[Q] Week 999: Truman

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Kishyotai's Ghost

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A moment hadn’t passed before she stood a full hundred meters away from Sebastian, her body immediately nauseous. She had felt this before, though only once or twice: the true terror of looking at Death.

Letzt Stil…” Aeko said breathlessly, raising her deep ruby bow as her mind caught up, realizing how much danger she was in.

But it had no effect. She was thrown back again by the whirlwind, Sebastian’s unchained magnetism for reishi now physically manifesting around him as a fierce, miniscule tornado. The German remained motionless but the small arrow stuck into his left shoulder decomposed a moment later, the red glow fading into nothingness as Sebastian’s dominion exerted itself over Aeko’s.

She fired a savage volley of arrows at Sebastian but they all faded into thin lines of darkness that circled the German. Eventually, clearly using Ransou Tengai, the German stood up and a blast of air pressure shrouded him in a dusty haze. Aeko shielded her eyes and blinked out of existence, reappearing much much further down the long chamber.

This time, she was the prey. But she did not have to search for the hunter. Struggling at first to grasp the situation, Aeko fired volley after volley but it was futile – they faded into the cloud of dust and the red glimmer faded, adding only to the dull royal blue presence that inhabited that murky domain. Firing again and again, Aeko didn’t even realize she was shouting obscenities. A few moments later she stopped, panting hard. She wiped the sweat off her brow and re-secured the hair she hadn’t shaved off.

She didn’t have to wait long, as the dust seemed to implode on its blue core to reveal Sebastian’s grandest form. A small shield with the crest of the Erdeschalks was floated in front of his heart, perhaps to hand-widths in radius. A golden pauldron covered his left shoulder, its black accents darker than midnight itself. Down his left arm, covered by extension of the pauldron to his shoulder, ran a tightly-fitting black sleeve that ended an inch before the wrist. Sprouting from a spiritual bracelet but also grasped in his hand, Sebastian’s bow had been transformed into a grand obsidian bow with a single foot-long blade-like protrusion underneath his grip. There was one set of main arms that seemed to be an angular re-interpretation of the recurve bow. The bow’s string was golden, and Aeko heard a low hum as it continuously pulled reishi to its master – as if it was singing as part of a grand chorus, directing a grand migration of raw arcane power.

On his torso was a sleeveless white shirt bearing a minimalistic crest of the Erdeschalk. Covering his left thigh was a single black plate of some arcane ceramic with a golden arrow set against a similarly colored circle. He wore boots that were just as dark as his pants, though the boots had golden caps around the toes and on the knees. Around his waist was an ornate belt that held a quiver behind his back, though that floated of its own accord. And behind Sebastian was a grand halo, spinning furiously and drawing all of the surrounding reishi into itself- and calling distantly to the energy beyond, beckoning it to serve the Patriarch.

Finally – his hand. His right hand. Sebastian’s right hand was in a black glove with two fingers, which he held palm-upwards. Aeko knew what happened next, but there was an arrow in Sebastian’s hands before she could flinch. The two Quincies drew their bows at the same time and fired their onslaughts. Aeko screamed as she fought the overwhelming force with another round of arrows, finally forced to the side by hirenkyaku. Where she had been standing no longer existed.

“…a single arrow.” Sebastian mused, “I see.”

The German didn’t bother to inspect Aeko – the temporary nature of his power was not lost on him. Even having never used this technique before, Sebastian knew that his body couldn’t handle it. And that was if he hadn’t been injured - his body felt beyond repair now and he was only mobile by using Ransou Tengai. Underneath the garb given to him by this ancient method of self-destruction, Sebastian was pulling his body parts around as if he was his own puppeteer, directing not his muscles but threads of made of reishi that formed a net around his entire body.

Yet the power was exhilarating. He held his hand up again once more and felt the thrill of his Herrschaft, his dominion, exerting such an influence. In his hand he created an arrow of such ornate and intricate design that it was a shame to use it as a weapon of annihilation – and with not even a thought, his quiver was filled with twenty such arrows. Angular, obtuse lines of gold sprouted from the ranging halo behind him to create these arrows as if tracing unseen veins in the air.

“Interesting.” Sebatian said, observing his new powers. Aeko was only able to survive thanks to that warning. Sebastian drew his arrow and watched Aeko throw six silver curiosities into the air. Frowning, the Patriarch loosed the golden storm contained in his hand – only to watch it annihilate not Aeko, but an silver wall of ancient Chinese design.

“Gintou…” the art had been lost to the Erdeschalks, but Sebastian understood its significance. Two arrows later, it was gone – yet so was Aeko.

Sebastian spun around and drew an arrow, slashing Aeko across the face. She had materialized behind him but was clearly not in control of her body, as she was suspended in midair. She threw herself upwards with hirenkyaku to avoid the two follow-up arrows that annihilated space she had just been. It was too late before she realized Sebastian had trapped her against the ceiling.

“Gritz!” she roared, snapping her fingers. Sebastian’s world went dark as five silver sheets consumed him like a multi-faceted maw. He felt the crackle of spiritual energy but only needed to flex his great indominitable will – the silver faded to ruby and then to a royal blue as Aeko’s power over the reishi was superseded by Sebastian’s. The Patriarch saw Aeko had pulled her own arrow – yet this one was partially material.

Gert…Sprenger.” Aeko hissed before loosing the arrow. Sebastian knew not the technique but he knew the nexus point – the artifact. A flash of golden light annihilated the Seele Schneider as Sebastian used Herrschaft to fire arrows remotely from a tangential angle.

Aeko was behind him again, somehow, and held another Seele Schneider in her hand. Using the arrow as a blade, she engaged Sebastian in close range combat. Sebastian skipped backwards using hirenkyaku but she pursued. With the building constraining his ability to flee, Sebastian fired an arrow through the building’s walls and used that as an escape path.

He hadn’t been able to escape all of her blows, however, and the exchange had cost him dearly. His body had three new gashes and Sebastian could see that Aeko’s arrow was super-charged from the artifact’s pull. Even with Letzt Stil, he had so much reishi that a Seele Schneider was able to steal a significant amount.

Aeko’s volley was significant and furious. Yet try as he might, Sebastian was unable to use hirenkyaku to escape – something pulled at his left leg and anchored him in space. Forced to stand his ground, Sebastian answered with a volley of pure gold that consumed the wave of dark red energy. This august stream crashed into where Aeko stood, but she remained standing after the light faded. Her body crackled with energy and Sebastian gasped as he saw red and gold intertwine into a single arrow.

That energy was his.

There was a morose beauty to the ruby and gold aura that Aeko directed, fusing it together through willpower and whatever blood vendetta had inspired her to do this. The energies raged against each other, but that seemed to only make the arrow more dangerous to whatever it would cross paths with.

Unable to move due to Aeko’s sorcery, Sebastian could only answer in kind. The halo’s hum grew to a savage roar the Patriarch reverently took his shooting pose. Ten million acutely-angled golden veins were traced in the air and the German took a full second to concentrate his power – an eternity in the life of the hunted, even longer in the life of a hunter. So numerous were these veins that Sebastian appeared to be given an aura of pure gold that reached ten feet outwards on all sides.

The hunter struck.

Despite her threats, there was no contest. Aeko’s dual-aspect arrow was split clean down the middle by Sebastian’s, his arrow less of an object and more of a beam of light. The splitting of Aeko’s energy unleashed a wave of pressure, but the true impact was of gold against dirt. Aeko couldn’t be seen behind an apparent supernova of gold, tinged with silver.

As the light faded, Sebastian destroyed what had robbed him of his mobility – a gintou had been fixated to his ankle during the close combat. He appeared next to where Aeko’s body should have been, finding a bloody stain and a silver liquid crackling with electricity.

She was gone.

It was quiet, Sebastian noticed suddenly. The humming of his halo had all but faded he felt the wind around him start to fade. It didn’t take him long to realize he was losing his powers. A single arrow that had been lodged in the wall flickered like a lantern gasping for more fuel. Once, twice, and then it was gone.

“Annika.” Sebastian said to no one in particular, the prospect of his self-immolation in this incredible power making him feel suddenly sentimental, “Be true, as you proclaimed.”

He went to sit down but couldn’t control himself as Ransou Tengai failed him – he fell.

It was not gentle, it was not elegant. It was the fall of a child’s toy, the collapse of a tent suddenly without its pole. Forced against the dirt by unforgiving gravity, Sebastian’s breaths were shallow laborious. His mouth wet with the taste of blood and dirt, Sebastian was trapped by own his mortality.

This is it Sebastian thought, this is how I am to die. This is how the family succeeds.

It made sense. Annika was, due to her nature, better suited to be Quincy royalty. She was pragmatic and devoted and understood symbolism better than Sebastian ever could. She was dutiful and her life’s grand betrayal had given her a glimpse of sociopathy. She could rule.

Yet Sebastian had failed her.

He had not built a legacy. Nothing was ‘built’. It was all a moving machine. And without Sebastian, it would be missing a key axis of rotation. Moving his family, building Hafen, they were simply the first lines of the first act of this grand opera.

He had not achieved greatness. He had not achieved at all. Professional titles were nothing compared to the task before him, and while his task had made him great, he himself had not completed the task. So he was not great. A mere mortal among mortals.

And here he lay, unable to rise once again. Sebastian had proclaimed and promised a perpetual rise, an unflinching spirit. Yet defeated as he lay, Sebastian could not stir from the ground. There was no chain but the chain of his own weakness that anchored him here.

Death, perhaps, is scariest when it is a comfort. Face-first on the ground, cold seizing his appendages, tortured with the sudden regret of an unfulfilled life, Sebastian didn’t notice that someone stood before him.

“So, Lord Patriarch. You show yourself.”

He was rolled onto his back gingerly by the figure’s foot. A glowing crown- no, no, it was just hair. Blonde hair.

“Eve.” Sebastian said breathlessly.

“Sebastian.” She said, “Bruder.”

He smiled fatalistically and spoke through blood-laced coughs “…you could’ve…been nicer to…me, you know.”

“I had to know.” Eve said, “I had to know if you were ready.”

“…for what?”

“To die, Sebastian.” Eve said.

The German’s eyes widened as purple overtook his vision – coupled with power unlike anything he had ever seen or ever felt. Eve’s grand and endless fury manifested itself as her bow, Lila Kaiserin, asserted itself in the material plane. Willed into existence, the bow was grand beyond measure and seemed to flex as if it was a living organism. By comparison, his own powers had now completely faded – he was left with nothing but his cloth attire and could sense only the hazy outline of Eve’s spiritual presence.

“…you’re…going to kill me?” he asked, laughing coldly, “…Aeko…and you?”

“No, Sebastian.” Eve reached down and pulled him up with her right hand, the bow flexing in her left.

“…then why?”

Eve laughed coldly.

“I didn’t have anyone around.” She mused, “I didn’t know what it was called. I didn’t know anything. I knew only my rage, my fury, my fear…

“It is nice…being here for you. For this moment.”

Eve smiled before throwing Sebastian against the wall.

Die Ruhe hast du noch nicht verdient, Bruderherz.“
You have not yet earned peace, dear brother​

A flash of purple, and Sebastian’s vision went black.
 

Kishyotai's Ghost

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Eve stood over her brother’s body. She remained silent.

She hadn’t been able to come any closer due to the ferocity of the battle. True to his nature yet unbeknownst to him, Sebastian’s prodigious talent had manifested itself in supremely dangerous arrows when he had broken his Sanrei glove – and though he would never know, his arrows had flown unimpeded for hundreds of miles in whatever direction he had fired them before his command of the energy had completely faded. Even Eve, perhaps the greatest Quincy to have ever been born, had hesitated before approaching the raging tempest. Such is the power of an unchained Quincy trained with the Sanrei glove.

Luckily, she was who she was and could approach immediately afterwards. She had done what had needed to be done – Sebastian was already at his limit and he would have died had she not intervened. For her, it had not been so easy. After unleashing her full powers by accident, Eve had created a botched form of Letzt Stil. She had still been able to channel energy afterwards, though with excruciating pain. In what many had mistaken for a miscarriage, she had been continuously tortured by the fact she was always channeling spiritrons beyond her physical limit. After three weeks of continuous and arcane torture, she had stolen enough syringes of adrenaline from the hospital nurses, injected herself with enough to avoid passing out, and used her powers to perform the technique on herself.

She absent-mindedly touched her torso, feeling the scar tissue.

Lila Kaiserin folded back into itself like the wings of a great eagle. In her left hand, Eve held the blood-stained, four-pointed Quincy Cross that she had found shortly after surpassing her mortal limits. Perhaps it had been an accident, perhaps her body had known what to do, perhaps her spiritual senses had intuited where the artifact lay. She had heard enough hushed whispers as a child of the branch family to know Quincy Crosses existed, and mastery had come to her immediately.

Eve exhaled and reached for Sebastian before noticing a shifting hue of color around him. Light burst out of his sternum, changing in color every moment along the rainbow. It suspended the young man, clothing him in gold as it seemed to consume the garb of Sebastian’s Letzt Stil and replace it with threads of light. Having taken a few steps backwards, Eve could see the source – a shifting obsidian cube that was half see-through…apparently turning in on itself rapidly, consuming itself only to have another iteration of itself come into existence, all while exerting an ancient and dark chord of hums.

Weltschmerz.” She whispered, recognizing the continuously-imploding tesseract immediately. It normally took the form of an impenetrably dark cube with small golden ornaments on its corners, suspended on a thin golden chain. This, she reasoned, must be its form when activated.

Eve couldn’t stop herself from displaying her shock, though no one was around to see it. She hadn’t known that Sebastian possessed their family’s artifact. He had never once mentioned it…and she had never thought to ask. The Quincy Cross of the Erdeschalks was not an object of legend - but that was because no one outside the family knew it existed. Well-kept secrets stay secrets.

Quincy Crosses, by their nature, are either a functional piece of regalia or they are a hidden secret. Some derived influence from their possession of a Cross while others drew influence from the uncertainty of their weapon’s existence. Yet for any Quincy who wore one of these artifacts, Quincy Crosses were simultaneously a symbol of the bearer’s station and a source of power.

Weltschmerz remained active for a few moments before slowly shifting into the dormant form that Eve had known. It hung around Sebastian’s neck, but his body fell to the ground and was no longer clothed in light.

She laughed hollowly, seized suddenly by a rush of…of something. It was jealousy she felt: here was Sebastian, on the verge of death one moment and fully healed the next. She had suffered for almost a month, was in excruciating pain in every second without any respite or sleep.

The first child always has it the hardest, she mused.

Eve’s gaze drifted to the horizon. Hollows were coming. The lingering smell of blood and reishi hung in the air. They were weak, but they were many. It was time to leave.

In a final motion of decency, Eve knelt to be level with Sebastian and closed his hand around Weltschmerz. Picking the man up onto her shoulder, Eve closed her eyes to survey the city. Random projections of spiritual energy flashed within and beyond Tokyo, like an art show involving light. Curious…but not an acute threat. She exhaled and opened her eyes before blinking out of existence.

In their wake was the abandoned building, partially annihilated and stained with death. Sebastian’s battle with Aeko had ravaged the structure and it had already begun partially collapsing on itself. Dust billowed out as concrete structures groaned under the poorly-supported weight of their own construction. The buildings, not yet even finished, found their early demise through the hands of these supernatural humans. Humans that were abnormal in only a single sense.

They were, after all, monks of destruction.
 

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“Aeko!” Kenjiro yelled, waving his hand, “Aeko, over he-…”

He stopped waving.

“…what…what happened to you?”

Usui Aeko landed abruptly and awkwardly, tumbling forward to stop her momentum. She came to rest on her left side and stood up with great labor, wincing.

“That fucking Patriarch.” She snarled, “Using Letzt Stil...”

“He-…nevermind, let’s get you inside.” Kenjiro quashed his curiosity with panic and gingerly helped Aeko up. Together they walked down the path into Hafen, where the battle still raged.

The energy projections that Eve had felt were the manifestations of that battle. The Erdeschalks defended the land with pride and efficiency, and the supernatural glass from Eve’s company projected these energy bursts throughout Japan. This primary diffusion was normally enough to project the energy signature to an intractable level, but given the breadth and power of the skirmish, it now projected each use of a Quincy technique somewhere eighty miles away in a given direction.

They had known to expect this to a certain degree. Han had tried to infiltrate Hafen before but his hirenkyaku had been so scrambled by Hafen’s unique nature that he had always veered off course. It took a while before they ascertained what was causing it – namely, confirming that it wasn’t some arcane spell using Gintou or active reishi disruptance. Once they realized it was a passive concealment that simply had the byproduct of interfering with high-speed movement, they had been able to infiltrate it through more traditional means.

It was in this exercise that Aeko had first suspected Sebastian’s primary weakness was his inability to regard other Quincies as enemies. It was this epiphany that had convinced Aeko that the Erdeschalks were the perfect prey and had locked them on this collision course against each other.

Flashes of light and spiritual energy surrounded them, but they took their time. Kenjiro was young and excitable but he was not stupid, and Aeko’s face told him all he needed to know: shut up and get me to safety.

By the time they had gotten to the main building, however, it was over.

Kenjiro opened the door for Aeko, who saw the assembled men and women on the floor. Most were groaning, many were unconscious, all of them were injured. Aeko surveyed them quickly and noted that Nobuatsu had been right: it simply hadn’t been a fair fight. The Erdeschalks had fought fiercely…but they were not warfighters. They fought Hollows, not people. The instincts and training that enabled one to corner a twelve-legged monkey the size of a scorpion did not help one in a duel.

“Aeko.” Denbe said, “Jesus.”

“Not here.” Nobuatsu hissed, looking at the assembled Erdeschalks, “Downstairs.”

Denbe hoisted Aeko into his arms and Nobuatsu navigated the hallways quickly, leaving Han and the rest of their entourage to supervise the prisoners. The group of three took a few turns before Nobuatsu opened a secret door that lead down an impossibly long set of stairs. Half-running and half-sliding, Denbe reached the bottom quickly enough and set Aeko down.

“What’s this?” Aeko asked gruffly, looking around.

“Nothing sinister. A training area.”

This voice was new, but Aeko recognized it immediately. Two young women, both with bodies made of steel, regarded each other coldly. One had dirty eyes of no discernable color, and the other had eyes of the grandest blue the universe contains.

“Annika Erdeschalk.” Aeko said without inflection, as if observing from a great distance.

Dressed in full formal Quincy garb, Annika Erdeschalk sat on the ground with her hands bound behind her. She was dirtied but not injured. Yet her eyes remained that same indomitable cerulean, honoring her maiden namesake as it ought to be honored.

“My husband did that to you?” Annika responded to Aeko’s comment with equal neutrality.

“You were supposed to kill her.” Aeko remarked to her compatriots, her eyes never leaving Annika’s.

“It…I didn’t…” Denbe struggled to find the words.

“They hesitated to kill an unborn child.” Annika’s gaze was just as resolute as Aeko’s, “Surprisingly noble, for usurpers.”

Aeko’s face remained expressionless before she looked at her compatriot, “Nobuatsu?”

“She says she’s pregnant.” Nobuatsu assessed her prey coldly, “Doesn’t mean she’s pregnant.”

Aeko closed her eyes and reached out with her spiritual sense…yet felt nothing. A few moments later and her gaze fell once more on Annika Erdeschalk before she surveyed her surroundings. It was filled now not only with cone-shaped stalagmites of varying sizes, but with obsidian scars and shattered objects. Annika had put up a fight, apparently.

“Keep her down here, out of sight. We’ll know if she’s pregnant soon enough.” Aeko scowled openly now, “And if not…”
 

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He awoke as if he had slept his entire life, suddenly called forth from the quickly-fading realm of dreams. Sebastian’s vision was clear yet his mind struggled to process anything. The German lay in bed for what felt like ages, seeing without perceiving and lethargic in both body and mind. In the end, it took basic instincts to stir him to action: sitting up in response to nature’s call, the young German swing his legs over the side of the bed before he suddenly comprehended that there was a world outside of his body.

Black cotton sheets. Thin, yet refined. He rubbed the sheets between his fingers, feeling each thread. As he started to look around, Sebastian felt a tug at his neck. Without understanding why, he reached to his throat and felt a small, sharp cube. The cube hung from a thin silver chain around his neck – and that was the only clothing he wore.

Sebastian’s eyes snapped open and he felt his left wrist, searching in vain for the safety of his sanrei device. There was nothing. As if to confirm, he held his left wrist up in front of his face and stared at it silently. There were no scars, no marks of death, the limb had not dissolved…all of the rumors were…wrong? Sebastian closed his eyes and felt the great expanse of Tokyo before him-

Which meant that he was not in Hafen.

Wherever he was, he was high up. A great glass window revealed Tokyo’s expanse before him, the sun half-hidden by the megacity’s skyline. Based on how many people were in the surrounding skyscrapers, Sebastian guessed it was dusk and not dawn. Sebastian stood up and leaned forward, reaching his hand out to the glass-

He reflexively pulled his hand back, letting it rest around a sleeping Weltschmerz. So he was in Eve’s apartment – or an apartment complex that her company had built. Together the two of them had endeavored to replace all of Tokyo with this material as a way to create sanctuaries for Quincies. The material diffused and projected spiritual presences, confusing supernatural pursuers and granting frail humans a brief respite. Years ago, they had dreamed of making Tokyo a fortress city for those gifted with these powers.

A lot had happened since then. The company’s ambitious plans had led Robert and Sebastian to create financial credit instruments for a large number of international companies and had exposed the whole company to a legal attack. He had been forced to return to Germany and the Elders had unilaterally decided to bring in the Blaustahls, promising everyone involved the creation of a new Quincy royal family. Sebastian had been forced to leave the family in Japan and sever all contact so that the authorities didn’t make any connections. Many of the Quincies had fled in terror or fled out of necessity, circumventing or ignoring normal immigration policies and often times leaving their old lives behind overnight. They would have all been the target of legal action, or even worse, perhaps the whole thing would have been misunderstood as part of some human trafficking scheme by a promotion-hungry prosecutor.

Why create the credit facilities? Sebastian, too, had needed success – he had needed money. Supporting the family had never been cheap, and it had grown unsustainable quite quickly. Though they had vast means, they were not vast enough. He had needed a promotion, and a big one, in order to create a future for his adopted family. If he was to be the provider, he needed to provide. He was obliged.

Emmerich and Lorelei had wanted to cast out those not of the Erdeschalk blood in order to make things more manageable, though Sebastian bitterly refused it. Sebastian’s sudden return to Germany had solved that, as those not directly related to him were left in Japan to isolate them from any legal exposure. They had been forced to set up shell companies to create distance between him and the family in that sense as well – something else to be misunderstood, this time as a tax-avoidance scheme.

This was…never how it was supposed to happen.

“You’re up.” Eve remarked, her impossible presence reduced somehow to that of a speck of dirt.

“Somehow.” Sebastian remarked without turning, moving only to wrap himself in a bedsheet. Eve’s reflection in the glass was enough for the Patriarch, who found himself in a unique position so far above the world, “I assume that I have you to thank for that?”

“You saved my life once.” Eve remarked.

“My family?” Sebastian hadn’t known to ask the question until each word had been released into the air.

“Captive. Or worse.” Eve replied.

“…I failed.” Sebastian remarked.

“Indeed.” Eve stepped forward slowly, one step at a time, “Do you know why?”

“Treachery.” Sebastian chuckled hollowly, “From another Quincy. Though we all are threatened…”

“Ambition is a human instinct – perhaps our greatest expression.” Eve looked at Sebastian, “Their ambition bested yours.”

“I thought I had become the Patriarch.” Sebastian exhaled, “I was outmaneuvered.”

“It is only now, that you have.”

Her fingers pulled down the bedsheet to reveal something new – a four-pointed scar just to the left of Sebastian’s heart.

“It takes the shape of the other’s device.” Eve answered Sebastian’s unasked question, pulling out her blood-stained Quincy Cross.

“…this is it? A strike to the heart?” He arced an eyebrow.

“The human body is complicated. Even more so when they can channel annihilation through flesh.” Eve shrugged, “Our ancestors found only this single method.”

“Yours?” Sebastian asked, unable to help himself.

Eve held his gaze for a moment and unbuttoned the top few buttons of her blouse, pulling it to the side. On her chest was a gnarled scar, knotted like the defect of a great tree.

“I saved myself.” She said.

“Of course you did.” Sebastian laughed coldly.

“There are some moments, Sebastian, where one is spurred to action by agony alone.” Eve’s words belied the pain she had endured and his laugh faded immediately. She put her hand on his face and gently brought his gaze to meet hers, “Tell me…what do you feel at this moment?”

There were no spoken words, but Eve saw it. Deep in the depths behind his glimmering eyes, Sebastian’s sense of loss was slowly awakening. They held this silence for a moment and Eve saw the rage implode on itself, only to surge forward with new intensity.

“Will you help me?” there was a new tone to Sebastian’s voice and he leaned his head forward, resting his forehead against hers.

“I will.” her fingers grazed his, still clasped tight around Weltschmerz, “Can you use it?”

“I can.” She felt a small tremble as he answered and then…warmth? Blood trickled through his bone-white fingers, “Have you ever…?”

“I have.” She took a step back, as if to take Sebastian’s measure, “Have you?”

“Yes.” He turned away, looking outside for but a few moments before returning his gaze to hers.

The fire was undiminished.

“Good.” Eve said.

“Eve.” His grip relaxed slightly, “If this is indeed my coronation, it is not simply the ‘what’ that matters, it is the ‘how’. I’ll have to do this on my own – Aeko, at least.”

“An odd time to get caught up in ceremony.” Eve remarked, “Isn’t history written by the victor?”

“I have to prove it.” Sebastian’s eyes fell harshly upon the jungle of steel and concrete outside – Tokyo, the expansive supercity. It knew almost no bounds, defining its own horizon. Kyoto might be the crown jewel, but Tokyo was the engine – ever moving, sprawling, spinning furiously, with dirty corners and auxiliary structures and the ever-present whine of industriousness. In a way, it was a more authentic representation of humanity’s ambition than Sebastian had ever realized until now, “To myself.”

“Do you expect me to save you a second time?”

“No.” Sebastian shook his head, “If it comes to that, I expect you to finish it.

“All of it.”
 

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They were an odd pair.

Eve, ever the modern women, wore a black designer dress with buttons and threading on the front like an admiral’s jacket. A blazer of even darker black was draped from her shoulders and danced in the evening’s light wind, the light flaps of its sleeves somehow making more noise than her stilettos against the asphalt. Her lips were the faintest shade of red, though one barely saw it at this late hour underneath street lights.

Sebastian, in contrast, was adorned in his full Quincy regalia. He looked the part of a prince from the 19th century, though the garment was black lined the gold. He wore neither a cap nor gloves. The outfit had been stashed in his car, part of Annika’s scheming over logistics for ceremonial events to transpire at some point in the future. Over his heart hung a golden shield with the Erdeschalk crest, not wider than one’s hand, as a material reminder of his station.

There had been guards, but they had been disposed of at a great distance. Eve and Sebastian strode forward with neither hurry nor hesitation, every step a purposeful advance upon their known enemy.

He paused at the threshold, as the entryway tipped up slightly to advance into the forest. The Patriarch narrowed his eyes slightly, perceiving both the forest in front of him and the paranormal absolute darkness that it projected.

A small bow materialized itself suddenly in his left hand and he shot it into the air. It was a harmless bolt whose parabola took it from the entryway into nowhere, leaving a faint golden trail of reiatsu for those who could sense or see such things.

Eve nodded and they both continued inwards. It didn’t take long before they were received.

Surprisingly, there was a bit of formality to the whole affair. Aeko stood in the foreground, her four retainers behind her in their combat garb. Sebastian stood equal to her with Eve as his only retainer. Aeko had cleverly chosen to meet him on a part of the driveway with a steep slope so that the Renegades loomed over Sebastian. It was clear she enjoyed it.

“You’re alive.” It was more of an assessment than anything else, “I thought you might sneak in.”

“A king does not sneak into his own house.” Sebastian proclaimed.

“A…king?” Aeko laughed before gesturing to Eve, “And you’ve found a new wife?”

“My sister.” Sebastian responded neutrally.

“So.” Aeko took a deep breath, “Revenge?”

“I’ve come for my family. Revenge…that comes after.”

Aeko pursed her lips, clearly taken aback by Sebastian’s choice of words. It was an interesting dynamic – Aeko, who normally valued the art of violence above all else, understood very well the significance of this exchange. She had laid claim to a throne, in a way, and let herself be colored ever so slightly by the ceremony regarding such things.

“Your family surrendered. Even your pregnant wife.” Aeko’s eyes glimmered as she saw surprise register on Sebastian’s face, “…I see. You didn’t know?”

“Or,” Nobuatsu interjected, “she is faking.”

“Let’s ask her. Together.” Aeko smiled, “Denbe.”

The giant looked warily at Nobuatsu, who nodded. He disappeared out of view, retreating into Hafen while the four remaining Renegades looked down on Sebastian, remaining silent. The two parties regarded each other in this stillness, both attempting to project confidence and assert control over the other.

Sebastian got his first long look at them in this form. Their battle garb was understandably different than his own – a tight-fitting bodysuit with a half-transparent black mesh fabric in front of their faces, though it was likely for style as he could still tell who was who. On each forearm and thigh were holsters for four gintou tubes each. The bodysuit itself had a pattern as if a purple-blue flame was consuming the white negative space of the fabric, spiraling around appendages and consuming the torso. On Aeko’s, the flame originated from 19mm left of the heart. Sebastian now understood why. Each of her retainers had a martial arts weapon in their hand – staff, sword, nun-chuck. Nobuatsu even had throwing knives.

Weapons for use against men and women…not against Hollows.

Denbe re-appeared with Annika, whose mouth and hands were bound. She was dressed in her full Quincy regalia, though it was dirtied and falling into disrepair. Despite this wear, the two shields on her torso sparkled defiantly in the midday sun. “Are you okay?” Sebastian asked calmly – too calm.

Annika nodded.

“Are the others-…” he stopped himself, “…are there other survivors?”

Annika nodded.

“Let her talk.” Aeko said, “She can tell the story of how she lied so she could save her own life while her ‘family’ died around her.”

Sebastian’s gaze hardened as Denbe undid the cloth gag, clearly more careful about the affair than Aeko cared for.

“Are you-” Sebastian didn’t get the chance.

Sie haben Reginald ermördert.” Annika interrupted, “Hans. Rosa-

That was all she got out before Denbe clamped her mouth closed with his hand, nervously looking at Aeko. Aeko didn’t return the gaze, as she was watching how Sebastian would react – she didn’t speak German but Aeko knew names had been said, and it wasn’t that hard to guess the rest.

“…I’ll hear them.” Sebastian’s face remained placid, “Your last words.”

“Fuck you.” Aeko snarled, her ruby bow appearing suddenly.

“Fitting.” He said, “Eve, jetzt.”

There was a grand explosion of purple as Lila Kaiserin asserted itself into the world, the bow’s unfathomable girth settling in those last moments under the weight of its own power. Without a moment between them, Nobuatsu, Kenjiro and Han were thrown backwards by pillars of lilac and disappeared entirely from view. Denbe foolishly released Annika to draw his own weapon and was picked off immediately after, hurled backwards by a fourth and final rush of reishi. Eve lingered for but a moment longer and then gave chase, leaving the Erdeschalks and Aeko alone.

“All alone?” Aeko laughed callously, “Her?”

“Eve’s power is not of this world.” Sebastian responded, “I…hope you have said all you ever wanted to say to them.”

“We…” Aeko blinked, as she felt her chest tighten with each word that Sebastian spoke. On a primal level, she was sensing what she had helped create, “…we aren’t afraid of death. We have pledged ourselves. We have pledged to each other.”

“Not afraid of death?” Sebastian shook his head, “As someone who was recently introduced…you should be.”

Sebastian wiggled his left arm and a small obsidian cube dropped down, hanging from a chain wrapped to his wrist. He raised his left arm and turned the palm upwards so that the cube sat neatly in his grasp, as if beckoning Aeko to come closer.

Sebastian saw Aeko’s eyes widen noticeably – though she had never seen it before, she knew what she was looking at.

“It’s called Weltschmerz by others…a German word for the weariness when one realizes that reality can never fulfil our expectations.” The cube sat dormant in his hand, glimmering in its perfect darkness “…but for those of us of the line, we call it Erbe…’Inheritance.’

“You…don’t have a Quincy Cross, do you?” Sebastian called to Aeko, “You have an instrument, but you do not have a Quincy Cross.

“I know that this artifact is why you attacked me. I know that I am still alive by accident - the happy accident that I had never before attempted to remove my Sanrei glove, that you overestimated me. I know that we met by accident as I searched for the means to support a family of those who are not related to me. One might even consider it an accident that I was born into my family, a stroke of chance. Yet I know that you hunted me, a fellow human and Quincy. I know that you conspired against me and mine, blood kin or not. I know that it was your intention, your design, to murder us and seize this for yourself.

“Hino Aeko.” Sebastian pronounced grandiosely, as if a grand audience watched them, “With my wife as my witness, I charge you with regicide.”

“You want me to beg for my life?” Aeko snarled, her body language revealing a final shift into a murderer’s mentality and her accent revealing how alien the concept was to her.

“No.” the obsidian cube in Sebastian’s hand seemed to…quiver, “One day I will have to tell this story, and on that day, I want to be able to say that you had fair warning.”

There was an ear-splitting screech as Weltschmerz seemed to implode in on itself, bending reality momentarily before finally assuming its true form, the half-transparent and ever-restless tesseract. Sebastian clenched his fist around the four-dimensional object and a great dark light shot outwards, brilliant and vast at first before bending on itself and forming an obsidian bow outlined in some otherworldly gold.

The bow had had six prongs, three of which were more substantial and three times as long as the smaller extensions. These greater and minor arms alternated and the first great arm pointed vertically upwards as Sebastian aimed the bow at Aeko. Each minor arm had a blade-like counterweight that reached forward, each of them not much longer than thirty centimeters and tipped in a thicker golden outline. Wisps of gold streamed from each of the larger arms to the center before solidifying into the bow’s drawstring, which seized its own mass and seemed to curl unto itself, suddenly taught and primed to fire.

…Erbe…” Sebastian repeated reverently, “You wished to steal my inheritance from me.”

“Inheritance?” Aeko repeated, having aimed her own instrument of destruction at Sebastian, “…listen to yourself. Even a born king has no inheritance but what the people allow them – and I reject your mandate. Quincies do not have kings, we have families. And those families perpetuate the exclusion of those deemed ‘unworthy’ by those who claim superiority.

“For years we writhed in the dirt and struggle to breathe. You cannot be angry that we rose up against you.”

“Rise up?” Sebastian arched an eyebrow, “I welcomed you with open arms and you shot me through the shoulder.

“Simply because you tell yourself a story repeatedly, does not mean that it is true.”

Aeko remained silent. It was an odd sight, the two Quincies each brandishing their weapon but neither having yet drawn a single bolt to fire at the other. Erbe did not hum as its sealed form did, making the silence between the two Quincies all the more significant. Light poured out of the supernatural armaments, meant for supernatural threats but now turned against kinsman.

The two needed no signal to clash. They were the other’s greatest hatred. Aeko viewed Sebastian as the living form of an oppressive patriarchy and Sebastian regarded Aeko as a manifestation of betrayal itself.

Sebastian’s arrows, obsidian with a lining of gold, ate up the space between them that wasn’t already consumed by ruby. The two Quincies circled a central point between them, moving slowly as their chaotic energies consumed each other’s. This lasted for only a few moments before Aeko seized the high ground, pulling back a single grand shaft of ruby. Sebastian looked upwards and forced his body a few meters to the side to avoid the blow, returning fire immediately. His foe maintained the high ground through hirenkyaku, moving rapidly to avoid being pinned down.

Sebastian knew this tactic. An airborne opponent was an order of magnitude harder to hit since they had a separate degree of freedom. He had used the same tactic against Hollows to great effect – use the extra degree of freedom to create space and then overwhelm from a distance. The difference here was that Sebastian couldn’t be overwhelmed. In contrast to the shrieking agony of activating Weltschmerz, Erbe’s loosed arrows each gave a barely-audible yet distinctly clear ting, as if one had flicked the edge of a wine glass. The Quincy Cross, then, created a grand orchestra as Sebastian loosed arrow after arrow at Aeko from the same position.

There was a single, hollow tone that he had been waiting for. Sebastian suspected its source – a grand silver capsule in front of Aeko. He knew not its purpose or invocation but he could sense the gintou tube at its core. He summoned hirenkyaku but failed in execution, his right foot anchored to space somehow.

“Goodbye, Patriarch.”

A rainbow of energy streamed outwards from the cylinder, not just ruby and obsidian but a spectrum that shifted erratically from one color to the next throughout its two-second release of energy.

“No.” Sebastian’s voice replied through a dusty haze.

Erbe’s three prongs crackled, the energy concentrating on a single point before the artifact expelled an arrow that seemed to channel lightning itself. It passed effortlessly through the full-spectrum onslaught, ripping apart and consuming the rainbow. Aeko moved quickly but was caught by the arrow’s edge, wincing as sparks lingered around the wounds for a half-moment. The young woman crashed to the ground, groaning as muscle spasms stopped her from immediately righting herself.

Sebastian didn’t relent, leaning instead into the assault. He walked forward, firing on Aeko with an unending stream of smaller obsidian arrows. Their impacts implied they were being deflected somehow, and Sebastian saw glimmers of an oblong steel structure through his arrows. He shifted his attack, firing more significant bolts as a reduced pace. Here he could clearly see a stretched sphere that was large enough to cover a human laying down, though cracks started to form under this new tempo of aggression. He started to concentrate his arrows more and the shield’s splintering accelerated – but it shattered long before it was broken, sending metal shards flying out in all directions.

Shielding himself instinctively, Sebastian skipped backwards with hirenkyaku’s help. By the time he had lowered his arms, Aeko hung in mid-air with a drawn knife not three feet away from him. She crashed into him, knife blade meeting only air as Sebastian avoided it by jumping into her at the last moment. She hacked furiously at the air, catching Sebastian’s forearms before he was able to chase her away by spawning arrows with Herrschaft.

He took a single deep breath before jumping to his feet, forcing Aeko to movement with a savage barrage that annihilated the space she had occupied not a moment before. This time, however, he interspersed arrows that prevented vertical movement. While it wasn’t a perfect prediction, he was able to keep her from making meaningful advancements upwards. She tried to force action through a more erratic pattern of movement, and Sebastian made his move. Reasonably confident about where she would go next, Sebastian summoned his will in a single bolt. He made his wager.

The bolt bulged unnaturally before Sebastian released the golden string, closing his eyes even before it had fully cleared the body of his bow. He felt the familiar feeling of fire through his nerves as wind tickled his face. Pivoting with his eyes remaining closed, Sebastian twisted his body to the right and fell to a one-knee firing stance – and as he opened his eyes, Aeko stood in front of him, off-balance and visibly confused.

This time, the arrow struck true, nineteen millimeters left of the heart.

Aeko gasped as she was thrown backwards by the brunt of the arrow, rolling backwards a few times before landing on all fours. Sebastian watched from a distance as she coughed furiously, clearly struggling to take in air. His expression turned dour as she stood up, the hole in her bodysuit revealing…nothing.

“I see.” Sebastian pulled an arrow from the air, stringing it but not drawing the bolt, “Your kind has defensive techniques as well.”

Globulus.” Aeko wheezed, clearly using the inexplicable pause to replenish her stamina, “Layers of spiritual energy that shatter when an arrow comes close, shredding the attacking Quincy’s arrow. The blow becomes concussive but loses its penetrative aspect.”

“And the approach technique?”

“We call it Gravitas. Gravity. Uses the draw of the opposing Quincy’s power to augment close-range hirenkyaku.” Aeko shuddered with her next breath, “…but you knew that. You manipulated where I’d be.”

“My shot” Sebastian pointed at Aeko’s heart, “was supposed to disrupt the balance in your body. Make you incapable of using any spiritual techniques. I don’t know if that’s how it works, but I figured it was interesting enough to try.”

“…nineteen millimeters.” Aeko looked down, astutely noting the target.

The two regarded each other for a moment. Aeko broke the lull first, leaning forward and gritting her teeth in preparation for-

For her to fall on her face.

“I’ve already won.” Sebastian said, stepping towards her, “You are already dead. You just didn’t know it yet.

Geistfessel. It’s a technique that disrupts reiatsu flow. I used it enough on you to disrupt your ability to channel energy. Human bodies are such…fragile things. Imagine what you’ve been doing to your body without even knowing it.

“Like someone swallowing pulverized glass, you have been shredding your body from the inside. And just to be sure, I used it on your right foot.” He pointed, “You are a martial arts user, and the right foot is the basis of all movement. ”

“You…presumptuous…” Aeko swore curses into the dirt, grabbing for a gintou…only to find she had expended them all. Had Sebastian waited for this moment, now?

“My sister told me that your ambition had exceeded mine. So I let my fury guide me this one last time – my ambition, such as it is, my grand endeavor, is to rob you of all you have. Your martial arts, your artificial family, your sense of superiority.” Sebastian now stood directly over her, “You are now, as I always saw you – a common murderer, bereft of gifts or talent.

“And that’s how you shall die.”

Aeko let out screams as Sebastian unleashed a tempest of supernatural destruction on her. Smoke rose from her bruised yet unpunctured body, but the Patriarch could see Globulus buckling under the weight of rebuilding itself again and again and again. She let out another scream as Sebastian literally pummeled her into the dirt once more, an odd haze hanging over the young woman’s body.

And yet, she persisted.

“I will not die…until I say so.” Aeko gasped, crimson flowing out of the corner of her mouth. Geistfessel was working, and Aeko knew it. As she struggled to defend her fragile human body by rapidly creating layer after layer of reishi, it was indeed ripping apart each spiritual capillary that protected her body from its own spiritual prowess.

“You misunderstand, Aeko.” Sebastian blinked coldly.

“I rule here.”

A flash of obsidian ended it. Aeko’s right ankle was shredded instantly, all the way down to the bone. The young woman screeched in pain before passing out, golden-tipped obsidian arrows disintegrating from view as Sebastian released them from his service.

The German turned to Annika, who remained bound and silenced. He walked over and kneeled behind his wife, privately amazed at how unharmed she was.

Klk and the self-styled Queen of the Quincy was freed.

“I could have helped.” Annika remarked, shaking her freed limbs.

Gintou.” Sebastian held up a splintered silver tube for her to see, “If I had tried to hit them with the Quincy Arts, you would have died.”

“How well you understand our enemy, Patriarch.” Annika blinked, surveying him as if for the very first time.

“They’re hunters of Quincy. Exclusively.” Sebastian stood over Aeko but looked around, “They’re murderers.”

“Not just murderers.” Sebastian didn’t notice the sky blue glow until too late, “They are assassins.”

The scream was involuntary but all too human. Annika hadn’t needed more than a moment to complete her dark work, extracting vengeance by literally opening inch-wide holes in Aeko’s body at each of the lethal points that could kill a human. Kidneys, stomach, jugular…the crimson stain propagated immediately, finding purchase in the nuances of the pavement. The shell of Hino Aeko would spend the next few moments dying in the medical sense of the word, but Annika had levied the ultimate tax.

Sebastian didn’t say a word. He had seen Annika’s visage the moment after she had finished her toil…whatever had transpired was something even an Olympic athlete couldn’t process in the moment. Fury and anger rose within him as his mind caught up with the event, realizing that Annika had become the murderer that he had so resented Aeko for being. His hand shook with the temptation to…to what? Beat it against the asphalt? Strike her in rage? The frustration of not knowing how to express what he felt – and indeed, not knowing exactly what he felt, as the anger took new forms and gained nuances beyond his ability to understand – eventually broke him. A moment later, Sebastian felt nothing. He could only remember that which he had repeated so many times…

“Annika.” He said, his voice bereft of humanity, “Let’s go.”

Alles, für die Familie.
 

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