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Ah, the rush of adrenaline, the gleeful heat building up in my ears, the tension building up in my hands in anticipation of extinguishing many lives tonight... No, I lie. As I said before, I did not gain any particular pleasure from killing. However, neither did I have anything against it. Fighting is what made me feel alive. Made me feel like I had a purpose. It was what the Church had destined me for, until the day I was no longer useful to them, or the day I died in battle.
Works for me.
Mere seconds remained before we would clash with the first line of defense, armor-clad warriors wielding tower shields and gigantic axes, reminiscent of one of the guardians Alice and I had disabled earlier that night in the mansion. Smaller, maybe, but more numerous by far. At least four dozen I could see in the front lines alone, probably many more further back; peering out from behind them, skeletal minions brandishing lighter equipment - a few bits of armor here and there, swords, that sort of thing. As skeletons lack muscles and thus must be moved entirely through the magical power of their master, kitting them out in heavy plate is rather inefficient; better to rush your foe with numbers.
And, of course, Hong Meiling, my persistent nemesis, eyes glowing in my general direction with rage, from behind the shadow of her army. Surely, both of us were disappointed that she wasn't there in the front, waiting to greet me, to grant me one last brawl... before I cut her head off to make sure she -stays- dead this time.
Suddenly, she raised her arm.
Waving to me in a mock-greeting?
A salute of respect, perhaps?
No, arm bent at the elbow, hand in a position as if she were about to swat down at someth-...
Drat, I had seen them too late; perched upon the wall and the mansion balconies, arrowtips glinting in the moonlight as they stood up, having waited until we were too close to hide from them... or at least, until I was too close, Youki and Alice both slowing to an immediate halt and diving to the sides. But it was too late for me - I was completely exposed, right in the center of the open path heading to the front gate. No use slowing down, then... Instead, I sped up, gathering my strength into my legs and sprinting for the axe armors as fast as I could, just as Hong Meiling lowered her arm, shouting to her minions.
"Fire!" As her powerful voice, commanding the armies of the Scarlet Devil with authority granted by the fiendish vampire herself, echoed through the night, a series of near-simultaneous *thwip* noises was heard for just a second, before it suddenly became dark.
Their arrows had blocked out the moon...
...Well, then we would fight in the shadows.
BGM: "Followers of Darkness - The First"
A metallic clank rang across the battlefield as the hail of arrows descended upon me, the whistling of my whip flying through the air at the closest axe armor masked by the sounds of the archers releasing their arrows. Wasting no time as the holy chain coiled itself around the surprised creature's waist, I yanked it towards myself...
"Get over here!"
...and impaled it upon the Kusanagi, the legendary blade cutting clean through it as if its armor were made of paper as I crouched under its bulk. You know, they say a history or a good legend or two make a weapon particularly effective against supernatural beings...
Something wet hit my face. Looking up, through the visor of the plated monster leaning over me, taking its last breaths, I saw the glint of a pair of eyes. So, these were not hollow suits after all, but warrior servants wearing armor...
Good! Then they will know fear. Before I could take the time to wipe the coughed-up blood off my face, however, the sound of metal hitting metal began rapidly sounding from above me, the body of the axe armor twitching and spasming (and groaning rather annoyingly...) as the first volley of the Scarlet Devil mansion's archers stabbed into its back, and into the ground around us, with me using the minion as a (formerly-)living shield.
"Oh, be quiet, you." Paying little heed to the monster going through its death throes upon my sword, I glanced behind myself to check whether Alice and Youki made it clear of the arrows in time. To my relief, the two seemed to be mostly unharmed; Alice had managed to avoid the arrows entirely, whereas Youki's outfit had taken some damage, a few minor cuts and scratches on his arms, plus one across his cheek. Nothing that wouldn't heal over a few days. Nevertheless, as the archers scrambled to ready their next volley, I pushed the axe-armor-turned-pincushion off myself, standing up on my feet yet again. Youki rushed to my side, ripping off his shredded shirt... gi... whatever you call it, revealing a more-than-surprisingly fit, muscular body, for a man of his apparent age.
Damn. I realize it'd get in the way in that condition, but seriously. You're here to fight, not to pick up chicks with that godly figure of yours...
...anyway. Where was I? Oh yes, facing the mansion's army and whatnot, the three of us versus quite the formidable horde of minions both unholy and fairy, the latter sticking back with their bows while the former, outraged by the blink-and-you'd-have-missed-it loss of one of their comrades, bellowed out in a demonic roar, charging at us in the form of a seamless wall of metal, axes raised, shields held forward, the peninsula trembling under the weight of their steps.
I bared my teeth at them, lashing the chain whip through the air once to intimidate them in their approach, the Kusanagi firmly gripped in my other hand.
Youki, apparently deciding to kick things up a notch, drew his second blade, mimicing me by dual-wielding his weapons. Not something you'd want to try unless you were both ambidextrous and very, very experienced in using two weapons, but I decided to put my trust in his capabilities. Even I had to respect the decades, perhaps centuries of experience he must've had over me in swordsmanship. Something about the way his blades glistened in the light of the moon made the approaching horde hesitate for just a moment, before resuming their charge.
And finally, Alice, hovering by our side, summoning several dolls both older and newer from wherever it was that she kept them, the little helpers orbiting around her and brandishing disproportionate weapons of various shapes and sizes that we had collected over our adventure. The gauntlet in her hands, disappointingly enough, did not exhibit any unusual properties just yet, seemingly being just a fancier glove for her to use when manipulating her little murder dolls... I was eager to see how she would prove my disappointment to be mistaken.
The distance kept closing.
Just before they got within a few last remaining yards of us, the three of us met their charge - Youki in a focused silence, me with an enthusiastic battlecry - Youki and I tearing right through the ranks while Alice flew higher above the battlefield, coordinating her dolls to cover us, sending a handful of explosive variants to the sides of the army, detonating them to keep the armored warriors from overtaking us through sheer numbers. We would have to be swift and cautious in our battle; while still focusing on butchering all the unholy minions around us, I made sure to keep an eye on the archers in the back. There was no cover for us to hide behind, other than the army we were fighting; we could not afford to expose ourselves.
With both swords drawn, Youki seemed to have... transformed, into a whirling dervish of death, the blades whistling through the air, leaving white blurred trails in the air as the moonlight reflected off the metal, too fast for the human eye to follow, slicing through shields and plate armor with barely any resistance. A grim determination on his face, this old man who opposed senseless killing was by no means such a merciful pacifist in actual combat. Cold and efficient, he would reward each strike of an axe that he dodged or parried with swift death. Blood sprayed forth in a wide arc as he severed the jugular veins of yet another foe before it could lift its heavy weapon to attack, or even defend itself. They would attempt to surround him, attacking as three or four at the same time from all around him, yet he would flawlessly deflect all of their blows. Smooth and
Yes, the difference between our fighting styles was just that; Youki was defensive, relying on parrying blows and counterattacking before the warriors could recover from missing with such a heavy weapon. As for myself? I preferred to rely on my mobility, to strike first and keep moving before I could be attacked in the first place, to kill before even a single strike could land against me. Despite me whining earlier about not having any decent armor in my Church-issued standard vampire hunter equipment™, it truly is more convenient to go light - you can keep moving, faster, without getting tired.
The spiked ball on the tip of the whip slammed one of the axe armors in the side of the helmet, disorienting it just long enough for me to leap towards it and kick it off-balance, landing on its chest and stabbing the Kusanagi into the ground through its throat. In retaliation, several others attempted to surround me, charging at me from all sides, in response to which I grabbed a fistful of knives with my free hand (the sword was still stuck inside the dead axe armor, you see), spraying them all around myself. While the armored plating of the fiends was thick enough to not take significant damage from the knives, that wasn't why I threw them... I just needed to knock them off-balance for a moment so I could pull the sword back out. Of course, after doing so, I was still surrounded.
Too bad for them, huh?
The ensuing clatter was near-deafening, as I whirled my whip around myself in a low, circular arc, sweeping the encroaching warriors' feet out from underneath them, giving myself another opening. Springing from on top of the corpse I was crouching on, I landed on one of the fallen knights, slamming my heel into the side of its head with enough force to break its neck, leaving the others behind and sprinting over to another axe armor in the distance amidst the chaos. It was apparently preparing to hurl its axe at Alice, who was presently distracted by fighting off more than twice the amount of axe armors that Youki and I were facing.
Oh no you don't, you son of a-...
Wrapping the chain of my whip around my knuckles, I delivered a kick to its side to interrupt its throw and get it to turn around, punching it square in the visor just as it looked at me with a loud clang, sending it stumbling. Before I could finish it off, though, I was caught off-guard and charged from behind by another one at full speed, being carried towards the rather hard-looking mansion wall atop its shield as it seeked to flatten me. Caught between a monster and a hard place, huh... Throwing my legs in front of myself just as we reached the wall, I managed to exert enough force to stop it from crashing right into it, thrusting the Kusanagi backwards at the same time, effectively causing the monster to impale itself on the sword with its own weight and momentum, just barely avoiding getting crushed under its weight as it collapsed on top of me. With a grunt, I pushed the heavy thing off myself, grateful that it didn't start bleeding too profusely before I removed the blade from its gut.
Concerned about Alice, who seemed to be rather busy with fending off attackers from all directions, I glanced around the battlefield, searching for her... only to discover that she was kicking some serious ass, and that the gauntlet was definitely not just for show. Gripping my weapons and running back to battle, I witnessed Alice glare at a pair of axe armors advancing towards her, before swiping her arm through the air, the dollstrings attached to the rings on her fingers barely visible as they sliced clean through them. Seriously, cut them into five neat slices, each. Damn, so much about the squishy wizard... Those two were starting to make me feel inadequate.
"Twelve," muttered Youki to me, as I managed to clear my way to him through the mass of hostiles. He said this while removing his blades from the shoulder and abdomen of yet another dead axe armor.
"Oh, nothing," he responded with a smirk. What, he was keeping a kill count now? Why that old-...
"Fourteen," I yelled to him in advance as I hurled the Kusanagi at a charging foe, the blade stabbing its way into the side of its chest, with me running to it, grabbing the handle and vaulting over it, cutting its torso practically in half as I landed behind it. Absurdly sharp magical blades are fun like that. Granted, I hadn't been keeping count of my own kills, but I wasn't going to lose to Youki. Oh, and skeletons didn't count; I hadn't even bothered mentioning them so far because we kind of just knocked them into pieces on the side, in between fighting axe armors. The cocky old fart didn't even bother acknowledging my kill, focusing instead on fending off two axe armors that had approached him from the other side... and failing to notice a third one coming at him from behind.
"Hey, look out!"
He noticed just in time, shoving the other two away and catching the crushing axe blow between two crossed swords. After struggling against the axe armor for a second or two, he kicked it in the chest, knocking it back and forcing it to release its axe, which Youki promptly hurled in my general direction.
I managed to just barely dodge it, the colossal axe flying through the air right above me as I leaned back, back... back far enough to see it embed itself right in the forehead of -another- axe armor that had been trying to ambush me from behind. Throwing my momentum into a backflip, I kicked it over, landing on my hands and feet like a cat. Or something.
"Thank you," was Youki's brief and polite response, as he casually beheaded another armored warrior charging him, with another one next to him getting a hole blasted through its chest by a magical beam originating from our friend up in the air. Standing up and glancing about the battlefield, I could see that we appeared to be winning for the time being, Alice's dolls doing rather well at keeping the skeletons from assisting the axe armors, circling them, stabbing them in their joints with various weapons to dismantle them, performing explosive suicide attacks, barely visible strings flying through the air, slicing and dicing our enemies into shreds. The woman's gleeful laughter echoing over the battlefield was rather... chilling, to say the least. She was actually having fun with this.
"There's three of them. Three! And you can't even take down one of them?" Hong Meiling was getting frustrated.
As another group of axe armors surrounded us, Youki and I put our backs together, covering each other in battle and taking on a defensive position. Quite the bonding experience, really... Each time one of them would attempt to rush us, we would parry its attack and either slice through its armor or knock it back. Eventually, though, they stopped fighting like mooks in a bad kung-fu movie and tried to swarm us all at once, together; defending ourselves just got a lot harder. No longer could we counterattack with ease, instead having to focus on evading and parrying a merciless rain of blows from all sides... not exactly easy when your main hand weapon is a whip of all things. Couldn't even kick them away. Youki seemed to be holding on with his two swords for the time being, but even he was entirely focused on keeping himself from being cleaved with heavy axes. Our backs pressed together, the circle of metallic warriors closing in tighter with each second, all I could do was attempt to gather up my magical energy, and...
Unleashing a burst of holy power channeled from my whip, I managed to knock the soldiers back a few feet, giving Youki and myself some much-needed breathing room. Although the holy energy did cause Youki to stumble as well, for a moment, him being only half-ghost (however the hell that works) meant it didn't affect him as badly. In any case, we had to make good use of our precious few seconds, before they piled up on us again...
This time, Youki did the quick thinking for us, gripping my whip's chain and wrapping it around his forearm, grimacing mildly at the burning sensation before swinging the chain - and myself - in an arc around himself. Not wasting time on being surprised or confused, I held onto the handle and held my sword ready, impacting into the chest of an axe armor feet-first, slicing the Kusanagi through its visor, and proceeding to run along the rest of the soldiers in a circle, kicking off their chests or heads (kind of like in that one scene in The Matrix: Reloaded... except that movie wasn't out yet in 1998), dragging the Kusanagi along and slicing through their heads and necks. By the time my momentum ran out and I jumped down to the ground, we had effectively killed or disabled most of the circle of foes that had just surrounded us. Still, many of them stood, ready to attack once again-...
"Second wave, FIRE!"
...Apparently, despite many of their own warriors being in the line of fire, Hong Meiling had given the archers the order to fire the next volley of arrows, friendly fire be damned. Unfortunately, there was still the problem of not having any cover to hide behind, and there were far too many archers for me to be able to do something about all those arrows by stopping time...
Hundreds of arrows whistling through the night sky yet again, descending towards the three of us, too fast and too wide to avoid. Alice erected a barrier of both magical defenses and dolls in front of herself, yet it would likely not be enough to defend herself against such an onslaught; Youki stood in front of her, blades ready, apparently willing to at least try to deflect as many of the deadly arrowheads as he could. As for myself... all I could do was slash through the air with the Kusanagi in desperation.
The whistling got a lot louder.
...And then we were fine. The arrows had been redirected by a sudden strong gale wind, missing us completely, flying off to the sides and hitting many of the axe armors, some having turned around completely and hit the archers that had originally fired them. Did the sword do that? After examining the mystical blade in my hand with a newfound curiosity, I focused my vision on Hong Meiling - take out the leader, and the army would disperse. As both my companions and the armored warriors were still recovering from the shock of what just happened, I dashed for the gatekeeper, channeling my will into the blade and thrusting it forwards.
As expected, another torrent of wind kicked up from behind me, blasting forth in the form of a sort of wind tunnel, granting me increased speed while knocking the axe armors out of my way... and smashing the remaining skeletons into pieces. Three of the armors tried to defend their leader - not even bothering to escape or meet my attack, simply standing there with her arms crossed - but they were easily dispatched; sidestepping the axe blows from the first two, I holstered my weapons and slammed their helmets against one another with my bare hands - hard enough to knock them both out. As for the third one, I simply kept running towards it, baiting an attack which I evaded, vaulting over it while holding onto its head with my hands... and twisting myself 180 degrees in the air, before landing on the other side.
That is to say, I twisted its head as well. The loud snap was quite satisfying. Dusting my gloves off, I slowly turned my head to face my worthy foe, Alice and Youki taking care of the rest of the army in the background. Hong Meiling looked back to me, her face relaxed, calm... one would think emotionless, at first glance, yet the look in her eyes suggested otherwise. In the background, the archers were nervously scrambling to prepare for a third volley, but they weren't important right now. I shut off all unnecessary sounds and sights in my mind, the clanging of metal and explosions of gunpowder-filled dolls, focusing only on the gatekeeper before me. Still standing there, arms crossed, unmoving and stoic, in front of the mansion gates. Then, she frowned lightly, and spoke.
"...I will give you exactly one chance to quietly return the keys to me. I will call off the soldiers and allow you to leave in peace."
Ha. Just who the hell do you think I am!?
"Other way around. I'll give -you- exactly one chance to call off the soldiers and let us inside." With a smug smirk, I continued.
"...And maybe I'll leave you alive this time."
Ah, a satisfied glint in her eyes, followed by a pleased grin. We had both been waiting for this. As I put up my fists, she took on a fluid martial arts stance. While not being one for organized fighting styles myself, finding improvisation far more valuable, I still knew quite a bit about various styles around the world for the purposes of anticipating certain techniques from my enemies. Tai chi chuan focuses on capturing an opponent's force, redirecting or absorbing their attacks... the usual turning your opponent's weight against them spiel so popular in kung fu movie depictions of martial arts. A reckless head-on attack would merely end up with me getting destroyed. After staring one another in the eye for a few more seconds, we charged.
Then, suddenly, it started to rain.
As we met, I immediately ducked to avoid an open-palm strike from Hong Meiling, delivering an uppercut to her abdomen from below. She managed to block it, catching my fist in her hands and twisting my arm in an attempt at a lock; instead, I whirled myself through the air, following her motions and landing on my back, curving myself upwards and kicking her in the chest, forcing her to release me as she stumbled backwards a step. Not allowing herself to be stunned for long, she immediately assaulted me again, this time putting me on the defensive. The rain did little to soften her blows, with me just barely able to avoid or deflect brutal impacts that would turn bone into a fine powder, as well as open hand strikes and pushes which would knock me off-balance long enough for her to finish me off.
Suddenly, more clanging - an axe armor had approached from the battlefield, to assist their leader by attacking me from behind. Ducking under yet another punch, I performed a circular leg sweep, which Hong Meiling managed to avoid, whereas the armor lost balance and fell over. I used the brief moment in which the woman jumped back to steal the soldier's axe and bring it down on its neck like a guillotine, beheading it on the spot, before discarding said weapon and turning my attention back to the gatekeeper. As we dashed for one another once more, a second axe armor came from the side again... only to be knocked aside by Hong Meiling herself, sending it flying into the wall surrounding the mansion and knocking it unconscious, hinting at the others not to interfere in our duel.
Coming close, we exchanged several blows yet again, each one being deflected or softly absorbed, neither of us able to land a clean hit. Our arms were a blur, our eyes tense from reading our opponent's movements, our breathing heavy yet focused. Even the occasional kick was ancitipated and evaded or blocked, until she faked a strike at me and caught me off-guard with a knee to the groin. Grunting loudly and grimacing from the sheer force behind her attack, I barely managed to regain my focus in time to avoid a swift strike aimed at the throat, gripping her arm as it passed me by and using her weight and momentum to throw her over. However, nimble and agile like a cat, she landed on her feet, unfazed by this, kicking herself off the ground back in my direction, not even giving me a second to catch my breath, her assault relentless and unforgiving.
Hearing a loud swooshing sound, I managed to pull myself back just in time for a large, heavy axe to whirl through the air between us, flying past and embedding itself into the wall. Having pulled back as well, Hong Meiling grimaced briefly, the distance this interruption had put between us interrupting the flow of her attacks... except not. Her eyes - and hands - glowed with a spiritual power for the briefest of moments, before she hurled an energy sphere in my direction, followed by two smaller, quicker ones after I avoided the first one. The second one passed me by nearly close enough to singe my hair, and the third one came too fast to avoid. Gathering up my own energies, I empowered my fist with holy energy and punched it. The orb dissipated, yet my fist felt as if I had punched a solid concrete wall... on fire. The pain was nearly bad enough to leave my hand numb, and it had burned through the knuckles of my gloves. Even so, the scarlet dragon I had been battling was once more closing the distance between us, focused entirely on ending my existence.
Yet again and again did we clash, trading blows, attempting to find weak spots in each other's defenses; each time one of us had their blow blocked, we anticipated the following counterattack, and attempted to counter that, and then-... you get the picture. After missing a kick, I smacked her across the face with my long coattail, taking her by surprise and disorienting her long enough to deliver a second kick to the side of the head. Against a normal mook or human, I'd have either killed it outright, or at least broken its cheekbones. Unfortunately, Hong Meiling was nowhere near the low standards of a mere human; though she definitely felt that hit, she didn't let it bother her in the least, recovering immediately and coming right at me again. Indeed, my own human stamina was starting to prove to be a significant handicap, my foe not showing the slightest signs of tiring yet. I could have used a weapon, yet at this point it was clear that she had learned to counter my every move, she had learned my largely-improvised and unpredictable fighting 'style'; a weapon of any sort would be more likely to become a liability, or to be used against me. Even chain whips were included among the more exotic weapon types included in traditional styles of tai chi chuan.
The rain had soaked us quite thoroughly, adding to my fatigue. My clothes felt heavy, yet she seemed completely unhindered by her own outfit, as if it were her own skin. I had knocked the fancy hat with the star off her head long ago, near the beginning of our little spar, and her bright red hair stuck to her face, drenched in rainwater, yet even this did nothing to lessen her combat prowess. And to think that I had underestimated this woman back when I first saw her, taking a nap while on duty... Even the most competent warriors need to take a nap now and then, I guess.
I slipped up. My next strike was too slow, too predictable, and she caught me by the wrist again, this time not giving me the chance to turn the situation in my favor, immediately smashing me square in the chest with another palm strike, sending me flying - and pulling me right back by the arm, the resulting forces pulling me in opposite directions badly dislocating my shoulder, the pain almost causing me to black out right there, only my sheer stubborn determination keeping me lucid and focused despite being yanked back and forth like a ragdoll. Again, she struck me, her blow formed as to cause maximal internal injury, with me barely able to turn my body in the air so as to avoid being struck in the heart... I think she broke a rib or two there, though. Quite the light injury, considering what it -could- have been.
Several axe armors had appeared yet again, overeager to assist their commander in finishing me off; Hong Meiling was not pleased, but also not one to waste resources. Swinging me around like a sack of potatoes, she smashed me right into the heavily armored soldiers, knocking the wind out of me and getting rid of the annoying intereference at the same time. Two birds with one stone, and all that. Hoping dearly that I wasn't suffering from internal bleeding or anything, I managed to pull myself together enough to kick myself off the last one, twisting my body so as to come towards Hong Meiling with my legs forward, my position allowing me to pass just above her intended strike and wrap my legs around her neck as my posterior smacked her in the chest. In furious retaliation, she made use of my position in such close proximity by grabbing my neck in her vice-like grip, shutting off my access to air. I decided to respond in kind, squeezing my legs together as hard as I could with my rapidly failing strength.
Being strangled by creatures stronger than me twice in one night was definitely an experience I hoped I would never have to go through again, assuming I lived through that time to begin with. Time certainly seems to slow down when you're oxygen-deprived. The rain mercilessly beating on us, we clung to each other, each one trying to squeeze the life out of the other first. Hong Meiling's face gradually turned redder, contorted, teeth bared and grinding; her eyes, filled with rage, bulged out at me. Keeping my legs firmly locked around her neck and squeezing with all my might, all I could do with my hands was pull on her grip, trying desperately to keep her hand from breaking my neck, though not enough to draw breath. Utilizing sheer will power to keep from blacking out, I amassed all the strength left in my battered, bruised body, and... squeezed.
"S-... Shoot h-..."