required time, time she certainly did not have, when with a loud crash, Yumizuka slammed into her bodily, sending her stumbling slightly, she should not have been there! The battering she had taken should have left her completely incapacitated, Arcueid mentally thought, feeling the disgusting creatures arms slam around her shoulders and entwining their legs together, pinning them together.
But that wasn't all the end of it.

"Hssssss!"

The sound was Satsuki hissing in pain, in the split second she had been grabbed before she could have used her overwhelming strength to break the hold; she felt the hateful feel of origami tying around them, literally lashing them together, like layer after layer of thin, burning rope. For the demon lord it was an annoyance, but it seared her attacker, Yumizuka was nearly screaming in pain, but she endured, bravely she willed herself to close her eyes, grit her teeth, and trap her even tighter.
"Lock, Release! Gun barrel…."

Sion began, the gun in her hand reforming, becoming a weapon even a true ancestor could not ignore.

The vampire lord raged even as she understood...it had all been planned, Akiha's fumble, Arcueid's attack, where everyone would be positioned, everything. As they had leapt and fought through the park, webs of etherlite had been placed throughout the area, when she had attacked, unnoticed her foes had caught themselves on nets placed before hand, such as the one Atlasia now hung in that anchored her and allowed her to fire the Replica without repercussion...but if this was the best they could do, it was a fools hope, that weapon would not, could not, end her reign. She grinned madly; the thrill of the sudden challenge combined with the inevitable end filled her with exhilaration. She checked her landing; she thought she could break out of the brat's body bind before Sion could fire, but even if not, she would need to know the landing so she could…!

A flash of red hair, not Akiha, that miserable doll girl, Kohaku! Of course she had to have been in the area, otherwise Akiha would not have been able to control herself! On her own, she was not a threat but...in her arms was something that sent a chill down the demon lord's spine.

Stumbling under the massive weight, Kohaku was forced into a half turn as she heaved with all her might the misshapen hunk of metal to the waiting agent, the momentum causing her to lose her feet and fall after it left her hands...
Seventh Holy Scripture!

The weapon that even Arcueid herself had no wish to challenge, and now she saw how neatly the trap had appeared around her. The vampire brat would hold her, bolstered by the half breed, the alchemist would fire with the power of the replica, that would take her off her feet and daze her, and she would still be held down, in that moment of weakness, the agent would strike with that which might have the ability to seal even her...these...Insects...dared to seal her away!

"KIHIHIHIHI!"

They had underestimated her.

"Full open!"

Sion had to ignore the pain from the broken bones in her ankle and foot, as she called out for her partners to get ready; everything had gone according to her calculations. She had seen the first part of the final stages of the plan go off without complications, as the incredible power of the red princess had flung them from their feet. What Arcueid had not realized, as she dismissed Ciel and Yumizuka as dead or close to it, was that they had been secured with webs of etherlite to protect them, and were now quietly moving into position. They going even faster than expected, by the time she had yelled the order it had really only been for one person, the Tohno maid who had concealed herself away with the sacrament that was the lynchpin of this desperate attack.

"Lock release! Gun barrel…."

She prepared to fire, the amazing conceptual weapon in her hands warming, changing, becoming a power greater than any other she commanded, her last, ultimate strike, when she saw the look of astonished rage that clouded the horrible fiend's face. Yes...this is the moment...the last calculation. Would things go as anticipated? This had been the only possibility of victory. In the back of her mind, she fervently wished Shiki knew how very sorry she was for what would follow.

"KIHIHIHI!"

"Full open!"

"N-No!"

Her webbing, that which she was tethering it, had moved of its own accord just before she could fire and wrenched her arm up and away from her target. This was…..marble phantasm! Arcueid had used it to manipulate the etherlite cord and snared her like a fly caught in a spider's web, while impaired, she could not attack. Such a simple, humble way of foiling her plan, Sion thought, and yet…..Arcueid howled with triumph as she broke away from Satsuki who had still desperately tried to hold her down, throwing a quick right elbow that rocked her head back and twisting her claws across her stomach, blood and worse falling from the point of evisceration. The stricken vampire fell to her knees fumbling desperately for the parts of her that were still sliding out of her body. Sion felt horribly guilt for her best friend's pain, even though she knew the worst had yet to come.

Yes...the red princess couldn't, or wouldn't even wait long enough to finish off the tormented vampire. Not when she, Sion, still existed.

It happened with the sound of flesh tearing and bone grinding, Sion hadn't seen her move but...she had known before it began how this eventuality ended, she wanted to scream, but her body already had lost power, the disgusting and horribly painful feeling of arc's right hand thrust that had gone straight through her stomach. As the light began to fade, as she felt Arcueid's fingers close horribly around her spinal cord, she lamented that her last thought would be to predict the microseconds left until her own death.

...

There could be no more hesitation. No more regrets. No more lying to himself. That...thing had killed Sion, and she had died painfully while he watched. What had been Arcueid held the dismembered head up by the fragmented spinal cord, letting blood and gore drip into her mouth, savoring her victory.
Kill.
Kill.
Kill.
Once more, in this moment, under the red moon light...
Kill.
He was no longer a man, he was a conduit. He was nothing but something that created death, that demanded the death of monsters. Blood flowed from his eyes, he didn't brush it away. If he had the energy for something like that, then he should turn it to murder even faster. His head felt like it was burning up, about to split in two. It didn't matter; everything was fine as long as he would strike. His life, his death, meaningless. All that mattered was dragging this monster with him, out of the world, if that's what it took.

It was his chance. The assassin would never get a more perfect opportunity. With the blood of its last kill staining its hands crimson, the monster howled in laughter, cackling madly. The time had come, and the assassin moved. One foot off the branch he crouched on, one more off the trunk of the tree between him and the monster, then the path was clear, and a knife flashed in the red moonlit night.

CRUNCH

The killer heard the bone break before he saw her move. Less than a tenth of a second before the blade reached the abomination, it had caught his knife hand out of the air, and him with it. It's reaction, regrettably, had been predictable from the outset, and therefore not unexpected. From the begin

ing he only had one hope, and as he dangled, the muscles in his throat straining to support his body weight, he felt it slip away. The bones of the arm which held his trusted blade were broken, and anyways, the arm was still trapped by the clawed hand of the vampire he had tried to stop. As its fingers slowly tightened around his neck, Shiki realized, as he stared into those golden eyes, so filled with hate, and yet, so brilliantly beautiful, that the moment when all hope was lost, might actually be worse than the death that would surely come after.

Thunk!

"...Ehh?"

Of course, the hope that died was that he wouldn't be able to kill her.
Arcueid in her madness didn't really understand what it meant, Shiki's foot at her chest, the thin trickle of blood...the sight of the small nail crudely embedded in his shoe...

Yes...it was his own fault for learning Ciel's lesson to well. His only chance to kill a stronger target...was to ensure the lethality of his attack, to plan for the moment between moments and create an opening where none should exist for a man fighting a god. Ciel...Akiha...Yumizuka...everyone, save one person, when they thought of Shiki Tohno, they thought of the knife. They saw that as the enemy that must be thwarted to beat Shiki Tohno.

That's why they had not noticed, back at the manor, when he had left to imbed the nail, his own desperate plan. Of course he had constantly paced that day, misunderstood by his sister and friends, yes he was nervous but...really, someone like him could not afford even thing like the uneven weight of it affecting his balance, and he had forced himself to walk on it to become accustomed to it quickly. His foot that had skidded on the tree, yes, a sign of the lingering problem, it had caught on the trunk. But...

That was also Arcueid's error. That was his victory. The true weapon of Tohno Shiki was his eyes. Death came to his enemies because he could see it.

The Nanaya blade, it was just steel. He liked it, that's all, any blade would do. Even a tiny nail, if he hurled himself in a manner that might make her catch him out of the air, hold him up, position himself for the strike. Was this his victory? He had hoped, all the way to the end, that she would stop him, even if it meant his death, this above all else had been the end he had desired least. It was both their loss really, nobody could win, the condition of "victory" had not been possible for him.

"Shiki...!"

He could see her hate for him, the will that convulsively gripped her hand tighter around his neck, and on the hand that had pinned his knife, she wanted to destroy this man who had killed her again. But...the dead could not influence the living. She had been "killed" though a creature like her, viewed most perfectly through Shiki's eyes that intermingled his blood and tears, had a life that was almost that of the planet itself. She took long time to begin fading. Shiki dropped from the hand that had held him by his throat, though a half faded arm still grasped his broken wrist. That she was dead there was no doubt.

Dead.

Again.

That part of him that loved it tormented him, that declared her unfit for the life she had and taken it from her so ruthlessly rejoiced in it. But unlike the last time, he couldn't separate it from himself. His ploy had not originated from Nanaya Shiki, recognizing that Arc would believe him helpless if she trapped his knife had been nothing but the plan of Tohno Shiki. He wiped his eyes with his free hand, blood sticking warmly to his palm. On his hand and arm, he could see more clearly than ever, through eyes tinged red with blood, his own death that must occur.

In morbid fascination he followed the thin, ropey trails of death to the part of his chest that contained the limit of his own mortality. Why wait? His death was predetermined, why not end it now, and follow her into the night?

The knife...wouldn't move though. Even as he wrenched his arm in the awkward strike that would atone for his murder with his death, the arm wouldn't move...a vampire still held her grip.

"Shiki..."

She was repeating his name over and over, it was not a murmur of love, everything in her voice, her hateful glare, and expression said she wanted nothing more than to hear his heart stop beating but...her hand would not lose its grip, even as he pulled again and again. Her chest...her face...all vanished, but that arm that would not release him. ..."

What...did she want? To kill him? He would answer that request, if she would let him go. Maybe...she was scared? Even a maddened animal might take comfort in the moment of its death. ..."

Or...was it...?

Then her hand...and she to, was gone at last. Shiki slumped two his knees, clutching his knife in both hands, blood from his eyes and cheeks dripping over it. What had she wanted right then? ..."

"Nii-san..."

Her voice was warm, his sister, she was there, putting her arms around, intermingled red and black hairs following around him as she relaxed her grip on her demonic power. He really did love her, like he loved...the others! He had to check on them first, they had all been hurt in combat, Satsuki! ..."

Shiki tried to stumble to his feet, but it was finally too much for him, sweet black and red darkness took him at last.

He awoke sensation of a wet cloth across his face, he could feel cool water intermingling with warm blood on his skin, Kohaku smiled at him as he awoke, she had apparently taken to nursing him as he slept. She looked like she might want to say something, but opted instead to pat his shoulder reassuringly before rising up to go join Akiha, who was with Satsuki leaning against the remains of a tree trunk, presumably to report on his condition, his sister shot him a worried look. Shiki wanted to go see how they were doing, but could barely manage to pull himself into a half leaning position, against the remains of the fountain. His arm was cleverly splinted, and there was little blood left on his cheeks, evidence of Kohaku's ministrations. his eyes had apparently stopped bleeding. He felt too exhausted and deadened inside to cry, even though he sort of wanted to. Above, shining softly was the white moon, the pale light that shined down now seemed almost an apology for what had transpired under it while it had burned red. Behind him, soft composed footsteps said Ciel was coming to join him.

"She is fine, Tohno-kun." she said, responding to his unspoken question.

"I know it looks bad, but most of the blood is just on her clothes, the red moonlight has faded now, but it was Yumizuka's moon to, her curse of regeneration was able to protect her life. Everyone else is fine to, except…."

There had obviously been some attempt to lay out Sion's body with respect, but the attack that had ended her life had been designed to render her body asunder and mutilate it. Even as he watched, Akiha directed Kohaku to at least lay a blanket over as much of the remains as she could.

Ciel sighed to herself.

"Her body was far more traumatized, and even to the end, she rejected her vampire side, her body was not able to restore itself. She died a human for that."

Shiki could see a moment of care for the fallen alchemist flit over Ciel's features, they had their differences, but above all, Ciel was a soldier against the darkness, she respected a fallen warrior it seemed.

"Tohno-kun…was this planned?"

She drew herself up coldly, Shiki didn't know if it was an undercurrent of respect or irritation he could hear in her voice.

"Our attack….our success…that brilliant maneuver…the more I think of it Tohno-kun, the more it feels to me like a lie."

Ciel looked piercingly at him.

"You, Tohno-kun, you did not move to that vantage point, you were already there! And where Sion was…..it was the absolute perfect place for her to be for you to…."
She looked at his shoe and the crudely embedded nail that had been his trump card and smiled proudly, it was the first genuinely happy look he had seen on her face in a while, and it warmed his heart.

"That was excellent, it really was, I was so impressed with that strategy."

It was hard to take pride in what he had done, with what the result had been, he was just happy that she was ok, and that it was over, even with that result.

"Yeah, well, if it means anything, I was really hoping that the scripture would work anyway, even though she said it would never work."

Ciel nodded quietly, his sister would probably be enraged at the thought that she had been manipulated like a tool without her knowledge or consent, but Ciel saw the final result and was satisfied, likely she had worked out the general situation on her own, and just wanted to hear it from him.

Shiki took a deep breath; it was hard to put into words the final, desperate plan that had been Sion's last and greatest victory.

Sion Eltnam Atlasia walked with Shiki to where she suspected Yumizuka would be hiding out. Though her knowledge would appear mysticism to those who did not understand, it was nothing but a result of her calculations, it was a simple matter to predict where Yumizuka stayed on a given day, given due margin for error.

"I have noticed your newest accoutrement Tohno-kun."

She stopped and turned to Shiki, a pleased smile on her face.

"Well done! Even I had not considered such a simple and effective ploy, you may not realize it, but I believe you have just increased our chances of victory by nearly 8 percent."

Shiki looked at her oddly; she knew he was torn by a pair of questions, what was the percentage they had started from, an answer she did not wish to give, and questions about his eyes.

"I don't really know…..even if I really tried to focus, I have never seen her lines at ni…"
Shiki trailed off, that was not strictly speaking true, actually it was when he began seeing focused lines on her at night that he had asked her to stop coming along, and it had perhaps been the largest argument they had had, but that wasn't a result of him gaining power, it was because she had been weakening.

"That is not actually true, at least not fully. When I arrived in this town hunting for Tatari, I had already considered the matter; at that point, even then, you were the one best suited for hunting the true ancestor."

Shiki was taken back, him kill Arcueid? That was….

"You did it once already of course. Quite neatly, as I understand. Though you may not know it, that was a proof of concept."

As they continued to walk, Sion adopted a lecturing air; it was so very natural on her. "The true ancestor, is a being of almost limitless power and strength, and further, is bolstered by a number of trump cards. The marble phantasm, for example, arguably her greatest weapon, I suspect we will have a chance to take its full measure in combat soon. Another, her body's innate ability to grow resistant to things she has endured before, becoming ever more capable of handling threats, however, in this case, it is not a concern. Your eyes you see, result in death, death and life are intertwined from the beginning, all things, even the planet itself, will meet its end. If Arcueid's body were to try to resist that, it would be the same as resisting its life, that is to say, it would deny its own existence in so doing. The fact that you can recognize death on her means that killing her then is theoretically within your abilities."

Sion paused for breath and looked at Shiki speculatively, he seemed about to speak, but she cut him off.

"Your eyes have already killed some very impressive things. Roa's cycle of reincarnation ended at your hand, and you were able to assist me in finishing off Zepia. Further, I have calculated some additional pathways and found some very positive results. Even when you first used your eyes, I calculate you would have had excellent chance of at least finding a "line" on the true ancestor even under the moonlight if she was at her normal strength, perhaps even if she was using some of her currently sealed away abilities, further, I calculate that there is over a ninety five percent chance that even though the church in all its knowledge and great conceptual armaments were incapable of ending the life of the seventh, if you had struck even while protected by the world for the sake of paradox, you would have immediately, perfectly ended her life. And your ability to use them improves with each use, does it not?"

Shiki knew at least that part to be true. Every time he had forced himself to recognize the death of a great being like Roa, it became easier to see it in other things, it almost didn't even seem straining to him at all anymore if he simply looked at lines and dots in normal things such as furniture, well, he still didn't enjoy it though, of course.

Sion was nodding as if she knew what he was thinking.

"Yes…I wonder if even Tatari would have been able to survive your attack before it came to be at this point. Yes, then the situation that has occurred is simple. Arcueid is at the zenith of her power under the red moon light, therefore, is the farthest possible from her extinction, and against that, is your eyes which can kill, but will they? Or rather, will you be able to do so before the strain causes…..complications. I believe it can, it may surprise you to learn that I believe you have better then a forty percent chance of being able to perceive her death…and you must seek the true end to her existence, not merely that which you call lines, and still remain physically capable of doing something about it."

Shiki looked at her wordlessly, his unanswered question looming over them. She ignored it. What choice was there? Yes, it was quite likely he could kill her, he himself obviously realized that unconsciously or he wouldn't have thought of that clever nail idea. She herself had noticed it, but the odds were excellent that the true ancestor would not recognize the threat until it was too late. But Shiki knew, and she knew, that he would pay a toll for the power to kill a god. The odds that he could actually kill her were reasonably good, high enough to build a plan to exploit that possibility, the odds that he could do so without being permanently effected by the strain approached zero. She ignored that. So did he, after all, they had no other option.

She explained to him the way she would prepare battle, the combination that would frustrate the ancestor, how she would eventually be revealed, how she would create a scenario which would be real enough to kill the vampire and convince it that it had thwarted their desperate attack and fill it with the thrill of victory and desire to delight in the massacre that ensued.

"The demon then, will strike for my life, you will be positioned…."

"Are you insane!" Shiki cut in. well, she had knew he would, it was a heartwarming reaction, but one that was unfortunate, she regretted what she would be forced to do to steel his resolve, both to allow his plan to come to fruition and to be capable of actually striking the blow that she was working so hard and sacrificing so much to bring about.

"Sion, You think I will let her kill you!"

Shiki reached forward to grab her shoulder and pull her around to face him, but even as he moved she deftly stepped inside his guard and grasped the collar of his shirt, she possessed a great deal of strength for someone her size.

"Yes, Shiki, I do. I think you will remember that because of you, the world's greatest protector is now the most horrible monster imaginable! I think you will not pretend that even now, innocent blood is going down her throat! I think that you won't forget the fact that if you had sent her away when this all began she would be sweetly dreaming in slumber instead of trapped in her worst nightmare, so yes, I THINK YOU WILL DO WHATEVER I GODDAMN TELL YOU TO DO FIX THIS!"

She released him and took what to him was intended to look like a calming breath. This "outburst" was also part of her strategy; he needed to understand that in a situation like this, one had to account for the idea of sacrifices. This imitated loss of control was designed to force him to understand the extreme nature of the situation. This had to occur, it scared her so much, she was not sanguine about the concept of her death but….the fact remained, the vampire's first kill would be quick and violent. Oh she might try and make it painful while it was quick, but in her rage when she made a decision to kill, it would be nearly instantly lethal. Her first response to Shiki would be to kill him, so…..death was inevitable, but that was art and her pride as an alchemist. To plan for the situation, if a variable could not be removed, turn it into an asset. Her first kill would be quick, but the second, she would linger a moment. Want to savor it, she would be irked that the fist one ended so quickly, so plan for that, give her a target, prepare the moment just so, that was how an alchemist fought. If she excluded her own survival from the victory condition, then this plan was ideal.

"You are going to tell me, right now, and I will know if you are lying, you will do everything possible to stop her, yes, if that means standing there and watching her do what she must, then you will, if you do not, then I am taking Yumizuka and fleeing this town and leaving it to her wrath."

Sion allowed the truth to coat her words. She was dead serious, if Shiki could not be trusted, then whether or not he thought it was cowardly, whether or not it meant leaving Akiha, her friend, and Shiki, a man she cared very much about, to perish in the demon lord's fury, she would leave. An alchemist planned for victory, if Shiki wouldn't do as she said, the possibility for success was zero, she would leave.

Sion saw understanding come over him, but he did not respond. Instead, he merely looked away from her; he seemed to be fighting back tears.

Good.

That was a good reaction, he had made the decision subconsciously, that's what hurt, he couldn't bring himself to say it, but yes, it was likely that with her death fresh in his mind, Shiki would not hesitate; she mentally improved the final odds of success by one percent.

"We are about to reach Satsuki. Do not explain this to Akiha or Satsuki, they will attempt to interfere.
She paused for a moment, and then smiled quietly to herself.

"But when the agent asks, feel free to explain it to her."

Ciel listened quietly to a tale of brilliance, and sacrifice. In the end, it was all just….a chess board. Move, counter move, pain, loss, fear, all just to bring about a favorable conclusion. Shiki had a hand in his pocket, she knew he was feeling the blade of the knife, where the maid had put it back. She knew what he was thinking, it hurt to see someone who loved life like he did longing for death, but while he had lay unconscious….well, Sion was not the only one who could plan. She knew some things that he did not, and she regretted what that knowledge would bring. It was a desperate move, and unlike the alchemist she couldn't really predict the end result, but if it was this or watch a friend die, she would make the attempt. Let him turn his anger to an acceptable target now…and maybe….one day he could find his way again. At least, that's what she told herself. She hated the thought that she might just be using him.

"She tried so hard you know."

Shiki looked up at the burial agent; there was no need to say whose name she was speaking of.

"I didn't approve of her but….she really tried hard to protect us, of such a long time. Ciel sighed, she had rehearsed the words in her head, but that didn't change the undercurrent of feeling she had.

"But in the end, her legacy will be one of horror. This is not over."

Shiki started at that, Arcueid was dead, after all, he knew better than anyone that this was true, so what…?

"She fed. A true ancestor….fed. There are signs that not all her victims stayed where they fell….."

Ciel sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose where her glasses rested.

"Fear of the white princess kept the vampires in check for a long time, now she is gone, and in her absence, her progeny will add to their ranks, most or all will likely have potential near to that of the level of the greatest lords."

Shiki didn't speak, he was nearly numb with fear at what would happen next….that…..this was he and Arcueid's fault. They had done this.

"Tell me Tohno-kun, what would she do if she was still here?"

Shiki knew it was a leading question, but he still felt compelled to answer.

"Take responsibility. That is what you do when….you do something terrible. You take responsibility for it."

Ciel nodded, it was the only answer, it would be on Shiki's mind wouldn't it? He had atoned last time he always said, when she had made him take responsibility for killing her.

"Yeah….I understand, Senpai."

Shiki knew what she was saying, as it was, the story of Arcueid Brunestud, that bright and wonderful woman he loved, would be a horror story, it would end in death and pain, unless he stopped it. But really…in the end, he just wanted it all to end, to go away. He thought about his lines, his dot, and his death. Wherever Arcueid was, he just wanted to go there. Did he really even care about this world?

Ciel looked at him sadly, the two of them had always been very alike in a lot of ways, she seemed to know what he was thinking, he could see tears in her eyes behind her glasses.

"And….Shiki….if you think about it, she wouldn't want you to not take responsibility, but they are very powerful. Even she couldn't complain if you were trying your hardest and failed right?"

That was…..well, it was true. If he went to see Arcueid….if something like seeing her again was possible, the fact was, she would be sad that she had done such things, and would probably hope someone would have done something….but if he fought vampires, again and again and again, well then, the end result seemed obvious He couldn't win against them all, could he? And the first failure would surely be his last. Even if he kept winning, each kill would strain his eyes….sensei had told him from the beginning. Each kill would make him pay; every life ended was a step towards the end of his own. So…even if he kept winning, he would still die. On this path, the only certainty was his death.

Shiki nodded to Ciel, he understood, he would try. That was all he could do now.

"Your glasses…..are they not working anymore?"

Now that he was convinced, Ciel broached the other subject.

"You could tell?"

Shiki smiled wryly, he couldn't keep anything from her it seemed. Ever since he had woken up, the world had been covered in lines and dots, at first he hadn't realized he was wearing his glasses but…Kohaku must have put them on him as he slept. He could see lines in them to, if he looked.

"Don't worry; I'll see if I can find something that will help."

Time went on, and many vampires heard word of the white princess's demise, and her last gift of more than a dozen powerful new apostles, and they grinned and plotted, believing at last the time was right to rise against the church, the magi, and create a new world order….but there was another rumor. That first they ignored, and they denied, and then they feared, a death that came in the darkness. With bandages on his eyes, and a knife in his hand, a wraith that killed without pity or mercy. When they slept, when their back was turned, when they were weak, a killer found them in the night, a murderer who didn't care that they were great, that they were powerful, that this was supposed to be their hour of triumph, and as the months and years past, as more and more fell silently to the shadow, more than a few vampire lords found themselves wishing, longing, praying for the days when it was the vampire princess who menaced them, even her claws and unstoppable power was an easier foe to face than what had been created that night.

A god of death.