Black Island 2

Slash Slash Backstep Slash Clobber Knee Headbutt Grab Slit

Round and round Kiritsugu danced between the swinging training dummies, carving what would be a bloody path if this was an actual battlefield. He weaved left and right, slashing at the fake enemies while venting his frustration, his rage, and his blinding anger until he stopped seeing red and started pumping the analytical parts of his mind.

These invaders, unwilling invaders mind you, had thrown him off the rhythm that had developed over five millennia. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? He didn't know, in all probability, it would take time to determine that outcome. What he did know was that he needed to find a stable food source quickly for his unwanted guests. Noel had gone out and found that the women had a few weeks to months' worth of food left. That was unless something happened, either rats getting into the food or another ship dropping off some tribute. However, these things were in the realm of maybe. What lay in certainty was that the island couldn't feed this many people for an extended period of time.

Mentally, he reviewed the extensive knowledge of the island. There were several acceptable fields that could be easily converted into farmlands. Top priority would be the fields that used to be arable five thousand years ago. The rocks had already been removed by the original workers so long ago, and as rocks don't migrate, the fields should be easy to plow or be converted into rice fields. After that would be the fields that weren't originally tilled, but were currently clear of the woods. Lastly would be to convert parts of the forests into fields if the other two priorities were not enough. Considering there was about a thousand women on the island and the island was about half the size of Ireland or Iceland, priority three was unnecessary.

He paused mid swing to turn to the annoying bulge on the wall. It was a peculiar piece of cloth that matched the interior, but was clearly being held up by two hands. Honestly, it was like being back at home again…

Sighing in mild irritation of the observer, he walked up to her. "Are you supposed to be another of those ridiculous sacrifices?" He saw the hands tighten slightly before the cloth was lowered.

"How did you know?" She asked him. He looked into her eyes and deduced that she was naturally curious and also blushing from embarrassment. Seeing that she was serious, Kiritsugu opted not telling her that she was 'as obvious as a snow storm in July' and went with a more tactful answer.

"I just knew." He replied. If she wanted to keep playing incompetent ninja, far be it from him from hindering her work. Even so every instinct in him said that the girl was much more dangerous than she was portraying. It was just her stealth that was lacking. "You didn't answer my question though." He pointed out. "Are you supposed to be a concubine, an observer, or an assassin?"

"...All?" She replied with a hint of hope that the man would give her credit for telling the truth, despite the fact that it was far from pleasant to the man's ears.

Shaking his head, Kiritsugu realized he should have seen that coming. "Well, do what you will. Just...stop trying to hide, it's driving me nuts." With that, he went back to practice, noting with a bit of frustration that the woman had gone back to hiding behind the blanket and quietly shuffling a bit away from where he found her in an attempt to hide her presence. Not like it was doing any good because he could still see the bulge in the wall and her hands holding up the sheet. Well, whatever...he had better things to do than educate a possible enemy.

...Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea. She might actually be the first real challenge he'd had in a long while…but not right now. Much more important matters needed to be taken care of first.

Like food. According to past experience, years of study, and several near disastrous crises that he had lived through, food was very important. Not even five thousand years could make him forget something that important.

Swinging his sword, he began contemplating the issues with farming. All the farming implements from Exoda's time were gone, rusted away to useless scrap, not to mention said devices would have been impossible for the girls to use since advanced tractors weren't in their education, let alone automated devices.

Horse drawn plows were needed, and if the plows were needed, horses or oxen were needed. Probably horses. Oxen, while tougher, couldn't get the power a horse did. Which meant that special feed needed to be imported to keep the beasts healthy. If they imported horses, they needed things like posts and fences for the animals, feed and water troughs, stables, horseshoes, harnesses, pitchforks, rope, etc. Hundreds of little things were needed just to farm the land. Where were they going to get them, and more importantly, who was going to pay for all that?

Sighing, he knew the answer to that loaded question. Considering he was the only person (With Noel and Vincent as partners) with gold, and a literal mountain of gold (more like two and a half not counting Zoltia's personal horde) at that, it was obvious he was supposed to feed his so called–and rather unwanted– harem. He paused for a moment in his practice and shuddered, feeling as though he had just invoked a cosmic joke of some sort before returning to his attacks and his thoughts on food supplies.

Irrigation channels were necessary, not only for 'western' crops, which were actually Eastern in this world, but also for 'eastern' foods consumed in the West of this world. While rice and wheat may not seem like much of a difference to a starving soldier, the majority of any civilian population prefered to eat foods that they grew up with. Cultural differences were going to clash soon, but he could delay those problems with the food issues. As long as the food supply was available, limited, but available, the conflicting issues could be suppressed under the lingering threat of starvation.

Now, assuming food could be taken care of through some means or another, the next things these people would need addressed are safety and shelter. True, he had seen that they had converted the ruins of the mock village into real buildings. How? He had no idea, but the people had three months to figure something out before he awoke.

The problem was, was that village wasn't supposed to be populated, it was meant to be a trap. Enemy troops go in, and then never walk out, caught in an endless maze that confuses the men until they die of starvation or turn around and leave. Simple, easy, and effective. Also somewhat entertaining if one bothered to set up a surveillance system. Obviously someone had turned off that function, or else those girls would have never stayed for this long. As things were now with all the construction going on, the village trap functions were either permanently disabled or soon would be.

Sadly, that was one of the less...deadly features of the island. Most of the REAL death traps would have to be quickly disabled before he actually had to start digging graves again. Now if he could only remember what and where they were. Oh, he remembered most of them. He had spent thousands of pointless years making sure the defenses were intact...but it's always that one trap you forget that comes along to bite you in the *ss. That one field of mines that blows someone's leg off, that one trip wire sending bodies flying in all directions with massive explosions. That was several days, if not weeks, worth of work alone.

He was going to have to make a map of the island identifying safe zones and death zones and make sure the youngest of children knew it was a bad idea to go into the death zones. Probably the old 'throw a rock into a mine field and watch the explosion' routine, or perhaps the old 'throw a stump and watch it fall into a tiger pit'. Either way tended to work rather well. Though if he was really bored, he could always just do the same thing with a life sized human mannequin with fake organs for the extra effect. It wouldn't change the physical results, but seeing the unknowing females' expressions as they watched the show would break some of the monotony of dealing with the issues of keeping them alive.

Heck, if he was feeling truly sadistic, he might not even tell them it was a mannequin before he threw into the traps… no…That was a bad idea. If there was one thing he had learned from dealing with his family it was that starting a chaotic riot consisting of scared, confused, and impressionable females was one of the worst things you could do. Damn you Erika.

That... however, required him to call for a meeting with the inhabitants. Calling for a meeting, any meeting was going to give the wrong signals to these girls. Currently they are afraid of him, fearful and confused by his actions, and he had done nothing so far to explain what kind of person he is.

Why should he explain himself? For five thousand years he 'ruled' this island, for five thousand years he has held this land against heroes and armies, and for five thousand years he has lived a lie for the memory of Exoda and Cynthia. For five thousand years, he sacrificed so much for the people, and he was going to have to give up a great deal more to ensure that these girls lived to see harvest. They wanted an explanation? They can bloody well figure it out on their own! In the meantime he had work to do keeping them alive.

Food and safety dealt with, next came jobs and entertainment. Where was he going to find jobs? Farms? Fine, there would be a great need for farmers. Fishermen...er, fisherwomen in this case. That'd work. An island in the middle of the ocean was sure to have a bountiful harvest. Ranchers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, all would be needed. In fact, there was probably going to be more jobs then there would be people. Good, unemployment was a pain in the neck to deal with. Entertainment...plays? There was the library...but most of the women probably couldn't read to save their life, more evidence that human society had been progressing at a stagnated pace.. Songs and parties would probably be required.

But that was in the future. Food and safety first, other problems for later. With that, he finished up his routine with a flourish of his sword, cleaving the last practice dummy in half. Then, he held up his blade to check for any imperfections. There were none, as always. It had been a loooooong time since he had faced anything that damaged his blade at all; four, maybe five hundred years now...or was it six? Who knows? Who cares? The bugger was long dead, probably forgotten by most people, just another one of countless failed heroes.

He had once wondered if he had reduced the number of heroes that would ever enter the Root by destroying their legends here, but that question had died from apathy a thousand years or more ago. Mentally he sighed as he put away his weapons and shield. So much of him had eroded on this island, so much life, so much curiosity, so much heart, all worn down and shredded. Damn Exoda, damn him in his bloody paradise in the Root.

Silently cursing, he left the training room and headed off to consult with Vincent and Noel. Thus, a certain female ninja, who went by the current name of Hajime, was free to lower her barrier. Her eyes hardened as she studied the destruction left in the man's wake. It had been obvious to her that he had shunted most of his mental processes away from the actual training, barely even paying attention to what he was doing...and it was nerve wracking. If this destruction, a hundred swinging training dummies moving along random tracks decimated without him even thinking about it, how strong was he really when he put his full concentration into something?

She mentally put herself in that harsh training routine and realized just how inadequate she was. It would have taken her full awareness to truly perform that fight, she would have been sweating profusely, and she would have definitely been short of breath. He had done none of that. He had been brutal and efficient with every move with mindless ease and lack of exertion while wearing who knows how much weight in armor on him. Just on raw skill alone, he was leagues above her from his display, and his power was just as high.

What's worse, he hadn't used a single spell that the legends claimed that he possessed. If she was ordered to kill him, an upfront battle was suicide. If she had to kill him, she would have to be sneaky about it... and from the looks of it, she would not be able to kill him in bed. From what she heard and witnessed, the Demon King had no interest in women, nor had he lowered his guard in their presence. In fact, he hadn't lowered his guard period, save when he had been sleeping so deeply she had sworn that he was dead back then.

Mentally, she flinched. Her superiors had told her to observe his actions first before calling for further orders. Her first report that the great Demon King had been sleeping deeply had been met with a warning not to act prematurely, fearing that any threat would awaken him and direct his rage at their clan. It was quite possible that she had missed the best time to ever kill the Demon King.

It would have been cowardly, but her clan specialized in sneak attacks...though she had been picked more to infiltrate the Demon King's harem and observe his moves. It had never occurred to her or the elders that the Demon King would not only uninterested, but actually be offended by the women being sacrificed to him. Her instincts were telling her that there was much more going on here on the island, and she intended to find out. Silently, she left the room and prepared to continue her observations.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Christina Rey Holden, thirteenth princess of Estogloria, daughter of a commoner risen to queen due to her father's favor while he was alive, unwanted princess, sacrifice...so many titles given to her, yet none were truly what she was. With blond hair the color of wheat at harvest time, eyes bluer than the sky, and C to D sized bust, she was a beauty in almost any male's definition. Almost, but not in the Demon King's apparently. The legendary Great Evil had looked her over and displayed not a single hint of interest in her.

It was...disconcerting to Christina. She was expecting the worst of perversions to fall upon her, the foulest of horrors inflicted on her. Instead, the Demon King had calmly told her that he had never forcibly taken a woman to bed. Perhaps he was lying, perhaps he brainwashed his victims first, but some part of her told herself that he was telling the truth.

So once again she was an unwanted princess. Seven years ago, Christina at the age of ten, along with her mother Silvia were banished from the castle by the reigning queen after the King died. Silvia was a rare occurrence of a commoner turned royalty because of her exceptional beauty. The King had first viewed her as a trophy wife and enjoyed the pleasures of flesh, but had actually grown fondness, and even developed love for her. When the king died, however, the first wife of the King, mother of the heir apparent, took the throne herself and banished Silvia to a land full of 'demi-humans' (actually they were just humans with strange genetic traits/mutations including pointed ears or fangs.) For two years, Christina lived in happiness with her mother, pouring over books, working in the villa's garden, playing with the servants. Sure, she was far from the capital, but the little girl didn't care. For two years, she was happy, then-

Her mother died.

Officially, a border skirmish took place exceedingly close to the villa where Silvia ended up getting caught in the crossfire and was killed. The palace had whispers carried to the people hinting that it was actually the 'demi-humans' who killed Silvia. Much of the population, however, were not fooled by the palace's lies and deceit. Silvia had been assassinated by the queen out of jealousy, it was common knowledge amongst the people.

However, though Silvia was dead, Christina was left alive, and the princess knew why.

The people might stay quiet, slowly building their resentment to the royalty if only Silvia died. Had Christina died as well, it would have triggered a civil war at the worst opportune moment. Vansible was coming. Slowly but surely it was preparing to attack the ancient and decadent Estogloria and add its territory to the ever hungry empire.

So, new servants came, replacing the 'losses' at the villa and Christina was given new and harsher tasks. She was supposed to become a princess, at least in public; a picture of perfection and an ideal amongst men. She was trained in the arts of royalty at an advanced pace to ensure that she was 'ready' to meet the public.

However, every meal, they added small doses of poison to her meals. They weren't even being subtle about it. The meals had the obvious hints and tastes of tampering, and the servants all but force fed her to eat it every time it was served. In her free moments, Christina had scavenged for any plants and herbs with detoxifying effects to try to counter the poisons they fed her. She researched in the library any remedies she could carefully create to stop the effects. For five years she kept herself alive. Each day alive was another victory, another wad of spit thrown in the queen's eye.

Then came the news that the Demon King's island had risen once more from the depths of the ocean and the subsequent announcement from the church of the Demon King's demands for maidens. The queen had ceremoniously put on a show soon after that, having Christina brought to the castle like a long lost princess returning home. It was a farce. Once she had knelt at the feet of the queen, she was commanded to go to Shina Dark. The princess was no fool. Should she refuse, she would be labeled selfish and a traitor and then executed. She couldn't have that, every day alive was another day of vengeance at the queen...not to mention that some other poor girl would be sent as the sacrifice in her place.

Thus, she agreed to the command. Christina boarded the ship filled with the sacrificial women of the East and headed for the Demon Lord's land, the land that the Savior lived and died on with his beloved wife, the Princess of the Twin Moons. A land both holy and damned at the same time. A land full of contradiction in every story ever told about it. It was now the land where Christina would continue her vengeance of living as long as she could, defying the queen's wish for her death at whatever cost. She had expected to be amongst the first to be summoned to the Demon King's bed, flinching at the thought, but prepared for the event.

She hadn't expected a three month wait before even getting to see the Demon King.

The result of meeting the 'origin of all evils' was not what she was expecting. Even now, she was pondering the revelations she had overheard. He had a father? Not something spawned form hell itself, but an actual father? Who were these other people who had a harem? Who were Haru, Chisame, and the like? Why did human sacrifice disgust the Devil himself? It appears that the Book of the Devil was not as accurate as she feared.

At the moment, however, she had no idea what to do with herself since the Devil Lord had no intention of forcing himself on the girls. So, being unwanted once more, she found herself with too much time on her hands. Taking the opportunity she had leftand unsure if she was going to be kicked out of the castle, Christina found herself exploring the it. Most doors were not locked, swinging easily to her exploring hands revealing their contents to her eyes.

What she found was...strange. All public areas, the great hall, the private throne room, the dining area, the kitchen, and a few well-traveled hallways were spectacularly decorated with tasteful paintings, elegant rugs and murals, grand drapes, fine furniture, and many other things that screamed wealth. However, the side corridors, the extra rooms, the...well, the vast majority of the castle was barren. Her feet echoed as she walked empty hallways, and gazed into the abandoned rooms devoid of anything. It was as if no one had cared to decorate anything beyond what a hero or merchant would pass through.

It reminded her of the backstage of an opera house she had snuck into when her mother and father were still alive. The pieces of the scenery that the audience saw were so elegant, but behind the pieces were crude and ugly planks of wood holding them all up.

She walked down a particular hallway and stopped as she noticed something. There was another corridor that was decorated. Nowhere near as heavily as those grand rooms, this one was far simpler, holding only a few modest paintings and portraits. Though for some reason, the hall was lined with dozens of suits of armor. For a moment, she swore the helm of one of the suits was looking at her before she blinked the illusion away. Then, she noticed that there was a door in the middle of that strange hallway and moved towards it.

She was now quite certain that the helmet had been looking at her, since she was now surrounded by four suits of armor all holding their weapons at her while a loud sound blared through the hall. Fast moving steps closed in on her and was greeted by the sight of the Soulless Witch Noel and the Vampire King Vincent running down the hallway. Vincent and Noel were speaking in a language she didn't recognize and she feared for her life.

Instead, the suits of armor returned to their positions and maintained their silent vigil. Christina didn't relax as she faced two of the legendary Evils.

"Mou, you should have told me you wanted to see the library," Noel complained, shaking a finger at the confused girl. "I would have had security let you pass."

"Indeed," Vincent added, "It was rather dangerous of you to explore without an escort. You could have ended up getting killed had the defenses not been disabled."

"Defenses?" Christina asked not sure if she liked the way that word was used.

"Ah...ahahaha never mind," Noel chuckled nervously, not mentioning the castle could end up as the greatest deathtrap on the planet with a flick of a switch. Pit traps, falling ceilings, spike throwers, killer golems, so many nasty little traps to kill any armies that dared defile Exoda's grave. "Let me just get you into the library."

She opened the door and revealed to Christina Heaven itself...or at least a library that held who knows how many books. Christina had grown up in a world where every book was worth a fortune. To find so many books in a place like this...

"Um, Princess Christina," Noel pointed out worriedly, "You're drooling."

Hurriedly, the blond girl rubbed her mouth of the disturbing fluid, "Noel," Christina spoke up, something between joy and bliss in her voice, "Thank you."

"You're welcome" Noel replied, still keeping an eye out for more fluid leaking out of the princess's mouth. Those books would be a pain in the neck to repair if any water damage occurred. Seeing that Christina was now acting like a human again, Noel nodded and gave her goodbyes, leaving the princess alone in the room.

Slowly, Christina took in the sight of the mighty bookcases twenty feet tall and thirty feet wide at the minimum. So many books, so many great finds. Christina could barely control herself as she walked like a zombie towards the selves, looking forward to reading the treasures made on parchment and paper. It was only when she got close, however, that Christina noticed a problem, many of the books were in languages she had never heard of. Now, Christina was a bit of a scholar, and one of her specialties was foreign and dead languages. However, there is a difference between knowing dead languages, and reading tomes five thousand years old. Still, she viewed it as a challenge, and was determined to read as many of the tomes as possible.

It was interesting to note that the books on the selves seemed to be ordered in chronological order of age. The books on the lower left were much, MUCH older than the books in the upper right of the shelves. The higher she went on the shelves, the newer the books.

It was at about the halfway point on the shelves that Christina recognized the languages in the books. A little higher on the shelves, and she could read with mild difficulty. Luck was truly on her side, because in that area was a dictionary, one that would aide her greatly in understanding the mid-level books and possibly some of the lower books.

She picked up a book at random from the shelves and the dictionary, climbed down the scaling ladder, went to the comfortable looking chair and table set in the library, and began to read. The book was interesting. She swore it wasn't written by a human. The words were too evenly written, too neatly placed, and the lines were perfect in all forms. For a book that didn't have a title, it was clearly a superior scribe that made this book.

She opened the dictionary and began reading a few pages into the diary. Mentally, she noted it was an older form of the 'holy language' that all educated people were required to learn. It was surprising to see the change in the language, the holy language was barely used outside of ceremonies these days, so it had barely changed over the years, but it HAD changed. Maybe it was an older holy book of some sort, or perhaps from the days when people actually spoke the language.

Day 496789

Another Hero came today. Sir Renning the Noble or some such from the Urluran Kingdom. Annoying (untranslatable). Wasn't impressed in the least with the man, he wasted my time with a literal five minutes and thirteen seconds of pure (untranslatable). I had to literally play a few games of (untranslatable) with Noel and Vincent to pass the time while he spoke. I may have ended up encouraging him with his speech by playing (untranslatable) right in front of his face. You'd think anytime an enemy who was placing bets and rolling dice in front of him he would actually do something. Sneak attacks, wild charges, anything remotely resembling intellect and tactics. Nope. What a waste of my (untranslatable) time. Finished the rest of the day off by stripping all the goods off the hero, tossed his (untranslatable) back on the boat then went fishing. Didn't catch anything today.

I (untranslatable) hate my life.

It looked like it was a diary of some sort. Mildly disappointed, Christina was prepared to set the book aside when the full information of the book's contents hit her like a freight train. This might be a diary of the Demon King- (Actually, it was a print out of his diary Vincent and Noel had forcibly made when analyzing Kiritsugu's mental breakdown) -or it could just be a trick left by one of the Great Evils. Nervously, she contemplated throwing the book back on the shelf and forgetting she ever saw this...but at the same time her curiosity urged her to continue reading.

Sure enough, curiosity won out. Carefully, she grabbed the dictionary and walked out of the room, but the silent guards made no move to stop her from taking a book from the library. Quickly moving back inside, Christina moved up the ladder, grabbed several more books, placed the diary in the middle of the stack and scurried away from the library. She'd read this at a more secluded place.

Xxxxxx

Galett Fey Sowauge, fourth princess of Vansible, knight in training, top page in her class, unwanted princess, sacrificial princess...so many titles, yet like Christina, it told little to nothing about her story. Since she was a child, she had been raised as a knight under Lord Algash W. Steelheart, the man responsible for piercing Gailmaric's lines, killing the king of Gailmaric, and paving the way for Vansible to become the empire it was today. Lord Algash was the emperor's old adviser and instructor in his youth. He had been entrusted Galett because of the emperor's favor when he was still a king, and because of a prophecy the soothsayer spoke of on the day of Galett's birth.

The Princess was born in the night when under an unlucky star arrived. Under the grace of the clear blue moon she was born into this world. She will be burdened with a heavy destiny, becoming the queen who will bring justice to the world and life back to the darkness. However, her unlucky star will try to deny her duty, leaving her abandoned and consumed by the darkness. Should she fail the task, the world will continue to spiral in the black.

Believing Galett was destined to rule Vansible, as the king had no sons at this point, he entrusted his daughter to the man he had viewed at the time as a favorite uncle, having the poor Lord raise her in the virtues of truth, justice, and fairness in preparation of her destiny. So, she was raised in a fairly sheltered and loving life, not truly understanding or learning that her father was beginning to listen to a strange fellow who had appeared out of nowhere, bringing forth the idea of powder, cannons, and rifles. The age of knights was fading fast in the East, eroded first by Napoleonic and then trench warfare.

As she grew older, her father grew colder and colder, sending fewer and fewer inquisitive letters to Lord Steelheart asking about his daughter and instead focusing on increasing the size of his country. He seemed to never find complete satisfaction with the power he wielded. Still, the girl didn't notice, kept in her little bubble of happiness. She threw herself into learning how to be a knight, how to be a proper ruler, one to make her father proud and hopefully praise her.

When Galett was nine years old, something abruptly crushed the girls' world. A little brother, born of the king's second wife. The princess of hope was no longer needed as her little brother was named heir apparent. The girl remained quiet about the lack of concern her father had for her, evident by the sudden end to any letters for her or questions about her.

The girl, the once proud daughter and destined child was pushed aside, and she put on a mask, smiled in happiness for her brother and father and did nothing. Soon after that, Vansible was no longer called a kingdom, but an Empire. The king of Vansible became the Emperor of Vansible, and his greed grew tenfold.

Four years later, various sons of lords rebelled and attempted to kill the Emperor. Their reason: the emperor was leading his country to doom for his insatiable greed. The rebels failed, were surrounded, and decimated to the last. In addition to their deaths, the Emperor declared that the ringleader's family was also to be destroyed. The loyal Lord, his wife, his two daughters, their husbands, their vassals, and their servants were all executed as a demonstration to dissuade other possible rebellions. His daughter, raised to be a fair and just noble could not stand by silently. As she had been raised and trained, she strode forth to stand before her father and demanded him to tell her why he had done such a thing.

"It was too much," She had rebuked him, following the code the emperor had wanted her to live by when he was a simple king. "The Grazilian family was an ancient and prestigious family whose ancestors have faithfully served the Vansible line since their induction. To kill the entire family for the son they disowned...it was too much." When she had looked into those eyes, those cold eyes of her father, she had hoped, prayed that some spark of the good man he used to be would awaken. Instead, soulless gaze bored into her as he said one thing to her speech.

"I did not recall giving you permission for your visit. Leave immediately." He looked at her with no emotion. The daughter he had once viewed as the future for the kingdom was now nothing more than a hindrance for him, an obstacle for his ambitions. She left, sorrowful and confused. She had never considered her position as a princess. She had only wanted to become what her father wanted, something useful, something great for her country. Now, she was an unwanted princess, an unwanted daughter. She had cried that day, cried until her eyes were red and her nose was running.

When she was twenty years old, her father did the unthinkable. The island of Shina Dark, the land that was both the holiest, yet most condemned place in the world, the Demon King's Island had appeared. It was then that the church warned of the Demon King's appetites, his vast and unending lust for women. Countries across the world began preparing to send away various maidens to appease the Demon King's wrath, or at least redirect it away from others. The emperor's advisers had warned that various rebels might send fine maidens to try to convince the Demon King to destroy Vansible. Surely, a foolish move like inviting the Demon King to the Western Continent would bring about the destruction the rebels with the Empire as well, but desperate men would do desperate things. Thus, the Emperor sent a demand to his youngest daughter.

Go to Shina Dark.

Twenty years ago, had someone told the emperor, who was but a king back then, that he would send a child of his to the Demon King's land as a sacrifice, the King would have been so outraged he would have cleaved the offender's head off with his own sword. Twenty years ago, when the ruler of Vansible had a heart, he would have sent his army, sacrificed his country, on a crusade to protect his child from being a sacrifice. That was twenty years ago. Now he sent her away without a moment's hesitation. The prophecy foreseen about the princess forgotten by the emperor, the words of the soothsayer fallen upon deaf ears.

With a smile on her face, hiding her sorrow, Galett had dutifully obeyed her father's command, trying to be useful for her country. She told herself her sacrifice would save them, that her loss would protect everyone in Vansible. Three months ago, she had arrived on Shina Dark, beside a ship bearing the thirteenth Princess of Estogloria. The two princesses and the thousand women had slowly come ashore to face the Legendary Vampire King. They had been challenged, demanded to explain why they had come. Galett was confused, but realized now the reason why this had happened. After they explained that they were the offerings to the Demon King, they had been lead to a ruin of a village just outside the port, leading to the castle. This ruin was theirs to use, the Vampire King told them, until the situation was sorted out. He had then asked them how their supplies were. The food had been gathered, offerings from countries to feed the sacrifices, finding they had about six months of food available.

The Vampire King had nodded at the sight and told them he would awaken the master of the island. At first, everyone waited with fear and anxiety, wondering what the Demon King would demand of them first. A day passed, then two, then five, then two weeks, and the residents could only be afraid for so long before they fell into confusion. For three months, they waited for the Vampire King to return and the Demon King to arrive. Many had hoped the Vampire King had been stalling, trying to hide the fact that his master was actually dead. However, the cynics pointed out that the Vampire King would have just taken them for himself if that was true.

Three months...that is a long time to do nothing. The castle remained closed to them, and the port lacked much of anything but a pair of docks without any ships to call their own. A few of the boldest of women had gone out to explore the island (or possibly try to escape it), only to come running back screaming tales of trees trying to kill anyone who walked near them, undead popping out of the grave, boulders becoming mighty golems, and other such things of nightmare. The girls decided to remain in the ruined village, fixing what they could and went no further.

For three months they waited, and then finally they were summoned...by small golems that reminded Galett of clocks. They had been lead to the Demon King's Great Hall, prepared for the worst. Instead, something that Galett had never considered occurred. The Demon King had become offended at the whole thing, disgusted and repulsed. For a being that was supposed to be the icon of evil and cruelty, the creature they met was completely different. Yes, some of the things...well, actually most of the things he said were disturbing, but there was also some sort of nobility in the Demon King. Perhaps he was playing by rules of some sort. Galett recalled an old instructor of hers who had dismissed the Demon King as nothing more than a side show, saying humanity was the lowest creature on the planet, andnot even demons could compare to what men inflicted on themselves. It was interesting to note the Demon King had said the exact same thing.

Whatever the case, what happened was something devastating to Galett. Just as her father had no need of her, so too did the Demon King see her as useless. The very air he gave off was annoyance and outrage upon seeing them on his land. He acted much like a hermit from the old stories, powerful and wise, but having no patience for social niceties and preferred to be alone. Perhaps that is why it took three months before he bothered to appear. Though she had met him for a total of less than ten minutes, plus gotten the chance to observe one of the most one sided battles she had ever heard of, she had learned much about him.

"-et"

Words could be twisted and turned to a wielder's will. Tone and volume were instruments to be played by the greatest of liars, but their walk gave themselves away. The way the Demon King had walked was one of caution and preparation in every move. Most people walk planting their feet heel first on the ground for comfort. Some warriors planted their entire foot flat on the ground in a marching pattern, their training beaten into their rhythm. He, on the other hand, planted the toes of his foot on the ground, a technique her grandfather had told her about that was best suited for rapid running and evasion. For someone to naturally walk in such a method meant he was always expecting to have to run or evade at any moment. In addition, his hands were always unconsciously moving towards his weapons, even if he never grasped them.

He was a fighter. A honed and trained fighter, not that it was surprising since there had been a recorded one hundred and fifty nine recorded invasion attempts of this island and who knows how many heroes.

"Ga-"

Now, what was interesting was that, though he walked with care and precision and kept moving his hands, his head never shifted, never looked side to side. That was...weird. Galett could only recall one man who ever has such a habit, and that man had been blind. Was he relying on sound in his helmet? No, couldn't be, sound is distorted in a helmet. He'd have to keep moving his head to make sense of everything. There had to be another reason why-

"GALETT!" A familiar feminine voice yelled in her ear

"Aaaah!" The princess yelled in surprise, stumbling in her gait. She turned to face the Soulless Witch Noel. "Uwaa um...ah...what?" Galett groaned as she recovered.

"We're about to serve dinner, would you care to join us?" Noel asked cheerfully. Blinking in surprise, Galett could only agree to the invitation. "Follow me then." Noel chirped, leading the princess down a series of winding corridors that had to have been constructed to confuse intruders. The pair of them ended up in a nice looking, but not overly decorated room with a large table that could have seated thirty people easily.

Galett saw that the Demon King sat, not at the head of the table, but on the left. The seat that was normally suited for the second favored guest. The right was the favored spot, but it, like the head of the table, was empty of chairs. The other chairs, however, were set up without mishap. Noel directed Galett to sit two places over from Kiritsugu and skipped off for parts unknown...probably the kitchen if that wonderful scent was an indication.

Trying to look casual and not like a mouse trying to keep watch on a cat, she gazed at the King of Demons. He was still wearing that black armor, not an inch of uncovered skin was displayed to the world. At least his weapons were stashed, but it was no true comfort to her while he had those nasty gauntlets on his hands. Hearing a sound of feet, Galett turned her head to find the Vampire King Vincent leading Christina into the room and seating her across from her.

Vincent bowed to the two girls before turned and heading towards the direction of the wonderful smell. Meanwhile, Galett was free to wonder about the strangeness of the seating arrangements. The head of the table was devoid of a chair as was the chair that would have been on the right of the head of the table. In addition, there was a gap between the Demon Lord and both of the princesses. Both the chair beside him and the chair across from him were empty, yet set up for someone to eat. Were they expecting company? Neither princesses were able to ask the question due to Noel and Vincent calmly pushing elegant looking food carts with covered dishes.

"Sure you don't want my help?" The Demon King spoke up in a flat tone. In an equally flat tone, both the Soulless Witch and the Vampire King replied, "No." It sounded like a routine or a ritual of some sort between the three Great Evils to the ears of the two princesses. The five covered dishes were put down calmly in their place, and then, much to Galett's and Christina's surprise, the two servants sat down in the empty seats. Vincent was across from Noel and next to Christina, while Noel sat in the empty seat between Kiritsugu and Galett. This still left the head of the table devoid of a chair as well as the chair that should have sat at the right of the head of the table that should have sat across from the Demon King. The two royals blinked at the strange development. The Soulless Witch and the Vampire King had always acted with deference to the Demon King, acting as Servants to their Lord. Now, however, they sat at his table, closer than even the two princesses. They sat as equals, or as equal as it was possible while leaving noticeable gaps at the table, like an open wound that had never healed or something.

Granted, one was the King of Vampires, and the other was rumored to have given her soul to the Demon King, but there was still something wrong with how the two calmly sat in their seats. Still, confusion was not going to distract them from the wondrous food before them. The meal was a bit strange to the two princesses, like a combination of Eastern and Western food mixed with some things that were impossible to identify. Not to mention those red berries were completely foreign to the two girls.

The pair had no idea that what they were being served was a certain fruit, strawberries to be precise, that was extinct save for the small garden Noel grew them in. Just another tragedy the Calamity brought forth upon the world. In addition to strawberries, Noel grew the last remaining pineapples, boysenberries, and pumpkins. It was a bloody shame how the world had lost such magnificent foods. However, tonight the girls would taste some of that lost legacy.

The first bites by both princesses were tentative, unsure of what they were eating. There was a noticeable pause before they dug in with gusto, enjoying the magnificent tastes and the foreign sensations assaulting their tongues. The food was wonderful, almost like an expedition into a long lost world of flavor.

"Sooo goood," Galett moaned in happiness, forgetting the most proper of manners for the moment as she savored the taste.

"Thank you." Noel beamed at the praise for her efforts. It had been a long time since she had been able to throw herself into cooking. Kiritsugu and herself had no need to eat and Vincent had long learned to live off the most minimal amounts of food.

"Impeccable as always," Vincent commented, eating with complete decorum in every movement.

"...It's delicious" Christina added quietly.

It had been a long time since she had eaten any prepared food that lacked poison. She had almost forgotten what normal food tasted like. At the same time, the food felt like it was missing something to it, besides poison of course. The food just...tasted less to her tongue. Admittedly, it could be her sense of taste was handicapped from her mother's efforts to slowly kill her. One of the books she had read had warned that the tongue could be damaged from prolonged exposure to poisons.

The two princesses focused on the Demon King, waiting to hear what he said, either praise or condemnation. Instead, they watched as the bottom part of his helmet popped open to reveal his average if not slightly aged and scarred human looking mouth and chin . Then they watched him feed a pace that made them blink. The food that had been laid before him was gone in rapid, yet dignified speeds. The Demon King ate with refinement, yet at the same time, blinding speed. How he accomplished that was beyond them, but inside of a minute, the food was gone. He then leaned back from the food and drank from his cup.

"Not bad," Was his only comment before putting the bottom of his helm back into place.

It was still nowhere near the food his father could make blindfolded with one arm in a cast, but it really wasn't bad at all. Noel beamed at his praise, long knowing how far she had to go to match the meals of Kiritsugu's childhood. Silently, he wiped his mouth and slid his chair back before standing up. Both princesses flinched, wondering what he would say, but what came out of his mouth was surprising to the both of them.

"I'm off. Need to start making the fields." Kiri told his two long time companions.

"Fields?" Christina asked confused by the sudden statement.

"You'll starve without food." Was his cryptic reply before walking out of the room. Both Galett and Christina wondered if that was the signal that the meal had ended, but one glance at Noel and Vincent, and they were sure that it was not. The two of them were calmly still eating their meal and enjoying the sensations and tastes. Mentally shrugging the two girls continue to eat, their meal and enjoying the strange but wonderful experiences that exploded in their mouths. They were so caught up in the enjoyment of their meal that they almost missed the question.

"So, how was your day?" Noel cheerfully asked the two of them. Vincent turned his head to the two princesses at the question with an almost eager expression. The question, however, had caught the two of them off guard so much that they paused before answering. Noel's face fell at the pause before turning to Vincent. "Was that a bad question? Kiri and you both reply to that one."

"Not really," Vincent replied, "It was a perfectly acceptable question."

Noel had a problem. She was socially awkward. Not surprising for a war machine turned into a maid. For five thousand years, the only real interaction she had was with Vincent and Kiritsugu who had known her so well that they accepted her quirks. The only other interaction she had during this time was with Merchants, whom she deferred to Kiri's advice and cut to the chase with few social niceties.

Noel was a mean merchant, but a disaster when it came to real interactions. She could mimic social norms...to an extent. Five thousand years had eroded the old ways for new methods and approaches. Back in the old (ancient) days, Noel had downloaded everything she could from the data Exoda held on his computers about sociology, psychology, and interactions. However, it had taken many (incredibly many) years for her to gain the social awareness of a ten year old. Back when Cynthia had been alive, the robot had been a blunt individual who couldn't pick up sarcasm to save her existence or spot things like sorrow and regret in a person's tone. Now, five millennia later, Noel was still trying to become socially adept. She was better, infinitely better than she had been before, but she still wanted to continue to grow. It wasn't helping that Kiritsugu and Vincent had barely talked in centuries.

"Um," Christina spoke up, taken aback by the strange reaction, "My day was fine."

"Yeah, same here." Galett added her voice.

The two of them were rewarded with a beaming Noel, smiling at what she believed was all but praise for her efforts. Vincent, however, gave a small sign with a free hand for Noel to continue. "Did you do anything in particular?" Noel asked, going down the checklist she had been coached on so long ago.

"Not really," Galett replied, a little unsettled by the strange glint in Noel's eyes.

"I found a few books that looked interesting," Christina added, getting an eager nod from Noel.

"I see," Noel replied beaming at her first REAL social interaction with anyone in who knows how long.

Mentally, she continued down the list, trying to match to what was said and came up with a few different methods. She tossed aside the phrase 'Surely there had to have been something interesting', Vincent had told her saying such a sentence to force a conversation was bad taste. The question 'Any good books?' was also discarded due to the way Christina had worded her sentence, indicating she hadn't read very far if at all. Still, she would save that question for a few days, give the girl time to read before asking.

"I hope you find the books interesting," Noel chose.

"Th-thank you very much." Christina responded.

"Have you anything you wish to do?" Vincent asked turning the redhead.

"Um," Galett responded as she tried to think of something she would prefer to do.

For three months, she had distracted herself by training, swinging her sword again and again, unsure if she would ever be allowed to touch a weapon when the Demon Lord came for her. Was more training all she had to look forward to?

"I don't know."

"Hmm," Vincent replied looking her over, noting the extreme physical shape she kept herself in, "Perhaps the tower of trials would be a good place for you to spend some time."

"The what?" Galett asked nervously, not liking the way the place was named.

"Oh!" Noel honed in on the conversation, "Yes, I can have it up and running in an hour."

"Please do," Vincent nodded to his counterpart. "I'm sure she would love the Tower."

"What is this tower?" The princess of Vansible asked.

"I would be delighted to show you after this pleasant meal," Vincent replied cryptically.

Conversation continued, barely, but mostly there was nothing to do but eat. The two girls didn't know, couldn't know, that the two residents of this island were starving for conversation, starving for interaction with new people, but had almost forgotten how to do so. Five thousand years with little interaction alters a person's perceptions in ways no one else can comprehend, but at the same time. Most can only imagine the loneliness a being would go through in that time. It some ways, it is almost a miracle that Vincent and Noel were still somewhat sane after all this time.

It sure as hell didn't do Kiri any favors.

xxxxxx

He stared at the plains before him. Here, before even his time had been a farm, plowed and prepared for growing food for the people who lived on this island. Then came the Calamity, burning the world with fires fueled with the sins of man. The land still bore those sins if one knew where to look. Gazing upon the field of grass, he could only feel resentment. Unlike his favorite hill which was free of the taint, free of all the transgressions and iniquities, this place was soaked to the bone with flaws. He hated it. He resented it. This was not what he had wanted to waste his time on. Five thousand years on a scarred island...damn Exoda.

Sighing to himself, he shook his head of extraneous thoughts. What he needed to do right now was focus on preparing the land for farming. Calmly, he removed the front and back chest armor to allow better freedom and woke up the King. From his back burst his throne of thorns, his trophy and his mystic code, made from the corpse of the Dead Apostle that took his arm. It served him well in life and death. He made his vines grow and grow, stretching them with the ease of flexing a muscle before going to work.

The ninja Hajime couldn't help but stare at the strange, intriguing, yet frightful at the same time, sight before her. The Demon King had sprouted wings, WINGS! White wings unlike anything she had ever seen, it looked like they were made of vines or something. She had witnessed the white wings bursting from his back, dripping blood from his body even as they spread far and wide.

Then the wings split, becoming individual vines that buried themselves into the earth. Confused, she could only observe as he began running while dragging his split wings in the earth. She watched as two dozen shallow trenched were dug while all the grass was ripped up and thrown to the side. It confused her to see him keep running some distance before stopping, turning around and going back over where he had been, removing the last bits of grass still growing there. She then watched him move off to the side a bit and continue the routine, plowing trenches, ripping up grass, and leaving a barren strip in his wake. Again and again he went at it, never stopping, for hours on end until he cleared a massive amount of land in the area. Only now did she begin to understand, he was preparing the land. Looking at it now, it looked sort of like a bastardized version of a farm.

Looking over his work, Kiritsugu could only shrug as the vines withered and fell off him. The whole field looked jury rigged. Heck, it was jury rigged, but at least they could quickly get crops planted on the field, which was the whole point of this endeavor. All farming begins with land preparation, the removal of weeds, the excavation of stones, and the creation of channels. Two of those three things were already finished long before this project. The nearby streams were meant for irrigation long ago, and the stones in this area were removed ages before Kiritsugu ever walked this world. With the removal of grass, the land was about as ready for planting as it could be with his meager knowledge on farming. Natural fertilizers would be nice; things like fish, crushed bones, and ashes to give the land a bit of a boost. He'd have to get to work on that tonight.

Cracking his shoulders, ignoring the blood trail that trickled down his back, he walked off towards the castle. He'd need another bath, blast and damnation he was tired from that monotonous work. He was glad he had never been a farmer, who would want to spend a lifetime with backbreaking work that could be destroyed by a bad day of weather? Make no mistake, anyone willing to put up with this sh*t was clearly worthy of praise, but damned if it weren't a b*tch to actually do any farming work. He paused and reviewed over his last thoughts, and sighing, he realized he was rather tired if he was cussing that much inside his own head. It was unprofessional behavior, it was weakness, and above all...it was human.

"Well at least I know I'm not that distorted yet," Kiritsugu mused. "Have to say, if I developed a Reality marble because of this place, not only would I be p*ssed, but so would the original. This is not what I want our Reality Marble to be if we ever find a way to develop one. I never want to come back to this island ever again once my end finally comes around." Mentally he refused to think of that revolting Reality Marble that came from a complete breakdown of his soul in 'That' War. That was NOT his Reality Marble, would never be his Reality Marble. That had been the near complete takeover of his body by Angra Mainyu held back by sheer will and resolve.

Shaking off the shivers, he briskly walked back towards the castle, feeling the constant attention his would be observer was giving him. Annoyed, but uncaring at the same time, he continued on through the main gates, nodding at the clock golems who wave at him was they work. Silly little things, they tried so hard to include him in their antics, but he would not, could not join them. They were better suited to those of a younger age, such as that little Marple girl who was on a swing, being pushed lightly by the golems. The melody of their childish songs reminded him of better times and of worse times. Times when he held his children in his arms and sung the same songs to them. Times when he watched them grow up and grow old. In his core, he wished he could see his children again.

Gwen, his little apple of his lone remaining eye. A genius in the business world and able to sniff a brilliant business venture a country away. She was always full of both laughter and responsibility with every breath. He remembered how her blond hair had looked like straw at harvest time in the moonlight as he watched her fall asleep. He recalled those blue eyes that always forgave him whenever he missed an important event for her, knowing that he was a busy man. With fondness and regret he recalled the day she introduced her soon to be husband to him, one look at the gaze between the two of them and he had known that they were perfect for each other.

Well, he still threatened to rip the man's arm off and beat him to death with it if he ever dared to make her cry from anything other than joy. The expression on that boy's face was priceless, and luckily, Kiritsugu was having it recorded at the time.

Bedivere, his loyal son, always trusting his father knew best. He was always doing his best to follow his foolish father on a road to hell. Still, Bedivere had done things differently than Kiri, believing in bringing more aide than destruction as the Black Knight. So be it, the boy had learned well enough to make his own decisions. The future was in his hands, and he shaped them as he desired.

Finally, there was Aurora. His first child and yet his last at the same time. She who he died for, she who he gave his last rays of love and affection even as he bled to death. Aurora was his greatest regret, and his greatest pride. He died for her, not for glory or pride, but for his daughter. There is not one true father in the world that would not have looked at that death and praised it for what it was. A father was meant to die before his daughter, to die for her if necessary. Though he had only held her in his hands for a brief time, he had done all he could to let her know that she was precious, that even if the rest of the world hated her, she would only have her father's love and praise.

Kiritsugu missed them all.

Hajime watched him enter that castle and quickly as possible infiltrated the building. It wasn't like it was hard to follow him. His metal boots rang on the ground with every step. Stealth was not on the Demon King's priority, but then again, from what she had seen, it didn't need to be. He was strong, unbelievably strong, with massive amounts of skill and endurance to boot. Clearing a field like that should have taken fifty to a hundred men days to complete, instead, he cleared it in part of an evening. The sun hadn't even set for all the work that the Demon King did. Mentally, she added his latest abilities to the report she was going to send. Never before had she heard of wings made of white vines bursting from the back of the Origin of all Evil.

Granted, there were tales that the Demon King once held wings to soar in the sky, but it is said that God ripped them from the Demon after he fed upon the Savior and his Princess. Hence why the King of Demons had to make a contract with the black dragon with red wings. It is said that his personal dragon could cross the ocean at the speed of thought. People had called that creature the 'King of Dragons' and 'Dragon Emperor' in whispers and awe.

But wings, white wings of all things, said to belong only to the angels and the Savior and his wife...why did the Great Evil have such things? Even if they had changed their shape from wings into...whatever it was those things became as he shaped the earth, why were they white? It was always recorded that the Demon King wore black, always black, never white. Not a shred of white on his body anywhere. It was a tale as old as time that sacred items were white, that the greatest holy weapons were white or silver. In her own possession was a silver blade with the handle made from a white birch tree. But if he wore white...if a part of himself was white, then...did the color mean nothing to the leader of the Great Evils? Was the holy color not...holy?

That...that went against teachings as old as the church, thousands of years of assurance of a weakness shattered without a care. It was supposed to be a weakness, an opening to exploit. ...A bluff, it had to have always been a bluff. The Devil had played them all in his twisted little games, probably laughed every time he saw a hero or army clad in white appear before him.

How could they have not considered this? How had her superiors not considered that their knowledge was flawed. It was said that the Devil was the greatest of deceivers, but had they truly forgotten that fact when they had planned on killing him?

As she watched him walk away, unaware (at least that's what she thought) of her watching him, uncaring of how easily he destroyed the small assurances she held, she felt a small shiver run up her spine. She couldn't understand what she was seeing, Hajime and the rest of the world knew, KNEW he was an evil man, HAD to be an evil man. He had to be weak to certain things, he HAD to have disadvantages for mankind to take advantages from.

So if White meant nothing to him, or was possibly even a strength for him, then what other things were wrong? And not just him, what about the other two Great Evils the 'Soulless Witch' and the 'Vampire King'? Had the tales been wrong about them too? Had all her preparations been for naught but jokes played by the Demon King? That shiver she had was getting worse and worse as she began losing a bit of her professional demeanor and felt real human emotion once more.

Her teachers had always thought that was a bit of a weakness for her, but they had been unwilling to both risk using one of the others because they were too professional, too unable to blend into a civilian crowd. At the same time, Hajime was far more competent than anyone younger than her when it came to assassinations and she was the least scarred of all female operatives. Only the most minor of blemishes were on her skin, easily covered by light makeup.

Which would have been relevant if the Demon King had been interested in having a harem.

Once again the sheer size of this convoluted clusterfuck reared its ugly head at her, making the ninja wish things would just be simple for once in her life.

Xxxxxxxxxxx

Everyone forgets the children. When they're not loud and annoying, children had an interesting ability of being in places they aren't supposed to be in. Turning one's back on a child is a sure fire way to lose them. Children were natural explorers, scouts, infiltrators, and all around stealthy creatures when they wished to be. Of course, most of the time they were loud, flashy, and all around hard to not notice. Right up until they decided to not be. Then the game changes.

Marple was a quiet child. She had to be. Her home hadn't been anything that could be considered healthy by any means. Fourth daughter of her mother. Her father had never met her, if he even knew about her in the first place. Her mother couldn't feed them, barely having enough food for herself. Her two older sisters (one had passed away some time ago) were too busy trying to find husbands or at least warm beds in their run down shanty village. Marple was too young to 'work,' too scrawny to attract even the most foul of men, and always hungry. Her mother had always despaired having another mouth to maintain.

Being unwanted... a horrific fate for any little one. For her, silence was life. If she cried, she was hit. If she complained, she was kicked. If she cried she was yelled at. Silence was life. Yet, no matter how much she was abused, Marple did what most children that young do, cling to their parents and try to please them...even if her mother was all but the definition of 'Trash'.

Marple listened to her mommy, always cleaning the best she could even if mommy was not always happy. Marple always stayed quiet and out of the way when guests came, even if she had a nightmare or heard the loud noises in the rain. Mommy had been really mad at Marple when that happened. When mommy told her to stay, Marple would stay all day and all night if she had to, always knowing that her mommy knew best. So when mommy had told her to go with Mr. Tompson, that 'mommy will catch up soon' Marple went with Mr. Tompson.

It had been a long trip. First had been the big wagon to the city (actually it was a village of less than five hundred souls). Mr. Tompson had then made her get out of the wagon and took her to a metal man (knight from the castle sent to pick up the sacrifices). Marple resisted, but Mr. Tompson hit her, but then Metal man hit Mr. Tompson. Metal man yelled at Mr. Tompson. Apparently Mr. Tompson damaged Metal Man's 'offering for the Demon King'...what's an offering and Demon King?

Marple went with Metal Man though, Marple was a good girl. Only bad girls get hit. Marple will go. Marple went with metal man and got in the covered wagon. Strange wagon, it had metal on the windows, but at least metal man opened the door and let Marple go to the bathroom when Marple needed to. Metal man took Marple to Biiiig city. There, Marple went with Metal man to stay with strangers. More metal men came bringing more strangers, but no mamma.

Marple remembered meeting a nice Metal man in the biiig city. He had been delivering food when he noticed Marple. "Wh-what is a child doing here?!" The metal man had asked another metal man.

"What does it look like?" Another stranger replied. "The Demon King has that kind of taste."

"A Child?!"

"Don't even think about it. It'll be your head on a pike if you try anything. Royal Decree." Metal man was weird, but he always kept bringing Marple sweets and fruits just for her.

Metal men are nice. They never hurt Marple and they bring her good things. Momma always said, "Don't talk to strangers", but metal men aren't strangers, they're Nice Ones, so it's fine to talk to them. Marple just wished they would talk about things Marple could understand.

Then Marple went with the strangers to the sea! The Ocean, it was sooo wide! Ugh, but Marple hated the ship, it smelled bad and Marple kept feeling sick. It was also crowded, so many strangers. Marple had looked and looked but momma wasn't there. Marple was a good girl though. Marple would wait for momma as long as Momma needed her to. This new place is boring though. The Ocean was fun to play by but now it's boring. There are no other kids to play with and momma still isn't here. But Marple would would always wait for mommy.

Besides, black metal man and the tiny metal men were nice. Giving her delicious food and playing games with her to pass the time.

Xxxxxxxxxxx

He didn't have a name. .He had a number, number forty two to be precise. Forty two was one of the Clockmen assigned by Lord Exoda five thousand years ago to serve Mistress Noel. For five thousand years the ageless golem had served her, following her commands no matter how...strange they could be at times. There were questions. Forty Two and the other Clockmen WERE sentient after all. If an order was too stupid, they'd have the right to refuse...if only Mistress Noel didn't have those scary eyes and that malevolent frying pan...

Still, for five thousand years they had served Mistress Noel, Master Kiritsugu, and Master Vincent. Forty Two had been assigned various duties in his long service. Over four hundred years had he served as the kitchen door guard, only to be relieved from duty after Master Kiritsugu had gotten past him for the two hundred and thirty ninth time. Honestly, Forty Two was glad to no longer had to keep a wary eye for that lunatic when he wanted to get into the kitchen. Ninety Nine and Seventy Five were much better suited for that task.

Forty two had also spent the five millennia cleaning, washing, dusting, repairing, patrolling, and destroying whatever was required of him. With the strength ten times greater than a man (five thousand years ago when mankind was stronger), capable of running ten miles per hour on his incredibly short legs, rocketing forward or up on his boosters at seventy miles per hour for ten second increments, there was few tasks that he could not accomplish.

He also had a personal kill count of thirty nine thousand eight hundred twenty one and a half men from the various invasions. The half kill came from the time he and Twenty One had ripped a man apart like a wishbone and so had to split the count between themselves. All in all, not bad for something that barely came up to the height of a man's knee.

Today Forty Two was given a great, no, grand task. He was to watch over the little girl known as Marple. Just being with her was like a blast from the past like when he played with Cynthia after he had been newly assembled. Forty Two played simple games like jump rope, hop scotch, tag, and various other childish games with the poor little thing. He was having such a good time, but he was not a fool. The others his fellow clockmen were looking at him with significant looks as they played with the child. Marple was usually thin for one her age, less energetic, and much weaker than she should have been.

Marple was malnourished, unused to having eaten anything of real substance in significant quantities for an unknown amount of time. Marple had actually thrown up some of Mistress Noel's cooking, her stomach unused to real meals. The poor girl had cried and it had taken some effort to clean her up from the small mess. The small thing had thought she was going to get yelled at or worse for throwing up what she was given. The signs were there, and they were recording each one and preparing to inform Mistress Noel of their findings.

Though there was food on the island, apparently Marple had only been able to scavenge small amounts to survive. Though Marple was the only child recorded on the island, it was possible that several other children like Marple were still hiding amongst the populace. It wasn't like they had actually tried looking for the past three months for other children. If there were any, the Cloclmen had a moral imperative burned into their very cores to do what they could to protect them..

The clockmen were meant to guard the youngest of men in their time of vulnerability. They were miniature guardians that would not frighten the children with their appearance but still be able to rip apart with impunity any who dared harm their charge. It had been they who had held back any who would harm Cynthia until Kiritsugu was summoned. It had been they who had silently glared at the desperate remnants of man. Though they had been robbed of their purpose for five thousand years and had to subsidize with other tasks, their primary purpose was but a simple task that still remained.

Protect the Child.

Exoda had given that first order to them when they had been created. Before ever being assigned to Noel, the first of the Clockmen had all been given that order. It directed their personality, their purpose, their drive. Finally, after five thousand years, they were about to begin their primary purpose once more.

That's what Forty Two's task for the evening and night was. Locate and protect any children hiding in the village. He along with numbers Twenty eight through Fifty Nine were to fan out and search the area. If they found any other children that had been isolated and starving, they were to call for assistance and begin treatment. Forty Two was assigned to quadrant One Dee Three of the village. Of the parts of the village before these women had come to the island, this quadrant had been an area that had seen the most battles as it was the closest to the port..

Five minutes into his search, Forty Two had seen no sign of any children in his quadrant. What he had seen was interesting developments. For starters, a bar was already open. Truly, humans were strange creatures. Their food supply was limited and currently unable to be increased, their homes were made from ruins five thousand years old, and the first thing they built was a place that lowers inhibitions and increases the violence in the area.

Analyzing the air particles, Forty Two was able to determine that the Bar was full of alcohol and fresh breads. The sound waves coming from the bar indicated intoxicated patrons in the establishment but no physical fights at the moment. Master Kiritsugu would probably like this sort of place-

Oh Bytes! Another place that will need twenty four hour anti-cooking surveillance! In a near panic, Forty Two began signaling to his brethren the issue and was met with the electronic equivalent of screams. Said screams intensified when wise One pointed out that there would be several kitchens in the village, dozens if not hundreds. The panic going over the wireless chatter would have deafened a human. There was only a hundred clockmen, how were they going to guard hundreds of kitchens?!

One, ever wise in his decisions as the first of them, was already preparing to ask Mistress Noel for permission to have more Clockmen built. In the meantime, that bar was the number one priority as it would have to have a larger kitchen to feed the patrons. In addition, since it had a hefty supply of alcohol, it was quite possible that Kiritsugu would end up wandering in there to sample the drinks.

Forty Two was already on the way in the building. He quickly located the oven and stood in the shadows, watching nervously for signs of the Master's cooking attempts. He was proverbially sweating as he feared the worst had happened or would happen at any time. Forty Two remembered the things that had come out from Kiritsugu's cooking:

The flying burning toast monkeys

The Roasted Rat King

The Kung Pow Chicken

Those were just drops of nightmares spawned from the horrors of Kiritsugu cooking. Several of them couldn't be killed, only thrown into the most secure of vaults available. A few of them had even escaped the island. Poor humans, those things became creatures of myth and legends that only their greatest of heroes had a chance of standing against. No one noticed the miniature automaton enter the room as it seemed that humans still had the problem of looking down past the height of their waists for some reason.

Silently shaking, Forty Two kept alert for any signs of Kiritsugu. So far there was no sign of him, but that meant nothing. He always came when he was least expected. Like the time he had come out of his coma early and had cooked a feast while everyone else had been distracted. That nightmare had taken months to put an end to, and they still couldn't figure out a way to kill that shortcake. It had to be chained up and thrown in a vault for the good of the world. As he guarded the kitchen with dread, the diminutive golem overheard some strange conversations. In the bar were a few patrons, a waitress, and a barkeeper, though the waitress and the barkeeper were silently working, it was the other patrons that spoke on some interesting viewpoints.

"What the hell?" A clearly drunk woman moaned, "We get sent to this godforsaken rock, waste three months here, then he sends us away without a second glance?"

"Thank God, I heard from some of the others that he'd really ugly under that armor." Her companion replied. "All ripped apart and everything. The Pervert."

"Szat so?" The first woman muttered as she took another swig. "Damn, and here I was hoping he was at least decent lookin."

"Please," the scornful woman replied in disgust. "Harems are for ugly men. Any REAL man would be satisfied with a single woman and count himself lucky. Bastard"

"So ya say he looks ugly under tha' armor." The drunk one spoke up, "Wadda he look like?" The golem ceased to care about such conversations. Human appearance mattered little to the mechanical men save for indications of physical and mental health issues, or if they were showing signs of premeditated violence.

In another table, Forty Two noticed that the magi pair from earlier in the day was busy eating a late meal.

"Apparently there's supposed to be another boat tomorrow or the next day." The black mage spoke to his companion. "Apparently some merchants from Zirus."

"Zirus? Isn't that the country run by a council of tradesmen?" The white clad mage asked.

"Yeah, I've heard it said that they're willing to walk into Hell if it meant a profit. Looks like it's true if they're willing to risk it here."

"So, we'll pay for passage back to the mainland on that ship then." The white mage nodded with a sigh of relief. "Good, the less time here the better." He expected his comrade to agree with him, but instead, he received only silence. "Toto?"

"I'm not going," Toto replied firmly.

"What!?" his comrade screeched, getting annoyed looks from nearby drinkers, but he couldn't care less.

"I'm not going." Toto responded once more. "Things don't add up here."

"What, that he didn't kill us on sight? You're crazy. We need to leave now while we still have the chance." The white mage urged.

"You weren't there when he talked to me." Toto said. "The way he talked to me, it almost sounded like he wanted us to try again. Like he wanted us to defeat him."

"You're nuts, you're crazy, you're letting him play you like an instrument. We need to go before he decides to kill us."

"He won't kill us," Toto spoke while shaking his head, "Of that I'm sure. He doesn't care about us any more than you care about pebbles on the road." He looked at his longtime friend, whom he considered an older sister, dead in the eye, "I'm staying, but you can go home if you want. Personally, I've got nothing to go back home to. I dropped everything to follow Duke, believing in him. The academy won't take me back, not after I swiped an artifact from their collection. If anything, they'll hunt me down for it."

"You...stole an artifact from them?" Disbelief was clear in the healer's voice. "Why?"

"I believed in Duke." Toto repeated, "I thought that the quest was noble, that we'd save the world. I figured a simple theft would be excused for the quest...shows what I know."

"...F*ck." the white mage moaned. That meant she was probably on the Academy's hit list as well for cooperating with the thief. There was a chance, an incredibly small chance, that she wasn't. Maybe, a very unlikely maybe at that, if she took the stolen artifact back she could barter his way back into the school.

...No, for better or worse, she had also followed Duke by his own volition, cutting off his relationship with the Academy in the name of world salvation. She had followed that liar and fool into this mess, and now it was time to pay for it.

Looking back at his remaining comrade, she gave a small, sad smile. "If you stay, then I'm staying."

"You don't have to-" Toto began

"No, I will stay as well. They probably need a healer on this island anyways." She gave a small shrug, "I'm not a professional healer, but I'm probably the closest thing they have here."

Forty two would have pointed out that Master Kiritsugu, Master Vincent, and Mistress Noel had all spent decades to centuries trying to learn medicine if for no other reason than to never have to see another stillbirth again, but it wasn't his place. That wasn't his job, his job was to search for any children on the island and ensure that Kiritsugu didn't get into the kitchen. So he stayed in the shadows, keeping watch whilst recording any conversations he heard in the bar.

xxxxxxxxxx

Vincent nodded as he congratulated himself for showing the Vansible princess the 'Tower of Trials'. The girl was ecstatic to know that there was a special place (highly advanced simulation room) for her to practice her skills against opponents that fought back. Even now, he watched her with a self indulgent smile as she gazed inside the building just off from the main keep. She was all but bouncing for joy at the thought of facing phantoms in the shapes of monsters that would play their roles to perfection.

At least that's what he told her. Actually it was a remnant artifact from Exoda's old home. A sorcery that kept these shades of various monsters for whatever reason. Supposedly Exoda's family believed that all heirs of their family were to be as proficient with combat as they were with magic. Hence, one or more of Exoda's ancestors had created this place to test and train the heirs. Bloody difficult place, it simulated a great tower that one had to climb to the top battle incredible numbers of monsters and golems, each level of the tower more difficult than the one below. One hundred of these levels, one hundred trials... there are reasons Exoda was as dangerous as he was. This tower was one of the reasons, honing the Sorcerer's skills to near perfection.

"Now, there are a few things to do before you start," Vincent spoke up. The red head whirled on him with eyes gleaming with eagerness. "First, we need to get you registered." The princess looked at him blankly at that and gave him a most eloquent of responses.

"Huh?"

Motioning to her, he had her follow him to a pedestal. "Place your hand there," He told her. Galett did so, placing her hand as instructed on the strange stone and metal...thing. She almost flinched as it glowed upon her touch, but as soon as it came, the flash left. "You can remove your hand now," Vincent told her.

Doing so, Galett found that the side of the pedestal now had something sticking out. Seeing the Vampire King's gesture, she grabbed it and pulled it out to see that it was a card, made from a strange material, not quite metal, more like a crystal. She frowned at the strange symbols and sequences on it, some language she had never heard of. She held it up to him in confusion. Lightly taking the card, Vincent went over it, not seeing any issues-

Oh, right.

Muttering a spell, he handed it back to the princess. Galett looked down to see that she could understand it now.

GLETT FEY SOWAUGE

LEVEL: NONE

HIGHEST FLOOR: NONE

ID NUMBER: 53

"Floor? Level?" Galett asked confused.

"Ah, that's the next step." Vincent replied. He pointed towards the building. "Follow me." With that, he lead her into the building, which was nothing more than a giant domed chamber, but was much larger than the outside had indicated, like someone had altered space to make room inside. Just inside the room, Vincent had Galett put her card into a slot on a wall.

The room shimmered and suddenly made it look like they were standing in what looked like a temple. At first, this seemed normal to Vincent...then his blood went cold as he saw the image of the guide. The last time Vincent had come here some two or three thousand years ago, the guide had been the image of an old man. Instead, a blond girl with green eyes, yellow hair, silver armor, and a black ribbon stood before them. Now, considering it was possible to change the image to whatever the users wanted it to be, it wouldn't have been so bad. But Vincent knew who this person was, the sister of Kiritsugu. Why had the man changed the guide to her? The last time he had gazed upon an image of his sister, he had destroyed it in rage. Was he breaking further, or had this come from before the breakdown had gotten too serious? Vincent quickly made a mental note to check on the change logs as soon as possible. It would be incredibly useful data for him to gather on his research on Origin breakdowns. Nostalgia, psychosis, possibly a misguided attempt to relive the past, there were so many possibilities as to why this was done. Vincent felt almost giddy to have the new data for his research.

...What? He was a magus, and that's perfectly normal. Besides, Vincent has every intention of trying to understand and reverse Origin Breakdowns as soon as he could figure out how. In the meantime, he would watch silently as Galett talked to the guide. Perhaps even more data would become apparent when it spoke.

Galett stared at the beautiful woman in awe. There was no doubt, this was a warrior, a great warrior of renown. There was no way anyone who held themselves like this, who stood as tall and proud with a hand on her blade at all times could be anything but the greatest. Mentally, Galett feared that the Vampire King had liked to her, that this was not a shade, but an actual soul, bound to serve here for eternity.

"I greet you warrior." The blond woman told Galett. "This is the Tower of Trails. Here you will face your greatest nightmares and be tested in all you believe in." Well that was slightly different from the default speech given by the guide. It was almost disappointing to Vincent. The guide must have just been a bit of nostalgia. "From here you will progress from a mere child swinging a stick to a champion with the possibility of slaying the Demon King." The image looked down with sadness, "Here you can prepare to do what I was unable to do." Oh, this was another one of his schemes to try to improve the heroes...well that WAS disappointing. That would place the change sometime around four thousand years ago.

Wow, had it really been that long since he last came here? Maybe there was something to Noel's talks about being less of a shut in...

"Tell me young warrior, are you prepared to become something more?" The image asked Galett.

"Um, yes?" Galett responded, taken aback by the sheer load of the (imaginary) burden placed on her by the ghost of this warrior.

"Then prepare yourself," The image of Arika replied drawing her own blade. Galett froze for but a moment, captivated in the beauty of the weapon, before leaping to the side in order to avoid the slash coming for her.

xxxxx

It has been a long time for me

and I think I am beginning to see

the changing course of history-

Kiritsugu erased the beginnings of his latest poetry attempt. He wished he could get his inspiration back, wished he could find a way to express himself. Sadly, right now all he wanted to do was kill something, namely those damned priests that brought these unwanted invaders to his island. It had to be a cosmic joke, a prank laid by certain beings that clearly wanted to watch him suffer once more.

That or SHINRA was trying to make a point again.

For now, he had to content himself with looking upon the moons, remembering the times where he had sat with his family in the moonlight of his own world. The best times were when the entire family had just sat on porches and balconies silently taking in the view, but more often there had been more private moments with few closer family members.

Especially with his twin.

Oh, the fun and slightly embarrassing conversations they had made, the warm comfort of their other half being beside them to comfort them in their darker moments. It was always him drinking something alcoholic while his twin sister was always drinking her favorite tea-

Wait... wait a minute... oh crud. He still had that programming set up in the tower from the last cycle. His madness had gotten so bad he had reactivated the old fake imagery and actually talked to it, expecting her to respond and relive the old times. Right, need to take care of that before anyone reactivated her.

Xxxxxxx