RIDE UNTIL DAWN
A SHIKI TOHNO: ACCIDENTAL DEMON HUNTER short story
It is often said, by men much wiser and more scholarly than I, that a mind is a terrible thing to waste...
But if you were to point out the validity of this anecdote to the road trip I was on – a road trip that was in fact draining the brainpower from my skull as a result of its overwhelming dreariness and meniality – it would not give a rat's ass that it was directly responsible for how it was causing me to slowly slip into insanity 1.
1- Tohno here is obviously exaggerating the state of his current mental condition in this excerpt for the sake of writing flavor. Official protocol of The Holy Church at the time would certainly not allow mentally unstable operatives to perform any sort of field work until they were well enough to be recomissioned...and yet no matter how many times I say this, I still don't believe a word of it.
Indeed, the barren highway that stretched for miles into who-knows-where accurately depicted what my state of mind was like at that time – desolate, empty, occasional pothole, and containing a whole 'lot of nothing. I don't know of anything in this world that can dull my senses, and I'm speaking truthfully here, but if I had to nominate anything, I would have to say that entire ride was dangerously close to succeeding. It seemed as if not even an infamous demon hunter such as myself was immune to the mind-numbing effects of a long road trip that just drags on and on with not an end in sight. I probably would have groaned out "Are we there yet?" like a bored child in order to complete the image if it would not have been decidedly uncharacteristic for me.
But that still did not give me the willpower necessary to stifle an especially loud yawn.
"Something troubling you, Satsujinki?" My comrade asked upon noticing my aforementioned yawn, his voice sounding as fatherly as it usually did.
"More or less," I turned to the direction the voice came from in order to regard my traveling companion, whose intimidating appearance that I knew he had belied his docile nature. Even though true eye contact was physically impossible due to the bandages wrapped around my eyes, I still did it for politeness' sake, "But it's not worth complaining about."
The driver I was sitting next to – a certain known as Mr. Dawn who just so happened to be number six of the Burial Agency – simply smiled. "Do so anyway," he suggested, "Perhaps it will help to get it off of your chest."
Even though Dawn's advice was sound I nevertheless felt that it would still be a rather pointless venture, consisting of me doing nothing more than whining for the sake of whining. What would be the point in that? I didn't see a need for therapeutic chit-chat, not over something like this. Besides, even if I did take him up on his offer to lend me an ear, where would I even begin? That even though V&V Industries, our destination, was just in the northern sector of the United Kingdom it seemed as if the ride had gone for days on end nonstop? That it was taking this long even though Dawn was driving the Devil2well above the recommended speed limit? That it was taking this long even though we were in the only vehicle that either of us had seen for miles and therefore no chance of us getting marooned in an untimely traffic jam? That I was simply confounded (though I hid it well) as to how a journey through such a small country could take so long? At least in somewhere like the America or Russia it is justified, but for the British Isles?...something felt a tad off to me about that.
2- Shorthand for Sympathy for the Devil, the name of Mr. Dawn's trademark vehicle, a thirty-five ton American-made transportation truck complete with trailer and fully loaded with weapons, ammunition, exorcising equipment, medical supplies, and what could be considered the living quarters of Mr. Dawn's "other half".
As I said, I digressed and put aside my feelings. I knew that I would have to wait for a while. I understood perfectly well that in order to stop the Aylesbury Ritual we would have to get there first.
...it was just that the process was taking a mind-boggling long time.
In the end, I didn't bring up any of that and instead opted to try to nip the subject in the bud.
"Don't mind me. This trip is just dull, that's all."
"Ah. I think I see now." Dawn chuckled, his response laden with good-natured teasing courtesy of that dark humor he was so fond of, as he was – naturally – fully aware of my "condition" that forced me to blindfold myself almost at all times which simultaneously had my days numbered and made me such an asset to the Holy Church's war on the increasingly aggressive Dead Apostle movement.
"How much longer do we have?" Even though I was so adamant about not complaining about my situation my inner hypocrite decided that I was still unable to resist asking.
"We still have quite a ways left, so be patient. As a poem by Robert Frost poem says, 'there are miles to go before I can sleep'." Dawn spoke pleasantly, like a kindly schoolteacher calmly striking up conversation with a meek student. It was almost hard to believe that this kindly man was in fact a notably notorious and high-ranking member of the Church's secret sect of heretic executors, although I of course knew better.
I pursed my lips slightly in response to his answer. Quoting poetry, now there was something else that I hadn't expected. One would think that by now I would have grown used to the various eccentricities, preferences and tastesthat were virtually guaranteed to crop up in my Executor co-workers if past experience was any indication of what members of their kind were like, but no. Instead, I merely coped and hid my true reactions and opinions as duly as I could to maintain my image of coolly peerless deathbringer.
"Right, yeah. Sound advice."
After about another minute or so, not that I was keeping track or anything like that, of inane silence accompanied by pointlessly staring off into space passed, it was Dawn who once again broke the quiet monotony of the trip. "If it will help to alleviate your boredom, because Lord knows it can happen to even the resilient of souls on long rides, do you mind if I turn on some music in order to pass the time?" He suggested, chipper-sounding as always.
"It wouldn't hurt."
Taking that as a cue, the slight tinkling sound a sign that the priest pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose, he flicked on one of the many switches in front of him. A moment later the distinctive beat of country music wafted from the well-hidden speakers surrounding us and filled the cabin of the truck. When the realization that I was in fact listening to country music hit me, I found myself to be a little surprised.
"You're a fan of country music?"
"Indeed I am," Dawn confirmed, "Although I enjoy many types it's my preferred genre."
The song currently playing – while not the greatest song I've ever heard – happened to be one that I was actually familiar with. I only needed a few seconds before I was able to remember just exactly what the name of the artist was. "Is this...Garth Brooks?"
"My, my," Dawn was pleasantly bemused by my observation, "How astute. You seem to know your musicians, Satsujinki."
I shrugged dismissively. "Not exactly. I just know what I know."
Before our small-talk could delve into the topic as to why I even knew anything about a slightly obscure foreign musician it was then that I heard something quite curious. Though the music playing was loud enough to partially drown out the roaring eighteen-wheeler's engine I was still able to pick it out amongst the basses and the chords accompanying Garth Brook's drawling, husky voice. It was quiet, serene and sounded oddly peaceful, as if at ease.
"Is someone humming along?" After giving it a little thought I realized that was the only conclusion I could reach.
Dawn nodded at me. "Why yes. That's just Mary. She likes it when I play music from the stereo. It's one of her favorite things."
"Oh right, you haven't formally met her yet, have you? Mary is my partner. Well, that's not her actual name, but that is what I prefer to call her. Or rather, it's my nickname for her. Because it's so fitting, you know?"
I mentally facepalm when I realized it just now occurred to me who Dawn was talking about. Understandable, since what little briefing I had on Dawn before the start of the trip bore no mention of any "Mary." Dawn's partner also went by an entirely different authorized name 3, which only caused a greater disconnect with what I thought I knew about Dawn's profile as an Executor. Since I did not feel like pressing the issue and making mountains out of molehills I took the high road and kept my mouth shut about Dawn assigning a pet name for his partner.
3- An example of this would be the blessed weapon The Seventh Holy Scripture. While it was referred to as "Seven" for brevity's sake by several of its former wielders (myself included), the spirit of the tool at one point during the time of use in missions served in the far east somehow picked up the new, simple nickname "Nanako", which it actually preferred over any other previously assigned nom de guerres - to the chagrin of current and future owners.
"In hindsight, that should have been obvious," Since we were already shooting the breeze I figured that we might as well keep on going if it would help to further kill time. "So Mary likes music?"
"Mary enjoys all types of music. Don't ask her what her favorite is, she won't tell you. When I discovered this trait of hers early on in our partnership I tried - on several occasions - to expose her to the classical masters so that she could develop a taste for them, but you can probably imagine how that went. She has no ear or taste. I might as well have tried to get a dog to listen to Beethoven for all the good it did. Not that she didn't appreciate it, mind you, it's just that she likes all music equally."
I was about to question whether it was appropriate to talk about Marythis way behind her back, to say nothing of the chance that she could hear everything that was going on in the front of the truck when I was cut off by Dawn, who seemed especially enthusiastic at the moment. "You know what? We still need to introduce you to each other." The priest tapped a switch under the dashboard different from the one that turned on the sound system and spoke into a microphone that he had produced.
"Yes?" The voice through the intercom stopped humming as soon as he spoke up and promptly responded. Her voice was feminine, youthful and wise-sounding, albeit somewhat monotoned. I could easily imagine it as befitting of a holy virgin were it not for how offit seemed for whatever reason.
"We have a guest with us this time. Say hello to Mr. Satsujinki, Mary."
"Hello to Mr. Satsujinki, Mary."
Dawn, for lack of a better word, giggled. He giggled like that little joke was the funniest thing he had heard all day. Of course, bear in mind that it was the onlyfunny thing he had heard all day long, too.
"That's great! Like that one old comedian whose name escapes me! Isn't that just peachy?"
"I pray for your sense of humor, Dawn." Mary retorted.
"Oh Mary, don't be that way." He replied, unfazed by the barb at his expense. Honestly, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if he was used to such treatment.
"Do you have any other types of music?" I asked out of curiosity.
"Why yes, of course." The next few minutes passed by in an incoherent mess as he proceeded to scroll through his extensive playlist, offering snippets and tidbits of songs from just about every genre that I knew of. Metal, Pop, R&B, Blues, Latin Rock, Electronic Funk, all that and more blared through the Devil's impressive sound system.
I'm on the Highway to Hell~!
On the Highway to Hell~!
Highway to Hell~!
I'm on the Highway to Hell~!
"This song...is...fitting. A little toofitting, if you get what I mean."
"Then you see what I did there?" Dawn inquired with a clearly visible smirk on his face as he once again relished in his black humor. All I could do was sigh and concede to him.
"Yes. Yes I did."
"Do you want me to change if it bothers you?"
"You might as well just keep it on," I finally decide after sparing it a moment of thought, "Out of everything else you played it was the least...perturbing."
There was truth in my words. While there wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with any of the other genres as a whole, Dawn himself had inexplicabletaste in music. The subject matter, the wonky lyrics, even the way they sounded; I felt as if I had somehow been had. Part of me was inclined to believe that he had done all that on purpose, but I discredited that theory of mine because such actions were too needlessly devious even for someone like Dawn.
Time passed. It could have been minutes or seconds, but to me and my then-delusional internal clock it felt like hours. On a whim I felt the sudden urge to actually pay attention to my surroundings in some vain attempt to futilely pass more time. To this day I am still not sure what it was that compelled me to do so, chalk it up to either intuition, passive divine providence, soldier's instinct or a just plain lucky chance, but I am glad that I made that choice.
What I felt was just wrong.
"Something is up with the outside." I observed, steel working into my voice as I tensed up, and I was not the only one to be affected. Dawn's attitude - or rather, his very presence, - was far more serious than before, and Mary ceased her carefree humming of the ironic rock song. The atmosphere in the cabin changed instantly, as if even the truck itself was like a gigantic highstrung tiger about to be released into an arena to ruthlessly hunt, not unlike the way the state of the outside world had altered an indeterminate time ago.
"I feel it too. In fact, I can see it as well. The sky is not supposed to be that color."
"What color is the sky?" I asked, besieged with the nagging certainty that the time was nigh for me to once again take up my blade and remove my blindfolds.
"Blue. But it's not just blue, it's blue. Too blue. And the rest of these colors aren't supposed to be thisvibrant." Dawn's elaboration worried me, for if the worst-case scenario were at hand I did not doubt an exceptionally intense battle awaited us. "The fact that all of the clouds in the sky have all morphed to uniformly look like Möbius Loops just confirms my suspicions that something is seriously off."
"That's putting it mildly." I callously respond, annoyed that we had waltzed so easily right into a trap and never even saw it coming. Not wasting a moment I found it easy to draw a feasible conclusion from what I knew and Dawn confirmed. "Knowing our foes it has to be a high-level bounded field or Reality Marble. Keep on your guard."
That's when I felt them up ahead. Through my bandages I saw their lines stitching their distorted "lives" together clear as hot neon lights burning through a dark city's night sky. There were so many of them, so many bright lines, like a pulsating mass of a wall that hurt to look at...
...so much death right in front of me.
"Stop the truck. We have company."
"Already on it, Satsujinki."
Reacting proactively, Dawn stomped the brakes before I even gave my unnecessary order, forcing our steel behemoth steed to screech to a roaring halt. Were we against a conventional foe we could have merely barreled through them without an afterthought, but normality is never on the schedule for any member of the Church's elite. Against a group like this that was this large a strategy like that would have done more harm than good. As such, it was up to us to concoct a different plan of attack.
If they wanted a prelude to Aylesbury and what I was going to have to do them there it would be remissively impolite of me not to oblige them. I was ready to take the initiative and bring the fight to our undead enemies, so without further ado I drew my best knife while keeping the rest handy, stepped outside the vehicle and lifted a bandage from a single, unnaturally blue eye - that was all I would need for the time being.
Only to come face-to-face with a score of animals standing on the desolate cracked blacktop of the highway like a living roadblock.
Even if they didn't give off the cloying taint of vampirism like the stench of rotting fish left out in the sun for too long it was needless to say that they weren't anything like normal animals. Their bodies were grotesquely mismatched, like some deranged child with a vile imagination had forcefully jammed together puzzle pieces that didn't match using whatever methods they could to make bloated, scrawny, beady-eyed, pus-spewing, venom-dripping, beak clucking beings that would be appropriate residents of a pet shop of horrors. Squirming jellyfish-lizards, twitching platypus-bats, swelling centipede-horses, gnus - just gnus(because those are apparently weird enough on their own) - and all manner of other nightmarish chimerae were a part of that zoological rogue's peanut gallery.
I was already smack-dab in the middle of it all without even thinking.
Clasping tentacles, gnashing jaws, slicing talons, raking limbs; I hadn't felt like I had thrown myself headlong into a zoo since my battles with Nrvnqsr Chaos. But that vampire was long dead, done in by my own hands in a backwater Asian city without an ounce of fanfare heralding his passing. These familiars, for all their ferocity, simply couldn't compare with those countless chaos beasts I had slain in our fights.
The world around became a blur. No, Iwas what became a blur, and in turn everything around me came into far greater focus. Everything was automatic – my movements came easily and my actions were dispassionate, lightning quick and brutally efficient.
A flick of my blade heralded a spurting torrent of blood from a severed jaw, accompanied by a garbled howl of pain.
A swipe of my arm shattered a skull like a broken egg, the counterswipe mercilessly decapitating a different head and stabbing into another's point of death.
A thrust cleaved an arm in twain and splashed bloody bone about, separating it in a wholly unnatural way as it bisected a glimmering line.
A lunging hound-thing prompted me to take evasive action, leaping into the sky for a brief tactical retreat, followed up with the snapping of a neck done with such force that it nearly took the head from gaunt shoulders.
A barbed, chitinous tentacle dripping with ichor swung like a bullet to rip me to shreds. Just a simple slash was all I needed in order to cleave the tree-branch thick appendage and provide me easy access to its owners' point of death, which I penetrated with a single "tap" from my dagger.
A gang of several other chimerae were eviscerated in a splattered mess, and entrails flew from their instantly mutilated bodies.
The world went red with the sheer amount of undead blood being spilt.
Line. Line. Point. Line. Point. Line. Line. Line. Point. Point.
So many had died in such a short-span of time, and yet so many more still remained. Killing them was no issue, granted, but in the back of my mind I was much more concerned with the Reality Marble and was convinced that it would prove a greater threat than the sideshow rejects I had been wiping the floor with. An unforeseen factor such as that with unknown capabilities truly did not bode for the continued well-being of me and my companions. If we wanted to escape this ambush alive I had to locate the caster of the Reality Marble, and fast.
"What a treat. I finally get to snare the bloodthirsty murderer himself in my trap."
…that was quick.
Peering through the gaps in the crowd of snarling familiars was the Dead Apostle, his expression the kind of amused excitement a child would feel when they had stumbled upon a particularly compelling new toy. His appearance was fairly nondescript, with nothing especially differentiating him from others of his ilk.
If you've seen one drearily handsome and clearly deranged posh vampire in a pseudo-Victorian custom suit you've seen them all.
While he wasn't breaking new ground for vampiric fashion trendsetting I knew it would be unwise to write him off as just a simple goon. If he was able to accomplish a feat of magic on this scale then that alone meant he was dangerously close to joining the ranks of the Ancestors, which, of course, meant serious trouble.
"I see how you have been making short work of even my strongest fleshcrafted golems. Not that I never expected nor hoped my familiars alone would be enough to take you down if we ever encountered each other. Nope, because you see, that was never my plan at all. I am just here to provide the ultimate distraction, and unfortunately for you you're right in the middle of it all happening."
More patchwork beasts continued to rush me in droves, even though their numbers were sorely depleted by this point. My knife continued to glimmer in the strangely colored sunlight as it sliced dark-red swaths through their horny hides and splashed foul blood with every arcing slice.
I remained silent in the face of this babbling Dead Apostle, hoping in the back of my mind that he would let something important slip that I could take advantage of to turn the tides.
"I can tell what you're thinking. I know what you really want to ask of me but you're too busy killing anything that gets in your way because it's unprofessional to chat up your enemy in the middle of combat. 'Why are you even bothering to tell me this? What's the point of telling me your plan? You must be stupid or something,' " He went on, his voice ebbing and flowing like an actor performing a juicy dramatic reading, "Let me tell you why I'm doing what I'm doing…"
"…Because you cannot do a thing about it."
That moment he sounded so absolutely certain of himself that if I had a weaker constitution I would have lost a good deal of nerve then and there. But, I did not. Instead, I diced apart his final fleshcrafted chimera (a snaggletooth gorilla-tortoise tripod, just so you know) and hurtled faster than the human eye could track towards the Apostle, dagger in hand and locked on all of his dimly lit lines and points, ready to end this in an instant.
"Come at me, Satsujinki!" He spread his arms wide and triumphantly whooped like a madman, shattering his image of a pompous, misplaced 19th century gentleman with a devil-may-care expression of boundless glee plastered all over his face, "Just you try to touch me, you fucking Jap!"
-I couldn't reach him. Just as that vampire had said, I couldn't get to him at all. He was only a couple dozen meters away from the massacre that had taken place moments before, yet… I didn't understand. It didn't make any sense at all.
"What…the hell is this, you bastard?" I stammered, still using my Nanaya skills to run at unreal speeds at the vampire so I could sheathe my knife right in his death. Repeatedly. But again, nothing. Simply nothing was happening. No progress was made at all. He might as well have been on the other side of the world.
"Watch the language, otherwise I'll put you on a timeout. Oh, wait…" He chuckled immaturely, laughing at his own jokes. "So now you see the power of my Reality Marble, a place where I am invincible. So long as it stands you cannot touch me, and your allies will beg for mercy as they are doomed to die agonizingly slow deaths."
"That is what awaits all who stumble into my Ad Infinitum – Land of Eternity. By overlaying the conceptual application of Zeno's Paradoxes onto a portion of the world I impose infinite distance between me and my foes. Run at me as much as you want, in the end you will only ever be allowed to go halfway. And then halfway of that. And then halfway of that. And then halfway of that. You shall be cursed to do that infinitely, never ever reaching me! Never ever able to land a deathstrike on me! Forced to never realize your goal of ending me!"
If what he said was true, then was that just it? If that indeed was the case, then it was actually theoretically possible to wait out the deployment of the Reality Marble until the vampire ran out of prana and was forced to dispel his link with the thaumaturgy and allow the world to retake the reality it had lost, even if he had ridiculously high stores of magical energy. When that happened that would be the ideal time to strike, although I imagined that it wouldn't be that easy if only because it neveris that easy.
"Pfft. Don't even try to pull that 'stall for enough time to force my magic to run out' trick with me, you brat," He smugly sneered, looking more like an impetuous child with every minute. "That's the beauty of Ad Infinitum. Distance is not the only concept that I can stretch to infinity in here. Time itself is also under my dominion. Inside my Reality Marble a minute out in the real world can extend to a year in here, and when fully deployed in its entirety I can make it last decades.
"…I once starved an entire party of Executors that I caught. It's truly a terrible way to go, but watching them slip into madness and resort to cannibalism is incredibly entertaining when it does happen."
It was then I knew that things just went from bad to worst. Analyzing the situation said that his Reality Marble had no apparent faults that it didn't address on its own. It made up for what it lacked in outright offensive power by compensating for the glaring weaknesses shared by all Reality Marbles by simulating extended time within its boundaries on whatever occupants he so chose, a capability that flirted with magic on the level of True Magic. It didn't matter if it only lasted a certain amount of time in real life if perceived decades could go by inside, and with no way of touching him it seemed as if our fates were sealed, just as he said.
I, of course, refused to accept such a fate.
I knew that I would die some day, most likely sooner than later, but I also knew that I wouldn't allow myself to die here. I wouldn't die, not at the hands of some nameless Dead Apostle who probably should be a lot more important than he is but isn't because he gets killed here and I never find the time to bother myself to do the research in the Holy Church's database on noteworthy Dead Apostles and Dead Apostle Ancestors to satisfy my curiosity on a whim as a result of me wondering just exactly who was that annoying vampire I fought a long time ago while trying to prevent the end of the world as we knew it.
Serendipity is a wonderful thing, I mused to myself as I remembered a certain Shiki Ryougi 4 and her and the time we spent together on that one case when I was forced to make a detour to Mifune City at one point during my early days as an up-and-coming exterminator of the undead. Back then my Mystic Eyes weren't anywhere on her level and I was positive that they were still nowhere near as capable as hers, but deep down somewhere I knew that what I had would still be more than enough to pull it off
4- An interesting enough tale in its own right, this particular series of events is actually documented in length elsewhere in the recesses of the Tohno Archives.
If I could not find a way to close the distance...
...then I would just have to cutit.
However, I was not allowed the chance to unravel the final trappings of bandages from my eyes and focus my mind to the point of pulling off insane mindblowing stunts that would allow me to do something truly crazy like temporarily kill the existence of intangible conceptsbecause I was shaken from my zenlike mindset by the roaring crackle of high-caliber gunfire preluding streams of tracer fire shot towards my vampiric opponent shot from a whooshing blurred figure that made squishing sounds every time it moved.
The newcomer who had arrived was moving insanely fast. In fact, it was probably moving faster than I had been during my intense but ultimately brief battle with the animal golems. It was mindboggling to even consider that possibility, but I knew that I couldn't feasibly doubt that one bit. This new arrival was utterly fearsome. It was a complete monster that defied reason. It was something that I was glad to have on my side.
Because, you see, that inhuman thing was none other than Mr. Dawn's partner.
And she had arrived to back me up in my fight against the Dead Apostle.
Even though she was moving so fast I my skills were so honed I could easily follow her with my eyes as readily as I could watch a cloud lazily drift by on a pleasant afternoon. In one hand, a submachine gun, an Italian-made one from what I can recognize, and clearly modified to her preferences; and in the other hand was a simple, eloquent, devastating handgun, also customized. She was garbed in robes that made her look so much like St. Mary herself. Her face could have been considered beautiful, in an ethereal and delicate way…but it was smeared with her own bright-red blood that shone against ivory white skin as it dribbled from throbbing bulbous sacs that formed all over her body. The deformities were visible even under her voluminous robes, which somehow was able to fit her form in all the wrong places and draw attention to her malformations. However, there was something about her form which lent an indescribable majesty to her, something strangely motherly and compelling.
Something like her shouldn't have been able to move the way she did, especially not with a nauseatingly asymmetrical body like hers. Yet…
There she was, moving with the reflexes and repertoire of skills necessary to shoot even a Dead Apostle with a bullet after it had been fired from a gun. She was truly a monster of the Church, and truly a fascinating sight to behold. It's a small wonder that she and Dawn together were the notorious number six of the Church's Burial Agency elite.
But for all of her awe-inspiring, faith-reaffirming heretic hunting potential, even she was held back by the Reality Marble and its concept of infinite distance separating her, her fired gunshots, and the vampire.
"Don't you get it?" The vampire cackled as explosives combusted around him in fiery miniaturized infernos of flame and shrapnel, explosions that would never harm him. "Even with your great speed you will never close the distance between us!"
"That doesn't matter." The woman that Dawn referred to as Mary calmly answered, no longer firing off her weapons and seemingly quite unconcerned with his borderline fanatical chatter, "You yourself said that this Reality Marble utilizes the concept of Zeno's Paradox and replicates its impossibility where it can be experienced first-hand as phenomenon, correct? Since you are so familiar with the subject, then you should know the glaring flaw in this idea – in this entire strategy."
"Flaw? There's no flaw! Ad Infinitum is a perfect defense, ergo a perfect weapon, ergo perfect!"
She stepped closer to him. Though it would not do her any good as long as his Reality Marble existed the vampire was still unusually perturbed. In fact, he looked downright meek. That man, who was so confident and full of himself before resembled a scared rabbit more than a Dead Apostle (…Ancestor? I do need to check up on this one of these days if I ever remember to do so…). It was a look I recognized, for I had seen it many times before.
That was the look of a man who knew he was already dead.
"We can only get closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, and closer still.But…that is enough. I don't need to touch you…" 'Mary' was so close to the vampire now that she could have easily reached out to him and stroke his youthful cheek. Except that was impossible. He would never know her touch.
For some reason this seemed to frighten him the most.
Her hands and the guns she was holding glowed with a shining divine light. With the submachine gun she traced a glowing cross over the breast of his fine jacket. Her other hand, the one still holding the imposing handgun quickly drew a much more intricate design all around his profile, as if the barrel with the tip of a paintbrush and the air around the Apostle was her holy canvas. She muttered rapidly under her breath – a modified variant of the Hail Mary prayer, if what I was correct and not just hearing things or thinking I heard things because of blatant religious parallels and symbolism and what-have-you – the entire time she drew those strokes of light.
A mere handful of seconds later she was done, and the Apostle instantly began to scream in agony. The Reality Marble around us was dispelled as quickly and nonchalantly as a cartoonish doodle being dry-erased from a whiteboard. The vibrant colors of the dull English landscape, the too blue sky, the interconnected paradoxical loops morphed back into their normal cloud shape. The boils and growths on her body surged violently and spewed forth their contents into the earth like sickening hoses. A split-second later a tidal wave of howling blackness boiling with enigmatic shapes erupted from underneath the vampire's feet and devoured him in a gruesome flash. From within the inky vortex one could clearly hear the crunching of bone, the burning of flesh, and the death screams of the vampire amidst the roaring demonshapes inside. Blood and fleshy chunks splattered everywhere from inside it, only to be drawn back in as if magnetized with a visceral, sucking noise. This event, when completed in its gruesome entirety was then too banished by a shining light emanating from the surrounding area, as if a second-stage were initiated to deal with the sudden unleashing of ravenous demons into reality.
Then, we were the only two people still alive standing out there in the aftermath of the battle.
"That was particularly anti-climatic." I dryly retorted, for the sake of an ironic joke out of relief that another battle had come and gone with me still alive after it concluded.
"Whatever do you mean, Mr. Satsujinki? Did you happen to miss the entire ending? I pointed out a glaring hole in his plot, one that overcame the paradoxical impossibility made real by his Reality Marble with simple real-world logic, andthen I proceeded to devour him with the demons that I play host to inside my body after I laid a divine spell over his existence using guns to draw the runes while chanting an entire rosary's worth of prayers using a fast-talking technique. If any of that constituted as 'anti-climatic', then I'll eat my habit." Mary deadpanned at me, refuting my claim that what happened was not climax-worthy with a thorough verbal spine-crushing.
I couldn't help but smile just a little at what she said. "That was a joke, Mary." I answered.
"Sorry. That one went over my head."
"By the way, thanks for that."
"You're quite welcome."
I turned to face Mary to grant her some proper eye contact now that the crisis was over before I would have to put my blindfolds back on again to stop this killer headache of mine from knocking me out cold before I got back into the comfortable safety of the Devil. I was amused to note, pleasantly so, that Mary actually looked a whole lot better without the gigantic demon tumor-boil-pimples covering half of her body like fleshy cabbages and passively spewing blood as a side effect. In this form she actually looked far more angelic without the Lovecraftian-esque conditions affecting her appearance, like a bona fide Virgin Mary…or a model dressing like a Virgin Mary.
"Has anyone told you that you look better like this?" I commented as I proceeded to wrap the last of the bandages around my eyes to block out most of the world from my sight.
"This is God's sacred ground, Mr. Satsujinki." Mary replied with a mock-affronted attitude that was on another level of hilarity with the way she kept speaking in her more-or-less monotone voice that was somehow capable of conveying whatever emotion she wanted to convey.
Upon heading back to the truck I heard that familiar oozing sound again. I would later learn that that was the sound of how Mary slowly reabsorbing hatred and wild emotions and everything else that made demons what demons were and that while the process was not instantaneous it supposedly took a long enough while for her to get back to her former state. I put aside thoughts those thoughts as I grew increasingly light-headed and dizzy to the point where walking was starting to become an interesting challenge.
"So it's finally over?" Dawn asked. He sounded a lot more like his cheery old self now that the Dead Apostle threat was dealt with and our continued journey to Aylesbury was about to recommence in earnest. "How did you two pull it off? I mean, besides Satsujinki killing everything within a ten-mile radius using his fancy far-eastern martial arts, an old but well-kept family heirloom, and the famed Death God's Eyes, of course."
"Simple logic saved the day, Dawn." Mary answered bluntly as she quietly huddled into the door of her room inside the attached trailer without any fuss.
"What she said. I owe her quite a bit for helping me out there. Without her we'd probably have been stranded in that vampire's Reality Marble for years with no way of retaliation or escape. That or I'd have done something outrageously gutsy and maybe a little stupid that might have worked out in the end if we were just lucky enough. Either way, she's really something and I owe her. Big time."
Dawn climbed into the driver's seat and I went to the front, just like before. With a turn of the key the monstrous ignition started up like a pack of bellowing grizzly bears, once again signifying the continuation of our long, arduous, and pretty much boring journey to Britain's northern sector. The music continued to play, just as it had before (not that Dawn ever turned it off the entire time the fight had gone on, mind you), which in turn led to Mary humming along to whatever was playing at the time, uncaring of genre, artist, lyric or sound quality. At that point a thought had had cropped up in my head, an idea that might shed some light on this situation and put to rest my feelings regarding this trip's slightly ridiculous length.
Even though I felt partially braindead because I was half-conscious at the time I made an effort to take my time to explain to Dawn what happened in the Reality Marble while I fought the forever unknown Dead Apostle and was in turn joined by Mary who subsequently concluded the fight decisively and abruptly.
"So…" I finally come around to reaching my point, "Do you think that the Reality Marble could have actually been responsible for delaying this trip and making it seem much longer than it should have been?"
Dawn scratched his chin, but I could tell that he wasn't truly contemplating my theory. To be completely honest, it was slightly unnerving. "It's an interesting conclusion, I'll admit. But I highly doubt that's the answer to your 'problem'. Bear in mind that we had only just entered the Reality Marble recently at the time the conflict happened. "
"Wait..." I asked, disappointment clearly evident in my voice no matter how much I tried to hide it, "We justentered the Reality Marble?"
"Exactly. It wasn't that long in real time."
"You mean the trip actually is this long?"
"Oh no," Dawn smiled at me with his distinctively upbeat grin, "It's even longer than that."
Mary continued to hum, not caring one bit about how a little part inside of me died that moment.
"This is going to be looooong ride..."
(From here on nothing of note happens during the rest of Shiki Tohno's and Mr. Dawn's journey to the rendezvous point, bringing this installment of the Tohno Archive to an abrupt yet fitting conclusion.)