Lyrics of Sorrow
AN: Standard gig, I don't own Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha or Castlevania. I just had an idea one day "What if the Japan Nanoha lived in was the same one Soma lived in?" Hope you find it within your hearts to read and review this. Begins after Episode 3 of the original anime and a few years after Dawn of Sorrow.
Chapter 1: Seeking Answers
As the sun began it's long decent over the city of Uminari, the train station was bustling, filled with men and women returning home from their jobs in nearby Tokyo. However, there was an aura of caution, even fear, over the crowd. Friends and acquaintances were speaking in hushed whispers about something mysterious that had happened earlier in the day, wondering if anyone they knew had been affected.
Into this quiet maelstrom of hushed voices and suppressed emotions, another train arrived. It barely even got noticed, nor did most of the group that filed out the doors. One man, however, did get some odd looks, even a second glance or two.
The first thing that stood out about him was his cloths; while most of the train's passengers wore crisp suits of some variety, the man was wearing a long white trench coat over a dark shirt and jeans, along with tall white boots. More than that, however, was his hair; which was the same shocking white as his coat. This would have marked him as being quite old, but for the fact that his face was young and unlined, looking barely a day over twenty.
Still, the people on the platform simply shook their heads. They wondered why young people these days were so insistent on their odd fashion choices and hair dyes, but ultimately dismissed the young man as being harmless, and turned their attention back to their own concerns.
They would not be so quick to judge him if they knew more about the coat he was wearing. Underneath the common cloth was a layer of metal that most people didn't believe existed: mythril. This magic infused material was lightweight, and yet it was stronger than any suit of Kevlar. What's more, the dark shapes that were woven at key points of the coat were not just for decoration, but anchored a series of powerful wards that could repel almost any hostile magic directed at the wearer, as well as blocking most mundane methods of detection, such as X-rays. This was done to allow the wearer to go through airport security without causing a panic, since his occupation required him to travel around the world.
Civilians would find the weapons the man carried to be even more worrying. In his right coat pocket there was a heavy pistol, loaded with enchanted silver bullets that were effective against the forces of darkness, while his left pocket, which was enchanted to hold objects that by all rights should not be able to fit in the small space, carried a long, sheathed katana. This weapon, known as Muramasa, was a cursed blade, and any lesser mind would have been broken by it long ago.
However, this man was nothing if not strong willed.
And that was the last, most terrifying thing about him that would have had most people running in fear from him if they knew. He was the reincarnation of the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Within him rested the power and souls of demons, won in the heat of battle. The only hint of this was the odd silver ring that seemed to cause a headache if one looked at it too long: the Chaos Ring.
This was a powerful man. More than once, he had walked, alone, into certain death and come out unscathed. Entire armies of darkness had been banished by his hands. If you were beset by danger, he was your savior and your best friend. If you wished to harm those he cared about, he was your worst enemy, and likely the last one you would ever face.
His name was Soma Cruz.
Soma looked around the platform, whistling quietly as he wandered towards the rendezvous point Arikado had given him.
'Sense anything?' the thought. After a moment, another voice, that of a woman, answered.
'Nothing out of the ordinary, Master.' Soma glanced to his right to see a pretty young woman sitting sidesaddle on a broom and hovering a few feet above the ground. She wore dark purple robes that showed off her legs, as well as a large, pointed hat. Anyone who saw her would clearly recognize her as a witch.
Of course, she was not actually floating beside him; that would attract far too much attention from the crowd of ordinary travelers. Instead, she was a projection of his mind, letting him look at the souls that he was communicating with, granting a sense of connection.
'Do a wider sweep, we still don't know exactly what has happened here, best to be prepared for any eventuality,' Soma thought.
'Right away.' With that, the witch vanished.
Soma reached the main lobby of the train station and looked around again, wondering whom exactly Arikado had sent to meet him. Even though he had been working for the man for almost two years now, he still had yet to meet very many of the other agents.
"Agent Cruz?" a voice asked quietly from behind him. Working hard not to jump, Soma turned. A middle aged woman, probably somewhere in her mid forties, was standing there. She had long dark hair that reached to the small of her back, with a few bangs obscuring her grey eyes. "My name is Itou Yuriko," she continued, bowing slightly.
"I assume you're the one Arikado wanted me to meet," Soma said, returning the bow. Yuriko nodded.
"Yes. Mr. Arikado asked me to brief you on the situation and do everything in my power to aid your investigation." She nodded to the parking lot. "I have a car, if you want to get started."
"Of course," Soma said, matching the woman's long stride as they walked to a black Toyota.
"So, how much have you been told?" she asked.
"Not a whole lot, just what I saw on the news before Arikado dispatched me here."
Several hours earlier
In a small café near the center of Tokyo, Soma and his girlfriend Mina were having lunch together for the first time since Soma had come back from his most recent mission. He was taking the time to relate one of the more amusing moments of an otherwise tense and dangerous assignment.
"…So there we were, in the middle of some crazy demon-worshiper's lair, and one of his demons, which looked like an old fat guy wearing some sort of medieval cloths, gets down on his knee and offers Yoko a rose and professes his undying love for her!"
Mina covered her mouth with her hands, giggling. "Really? What did she do?"
"Well, I was busy trying to hold off the skeletons that were actually doing their job and trying and stop us, but all poor Yoko can do is gape at it. She told me afterwards that she wasn't sure if she was dreaming or not. Eventually, of course, she blasted it with a fireball, but not before the summoner had time to call the demon an incompetent fool."
"Well, he has a point," Mina said. "I mean, I'm guessing he didn't summon that demon to flirt with Yoko." She shook her head. "I'm going to have to remember to tease her about that when she gets back."
Soma grinned. His only regret about taking the job to work with Arikado's Special Investigations organization as a warrior against the forces of darkness was that it kept him away from Mina more than he would like, but he could live with that so long as he was making the world a safer place.
Suddenly, the television, which had been broadcasting the results of some sports game, let out a long, piercing tone and flashed BREAKING NEWS. As the eyes of everyone in the café turned to it, the screen changed to show a worried looking news anchor.
"Breaking news from the city of Uminari," the anchor said, his voice shaking slightly. "An unknown force has caused many of the trees in the city to grow uncontrollably, leading to thousands of yen in damages." The anchor disappeared, and in his placed images and videos started flashing across the screen, showing the trees twisting and warping, shattering pavement as roots extended. The anchor's voice continued." This comes in the wake of the strange damage to a street corner two weeks ago, damage for which no one has been able to come up with a reasonable explanation." The anchor re-appeared. "We've asked renowned biologist Satou Tamura if he has any input on this… situation. Mr. Satou?"
An image of a man who looked to be somewhere in his sixties appeared. "I'm sorry, but there's not much I can say," he said, shaking his head. "I've been a biologist for almost forty years now, and I have never seen anything like this."
Before Soma could hear any more, his cell phone started ringing. Quickly glancing at the caller ID, he wasn't surprised to see that it was Arikado.
"Yes, Arikado?" he asked, trying to catch the rest of the news broadcast while still paying attention to what his boss had to say.
"Have you seen the news report?" Arikado asked, his voice grim.
"Yeah, I'm just looking at it now? What happened?"
"That's what I need you to find out. I know you're on vacation, Soma, but this is big, and since Yoko is still cleaning up in England and Julius is off in South America, you're the only one I can trust if this turns out to be as dangerous as I believe it's going to be."
Soma bit back a sigh. "Yes, I'll head out there as soon as possible."
"Thank you, Soma," Arikado said, softening his voice slightly. "I truly am sorry to interrupt your time with Mina like this, and if I had any other options I would take them. Goodbye, and give me an update as soon as you discover anything." With that, he hung up.
Soma slowly closed his phone before turning to look at Mina. "Look, Mina…" he started, but she held her hand up.
"It's alright, Soma," she said, smiling sadly. "I knew when you joined up with Arikado and the others that things like this might happen." She looked up at the television screen. "So long as you're able to stop anyone from getting hurt or killed, I'll be glad." She turned back to him. "Just promise me you'll be careful, won't you."
"Don't worry, I will," Soma said. "Well, let's finish our lunch, why don't we?"
"That sounds nice."
Forty five minutes later, Soma had dashed back to his apartment, grabbed his away bag that he kept prepared at all times, and was boarding a train for Uminari.
Yuriko nodded. "Unfortunately, I do not have much to add. I believe that I have tracked down the tree that started this mess, but I am not certain. Or do you want to start with the light that ended the crisis?" Soma perked up.
"Light, that's new." Yuriko nodded.
"Well, within a few minutes of the tree's unexplained growth, a series of bright pink lights washed over the city, which I can only assume is some sort of spell. These were followed by a single large beam that hit one of the trees. Almost immediately, they all started shrinking back to their normal sizes." She shook her head. "My partner, Yamamoto Akinobu, is trying to track down the origin point of this magic, but so far he hasn't had much luck." Soma leaned back, thinking.
"Let's give him some more time and start on the tree," he said finally. Yuriko nodded sharply.
"Very well, I'll take you there immediately."
As the car made its way through the street, avoiding roads that were still damaged, Soma closed his eyes. As he reached deep into his mind, the car seemed to fall away, leaving Soma standing in a spotlight, surrounded by total darkness. Soma ignored this, instead seeking one of the many souls that resided within him.
'Treant?' he thought, gazing into the darkness.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, finally, a rumble echoed through Soma's head as an ancient force awakened and slowly dragged itself into the light around Soma. It took the form of a massive tree, covered in moss and scars.
'Thy will, Master?' the Treant rumbled, it's voice formed not by vocal cords but the vibration of its bark. Two small lights shone in the holes that marked the possessed tree's eyes, a sight that had struck fear into Soma when he first saw the creature.
'I'm going to need your help soon, Treant,' Soma said calmly, no longer remotely intimidated by the former monster, since no soul that had accepted Soma's dominance was even capable of harming him unless he allowed it. Besides, Treant was a fairly common soul for Soma to call on; it might not be the strongest soul at Soma's command, but its ability to 'talk' to other trees had come in handy dozens of times.
'By thy will, Master.' Soma smiled.
'Glad to know you're with me, Treant,' he said. The tree didn't respond with words, but Soma could sense that it was pleased with Soma's complement.
"Agent Cruz?" Yuriko asked, shaking Soma out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes to find her watching him curiously. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thanks," Soma said. "I was simply… preparing." Arikado had told him to keep his true nature secret as much as possible, even around other agents.
She didn't seem completely convinced, but kept quiet and focused on navigating the city. Finally, she pulled over. "We're almost there, but we have to walk the rest of the way."
"Okay," Soma said.
The pair was stopped by an officer as they reached the tape that marked a damaged area, but after Yuriko showed him her badge and muttered a few words he let them through.
Soma quickly realized how Yuriko had known this was where the damage started; the entire area was in ruins. The road was broken in half where the roots of the tree had unnaturally expanded, and cleanup crews were dashing around, trying to bring some semblance of order to the situation.
Careful not to disturb anyone or anything, Yuriko led Soma to one of the trees along the side of the road. It looked as innocent as the rest of them, but even without asking any of the souls for a closer look, Soma could sense the power radiating off it.
"Just a moment," Soma said, stepping forward and placing his hand against the tree. 'Treant?'
Images started flashing through Soma's mind,
Sun. Water. Soil.
Those things were in abundance, and all was good.
Vibrations. Forms, moving across the not-soil that surrounded the soil. Many.
Two sets of vibrations stopped nearby. An aura followed, a powerful thing. Something beyond the tree, beyond the soil, beyond the water. Only the sun matched it.
The tree felt fear.
The air moved, pressing against the bark, the leaves. Disturbances, unnatural things.
"You sure were great today, Daiki!" High, female, young, happy.
"Oh, no, not really… it's just because we had a good defense." Male, young, bashful.
Aura still present.
More sounds; not words… giggles. Silence, then more male words.
"I want to show you something. Some kind of stone."
The Aura strengthened. The tree tried to recoil.
"Ohh, it's so beautiful!" Female, excited.
"I found it this morning, and I thought you might like it, Akemi. Here you go."
The Aura peaked.
JEWEL SEED: SERIAL X. AWAKENING.
Pain. Aura reacting, twisting, shaping. Screams.
WISH ACCNOWLAGED: "TOGHETHER FOREVER". TAKING ACTION. DEFENSIVE FORM FOUND, ASSUMING CONTROL.
The Aura reached for the tree, claiming it. Resistance was futile.
FORM DEEMED INSUFFICIENT FOR DEFENSIVE MEASURES. ACCELERATING GROWTH.
The tree had never wished so much that it could move.
Pain beyond pain.
Unsustainable growth. Sunlight insufficient, bolstered by not-sun. Water insufficient, bolstered by not-water.
Leaving the soil, breaking the not-soil. No no no no no no…
COLLECTING MORE DEFENSIVE MATTER. STAND BY…
Other trees, more pain. Growth. Assailed by screams. Wrong…
DEFENSIVE FORM ESTABLISHED. WISH: "TOGETHER FOREVER" COMPLETED. STANDING BY FOR ADITIONAL WISHES.
Time passed, but the tree couldn't determine how much. All it knew was pain and fear.
WARNING, POTENTIAL HOSTILE AREA SEARCH DETECTED, SEEKING CORE. STAND BY.
EMERGENCY! HOSTILE BOMBARDMENT CLASS SPELL DETECTED. TAKING ACTI…
More pain, but different. Cleansing pain. Aura receding, driven away by another. Tree's splitting. Second force retreated.
Soma gasped slightly as he pulled his hand away from the tree. Even with Treant translating the raw sensations of a tree into a more human context, the communication was still fragmented and difficult to understand. He was lucky he hadn't needed to do it for very long, or he would have gotten a killer headache.
And the second train of thought, the one that had caused this. It seemed more mechanical than anything, almost as it was some sort of AI that had gone haywire. What was really confusing, however, was that it didn't seem malevolent. It had acted like forcing trees to grow unnaturally, causing massive damage and putting lives at risk, was the most natural thing in the world.
"Are you alright?" Yuriko asked. "Agent Cruz, answer me!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Soma said, smiling at the way the woman's previously cool voice was shaking. "Just… talking to the tree."
"Really?" Yuriko said, glancing around to make sure none of the street workers were paying too much attention. "Did you discover anything?"
"I think so," Soma said. "I have to ask, after the light got rid of the massive trees, were two kids found here? A boy named Daiki and a girl named Akemi?"
Yuriko blinked before pulling a smart phone out of her pocket and flicking through screens for a few moments. Finally, she nodded. "You're right, a Hayashida Daiki and Fujii Akemi were found around here and taken to the nearest hospital, since they were both unconscious. The girl was released almost an hour ago, but Mr. Hayashida is still there, being treated for a concussion." She glanced at Soma. "Do you think they're involved in this?"
"I'm not certain," Soma said. "I doubt it was intentional, but I think they found something that caused this. The tree overheard them talking, and Daiki said he wanted to show Akemi something just before everything started growing."
Yuriko nodded slowly. "Did you see what it was?" Soma chuckled slightly.
"Unfortunately, trees don't have eyes, so I couldn't see anything." Yuriko shook her head, a rueful smile tugging at her lips.
"I guess that would be to easy, wouldn't it?" she said. "Well, we should head over to the hospital, see if we can figure out what exactly happened here." As the pair made their way back through the ruined street, Yuriko lowered her voice. "I've never heard of magic that allows people to talk to trees," she whispered.
"It's a very rare skill," Soma said carefully. "And it's one of several rare skills that I possess. I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to discuss most of them. Orders from Arikado, you know how it goes."
Yuriko nodded. "I know."
After a few minutes, Soma broke the silence. "Can you do magic?"
She shook her head. "I'm afraid not. My partner can do some simple tracking spells, but even he's not what most would consider serious talent." She glanced at him. "I'm curious to see what else you have up your sleeve, Agent Cruz."
"Could you please just call me Soma?" Soma groaned. "'Agent Cruz' makes me sound old."
Yuriko chuckled slightly. "Very well. It's just that, from what Mr. Arikado has said about you, you're one of the best agents in the organization. I was simply trying to be respectful."
"Thanks," Soma said, "but you've probably been doing this longer than I have." Yuriko shrugged, and Soma continued. "I'm afraid I have to do something quickly, so I won't be able to talk." With that, he closed his eyes and called up a few of his souls.
"Master?" A beautiful woman said sensually. All she was wearing was a skimpy black bikini (and she only wore that because Soma made her.) This had dual benefits for her: it left her long, bat-like wings free, and it aided in her feeding habits, for this soul was that of a Succubus. Behind her stood another, smaller woman who was dressed in a very similar fashion, though her bikini was pink. A short distance away hovered the Witch soul, along with a younger, slightly scrawny girl who was clutching a battered broom. Between the two groups was the massive form of Treant.
"Thank you for coming, all of you," Soma said, looking between the souls. "Treant, I need you to show the others the memories you got from the tree. Witch, you and your apprentice are going to analyze the signature of the aura that started this mess. If we can't find whatever caused this with Mr. Daiki, then we'll have to track it down ourselves before it activates again." He turned to the Succubus. "You and Lilith are going to try to figure out more about that burst of energy at the end, the one that got rid of the first aura."
"Yes, Master," everyone chorused before fading back into the darkness. Soma didn't leave, however, but called for Persephone.
"What do you require, Master?" the young woman wearing a blue maid outfit asked when she appeared, curtsying.
"I'd like you to watch my talk with Mr. Daiki. I don't think he'll have anything to hide, but best to have a second opinion, just in case." Persephone grinned, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"I'll do my very best, Master Soma!" she said.
"Thanks, Persephone." With that, Soma allowed himself to slip back into the outside world.
The last two years had seen a dramatic shift in how he interacted with the souls under his command. When he had first learned of his powers inside the Solar Eclipse of 2035, he had seen them as a burden as much as a benefit, and hadn't been sad to see them vanish over the course of the following year. However, once he had taken the time to understand them, to see them not as defeated enemies but helpers, he had started to form friendly relations with them. It had helped that, as he absorbed more souls from a certain type of monster, they had merged to form a "super soul," which was stronger and smarter than the sum of its parts.
"We're almost there," Yuriko said as she glanced at Soma, clearly restraining his curiosity over what he had been doing.
"Thank you." After several moments, the silence in the car got to Soma. "I was just trying to get a better sense of the energy that warped the trees, so that, if I come across it, I'll be able to recognize it immediately."
"That is probably wise," Yuriko said.
Finally, the car pulled up in the parking lot of the Uminari City Hospital. The pair got out and made their way to the main entrance. Soma let Yuriko talk to the receptionist, and she once again showed her badge and had a short conversation to convince the young woman to cooperate with them.
"Hayashida Daiki, Hayashida Daiki…" the receptionist muttered, scanning the computer screen in front of her, though her eyes flicked to Yuriko and Soma a couple times. "He's in room 214, just up the stairs and on your left."
"Thank you very much," Yuriko said as the pair made their way past the desk and through the stairwell door. After a minute of searching, they found the right room and peeked in.
There were three people within: a boy that Soma assumed was Daiki, an older man sitting at his side with his back to the door; he was likely the boy's father, and a nurse reading off a clipboard. Soma gently knocked on the doorframe to get everyone's attention.
"Yes?" the nurse asked.
"My name is Cruz Soma, and I work for the government's Special Investigations division," Soma said, pulling his badge out in case anyone asked to see it. "I need to have a word with young Mr. Daiki, if you don't mind."
The nurse and Daiki's father shared a look before the man spoke up. "Is this about what happened this morning?" he asked warily, rising to his feet.
"It is, but don't worry, your son isn't in any trouble," Soma said reassuringly. "We simply want to make sure nothing like this happens again, and we think your son might know something."
"My nephew, actually," the man said. "I'm sure you don't mind if I stick around," he continued slightly aggressively, almost seeming to dare Soma to refuse.
"No problem at all, sir," Soma said while he and Yuriko made their way into the room.
"Well, I guess I'll leave you too it," the nurse said as she beat a hasty retreat. Soma pulled another chair around so that he could sit across from Daiki's uncle while Yuriko took up a position near the window, seeming content to watch.
"What do you want to know?" Daiki asked nervously.
"This morning, you found something, didn't you? Some kind of stone." Daiki nodded.
"I… I'm on the local soccer team, so I go out to run every morning," he said, still stumbling slightly over his words. "I was running through the park when I happened to see something shining under a bush."
"Please, don't worry," Soma said gently. "I'm not accusing you of anything, I just need to know what happened."
"Okay," Daiki said. "I went over to see what it was, and I found a weird stone. It looked like a gem, but it was way too rough, especially for how smooth it looked." Daiki took a deep breath. "I… picked it up. I thought it looked pretty, and I wanted to give it to… a friend of mine."
"Akemi?" Soma asked, just to make absolutely sure. Daiki paled slightly.
"Yes, Akemi. Well, I didn't see her until after today's soccer game." He closed his eyes.
"What happened?" Soma asked gently. "What happened when you gave the stone to her?"
"I… don't really know," the boy said. "We were talking, and I showed it to her. She reached out, and our hands touched, and suddenly everything started shaking, the stone was humming, and… something was screaming. The last thing I remember was a flash of light, then I woke up here."
"Is the stone still with you?" Soma asked. He was almost certain that it wasn't, but he had to confirm that. Daiki shook his head.
"No, it was gone. I must have dropped it when I was knocked unconscious."
'More likely it disappeared on it's own,' Soma thought grimly. He had only one more question.
"This question will sound a bit odd, but I must ask that you answer it truthfully. What were you thinking just before the stone reacted."
Daiki blinked, glancing at his uncle, who shrugged. Finally, the boy answered, his cheeks turning red. "I… I was just thinking how nice it was to be with her, and how I wished we could stay together."
'Awww,' Persephone cooed in Soma's mind.
"Thank you, you've been a big help," Soma said, standing. "Do you have anything to add?" he asked Yuriko, who quickly shook her head. "We won't disturb you anymore, but if you remember anything else that you think might be helpful, or if you find this gem again, please contact us." As he said this, Soma quickly wrote his work phone number on the back of a card and handed it to the boy. Nodding politely to Daiki's uncle, he slipped out of the room.
"If you don't mind me asking, what was the point of the last question?" Yuriko asked as they made their way back to the car.
"Well, something I heard from the tree made me think that the growth wasn't random," Soma explained. "I was simply confirming it. I believe that the stone grants wishes."
"Really? What makes you think that? Personally, I don't see the connection between, 'staying with my girlfriend,' and 'giant trees wrecking the city.'"
"If I'm right, then this object isn't sentient, so it can't distinguish the subtle nuances of human thought," Soma explained. "Instead, it takes a very literal approach. The words of his wish were that they should stay together forever. The gem interpreted this in such a way that it made some sort of defensive barrier out of the trees." Soma took a deep breath. "That means that, wherever this thing is, we need to find it before someone else gets their hands on it. If this is the result of a simple, innocent wish, I'd hate to see what it makes of a deliberately hostile one."
The pair sat in silence for a few minutes before Yuriko spoke up. "Unfortunately, we don't seem to have many leads as to where this gem might be."
"True," Soma said. "Let's see how your partner's doing, maybe the other spell will give us somewhere to start."
Yuriko nodded and pulled her phone out again, quickly pushing a few buttons before placing it on the dashboard of the car. She had set it to speaker, since Soma could hear it ring twice before a tired man answered.
"Hey, Yuriko," he said. "I'm glad you called, I have something to tell you, but first, have you met that agent from HQ yet?"
"I have, Akinobu, and he's right here. Soma?"
"Hello," Soma said.
"Hello, Agent Cruz," Akinobu said.
"Just call me Soma," Soma said quickly.
"I… okay, if you want." Akinobu cleared his throat. "I believe that I have discovered where the second spell came from."
"Excellent! Give us the address, and we're on our way," Yuriko said. Akinobu quickly did, and Yuriko drove off.
"So, what have you two been up to?" the third agent asked over the phone. "Make any progress on the trees?"
"Yes, we have," Soma said. "We believe that a boy found a powerful magical object that grants wishes, and, not knowing what it did, accidently thought something that was misunderstood as a wish to make the trees grow the way they did."
"Wonderful," Akinobu groaned. "Have we recovered the object yet?"
"I'm afraid not, he didn't have it anymore when we visited him in the hospital. We're hoping for some sort of clue on your end."
"Well, first we have to know if this is even the right place," Akinobu said. "I'll see you when you arrive." With that, he hung up.
"We're here," Yuriko said a few minutes later. Soma looked up at the massive white tower, it would certainly give a nice vantage point for any spells.
A man who looked to be in his thirties met the pair at the door. His light brown hair framed a more traditionally Asian face, marking him as being of mixed parentage. His suit was more rumpled than Yuriko's, and the tired look on his face matched his voice over the phone.
"Hello, Yuriko, Soma," he said. "It's up on the roof. I've already gotten us clearance from the manager."
"Thank you, Akinobu," Yuriko said. Akinobu glanced curiously at Soma as he stepped aside.
"No offence, kid," he said, "but you seem a bit young for this."
Yuriko blinked, her jaw dropping at her partner's words, but Soma simply chuckled. "You are not the first to say so, Akinobu. However, I wonder, should age be judged by years, or by experiences?"
The older man laughed quietly. "Touché, Soma, touché. Well, let's see if I got the right place." Yuriko shook her head, sighing.
As the elevator rose to the top of its shaft (which was several floors below the roof,) Soma closed his eyes, letting his magical sense extend. After a few moments, he detected a concentration of ambient energy from somewhere above him, an energy that felt something like what he had briefly experienced in the tree's memories.
'Is this it, Succubus?' he thought quietly. After a moment, the soul answered.
'It is, Master.' Her normally seductive tone was tempered by a rare feeling: awe. 'And if this is what we're feeling after several hours of deterioration, the spell that created it must have been truly incredible.'
'What level of power are we talking?'
'I can't tell exactly from here, but certainly something to be taken very, very seriously. What is even more interesting is that this is mortal magic, not any demonic or heavenly force. A human did this.'
'I'll keep that in mind,' Soma thought before opening his mouth. "I think this is the right place, there's certainly enough energy floating around."
Akinobu blinked. "You can already feel it? We're barely halfway up."
Soma shrugged. "As I said, there's a lot of ambient magic around here, and it only grows more pronounced as we go higher."
There was a minute of silence before the elevator's bell rang and the doors slid open, revealing a deserted corridor. The trio quickly made their way to the exterior stairs that led to the roof itself.
"…Yes this is the place, no doubt about it," Soma said.
"What can you tell us, Soma?" Yuriko asked.
'Well, Succubus?' Soma thought.
To his surprise, it was a different soul that answered, one that rarely spoke even after being healed by Soma: the tormented beast Gergoth. 'Master,' it rumbled, 'the shape of this magic is similar to what Gergoth and Master use to breath beams of destruction.'
'That's right, Master,' Succubus said, her voice indicating that she was pouting. 'Which I could have told you without my assistant's help.'
'Be nice, Succubus,' Soma chided gently. 'So, whoever cast this must have somehow found out where the gem was and then blasted it, shattering it's power.'
When he put this theory by the others, Akinobu nodded. "That sounds about right, and it would explain why so much energy was put into the spell: the tree was almost half a kilometer away. Unfortunately, that doesn't bring us much closer to finding out who did this."
"Maybe we don't need magic to find that piece of information," Yuriko said, her face thoughtful. "On our way up, I saw several security cameras. If one of them got a glimpse of our unknown practitioner, we'll be able to track them down."
"Good idea, Yuriko," Soma said. He was about to head back to the stairs with the others when Witch spoke up.
'Master, could we stay here a moment. I have some information.'
'Sure,' Soma said. "Hey, Yuriko, Akinobu, could you two go on ahead. I have something I need to do here. I'll be right behind you."
Akinobu seemed like he was about to disagree, but Yuriko nudged him and nodded. "We'll go get the security records that we need, you."
"Thank you," Soma said, watching the pair leave. Finally, he turned and walked to the edge of the building.
'You've finished deciphering the gem's aura, haven't you,' he thought, turning to face the projection of the witch,
'We have, and it's not pleasant. In terms of raw power, it's stronger than the spell that was cast here, though most of its energy was focused on bending the trees to its will.' She paused to take a breath. 'What's most interesting, however, is that I sense traces of its energy around here; faint and almost overshadowed by the human spell, but it is here.'
'How did it get all the way from over there to here?' Soma wondered, his eyes distant. Finally, he nodded. 'I assume you want to head out and try to track the gem?'
'Thank you. Bat, Ghost,' Soma thought, summoning two more souls from the depths of his mind.
'Yes, Master?' the flying rodent squeaked as it appeared, hovering in the air. The ghost didn't speak, but it's eyes shone with interest.
'Same plan, you two,' Soma said. 'Are you all prepared?'
'Yes, Master,' the three souls said.
Soma nodded before bowing his head. "Come forth into the mortal realm, o souls of mine," he intoned, his coat whipping in a non-existent wind.
The three projections disappeared, replaced by two glowing blue and a red ball of energy, all of which started circling Soma.
"Unite thy powers, let your companions' strengths overcome thy own weaknesses. Bat! Witch! Ghost! Combine!"
The three lights spun to form a triangle in front of Soma before slamming together in a flash of light. As Soma opened his eyes, he studied what looked like an ordinary Bat familiar floating in front of him before nodding in satisfaction.
"We'll contact you when we find something," three voices said quietly before the bat flapped away.
Over time, Soma and his souls had needed to work out new ways to overcome the various challenges that they had found themselves faced with. One of their most successful experiments had been the Combination ritual. This particular variant combined Bat's small, unobtrusive nature and flight abilities with Witch's knowledge of magic and ability to sense it. However, it hadn't been until Soma had discovered that Ghost's Spiritual Separation ability allowed the familiars to travel away from Soma himself that this had become a practical application of power.
Still, he wouldn't have dared attempt it without the Chaos Ring; without the added source of converted chaotic magic Soma would never be able to bear the high cost of magic.
He watched his souls flit away into the gathering darkness before turning to and heading after his human companions.
By the time he was able to gain access to the security room, the others seemed to have found what they needed.
"It wasn't all that hard," Akinobu said. "We knew when this all happened, so we just looked a the footage from that time, and lo and behold, there's someone running up to the roof at the right time."
"I don't know," Yuriko said, looking at the picture. "She looks a bit young, doesn't she?"
That was an understatement, Soma thought as he stared at the girl. She looked like she was ten at most; her short hair tied up in two cute little braids that bounced as she sprinted up the stairs. She was probably still in school, but since it was the weekend she wore a bright yellow blouse over an orange skirt rather than any recognizable school uniform.
"Should age be judged by years, or by experiences?" Akinobu asked, nodding to Soma. "She's the only one who goes up to the roof at the time the spell was cast, so even if she didn't do it herself, she might have seen the one who did." He pointed. "Besides, that weasel, or whatever it is, is acting suspicious," Soma finally noticed the small mammal running up the stairs behind the girl.
"Maybe it's a pet?" Yuriko said. Akinobu shook his head.
"I'd say familiar, myself." He shrugged. "Though I must say I'm surprised it's not a cat, I thought witches liked cat familiars."
'Hey! That's… completely true,' the Student Witch thought from the back of Soma's mind. He forced a laugh down.
"Well, perhaps," Yuriko said. She turned to Soma. "Did you find anything up there while we were gone?"
"I needed some space to cast a tracking spell for the object we're looking for, but it might be a while before it finds anything," Soma said. Akinobu blinked.
"I know a few tracking spells, and none of them work on their own. Which one are you using?"
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say," Soma said.
After a moment of silence, Yuriko nodded. "Very well, we should give it time to work." She glanced at Akinobu, noting the surprised look on his face. "Mr. Arikado told us to trust Soma and support his investigation, so that's what we're going to do." Soma made a mental note to thank Arikado later.
"Well, it's starting to get late," Akinobu said. "So unless your tracker finds something, we should probably head back to the safe house, give Mr. Arikado our report."
Soma opened his mouth to agree when Ghost spoke in the back of his mind. 'Master, we've found something.'
'Where?' Soma asked.
'There is a small park near a bay, not far to the west of where you are currently located, Master. You will be able to find us from there.'
'Right.' Soma looked up. "My track has found something at a small park near a bay, just west of here."
"I know it," Yuriko said. "Is it the gem?"
"I believe it is, yes."
"Then let's go!" Akinobu said. Nodding, everyone made their way out to Yuriko's car and drove as quickly as they could on the still damaged roads.
'Has it activated yet?' Soma asked his familiars. After a moment, Ghost answered, probably for Witch.
'Not yet, Master. There seems to be something… odd about it.'
'Don't get too close to it,' Soma cautioned. 'Who knows what this thing might do to you.'
A few tense minutes later, Yuriko pulled up at the entrance to the park. Thankfully, it seemed that most of the people had gone home, as night was beginning to fall. Hopefully that meant that they wouldn't have any interference.
However, as the trio made their way towards where the three souls were waiting, a sudden keen split the air.
'Master! A small rodent touched the gem!' Ghost cried. 'It is warping its shape! Hurry!'
"We've got to move, something activated it!" Soma called as he broke into a run.
"A person?" Yuriko asked. Soma glanced back to see that both his companions had drawn pistols, each with the long black tube of a silencer attached to the end.
"Thankfully, no, just some creature that had the misfortune to come into contact with this gem." Soma said, reaching into his left pocket to unsheathe Muramasa, its pitch-black blade licked by demonic red fire.
A moment later, the trio finally caught sight of the animal that had found the gem. It looked like an oversized mouse, but its dark fur was ridged, and upon close examination turned out to be some sort of spines instead, and its tail was tipped with a nasty-looking blade. Its red eyes glinted malevolently as it beheld the three humans standing before it.
Soma listened as two hand guns started firing, their silencers turning the guns' bangs into whispers. Still, the bullets tore deep holes into the creature's body, one bullet even putting out its left eye. After a few seconds, the guns clicked empty.
A moment of silence passed before red light started playing across the beast's wounds, and when the light faded, Soma sighed at the sight of a completely healed enemy.
"Oh, that's just not fair!" Akinobu moaned as the giant mouse charged, its tail whipping.
Soma darted forward, drawing on years of experience in fighting monsters, as well as his enhanced strength and stamina. Just before the two met, the mouse brought its tail around in a deadly arch. Soma, however, had expected this and leapt over the swing, bringing Muramasa around to cut the spike off.
He had hoped that cursed blade would be able to permanently damage the beast, but he was destined to be disappointed. Though the mouse did shriek in pain, but its blade regenerated and swung at him again. Fortunately, it seemed that since he had hurt it the most, the creature was more focused on him than his allies.
That didn't help him much, however, as the backswing of the tail caught Soma on the side, tossing him into a nearby tree. Blinking to clear the stars from his vision, Soma rolled to one side as the enemy lunged at him, its long fangs bared. It collided with the tree, causing it to shake, while Soma brought his blade down in a vicious arc that cleaved deep into its side, exposing ribs.
'We need to find its jewel,' he thought desperately as the horrific wound regenerated like a scratch. 'We could be here all night if we don't.'
'It's in the creatures belly, Master,' Witch said, and Soma briefly noticed his Bat familiar hanging from a nearby tree. 'How you're going to get there…'
Soma growled as he phased back, using Grave Keeper's power to make him move faster so as to dodge another swing of the razor tail. Yuriko and Akinobu had split up to flank the enemy and were still firing, hoping to wear down the creature's healing.
"Flame Demon!" Soma snarled as the beast charged again, pointing at it.
'FINALLY!' the former resident of Hell roared in Soma's mind, and a fraction of a second later five fireballs blasted from Soma's hand to smash into the charging enemy, causing it to recoil and shriek in pain as it burned.
"Nice one!" Akinobu called, only to gape as the fires cleared to expose a still healthy, yet absolutely enraged, giant mouse.
"You've got to be kidding," Soma muttered as he jumped over the tail, only to be hit again by a quick upswing. Flame Demon might not be the most powerful soul under his command, but it was the one he felt most comfortable using in front of his allies, since he wasn't supposed to expose his true nature. Normally, he would have gotten Alura Une or one of his fighting familiars, like Alastor or Gaibon.
'But there is a way you can do that, Master,' a voice whispered silkily as Soma rolled out of the way of another hate filled lunge. 'But you do seem to be having fun…'
'Zephyr, I'm really not in the mood for jokes right now!' Soma growled. 'If you have something to say, say it!' The time demon laughed playfully.
'While the beast is likely too strong, even for my powers, your human allies will be frozen in time if you unleash me, allowing you to dispatch this annoyance with your full strength.'
'Sounds good, let's do it… NOW!' Soma said.
A pulse of shadow flew from Soma, leaving a darkened world behind it. Nothing moved save Soma and the monster, who also retained their colors. Even the bullets were stilled.
"Alura Une! Rip this thing apart!" Soma snarled. "Farmer, support her."
'Of course, Master,' the plant girl said sweetly as she appeared behind him. A silent skeleton wearing a straw hat also arose, bowing its head and raising two glowing hands.
As the mouse charged once more, thick, thorny vines reached out and impaled it in a half-dozen places, causing it to squeal in agony. As Alura Une lifted the struggling beast into the air, Soma caught sight of a glow within its stomach, shining through the thick fur and flesh.
"Bring it closer!" he shouted, and the plant woman immediately complied. The mouse tried to scratch Soma, but he was out of reach.
Three quick slashes later, a triangle of flesh had been carved from the creature, and Soma used Muramasa to pull the shining gem out of the wound before it could regenerate, dropping the whole bloody mess to the ground.
The mouse's squeals faded as it shrunk to its normal size. Alura Une dropped the corpse to the ground and faded just as Zephyr's cronomancy faded and the world resumed its normal coloration.
"What just happened?" Yuriko asked, staring at Soma as he put Muramasa away. "One second we're firing at that… thing, and the next you've won? What did you do?"
"I stopped time," Soma said, crouching down to study the gem. Its glow was fading slightly, transitioning from sky blue around the edges to a deep purple at the core. Still, Soma could sense that it held a dangerous amount of power.
'Final Guard,' he thought as he carefully reached for it. Best to get this over with.
'By thy will, you're Lordship,' the nigh-immortal knight intoned, and a silvery light formed a glove over Soma's hand, allowing him to pick the gem up safely.
"You… stopped… time…" Akinobu whispered, paling. Yuriko simply shook her head, and Soma heard her mutter something about crazy magic users and their casual defying of all natural laws.
'Wow, Master, way to break it to them gently,' Persephone teased gently.
'I was being hit by a giant mouse, I reserve the right to be grumpy,' Soma thought. "Let's head back this safe house that you mentioned, I doubt we'll find anything else in the dark."
The two agents snapped out of their respective thoughts and nodded, and the trio made their way back to the car, followed by a nearly invisible bat.
Several minutes passed in silence before someone else arrived at the sight of the battle in a blur of pink light. A young girl, wearing a white dress trimmed with blue and clutching a long staff tipped with a broken circle surrounding a large ruby sphere. If Soma had still been there, he would have recognized her as the same girl from the footage he had seen half an hour before.
"Yuuno? Where is it?" she asked, lowering her head to look at the ferret that had hopped off her shoulder as soon as she landed.
The golden- furred ferret stood up on its hind legs, looking around worriedly. Finally, it turned to look up at the girl.
"It's not here, Nanoha," the ferret, Yunno, said in perfect Japanese. "There are defiantly signs of a battle here, but the Jewel Seed is gone."
Nanoha gasped. "Who could have taken it? I thought you were the only one who was here looking for them?"
Yuuno shook his head, turning and darting into the shadows. He continued the conversation telepathically. 'So did I, but it appears that wasn't the case.' He paused when he found the corpse of the mouse. 'And it seems whoever found the Jewel Seed did not have access to Mid-Childa style magic.'
'What makes you say that, Yuuno?' Nanoha asked, stepping forward and peering into the darkness. The ferret seemed to pale even though he was covered by fur.
'I… wouldn't come over here if I were you, Nanoha,' he said. A small green light circle filled with odd symbols and shapes formed beneath him, and a patch of ground was dug up.
'Why not, Yuuno?' Nanoha asked, still making her way towards the ferret.
'No reason, just… I…' Yuuno said, shoving the mouse's body into the hole before putting the dirt back on top, hiding the mutilated body from view.
Nanoha stared at him suspiciously before sighing. "I just wish we could have gotten here faster, gotten another Jewel Seed, especially after what happened this morning…" Her face fell, and Yuuno darted back to her, rubbing his fuzzy head against her bare leg.
"Nanoha, what happened was a tragic mistake, but it wasn't your fault. Please stop being mad at yourself over it."
Nanoha smiled sadly as she reached down to pick her friend up, rubbing him gently against her face. "You're so nice, Yuuno," she cooed, causing the ferret to blush.
"Na…Nanoha, please!" he squeaked, causing the girl to giggle.
"Oh, Yuuno," she said. "Well, I guess we should head home, not much to do here."
"That sounds like a great idea, Nanoha," Yuuno said. "And tomorrow, I think you should really take a break. Don't even think about the Jewel Seeds unless you're forced to."
Nanoha's face contorted into a pout, but she sighed. "Okay, Yuuno, I'll take a break." With that, the pair made their way into the darkness back towards the residential suburbs.
Neither of them noticed a strange, dark shadow hovering among the trees, watching silently.
AN: Who was that figure, I wonder? Anyways, I hope anyone who bothered to read this likes it, and takes the time to review. It would mean a lot to me.