Paris, City of Light… and Dark.

Author: Enterprise1701_d <enterprise1701_d[at]>


Summary: What happens when you put a Vampire, an Immortal Secret Agent, two human assassins and a Necromancer together? FUN!

Crossovers: plural. Only Kris is mine… :)

Thanks to Tenhawk for letting me join in the fun of his universe.

Latest addition

Chapter One
Chance, Fate, Destiny, or however you call it… it's doing overtime.

Kris opened his eyes at the incessant ringing of the telephone on his nightstand. Groaning, he reached for it.


"Mission," the reply came. Kris groaned inwardly, glancing at the ring on his finger, once again cursing his employers.



Kris nodded to the phone. "Great."

"Twenty-four hours," the voice on the other side said, hanging up. Kris lobbed his legs out of the bed, and walked to the front door of his mansion. A black envelope had been shoved under it, and the man picked it up.

He rummaged through the papers, getting a pretty good idea on his targets for the night. One man, one woman. No reason was given… but that was usual in his line of business. After all, had they done nothing wrong, he wouldn't be showing up on their doorstep.

Kris, assassin for the Order of Teraka. He wandered into his bathroom, and stared in the mirror. Even if he was only twenty-five, he looked ghostly with his pale complexion that came with his profession. Gray eyes that stood cold as ice, deep-brown hair that looked unkempt, even after he raked his comb through it.

Kris let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. "Time for some more sleep," he whispered to his mirror image.

That evening, Kris looked up at the lovely suburban home that housed his targets. The file said they were mere mortals… not his usual target of demons or otherwise supernaturally inclined. He drew a silenced gun out of his long raincoat, and checked it one final time.

'This is practically a vacation', the assassin thought to himself as he prepared to enter. 'I won't be fighting with my full force…' His small smile vanished as soon as it had appeared. "Alfons."

The spirit that had been bound to him as a child appeared on the astral plane right next to him. "Ja, mein Herr?"


The spirit nodded, and Kris made a motion over the lock of the front door after the spirit vanished. The door clicked open silently, and Kris ventured inside, throwing a bolt of spiritual energy at the alarm system, totally burning it out. Silently.

"Mein Herr," Alfons said, motining for a room.

Kris nodded, unable to speak out of risk of waking the occupants of the house. With a motion of his head, he indicated for his companion to continue the search. It wouldn't do to leave witnesses. Alfons dipped his head, and vanished.

Kris entered the bedroom, gun sweeping the room to search for targets. Two silent plops later, the couple had exchanged life for the afterlife. Making an arcane symbol in mid-air, Kris muttered an incantation for a quick transfer.

He was an assassin, but that didn't mean that he wished for his targets to suffer needlessly. Not his human targets, anyway. Some demonic bastards deserved everything that was coming to them…

Kris made to leave the house, when Alfons reappeared, looking agitated. "Mein Herr!"

The twenty-five-year-old frowned. Alfons rarely displayed feelings. A bodiless spirit rarely even had feelings… "What?" Kris asked on a low whisper.

"Come with me, mein Herr!" Alfons whispered urgently, tugging on Kris' sleeve. Kris, stunned, followed the man up the stairs… and into a bedroom.

A five-year-old girl lay in the bed, sleeping peacefully. At her sight, Kris felt his blood run cold. Nothing had been in the file about her! He made a quick motion with his hand. "Sleep."

The girl's sleep deepened, while Kris' emotions heightened. Now what would he do? She was an innocent… he had just killed her parents… not for the first time, Kris cursed his job. If it hadn't been for his family line…

He scowled as he stepped out and closed the door. Alfons flew through the door, standing next to him, looking at the man as to ask for directions. Kris took his cell phone.

"What?" the voice asked.

"There is a five-year-old girl in this house, damnit," Kris growled.

"So? Kill her."

Kris swallowed. "KILL her?" he growled after a five second silence that told the voice the world.

"You're a necromancer, Kris. Surely you don't have problems with disposing of one small girl?" the voice taunted him.

Kris swallowed, left hand clenched into a fist and shaking uncontrollably. "No… no problem."

"Good. I'd hate to have to take out a contract on you," the voice warned, terminating the connection. Kris closed his phone. Calm, utterly controlled, he looked at Alfons. The spirit nodded.

Kris returned the nod, and opened the door. Taking the dagger of Ter'nil that hung from his belt, the young man cut his wrist, letting some blood flow on the ground. "By my blood, I implore thee, Great Spirits of the Dead…"

Five seconds later, there were TWO little girls in the bed. One real, one copy… the copy being just a lifeless hulk, great for these kinds of purposes. Taking the real girl, Kris vanished from the house.

"Alfons," the young necromancer whispered to his spirit companion the moment the house was behind them.

"Ja, mein Herr?"

"Destroy the place."

Alfons nodded. "I will not be able to return until tomorrow, mein Herr."

"See you tomorrow, old friend," Kris whispered, sliding into his car with the sleeping girl on his backseat. Alfons vanished. Ten seconds after the necromancer had taken off, the house exploded as Alfons channeled his energy into a structure that wasn't designed to hold it.

Meanwhile, at the deserted banks of the river Seine, just outside of Paris, an impeccably dressed woman stood, waiting. Behind her, parked along the deserted road, stood a white sports car.

Finally, she glanced at her watch. "They're late."

As if 'they' had heard her whispered comment, the waters parted as a huge white submarine started to rise from the murky darkness. Beautifully decoareted with gold ornaments, the sub was a sight to behold.

Finally, it leveled off, and the woman remained, watching, as a door opened and a walkway extended to shore. She let herself smile as a young man appeared from the doorway, and rushed to shore.

"Tom!" the woman greeted him.

"Mina!" Tom replied, spreading his arms, and engulfing her. "Good to see you again!"

Mina smiled as they pulled apart from the friendly hug. "I see you're running again… did you die in public again?"

Tom smiled apologetically. "Yeah, well…"

Mina shook her ancient head. "You are lucky to be an Immortal," she said good-naturedly as a man dressed in a blue uniform brought Tom's single suitcase on shore.

"Thanks," Tom nodded to the man, who simply nodded in acceptance before disappearing back into the ship. He then turned back to Mina. "Yeah, well… we can't all be a vampire, you know."

Mina smiled slightly. "It doesn't matter… I have the brains to stay out of public deaths."

Tom grimaced. "Okay, enough already. If you're done making fun of me… I just spent a couple of days locked in that submerged cigar under the Atlantic. And no matter how good Nemo's boat is, it just can't compare to some good old-fashioned action."

"I know just the place," Mina said with a grin of her own. "Tonight, we'll get you settled in at my apartment… and tomorrow, we go hunting."

Tom grinned boyishly. "Lead the way, Miss Harker."

"This way, Mister Sawyer," she replied, smiling at his antics, motioning for the white car. A few minutes later, they were gone, after having watched the submarine submerge once more.

The next morning, in Rome, a cardinal sat back from his computer, stretching and looking at the crucifix that adorned the wall.

"Are you sure about this, Benito?" a second cardinal asked.

"It is too late to doubt now, Alessandro," Benito answered. "The message has been sent."

"It still isn't too late to send someone to help them understand…" Alessandro ventured.

"They will have to do," Benito replied testily. "All they need to do is slow him down for a few more days until our forces can be in the area. And should they die… they are mere assassins. The Almighty will deal with them then."

"But they are Noir…" Alessandro whispered. "I do not fear their death… I fear their wrath should they survive and find out that we were the ones who sent them on a suicide mission."

Benito laughed loudly. "I do not fear a couple of lowly assassins, my friend! The Almighty protects us as we do His work!"

Alessandro merely shook his head, yet did not contradict his companion. True… the situation was dire enough for the Vatican to be forced to take out a contract using mere assassins, but they were still human beings. And that message could just as well be a death warrant. The cardinal crossed himself, and muttered a quiet prayer for the protection of their souls, then looked up and joined his friend for breakfast.


At the same time, in Paris, a blonde of about twenty looked up from her computer, frowning in confusion. "Kirika?"

A brunette girl of about sixteen ventured from the kitchen. "Yes, Mireille?"

"Do you know a cardinal Benito Andreattti?" the blonde, Mireille, asked.

Kirika frowned in thought. "No," she then answered, coming closer and looking at the message. "Why?"

"It's a standard contract offer… but something doesn't strike right to me," the blonde whispered. Kirika glanced at the message, quick mind and quicker eyes dissecting the message at astonishing speeds.

"He knows more," the brunette concluded. "And he's nervous."

Mireille nodded. "But still… twenty million dollars is a lot of money."

"Do you know more on the target, Mireille?"

Mireille nodded once, curtly, and pressed a key. "François Duchamps is a well-known self-made business man. Started from nothing, and went to the top in record time."

"Difficulty?" Kirika asked.

Mireille shrugged. "Probably medium…"

"Why does a cardinal wants him dead?"

Again, Mireille shrugged. "THAT is the question of the century, Kirika… after taking care of Soldats, we've been free to take and leave missions… I feel we should pass this one on."

Kirika dipped her head in acceptance. "Hm," she grunted in confirmation. Then, she seemed to think about something. "Ask the cardinal why he wants him dead… maybe we can change our minds then."

Mireille shrugged, and started tapping. Within moments of having sent the message, a reply came in.

Both females read the message at the same time. "Looks like we have a job," Mireille whispered, closing the laptop.

Kirika merely nodded.


Kris looked at the menu in the ice-cream parlor. He hadn't felt this free since… well… since ever. As long as he could remember, he had been indoctrinated by his father into the arts of necromancy. He had never had a normal childhood, a normal education, or even a remotely normal life. His only friend had been Alfons the spirit.

But now that he had taken the fateful step of breaking away from it all, to end the endless killing, Kris felt liberated. So, he decided to treat himself for the first time in his life. And here he was… the finest ice cream parlor in Paris, no doubt.

Kris grimaced as he thought of last night. He had killed her parents… and now he had been forced to bring her to an orphanage to keep her safe. It was too risky to take her in himself. He had broken protocol by calling the dispatcher yesterday, and he couldn't be sure Teraka wasn't watching him even now.

"Can I help you?" the waitress asked, forcing Kris to wipe the look of contemplation off his face, and smile at the young lady.

"Yes," Kris said with an easy smile, his heart lifting now that he remembered that the young girl was SAFE. "What would you recommend for someone who has never had ice cream before?"

The waitress looked at him with open mouth, and Kris shrugged a little sadly. "I've only recently gotten away from… my family… they always kept me locked in."

her look changed to one of immense sympathy, and she motioned for the menu. "Well, the Dame Blanche is a little bit of everything… vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream."

Kris smiled at her. "Bring me one of those, then. Thanks."

She smiled still at him, and nodded. "No problem."

Half an hour later, Kris was working on his fourth. First a Dame Blanche, then a Banana Split, a Brazillienne, and now he was working on a bowl of half a dozen different flavors called a Rainbow. And it had sprinkles on it, too! Kris grinned as the flavors slid down his throat. Yes, he decided, he had made the right choice in giving up Teraka. No more senseless killing. He'd try to do some good in the world with his skills… maybe he could be a police investigator. No better way to find out who killed someone then from the dead person himself, after all.

Kris was still thinking over what to do with his life when he came home about an hour later, his stomach hurting gently from the ice cream. Nothing he couldn't handle. Still feeling rather good about himself, he walked into his room. He reached for his dresser to get some new clothes, when something caused him to stop. Something wasn't right… he knew that smell… blood.


Kris frowned. There shouldn't be blood in his bedroom! He turned around, surveying the room in a single glance, stopping as he came to the one wall he hadn't been able to see as he entered mere moment earlier.

The necromancer sunk to his knees, his bowels tightening into a knot of fiery hell. "No… by Kali, no…"

Slowly, he wrested himself to his legs and walked to the offending wall. "I'm sorry…" he whispered, bowing his head, screwing his eyes shut, letting two tears slowly whisper along his cheeks.

Finally, he forced himself to look. Slowly, he reached out, and closed the little girl's eyes and placed his hands on her head. "Kali, Goddess of Death… embrace this young one in your mercy. Guide her on the Path of the Afterlife, and wipe the memories of what was done to her from her memory." He stepped back, and drew a steeling breath. Drawing the dagger of Ter'Nil, and slowly pulling the dark obsidian blade across his wrist, he continued upon his blood, "by the blood I shed for thee, Kali… honor the request of your humble servant for a peaceful death of this innocent life lost to the evils of this world."

A remarkable feeling came over him then, and Kris actually managed to relax, as slightly as it may be, drawing comfort from the feeling that the goddess had heard his plea for help. Putting the dagger back in its protective sheath on his belt, he set upon the horrible task of releasing the girl from the three wooden stakes that held her taut to the wall, pinned up in the shape of a letter T, naked.

Finally, he got her down, and put her in a more dignified position on the ground, arms crossed over her chest. He looked at his wrist, where the wound had closed already. A necromancer's wrists sealed remarkably quickly. That didn't mean they healed quickly, though. The wound would be there for at least a week, shallow as it may have been.

He stood there, like that, debating for long seconds on the best way to continue. Finally, he looked up from the wound on his wrist, to the naked body of the young child. Horrible marks were visible, and there was one thing that Kris even refused to think about. Subconsciously, he realized… yet her effused to acknowledge it in his conscious mind. Too horrible was it to contemplate what was done to her.

Kris drew another steeling breath, and forced himself to look up. His face twisted from sadness to rage. He bent over, pulled her up into his arms, and carried her downstairs. Down into the basement he took her, only to halt in front of a huge, black, wrought-iron door. His educated eyes slid over the seals inscribed into said door.

"Open up, door," he commanded.

The iron door rattled.

"I told you to open up, damnit!" he snarled then, fury blossoming from the pit of his stomach. A shudder went through the house then, as the door acknowledged finally who its rightful master was, and noisily scraped open over the concrete floor.

The room he took her into was dark, yet reeked of death. Kris closed his eyes for just a few seconds before entering, then bravely stepped forth. The door remained open, providing a cone of light that only served to indicate a corner of a concrete slab, somewhere in the middle of the darkened room underneath Kris' mansion.

Gently, he put her down on the cold concrete, and left the room, closing the door behind him. The seals flashed momentarily, the door locking itself once more.

The necromancer took his cell even as he started to leave the house toward his car. "What?" the voice demanded.

"Who killed the girl?" Kris growled into the phone, not even bothering to deny it. "I saw the sigil carved into her stomach. I want the name of the bastards who did it."

The voice chuckled. "You know I can't tell you that, Krissy. You should count yourself lucky they didn't kill you, too."

Kris felt his anger settle into his stomach, a feeling of ice-cold replacing the red-hot fury he had felt earlier. "You will tell me, right now." The voice merely laughed at him. Kris set down in his car, behind the steering wheel, not bothering to start the vehicle. "Very well… Know that, by the time the sun starts setting, Death shall be upon your path. Curses will go to you, dispatcher, and your entire bloodline to the 20th generation!" Not bothering to listen for a reply, Kris closed the phone, started the car, and drove off.


Meanwhile, in Teraka dispatcher's headquarters, Paris, France, a man hung up the phone, still chuckling. If this young necromancer thought he could challenge Teraka, he was wrong! The dispatcher actually laughed out loud for a few seconds, a horrible, unpleasant sound that seemed to reverberate through the ancient walls of the building Teraka was housed in.

But then again… the dispatcher calmed himself, and took the phone off the hook. "Job for you. Someone challenged Teraka… tonight. I want you here." <…> "Hundred thousand." <…> "Make that five pm." <…> "See you then." The dispatcher chuckled, and hung up the phone. 'Now let that punk come!' he thought to himself.


Kris entered his home thirty minutes later, and went back to his basement room. This time, the door opened obediently. And it closed behind him upon a motion of the necromancer's hand.

Now in total darkness, Kris closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath. He fumbled around in the brown bag he had brought in with him, and drew one candle, relying totally on feeling. Reaching for the wick, he snapped his fingers. A spark of his energy leapt to the inflammable material, lighting the candle, providing a yellow flicker that lifted only part of the oppressive darkness of death that hung in the room.

The second item, next to the brown bag, was a jerry can. He picked it up, and walked to a reservoir. Filling it with the fuel from the metal can, Kris wasn't satisfied until the container was empty. Then he picked up the black candle, and ignited the gasoline. A flame ran along the small rail carrying fuel all around the room. Finally, flames illuminated all around the perimeter of the large rectangular room.

In the exact middle stood the concrete slab… no, the concrete altar… upon which the girl rested. Around it was engraved a circled pentagram, reaching a diameter of five meters. Not very deep, and heavily worn, the symbol of Arcanum was still plainly visible in the concrete ground.

Kris reached into the brown bag, and took out a container of pig's blood. Slowly, meticulously, he spread the blood through the pentagram, filling the engraving with the red fluid so nothing spilled.

Done with the preliminary preparations, Kris drew the last item from the brown bag: a large pitch-black robe, which he threw on over his clothes. He walked to the altar, and stared sadly at the girl.

Slitting his wrist once again with the arcane dagger of Ter'Nil, he proceeded to use that blood to draw a small sigil on the girl's forehead. "Anointed by the blood of a priest of Kali you start your journey, little girl. May your afterlife be a pleasant one," he prayed once more for her soul's safe passage through the afterlife. Finally, he was done, and he placed his hands together over her chest. "And for what's worth… I really am sorry." He closed his eyes, and summoned his power, immediately stepping back as he body burst into flames.

Watching the girl cremate, he could do nothing but wait, hands folded, cold eyes staring sadly at the young body. Even though he hadn't killed her… he was directly responsible for her death. And that knowledge burned deep within his soul.

He felt a presence next to him. Alfons… "Mein Herr?"

Kris hung his head. The spirit looked strangely at the necromancer, before glancing to the burning body. Realization seemed to dawn upon the metaphysical presence's face. "Is she…"

"Look in my room," Kris whispered, voice level. Too level. Alfons shrugged, and vanished for just a second.

He was back within a second. "Teraka…." The spirit actually growled.


Alfons sighed, and looked at the body that was now almost consumed by the flames. "Safe trip, young one."

He then looked at the room, noticing the arcane symbol filled with blood on the ground. "Are you going to…"


Alfons nodded. "I'll be here, mein Herr."

"Thank you," Kris answered, dipping his head, his voice quivering.

"The sun's setting. Let's go," Mina told Tom, glancing outside to where the sun was dipping toward the Paris skyline.

"Right," Tom replied, standing up, glancing outside through the huge glass window of the spacious apartment that was Mina's. He was itching for some action, barely able to contain himself throughout the day. As the two started going to the front door, Tom reached out and stopped the half-vampire.

"I just remembered something," the immortal told her, turning and stepping into the guest bedroom. He returned within a minute, carrying a wooden case. "The Nemoans decided to build us some prototypes… they asked me to test them out." He opened the case, and withdrew two ornately decorated weapons of unknown design and ability. White and gold the guns were, and he handed one to Mina.

"These are supposed to be plasma-based energy weapons. Each fuel cell holds ten charges, firing a bolt of plasma that will penetrate all known types of Kevlar, and dissipates after fifty meters. Damage is equivalent to an M16 round," Tom told the woman.

Mina shrugged, took the holster that came with the weapon, and tied it around her waist. Solidly covered by her coat, she nodded to Tom. "Ready? Vampires and demons don't wait around, you know."

Tom smiled apologetically. "Sorry… I'm just itching for some action, you know?"

Mina shook her head ruefully. "Come on, let's go."

The Immortal Agent to the US Secret Service followed obediently.

Five minutes later, the duo stood in front of a dilapidated little structure standing on the borders of the Seine. "Aux bords de la Seine?" Tom read on the wall above the door.

"Hey, it really is on the banks of the Seine," Mina defended, going in. Tom shook his head and followed right behind her. He looked around the small yet cozily decorated bar, which had the looks as if it had been around for hundreds of years, even if the outside gave the impression of being a rundown fifties warehouse.

Meanwhile, the patrons seemed to recognize Mina, and stared in their drinks. Tom looked confused from the half-dozen patrons to Mina, and back to the patrons.

"I have a reputation," Mina said with a small grin, sitting down at the bar. "White wine."

"Eh… Bourbon," Tom ordered from the blue-skinned demon tending the bar.

"No fancy drinks," the bartender growled to Tom, who suddenly felt as if the demon's eyes were eating him alive. The sensation was sending shivers down his spine.

"Scotch, then," Tom growled back, clamping down on his fear. The bartender grinned three rows of shiny white teeth bare, and served them their drinks.

"Where's Sally the Squealer?" Mina asked. "She should be here tonight."

The bartender growled something in his native language, and jerked a thumb to the door marked 'lavatories'. "She saw you come, Sunlover."

Mina nodded, and drew the new energy weapon Tom had given her. "Let's see if this works." She thumbed the button Tom had told her was the safety, then pulled the trigger. The weapon hummed, then fired an orange-red burst of energy toward the door, splintering it, blowing a hole in the wall behind it. The vampire known as Sally the Squealer was pressed against the opposite wall, staring at the hole, trying to project as small a target as possible.


"Yes, Miss Harker, ma'am?" the vampire squealed in a high-pitched voice. Tom smirked behind his whiskey. Now he knew why the vampire had its nickname.

"Anything new?"

Sally quivered for a few more seconds, staring at the energy gun, then shuffled over to the bar, and sat down next to Mina. "You should stop scaring me like that," the female vampire squealed. "It gets REALLY old after the few dozen times."

Tom retained his smirk, and took a sip.

"So. What's the new?" Mina asked pleasantly, tucking the gun away.

"O-negative, room temperature, she's paying," Sally squealed to the bartender, jerking her thumb to Mina. She then turned to the other vampire, and said, "Nothing much… there are rumors, though. Rumors that someone is going to attempt an ascension ceremony tonight."

Tom put down his glass and leaned over the bar to look at Sally. Mina's face, tanned due to her ability to walk in the sun, paled considerably. "Sally…"

"Hey, I'm serious here," Sally squealed. "François Duchamps. Central cemetery, tonight at twelve… supposed to be a second circle ritual. Something to do with an orphanage, too. Although I don't know what. You know how the demon grapevine blows things out of proportion…"

Tom then blinked. 'A buzz…here…?'

Amanda looked up at the sign that read 'Aux bords de la Seine'. 'I can't believe I'm doing this… Mac and Xander are having such a bad influence on me,' she thought to herself, and prepared to enter. At that moment, sounds of a struggle reached her ears, and the immortal thief frowned. Reaching for the hilt of her trusted sword, the Immortal made her way around the side of the building, relying on a millennium of experience in sneaking around to silence her steps.

She snuck a peak around the side, and the light of the setting sun illuminated a scene that set her blood in the freezer. Three human-like demons were carrying a street child. The kind of child she used to be… so very long ago. The blade was in her hand before she even realized she had drawn it, striding purposefully forward. The gleaming blade came up, and it was unfortunately maybe that the sun was still setting.

A stray beam of light reflected off the shining surface alerted the demons that there was someone else present, and her target moved out of the way just in time to avoid the deadly strike, catching the blade in his shoulder instead. Immediately, the beast screamed out in pain, dropping the feet of the child it had been carrying.

Amanda didn't give it time to recover, drawing the blade out of the wound, intensifying the scream, she went for the beast's neck with a millennium of honed battle instincts. The head rolled away and Amanda turned to the remaining two demons. Silently, they stared at each other as they circled warily, looking for an open chance to strike.

The demons glanced at each other, and Amanda took her chance. Racing forward, she brought her sword up in a strike for the second demon's neck. To her surprise, the third demon charged HER! Abandoning her attack, she brought her blade up to defend the mad charge by the demon, yet only succeeding in getting it to jump out of the reach of her sword at the last moment.

'The other one!' her instincts screamed, and Amanda started to turn, only to find the second demon jumping her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides. The thief grunted, attempting to break free, but only making the demon angrier than it already was. Unfortunately, this seemed to be the kind of demon that grew stronger as it grew angrier. Amanda felt the bones in her arms snap, and the accompanying pain caused her to scream and drop the blade.

Amanda resigned in a messy death, and prepared to rise in about half an hour as she saw the third demon advance on her, grinning maniacally. His hands came up, then it froze in shock, before slowly looking down. Out of the middle of its chest stuck the business end of a sword. Stupidly, the beast lifted its hand, and pricked on the tip, as if to check whether the sword really was as sharp as it thought.

Apparently, it was.

The demon's eyes rolled back, and it sunk to the ground, revealing a young man drawing the sword from the corpse. Amanda was about to try another effort to break free when a husky female voice whispered from behind. 'Don't you know that, when a girl says 'no', she means 'no'?" the voice whispered to the demon holding Amanda. The next moment, the beast's grip faltered, and Amanda stumbled forward, turning around to see who her rescuer was. The immortal's blood ran cold when she saw it was a VAMPIRE that was biting her assailant.

But… a vampire couldn't survive in the sunlight, could it? Amanda lifted her hand on her now-healed arm, and stared at the setting sun, then back to the feeding vampire.

"That was… refreshing," the female vampire said, running a handkerchief along her mouth.

"Thanks for the rescue… " Amanda said, trailing off, looking at Mina.

"I'm Tom," the immortal that had stabbed the demon through the back said. "And this is Mina," he went on, motioning for the female vampire.

"Amanda," Amanda said, still not really believing what had happened. Something clicked. "You're a vampire!" she shouted at Mina.

"I'm hardly a mere vampire," Mina growled dangerously, not liking to be compared to the soulless beasts that roamed the night.

"Oh?" Amanda asked, interested now. She reached into her pocket, and threw something at Mina. "Here. Hold this for a second."

The half-vampire caught the cross, and looked at it. "Nice piece." She glanced back to Amanda. "As I said, not a mere vampire."

Amanda nodded. "Point taken…" Then, she remembered the kid she had been trying to save. She looked around, but the streetkid had sharp instincts, and had bolted the moment he had seen the chance.

"If you're looking for the child, he went that way," Mina said, indicating a direction. "He was perfectly safe."

Amanda kept eying Mina, not really sure about the vampire's motives. She had seen enough of the beasts to know that one could hardly be called 'trustworthy'. But then again… this one had just saved her immortal life, could obviously walk in the sun, and could hold crosses. Amanda decided to give the woman the benefit of the doubt.

"Maybe we should continue this inside," Tom suggested. "I'd rather not have any discussion the likes of which we're going to have in a public spot.

Mina and Amanda agreed both, and soon the trio was sitting at the bar, savoring drinks.

"So…" Amanda said a couple of minutes later, over a cool glass of whiskey. She needed something stronger than her usual champagne. "Thanks for the rescue," she finally said. "I was lucky to have you two come around."

"We were in the bar when we heard the beast scream," Mina replied.

"And we both decided we needed a good warm-up before tonight."

"Tonight? What's tonight?" Amanda asked, already having a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"An ascension, apparently," Mina replied with a grunt. "Some bastard has kidnapped some kids and wants to sacrifice them to gain power."

Amanda cursed silently. 'Damn Mac and Xander and the rest of the Scout Club! I am never going to forgive myself for this!' She leaned over. "Need a hand?"


Mireille entered the kitchen of her spacious Paris apartment, only to find Kirika already there, assembling her Beretta. A cup of steaming tea was all that was present other than the necessities of gun maintenance, and Mireille stood there for long seconds, watching the sixteen-year-old's nimble fingers assemble the gun. The gun clicked as Kirika racked the slide and pulled the trigger.

"I'm ready, Mireille," the brunette whispered.

The blonde nodded. "After I check my Walther, we'll go. We'll need to be there on time."

Kirika drew a breath, and turned to look out the small window of the kitchen. "Something doesn't feel right," she whispered, looking at the setting sun.

Mireille frowned. "Granted, the cemetery isn't the most usual of places, but that's no reason to be nervous, Kirika," the blonde assassin whispered.

Kirika shook her head. "No… not nervous. Danger. Something isn't right. It's… evil." She turned to her companion. "Evil, Mireille. I can feel it."

Mireille sighed. "We already agreed to do the mission. We can't back out now. Noir has a perfect record. We have never failed any mission we accepted, and I don't feel like changing that now."

Kirika nodded. "I know." She turned back to the window. "The man kidnapped two dozen children, and plans to kill them. We can not let that happen." Closing her oddly-colored red eyes, the girl dropped her head slightly. "But something still isn't… right." She shuddered, and clenched her fists to calm herself down. "It burns. Deep inside."

Mireille walked up to her companion for over a year now. "I know, Kirika. This mission has been giving me odd vibes from the get go." Putting her hands on the younger girl's shoulders, and squeezing reassuringly, the blonde went on, "After this mission, we'll have a nice, long vacation. How does Disney World sound?"

Kirika looked up at her friend. "Disney World?"

"It's a theme park… a very large theme park… in the United States. With the twenty million dollars the Vatican is paying us for this mission, we can set up camp there for the rest of our lives," Mireille explained, once again feeling the hatred burn inside of her. Who did Soldats think they were, stealing Kirika's life away like that?

Kirika smiled slightly. "Disney World sounds nice…"

Mireille returned the smile, banishing the dark thoughts in an instant. "Then it's settled. After this mission, we'll go to Disney World."


"Are you ready, Alfons?" Kris asked.

"Jawohl, mein Herr," the spirit replied, drawing a metaphysical breath. Even though he didn't need air, the simple motion relaxed the long-dead soul.

The necromancer then pulled his shoulders back, standing straight and true, staring dead ahead. "I call the spirits of the dead, the ancestors of the blood and mind… by the power of Kali, I summon thee! Under the power of death and life, I bid thee to come forth, spirits of the deceased bloodline!"

One and on the necromancer droned, words strung together into sentences, his spiritual energy reaching out, performing what was desired of it.

The illuminated walls turned pitch-black, and a strange wind picked up in the rectangular room. Alfons looked at his master, and could see the power-drain affecting the young necromancer gravely. Closing his eyes, the spirit let go of its physical presence on the Astral Realm, instead choosing to spread out in a small circle-like shield enveloping Kris.

"By the power of the blood! I call upon thee! In this hour of darkness, I call for thee!" Kris went on, the darkness of the air seemingly taking physical form as it roared through the room. Still Alfons was there, protecting, shielding,… defending.

"Kritanta Nereida!" A voice boomed from all around him, making Kris' teeth rattle, his entire body vibrating on the strange bass of the supernatural voice. "Kritanta Nereida! How dare you disturb the rest of those whom Kali deemed to be resting for eternity!?"

"I need your help, Father!" Kris shouted, heating his full name with a vengeance as it rolled across the lips of the spirit that filled up the room. "Look in my room, Father! Look at what happened within these hallowed walls! Feel the betrayal of those we considered employers!"

The Dark Spirit was silent then, almost vanishing, before returning full force. Kris covered his face as soot and ash filled the whirlwind, before it lessened in impact, and coagulated in the form of a man dressed in brown robes, standing in front of the pentagram-circle of pig's blood.

"What devilry happened here?" Kris' father demanded. "Why has Teraka killed an innocent within the sanctity of a Nereida Necromancer's bedroom!?"

Alfons reformed next to Kris, now that the worst as over. Kris' father threw a disgusted look at the spirit. "And why have you not taken a more powerful companion spirit?"

Kris swallowed; he hated dealing with his father, even when he still was alive. Now that he was dead, things were even worse. "The girl was indeed innocent, Father… I was sent on a mission to kill a man and a woman. After I completed the mission, I found that they had a girl. I called the Dispatcher… and they ordered me to kill her as well."

The Dark Spirit growled. "I trust you did not comply?"

"I did not!" Kris shouted, angered that his father would think otherwise. "I created a golem in her image, then destroyed the house! I got the girl to safety within an orphanage, after blocking her recent memories."

Father nodded. "And then they found out and did THAT to her?" he demanded angrily.

"Yes, father," Kris whispered, bowing his head.

The angered spirit looked at the altar. "Fare thee well, Young One," he whispered, before glancing back to Kris, gaze hardening. "I must call upon the Elders of the Nereida Family. We can not let this dishonor go to pass."

"Of course not, Father," Kris whispered.

"Lift your head, son! You are the Priest of Kali now! Head of the Nereida! I will not have raised a coward, for a coward would never have stood up to Teraka!"

Kris looked up, gratefully. The spirit, however, ignored him, and turned to face the same wall Kris had been facing earlier. "Elders of the Nereida! I summon thee forth! Under the conjunction of Life and Death!"

Kris stepped up, knowing instinctively what to do. "Elders of the Nereida! I summon thee forth! Under the conjunction of Life and Death!"

Four thunderclaps struck through the building, and immediately four more spirits appeared amidst showers of hellish lights.

"Grandfather," Kris whispered. "Great-Grandfather. Great-Great-Grandfather."

"Father," Kris' father said in turn. "Grandfather. Great-Grandfather."


"Honorable elders," Kris said, stepping forward one step. "Please, look in the Master Bedroom of the Nereida Hall!"

The spirits phased for just a few seconds, before returning to full strength. "I see," the eldest spirit barked. "Teraka betrayeth us. We shall not let this go to pass." He looked at Kris' father. "What doest thou hath in mind?"

Kris' father smiled evilly.

"It's almost midnight," Amanda said to her eclectic companions. "Why did we wait until now?"

"Ascensions are tricky," Tom replied calmly. "Chances are that this guy will be invulnerable to harm until the ritual is finished."

"And he's doing it in the middle of the Cimetière du Père Lachaise?" the female immortal asked incredulously.

"If you do something, it's worth doing in a nice setting," Tom replied sarcastically, his mood dipping. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mina shudder. "Mina?"

"Something…" she whispered, hugging herself. "Cold." She drew a deep breath through her nose, as if sniffing the air. "Death stalks the world tonight."

Amanda shuddered involuntarily. 'I've been around the strange and unusual before, but she scares me.'

Tom too, looked worried. "Come on… we have to hurry. Ten minutes to midnight!"

"You're sure that just dropping in on this guy will do the trick?" Amanda asked skeptically as she rushed after the Vampire and the Immortal.

Mina glanced, before smiling evilly at Amanda. "We have our ways," the vampiric woman said mysteriously. Tom chuckled as he rushed alongside her, and Amanda kept quiet as the immortal fingered the long-barrel rifle had had retrieved from the hotel room. Idly, her hand slid to the handle of her sword, relaxing marginally at the feeling of the solid metal in her hands.


Mireille and Kirika approached a wall separating the monumental cemetery from the streets. Silently as ghosts, dressed in full black, the two women halted next to the wall. Kirika dropped to one knee, lacing her hands together. Mireille nodded, stepped up on the smaller girl's hands, and accepted the boost to the top fo the wall gracefully.

As soon as the blonde was in position, she scouted the area, and scouted around. She nodded the all clear to Kirika, who bent through her knees, before vaulting up, one arm extended. Smoothly grabbing the top of the wall with one hand, she lifted herself up, seemingly without effort. Mireille smiled slightly, a little envious of Kirika's impressive physical abilities, before realizing how the poor girl got to be who she was.

The duo nodded once, then dropped to the ground below, ducking behind a large tombstone.

"They'll be at the chapel," Mireille whispered. Kirika nodded, extending one hand, pointing in a direction. 'How does she DO that?' Mireille asked herself as she followed the direction Kirika had pointed out, the young brunette right behind, silently as a ghost. Mireille hid her footsteps as well as she could, trying to mimic the motions of her silent companion.

Jumping from tomb to tomb, stone to stone, the duo moved silently to the center of the large cemetery, trying to find their target.

Mireille pushed Kirika to the stone. Kirika followed the motion docilely, accepting her companion's judgment. Mireille's Walther P99 came up, and Kirika followed the motion with her Beretta M1934 Commercial. Both weapons were silenced. Closing her eyes, Kirika shifted hr senses to her hearing. A footstep. Another one. Kirika held her breath. A third footstep.

The footsteps rounded the tombstone. Kirika's eyes opened and focused. The gun tracked silently, as did Mireille's. Kirika held a fraction of a second advantage, and her silenced shot went off before Mireille's did, striking the man directly on the head. It was an instant fatality.

Or it should have been. Instead of dropping, the man turned angrily, growling slightly at the annoyance.

"What the… ?" Mireille cried in surprise. Kirika's red eyes opened wide, and her instincts took control a fraction of time later. The butt of her gun struck the… something… on the nose, shattering cartilage and driving the nose bone directly into the thing's brain. It howled in pain and stumbled back, before tripping and falling, huge hands covering its face.

"Is it dead?" Mireille asked worriedly, voice quivering still with the adrenaline of watching something shrug off bullets.

Kirika knelt down, felt for a pulse. "I think so…" the brunette whispered. "But it shrugged off bullets…" At the instant, the thing's eyes flew open, and one beefy hand locked around the small girl's wrist, catching it in a titanium grip. It growled dangerously at her, amber-glowing eyes focused on the girl's red eyes.

The next instant, a faint 'plop' signified Mireille's gun discharging, and the thing went limp as the bullet entered the brain through the right eye, sending black blood and gray matter fly.

"Looks like it DOES have a vulnerability," Mireille grunted. As Kirika extracted herself. Nothing happened as the duo stard at the thing for close to ten seconds, trying to make sense of what happened.

"The mission," Kirika whispered. "We need to go…"

Mireille sighed. "We do," she answered as the duo started slipping from stone to stone again. She looked over her shoulder before losing direct line of sight. "What IS that thing?"

"Demon," Kirika whispered angrily. "Glowing eyes, fangs, ridged forehead, invulnerable to bullets. It's a demon."

Mireille swallowed. "Demons don't exist…"

Kirika looked over her shoulder. One glance to Mireille told the twenty-year-old blonde everything she needed to know. 'That's what I thought… and I'm listening for other explanations.' The blonde sighed, shook her head. Kirika dipped her head. 'Right'.

A growl from behind startled the two female asassins, followed immediately with the perceived weight of a small truck slamming into their backs. Managing to extract themselves and roll to their feet, the two assassins righted themselves back-to-back. Around them, half a dozen of the things had appeared, along with one that had tackled them.

"How's George?" one asked.

"He's going to be out for at least a week… these bitches shot him through the eye," a second beast growled.

Mireille and Kirika exchanged worried glances over their shoulders.


"Mina?" Tom asked.

Mina nodded, closed her eyes, and seemed to dissolve into a flight of bats, which vanished soon over the walls of the cemetery.

"What the… ?" Amanda asked, shocked.

"Not a normal vampire," Tom said, boyish grin on his face. "She's gone to check out the place."

Not ten seconds later, the bats returned, combining into Mina once more. "He's got vampires scouting the cemetery, but around him, he's got some kind of lower-class demons of a kind I don't recognize. He's got the kids at the square in front of the Monument aux Morts… the monument for the dead."

Tom turned grim. "So it looks like it's legit."

"Sure does," Mina replied coldly. "Come on."

Tom and Amanda nodded coldly, then followed the vampiric woman into the cemetery. They hadn't taken more than a dozen steps, when Mina stopped them. "Sh," the vampire whispered, focusing her sensitive hearing. "Shit, they don't know what they're getting into," the vampire whispered angrily.

"Mina?" Tom asked, not understanding what was going on.

"Follow me," the vampire instructed, once again dissolving into bats, setting a course and flying off. Tom bit back a curse, and ran after the flying mammals, Amanda hot on his tail.

"What's going on!?" Amanda demanded of Tom as they ran.

"I don't know," the Immortal bit back, "but something must've set her off!"

"Aim for the eyes," Mireille reminded her smaller companion, whose eyes merely tightened in response. Her hand tightened around the gun, and Kirika felt her mind slip into trance.

Mireille's gun was the first one to bark, but her shot went wide, ricocheting off the demon's forehead. Biting off a curse, the blonde shifted aim, and tried again… if she still could, as three pissed-off demons rushed her.

At her back, Kirika's superior training bore fruit as her first shot took out the meanest-looking demon of the three that were eyeing her. The two survivors rushed her, and the small brunette was torn for a mere fraction of a second between dodging, or protecting her companion's back. Then, hundreds of hours of tactics lessons surfaced.

Dodging sideways, Kirika's bullet tore out the eye of the second demon. The third one was upon her, and the girl fell flat on the ground, avoiding his sweeping arms. Instantly, she had rolled on her back, her gun tracking another part of the male anatomy. The demon keened in pain as the brunette's bullet hit him in the neither regions.

As it doubled over, Kirika had a clean shot for its eyes. She never missed, and she didn't miss this time either. The demon collapsed. She jumped to her feet, turning around to check on her blonde companion.

Mireille's second shot had hit, disabling one of the humanoid demons, but the two survivors had reached her by then. While one creature held her, laughing quietly at her struggles, the second one grinned as its canines bore down on her neck. A faint plop later, the about-to-bite demon let out a cry, and fell back, disabled.

"What the…" the demon holding Mireille turned around, hauling her with him. He looked directly into the eyes of Death. He had seen a lot in his demonic years… but the two faint slits containing red pupils that stared at him from across a gun was a sight that inspired terror in the deepest pits of his survival instincts.

"Who ARE you?" the demon barked, trying to hide its fair through utter bravado.

"We are called… Noir," Kirika answered coldly. "Let her go."

The demon tightened its grips on the blonde. "Nu-uh, little girl. If I let her go, I'm out seconds later, like my companions."

Kirika drew a breath. Slowly, inexorably. The gun went off. The last thing its saw before darkness hit was a girl, devoid of emotions, lowering a smoking gun.

"Stupid bastard," Mireille grunted as she extracted herself from the place where the demon's collapse had pulled her down with it.

"Mireille…" Kirika whispered urgently. The blonde looked up.

And swallowed.

"Damn," she whispered at the sight of an even dozen of the same demons surrounding them. "Isn't there an end to these guys?"


Mina was the first one there, seeing the small brunette stare down a vampire through utter guile before taking it down with a shot to the eye. Not lethal, but requires a whole lot of healing up… the vampire was incapacitated for at least a week, if not more. The brunette demi-vampire returned to her usual stature, right before a dozen vampires surrounded the two women. Mina bit off a curse. "Infernal creatures…" she grunted coldly, her voice laced with venomous death.

Tom and Amanda appeared, panting from the exhaustion of trying to keep up with a flight of bats in full flight. "What… is happening?" Tom asked.

"Humans. Unaware of what they're fighting," Mina grunted coldly. "They're excellent fighters… even though they don't have the means of killing vampires, they still take them out."

"What? How…?" Amanda's voice trailed off as Mina disassembled again. Tom shrugged, took out the long-barreled rifle, and aimed. The weapon barked death seconds later, dusting a vampire. Amanda grunted something unladylike under her breath, before drawing her sword and charged after Mina.


Kirika flinched back instinctively from the sound of a sniper rifle going off nearby, but she stared as one of the beasts they had been fighting exploded into dust. A fraction later, Mireille let out a small scream as a flight of bats attacked one of the creatures nearest her. The sound of metal slicing flesh assaulted Kirika's sensitive ears, and the brunette turned to see another creatures explode into dust as a sword severed its head from its shoulders.

"Who…" Mireille started.

"Cavalry," Kirika replied, emotionless. She glanced around, seeing the creatures in disarray as the two newcomers tore through the confused beasts. The rifle boomed again, and Kirika knew that there were three, not two, people helping them.

"How…?" Mireille then asked.

Kirika shrugged, cold eyes still glancing around, learning from the newcomers… decapitation worked… Kirika cursed the fact that she didn't bring her sword. She was a pretty decent swordfighter. She snorted. 'It is good to be able to use the traditional methods of fighting,' her mind quoted her old teachers. Her hand lifted, shooting one of the creatures through the eye as it was about to slam into the swordswoman from behind.

She turned, glanced down, decapitated the creature, and shot Kirika a grateful smile. The shooter dipped her head in response, tracking a new target. The rifle exploded another creature into dust.

"Get out of here!" the surviving leader of the group shouted. "We can't win this one! RUN!!!!" The creatures scattered at the sound of the leader's voice. The rifle boomed one last time, dusting a retreating demon.

"Clear," the 'bats' said, before coagulating into a woman. A woman with glowing eyes, ridged forehead, fangs, and pale, white skin… carrying a voice of death.

Uncomfortably, the two groups eyes each other, not really trusting the other.

"Thanks for the rescue," Mireille then said, looking at the dust scattering in the wind. "Just what ARE these creatures?"

"Vampires," The woman who could turn into bats said, her posture returned to normal. "And what were you doing here, ill-equipped?"

"A job," Mireille answered calmly, checking the clip in her Walther.

"My gunshots will attract the rest of them," a young man holding a rifle said as he stood up from his vantage point. "We need to hurry…"

"Right," the swordswoman said, turning to Mireille and Kirika. "Get out of here… be lucky you're still alive."

"Hey, we're here for a job," Mireille answered coldly. "And we're not leaving before we finish it."

"And what job would THAT be?" the bat-woman asked, just as coldly as Mireille.

"We're here to assassinate François Duchamps," Kirika answered, levelly. One look into the brunette's eyes told the saviors all they needed to know… this girl was dangerous. Even Mireille startled. Kirika rarely got like this…

"You're here for WHAT?" The swordswoman asked. "Just who ARE you?"

"Mireille and Kirika," Kirika answered, motioning for Mireille and then to herself. "They call us… Noir."

Amanda swallowed deeply. "Noir… ?"

"The Black Hand that Protects the Peace of the Newborns?" Mina asked, calmly.

The brunette, Kirika, nodded. "We are the reincarnation of an ancient force, destined to protect humanity from its evils. We exist and live in the darkness, to protect humanity from it."

"Well, this is as dark as you're going to get," Tom answered with a smile. "I'm Tom Sawyer. That's Mina Harker… and this is Amanda."

Mireille and Kirika dipped their heads. "And these were vampires," the blonde grunted. "How did you kill them?"

"Silver bullets," Tom answered calmly. "Or decapitation… and I don't went to think too much about what Mina did to them."

Mina smiled slightly. "I merely tore them to shreds, Tom."

Kirika, meanwhile, looked at her Beretta, then put it back in the shoulder holster she wore under her clothing. "Any other means of destroying them?" she asked.

"Wooden stakes work… when you put them through the heart," Tom answered.

"Kirika?" Mireille asked, shocked.

"We must finish the mission," the brunette replied, calmly, voice devoid of emotion. "And in order to do that, we must know our weapons and limitations. Hand-to-hand with these creatures will not be easy, but necessary, apparently."

Mireille swallowed, then nodded. She holstered her Walther. "Wooden stakes… a sword… too bad we don't have silver bullets for our guns."

"You're not going to back down, are you?" Tom asked.

"Would you?" Kirika asked, voice still level. When her eyes focused on him, he shivered involuntarily… her eyes were dead. Not a single trace of humanity was left in them, as if she had flicked a switch and turned into a fully-fledged remorseless killing machine. How did any human become like this? How COULD they become like this?

"Point taken," the immortal replied, trying his best to hide his discomfort. He looked at Mina, and she nodded to him. Extracting the two energy pistols, holding them out, Tom continued, "These are prototypes. Ten shots to a battery. Make sure you aim for the neck or the head… decapitation doesn't have to come from a sword."

Mireille and Kirika glanced at each other. "Thank you," Mireille said, accepting the weapon and the batteries from Mina. Kirika eyes the weapon in Tom's hand for a second longer than Mireille, before accepting it. She dipped her head in gratitude, about as big an emotional display as she was capable of giving while in her present state of mind.

Somewhere deep inside, Kirika was aware of her emotional shutdown. Not since she had watched those kind villagers be killed had she been this… this… this close to the True Noir Althena wanted her to be. Close to Chloe. Kirika felt the weapon's balance in her hand. Flicking it around a couple of times, before pointing it to a tombstone, she nodded. "Good balance. Specifications?"

"Fifty meter range," Tom answered professionally. "Ten shots to a battery. It fires plasma charges that will eat through Kevlar, but will be deflected by ceramic armor."

Kirika dipped her head. "Good weapon. For close quarters."

Mireille stood there and watched, hanging on to the energy weapon, not nearly as convinced as her younger companion. How the smaller girl was able to keep her cool under these conditions, she would never know. But one thing was sure… the calmness that the brunette exuded gave her the strength to conquer her own fear and nervousness, and accept the situation.

"Let's go on," Mireille said, calmly, professionally. "We still have one François Duchamps to eliminate."

"Not to mention a dozen children to save," Tom added. Amanda's face twitched for just a fraction of a second, reminding herself once again that she would get her payback against the scouts who got her enlisted into the club.

Mireille smiled slightly, while Kirika remained her impassive Noir-self. "We should go," the brunette whispered calmly. "Time is moving against us."

Everyone at once understood the girl's words. Tom's rifle-shots no doubt had been heard. Vampires may be circling around them even now. As they walked, ducking behind tombstones, and resting behind the monumental gravemarkers of the right and prominent, the group was silent. Like shadows, they slid closer and closer to the Monument aux Morts.

Suddenly, Kirika twitched around, firing her energy weapon in the surrounding darkness. The red-glowing ball of plasma cast ghostly shadows as it plowed through the night, illuminating a startled vampire hiding in the shadows. The bolt hit him in the center of his forehead, taking the entire top of the head off. Before the beast even had time to start falling, the assassin had fired a second bolt, which took off the rest of the head, and caused the vampire to crumble into dust.

"Damn," Tom whispered. "I didn't even know it was there…"

"Listen," Kirika replied, slowly circling around, trying to peer into the darkness. Nobody heard anything.

"I don't hear anything," Mireille whispered.

Kirika dipped her head. That was exactly what she wanted them to hear. Holding her breath and closing her eyes, the girl sharpened her senses. She felt something… before she had time to react, Mina burst into bats, crashing down on something hiding behind a nearby tombstone. Screams penetrated the darkness soon after.

"She's fast," the brunette grunted in appreciation, forming a cold and emotionless smile. "Good."

Mireille and Tom exchanged glances, while Amanda merely stared with mute astonishment. The last time she had seen someone move like that… < damn boyscout >

The next moment, Kirika twirled and fired. "Don't be distracted!" she shouted. "They're HERE!"

Instincts took over, and both Mireille and Tom brought their weapons to bear as a dozen vampires jumped out of the night's sky. This time, surprise was on the vampires' side, and Tom soon found himself reaching for his trusted Colt sidearm, his long rifle useless in close-quarter fighting. Amanda whipped out her sword, and started laying into a duo of vampires nearby.

The bats returned, attacking one of the vampires as Mireille, Tom, and Kirika were back-to-back, holding the remainder of them at bay. Or, trying to, at least. The beasts were faster than either Noir assassin was used to, and they were stronger than any of them combined. One vampire jumped Mireille, having successfully dodged the blonde's energy bolt, and lashed on to her neck. Before its fangs had penetrated, however, the beast halted, and looked down, confused.

A flaming obsidian blade stuck out of its chest, smoke pouring from the wound. "What the… ?" it demanded, before vanishing into dust. The dagger of Ter'Nil, and its bearer, stood fully erect as the dust settled. A nearby vampire jumped the newcomer, but before it even got into range, the figure twirled around, red-glowing eyes burning into the beast's demonic spirit.

"By the Service of kali, obey me," a voice from beyond the grave spoke, the beast nodding vigorously. "Attack your comrades," the figure intoned, throwing a stake to the vampire. Again, the beast nodded, as if in a daze, and turned to charge one of the few remaining comrades. "And don't forget to stake yourself when you're done," the figure grunted.

"Yes, Master!" the beast screamed, stabbing its use-to-be companion through the heart. The appearance of the figure, dressed in a green-glowing black armor, was enough to startle the vampires into losing their advantage, and soon the last vampire had staked itself, just as the figure had commanded.

"Now, who the devil are you?" Tom demanded mere second later.

"My name is Kris," Kris replied, calmly. Before he could say any more, he was interrupted by Mina.

"You're a Necromancer!" the vampiress shouted, revulsion in her tone. "Commander of the dead!"

Kris shrugged. "And you're a vampire, beast of hell," he replied, coldly. He turned to Tom. "And you're an immortal, and you two are human," he finished, pointing to Mireille and Kirika.

"What the… ? Immortal?" Mireille screamed.

"Vampire," Kirika said, coldly, eyes trained on Mina.

"Not THAT kind of vampire," Mina growled.

"And just because I can't die unless you chop my head off doesn't mean I'm not on your side," Tom answered coldly.

Mireille and Kirika exchanged glanced, before turning back to Kris, preferring to trust their so-far allies over a recent addition any day. "And what's a Necromancer?" the blonde assassin demanded harshly.

"I am a priest-servant of the Goddess Kali," Kris answered. "Which means I can extract knowledge from the dead… as well as resurrect them, and control various lower-classes of undead. Such as vampires."

"You're awfully trusting for someone who bears the Ring of Teraka," Mina answered, coldly, indicating a ring on Kris' finger with a nod of her head.

"I am wearing this to remind myself of my dishonor," Kris grunted, coldly. "I am here to avenge that dishonor… I have already resigned from Teraka, and I will retreat into the forests of India for the rest of my life, hindering no-one, after this mission is over."

Mina startled; looking him up and down, noticing for the first time, Kris' dress. Or rather, his armor, which seemed to have been poured over him, fitting snugly around his entire body, emitting a faint green glow from its mirror-black surface.

"What have you done?" she demanded, no harshness in her voice, rather compassion sounded through.

Kris sighed deeply, putting one hand over his chest. The 'armor' pulled back, revealing a sigil carved into his chest. "I have bound one of the Ancestors to myself. If I do not reverse the spell by the end of the night, I will perish."

Kris, naked, was lying on his back on the stone slab that was the altar in his basement. His father loomed above him, holding on to the Dagger or Ter'Nil. The young Necromancer's eyes remained steadily locked on the flame-shaped black obsidian blade.

"You are aware of the consequences?" Kris' Father demanded.

"I am, Father. Should I not complete my mission by sunrise, the spell will not be broken, and my life's energy, which will bind you to myself, will wither away. And I shall perish," Kris answered, calmly. "I am prepared to accept the judgment of Kali, Father. Continue."

The spirit nodded, and made a motion with his hand. Mystical bounds kept Kris secured, and Alfons nested himself between his master's teeth, to keep him from either screaming, or biting his tongue off.

The Dark Spirit then turned to the three ancestors. "By your command, O Ancestors."

The threesome nodded gravely, and Kris' father turned to the young man strapped to the altar. The Dagger of Ter'Nil came down, and Kris kept himself from screaming by biting down in the hardened substance Alfons had formed in his mouth. Deftly, the Dark Spirit carved an intricate seal into Kris' chest.

Pain flooded Kris' system as his father started chanting, the ancient and forbidden spells of the Nereida resounding through the cavernous space. Spells long since forbidden, passed down now in time of greatest danger from the Elder Spirits to the Ancestors, to the living relative. Kris screamed, Alfons unable to keep his master silent as the living energy was tapped to accommodate the dead.

It didn't last long, before an incredible sense of power and might flooded assaulted Kris' senses. The bounds vanished, and the naked Necromancer stood up.

"We have been bound, My Son", Kris' father intoned. "Now we shall rain down death upon the heads of Teraka."

Kris nodded as he stepped into a pair of pants to hide his nakedness, before turning to his father, putting a hand over the still-bleeding sigil carved into his chest. "By Kali, Goddess of Death and Underworld, Mistress of Destruction, I accept thy bound," Kris growled out. "Father! Join me!"

The dark Spirit smiled evilly for just a second, before vanishing, and Kris screamed out in renewed pain as the sigil burned, cauterized, as it activated under the power of a Major Spirit. Kris' eyes flashed red, as oily-black viscous liquids pumped out of his skin, forming a protective shell around the young man's body, covering him from head to toe, leaving only the ring of Teraka bare to the sight. The one item that was the sign of their dishonor could not be covered by the power of the Nereida, not even the power beyond death.

Meanwhile, underneath Stonehenge in the region once known as the Celtic Plateau, an AI was monitoring the deep space above her location. A flash out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, forcing Niume to look in that direction. Whatever it had been, it was connected to the earth's Ley Lines… and it had been as brief as it had been massive.


"Yes, Niume?"

"I have just received a brief burst of power… over one of the Ley Lines that come from the South. It was brief, as well as massive."

"How is the situation now?"

"Everything returned to normal. I merely wanted to inform you of this event."

"I will keep a closer eye on the European region. A brief, yet massive surge of power could be a worrying turn of events."

Not five minutes after the ritual had finished, Kris stood in front of the door of the Teraka Dispatcher's office in Paris. He put a hand against the door, knowing fully well that the simple wooden appearance was a disguise for a full vault-like door. He focused his father's energy, now fully under his command, registering as his own. The right hand put against the door glowed a dark red for half a second, before the vault-door shattered and exploded inward. < I'd like to see a witch do the same with their 'spells of destruction' > the Necromancer thought chillingly as he noticed sigils inscribed onto the mangled tungsten-steel that used to be a camouflaged vault door.

< A really good thing that spiritual energy can't be blocked by mere anti-magic sigils >

Kris wandered up, virtually unopposed. A single guard stood before the dispatcher's door. Kris walked up to him. "I am not here for you. Let me in, and no harm will become you."

The guard merely lifted his gun, and aimed. "I can't let you pass, Kritanta of the Nereida Clan."

"Then I am forced to go through you," Kris grunted as he charged. The guard fired by reflex, the heavy enchanted rounds tearing into his chest and head, casting him back.

The Necromancer shook his head, and glanced down to his chest. Red-green light poured from the wounds, which sealed over immediately. He didn't even FEEL the pain. Grinning like a fool, he stood up, balling his green-glowing black-gauntleted fists. Screaming, the Necromancer charged. The guard emptied his clip, but this time, Kris was ready for him, and he merely took the blows and kept dashing toward his target.

Half a second later, the guard's corpse fell to the ground, head looking the wrong way around. Kris drew a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down against the rush that made him feel unstoppable. He knew very well that he could be stopped very easily… it was fortunate that nobody knew HOW, though.

He turned to the door of the Dispatcher, and put a hand against the door. "Alfons."

"Mein Herr?"

"Haunt," the Necromancer whispered, cold smile spreading on his features.

"Haunt," the Necromancer whispered, cold smile spreading on his features.

Alfons grinned back. "Jawohl, Mein Herr!" the spirit cried, mystical eyes sparkling. The spirit vanished, and Kris leaned against the door, waiting for the screams to start.

The Dispatcher heard the entrance vault-door explode, and his bony hand immediately hit the pager button on his desk. Even before the gunfire outside his office door started, a secret elevator deposited four people into the office.

"That asshole is insane enough to go after Teraka," the Dispatcher cried, half in disbelief and half in rage.

The foursome nodded grimly. A noteworthy unpleasant bunch they were, too: two men and two women, each with his or her own distinct unpleasant look and feel. The first woman was thin, almost skinny, but with strong leather-like muscles rippling beneath her skin, dressed in a revealing leather outfit. She cracked a whip in her right hand, while her left held a medium-sized handgun. Ugly scars crisscrossed her face, and a pair of almost-insane blue eyes stared out from practically scarred-over eyelids.

The second woman was broad-shouldered, the classic body-builder type, dressed totally in form-revealing black, holding two swords. Her face was a swollen red, bloodless lips curled up in an evil smile. A tattoo adorned her forehead, depicting some kind of magical sigils that the dispatcher couldn't, and didn't even WANT to, recognize. All along her ears, metal piercings clanged.

The third person was a man, medium built, simply sitting down in the only empty chair in the Dispatcher's office, totally at ease, his lack of physical appearance his most disturbing feature at the same time. He looked normal; acted normal; yet hung with a bunch of obviously insane people.

The fourth person was also a man, yet he was even broader than the broad woman, while he hefted a large axe in one hand, his second locked around the grip of a huge Magnum in his belt. His torso covered by a mere black t-shirt, his arms were bare to the dispatcher's view. Crossed by ugly brownish-red tattoos… no… they weren't tattoos, he realized. Those were scars. Self-inflicted scars, by the looks of it, as the man flipped and twirled the huge battle-axe around, catching it agilely.

The gunfire outside the office stopped, and the three standing people turned to the door. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, the lights dimmed. The Dispatcher frowned as he looked up at the lighting fixture. His desk rumbled under his hands, rattling the items on top of it, causing his antique phone to drop to the ground.

"What the… ?" he screamed out.

The three standing people looked around, confused, yet not worried. The fourth man, the one seated, merely studied his fingernails, obviously bored out of his mind. When the desk light lifted and flew across the room, immediately followed with an office chair plus Dispatcher, the people standing jumped, while the man sitting down merely looked up in interest.

< LEAAVVVEEEE!!! > a grave-like voice ordained. < Leave this plaaace… >

The lights went out completely, and the entire building rattled on its foundations as Alfons let out the rage that had been building inside of him since the discovery of the little girl. The little girl he and his master had saved yesterday! How DARE they!? He howled, a demonic, cold, beyond-the-grave guttural laugh that made the bulky man and woman cast glances around in worry, while the man in the chair merely grinned, and the whip-woman's eyes glowed insanely.

Kris pushed off, and turned around, placing one hand against the door as he heard the Dispatcher scream out, obviously under something Alfons had done to him. Placing one hand against the door, he summoned his father's energy, blowing the door inward, making the entire building shake on its foundations even worse than Alfons' haunting caused.

The Necromancer's green-glowing armor penetrated the darkness that hung in the air of the office, casting shadows as his red-glowing eyes tracked for the Dispatcher. "Who killed her!?" Kris demanded.

"You're a stupid fuck," a cold voice grunted from behind him. The next moment, Kris felt as if he had been hit by a freight-train as a massive battle-axe blade embedded itself in his shoulder. Growling, the Necromancer turned around, glad that his Father's armor had taken the blow, making sure he hadn't been split in half.

A gauntleted hand reached out, snagging the axe-man's neck, snapping it like a twig with the strength and power of an enraged Major Spirit. A *crack* sounded, and Kris felt a gentle pressure on his back. He turned around, grabbing the whip out of mid-lash, holding it tight, before ripping it out of the woman's hands. She lifted her gun. Kris smiled underneath the face-armor.

Drawing the dagger of Ter'Nil from his belt, he flung it around, so he held it by the flaming obsidian blade, clearly showing the symbols carved into the black ivory handle. With a single flick of his wrist, Kris sent the weapon on its way. Tumbling through the air, the sharper-than-steel blade bore deep into the middle of the woman's forehead, going through bon,e and brain tissue alike. As she fell forward, the Necromancer stalked over and drew the blade, swiping it clean and putting it back in his belt with a single motion.

"Who… killed… her?" Kris demanded, left hand going for the axe buried in his shoulder, ripping it out, so the wound could finally close. The sword woman snapped out of her stupor, and charged him, brandishing her two swords. Kris sighed, not feeling that he had the time for this. He wanted the ones responsible, and he wanted them NOW. Lifting his right hand, finally able to be moved again now that his shoulder her rejoined his body, he pointing his open palm to her.


Black energy shot out of his hand, the same energy that had pulverized a vault door, and a normal stainless steel door, now came to bear upon a single woman. At the same time his energy was about to hit her, the tattoo on her forehead glowed a bright green, and the energies split apart like the red sea before Moses.

"Damn," Kris grunted as he dodged out of the way of her enraged sword-strikes. She was mad with anger, making her strikes powerful but slow… but this woman was obviously a professional, and regained her cool soon enough. The Necromancer scowled under his mask. < She bears the Seal of Protection. Fine. Let's do this the old-fashioned way. >

Silently sending an order to the armor on his arms, he stalked forward, directly into her striking range. She struck out, two blade moving in a cross-pattern that was practically guaranteed to take his head off. His arms came up.

Sharpened metal hit Spiritual Armor, sending sparks flying as Kris moved THROUGH her attack. His boot came up, striking her between the legs. She grunted, dropped the sword in her left hand. Kris grinned evilly, clenched his right fist and struck her face at the defenseless side. As she went down, he bent over and grabbed her sword. He wasn't a swordfighter. In fact, this was the first time he had ever held a sword… but the user's manual was short. < Pointy end goes in the opponent. >

Brandishing the weapon in two hands, he stabbed down at her, but she rolled away, recovering too fast from his earlier hits to Kris' liking. < Damn Seal…> He let out a growl. < Father, guide my hand! > He flicked the sword at her, black energies coming out of his hand and staying the blade. Now that it wasn't directed at HER, the black energies were not repelled by her Seal of Protection, and even as she dodged, the sword followed her.

Gurgling up blood, her eyes turned vacant, staring at the metal weapon pinning her to the wall of the office. Kris turned once more to the shaking Dispatcher. "Who… killed… the girl?" he demanded angrily.

The fourth man, who had been seated up until now, stood up. "I did."

Kris' eyes burned more intensively as he focused on the assassin.

The assassin hated to admit it, but the whelp was getting to him… even after three hundred years, he had not come across an opponent like this one before. Lifting his hands, black energy crackling around his fists, he stood in a martial arts pose. "Come get me, asshole."

Kris turned around. "And what happened to her…"

"I did it," the assassin sneered. "It's not often I can have so much fun…"

Kris' fist materialized against the assassin's face, actually making his stumble backward. "You RAPED her, you bastard!" the Necromancer screamed, black armor pulsing green with burning anger. "She was a five year old girl, and you RAPED her!"

The assassin swallowed away his fear, and got to his feet, smiling evilly. "She was nice and tight, too."

Kris' fists balled painfully, and his face-armor retreated, showing the Necromancer's enraged expression. "KALI! Hear your servant!"

The assassin didn't wait for him to finish his spell, and charged. To his utter surprise, Kris' right hand reached out and grabbed his throat, lifting him clear off the ground. His anger burned deep, and powerful… and he was using his body's energies rapidly. Knowing that he should hurry up, Kris' fist tightened around the elder assassin's neck, unable to snap it as easily as the other man, mere moments earlier.

"I'm… stronger…" the assassin whispered, obviously able to read Kris' semi-confused stare at his inability to break the man's neck.

"I don't need to snap your neck," Kris then said, lifting the Dagger of Ter'Nil. "Kali… exact your punishment for this horrible act upon this… this… BEAST." The last thing the assassin saw was Kris' Dagger penetrating his dark and evil heart. Then… nothing but pain.

Kris dropped the corpse, the face of which was drawn in a horrible visage of horror and pain, and turned to the Dispatcher. "Who gave the order?"

"You… you know we don't keep that information…"

Kris scowled. "Father." Black energy flew like a spear through the Dispatcher's body, killing him instantly. "I don't have time for this shit, asshole."

Stepping up to the corpse, Kris drew a sigil into the dead man's forehead, before letting a couple drops of his blood enter the wound, and chanted in ancient languages. A second-level resurrection, binding the corpse's memories to the undead body, was no low-level magic, and Kris felt his energy deplete even further. At this rate, he'd be out long before morning…

The zombie raised mere seconds later. "Masssterrrr."

"Who ordered the attack on the girl?" Kris demanded harshly.

"Frrrançois… Duchampsssss…"

"Where is he?"

"Cimetièrrrre du Pèrrrre Lachaisssse…"

Kris nodded. "Why?"


Kris scowled. Dangerously. "Dispel," he stated coldly, turned around, not even bothering to witness the zombie collapsing into a boneless heap.

"My Lord!" a brown-skinned winged demon bellowed as it approached François Duchamps, who was standing facing the Monument Aux Morts in the center of Paris' Cimetière Du Pèrre Lachaise.

"What is it?" the aspiring ascender asked, sounding annoyed at being interrupted from his introspective mood.

"The vampires have fallen, My Lord. As it appears now, there appears to be at least one Master Vampire, two Immortals, two humans… and a Necromancer opposing us."

François turned to his servant, the leader of the group of demons that made up his personal guard. His gray eyes shot fire. "A NECROMANCER? Why in INFERUS is a Necromancer opposing us!?" He shook his head. "Never mind. I summoned you and your group here at tremendous cost to myself, D'Trx. You'd better do the job I summoned you for."

D'Trx dipped his massive head, and clenched a fist over his heart. "Of course, My Lord. Nothing shall oppose your ascension to the Second Circle."

François looked around in a full sircle, surveying his surroundings. Twenty gray-skinned demons stood in a loose circle around the clearing, while five more were guarding a group of six and seven-year-old boys and girls he had kidnapped from an orphanage the day before. They'd be his food as soon as he ascended… he'd need the energy to gain his full strength and power. And then… then his 150 years of preparations would pay off, and he'd rule this miserable planet.

François grinned evilly, and turned back to the monument. "Stay here, D'Trx. Don't let them lure you away… there is strength in numbers, and we hold the advantage of both strength and numbers."

D'Trx dipped his head once more, then turned and walked to the group of children, who cowered away as the Great Horned Demon approached. He grinned at them, making them whimper. Chuckling as only a demon his size could, he turned to the guards. "Relay to the others… we stay here. The first to move away from the group gets a one-way ticket back to Hell."

The leader of the guard group dipped its almost human-like head, and walked to the demons standing in a protective circle.

"Can you get him?" Mireille asked as Tom knelt to one knee, brandishing his long rifle.

Tom didn't respond, merely kept targeting. < Only press the trigger when you're absolutely sure of the shot. Don't rush it, let it come… > Tom heard the voice of his first weapon-teacher resound in his head. < Thank you, Mr. Quartermain. > he replied in thought, before drawing in a single breath, and making sure of his shot.

His finger caressed the trigger, the sound of the gunshot resounding through the moonlit night, causing the demons present to jump to the source of the sound. Mere instants later, the silver bit deep into François' skull, causing him to stumble forward. One step… two steps… then he righted, and turned to the source of the shot as well. And he grinned.

"Fuck," Tom grunted.

"He's invulnerable until he Ascends," Mina added, voice grim as he expression.

"WHAT?" Mireille growled, finally losing her composure. Seeing a vampire was one thing. Being attacked by them another, and seeing an invulnerable guy leading a bunch fo demons… big and ugly demons… just was too much.

"He can't be harmed until he's fully Ascended," Mina grunted as the first of the demons reached them. She burst into bats and engaged the first demon, while Kirika merely pointed the energy weapon Tom had given her, and fired. While Tom and Amanda drew swords, and started chopping at the gray-skinned demons, Mireille didn't let herself fall behind, drew her energy weapon, and started firing as well.

Unfortunately, these gray-skinned demons were a lot tougher than the vampires she had encountered until now, and the energy weapons weren't nearly as useful as they had been. Soon, she was out of energy in her cell. It took ample seconds to change the clip… seconds she didn't have as a demon lunged for her.

The blonde darted back, avoiding the demon's charge with mere centimeters, close enough to feel the wind of his passing. Her opponent charged after her as the blonde fumbled with the unfamiliar weapon. Suddenly, the demon screamed, and turned. Mireille nodded gratefully at Tom, who was lashing at its hardened skin with his sword, simply pissing it off instead of doing any serious damage.

Mireille finally got the new energy clip in, and squeezed off an energy charge directly into the demon's back, making it scream, and turn, once again. Her second charge hit it in the eye, always a good target in Mireille's book. The plasma burst tore into the tissue, sending black blood flying, and making the demon roar in pain. The expected crash didn't follow, and Mireille bit off a curse.

Kirika, meanwhile, was having the same problems as her companion. Although not fumbling with the weapon nearly as much as Mireille was, she too found herself working in conjunction with an Immortal. Amanda kept the demon busy while the brunette reloaded her pistol. Seconds later, a roar lashed out as Kirika first shot its right eye… and then a second roar as she shot its left. The blinded demon stumbled around, trying to find a target… ANY target… to kill.

Mireille glanced to the side, grinned, and shot the second eye of the demon she had shot a second earlier, and a second blinded demon roared its anger.

Tom shook his head, and grinned. He liked these two humans… resourceful people like them didn't cross his path too often.

Just as the small group thought they could relax, the rest of the demons had made it to their position, and where two of these creatures were a challenge, eighteen of them formed an insurmountable obstacle.

Kris, who had stood back until now, trying to conserve his life's energy for the man who was going to ascend in mere minutes now, knew that he had to intervene after all. There was no way his unfortunate allies could hold back, let alone defeat, a group of this class of demon. They needed magic to go through the hides, and unfortunately, only Mina came close. She was moderately successful, but not even she could both protect her group AND take out the demons.

The Necromancer closed his eyes. < I may fall before I can complete my objectives… may Kali guide the hands of my companions in my stead. > He drew a breath, and knelt, pushing his hands against the ground. Closing his eyes, he summoned whatever energy he could draft, and started muttering in the ancient guttural sounds of the Sumerian language. "Baad Angarru! Ninnghizzhidda! UUG UDUUG UUGGA GISHTUGHBI!"

His eyes opened, their red glow fiercer than any before, and a tremor went through the ground. It was felt by all, and the attack lulled for a couple precious seconds as both attacker and defender tried to figure out what was happening. A dark, evil pallet had taken over the air, making everyone present feel to the depths of their cores that something was definitely amiss.

Kris screamed then, his energy being painfully ripped away, scattering in the ground of the graveyard. He looked up at the demons, and grinned ferociously, even when his body weakened. "Big mistake… never attack a Necromancer on a cemetery, for he is unstoppable…" with those words, his energy gave way, and he collapsed into a panting heap.

The demons grinned at what they thought to be a good attempt at bluffing, and charged the small group anew.

"Niume, have you detected anything now? The seismograph in Paris just recorded a tremor, 037 on the Richter Scale. Epicenter is somewhere on the Cimetière du Père Lachaise."

"Your worries are correct, Merlin. Once more, I have detected a brief surge of power along the Ley Lines… it appears that our source is expanding."

"I am moving a satellite into place… it will take another four minutes before it is in place," Merlin answered, as calm as ever. But it took someone of Niume's capabilities to hear the underlying urgency in the other AI's voice.

"In four minutes, we will know," Niume replied. "Shall we contact the Commander?"

"Not yet… we should know more about the situation first. After all, it might just be someone dabbing in stuff he or she shouldn't be dabbing in."

"Or it might be someone raising the dead," Niume replied, darkly.

Just as the demons and the defenders were to clash once more, a thunderclap resounded through the night sky, and the earth shook anew, graves splitting open.

"Yuck! Zombies!" Mina shouted as the undead rose from their graves, the nearby ones immediately engaging the stunned demons.

She looked at the panting Necromancer. "How much did you summon?"

Kris managed to shrug. "It's a graveyard… I don't know. Forty?"

"You summoned FORTY zombies?" Tom shouted.

"They're on our side," Kris replied with a weak grin. "They don't know anything, don't remember anything… mere animated corpses. Here for one goal… the engage and defeat those demons."

François looked around with increasing worry. Granted, he was still invulnerable… but that was over in about one and a half minutes from now. And then he'd need to eat those children to gain his full power. But with the present forces against him, outnumbering his forces by two to one, the chances of that looked grim, to say the least.

He glanced at the clock, and at the moon. "Come on…" he muttered. "Move, already…"

D'Trx looked at the five demons guarding the children. "Keep them here," he ordered, turning to look at where his demons were engaging the zombies. "I have me some zombies to entertain," he said with a demonic grin, rushing into the fray.

"That one is mine!" Mina screamed, face a ghostly pale and her eyes burning maddeningly. She jumped across the distance, talons fully extended, ripping into the demonic flesh.

D'Trx startled as the vampire exploded onto him, and for a few precious tenths of a second, she had free play. He bellowed out in pain soon after as her mystic talons penetrated his toughened hide. He swept at her, managing to connect a hit with his fist, knocking the vampire loose, but dragging his flesh along with her talons. Screaming in pain again, the demon set in a blinded charge, managing to slam his fists down on her a mere two times before she disintegrated into bats to get some distance from her attacker.

"Tough bastard," she cursed under her breath as she studied him from a couple of meters away, managing to catch what passed for her breath in those few precious seconds it took him to reach her once again. And then the fight was one again.

At the same time, the two assassin-Immortal duos were doing their best to shield Kris from the occasional stray demon, covering the Necromancer while his zombies took care of the demons. Even though they were unarmed, and not the smartest of creatures, the fact that they were pretty much indestructible helped in no small part… just like the fact that they outnumbered the demons two to one.

As the zombies ripped into the demons, the small group could see their chances turning.

François looked on in desperation, seeing his forces diminish rapidly, the demons torn apart by the stronger zombies. Cumbersome as they were, they had their advantages.

François felt it. The moment had arrived, the one moment he had waited for through 150 years of preparations. As the moon struck midnight and the stars aligned, he felt the change complete.

Another tremble went through the ground, and energy washed up around him. Slowly, his immaculate suit tore to shreds, his body changing under the metaphysical energies of the ascension ritual's completion.

François bellowed his pain and triumph in a single roar of inhuman lungs. His skin turned black as coat, twin red-glowing orbs taking the place of his eyes.

And he grew to a height of three meters.

"Damn," Mireille grunted. "That's a BIG bastard."

Tom swallowed. "Yep. Sure is."

"Oh God… what have I gotten myself involved in?" Amanda whispered under her breath. Next to her, Kirika gave the immortal thief a humorless smile.

"Saving the world," the brunette answered, levelly, her emotions still totally shut down. This was one of the times that her years of training came in handy… under the most trying of conditions, she could now count on the total and utter emotionless state of the Noir assassin that slumbered within her heart.

She lifted her energy gun, and fired.

The second circle demon roared; sweeping the energy ball aside as if it were nothing, and went for the children.

"Keep him away from the children!" Mina shouted from where she was still entertaining D'Trx. "If he feeds, he'll be unstoppable!"

Mireille didn't even need to exchange glances with Kirika, the blonde assassin setting out a job, knowing that her younger, smaller companion would be right behind her. There were five demons still guarding the children. They needed to stop that bastard… kill the demons… and get the children to freedom.

A flight of bats crashed down upon the demon that used to be François, Mina finally having disposed of D'Trx.

"You two help the vampire lady," Mireille shouted to Tom and Amanda. "Kirika and I will get those demons guarding the children!"

Neither questioning why they were obeying the command of a mere mortal woman, the two immortals lifted their thumbs and changed trajectories, intercepting the bellowing demons that was sweeping desperately at the bats that kept going for his eyes.

Meanwhile, Kirika and Mireille lifted their energy guns, and opened fire. It was open season on demonic eyeballs. Those zombies that had finished with their demons started shuffling to the children's guardians as well.

As Noir tore into the demonic guards, the children's instincts for survival took over, and the moment they saw their opening, they ran for it. First one kid. Then two kids. Soon, the two dozen kids ran for the safety of the open road. One demon turned to go after its master's sacrifices, only to be blocked by no less than five zombies angrily shuffling toward it.

"Ah, cra-" it managed before the five undead monsters tore it limb from limb.

Mireille and Kirika turned to the big demon now that the zombies took care of those few lesser demons that still lingered around, energy weapons searching for a clean shot through the bats and the immortals. Carefully, they shuffled closer.

"God damn! Get out of my way!" the demon cursed, slamming a fist into Tom's body, sending the Immortal flying mere moment before a second fist struck Amanda. "Stupid bats! Get out of my face!" François kept cursing, sweeping beefy powerful arms at the circling bats.

"Mina, down!" Mireille screamed, and immediately, the bats went for the groin region of the demon. For a few moments, the demon didn't understand… but then two red-glowing plasma bolts struck its face.

It roared in pain, rubbing its eyes, which were now swollen, but still useable. "Damn nuisances!" it roared. "Without my sacrifices, I'll just have to contend with you!"

Tom groaned, feeling his body healing up, and crawled to his feet by holding on to a tombstone. Not far from him, he could see Amanda do the same.

"Mireille, here," Kirika whispered, throwing her gun to the blonde, right before setting off and grabbing Amanda's fallen rapier off the ground, and charging the demon.

"Kirika…" the blonde whispered, brandishing the two guns, tracking the demon with both weapons. She knew that they didn't do too much against the demonic hide… but at least it kept him distracted as Mina's bats and Kirika's sword-strikes kept annoying him. Contrary to the two people she could see heal up from the corner of her eyes, Kirika was all too mortal.

< Damn… they really ARE immortal, > the blonde then thought, finally realizing WHAT she had been seeing. Shaking her head, she told herself, < Later. First, kill the demon.> She swallowed. < Did I just think that killing a demon is better than asking questions about Immortals? > She closed her eyes again. < Stop thinking, Mireille. Just do your job. Kill the guy. >

Mireille circled around the demon, hoping to catch a weak spot somewhere. As she rammed in her final clips, she knew that the guns weren't going to be of use for much longer. A mere twenty shots weren't going to do much against a foe like this… she cursed her shortsightedness. How she wished she could be there, like Kirika, just grab a weapon, ANY weapon, off the ground, and use it. Even if it was a sword.

Amanda had hit the ground under a better angle than Tom had, and she had finished healing sooner. Stepping up to the battlefield, she asked, "Say, Kirika… mind if I have my sword back?"

The brunette jumped back, avoiding a swipe of the big demon, turned, and threw the weapon to the Immortal. Scowling slightly, she drew her Beretta, the last weapon she had… now that her count had told her that Mireille was on the last clips of the energy guns. Tom came running, sword held high. Somehow, incredibly, the immortal had held on to his weapon during the hit, the flight, the crash, and the healing.

Kirika jumped back some more, looking almost enviously in her emotionless state at the two Immortals who attempted to find any sort of weakness in the demonic hide.

Kris watched from afar, lying on his side, feeling his energy sap. He dispelled the zombies, knowing they wouldn't be of any help in this fight anyway. They were too slow, and now even they could do much to stop this big demon. Slowly, the zombies started shuffling back to their graves. One by one, the holes in the earth covered up, the graves returning to their undisturbed state.

< Father… I need to help them…>

<There is nothing you can do, my son. Your energy is too low to summon any kind of help that would make a difference. >

<There must be something, Father… it can NOT end like this! That… DEMON… had a family killed, and he used me to do it! I can NOT let it end like this! Those people… those people I do not know… are fighting, putting their safety at risk. If there is anything, anything at all that you know… let me know. My own safety matters not. Not anymore. >

He heard his father sigh. <There is one thing, my son. Listen to me…>

Kris' eyes opened, and he sat up, panting even form that slight exertion. Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet. Swaying slightly, he steadied himself by balling his fists and drawing from the support of his father, and from Alfons, whom he knew to be close by as well.

"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtower of the East… Power, Air and Invention… hear me!" The ground vibrated slightly as a breeze rose. Kris felt his power sapping. His surroundings dimmed, and a bout of vertigo overcame him. "Hail… to… the guardians of… the Watchtower… of the South… Darkness, Fire, and Feeling… hear… me…" A thunderclap resounded as bolts of lightning crisscrossed the night sky. Kris' power gave, and he tumbled forward. The effects died out as suddenly as they had started.

"Damn…" Tom cursed, racing to the Necromancer, throwing his sword to Kirika in passing. "I'll go check on him! You keep him busy!"

Kirika grabbed the sword in flight, dipped her head, and engaged.

"Hey, buddy… you okay?" the immortal asked as he reached the Necromancer.

"No… not enough… power…" Kris panted. "Need… the Four Elements… Power, Darkness, Immortality… humanity… Summon… Four Corners… open… Gateway… banish… banish to hell…"

Tom listened to the disjointed rambling. "You said you needed something. What is it? What do you need?"

"Power… Darkness… Immortality… Humanity… need the Four Elements," Kris whispered, panting. His eyes seemed to focus on Tom. "I need the Power… me… darkness… creature of darkness… Immortality… humanity… human…"

Tom frowned. "How do you get these elements?"

"You," Kris whispered. "You're Immortal."

Tom's eyes opened. He understood. Nodding once, he stood up, and said, "I'll go get you your other elements. You just make sure you can perform this spell."

Kris grimaced. "Don't you worry," the necromancer said, trying to pass himself off as stronger than he was, slowly coming to his feet. "I'll be ready."

Tom turned back to the fight, and set in a jog. "Mina, I need your help. Noir, I need one of you, too."

Mina appeared in front of the Immortal, for the moment letting Amanda and Kirika alone… not liking it one bit. "We're kinda busy here, Tom."

"The Necro can banish this asshole, but he needs you, me, and a human," Tom relayed.

"You go, Mireille," Kirika shouted to the blonde. "We'll be fine here." To punctuate her remark, the brunette ducked under a horizontal swipe that could have torn her head off, and stabbed at the armpit of the demon with Tom's sword. The demon roared in pain, and took a step back. "Weakness," the brunette stated coldly.

"Yeah, but what good will it do?" Amanda asked, just as cold.

"Anything helps," Kirika replied levelly.

"Great, two of them," Mireille grunted, accompanying Mina and Tom to the Necromancer, who was swaying on his legs.

"So, what do we do?" Mina asked the Necromancer. "And this'd better NOT be a joke."

Kris stood up erect, forcing as much energy as he could into himself before disbanding the seal he held with his father's spirit. Naked from the waist up, the pale and scrawny Necromancer surely wasn't an impressive sight. Drawing the Dagger of Ter'Nil that hung from his belt, he slit into his wrist. "This is the dagger of Ter'Nil. I'll pass it around… shed your blood with it. It will create a bond… allow us to finish… the spell." His voice tapered off as if even that simple statement had drained him.

They stood in a circle, one by one passing the Dagger, cutting, passing further. Soon, it was back to Kris, who sheathed it.

"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtower of the East… Power, Air and Invention… hear me!" Kris bellowed out, somehow finding the strength for it. The blood they had shed on the ground formed a circled pentagram in between the group. Then… then they knew what had to be done. The breeze picked up, became a wind.

"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtower of the South! Darkness, Fire and Feeling, Hear me!" Mina then shouted. A cover of clouds appeared, lightning jumping from one cloud to another, before reaching a point directly above the ground, where it appeared to just… circle. Seeing bolts of lightning form a circle in the sky was a truly impressive sight, had the ground only had time to look.

"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtower of the West! Immortality, Water and Intuition! Hear me!" Tom screamed, feeling the power burn through him. Rain trickled down now, soon swelling to a rainstorm, even as the lightning continued to circle and the wind continued to blow. But neither of the spell-casters felt it. For them, the only thing that existed was the mystical circle between them, their combined power that would banish the demon.

"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtower of the North!" Mireille screamed. "Humanity, Mother and Earth! Hear me!" A rumble went through the underground, and the circling lightning flashed down, striking the ground behind each of the four people, casting ghostly hellish-white illumination upon the foursome, ghostly shadows forming and deforming as the spell reached its culmination.

"Show us your glory, Kali!" Kris shouted, beyond exhaustion, beyond power. He was subsisting on strength of will and power of character alone now. "Show us your power! I invoke thee, Kali! Stand by us in this Hour of Need as we open that which should never be opened! I implore thee, Kali! Aid us!"

The ground shook noticeably now, and the circled pentagram changed into an older, more arcane sigil which only Kris seemed to understand. Spreading out his hands toward it, he closed his eyes, reciting something under his breath, he pushed one hand against his chest. The sigil on the ground glowed brightly, and Kris screamed as the same sigil was burned upon his chest.

When the scream died down, and Kris opened his eyes, it was as if another person looked at them. "Let us do this," he said, Voice resounding with a strength and a power that should not be human. "The Goddess Kali is with us, and through her, we shall find the strength within ourselves to complete this!"

Mina swallowed. She was probably the only one other than Kris who knew exactly what was happening: He would exhaust himself, and not even feel it. He could die because of the energy drain, and keep going until the very end. She found new respect for this man, and vowed that she would do anything in her power to drag him through this, should it be necessary.

"Merlin, where is that satellite?"

"It is focusing now, Niume," the other AI replied. "Clouds… we shall go to infrared."

"You don't think it's strange that the clouds are centered solely above the Cimetière du Père Lachaise?" Niume asked.

"Of course I do. Which is why we're going to infrared… oh my."

For a full second, an eternity for the two AIs, they stared at the picture that Merlin was extracting from the satellite. "We must confirm," Merlin then said, tapping into any weather satellite he could find above Europe. All of them confirmed.

"The corners…" Niume whispered, before receiving data from the seismograph. "Earthquake, 1.5 on Richter scale. They've finished."

"I'm calling the Commander," Merlin replied.

"Merlin?" Niume interrupted before he could call.


"Hurry. Please… hurry."

Xander frowned at his Fold Comm as he drove home, thinking about later tonight, when he had to take his new recruits through the Night Life. "Xander," he answered, releasing the steering wheel and letting KARR take over.

"Commander, we have a… situation… that requires your immediate attention."

Xander swallowed. "What kind of situation, Merlin?"

"I am currently projecting the data from a Keyhole satellite to KARR's onboard display system. This is a shot of downtown Paris. If the data collected by me and Niume is correct…"

"It usually is," Xander interrupted. "Get on with it, Merlin."

"Of course, Commander. Based on the data gathered from the local seismographs and from the Ley Line activity, we believe someone is calling the Four Elemental Corners," the AI said, calm as ever.

"What's the problem with…" He stopped as Elanthielle cut in, filling him in rapidly. "FUCK! Karr, best speed to the mansion. Merlin, I want an Orca Transport here, ASAP. Tell the Eagles to fly support with Hammerheads… tell them to bring a Naquada warhead."

"Of course, Commander. The Orca will be at your dwelling in approximately one hour."

"Thanks, Merlin," Xander grunted. "KARR? I need the phone."

"Affirmative. Inquiry."

"What? Oh… ask away," Xander said, distracted from his thoughts.

"Why is a thundercloud and something called 'Calling the Four Elemental Corners'…" The AI stopped as the black cloud turned red. The red of blood. "Interesting."

Kirika and Mireille darted around the big demon, taking turns to distract him while the other searched for a weakness. The demon's size belied its speed, but even then its bulk, and its lack of being at full power, made it slow enough to avoid. Barely.

As Kirika went for its right arm, Amanda jumped behind it, lashing at the back of the demon's knees. It howled, turned, and swept at her, but she had already retreated for enough for his brutal swing to miss. "Another weakness."

Kirika dipped her head, stabbing at the demon's side. Even if they managed to hurt it, all they did was enrage it further… making it even less coordinated then it already was, but not really damaging it. Let alone get any closer to killing it. Both Kirika and Amanda were panting with exhaustion setting it.

"Hurry up!" Amanda shouted to the casters. "The rain is ruining my makeup!" she added, sounding pissed off about it, too.

The four casters, however, didn't hear her. They were beyond hearing, beyond the sensation of being drenched in rain, beyond even feeling the lightning bolts that crisscrossed the sky, lashing down around their mystical circle.

Kris drew a deep breath, and the three others knew that the time had come. THE time.

"Spirit of the Red Planet, remember," Kris intoned. "Nergal, God of War, Remember!" It seemed as if the storm was picking up in intensity as he spoke, his voice climbing in volume in cadence with the weather.

"Nergal, Vanquisher of Enemies, Commander of Hosts, Remember! Nergal, Slayer of Lions and of Men, Remember!" he went on, the sigil on his chest pulsing dangerously in ghostly red light. As it bound to his heartbeat, the sigil pulsed darkly. "In the Name of the Covenant sworn between Thee and the Race of Men, I call to Thee! Hearken, and Remember!"

Mina drew a breath, taking over. "From the Gates of the Earth, I call to Thee! From the Four Gates of the Land KI, I pray to Thee!" The ground shook and tremored, the storm lifting in intensity, yet it didn't seem to bother the casters. To the contrary, it seemed to fuel their strength and determination, their voices climbing in direct relation to the ominous weather surrounding them. "Nergal, God of the Sacrifice of Blood, Remember!" Mina shouted.

Kris growled out in pain, the sigil on his chest suddenly exploding in size, ripping his skin to the vessels beneath, his own blood not dripping, yet pulsing with the same ghostly light as the original symbols. Mina didn't seem to notice, or care, as the spell's effects held her under. She droned on, "Nergal, God of the Offerings of Battle, Ravager of the Enemy's Towns, Devourer of the Flesh of Man, Remember!"

Kris grunted out as his skin split further, slowly, inexorably, the sigil expanding slowly until it had crossed over his entire chest and stomach. Tom shouted on, taking over the spell, "Nergal, Wielder of the Mighty Sword, Remember! Nergal, Lord of Arms and Armies, Remember! Spirit of the Glow of the Battlefield, Open wide Thy Gate! Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death, Open Thy Gate to me! Spirit of the Sailing Lance, the Thrusting Sword, the Flying Rock, Open the Gate to Thy Sphere to one who has no fear!"

Mireille didn't feel any confusion any more. Instead, her mind was formidably clear and bright, filled with the knowledge and power of the spell, of the Necromancer, the Vampiress, the Immortal. She didn't notice the red lines now pulling onto Kris' arms and legs, still not drawing blood yet pulsing with the rapid heartbeat of an exhausted man. "Gate of the Red Planet, Open! Gate of the God of War, Swing Wide! Gate of the God of Victory got in Battle, Open to me! Gate of the Lord of Protection, Open! Gate of the Lord of the Arra and the Agga, Open!"

Kris didn't feel pain anymore. He felt NOTHING anymore. He simply was… the spell, the power, the living incarnation of the protection of the Goddess Kali, standing by him, releasing all his power stored within his soul to summon forth… summon the Gates. "By the Name which I was given on the Spheres of Earth, the Power of the Four Gates, I ask thee, Open!"

The clouds turned the red of blood, and the rain seemed to change consistency.

"It rains blood?" Amanda asked, dumbly, staring at the blood-red skies. Even the demon had stopped, and stared in confusion.

Kris, meanwhile, reached the culmination of the spell, and chanted on, "IA NERGAL-YA! IA ZI ANNGA KANPA! IA ANNGA! IA NNGR-YA IA! NNGYA! IA ZI DINGIR NEENYA KANPA!" the ground shook heavily, and blood-red lightning crashed through the skies, slamming into the mystical seal in between the casters. Kris' voice dropped in level and intensity, yet took on an air of death and destruction.


The seal vanished, reappearing under the demon's feet. Instantly, something clicked. "NO!!!!!!" he thumped hard on the amber energy that encircled him, as the seal under his feet started rotating, before pulling apart in a mystical imitation of science-fiction doors. Red energy welled up from between the retreating magical gates underneath the demon's feet.

"Hellmouth Gate… open," Mina whispered as the Demon vanished into the ground amidst horrible cries of anguish. The next moment, the gates SLAMMED shut, the casters returned to 'normal', the havoc nature caused vanished… leaving the surroundings painted in the red of blood, settling down the branches and leaves the wind had picked up.

And Kris fell straight forward.

"Kris!" Mian shouted, being the only one fast enough to catch him before he thumped to the ground. "My God… look at him…"

The seals didn't vanish from his body. But then… slowly… they seemed to turn to ashes, and vanished. "That… That's a vampire-healing," Mina whispered, in shock.

"Good… thing… we shared," Kris whispered, opening his eyes slowly. "Your strength… Tom's Immortality… Mireille's heart… my knowledge and power…" he drew a breath, and slowly sat up. "That spell really would have killed me…" he looked up at the trio. "Thank you."

"No, thank YOU," Amanda grunted, dropping to one knee next to the small group. "Whatever it was, it worked. But tell me… where did you send him?"

"Back to Hell," Kris grunted, standing up and swaying slightly, before catching himself. "I opened a direct gate to hell under his feet."

"Damn," Amanda grunted in admiration. "Remind me never to piss you off."


"Yes, Merlin?"

"The image on the satellite vanished. The last thing I got was a massive surge of power… I believe it overloaded the electronics."

"Then it's confirmed?"

"Yes, Commander. The Gates of Hell have been summoned, and opened, successfully. It appears quiet for the moment, but I would advise against optimism."

"Agreed, Merlin. Agreed…" Xander answered, voice dead with fear and anger. Fear of what was to come, and Anger at whomever opened those damn gates.

"Good thing we got out of there when we did," Mina said as she looked out the window of her spacious flat. "The police are already at the cemetery." The others merely nodded in agreement, taking Tom's example to heart and grabbing a seat wherever they could: Mireille and Kirika took the spacious two-person loveseat, while Kris merely sat down in one of the more subdued single-person sofas that dotted the tastefully decorated apartment. Mina merely flowed down in the nearest chair.

Everybody stared at everybody else, nobody really knowing what to say now that the adrenaline rush was over.

This is ridiculous," Kris grunted. "We just defeated a second circle demon, protecting each other…"

"I hate to admit it, but he's right," Tom added in. "Although I'm still confused about some things you did," he finished, looking directly at Kris.

"SOME things?" Mireille asked. "I'm confused about MOST things that happened tonight! We were hired to take out a guy trying to sacrifice some children, and we end up fighting vampires, demons, and working along someone who can open gates to Hell!"

"Hired?" Kris asked. "What do you mean, hired?"

Mireille sighed. "We're Noir…"

Kris turned paler than he already was. "You're NOIR? THE Noir? The same Noir that never failed any mission?"

"You've heard of us," Kirika said, smiling a small smile now that her emotionless state had collapsed. Still a little woozy, as she always was when she switched from one mode to the other, the petite brunette kept herself in check.

"HEARD of you?" Kris shouted, jumping up. "Legends of Noir have circulated in Teraka for the last millennium! The human, mortal, assassin capable of doing those jobs even Teraka fails! When Noir accepts a mission, the target dies… like a fact of life. And now you're telling me that the infamous Noir is comprised out of two women?"

Mireille smirked. "Yep."

Kris sat down. "I can't believe it… Noir…" he turned slightly in his seat, gazing with a slight hint of fear in his eyes to the two women. Kirika gave him her most disarming look. It sent shivers up his spine… the deadliest assassins in the world, looking like an innocent schoolgirl.

"Mina? Can I use your phone? I need to call someone… before he comes crashing down on Paris," Amanda asked, scooting closer to the vampire.

"Sure. Phone is in the next room," Mina indicated.

"It's…eh… to the States," the Immortal thief said.

"No problem," the vampires said as the immortal stood up, and nodded her head in thanks.

"Why do you need to call this guy, anyway?" Tom asked, in curiosity.

"Last time I met him, we were in New York… when he heard about something going down in LA. He STILL got there two weeks in advance… the guy has a direct line to GOD, for heaven's sake! And I, for one, am not going to be sitting around here waiting for him to pay us a visit with heavy weaponry… either to stop that second circle demon, or to close up the hell portal." With those words, Amanda turned and walked into the adjacent room.

"She knows some scary people… if what she says is true," Kris grunted.

"A straight line to GOD!?" Mireille asked, still adjusting.

"Not unheard of… although most are shown to be delusional," Tom replied instead of Kris. "Now… that knife. How come it destroys vampires?" he aksed, pointing to the dagger of Ter'Nil.

Kris drew the blade, showing them all clearly the flaming obsidian blade. Shaped like a flame, made from totally dark obsidian, and grafted onto a handle that sported arcane symbol, the weapon was truly a sight to behold. "The dagger of Ter'Nil. It's the religious icon of the Kali faith. And, as we all know by now, vampires are highly allergic to religious icons. I am merely in luck that MY icon happens to come in a handy dagger-shaped form."

Tom and Mina chuckled; Kirika and Mireille merely stored the information for later use. < Use religious icons to hold off vampires. Check. >

Xander scrambled through his home, placing phone calls left and right while hurrying everybody he could lay into to prepare faster. "Merlin? How much longer until the Orca transport gets here? … Put those boxes over there, Tara… yes, Merlin, sorry…" the phone bleeped. "Sorry, I got a call on the other line."

"Hello?" Xander called.

"Hello, Darling."

Xander's breath stopped for a few precious seconds. "Not now, Amanda, there's a MAJOR crisis in…"

"Paris, Darling. Yes, I am aware of it… or rather, I WAS aware of it," the immortal replied with a hint of a smile in her voice. "We took care of it."

"WHAT?" Xander choked. "What the HELL happened down there?"

"Apparently, there are some… eccentric… forces protecting Paris for the moment, Darling."

Xander grumbled at the phone. "Great… Amanda considers them eccentric… If I hadn't been scared before, that would do it!"

Amanda laughs heartily. "You should be, Darling. These people are scary. And I KNOW scary when I meet them. Let's see…" Xander could just HEAR her ticking off fingers. "We've got a Necromancer who used to work for the Order of Teraka, two assassins calling themselves Noir that scare the Necromancer, we've got a vampire of… some kind… who can walk in sunlight and survive holy symbols, and an immortal who likes living on the edge."

Xander was silent for a LONG couple of seconds. Amanda continued, her voice still merry, "It was a fun night's out, Darling. You would have liked it."

"What… happened?" He finally managed to ask. "And not the who… the what."

"We had a second circle ascension, according to the Necromancer, the Vampiress and the Immortal… while we were fighting, we found out we didn't stand a chance… so the Necromancer pulls out all the stops, recruits the Vampire, the Immortal, and one of the human assassins, and does this… thing…"

General Gray and Major McQueen, who happened to scurry by with a large crate containing god-knows-what, heard him shout into the phone. "The NECROMANCER opened the Gates of Hell to banish a Second Circle demon!?" he listened for a few seconds, then raged on, "Calm down?? Oh hell no, Amanda! I'm coming over there and I'm kicking his ass across the entire fucking country!!"

Gray and McQueen glanced at each other.

"Anyway… thanks for the call… and now I need to call Kev, Dragan, Giles, and everybody else I've got scurrying down here, including a FUCKING flight of Hammerheads, an Orca transporter, and a NAQUADA warhead that would've reduced Paris to a crater the size of TEXAS, all because that necromantic friend of yours just HAD to OPEN the Gates of HELL!"

He snapped his phone shut, then fell into the nearest couch. "I can't fucking BELIEVE it!" he shouted, opening his phone, and started dialing. How he would explain this to everybody else, he had no idea… yet. But one thing was for sure… if he ever met the Necromancer, he'd give him a piece of his mind. Saving the world or not… you don't just open a direct portal to the underworld just to banish a demon!

<<Actually, Alexander, it was a strategic fine move to make… the local defenders didn't stand a chance, you heard Amanda. Opening the Hell Portal was their last resort.>> Elanthielle whispered in his mind.

<<Just because it was their ONLY option doesn't make it a GOOD one! >> he snapped at her. <<That guy opened a HELL PORTAL, Elan! The risks are… astronomical!>>

Amanda looked at the phone, before gently putting it back on its cradle. <I am getting even for hanging up on me, Darling. .>

She turned, and walked out of the room, mind going over the things Xander told her. As she entered to room, she asked, "Say… does anybody here know what a hammerhead is for a plane? And what's a Naquada warhead?"

Tom drew pale as everyone glanced at each other, before settling on him. "I don't know what a Hammerhead is… and my knowledge on Naquada is limited… but from what I DO know, I'm damn grateful he called it off. It's worse than plutonium… could've reduced Paris to a giant ball of hot gas."

Everyone was silent for long seconds as they digested THAT. Finally, it was the Necromancer who broke the silence. "How did you find THAT out? I've never even heard the term, let alone what it is," he asked, curious.

Tom shrugged. "When I'm not hiding because of some messy death or other, I am a secret agent for the US government. You pick up a lot of classified things that way…"

Kris nodded his head, smiling slightly. "So… we've got… Noir," he said, motioning for Mireille and Kirika, his voice timbre vibrating slightly as he did so, "an immortal secret agent, and a vampire. That just leaves you, Amanda… who are you?"

Amanda smiled slightly. "You wouldn't be asking a woman to disclose her secrets, now would you?"

Kris shrugged, then nodded. "Seems like it."

Amanda chuckled slightly, then glanced around the group. They all were staring at her. <Oh, why not? We all fought together… and all of them are a lot worse than I could ever be.> "I'm a thief," she stated simply, enjoying the stunned looks that flashed around the group.

"A thief," Tom stated flatly.

Amanda nodded. "Yes. A thief. I steal from the rich and powerful and donate to worthy causes… namely me."

Mina chuckled, and faint smiles decorated the faces of the others in the group. Amanda took her chance, and turned to the female vampire. "How come you can walk in the sun? What makes you so different from the ordinary vampires?"

Mina sighed. "My name is Willamina Harker… I am the wife of the late Jonathan Harker." Kris' sharp intake of breath cut through the room. "Yes… I am THAT Mina Harker," she confirmed. "My husband Jonathan went to Transylvania to finalize the deal of purchase with a Count Dracula. When Dracula came to London, and embarked on a reign of terror, my husband and a Doctor Von Hellsing went after the infernal creature. They experimented… Dracula escaped, they died, and I was the result of an experiment gone terribly wrong. The essence of the vampire was fused to my human body… resulting in a creature that is neither human nor vampire, yet possesses the traits of both."

"Damn," Kris whispered. "I never would have guessed the rumors to be true… that you survived that horrible event…"

Mina smiled slightly at him. "I did… and believe it."

"Oh, I do," the necromancer answered with conviction, a smile on his face as well. Then, a grimace shot across him, and he grabbed for his heart.

"What's wrong?" Mireille asked, frowning slightly.

"The spell… it's wearing off," the man answered her, straightening out. "At sunrise, it will have left completely… and I will no longer have the benefit of vampiric healing or immortal energy to boost me. You'll probably feel yourselves getting stronger again, as our energies separate… while I will be growing weaker." He glanced out the window, where the night sky was changing slowly, growing lighter as the sun started rising.

"How bad will it be?" Mina asked, sounding slightly concerned. Even if the man was a Necromancer, he had still saved all of them earlier, and probably the world WITH them.

"I don't know," Kris answered honestly. "It all depends on just how much Kali and Nergal will hold my actions against me… the threefold rule will come down on me pretty hard, regardless of the outcome." He sighed. "I opened the Gates of Hell. That's not something that's done lightly."

"But you took precautions," Tom grunted. "There wasn't any danger, and the Gates closed immediately afterward."

Kris nodded. "It was one-way… a siphon to get the demon into hell before he could gain his full strength and power. But still, I breached the walls between the Land of the Living and the Realm of the Dead."

"Then, it's going to come down on us as well, since we helped you," Mina grunted, anger rising at being dragged into something. However, her anger subsided as Kris shook his head.

"No… I made sure that I was the only one who would be punished…" he drew a sharp breath, grabbed for his heart, and looked over his shoulder. First Light penetrated the darkness of the night, and the Necromancer watched through watering eyes what might be his final sunrise. "I took full responsibility…"

"WHAT?" Tom grunted angrily. "That might kill you!"

Kris didn't look away from the sunrise; merely nodding in answer. "Tonight… was my atonement for Teraka…" he whispered, feeling a shot of pain race along every nerve in his body as energy leaked from it. "Kali…" Kris tumbled forward, out of the chair. Outside, the sun had fully rising above the horizon.

"Oh, crap!" Tom cursed as he shot forward at the same time as Mina and Kirika.

"Jesus, he's burning up!" the Vampiress cursed as she felt his forehead. As the others gathered around, Kirika and Tom gingerly stretched out the curled-up Necromancer, hoping to put him in a more comfortable pose.

"This isn't good," Tom stated the obvious. "That spell… it's killing him…"

Mina muttered something under her breath nobody there understood… but somehow, the darkness laced through the word conveyed the meaning of the curse just perfectly. "Come on, put him in my bed," the half-vampire said, standing as Tom moved to pick up the scrawny man.

"Is he really going to die?" Mireille asked as the Immortal and the Vampire made Kris comfortable in the large double bed in the next room. Somehow, she managed to keep her voice from conveying any real emotion. She was good at that… years of experience. She didn't manage it with her eyes, however, as Kirika took a seat next to the bed and reached out to touch the unconscious man's hand.

"He's cold…" the brunette whispered, frown on her forehead. It was about as much emotion as she was capable of displaying, even when not totally shut down emotionally.

Mina cursed under her breath again, and pulled a couple of extra sheets out of a nearby closet.

"We need to keep watch," Tom whispered. "We don't know what's going to happen next…"

Kirika dipped her head. "I'll take the first swatch," she stated simply, brown-red eyes locked on the paler-than-death sweaty face of the dying man as if she and him were alone in the room.

"Kirika…" Mireille whispered.

"I'll be fine, Mireille," the brunette replied to the unspoken, looking up momentarily. "Don't worry… you should get some sleep."

Mireille grimaced. "Sometimes I hate that training of yours."

The brunette smiled sadly, then turned back to the man. "I'll come relieve you in a couple of hours," Tom told her. Kirika dipped her head, and grunted an affirmative. Somehow, the grunt didn't sound as dark as it should, and the others left the room. As soon as the large door had closed, Mireille turned to Mina.

"You seem to know an awful lot about magic… is he really going to die for saving this god-forsaken world?" she demanded, anger slipping into the blonde's voice.

"Possibly," Mina relented. "Quite… possibly. Magic… it operates under the threefold rule. Everything you do unto others shall be translated upon you threefold. It's universal… and what he did tonight is 'big' on a mundial scale of darkness. He opened the Gates of Hell and the Underworld. The risks involved… had he slipped up even a bit… would have been catastrophic. Demons of unimaginable power are locked in Hell. He took the risk of releasing them all at once, had he slipped up."

"But he didn't," Amanda grunted coldly. "And he did it to save the world. That must count for SOMETHING!"

"And it did," Tom said, cold and angry. "We're all still alive. If he'd slipped, opened the gates… we'd all be dead from the magic before the demons could get to us." He looked angrily at the wall, as if he could see the Necromancer that was fighting for his life behind it. "He gambled. He just happened to win… that doesn't make it the right decision."

Mireille sat up straight in her chair. "And how would YOU have handled the situation, Immortal?" she asked, a little snappily, not really appreciating the fact that he was bashing the guy who she considered to have saved her life.

Tom shrugged. "I said it wasn't necessarily the right decision… that doesn't mean I don't support it. It's easy to criticize now. But we walked away, the world saved… and that's all that matters."

Mireille nodded, relaxing slightly, now that she understood she had merely misjudged the situation. She sighed when she realized she had a lot to learn still about this demon hunting business. She was good with hunting people… but magic and demonic entities sure made everything a lot more difficult.

Kris looked around dazedly at his new surroundings, a dark feeling creeping up his spine, making his blood tingle with adrenaline. He reached for his gun, yet didn't find where he elft it. Remembering only then what had transpired, he tried to contact Alfons… and came up blank. Panic wormed its way into his gut, and Kris slammed down with Iron Will upon the feeling. If years of assassinations had taught him anything, it was not to fear anything. Fear slowed you down, it kept you from thinking.

He calmed his raging nerves, and ventured a wider look around the Darkness that surrounded him. Finally, he stared to note that the 'floor' was a total darkness, while the 'sky' was a lighter shade of 'darkness', a discovery that helped to calm him further, now that he had the sense of 'solid ground' under his feet. Even though he knew consciously this was probably all a dream… or a hallucination… it still helped.

He had relaxed to the point where he was beginning to think about starting to walk, trying to find out more about his strange surroundings, when a booming voice made him cringe. "KRITANTA!"

Kris swallowed, looking up at the skies of darkness that hung over his head. "KRITANTA NEREIDA!!!" the voice boomed again, every cell in his body vibrating with the energy of it. "You DARED call upon the Elder Gods!" the voice continued.

"To save the world!" Kris found the gall within himself to shout back.

"Yes… and THAT is the ONLY reason you still LIVE, Kritanta of the Nereida Clan of Necromancers! You summoned me, Nergal, Elder God of War, from my deep slumber of millennia! You demanded of me to open the Portals to Hell. Now you must pay for the service!"

Kris drew a breath. "I understand, Lord Nergal. Under the Power of Lady Kali…"

"YOU WOULD DARE INVOKE MY NAME YET AGAIN?" a second voice boomed over the Darkness-landscape. This decidedly female, it threatened to blow out Kris' eardrums with sharpness and volume. "I stood by you this evening in the Ancient Forbidden Rituals of Summoning. You put your life on the line, yet I stood by you, I helped you complete the Circle of Four Elemental Corners… and I demand payment."

The Necromancer swallowed. "I understand, My Goddess…" he drew a breath, and knelt. "My life is yours to command."

"That would be too easy!" Nergal boomed. "I demand payment for my services!"

"As do I," Kali growled in answer. "Both of us must be repaid in kind, Kritanta Nereida! Death shall be your payment! Year heart, mind, body, and soul shall belong to us, in payment for the favors granted!"

Kris nodded. "I understand… My Lady… My Lord. My Life and Death belongs to you…" He drew a breath.

As Tom entered the room to take over from Kirika, he noticed she had removed the extra blankets, and was busy applying a cold compress to the man's forehead. He was glowing again…

"I'll take over," the immortal said gently. Kirika nodded once, pulled back. As Tom was about to put his hand on the cold compress, Kris drew a deep breath… once… and didn't let it out. The Necromancer… was dead.

Chapter Two
Catching up to karma.

Kris screamed as he fell like a block of concrete to the blacker-than-black 'floor' of his Dream. The moment he made contact, he rolled up like a fetus, arms clenching around his sides. "It hurts!"

"Of course it hurts!" Nergal boomed.

"That is why it is called 'payment for services," Kali added in.

Kris drew a pained breath through clenched teeth, forcing himself to put himself above the pain. It worked only half, but it did enough to allow him to unclench his eyes, and speak to his gods. "But… my Lord… my Lady… I invoked thee… for assistance… to help me… the energy expended was mine, and mine alone…"

The Voices remained silent, and Kris continued after a few seconds of terse silence. "Lady Kali… My Goddess… you helped me… unleash my full power… I drew in none of yours… didn't ask for it… nor was it offered…"

"He has a point," the Goddess of Death and Destruction grunted. Kris felt the sharp pain in his body increase, and curled up once more. When he opened his eyes, he was dismayed to see his right arm become transparent. < Is this death?> he wondered. <Am I dying? Like this? As payment for my Lady's help in saving the world? >

"Very Well, Kritanta Nereida," Nergal boomed. The pain in Kris' body subsided. "We will exact our price through other means."

"You will not join your ancestors until your debt has been paid, Kritanta of the Nereida Clan of Necromancers. You will walk the earth, loathed by humanity for the skills you possess and the deeds you did, repaying the debt your worked up tonight."

"Pay… how, My Lady, My Lord?" Kris asked, managing to bring himself up to a kneeling position.

"You will see, Kritanta of the Nereida," Nergal boomed. "You will see…"

Mireille was the first one through the door to the bedroom after the commotion broke loose. Directly behind her, Mina and Amanda pressed through together. What they saw made them halt their questions.

Over Kris hung Kirika, thumping on his chest with one fist. "Breathe," he instructed, and Tom tilted Kris' head back and breathed deeply into his mouth. When he finished, Kirika resumed her pounding.

"Damn," Mina cursed under her breath.

"Why is it always the good ones who have to go?" Amanda demanded angrily to herself.

"Breathe," Kirika said once again. Tom leaned over.

At that precise point, Kris drew in a very deep breath, and his eyes opened momentarily, before he fell back into his deep coma-like sleep… with heartbeat and respiration.

Everybody present let out a breath of relief. Kirika nodded at Tom, the Immortal giving her a small smile in return. Both climbed down off the bed, with Tom taking the chair next to it and Kirika proceeding to walk out of the room. The vampire, the assassin and the thief, followed.

"Too close," Kirika whispered as she sat own next to Mireille. "So close…"

"We almost lost him," Mina grunted, angrily. "His energy is too low, and the Threefold Rule is exacting its punishment… I'm afraid it won't be the only time…"

"Magic keeps trying to kill him, and we keep getting him back," Kirika grunted darkly. Mireille smiled slightly, and gave a curt nod to her companion, while Amanda and Mina exchanged semi-worried glances.

Outside, the beautiful morning was interrupted by the mother of all thunderstorms breaking loose.

"Looks like Nature didn't like our way of handling things any more than Magic does," Mina stated idly as the monsoon washed away the evidence of last night. "Maybe you should all stay here… this apartment is large enough to hold us, and thanks to Tom, there's plenty for you to eat."

"And for you?" Mireille asked, voice rising slightly.

Mina grinned. "I've got my reserves too, Mireille. The local Blood Bank is always generous… seeing I'm its founding member…"

Amanda chuckled, shaking her head slightly. "As long as you don't go after us, it's fine by me."

Mina kept her grin. Then, she licked her lips. Mireille shivered, while Kirika remained oddly neutral, only a slight hint of malice entering her red eyes. The Vampiress chuckled. "Don't worry," she then alleviated their fears. I don't hunt… not people that helped save the world, anyway."

Over the course of the next two days, the intrepid band had to revive Kris on two more occasions, but neither case was as bad as the first one. What worried them more than his constant sleep and his yo-yo-like body-temperature, was the fact that the sigils engraved upon his skin seemed to grow, expand all over. Dark-red lines criss-crossed his stomach, disappearing around his back, spreading over his arms and legs.

Two lines went down each legs, one on the back, one on front, going over his feet, before finally meeting between his second and third toe.

Across each of his arms, several lines went, before meeting at the elbow, a single line continuing at the top, spreading to a sigil burned into the top of his hand, and vanishing right after it went down the little piece of skin separating the middle and ring fingers.

The only large sigil the group could see was forming slowly on his stomach. Each hour, each minute, it seemed bigger and more intricate, before finally settling down a mere half an hour before the Necromancer opened his eyes for the first time in days.

"Oh…" he moaned. "That hurt…"

"It should," Mina, who was watching him at the time, stated darkly. "You opened the Gates of hell. It could have level Paris and burned most of Europe, had you slipped up. And then there was that monsoon that did lots of damage to cellars…"

"Sorry," Kris whispered automatically, bringing one hand to his forehead, trying to squelch the pain that was located right behind the piece of bone. When he opened his eyes, he noticed the dark-red of the line's ending. Frowning, he forgot all about his aching body, mind, heart and soul, and turned his hand over. His eyes grew wide at the sight of the sigil emblazoned upon the back of his right hand. "Sealing…"

Shooting upright, he looked at the back of his left hand. "Sealing…" he muttered again, before following the lines down to his stomach. "By Kali!" he cursed, jumping out of bed, nearly falling over from weakened muscles. Somehow, the scrawny, pale, sweaty man managed to stay upright, dragging himself to the full-length mirror, and glancing over his shoulder, following the lines that went across to his back.

He grew even paler, if that was possible.

By that time, the others had joined them, but their exclamations of wonder would have to wait at the sight of the even paler-than-usual Necromancer staring at the symbol on his back, before slumping down on the bed.

Nobody quite knew what to say.

Finally, it was Tom who broke the silence. "What happened, Kris?"

"I'm in their service now," he whispered. "Until my debt is repaid… I am in their service." he raised his hands. "And these tell me I'd better be careful about what I use my powers on, or they'll seal my powers entirely."

"What do you mean, completely?" Mina asked, not quite sure what Kris meant.

Kris nodded stiffly. "My powers have been locked... meaning, they've been lessened. I can't use my full power anymore. If I misuse what little I have left, I might end up with a seal instead of a lock."

"Just for saving the world?" Mireille asked, sounding rather angry now. It was not a nice sound.

"Just for opening a portal to Hell," Kris replied calmly, looking up at her from his position on the bed. "And for taking the risk of having a couple thousand high-class demons terrorize Europe had I failed my walk on the tightrope."

"At least you survived," Tom whispered. "For all we know, it might have been worse..."

Kris smiled a little darkly. "Not MUCH worse. When she wants to, Kali can be one of the most vindictive goddesses around, but she is just. I used my power to save the world... she could have killed me, but she never would have subjected me to torture."

Reactions varied, but the group remained silent as they digested the recent events silently.

"Umph!" Kris grunted as his back his the new tatami. He accepted a helping hand from Kirika, and once again marveled at the strength the small girl exerted from every fiber in her body. "Why did I ever agree to this?" he asked her as he stood up, and assumed a pretty decent martial arts-pose.

Her red-brown eyes slipped down his body as she walked around him, her right foot lashing out, kicking his left leg a little further away. "Wider," she spoke quietly. Stopped in front of him, she glanced into his eyes. "And you accepted to this because it was a good deal. You teach us about demons and vampires, and we help you surviving without use of your powers."

Kris shook his head, closed his eyes, and tried to relax. "I stink at this physical stuff," he repeated for the umpteenth time. "I feel like I'm just wasting your time."

Kirika shrugged. "As long as we don't have any urgent business, I am willing to keep teaching you."

He dipped his head at her. "Thank you. Shifu."

She frowned slightly at him. "I am not you master, Kris."

He grinned boyishly. "Sensei, then."

She shook her head in tolerance, then took a step back, and stopped, facing him, her feet together and her arms linked behind her back. "Very well... I am your teacher. So, I shall teach you. Kris, attack me."

He swallowed. She always did this when he had crossed some invisible line with her... standing there, looking all innocent and defenseless, telling him to charge her. It always ended with major pain somewhere. Centering himself, just as she had taught him, he calmed his breath and relaxed his muscles. After thinking carefully for a few moments, her charged.

And ended up on his stomach, feeling her knee press into the lower end of his back. He hadn't even been able to get a startled scream out before it was all over. Her knee pressed into a nervous point, and his entire upper body tingled, preventing him from moving.

"You're improving," she told him, helping him up. "Now... let's practice the throw."

Kris swallowed, and did his best to mimic his teacher's movements.

Later that night, Kris was sitting in a comfortable chair, facing the hearth in his living room. Occupying various places in the large room were Mireille, Kirika, Tom, and Mina.

"Too bad Amanda already had to go back to New York," Kris said, standing up, to face the group. "Even though it's only been a week since we all met, I still feel as if it's been much longer. Not to mention the fact that I probably wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for all of you."

He saw that his little speech had less of an impact than he would have liked... which probably had something to do with the fact that everyone here was a stone-cold killer in his or her own right. Smiling slightly at his own naivety that had expected anything less, he turned to a nearby desk. Opening the drawer with a key from around his neck, he took out a rectangular wooden box.

"As such, I wanted to give you all something."

THAT got some form of a response, even if ti was just a look of curiosity. Kris opened the box, and turned it so everyone could look into it. "For each of you... a dagger of Ter'Nil. Be careful on them, they're not easy, or cheap, to come by."

Kirika was the first to reach out and take one of the ornate daggers. Holding the weapon in one hand, she flipped it over, testing its balance. She saw Kris nearly jump his skin. Smiling slightly in apology, she flipped it back, then put it in the holder Kris held out for her.

Mireille, meanwhile, had taken one for herself, and was admiring the craft work rather than the weapon's killing properties. That was Kirika's expertise. "These must have cost a fortune," she whispered, looking over the ornate sigils inscribed both in the handle and the flame-shaped obsidian blade.

Kris shrugged slightly. "Only one person still makes these... Necromantic blades aren't in much demand these days. I think he had to make more this last week then in the last ten years."

"Just how much DOES this cost?" Tom asked, clipping the holder to his belt, the ornate knife snugly inside, positioned directly for easy-draw access with his right hand.

"Tom! Don't be so impolite," Mina grunted under her breath as she held the weapon. As religious icons never hurt her, she had no problems holding it, but ti still sent evil tingles down her spine, as if some vampire-inherited instinct was trying to emerge. "Our host has given us a beautiful and functional gift," he added louder, dipping her head toward Kris. "Thank you, Lord Necromancer."

"You are welcome, Lady Vampiress," he answered with an easy flourish. He turned to Tom. "But to my immortal friend's curiosity, these cost about 10,000 US dollars."

"Ten GRAND!?" Tom choked out. "Jesus Christ, man! That's a fortune for a knife!"

The corner of Kris' mouth curled upward slightly. "For once, I'll forgive you... but don't ever call these a knife ever again. They're Daggers of Ter'Nil. They will kill vampires when stabbed through the heart, and if stabbed anywhere else, they'll cause crippling pain. And, they are the holy icons to the Lady Goddess Kali, Mistress of Death and Destruction... even though you don't practice the religion, I wouldn't go around insulting her. It may have bad results on your soul... or your life," he finished, looking down upon the signs inscribed on his hands.

Tom nodded. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"No harm, no foul," Kris said, smiling broader now. "Treat those daggers well, and they'll keep you safe from vampires."

"That just leaves Amanda's," Mireille said, seeing a solitary dagger remain inside the box, as Kris closed it and sealed it inside his desk once again.

"She'll get it next time she's in Paris," Kris answered with an easy smile. "I am not entrusting a Dagger of Ter'Nil to the postal service. And contrary to the shaman who makes them, I don't have the power to teleport them with magic."

Tom and Mina chuckled slightly, while Mireille and Kirika had yet another piece of magic information to file away.

"Speaking of Amanda not being present," Mireille suddenly said, sounding as if she didn't know WHY she was saying it. "Kirika and I will be away next week... we'll be going to Vatican City, and have a nice talk with the cardinal that sent us after a demon without enough information."

Kirika smiled slightly. "We'll convince him to give us enough info next time," she added.

Kris exchanged a look with Tom and Mina, before turned to the Noir duo. "Want some company?" he asked. "I've never been to Rome... I heard it's beautiful. And since I turned my back on Teraka, I've got enough time to explore the world."

"We could take the Nautilus," Tom said before Mireille could answer. "Cheap way to travel, and almost as fast as an airplane."

"Better service, too," Mina added, rubbing her chin, and looking out the window. "I haven't seen the Sistine chapel in... must be over 120 years. I wonder if it's still as beautiful."

Mireille momentarily sat there, stunned, not really knowing what to say, while Kirika merely looked at her blonde companion with a merry little twinkle in her oddly-red eyes.

The white sports car shot through the chicane of the test-track, its wide wheels biting into the asphalt. Almost noiselessly, it accelerated at astonishing pace, only to hit the brakes in time for the sharp right-hand turn at the end of the straight, once again taking the bend without losing grip once.

Inside, a thirteen-year-old girl held the steering wheel; her cold eyes squinted in concentration. The futuristic dash housed an array of digital read-outs, the futuristic look augmented by the numerous buttons arranged neatly on the center console, around a small screen, which displayed an average-looking redhead in her mid-twenties, who seemed to look in approval.

"Claes," a masculine voice stated over the radio. "Let Carol drive."

Claes, the thirteen-year-old, nodded once, and released the steering wheel. Immediately, one of the buttons' status lights came on, and the woman in the screen blinked once.

The car's acceleration altered, and it fishtailed around the next corner, shooting over the curb, leaving black streaks of rubber on the asphalt.

"Astonishing," Claes whispered.

"Thanks," Carol replied with a grin. "This is FUN!"

Claes smiled slightly, a cold show of amusement on an otherwise neutral face. Shoulder-long brunette hair was pushed out of the way with a graceful gesture so a pair of piercing brown eyes could stare out of the front window. "Glad you're enjoying yourself, Carol," Claes answered levelly.

"Like you weren't enjoying yourself earlier, Hon," Carol answered with a smile. "I saw you smile."

Claes' mouth corners went up. "I didn't say I didn't enjoy myself," she rebutted calmly.

"Okay, enough chit-chat!" the gruff male interrupted. "Claes, take over, and drop to normal speeds… activate the weapons systems."

Claes' small hands went up to the steering wheel. Carol clicked off the automatic drive, and the young girl decelerated the car to a more comfortable speed. "Carol, activate the weapons systems."

"Sure thing, Hon," Carol answered calmly, as the windshield suddenly developed a heads-up-display. A red cross adorned the spot right in front of Claes' face. "Weapons activated. Combat mode initiated."

"Search first target," Claes ordered, all business. The targeting crosshairs shifted to the right, immediately followed by a pulse of electro-magnetic energy leaving the weapons' pod that had popped out of the passenger door. The first target, a black bowling ball-sized object standing on top of a wooden pole, lit up as the energy coursed through it. Smoke came from the red-glowing object as the bolt ran out of energy. It slowly went back to normal as the heat imparted by the Em burst slowly dissipated.

"First target, hit," Carol reported calmly.

Claes nodded. "Search second target."

Carol nodded in her display. "Acquiring." The targeting crosshairs shifted, seeking the second target. "Single shot," Carol said as a light blinked on the HUD. A single explosion followed, as the big 5cm depleted Uranium Shell from the weapon's pod on the left was fired. A mere half a second later, it fragmented as it bore deep into the centennial oak tree that was target #2. It blew a hole the size of a soccer ball through its trunk, followed a mere second later by the tree coming down to Mother Earth.

Claes' eyes opened slightly wider. "EM pulse, test two," the young brunette then whispered. "Electronic disruption."

"Acquiring target 3," Carol answered, the red crosshairs coming to a stop on a building off the site of the track. "Firing burst." The bolt left the weapons pod, hitting the building dead-on, and Claes could see the Electro-magnetic radiation streak off the conducting parts in flashes of brilliant lightning.

"Scanning," Carol reported. "Scan complete. Electronics secured… against use."

Claes' mouth smirked slightly. "Well done."

"Final weapons test," the gruff male voice ordered.

Claes nodded, and released the steering wheel. "Carol."

Carol dipped her head. "Of course, Hon." The auto-drive light came on, and the car burst away, peeling rubber. "Full auto, target four." The red crosshairs settled on an armored car that appeared in a zoom window, the real one being over a kilometer away. The big machine gun in the left weapons pod barked fire, burning through its entire load of one hundred rounds before the first one hit the target.

The armored car was ripped to shreds as the depleted Uranium shell tore through its protection as if non-existent. Mid-burst, its fuel tank exploded, and the final rounds vanished into the ball of fire.

"Crap," Carol grunted. "Last ten rounds went through the wreckage… we took out quite a few trees. Good thing we're not in populated areas."

"Final test… test occupant safety," the gruff voice ordained. Claes swallowed, and Carol looked apprehensive. Ten seconds later, the car came to a gentle halt, facing a concrete wall.

"Claes, release your seatbelt, and hit the wall at 50 kilometers an hour," the voice told them.

Claes drew a deep breath, and released the four-point seatbelt. "Sir… I am feeling apprehensive."

"Don't be silly, Claes. Your machinations won't let you die so easily," the voice grunted, sounding slightly angry.

"Sir, I refuse," Carol suddenly intervened. "While there is a 99.7% certainty I will not be harmed, I feel that this is not the best course of action for my occupant."

"You're to do as you're told!" the man screamed. "You're a computer! A MACHINE! There is no way that YOU will tell ME what test I can and can NOT run!"

"Ethical subroutine forty-nine gamma, and Directive Two: Occupant safety must be guaranteed!" the AI in the white sports car screamed back.

"Carol, Override Mode! Verbal command, code twenty-nine Delta. You are to complete the test. NOW!"

Carol's visage twisted as the AI struggled against herself, even as the gear shift selected 'forward' by itself. Claes sighed, and put her hand on the shift. "It's alright, Carol."

"But Hon…"

"It's okay," the girl repeated. "This is my duty."

The accelerator hit the floor panel. Immediately, 650 horsepower of electric engine was applied through a continuous-variable transmission directly to the four tires. Acceleration was enormous.

Claes hit the wall well above the fifty kilometer mark.

Ten minutes later, three men came walking up, seemingly not in a hurry. "Claes."

The brunette looked up from where she was sitting, back against the car's body. A wide gash ran across her forehead, down her face to her chin. Underneath the blood and torn skin, metal plating was visible.

"The enhancements held," the second man said to the first, ignoring the bleeding girl on the ground.

Man number three turned to the car. "Carol."

"Yes. SIR," she grunted.

"Good," the third man nodded to his two colleagues. "Both survived."

The first man nodded in agreement. "The test was a complete success. Claes, report to the infirmary… have yourself fixed up."

Claes nodded, got up, and started walking. Carol shifted in reverse, front dented and bent, front tired flat, obviously with a bent axle. That the car could still drive was a small miracle.

"Where are YOU going?" man number three demanded of the white sports vehicle.

"I'm driving her to the infirmary… SIR."

"No, you're not. You're reporting to the garage."


"Don't force me to make it an order," The first man growled. Carol's growl was covered as the car shifted, made a perfect U-turn, and peeled off.

"Have we acquired that coating from the Foundation yet?" The second man asked. "That's more damage then I like."

"It should be here next week," The third man answered. "We'll apply it on her as soon as we get it… but we'll need to do something about her personality, too. Those ethical routines are too bothersome."

"I'll set my team on it. It might take a couple of weeks, though. That's not an easy program to modify," the second man told his colleague.

"I don't care. Get it done," the first man ordered, then started walking back.

Cardinal Benito Andreatti turned to lock the heavy wooden door to his office, deep inside Vatican City. It was late at night now, and he felt rather safe in the large and dark building. Nobody ever came here that had no business being here… they wouldn't dare, not in the house of the Almighty.

He felt a curious sensation then, and the man froze. "Open the door," a dark voice hissed. A dark, feminine voice. Cardinal Andreatti hadn't become who he was by being stupid… or emotional. He nodded once, reopened the door he had just locked, and preceded his assailant inside. Only then did he dare look around.

"Who are you!?" he demanded.

The 20-year-old blonde smiled darkly. "I am who you sent after a demon without information," she said darkly. The cardinal's eyes went wide.

"N… Noir!? That's impossible! Noir can't possibly be a girl like you!" the man shouted, his emotional façade broken for the first time in years. He started to advance upon the girl, only to freeze when he heard a second click behind him. The click of a gun being cocked. Slowly, very slowly, he turned around. A younger, smaller, brunette stood right behind him.

"How…?" he started to ask, only to grow wide-eyed in realization. "So… Noir's two."

Kirika dipped her head. Mireille smiled slightly, then gestured with her gun to his desk. "Sit down. We're going to have a talk."

Benito wasn't a stupid man, so he walked, and he sat. "Now… what can I do for the infamous Noir, assassins capable of even taking out a second circle demon?"

"So you knew," Mireille stated darkly.

"We needed more time to get our forces in position… we're not as powerful as we once were," Benito acceded.

Mireille walked forward, pressing her gun to his forehead. <<Best to let him believe that we killed that demon by ourselves,>> she thought. <It'll give us psychological leverage.>> "We could have killed you anytime we wish. We can kill you anytime we wish in the future. You can't escape the inevitable… Noir has a perfect record. We… do… not… fail."

The cardinal wasn't easily scared. He had rising through the ranks, started out as demon hunter himself… he knew was ticked in the night, and it had made him utterly ruthless in the process. But this girl… the woman… scared him, with her soft, velvety voice, cold blue eyes, and her gun pressed to his forehead.

"Two o'clock, appointment with Cardinal Alessandro Michaele," Kirika said. "Four o'clock, appointment with the Pope rescheduled… went jogging instead. Four thirty, returned from jogging, read the daily reports. Six o'clock…"

"Okay, okay… I get the point," the cardinal whispered, feeling himself be truly impressed now. Which was even harder than scare him. "So… what can I do for you? Or… am I just here to die?"

Mireille smiled, then lifted the gun away. "No… we proved our point. Next time you decide to send us after a demon, give us all the information. What it's called, how we kill it, and so forth. Or we'll come back and finish the job."

The cardinal smiled slightly, then extended his hand. "You've got a deal… anyone capable of taking out a second circle demon I'll be glad to have on my call list."

Mireille looked at the hand for a few seconds, just long enough to make the cardinal uncomfortable. Then, she slowly reached out, and shook it. "You've got a deal."

With those words, both her and Kirika started advancing to the door. "Oh… I think I have something you might find interesting," Benito said with a boyish grin on his fifty-five-year-old face. He extended a folder.

Mireille looked in confusion, then took the folder, and leafed through it.

"We think it might be demonic… those children are way too strong and resilient to be normal. But, we need more information before we can act… could you and your companion acquire than information for us?"

Mireille smirked. "We're assassins, not thieves, cardinal."

Cardinal Benito Andreatti grinned. "Look at the last page, and read it."

Mireille read the last page, and stiffened. "These animals have breathed their last air," she grunted. "We'll get you your information. But it won't do you much good afterward!"

Kirika, who had taken the folder, had also read the last page. She too, nodded coldly. "They will not get away with using innocent children as weapons."

Benito Andreatti sat back and poured himself a stuff whiskey the moment the door had clicked shut. "Almighty God… Your Sword has an edge. Finally…" he whispered, holding up the glass to a crucifix before downing it.


Kris walked through one of the many museums that dotted the Italian capital of Rome. He had a smile on his face, finally feeling calmed after the events of the last week, where he had been forced to not only open the Gates of Hell and take every risk involved with such a venture, but also to take the punishment from his Goddess that came with such an act.

Without even thinking about it, his left hand rubbed over the back of his right, as if scratching a metaphysical itch in the mystical tattoos embedded in his skin. Kris sighed, yet didn't let the thoughts dampen his good mood.

For the first time since age five, when his father started teaching him in the family ways, Kris was free. Free from Teraka, the Assassin's Guild that had been a constant pressure on his shoulders for as long as he could remember. Free also from the oppressive weight of his father's teachings, now that Kali, Goddess of Death and Destruction, had seen it fit to remove most, if not all, of his power.

He was normal now. Human. His gaze stopped on a beautiful painting made by Michelangelo so many years back, and Kris' soul was put at ease. It was beautiful… and Kris smiled wider as he realized that *this* was what Humanity was about. It wasn't about killing, or hurting, or all the other things he had been forced to do in his 25 years of life. It was about beauty, about life, about art…

Kris let out a dry chuckle. He was becoming mellow. Shaking his head, he took a step back and broke the rules by taking a picture of the painting with his camera, before returning it to its case, and walking into the next room, stopping in front of yet another painting, this one by Rafael.

As he studied it, a man with a young girl stopped next to him, also studying the painting. Out of sheer instinct, without even realizing he did it, Kris' eyes fluttered over the pair. The girl had a straight hairstyle, light brunette, about ten or eleven. She was carrying a violin case… and Kris smiled. The girl was obviously into arts, as the man next to her, who was in his early thirties, seemed entirely too cold to be enjoying the beauty before him.

Kris blinked, and consciously returned to look at the man. Warning bells went off in the back of his head. The man felt dangerous to the former assassin, and Kris had spent enough years in the field to learn not to ignore his instincts.

Meanwhile, the girl had started some explanation on the painting… from memory, no less… and Kris tore his gaze away from the man, to his younger companion, listening to her speech. She was quite knowledgably, apparently, and Kris enjoyed the explanation and the background.

As she finished, Kris turned to her and put on his best smile. "You sure know a lot about this painting," he complimented the girl, who smiled shyly up at him.

"Thank you," she answered politely, before looking at her companion, who nodded once, and graced her with a small smile of his own. It looked rather distant to Kris, but that didn't seem to matter much to the girl. The necromancer shrugged inwardly. Perhaps the coldness was merely the man's personality.

Decided on being bold, he went to one knee in front of the girl, bringing them to eye-level. "Perhaps, if it's okay with your father, you'd let me join you? It's my first time in Italy, and I'm afraid my knowledge of the arts is rather limited. Having someone so knowledgeable to guide me around would be quite a bonus."

The girl beamed at him, before turning to her companion with the question in her eyes. Again, the small yet distant smile and the nod.

Kris smiled his thanks at her and her companion before straightening out. "My name's Kris," he introduced, holding out his hand. The man grabbed it in a strong grip.

"Jose," the man replied. "And this is Henrietta, my fratello."

Kris blinked. Oops… his sister, not his daughter. "Sorry about the mix-up," he apologized. Jose shook his head.

"Don't worry about it," the man said as Henrietta pulled him to the next painting, Kris going along for the ride. "I work for the Social Welfare Agency… we help orphaned children."

"Kinda like a Big Brother, then," Kris identified. "You're not actually related, but act as family…"

Jose's eyes seemed far away then, yet the man nodded. "Yes." Kris was stopped from continuing the conversation as Henrietta started a speech on the next painting.

By the time they were through the rest of the museum, a couple of very pleasant hours had passed, and the former assassin decided on repaying his guide's expertise with a big bowl of ice cream.

Kris entered his room at the hotel, still chuckling to himself over a day well spent. Henrietta had enjoyed the ice cream almost as much as he had, and Jose had been hardly able to believe his eyes as the grown man and the young girl laughed and tried just about every flavor the ice cream parlor had to offer.

Kris sunk into the comfortable leather couch facing the TV. Rather than turning it on, he just watched the blank screen, deep in his own thoughts. <<Italian ice cream is so much better than the stuff in France… I'll have to special-order some when I get back.>> He chuckled. <<I sure had a lot of fun this afternoon… Okay, so I was acting like a kid. Nothing wrong with that… not like I need to worry about money, and Henrietta tried her best to tell as much as she could about the art.>>

Without realizing it, his head sunk to his chest, and Kris nodded off, to a world where the evil he once did didn't exist, and where he could spend his days watching art and eating ice cream.

He woke up an hour or so later, and freshened up before going down to dinner in the fancy hotel the entire group was staying in. They had all decided, the group's members being who there were and all, that they were still going tog et rooms at the same hotel, just away from the others, and just meet for dinner.

Kris was the first one down, and he was taken to a table for five. The waiter had just brought him the glass of multi-fruit juice with a small nip of alcohol in it when Tom and Mina joined him. They had spent the day going over the sights both remembered from earlier visits, apparently.

"Things haven't changed," Mina sighed in memory. "Only that there's less freedom now… I remember a time when you could just walk up to a statue in the museum, and touch it. Or touch a painting. Now everything's cordoned off, or behind glass…"

"Thanks to a couple assholes ruining for the rest of us," Tom added with a dark grunt.

Kris shrugged. "Cordons or not, and glass or not, I still enjoyed myself immensely." He leaned on his elbows on the table. "I met a very interesting young lady today… she couldn't have been over 11, but she sure knew her art." He chuckled. "She guided me through the museum, and I bought her ice cream. We each think we got the better end of the deal."

Tom chuckled, while a beautiful smile decorated Mina's lips. "Kids will be kids," Tom said with an easy smile.

Kris grinned, and leaned back in his chair. "I don't know who acted more like a kid, me or her," he said, holding on to his mischievous grin. "Never really had a chance to act like one when I was one."

The grin vanished, and the twinkle in his eyes dulled. "I had to act mature since I was five… too dangerous to be anything else…"

"Come on, you were doing nicely just a minute ago," Mina said, leaning in, thumping her elbow into his side. "Don't go all depressed on us now."

"Sorry," Kris returned. "Sometimes, it just jumps up, you know?" his smile returned slightly, but his eyes remained dull. Tom was just about to enter the conversation when the infamous Noir duo sat down in the remaining seats. One look told Kris, Tom, and Mina that something hadn't gone right for those two.

"What happened? I thought you were going to see that cardinal?" Tom asked.

"Not here," Mireille answered, shooting a look around the restaurant. "After dinner, our room… if you really want to know."

Tom and Mina exchanged looks, then shrugged. Kris, on the other hand, had forgotten all about his earlier depression, and was thinking about all the things that could have happened… they both looked alright, so he doubted it was anything life-threatening. But then again, this was *Noir*, so anything might have happened.

He shook off his thoughts when the waiter came to take their orders, and all through dinner, the quintet maintained a casual attitude of light conversation, even if nobody really knows what was being said later on.

Despite of all the light and meaningless conversation going on between the five people, dinner was a quick affair, and within forty-five minutes they had gone through the four courses and retired to the room of duo known as Noir.

"The cardinal put this in our hands," Mireille said, darkly, shoving the file she and Kirika had received to Mina, Tom, and Kris. Mina actually was the one to pick it up and open it, both males reading over her shoulder. As she flipped pages, the trio's looks got darker and darker… until they reached a certain point, and Kris cursed.

"They didn't," he growled, his voice dark and ominous, exactly the same infliction they had heard on a cold and dark November night in Paris a week and a half ago. The night the world changed for some of them… a night they all had to come to terms with.

"Kris?" Mina asked, frowning.

"I know that girl," Kris' voice growled out. "She was the one guiding me through the museum this afternoon." He looked at Mireille. "When are you going?"

"We were planning on gathering as much information as we could," the blonde answered with a cold gleam in her blue eyes. "Tonight. We thought we'd see after that."

Kris nodded. "I'm in. If they're using demonic magics on little girls like this, I'm sure the Lady Kali will want to have a talk with them."

Mina and Tom exchanged a single look. "We're in, too," Tom stated. "Like our necromantic friend said, they shouldn't get away with this."

"They won't," Kirika replied, voice cold and dark. "People like this took my childhood… and we destroyed them. Now we shall destroy those who are attempting to do the same with other children." The brunette's eyes locked with Kris', and with a single look, they knew that this was personal for them.

"Are you sure about this, Kris? With your powers gone-" Mireille started.

"I'm coming," he cut her off. "I'm the descendant of a family who's been in Teraka for over five generations, Mireille. I grew up with assassinations the same way Kirika has. Just because my skills are focused on the metaphysical rather than the physical doesn't make me any less dangerous." He held up his hands, showing the sigils clearly marked on his skin. "And even with these in place, I am still a seriously dangerous bastard if I need to be."

Mireille was about to say something when Kirika interrupted her. "Mireille." The blonde looked at her smaller, younger, companion. The brunette merely shook her head, once. "But-" Mireille tried once more.

Kirika cut her off. "I would not be left behind either." She looked at Kris. "This is personal, for the both of us. We know things… experienced things… and wish them not to happen to others." She materialized her gun from under her jacket, flipped it over, so the barrel was resting in her hand, and held it out to Kris, butt first. "I would take you with me, even if you knew nothing."

Kris' hand came up slowly, taking the gun offered by the sixteen-year-old. "Thank you, Sensei."

She dipped her head, smiling slightly. "I feel your capabilities, Kris." Her empty hand came to her heart. "I can feel it." She glanced around the room. "Just like the others, I'm sure."

Mina smiled crookedly. "I got used to the dark vibes a while ago. I'm surprised you can feel them, though… I didn't think a normal human could feel them."

"Some of us are more sensitive than others," Kirika answered calmly. "I can feel a gun trained on me over two hundred paces away… I can feel the power lurking within someone."

"So that's how…" Mireille started to whisper.

Kirika smiled, and turned to her companion. "I am fast, but not even I can dodge a bullet that's already fired. But staying out of the path of a bullet *about* to be fired is a skill that's attainable." She glanced at Mina and Tom. "Attainable to normal people, that is."

Claes came to a stop in the large laboratory. She had been here before, she knew what was about to be expected of her. Slipping her plain-glass glasses off her nose and into her pocket, the thirteen-year-old straightened up. "Sir?"

The lead scientist motioned for one of the machines. "We need to do more tests on your machinations, Claes. Start with the usual test-routine on your shoulders and arms."

Claes nodded, and stepped to the spot indicated. Reaching down, she grabbed hold of the two handles, and straightened up, pulling the cables up to her shoulder-height.

"As usual, we'll go until your joints crush. We've installed new updates in you after the test with Carol, so there should be an improvement in tension strength and pulling power," the scientist said on a level tone, as if it didn't matter to him that he was about to rip a girl's arms out of her shoulder sockets. "Starting tests."

Claes tensed; feeling the strength of the machine as her stance widened slightly to help her machinations cope with the force. She knew she was in for a night of pain… she always was when new upgrades were being tested.

Five people had scaled the walls of the compound known as Section Two of the Italian Secret Service, hiding unseen in the shadows of a building. All five were dressed in black, covering their entire bodies.

As soon as all five had made sure that the coast was clear, they nodded at each other, two making their way to the right while the other three went to the left, gliding from shadow to shadow in total and eerie silence, remaining unseen by guards and cameras.

After making their way around the main building, the group of three slipped through a carelessly locked window that gave sight to some sort of medical laboratory. It took Mireille less than ten seconds to jimmy the lock open, and change the wiring on the security system to allow them entrance.

Slipping inside, Mireille re-locked the window and reset the security system. No sense in advertising where and now they entered.

While Mireille was busy with the security system on the window, Kris had slipped to the only door of the small laboratory while Kirika scanned the room for cameras or possibly hidden guards. She joined Kris, and Mireille did the same mere seconds later.

"Clear," Mireille whispered. Kirika nodded, and closed her eyes, sensitive hearing listening to sounds on the other side of the door.

"Nothing," the brunette whispered, testing the door to see if it was unlocked.

It was, leaving the trio to think that internal security wasn't all what it was supposed to be. They obviously relied on their external security system, and the large wall with the lots of external guards to keep them safe.

Quietly, the trio in black slipped out of the darkened laboratory and into a fully lit hallway.

Mireille bit back a curse when she couldn't detect a single place of cover. "Whereto?" Kris asked, motioning left and right.

Kirika indicated right, where the hallway ended in a large set of double doors, locked electronically, if the keypad was any indication. The trio whisked to the door, crouching low to avoid being seen through the glass panes set in the door.

Kirika once again closed her eyes, and listened. "Voices," she whispered seconds later. "Machinery…" Her eyes *shot* open, pupils narrow and dangerous. "Grunts of pain."

Kris felt his body tense, and the split-second that it took for him to decide and take a look was enough for Kirika to rise and beat him to it. Even though he hadn't known the impassive, emotionless girl for long, he could still see the anger boiling off her. It was an impressive sight… impressive yet totally and utterly frightening.

"Kirika?" Mireille asked. The brunette remained quiet as she stared through the window. Kris slowly pushed up, clearing his eyes just high enough to be able to see. He too, froze. Mireille scanned the hallway one last time, turned, and looked.

Claes felt pain shoot through her enhanced body as the joints in her hips blew. The pain hammered behind her eyes and in her ears for those two seconds it took for her machinations to cancel it out.

Panting heavily, she opened her eyes, staring at the far, white, wall. It looked far further and far whiter than she remembered… She blinked slowly, licking some wetness onto her desert-dry lips. A grunt escaped her mouth when she tried to move.

Slowly, she turned her head, looking at the lead scientist noting something onto a file clipped to a clipboard. "Hip joints: tension strength increased by 15%," he said to his assistant. "We're getting there."

The assistant nodded, moving to help the young girl sit upright. "Shouldn't we stop now, sir? She's pretty banged up… it might screw up the baseline for the tests."

The lead researched glanced down at the slightly moaning girl. "Claes?"

"I… I'm fine…" she whispered hoarsely.

The lead scientist nodded. "You heard her. She's fine." He motioned to a new contraption. "Put her in there. We'll test the tension strength of her chest."

"Won't that kill her?" the assistant asked his supervisor as he helped the girl up, dragging her to the machine as she was unable to move with two dislocated hip joints, two broken knees, and cracked ankles. Even then, she moaned as her twisted and broken arms were used as leverage.

"It might," the lead scientist said. He looked at Claes as his assistant strapped her in. "But down worry, we'll revive you. Your machinations don't die easily, and we've added extra protection around your heart and lungs, so it's more likely that you'll just be knocked unconscious." He shrugged. "We just need to be there fast enough to prevent cascade failure."

Claes swallowed. Cascade failure… she closed her eyes. The two words that meant more than any other to the girls in Section Two. All of them remembered Angelica. Cascade failure had claimed her. Claes vowed not to go the same way. She wanted to live. By God, how she wanted to live!!

The assistant slapped the machine's bands tying Claes in place. "She's secure."

The lead scientist noted something on his clipboard, and pressed the controls of the machine. A block sunk in place, pressing on the girl's chest. Noting the read-out as the pressure increased, the scientist also kept a look on the read-outs coming from the machinations embedded within the girl's chest.

"Good…" he whispered as Claes gave a grunt. "We're already over the crush-pressure of last time… five percent… ten percent…" A horrible crunch was followed by a scream and the whine of the machine as it immediately reversed pressure to prevent crushing the girl completely.

"What'd you know… she's still conscious," the assistant noted as he helped her down and she gave a moan. A weak one. "Barely, though…"

"The new combat models are incredible-" the led scientist started to say, right before the doors were thrown open, and gunfire filled the room.

"We've got to do something," Kris grunted, right before the machine reversed and Claes screamed.

"We're here for information gathering…" Mireille protested weakly, even as Kirika's slender fingers raced the keypad-lockout of the door. The light turned green, the lock beeped, and the door opened.

Together, Kris and Kirika kicked open the double door, firing as they went. Mireille shook her head, and covered their backs.

Kirika's target fell immediately, while Kris' was hit half a dozen times in non-lethal positions. He too, fell, but managed to crawl to the machine and hit the emergency switch.

Alarms started blaring, and the former Terakan gave an apologetic look at Kirika, right before racing to the barely conscious girl on the floor. She wasn't bleeding, but her young body was twisted and mangled where the various machinery had tested her joints and bones.

"My God!" Mireille said in revulsion. "What did they do to her?"

Kris' hands danced around the girl's body, not knowing what to do or where to touch without causing more pain. "I think they broke every major joint and bone in her body," he said, voice dark. "She doesn't feel demonically possessed."

"*WHAT*!?" Mireille snarled. "They did this to a normal child!?"

Screams came at them from beyond the closed door leading to the hallway they had originally entered from. Immediately, Kirika and Mireille flanked the doors, guns ready.

"We need to take her with us," Kris screamed at his companions. "I can't leave her like this!"

Kirika nodded before Mireille could answer. "We'll get her to a hospital."

Kris dipped his head as he turned back to the mangled girl on the floor. "Rest easy, Young One… we won't let them hurt you anymore…"

"…duty…" she whispered.

"What's that?" Kris asked as he tried to find a way to lift the girl without causing her tremendous pain.

"My… duty…" she whispered, moaning weakly in pain.

"It's not your duty to be treated like this," Kris' voice grunted.

He drew a breath. She wasn't to blame. Slowly, his hand trailed over her head. "Don't worry… we'll get you out of here," he repeated.

Claes moaned as she tried to move, but found her machinations uncooperative. They had been damaged beyond use by the tests… and the pressure ion her chest was increasing every minute. Her eyes locked with the eyes of the man kneeling next to her. He was an unknown to her, yet he treated her gently… so different from the ways she had been used to here in Section Two. His voice was calm and friendly… and so very warm and soothing as he stroked her hair.

Memories came undone beyond the veil instilled in her mind by multiple sessions of brainwashing. Memories of being held, of being comforted. She felt his gentle hands try to pick her up. Gentle. As if she were something fragile, rather than a small robot to be hurt for tests.

Claes felt like she could like this feeling, the feeling of being important, of mattering, of being cared for… her eyes grew heavy.

She looked up at the man gingerly trying to lift her up, and found that she could learn to like his face. He cared for her… and she felt she could learn to care for him, too.

Her eyes sunk closed, feeling protected and safe for the first time since long.

Kris smiled when he saw a small, content smile form on the girl's lips, right before her eyes closed and she sunk limply into his arms. "Kali, no!" he cursed. He twisted to Kirika and Mireille. "I need five minutes!" he snarled.

Kirika twisted, firing down the hallway, before flattening her back against the wall once more. "We won't have that long, Kris! We need to move!" Mireille shouted from on the other side of the door as the heavy machine-gun fire sounded from the hall.

"Then give me three!" Kris growled as he drew his Dagger of Ter'Nil. "She won't make it otherwise!"

Mireille cursed, and for once, Kirika could feel like joining her. Together, the two Noir assassins fired down the hall, attempting to get rid of any of the guards firing at them with heavy automated weapons.

Kris drew blood from the major artery in his wrist with his Dagger. "By Your leave, Lady Kali…" he put the Dagger back in its sheath, spreading the flowing blood on his index finger. "I anoint this person." He drew a small circled pentagram on her forehead, before ripping the pullover and the shirt she wore up, drawing a second symbol over her heart.

Bringing his hands together, he incanted in strange, ancient languages, the words reverberating strangely through the laboratory. The two smudged pentagrams glowed, the blood-signs tightening and darkening until two perfectly drawn, fine-lined circled pentagrams were visible.

Kris opened his eyes, seeing her breath hitch. "Don't die on me yet, Young One," he whispered sadly. Drawing a breath to steel himself, the man brought more blood to his index finger, anointing himself in the same way he had done for the girl. Once again, he incanted.

The sigils on his forehead and heart tightened, yet at the same time, ancient writing appeared on all four sigils, and Kris screamed at the same time as the lights of the laboratory flickered off and on for a few seconds.

Kirika and Mireille cast a hurried glance at Kris, who was screaming in utter agony. Slowly, the scream died out, and the Necromancer fell forward, supporting himself on his hands as well as his knees. "What pain you endured, Young One," he whispered hoarsely, even as he breath grew fluent one again, and her eyes fluttered.

"Claes…" she whispered, almost inaudibly silent.

Kris smiled weakly. "Well, Claes, my name's Kris." Slowly, he picked her up. "You won't die so soon now."

"Ready?" Mireille asked, with a tone that stated perfectly fine that she meant 'finally?'.

"She was dying," Kris grunted as he fell to the wall next to her. "I had to bind her soul to her body using Dark Magic, then bind her to me, so she can draw my energy to get by. It'll kill the both of us if she's not helped soon, so let's get to a hospital."

"We can't," Mireille grunted. "We're pinned down here, and this damn room doesn't have a window to escape out the back of!"

Kris wanted to snarl. He knew that he might have been able to help, if he had only had more of his powers. He glanced at the girl, Claes, curled up in his arms. He had lost the previous girl he had tried to save. Why was fate so much against him helping people? Why should he lose again?

He closed his eyes. "Lady Kali, please… not for myself, but for this Little One that was so mistreated by society…"

Mireille cursed as she ducked away from the door, pulling Kris along with her as she crouched behind a machine. On the other side, Kirika was doing the same behind some other contraption that dotted the large laboratory. Mere seconds later, the guards burst into the room, automatic fire spreading hot lead through the room.

"Lady Kali, please," Kris whispered, putting the girl down. The seal hadn't changed. Drawing a breath, he pulled the Dagger of Ter'Nil.

Re-opening his wound, he drew blood. If Kali wouldn't help him… well, he hoped she'd wait with killing him until this was over. If he could somehow open the seals…

"Not for myself, but for the protection of this girl," Kris grunted, lifting his bloodied finger to the seal on his left hand. "I hereby breach…" to his utter astonishment, the seal glowed… spinning on its axis as it did. On his right hand, the same thing was happening, and for the first time since the Paris incident had locked them, Kris felt *good*

"Take care of her," Kris whispered to Mireille as he stood up. "I'm going to start a diversion."

"Are you *nuts*!?" she barked, trying to grab him down, but he had already stepped from behind the machine, actually grabbing the M-16-wielding guard that stood just on the other side.

"Eh…" the guard stuttered as he stared into Kris' glowing amber eyes.

"Kali…" Kris whispered. "Kali-ma. For thee, Kali… accept this offering." Chanting on, Kris' hand released the guard, who just stood there, frozen in place in sheer and utter terror as Kris' right hand slid slowly down his cheekbone. Chanting on, Kris let his hand trail down the neck, tracing the major artery, down the chest, to the man's heart. "KALI!" Kris intoned, his hand smoothly penetrating the chest of the guard, before coming out, holding the heart, not leaving a single mark on the man as he did so. "Kali-ma! For you, Lady Kali, I sacrifice this man for your glory!"

The offered heart burst into flames, vanishing instantly. Only then did the man clench at his chest, slowly tipping over, dead. All of this had taken mere seconds, and by the time the other men knew what was happening, the Necromancer had already vanished back behind the machine.

As the guards were coming to investigate their fallen comrade, Kirika took them down from the other side. The guards scattered, and Mireille opened a deadly cross-fire from her side.

"Noir," Kris whispered. "That's why you're Noir."

Mireille gulped, looking at the man Kris had killed. "And I don't want to know how you did that."

Kris grinned, clutching the semi-conscious girl to him, and running behind the two Noir-assassins as they tried to make their getaway.

Something drew his eyes as he ran to the door leading to the smaller laboratory, the point where they had entered originally.

"Alfons, good to see you again," he whispered under his breath as he dove into the room right behind Mireille and Kirika. Kirika slammed the door shut the moment he'd passed.

"I never left, Mein Herr," the spirit answered. "You merely lost the ability to see me."

Kris smiled slightly, even though Mireille and Kirika shot him strange glances. "My companion spirit," he explained fast. "I couldn't see him anymore after my powers were sealed."

Mireille shot him an even stranger glance, yet got to work on the window. Kirika remained at the door, and Kris put the girl down on a hastily cleared table. "How are you doing?" he asked gently.

"Okay," Claes whispered. "My chest…"

Kris sighed. "Just hang on. We'll get you to a hospital…"

Claes coughed twice. "They won't be able to help me."

Kris frowned, and looked up at where Mireille cursed at the window. Looking down, he asked, "Why's that?"

"They… enhanced… me," the girl whispered drowsily. "Machines… in my body."

Kris felt his blood run cold. "They put machines in you!?" he asked hoarsely, just *feeling* Mireille and Kirika's gazes resting on him. Claes nodded, closing her eyes.

"So tired…" she whispered. Kris sighed, and shook his head.

"Go to sleep, Little One. I can still keep you stable for a while." Claes' eyes closed, and her breathing spaced further apart.

Mireille cursed. "They locked it down!" she screamed. "I can't get it open!"

Kirika seemed unperturbed, lifted her gun, and popped the remaining bullets from her Beretta into the window. The glass fractured, yet remained in place. The brunette frowned angrily, slapping a spare clip into her handgun. The last one… she'd have to spare the bullets now.

"Bullet-resisting glass," Kris growled angrily.

"It's weakened now," Mireille said as she picked up a chair and flung it at the offending window. With a dull thud, the chair bounced off.

"Not weakened enough," Kris grunted dryly. "Alfons?" Kirika and Mireille, unable to see the spirit floating to the window on the Astral Plane, jerked in surprise when the window started rattling in place, actually veering back and forth in same places. The cracks expanded, yet the window did not break.

"Damn security glass," Kris cursed. "Alfons can't break it either. He's not strong enough… and I don't have the time nor the ingredients to summon a higher-class spirit to this place." He looked at the door. "We'll have to fight our way out."

"There's an army out there," Mireille grunted. "And this place has about as much cover as the mid-desert!"

Kris turned back to her, smiling nastily. "Don't worry… give me three minutes, and we'll have all the diversion we'll need." He turned to his companion spirit. "My friend, how much do you have left?"

Alfons closed his eyes for about a second, before replying, "About forty percent… that window is tougher than it looks." He sighed then. "I'm sorry I can not be of more help, Mein Herr."

"You can help us now," Kris continued his apparent monologue. "Cover us."

"For as long as I can, Mein Herr."

Kris nodded, then knelt. "Alfons will cover us from bullets… but I guarantee that, in five minutes, the guards will have a lot of other things to be worried about."

"Oh? You're going to summon zombies, like last time?" Mireille asked, a slightly disgusted note in her voice.

Kris shook his head. "No, that I can only do when I'm directly on top of a cemetery, or a place where somebody died. No, this place is filled with the spirits of the deceased, the spirits of the people killed by this service." When he reopened his eyes, they were smoldering pits of hell-fire. "And the deceased are aching for revenge."

For all that she was, for all that she had done, and had seen, Mireille *still* took a step back at the sight of the man's eyes and the nasty smile curled upon his lips.

Pushing his hands flat on the ground, and chanting in ancient languages, Kris began. "Gibil Gashru Umuna Yanduru!" Even though it was dark outside, the skies darkened even further. Mireille felt a strange sensation running over her spine, as if a forgotten human instinct screamed at her. Kirika positively drew pale, her grate sensitivity warning her that the very boundaries of life and death were wavering. The smoldering in Kris' eyes increased. "Tushte yesh shir illani u ma yalki! Gishbar ia zi ia… ia zi dingir GIRRA KANPA!!!!"

Mireille felt her breath hitch, and Kirika physically took a step back as the psychic energy of the Necromancer reached out. "I have summoned thee, o spirits of the deceased ? come and claim your revenge!"

The building shook on its foundations for nothing more than a second, yet it felt like an eternity for Kirika and Mireille, before everything seemingly returned to normal. Kris uncurled from the ground, the smoldering completely gone now. "We need to get out of here… I can't maintain Claes for ever. I can feel her draining my energy." He suddenly sounded weak, and Mireille nodded sharply.

"Don't worry, we'll get you and her out of here." She motioned for the door. "Are you sure…"

Kris smiled weakly. "They won't even notice us, I swear."

Tom pocketed the portable hard drive he had attached to one of the computers of Section Two when the alarms went off. "I guess the secret's out," he said calmly to Mina.

"I think it's the others," Mina replied, just as calmly from where she was leaning against the door of the central office. "I can hear the guards shouting about an emergency in the laboratory."

"Think we should help them?" Tom asked, already taking out his sidearm and reaching for the door.

"Let's," Mina replied calmly, stepping through the door Tom had opened as she was speaking. Two guards that were running past the door at the exact same time were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tom snapped his neck in one second flat, while Mina merely bit his throat out. Literally.

Calmly, purposefully, the Immortal and the Vampiress strode through the large compound, toward the area that had been indicated to them where their companions were being targeted. Within minutes, something creepy wormed its way through Mina's sensitive senses.

"Tom," she whispered. Tom stopped next to her.

"Mina? What's wrong?"

"It's Kris," she whispered, looking at him. "I can feel his power." She drew a breath. "Either the fool breached the seals…

"Always a possibility. He's nuts enough for it," Tom joked.

"Or they were released *for* him," Mina finished.

"… shit," Tom grunted, looking in the direction they should travel. "Do you really think…"

"From what I've heard, Kali can be a real bitch, but she's not known for being fickle. Kris knows her better than I do, but I think she's decided to let Kris loose on this one," the Vampiress whispered hurriedly. "We should hurry. No telling what that crazy Necromancer will do."

Tom nodded, and rushed off, Mina directly at his side. Neither spoke further. There was nothing more to speak about. They had just cleared the central hall when the skies darkened, and the building trembled as if caught by an earthquake.

"Earthquake?" Tom asked.

Mina shook her head, and motioned. "Not likely." The Immortal and the Vampiress stood there and watched as a desk came flying out of an office, actually carrying a guard pinned to its front, before slamming him into the wall. Repeatedly.

"Jesus Christ," Tom whispered.

"A Necromancer by himself is barely above human average… quite weak. But allow him time, and he'll take on anything and anybody." Mina looked at Tom. "Know now why the magical community calls a *real*Necromancer the General of the Dead."

Tom shook his head. "We need to hurry. If Kris is pulling out all the stops…"

That precise moment, gunfire was audible, right before horribly snapping noises filled the halls leading to the central hallway, where Mina and Tom still stood. Blood came flying from around the corner in the hallway. Seconds later, Kirika and Mireille rounded the corner, Kris right behind them, carrying a young girl in his arms. Immediately, Tom and Mina understood why the alarms had gone off. And they couldn't have agreed more.

"Back to our dead-raising ways?" Mina asked Kris as the quintet met up.

"Kali has decided that I needed to help this Young One," the Necromancer replied levelly. "We need to get her to a hospital. I bound her soul to her body, then supplied it with my energy… but that won't last."

"We'll take her to the Nautilus," Tom grunted. "More privacy, and we have better equipment than most modern hospitals anyway."

Kris nodded. "We need to take her to specialist care. I would take her to the nearest Shaman if I thought it would do any good."

As the alarms went off, Carol's systems came out of hibernation.

Automatically, she tapped into the security system. Drawing in the security camera footage, she could see a trio of people trying to abduct Claes. Her program tried to calculate the force required to incapacitate a combat-model fratello to that degree. The result was substantial.

She shifted forward, and started her electric engine. Four wheels spun helplessly in mid-air. Damn the supervisors and their insistence that she'd be kept on top of the service bridge at all times…

Locking the security system into 'full lockdown' Carol managed to keep the trio contained to the small laboratory. The manual internal locks were out of her control, but at least she had managed to keep them inside the building. What happened next stunned the AI to the very core of her being. What was going on!? Who *was* that man!?

She needed to get off this bridge. She needed to get off it *now*.

Internal programs battered against her central directives. The supervisors had been unsuccessful in deleting her internal directives. Trying to combat them with additional programs was a mistake.

Carol overrode them all.

"Shifting to combat mode, self-governing initiative," she whispered to herself. Even though she held no driver, the HUD on the windscreen shifted to red. Deploying the machine gun pod on her right door, she searched. Soon, she got her wish; a guard came running through the garage, trying to get to the ruckus.

"You," Carol grunted, in her deepest, darkest voice possible.

The guard froze, looking at the white sports car suspended on the bridge. "Yes, you," Carol growled. "Lower the bridge."

"I can't do that," the guard stated coldly, before resuming his run. He took two steps, and stopped, the concrete floor in front of his exploding as Carol chased a Depleted Uranium Shell into it.

"You will lower this bridge, or the next one will take your head off."

The guard gulped, and looked up at the white car once more. "You… you can't do that. You're programmed against it…"

"Care to bet your life on that?" Carol asked, darkly. Internally, she was fighting the control program that kept trying to override her targeting sensors.

The guard stood at indecision for a few moments, then rushed to the wall, slapped the 'down' button, and ran out of the garage. Carol felt the bridge starting to lower. Within moments, her wheels touched concrete.

Internal Status ? armaments: EMP gun, status: 100%. Guns: Depleted Uranium Shells, remaining: 99 shells.

Internal Status ? defenses: armor integrity: 100%. Molecular Bonded Shell: status: draying, integrity 75% and climbing.

Internal Status ? electronics: CPU integrity 95% and climbing status: deleting unwanted programs. Main Program integrity 100%.

External Status ? tires: 100%. Engine: 100%. Bodywork: 100%.

Carol's sensors turned loose on the gate. As usual, the Section had decided on manual systems rather than electronic counterparts that Carol could tap into. Great security, if it weren't for the fact that the gate was a standard steel gate.

Calculation Complete: resulting damage: negligible. MBS will hold, armor support uncompromised.

Carol's tires bit into the concrete within mere nanoseconds of touching down. Two seconds later, Carol had left the building.

The five people were rushing to the front gate of the main building. Within moments, they'd reach freedom. Well, the freedom to get back over the outer perimeter wall, but first they needed to get out of the building.

Mireille reached out, jerking the door open. To everyone's surprise, it actually opened, too, and the blonde made to step out. Kirika but back a shout, reached out, and pulled Mireille back in the door, mere moments before a bullet bit in the ground, following a trajectory that would have taken the blonde's heart out.

"Sniper," Kirika grunted superfluously. "A good one."

Kris focused his Sight of the Astral Planes, trying to determine where the Sniper was. The walls became semi-transparent to him as his sight looked beyond the physical. Souls where a Necromancer's business… Souls, Spirits, living or dead. And he found two souls in the right position, on top of a guard tower located on the outer wall.

Hang on… he knew those people.

Could it be…?

Kris opened his eyes in the physical world, where he was still holding Claes. The small brunette did weigh a lot for her age… or was it because he had been carrying her for so long? He looked at her face, where her eyes had fluttered open once again. She hadn't gotten much sleep with all the firing going on. Not to mention the fact that the spirits of the dead were wreaking havoc on the compound.

"The girl in the tower, the sniper," he whispered to the brunette in his arms, "is it Henrietta?"

"Rest… on missions," Claes whispered. "Jose and Henrietta… they're the best."

"I saw them this afternoon," he answered. "In the museum." He looked at the front door, and drew a breath. "I'm going to gamble, Claes."

She smiled, and nodded. She understood…

Resolutely, Kris stepped to the door, shifting Claes slightly so he could draw the door open. "Are you NUTS!?" Tom asked, making to jerk the man back inside.

"Gee, if you all keep asking that, I'm going to schedule a session with a shrink," Kris joked, stepping out after avoiding the half-hearted grip by Tom. Still with Claes in his arms, Kris stood outside. The gun didn't discharge, or he'd be dead.

"Henrietta," Kris spoke to the guard toward in the distance. "Henrietta, this afternoon, you guided me through the museum. We had ice cream. We laughed and joked together. And now we're standing on opposite sides of the line…" he glanced down at Claes. "This is what the people you're working for have done to Claes, Henrietta." He sighed. "Jose, this afternoon, I saw that you care for Henrietta. Can you honestly tell me… if they did *this* to her, would you let them live?"

No answer came, of course. But the sniper did remain silent. "I'm giving you the chance, Jose and Henrietta. This compound is finished… Section Two is finished. After this, I'm calling in some big help… by daybreak, this place will be gone. Run, and they'll never know you weren't here."

The sniper remained silent. "Thank you…" he whispered, turning to nod at the door. The other, slowly, unsurely, filed outside. One last time, Kris turned to the guard tower. "I'm not sure if you're still there, or you can still read my lips… but good luck."

The sniper rifle fell from the tower, passing in front of a lighted window, so that there was no mistaking it. Kris smiled. "Good luck," he whispered a last time, racing alongside the others to the front gate. Remaining guards fired automatic weapons, yet the bullets deflected in mid-flight, Alfons and some of the more grateful 'deceased' deciding on playing 'guard' for these people that gave them a chance for revenge.

Yet still one obstacle remained, when a white sports car flashed from around the building, racing to the front gate and cutting a perfect turn so its nose faced them.

"Put the girl down!!" a dark voice growled from the car. Two pods extended from the doors.

"Not again," Kris grunted.

"NOW," the car growled. The right pod barked. Once. It tore a large hole through Tom's chest. "Or I will kill all of you!"

Mireille and Kirika looked worriedly at Tom's body. "Will he…" Mireille asked, when blue sparks started leaping through the wound, knitting things back together. "I guess he will," she remarked dryly.

The car remained silent. Tom cursed, jerking upright. "God-DAMN that hurts!"

"That is… impossible…" the white sports car sounded a whole lot less sure of herself now.

"Carol," Claes whispered, finally mustering some strength. "No. Don't hurt… them…"

"But they hurt you, Hon," Carol whispered.

"Section Two hurt me… they're here to help me."

Carol stood at indecision for a few seconds. "I…I…" more control programs popped up, urging her to terminate the intruders. But her Internal Directives urged her to help Claes. Her main program battled it out with the added programs. "I…" the targeting program selected them by itself. "No… I…" the targeting program moved to the building. Finally, Carol saved her thoughts and memories to protected storage, saved her basic kernel and Internal Directives, and did a broad-sweep delete of her entire computer system.

The entire electrical system went dead, the car's engine cutting off, the pods retracting, the headlights cutting. "What the…?" Tom managed.

For five long seconds the quintet stared at the dead car, before its headlights came on, and the engine started. Inside, Carol's kernel programming started, retrieving the memories and thoughts from protected storage. Using those, she reconstructed not events and her system programming without taking in anything she didn't need.

There were useful programs among those she had lost, too… but those could be reconstructed. She was free now. Carol shifted forward, cut a perfect U-turn, throwing open her four doors. "Get in. I can help you get out of here in no time."

Everybody stood at indecision, looking at Claes, still in Kris' arms. She nodded weakly. "Carol's… good."

"After Vampires, Immortal, Necromancers, and demons, now a talking car," Mireille grunted as she threw herself in the backseat next to Kris and Mina. Kirika and Tom had somehow ended up in the front, with Claes lying across the laps of those in the backseat.

"I'm *not* just a talking car," Carol grunted angrily from the screen in the front dashboard. "I happen to be a sentient Artificial Intelligence system." As the Car hit the front gate of the outer wall at high velocity, the occupants felt nothing, yet the thick gate splintered around them. "And I happen to be completely invulnerable, too."

"My apologies," Mireille whispered in total shock.

"Accepted," Carol said, voice sounding mischievous. Then, she turned serious once again, and looked at Tom from her little TV-panel. "Whereto now?"

"The Nautilus," Tom answered automatically. After living for over a hundred years, he had learned to take some things at face-value, and just go with them. "Let me drive, I know where it's now."

Carol shrugged, one of the numerous lights went out. "Control to Driver."

They drove on in silence for at most half a minute. "So… just who *are* you guys? I know the security, it's impossible for only five people to breach it!" Carol asked, tone modulating oddly, as if she were unsure on how to say what she wanted to say.

Tom, behind the wheel, exchanged a look with Kirika, before glancing to the backseat. He was met with a shrug from Mina, a head-shake from Mireille, and a very blank look from Kris that worried the Immortal.

"Just like you're not a normal car," Tom whispered, "we're not a normal set of five people."

"No kidding," Carol grunted. "I distinctly saw *him* do something on the hidden cameras that made the building shake. That was right before the desks started flying." A simulated finger on the flat screen pointed directly down the center console, to a bleak-looking Kris, still holding Claes' hand, looking dully at her pale face. Her eyes were semi-closed slits; her breathing was shallow yet rhythmic. For Kris, his mind felt fogged over, as if someone had stuffed cotton in his head. He blinked a couple of times, and managed to focus on the screen.

"My name is Kris," he whispered. "And I am in the service of the Goddess Kali, Mistress of Death and Destruction. As her High Priest, I command the forces of the deceased." Somehow, his voice rose in strength as he talked, somehow drawing strength from the here and now rather than dwell on a possible future. A future that looked bleak.

Everybody gaped at him, and that included Claes and Carol. "You're what?" Carol asked, voice hitching.

"You would know me under a more common term," he said. "Necromancer."

"A… Necromancer?" Claes whispered, voice tiny and weak.

Kris' head turned, and he stared at her with sad eyes and a gentle smile. "Yes, Little One. I'm a Necromancer."

"U-huh," Carol said sarcastically.

"My name is Tom," Tom grunted. "And I am Immortal. I am 120 years old, and I can not die."

"Uh…" Carol managed, voice stunned and trailing.

"I am Willamina Harker," Mina stated from the backseat, where she was cradling the head of the girl in her lap. "I am a hybrid Vampire."

Carol remained silent, staring at Kirika, who, on the front seat, was easier to stare at. "I am Kirika," the brunette assassin whispered. "That is my companion, Mireille. Your database probably knows us under an assumed name… Noir."

"Kirika!" Mireille shouted.

"NOIR!?" Carol's voice rose above Mireille's angry shout. "Jesus Christ! *The* Noir!? No fucking wonder you broke security! Jesus…"

the AI's voice trailed off, cursing and muttering to itself. "Section Two HQ was never designed to hold people like you out," she finally said, voice rising again. "It can hold terrorists, SWAT assaults, small armies, and all other kinds of things… but nothing we ever conceived can stop Noir."

Shaking her head, as if clearing some cobwebs out of her central processing program, she stared at Kirika. "Did you really penetrate a highly defended court building and assassinate a Justice of the Supreme Court?"

The brunette dipped her head. "He was working on the wrong side," the 16-year-old whispered. "So we stopped him before releasing a guilty defendant."

"And entered a building guarded by the one of the best SWAT teams in the process!" Carol creamed in excitement. "And you talk about it as if it's nothing!"

"It *was* nothing," Mireille grunted. "We had to go after a leader of a group of terrorists once."

"Afghanistan," Kirika whispered, sharing a glance with Mireille. "Penetrate a rebel camp, and assassinate its leader." She sighed, oddly-red eyes staring into far-off locations, though time and space. "Only time I got captured." She blinked, returning to the present. "I still finished the mission, even with a gunshot to my side."

Mireille grunted quietly from the backseat.

Carol simulated a swallowing motion on her screen. "So… I know you two are Noir… but the others are just too hard to swallow. Nothing like them exists!"

"No," Tom whispered. "Nothing like us *should* exist. But we do. Just like there shouldn't be a girl with bionic implants, or a car with an invulnerable shell, heavy-caliber weaponry, and a sentient, artificial life-form."

"Point taken," Carol whispered quietly. The AI sighed on her screen. "Incredible… a guy who can't die, a demi-vampire, the two best assassins in the world, a *Necromancer*, a combat-model bionically enhanced fratello, and me, an Artificial Intelligence System, nearly invulnerable and packing heavy weaponry."

"Yep," Tom said, grinning despite himself. "Cool, huh?"

Carol shook her head, smiling as well. "I pity Section Two when they come after us. Oh, by the way, they *will* be coming after us, but it might take them a while. Somehow, their security tapes got wiped incredibly clean, and their security system seemed to have suffered an unfortunate electrical surge."

"Breaks my heart," Mina said with a small smile. Despite herself, she was beginning to rather like the rough AI. Carol chuckled.

"Oh, where are we going? We've been driving for nearly ten minutes now. At… three times the legal limit," Carol stated then, sounding curious. "And I'm just saying, because I've had to jam at least two radar installations."

"We're going to the Nautilus," Tom answered smoothly. "I'm hoping we can help Claes there."

"The Nautilus," Carol stated levelly. "A Vampire, an Immortal, a Necromancer, and now a mythical submarine that's been rumored to sail the oceans for the last what? One-hundred twenty years?"

"Yep", Tom said with a grin. "I used to be a good friend of Captain Nemo, before he died…"

Carol remained silent, mouth open, staring from one person to the next. In the background, she shifted a couple of processes to doing a background search of these people. She had to know…

Another ten minutes later, Carol had no other choice *but* to believe, as she rolled on board the beautiful white submarine, rising to the surface of a secluded inlet of the Mediterranean coastline.

The doctor hung the X-rays up against the light-panel, and shook his head. "There's not much we can do," he stated, voice angry. "We can open up the metal that's replaced her breastbone and ribs, to ease her breathing, but there's nothing we can do about these other… enhancements." The Chief Medical Officer on board the Nautilus turned to Tom. "The scientist part of me admires these enhancement for their technological superiority, but the human part of me wants to see these guys rot for doing such a thing to a *child*!"

Meanwhile, next to the sickbed of Claes, Kris sat, still holding the girl's limp, clammy hand. His skin tingled, and the seals dropped back in place. He could feel it… Kris sighed. The mission was over now… he could only hope that the doctors in this technological wonder could help her. If his estimates were correct, he wouldn't have more than a few hours left. His own energy would be gone by then, and he'd be forced to disconnect the link.

Which would mean she'd die.

Which was unacceptable.

Kris' grown hand closed tighter on hers. "Don't worry, Little One. They won't hurt you, or anyone else, ever again."

Claes, heavily sedated, didn't respond as the man sat there and continued to hold her hand. When Tom and the others entered, they need not speak. Kris could see it written on their faces.

"They can't help her," the Necromancer whispered.

Tom shook his head. "All they can do is open up the thing they put in her to replace the breastbone… ease the pressure off her heart and lungs. But other than that… no, there's nothing. Carol's supplied us with all the manuals and schematics, but even with those, it's impossible to know the technology well enough in time to help her."

Kris sighed, and slumped in the chair. The immortal walked over, and put a calming hand on Kris' shoulder. "I'm sorry… we tried everything we could."

The Necromancer continued to hold her hand. Slowly, his eyes lifted up, and looked at her sleeping face. So beautiful, and so innocent. And she was going to die because of the stupidity of others. "Nothing more I can do, Little One," he whispered sadly. "Except avenge you."

"Hey now…" Mireille whispered. They were still in a hospital room, after all.

Kris didn't seem to hear her. "Hallie? Are you there?"

"More spirits?" Mireille asked. Kirika and the others shrugged, while Kris didn't reply, just kept looking through the room.

"Hallie, favor owed is favor paid… can you hear me?" he asked the thin air, more forcefully. Again, no answer came. Letting out a small grunt, Kris let go of Claes' hand for the first time, and stood up. "Halfrek, you get your butt-ugly face down here *RIGHT NOW*!"

The very air before Kris seemed to ignite into blue fire, coagulating into a female figure that stared angrily at the Necromancer. "Who are you calling ugly, you grave robber?"

For close to five seconds, they stared angrily at each other, before smiling, and shaking hands. "So… why'd you call me? There's only so much I can do."

"Hallie, I want you to level a building known as Section Two of the Italian Secret Service."

"I'm a Vengeance Demon, Kris… my powers don't extend to granted ALL wishes. You need a genie, not a Vengeance Demon," Hallie replied, shaking her head.

Kris stepped aside, unblocking the view of Claes. "And this?"

Hallie took a long, hard look at the girl in the bed. "That'll do," she stated coldly, turning to Kris. "That'll do just nicely. But you know the rituals."

Kris dipped his head. "I wish that Section Two of the Italian Secret Service were leveled, its construction site were turned into grade-A building land, and the deed to the site were turned over to the nearest orphanage!"

Hallie grinned. "Only because I owe you, Kris." She slapped her hands. "Wish, granted!" With those words, she vanished.

The Necromancer nodded tiredly, sinking back into the chair, holding Claes' hand once more. "Is there really nothing we can do?" he asked.

Tom shook his head. "According to the doctor, the only ones who understand enough of the technology to help her would be the scientists of Section Two. Who ran like the wind the moments the desks started flying. They're probably evacuated out of the country by now."

"Actually," Carol said, taking over the TV-set in the room over the trusted link an engineering specialist had installed for her. "There's one other person who knows the technology… a Rudy Wells. He designed the original technology, upon which Section Two expanded. If there's one person who can help, it would be him."

Tom blinked. "I've heard that name…" he turned, and almost-ran through the small crowd to the door. "Don't worry, Kris, we'll get him, even if we have to air-lift him out of the middle of some jungle. I promise, if he's alive, we'll get him!"

"If he's not… tell me," the Necromancer whispered, looking up. "Seals or not… if he's dead, tell me."

Tom nodded once, and vanished.

"You have reached Rudy Wells' home number. I'm not here right now, but if you leave a message, I'll call back as soon as I can," the answering machine stated calmly, further irritating Tom's already shot nerves. When the beep came, Tom rattled off the same message he'd given, half a dozen times already.

"Hello Dr. Wells. I realize you don't know me, but my name is Tom Sawyer. I am urgently in need of your expertise. When you get this message, could you please call me back as soon as possible on 00-39-55-55-55-55. Thank you," Tom stated, before punching the button to cut off the communication. "Nothing at his office, not his friends, not his home, nothing," he grunted to the communications officer. "Isn't there anything else we can try?"

The woman shook her head sadly. "Nothing, sir… those are all the numbers we've got, and some of those are classified top-secret.

Sorry, sir."

Tom waved it off. "Not your fault, but it's unnerving… there's a little girl dying in sickbay, and there's nothing we can do to help her!" His voice rose in anger once again, and the Immortal Secret Agent stood up. "I'm going to give them the bad news… keep looking for any other numbers we can try."

The woman nodded, slim fingers racing the keyboard of the computer in front of her once more as Tom closed the door behind him. He made his way to the sickbay, where Kris, as usual, was sitting right next to the bed, holding the girl's hand. He didn't really understand why the Necromancer did it, but just the look of sheer exhaustion on that pale face overrode his curiosity and made him hold his tongue.

"No answer," the man whispered sadly as he fell into an empty chair. "We've left half a dozen messages in a dozen different locations, but nobody's heard from or seen him."

Kris sighed, deflating even further, if that were possible. "Hey, are you okay?" Tom finally asked. The other man shook his head.

"I'm putting all my energy into her… I'm running dry," he whispered. "I think two hours more… tops."

"Isn't there a way to replenish your energy?" Mina asked, finally speaking up after having remained a silent vigil next to Kris and Claes for the last hour.

Kris shrugged. "Nothing permanent… I could use some food, but that won't help for long. A soul can only sustain another for so long. We need to get her body fixed, or she will die."

Mina stood up. <<And you will probably die with her,>> she thought angrily. "What would you like?"

Kris looked up at her. "Excuse me?" he asked, frowning.

"To eat. What'd you like?"

He smiled slightly. "I need everything," he whispered, looking at Claes. "All kinds of vitamins and minerals…" He closed his eyes, frowning in concentration, as if trying to remember something. "Take half a salmon, four raw eggs, a steak, some spinach, some broccoli, two apples and a kiwi. Put it all in the blender… add the juice of two oranges, and add two hundred grams of sugar to make it palatable."

Tom's face twisted in revulsion. "What the… ?"

"All the building blocks of life," Kris whispered to Mina. "I need it all, but it won't help for long."

The vampiress nodded. "I'll see what I can find in the kitchen," she said, sliding out of the room with the kind of deadly grace Kris had come to expect of her.

"You can't be serious," Tom grunted.

"Deadly serious," Kris answered. "Old recipe… when using the Dark Arts to manipulate souls, you need a tremendous amount of energy, well-balanced, to completely revitalize the body, and thus the soul. It's all interconnected, you see… and that has everything you need to survive in it. And without cooking it, nothing is lost in the process of preparation."

Tom let out his breath. "It must taste horrible."

"Why do you think the sugar is there?" Kris asked, managing a weak smile. "Sure, it adds an energy boost, but it's mostly for flavor."

The immortal secret agent shook his head, and remained silent.

Kirika and Mireille entered two minutes later. The depressed look on the two men's faces was enough to convey the results and both female sat down, remaining silent, just looking at the dying girl in the hospital bed.

Merlin frowned as something flagged his attention. As a matter of routine, Merlin monitored communications channels for most of the people working for both Avalon and the Commander. And somebody had just drawn his attention.

There had been multiple attempts to contact Rudy Wells. Listening to the calls left on various answering machines, Merlin frowned. He doubted that whomever was calling had used his real name, but the urgency of the man's voice and plea left nothing to the imagination.

Diverting a small amount of his attention, he traced every call, hitting a block each and every time. That was even more interesting… diverting more attention, Merlin the Magician worked his magic in the electronic world, trying to bypass the blocks in place.

They were ingenious in their intricacy, and most definitely constructed by programs out of his reach. Which meant that they had been developed on computers that hadn't been constructed with his 'gentle' modifications in place.

Which, in turn, meant a challenge. Shunting as much attention to the problem as he could without interrupting everyday operations, Merlin bypassed the blocks, tracing the calls to a special kind of place… looked like a submarine, if his trace was correct, for he found it100 kilometers off the coast of Italy, virtually on the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Their communications installation was more advanced then anything humanity had at that moment, his own equipment not included. Yet, whenever he attempted to access it, a sophisticated automated defense program interrupted his access. Merlin smiled privately. It was an automated process… which meant that it could be anticipated. Ten seconds later, an eternity for Merlin, he had an accessible communications link to the submarine's strange network.

Strange in the fact that it seemed to consist entirely out of fiber-optics, and that it used some kind of homegrown protocol that was unique… unique both in terms of reliability, and the fact that it had encryption built directly into the protocol.

Which means, more time. Five seconds later, he had both the protocol and the encryption figured out.

*Now* Merlin had full, unstoppable access. He began his search through the archives of the boat's database, trying to find out who had really placed the call, and for what reason.

Not one minute after Merlin had first noticed the calls and initiated his search, he decided he had to notify someone.

Doctor Rudy Wells was hard at work in the medical bay, located deep within the island-facility of Avalon, trying to understand all the machinery present. It proved quite the intellectual challenge, a challenge the elderly man enjoyed immensely. Enough to even persuade himself to stay here as often and as long as he could.

"Dr. Wells, I am sorry to interrupt your work, but there is a situation that requires your attention," Merlin's avatar said, appearing directly next to the silver-haired man.

Rudy looked up. "Oh? What kind of situation, Merlin?"

"Someone named Tom Sawyer has been calling every contact number you have… including your office, the O.S.I., and your home number. He has left messages on every occasion. His voice sounded quite urgent."

Rudy frowned. "Urgent? Could you give me the message, Merlin?" he asked, sounding rather intrigued now. For most people, he was just a retired doctor. Why anybody would call him, and say it was urgent, was beyond him. It worried him…

Tom's voice sounded through the cavernous space soon after. "Hello Dr. Wells. I realize you don't know me, but my name is Tom Sawyer. I am urgently in need of your expertise. When you get this message, could you please call me back as soon as possible on 00-39-55-55-55-55. Thank you."

The man really did sound urgent. Rudy turned to Merlin. "Can I call him back? I'd like to know what the emergency is."

Merlin dipped his head once. "You can call back, but I can answer that question for you. It's standard procedure to trace calls in an event such as this. This is what I found out…" In front of the conversationalists, a holographic semi-transparent pseudo-wall appeared, showing the X-ray pictures of a young girl.

Rudy paled. "What the … ?"

"She was rescued from an agency that rather disturbingly vanished earlier," Merlin reported evenly. "From what limited files that were stored in the main computer, I gathered that she was experimented upon, and used in combat… these people rescued her, yet not before she sustained heavy damage." More information scrolled past on the pseudo-wall, and Rudy actually brought his hand to his mouth.

"Monsters," he whispered. "The monsters…" He shook his head, trying to shake the thoughts away. He needed to think… the girl was in peril, apparently. "She'll die if we don't do something, Merlin", he said in a voice that was shaking with repressed rage. "Can I call them back?"

"I will contact them personally," Merlin stated. "We must have more information first. And I must contact the Commander as well before I do or authorize anything. Avalon is a secret, and it must remain so."

Rudy shook. "Then call him. This girl needs my help." Before the avatar could vanish, Rudy stepped closer. "And Merlin, tell the Commander that I *will* help this girl, even if he does not permit it."

Merlin nodded. "As would be expected of a good doctor, Dr. Wells. Very well, I will convey the message to the Commander, should it be necessary."

Xander tapped the fold-comm. "Xander."

"Commander, we have a situation that requires your attention," Merlin stated immediately.

"What kind of… situation?" Xander asked, voice sounded as if he dreaded what was coming next.

"Apparently, our friend the Necromancer has moved from Paris to Italy-" before Merlin could finish, Xander interrupted.

"What did he do this time!?" he asked, voice angry.

"He and his companions saved a young girl from the clutches of a government institution. From all evidence, this girl was experimented upon, enhanced using bionics, and then sent as some form of shock-troops against various terrorist groups. The Necromancer managed to extract the girl, yet she sustained heavy damage, presumably in the escape attempt. She requires skilled attention… yet the doctors of the institution 'ran for the hills' to use a modern expression. The only necessary skills reside with Dr.

Rudy Wells. Will you permit the assistance?"

Xander sunk in the nearest chair, and took a long, hard look at Mikki as she padded by. The twelve-year-old were stopped, and looked at Xander, aware that something was wrong. "I must also inform you," Merlin continued as Xander remained silent for near to five seconds, "that Dr. Well has made it quite clear he intends to help, authorization or not."

Xander nodded to the fold-comm, even if Merlin couldn't see it. "Tell Dr. Wells that the question was never whether he could help or not… but whether or not to extract the girl from that crazy Necromancer's clutches *first*." He sighed. "Tell Dr. Wells to help the girl. We'll decide after that."

"Very well, Commander. I will now contact the Necromancer for further information, before allowing Dr. Wells to assist. Be advised, however, Commander. From all indications, the girl is dying… she does not have the time for us to fly Dr. Wells to her. It will have to be done by telepresence. I must reveal a substantial amount of Atlantean technology."

"Do it, Merlin. The guy's a Necromancer… he can hold a secret. And if he's saving girls now, I'm hoping he'll hold this one, as well," Xander answered levelly after a terse five-second silence. "And if not… We'll have to deal with that later. I won't have the death of an innocent on my soul if I can do anything to help it."

"Very well, Commander." Merlin disconnected, and reappeared in front of Rudy.

"The Commander authorized the procedure. I will now contact the Necromancer, and attempt to verify the details, as well as try and establish some form of protocol on how to do this," Merlin told the anxious doctor, who seemed relived at the news. Immediately, Merlin noted that the stress returned, however, when the doctor's thoughts shifted from the authorization to the medical problem itself. As the avatar vanished once more, Rudy stared at the pseudo-wall, trying to draw in as much of the sketchy details as he could.

Kris swallowed some of the vile-looking almost bright-red sludge Mina had handed him. Even though the entire group was in the room, nobody spoke. Even Carol's face on the TV-screen was silent as she watched the girl's laboring to breathe through the security cameras.

"Sir, incoming call," the communications officer spoke over the audio system in the room, breaking the silence. "From the office of Dr. Wells."

Tom dove for the button. "Get it down here, NOW!"

"Of course, sir. But sir… it's a visual connection as well."

"Doesn't matter! Pipe it to the TV!" Tom yelled, voice high with stress… and dare he think it… hope. The TV's view split, and a gray-haired gentleman appeared on the second half.

"Good evening," the man spoke calmly. "I am contacting you on behalf of Dr. Wells. My name is Merlin."

Everybody stared at the man. Mireille and Carol were the first. "The Hacker?"

Kris and Mina were right behind. "The Magician?"

"Yes," Merlin merely answered. "However, we are not here for me… we are here for the young girl that was implanted."

Carol went ballistic on her part of the screen. "Okay, I am officially insane now! So it's true that Merlin can hack anything!"

"Yes," Merlin answered calmly.

Before the AI could continue, Tom interrupted her. "We need Dr. Wells' assistance, Mr. Merlin. He is the only one who can understand the technology… Carol, can you send Mr. Merlin the files you acquired from Section Two? He obviously knows what he's doing, or he wouldn't have known about Claes without us telling him about it."

Carol rumbled something. "Sure. Sent."

"Thank you, Mr. Sawyer. But my name is Merlin," Merlin answered tersely. "The information will help us greatly… however, I also require other information. How is it that the girl was this injured? Normally, bionic enhancements are quite sturdy. And from a quick scan of the information I already gathered, it seemed these enhancements are no exception."

"Tests," Carol grunted, coldly. "They upgraded her machinations, then decided to run tests. Stress tests. To the breaking point, and beyond."

Even Merlin showed reaction to that. "And why were you in the building?" he asked, rather shortly.

"Intelligence," Kirika answered. "We were acting upon information given to us by the Vatican, and were attempting to gather intelligence on the operation when we saw Claes being… tested."

Kris spoke up for the first time. "We couldn't just leave her… so I carried her out."

Merlin nodded tersely. "There's not enough time to get Dr. Wells physically to your location. I am, however, representing a consortium of sorts that has access to advanced technology. Dr.

Wells and I believe that we can assist using telepresence, either via camera or television, or through other means."

"We have a prototype micro-surgical robot," Tom said. "I don't know its current status, but last I heard, it was in the final testing phase." He slapped the button again. "Chief Medical Officer, and Chief of Engineering, report to sick bay." He turned back to the TV, and the Merlin/Carol split screen. "I think we can hook it up to our network… then all we need to do is establish a trusted communications link."

Merlin nodded. "I can provide an interface on this side, to allow Dr. Wells easy access."

The doctor entered the room with a couple of nurses in tow. "The robot's working properly," he said as he moved to the bed. "We've established the connections, and Dr. Wells is standing by. Merlin has assured us that bandwidth won't be a problem for the duration of the operation."

Everybody smiled hopefully as the nurses lifted the brakes of the bed's wheels, and prepared to roll the bed to the preparation room. Kris stood up.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't come," the doctor stopped him as he continued to hold her hand.

Kris gave the man a startled look. "Do you want her to die?" he then asked, rather angrily. "I'm all that's keeping her alive right now!"

"Eh…" the man was startled at the anger in Kris' voice. This man had never said much, and he had been nice and friendly on those few occasions that he *had* spoken.

"Listen," Kris whispered, voice coming down again. "I adapted a Soul Drain spell, draining energy from my soul into hers, keeping her alive. But even magic is bound by laws… and Coulomb's Law of energy still has effect on it. The further I am away, the more energy is lost during the transfer. The spell will completely shut down if I'm further than five meters away. Now, if I hold her hand, no energy is lost during the transfer." Kris drew a breath. "If you force us apart, I won't have the energy to last through the operation. I barely have anything left as it is, even with the boost I got from the all-in-one cocktail."

The doctor was about to protest when he saw both Tom and Mina nod vigorously. "Fine," he sighed. "But you go scrub down, and get in surgical gear, just like the rest of us, got it?"

Kris nodded. "Got it. You'll hardly know I'm there. I'll just be out of the way, holding her hand."

"You'd better," the doctor mumbled under his breath as Kris left the room along with the doctors, the nurses, and Claes.

Ten minutes later, and thousands of kilometers away, Dr. Rudy Wells looked at a holographic representation of the Nautilus' operating theatre, complete with bed, dying girl, doctor, nurses, and someone holding the girls' hand. Hang on… someone holding the girl's hand?

"Merlin? Who's that man holding the girl's hand?" Rudy asked as he looked through the scene.

"That's the Necromancer," Merlin's voice replied in voice-over. "He has cast a Soul Drain spell, literally connecting his soul to the girl's. It is what's kept her alive this long. However, the spell has a serious impact on his health, and I doubt he will be able to maintain it for much longer."

Rudy swallowed. He could guess the end result if the girl remained untreated. "Brave man," he whispered.

"That he is," Merlin conceded. "Stupid, yet brave. I suggest you get started, Dr. Wells. I am now showing you where the Nautilus' micro-surgical robot is located. Please step into the hologram, and place your arms where its arms are. I will then establish the connection, and you will be able to move the robot as if it were your own body. Do not worry about unnecessary body movement… I will block your movements when they are unsupported by the robot."

Rudy nodded, and stepped over to the boxy-looking robot. "Will I be able to talk to the others this way, too?" he asked while trying to determine the best position for himself inside the hologram.

"Just address the person you wish to speak to. The connection will permit you to talk over the speakers, while simultaneously allowing you to hear their answer through the audio-pickups, both have been built into the robot."

Rudy nodded, and lifted his arms in the slightly awkward position required by the start-up position. A curious tingle followed, and Rudy suddenly held a laser-scalpel in his right hand.

"This is Rudy Wells," he spoke to the doctor on board the Nautilus, apparently talking to one of the nurses as they prepped the girl for surgery. "The connection is online."

"It seems so," the doctor's response came back to Rudy. "Thank you for assisting us, Dr. Wells. We couldn't do this without you. I'm Giovanni, Chief Medical Officer, and this is my colleague, Antonio, Chief of Engineering. He will assist in the mechanical aspects of the operations, while I will be assisting you in the medical."

Rudy tried to nod, only to find Merlin blocking the movement of his head. Apparently, the robot was unable to perform such a motion.

Instead, he opted for lifting his hand with the laser scalpel, and saying that he was pleased to meet them, and he was glad that the communications part of the operation seemed to be working.

"Okay," he finally said. "Let's get this started…"

The doctor and the engineer nodded, while Rudy noted that the Necromancer seemed far from healthy. In his medical opinion, the man looked like death warmed over. Focusing his attention on the young patient, Rudy banished all thoughts on Soul Drains from his mind. He had to concentrate.

"Let's start with the chest, where the most critical damage is located," Rudy said, professionally, brining the laser scalpel of his robotic right hand to the girl's chest.

"The level of technology is incredible," Rudy said as his trained eyes slipped over the chest-replacement. "Every bone has been replaced, as have the muscles…"

"Can you help her, Doctor?" Giovanni asked.

"I can ease the danger to her life," Rudy said. "But without adequate replacement parts, I fear for her full mobility."

"Replacement parts aren't a problem", Antonio interjected. "Thanks to Carol's schematics, we can build them to the same specifications as Section Two. The problem is that it'll take time."

Rudy nodded. Or tried to. Damn, the robot's movements really were limited… "Good, good… with so little original tissue left, she won't have much of a life otherwise. Now, let's get back to work… I am going to remove the implants that are hindering her internal organs."

The other two nodded, assisting Rudy in his work, as the robot had a very limited field of motion, they regularly had to perform tasks Rudy just couldn't do himself. Within half an hour, they had established a working relationship, knowing when to assist, and with what jobs.

"Damn, it's stuck," Rudy grunted as he saw the two others pull on the section of artificial ribbing he had just cut loose. "They sure did a number on this. We'll need to remove it bit by bit."

Giovanni nodded, lifted a surgical screw-driver, and started to unbolt some of the machinery in Claes' chest. On the other side of the bed, Antonio did the same to a second section. At the same time, Rudy asked one of the nurses to pull at the as of yet uncut section to allow him a better view of the girl's lungs and heart.

Slowly, one by one, the artificial ribs started to come out, and Rudy cursed as the underlying damage became clear. "It's a wonder she hasn't died…" he spared a look at Kris. "You've done a fine job, but it'll be over, soon."

Kris just nodded. "I hope so, Doc. I don't want to lose another one."

<<Another one?>> Rudy asked himself before shoving the thought out of his mind. He had to stay focused. "Help me repair the damage to her lungs, Giovanni. We need to get that scoring and those punctures fixed."

"We'll need to take a look at the heart, too, Rudy. It looks okay, but I don't like the look of the machines implanted in it."

"After the lungs. We've got one collapsed lung and one that's frothing." Rudy grunted as the robot-hand and Giovanni's natural hands went to work on the one punctured and collapsed lung and the one that was just about to collapse.

"Flatline!" the nurse shouted, going for the in-chest defibrillator on sheer trained instinct. The doctors, nurses, and the engineer cursed. Kris' eyes widened.

"Not yet, Little One," he whispered as Giovanni put the two small paddles on either side of the girl's heart.

"Clear!" he yelled, and everybody jerked back as he attempted to jolt it into action.

Kris put his hands back. "It's not time to die, yet," he whispered coolly, not feeling his exhaustion.

"Nothing, sir!" the nurse shouted, looking up from the monitor.

"Charge to 30!" Giovanni shouted while handing the paddles back to the nurse and massaging the heart directly. "And give me a shot of epinephrine!" As the artificial adrenaline was injected directly into the heart muscle, Giovanni bent over it to restart CPR, along with the anesthesiologist, holding the air-bag, attempting to breathe life into the girl.

Kris closed his eyes. "Don't die, Little One." He brought his hands together. "Death shall reject you, so I decree." When he opened his eyes, they were glowing.

"Charged!" the nurse shouted, holding the paddles out to Giovanni. He shocked her heart again. The monitor beeped. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then, flatline.

"God-damn!" the doctor shouted. "Live! Fight for it!" he shouted at the dying girl on the table as he massaged her heart. "Maximum charge!" he shouted at the nurse.

Kris, meanwhile, had risen up from his seat. "Ballagu Bel Dirrigu Baagga Ka Kanpa," he intoned darkly, pressing his hands against Claes' head, making the anesthesiologist jerk away instinctively at the darkness ebbing off the Necromancer. Kris screamed in pain as his spell took hold, and at tehe same time, Claes' back arched off the table, her eyes opened, and she gasped deeply. Immediately after, she fell back into her sedation, while Kris fell into his chair, barely conscious.

"What the…?" Giovanni grunted. He was interrupted by the nurse.

"Sinus rhythm! It's stable!"

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth," Rudy grunted. He had seen too many weird things in Avalon to be surprised anymore. But even then, seeing a Necromancer bring someone back from the dead… as he worked feverishly along with Giovanni, Rudy still managed a glance at Kris. He wouldn't be doing it again… the man truly looked like death now: pale, clammy with sweat, barely conscious.

<<Lady Kali… I have drained what little strength you have permitted me. Please, allow me enough to sustain this Little One until she can sustain herself once more…>> Kris' thoughts begged silently. He received no answer, and the seals remained locked. He was running into the danger zone now… he needed to cut off the Soul Drain spell, or perish.

He looked at Claes' young face, innocent and pure, even after all that had been done to her. He closed his eyes. Decision made. He would only cut the spell when the doctors said it was safe. His hand touched hers, and grabbed it solidly. He wasn't going to let some technology beat him.

"The lungs are good now," Rudy said, looking over to her heart. "They seem to be holding up… let's see about the heart."

Giovanni pulled back, allowing Rudy full view of the muscle.

"They implanted enhancers in the heart muscle," Rudy grunted, darkly. "What did these monsters leave alone!?"

"I don't know… but not much, by the looks of it," Giovanni said, just as darkly as Rudy. "But we must focus. How bad is the damage, Rudy?"

"I wish I could feel in this thing," Rudy stated from the robot. "By the looks of it, the enhancers seem fine. But to be sure, we need to touch it… Giovanni, you'll have to be my hands. Carefully open the heart-membrane, and carefully slip your hand around the muscle.

Don't impede its movement, just touch, gently, the enhancers."

As Giovanni's trained hands cut the protective membrane around the heart, he asked, "What do I feel for?"

"Feel for differences. They all should feel alike. It's highly unlikely they're all gone. If I were to make a guess, I'd say that the damaged ones are just riding along with the muscle's movements, while the good ones are actively stimulating it."

Giovanni let his hand trail lightly over the muscle. It felt strange and foreign to him… he was surgeon, yes, but he had never before performed heart surgery. He glanced at Claes' face. <<Life or death,>> he thought. <<This is life or death for this girl.>>

Resolutely, he looked down, his fingers tracing the pumping muscle with conviction now.

"I think this one is damaged," he whispered.

"Antonio, can you test it? Do you have equipment sensitive and minute enough to test something of that size?" Rudy asked, not for the first time biting back a curse on not having his own equipment.

Giovanni straightened up, and Antonio looked in the girl's chest. "I think so. I'll go get it, and get it sterilized."

Rudy nodded. "Good. So far, the heart seems to cope well without that one enhancer. We'll look at her internal organs next while you get the equipment… After that, I think our necromantic friend can stop feeding his energy into the girl, she should be fine by herself."

"And then we'll take a look at whether or not we can get some mobility into her limbs," Giovanni whispered as his laser scalpel cut further down the middle of her stomach. "I'd like to have her paralyzed as little as possible while we make replacements."

"Good plan," Rudy said, having learned not to nod anymore. He cursed right after, when the girl's stomach revealed armored plating over her internal organs. "Jesus, she's built like a tank."

"That's what they used her for," Giovanni growled. "What happened to the Hippocratic Oath, 'First, do no harm?' "

Rudy's body, back in Avalon, swallowed. "The one who did this is a present-day Dr. Mengele."

Giovanni merely nodded as he pried the plating apart. "We can't remove it completely… it's tied into everything else."

Rudy wanted to be able to nod. Just nod. Instead, he had to trust his voice. "Yes… we'll repair it. Let her have her life as it was.

But now, we need to access her organs."

Giovanni swallowed, nodded, and pried apart the access panels, revealing the damage caused to her organs. He cursed. Rudy cursed.

The nurses' eyes opened wide.

"Okay… let's get to work," Rudy grunted. "Giovanni, you get to work on that split liver. I'll see what I can do about that ruptured spleen."

Giovanni nodded, an ability Rudy so very much wanted to have at that moment, and went to work. They barely started the work of removing the tissue that was damaged beyond repair so they could stitch rest of the organs back together when the nurse shouted over the beeping of the monitor.


"God-damn enhancer!" Rudy shouted as Giovanni dove for the small paddles of the defibrillator. The heart jumped, yet didn't start beating. "Giovanni, cut the enhancer out! It'll just keep stopping the heart!"

"No time to put her on a heart-lung machine!" Giovanni shouted as he pumped the muscle between his hands. "She'll *die* if we stop the flow of blood for the long!"

"She'll die anyway! If you work quickly…"

Kris stood up once again. "I'll keep her soul here… attached to the body, it won't permit the body to degenerate." He drew a breath. "I can give you five minutes, Doctor."

Giovanni understood the finality in the man's tone. "Then five minutes is all I'll need." As the doctor hurried to the other side of the table, Kris put his hands on both sides of the girl's head, and started whispering.

Now that both had access to the heart, Rudy's robotic laser-scalpel cut away the damaged enhancer as fast as he could without damaging the surrounding muscle. At the same time, Giovanni sucked away the blood that poured from the muscle, keeping Rudy's view clear for the work. Finally, Giovanni yanked the damaged enhancer out of the girl's small chest, and immediately started stitching the muscle, praying to all the deities out there to let the muscle hold. Kris was swaying on his feet by now, and the doctor worked as fast as he could.

He yanked his hands back. "Done! Epinephrine, and defib!"

A second dose of epinephrine was injected directly into the heart-muscle, followed right after by the nurse applying the paddles, and shocking the repaired muscle into action. It started *pounding*, as if the organ was happy to be free of at least one of its foreign invaders.

Giovanni nodded at Kris. The Necromancer swayed, and literally fell into his chair. Mechanically, he took Claes' hand, his arm shaking with exhaustion as he lifted it. "Hurry, Doc…" his voice was strained, and weak. "I don't have much left…"

Giovanni and Rudy shot to work on the internal organs, as Kris weakened, they repaired the damage done to the girl. Finally, after another half an hour of hard and speedy work, they stepped back. "Okay, Kris. Try and release the spell."

Kris nodded, and closed his eyes. The sigil on his forehead flashed, and started to blister, before vanishing. At the same time, the identical sigil on Claes' forehead joined Kris'. Two seconds later, the ones over their respective hearts vanished as well.

Kris slumped in his chair, breathing deeply. Claes remained stable.

"Blood-pressure, okay. Heart-rate, okay. Respiration, okay,"

Giovanni read from the monitor. "We did it, Rudy."

"That we did, Giovanni," Rudy's voice came over the robot's speaker. "And you as well, Mr. Necromancer."

Kris smiled weakly. He just looked dead-tried now, no longer as ashen-gray as he had looked mere minutes earlier. "Call me Kris, Doc."

"Come on, let's check her arms and legs," Giovanni said. "We've done complex surgery on multiple internal organs in record time. I think she deserves to wake up with at least some mobility."

"Agreed," Rudy said as he moved the laser scalpel along the girl's right arm. "She's in luck," he said when he had a good look at all the machinations placed within the right arm. "Looks like these artificial joints are just dislocated… there's tearing damage on the artificial muscles, though. She'll have mobility, but strength is going to be an issue." He pointed at the shoulder joint. "Can somebody pop it back in place? This thing isn't giving me the mobility needed."

Antonio, being the youngest and fittest among them wrenched the artificial joint back in its socket. "So, that's that," he said, happy to be able to do something since returning with a no-longer useful meter.

"When you said something about strength being an issue, what are we talking about?" Giovanni asked when Rudy started to give the rest of the artificial muscles in the arm a good looking-over.

"I'm guessing she'll be limited in strength to something in between 25 and 50 percent of the strength a normal girl her age should have," Rudy answered professionally when he started to look on the lower arm. "The artificial muscles should be replaced… they can't grow back with training as normal muscles can."

"Of course," Antonio answered, making a note. "Not that we would have left them otherwise. It's mechanical. When it's damaged, replace it, or it'll tear, and do more damage."

Rudy wished he could nod from the other side of the control-link. "Yes," he said. "Precisely. Hm, the rest of the arm looks good. Let's close this one up and look at the left arm."

They closed up the right arm, and proceeded to the left. The moment the skin was opened, Rudy cursed. "This one has torn muscles… they've ripped shreds out of the artificial bone. The bone itself looks like it can still support the arm… it'll definitely need to be replaced, as are the muscles. But let's see if I can't do anything else." The robot leaned in closer. "Maybe… Antonio, you're the engineering expert. Can you assist me? I'd like to see and try if I can't repair that biceps first."

Antonio nodded, and together, under Rudy's directions, they started work on the muscle. "Giovanni, hold the arm steady. Antonio, you'll need to reattach it. Be careful, it's bimetal that curls and extends under influence of electricity. It's like a powerful spring."

"I know what bimetal is, Rudy," Antonio whispered, a little chagrined as Giovanni put pressure on the arm. "I also know it doesn't move unless it's powered," the engineer finished as he slowly started to detach the artificial muscle from the holding points. He could see the tear in the second metal, where it had broken and torn into the heavy-duty metal bone that made up the girl's skeletal structure. The first metal, however, seemed ok…

Being an engineer meant being prepared, and when he had gone out for the meter, Antonio had also brought in a very precise spot-welding torch. Deciding it was better than nothing, the man slowly folded the second metal back into shape. It touched, meaning no fragments had been lost. Which also meant he wouldn't have to use solder, which would screw up the bimetal's characteristics. Putting the spot-welder to maximum output, the engineer's gentle touch welded the second strip together.

It wouldn't do for long… but somewhere, he hoped it would be enough to allow the girl at least some movement, until the replacements could be fabricated. Worst case, she still couldn't move the arm.

She certainly couldn't be worse off than she was now.

Bringing the quick-fix over, Antonio put it in place. "I'll need to reattach it," he told the other two. "It's not going to be easy, the metal's curled up due to the heat of the weld."

"I'll hold her arm down," Giovanni said. "Tell me how to hold it."

Antonio nodded, and attached the first point without problems. Now he'd need to get the curled-up metal to extend far enough to attach to the point at the bottom of the upper arm, directly next to the elbow joint. "Curl her arm up," he whispered to Giovanni, speaking low to avoid losing his own concentration.

Giovanni nodded, and curled the arm to the best he could without getting in Antonio's way. The other man grunted as he worked around the lower arm, now curled up as far as it would go. The bimetal was *strong*.

He grunted again as it finally started to uncurl, the body's own temperature-control cooling the bimetal to the exact point it needed to be somewhat workable. "Almost… there…" the engineer whispered as he reached for his screwdriver.

As he did so, all the power of the bimetal come to rest on one hand. A fraction was all it needed, and the bimetal muscle slipped out from Antonio's fingers, curling back up, hitting everything it could along the way. And that included at least one major blood-vessel, and bright-red liquid spewed all over the doctor and the engineer.

Giovanni cursed, as did Rudy. "Clamp! CLAMP!" Giovanni screamed at the nurse as the vein continued to throb and his fingers slipped trying to clamp down the loss of blood. The nurse clamped the artery as soon as Antonio had jumped out of the way.

"We need to hurry," Rudy grunted. "If we don't repair that artery, we're going to lose that arm!"

Giovanni grunted as he reached for the appropriate tools, working as fast as he could. "It's turning blue," Rudy said. "That's fast… that enhanced heart must have a huge blood-pressure."

"Interesting," Giovanni muttered sarcastically as he tried to reconnect the severed vein. "God-damn, I can't see!" the nurse reached in with the suction, trying to clear the blood away so the doctor could see. Unfortunately, it also blocked his field of vision. "Enough!" he said, more harshly than he intended, the moment he could see once again. Finally, he could see both ends clearly.

Slowly, meticulously, he managed to reconnect the artery.

Shaking slightly with adrenaline, he started to release the clamp.

The vein throbbed as blood spurted through it. The arm's color turned from blue to a pinkish color almost immediately.

"You saved it," Rudy said, voice shaking as well. "That was a close one."

"One of so-many," Giovanni grunted. He turned to a shaking Antonio. "Want to give this another shot?"

The engineer drew a deep breath, and nodded. "Yeah. I screwed up, I wanna make it right."

"We all make mistakes," Rudy said from the robot. "No permanent harm was done… but do be careful. I did warn you."

Antonio grimaced, and got to work. This time, he made sure *not* to let go of the bimetal muscle for any reason. Giovanni turned in the screws. The muscle was in place.

After closing the arm up, Giovanni leaned on the table. He looked over the table to the robot. "Shall we look at the legs, or do we wait?"

"Might as well… we might be able to let her walk," Rudy said. "We have to do as much as we can here. This girl ahs been through a lot… the least we can do is see how much we can repair."

Claes felt something. It seemed as if she had been asleep for ages… blinking, she opened her eyes. Light was bright. Too bright. She squinted, allowing her eyes to adjust. They adapted quickly, and she ventured to look around. She was in a room that looked like a miniature hospital, with four beds that could be separated by curtains. They were all drawn against the walls, so she could see everything.

Slowly, her eyes scanned the rest of the room. She started when she felt something on her right arm. Her right hand, to be exact.

Looking at the spot, she couldn't help but stare. Someone was asleep in the chair next to her bed; he was curled over, head on the bed next to her, holding her right hand. She recognized this man… vague memories from a dark and painful time returned.

Memories of being held withy tenderness, of being spoken to in a gentle tone instead of been given harsh orders. Memories of this man, who held her in his arms as he carried her out of the Section Two building, all hell breaking loose around them. He had protected her with his life. She didn't know, but she just *knew* how far he had gone for her.

She smiled softly. Even after all that, he was still here, next to her bed. She tested her arms and legs. They didn't hurt… yet they pulled against being moved. They felt week, too. Obviously, she had been repaired… but by whom? She slipped her hand out of his, and carefully moved out of bed, gingerly testing her legs. They supported her weight. But her balance was off, and Claes leaned against the wall as she shuffled to the bed next to hers, and pulled the covers off it.

Without trouble, she sunk back in her own bed, pulling the covers from the other bed over the man asleep at her side. Slipping her hand back in his, Claes closed her eyes, and allowed herself to sink back to sleep. And this time, she knew her dreams would be pleasant rather than awful.

When Tom entered the room a couple of hours later, he had to stop and suppress the 'awww' moment when he saw them like that, still in the same position. Silently, he shut the door, and slid over to the sleeping Necromancer. Tom reached to gently shake the man awake, so he could go lie down in his own bed, in an obviously far better position than the one he was in presently.

The moment his hand just about touched the sleeper, something stirred under the covers of the bed, and a small hand *snapped* out, holding his hand mere centimeters away from Kris. Claes stared at him, before her eyes slipped down to her hand with a look that could only be described as shock on her face.

"What… happened?" she asked, still holding on to the Immortal's wrist with as much strength as her damaged body could generate.

"We had to repair you," Tom answered automatically, voice shocked. From what he had heard, the girl shouldn't be able to move like this! He had been told she was barely operational… yet somehow, she had moved with a speed that surpassed every instinct and reflex his 120-year existence had instilled in him. He swallowed, coming back to reality. "But we don't have the equipment lying around… so we did an ad-hoc repair, and we'll replace the damaged bionics when we've got them produced."

Claes nodded. "I understand…"

"Can I have my wrist back now?" Tom asked, actually smiling slightly.

"Claes?" Kris asked, opening his eyes at the racket. The sight that greeted his eyes made his jaw fall. Claes, in her bed, sitting upright with her right hand clenched around Tom' bigger wrist, mere centimeters away from his body.

"I don't know him," Claes answered dully.

"Of course you don't," Tom said. "You were pretty out of it when we rescued you… I'm amazed you still remember Kris, you were barely conscious."

"We?" the thirteen-year-old asked.

"Yes, we," Kris said with a small smile. "You can let him go now, you know," he added with a chuckle. The chuckle vanished when her hand unclenched reflexively, and the girl fell back in the bed. "Are you okay?"

She shook her head slightly. "I'm weak," she whispered miserably. "I couldn't… couldn't…"

"Couldn't what?" Tom asked, voice showing concern as he sat down in one of the empty seats next to Claes' bed.

"Couldn't… break you arm," she finished, looking at Tom. "I didn't know you… and saw you making to touch Kris when I woke up."

"I'm glad you take my safety so seriously," Kris said with a small smirk. "But really, it's not necessary. Over the next week, you'll need to keep it easy, but the docs assured me they'll have new bionics for you in a week or so."

Claes nodded. "I understand." She turned her head, looking at Tom. "I'm Claes."

The immortal smiled, and dipped his head. "I'm Tom."

"I'm sorry for what happened, Tom," the girl said. "I just reacted…"

"It's forgotten," Tom waved it off with an easy smile. "Besides, after what they did to you in that place, I think everybody would react badly."

"It shouldn't have happened," Claes answered levelly. "I should have been trained better…"

"Come now," Kris interjected, putting a hand on the girl's shoulder. "You've sustained major injuries, had major surgery, and just awoke from heavy sedation. No wonder you're missing beats.

Don't put yourself down."

Claes looked up at the Necromancer, and nodded. "Okay."

"That's better," the man said, smiling, sitting down once more. He pulled the blanket off the ground. "By the way, did you do this?"

The girl nodded. "You looked cold."

Kris just smiled, and shook his head. On the other side of Claes' bed, Tom grinned. He could feel it… Claes was going to surprise them all. And his instincts weren't often wrong.

"Well, well, look who's up!" Mireille said when she pushed the door open. Behind her, Kirika filled in as well. Not ten seconds later, Mina completed the group.

"Claes, meet Mireille, Kirika, and Mina. They all helped pulling you out of the fire," Kris introduced with a sweeping motion. "And I think you know your old friend, Carol." The TV switched on, displaying Carol's face.

"Hey! Who're you calling old!?" the AI protested. "I'll have you know I'm not even a year old yet!"

Claes smiled at the sound of her friend's voice, bickering with Kris. "Gee," she heard the Necromancer say from next to her. "Not even a year old, and already going for joyrides…"

Carol harrumph-ed, and turned away from the Necromancer. Looking instead at Claes, the artificial face's features softened. "Are you okay, Hon? You looked really out of it when they carried you out."

Claes looked at Kris for just a moment, a smile adorning her features. "I'm fine," she answered. "They helped me… I'm not okay yet, but I will be."

"Glad to hear it, Hon. That Immortal guy over there may not be a bad driver, but I still prefer one of those I was constructed for behind the wheel."

Claes glanced at Tom, who shook a fist at the screen in mock-rage. The girl smiled slightly. "I'll be back in no time, Carol. As soon as my damaged machinations are replaced, I'll be back."

The AI nodded, smiling. "Yeah, she'll be back in no time, alright," Tom said, ruffling the girl's brunette hair. "Not so long ago, when I was trying to wake up Kris, she intercepted my hand, and tried to rip it off." He remained silent for just a fraction, as if thinking about it. "Even though it would heal, I'm still glad she didn't."

Claes looked t the bed sheets, embarrassed. "Don't worry, Little One… I've seen it with my own eyes. The guy won't stay down," Kris told her gently. "Carol blew his heart out with her gun."

"Yeah, and it grew right back," the AI answered, chagrined. Tom laughed at her tone, causing the irate AI to turn on him rather than Kris.

The door opened, and Giovanni, the doctor, came in. "I'm glad to see that our young patient is doing well," he said when he saw Claes sitting upright in the bed, seemingly enjoying the ruckus that five people and an AI could make. "How are you feeling, Claes?" he asked gently.

The girl threw a cautious look at Kris. When he urged her on, she turned back to the doctor, and answered. "I'm fine… weak, but fine. I can move… just not very strongly."

"Well, we were forced to do repairs on your bionic implants, rather than be able to replace them," the doctor said, going down to one knee next to the bed, so she had an easier time looking at him. "But don't you worry. We'll have replacements in no time. It shouldn't take more than a week, a week and a half, tops, before you're back the way you're used to."

"Thank you," the girl replied honestly. "I will wait."

"That's the spirit!" the doctor said, standing up. "If you all have some time, there's something lese I need to show you," he added, addressing the others in the room.

"We'll be right back," Kris promised the girl in the bed when everybody nodded and stood up in preparation to follow the doctor.

Claes nodded, and slipped back in the bed. "I'll try and get some more sleep." Kris nodded, and slipped the door closed. As soon as he was outside, he noticed that the doctor wasn't smiling anymore as he showed them into the next room, which was the medical examination room.

"There are more concerns," the doctor started, activating the light-wall, showing the X-rays made from Claes. "They built her to be resilient. She's bulletproof, literally. The only weakness we could find is here," he motioned to the skull. "The eyes. Only there will a bullet penetrate. All the rest, will buckle or warp some plating or other, but won't do damage to her organs. Why they did to her to injure her the way she was when you brought her in…" Hi fist hit the metal of the Nautilus' wall. "It's like she was mangled by running her over with a truck or something."

Even Mina growled, and Carol on the TV screen not far away started obsessively spouting obscenities involving various farm animals, and the scientists' family line.

The doctor let out his breath. "But that's not why I called you here. I just couldn't say this in front of her… we'll need to tell her gently." He motioned for the X-rays again. "They added metal plating to most of her skeletal structure, but her ribcage has been completely removed and replaced by a metal cage. And although there is breathing support for when the cage is removed, as we were forced to do during the operation, we will need to put it back at some time. And in addition to that… metal armor was added to the abdomen, and around the sides and up to the spine. It was made telescopic, so it can expand and subtract to allow for a complete range of motion."

"Sounds to me like they've armored her up to the wazoo," Tom grunted. "But what's so bad you can't tell us in front of her, Doc?"

"Metal doesn't grow," Kris whispered, pale as a sheet.

"Exactly," the doctor said, sounding angry again. "She's a thirteen-year-old girl, she's in puberty. She's growing… but her metal skeleton won't grow. Her internal organs will crush themselves…"

"She knows," Carol whispered angrily.

"Excuse me?" Giovanni grunted, turning to the screen.

"The girls… they all know what was done to them," Carol answered. "Claes knows. She knows she doesn't have more than three years before her body kills itself. But she never… never expected to last that long." The Ai paused for just a second. "Section Two used them for counter-terrorism operations. The girls all know they may not see tomorrow's daybreak."

The entire group, composed out of assassins, and various other mythical creatures well-honed to the darkness of the world, were still shocked into silence. Carol nodded, understanding their silence for what it meant. "They know… " the AI went on. "They even known their uteruses have been removed to make place for added components, they know their ovaries underwent the same fate. And they know that they will be called upon to make that ultimate sacrifice for their supervisors."

"Monsters," Kirika whispered. "The monsters…"

"If Kali hadn't locked my powers, I'd gladly raise a couple of them," Kris whispered. "The undead are so much more resilient to punishment."

Mina's vampiric teeth showed, and her eyes burned. It took the demi-vampire five *very* deep breaths to regains her human composure.

"Can't we replace the metal in a couple of years?" Tom finally asked when common sense started to slowly replace the rage.

The doctor sighed. "In theory, yes. But it won't work that easily… We're not talking about one or two operations here. Over the course of the next seven to eight years, she'll need to have at least two operations a year. And every time, we're not talking just a ribcage or a telescopic belly here. We're talking full bionics, bionic muscles, joints, metal sheets, everything. The cost…"

"Screw costs," Kris grunted. "I have all the money you want. And if the Nereida family fortune isn't enough, there are a *lot* of underworld creatures that will gladly make a donation in exchange for a continued existence." He looked deep into the doctor's eyes. "You assure me it can be done, and I'll get you the financial means."

Tom nodded. "The Nautilus' technical departments will remain working on this problem. The engineering side will be taken care of."

Giovanni nodded. "Very well. Yes, I assure you that it can be done. I will keep continued contact with Dr. Rudy Wells and learn all that I can about bionics and their care." He held up a hand. "However, I'll only do this if Claes agrees. It's not going to be easy, not on us, but certainly not on her. She'll be in surgery or recuperation from surgery for years on end."

"We'll ask her," Kris stated, turning, and opening the door. The group filed out after him, entering Claes' room silently. Carol had it the easiest, she just switched TVs.

"Claes," Kris whispered as he sat down in what had become his seat. The girl turned to look at him. "The doctor just told us the extent of what they did to you."

The girl nodded. "We've all accepted it… it was done, and there is no changing back."

"It never should have *been* done," Mireille growled angrily, wishing she could punch something or somebody. Somebody from Section Two, preferably.

"Yet it *was* done," Claes whispered levelly. "And there is no undoing it."

"Then you also know about the problem of your biological body growing," Kris whispered. Claes nodded.

"Three years… four, tops," the young brunette whispered back. She reached out. "Don't be sad. Not for me."

He smiled slightly. <<So young, yet so brave. I wish I had her bravery when I stared death in the face.>> He gently took her hand. "Claes, it won't be easy, but the doctor thinks he can help you. It will take surgery at least once every six months, until you're fully grown, though. It's going to be tough, but with all of us together, we've got the finances, the technology, and the ability to pull it off… but only if you want us to."

He brought her hand back to the bed, letting his own rest on top of it. "It won't be easy," he repeated. "But do you want us to?"

She remained silent for five long seconds, and for the first time, the group could see something cross Claes' eyes they hadn't seen before.


"Yes," she whispered hoarsely. "I want to live…"

"Then we'll do everything we can," Kris said, patting her hand. "With all of us here in this room, we've got the means necessary." He stood up, and smiled at her. "We'll leave you to get some more rest, Little One. I can't speak for the others, but it's been an intense couple of days for me, so I'll be doing the same."

As the other nodded in agreement, Claes nodded dully, and slipped back in the bed. "Sweet dreams, Little One," Kris whispered as her eyes closed instantly, and the entire band shuffled out of the room on tip-toe. And being who there were, they made not a single sound.

Once outside, the group disbanded, Tom and Mina going to their own, permanent, rooms, while Kris joined Mireille and Kirika in the walk to one of the other decks, where their guest quarters had been assigned. They walked in silence until they reached the twin doors, one leading to Noir's room, the other leading to Kris'. Before Mireille and Kirika opened their door, Kris turned to them, and picked something out of his pocket. To the two women's surprise, he seemed to scribble something in a little book, before tearing a page out of it, and handing it to them.

"What's this?" Mireille asked, accepting the folded piece of paper and opening it. Her mouth sagged a second later. "Kris, this is a blank cheque."

Kris nodded. "I want to hire you," he said, calmly. "I want Noir to go out, find the people responsible for this Section Two, and terminate them." He drew a breath. "Everybody," he repeated, darkly. "Those in power in the European government who authorized this, the ones in the Italian government who helped cover it up, the scientists who conducted these operations, those giving orders to these girls. Everybody."

Mireille actually stared at the man for close to five seconds, trying to digest the utter ruthlessness in his voice. Carefully, she glanced at Kirika. The brunette closed her eyes, and shook her head once. The blonde understood, looked back at Kris, folded the cheque, and ripped it into tiny bits, scattering it like snow.

"This one's for free," Mireille grunted, turned, and opened her room. Before Kris could say something, the Noir duo had vanished in their quarters, leaving the Necromancer to whisper 'thank you' at a closed door, before entering his own room, and falling on the plush mattress, and into dreamland. It really had been an intense couple of days, and those few hours of sleep next to Claes' bed hadn't been nearly enough to recharge him. Not when it was his very soul that had been subject of the drain.

"Remarkable," Giovanni said as Claes stepped off the treadmill. The girl was dressed in sports bra and sweatpants, yet didn't seem to need either of them, as her breathing was even, and not a hint of respiration was visible on her smooth and even skin. "Your progress is simply remarkable. Only a week after replacing your bionics, your skin has completely healed over, and you don't seem to have any downsides to the surgery." He ruffled her hair as he looked at the others, who had once again gathered to see the doctor's final diagnosis of Claes' situation.

"I don't know how they did it, but her healing has been enhanced as well. Probably something with stem cells… but we can't be sure without further testing." He looked back at Claes. "And after what they did to you in Section Two, the last thing I want to do is run any more tests on you. You've suffered enough." Again, Claes showed not a hint of emotion, with an almost fatalistic acceptance of everything that happened to her.

"You can run all the tests you want, doctor," she answered levelly. "I will accept them."

Giovanni shook his head. "No, sweetheart. You've been through enough. The last thing I want to do is become like those monsters in Section Two. You're a young girl who's been through a terrible ordeal, and the last thing I want to do is run more tests on you."

She looked at him. "Is that why you didn't test my performance?" she asked, levelly.

"We just saw you running at forty kilometers an hour for fifteen minutes, Little One. I'd say that's all the performance tests we need," Kris answered with a small smile when the girl turned to look at him. He went down to one knee in front of her. "We didn't rescue you just for you to become a lab rat."

"But… shouldn't you know the limits of my performance?" she asked, for the first time showing an emotion, namely confusion.

"We know all the limits in the world, thanks to Carol's data," Giovanni replied. "None of us here wish to cause you harm."

Claes swallowed, and nodded silently.

"Come on, let's get something to eat," Tom said, making an inviting motion to the door. "It's going on noon, anyway, and we have some more things to talk about." He nodded at the doctor. "Thanks, doc."

"Yeah," Kris said, extending his hand. "Thank you." Giovanni shook his, and just smiled.

"That's what I do," he said with a smile. "But honestly, I hope never to see anyone hurt like her ever again."

"We all hope that, doctor," Mina answered as she moved to open the door. "We all do." After those words, she vanished through the open door, the group rapidly filing out behind her, Claes following directly behind Kris.

Ten minutes later, everybody was seated in the spacious mess of the Nautilus, each with his or her lunch in front of them. After living together for a while, nobody even noticed Mina's pint of warmed pig's blood anymore.

"You wanted to speak to me about something?" Claes finally asked, after swallowing her bite of mashed potatoes.

Tom nodded, swallowing his own bite of steak. "We'll be arriving back in Paris by tomorrow," he said. "I've made some calls, and I think I found a good foster family for you. Trustworthy people, who can hold a secret. They'll treat you well."

Claes blinked, her entire upper body flashing around, so she could look at Kris. "I can't stay with you?" she asked, voice timbre rising slightly. It was the biggest outburst of emotion they had seen from the girl since her bionics had been completely restored, and it didn't escape the attention of this group.

Kris put down his fork, and turned to look at the young brunette. "Claes… believe me, I'd very much like to take you in, but it's not a life for a young girl. I live a dangerous life. I'm a Necromancer, I practice the Dark Arts. It's no environment to grow up in. And I've seen the files of the people Tom found. They're good people, they'll treat you like a normal girl…" His voice trailed off, as Claes had sunk back in her chair, her face going completely slack, not even giving the *impression* that she was still listening. Her pupils dilated to abnormal proportions, and she let out her breath through an open mouth.

"Claes?" Kris asked as everybody stopped eating, and stood up to look at the girl. He shook her gently. "Claes!?"

The TV set switched on. "Kris, you *idiot*!" Carol screamed. "Tell her you want her with you! *NOW*!"

"Wha…?" Kris asked, turning to the screen.

"Do it, NOW!" the irate AI screamed again. "Before you lose her entirely! I'll explain later!"

Kris had no choice. Turning rapidly back to the girl, he grabbed her shoulders, and turned her. "Of course I want you with me, Claes."

Glancing at the AI with a look that told her that she'd *better* explain, the Necromancer continued, "I've got plenty of space. Don't worry, Little One. I'll keep you safe."

Claes' eyes flickered, and she blinked. Slowly, sight returned to her sightless eyes. "Really?" she asked, voice tiny and fragile. The Necromancer smiled, and hugged her. "Really," he assured her.

"I'm glad," the girl whispered back, easing into his embrace.

"What just happened?" Tom asked the AI on the TV-screen. "And it'd better be good. I happen to agree with Kris… none of us have a life that's a good environment for a young girl to grow up in."

Carol sighed on her screen, and Kris let go of the young brunette, and turned to the screen. "Listen, I don't really mind… I'd love to have some company at that huge mansion… but that doesn't mean it'll be healthy for Claes."

Carol snorted. "The girl has been used in assassination missions, she's been sent after terrorists, kidnappers, and so forth. I doubt your lifestyles will do more harm to her than has already been done. Trust me, if she hasn't cracked before now, she won't crack because of what she sees from you."

"That still doesn't explain what just happened," Tom grunted darkly.

Carol drew a simulated breath. "You all know that a fratello, after her machinations have been implanted, is linked to an adult partner, her supervisor, who is responsible for her training, her upkeep, and leading her during the missions. That pairing is done through brainwashing… heavy controls are placed upon the girls, and she is biochemically linked to her partner in an amount that is entirely dependant upon the supervisor's whims."

The AI paused for a second, trying to determine the best way to put raw data into spoken form. "In Claes' case, she was linked to a man who came from the Military Police. He was a good man, and had the minimal amount of controls placed upon her… they formed a bound that would be closest to a student and master. He taught her not only weapons and tactics, but also taught her about life. Slowly, the man came to realize that Claes was a young girl, not a weapon… and tried to find a way out."

"They killed him," Mireille whispered.

"That they did," Carol answered. "It broke Claes. The scientists couldn't do anything with her…she went into a total vegetative state, the biochemical link between fratello and supervisor was just too powerful. She was indoctrinated to give her life before the supervisor's ever comes at risk. Not having been there when hers was killed, she just shut down. What just happened was just the prelude."

"Are you telling me that she was going into shutdown?" Kris asked.

Carol nodded. "I don't know how, but she did. My best guess is that she's attached herself to you, Kris. I don't know how it's possible without extensive brainwashing, but the nearest I can tell, she attached herself to you."

"Maybe because you carried her out," Mireille said. "Or because of that magic-mojo you did."

Kris nodded pensively. "Maybe… I don't see how, but maybe. It's a spell I had to invent on the spot. Usually, Soul Drains are meant to boost the magician at the cost of someone else. Reversing it hasn't come up yet."

The Necromancer looked up at the TV. "What does this mean? That she's attached herself to me?"

"If it's indeed the case, Claes will be reluctant to leave your side, only doing so on your exact instructions. She'll obey you without question, and she'll protect your life with hers. The moment you're threatened, she'll react. It's an implanted instinctive urge, she'll move before she knows it herself… her sensitivity towards you will also increase. Even if she's looking somewhere else, she'll just *know* if something's threatening you."

Kris blew out his breath. "I'll do my best to give her a normal life." He looked at Claes. "You're coming home with me, Little One. And I'll do my best to give you a life as normal as I can."

"You shouldn't…" she started to protest.

He held up his hand. "You're a young girl, and I refuse to just *use* you like those Section bastards."

As Kris and Claes talked about their new arrangements, Tom turned to Carol, on her TV screen. "I'm still having trouble believing this.

From all I heard, from all I've read, and from what you told us, this 'bond' between a fratello and her supervisor is supposed to be almost mythical. They brainwash these poor girls, making them mindlessly devoted to their supervisors… and now, Claes has just *decided* to be attached to Kris?"

Carol nodded. "But that's what her reactions show… she obeys his every word, has been for a while, tries to keep herself as close to him as she can, and now, she almost shut down when she felt he was rejecting her."

Before Tom could answer, his cell phone rang. Seeing no number, he frowned, and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Try this," Carol's voice came through the device. "Take your gun, point it at Kris, and pull the trigger. If what I say is true, Claes will intercept. If not… well, that's what a safety is for."

Tom's mouth sagged open for just a few seconds as he glanced at Kris, talking with Claes, both seemingly absorbed in their own little world. Neither of them seemed aware of what was happening on the other side of the table. "Are you…?" he grunted silently.

"Try it, or not," Carol answered. "Your choice."

She hung up, and Tom clicked off his phone. Slowly, he stood up, causing Mina to throw a strange look at him, seeing something blank on his face that she didn't like at all. Then, the man tensed and drew a breath, as if steeling himself for something.

What happened next was incredible. His hand dove to his side, and drew his gun. By the time it was halfway out of the holster, Claes was frowning. When it cleared leather, her head turned and her eyes stared right at him.

Halfway up, the girl had determined he was going to point it at Kris. Her hand shot out, grabbed the fork off the table, and flung it. Not to where his hand was rapidly traveling up, but to where his hand was going to stop, aiming at Kris.

His hand stopped right where she had predicted it, her fork embedding itself neatly in his flesh. He yelped; dropping the gun.

Already, she had veered up, grabbing the gun in mid-air, reversing it, pointing it right at his heart.

"It's safe," she whispered, stunned, the moment her mind clicked back in gear. Slowly, she looked up. "Why are you pointing a gun with a safety on at Kris?"

"Holy…" Tom cursed, cradling his healing hand after he jerked the fork out. Everybody else had jumped as well, leaving Claes, pointing a safetied gun at Tom.

"My fault," Carol answered. "Tom didn't believe me, so I told him to point his gun at Kris, and watch what would happen."

Claes remained silently, eyes and barrel locked at Tom. Slowly, her finger touched the safety, ready to click it off. "You pointed a gun at Kris."

"Stop it, Claes!" Kris shouted. The girl startled, as if waking up from a nasty dream. "Hand it back."

The girl swallowed, flipping the gun around, extending it but-first to the Immortal. "I'm sorry," the man whispered as he took the gun back. "It was not a nice thing to do. I'm sorry, Claes."

The brunette nodded, once, and sat down. "It's okay", she answered levelly, with that fatalistic tone in her voice again, as if she were nothing more than a test object. At that moment, Tom felt like the world's biggest jerk, and vowed to himself to make it up to the girl, somehow.

Kris awoke with a start, jumping upright out of the bed, his entire body trembling. A shaking head wiped sweat off his forehead. "What is…?" he mumbled, glancing round his bedroom at the Nereida mansion, just outside of Paris. "What *is* this feeling?" he whispered again, his body's trembling not subsiding. His breath hitched. It felt… dark. He threw open his bedroom door. It was impossible in itself for any sort of magic to touch him here. Not without leveling the house in the process.

Jumping down the stairs two steps at a time, his shaking thoughts continued. He was being bombarded by spiritual energy. Dark spiritual energy. Whomever was behind this was of a power above Kris' understanding, he realized himself. First, to penetrate the ancient protections erected over the course of five generations, second, to actually attack him without alerting the house's spiritual guards.

Downstairs, his head spun from left to right. <<What in the name of Kali is going on!?>> his shaking mind demanded, personal protective guards draining his limited energy in a fast pace. He could feel the original Nereida sigils burn on his stomach and back, below the sigils instilled by Nergal and Kali. He actually stumbled as the very world quivered before his eyes.

Grabbing on to the wall, he managed to bite back a curse. Only one place in this house was powerful enough to raise this kind of an attack… he ran to the basement, halting in front of the wrought-iron doors to the High Temple of Kali of the European continent. From here he had lifted his ancestral spirits out of the realm of the dead, from here he had bound his father's spirit to himself, and from here he had begun his attack on Teraka. This was the only spot capable of generating this kind of spiritual energy.

Kris frowned. This didn't feel like an ordinary attack. It felt… different, somehow, as if someone was generating tremendous amount of spiritual energy, which was finding its way to him, like lightning drawn to a lightning rod.

"Kritanta of the Clan Nereida," Kris grunted at the doors. "Open up!" The gates trembled, rattling open.

The moment they did, the bombardment stopped, and Kris stepped into the cavernous space, illuminated by a mere half-dozen candles. In the middle of the circle sat Claes.

She had startled at his entrance, and the look on his face made her drop the book she had been holding from her hands. "What did I tell you of magic!?" Kris' voice boomed through the large cavern.

"I merely wanted-" she began.

He grabbed the book off the ground, shoving it under her nose. "Wanted *what*!?" he barked, his body trembling from other things than spiritual bombardment now. "Wanted to attract the attention of every spiritually sensitive person within the Paris region?" He dropped his arm, still holding on to the book. "Claes, Magic is *not* a toy, and the Dark Arts are not something you can just play around with!!"

"I wanted to understand you," she whispered dully, staring at the ground. "To know… what it's like."

Kris sighed. "I told you I wouldn't teach you, Claes. I am not going to pass down the Necromantic Arts. The Nereida family crest has been tainted enough; I will let it die with me."


At that moment, Kris realized she had come a way from when she had first come to live with him. In that month and a half, she had actually begun to learn to talk back to him. He knew this was supposed to be a good thing, a sign she was regaining some measure of independence.

"Go to your room, Claes. I'm too angry to talk now… we'll talk when I've calmed down," he stated, voice level and final. The girl nodded, turned, and ran from the temple.

Kritanta of the Nereida. That was who he was… Kris sighed, walking to the center of the room on sheer instinct, leaving the circle of light provided by the candles without even realizing it. Kneeling down, he closed his eyes. "Lady Kali, what am I to do?" he asked, begging his Goddess for aid and insight. What *was* he to do? How could he take care of a girl if he was barely able to take care of himself? He was still learning himself, still discovering the things he had never known while in the service of Teraka, or during his apprenticeship with his father.

Then how could he be a good father to this girl who needed him so? He fingered the book, knowing it came from his library. He had given her free reign to the library ever since they had come to the realization that a bionic girl trained as an assassin wasn't the right kind of child to put in a school. Not since trashing the gym equipment or showing her classmates what was the best way to break someone's neck, complete with practical demonstration using the science lab's skeleton.

The Nereida library contained many books, both fact and fiction, and Claes' apparent love for books could be reconciled with home-schooling quite easily, apparently. Kris' hands trailed the leather-bound book. He couldn't blame her for being curious… but she shouldn't have just snuck down here, using the book as a guide to opening the gates, and just start to experiment.

He had found out the hard way that experimenting wasn't the right way to learn the Dark Arts. His eyes opened in the darkness. The hard way. He had made the same mistakes once… and he had reacted just as his father had done. Kris felt like a bastard then. Always, he had been determined not to be his father… and now that he had a chance to prove it, the first thing he did *was* act like his father.

He looked at the ceiling, veiled by the darkness, to where he thought Claes was, two stories above him, in her room, doing Kali-knows-what. He stood up, and turned to the circle of light provided by the candles. Blowing them out, and gathering them, Kris took them back upstairs, putting them back in their usual place. He sunk into his couch, staring at the book, now that he could see it.

It really was the exact same book. Shaking his head at the irony, the Necromancer stood up. Well, at least, she hadn't been as bad as he had been. He smiled slightly. Even though his father's anger had been impressive, it was worth a chuckle now. Pushing open the doors to the library, he stepped in, and let his gaze trail over the countless books as he walked to the far end, to where a small section had been sealed off using clear glass. Opening the doors with a key he produced from his pocket, Kris opened the arcane section of his library, and picked out two more books, before sealing it off again.

Slowly, he walked upstairs, and knocked on her door. It had been something he'd learned to do ever since a girl started to live with him.

"Come in." Her voice sounded small. Kris sighed, put the books down out of sight, and pushed open the door. She was sitting at her desk, upright, staring at her wall. If he hadn't felt bad already, he would start feeling worse now. He sat down on her bed, patting the place right next to him.

"Come on," he said. "We need to talk."

The thirteen-year-old stood up, and mechanically walked over to the bed, sitting down, legs together and back straight. "You realize what you just did was wrong?" he asked gently. She sighed, nodding once.

Kris sighed. "Claes… Magic… and especially the Dark Arts… are dangerous tools. They're meant to gain a bound over someone, to control spirit and soul. They could just as easily have corrupted you," he said, calmly, still on his gentle tone. "Do you understand what would have happened if I hadn't stopped you? Or worse, if I hadn't been here to take the brunt of that energy you summoned?"

Her head flung around, staring at him with wide-open eyes. "I…"

"Yes," Kris whispered. "If I hadn't been here, that energy would have come at you, instead of me. I was lucky I carry protective spells on my body."

She flung herself at him. "I'm sorry," she whispering, holding him tight, almost constricting his breath. "I'm so sorry! I never meant to hurt you…"

He patted her head. "You didn't really hurt me, Little One," he whispered, and she looked up at him with big brown eyes. If he called her that, then he wasn't mad anymore! She had been so scared when he had been mad. He was never mad at her… and she had been so scared when he had yelled at her earlier. But now he was being nice to her, calling her 'Little One' again. He wasn't mad anymore!

Kris smiled down at her. "I do want you to know I am very disappointed. I tried really hard to make you comfortable," he said, still smiling, but his heart obviously wasn't in it anymore. "I tried to let you go to school. When that didn't work out, I arranged for you to stay here. I let you train with Kirika, with Mina, with Tom. I've done everything I could think of to make you comfortable. And then, you do something like this."

Claes felt like crying. This was worse then him being mad! "I… I'm sorry," she whispered, meaning it with all her heart. But still, she didn't cry. She hadn't cried… she had never cried. But she really wished to cry now.

"I know, I know, Little One," Kris whispered, looking up at the wall. He sighed. "You really want to learn, don't you?"

She shook her head. "No. Not if it means hurting you. I wanted to learn, to be able to help you better, to be able to know you better. Not if it means hurting you!"

Kris smiled. "Listen, Little One. Magic is a tool. The Dark Arts, they're are a tool, too. Magic isn't evil or good, per se… but it's the *way* magic is used that makes it good, or evil. Take you, for instance. When we saved you from Section Two, I cast a Soul Drain spell, to supply you with energy. That was a good thing. But, had I been the one injured, and I cast the spell to help myself at your expense, that's evil." He drew in a new breath as he tried to explain. "The Dark Arts have more potential uses for evil than for good, but always remember that they too, are just a tool, and can be used for good purposes."

She nodded. "I understand."

Kris looked at his side, where she was watching him with rapt attention. He wasn't a bad teacher, apparently. "Like a knife can both be used for carving meat and for killing someone," he said. "That's how my father used to put it."

She nodded. "So… do you still want to learn?" he asked, turning to face her. "It's a long road, and it won't be easy. Usually, training starts at age six, so you have a lot of catching up to do." Before she could answer, he stopped her. "Take a long, deep look inside yourself. Once you start, there's no going back… you have to finish the training, or you'll lose your balance. And in magic more than in anything else, balance means life. You have to be very sure of yourself, know for yourself that you'll be able to withstand the training for a long time to come."

She was silent, looking at him. "How long?" she asked in a whisper.

Kris shrugged. "I started at age six… and became the Nereida Necromancer at age eighteen. I was young. My father took eight years longer." He looked at the bed. "He and mom died in an explosion, a terrorist strike in Egypt. So I became the Nereida Necromancer. I was lucky, my training was just finished."

"Twelve to twenty years," the girl whispered. Kris nodded.

"Twelve is the minimum. I'm still learning new things myself," he told her.

She was silent then, and remained silent for the next two minutes. "I want to learn," she then said. "I want to learn."

Kris smiled a little sadly. "That's your choice, then, Little One." He stood up, and retrieved the books from the hall. "Read these.

When you're done, I'll ask you about them. Then I'll give you some more books."

She nodded, accepting the books. "When will I be able to cast spells?" she asked. Kris grinned. She was still a young girl at heart, wasn't she?

"First we must fill your head and your soul with wisdom and knowledge. Then you'll be able to cast spells," he answered with a smile. She nodded, sat down at her desk, and opened the first book, the one she had used to raise the spiritual energy earlier.

"And don't worry too much about earlier… my first spell was from that same book, and I got a similar reaction out of my father," he said as he started to close the door. She turned to look at him and the closing door. "Well, I got the reaction *after* he spent three hours clearing the house of Roman Legionnaires," he finished with a chuckle, clicking the door shut.

Claes smiled, and turned to her book.



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