Description: "...And yet, I continue not to speak a single word concerning that one. I confess, I find such pusillanimity loathsome, but I know the repercussions of intervening in her dark conspiracy would be severe. Already, I have strayed far too close to the edge and my failing health left me weak to that lost boy's accomplice. An unexpectedly fortunate lapse in my strength as it turned out to be, in light of what I learned, but I dare not take further risks until my strength has recovered. I wish I could warn them of the specter of death looming over them... but until more know her by her true name, it is not my place to intercede."
How many days has it been since Naoto Kurogane met Valkenhayn R. Hellsing on the street in Southtown? Since then, the city has relaxed, somewhat; the apocalypse appears to have been averted with the disappearance of Heihachi Mishima and the JSDF removing the barricades that were keeping the citizens trapped. For his part, Naoto's been taking things in stride, at least from HIS point of view. Taking it easy. Not standing out.
It probably says a lot about Naoto that his version of 'not standing out' was helping various helpless citizens defend themselves during the riots; it didn't take long before moms with kids and other disadvantaged folks had rallied to the segment of Southtown Village he'd been haunting and that bravos and toughs learned VERY fast not to bother them.
But now life is getting halfway back to normal, and it's time for Naoto to start taking stock of the situation. He took the time to scan a website or two, read a newspaper even. None of these names sound familiar, especially not big movers and shakers like Mishima. The name 'Alucard' never appears, and neither do any of the big clan names he's familiar with, like 'Terumi' or 'Amanohokosaka'. If Immortal Breaker or the Mitsurugi Agency still exist they're deep in hiding, way out of the public eye. He is well and truly alone here.
With, well... one exception. Valkenhayn. An old man now, instead of his hot-headed and youthful self. A story that Clavis Alucard killed Naoto Kurogane a long time ago. And his tantalizing description of a lady Alucard, Rachel, who Valkenhayn believed would have all the answers. And then the wolfman had gone, with no word since.
These are pretty strange thoughts to have in the bathroom of a Starbucks, staring into a mirror as you wash your hands. Yet that's exactly where Naoto finds himself right now, his mind wandering as he rubs his wet and soapy hands together under the running water. Not as if he has much else to think about.
A moment's reprieve in the helter-skelter of a city slowly trying to remember what normal daily life is like must be nice. Little by little, people return to pick up the pieces of lives disrupted, to sweep away the evidence of war from their streets, and connect with one another to reestablish communication. To arrive in the midst of a war must have been quite the disorienting experience, though it seems he may get to see what the city with the highest fighter per capita ratio in the world is like when not under threat of nuclear annihilation.
Too bad this particular day will afford him little of that chance to relax or acclimate. The shadows of the bathroom begin to twist, stretching out from the unlit corners, from beneath the sink. One of the fluorescent lights above flickers then goes black, flooding the room with even more dark edges from which shadows can rush toward the lone soul. There would be precious little time to react - already, the door is seething with ink-like shadow as the dark shapes surge up along the walls.
For one second, the swelling darkness freezes, oozing along the walls like thick oil - one second to appreciate the direness of his situation before all the ebony energy swirls in on Naoto Kurogane, enveloping his world in black.
From quiet solitude to absolute pandemonium.
As his vision clears, his senses would tell him immediately that he is in a far larger chamber than the men's room at a re-opened Starbucks. The vaulted ceilings are barely visible through the dim light that fills the long, great hall he now stands in. The decor is gothic - crimson tapestries, a long, wide carpet along the stone floor. Statues of stone and marble, ranging from the awe inspiringly beautiful carvings of goddesses to the twisted grotesqueness of devils line the hallway.
Stained glass windows depicting images from epics long since lost to time provide some illumination, though the shafts of colored moonlight spilling through them leave large sections of the hallway lost to shadow. Overhead, a massive candelabrum augments the colored moonlight with its own flickering, candle-light glow. There is a sense of eternity about the place, an impression that to walk this hallway is to step through time itself.
Whether one would find it haunting or thought provoking is a matter of perspective not afforded Naoto in this particular moment. As he is hardly alone in the corridor. The cacophony might hit him first as his vision adjusts quickly to the light - it sounds as if he is surrounded by a thousand sticks being scrapped against each other. No, not sticks. Bones. Dry, brittle, and frightfully animated.
It would appear he has been deposited right in the midst of a horde of skeletal warriors. The tatters of their rotting attire leaves it difficult to pin point a specific time period, and their weapons run the gamut as well. Samurai, knights of yore, Aztec warriors... The throng has Naoto encircled, weapons raised, their intentions not the slightest bit ambiguous.
There is another surrounded by the undead alongside with Naoto. The blonde of her hair might stand out immediately, along with the black ribbons tying off her long twin-tails, the ends raised and bent forward to almost appear like a set of ears. Dressed in layers of black, gothic elegance with an abundance of white lace and crimson ribbons and distinctive crosses, the young girl is calmly ensconced in a black chair at a small table, looking entirely unperturbed about the pending skeletal assault. The table itself is black with a thorny vine of roses winding around its surface. A tea pot sits atop it and the girl herself has a teacup in hand, eyes closed as she holds the full cup near her impeccable mouth and nose.
"Ragna," she states, her voice somehow conveying a sense of aloofness with but a single word. A crimson bean-shaped thing hovers near her head, its tiny beady eyes peering at Naoto while the girl is seated partially facing away from him.
"One of the basement seals developed a crack and these pests decided to come pouring in from the lower crypts. I'm confident you can spare a moment from whatever irrelevant tedium you were engaged in to clean up these vermin. Don't disappoint me yet again." The girl lifts the cup a little, sipping from the steaming liquid within, eyes never opening.
"Uh... Princess? That's not-" the tiny winged flying bean chirps in a whiny, nasally voice.
That is the last warning Naoto gets before the wave of skeletal warriors surges forward.
Boy, today got weird in a hurry.
The flickering of the lights, the lengthening of the shadows, at first they go without comment. As Southtown's gotten back to normality and supply scarcity goes away, things like the occasional brownout or the like aren't unheard of, so for a second or two Naoto continues washing his hands without a second thought. It's when he reaches for the paper towel dispenser that stuff starts getting weird, because said dispenser is clearly only a foot to his right but it feels as if the distance is getting greater all the time, like the worst possible vanishing point effect in some cheap 3D animation toolkit. "What the--"
And then the world is black, all black. Naoto stands there, dumbfounded into silence, dripping hands extended as the teleportation effect wraps up and he lands somewhere else. Somewhere that is, very definitively, NOT a Starbucks restroom.
Blinking in confusion, he feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as he turns toward the bored-sounding voice that speaks a name he doesn't recognize. Whoever it is that spoke up isn't fully in his line of sight from where he appears, it would seem, the rattling hordes of skeletons being a surprisingly dense visual barrier despite being... well, skeletons. The teen brawler's brow furrows as he tries to piece that together. "Ragna? Lower crypts? What the hell?" The entire room is lousy with magic, he can sense it. His Eye of the Hunter barely registers the skeletons; being not truly alive they have no life force to speak of, nothing to sense. But somewhere in this room, there's a tremendous font of life force, staggeringly high... higher even than the mysteriously old version of Valkenhayn.
Before he can think on that further, however, the skeletons into which he's been unceremoniously thrown decide that they hunger for the flesh of the more accessibly living, i.e. one Naoto Kurogane. A few of them, armed with rusting pikes and maces, surge forward in an awkward shamble.
Slamming a fist into the opposite palm, Naoto grins. "I don't know what the hell's going on, but I DO know I don't have to give a damn about you sad sacks." The lead skeleton in the group assaling him finds itself without a head as Naoto's gloved fist shears the skull right off the spine. Rather unlike his undead opponents, the brawler is capable of moving with some speed, needing nothing more than his fists and feet to dispose of the skeletons one or two at a time. The problem... is that there's so MANY of them.
Well, and the other problem is that as he suddenly scythes a spinning kick into one skeleton, which goes sailing back into its fellows, they're all knocked aside and Naoto gets a bead -- not a clear one, but something -- on the source of the voice. The blonde source of the voice in the Alucard clan colors, with her hair in the rabbit ear-like black ribbons.
Eyes widening, Naoto stops in mid movement, staring. "...Ra--" But he's cut off by the swinging of a huge two-handed sword right where he was. Apparently, answers are on the other side of this skeleton horde.
"...Ragna." the crimson bat finishes as the first lunging skeleton's head simply vanishes into a cloud of powdered bone. Eyelids adorned with golden lashes open to narrow slits, crimson eyes rendered partially visible as Rachel seems to respond in no particular hurry. The sip of tea is finished and the clink of expensive porcelain on porcelain as she settles the cup back down on the saucer in her other hand goes completely unheard beneath the sounds of skeletal destruction.
"I will not suffer the company of fools," she answers the hovering creature. "Of course that is-"
Naoto's shout over the sounds of battle cause the girl to cut herself off early. With no hint of haste, she places the saucer down on the table. The black chair she sits upon seems to respond to the movement, rising and shifting its shape, putting the girl on her feet without her having to make the slightest effort to stand. Turning slowly, her left hand lifts, the back of her palm running along her left twin-tail, flipping it out off her shoulder and to her side with a flick of her wrist. At her side, the wrought iron table scatters into a flurry of scarlet rose petals, their scent filling the hall even above the musk of the shambling dead.
As she finishes turning toward Naoto, the seat she was using has expanded, ballooning out into the form of a large, black cat with large cat eyes matching the crimson of the young lady's irises. Even on his haunches, he reaches to nearly three feet tall, cat ears fixed forward as his large tail sweeps back and froth along the red carpeted floor.
"What is this?" Rachel asks, watching Naoto knock several skeletons apart with hand and foot. Her right hand lifts, fingers curling as she rests them lightly against the side of her head above her right ear, eyes opening a fraction further as she surveys the mystery.
"Oh my," the cat speaks up, his voice bearing a touch of flamboyance. "Is it safe to leave him in there?"
"It appears he can handle himself just fine. That he didn't immediately set to whining is proof enough that he isn't Ragna the Bloodedge." the girl replies.
With a soft exhale, the delicate looking monster sweeps her left hand out in an indifferent backhand. Near the center of the teeming risen between Naoto and herself, an explosion of wind erupts with enough force to completely disintegrate a dozen of the unwelcome restless undead, bounds, weapons, scraps of cloth, and weapons flying everywhere, leaving nothing between her and the young man she mistakenly pulled in to take care of a chore she could have clearly handled herself just fine.
"You there," she raises her voice a little louder. Only a third of the original horde remains, and they still seem hellbent on getting a piece of Naoto as they press in against him from the sides other than where they got obliterated. "What kind of farce do you think you're playing at? You are an actor without a place in the script, do you think to steal another's role?"
"Such interesting new arrival," the big cat declares.
"How did the Princess get this faker anyway?" the round bat asks.
While Rachel is having her revelation about who it is she mistakenly teleported to her castle, Naoto has bigger problems, or at the very least smaller but considerably more numerous and immediate problems. The skeletons were slow to start but, like an avalanche, the more they move the more ridiculous this is becoming. He's able to keep ahead of the tide, barely, but only by his every attack involving movement in some way. Dashing punches, leaping kicks, ducking and weaving... he's a skillful fighter who is clearly not even remotely perturbed by fighting skeletal servants from beyond the grave, which tells Rachel something in and of itself, probably.
The burst of wind, however, calls all this to a halt. A single attack more or less disintegrating a significant portion of the horde gets even the attention of witless undead, and *definitely* gets the attention of Naoto; the entire melee grinds to an unexpected and almost comical halt.
Staring across the distance at Rachel, his view now clear, Naoto's shock intensifies. A skeleton that was lunging at him mid-swing that had stopped is suddenly pulverized as he effectively crushes its skull in his hand, which had been poised to punch. All the details are there: blonde hair, rabbit ribbons, imperious attitude, definitely a vampire's level of life force. "You even used Tempest," he says aloud, not able to keep the thought silent. He's more dumbfounded than anything else.
In his mind's eye he remembers being swallowed by the blackness of the Boundary and hearing a voice -- similar, but not identical, to the one speaking to him now so disdainfully -- demanding: 'Find me!'
If he hadn't met Valkenhayn before this, it could have gone very, very wrong. But some animal hindbrain impulse dredges up the werewolf butler's description of his 'lady', and Naoto can't help but feel the excitement and anticipation drain out of him somewhat. "...but you're not her, are you," he says, more statement than question. "You're... 'Rachel' Alucard."
The skeletons begin to move again, the brief respite over, but Naoto's hooded, lowered eyes take it all in. His right arm, the fully-sleeved one, extends. "Blood... edge..." he murmurs, and in a spiral of crimson, the rippling bloody energy of his power erupts to life, forming a flowing scythe that he grips and swings in a wide, scarlet arc.
There's a moment of silence, and then the remaining skeletons crack and crumble at the exact same meridian, the scythe having cut them all down in a single sweep. As the bloody weapon vanishes, Naoto turns a serious face to Rachel, his formerly brown eyes now a deep, haunting red. "If the wolf was right, you must be Rachel. I'll try to answer your questions, but believe me... I've got a few of my own."
Even as she addresses him, bits of bone rattle down around her, tatters of rotted cloth drifting down at a slower pace. But all the falling debris completely avoid the diminutives girl herself, brushed aside at the last moment as if being buffeted away by swift wind whenever they stray too close.
He speaks of Tempest and is answered with a soft scoff, eyes blinking once as she stands quietly amid the lull in the violence. A skeleton that had recently lost its leg topples over to a clatter of bones to interrupt the silence, but otherwise everything seems to be waiting to see how things play out between the trespasser between worlds and the young master of Castle Alucard.
Working his way through his thoughts, he utters her name. "Do not presume to speak to me in such a familiar tone."
"One should never put on airs of disappointment to be in the presence of the Princess," the cat chides.
"Yeah!" adds the bat, "So classless, so classless..."
Rachel Alucard pays her minions no heed, staying quiet for a moment following her rebuke. When the bloody energy is unleashed to slice clean through the remaining intruding 'vermin', there is a flicker of something else on the child's face - it might register as surprise if she didn't look entirely so composed about it all.
"I see," she replies after a moment, "Then you must be Naoto." The pieces are fitting together. Valkenhayn HAD mentioned him, though knowledge about how the signature of his soul might too closely overlap with The Grim Reaper had not come up in the dialogue, apparently. "The boy that should be dead, if Valkenhayn's memory is to be believed." A tug at the corner of her lip as she continues, "And his memory is as sharp as it has ever been."
The Bystander's eyes close. She shouldn't be surprised. Nothing should surprise her anymore. Certainly a knowledge of who or what is in the world she watches over should be without flaw or gap.
"Why are you here? Did someone bring you back?" Her eyes narrow slightly, suspicion readily visible, "There are few who even could, and fewer still who could accomplish such a feat without my knowledge of it." There's a tension in the air about her, a sense of static building. At her side, the large cat gets to his feet, slowly but suddenly, as if preparing for something. "And all of them devious enough to think to trick me... Is this a game to you? Are you part of some grand hoax? I will have the truth of it from you."
The flash of... something... on Rachel's face goes unnoticed by Naoto, whose expression betrays everything that he's feeling right now: confusion, annoyance, frustration, even sadness. The varying emotions whirling through him pass across his face like swiftly-moving clouds making patterns on the ground on a windy day. Rachel demands to know why he's here, if this is some sort of game. Reminds him that he's dead here, indisputably enough that two people of clear supernatural means are certain of it.
A good moment or two of silence pass before Naoto, who has been giving Rachel his undivided attention the entire time, body visibly whip-tense, suddenly brings a hand to his head and runs it through his hair, brow furrowing. He exhales, sharply, in frustration, looking away for a moment before turning back to the vampire. "Man, you and Valkenhayn both seem pretty convinced I'm here to screw things up, aren'tcha? Kinda paranoid, if you ask me." The tone is flippant, but he is clearly restraining what he actually thinks, how he actually feels.
"The only thing I can tell you for sure is that I came here through the Boundary," Naoto says at last, crossing his arms over his chest. "Sent here by Raquel Alucard." He pauses, letting that sink in; based on Valkenhayn's reaction to the name, he expects her near-double to have a similar take on things, after all. "But all this stuff you and the wolf are sayin', that old man Clavis offed me... where I'm from, that never happened. His daughter Raquel saved my life. Gave me this arm," he adds, extending his right arm, the fully-sleeved one, and flexing the fingers that just a moment ago created the bloody scythe that leveled the skeletons. "We, uh... that is, she..."
A pause, a long one, ensues, before Naoto continues.
"She was like you. Older, but... blonde hair. The ribbons tied the same way. She even... ha... she even TALKED like you, same bossy tone, always in charge. You've even got the same Drive," he finishes, and the capital 'd' in 'Drive' is discernible.
Having delivered all that, Naoto runs his hand through his hair again; he's clearly full of nervous physical energy, trying to burn it off so he doesn't say something stupid to Rachel and being entirely unaware that he kinda already has. "Last thing I can remember before I got here was her pushing me into the Boundary. After that, it's all a blur until I woke up in... Southtown? It's been a few weeks, tops. So no, it's not a game to me. I know about as much as you do, which is to say, I don't know jack."
A frown forms at her lips when the unexpected stranger accuses her of being paranoid. The large cat at her side bristles a little, white teeth bared. It might look intimidating if he didn't look about as threatening as a large beanbag chair. But neither interrupt Naoto as he continues, explaining matters to the best of his ability.
There is a flinch when he declares the name Raquel Alucard and goes on to identify her as the daughter of Clavis Alcuard. Not even time travel through the Boundary would explain such a screwed up version of events! Her eyes flick to his arm when he extends it, then back to his face, her right hand continuing to rest against the side of her head. And when he goes on to list the attributes the two Alucard girls share, Rachel's hand finally lowers to her side, fingers closing lightly.
"My goodness, the nerve! Have we ever had a more rude houseguest?" the cat declares, his pompous tone laden with umbrage.
"Yeah, the worst!" the flying ball chimes in, somehow ignoring that Yuuki Terumi has been here. Twice.
Rachel seems to pay the peanut gallery no heed, however, her eyes closing slightly, the frown from before growing darker by the moment.
"If this Raquel did exist, she must possess the patience of saints to countenance your impertinence." the small vampire finally speaks back. "To suggest that I don't know anything at all about what is happening here. Hmph!"
She breathes in - an effort necessary for speaking, for she lacks any need for air otherwise, then continues, "There are only a limited number of explanations for your specific presence here. You are quite mad. Or you are attempting to deceive, which in and of itself would also suggest you are quite made. Or you are telling the truth as best you can, though that wouldn't rule out the high likelihood that you, yourself, have been deceived. Or what you are telling me, the completely impossible script you have recited, is somehow, however unlikely, true."
She folds her arms over her stomach, lacey sleeves draping down from her elbows. "No matter which of the aforementioned explanations apply here, I have no use for you. As such, I shall send you away. To where, I hardly care, Naoto Kurogane."
He would feel it again, just like back at the Starbucks. The stretching of shadows, darkness leeching into the room, moving even through the shafts of colored moonlight that should at least keep some of it at bay. If he's lucky, hopefully she's just thinking of sending him back to where she took him from. But given her temperament, he might end up in some inhospitable corner of the planet at the rate things are going.
"Good day." She does not say it like she means it in the slightest.
For a moment, the brown-haired hunter doesn't seem to have much of a response to Rachel's fairly deadpan delivery of her evaluation of this situation, giving her a fairly flummoxed look for a moment. But in all honesty, it's only a moment; he's got plenty of experience being talked down to by blonde Alucards, so of which kicks in on an instinctual level. "Really? You pull me out of god knows where using actual sorcery to beat up skeletons and you have a werewolf for a butler, but I'M the crazy one here?!" he demands, finally moving, even if only an inch forward.
And when he does so, it's the same as before: space that should be a few inches away feels like it's yards away. The black creeps in at the edges of his awareness. She's gonna dismiss him, throw him away, leave him right back at square one. Worse than square one, actually, since now he's got more questions than he had answers, before. Why did Clavis kill him? Where is Raquel? And she's just...
Something in him snaps.
Naoto extends his right arm, palm out, and does his damndest to... what? His powers aren't going to do anything about teleportation magic. For all his supernatural traits, he's not a sorcerer. But something in his will, something discernible, burns like a lighthouse.
"Don't turn away from me!" he shouts, desperate, wide-eyed, staring at Rachel. "You're it! You're my only clue in this messed-up world. Nothing's the same! The only thing that's close, the only thing even REMOTELY familiar, is you!"
He struggles, trying to take a step forward in a space where Euclidian geometry appears to have gone out the window. "Kill me after if you want, I don't even care, but I need to find her!" His expression tightens with the effort of trying to anchor himself, futilely, tot he world.
He doesn't mean to say that name, knows that this isn't her, but reason is being overruled entirely by desperation.
"I make no apology for dismissing a nuisance," he would hear Rachel's voice over the rush of woven arcane shadows as they surge in around him. "I'm afraid you'll have to find another- ah!" The spell loses its form in an instant, receding like frost before the sun, falling to the floor and retreating to the dark corners of the room.
As his world clears, Naoto finds himself still in the large hall, some underutilized wing of the great Castle Alucard. The Alucard heiress herself is looking to the side, her expression bearing confusion, her eyes fully open for the first time since he saw her. At the girl's side, the large cat is looking up at her, worry on his face, and the crimson bag-winged stress ball is flapping his wings frantically, "P-Princess, what happened?"
"Oh my, did this rude young man somehow resist a spell cast by the Princess? That is utterly unthinkable!" The cat adds with alarm.
"Whoever you are, you have no place here." Rachel's voice is raised, the girl recoiling away from the direction she's looking. Teeth grit as she clenches her hands at her sides, fangs visible behind her drawn lips. Her voice growing in intensity, she continues, threatening empty air, "You think to come into my home-" the girl in black coughs once, her rebuke cut short. A spec of blood is visible at the corner of her mouth.
"Princess, so soon after your journey with Master Jubei, you mustn't push yourself. Let us destroy this pest and be done with this whole ordeal!" the crimson-eyed cat urges. There is a sudden shift in his voice, a dark menace that seems entirely out of place on the fluffy familiar. "Unleash. Me."
Rachel Alucard actually seems to recoil a step from where she's staring, eyes wide open, right hand lifting to press the back of her hand to her lip, then pulling it away to eye the blood streaked against pale flesh. "No, stay away, phantom!" Is that fear mingled with her imperious voice of command?
A change comes over the girl, something felt rather than seen at first, her arms lowering to her side, her eyes closing halfway once more. The whiny red bat falls from the air, bouncing off the ground and rolling to the side like he had simply shut off. At her other side, the large cat's eyes have closed, the large, soft looking beast slumping forward to rest against the floor.
Rachel calmly looks down at the cat and extends her hand toward him. The back creature flattens and stretches, drawn up and around the heiress's shoulders, draped in the form of a long, black cloak with a high, pointed collar. She looks toward the fallen bat and extends her other hand, and he too flattens and stretches, affixing to the right shoulder of the cloak in the form of a flat, crimson cross of House Alucard.
"Hmm..." She lifts her right hand to brush blonde locks of hair back behind her ear, golden eyes settling on Naoto, "You really have no idea how to talk to noble women. You are a most aggravating manservant." She exhales, the cloaked girl releasing a soft sigh, hand staying behind her ear where she had brushed her hair. "On any other day, I would have held no sway over the likes of her. Even now, my time is limited."
It's as if someone dropped an iceberg into the middle of the room. For a second, Naoto felt like straining against Rachel's teleportation magic would tear his body apart at the seams, and probably for nothing. He could sense the Alucard heiress's power, knew that he wasn't going to be able to force himself to stay. His shouting of the name, his desperation, was exactly that: a shot in the dark. Rachel's familiars are a sort of distant, muzzy echo at that point. He knows they're making sounds, but translating those sounds into words is beyond him. The darkness closes in.
And then it's gone.
The room is unsettingly silent when this happens, and the shock shows on Naoto's face. His body slowly uncoils from the tense and defensive posture he'd adopted, as if a bomb had gone off and now he were slowly uncurling after the all clear. He watches Rachel's struggle with some unseen force with a sort of horrified curiosity. After all, anything that would frighten a being of such obvious power is probably pretty scary. The cat that's more bean bag than cat asking to be allowed to basically devour Naoto: not helping.
And then it's over, and she opens her mouth, and the words that come out are familiar, TOO familiar. Naoto hadn't realized how far he'd been leaning forward watching this and the force of the realization almost makes him tip over.
'Leave. You'll just slow me down.'
'Do you want to live? Or not?
'You surprise me, Naoto Kurogane. You're not like most humans.'
"Is it... actually you?" he asks, voice thick with fatigue and hoarse with his anxiety that he's wrong, that this is some game or trick being played on him by Rachel. "Raquel, I..." He pauses, breathing in through his nose loudly. "I tried to do what you asked. I looked for you."
"Yes, and somehow managed to infuriate your best leads," the golden-eyed girl replies, taking a step forward, glancing back and forth with a dismissivel look at the scattered remains of the erstwhile skeletal horde. "And make messes along the way." she adds.
The signs are all there - her eyes unmistakeable, the cloak she shaped from the sleeping familiars, even her stride matches the motions his mind would recall - that natural, devil-may-care stride. Of course, she's shorter, still, and while her twintails bear some similarity, they aren't the same as that long, flowing ponytail Raquel should have.
For a brief moment, at least, Raquel Alucard is haunting where she doesn't belong. Not all that unlike the young man in black himself.
She closes her eyes for a moment, hand still resting behind her ear, "This world will never understand you." she muses, her tone soft. Her eyes open, eyes unfocused as she continues to glance to the side rather than look at him directly, "Your time in it ran out long ago. But it was the only place you could go, the only Real left. The window to act was so short, even I was nearly lost in it."
A few more steps and she finally looks toward him, lifting her chin to look up into the face of the boy that doesn't belong. "Do you realize what happened? What does your heart tell you, Naoto? Or will you make me put to words the awful truth myself?" Her voice is calm, and though different from the one who pulled him here, close enough to bear a family resemblance.
Her arms drop to her sides, hands resting atop each other. She's just six feet away now.
Naoto Kurogane isn't stupid. Lord knows that Raquel would not have picked a stupid boy as her helper, 'servant' in job title more than anything else. But everything that's happening right now is a lot to take in. That this is not Raquel herself, but Raquel speaking through someone else's body is very apparent. A tiny survival instinct buried in Naoto's consciousness tells him that when Raquel releases her hold on Rachel's body, the hunter had best be as far away from here as possible... a sobering thought when he has no idea where 'here' even IS.
There's a certain slackness to Naoto's posture as Raquel/Rachel approaches him, a looseness. The sad truth of the matter is that he was doing the physical and emotional equivalent of holding a tensed muscle for a little too long. Even his voice sounds wobbly when he can actually say something remotely sensible. "Hey, the skeletons weren't my fault," he protests, weakly, saying the only thing he can think of to say. "They were here when I got here."
And then he is silent, as she speaks, unable to look at him. That in and of itself is a sign that almost makes Naoto blanch with anxious nausea. He'd never met a more confident being in his life, before Raquel Alucard stepped into the picture. It was her defining feature: always in charge, always at home where she was. That it resulted in her imperiousness toward him was not exactly his favorite bit, but in his own weird way, Naoto admired, even appreciated, Raquel's iron self-confidence.
'This is the only Real left.' He physically winces at that statement.
There's a long silence before Naoto can respond to Raquel's question, and he does so with careful and circuitous speech. "She... Rachel, I mean... said this couldn't be time travel. But everyone's so different. There's all this stuff. Tokyo's called 'Southtown' for some reason. I dunno. I definitely figured out this wasn't my -- OUR -- world. That's how the Boundary works, and all, but..."
She almost didn't make it. He gives her a look, an understanding look, but can't bring himself to say it aloud. His arm moves forward a bit, almost as if he were reaching out, fingertips curling. Like he wants to take a step closer. But he can't do it. He might even be literally FIGHTING it.
"So..." He pauses, takes a deep, grieving breath. Exhales. Trembles a little bit, as he has been.
"So what now?" A genuine question but some harmonic, some tiny lilt of the spoken word, has a note of pleading to it. 'What am I supposed to do now?!'
"Where once there was infinite, now there is but two. Two possibilities." The twin-tailed girl doesn't come any closer herself. There is a tension there, an impression that reducing the distance between them will only weaken the tenuous hold she has on this world. "The world you landed in." She folds her arms beneath her chest, lowering her head slightly but continuing to look up toward him at the same time, "And another imprint. From The Boundary, I can see the patterns, I can tug at one thread and follow where it has been, where it goes. The other world is the seed of our home. But I couldn't send you there. It is a doomed world... without hope, without future."
Her lips press together into a thin line, "That is why... everything... everyone we know is gone." She's quiet, the declaration made. Unfolding her arms, she clenches her left hand at her side, her right hand lifting to rest over the golden clasp holding her makeshift cloak closed at the base of her neck.
When she resumes speaking, her words come faster yet also haltingly so. She had warned she hadn't long. Perhaps the clock ticks faster yet. How long could something like Rachel Alucard truly be contained anyway? "Something happened. In this world. Recently. It doomed the other. Made ours impossible." She takes a step back then, as if drawing away in motion and in spirit. "It is why I had to send you here. That other imprint is bleeding into this one. In the end, there will be but one pattern, one seed from which our home can exist."
Her right hand moves from her throat to brush back stray lengths of hair behind her ear again. "This world is our last chance." Teeth grit, hands clenching at her sides. Small sparks of rose colored lightning begin to crackle over her fingertips.
"Your greatest hunt is before you. This last command I give you, my barely adequate servant..." She winces then, eyes closing, as if in pain, in spite the brief smirk at her lips. She holds her arms straight against her sides still, even as that pink energy continues to build. The phenomenon is echoed by a growing power within the hall itself, wind rushing along the corridor, whipping the long curtains and driving away the dust of the fallen dead.
"To find and destroy Susano'o from this world." She swallows, forcing her golden eyes back on Naoto. "And to track down Hades Izanami and slay her."
Tears form in the corners of her eyes. "Save this world. Save our home."
She hugs herself tightly now, lightning surging up from the floor over her body. "But you can't-"
A column of that same vibrant power crackles down through the vaulted ceiling of the castle hall, completely consuming the figure of Rachel Alucard. The nearby windows shatter outward as a gale force wind bursts out from around the small girl, sending a million colored chips of glass into the night sky.
The pillar of arcane lightning fades in a flash, ripples of residual power coursing out from around the girl. In the aftermath, Rachel Alucard is on her knees, slumped forward to catch herself with her left hand against the floor, eyes squeezed closed. The cloak fashioned from her familiars is still draped around her shoulders.
No sooner than the deafening thunder of the lightning strike fades than the sound of heavy stone breaking free high overhead rumbles throughout the chamber.
One glance would be all it would take to realize the massive stone ceiling above is about to bury the corridor in a mountain of rubble
What could he say during all that? Raquel's steps falter, perhaps for fear she would flee overfast. Naoto's steps falter because he knows if he finds her to be real, finds all of this to be real, he will not be able to prevent himself from doing something foolish, soemthing stupid, something bad.
Instead he can only listen. His whole body shakes as he does so, his widened eyes locked on the diminutive form of the briefly-dual Alucards. Everything he knew and loved... gone. Not just gone, but its very potential existence erased. Not just gone, but never was. She gives him demands, instructs him how things can be saved. And then she's gone as Rachel violently reclaims what is hers, establishes her sovereignty. In the process, this castle hall isn't going to last long.
If and when Rachel comes to her senses, she can assuredly feel the physical proximity of Naoto Kurogane hovering over her, a state she's unlikely to find palatable.
His back, however, is turned toward her, his arms thrown out, his head skyward. The body language is clear: he is shielding her until she can protect herself, get away on her own.
Elsewhere on the Alucard Estate - outside the Castle proper - Valkenhayn R. Hellsing is whistling with remarkable beauty and precision... similar to the earthrealm tune known as 'Edelweiss', but distinctly other-worldly, the tempo more erratic... no doubt some old song he'd heard in the past - perhaps, even during his decades of service under the ruling Family of this House. Whatever it is, the sound seems to soothe him, and he wears a contented smile on his wizened face as he labours away in the sprawling gardens that surround Rachel's massive home.
Hunched over a bed of fresh soil, the elderly manservant is clad in his usual black-and-gold formal wear - covered with a dull, tan apron to prevent dirt from ruining his immaculate 'uniform' and digging fresh beds with a long-handled spade. He /was/ wearing a pleasant, contented smile on his face... recent events, they've given him less time to spend doing the jobs he truly enjoyed around the Mansion; the opportunity to lose himself in gardening, for even the briefest amount of time, is a welcome reprieve from dealing with the complications brought about by Terumi's meddling...
...of course, given the current situation, he hadn't expected to be given /much/ of a break from the madness that has consumed the realms since the return of his old, hated rival.
His nose, unsurprisingly, picks it up first... some odd presence in a distant, rarely-used corner of the Manor... it's enough to have him placing the spade carefully on the soil, removing his apron in one swift movement and folding it in-place next to the line of prepared plants and gardening implements, and then dashing towards the nearest entrance to the Castle.
Before he takes more than three or four strides, he's already shifting - and when he next lands on the ground, it's with four paws rather than two well-shined dress shoes... in his wolf form, he can travel the grounds in a flash, bursting into the main area of the Mansion and rushing through corridors, around corners, moving so fast that his wolfish body is wreathed in purple chi at points... his paws stop hitting the ground underneath them, for extended periods, as he actually dashes through the air towards that distant, rarely-used chamber...
As the surge of lightning bursts up and strikes the ceiling, the thunder-clap is loud enough to rattle Valkenhayn's keen eardrums, causing him to grit his bared fangs and double his pace... he rounds the corner into the hall, just in time to see - in his eyes - Naoto looming over the collapsed form of his Mistress...
The hateful growl that escapes his slavering, panting mouth - my, he /has/ gotten old - absolutely seethes with contempt to see that /boy/ in such close proximity to one so esteemed as Lady Alucard...
...and then, his blood-red eyes widen as he notices what is /truly/ happening here... that old ceiling, beginning to give way, and that child he'd run into in Southtown actually seems to be making an effort to protect the Head of the House. It's enough to cut off any thoughts of tearing the newcomer to pieces; the hot blood rushing through his Lycanthropic form suddenly chilling as he realizes the danger that his beloved Mistress finds herself in.
In a second, just as he reaches the two from behind, he's already back in the man-form of Valkenhayn the Butler, his old, grizzled voice shouting out at Naoto as his gloved hands gently reach out towards the kneeling form of Rachel Alucard...
"Is this /your/ doing, boy!?!?"
Though the words are accusatory, one can tell he's far, far more concerned about the state of Madam Rachel - tones of guilt creeping into his voice, as though he believes he might have been able to prevent this, were he present from the start... maybe it's his fault, for noticing the boy that day in the Village, for bringing him to Rachel's attention. But the words he was saying, about some other place, some Raquel Alucard... his Mistress /needed/ to know. He can only imagine her wrath had he kept this information from her, as he was sorely tempted to do.
But, what's done is done; and Naoto is all-but ignored as he focuses his attention on protecting the one he'd sworn a lifetime of service to. He's not one to be overly familiar with Lady Alucard; he always felt he were far, far below her station in such a regard - the vampiress far too regal, too important, to be aided physically by one such as him...
...now is no time for such scruples, not with the ceiling dangerously close to caving in on them /all/. Naoto is welcome to be crushed, certainly, but he will not let the same fate befall Rachel - and she hardly seems capable of protecting herself at present.
One white-gloved hand reaches out for the arm which is /not/ presently being used by the Lady to support herself... he attempts, if she will allow it, to loop that around around the back of his neck... then, he to lift her off the ground with his other limb - supporting her behind the knees with one long, strong arm as he tries to back her away from this catastrophe... though his eyes are burrowing into the form of Naoto, as he does so... he knows, deep down, this child is responsible...
Just standing near the fallen stormweaver, the boy that doesn't belong would feel the residual charge of the colossal lightning bolt; a static presence in the air, giving the impression that should he find a highly conductive surface to touch, he may very well find himself the conduit of phenomenal amounts of ambient electric potential still eager to surge its way into the ground.
Chunks of ancient stonework begin to rain down around the young man and the young looking blonde but Rachel doesn't seem able to move or even respond to the threat as a particularly heavy chunk crashes down four meters away and sends a plume of dust and smaller rubble rushing along the floor. Instead, she coughs - a wet, hacking sound, the gruesome harbinger of a deep illness or lethal internal injury.
The speed with which Valkenhayn navigates the massive fortress is nothing short of miraculous. No one, not even the last Alucard heiress herself, knows the corridors better than he. He surges onto the suspicious scene as more debris come crashing down, tipping over some of the heavy stone statues in the process, each collapse hitting the floor with enough force to shake the walls of ancient stone.
An initial assessment is damningly convicting against the strange youth the old wolf had encountered previously. His keen senses would detect the scent of Rachel's blood in the air from just the small streak of it present on the back of her palm. Evidence of her spell casting is every bit as much felt as seen considering the devastation wrought of the great hall.
But if the boy had meant her arm, would he be standing so? Already, several smaller blocks have fallen close to the two, a few impacting his torso even as Valkenhayn kneels at Ms. Alucard's side. And the butler's instincts are correct, as widening cracks directly above the trio will be the last signal before a tremendously dangerous portion of the ceiling comes crashing down.
The old servant's powerful muscles have no challenge whatsoever lifting his charge from her fallen position. In his arms, she is as light as a feather, a bundle of black cloth, layers of white lace, and crimson highlights. Though one of her long twin-tails is pressed against his chest, the other hangs down, its tip just shy of the floor at Valkenhayn's standing height.
"Really, Valkenhayn." The girl is still in his arms, her one arm wrapped around the back of his neck weakly, her crimson eyes half-lidded as she watches the last major chunk of roof come crashing down, its shadow looming over the spot where she had been kneeling, with Naoto boldly placing himself between her and seemingly unavoidable injury. Even now, the boy will have barely a moment to avoid catastrophe as Rachel's loyal butler backs away.
One final tumultuous crash, the hallway now completely devoid of any ceiling whatsoever, its length buried in rubble that shifts and tumbles and spills across the ground for several seconds before everything would finally become still.
"I had matters well in hand."
A lot is going on, probably too much for the entirely overwhelmed Naoto Kurogane to fully take in all at once, and so he focuses on the things he CAN do: protecting Rachel, and trying not to die himself. All in all, when Valkenhayn arrives on the scene, the hunter is doing fairly well on those fronts, at least.
As the world's most lupine butler kneels by his mistress, demanding to know the facts of the situation, a few pieces of masonry smack into Naoto's body as he continues to serve as a living shield. He half-turns his head to look over his shoulder, and in so doing reveals the red line of a wound across his face, caused by some jagged edge of stone or another. The person Valkenhayn met on a Southtown street was casual, devil-may-care... but there is something in those light brown eyes now that is hard, professional.
It says a lot, however, that he turns back to watching the debris before he says anything. "Bitch me out later if you want, old man, just get her out of here!"
The rest, well... he can hear it, feel it more than anything else. The sound of Valkenhayn's feet on the stone floor. Rachel's entirely baseless protestation that she had it all under control. The feeling like someone had been rubbing his entire body with about a hundred cats and squares of carpet. In the blink of an eye, they pass out of his immediate vicinity, out of his immediate senses. Comparatively, a massive chunk of ceiling, easily the size of a car, accelerating toward the young man with crushing force. He probably could, if he REALLY wanted to, just... get out of the way, though it's dicey. He might not make it. But Naoto doesn't seem too concerned.
And without further ceremony, the slab of ceiling lands in a gigantic plume/cloud of dust and debris.
There's a moment or two before the dust settles (literally), and when it does start to blow away, what's revealed is Naoto standing right where he was. Around him, the falling slab has been bisected neatly; from his right arm flows the liquid-seeming crimson of a blood-created weapon -- a huge two-handed axe this time -- before it dissipates into a red mist. His brown hair, however, is pure white, now.
That doesn't last, either; as he turns back toward Rachel and Valkenhayn, the hunter's natural hair color starts to return, and both butler and mistress can see the natural gold-hazel of Naoto's eyes returning from their briefly deep scarlet hue. "Is she alright?"
Even while attempting to extricate the Heiress of House Alucard from the disaster threatening the chamber, Valkenhayn's hyper-vigilant senses are breaking down the situation; he takes note of the blood on the back of her hand, that distinct signature of her unique power still lingering in the air, the position of Naoto relative the Lady's kneeling frame... it does much to convince him that the bizarre boy, long-thought dead, might be somewhat to blame for the catastrophe unfolding at-present.
Now is not the time to play detective, however; anything but! Rachel may be powerful indeed, but he will not risk the chance of her - in such a weakened state - being harmed in any way. Regardless, it seems like the collapsing debris might take care of the strange newcomer /for/ him - god forbid!
Being ordered about by the stranger does poke at his nerves and sense of decorum, to be sure; but it shows he is at least concerned about her fate. Though it does raise some questions in and of itself; why? Why does he care? Is it because of this 'Raquel Alucard', whoever /she/ is? But, there will be time for questions later...
...unless he's crushed, of course. A pity, that.
The sound of her voice, when his Mistress speaks, is of great comfort to the elderly manservant. She may be hurt, or exhausted, certainly... but still herself, as always - it's nothing if not reassuring. As he carries her back away from the danger, he glances down with a pleasant smile playing at those wizened lips.
"I'm certain you did, Madam Rachel," he says in smooth, re-assuring tones - and for all he knows, she may have been able to prevent herself getting injured in the collapse; he had no way of gauging this with such a short window to act in.
The elderly manservant glances up, then, to watch as the ceiling collapses downwards towards Naoto - still in the path of danger... and one eyebrow rises up as he watches the individual's arm... that weapon... his already-lined forehead creases even further, as he watches that bloody axe slice through a massive slab that would have slammed the newcomer down into the floor with ease...
"But, you know me. I could never stand idly by in such a situation; my weakness, to be sure," he says politely to Rachel, while backing up another step - still keeping his eye on that bizarre boy, far more powerful... more /dangerous/, than he had anticipated back in that Southtown Village..
Then, if Rachel makes any sign, the slightest motion or word, that she's able to stand on her own, he will place her down... though, noticeably, behind Valkenhayn's lanky, well-dressed body - placing the strange boy between himself and the Lady.
If not? He'll simply hold her tight in his clutches... and stare at Naoto... his first statement, not an insult, not an exclamation of anger that he was left, for all intents and purposes, to die... a query. Is she alright?
"...She will be /fine/," comes the response from Valkenhayn, a bit too quickly, too harshly... after all, this boy had placed himself between his Mistress and the danger, willing to risk his own life to protect hers... does he not deserve a bit of... respect?
"...Thank you, for your assistance," - it sounds forced, strained, but he says it nonetheless. And he offers a quarter-bow (this nobody hardly deserves even a half-bow!) to the bizarre individual, whom Clavis killed so long ago...
In spite her gentle protest, The young vampiress seems content to remain in Valkenhayn's powerful arms for a little while, half-lidded eyes focused on the place where Naoto was last seen before the massive chunk of ceiling all but cratered the location. It would be hard to gauge concern, but there's no mistaking a hint of curiosity in the way she watches, waiting to see the resolution of the boy's fate.
At her protective butler's cultured, well-humored as always reply to her claim of being just fine without getting any help, there is a hint of a smile playing at the edges of her mouth. Some degree of vigor has returned to her voice with the passing seconds as she answers after a brief moment.
"I will overlook your hastiness this time, Valkenhayn."
The dust begins to clear clears, much of it blowing out through the now open archways that used to house stained glass depictions of ancient legends. There is a moment, before the dust has dispersed completely, when the shock of white hair atop the boy's head is visible. Valkenhayn would sense the way the girl in his arms tensed up, for only an instant, and only ever so slightly. But the moment passes, the rest of the cloud of powdered rubble clearing, leaving Naoto with his shaped-blood weapon.
And then, because the poor kid is far more decent than he's getting fair credit for, he asks her loyal butler if she's going to be all right. She lets Valkenhayn speak for her at first, eyes batting closed briefly, before finally fidgeting, her arm withdrawing from around his neck in readiness to be placed back on her feet.
Once standing, the young princess finally addresses Naoto once again, "There's no reason to speak as if there were any risk of my passing away." Her right hand lifts to her throat, where her Nago+Gii cloak is clasped, and with a light press of her fingers, she releases the two familiars back to their common forms - the large black cat flopping to the floor in a sprawled posture with a hefty thud, and the crimson bat landing on the cat's back, his own feet up in the air, eyes squinted closed.
"Oogh." Gii comments thoughtfully.
"That was not pleasant in the slightest," Nago adds, slowly pushing himself up to his large feet.
Lowering her arm, eyes closed briefly, a point blank vortex of wind swirls up around Rachel, scattering the dust that had the audacity to land upon her person during her brief moment of incapacitation. Her left arm lifts to flip her left twin tail back to her side with a haughty 'Hmph.' to accompany the gesture.Then her right hand extends to the side toward Nago, the large cat shifting form, becoming narrow, elongated, and finally settling in the shape of a closed parasol, leaving Gii to flop onto the floor with a confused whiny noise instead. Taking a step to the side so that she can face Naoto directly rather than allow Valkenhayn to continue to interpose himself between them, she rests the top of the closed parasol against the floor, both hands pressed against the top of the curved tail-handle.
"You can't complete your task by yourself," she states, chin lifted, right hand lifting to rest against the side of her head near her temples. "That is what your friend in the Boundary tried to tell you before I put an end to that farce."
Her eyes shift to the side, a long moment of quiet contemplation, before they flick back toward Naoto. "Though inconvenient as it may have been, I cannot claim that it was not also an informative opportunity. It seems you may have an interesting role to play in this world's grand production after all. And you hunger for answers to mysteries of legitimate importance - a quality that is depressingly rare in people these days."
A soft sigh, her hands continuing to grip the curved handle of her parasol, her posture doing well to hide whether she is actually leaning against it for support.
"Very well, I will brook your questions, Living Speculum..." A faint frown crosses her lips. "But now that you know the fate of your originating reality, there is one question of dire importance you should be asking yourself."
The begrudging note in Valkenhayn's voice and body language doesn't go unnoticed, but Naoto refrains from giving him guff over it; his memory of the werewolf's younger self and fighting prowess is as good as ever, and the hunter has no expectation that Valkenhayn is any slower or weaker with the passing of years. Instead, he merely gives a slow nod of acknowledgment just as Rachel steps to the side, making herself known and speaking with her own unmistakable cadence.
It's tough for Naoto to suppress his feelings of disappointment, which likely bleed slightly into his facial expression for a moment, but pass quickly. It's as if Rachel's return signals that he may not speak to Raquel again for a while, if at all.
Never mind that the young-looking vampire's speech is as imperious and impenetrable as ever; when she calls him a 'living speculum,' Naoto grimaces, reaching up and running a hand through his messy brown hair before turning toward Rachel and her butler, crossing his arms over his chest and looking up at the (crumbling) ceiling. "That was... a lot to take in," he says, guardedly. It's not every day that you're told the entire reality you call home has been obliterated, even if Raquel implied that this was not final and irrevocable.
Bringing his head back down, he tilts his head at his 'hosts' in this fantasy castle. "So..." A pause, a deep breath. "Okay. So there's something in this world called the Susano'o, and someone named... Hades Izanami?" His face scrunches up at that, because to him it seems like an impossibly silly name, taking two gods of death and connecting them, but he powers on regardless. "And they probably do something pretty messed up in *this* reality, that makes it so other realities... disappear?" Another exhaled breath, as if just saying that sentence took effort. "I mean, I know a little about the Boundary and stuff but this is a lot to take in."
Rachel implied that there was an important question that probably took primacy over anything else he has to ask, and for a second Naoto is quiet, reflecting on that, clearly lost in thought. Eventually, he speaks up: "I guess I can find out about them on my own, but uh... what does any... wait a sec." A pause, then he turns to Rachel with surprising intensity, his face looking as if he just figured out the solution to a particularly complicated puzzle. "Who's Ragna?"
"I do appreciate your patience," comes the swift, pleasant reply from Valkenhayn - not a trace of irony in his tones as Rachel Alucard promises to overlook his hastiness in rescuing her from the path of the collapsing ceiling. Truly, he did not mean to step out of line with his timely manuever; but there was simply no way he could stand and watch such a chain of events play out, /without/ interceding on her behalf.
Placing Madam Rachel gently and gracefully back on the floor, Valkenhayn completes his quarter-bow to the mysterious stranger standing in front of himself and his Mistress. Despite the boy's obvious concern for the wellbeing of the Lady, his eyes are still narrowed skeptically; it's that face, that voice... he cannot get past the uncanny resemblance to that figure from his past. Nor can he fully detach himself from the feeling that this entire situation was somehow /his/ fault.
Certainly, Naoto may have put himself in the path of the falling debris, even before he was aware of the Butler's presence... but the Lycanthrope has never been the trusting sort, particularly when the health of Lady Alucard is put at risk - even if she claims that it never was.
Alas, it's not his place to say who is at fault, or whether the boy be allowed to remain in the Estate after this troubling turn of events...
It seems that Rachel, at any rate, is willing to put this minor catastrophe behind her and carry on with business as usual - leaving Valkenhayn to do precisely the same... his cold blue eyes, no longer the red irises of his wolfish aspect, stare over the head of Naoto and at the mess behind them. Not wanting to sigh in exasperation in the presence of the Lady of the House, he moves without the slightest hint of complaint towards the strange individual.
Looming over him, it may seem - for the briefest instant, at any rate - that there may be nefarious motives behind his sudden approach... but no, he's simply moving /past/ the guest, towards the mess of debris and building material which has been left as a result of the disastrous collapse. It is his duty, after all, to ensure the Mansion remain spotless at all times.
Just as he's passing by Naoto's side, he hears that question: 'who's Ragna'... and he simply /cannot/ help himself.
Rather than say the words he'd /really/ like to, the elderly servant merely reaches up and palms his face with one spotless white glove, groaning through his fingers at the mention of that name. He'll leave Rachel, however, to explain exactly what a nuisance /that/ one is... he just moves towards a small alcove in the corridor and, reaching behind a statue resting inside that compartment settled into the wall, produces a broom - like magic - with one hand.
Silently and with great care, he sets to work dusting the area around the pile of debris - sweeping without so much as another utterance... he'd been meaning to clean this rarely-visited corner of the Estate for a while, and recent events have drawn his attention elsewhere. Might as well get to it now, before he begins to monumental task of clearing the chunks of ceiling that are resting in a pile on the ground. He does, however, keep shooting the occasional sidelong glance at the exchange that continues to play out mere feet away.
The work of a butler is never done; particular not in the House of Rachel Alucard.
"There really is nothing to be gained by restating the obvious," Rachel unhelpfully points out as Naoto tries to sort through what must be a maelstrom of thoughts verbally. But then her eyes shift to the side, her hands clenching the handle of the parasol-shaped Nago, looking ever so slightly uncertain about something.
"B-but Princess, you've never ever mentioned Iza-" The hovering bat-winged ball near her head chimes in, his nasally voice bearing some hint of confusion. He never gets the name out entirely as Rachel's left arm swiftly lifts from the tail-hook-handle to backhand the critter so hard that he goes flying down the corridor several meters before skipping off the ground with a few bounces and finally coming to a rest quite some distance away. "Oough..."
Her hand returns calmly to her parasol's handle, the girlish looking vampire sighing softly, her eyes shifting back toward Naoto, her head lifted just a little. It almost gives the impression of looking down on him even while by necessity having to look up. "I will leave the exercise of discovering their whereabouts to you." Her eyes flick toward Valkenhayn as the old warrior moves past Naoto toward all that unsightly mess. It would probably make his life so much easier if there wasn't so much damage being done around the gargantuan castle...
The final question posed seems to be ignored at first before Rachel finally shifts her focus back to Naogo, eyes still half-lidded.
"People speak of scraping the bottom of the barrel but there is a layer of fetid residue even lower than that. That is where, if one digs even lower, they will find Ragna the Bloodedge. He broods around with the most unintelligent of miens, with his slouching shoulders and imbecile face. He is a man resolved to squander every opportunity put before him," the girl continues, eyes closing, her left hand lifting to rest against the side of her head.
"Wandering aimlessly in spite the philanthropic efforts of his betters to guide his path. An oafish, ill-mannered sort with no sense of refinement whatsoever, just being around him tries my patience like almost none other. It's a wonder he even remembers how to breathe without someone constantly reminding him."
She pauses, a narrow frown on her prim mouth, her eyes opening about a quarter of the way. "I don't claim to understand how it came to be, but in more ways than I care to enumerate, you and he are the same."
Rachel continues right along, leaving very little time for Naoto to feel insulted. There will be plenty of time for that later.
"But more importantly, there is a metaphysical question you should be asking yourself. If events conspired to rob your origin of its very existence, then you, my very lost boy, should also not exist. None of the circumstances that lead up to the moment in time that you came to be have happened now. I would explain the intricate quantum mechanics behind the concern, but I'm afraid you lack the cognition to understand them. It would be as if playing Mozart for a tree frog and expecting it to appreciate it."
The girl pauses her vituperative explanation to open her eyelids back to half open, "Simply put, you should not even exist. I suspect you have lasted this long simply by virtue of the lingering Observation of your accomplice within the Boundary... A boon that is, I regret to say, not indefinite."
Naoto's eyes track Valkenhayn as he moves past, wary. He knew that the werewolf regarded Rachel as his 'Master,' but the hunter expresses something akin to genuine shock when the dapper-suited man starts *clearing away debris* as if he were the janitorial staff, which... he might actually be? And then the facepalm -- a *distinctly* un-Valkenhayn-like gesture -- at the mention of Ragna sets the tone for...
Well. As Rachel speaks, Naoto stares at her with an increasing level of what can only be termed 'open-mouthed shock'. The list of invectives the diminutive vampire levels at the person known only as 'Ragna,' who Naoto only vaguely recalls as the person she THOUGHT she summoned and did not, goes from 'flowery language' to 'I think he might have killed a pet of hers once' with steadily increasing speed and intensity.
He gets out the words "Wow, seems like you really dislike this g--" when Rachel blithely utters the idea that he and Ragna are the same and blows right past it as if she'd said nothing of import whatsoever. There's no REAL indication that he's anything other than exasperated but for a moment, a fractional second, Naoto finds himself looking to see where Valkenhayn is. Just for a moment.
That 'the Bloodedge' part of Ragna's apparent name, Naoto decides to sit on for later. Maybe if he and this Ragna ever meet, they can sort that out.
What comes next from the Alucard heiress is indeed of greater import, but to Naoto himself it's not that much of a shock. Whatever he knows about the Boundary and the interconnectedness of worlds, he learned from Raquel. More than most, but clearly not as great as Rachel's knowledge. "Yeah well," Naoto says, at the notion that his time in this reality is an anomaly with an expiration date on it. "In a way you could say my whole life has been 'on borrowed time' for a while now, so at least I'm used to it."
Slapping a fist into the opposite palm, Naoto gives a wolfish grin. "All the more reason to get moving on this Susano'o thing, yeah? If you wouldn't mind sending me back I'll get on that since... other than Spooky Vampire Castle I have no idea where the hell we even ARE. And, uh..."
There's a pause, after that, and a... something on Naoto's face. Like the orange and grey storm clouds on the horizon signaling an imminent summer squall. Lots of things get lined up in his head to be asked of, or said to, Rachel Alucard. There's so, so much he doesn't know, still.
The proverbial storm clouds, however, pass. Instead, he simply says, in a sheepish and embarrassed tone: "Thanks. For what you did, I mean."
While his doom was proclaimed with an authoritative, almost scholarly detachment, the response she gets back from the young man is one of sincerity, acceptance, and surprising calm. To her crimson eyes, the boy is one of the few true enigmas in the girl's life. Most of the stories of individuals on Earth are hers to view, pages in a tome to be flipped forward or back to sate what embers of curiosity still reside in her soul.
But before her now is someone she doesn't know anything about beyond his physical characteristics, the signature of his essence, and the understanding that he isn't, as they say, from around these parts. He mentions his whole life being on borrowed time, that the sense of inexorable doom is not a foreign sensation, and Rachel stares back at him, narrow, golden eyebrows raising ever so slightly. For a moment, the tables have turned, and the Immortal Bystander finds herself wondering at HIS story - a missing chapter from a book she will never get to read unless he finds a way to restore his own future past. It must eat at her so, to have learned of an entire existence only after the chance to peruse its history has been stolen.
He humbly asks to be sent back through whatever remarkable power the tiny figure in front of him clearly possesses so that he can get to the task of righting an incomprehensible wrong, but his voice trails off, implying there is more. She waits, not interrupting, as Gii finally hovers back over to flutter around the level of her head, wisely keeping his mouth shut for now, beady little eyes peering back at Naoto.
"Very well." she replies the moment the expression of thanks escapes his lips. "It behooves me to demonstrate generosity in the face of earnest appreciation. I will bestow upon you your request." Other than being asked to be returned to the men's restroom at some Starbucks, he certainly never voiced another request, did he? "I shall be your Observer now, boy. In remuneration, you will, at a future date, tell me some of your memories. How you came to be who you are now. I simply must know how it is that you possess the abilities you do."
The shadows begin to crawl from their places beneath the rubble, or the dark corners of the corridor not lit by the full moon in the Ever Night's sky. A powerful spell, without incantation or gesticulation, arcane formula beyond the capacity of nearly anyone alive woven with but a thought.
"In the meantime, consider yourself fortunate to be an object of my interest for now."
The darkness folds, pulling apart reality around him, a swirl of ebony energy pulling him inevitably away from the sprawling vampire castle.
"Do not disappoint me, Naoto."
He would find himself back in the city, at the same Starbucks, nonetheless. The next question he will have to ask himself as the blackness recedes and his eyes adjust:
Did the precision of her teleport wane over the vast distance... or did Rachel Alucard drop him off in the women's bathroom on purpose?
Log created on 19:43:19 12/30/2017 by Rachel Alucard, and last modified on 03:45:53 01/05/2018.