A silvery hue engulfed all that were caught in the embrace of the moon emerging from behind the veil of clouds looming high overhead, drinking away their colour and leaving the world with a soft monochrome palette. Gilbert and Francis weren't able to escape her hold as they stood outside Antonio's home. Perhaps the gentle gold of Antonio's flickering entryway light splashed a little colour onto their cheeks, but it certainly wasn't enough to give their skin a pinkish hue, and the slightest breeze carrying air laden with heat failed to warm their cold turned blood.

"Are you sure he's still here?" God, he did not want to go inside Antonio's home, and he was sure the quiver in his voice told Francis that he really didn't want to go into the fucking building.

"No, but we still need to check." It seemed that the Frenchman didn't want to step inside either. "I hope we're not too late."

He nearly missed the whisper sliding off of the blonde's tongue, his attention drawn to the open windows of the Spaniard's cottage. The idiot never left the windows open while the moon was dancing among the clouds, especially when it was raining. The curtains fluttering with the breeze had several dark spots where there was nothing to protect them from the outside world, and that same breeze pushed at the slightly ajar door, allowing the light from the age-blemish sconce set above the entryway to spill a sickly yellow over the mud smeared panels just beyond. Of the flowerbeds that lined the walkway extending from the petite terrace to the dirt road the two refused to move from, a fair amount to the right of the door were crushed, each flower bending over to the right as if something tugged them in that direction.

Francis was the first to move. Rocks and moist leaves crunched under the heels of his boots, their cries echoing out into the silence of the surrounding woods, easily drowning out Gilbert's much softer steps as he followed suit. The Parisian's shoulders were so stiff; hell, his entire body was far more rigid than Gilbert had ever seen. That little pistol in his hand was the only thing that seemed fluid, even though the movement stemmed from the light quivers cascading through the blonde's hands. However, those shivers grew harsher as he used the heel of his shoe to lightly push the door open.

"Oh my god…"

Gilbert's hand shot up to his mouth, trying its best to smother the gags trying to pry past his teeth. What the hell… there was so much blood everywhere; even the air stunk like metal and rot, despite the fresh air tiptoeing through the rooms. The red substance streaked the already dark panels of the floor, some of it peeling up around the corners of the smears and along the insides of the murky globs splattered here and there. "I should've done something…" Such pain filled those French accented whispers as he followed one of the longest streaks with his eyes. "He seemed so much more docile than the others..." His hands fell to his sides, his entire body quivering under the fingers of the moon. "Antonio seemed safe in his care…oh god…" Francis continued to mutter in his mother language while Gilbert reluctantly took a look around himself, and mistakenly found himself frozen in the kitchen. Red covered everything. Smears lined the usually pristine countertops and kitchen island, a few extending down to the drawer he knew that held cutlery. Maroon droplets specked the panels of the island, trailing down until they dappled the area around. Some were perfect little dots, and others were a bit smeared, as if the liquid came from someone's toes, but all of the tiny specks led to a single destination.

What the hell happened here?

It honestly looked like someone was amputated or something, with how large the pool of blood was. Someone, hopefully Lovino, had been leaning against the wall as they bled out. He followed the stride-spaced smears with his eyes, noting how they lead from the largest pool, mingled with specks that originated from around the corner of that weird half-wall, before tracking over to what he assumed was the couch.

"There's a knife in the sink." So Francis had the same idea as he, hmm? Gilbert glanced up at his friend, who held the silverware up so he could see as well. "Blood's on the handle …but not on the blade itself."

Did Antonio try to defend himself with it? "Maybe he was attacked by Lovino somewhere in the back of the house and then made a run for the kitchen?"

"Maybe." Francis hummed, gently placing the knife back into the sink with a soft clatter. He turned to the fridge, checking it as well. "The oranges are all gone. There were six left when I came."

"If Lovino wanted Antonio alive, he probably fed them to him."

"That's a possibility, but let's not assume that it's true." Francis practically tiptoed around the island after gently closing the fridge door, cringing every time a board creaked under his weight. "Let's hope Lovino's asleep." He barely heard the whisper coming from the Frenchman, but he nodded in return and followed the man around the corner.

Only from the soft light fluttering through the windows in the room behind them were the shards of glass strewn across the hallway floor visible to the two men's eyes, and even then, it was only the reflection of the debris that reached their sight through the shroud of darkness. Using this, they crept around the broken picture frames, all while watching for any type of moment in the shadowy veil before them. A dim red light spilled onto the floor at the end of the hall, illuminating both the doorframe it originated behind and the one set across. The barrel of the gun glinted amongst the shadows, but despite the darkness that assaulted the two, Gilbert could clearly see the weapon quivering in tune with Francis' shuddering breath.

But damn, if he was hiding that fear a hell of a lot better than the German was. Gilbert had to practically keep his hand over his mouth to prevent his breathing from being too loud. If anything, Francis squared his shoulders as they lightly dragged against the wall, flaking off the dried blood smeared on the surface. The German mimicked his friend's movements, being as careful as he possibly could to keep any noises from echoing into the deafening silence of the cottage.

They were so damn close to Antonio's bedroom… God, Gilbert wished he could cure his heart of its frantic beats and the shivers that tugged harder and harder at his muscles. He didn't want his good friend to be dead. He would be okay with just having a horribly mutilated Spaniard in his hands, or even one that was jumpy of every shadow for the rest of his life… as long as he was alive.

He didn't want anyone else to die.

Gilbert certainly wished he too had a weapon by the time he and Francis were pressed against the wall right beside the door frame. His fists could only do so much, and he had to assume that a genetic mess like Lovino had some kind of fucking weapon he could tear the two to shreds with. Claws? Fangs? Fucking blades coming out of his arms? Any of those could rip a new one into Gilbert's hide, and quite frankly, he didn't want any of that. Looking down, he decided to quickly snatch up one of the larger chunks of glass clinking against its neighbour by his sandal clothed foot, and he held it close to his side, ready for anything to lunge out at him.

Gilbert's mouth ran dry as a single finger was raised before him, then two and finally three. Francis flipped around the corner, his eyes peeled for anything out of the norm, his body instantly morphing into one ready for any kind of fight; his stance solid, his arms rigid, ready to turn at a moment's notice. Here it came; the screech, the howls of a monster tasting the cold metal of a bullet, the cheers of a saved friend…

Francis' body slackened and his gun fell to his side. "It's empty."

"What?" Gilbert stumbled around his friend and peered over his shoulder. Frigid nails curled around his heart. Francis was right. The blond eased forward, skimming the room with his eyes and the sight of the gun, and like he said, the room was empty. Blankets and pillows were strewn across the wooden panels, extending from the bed's foundation to the lip of the door in a haphazard manner. Other than that and the shattered glass on the floor, everything seemed normal in this room. That old clock that Gilbert had given the Spaniard a few years back still blared out a harsh red into the room, and as it always had, a little light in the corner flickered where it was dropped the first day Antonio received it. Still keeping an eye on the shadows, Gilbert approached the night stand, noting the faint water stain where a glass may have sat a day or two prior. Behind the clock was Antonio's phone. "He's not here? At night?" He picked up the phone, testing the weight against his fingers before pressing at the power button. Nothing. Dead. "Please tell me he's not stupid enough to wonder the forest. There are fucking hunters out there who will shoot his ass."

Francis, on the other hand, was on the other side of the room, carefully checking the windows for what Gilbert assumed to be signs of the Spaniard trying to escape, although, he soon turned his attention to the sheets that remained on the bed. "It might have been his only choice." He traced the outline of the stain spreading across the centre of the bed with the tip of his finger. Thankfully, this one seemed to be a mere sweat stain, probably from the hellish heat that engulfed the states as of late. "Please," he muttered under his breath, turning his head towards the door, "please let us not be too late."

There it was again… that phrase. It couldn't be the possibility of Antonio's death. Gilbert's eyes narrowed, his mind whirling with several streams of thought. There had to be something Francis wasn't telling him. Yet, Gilbert kept his mouth shut and followed his friend across the hall instead.

God, he could barely see in this place. The tiny window right above the tub and toilet failed to provide much light for the two to see with; however, it seemed Francis abandoned his idea of not using a flashlight. The little device clicked on with a short spark, illuminating a portion of the two's path. Dried blood specked the flooring here as well, dotting a faint trail around the front of the toilet before leading out of the room. Slowly and with as much carefulness as he could spare, Francis crept closer into the room, the illumination blaring from his flashlight hopping here and there, fixating on different items in the room. Gilbert, too, followed the Frenchman, cringing as the floor creaked under his weight, slightly bending under the pressure exerted onto it.

Wait a minute. Red eyes flicked down to the wooden planks and he shifted his weight onto one leg. There it was again, that faint buckling under his feet between where he was sure the support beams ran under the floor. "Hey, Franny." The light focused on him not a second later. "There's something hollow under here."


Gilbert nodded, looking up at his friend. "Yeah. I remember this being pretty solid before, even though it doesn't have the best foundation." He pressed down again, listening to the loud creaks. He followed them towards the outside wall.

"Wasn't there a gap in the boarding right there?" Francis asked after testing the rest of the room for the weaker boards. Apparently it was only against the wall to the right side of the bathroom.

"Yeah, on the outside, but it was only the wooden part. The ground was still there the last time I was here." But it didn't make any sense. Sure, the gap was pretty damn big, but something would've had to dig away the soil to make the hole, especially with the size the hollowness seemed to accommodate. However, the light Gilbert was using to see wasn't much use, with how much it began to quiver. He frowned, looking over his shoulder. "Should we check it?"

There wasn't an answer at first. Hell, Francis wasn't even looking at the German. He was off in his own little world staring at the floor. "Francis?"

Blond hair practically bounced into the air with how quickly he looked up at Gilbert. "What, oh yes… yes, let's check outside."

Crimson eyes narrowed. "Francis…" The words were soft in Gilbert's mouth, almost as soft as the steps he made closer to his friend. "What are you not telling me?" Silence… just silence as the Parisian's light flickered out, leaving them at the mercy of the silver luminescence floating in through the tiny window. Both ignored it. "Franny?"

A hand smacked across his lips, effetely shutting him up as Francis leaned closer, the faint light from the moon splaying across his face. "Be quiet!" His words were little more than whispers of breath against Gilbert's skin. "Do you hear that?" No, he didn't hear any fucking thing out of the ordinary. There were some nocturnal creatures rustling the branches outside, and the wind was tapping against the side of the home, but other than that, there wasn't anything to be heard. Yet Francis' eyes shifted around spot to spot, looking for the source of some sound Gilbert failed to hear. They finally glanced down, staring at the floorboard. "There's something breathing down there." That man had to be going crazy. There wasn't anything breathing other than the two standing in that room, no matter how much Francis thought he heard someone else. "Do you hear it?"

He uncovered Gilbert's mouth, surely expecting an answer. Well, tough titties for him, because he didn't hear any sort of breathing coming from below…the…floor…ing…

No… there it was. It was faint; so faint that the drubbing of Gilbert's heart easily drowned it out, but what was it? Antonio? Lovino? "What should we do?"

It seemed Francis already had an idea, for he was checking his gun for the amount of ammo at his disposal. "We see what it is. If it's Lovino, I'll kill him. If it's Antonio, we grab him and get the him the medical attention he needs."

Gilbert hummed in agreement, and followed the man back into the hallway. There really wasn't anything wrong with that plan, at least from his own perspective. He just hopped that the heavy thuds of their feet wouldn't wake whatever was potentially resting under Antonio's cabin. Silent, they quickly exited the home, stepping over the crushed flowers as the followed the wall to the side of the home. The remnants of the storm not too long ago dripped off the roof, splattering on the heads of the Europeans, while the remaining corpses desperately clinging to the emerald blades of grass were swept away by the men's lower limbs. Mud and stray rocks squelched under their feet, echoing into the silence of the night, however, soon all sound was lost to the maw of the moon, leaving the region mute.

Oh yes, that gap was still there, just like Gilbert thought, but damn, he didn't remember it being this big, large enough to slip a board in front of it. An overhanging piece of wood, along with a rather bulky rock on the bottom, kept the board in place, as if something wanted the scrap timber as a makeshift door.

The two men glanced at each other, neither holding a confident gleam in their eyes. There was only concern and perhaps a stroke of fear painted in those crimson and blue orbs, but Gilbert was the first to blink away the fear, replacing it with only the hope that his dear friend was using the hollow space as somewhere to hide from the monster reining over his home. Francis smacked his flashlight against his hand as Gilbert eased closer to the board, listening carefully for anything out of the normal. Like Francis assumed before, there certainly was something breathing under the home, although it wasn't something he'd call healthy breathing; it was closer to weak wheezing, as if something was constricting the person's breaths.

It didn't take much strength to move the board out of the way, freeing the metallic stench from its cage. Gilbert strained his eyes to see anything through the darkness barely illuminated by the smile of the moon. Something down here caught the beams from the heavens, but hell if he knew what it was. Only very slightly, did whatever it was move, shifting in tunes with the breaths reaching Gilbert's ears. Pale hairs trailing the back of his neck pricked up, tugging with it the ones next to it and the ones next to them, until all of the tiny tendrils along his flesh were standing on end. Perhaps he started to shiver under the moisture laden heat of the night, maybe he slowly began to inch away from the opening of the burrow-like enclosure, but all he knew was that he wanted to get the hell out of this place.

Whatever was puffing in there… it wasn't natural, and his body sure as hell knew it.

Gilbert glanced back at the blond still beating the plastic tube against his palm, a pleading spark dancing across his scarlet eyes. Francis didn't notice. No, that perky little Frenchman kept struggling on and on with his flashlight, beating it and slapping it until the light finally flickered to life.

Why couldn't it just have stayed dead?

A confident smile pulled those dainty lips upward, but soon enough, a frown tugged them right back down. Make that a look of absolute horror. The very moment the light poured from the tiny bulb, it fell upon whatever was in the hollow space. Not soon after, his gun's barrel was pointing right at the black mass of… god, he didn't know what the hell it was. It was practically sprawled out across the small expanse, its back facing the doorway and its face digging into the blood soaked soil. A human form, it had, covered from its neck down with something that looked like a skin-tight, body suit comprised of dull, plated metal. Overly large scales was a more proper description, but Gilbert's mind couldn't find much of a difference.

Oh, he was so damn close to ripping that gun out of the now kneeling Francis' hands and firing the entire magazine into the thing, yet, he stopped right at the last moment. That thing… it had the same unruly mop of curls that perched themselves on Antonio's head.

Apparently Francis had seen the same thing. Keeping the gun one hand, he shoved the flashlight into Gilbert's fingers and tardily crawled over to the form. The German followed him a few inches, if only to keep the light where the blond could see through his crazy antics. The human-like thing didn't move as Francis crept closer, nor when those sinewy fingers brushed against its shoulder. Lightly pressing the barrel of the gun against the side of its head, Francis gently pulled the creature onto its back, exposing its mangled face to the men. A metallic clatter reverberated against the walls of the enclosure as the gun slipped from Francis' fingers.

It was him… oh god, what the hell happened?

Apparently, the Parisian didn't know what the hell happened either, but at this point, Gilbert didn't think that he cared too much. Like the German, surely Francis was overjoyed that their good friend wasn't rotting away in some hole, and his heart was probably racing as fast as his. With much care, Francis hooked his arms under Antonio's black coated body, straining to drag him out of the enclosed pit while not waking him from his slumber.

His weight was far too much for the Parisian. A faint groan fluttered from the Frenchman's thin lips, one hand shooting for his lower back as the other desperately held onto Antonio, in hopes that he wouldn't drop the man a mere inch or two. Gilbert rolled his eyes. For fuck's sake, Antonio wasn't that heavy. The blond really shouldn't be having much trouble at all. Yet, Francis only continued to struggle with their Spanish friend, barely able to pull Antonio's dead weight out from under his own home. Gilbert refrained from taunting the growing weakness of the now huffing Frenchman, focusing his eyes and the flashlight on the still slumbering Antonio's form.

He looked so peaceful, all covered in blood, dirt, and who knows what else. Francis muttered something under his breath, something in his native language, his hands caught by his sides, terribly trembling. Cherry eyes locked on the gashes hidden under the red muck congealed along the side of Antonio's face. Carefully, the smaller of the two prodded at them, jerking back his hand at the hiss escaping the brunet's mouth. Recent… Gilbert could still see the jagged flesh along the tears sporting a faint red swell under the grime covering them like shoddy greasepaint, and damn, did they need to be cleaned. "Franny," Gilbert whispered, shooting his friend a fleeting glance, "Go grab a rag or something. We need to clean those wounds before they get infected." Only a nod, he received in return before he was alone with the injured Iberian.

"What…what happened to you?" Softly, barely touching him, Gilbert's finger traced where that black covering circled around Antonio's neck like a thick turtleneck, unmoving and tremendously rigid against the his nail. His eyes zipped from corner to corner of the dark material covering the body before him. It was everywhere, and from what Gilbert could see, it was tight. There were no gaps. There were only layers upon layers of those abyssal scales, each end overlapping the other. Some simply laid over the ones haphazardly tucked under their edges, while others gently sloped down into a dull point before curling under a plate above. Armor was the only thing his mind could compare it to. Only Antonio's stomach held a different design. Right down the middle, extending from the base of his sternum to right above where his penis would've began if it was in sight, crisscrossed several smaller plates in a sequence that faintly reminded him of fish scales, though there were only two rows overlapping. A set, nearly fingerlike in structure and trailing both sides of the center-most arrangement, neatly covered the outside edges while allowing the stretch of blackness to flow with the surrounding area.

That shit, whatever the fuck that ebony, insect crafted stuff was, it was practically woven into his friend's flesh. Everywhere. His chest, his legs, his arms… oh god… Those nails… those talons weren't human. They were like fucking cat claws; huge, greatly curved and fuck… fuck, they were serrated along the bottom. Those things were weapons; knives jutting out from the tips of his fingers and his toes.

A sharp, pain laced breath hissed from Antonio's lips, forcing the black things shoved into the corners of his mouth to shift around and clatter against his unblemished teeth. Gilbert's brows knotted under the tips of white tendrils. Were those…?

Gilbert's heart caught in his throat once Francis plopped down beside him, rag and what looked to be disinfectant in hand. "I'm surprised our little Spaniard had this." He waved the tiny brown bottle in front of Gilbert's nose, ignoring the glare stabbing at his face. Well, he certainly seemed jauntier, and at once, those dainty little hands went to work. Bits and pieces of the withered blood flaked away with each gentle dab of the cloth, revealing Antonio's tanned skin underneath along with the gashes that tattered his cheek.

"What do you think happened?" Francis shrugged his shoulders. "Just look at 'em." He gestured to the majority of the Spaniard, not at all amused with the absence of a glance at the deformed body. "It's like bugs decided to rip off their shells and glue them to his skin." Gilbert frowned. There was a flinch in the corner of Francis' lip just now, he was sure of it. "I'm not far off, am I?"

Blue eyes shifted under the weight of those long, blond lashes, glancing up at Gilbert before flicking back down to the snoozing Spaniard. He said nothing. Hell, Gilbert didn't say anything either. Only the forest sung for the two, its melody floating along the low lying branches above their heads. Just on and on, Francis cleaned, making sure to wipe away the bits covered his dirt flecked curls.


He wouldn't ignore the growl in his voice would he? How long did he think he could keep this façade up?

Four long lacerations carved into Antonio's face glimmered under the silvery fingers of the moon once the blood was scrubbed away, the ones stretching across his cheekbone profounder than those taking a good chunk out of his brow and his jaw.


He dabbed a clean end of the cloth into the disinfectant, but he didn't apply it to Antonio's wounds. His hand hovered over Antonio, shaking even worse than before. "You're…" There was a shudder to his voice, contorting it from the usual, suave words that tickled the ears of those who heard them. He sighed, lightly smearing the liquid onto the gouges. A coo fluttered into the air as Antonio flinched, although, it soon morphed into the grave tone swirled between his words. "It doesn't make sense."

The pungent stench of that medicine churned up through the faint breeze and into Gilbert's nostrils. His nose crinkled, his brows furrowed even deeper. "Explain."

Huffing, Francis reapplied the salve to the rag. Chocolate curls shifted under the Frenchman's hand, twisting and grinding against their neighbors, although some escaped Francis' grip and fell back upon Antonio's forehead. "We thought…" he paused, his lashes creating dark shadows under his eyes. "…those creatures had no use for humans other than food." Another hiss gurgled against Antonio's tongue, and his eyes twitched under closed lids. "I don't understand what's going on." Antonio's breath hitched in his throat as Francis gently dabbed the disinfectant on one of the considerably deeper cuts. Fingers curled in the dirt, shifting it and uprooting the grass that was misfortunate enough to be in the way.

Well, Lovino kept Antonio alive for some reason. That was a given. Gilbert's head cocked to the side, the gears of his mind whirling around, twisting the perpetual motion machine encased in bone. Maybe staring at Francis' dirt flecked face didn't give him the answer that he wanted, nor did it provide any input for his working brain, but Gilbert didn't stop. He waited for his puzzled scowl to be returned, patiently, he waited as he watched the man work through the light fingering through the wispy clouds circling the moon. That French frog never noticed. Sighing, Gilbert spoke, keeping his voice low. "Do you think Lovino has something to do with this black shit?"

Cerulean eyes finally jumped up to the self-proclaimed Prussian, a pale tongue below wetting the dry lips that imprisoned it. "Although I have no idea how, he would be the only one capable of doing this." Francis blinked, looking down at the slumbering man for a split second, a flurry of emotions swirling behind those orbs as they trailed down to his belly. There, they stopped and a perplexed scowl pulled at his lips. "It can't be." Leaning forward, Francis trailed the overlapping scales running down Antonio's stomach, although with the hiss that escaped the brunet, he flinched back, eyes wide and quivering.

What the hell was wrong? From Francis' reaction alone to Antonio's miniscule movement, he knew something was awry, something that had to do with the pattern carved into that once heavily tanned flesh. "What is it?" He couldn't help but to ask. This was also his friend they were talking about, and dammit, he didn't want to be kept in the dark any longer.

However, just as he had for the entire night, Francis refrained from answering at once. Those cobalt eyes were frozen on that particular stretch of black and his teeth gnawed at his bottom lip, piercing the flesh. Droplets of blood trickled out from under the pearly white bones. Those black things set between the corners of Antonio's mouth twitched. Finally, after Francis wiped away the crimson liquid, he let a gulp of air slip through his lips. "The Queen has the same pattern on her stomach." Fingers combed through long strands of blond, dirtying them with the remnants of the medication and the dirt dusting his skin. "And those things are able to grow exoskeletons."

Reedy brows rumpled the skin over Gilbert's nose, darkening the calculating eyes underneath. Maybe it was a fluke? Things liked being around things that looked like them right, and most things shed their exoskeletons…therefore, maybe Lovino simply put an old skin on the Spaniard's body to make him look more like the abomination? He grimaced at the thought. Gross… and probably not true. He glanced over the colour of the substance. Shed skin lost its vibrancy, and this thing, well it was as black as night with a faint mixture of subdued iridescent hues of olive and gold dancing amongst the light shimmering off of the somewhat polished surface. This frame was very much alive. "So Lovino doesn't want him for food."

Well, obviously, but at least Francis had the decency to not roll his eyes. "No, but what worries me is still that." He pointed to Antonio's stomach, his attention locked on Gilbert's face. "It's impossible to be there for our Spaniard, but those things' reproductive systems are held there."

How lovely, but there was no way in hell that Toni had whatever those monsters used for their love life. There wasn't a damn thing on earth that could manipulate organs like that. "Whatever." His gruff sigh wasn't too harsh, at least in his mind, but Francis still flinched at it. He really was on edge, wasn't he? "While we dick around here, Toni's only getting worse and for all we know, Lovino may be creepin' around the damn place."

"But were could we take him? Eugenics has its fingers dipped in all of the hospitals around here, and they would take Antonio into their care if they found him in this condition."

He had a valid point… They didn't need that crazy-ass company sinking their fangs into their dear friend. Who could they trust? "What about Alfred? He practically did this."

Yet, Francis slowly shook his head, allowing his eyes to slip closed. "Their making sure to keep an eye on him. They know that if they watch him, they'll find Lovino. It wouldn't be wise." Gilbert could hear Francis' tongue click at the back of his teeth, his brows furrowed in concentration. "I can't think of any doctor not involved with them that can safely remove this shell and the mandibles." So that was what those black things were? Yes, he guessed it right earlier, but damn, what was the extent of the growths that Lovino imposed upon their misfortunate friend? That creature had to have something that could promote the growth of skin to the point where something as hard as fucking nails grew all over his body. A toxin or maybe even a parasite? "Anyway, we still need to get him out of here. Eugenics' men will be here in within the week. The further away we are, the better."

Right. They didn't have any time to spare. Shifting his weight around in preparation for the job at hand, Gilbert held in the swears tickling at his throat as several rocks jutted into the rather shoddy soles of his shoes. Yet, just as his squat fingers wormed their way under Antonio's back, he froze, his eyes locked onto the half-lidded, acidic green orbs returning the stare.

"Toni?" There was no reply. No blink. Viridity swirled in the man's irises, greatly contrasting the abyssal canvas they stained. It was almost as if they were glowing under the blessings of the moon. Surely, that luminosity was a mere trick of his mind. "Toni, we're here to save you."

Blank. They were just so… so blank.

A chill ran down Gilbert's spine. For a split second, nothing but dread welled up in his heart, but once Antonio blinked and allowed his brows to twitch, that fear was chased away by untainted optimism. On the other hand, Francis remained a bit distant from the stirring Antonio, his lightly dressed body stiff, on edge.

Still breathing as harshly as ever, Antonio shifted his arms around, clawing the dirt with those talons jutting out of his fingers before he scratched at the plates lining his chest. They hooked under some of the parts that protruded a miniscule amount more than the surrounding area, tugging at them, but nothing seemed to be gained from the action. He seemed to give up after a few tries, allowing his arm to flop back down onto the earth, disturbing the fine layer of dust resting upon the patches of grass and moss, kicking it into the air.

They didn't have any more time to waste. Preparing his knees once again, Gilbert wedged his hands further under Antonio's black coated body, ignoring the faint rumbles vibrating against the pads of his fingers.

Damn, that fucker gained a hell of a lot of weight. No wonder Francis had so much trouble dragging his fat ass out of that hole. It practically took all of the strength in Gilbert's arms to pull the man up to a slouch, and even then, he had to hold the guy to keep him from flopping back down. "Wake up, Toni!" He turned the Iberian's head toward him by his chin. "We need to get out of here." Still nothing. Those eyes just continued to blankly stare at him as if he didn't even recognize him through whatever was fogging over his cognitive abilities. "Toni!" He shook the man by his shoulders this time, watching his face for anything to show that he was there.

Just a twitch.

Just a scowl and another blink.

A scowl… Gilbert frowned himself, watching the muscles peel Antonio's lips back, baring his teeth to the German as his brows crumbled the blankness that once masked that face. Something rumbled in Antonio's throat, resembling the clacks of a woodpecker hammering on a tree, only deeper and metallic, and behind him, Gilbert heard Francis' breath still. He could've swore that he saw a flash of red flicker along Antonio's cheeks, but with a flinching blink, the light disappeared and his eyes locked on the now fully aware green glaring straight into his soul.

Another metallic clatter resonated from the Spaniard's throat, threatening Gilbert with noises he didn't understand. Shit, he didn't understand why Antonio was making these noises in the first place. Why wouldn't he just speak like he knew the airhead could? Why was he being so damn aggressive? "Toni, my man, what are you doing?" Those black plates shifted with the tension welling up within Antonio's muscles, pushing his upper body higher than the German's. Acrid green never left wavering scarlet, and it sucked away his strength, leaving his muscles a shivering mess as Gilbert fell back onto his rear, his heart hammering away at his lungs. "T-Toni?"

This wasn't his friend… that couldn't possibly be him behind those burning greens sewn upon black velvet.

"Toni, d-don't you remember me?" Crimson as bright as the German's eyes pulsated in tiny flecks along Antonio's cheeks, swelling and shriveling in tune with the air scraping against his teeth. "It's me, Gilbert! Your friend! Your best friend!" Another stream of clatters, these far louder than the others, tore through those clinched fangs and danced past Gilbert's ears as cold flecks of saliva splattered against his skin.

"It's no use!"

Oh god… why did that Frenchman open his mouth? Antonio was ignoring the blond the entire time, focusing his attention on the German before him, but as soon as that shout rang throughout the forest, Gilbert's blood ran dry. Those cold eyes suddenly snapped to the side, dragging Antonio's head with it, a low rumble in his throat. "Don't move, Franny…"

Did he hear his whisper? Gilbert wasn't sure, but all he knew was that Antonio's glare at Francis wasn't going to wane any time soon. The plates along Antonio's arms shifted, surely tightening together as the muscles underneath tautened. Surely the man could see the inevitable… he always paid more attention than Gilbert ever cared to. But he wasn't moving. Francis didn't scramble off of the ground like the German expected. He didn't move. He didn't budge. Antonio snarled out a chain of clicks. Francis still didn't get his ass off of the ground.

Fucking hell… "Franny, get out of here!"

Francis snapped out of his fear-rooted daze, finally pushing his body to move away from the beast who was once their friend. He gathered himself up onto his feet, eyes warily watching Antonio, before they zipped down to Gilbert, wide and panic-filled.

Why wasn't he moving? The fucker needed to get the hell out of her-

Pain exploded across Gilbert's spine, fingering out like the branches of a tree as the air was knocked out of his lungs. He shrieked, water pricking at his eyes and chills biting at his throat. Something, long and multitudinous in numbers, pierced the skin around and along his shoulders, shredding the delicate fibers and muscles with its serrated edges. Weight constricted his lungs, muting his gaps and clogging his voice in his throat. A set of those knives retracted from his shoulder, leaving burning trails in their wake, but soon enough, they found themselves entangled with the tresses of Gilbert's pale locks.

Down, they tugged, dragging his scalp along the mesh of leaves and mud upon the forest floor, and exposing his throat to the moon. His Adam's apple dipped with the harsh rush of air in and out of moisture stung lungs. His arms shot up, fingers gripping at the black form holding him down, trying desperately to push it off of him but his grip slipped through every attempt, effectively coating Antonio with grime. He kicked, kneeing his friend in the side, but he was unfazed. "T-Toni…" Those words burned, tearing a stinging path through his mouth, almost as cruel as the acid green dripping from those eyes hovering only a few inches away.

It was like fire, that breath that clattered against Antonio's tongue; sizzling and bitterly sweet, it coated Gilbert's face, cooled solely by tiny droplets dripping off the tips of his keen fangs. Antonio snarled, rearing back, poised to strike like a threatened serpent.

"Toni, stop!" He ignored the German's ragged plea, tugging his entrapped head further back as he lightly turned it to the side, exposing the veins thriving with panicked blood. "Toni!" Why wasn't he listening? There wasn't so much as a flinch in his glower. Not a flicker of recognition. His body tensed as Antonio's did, readying itself for the attack.

"Get off of him!" The voice screeched like metal in Gilbert's ears, and surely in Antonio's as well. The black encrusted Spaniard hissed, jerking his attention to Francis a mere moment before he was shoved off of Gilbert. A hiss fell from his drooling maw once he rolled back onto all fours, though it was soon wiped away with the back of his hand.

Gilbert didn't give a moment's hesitation before he scrambled to his feet, his breath barely able to keep up with his heart. Together, the two backed away from Antonio, watching as the creature shifted his shoulders and climbed to a slouching stand, his shoulders rolling around as if they were aching him.

"What should we do?" Gilbert hurriedly whispered, keeping his sight trained on Antonio and the slight sways to his movements that were steadily growing solid. Growls rumbled in his throat still, complementing his furrowed brows.

"What can we do?" Soon came Francis' reply, just as rushed and silent as his friend's. "We don't have the means of sedating him, nor can we reason with him right now." Snapping his teeth and mandibles, Antonio snarled, flaring out his muscles and chest as any threatened creature would. "Either we fight and knock him out…" The two flinched at the harsh screech pouring from the Spaniard's throat, further stepping back. "…or we let Eugenics take him."

Gilbert frowned. There wasn't any way in hell that they could allow those monsters to take their friend and treat him as nothing more than a lab rat. "Alright…" Gilbert murmured, not quite sure if he really wanted to do this. "Let's grab him." Nodding, Francis inched behind the starker of the two, lightly tapping Gilbert's shoulder when he was ready.

This was stupid. Holy fuck, this was insane, but they had to do it. They had to find a way to save him. Either that or… well, he didn't want to think about the other option.

Gulping down a bit of air and the anxiety that tried to dig through his chest, Gilbert bound forward, stretching out his arms in an attempt to grab the man, but Antonio had foreseen his movements. He dodged to the side, slumping over with bent knees and claws scratching at the water laden soil, that new voice of his clattering ever still. Francis bolted past the German not a second later, his intentions the same, but like with Gilbert, Antonio knew of their words against him. Once again with a strange grace, the Spaniard rolled past the blond's grip, landing near the entrance of the hole carved into the wall of his home. A screech tore through the night.

The crinkle amid Gilbert's brows deepened, his lips tugging into a frown as his eyes narrowed. There was so much aggression sewn into Antonio's behaviour, surely that of a bloodthirsty monster, but why hadn't he attacked after the initial pinning? He had kept his distance from the two, constantly flipping his eyes amid the Europeans. Another stream of clatters rolled off his tongue, further furrowing the German's brows.

Was he… no, that couldn't be. Gilbert glanced at Francis. Did he see that too?

Gilbert took a step forward, pulling his friend along with him. No, he was certain; amongst the clatters and hisses, there was a flinch, and with the mere step backwards the two made, resetting their distance to the man, there was a low whine in Antonio's throat. The next thing Gilbert knew, Antonio had bolted, disappearing into the forest as nothing more than a black blur.