Description: "To stand by and observe all requires one to not intervene. I understand all too well the restrictions I must abide by... I witnessed the consequences of transgression in these solemn matters with my father's gradual, painful passing. Yet knowing full well the lethal ramifications, he spent his vigil as Bystander helping... interfering. I never wanted to follow in his footsteps, but now that I have started down this path, I realize now the slipperiness of the way... There may be no turning back now."
Two minutes would pass after the destroyer slipped away from the sitting room, leaving behind debris, stray shards of broken pottery, splintered wood, and droplets of blood spilled by the latest guest to make his way to Castle Alucard. Valkenhayn R. Hellsing would be freed from the chains of Ouroboros and the one once known as Mitsuyoshi would be able to catch his breath, his mind perhaps still reeling at the memories imparted. Only then does the lady of the house make her appearance, shadows rushing from the corners and shelves of the room to coalesce swiftly into the small stature of Rachel Alucard. He would recognize her surely enough, though she was certainly teenier the last time he would have seen her, clinging to her father's throne, a little bit shy if still a touch surly.
Now, she appears but a few years older, a little taller, only a bit more matured if bearing the appearance of an immortal twelve-year old could be considered mature. And the noble child-like figure looks a touch disheveled. The crimson bow at her neck is cut in places, situated at a bit of an angle, and her sleeves bear claw marks that expose the pale flesh of her slender arms beneath them. With her is a large, plump cat. On his haunches, the ebony furred familiar sits as tall as Jubei stands. His right eye is swollen closed, a claw-like gash passing down from forehead to furry cheek, and one ear looks scorched. At her other side hovers a crimson, bean-shaped bat, his entire body covered in scratch marks.
"Oough..." the bat-like thing grouses with a whiney, nasal voice.
Looking irritated even before her judging gaze passes over the room, taking in the signs of destruction with a twitch of her narrow golden eyebrow, Rachel's focus flicks to the portrait of her father on the wall, then toward the house guest himself.
There seems to be no immediate reaction from the vampire child upon seeing a large housecat dressed in a coat bearing swords, and without any hesitation, she turns her back to the room.
"Valkenhayn, if you would, please."
And then she is gone, another folding of shadow, obscuring black that fades away, leaving no trace of her presence.
Her servant, no doubt well experienced at interpreting every inflection of young Alucard's tone of voice, would excuse himself immediately to head into the hall.
Jubei would be left to his own devices for fifteen minutes. He could wander the halls if he would like, though beyond the opulent decoration, there is certainly no one to encounter to pass the time socializing with. For all of its plush accommodations, a certain melancholy hangs over the castle, as if it had never quite stopped mourning the passing of the late Lord Alucard.
Finally, Jubei is joined once more, Rachel Alucard and her entourage of two familiars appearing nearby if but a bit behind him. The time away was clearly spent changing her wardrobe, for now her black, crimson, and grey gothic attire is simply immaculate. At her sides, her two familiars seem to be healing quickly as swell, claw marks fading away, bruised swelling shrinking fast enough to almost be noticeable if one watches with sharp enough eyes.
"There," Rachel declares, no longer looking as exasperated as the moment when she first arrived. Her right hand lifts, fingers resting lightly against the side of her head. "I do apologize for the unseemly welcome you received after coming so far." She closes her eyes for a moment, "The worm has a way of paying visits whenever I happen to be away. I am beginning to think that he is drawing me away each time just to come commit further acts of vandalism upon my house."
The girl's eyes open, finding the master swordsman again, "Thank you, Mister Mitsuyoshi- Ah, that's right, it's Mister Jubei now? I am led to understand that my father's portrait remains unscathed thanks to you." There is a flicker of a soft smile on the imperious noble's face that fades after a moment.
Two minutes was not nearly enough for the beastkin to compose himself. For when Lady Alucard steps into the room, she no doubt sees the feline seated at the table, his head resting in his hands. His ribcage heaves with wracking sobs. The tattered hem of his robes clearly illustrates the damage he'd sustained throughout the earlier conflict; frayed edges, charcoal grey scorched to soot black to mark the arrival of the God of Destruction. His tawny fur, too, is charred; tips flicking about with each movement. The Dream Blades are sheathed, of course, but it would be difficult to ignore the bobbing of the heavy relics.
And yet -- as much as both Western chivalry and Samurai honor demand the warrior acknowledge the presence of a woman, the cat makes no motion to dismount his perch. The arrivals did not go unnoticed. But in this case, Grief -- already bearing a grudge for being ignored so long -- refuses to relinquish control of Mitsuyoshi's emotions.
Two minutes may not have been enough. But ten is.
Like it or not, the cat was still a guest in this household. The simple, polite, and understated words had rung in his mind for the entire duration. Formal words, unyielding and brooking no disobedience. Polite words, granting the guest the patience and understanding he hadn't realized he had been in need of.
Master Jubei looks down at the drying moisture upon the back of his furred arm.
With a long, measured intake of breath, he eases himself to the floor.
Long, mechanical paws hit the floor first, followed by foot pads, just a mere meter away from the shattered fragments of a priceless vase.
A heavy sigh is breathed.
And the paws are lifted upwards, so as not to scuff the floor.
Jubei closes his mouth, standing upright. His lapse in obeying the samurai code will be judged by no one harsher than himself. Mechanical paws are locked into place.
The feline strides quietly out into the hallway, tacitly eager to force a change of venue. Jubei's red eye passes across the splendidly designed wallcoverings. The impeccably clean rug, running across a perfectly kept floor. The samurai have no need for such ostentatious displays of wealth and power -- but that is not to say such things will not be appreciated -- slowly, and on his own time.
Seven minutes, he paces the halls -- as deliberately as if he were inspecting the work of Valkenhayn himself, red eye scanning the chair rails and moulding as if daring them to show a single mote of dust. When in actuality -- he is pondering many other things, with the environs a mere backdrop for his silent monologue.
At the sound of approach, the old paws stop in their tracks. Forelimbs resting at his side, he swivels to face the new arrivals. His crimson eye twinkles in recognition of the not-as-little Lady -- but more than that, he bows at the waist, stiffly and formally. "Lady Alucard."
Too formal? Perhaps. But old habits are hard to break.
He nods quietly to the self-correction as he returns to his full height -- one that should make the diminutive Alucard feel tall by comparison. "Should there be need for an apology, I must insist that it be my own, for giving this 'worm' reason to trespass and vandalize yet again." He offers the barest hint of a smile in return as he bows his head again.
"I could not bear to see harm visited upon it. Perhaps such sentiment could be considered old-fashioned, but I feel it was not his call to make, nor my own."
"I must also apologize for my unbecoming behavior. I beg for your forgiveness. I came here in search of answers, and to my dismay, those I received were too much for me to handle."
Lady Alucard is quiet as the samurai cat responds, her half-lidded eyes on him, her expression almost inscrutably neutral. At her side, Nago licks the back of his meaty paw several times then begins rubbing his swollen and then begins rubbing it against his swollen eyebrow. Gii maintains his hovering vigil near the level of the girl's head, tiny wings flapping though it would be inane to believe that they alone were responsible for keeping the rotund bat-thing aloft.
"Well," Rachel replies with a tone that belongs to someone far older than she appears to be, even if the pitch of her voice perfectly fits her appearance. "Look at us." She sighs softly, eyes blinking closed. "Just a couple of compunctious simpletons."
"Yeah!" Gii chirps in with no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, "The Princess never apologizes to us!"
At her side, Nago is already cringing as Rachel deftly plucks the whiny bat from the air and begins squeezing and stretching him beyond what can possibly be comfortable extremes.
Rachel tosses him behind her shoulder but he recovers before hitting the floor, fluttering back up to head height albeit a bit woozily. "Now, where were we," the vampiress muses, eyes still half-lidded as they flick back toward Jubei. "Ah, that's right. We were going somewhere."
Folding her hands within her lacey sleeves, she begins to stride forward past the legendary warrior. "This way. We have business to attend to while Valkenhayn sees to dinner preparations."
The young lady begins to walk through the castle, her stride unhurried. Gii flits along, while the massive Nago walks on his four, thick legs with surprisingly near-silent steps. The sheer size of Castle Alucard is difficult to comprehend, and even the tour doing long, towering corridors, lined with a nation's worth of wealth in decorations, only scratches the surface of how deep the other worldly gothic citadel truly is.
Passing from one grand hallway to another, the decorations transition from one era of Earth's past to another. Victorian era keepsakes, armor, and paintings give way to more medieval relics. Different regions of the world are represented with the stylings found from wing to wing of the castle. Germanic heralds, English tapestries, Prussian gowns of royalty, even displays of ancient Egyptian figurines on display in another corridor.
Several museums worth of history are represented in the timeless castle, but Rachel pays little heed to them as she walks slowly along. She's seen them all before, time and time again, and even the towering armored knights guarding one archway into another grand hall hardly serve to impress.
The walk is not conducted in silence, however, and she does inquire politely of Jubei from time to time, before falling quiet to listen.
"Does the term Dark War mean anything to you?"
A walk through a grand cathedral decorated in all the holy symbols one would normally expect to be an anathema to a vampire before pausing at the entrance to a low door in stone, beyond which a cool chill air wafts gently.
"What of your brother? Tomonori."
She pauses to listen, offering little in the way of feedback, before she steps through the door and begins to head down a winding stone stairway.
Jubei chuckles softly, bowing his head in admission. He could comment on the legendary Japanese humility, if such a boast wouldn't be in contradiction of the message.
Though, he can't help but offer a soft smile in response to the physical abuse heaped upon the flapping bat. The ... creatures have their own simple charm, which he acknowledges before looking pointedly aside. After all... if Rachel can't set them straight, what good could -he- offer?
The red eye casts back to Rachel once the interlude passes. "We were..." he repeats, with an agreeable, non-committal tone that could signify either a question or an affirmation.
Turning as the vampiress does, he allows her to lead the way -- for cats' curiosity is certainly not conducive to him finding the way out of this maze on his own. "... Come to think of it, I hadn't even realized how long it had been. Dinner does sound wonderful."
Sleeved claws trailing along behind him as he keeps pace with the young Lady. The educational journey through the curated works even provides him the context that was sorely missing in his travels -- the rich associations between colors and form, between symbols and their rulers.
And yet -- he has seen some of these before, he considers. In his dreams -- which are starting to become clear, thanks to that accursed Destroyer.
The term Dark War.
The beastkin's sole eye blinks rapidly into focus. How many questions had the vampiress asked before he was able to acknowledge this one? His jaw hangs open for a moment, conveying the temporary vacancy in his mind, buying him the time he needs for a more properly considered response.
"Not... as such. Though I am sure that many a conflict is given a posthumous name, such as the rechristening of the Great War into the droll, 'First World War.'"
He looks back to the floor, drawing in breath as he combs his memories. Some are distant -- others are closer.
"I imagine you speak of the conflict in which we fought the... Black... Beast, was it?" Jubei's hesitance is, this time, a product of uncertainty rather than humility, as he combs through those memories. "... It is not... -perfectly- clear to me, I'm afraid. I remember the capstone battle taking place, and yet..."
The wolf -- Valkenhayn.
And... the pointed hat...
"I remember," he says with a start. "It's starting to make sense again."
He continues walking, thinking for quite some time. "... For so long I have kept the memory as a dream. But every time I think of her -- of... of the Dark War, as you say..."
He draws in his breath, pulling his mechanical claws together with a light clank. "I understand that signs of a new War may be upon us soon. I will endeavor to meditate on this."
As Rachel pauses, he realizes that the chill through his spine may have been more than simple metaphor.
"... Tomonori... I remember him dying. Twice. Once in this world -- and once in that elusive 'dream.'"
The feline raises his hood as he enters the stone stairway. Claws clatter on the stone as he ascends the stone, partially lost in thought. "Something was given to me then. Something relating to him -- I -know- it, but not -why-."
Rachel listens quietly to the words of the old cat. To say he has aged well would be to put it mildly... much further in years than any human could hope to live, and yet still so dangerous with claw and blade. The refrain - old soldiers never die, they just fade away - is perhaps all too apt in reference to the fur covered samurai.
The young lady moves with patient step, accompanied by her guest. Jubei's ears would pick up the sounds of tiny wings fluttering, of Nago's unexpectedly stealthy steps, of the breezes that drift through the rafters high above, or of the creak of old wood settling even after however many eras this castle has stood.
"Indeed," Rachel speaks when he mentions the impressions of a new war building. "The timing of your visit is providential, to say the least."
Later, at the stone stairwell, she listens, head bowed slightly, hands still folded within her voluminous sleeves. "To suffer the loss of kin twice over... Would that I could suggest we shan't dwell on such hardship, but I am afraid our journey this eve will not afford such luxuries."
She steps forward through the stone door and begins to descend a curving stairway, the walls ashen grey brick with small alcoves every so many feet. Within each alcove, a single white candle in an ornate golden candleholder is situated, and as the small party draws near, each lights in turn with a mysterious dark blue flame to illuminate the way forward.
The stairwell is more narrow here, forcing the group to travel single-file down into the lower levels of Castle Alucard. While Gii seems content to hover in the back, Nago leaves no opportunity for anyone to get between him and Rachel herself, following right behind the girl as he navigates the steps with unexpected grace given his rather plump physique.
"You know, of course," Rachel speaks softly, her voice carrying easily in the tight quarters, "The dream is far from merely a figment of a creative mind."
The stairs empty out into a large chamber of stone brick and no longer must the group move in single file. The lack of windows and chill temperature suggest that they are somewhere underground, perhaps deep in the mountains the massive castle is built onto. Before them is a towering door of seemingly solid stone and adjacent on both sides golden braziers of that same dark blue flame cast a faint light throughout the room. The surface of the door is decorated with an engraved crest that would be familiar to Jubei's eyes - a scarlet rose embedded in a magic circle of softly glowing azure surrounded by viridian thorn covered vines, dark silhouettes of ornate polearms, and violet chains crisscrossing the pattern. The glowing sigil is none other than the crest of House Alucard.
Lifting her face to gaze at the nigh unbreakable arcane lock, Rachel raises her hand, her sleeve slipping back to the elbow to expose her slender forearm. Closing her eyes briefly, she whispers silent words, and the great door slowly begins to grind its way open.
"Tonight you will find some measure of truth in the old axiom... that while perhaps it is over stating things to suggest that ignorance is bliss, knowledge does comes with a heavy burden."
The weight of Rachel's words suggests she speaks from experience, a weary toll for one still so early in the course of her immortal existence. "Though it may be cruel to explore the truth of it with you, I will not beg your forgiveness. I only do what is necessary."
The mighty door completes its slow unsealing and the girl leads the way into the massive reliquary that exists beyond. Once all have passed over the threshold, the stone door would begin to grind slowly closed behind them, sealing the four within. Relics line the central walkway, each housed in or on custom crafted mounts, display cases, or shelves. Weapons of unknown origin, ancient tomes, and curious devices of enigmatic purpose are stored in an orderly, well preserved fashion. Some items seem far more mundane, by comparison: a dark brown robe, almost humble in its design, but for the chains of gold that cross the front of it. A black shawl with golden embroidery. And a wheel chair of black walnut that the late Clavis Alucard was restricted to in the twilight years of his long existence. There an amaranthine aura to the room, as if to linger here is to dwell beyond the passage of time itself.
The timeless child had spoken of hardship for Jubei, but the perceptive guest could hardly miss that his hostess has become more melancholy the deeper they have gone. But as Rachel moves through the chamber, her gaze is fixed forward, never veering toward the priceless artifacts or irreplaceable mementos.
At the far end of the vault is another stone door, this one smaller than the first. Over the top of it is a stone carving of a vampire bat, its thick, leathery-looking wings descending down both sides to frame the door itself. Adjacent to the doorway is a small porcelain pedestal, atop which rests a small, folded white cloth. Toward the cloth, Gii flutters, plucking it up with his tiny feet.
"I must know, Mister Jubei," Rachel speaks up for the first time after entering the room, her eyes gazing at the sepulcher door. "Now that you have seen the betrayer face to face once more... are you willing to do whatever it takes to put an end to him? No matter the cost?"
Master Jubei pads his way through the hallway, his feline senses picking up nuances of each sight, sound, and smell. Each creature has its own personal rhythm -- the core of one's being, expressed most distinctively in the simple act of locomotion.
"I have long avoided the truth -- and sadly I cannot lay all the blame at the foot of the Destroyer." The old cat's voice is somber, quiet, and notably penitent as he steps into the stairwell. Blue candlelight flickers in his eye with such tempting allure -- and in his mind's eye, he entertains the idea of taking batting out the flame with his paw, before pulling his focus back to the moment.
The dream is more. He nods quietly.
"Naturally. And yet it feels more like a dream, than a memory." He looks at the top of Nago's head, as it bobs just two steps beneath his descent. His lips curling into a brief smile as he correlates the impression with his train of thought. "I remember tumbling about with Tomonori and Munefuyu upon the hills. The scent of spring air, the blades of grass tickling at my fur, the sturdy roots thumping hard against the back of my head..." He pauses, offering a brief grunt in self-recrimination. "I respect you too much to subject you to my poetry, but I assure you, I can recall the most miniscule of details about the most banal of occasions."
To the cat, confined spaces are no cause for fear, but instead comfort -- the walls are ways of partitioning space, keeping the senses focused upon immediate concerns. There is no place here for an attacker to gain advantage. If Nago or Rachel were to turn upon him, a simple shove from the oversized sleeves could end the conflict quickly. The nekomata's tails rise up, their dance resembling a spinning twin helix, teasing just a short distance away from the flapping bat -- if an attack were to come from behind, the prehensile tails would be Jubei's first and second lines of defense.
"But lest I get off track -- I remember everything about those moments in time, the sights, the senses. Everything. But that Dark War... the -why- and -how- of what we were fighting? I look at Valkenhayn, and I remember him young -- but I do not remember his words. The reason for the fight. I look at Clavis, and I remember fondness... but not justification. The Dark War is like a movie to me -- flat, and missing the nuances that make it feel -real- to me."
He pauses deliberately, his whiskers twitching as the thoughts most present on his mind demand to be shared.
"I think of Konoe. And thanks to that... Destroyer, I can remember everything I loved about her. Her face, her scent, her... passion for life. Everything -- except for why we were fighting. Except how she was able to -deny- his nature to such degree that that madman was behaving -- why he was fighting alongside us."
He steps inside. He finds his eye fixating upon the wheelchair. He has only focused upon his own loss -- but here Miss Alucard is forced to confront her own. Guilty -- he falls silent.
Can he destroy the Destroyer?
He has no immediate response. He looks back at Rachel for a moment, before closing the gap and standing alongside her. He, too, looks upon the sepulcher door.
"... I will give you an answer you will like, and an answer you may like less."
His face is devoid of humor, his crimson eye fixated upon the door.
"Yes, I will do whatever it takes to put an end to him. I am assured that my recollections, no matter how incomplete, are correct."
Whiskers flutter. The twin tails begin to droop.
"But, I would like to know your perspective... on why we thought it wise to trust him in the first place. That is the crucial element of context I am missing."
At her question and his thoughtful answer that follows, Jubei has Rachel Alucard's full attention, her crimson eyes wide open. She is clearly not taking his response for granted, observing not just the words he uses, but his tone of voice, his body language, his posture. It must be rare to have a visitor that she can look eye to eye with.
But then he makes a request, reasonable, introspective, beseeching information to help fill in the blanks in his memory, and at that, the little vampire looks briefly conflicted, averting her eyes to the side to rest on the sealed tomb. "Ah," comes her answer after a moment. "The most important question ever asked." Her right hand lifts to rest against the side of her head, her eyes closing, while Gii flutters back over to her side, the white cloth dangling from his feet. "The question of why."
She turns away from the feline warrior then, facing the door once more. Unlike the crest-engaged outer door, this one is completely smooth. Another spell is whispered, words known only to her and her faithful steward. Slowly, this door begins to grind open as well, siding to the right, moved by gears or magic entirely unseen from this side.
"It would impart some small amount of happiness to me to answer that question; to explain why the script played out the way it did. But I'm afraid I cannot." A pause, a wistful sigh at her lips. "I cannot interfere with my own intervention."
As the door moves open, it becomes clear that it does not open directly into a sub-chamber at all. Rather than a dimly lit stone tomb, a swirling polychrome vortex exists just past the newly made opening. The little vampire gazes at the churning arcane phenomenon with half-lidded eyes, her mouth a thin, neutral line.
"Brace yourself, Mister Jubei. Prepare your mind. Your willpower is your only protection beyond this point. The Alucard Catacombs are shielded somewhat from the influences of The Boundary, but not entirely."
With that, Rachel lowers her right hand from the right side of her head, her left hand reaching over to shove her draping sleeve up past her elbow as she takes a step closer to the vortex. Without hesitation, the girl reaches her arm into the portal, left hand still holding back her lacey sleeve. There is a brief but loud sound, sharp, mechanical, like gears and steel grinding for one second and no more.
Slowly, she pulls her arm back out from the obscuring energy and the scent of blood will no doubt immediately flood the sensitive predator's senses. A ring has been cut into the girl's pale flesh, precise, thin, circling just above the wrist like the simulacrum of a bracelet, and from the cut, blood drips freely though Rachel hardly seems concerned. Immediately, Gii zips down to the level of her forearm as she continues to hold it forward and, in a demonstration of surprising dexterity given his shape, begins to wrap the white cloth he had picked up around the cut using his mouth and tiny feet.
Beyond, the swirling barrier that had greeted the party begins to form a pattern - rather than random colors, blues and grays become predominant. Little by little, the swirling slows, solidifying, until at last it appears to be an entrance into the next room like any other doorway; the way unsealed by fresh blood from the only living heir to Clavis Alucard.
"Of course," Rachel continues from where she had left off, not seeming to pay any mind to the ghastly looking injury or Gii's ministrations, "Just because I cannot answer your question for you does not mean that you cannot find the knowledge yourself. Keep your mind focused, concentrate on what you wish to know, on the blanks you want filled. Perhaps that truth will find its way to you within."
Gii finishes tying the white cloth around the girl's wound. Curiously, it doesn't seem to be blood stained. She lowers her right arm, allowing her sleeve to fall over it again. The room beyond is lit by the same dark blue flame candles as this chamber, each three-prong candle holder secured in a small alcove in the stone wall. Even before entering, Jubei will be able to see that the chamber beyond seems to extend on into infinity, a long, wide room, as far as the eye can see.
Rachel strides forward with her familiars, passing over the threshold into the tomb.
Stepping into the unending chamber will make clear the need for the girl's warning. Immediately, Jubei would find his mind pressed upon, his psyche crushed then stretched, his memories shuffled through, as if some unseen force was intent on studying every moment of his life up until this moment. It can feel overwhelming, dizzying, and but for his own strength of will, it would inevitably destroy him, leaving his awareness stretched across infinite possibilities, never to be made whole again. Waiting just inside, Rachel would stand, her hand resting against the side of her head again, white cloth tied around her wrist, looking forward, but clearly waiting, giving the old warrior a chance to collect himself or be lost in the process.
Perhaps she could have placed more emphasis on that warning.
For the master to strike with full effectiveness, he must be able to set his mind at ease. As he saw just a few minutes prior, an uneasy mind is nothing but a liability when fighting against Yuuki Terumi. And if he were to harbor any sympathy for Terumi's condition -- that might just upend the entire purpose of the preparation.
But those are matters for younger, less experienced cats to trifle Rachel with. Rachel is -- if not a friend of his own prior self, then at least friendly enough to be concerned for his welfare. By her own admission, she would not withhold the information wihtout due cause. Knowing that is enough for him.
"I understand. Perhaps the answer will avail itself to me through some other means."
The cat offers a lopsided and understanding smile.
The door opens to reveal a barrier of coruscating lights -- brilliant enough to force the cat's iris to narrow to a mere slit, his eyelid to half-mast. He stares, rapt with attention. The very tips of his twinned tails shiver as he looks into the vortex, gleaning what information he needs from the young vampiress' warning.
His iris widens, just a bit. His breathing slows as calm comes over him, his hood bobbing with a nod of affirmation. The tips of his tails lift -- hooking over like an upside-down letter J.
The state of an empty mind is one he can achieve here, after all -- a state of both offense and of unbreakable defense. Contrary to the smile from moments earlier, his stance speaks of maturity, of patience.
His nose twitches at the scent of blood. Iris response is minimal, though his tails do drop a hair or two. His silent scrutiny passes to the wound, and then to Gii, before finally settling upon the swirling, coruscating barrier as it transforms into a more homogenous state.
He nods tacitly, stepping forward without further hesitation, his tails swishing eagerly in his wake.
"Whatever happens, I... thank you for this opportunity."
The Boundary... a term spoken with such reverence that it can't -not- be capitalized when written.
His tawny fur takes on a nearly violet tone as he steps into the radiating light, darker fur staining to nearly black. Resolute, the one-eyed samurai casts his gaze forward throughthe shimmering currents. If he were to look down, he feels positive that the floor of the room would betray him, forcing him to fall for impossibly long distances. That won't do, won't do at all -- the empty mind must focus on the prerogatives established by his decades of travel, to keep his defenses strong under the onslaught of the Infinite. The crucial question of what his dreams mean has been largely answered -- and of course, that was the topmost tier. But now, as he stands on the precipice of disaster, the other questions rise to the forefront.
And in a way -- the Boundary answers him before he can even pose the question, as visions of alternate phases swim by, gliding far out of reach. Mirrors of himself, of his family, of his friends.
Some catch his eye -- curious questions that have plagued him seemingly for eons. But with a huff, he steps forward, tails stretching out to parallel the ground plane his disciplined mind insists -must- be present.
First things first.
He looks into the Boundary with unshakable determination.
Jubei is given all the time he needs collect himself, Rachel waiting in the breathless silence of the unliving. Her right hand lifts, white cloth still tight around her wrist, fingers resting lightly against the side of her head as she looks onward.
The world seems to shift before Jubei's eyes. The door they entered is gone. In fact, the wall itself is gone. For a long moment, the world would be a void to the old warrior's eye.
Only as he focused, as he wrestled with that stress being placed on his mind, as he narrowed his concentration into a narrow band of manageable thoughts, does the tomb seem to take on form once again. At his side, the small vampire merely stands, staring off into the distance, her expression impossible to read.
Echoes of memories would abound - figments from the feline's past at times. Other times they would feel familiar yet not quite to the point of being actual memories. At once, the two are standing atop a high mountain and in the distance, an impossible city constructed atop the peak of another. Then they are in Metro, standing in the Grand Central Square, foot traffic rushing past and through them without the slightest effect. A secret spring, an open field where a charcoal ruin decays, a great temple, unfathomably large. The moments come and go in an instant or linger for what feels like several minutes.
Voices call out from the blur, snippets of conversations half-remembered.
"I know what you are doing, Terumi." a deep voice growls, the words of a long lost brother.
"Terumi, you bastard!" a voice Jubei would now recognize as belonging to Konoe.
"I could not reach him in time..." Valkenhayn's noble voice, heavy with remorse.
When the samurai of the past takes that step forward to stand adjacent to Rachel, the young Alucard finally glances to the side, a smile of faint bemusement at her lips as she studies Jubei for a brief moment.
"We have arrived."
Within the gaze of his one eye, their surroundings take focus, solidifying, becoming a rectangular chamber of stone. No more shifting worlds, no more blinding lights, no more disembodied voices from the past. Just a simple long hall with stone coffins arrayed in a fixed interval.
Compared to some of the ornately carved or decorated sarcophaguses visible along the, the stone coffin in front of them is humble - simple, thick grey rock, lacking for any ostentatious displays of wealth or power. A bronze plaque on the side identifies it - as if Jubei wouldn't have already known: Lord Clavis Alucard. He always was a man interested in simplicity.
Gazing at the resting place of her father, Rachel lowers her right hand, fingers extended, as if delicately touch the surface of the sarcophagus.
It is Nago at her side that pipes up, "P-Princess, is that wise?"
Rachel pulls her hand back, looking briefly as if she had been stung though she composes herself in almost an instant. "Of course not. That was a test." She glances sidelong toward Jubei, "Do not to touch that." she states firmly, head bowed slightly as her arms fold across her stomach. "I think it is best we do not discover how the Mirror's Edge Absolute Defense responds to you..." Her voice fades as the small party is joined by another familiar if different figure.
Valkenhayn R. Hellsing. He looks younger than when last he was seen in the castle, his face lacking the wrinkles of one who has been burdened with far too many concerns in his life. He is wearing what is left of a suit, the coat all but tatters hanging from his shoulders, his white dress shirt's sleeves torn to the elbow on one side and the shoulder on the other, the fabric shredded open over his bloodied, lean, muscular torso. In spite a hint of a limp and damage to his leg to justify it, the man walks with a solemn step, his head bowed. Both arms are forward, bent at the elbows, and in them a broken form is cradled.
To the side of Rachel and Jubei, a stone altar appears, the fragrant incense of burning candles detectable after a few seconds as the towering man moves up to and then past the small group to approach the alter and lay the body atop the stone altar. The crimson coat is similar to the lighter one Jubei wears now, and as the hood falls back, the grey-white tabby face of his brother, Tomonori, is revealed. Blood mats his fur and long, white mane, and his sleeve-covered arms don't seem to hang at the right angles until Valkenhayn carefully arranges the corpse to a more respectful repose with his gloved hands, performing the grim task in lonesome silence.
"Yuuki Terumi's doing, I'm afraid," Rachel Alucard murmurs, watching the all too real echo of the past. "My father never forgave himself for sending him on that mission... Of course, it was only supposed to be for reconnaissance. Attacking Kazama... Terumi, had been Mister Tomonori's decision made in haste." Her eyes stray along the tattered form of her ever trusted servant, "Valkenhayn had been dispatched as backup, just in case... he arrived only a moment too late. In the end, your brother had injured Terumi enough that Valkenhayn was able to subdue him following a vicious battle... He died a hero. A foolish hero, perhaps, but a hero by every definition." Her words are spoken respectfully in spite the barb, the expression perhaps a way of ruing the loss of a potential strong ally in her own, petulant way.
Ears fold down, beneath the shelter of their cloth shrouds. An infinite variety of sights reflect across his eye, occluded only when the cat finds it necessary to blink. His tails swing langorously from side to side - a primal need to find balance, the samurai's body denying the impulses sent down from his brain that everything is, in fact, a-okay here.
Duotoned blue and gray melt away as mountain peaks rise up to meet him, only to be replaced by the soft incandescent glow of a train station, the traffic-filled streets of a nameless metropolis, the desert sands kissed by moonlight, the hard deck planking of an ocean liner listing back and forth. Voices torment him -- twitching his ears, plucking his heartstrings. No cry is so loud that it can shatter his focus -- though the sound of Konoe's voice does get a wrinkle of his nose. And no place exists long enough for Jubei to get his bearings. Each step forward represents an incalculable exchange of trust in the vampiress ahead of him -- and yet, each step is taken without undue delay. As long as he never doubts his path, he is convinced he will not waver from it.
It is an eternity.
And then it is ended with one final step onto the pavement.
Jubei's nostrils flare from the expelled breath. His shoulders relax slightly. And his tails rise like antennae, sticking out straight at nearly forty-five degree angles to his back.
The threat to Rachel is implicitly understood, even before he can fully make out the place he's been brought. He nods quietly at the warning to avoid touching anything -- though it's at -this- point that he looks down, affirming the feeling cold stone upon his bare paws. The floor surface is clean, with no aberration -- and most of all, solid.
The cat relaxes noticeably -- and even moreso once his eyes fall upon Valkenhayn. This, like any of the multitude of scenes passed in transit, represents just one possibility, one story. And he watches it unfold, cross-referencing it with the other visions he's experienced. And his eye drifts from Valkenhayn down to the...
No, he resolves with a start, the very tips of his tails swishing from side to side. To the -body-, cloaked in crimson, stained both intentionally and as a product of a grand battle.
Jubei's eye trembles, as his grip tightens upon the weapons in his sleeves.
To see him again, as he has in his visions.
Jubei steps closer, eye narrowing.
"He always was a hothead. Acting without thinking. Impulsive, quick to anger. And without him..."
And then he sighs.
"Without him life would have been very different. And short. I like to think part of him rubbed off on me, that day."
Jubei's long-sleeved paw reaches out. But -- remembering Nago's earlier adminition, his reach does not span far. He looks to Valkenhayn's face for guidance -- gauging the expression.
"... Can he see us...?" he asks. A simpleminded question for someone gazing into the infinite.
The tails have risen -- nearly upright, and trembling lightly. "... Tomonori fought like hell, though. I was always... proud of him, for that much."
"I'm afraid not," Rachel answers regarding the past echo being able to see them. "For now, we are merely playing the role of the audience..."
Valkenhayn's gloved hands clench, the tall warrior turning to stride purposefully back in the direction he had come, leaving the small group with the body of the fallen hero.
"Indeed," the young looking blonde adds, "You should be. So fiercely did he fight, that he accomplished something entirely unheard of - something that will give us a fighting chance against the betraying vermin. But first, we belong somewhere else."
Jubei would feel the tug of unseen, tidal forces, gravity pulling at him from all directions, the vision before his eye dissolving into chaos. This is Rachel's doing, he would know instinctively, she has somewhere in mind for them to be. Or perhaps some time?
The walls, the dark blue candles, the pristine, stone floor free of smudge or dust, all solidify around him as before, their appearance similar enough to suggest that they have arrived elsewhere in the vast catacombs. There are no sarcophaguses nearby, but rather the center of attention seems to be a vertical alcove in the wall, a black, shiny metal covering, glowing crimson chains criss crossing it from top to bottom. Paper talismans dangle from links of the chain, each one bearing a kanji character painted in what appears to be dried blood. Just standing in the presence of the sealed chamber, even separated by time, is enough to sense the malevolent aura seeping from it.
Here, Jubei and Rachel are joined by others - figments of the utmost clarity, just like in the previous location.
Valkenhayn looks a little older than he did before, looking toward the sealed chamber with a look of chiseled disapproval. Next to him is a young blonde woman, dressed in the uniform and robe of a recognized mage: Trinity Glassfille. Next to her is another young woman, also dressed in a uniform - does Jubei recognize his sister in law? Another soul ripped from his live by Terumi's fangs?
And finally, next to the sealed vault itself, Konoe A. Mercury, her signature pointed hat slanted atop her head, her uniform somewhat ill-fitting on her exceptional figure, left hand propping up the brim of her hat while her right hand is propped against her hip. For a moment upon arriving, her mouth is moving, but no sound is heard - statements somehow lost to The Boundary, or perhaps simply not accessible by the anachronistic audience of cat and vampire. But slowly, the sound begins to fill in, allowing the interlopers between time to listen in on parts of the heated debate, though only fragments come through clearly enough to be discerned.
"...no other way," Konoe insists. Already the greatest mage that had ever lived and still so young. Had she been allowed to grow into her full strength, perhaps even the gods themselves would be shaken.
"Need I remind you what price was paid to seal him here in the first place?" Valkenhayn, immaculately dressed as always, stands stiff and tall.
Trinity speaks up, her voice soft, delicate, "Nine- Konoe believes she has a way to control him. He will not be able to do anything but what she forces him to do."
The brunette sister of Konoe rests a hand against her cheek, "It seems cruel to keep him here, but is making him a slave any better?"
Konoe lowers the brim of her hat, breaking eye contact from the others, the look on the lower half of her face suggesting a temper she fights to restrain. "We are running out of time. The year is almost up. I know how to create the means for the beast to die, but it cannot be forged without the ability to Self Observe. And this..." The mage grits her teeth, "...savage... is the only thing we have ever found with that capability. We need him for this power or when the year is up, we will face the Black Beast, as helpless as we were before the Blooedge..."
Valkenhayn shakes his head slowly, his voice heavier than perhaps any other time, "I... will not prevent such a reckless plan from moving forward, but... I do not have to stand here to watch you try to wield that cretin as a tool." The aging werewolf turns to stride away, vanishing into the shadows beyond the immediate location.
Trinity watches the steward of the Alucards, a man maintaining a lonely vigil over a deeply sleeping girl who not so long ago lost her father, his Lord and friend. Then she looks back toward Nine, "Mind Eater will work. It will deny him any capacity to act on his own. I trust you, Konoe. We all do."
Rachel speaks up at Jubei's side, though whether he has the capacity to listen to her just then is another question all together. "Konoe A. Mercury was not wrong," she closes her eyes to just small slits as the image of Nine turns to begin breaking the hundreds of seals keeping Terumi trapped, one by one to release the serpent.
"Without Terumi's gift, there would have been no Nox Nyctores. Without the Nox Nyctores, there would have been no victory over the Black Beast."
Another pause as Nago at her side looks away from the seal breaking efforts. "She too was a hero, in every way. Sadly, as we have already seen... the sacrifices that come with being a hero are rarely rewarded. Even I do not know how Terumi managed to circumvent the Mind Eater spell... in the hands of Konoe, its execution would have been beyond fault. I simply cannot fathom how he ever broke free of it." The young vampire's eyes open halfway, her right hand resting against the side of her head, "You said you wanted to know... It is too late for regrets now, too late to ever forget again."
Jubei realizes almost immediately after asking his question what a silly question it is -- the swinging of his paw would no doubt have attracted Valkenhayn's sharp eye. "... I see," he concludes, following the well-dressed werewolf as he strides back in the direction he came. He smiles briefly -- pleased to see a brief glimpse of his dear friend in a much younger state.
And it's then that he realizes that the pressure he was straining so hard to fight against has... faded to a considerably lower level. With Rachel's formidable abilities anchoring the quartet to this particular echo of reality, he exhales gratefully.
... But he can only avoid the reason for this visit for so long before curiosity gets the better of him. What better chance will he have to take one more look at his departed brother? The charcoal-clad cat stretches up upon his hind legs -- arms hanging low, while two tails flutter behind him for stability -- as he takes a more studious look at his brother on the slab. Once again he laments the blasted need of humans to inconvenience him by putting things juuuust out of his reach. As he's unwilling to climb on top of anything else, though he contents himself with the view of his slightly higher viewpoint.
"Rest well, my brother..." he whispers, eye unable to keep from flitting from one patch of blood-matted fur to the next.
Bittersweet melancholy falls across the cyclopean cat's face as he realizes there is nothing more to be gleaned from further observation. Another destination awaits -- and he allows his weight to settle back into a resting stance, passing one nod to Rachel.
The world shifts. Strands of fur prick outward as he draws inward, restoring the tension that kept him safe through his passage through the Boundary earlier. Perhaps it is not necessary, but for one unaccustomed to fast-forwarding through and skipping across the timeways, it sure -feels- necessary.
Until it doesn't.
And Jubei exhales, once again, as he allows some of his true penitent self to trickle back into the empty mind.
"... I suppose one will get used to that, with time..." he comments with a wry half-smile, his tails shuttling back and forth roughly parallel to the stone floor.
And then the cat realizes the quartet is not alone. An artifact secured by a seemingly unending series of wards and bonds -- and a second quartet to discuss its fate. His eye scans across the group.
His head stops turning when he notices Konoe. To 'see' her in his dreams was one thing -- but to see her -here-, flesh and blood...
The pressure upon his consciousness strains. But this time, it is pressure from within, as the one-eyed cat finds himself listening to her words. And hanging upon each one.
"... It's her," he says matter-of-factly -- not as if Rachel or her familiars need this reminder. He listens to Konoe talk -- and finds himself wandering around the room, those tails sweeping back and forth as if to ensure none of these echoes of the past sneak up on him.
His eye glances to each speaker in turn, blinking inquisitively as each imparts useful advice to the discussion. He -does- recognize each of the three -- they aren't -complete- strangers. But to hear them talk, so casually, so friendly -- without the constant thrum of battle...?
Ah, except for Valkenhayn though. His own avatar for this scene -- a kindred soul to speak the words on his mind. Perhaps with a bit more agitation, to be sure. The samurai can't help but snort in agreement as Valkenhayn walks away; surely Jubei would have been of similar mind towards the Destroyer, considering the last vision he had set foot in.
He finds his gaze lingering on Trinity as she speaks her wisdom -- a passing statement only spoken after the lone male voice departs the room. His jaw sets, as his paws cross in front of him.
And he looks back -- not at Trinity -- but to Konoe, as the wards are broken, stripped away one by one. The -presence- fills him with awe -- terribly, irresistably powerful, and yet so confident. No wonder the idea made such sense at the time -- and no wonder those gathered just went along with the plan.
He pulls away. And notices Nago pointedly looking elsewhere.
"... I believe you are correct," he concludes, his tails beginning to lift. The fur begins to spike outward.
"Every sword must be returned to its sheath. And stored properly, at the conclusion of battle."
The cat sighs, shaking his head. And returning to watch Konoe, as if he's -forcing- himself to watch the procedure that Nago avoids.
"Would that I could have wished the dreams away entirely, perhaps ignorance would be bliss. But no -- I needed this. And I thank you..."
Jubei closes his eye for a moment, and nods his head to Rachel in thanks.
There is a certain deference to the way Rachel avoids looking at the old widower as he moves around the room. He will find no judgement in the small girl's expression, her crimson gaze focused on observing the events playing out before them as if reviewing them for herself. She only speaks to offer insights she feels she can get away with now that Jubei knows the heart of the matter, but otherwise, he is allowed to wrestle with the cracking dam of emotions, conflicted feelings, and lost memories largely by himself. Some might find the vampire's lack of outward empathy a disservice, but perhaps the old cat appreciates the vague semblance of privacy?
Only when he speaks to her does Rachel's eyes shift to the coat-clad feline, watching him side-long as he continues to observe the slow, tedious process of letting the dark djinn out of the lamp. He expresses thanks, and Rachel's eyes close all together, her head dipping ever so slightly in rare acknowledgement.
"I'm afraid time is running short," she replies, eyes opening half-lidded once more, focus shifting back to the laborious process of breaking seals that would have stood the test of eternity but for this reckless, unavoidable plan. "And it is necessary for us to secure the purpose of our journey." It might be confusing to suggest that time could run short in a realm where time itself seems a very loosely defined constraint, but the tiny vampire offers no further explanation concerning the need for haste.
She would await his proximity before pulling them away again, once more through the undulating tides of reality and time. As before, the two seem not to move at all, but rather existence folds and turns on itself, wrinkles in the continuum that eventually begin to smooth out into burial chamber they visited before. Lord Clavis Alucard's humble sarcophagus against one wall. On the other side of the room, the stone surface where Hellsing had once placed a hero's body in peaceful repose has had a stone coffin built atop it, small by human standards, as if constructed to house a child.
It is this new addition that Rachel focus upon, right hand resting against the side of her head, white cloth wrapping around her forearm still tied snugly. Tall candle holders, each with three candles burning an ethereal pure white flame, provide the gentle illumination here now.
Resting atop the lid of the smaller coffin is the figure of a cat carved from stone, curled up to sleep, one forepaw resting atop a sealed book. The tail of the resting statue loops around a small spherical capsule the size of an average human's clenched fist. The capsule is crafted of what appears to be solid gold, encrusted with sparkling rubies and emeralds. The capsule appears to have a fine seam around the center of it, suggesting it can be opened.
Standing near the last resting place of Jubei's brother, she makes no move toward it for now. "My father left the choice to you - to take him to be interred among the Kaka Clan's honored dead. Or to be laid to rest here, in this tomb of legends..."
The girl's eyes close for a moment as she continues, "I do not know what factors you weighed that day to settle on accepting my father's offer. But like so many other moments of choice and consequence that seem of limited scope at the time, your choice has turned out to be monumentally vital to our future."
Her eyes open again, half lidded, focusing on the sealed golden bauble wrapped in the stone tail. "Were he buried any other place... well, I do not know if I would be able to do what must be done. When I awoke from deep slumber years after the end of the Dark War, Valkenhayn accompanied me here, that I might see my father's final resting place. It was in the course of that somber occasion that I became aware of a miracle none had moticed before in their grief."
Her right hand lowers from the side of her head, hands vanishing into her sleeves as she clasps them together in front of her. Her gaze never wavers, eyes blinking only occasionally as she continues, "Mister Tomonori was a man of unparalleled conviction, a resolved warrior, and a talented magician. Standing in the presence of his resting place, I sensed the presence of a spell within his coffin - small, faint, yet enduring barrier ars magus - the kind your brother was a natural at creating."
Her eyes close again, her head bowing slightly, arms shifting to fold over her stomach, "I assure you, it was not my desire to profane the fallen, but I knew at once that he would not have idly cast the spell when locked in a lethal battle with the Betrayer... no... I knew he had entrusted to us his vengeance... and his hope."
Lifting her face, Rachel's focus shifts to the old warrior, "Mister Jubei, I-" Her voice catches, a rare case of hesitation in the normally dangerously self-assured immortal child. "In a moment, you will see an echo of yourself from another time, another place. It will be necessary for you to move as he does, to stand where he stands, and endure what he, himself, endured long ago. I need for you to trust me in this... I cannot force you."
From time to time, Jubei may catch sight of Rachel's deferential look, but the old cat is not planning to take offense. If it weren't for Rachel, he couldn't be here -- and he understands full well that bearing witness to this key moment from a time blocked off from his memory is a gift that cannot be offered by just anyone. It would be considerably more invasive if this time-lost museum's curator were to annotate -everything- she saw before her vampiric eyes -- so yes, he certainly appreciates being able to take his time.
Not only that, he appreciates the sacrifice made in even bringing him here. His tails rising in amicable fashion, he waves off the apology. "I understand. Don't let a dawdling old cat delay your work here, Lady Alucard." He offers a warm, unbeguiling smile, with a slight twinkle in his eye. Getting a chance to see these persons from his past has been a welcome change of pace compared to his aimless wanderings of the world -- but he understands full well the dangers of spending too much time dwelling upon the past.
As bidden, he approaches Rachel, his limbs drawing close as he renews his defenses for the next transition. The hooded cat turns back to Trinity, to his sister-in-law, to the shade of his departed wife -- watching for those last precious minutes. As the room begins to stretch out of view, that twinkle in his eye becomes a tremor, as he watches Konoe's conical hat and her sinuous curves fold in upon one another, the colors of her robes smearing into a homegenized blue-grey.
Some day, he mouths silently into the void. Some day.
And now -- he finds himself in what appears to be a similar room as before, changed only with the passage of time, and the brighter candlelight. The cat relaxes his defenses, tail drooping as chill creeps back into his bones. With the slab entombed in stone, he approaches with folded-down ears, his damp eye trembling even more as he looks upon the ornate statue.
Jubei squints -- examining each loving detail. He's positive it would have taken several weeks, if not months or years, to create a work of such exquisite detail. His whiskers twitch as he takes ever closer looks at the statue, a tongue darting across his lips in fascination.
"This was... quite the piece of work!" he announces, momentarily forgetting to mind his volume in the cavernous environs. And yet, as he looks upon the vessel, his nose wrinkles.
Jubei turns back to Rachel, nose tilted slightly upwards to express his mild confusion. And yet -- there is a tale to be told.
Clavis left this choice to him.
To the Jubei, standing right here?
Jubei's jaw creaks open, as if to annotate his hesitation -- only to hear Rachel elucidate that it wasn't -him-, but the earlier Jubei, who made the choice.
He closes his mouth, nodding with rapt attention.
And then more confusion, as she speaks of miracles. It's then that he steps aside -- allowing the youngish vampire to have a direct line of sight to the gemstone-lined statue. He listens quietly -- and the import of what she is saying hits home.
The body was disturbed.
Jubei looks down, eye narrowing. His tails droop low, swishing back and forth -- signs of frustration not matched by his relatively composed expression and stance.
The brothers may have had their disagreements in the past. But that is still his brother. And...
And those kind, apologetic words came, all the same.
Jubei's eye closes, his nostrils flaring as he draws in his breath. His tails slowly rise up, the very tips drooping pendulously, swinging with a calmer frequency.
As hurtful as it may have been to Tomonori's memory, the coincidence of Rachel coming to grips with her own personal loss tilts the circumstances of the decision considerably.
Another flare of nostrils.
"... The laws and mores of civilization govern in times of peace. Suspension of these... traditions... may become necessary in times of war."
His eye opens -- ruled by wisdom rather than the tides of emotion. Drops of moisture flick onto the darker fur of his cheek. "I am positive, now, seeing what I have, that you chose the right course of action then."
He does not smile -- for as he places one paw atop another, the nekomata is attempting to keep his emotions reined in."
He stands there for a moment, before allowing one sleeved paw to rise, sweeping sideways to indicate the statue. He turns his eye towards it.
"... I don't remember.... anything like this at all. Brand new to me. I feel like I -ought- to remember something so... ornate..."
And still... he is asked to walk the path. To confront not only the past -- but an echo of his own past self.
Jubei glances back at Rachel, over his shoulder. Fur bristles with trepidation.
The cat hesitates, his eye trembling, his confidence shaking.
His eye closes.
His breath is drawn in.
His tails level out, stilling themselves.
"Forgive me. I hear you. It is... a lot to take in."
His eye opens, as he fixes his gaze confidently upon Rachel's. Gone are the tremors, gone are the uncertainty. All that remains is the empty mind of the samurai.
"I am ready now."
No more apologies.
Just iron resolve, to step into the role asked of him.
Her eyes have shifted to him when the old warrior looks over his shoulder toward her, clearly waiting for him to digest her request. She hasn't explained what he will face, or even necessarily why, providing only some background to what even lead to this moment and leaving the rest unexplored. All she asks is that he mirror the motions of a past echo, and, whatever happens, to trust her.
As usual, she doesn't press, allowing him to work through the emotional roller coaster she's dragged him through at his own pace. He might also notice that he has the full attention of the large cat at her side, and the hovering bean-bat at her other side, the two familiars staying markedly quiet throughout most of the journey through time. Contrary to what one might expect seeing them on a normal day, maybe they do know there are times and places their interjections will be a hindrance.
Jubei's initial replies are met with a quiet blink, the girl's expression not shifting, her mouth a neutral line of infinite patience for him to arrive at the decision. Quite the poker face on this one. But when he says he's ready, there is a faint smile at her lips, an expression that works its way into her eyes.
Rachel takes a step back at that point, putting distance between her and Jubei, "Nago, Gii, move away, please. I am about to create a magic circle that would be quite harmful to you were you caught within it."
The huge cat lumbers off to one side, "Goodness, Princess, your concern is as magnanimous as ever, but please be careful."
Gii flutters the other way, tiny wings flapping, "You're too kind, Princess. We knew you worried about us." he chirps happily.
"Should things go wrong with the Event Interference," Rachel continues, paying no heed to the expressions of appreciation from her familiars, "I will expect you to throw yourselves onto the circle so that the cascading magical particles atomize you instead of me."
Nago and Gii immediately sulk, heads bowed, "O-oh..." they reply in unison.
The young vampire looks toward the resolute feline then, "Pay no more heed to me. My role in this chapter is fast coming to a close. I entrust the remainder of this journey to you, Mister Jubei."
The words spoken, Rachel Alucard closes her eyes, head bowing just slightly. Extending her arms out to her sides, a swirl of golden hued energy surges up around the girl, whipping her blonde twin-tails and rustling her layers of Gothic finery. Along the ground, intricate circles decorated with precision drawn glyphs expand out, a dome of translucent golden light forming up over the young looking spellcaster. Within the dome, lighting crackles, forking between the hands of the spell caster and the barrier itself. Her mouth moves, but whatever sounds she is making, just like the crackling arcane power, are inaudible outside of the magic shell.
Before Jubei's lone eye, one last play begins to unfold. While the Rachel with the white cloth around her arm channels unfathomable magic off to the side, another Rachel appears, standing next to the small coffin, right hand resting at the side of her head, eyes half-lidded as she stares off into the distance. Behind Jubei, an echo copy of him from another past steps forward and then through the cat, should he not move out of its way instinctively, striding on pawed feet to stand before the echo of the young vampire.
"Gii," the ghost of Rachel commands, "Retrieve the eye."
"Okay, Princess!" The crimson familiar that had accompanied Jubei and Rachel throughout this tour responds to the ghost image's command as if she was addressing him, fluttering over to the statue of the cat, small feet reaching out to clasp over the golden capsule. A torrent of light blue lightning surges out of the gem decorated container the instant he touches it, violently frying the pudgy bat, leaving him to fall to the floor a crisped, unrecognizable blob.
"Well done, Gii." history's Rachel muses, reaching over to take the capsule from the cat's tail now that the deadly spell protecting it has been temporarily discharged. Gii, smoldering on the floor, offers no reply.
Cupping the golden container in her hands, the Rachel of the past faces the Jubei of the past. "In his final moments of life, your brother managed a remarkable feat. With his willpower reinforcing Hihiirokane, he managed to strike Terumi while the Destroyer was in his true form." She presses her fingers against the golden shell and twists it a quarter turn, a soft hiss of released pressure audible from its now broken seal.
"Thinking fast, he sealed that image, that instant in time, into his eye." Past Rachel lifts the cap off of the container, releasing a crimson glow into the room far too bright to see what rests at the center of it. "This is The Sekigan." she murmurs, eyes looking down at the brilliant glowing artifact without squinting. "It is a final gift from your brother... If you gaze upon Yuuki Terumi with this, you will anchor him to this world. He will be vulnerable."
The echo of Rachel steps closer to the echo of Jubei, and the real one, if he has kept to his word to match the position of his mirror image. The Jubei from another time opens his mouth to speak, yet no sound is heard from across the barrier of the past. The vampire from long ago lifts her right hand toward the old cat's hood, fingers closing delicately over the hem of it, before she presses it back, exposing the warrior cat's head. Cupping the capsule in her right hand, she draws back her left hand, moving her fingers over the top of it and gesturing with slow, cautious motions. As she does so, a small sphere of rich orange floats up out of the cup, levitating in front of the girl's face, where she keeps it hovering for a long moment.
Simple words perhaps not sufficient warning for what follows. With a flick of her wrist, the golden sphere surges forward, directly into and through the patch covering the empty eye socket of both cats.
And with it comes a second lifetime of memories, emotions, regrets, and agonizing pain.
Having talked himself back into the state of mind necessary, Jubei allows his breathing to fall into a regular pattern. He has so many questions remaining, and yet Rachel cannot answer them all for him. The Empty Mind, he's decided, is the best path to enlightenment. For that which Rachel cannot explain -- perhaps his alter-ego can.
He observes Rachel's exchange with her helpers with barely a flicker of expresson -- silently watching as the their role in this ritual is established. With one final nod, he acknowledges Rachel's request, turning to focus his attention on the statue. The wondrous appearance of runed circles upon the floor and the materialization of a golden shell around Rachel are both lost upon the samurai -- the magic spell's effect on Jubei is limited to the coruscating reflections splashed upon the bloodstained charcoal fabric on his robes.
His crimson eye flits sideways, taking note of the unbound Rachel striding in to his left. His tails stretch parallel to the stone floor, sweeping slowly back and forth.
And then an orange-coated copy of himself strides right through him.
The grey-clad Jubei's jaw hinges open in surprise, as his tails droop -- never before had he seen himself from behind before.
A moment later, the one priority assigned to the Empty Mind resounds like a bell.
And Jubei steps forward, his robes a charcoal shadow to the blaze orange frock of the ghostly image in front of him.
The two cats' images come into near perfect alignment -- though the merged 'creature' would appear to have tails of two separate minds. The younger image of Jubei struts with a more casual pace, unafflicted by the weight of the world -- and his tails swing low, sweeping close to the floor. In constrast, the older cat's fluffy tails swing back and forth at waist height -- intent on copying, but unable to see -behind- him.
The present-time Jubei's Empty Mind wavers, struggling to find the rhythm of motions necessary to mimic the other Jubei. An orange-sleeved paw raises -- and a half-second later, a charcoal sleeve raises to match the motion. Orange-sleeves cross over one another, shadowed a third of a second later. As past-Jubei listens intently to the story of Tomonori's sacrifice, present-Jubei struggles to keep pace. Perhaps it was a good thing that Rachel saw fit to tell him this tale, so that he does not feel guilty about missing part of it...
And before he knows it -- that other Rachel is raising the golden container in her hands.
One word resounds in his mind: Hihiirokane.
The legendary sword passed down to his clan's descendants.
This time, it is the charcoal-clad Jubei who nods first, shadowed an instant later by the orange.
And then the container opens, radiating with brilliant light.
Both Jubeis squint their eyes at the intensity, shifting their weight to their trailing legs.
And this time, all four tails meet in nearly perfect synchronicity, perked out at high angles.
Their jaws open simultaneously, only to close a moment later. A nod of understanding is given.
And then words are spoken - words heard from the present.
"And then the final blow will be dealt."
Both Jubei's draw in their breath, as the vampire pulls back the orange hood. Ears flatten against the wild, unflocked hair -- and a full second after the orange cowl is withdrawn, the grey cowl falls back as well under its own weight.
Sleeved paws rise up -- clanking softly against one another. The cloth beneath those claws folds as the paws within press together as well -- bracing against each other, as requested.
Let there be light.
Let there be understanding.
Orange light wicks throughout the charcoal robes like dye-rich water. The fibers themselves ripple with radiance, dried blood popping free and vanishing into tiny points of crimson light.
Jubei opens his eyes.
Both of them.
The crimson iris with the white sclera looks back at the form of Rachel, her tiny hands withdrawing the capsule. The eye searches for the flickering image that they are supposed to be mimicking -- and find none.
The brilliant orange iris shines brightly upon a jet black sclera, the intricate sigils of a long-silent brother shining brightly. This is no simple orb; the patterns engrain themselves within Jubei's fur, orange radiance giving light to every wrinkle, every crease in the folds of his weathered flesh.
And immediately before him -- a runic circle appears in midair, impaled by an arrow, replicated in smaller duplicates to the left and right.
The legacy of Tomonori -- his master work, composed with his dying breaths.
Jubei feels himself snarling -- a feral response, echoed by his twin tails bristling as they rise up to near verticality. His heart rate is accelerating. Adrenaline is rising.
These are all things the Empty Mind technique is intended to keep at bay.
Jubei looks left, drawing his paws back. Frustrated, he lifts his left sleeve, eager to see himself outpacing the shadow.
There is only an orange sleeve.
His lip curls back, as he turns to the right.
There is only an orange sleeve -- with no charcoal shadow.
For now, there is only one Jubei.
The old cat breathes a sigh -- of relief? Of understanding? It isn't clear.
But then the cat resumes his focus -- and both eyelids close. Jubei's true eye -- and the Sekigan. The runic patterns dim -- the orange radiance fading.
And Jubei reaches both sleeved paws up, pulling the hood back over his unruly mop of fur.
"... It is... invigorating. But exhausting, at the same time. I will need some time to acclimate to this gift.
His crimson eye opens again -- tails dropping once more to sweep along the ground. "... The time to strike is nearly upon us, though. And we will need a way to cleave the path into the Black Beast -- to return to the Bloodedge."
The orange-clad cat looks towards Clavis' tomb. And he allows the Sekigan to open once more -- and with it, the runes upon his flesh return to their former brilliant intensity.
"... I trust that Konoe's plan to defeat the Black Beast will succeed. But the moment that the Mind Eater shows any sign of failing... Terumi becomes a liability."
The cat flashes his sharpened teeth.
"And now, we have a backup plan."
With Gii sizzling on the floor and Rachel's entire focus dedicated to the reality altering magic being worked within her arcane dome, the only two observers of the brief intersection between two realities are Jubei and Nago. The ebony furred huge cat has mostly spent the time watching Jubei, seated on his haunches, his narrow tail sweeping slowly back and forth over the pristine floor. Now and then, his large head turns to look back toward the spell-casting vampiress as if to make sure there is no cause for him to fling himself bodily toward destruction upon the arcane circles to save his master as he was ordered.
The quiet cat is the lone external witness of reality being overwritten, the events of the present being merged with selected details from the past, the impossible made possible. The eye has been placed and the echoing images of a past Rachel and past Jubei have faded away, leaving only the original quartet.
Jubei's first spoken words following the acquisition of The Sekigan appear only to be heard by the feline familiar, his large, crimson eyes blinking once, ears tilting forward, a curious look to his face. But when the old cat opens one eye, when he speaks of the Black Beast, Nago's eyes widen with a look of visible alarm, the huge cat sitting up straighter then, head raised. "Oh my. Those are the exact same words he said when-"
Rachel Alucard raises her arms, lifting her face toward the ceiling. With a rush of energy, the circles on the floor expand outward, as does the dome she was channeling into the entire time, surging past Jubei, surging past the visible walls, an ever expanding bubble of change. In its wake, a rush of silence, a long pause as the fabric of time wrestles with interference on a cosmic scale and then, after a brief pause to re-calibrate, begins moving forward again as if all were normal.
There is no more spell being woven, no more crackling energy distorting the fabric of reality, only a residual sense that something incredible happened here, something unfathomable. An Event Interference, Phenomena Intervention, Causal Distortion... it matters not what one calls it, the sheer improbability of it remains the same.
Rachel lowers her arms without saying a word, her hair and clothing settling back to rest, her crimson eyes coming to rest on the orange-coat clad samurai as he sets that dangerously powerful gaze upon the world around him.
"Princess!" Nago exclaims worriedly, "Something seems wrong!"
Rachel opens her mouth to speak, only to cough instead, a wet, sickly sound of someone grievously wounded. A grimace flickers across her expression, her left hand reaching over to tug the knot of the white cloth around her right wrist, pulling it free. There is no longer any sign of the circular cut that had been made to her forearm to unlock the way into the tomb, but now blood trickles at the corner of her mouth and it is to that which she begins dabbing delicately while Jubei declares his readiness for a war that long since completed.
There is another wet cough, the girl closing her eyes to wipe across her mouth again to clear any sign of unsightly blood, the cleaning cloth remaining somehow free of any blood just like before.
She takes in another breath, hesitantly now, then breathes out through her mouth with a soft exhale, eyes open once more. "Mister Jubei," she speaks, her voice still not the pristine clear tone with which she normally enunciates, but she's at least intelligible now. "Close your eyes, Mister Jubei. Focus." She dabs at her mouth again as Nago strides over to press closely against her side as if trying to push her onto his back so that she can rest. Her left hand lowers, resting atop his head, but for now she insists on standing.
"The Black Beast is already dead. Re-calibrate your thoughts. You visited Castle Alucard tonight amidst a storm... you met Valkenhayn, but he was old to your eye. Terumi invaded, and you did battle. Focus on those events."
Meanwhile, Gii seems to have reconstituted to some degree, rolling onto his round back, his little feet sticking up into the air as he bats his eyes open. "Ooogh. Princess, that was cruel!"
"Quiet Gii!" Nago snaps back, his head turning to glare at the little bat for a moment, "That isn't important right now."
Rachel coughs again and resumes holding the cloth over her mouth, eyes focused on Jubei, on the mind bombarded with multiple simultaneous realities. There are ailments magic can do nothing to solve. There are more than one reason she felt he was the only one that could receive his brother's gift, more than one reason why he had been and always would be one of the Six Legendary Heroes of a war the world forgot.
The look is not one of confidence towards an impending victory, but one of bewilderment. The reality setting in -- that when one Rachel was standing to his right with a belated gift from the late Tomonori, another is standing to his left with her hands now raised up.
Jubei's jaw hangs open, wordlessly. The realization lasts an instant -- and a moment later, he looks back to Nago.
He turns back to the other Rachel -- only to find emptiness, an empty spot.
His tails drop low, swishing back and forth. The rays of the Sekigan flicker, rippling in unusual frequencies.
Words are spoken -- a clear voice of command.
The same voice that led to the invocation of the Empty Mind.
Jubei does as he's bidden, closing his eyes.
And as the right eye closes, the rays of the Sekigan, branded into his flesh, begin to grow dim.
The dimness sweeps outwards, a ring of flame that sweeps outward, crawling its way across the samurai like the leading edge of a brushfire.
Jubei steps backward, alarmed at the transition. His tails jerk upward sharply, pulling taut. And as he breaks free of the fireline, the orange cloak pulls away as if the cat were shedding a second skin -- if said skin were on fire, and disintegrating further by the moment.
The samurai's teeth are curled into a snarl -- and yet, as he brings his paws together, his tails level out, slinking side to side.
The Black Beast is dead.
You visited Castle Alucard tonight.
The snarl subsides, the eye closes. The last embers of the trapped semblance smolder away to ash, and even those motes of ash melt into nothingness, as the lingering radiance of the Sekigan dissipates.
The cat's ribcage will heave once, twice... ten times.
And only then does he feel that his control has been fully reasserted enough for him to open that left eye again -- the powerful magic of the Sekigan safe and secure beneath the feline's eyepatch.
"... You're injured. ... Forgive me. I was in control -- matching stride for stride. And then it was complete. There was no seam at all, no shadow to follow."
His eye casts downward -- his sensitive feline ears having reported everything he needs to know about Rachel's condition. "I do not mean to rush, but this... can't be a good place for you to spend your youth." The hint of a smile tugs at the old cat's mouth. So much to say -- and yet, as he returns to the present, Rachel's health becomes his paramount concern.
She had asked him earlier - Whatever it takes? No matter the cost? It's possible that she was not more specific about the toll to be paid because she didn't actually know the specifics. Throughout the history of the universe, there may not have ever another moment in time where a magical relic was embedded from across two timelines through the reality shaping power of Event Interference. Every detail about the acquisition of The Sekigan may very well be unprecedented, and given the condition he finds his unaging tour guide following the process, it's just as likely she was not entirely certain what the cost would be to her either.
For now, the small Bystander watches. She need not breath except when speaking, so there is no gruesome death rattle to be heard in her lungs while she waits silently to see if this deadly gamble will ultimately succeed, or whether one of the critical keys to defeating Yuuki Terumi would be lost for all time.
Off to the side, Gii rolls onto his belly, his tiny wings, now far more hale than before, begin flapping as he lifts off the ground and begins drifting back toward Rachel. But Nago and the girl keep their attention focused on Jubei himself, watching the very real wrestle within his soul play out before their eyes.
In the end, the battle is won, the old warrior standing before the master and her two minions, her left hand holding the white cleaning cloth at her mouth just in case any more unsightly blood decided to try and escape. The trio are almost silent but for the soft flapping of Gii's improbably viable wings, leaving the main sound within the burial chamber that of a long, fearsome snarl, a release and realization of so much pain, so much hurt, all caused by the almost unfathomable tragedy of his past lives.
Once he speaks, the grey-coat clad feline would be able to detect a shift in the girl's expression, a hint of a rare smile hidden behind the cloth she keeps pressed to her elegant mouth. The expression is coupled with a distant look to her eyes, however, as if her mind was already focusing on the difficult road ahead. This was one small victory in a gauntlet of struggles that awaited all that would unit to defeat the defiler... there is still so much to do.
But there is no need to be dour about it. Lowering her hand after another press against her lips, Rachel breathes in and again his sensitive ears would hear that all was not well with the tiny vampire. If a human's body was making the kinds of noises her lungs were now, they would assuredly not be long for the world without critical medical intervention. But Rachel merely looks exhausted, her face even more pale than usual. Perhaps that was what she had meant when she said time was running short. The ordeal of the chrono-joureny was no small tax even on a Bystander's body.
"Well done, Mister Jubei. We should be just in time for the dinner Valkenhayn has prepared. Why, with a healthy regimen of Valkenhayn's black tea, I shall be fully recovered in no time." Her right hand reaches out to her right side as Nago presses up against her left, "Come."
Once joined, the group would undergo their final shift - it lasts shorter than the others, a return to an anchor within the Boundary, requiring far less sifting through infinite probabilities to find the point of interest. As the walls once again fold back into stone, the floor into a surface solid and secure, they have returned to the reliquary just outside of the Alucard Cacatcomb's entrance.
"Of what you saw and heard this evening, you can freely share as you see fit." Rachel states once the group is gathered. "Except for the acquisition of The Sekigan... that, I am afraid, we must keep between us for now. If Valkenhayn knew, it would cause him to worry far too much about what I had to do, and I do feel he has enough quandaries to concern himself already."
She holds the white cloth she had been using to soak any spilled blood throughout the journey and Gii takes it in his feet, fluttering over to the stand to replace it where it belongs. It looks as pristine as when it was first collected - not a drop of fresh blood belonging to the last Alucard is to be found. A critical precaution considering the doors it can unlock...
"Shall we then?"
With that, she begins to walk toward the stairs leading back up to the main level.
Jubei knows not what to make of Gii and Nago -- though he does seem to smile once he sees Gii flapping about again. As a partial stranger, he may have been a bit -too- concerned for their well-being, but after his... not-entirely-intended bonding with his former self, he gained a good deal of memories regarding the silly-looking familiars. And he would know -- implicitly if not explicitly -- that the creatures are hardier than they might appear.
Had he even realized he was snarling? It doesn't seem that he's overly concerned or embarassed when he breaks out of his trance and looks Nago and Rachel -- it's clear, after all, that he's undergone quite the ordeal. And there's only so much apologizing one can do before one's reputation as a Hero is questioned.
Which is one reason that, like Rachel, he focuses his attention on the ailments of others. His crimson eye expects the white cloth to be thoroughly inundated with blood -- but of course, the carnivorous predator would be able to -smell- that, even beyond the thorough dusting of dried blood coating his robes. Indeed, his nose wrinkles as only the brief teases the odor waft his way.
A half-smirk crosses the feline's face, as his tails rise nearly straight up, peeking over his gray-clothed shoulders.
And yet -- the old warrior lowers his snout at the way in which it seems Rachel -might- be appealing to his stomach to displace his valid concern for her health -- only to nod quietly as she asserts that Valkenhayn's tea might be able to help her. His jaw opens -- just enough to allow him to moisten his mouth. It's quite likely from the gleam in his eye that she may have just dodged a (possibly unwelcome) dose of fatherly wisdom, as the old cat opts to roll with the conversation.
"This... may go away, but I hope it doesn't -- I seem to remember everything the other Jubei would have, at that time. Right down to how much he... -I-... enjoyed dinner here."
With an amiable smile, the cat strides up, with a small spring in his step that wasn't visible before. The Dream Blades sag about in their scabbard on his back, but quick motion from the nekomata's twin tails is able to sort them back upon his shoulder as he stands next to Rachel, giving brief nods of acknowledgement to Nago and Gii.
"I really can't thank you three enough, by the way. This trip has been... enlightening, to say the least."
He chuckles softly -- though the timbre of that laugh grows a bit deeper as the landscape ripples away into waves of blue and gray, and he's forced to push all that friendliness back under the surface, his nose ridge crinkling from the effort.
As the trip ends, Jubei actually lurches -forward- as the reliquary flickers back into view. It isn't totally accurate to say that he forgot about the trip; rather, his mind is now full of so many more thoughts.
His paws are raised to steady himself; his disconcerted state only lasts a moment, though, as he slips out of his state of concentration. Giving Rachel his full attention, he nods crisply: "... I understand. And thank you. It will be hard -not- to talk openly with Valkenhayn -- he seemed quite exasperated at all I -didn't- remember before."
His geniality returns, as Rachel expresses her concern for the mentioned Valkenhayn. "... He is right to worry, you know..." he responds, inclining his snout in the direction of the white cloth. "... as you have such clever ways of concealing your injuries..." That calm, knowing expression... Maybe she didn't dodge the fatherly tone after all.
Jubei nods, allowing Rachel to once more assume the lead up the staircase. The steps, lit with flickering candlelight, prove to be a source of solace for the samurai -- a memory of not only minutes prior, but -eons- prior.
And maybe that's the problem, now that the state of the empty mind has been dispelled, leaving behind only a thin, permeable barrier between the memories he's known to be his, and the memories known to be the other Jubei's. The castle -- Clavis and Rachel, Nago and Gii, Valkenhayn...
And Konoe, Celica, Trinity... and Terumi.
The old cat's mind -- now relaxed from its imperative discipline -- sets about the arduous task of dovetailing the memories together with the sights he's just seen.
Reconciling everything together will take time. But there is one conclusion that is inevitable. If Rachel does not hear the samurai's breaths growing heavier, or the subtle way his paws creak as they wrap around the claw weapons in his sleeves, then perhaps one of her familiars might.
For the one constant between both of the bifurcated memories.
An intense, unabiding dislike for Yuuki Terumi and everything he sought to do on this blue Earth he calls home.
Log created on 21:22:10 12/16/2017 by Rachel Alucard, and last modified on 00:43:40 12/21/2017.