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Claire Stanfield

West Wind | Combat

0 · 1,353 views · located in The Joffre

a character in “The Weight of Soul”, as played by ༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ

Description

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C L A I R ExxS T A N F I E L Dxxxx#9F000Fxx
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        29 (APRIL 14, 1912)xxxMxxxWEST WIND / U.S.A.

        HT / 183 CM x WT / 75 KGx LEAN & ATHLETIC
        HAIR / GINGERx SKIN / WHITEx EYES / AMBER


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XXXXXKNOWLEDGE |x ◆◆◆◆xxxxRank-A:xxxx5 YEARS
XUNDERSTANDING |x ◆◆◆◆◆
XXXXXXXXXCHARM |x ◆◆◆◆xxxxArtifact 1:xxxGRAHAM SPECTER (C)
XXXXXXXXCOMBAT |x ◆◆◆◆◆xxxx
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i. S A N I W Axxxxxxii. A R T I F A C T (1)xxxxxxiii. F A C T I O NxxW O R K Sxxxxxxiv. R E L A T I O N S H I P S



MISSIONS COMPLETED: 780 / MISSION SUCCESS RATE: 91%



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i. Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Catholicism.
ii. Birthplace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Boston, United States.
iii. Occupation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bodyguard.
iv. Morality Alignment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Neutral Good.

Identifying Trait: Walks with a hunch, as though he's constantly slouching.





I. SANIWA

WINE MAN, A MAN COVERED IN WINE.



xxxTo say that Claire Stanfield is a man of duality would be quite accurate. Big smiles, friendly banter, and tall tales describe his first impression quite well. He presents himself as a jubilant-if not slightly spontaneous personality with a penchant for trips to new places. However, one should not mistake his magnetism for nicety; he only extends charisma to people he wants to impress. Otherwise, Claire will not make the effort to hide his inherent volatility. He has a hard time separating himself from his achievements so he takes criticism very personally. The redhead makes no effort to hide his volatility nor immaturity when people attribute his achievements to others. During his childhood, his parents equated one’s merits with usefulness and he internalized that principle. Therefore, Claire has a selective respect for authority. In general, he feels that rank is meaningless and isn’t incapable of challenging his superiors, Gallant “Luck” Gandor, excluded. As his bodyguard, Claire does not question Gandor.

xxxClaire sees the Gandor as a pragmatic figure who fills a void left in his past. More than the money and the innovation, Luck glides through his non-Saniwa responsibilities, acting as an example and mentor to the younger man. He sees a self made man who does not use his background as an excuse for his shortcomings. Claire, on the contrary, often inquires if he’s defined by his past. Despite attempts to renew himself, his past actions always remind him of his emotional impulsivity. His father, Benjamin Stanfield, never spent the money given to his family on anything nice even though he reaped benefits of being a World War I veteran. He preferred staying inside and nursing his leg injury with a cigar and an old book. Benjamin could not deal with the noise, delivering Claire or his brother a swift lashing whenever they were too loud for his tastes. Claire hated being home; his mother’s attempts to calm him down only bolstered his decision to leave his household.

xxxWith only twenty dollars in his pocket (a product of lifting coins from his father and random pennies on the street), he hopped the nearest train to New York City, the city that never sleeps. Perhaps by moving elsewhere he might find more support. It started in the train that he hopped, running along its side for a good fifteen minutes before he would land in an open boxcar. He sat for three weeks on and off, legs dangling out the side with a man named Eowen. At first, Claire noticed some inconsistencies: he never ate or drank, he talked about things that were out of date, and disappeared at night. They were all good questions to ask, but he felt too uncomfortable to ask until hearing the legends of the Rail Tracer. They came mostly from other vagabonds who came and went as they crossed state lines.

xxx“The Rail Tracer is covered in black.” “He pushes people off the train after midnight.” “If you see him you’re as good as bumped off!” Claire felt it odd that he never saw the specter in question, but he did notice Eowen missing whenever he woke up in the middle of the night. When he finally gathered the courage to ask the older male, Claire found himself nearly thrown off the roof, but his attitude impressed Eowen enough to tell his tale. Normally this would have been the time that most ran away, but both fear and sympathy led Claire to continue listening. Like Claire, he had a need to leave his past behind and travel where the road would take him, but chose trains rather than settling in New York. Neither of them went any deeper into the conversation, but once they reached Brooklyn, Eowen warned Claire that a new setting didn’t necessarily mean a new life. The Irishman merely thanked the ghost before waving to the air.

xxxAs it turned out, the Rail Tracer would be the nicest that a person treated him for at least a year. The Great Depression hit worse than an old man driving a jalopy. It started with him bouncing around jobs to underground fight clubs to even (unsuccessful) panhandling. The problem he soon learned wasn’t just the red hair because he could cover that with his hat. Everyone was poor. Shops closed earlier and earlier, some shut down completely, and when Black Tuesday hit Claire was both guilty and glad that he kept his scratch in a dufflebag.

xxxNot much changed as he already had a terrible time getting a job, but now he could fall to bread lines without any shame. His loneliness motivated him to make small talk with the strangers around him which helped train his conversational skills. Somedays everyone gave him radio silence, some he got a few words out, but few ever stayed. Often times they would be friends one day and complete strangers the next.
Graham was not one of those people.

xxxFrom the moment Graham opened his mouth, it was jokes, stories, and playful ribbing of the sights (and occasionally) the people around them. “Would ya’ look at all those cracks in the road? They could break a mom’s back.” “If the windows are the same as the curtains, what about your rug?” “Would you stop fuming? You look like a steamed tomato.” Granted, Claire nearly slapped him for that last one, but a swift apology and some self-deprecation seemed to calm the redhead. Graham would ramble on about the motor business, his run-ins with the mafia (which turned out to be only rumors), and the movies he snuck into when the ushers weren’t looking. He felt like a man from the heart of the town, the essence of the New York working class.

xxxClaire subconsciously turned on the charm and tried his best to pass the time while they waited for their singular slice of bread to get them through the day. He didn’t have much to tell so he recounted stories by his of the infamous “Rail Tracer” (which Graham really did not believe), fighting in the underground, or just asked Graham more about his life. They weren’t all that similar, which made conversations shallow, but Claire respected his mechanical skill as well as the blonde's open ear (on the rare occasion that Claire felt comfortable sharing them). On the other side, Graham acknowledged Claire’s gumption and lack of regard when it came to challenging others. Graham often chided Claire’s knee jerk reactions, saying that not all things were worth arguing for. His uncle had a small shop fixing fixing appliances. It paid near nothing and he would need to learn the trade but they had space in one of the closets to lay down a blanket. Claire gladly took the offer, but only after realizing that the blonde was, in fact, making an offer. Both of them acknowledged the level of pride they held onto in spite of their status so neither of them wanted to act as though they expected handouts. Graham in particular loved the feeling of buying real food with his money, but always refused gifts or tried to share them with the church.

xxxOver the years he’d resented being raised Catholic as most of the children in elementary school made fun of him, but more importantly, the lack of results. God never fixed his father the way his mother promised he would when Claire prayed. Still, he wanted something to hold onto and it was nice having a holy body to confide in. On one occasion, he stayed approached the priest, but freaked out when he saw him exorcising a young woman. As it turned out, the priest was a Spiritualist Saniwa who worked in New York City scouting potential trainees. He explained the truth behind ghosts and showed him the nature of Artifacts before the two of them began training. Claire was to come to night lessons at the church. Graham, being a non-Saniwa, did not believe him, but humored him enough to vouch for day shifts to his uncle.

xxxUnfortunately, his mugger begged to differ. When Claire broke the story to Graham that someone pulled a gun on him, the blonde lacked an answer or direction. Going to the police without an identity would not solve anything. They couldn’t duke it out either because this was far after the fact. Graham merely reassured Claire that he would be safe so long as he left earlier or carried a knife. Of course, that wasn’t the entire truth and Graham knew that so he began pressing Claire for more.

xxxFeeling threatened, Claire told his friend to stay out of it, escalating from a small argument to full on yelling until one of them finally snapped.

xxxIt wasn’t his proudest moment, probably his lowest point but unlike with the mugger he told his priest the whole truth. Behind the screen they couldn’t see his pained expressions, the fact that he needed to wash himself twice to get all the blood off, or that he dragged Graham’s wrench the entire way out of some strange compulsion. Perhaps it was his conscience punishing him or trying to retain some piece of Graham with him. Either way, the relief he felt from confession and the words of the father gave him the confidence to ask for penance. Of course, God had an interesting way of nudging sinners toward the path of light and in his case, the act of contrition.

xxxAfter months of laying low, the redhead’s funds dried up so he needed a new way to bring in money. He turned to the one place where it all started: the underground. All he needed to do was throw his money into the pot and fight. If he won, he took the cash, if he lost, he left with nothing (which was honestly near what he threw in). Thugs, failed boxers, and the impoverished all gathered in the ring, fighting one versus one until one man stood tall; in this case that happened to be Claire. Seven bodies and two broken knuckles later, they were declaring a blood-splattered “Wine Man” the winner. Claire had tried to coin the more sophisticated “Vino," but his earlier matches burned him into effigy. It should have been easy then to retrieve the cash and leave, but the Stanfield felt someone’s eyes boring into him. They weren’t the kind of eyes of some swell (not to be confused with being wonderful, but rather a rich man), but a wise guy who could stare into your soul by glancing your way. It unnerved him so Claire responded the only way he knew how: challenging him to a fight. Sure enough, the man humored him...but the man also turned out to be one Gallant Gandor. He hadn’t known at the time, but the Gandor could have wiped the floor with him. It was a good thing that he liked the redhead’s moxie because he ended up bloodier than in any of the other fights.

xxxUpon actually acquainting themselves with one another, Claire could only offer an uneasy smile at Gandor’s job offer. What type of person just punched a guy in the face and then asked him to be a bodyguard? He soon realized that the type of person Gandor was, was a competitor (if that was the proper usage). Hunting, football, and especially horse racing fascinate him as does the thrill of a bet; nothing brought him more excitement than throwing money at the track. For Claire, gambling brought bad memories of neighbors being beaten for their debts, so betting for Gallant was nerve-wracking. What if he took it out of Claire’s paycheck? He supposed that it was the risk that one took when betting and the same risk that Gallant took when he hired him. In short, Claire, himself a sober realist for the most part, is attracted to Luck’s sense of elevating, romantic idealism.

xxxGallant Gandor brought Claire more than just a room to stay. The Gandor brought Claire something he never could have had, even as a high ranking Saniwa: respect. Gallant’s influence, by extension, earned Claire respect from Saniwa society. Even in an allegedly harmonious organization, there still existed a hierarchy among Saniwa and the Irish sat near the bottom. Becoming Gallant Gandor’s bodyguard, however, changed people’s perspectives. Being Luck’s guardian meant upward mobility and connections to Saniwa he’d never be in the same room with and in some ways it did. Walking beside his boss silenced his detractors from making comments about his lowly background or improper speech and he relished those moments even when they came to an end. When Gandor wasn’t around however, his employees would scoff at the idea of working under an Irishman (even if they were on the upswing). Nicknames like “Wic," “Leprechaun,” “Cat-Lick,” and “SID” were the Sterling-appropriate ones, but occasionally less kind ones would remind Claire of where he came from. In those cases, Claire kept his replies brusque, but fair as he had to keep appearances lest one of them report to Gandor.

xxxNowadays he tries to keep up appearances for the sake of being a Rank A Saniwa (try being the keyword). Those who have worked with him will attest that he is a good learner, but a terrible teacher. He does well to finish his assignments; however, he can’t delegate tasks efficiently nor give his squad mates a proper idea of how to . Despite his judgment of another Saniwa’s worth, he lacks the experience to properly utilize the strengths and weaknesses of his team members and more often than not, leaves them to fend for themselves after reviewing his semblance of a plan.



Skills:x Martial Arts, Acrobatics, Exorcism, Ghost Identification, Mechanics.
Known Languages:x English (fluent, Boston accent), Gaelic (limited), German (limited).

Likes/Interests:x Alcohol, Reading, Movies, Sports, Jazz, Gambling.
Dislikes:x Criticism, Lack of validation, Raw Tomatoes, Hot Weather, Tedium.


__________

Faceclaim: Claire Stanfield (Baccano!).
Image Sources: Please list all sources of the images you used. I trust you with being respectful/being specific where it's appropriate.





i. S A N I W Axxxxxxii. A R T I F A C T (1)xxxxxxiii. F A C T I O NxxW O R K Sxxxxxxiv. R E L A T I O N S H I P S


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ImageImageImageHT / 179 CM
WT / 77 KG
TYPE / COMBAT
AGE / 8 YEARS OLD

#9E552B /

AWAKENED SKILL / "PENNIES FROM HEAVEN"
Can attract small metal objects to himself for short amounts of time. The duration correlates to the amount of spirit his Saniwa provides.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSURVIVAL [HP] x◆◆◆◆◆XXLEADERSHIP [DEF]x ◆◆◆◆XXIMPULSE [ATTK]x◆◆◆◆◆XXMOBILITY [SPD]x◆◆◆◆◆XXSPIRIT x ◆◆◆◆◆


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II. ARTIFACT (C)

A MAGNETIC PERSONALITY.



xxxThe Diamond 12-inch Adjustable Wrench came into the original Graham’s possession as the result of a poker game sometime around the late 1920s that mostly, functioned as a toy since jobs were few and far between. Most of the time he and Claire feigned sword fights with it and other tools (usually pipes), but occasionally they would fix old appliances or make house calls.

xxxDuring those times Graham was blue to Claire’s red, the mentor to his apprentice, the cat to his dog and the nickel to Claire’s other nickel when they finally saved up enough to buy Famous Funnies #1. Aside from chiding Claire for being too easily aggravated, he embodied many of the traits that Claire didn’t, namely being able to pick his battles. Most things he brushed off as jokes or points of curiosity, which helped to keep him calm. Rather than blow up in the face of frustration he preferred attempting to understand people’s points of view both for his own sake and for the sake of whatever he was dealing with.

xxxThat did not, however, void him of morality. The true sentiment behind Graham Specter the Artifact came from the conflict between Claire’s actions and the other Graham’s morality. It was one thing to act in self-defense, but another to continue punishing a person for their actions. In Claire’s view, the mugger not only threatened to kill him but also brought back memories of his father sitting vigilant on the couch, ready to shoot anything that came through the door and the one time he nearly got killed.

xxxPot bellied, stout, and with hairy knuckles, all of it was too similar to ignore and that was not something Graham could understand. Despite the blonde’s attempts to convince Claire that he needed to tell him everything, the redhead refused. How could a guy who had never been in a real fight understand? He even had the nerve to say that Claire would be starving without him! Well that wasn’t true (actually it was) so Claire threw a punch. Then he threw another and another until Graham picked up his wrench and struck back.

xxxClaire had been hit countless times before in the forearm, in the face, in everything, but nothing quite matched the pain and the betrayal of being struck with the wrench, being struck by Graham. It had only been in the arm, but that was enough to leave him bleeding which was enough justification for Claire to wrestle the tool away and stain the wrench with as much blood as he did himself.

xxxHe’d almost feel relieved were it not for the fact that he beat his (ex)friend to a bloody pulp. He hadn’t checked for a pulse, too scared to face the idea that he might have actually killed him but still felt himself dragging the evidence behind. Both the event and the object haunted him and consumed him even as he confessed to the priest (who acted ridiculously calm in spite of the situation). He could remember every word of both the man behind the screen and his own oath to sin no more as well as the swell of regret in his heart.

xxx“I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

xxxAs it turned out, his contrition would also be his chance to lay his betrayal to rest for Graham, the Artifact, laid unconscious inside the booth.
To some extent, Graham Specter, sees the flashes of regret and occasional pauses whenever he and Claire celebrate an accomplishment or the biweekly ruminations whenever the redhead spends a few dollars on a bottle of gin, but any efforts to understand him are met with mixed results. Often the duo feels dangerously close and sometimes, they aren’t sure how to deal with one another. As much flack as Gallant Gandor receives for treating his Artifact like a son, Claire plays his own game of treating his Artifact like a best friend, if not a brother. While this leads to synergy when the two are happy, it also leads to volatility when one or more of them are not.

xxxIn many ways, the Artifact, Graham, acts too much like the man he was subconsciously modeled after, but in others he carries a natural curiosity in the way things work. From a mechanical point of view, he loves looking at blueprints, reverse engineering, and attempting to make broken objects work once more. His projects are not always successful, but failures only breed more curiosity and success, pride in sharing his work.



__________

Faceclaim: Graham Specter (Baccano!).
Image Sources: Please list all sources of the images you used. I trust you with being respectful/being specific where it's appropriate.







i. S A N I W Axxxxxxii. A R T I F A C T (1)xxxxxxiii. A R T I F A C T (2)xxxxxxiv. F A C T I O NxxW O R K Sxxxxxxv. R E L A T I O N S H I P S



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IV. FACTION WORKS
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Big Meaty Claws Operation We




i. S A N I W Axxxxxxii. A R T I F A C T (1)xxxxxxiii. F A C T I O NxxW O R K Sxxxxxxiv. R E L A T I O N S H I P S



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IV. RELATIONSHIPS


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Statusxxxxxxxxx.Claire Stanfield.
●●●●●●xxRESPECT
●●●●●●xxFONDNESS
●●●●●●xxRIVALRY
●●●●●●xxDISLIKE
●●●●●●xxROMANCE

TWoS

"Why am I the way I am?" | Claire is often at odds with his past and present selves. He is proud of how far he has come but equally troubled by his actions. He does not feel as though he has changed much from young adulthood since he still holds onto the same weaknesses but cannot figure out a way to eliminate them. More than anything, he hopes for a future where he doesn't need to lean on another person to find reprieve in his life.


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Statusxxxxxxxxx.Gallant Gandor.
●●●●●●xxRESPECT
●●●●●xxFONDNESS
●●●●●●xxRIVALRY
●●●●●●xxDISLIKE
●●●●●●xxROMANCE

TWoS

"He's Joe Brooks! He's the bee's knees and the cat's meow! Whenever he's in a meeting he's firin' on all six cylinders." | Gallant Gandor holds a special place in Claire's heart as his benefactor, mentor, and friend. He pulled the redhead from the darkest time in his life and gave him a greater purpose. More than the money, Gandor gave him upward mobility in a way that no one else could have while others chose to spit on his ethnicity. At times, Claire recognizes the Gandor's cultural ignorance but shrugs it off as him being funny.


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Statusxxxxxxxxx.Mouse Kazetani.
●●●●●●xxRESPECT
●●●●●●xxFONDNESS
●●●●●●xxRIVALRY
●●●●●●xxDISLIKE
●●●●●●xxROMANCE

TWoS

"He seems like he's always balled up, but off the job he has a funny side. Well except, when he's trying to trick me." | Miyoshi is, in many ways, Claire's natural foil. Where one has measured grace, the other is a bumbling fool. Where one is short, the other is a gangly tree. He finds Miyoshi's demeanor very respectable, but feels the morbidity that resonates within the Japanese man. For that reason, he continues to joke around with Miyoshi and try to get him to reciprocate...even when it involves pulling a prank on him.

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© ༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ / © CODE & TWoS BETHELIT & STAFF/魂の重み・THE WEIGHT OF SOUL PROJECT

So begins...

Claire Stanfield's Story

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Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield
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"Are you scared?"

"No."

"Excited?"

"Maybe."

From the distance Claire saw a line of trees which, upon closer inspection smelled of cherry blossoms. They disappeared as they walked closer and in their place was a footman who he presumed to be an Artifact.

"I see Mouse's already here," he said, giving a nod to the male before the two entered the building.

Mouse--rather Miyoshi had a pesky habit of hiding himself using Kimura Asagi, which to his credit was useful, but annoying for anyone who worked with him. Though they'd been partnered once or twice, the Kazetani changed his appearance each time. It left him without so much as an inkling of a mental image and this time was no different. During Operation Chilled Meat he disguised himself as a Chinaman, but now he sported a pale face and a burgundy suit. Still, he carried the same countenance that made him certifiably Mouse.

"Smoking to mask the flower smell?" he asked.

"You say that, but you were lightin’ a ciggy in the car,” Graham chided.

Claire rolled his eyes before glancing toward the meditating East Wind leader and then the blonde and her Artifact. Subconsciously, he adjusted his tie, feeling under dressed compared to his counterparts (sans the similarly dressed Graham). He’d settled on a Half-Windsor knot after failing to tie a full Windsor in the car despite Graham’s best efforts and his blazer too, seemed speckled with lint he failed to notice prior to entering the room. Normally it wasn't too much of an issue since missions rarely required formal wear, but now that he was in the presence of a deb he started wondering if he should have gone to the cleaner’s.

"So uh,” Claire paused, "what’s the name Jane?”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker
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“So where you boys from?”

Lee's attention lingered on the view outside of the backseat window of the cab for a few more moments. Though there had been clear efforts to clear the streets of rubble from the Luftwaffe bombings, there still remained errant brick and stone. He had also noticed the way the driver avoided certain streets, probably closed from the amount of damage sustained. However, despite it all, he could still find a glimmer of cheer and hope in the driver's voice as he spoke. Shifting his attentions away from the streets outside the window, Lee's gaze turned instead onto the back of the cab driver's head. He was an older gentleman, a once dark brown head edged with grey and salt beginning to pepper his bushy mustache.

“Australia,” Lee answered simply.

The man in the seat beside him turned and gave him a hard look before he chuckled to himself and shrugged. “I think he knew that, mate.” Turing away from Lee, the man then began to speak to the driver. “Actually, we're from the Northern Territory, a port town called Darwin.” Lee watched for a moment as his Artifact, a man named Peter, explained the details before he reached into his coat pocket to retrieve a pack of cigarettes. The backseat already smelled of stale leather and smoke, he doubted another cigarette would hurt anything. and He pulled one from the pack and fished out his lighter from somewhere else and began to light it before the driver spoke again.

“Australia, huh? You fellows are a long way from home. What brings you to London?”

Lee took a moment to light the cigarette before answering. “Business.” Before Peter could shoot him another hard glance, Lee continued, “Private business. Sorry mate, would tell ya if I could.” It was the best he could do without going into the details of the House of Four Winds and the Saniwa, much less the specific reason of his presence there and their destination of the Viscount Kazetani's office. The driver seemed to accept the answer with a quiet nod. “Jerry's been hittin' youse fellas hard, hasn't he?” Lee asked, puffing smoke out the open window. He could still see the odd brick of stone on the side of the road.

The driver shook his head. “Not as hard as he has been, but still pretty hard. Had to go the shelter just last month.” Lee turned back toward the driver and shook his head. “Still, it'll take more than a few bombs to break London,”

Lee smiled and nodded, “Must be that British stiff upper-lip I've been hearin' about,” he said with a chuckle, causing the driver to laugh along.

“God save the King,” Peter added.

“God save the King,” The driver agreed.

A few more minutes of idle conversation, and the cab pulled up to the office. Lee took one more puff from the cigarette before he exited the cab. Stepping outside, he was struck with a strong smell of something sickly sweet which caused him to recoil out of surprise. A glance at Peter revealed the man looking back him, a raised brow. They both knew what the most likely source was. Shaking his head, Lee moved toward the driver side window and withdrew his wallet from his back pocket as Peter went to the boot to retrieve their duffles. Lee opened his wallet and paid the man in pounds. “Here ya go,” Lee said, handing the driver the money, “Thanks heaps, mate. Be safe,”

“You too, and good luck on your private business, the driver replied with a laugh. Lee watched as the man threw the car into reverse and left, and soon melted into the night.

“Here, your shit's heavy,” Peter said as he pulled along side Lee, passing along his duffle bag. Lee took it and slung it over his shoulder with one hand, while holding the cigarette with his other. “We're late,” Peter added, looking at his watch.

Lee only laughed and shook his head. “'Course we are, ya didn't think we'd be on time, did ya?” Lee could feel the side-eye Peter was giving him, but he could also feel the smile tugging at the corner of the artifact's lips. “Come on, why keep 'em waitin' when we're already here?” Lee said, making his way toward the office. As they walked, Lee fiddled with the bowtie around his collar, making sure that it was straight as he could get it. Satisfied, Lee then straightened out his dark brown vest and the tan coat over it. He wasn't exactly used to formal wear, but he had to admit. He looked damn good in a bowtie. Then he began to wave his cigarette at Peter's string tie, “'Straighten your tie doovalacky, we don't want 'em to think we're a couple o' bogans.”

Peter simply stared at him before straightening his tie with a deadpan look, before straightening his glasses. “Better?” he asked. Lee nodded, and led them toward the door to the office. As they entered, Peter inclined his head to the fellow at the door, offering a “G'evenin',” before following Lee into the office proper.

The office was... small, even without others. With them, it was cramped, but still. Lee gave the room a quick once over before tilting his head. It seemed like they weren't the last ones to arrive, surprisingly. He inclined his head in greeting to the room, but his attention was grabbed by an the intensely redheaded Claire. Lee's heard of his fellow West Wind Saniwa from Gandor, but he wasn't prepared for how red the man's hair truly was. “Shit mate,” Lee said before he could stop himself, “You havin' a barbie or is that your hair?” Peter only rolled his eyes.

“Dammit Lee.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker
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#, as written by Jedly
Cyril breathed through his teeth at the depressing result of his seventh attempt to tie a necktie. He wasn't too adamant about wearing formal attire, but has gradually become more comfortable in such apparel. His only qualm with the set was the piece of entropy-abiding set of apparel striking out in rebellion. It was constricting and frankly a liability. At any given moment somebody could grab him by the silk shell and have an instantaneous leverage if an altercation were to develop from there.

The clothing was forced upon him by his higher-ups as a means of making him operate in a more professional manner. Since Cyril believed it would expend too much effort to raise a voice of opposition, he went with their wishes and has sported the suit and tie ever since, in spite of his personal stance. After giving the fabric one last tug, he paced his way through the flat and rounded the corner into the main room. There, standing in rays of light that all focused on the room's center was a girl with her hands tightly clasped together and her eyes shut. She remained there quietly while she offered praise to the deity she held in such high regard. Anybody would naturally be captivated by the sight. The way the sun gracefully fell onto the girl's skin, how shallow her breaths were due to being preoccupied with praying, the whole spectacle would leave one speechless regardless of religious affiliation. Or maybe because of the two cat ears that kept up a presentable form too.

But Cyril wasn't one for common courtesies and even with his taciturn demeanor still intruded upon the her prayer, ”So, did He pick up or were you put on hold again?” He asked in a spiteful tone to evoke some chagrin, ”You know, maybe you should try sending Him a letter. Kind of like how kids always write to Saint Nicholas?” The girl tried her best to maintain her composure, but unseeable from Cyril's perspective, her brow had become visually furrowed. ”Actually, Sinterklaas has become more prevalent recently. After the Nazis enacted Gleichschaltung in the Netherlands a few months ago, the R.A.F has recently started rewriting his rhymes. They dropped candy over occupied land to one of them. How'd it go again...? Ah, right. The Saniwa took a deep breathe and delved into a recitation, taking a portion of the sunlight to bask in himself. ”R.A.F. Kapoentje, Gooi wat in mijn schoentje, Bij de Moffen gooein, Maar in Hol-”

And just like that, the last straw turned to cinders. The girl unwillingly placed her morning prayers on a halt as she whirled around to face Cyril, flames burning wildly in her eyes. In response to this agitated display, the young adult blankly looked at her. ”Hey, weren't you just in the middle of something important?”

”Look who the hell is tal- eep!” Wulf realized her mistake and sent a barrage of apologies into the sun. This was how the days of the socially declined Cyril Noel and his faithful Artifact Wulfetrud went. The comical exchange of words through scorched air was only but the tip of the iceberg. After preparing for the day before them, the duo would head to a diner that sat on the edge of Donkmeer Lake. Cyril and Wulfetrud unanimously agreed the view was the best thing to start the day with, that and a cup of coffee and tea respectively. And if his morning had been especially shitty, a glass of wine.

They would then continue on with their jobs at that very diner, where Cyril managed its resources while Wulfetrud served as a waitress. She marketed off her extra ears under the guise that they were rather than legitimate parts of her body. With her ingenuity, the girl entrenched herselff deeper in the role and altered her speech. She got into the act of ending off her sentences with “mew” or “meow”, or her fans' favorite, straining out any word containing the syllable “per”:

”Thank you, devoted patron! Don't worry, your meal will be just puuuuurfect~!”

Bleugh

Cyril was thankful for the fact that he rarely bared witness to this performance. It was impossible for him to make the connection between the voice filled with amity and its deprecating counterpart. Although Cyril tended to be the only recipient of the latter.

After work was done for the day, they would report in to the local Saniwa who presided over the district and distributed missions like they were coupons to gentlemen's clubs. In the case that the two were graced with a day off, which was nearly impossible since the area appeared to always be a cesspool for activity. But if this instance ever rose, they made sure to savor every morsel. Their free time was usually spent aimlessly strolling around Ghent, stopping by shops that especially caught Wulf's eye, and reclining at a pub Cyril frequented. Though the girl may have looked incongruous in an establishment chock full of burly men, albeit her partner wasn't all that much to look at, the two resonated with the drunken community. It was even more entertaining for the girl to watch as Cyril contested alcoholic veterans and wiped the floor with them, and since it was a pretty undemanding task to get him home, she let the young adult drink to his threshold. Although he never admitted it, he always called it quits just before he's crossed over from sobriety. The blond cared for his artifact's frame of mind, despite the fact that any valid evidence has yet to leave his mouth.

Cyril backpedaled from the girl and made his way to the entrance where a coat rack resided. ”You're not continuing to pester me. Something's up, right?” Wulf abruptly called out, lids still closed shut and palms pressed tightly together. Yep, that’s what caught her attention. The Saniwa peaked his head from around the corner to offer the girl an ambiguous answer, his own definition of the word courteous, ”...Maybe.” He picked up the faint sound of the girl clicking her tongue and blindly plucked a flat cap from a limb. The young adult then backtracked his steps once again and stopped at the girl's side. A pair of friendly yet mildly agitated eyes looked up at Cyril as he gently placed the article of apparel over his partner's ears. ”Comfortable enough?” He queried in an affable voice which Wulf was unable to determine to be false or genuine. The girl responded with a composed nod before she adjusted the hat with her hands. ”Good.” Cyril curtly spoke as he began to make his way out of the open room. The artifact finally remembered her original question and opened her mouth in preparation, but even before a syllable could be vocalized the young adult had already answered, ”The city of rain and tea.”




”Leave me... Go on, save yourself.” Cyril managed to croak out as he lied there on the cobblestone, his face ashen to the point that blood no longer seemed to flow through. ”C-Cyril, please.” She begged with a gaze drowning in distress. The Saniwa rolled over to his side, gravel and dust ground against his body through every muscle movement, while his back faced Wulfetrud. ”You have to finish the mission. Do it for me... Don't worry, I'll be okay.” He was a lost cause, his life force comprised of a mere twenty-one grams was but a fleeting memory. ”Cyril... Come on. We're in public. J-Just get up from the sidewalk already. People are staring.”

That was indeed true,with the ambiance of car engines and horns that filled the streets. Passersby simply did just that, only daring to steal a glance before racing off, since they obviously didn't want to be involved with a doubled over Belgian and a girl who actually fitted into the setting. ”We have to get to the me- ARE YOU SERIOUSLY THINKING OF READING RIGHT NOW?!” She hissed as Cyril produced a book with the subtly of an otter afloat. Wulf believed that the bookworm had sewn pockets into his jackets just for the written word.

”Alright, there has to be a specific reason why you don't want to go. At least Maria and Basilio are there, so it's not like the whole entire team consists of strangers.” Her words were charged with static on the brim of electrocuting the supposedly esteemed Combat Saniwa lying on the dampened sidewalk.

”Because there are people there.” He suddenly blurted out to justify his defiant nature. A look of disbelief overcame her complexion as she dared to even process the words that just left the Saniwa's mouth. She managed to contain herself once a palm was applied to her face. "And...?” She ventured to implore him to expand on the vague answer.

”And they’re alive.”

”And?”

”And they're people.”

”Why does this argument sound painfully tenable?!”

”Because we're socially inept.”

”...I hate you.”

”That makes the two of us.”




Just as the two arrived at the office Wulfetrud suddenly grabbed the fine fabric of his suit, ”Wait a second.” She forced Cyril around to face her and began to fix his tie in meticulous adjustments, to which the Saniwa only rolled his eyes, ”What? You have to at least look somewhat presentable. There are some big-time figures in there, right?” She gave the silk one last tug and stepped back to observe her masterpiece. She took a few scant seconds to determine whether it symmetrically sufficed, during which Cyril decided to slip in a retort, ”Right, I'm sure they're keeping a keen eye out for lackluster dressers. Oi, no hats indoors. It's improper etiquette.” He spoke in a cold voice as he yanked the cap right off from her her head. Flustered couldn’t even dream to describe the shade of rosy red that filled her cheeks at such a swift rate. The girl flailed her arms as she hoped to bridge the gap of their height difference yet to no avail was unable to reach it. Besides, the cat ears would help her leave more of an impression. Given how unapproachable her partner was, at least somebody needed to be remembered as an actual existence. Then again, she wasn’t exactly much of a social butterfly herself. She felt unnerved by these new horizons, and the fact that Cyril was acting his usual indifferent self wasn’t helping either. Perhaps underneath that blasé mug was a tinge of worry. ”Well, shall we? Might as well get it over with?” His irritated temperament that she was all too familiar with was the thing that brought her out of her muse. The pair of apathetic eyes staring back at hers urged her to answer, ”Leave me… Go on, save yourself.”

The girl almost broke out in laughter at the ravine that formed between his brows.

The slam of the door behind them denoted the point of no return. Once they had digested the room and its current denizens in its fullest, the two thought together in perfect unison, ”Well fuck.”

The office itself was actually quite anticlimactic, mundane really. Cyril was expecting a room embellished with a wallet that had to compensate for something else. The duo’s noses picked up the trace of cigarette smoke, which the younger of the two met abrasively with a scrunched up face. The girl wondered if everybody in this team besides Maria and her artifact were smokers. It was probably not far from the truth, much to her dismay. The Saniwa didn’t even make an effort to alert the others of his presence. A few of them were already engrossed in conversation, so rather than intruding on that oh so picturesque moment, Cyril shot the head honchos a nod. His gaze specifically rested on Yuuki before he turned himself around to set two cases next to the door. The proper thing to do in this scenario was to introduce himself and report in. Unfortunately, any driving force to do this had long since been expired, as made clear when the blond popped open Friedrich Nietzche’s Human, All Too Human and picked up from where he left off. The floor seemed to have met his standard for seating. As if this scene had played out many times, his artifact sat down next to him and read along, occasionally holding the page by the end for a few sparse moments to catch up.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker
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#, as written by Alligot
A M E L I A

S A M A E L






The imposing stench of oil and spent gunpowder lingered through the street, so thick that it might just be visible. A half dozen men with whitened hair and creased faces pried and struggled against piles of rubble and splintered wood, their hands thickly gloved. Children clad in oversized coats clambered and ran across the street - scurrying to make room for the occasional automobile or taxi.

One of the laboring men lifted a hand to a couple passing by, their attire undamaged and vibrant in color, their step determined and backs straight. The shorter of the two carried a trio of satchels, all varying in size, and wore a simple shirt and slacks - a strange thing in the chilling fall weather. His fair hair was combed back, yet his face was unkempt, with visible stubble on his jaw and neck. Upon his right arm he wore a simply-designed silver watch backwards, having to tilt his palm up if he were to read the time.

Ahead of him walked a woman with similarly-colored hair, although hers was fell past her shoulders, with her head covered by a shapeless cap. Her hands were hidden within the pockets of an olive coat, with a similar, thinner watch resting upon her right wrist. A draft of wind blew past, ruffling her skirt and hair and bringing with it a thick floral aroma, washing away the previous odors.

Hey, Amelia? I think we're getting close.

A couple simple words that nobody save one could hear - a faint, almost intimate whisper slid into her thoughts, a deep, ringing voice she knew belonged to Samael, an angelic name that was given to a man who had seemed a godsend upon his creation. He's since failed to keep such high esteem, with a primary reason being his ceaseless chiding.

Do you think I'm lost? I already know we're close.

Her tone was defensive - perhaps a bit tired. The taxi had dropped them off at the wrong office, forcing them to walk several blocks, a setback made more difficult even with flat shoes due to the damaged, messy terrain. Well, that, and she knew that Samael had been preoccupied with watching their surroundings. It was with no small amount of irritation that she learned that her Artifact just now figured out where they were.

Not paying attention, though. Come on, isn't the smell a bit strong for a few withering flowerbeds? This is an Artifact's work.

Her irritation lapsed - for she herself hadn't given the ability any other notice than relief, due to it removing the previous stench.

Is it doing anything to us?

To this, he shrugged. The scent grew stronger as they turned the corner of the street, facing the Kazetani office at the intersection. Though, neither of them felt tired or otherwise affected by the ability as their proximity increased.

No idea, but I'm guessing it's not.

Could be the American Saniwa, then. The West Wind has a liking for these kinds of displays, swaggering bunch of cowboys that they are.

The source quickly came into view - a uniformed Artifact standing at his post near the door. Samael gave him a nod as the pair walked inside. Another moment spent with a receptionist - and they were walking into the meeting room a minute later. She had removed her hat and coat, tucking both under her arm, while Samael had actually tucked his shirt in.

As she observed the room, it was reassuring to see that she wasn't the last to arrive. A quick count indicated that two still had yet to arrive - the two women from the East and South wind, probably. She took note of Kazetani's stifling presence - with both father and child carrying a similar air, with the younger talking to who Amelia supposed to be Christie. A duo of tall, older man accompanied by what Samael confirmed to be their two Artifacts. She tagged them as the West Wind Saniwa, if only due to their volume and dialect. And sitting on the floor was a young-looking man (wait, why was he sitting?) she swore she'd seen before -

Have you ever seen an Artifact that looks like that? Samael interrupted, his curiosity piqued.

Amelia instead followed Samael's gaze, and immediately saw what had piqued his curiosity. The young man's artifact was also sitting nearby, and she might have commented on that were she not also looking at a pair of animalistic ears, thrust out from the top of the girl's head.

Ah. Those two.

You know them?

No, but I saw them at the Graduation. Strange sort - if you can't tell.

Everyone's strange in a way, though.

They're acting like an actual teenaged couple. At a meeting about - really, the most important assignment any of us will ever do?

Oh - her ear's doing a twitching thing. Really, it's kind of endearing.

Though Amelia had already walked off, her gaze set upon a pair of particular Saniwa - perhaps one of the few professionals within the group.

Thinking with elitism doesn't qualify you for it, you know.

"Madame Christie, Mr. Kazetani? It's wonderful to finally meet you." Amelia said, adopting a smile and lilt to her tone. "Precious few other Saniwa hardly seem as composed."

She glanced at the elder Kazetani out of the corner of her eye - his head seemed bent, his eyes closed, so she didn't wish to disturb his thoughts. So, with a hand to her chest, she continued, "I'm Amelia - Amelia Renard, one of the Research Saniwa."

You're off your game today.

I'm not even playing the game.

Then you need to improve on your flattery.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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Dark brown eyes study the quiet streets, observing the townspeople close up shop or head home. Her lips move, her voice barely above a whisper. Chavacano rolls off her tongue, the language of home comforting in a place so vastly different. "Are we running late?" She cringes hearing herself, knowing full well she'd uttered several variations of that same question the past hour. But patience was never her strong suit, and travelling only made her fuse shorter.

To her left, Basilio stirs. A hand reaches into his coat pocket, pulling out a well-worn pocket watch and a flashlight. Their driver gives them a curious glance, interested in the two foreigners in his coach, but says nothing. His gut tells him that he shouldn't, and he's inclined to trust it. They would speak to him in English if they wished for his input. Plus, the male customer had a larger build he'd be better off not experiencing firsthand. With war at their doorstep, one had to look out for anything.

A few seconds later and the Artifact sighs, hiding the watch once again. "Yes. But it's not inexcusable." With all factors considered, the two made good time. If the weather had faired any worse, the pair might've been three days late.

With a heavy sigh, she rubs her neck where an itch developed. She loathes formal appearance, but understands their need. Still, she wonders just how presentable she'd still be with the scent of smoke and leather clinging to her like perfume. A small stain on the seat's material catches her eye, and she discreetly moves away from the spot. It could've been something as innocuous as tea, but she'd rather not think of the other possibilities. It would be best if she focused on other things.

"Who else are we meeting? Anyone we know?" Other than the most important details (namely, the place, host, time and date of the meeting), Maria largely ignored the contents of the summon. As she often does, she left the specifics to her Artifact.

"Cyril Noël." Her face remains unsurprisingly blank, and Basilio supplies her with additional information to jog her memory. "We met in India. His artifact's -."

"Oh, Mr. Congeniality and Wulf!" She abruptly switches to English, a hint of excitement entering her voice. If one met Cyril Noël firsthand, they would quickly understand why the nickname ill-suited the Belgian. Her sudden outburst surprises the driver, who quietly attempts to make sense of the conversation. Unfortunately for him, she returns to her native tongue. "What winds are the others from?"

"Two others from the North, two from the East, and another two from the West.."

"Well let's hope the West Winds fair better as Saniwa than they do governing another country." He's reluctant to admit it, but there was truth in her bitter words. Basilio remains silent for the rest of the trip, unwilling to fan the flames higher. Prejudice should not be on the forefront of their minds upon meeting the rest.

Thankfully, the awkward silence does not last long. The cab rolls to a stop, and the two pay their fare. Maria takes care not to slip on the damp cobblestone as they alight from the car. A footman assists her, the scent of cherry blossom assailing her sense of smell as he nears. It doesn't take long for her to deduce that he's an Artifact, although she did have to wonder about the strength of his cologne. "Looks like we're in the right place. Get our bags, Basilio, I'll go ahead."

She quickly confirms her identity with the receptionist, and checks her reflection in the hallway mirror before entering the room. Her usually long hair was tied in a loose braid, and her collar remained stiff from the starch. Nothing could be done about the faint scent of the taxi, lest she use the perfume Rani gave her. Maria doubts that's a good idea. At the very least, she doesn't feel like the farm girl she grew up as. That would suffice as her basis of confidence.

Maria enters, her gaze perusing the room before settling on a familiar figure seated on the floor. Without so much as a greeting to the Belgian, she swiftly moves to his side. Wulf gives her a smile as hello, to which she replies in kind. The two formed an unlikely friendship thanks to the socially-inept Saniwa sitting between them.

Though shorter than everyone else in the room, Maria stands with her back straight. "Maria Calag, Spiritualist." The Spiritualist hates how she has to look up to meet their gazes, but continues to project confidence as she introduces herself. Basilio enters soon after and the room immediately feels even more cramped than it already did. Why did she have such a large Artifact? More importantly, what was Cyril doing occupying precious standing room with his butt?

She gives Cyril a warning kick, urging him to join her. "Stand up, Cyril. And I mean right now."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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Do you think this is the right place?

Mamoru grimaces. That’s what the information says. Shouldn’t we be going in already? We’re already late.

Mayumi’s mouth twitches slightly, and suddenly she’s fading around the edges.

Her artifact, a very ordinary looking Japanese man - looking supremely out of place on the London street, incredulously side-eyes her. Are you really using this now? Here?

We’re going to wait. I want to see someone else go first.

And you really need to waste spirit for that? Aren’t you a little bit excessive?

Now that she isn’t visible to humans, Mayumi turns towards her Artifact and pouts. My social training included hosting people, and entertaining them. I’m not even in the right formal clothes - neither us could even properly put together a formal western outfit. I know you’re fluent in English, but mine is awful. I just want to feel a little bit better about this. Can’t you cover for me?

Mamoru heaves a resigned sigh and turns back to watch the entrance of the building, and Mayumi gives a small smile. At least we made sure to get here early and explore the area first, if we hadn’t you’d be a wreck right now.

She gives him a dirty look, more expressive now that she’s invisible. Seeing a taxi pull up in front of the building, she and Mamoru turn in tandem to look towards the entrance. Attentively watching a small young woman and a much larger young man exit the car and enter the building, Mayumi takes a deep breath rolls her shoulders back, straightening up into a more graceful posture and her edges fading back into existence. Flattening down imaginary wrinkles in her kimono, she carefully crosses street to the entrance of the building, with Mamoru following just as gracefully behind. Quickly and quietly entering the building, she hurries to the office, just losing sight of the larger young man walking into the door of the office as she turns the corner at the opposite end of the hall. She schools her face into a placid, friendly expression and walks down the hall and waits next to the door, gesturing for her Artifact to go first.

He gives her a long suffering look, but opens the door and enters just in time to see the from earlier young woman kick another young man and berate him. Trying to suppress a slightly bewildered expression, Mamoru turns to the Kazetani Head and greets him, switching from Japanese to English. “It’s an honor to meet everyone. I’m Mamoru Shimizu, and this is Mayumi Shimizu. We’re researchers previously assigned to the GodTree project in Japan.” He turns to include everyone, “I hope everyone will treat us well.”

Mayumi steps forward from behind Mamoru and adding, “I - It’s good to meet you all.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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MIYOSHI
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“All is in order now,” Yuuki gravely affirms. “It seems none of you understand the pressing matter.”

“Miyoshi,” he tersely says.

Returning to his seat, Yuuki gestures for his son to continue in his stead.

Amidst smoke and darkness, Miyoshi wordlessly moves through the room. Any barriers there might have between the room’s inhabitants are, to Miyoshi, less of an issue than the crisis he must explain.

After some preparation, he begins to speak.

“Jonathan Watson has been dead for many months and yet only more deaths follow.” Miyoshi says. “I cannot tell you the extraordinary sense of duty that has united us all, but as it currently stands, one researcher remains. His name is Albert Gammond. We know that the killer practices soul extraction. Therefore, we have been gathered to supervise Mr. Gammond’s death. He will be on the Joffre alongside us, and we are to let him die.

He pauses--and a sort of strangled gasp comes from Rosalind Christie.

Let the man die? she cries.

“Of course.” Miyoshi replies simply, after a pause. “Soul extraction is a unique practice in that both a victim and an extractor leave soul trace in the process. It’s tricky business though, as it is time-sensitive. Still, we’re a capable bunch I should hope. Even if our killer escapes us, their soul residue will not.”

Miyoshi smiles pleasantly. “So, letting Gammond die is to our benefit, really.”

“Good God.” Rosalind shivers.

“Well.” Miyoshi continues. “I should say, logic, reason, pure science: these are the proper ways to pursue a mystery. Gammond’s death should not be any different. He’s resigned himself to his fate, honestly. Father asked him where he’d like to die, and the Joffre was his answer. We are all spectators; Gammond has invited us to watch.”

His voice trails off to swirl past the open window of the small office. He settles in the uncomfortable silence he’s created, and relishes in the horror he’s established. He feels almost sad when his father disrupts his mood.

The elder Kazetani lights a cigarette, a brief flash of light in obscurity.

“That will be all, Miyoshi.” Yuuki says. “Now for introductions."

“Mr.Noel, Belgium’s best, is to protect Ms.Calag, our good tracker. Ms.Calag should be glad to have Mr.Noel’s service, as he is the best of Belgium, having graduated the top of his class. Likewise, Mr. Noel should be thankful of Ms. Calag’s social conscientiousness, lest his manners badly guide him. Any misstep of Mr.Noel’s part may lead to Ms.Calag’s end. We are lucky to have Ms. Calag among us. Rani does not often lend her favorite Spiritualists. Be vigilant, Mr.Noel.

“And Gandor’s own Mr. Stanfield. I’ve heard many honorable things about you from my colleague. My son is very fond of you. He specially requested you as a chaperone, and I daresay you will live up to expectations. You are to guard him, and Ms. Hélène Köhler, whom you shall meet later. If you fail, they will die, I suppose. Ms. Köhler and Miyoshi are irreplaceable House assets.

“Finally, Mr. Walker shall be Ms. Renard’s aide. She is the taskforce’s Researcher and Artifact specialist by extension. Often, the two of you will need to join forces, combine your equipments, and act as the team’s strongholds. Without either of you, Saniwa cannot work independently long-distance from their Artifacts. Fortunately, the two of you are experts at surviving. Mr. Walker in particular is an expert survivalist. Continue not dying.”

“Of course, Miyoshi shall be the team leader. Report to him, and he shall report to me.”

“I swear our triumph,” Miyoshi says, earning him a frown from his father.

“Miyoshi. Do not be so certain of your success.” Yuuki says coolly, to which Miyoshi thinly smiles.

It is a queer thing to hear. He looks at his father as though he has never seen him before. For a moment, Miyoshi is so emotionless that he does not trust himself to speak.

Miyoshi feels nothing; absolutely nothing. He has no sorrow, no desire for action, and no inclination to seek truth for its own sake. He understands enough about the world and the hearts of men. He does not need the honors he would gain from his duty, nor the satisfaction of learning Watson’s demise. He sees little personal profit in the entire ordeal, but chooses his words thoughtfully. There is some humor, he thinks, in only partially masking his detachment.

“Of course. If we are to die on the Joffre, we’ve at least had a pleasant journey.” Miyoshi laughs.

“Yes, I suppose that is true.” Yuuki replies, and it is Miyoshi’s turn to be surprised. “There are many paths to take in life, and death is simply just another.”

The elder Kazetani gives a slow half-smile that Miyoshi gracefully returns.

Grinning wryly, the younger Kazetani turns to face his subordinates.

“To death, the weight of soul, and a journey to end all ends. What say all of you?”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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#, as written by Jedly
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Even with his nose deep in Friedrich’s work for free spirits Cyril was still able to sense a figure materialize at his side. Before the foot coming down like a striking hammer met its target, the young adult turned to face his artifact. No words were spoken, nor were anything thoughts transmitted through a mental connection. Only the exchange of gazes occurred.

”Wulf, tell my wife I love her.”

”As if somebody would marry you.” The girl followed up ruthlessly deadpan.

”True, but still painful.

Cyril angled his vision up at the source of the kick from his seated position. Almost instantaneously, the extremely faint signs of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and despite common belief, it was genuine. ”Glad to see you’re doing well after our escapade, Maria.” He spoke in a voiced laced in neither amiability nor derision. Only professional esteem, which in itself was peculiar considering that Cyril was the polar opposite of professional. The Philippine was one of the very, very, very few people awarded with the privilege of being on the exiguous mental list labeled COMPETENT. Her mentality was comprised of the right amounts acumen and cynicism to gaze unobstructedly through the looking glass. On top of that, she was a living and breathing example of the reason to never look down upon people of short stature. In a deriding sense, of course. As the idiom went: The smaller they are, the easier it is to stab the living shit out of you.

”Sure you’ve been fine with that guy who’s at the apex of masculinity- Speaking of which, greetings Basilio.” Both Cyril and Wulf waved in unison at the Saniwa’s escort, who would most like have been in the midst of panic if he had claustrophobia. The blond unconsciously referred to artifacts as human beings. And why should he do anything beside that? They eat, sleep, and shit. To his understanding, those were the core fundamentals of what it meant to be “human”. Although in his mind he knew they were products of the soul, discerning between specific origins required far too much effort for the Belgian to squander. ”Hey, since you’re here, I want you to tell me what you think of this little excerpt?” Cyril abruptly switched gears without noticed, his slack stature now brimmed with energy once his gaze had been cast back to the literature in his hands. After a low breath, words filled with enthrallment flew forth. ”Even the distinction between soul and body is wholly due to the primitive conception of the dream, as also the hypothesis of the embodied soul, whence the development of all superstition, and also, probably the belief in god. “The dead still live: for they appear to the living in dreams.” Very befitting of our current arrangements, right? The last few words lost their vibrance as Cyril looked away from the book to witness Maria’s reaction. Seamlessly, the young adult was once again his lethargic self. Though hopefully the cutout would refresh the surely tired Maria and Basilio, he didn’t really make it a priority to transmit his words in a warm manner.

As much as he hated to admit it, Maria had done Cyril a solid. Back when Wulf’s personality was still in the midst of being cultivated, and at the time had bared a close resemblance to a blank canvas, the Spiritualist had “fleshed out” the girl’s colors almost effortlessly. Cyril was, one would say, in total awe. Surely being members of the same sex was a crucial factor, but perhaps it was all of the facets entailed with another human being that. It’s not that Wulf ever shirked from telling Cyril about something that was on her mind, in fact he was her go-to for such issues, in spite of the lack of lucid empathy he exhibited. He had never explicitly thanked Maria, and chances are, he never would. There was no meaning in such a petty matter.

For karma had already caught up with him.

Cyril was able to digest the words that cut through the air as well as those on the pages before him. Though, he did find his interest piqued when Myoshi nonchalantly dropped the bomb filled with quite the payload. So the people whose job was to prevent deaths would now ensure one would take place. Talk about a plot twist. It wasn’t cheesy, in all actuality, it had taken the combat Saniwa by surprise. The only sign of a response were his widened eyes, which only remained in that form for a short-lived second before mellowing out once again.

"Wait, seriously?!” Wulfetrud internally exclaimed while she shared the same expression as Ms. Christine. An anxious glance to her side confirmed that her partner was completely impassive to this revelation. She yet again envied that aloof side of him, but then again, one of them had to maintain a cool head. Her furred ears twitched uneasily as Miyoshi led the team on, not letting a single consonant fall short of any ears. Even though the Saniwa coolly made an attempt to rationalize what had slithered out of his mouth, a shiver still ran up the girl’s spine despite the amount of carbon dioxide in the room.

Of course. In the name of science. Any second now, Cyril expected Miyoshi to slip into a labcoat produced from a hatch in the ceiling and go forth as an envoy of science. Every generic mad scientist believes that his cause is just no matter the horrors that may lead up to the culmination of his efforts, for it’s all in the name of science. Though mad scientists never seemed to be chained by budget cuts and external benefactors. The guy continued to droll on until the older, veteran Kazetani took the spotlight. Cyril forced himself to hold back the urge to click his tongue after another death stick was ignited, his eyes follow its grey essence as it weakened in density. His eyes were brought back to the Head Saniwa when his ears picked up his own unwelcomed name. He could feel minutes shaved off his life as the words sank in and registered. Although, after he took the other eccentric characters within the room into account, he had gotten off somewhat easy. After the other members had received their assignments, father and son exchanged volleys that probably comprised the familial bonds between them. It would’ve been a heart-warming sight, only if the two individuals weren’t batshit and if Cyril had he actually listened to.

The young adult was now at a crossroads. A pivotal juncture. A fight with temptation. Cyril glanced up to Miyoshi and back down to the book multiple times, until Wulf nudged him in the arm with her elbow. A sigh of defeat escaped his lips as he brought the two uneven halves of the book together in one hand and inelegantly got to his feet, with his artifact in briskly in tow. ”Well, guess I have to make this official? Where do I sign in blood?” He brusquely fixed his stature and opened his mouth again, ”I, Cyril Noel, and Wulfetrud, hereby swear to protect Maria Calag and Basilio to the best of our abilities and then some, lest the former perish and return to this plane to haunt my kitchen’s sink drawer.” He felt another nudge, this time a bit harder than the first. Wulf didn’t seem to enjoy the verbal jab and pouted. ”Glad to be onboard.”

As long as there's sleep and fine wine.

Hopefully the train ride would stop Wulf's caterwauling on taking a scenic trip.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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As much as Claire would have liked the conversation to stay between the three of them, another man came to the party.

Is that how they teach roofuckers to talk down under? is what he thought and would have liked to say, but in the presence of more formal company he much preferred staying on the side of politeness.

"Don't give me that hooey, I'm just-"

As if by magic another voice, presumably the North Wind woman butted in to introduce herself to Rosalind.

Then a foreigner kicked a boy.

Then she scolded him.

Then he, Claire, the person that was there first, opened his mouth to continue. All presumptions of formality had flown out the window so he had no problem giving the Australian a talking to.

"What he means to say is that it's very nice to meet all of you," Graham finished, putting a hand on Claire's shoulder.

Claire turned to Graham, a grimace evident on his face. The two of them exchanged a hard look, seemingly unaware of the background noise until Claire relented and slouched further.

"Kangaroos included," he muttered, turning his gaze to the elder Kazetani.

The Asian silenced the room with his voice which emanated death, destruction, and the need to get canned. Similarly, his son spoke sardonically, surrounded by the characteristic mystique that plagued his character. Despite his transparency with the mission details, Claire knew that nothing would ever be as it seemed with the Kazetani family and even less so with the House. To let a man die was a terrible mission in it of itself even if it was for the greater good. Here, they were at a crossroads. They had to sacrifice the last scientist on Watson's project which meant that all the information would truly be laid to rest.

It wouldn't bother him more than the usual suicide mission, or he liked to think so, but Graham gave him a quick glance to make sure that the redhead was fine with it. The Irishman had a particular way of expressing discontent, which, in this case, meant cringing at Gammond's resignation to death. Still, they nodded off to each introduction. Claire didn't really know any of them, but smirked at the mention of his name and the sprinkle of praise that came with it. He wasn't conceited by any means, but given that he had to guard three people (two of which were irreplaceable) there was a certain honor that came with the job.

Then again, I'm sure there's tons of rats in Japan, he thought with a shrug.

Only ten minutes in and you're already making jabs at him?

A short pause dictated their thoughts before Claire replied with a cheeky grin, not only because of the thought of having Mouse replaced with a literal rat, but also because of Yuuki's blase approach to death. He couldn't tell if they hated each other or just everyone else, but neither of them would dissuade his attitude.

"Death ain't a path I plan on taking for a while Mister Kazetani," Claire replied, standing tall.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker
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#, as written by Alligot
A M E L I A

S A M A E L






Amelia and Samael both mulled over Yuuki's words, and their respective roles in what would be an inevitable, grim conclusion. Their minds might melt together, but their thoughts were divisive.

This seems wasteful. Surely there's a better way than providing the man as bait - bait we intend to lose. Can we not put the reading couple with him - or perhaps the Americans? They could catch the killer in the attempt.

They'd be obvious, no? They are to be caught, not scared off.

One of us, then. We're not bodyguards. You might not be.

A brief silence slid between them - unnoticed by the rest of the room's inhabitants. After all, they had not spoken out loud to one another since they entered. To them, nothing had changed.

Typically, you're the one to lecture; but it seems strange for you to worry about his life.

And it's unfortunate that you view life so lightly when you know nothing of taking it.

The comment would have stung another. Later, when the watch was removed, maybe Amelia might admit the sharp tone had caused her pause - that is, if she would be honest with herself. He knew she believed herself desensitized to it - but it was never her hand that swung the sword, nor her finger that squeezed the trigger. It was never her gaze that captured the loss, for she avoided lifeless eyes, lest they cast their curse upon her. Eventually, she would learn. But, god willing, not the same way he had. Not with the same conclusion.

It isn't our place to decide. It's a simple order, and the chances of killing or even failing to capture the killer altogether are high. The residue will give us a fingerprint that they can never remove or sever away. Their capture would be inevitable, and there would be no place they could hide.

Samael knew this. Perhaps for taking the killer alive, this was the best solution. Not a right solution by any means, akin to leading a lamb to sacrificial slaughter. It was not like playing his old games, hidden in the snow. His victims had been armed, they would have killed him if they could. This man seemed unlikely to kill much - especially Amelia or himself.

We've got assistants?

It had been a long gap in their conversation as the elder Kazetani had announced their roles. Amelia had been surprised initially, and her thoughts were resting somewhere between mild irritation and strangely enough, enthusiasm. Although the Australians might get in the way, with their loud banter and manner counteractive to both Amelia and Samael's subtler demeanor.

It's nice to not be an assistant for a change... but - They seem rather loud. They do.

Still, you've been placed in a position of importance.

Amelia crossed her arms, having been listening to the Japanese boy's quick monologue. Were all Kazetani so fatalistic? With the elder man's jab about their possible failure, and the son's quip of their deaths, Amelia couldn't help but wonder if they're intended to die along with the researcher.

"Every precaution will be taken to make sure this goes right."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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Mayumi’s former calm didn’t last long, and having watched all the other Saniwa in the room interact so easily with each other, her anxiety reignited and her stomach began to churn yet again. The elder Kazetani’s scolding only made it worse, and her Artifact finally addressed her building apprehension.

He slid his eyes back to take in her profile from his place slightly in front of her, and carefully made sure nothing showed on his face while he addressed her over their connection.

Take a slow, deep breath. Losing your calm will gain you nothing, and you need to pay attention to what everyone is saying since I will not be the one everyone will need to talk to, and nor am I going to translate this to you. Focus, and make sure to be shrewd in your analysis. We will need it.

Mayumi’s eyelids fluttered for a second as she centered herself, and she took a surreptitious breath while the Kazetani heir slowly began his circuit around the room. It was a useless endeavour however, as her anxiety immediately returned when she heard that they were allowing this Albert Gammond to die, her blood running cold and the bile rising to the back of her throat as she had to suppress memories of a similar slaughter of an entire research project for information. Her fear and horror passed quickly, but her and Mamoru shared a wordless sense of uneasiness over their connection to the mirrored circumstances. While the others in the room exclaimed, the Artifact’s lips pressed together for just a split second and Mayumi’s hands clenched in a vice grip in her sleeves. They only allowed themselves their slips for a moment before they forced themselves back into their placid facades.

Mayumi, grateful for both her large sleeves and her more... demonstrative teammates, quietly revelled in the sense of forced calm her Artifact had pushed at her as they regained themselves. She watched as the Kazetani continued, she was entirely impressed despite herself.

In a way, Kazetani’s pragmatism is quite impressive. This “scientific” outlook sounds more like desperate platitudes of a dead man to himself, but it also sounds just creepy enough to be the sentiment of a researcher who worked on the project that pioneered soul extraction. I’m not quite sure who that was supposed to comfort however, us or himself; We’re still going to use him as bait and watch him die, it's an empty platitude.

Not everyone has watched the wholesale slaughter of a research team before, and not everyone has the guts to feel fine watching someone purposefully die as bait. It’s not like you aren’t feeling sick just thinking of it. Let them have this if it makes them easier to work with.

Mayumi made the mental equivalent of a face at him through their connection, and listened attentively as Ambassador Kazetani began on the introductions. While the rest of the team’s long and impressive resumes made for impactful introductions, it surprised neither of them that Mayumi was so replaceable. She felt Mamoru’s slight frustration and displeasure at being relegated to a disposable poison dispenser. The contrast to the strength and prestige of his former incarnation compared to his current form was frustrating, and had begun to grate.

Tentatively through the connection Mayumi offered her thoughts.

I’m sorry.

It’s fine. It’s nothing that won’t change in time. This is good for us however, underestimation is our best weapon.

Mayumi finally felt as though the ground had solidified under her feet again.

Underestimation is key.

She clung to the thought and used it to propel her into a greater sense of calm and purpose. Anchored in pragmatism once more, she continued to listen to the Kazetani heir as he closed his father’s introductions. She reflected on the proceedings, and mused to herself.

If nothing else, the Kazetani has outdone himself with his cynicism. It’s very impressive in it’s own way. I think he may in fact have become the most cynical person we’ve ever met.

Mamoru snorted in response, but tellingly didn’t protest as he shared in his Saniwa’s gallows humor. He chipped in for the both of them, and carefully articulated their willingness to join what was shaping up to be a possible suicide mission for all the belief the Kazetanis' had.

“We will do our utmost to ensure the success of the mission. Thank you for allowing us the privilege to support you; we will work hard to live up to it.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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Maria could only roll her eyes at the exchange between Cyril and his Artifact. The two shared a lively dynamic, at odds with the relationship she shared with Basilio. She simply nods in response to the quote as the older Kazetani begins to speak. His words carry a weight far heavier than they sounded, and it was with Miyoshi's briefing that she came to understand why.

A hand clings to the fabric of her skirt, her protest lost in the grip of her fingers. The smoke that first looked so mysterious now felt like a smog that would choke her. Her face grows pale and she feels sick to stomach, but keeps her lips sealed. Instead, she breathes, counts to ten. Basilio's face betrays nothing, and instead gives his Saniwa a cursory glance. Her thoughts could be seen on her face, but the Spiritualist did well to hold her tongue. A rare instance, but Maria knew it would not do her well to disagree with their plan. Basilio simply braces himself for the mental explosion that was sure to come in a few seconds. His Saniwa did not dwell in her negative mindsets long.

Sure enough, he was blasted with a cacophony of swears ill-suited to a child of God.

How could they do that? Fire stirs within her, putting color back in her cheeks and a spark in her eyes. Life is a gift. Each soul is special - there should be another way. There must be; this is simply the easier way. Fear keeps her words from leaving the safety of her and Basilio's shared mind. The man simply indulges her internal rant, though Maria suspects he tuned her out after a certain point.

Basilio feels a sliver of unease as Miyoshi's final statements hang over the air like a knife. Does anyone ever really resign themselves to death? Maria does not reply, and instead busies her hands with her braid. It was a question she could answer for anyone but herself. Would she go against mission orders if Albert Gammond asked for her to save his life? Her throat dries. It scares her that she could not instantly answer yes. She tries not to dwell on it, but the quiet provided a perfect moment for introspection. She knew that as Saniwa, she made decisions that went against her moral compass. She expected it even. But never anything to this extent.

The heavy silence finally comes to a close as Yuuki Kazetani speaks once again. The pair look in the East Wind head's direction at the mention of Maria's name. Genuine relief pervaded her conscious as she learnt that Cyril and Wulf would be their partners. She did not doubt their abilities - she'd witnessed them firsthand. But more than that, they would be a welcome distraction from what she conceived to be a moral atrocity.

Through his introductions, Maria learnt more of the others in the room. Her Artifact comments on it before she can, a true testament to how peculiar they all were. Their appearances don't match their résumés. A small smile forms on her thin lips, a modicum of good humor returning. The two exchange small quips to alleviate the tension she felt.

Clearly. The West Wind are loud folks, aren't they? The Kazetani are too fatalistic; they could definitely use a dose of sunshine.

On the same level as us? Isn't that a bit much?

Of course. At this rate they need it. Her spirits lifted, she affirmed her decision, even if reluctance colored it. She waits for a pause, then speaks, her voice carrying a forced enthusiasm and confidence. "I'd disagree about haunting your sink; it's probably filthy. " Turning to Miyoshi, she agrees with a nod, then turns to Cyril. "We'll be in your care."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Mayumi Miyamoto Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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“Nice one mate,” Lee replied dryly to Claire's quiet jab. He could feel Peter mentally poking him, but Lee simply shrugged him off, and began to take in the other arrivals. He noted the antics of the other Combat pair, acting more like a couple than artifact and Saniwa. He also noted the familiarity the shorter Saniwa-- South Wind if he had his guess, showed them. Her artifact was a large man himself, giving Lee a run for his money in heft and height. His eyes lingered on the man for a moment before he continued to scan. The other pair were a woman and a man, though they mostly kept to themselves, and did not display the... oddities the rest did.

Including ourselves, He felt Peter interject. Lee could only nod in agreement. It was true, their-- his Peter reminded him, introduction wasn't the most professional. The last arrival, a man and a young girl was finally made their entrance, and Lee raised an eyebrow at their garb. A kimono, they must be the other East Winds.

Lee nodded at their greetings before he turned toward Peter. I know what a kimono is, mate. I just never seen one. Peter smiled in response, but said nothing else.

It was about then the elder Kazetani began to speak. At his words, Lee snapped to attention and took on a more professional demeanor, with Peter following suit. Their spines straightened, their shoulders squared, and they held their wrists behind themselves looking almost disciplined in the process. Their shoulders never shifted at the Kazetani's spoke, but Lee did mutter “Poor bastard,” under his breath once he heard that they were going to be using a man named Albert Gammond as bait. It was grim business, but Lee said nothing else. It sounded as if the man made his choice, and if their mission was to supervise his death, then that were their mission. There wasn't anything they could do about it but follow orders. Though, the way the younger Kazetani delivered the news as if it was something completely ordinary didn't sit too well with Lee.

Next came the proper introductions, where the elder Kazetani to names to faces. While he had already heard of Claire from Gandor, the rest were strangers, and it was nice to know what to call who. Both Lee and Peter committed names to memory. Near the end, the Kazetani revealed that they were to be Ms. Renard's aides. He turned toward the woman, and offered a dry smile before dipping his head in a greeting. “That's the plan,” Lee replied to the request of continuing not to die. He rather liked living, actually.

With that, the Kazetani's finished speaking, leaving Lee to mutter, “A bloody morbid bunch,” under his breath. He felt another mental poke from Peter, but then an agreement. A lot more fatalistic than we're used to, that's for true. Let's hope the rest of 'em aren't like that. A quick scan of the room, and the varying expressions on their faces, and Lee decided that, no, they probably weren't. The woman called Maria particularly had her emotions plainly written on her face.

Turning back to Yuuki and Miyoshi, Lee and Peter nodded in unison. “Death's only another beginnin', mate. Though--”

”We aren't plannin' on dyin' any time soon.” Peter finished the thought for them. With that, Peter turned toward Amelia with a smile. “You're in good hands Ms. Renard.”

“Hope we can say the same,” Lee added with a curl to the corner of his mouth.

The setting changes from kazetani-london-office to The Joffre

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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CHAPTER ONE
An Important Passenger on the Joffre

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- seating arrangement -

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Under German command, the Joffre proceeds towards Vienna at a quarter to nine.

At 9.15, the train dutifully pulls out of the station, and Miyoshi stares out blankly at the repaired French countryside. This is not the France he remembers from his childhood. He is suddenly aware of how ugly Calais had become. German efforts largely renovated the buildings, but an atmosphere of loss remains. The landscape is marked by a foreign sadness, and there is nowhere pleasing for Miyoshi to look. The air is thick with rain and dirt; not since he stepped into the train has he breathed air so unadulterated by dust.

Miyoshi exhales, expelling cigarette smoke into the French winds. Then, he closes the window, centimeter by centimeter, until the world outside has been removed completely.

Inside the Waffen-SS dining car, his Artifact bites into a slice of beef; officers laugh among themselves; and everything smells of rain.

Warmth from German candles envelopes him. A feast has been laid out for his companions: roasted apples, boiled potatoes, sauerbraten, and schweinshaxe.

Too much. All certainly too much.

There is a sickness to this scene, he comments towards his Artifact.

Sickness you are not responsible for. Kimura Asagi reminds him.

Seated beside him, Kimura Asagi appears disguised as his IJA engineer companion. No longer sporting his natural look, he carries a Japanese image as well-tailored as his suit. He looks like his master; a cold, intelligent type, devoid of moral searchings. On the surface, they belong here, with the uniformed Nazis.

Behind him, a table of officers burst out into song. They sing Rise! Rise! All glory to the fatherland! He tires of the anthem, having memorized enough of it. Around him are men powered by German pride. With some humor, he wonders what it must feel like to be a fanatic. Few of his beliefs match their own.

For instance: Jedes Leben ist kostbar. Every life is precious. It is a Shinto thought. It is not one that Germany’s Führer nor his father would agree with. For now, it is perfect for him.

Light colors his face as he lights another cigarette.

The carriage door swings open a little wider, and a rugged Waffen-SS officer in his late forties steps out of it into their dining room. A patch over his left eye barely conceals a large scar marring half his face. Something in his expression is unruly, and he carries a rawness akin to animal brawn. A hard jawline and strong cheekbone structure suggest that he had once been handsome. There is a sleeplessness in his eyes, as if they can no longer return to dreams. A younger uniformed man follows him with a suggestion of pride in his manner. He shuts the door behind them, and stands more firmly. Like Miyoshi, this young man’s face is clean and committed; he is supremely confident in his privileges.

For a moment, the two appear lost, before the elder one recognizes Miyoshi, and efficiently moves towards his table.

Miyoshi extends his cigar box to the two men, and they oblige with curt “danke”s.

“Thank you,” the elder man briskly repeats, lighting his newly acquired cigar. He glances at the seated Saniwa, then back to Miyoshi in particular. "Under the circumstances, I am afraid I could not arrange separate sleeping quarters you and your companion. Though formalities are necessary, I beg that you can forgive my limits, Herr Kazetani."

“You have been kind enough.” Miyoshi politely reassures. “I am sure my partner and I will not dislike your accommodations. Please, won’t you dine with us, Obersturmbannführer? And your comrade as well?”

Surely, the latter’s position had affected the younger man's brain. He is thoroughly engaged in brushing the lint off his coat, and seems wholly engrossed in the task.

“Hauptfeldwebel.” the older man says a little louder. His voice is calm, but there is on his face an exhausted tug.

“Of course,” the younger man abruptly replies, expressionless, before sitting down.

“Well then, that takes care of that.” The Obersturmbannführer says, unruffled, pushing aside a chair for himself. He then begins formal introductions.

“I am Obersturmbannführer Ernst Richter. My companion is Hauptfeldwebel Karl Neumann. Hauptfeldwebel, this is Herr Kazetani, son of Viscount Kazetani. He has come here as a companion to Herr Asagi, the tank engineer, you remember, from months ago. He is here to for our Char D2’s.”

“Herr Asagi? I am afraid I do not remember. But what interest do you gentlemen have in the Char D2?”

Neumann gazes at Kimura Asagi spefically with some rancidity, his fingers playing at his NCO braid. He is not, however, prepared for his question to be met with calm coolness.

Kimura Asagi stamps out his own cigarette. Miyoshi’s silence indicates that he should speak. After all, Kimura Asagi prepared for this--being in the IJA for over a year. The Artifact took courses at the Japanese Army Science School in his audition for this role. While indeed a spy, he is also a true engineering scholar.

Fortification (築城学), Civil Engineering (土木学), Traffic Engineering (交通学), Mapping (測量学), Tactics (戦術学), Artillery Studies (砲兵学).

He remembers them all with strong familiarity.

Mathematics (数学), Dynamics (力学), Physics (物理学), Chemistry (化学), Drawing (図学).

Those, he recalls as well.

Like his training, his confidence is entirely genuine.

“The IJA have created Otsu-Gata Sensha from the Renault NC1. We have been making purchases from France in the past twenty years, but they refuse to sell us more advanced technology. Or perhaps, they cannot afford to. Regardless, this poses a problem to us.

“A problem?” Neumann smirks.

“We do not have an indigenous tank production capability,” Kimura Asagi says matter-of-factly. “And our tanks are still vulnerable. Take our Ke-Ni, for example. It has thicker armor than the Type 95, but she’s an inefficient vehicle. Her gun’s muzzle velocity is also still too slow. While you Germans have made strong strides in tank technology, we are leagues beneath the Russians.”

“The Russians,” scoffs the younger German, but his superior responds more gravely.

“The Russian T-34s.” Richter closes his eyes.

“I’ve heard stories,” Kimura Asagi stiffly says. “But not much beyond the complaints of our allies. I am a company leader. The information is heavy to hear.”

“Indeed, as the T-34’s have caused us great burden as well,” the elder officer agrees, likely from firsthand experience.

His eyes rest on Claire. When he speaks, Miyoshi realizes that he’s been observing Claire for awhile.

“I have seen this man before,” he says.

“He is Herr Stanfield, the American arms manufacturer,” Miyoshi evenly says.

“The Gandor boy.”

“Yes,” Miyoshi responds. And then decides to add: “Though he does not speak German.”

“Hm.” The German smiles, seemingly satisfied, and his interest shifts to the women seated across him. “Frau Austerlitz? I am told you are here to create a film about our company. I have yet to see your work, fraulein. Surely, your movie will bring light to the unselfish heroism which our men are excellent examples of. And we formally meet, Frau Köhler.”

Neumann bravely cuts in, a little shy, but clearly attracted. “Frau Köhler? The Frau Köhler?”

“Truly beautiful in person now as she was months before,” his superior chimes. Your operetta in Berlin! I saw it! You were the jewel of Der Obersteiger. Sei nicht bös! I was in the audience! Your voice is captivating, like magic. And your eyes...”

He scrutinizes her through his single, unblinking eye.

Himmelblau,” he finally decides, smiling at Hélène. “Your eyes. They are sky blue, like my son’s. My daugher, like you, enjoys singing as well. Perhaps you can teach her when the war is over.”

“Exceptional,” Miyoshi murmurs. Calculations are being made behind his watch, and he signals for Kimura Asagi to change the subject.

“Your children,” Kimura Asagi pauses. “Do you miss him?”

“I do.”

At the mention of his family, the tired officer comes alive.

“They ask me: Wouldn’t you rather be in Berlin? With your children? Watching the lines march, away from all these’”—he waves his hand at the window—”’remains’? But I tell them that I will go where I need to, as the charcoal burner of the country, I will burn what the Führer needs me to burn. And so I am here, Herr Kazetani.”

At this, Miyoshi raises his glass just long enough for the gesture’s meaning to sink in.

“To the fire in your spirit,” Miyoshi toasts. “To Germany and its Führer. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer.

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer,” the Waffen-SS men agree.

“Soon, Germany will win the war.” Miyoshi notes with false pleasure.

He smiles, knowing that Amelia, Hélène, and Claire would do their part to win the soldiers’ favor as well.

It would not be very hard.

Kinderleicht, he thinks.

Child’s play.

. . . .


In the civilian carriage, Albert Gammond watches the passengers with utmost curiosity. As he scans the weary travelers surrounding him, his physiognomy undergoes a curious change. An expression gathered there that could only be described as half puzzled, and half concerned. Though he has resigned himself towards death, he is still nonetheless afraid.

Beside him sits a serious-looking German man, and across him, a young couple.

Perhaps it is his Saniwa training, but he has the sensation that something huge and empty is about to devour him whole. He notices it then.

A poltergeist.

Hanging from the window beside him.

It does not move.

It does not do anything.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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When Claire reviewed the documents for his cover whilst boarding the plane he had been analytical. When he was dropped off along with the others he had been excited. When he flipped through his German phrase book one last time, he was fumbling.

Calais had not fit the paintings he’d seen in artbooks but the changes matched the photos in newspapers. He didn’t know much about French architecture but some of the buildings looked out of place when compared to those that were torn down. Words like “bewohnt” for occupied, “gewichtig” for heavy, and “trümmer” for debris floated in his mind while others like “good evening” and “nice to meet you” stayed stubbornly English. Even outside of his terrible linguistic aptitude Claire had a hard time divorcing his personal feelings from the language.

Most of the other things the German officers were singing slipped through his mind as he picked at his boiled potatoes, a coincidental reminder of his ethnicity. The aromas of the feast were marred by Miyoshi’s cigarette smoke and the scent of bias if there even was one.

He knew from his physiognomy to the seating arrangement than he didn’t belong there. They sandwiched him between Kimura Asagi and another officer, forcing him to share a table corner with the Artifact.

Regardless, Claire steeled himself for the oncoming conversation. If he could not pull off “Claire Stanfield, Nazi Sympathizer” he could try “Claire Stanfield, Lovable Oaf.”

He caught the words Obersturmbannführer and Hauptfeldwebel respectively which he found rather odd (mainly because neither were mentioned in his book) so he mentally abbreviated them. Ober Ernst was the older, eye-patch wearing man while Haupt Karl was the younger officer. The redhead nodded at each of them, giving a sheepish smile in place of actual understanding. Phrases like “Herr Asagi”, “panzer” and “Char D2” kept him grounded in the conversation while Kimura Asagi’s quick spiel lost him entirely.

The Irishmen noted a few things such as Karl’s sour look toward Kimura Asagi and the hidden contempt in the Artifact’s tone. Clearly Karl was not the most open minded of individuals.

Still, the Germans seemed to care little for Claire himself as the only acknowledgement came from Ober Ernst and with the Gandor name attached.

“N-nien! Ich bin Claire Stanfield,” he stuttered.

The accent grated against his tongue as the sentence cemented him as certifiably incompetent compared to the effervescent Helene. She was blonde and blue-eyed with an unrivaled fluency in German (mainly because well, she was German) which meant that she controlled the room. He had no problem with the Espionage agent so much as what she embodied. The Nazi ideal prioritized appearance over actual merits and blamed the country’s failings on a race of people rather than their own failings. It was not to say that Helene did not deserve the praise, but their comments, that groveling or whatever the Germans wanted to call it annoyed him.

Himmelblau? Is that some sort of praise or something? he thought as he chewed his lip. Surely they must have been referring her eyes.

“Yeah? Well mine are himmelred!” he whispered, perhaps louder than he meant to.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and uses his free hand to sip from his glass long enough for Miyoshi to raise his own glass in toast of the Führer. He understood that word well enough, but the smarter part of him (namely the one that Graham came from) told him to clarify with Miyoshi.

“Mouse, what are we toasting?” he asked, tilting his chair and leaning toward his Spiritualist friend.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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#, as written by Alligot
Samael couldn't help but marvel at the accommodations - if only a bit. Before all of this, sitting in a cabin like this would have been considered a luxury. Hardly a shake or shudder, a roof, windows with drapes, as well as ample space to sit. Now, he himself sat here, such things now considered a basic commodity in travel. More than once, his hearing caught complaints on the lumpiness of the seats, or the poor quality of the carriage, and he would vividly remember standing for hours, packed into a metal carriage with other young men, all of them cold and wet but ravenous for war.

Even still, a more disturbing image entered his mind - that of his Opa, grandfather, and of the man's lamentations of luxury. Samael had died for only two decades and he was already thinking the same. Before he knew it, he would probably start to complain about his aching joints - and his saniwa would never let him hear the end of it.

But the trip was pleasant. He engrossed himself in German newspapers, and he was rather interested with Das Reich - specifically the small, impassioned essays by a man named Goebbels. Between the reading and Wulfetrud's attempts at making conversation, time passed rather quickly. He even had moments of shock - forgetting that he was tethered to his saniwa as he was, so surges in her emotion would catch him off guard. Of course, he tried to avoid thinking directly of her - not out of spite, but to avoid disturbing her own concentration. She was among wolves, after all.

Though - his situation now seemed hardly better. His thoughts had been interrupted by Maria's insistent glance, alerting him to the woman who clung to the window just outside. Her head was crowned by a delicate-seeming circlet of flowers, and an antiquated dress was shaking and fluttering from the violent, high-speed winds. He was quick to avert his gaze - it would be best to avoid drawing it's ire, especially in such close proximity to Gammond. Samael's elbow pressed against the older man's side, as well as his thigh remaining in contact. All he needed was to ensure the slightest touch, and as long as Gammond stayed still, they would both be fine.

If anything, his job was easy. He merely had to avoid moving - that, and making sure Gammond did the same.

"Tell me, mein freund, do you happen to know the answer to five across?" Samael asked in a rather plain tone, lifting the indicated part of the newspaper to Gammond's notice.

Maybe it wouldn't hurt to divert the older man's attention, especially in light of Basilio's small 'mistake', and the subsequent moment Maria took to leave, escaping from his peripheral vision. A plan for removing the poltergeist was surely soon to be in motion.





It had been a sickening feeling. Her home. Her once-beautiful home. It was a venom that settled in her abdomen, rising to her lungs and stealing what air she could siphon from the dust and the stifling rain that seemed to choke her. It burned through her arms - to her fingertips, a heat that she was sure would turn her skin as red as the devil's.

Calais had died. It was not battered and bruised like London. There were nearly no remains to identify, and what little there was had been desecrated beneath the shadow of a foreign flag and the heavy footfalls of invading boots. Horrid Germanic structures of concrete and steel replaced once-unyielding, ancient walls of stone, brick, and wood. It felt like a monstrous recreation of what she once held dear. A mere model, rendered by incompetent hands.

And even after the train had departed, the image remained in her mind, the city's skeletal dust still seemed to litter the air. Here, she dined with the army responsible. Amelia itched to draw her Gandor, hidden and holstered upon her thigh, but on this train, she was Amelie Austerlitz, young, unproven German director. Ambitious, proud - of both her work, and her country. And Amelie Austerlitz had no cause to use that gun. Amelie Austerlitz would never dream of harming those who served her country.

It was a mantra she had to practice every time the assumed any mask. To tear down what had once motivated her - given her cause for breath, and replace it with scaffolding.

Besides, she was unsettled enough as it was. She could feel Samael's ability sapping her body and mind. A rhythmic ache in the base of her skull, and an occasional needle or two of pain in her fingertips. She had not been sustaining him for long - and at this distance, the effects would not say mild for long. Thinking of Calais would only harm her facade further.

So, when Richter addressed her, she provided a genuine smile. She sat straighter - leaning forward and uncrossing her legs. Her hands set her silver aside to lace together upon the table. A slight tilt of her head. Subtle motions that would sell her character. Avid. Attentive. Perhaps even reverent. Hopefully no tell of the woman who, deep inside, wanted nothing more than to see these men laid low.

"A pleasure, Obersturmbannführer." She replied with delight, "And my production will not just shed light - it will exalt their heroism." She spoke her last claim quietly - with a momentary sombre timbre.

While the officers were shortly infatuated with Helene, Amelia intently listened and set herself towards the (admittedly well-cooked) pot roast. She made mental notes as the conversation shifted from Der Obersteiger to mention of Richter's two children (and his obvious love for them), and of smaller details - such as Claire's hushed statement.

Sie sind bernsteinfarbenen, Stanfield. She thought, amused, as she also gave toast with the rest of the tables. She hardly even noticed the small, small niche in her mind that was angered by Richter's dismissive gesture towards her country. (Or, what remained of it.)

"Obersturmbannführer, you did talk of heroism earlier - and if you don't mind me asking, surely you've seen some examples from the brave men under your command?" She was hesitant and cautious, for with and without her mask, she knew that such subjects could be treading on uncertain footing.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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A miasma of despair hung over Calais, and for all her countrymen’s efforts to make the rule of the Fatherland glorious, reminders of French sorrow were everywhere to see. Hélène could only take her guilt and smother it under her determination to see this mission succeed. Failure, as with all her other missions, was never an option.

Her tour of performances had ended here, and her House duties had begun once again. Pressing away all other matters from her mind, she tilted her head slightly to change her focus from view outside to a sidelong look at the Saniwa next to her. While the others on this mission had been present for the briefing in London, Hélène’s heavily scrutinized schedule had left her no room for introductions. Taking one last glance at the woman next to her, she finally turned back to take in the rest of the car.

Eyes sweeping the room, she glanced again at the young Japanese man at her table. Admittedly, he was by far the most surprising among her fellow Saniwa. As soon as she had seen his face she had immediately recognized him, and her face had slipped in her surprise.

She gave another inner grimace at her past lapse. Being together with Walter for so long has made me lax, she reflected. Her aggrieved inner sigh turned into a quiet puff of breath as it passed her lips, and Hélène continued in her perusal of the table. Her eyes quickly alighted on the professional-looking IJA officer, and then on the shockingly redhaired man beside to him. As soon as she had taken in their profile she was glancing about the rest of the compartment, taking in rich food, the jubilant singing, and the many officers seated within.

Well, Hélène thought wryly, At least this will be interesting. And only made better by the fact that the only person I know has met me without me even being aware of their House connections. Walter, be glad you went ahead. She grumbled to her Artifact, aware that he was too far away to hear her thoughts. However, if she couldn’t even complain to her Artifact within the privacy of her own head, her frustration with what was sure to be an interesting adventure would most assuredly drive her mad.

Hélène turned her attention as a rugged, intimidating Waffen-SS officer entered the car and prowled toward her table. He was followed by another officer and they stopped to greet the handsome Japanese Saniwa.

Au! Herr Kazetani! That was his name! His name had been escaping her since she had seen him, and it had been gnawing at her as much as his apparently twisted nature in not introducing himself when they had first met.

She was careful to commit the officers’ names to memory however, and was rather amused as the other Japanese man--Herr Asagi, she reminded herself--took the younger one to task. Hélène folded away the small smirk trying to make its way to her mouth, and sent another ripple of amusement into the void of Walter’s thoughts.

The sobering attitude of Richter’s quiet grief killed her quick amusement however, and she quickly filed the remaining Saniwa’s names away as they were introduced. As introductions were turned on her, she found that while Herr Neumann’s enthusiasm was cute, it was more alarming than flattering.

So good to meet you as well, Herr Neumann, Herr Richter. I am flattered to know that even such respectable officers such as yourselves know my name. Hélène dipped her head, and her eyelashes fluttered for a second in humility as she smiled at them. The older man’s sincere enjoyment of her singing grew the charming smile on her face into a genuine one, and she took a moment to savor the happiness of true success.

With his continued praised, her cheeks warmed. I am glad my singing can bring such happiness to you, Herr Richter. I would be more than honored to meet your family under such auspicious circumstances. If your daughter is anything like you, I am sure her singing is beautiful already; my presence would only do well to compliment her talents.

As the topic of family continued, Hélène returned her attention to the food set before her and let the two Japanese men take control of the conversation. Saving a moment of childish amusement for the American’s antics, she gracefully lifted her glass for the toast.

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, she echoed. She took a delicate slip from her glass, and used the movement to allow herself a covert glance at her table members. Everyone’s smiles were real enough that she focused her attention back to her food while she gathered her thoughts.

With Frau Austerlitz engaging Herr Richter in conversation, Hélène turned to the younger of the Japanese men. Herr Kazetani, it is good to see you looking so well since our last meeting. The smile she turned on him felt a little sharper than normal, and she looked through her lashes at him in order to conceal the accusation she knew she was failing to stifle.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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TWOSTWOS
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TWOSTWOS
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“Mouse, what are we toasting?” Claire leans into him.

“Hitler,” Miyoshi tersely replies. A thin, cruel smile plays at his lips for a minute. Then he resumes sitting back, and observes his female companions at work. There is a literary element to their acting, and he wonders which woman hates this more. The Resistance fighter, or the Nazi rebel? From their red smiles and rosy cheeks, he cannot tell. He is not like them. For him, it is a painless effort to appease his transgressors.

With these thoughts, he picks up his sherry and drinks discreetly. His eyes come gently round to Amelia, the more angular of the two women. She reminds him of a painting he’d seen at a Kyoto exhibition. There is a subdued aura somewhere beneath all her brightness. When she speaks, her voice is energized but tightly controlled.

Her question stirs something serious within Richter. The German gentleman looks at her, struck by something in her tone. Then he nods very slowly, and speaks with the depth indicative of a man who has seen and felt indescribable pain.

“Well...” says Richter thoughtfully. “I who speak to you have seen much of the war, and I know that one thing is true. What is brave for each man is different because each man is different. Sometimes I couldn't understand Hunsruck men, and they didn't understand me either. I am an aloof Berliner. What do I know? Bavarians are loud and fun-loving, Hunsruck men less so. When I am asked to describe my men’s bravery. I simply speak of my men. They are Germany’s people. Serving already makes them brave.”

“If you were there, Frau Austerlitz,” he continues, “You would know not to ask. But. You were not there. But your eyes seem gentle, so I will directly answer your question. Their brave accounts go beyond the invasion of Poland or the Battle of France. Evidence of their brave accounts are everywhere from the moment they begin to serve.”

“To leave home is brave.” He watches her reaction carefully. “When you make your films, Frau Austerlitz… remember their victories as men before their victories as soldiers.”

He closes his spiel with folded hands, and even Kimura Asagi is quiet. The Artifact’s eyes continue to burn hazel, but his expression is faraway. His silence, Miyoshi would soon realize, stems not from respect, but from elsewhere.

It is Hélène’s soothing voice that returns much-needed warmth to the table. Richter seems moved by her compliments and willingness to meet his family, though Hélène’s attention is quickly redirected towards Miyoshi himself.

“Herr Kazetani, it is good to see you looking so well since our last meeting.” Hélène says to him, an accusation thinly veiled. A fire flickers in her gaze, alluding to her namesake. Köhler. Charcoal burner. Underneath her elegant costume lies a woman devoid of any softness.

But he doesn’t dislike that.

She has a distinct charm of manner expected of her breed. He can understand why men keep close watch of her. Her slender frame barely contains whatever passionate feelings she holds inside, though it is part of her charm, he thinks. Having had enough sherry, he decides to flirt a little for his own self-interest.

“Frau Köhler, I’m moved that you remember. Had my curfew been later, I would have pressed to have met you personally. But you are here, and we are dining together.”

His words flow with manner, with an air of someone who had learned to speak that way.

Across from him, Kimura Asagi’s jaw twitches.

Master.

Not now, Kimura Asagi. I am speaking with Ms.Köhler.

Nevermind the woman. Something else is here. Do you feel it?

No. Wait. Yes.

He is suddenly caught off-guard by a sensation of unease. He feels a shock of cold, as if he had been plunged into the bottom of the Laforet’s frozen lake. Shadows begin stealing between the crevices of his mind, and a familiar dizziness numbs his fingers. With some dread, he realizes that the soul tablets had delayed the spiritual response.

His fork falls to his plate, and his German hosts turn to look at him. Calm and adaptable as he sees himself to be, Miyoshi carries on the same as ever. He takes up his fork again with a sheepish expression, then looks at his hosts inquiringly.

“The pot roast is very good.” he says in an agreeable fashion. “I hope to have it again.”

Although Neumann is watching him narrowly, not a muscle in his face moves.

“Are you tired, Herr Kazetani?” Neumann sharply asks, and Kimura Asagi’s eyes flash, though Neumann takes no notice of his warning.

“Ah...” Miyoshi’s grip on his fork loosens. “I suppose I am. It’s been a long journey from Tokyo. You must forgive me.”

“Of course,” Richter says, bewildered that his guest need feel apologetic. “You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.” And then, as if nothing had occurred at all, Richter smiles warmly at Hélène and Amelia, revealing a legion of handsome teeth.

“Have the two of you met before? I am just curious.”

Miyoshi finds himself smiling amusedly and thinking: Amelia and Hélène will be enough to set the Germans’ minds to rest. Internally, he gives a sigh of relief. The soul tablets helped him sustain Kimura Asagi’s disguise, but made him more sensitive to spiritual disturbance at a much slower rate. His Artifact is quick to catch on.

Master. You look a little paler than usual. Shall we retire early?

Yes. Something powerful is nearby.

A spirit is here. He can't measure it just yet. To make matters worse, Kimura Asagi’s Skill is starting to effectively wear him thin. His head throbs, and he can feel the tug of his life force press into his skull. He would need more soul tablets.

From his pocket, he produces his father’s wristwatch.

9.46. He would need to hurry lest he miss his hourly dosage.

“The night turns late. You must excuse us,” Miyoshi says, smiling gently, and re-pockets the item. “Thank you for the meal.”

Richter nods with quick consideration while Neumann has him fixed in his gaze.

Miyoshi quietly rises from the table, and goes out of the room, his steps deliberately paced. Then, like a man in a dream, Kimura Asagi turns slowly and follows his master out the door and into the cold, French night.

Under the touch of moonlight, they almost look like ghosts.

. . . .


Inside the Joffre’s sleeping car, darkness returns to Miyoshi’s eyes, and he feels the faint impressions of Kimura Asagi’s hand at the small of his back.

Pain swings through his head with every step. This time, however, Miyoshi is certain it is drug withdrawal, and not a spirit. A dark cloud passes over his features. He wears this expression all the way to the hallway marking the entrance to his sleeping cabin. Then, he turns to his Artifact, and speaks in almost a whisper.

“There was a spirit near our table earlier. I can’t feel it anymore. It’s elsewhere now. In any case, we should be careful. Perhaps we should locate it first so that we might warn the others.”

Miyoshi’s arms jerk suddenly. Kimura Asagi almost loses his footing in supporting his master.

“Master, we should return to your room first. You must rest.” Kimura Asagi says with some urgency.

“If Claire is as sharp I believe him to be, he will come for me. He knows about the soul tablets.”

“What! Master! You can't be serious--”

“It was a minor reveal in getting him to trust me.” Miyoshi interrupts with some consternation. “Gandor’s men do not trust easily. Surely, you of all people should know that.”

At this, Kimura Asagi falls silent. His gaze drifts towards his western shoes.

Presently, softening his words, Miyoshi says, “You return to the cabin. I’ll stay here and wait for Claire. He should know to come soon.”

There is dead silence for at least two minutes. The shared pause between Saniwa and Artifact indicates a painful understanding that neither are going to act upon. Then, the Saniwa produces a pill bottle from his coat. He chews on a soul tablet, and swallows the rest of it whole.

Without looking up, Kimura Asagi quietly speaks.

“Alright. Goodnight, Master.”

The Artifact's saliva-soaked cigar feels dry in his mouth, and he retreats deeper into their sleeping cabin without so much of another word.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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Hélène laughed a little inside as she watched the Japanese man take a sip and begin to engage her. While her first comment had been a pointed little thing, designed to poke and prod, his masterful response delighted her. The accusing light in her eyes had been transmuted by his learned charm into dancing enthusiasm, and she leaned into him from across the table, eager to continue their promising repartee.

I am flattered of your high opinion of me. While I am regretful for the lost opportunity of our last meeting, I am sure we will have much time over the course of the train ride to come to know each other this time. Looking over at him with a mix of a fox’s eager anticipation and a child’s playfulness, she punctuated her last statement with a demure smile.

With a start however, she remembered the others at the table. Quickly taking in the expressions of her tablemates, Hélène hurried to include to the others. And I am sure that I will love to greater meet the acquaintance of my gracious hosts, Herr Richter, Herr Neumann. Time in your busy schedules and many important duties allowing, of course. She gave each a cordial nod as she said their names.

She added to the men across the table from her, And the same to you Herr Stanfield, Herr Asagi, with what I am sure are many responsibilities. Turning to the woman next to her, she continued with a smile, And of course I’m sure we will bond greatly as roommates, Frau Austerlitz. I glad to have the chance to learn more about you and your work.

Hearing a sudden clank of dropped cutlery, Hélène snapped around to find the source of the sound. Although Herr Kazetani had recovered with skillful grace and suave style, she was concerned to see the momentary slip from the imperturbable man.

She gratefully jumped on Richter’s quick deflection, slightly guilty that her unguarded interest had made him a target of her prideful little fanboy. She smiled at Richter, and with a quick look at Frau Austerlitz she answered, Unfortunately I have not. Although I have been blessed with many opportunities since my recent graduation from the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien at our destination, my great fortune has not left me many chances to interact others outside of my art or my patrons. This trip is a great gift to me, in allowing me to meet my other fellow artists in the service of Fatherland. I am also glad to be able to meet and get to know many of my fans on a personal level, here she turned to look at Herr Richter and Neumann specifically. With a cheerful smile she continued, And I am so honored to hear such great praise from my audience. It only motivates me more to know that I can bring such joy to such brave men.


As the Kazetani heir made his excuses for the evening, Hélène turned back only quickly to wish the Japanese men a goodnight before returning to engage Herr Neumann again in conversation while she still held his attention, eager to draw his attention away from their departure.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Geoffrey Lee Walker Character Portrait: Maria Calag Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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#, as written by Alligot
Silence hung low over the table after Richter ceased to speak. For what seemed like minutes, it lingered. Amelia could feel it in her ears, each rhythmic thud, thud, thud in her temples sent waves through her vision, cutting through the silence. She didn't speak.

Your German boys have not lost their homes, Richter. If leaving is bravery, then what does that make destruction? Loss? Amelia thought, raising a glass to her lips, eyes still locked on Richter. The cool water soothed her head, somewhat - though she didn't dare touch the wine, not while she still sustained Samael's ability.

Eventually, the singer spoke. It was a blessing that Hélène was adored so - her words could dance and twirl around the two German men, wrapping them around her fingers with a fine verbal tapestry, her mere visage melting their masculine shells. Even the curt, formally practiced Kazetani was himself enamored, though that seemed to be from a previous encounter. Amelia wondered if there was something deeper under their practiced small-talk.

“And of course I’m sure we will bond greatly as roommates, Frau Austerlitz. I glad to have the chance to learn more about you and your work.”
Hélène had addressed her, and Amelia had just began to reply when she heard the clang of steel. Across the table, Kazetani had dropped his fork, becoming the victim of several curious glances, including a strange gaze from Neumann.

Something about the younger officer seemed strange. This action - this look he had developed, it seemed analytical, precise. Perhaps predatory. A slip of the Neumann mask, and perhaps a glimpse into the character motive below. It definitely didn't seem to fit the proud, condescending behavior he'd formerly maintained, where a smirk or look of disdain, accompanied by some dismissive remark might have better fit her expectations. Of course, he could just dislike the Japanese, but he really has laid into the two of them so far.

“Are you tired, Herr Kazetani?” The question was piercing. To Kazetani's credit, he played the drop off as exhaustion - which, from his maintenance of Kimura's ability, could be genuine - and seemed to spur no alarm from Richter, who politely dismissed his guest.

“Have the two of you met before? I am just curious.”
Richter continued, seeming to draw attention away from his Japanese guest, diverting it to the two 'German' women. Almost as quickly, Helene leapt upon the opportunity with her same song and dance, before turning to occupy Neumann.

In any case, Amelia had a target - it is her task to vet suspicious characters, after all, and Neumann's hostility seemed a decent starting point.

Though it wasn't him she turned to - her attention shifted towards Richter once more. "I'm afraid I haven't met Frau Köhler until today - I had previously only known her from the plays and records."

She met the older man's gaze, then glanced aside to Neumann. The man was quick to cast doubt over the two Japanese representatives, and their history. Now, she was about to cast her curiosity on his own background. "Though, the two of you must be very well acquainted, even if you're fond of all your men. What made him stand out above your other choices? What made him your Spieß?"

Amelia was careful to avoid a direct question of war. She didn't want to irritate Richter, and of the two, getting information out of the older officer would likely be easier for her. Perhaps letting the Hauptfeldwebel's common nickname slip might even warm the conversation, even if the mention brought her own recollections to surface. A nickname in the German Heer, but a code, a target, to those who had opposed Germany.

Break the spear, and the army falls.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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KNICKERBOKER
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“Hitler.”

Hitler.

H I T L E R!

Claire slammed his wine glass down with more force than intended and mutters a preemptive "my bad" as he turned his gaze away from Miyoshi. How could that rat-brain let him toast the one and only dictator of Germany? He knew how Claire felt, how America felt about that guy! In honesty he was more angry at himself for not expecting that to be the case. He was used to Miyoshi's dry if not cruel affect and this mission would be no different.

He just needed to keep himself from turning as Himmelred as his hair.

Claire lifted his glass to drink once more before gesturing to Kimura Asagi to refill his glass. Unfortunately, everyone seemed engrossed in Richter's story. To some extent, the conviction in his voice caught the redhead's own interest as he chewed on the older man's words. He understood more of them than earlier and found himself agreeing to the man's ideas. He knew little about Berliners or Bavarians (that part was all noise to him), but the idea of bravery resonated with him.

Frankly that disgusted him.

He didn't need to sympathize with these men. They weren't Saniwa and certainly weren't on the right side of the war.

Now's not a time to get balled up, Potato-Brain. He shuddered, closing his eyes.

Upon opening, he felt (or rather hears) a shift in the room. It wasn't very Kazetani of Miyoshi to commit a social faux pas and Claire had known him long enough to recognize the symptoms of soul tablet withdrawal. He hid his frown under some hard wipes of a napkin and narrowed his eyes toward the Japanese man as he deflected Neumann and Richter's questions.

“Have the two of you met before? I am just curious.”

Helene and Amelia were quick to pick up the conversation, meaning that Claire could plan his next move: slipping away.

Five minutes--no three minutes. That's a good number, he nodded.

He tapped his fingers along the edge of the table, counting down each second in his head until something resembling two minutes and a few seconds passed.

"If you don't mind, Ich muss jetzt gehen. I should turn in too," he announced as he stood, "in New York I'd be sleeping by now."


---


It only takes a few strides for Claire to be free of the dining room's atmosphere, but the sound of conversation reassures him that they are in good hands. More importantly, he ought to find Mouse's cabin. Though they hadn't gone too in depth regarding plans there weren't many places to hide on the Joffre and he doubted that the Saniwa felt like hiding in the cargo area (at the very least he hoped that no one would need to go back there). Walking down the hallway, he counted off each door until he saw Miyoshi in the distance.

"Christ Mouse," he whispered, dashing over to the Spiritualist, "how long's it been since you tabbed up?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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CHAPTER TWO
Three Cries in the Night

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Inside his carriage, Kimura Asagi quietly locks the door behind him. He discards his cigarette in a bin besides the door. He can hardly look at himself.

Instead, he looks to appraise his room.

Modest woodwork decorates the walls to give them a faux feeling of luxury. Beneath the ceiling, a wall lamp casts a pale light overhead. A copy of Das Reich has been neatly folded over his bedside table, though other accommodations had not been so meticulously prepared. Miyoshi’s suitcase arbitrarily stands in the center of the room, its corner slightly bashed. Some unseeming scratches had found their way to the suitcase’s leather hide. No doubt The Joffre’s sleeping-car attendants are careless.

Kimura Asagi frowns with a sharp twist of his mouth.

The Artifact kneels in front of the case, checking the angle of injury. He traces the nick marks with a slender finger until he finds something peculiar. A scornful sound escapes his throat, and his eyes pause a moment longer than his fingers. Three scars barely the width of his fingernail sit underneath a larger scratch mark. Although it is likely no fretful issue, he would bring this matter to his master’s attention later. Moving away from the scratch marks, he keeps his hands flat on the roof of the suitcase, his thumbs placed evenly over its fastenings.

It is then that he notices “Braun Büffel“ embedded in leather-pressed grooves. Realization dawns upon him when he remembers Miyoshi purchasing this suitcase during their trip to Kirn. Kimura Asagi doesn’t want to think about Germany, but as he stares at the luxurious hun lettering, his mind is filled with thoughts of his hosts.

Richter and Neumann were not pleasant men. The dinner conversation exhausted Kimura Asagi’s patience, and he hopes that he will not be deployed to speak with them again. The Artifact was never allowed to deliver than a few sentences at a time--for it seemed as if both German gentlemen were bursting with opinions of their own on all subjects. Kimura played his own part well, he is sure, no doubt. To the Germans, he is a polite, well meaning representative of the Imperial war machine. His master, in the meanwhile, had been outwardly preoccupying himself with women and sherry. His Saniwa spoke uncharacteristically little, and allowed Hélène and Amelia to spin their silk.

If Miyoshi was not suffering from pains of gout, he would have been far more effective. But…

Kimura stops his thoughts here. He stiffens for a moment.

The Artifact does not like thinking badly of his master, and knows that the latter would speak more idealistically about the issue.

He’ll say, “Issun saki wa yami.”

It is dark one inch ahead. Expect the unexpected.

But Kimura is tired of expecting, and he is concerned for his master. Perhaps their female companions could draw gold from the mouths of Neumann and Richter, but the Artifact is tired of dreams.

It has been seven years, in truth; seven tiring years, for Kimura Asagi.

They have taken their toll. Like his master, his own stability has been depleted through the marrow, and his soul had grown cold. But he is not here to complain.

Instead, he clicks open his master’s suitcase, and from its contents produces a small hand mirror. It must be a memento from Miyoshi’s mother. The Artifact brings the object up to his face and flips it open, allowing his illusory appearance to slip.

Hazel eyes become silver. Clipped, black hair turns Jamonsakura pink.

His ethereal appearance belies a tragic reality, and he thinks of the funeral from which he was born.

Drained, he eases the mirror down and reaches to turn off the lights. Then, he reclines on the bed, and succumbs to anxiety, the tug of Miyoshi’s soul feeling suddenly more distant.

Always there is a sense of darkness sweeping behind him, rising, gathering mass, and drowning him with its unpredictable and unsatisfiable need for human suffering.

What agonies his master endures, Kimura Asagi need not guess. What his master must feel, however. . .
x

. . . .


Slipping.

Miyoshi feels as if he’s slipping. Rivulets of moisture dribble down his chin, and he is glad that Amelia and Hélène will not see him in this state. Grimacing, he tries not to let his mind wander to the pins and needles in his calves. His own shadow looms further behind him with each shambling step he takes, and he has lost control over the building bile in his throat. He doesn't fight it, and allows the blood to seep freely through the crevice of his lips. It is not like him to nurse his weaknesses; he chooses to consider honor over humiliation. He thinks of how his mother must see him now, her face noble, powdered, and perfumed. Could she be proud of him?

She could be.

Pain shudders through him again, and the world throbs. He sucks in his breath, drawing his thoughts away from his suffering. Later, he will join the other 2,500,000 souls enshrined at the Yasukuni Jinja. But for now--he must journey through earthly shadows.

Beyond the hall, he can make out the strong, hard outlines of Claire Stanfield’s body making his way towards him.

Even in the darkness, Claire is a formidable man, six feet tall, with flaming red hair as hot as Amaterasu's sun, ears a bit large for his head--and ears so keen that they could detect more than just ghostly whispers. Underneath his brutish figure, he is an intelligent fellow, though he has a mean habit of underplaying his worth through a curious combination of self-depreciation and self-doubt. Miyoshi finds him strange for an American, mostly because he never did what Miyoshi expected Americans to. Not that Claire paid much attention to what the Kazetani thought of him. Claire did as he felt best because there weren't many people as stubborn as he, and Miyoshi supposes, in that sort of way, the two of them are good for each other.

In seeing Claire, relief floods his own features. The Stanfield man carries unfailing dedication akin to his own Artifacts, and Miyoshi is glad that he is here.

"Christ Mouse," the Combat Saniwa whispers, "how long's it been since you tabbed up?"

“Too long,” Miyoshi interrupts, not allowing Claire opportunities for prattling. Without wasting a minute, he wraps his arm around Claire’s shoulder, leaning into his friend for further support. His fingernails dig into the slope of the taller man’s bicep, and an unexpected spasm spurs him to cough into Claire’s neck. Then, he looks away from the American. He finds it disheartening to be relying on Claire for a second time.

“My friend, keep me here for a bit,” he rasps, swallowing an uptake of blood and phlegm.

His next actions are completed within seconds.

If Miyoshi cannot trust his senses, he can trust the sacrifice of his ancestors. With his free hand, he rips his clan’s oni men-netsuke from underneath his coat. Carved by a master Spiritualist, the oni’s eyes are red, dead, and parched.

It had sipped the blood of the last of the Kazetani shrine maidens, given enough sacrifices to appease it. Gilded with gold inlays and jade set-in-stones, it looks like the device of an emperor--not the tool of an exorcist. The cursed object is a creation of his clansmen, but operates on the exact parameters of the primitive kotoribako. Unlike the cursed box, however, it needed only to drink the blood of four newborns and five holy women to be given a thirst for life.

Naturally, it does not need to be urged to begin its work.

From his palm, it smiles up at him with beady, dark eyes. Its jade-set eyeballs begin glowing with hunger, and it stares at the corner of Miyoshi’s mouth, where a blood clot has formed. Without skipping a beat, the Kazetani heir brings his thumb to his lip, and smears his own crour across the oni’s miserable mouth. The cursed object grins wider at this, and Miyoshi watches as his blood disappears from the surface of its tongue.

Lips widening, its ugly teeth animate into a dull, fitful chattering.

Warm.

Shifting his body, Miyoshi thrusts the netsuke forwards and scans the area around him, hoping to pick up a more excitable signal.

Warmer.

The netsuke’s chattering increases at an alarming speed.

There.

The netsuke chatters so loudly that Miyoshi is afraid it might wake sleeping passengers. He slams the netsuke’s jaw shut against his beating chest, and it becomes still once more.

Looking past Claire, he nods towards the shadow north of them.

“Rank A Poltergeist,” Miyoshi tersely says, fingers tight around his cursed heirloom. “It’s not here yet. No.” A pause. “She. She’s not here yet.” His gaze flickers to meet Claire’s.

The bile in his throat builds again, and he curses inwardly. The soul tablets would not take effect until another half an hour.

Not enough time.

“I can act as your decoy if necessary. The rest is up to you. Additionally--the passengers. We must be careful not to wake them. I trust that Gandor has given you Mary?”

He pauses at the mention of Bloody Mary, and remembers her fondness for bloodlust.

“We may need her darkness again.”

A spiritual disturbance in the air numbs Miyoshi’s soul receptors, and he is thankful for the Gandor pistol pressed to his breast. Its owner’s own warm heartbeat hums against its cold metal, and he presses himself more firmly against Claire.

Lips dry, he peers towards the northern end of the hallway, into the blockade of shadows. Where? Where is the poltergeist hiding?

For a split second, the space around Miyoshi feels as if the last molecules of oxygen had been torn from it. A shaft of moving darkness curls around the carriage walls in a tunneling, twisting motion, causing the walls of the carriage to tremble lightly at its touch. A woman’s voice begins speaking freely from all directions, though the poltergeist is careful not to manifest. Not yet.

A strong one, Miyoshi thinks between ragged breaths.

A violent odor of decay fills the air. The poltergeist marks the territory with her scent. From behind them, a silver woman emerges from a canopy of shadows. She is beautiful in a way that disturbing things are, and dons a bloodied dress showing that she had not died well. Bloodshot eyes pierce the duo from behind a veil of shining, golden hair. A cathedral-cut bone structure hints that she might have been more handsome in her lifetime, but her incendiary malevolence was something she took to her grave. The woman is the embodiment of lightless misery, for she is, in fact--

"A Revenant." Miyoshi breathes, his voice lower than a whisper.

When she opens her mouth, she speaks in a tongue that he does not know, but one word is familiar and all too striking:

Kazetani, she howls.

Then, she throws back her head to pull a blade from her throat, and Miyoshi feels a stabbing sensation ripping through his stomach.

Issun saki wa yami, he thinks.

It is dark one inch ahead.
x

. . . .


Light. So far, his journey has been filled with cheer and light.

Ernst Richter finds himself chatting amiably with the two party women, each elegant their separate ways. He had little sleep since he left Calais, and is glad to be in the company of creature comforts. Although they stated not having met previously, they are perfectly at ease beside one another.

Hélène Köhler. A girl with a voice like a bright, clear window of the sky. Her music represents the Fatherland, its people, and its glory days to come. How beautiful she is--the Aryan ideal. Eyes as blue as Rolf’s, skin as pallid as little Ilsa’s.

Home. She looks and sounds like home.

Never in his years would Richter have imagined meeting the burgeoning singer in person, but she sits before him wrapped in luxurious perfume. Unlike the wives of his comrades, there is nothing in her features that resembles false benevolence. Like Ilsa, her conversations are girlish and delightful, and her smiles come sweetly. However, her coquettish exchange with Herr Kazetani proved that she could speak as a woman.

Lively as caroling bells, she is off again before Richter can begin.

I am so honored to hear such great praise from my audience. It only motivates me more to know that I can bring such joy to such brave men.

Then you must enjoy your journey to its fullest, Frau Köhler, Richter warmly responds. It brings me great joy to know that you enjoy our compliments as well. Time allowing, you must meet my executive branch in Vienna. They would be pleased to meet your acquaintance, and winking, ...for you are a rising star, yes?

Neumann smirks into his sherry, his own eyes locked onto Hélène as well.

Frau Austerlitz’s voice reminds both men that she is also present. Her icy blue eyes hold Richter in their gaze.

"Though, the two of you must be very well acquainted, even if you're fond of all your men. What made him stand out above your other choices? What made him your Spieß?" she asks.

Frau Austerlitz is an intent observer, Richter notes to himself. She is like her companion--perhaps twenty years of age. There is a cool efficiency in the way she speaks to him, so different from the bubbly enthusiasm of the singer at her side. In contrast to Frau Köhler’s disposition, Frau Austerlitz is much more poised. More deliberate.

She is, he judges, the kind of woman who can take perfect care of herself with perfect ease.

His Spieß?” Neumann takes a drink of his sherry, chuckling. Obersturmbannführer, Frau Austerlitz’s question...

But Richter is already one step ahead.

The Nazi offices describe Neumann as “quick and decisive,” had a sharp mind and was “capable of everything.” However, Richter has grown to admire the man beyond his combat capabilities, and values his mind and spirit.

Smiling, he speaks naturally.

Ah, the Hauptfeldwebel is the pearl of our division. Neumann has a rare gift. He can understand the mentality of every tank driver, commander, and gunner. He reads their letters, too.

Paper hearts,” Neumann comments, his eyes meandering about the carriage.

He is a man who understands obsession, Richter thoughtfully remarks. He spends his time studying captured equipment to understand the fighting conditions of our enemies. He has sat in every allied tank that we have encountered, and would relive the lives of our opponents.

Whereas other men are busy celebrating the fruits of their victory, Richter continues, Neumann is already inside their tanks, wearing their equipment, and replaying their engagements. Men like this are diamonds in the Führer’s crown.

Richter manages to cast a surreptitious glance at his comrade before realizing that Neumann's attention is indeed diverted elsewhere. His eyes are now focused behind Hélène’s shoulder.

Behind her, the door opens, and a uniformed Wehrmacht officer, no older than Neumann, steps inside the carriage. The man is lean of body, and his eyes, cool, impersonable and crimson. Like a jaguar, he briefly scans the passengers, giving a courteous nod to Richter when he meets his eye, and freezes when he notices their female companions. He takes one look at Hélène and Amelia, and seems to be won over by a strange sensation of recognition and perhaps unease.

A Berliner? Richter wonders, though Neumann’s smile is no longer there.

Fancying that the other men had noticed his glance, the red-eyed man hastens to look elsewhere, and abruptly turns to leave.

Strange fellow, Richter muses.

Neumann agrees, and makes a noncommittal sound in his throat, his eyes as sharp as lies.

With a soft shrug, Richter sets his fork on his plate and reclines in his booth. He wipes his mouth with a napkin, and peers out the window.

It is late! I do hope Herr Kazetani recovers well, Richter cheerfully says.

There is some curiosity suspended in the air, but neither men choose to comment on it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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“Mouse get back!” Claire yells, dragging his partner back.

Revenant, class A, he recites to himself, beings raised from the dead either to fight or kill.

“Someone’s got beef with you what a surprise,” he frowns as he draws his gun, “what did you do to raise Drusilla from the dead?”

He prepares to fire, but curses once he realizes how close they are to the other passengers. Instead, he pulls Miyoshi closer as Drusilla thrusts her knife forward.

“I will cut you from this world!”

Using the gun’s barrel, he barely blocks her before she forces him to clumsily jab his gun at her again.

“I’m tired of your interference Claire,” she hisses.

“I’m not going to hear that from a trigger ghost doll,” he taunts, dodging her next strike.

With each of her slices, Claire slides farther and farther back, pushing and pulling Miyoshi to follow his movement. Deliberate steps lead him closer and closer to the back of the cart, but Drusilla’s bloodlust only drives her to run faster.

Red eyes and thin lips form into a grin as she nears the dimly lit corner. She needs only wait for the overhead lamps to flicker before she closes the distance.

Crash.

Vials of holy water shatter on the ground, spraying the revenant. Steam seeps into her defenses, only burning her faster as she staggers toward the duo. Rigid and petrified, Drusilla falls to the ground mere feet from Claire and Miyoshi.

After setting down Miyoshi, he reaches for his last device: a pocket mirror. The object is plastic and metal with a bejeweled daisy carved in the center. It flicks open effortlessly before a pair of arms thrust forward, embracing her apparent keeper.

“Big brother you’re back!” she exclaims as she nuzzles into his chest.

”Y-yeah I am.” Claire smiles wryly before returning her hug.

“Mary I’m going to need you to do a special job for me,” he sighs as he nervously runs his hand through blood-stained, ethereal hair.

“But you always make me do jobs!” she whines before Claire releases her, “we never do anything fun!”

For a second, Claire considers grunting toward the revenant, but reminds himself that Mary is only a child. He calms himself further, careful to level with her without sounding too condescending.

“I...I know Mary, but I really, really need this. We’re in danger right now and Uncle Miyoshi-”he gestures over”-is.not feeling well.”

She crosses her arms and throws an accusatory glare toward Miyoshi.

“Are you doing drugs again?” she gestures for Claire to turn the compact over so she can glare at her uncle properly.

“I’m afraid so, poppet,” Miyoshi says with a handsome, gentlemanly smile.

“I’m not a poppet! I can come out any time I want!” she huffs before giving a two tugs of increasing intensity to exit the mirror.

Unfortunately, she is no poppet and merely bounces back to her compact.

“Er Mary,” Claire lifts open the compact once more, “we need your help because there is someone very, very dangerous.”

Peeking from the mirror, Mary shrieks, but Claire quickly clasps his hand over her mouth. He turns her over before smoothing out her nightgown with his free hand.

“Sh-shh! People Mary. There are people sleeping,” he whispers sharply, “we need to get rid of her without wakin’ everyone up.”

She pushes away his hand before puffing up.

“Alright let me at ‘er!” she announces, balling her hands into fists.

“No no, Mary, I just need ya’ to make a veil while I deal with this ghost outside.”

Claire sets down a pouting Mary, but not before giving her a reassuring look.

“When you get a little older I promise,” he says, facing the compact toward the hallway.

Despite her muttering about never getting aging, spiritual energy emanates from the mirror, cloaking the area in a thick white fog before it evaporates into a clear, seamless reflection of the sleeping cart. Anyone who passes by will see nothing more than a locked exit to the baggage.

“Thanks Mary, just keep the veil up ‘til I’m back okay?” Claire asks before shooting Miyoshi a look that said ”don’t you dare let her outside”

“But it’s dangerous! You might-”

“Mary,” Claire cuts in before his face steels, “stay where you are.”

He seizes Drumont as she begins thrashing and dashes toward the back door, forcing the both of them out before he feels the door shut behind him.

“The darkness is closing in, I can see now,” she rasps as she escapes from his arms.

“Careful Drusilla, you know how good I am at bumping off you ghosts,” he warns as he shoots forward.

Not to be outdone, she glides to the roof of the next cart, clutching her elbow.

Piker, he curses mentally as he climbs the ladder attached to the door behind him. The train shakes slightly as it rumbles along the tracks. He stumbles onto the roof, barely dodging the first of many strikes to his chest and stomach. For every bulb that lit the train’s journey, he had ten seconds of darkness to block or shoot her, but not let her escape. With the rest of the cart still lit, he knows the door is the only entrance left.

Drusilla might be a revenant, but the doll’s still smarter than me dead or alive, he thinks as he kicks away her knife.

“Come out Dru, you’re gonna have to go through me to ice Mouse,” Claire announces as he reaches his hand into the darkness.

Nothing.

“Clearly you don’t know me very well at all.”

She kicks him down and stabs downward, giving Claire a window to grab her bad arm and pull her down. Though she nearly falls, Drusilla catches herself on her knees and pins him by the legs. His grip remains firm, diverting her knife into the train’s roof before she reappears on top of him, knife at his throat.

“You’re right doll, two hordes of slaughs in Dublin and the only thing I know is that you’re a crazy, Catholic-hating bitch,” he chuckles before bashing her in the head with his pistol.

Instinctively, she raises her knife to block, giving Claire time to throw her body off the train.

“No, not Catholics, just you,” she replies, “leaving me to for dead to save the pastor!”

It takes only a brief moment for her to reappear behind Claire, but he detects her from sound alone.

“You wanted to throw him to the sluaghs!” he yells, firing two rounds into her heart, “do you think ‘cause he was sick he deserved to kick the bucket?”

“He was poisoning the House--still is,” she yells as she barely misses a swipe at Claire’s chest.

For each quip and retort they exchange Drumont blinks in and out of the shadows, taking advantage of the pattern Claire must run in to keep up with the railroad lights.

“You can’t have a dead man running a palace. You’ll only attract--”

“--attract vultures,” Claire finishes, watching for the revenant to apparate. “He wasn’t dead Dru! He had Ireland’s best healers helping him!”

“You couldn’t heal that kind of sickness with priests and holy water.”

Drusilla lunges forward with her knife, allowing Claire to take advantage of her momentum. Grabbing her arm, he tosses her forward before shooting her. She vanishes again, managing to graze Claire’s chest before landing on her feet.

“You didn’t even try Dru! The point of these missions is to help people--help the House,” he quiets his voice for a few moments, “I wanted to help you too.”

“Don’t you dare act righteous now when you’re protecting him of all people,” she hisses, “you know his true nature better than anyone.”

Claire winces, first in bewilderment and then in anger. More than the pain from the knife, turmoil wells in his body. He cannot refute her argument, but he cannot agree with her statements either. Miyoshi has his fair share of problems that could not be explained by physical or spiritual corruption which he is sure spurned his drug addiction. Everything beneath the Japanese male’s manicured exterior screams unsustainable and he hates Drusilla for being so frank with her words.

It would be easy, he often thinks, to drop him as a friend or a partner for issues of incompatibility or dangerousness but nothing is truly that black and white. If the House put every madman to rest, half of his superiors would be gone and Miyoshi isn’t nearly on the same level as those who became possessed by their inner demons. They called it something else, but even when the man they were protecting threatened to kill his Artifact Claire never had it in him to blame the guy.

“Yeah and he might be a pill popper, he might be a lot ‘a things but he’s still my friend,” Claire finally says as he moves forward, “I stick by them through thick and thin.”

Instead of waiting to dodge her next strike he fires a shot in the darkness, anticipating her evaporation before firing behind him and hearing a satisfying fall. Unfortunately for Drusilla, she hadn’t forgotten about the railroad’s pattern of overhead lights and left herself open to a second shot. She blinks back into the darkness, but each dash only agitates the shrapnel in her chest. Claire on the other hand, only continues to dodge and use her faltering stamina to his advantage. His empty-handed hits still make no impact, but the time between each apparition increases. Her slices turn from decisive strikes to slow motion swings until he finally grabs her by the arm and shoulder and slams her into the roof.

In one motion, he forces her knife into her chest, carving out a hole until he rips her heart out. Though bloodless, the color (what little is left) drains from Drusilla’s face as she uses her last efforts to wriggle from Claire’s grasp.

“Either you give up now or your next death won’t be as pretty as your first,” Claire pants, fully aware that this was only half the victory.

Swiveling his head, he sees her beelining for the window. Too exhausted to fully deform, she slithers toward the nearest window in a half-shadow and half-human form but Claire’s rough hands drag her across the roof. Then down the ladder, and within the entrance where they first started.

“I see we were never friends to begin with,” she surmises, her knife slipping through the rails.

“You lost me when you betrayed the House,” Claire states bluntly.

Expressionless and exhausted, he shoots the rest of his bullets into her neck until her head snaps right off from sheer force. Granted, he could use the knife, but the catharsis is too good to pass up.

“The House will fall...your friend a weak pillar,” she whispers.

Her body begins dissolving, but rather than run back the Irishman stays for the duration of her death. He whispers a few lines to put her to rest but her words weigh on his soul. During the fight he assured himself that she spoke only nonsense, but nothing keeps him from visualizing Miyoshi’s gaunt expressions. He knows he's made the right choice in both Miyoshi and back then when he abandoned her, but he hesitates to congratulate himself. Why did someone have to send a revenant for Miyoshi? For that matter, who?

He walks back inside, passing by Miyoshi to pick up Mary.

"Big Brother you're hurt!" she exclaims, touching his chest

"Oh this? It's just a...spirit wound," Claire chuckles nervously, grabbing her hand, "more importantly, did you keep everyone safe and sound?"

"You bet I did," she beams before dissolving the illusion, "I kept him safe and everything!"

"That's great, that's really great," Claire smiles before turning over to Miyoshi.

"Wait-"Mary put her hand on Claire's shoulder-"it's time for me to go back now isn't it?"

Claire smiles wryly in response to Mary's sighs of resignation.

"It's for your own safety. I can't have any passengers seeing you, finding the mirror," he states firmly, "you know what the House wanted to do with you the first time that we found you. Imagine if someone worse is on this train. Someone who wants to steal you or exorcise you!"

They have been through this conversation before, too many times for her to count but it doesn't stop her from trying anyway.

"I guess I'll see you soon," she murmurs as she sinks into the base of the compact.

Claire pockets Mary before finally sitting next to Miyoshi, too exhausted to stand. By this point, neither look to be the great, Rank A Saniwa that the mission called for and even in defeating Drusilla he feels no victory. He touches the area where Drusilla sliced him, wincing at the corruption she managed to inflict. Unlike Miyoshi he cannot heal quickly so he's hoping that the drugs will help speed up the Japanese man's healing process.

"How badly did Dru get the jump on you?" he asks, turning to face him.

________________________________________
Notes: Bethelit fed me 1-2 lines as Miyoshi and allowed me to take control of her character
I made some minor alterations to Drusilla's dialogue to fit the interpretation of her and Claire's relationship. You may do this with future ghosts you wish to fight as long as it's in character with what the ghost(s)' behavior is stated to be.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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Smiling charmingly, Hélène turns politely to Frau Austerlitz as she opened her mouth to speak.

Calculatingly Amelia asks, "Though, the two of you must be very well acquainted, even if you're fond of all your men. What made him stand out above your other choices? What made him your Spieß?" She watches as the two men shift their attention, now intent on her as if suddenly remembering she is there. She remains poised as a wolf on the hunt as Neumann passes of the question Richter, and the man is glad to boast.

Ah, the Hauptfeldwebel is the pearl of our division. Neumann has a rare gift. He can understand the mentality of every tank driver, commander, and gunner. He reads their letters, too," he says proudly, happily.

Paper hearts, Neumann comments idly, eyes roving, and Richter continues on.

He is quick to elaborate, ending ominously, Men like this are diamonds in the Führer’s crown. The sentence hangs in the air, and new information weighs on the two women silent and intent.

To Amelia, it was with only the fullest of faith and deepest of knowledge that such praise could be given by one man to another. Richter's words trampled one another in their departure, a river that did not merely flow, but gushed forth with a rare earnest quality. Usually, it takes more than a few glasses of red or sherry for these sorts of words. And from Neumann's aloof, perhaps even bashful reaction to his friend's words, perhaps this one history had the merit of truth behind it.

Perhaps.

Hélène had underestimated this man, boyish and quick to pass judgement as he seems. He throws his thoughts out like gems for the world to revel in as only a child does, but his actions had hidden to her how often precious insights had passed from his lips. He is juvenile in his ways, but it only hides how truly terrifying he can be. An important reminder then, that some monsters are not monstrous, and some idiots not ignorant.

Frau Austerlitz had began to speak when Ricther had ceased, but it seemed that the table’s attentions had shifted to Neumann - and by extension, whatever had caught his attention. Amelia’s sights drifted to a gold-plated mirror on the opposite wall, settling on the reflection of a thin man, clad in the Wehrmacht officer's decorated greys. Though - after a moment, he himself seems to be shocked at sight of their table. He averts his gaze and comes from whence he came. Hélène had twisted in her seat at Neumann’s preoccupation, and only just managed to catch a glimpse from the corner of her eye as he froze, and his eyes glinted red in the low light before he turned and disappeared again.

Strange fellow, Richter spoke.

Strange indeed, for Amelia swore she had spied a reddish tint in the strange man's eyes. Making a show of looking over her shoulder, Amelia turns to face opposing side of the room - only to see the closed door, and the other joyous and inebriated patrons. Hélène was tense now, the double confrontation reminding her of the stakes.

Quick to change the subject, Richter says, It is late! I do hope Herr Kazetani recovers well.

Recovering, Hélène turns back carefully and casts her eyes downward, surprised to see that the plate she had been eating from empty. Ah. Of course. As Amelia turns back, she quickly leans in to her, smiling again. Frau Austerlitz, it seems that we are done with our meals, if wouldn’t mind accompanying me to our quarters for the night?

Hélène’s face, girlish and eager, is betrayed by a tenseness around her eyes - the man had spooked her. Richter’s dismissal rings the silence, pressing down upon them. It is getting late, I think it would be for the best.

Hélène quickly jumps on the out, only barely holding back the desperation and discomfort she is stifling. They carefully depart, Amelia leading the way with goodnights and goodbyes. She follows, softening their exit with more of her weaponized charm.

It was wonderful to meet you both, I am so glad to have had to opportunity to talk and I eagerly await a chance to speak to you both when your busy schedules allow. In favor of the later hour however, I will have to bid you goodnight. After their replies she smiles, curtseys lightly, and turns to follow Amelia into the next car.

. . . .


Hélène deftly steps into the sleeping cart with her long skirts swishing softly as she moves to the side, Amelia quickly closing the door behind her. With no more audience, Hélène’s charming but vacuous impression falls, leaving her tense but grim. Peering around the hall, they see no one.

“That man had red eyes,” she says to the Frenchwoman, quiet and grave. Her companion remains silent, caution visible in her gaze despite the increasing fatigue laid upon her falling shoulders.

Amelia strides toward their carriage, sparing only a quick, hurried glance around the room. Seeing nothing out of place, she gestures to her associate while glimpsing into the empty hallway - to ensure the pair had not been followed. Hélène is quick to follow her into their room, efficiently closing and the locking the door, before she turns to her own things. The memory of the odd man hangs over them, deepening the silence as they sort through their luggage. Amelia takes a tad longer to unpack, fumbling with more than one strap, mind occupied and features furrowed in thought. Though once they are sure there is no surveillance, the quiet breaks.

“You’re… quite sure they’re red, yes?” Amelia questions, slipping a hand within her coat to check her pistol.

“I only saw him for a moment, but the light reflected red, no matter how dim. He was… more than strange.” Hélène shrugs into her much warmer French coat, grateful to add another layer on top of her dirndl. She quickly checks over her own Gandor pistol, before placing it in one of her many hidden pockets. “I can go look to see where he went, if you would like stay here and contact your Artifact?” After a slow, weary nod and gesture from Amelia, she quickly turns around and walks back into the hallway.

. . . .


Setting down the radio, Amelia’s thoughts turned to her artifact, and the accompanying drumming in her temples. Familiar thoughts met hers, and for several seconds, there was not an uttered word. Leaning on the camera, she allowed herself this brief respite, for with the color of her Artifact’s thoughts, she knew the answer to her own question before she even began.

Is that poltergeist dealt with?

Not yet. They're still planning on the - eh, how and when, I believe.

There was a sympathetic layer to her Artifact's words, and it seemed only amplified by her impatience and pain both. That percussive pain was beginning to grate, the incessant scratch in her head. It pounded and pounded and pounded -

Amelia. Only a few more minutes.

Of course, it was simple for a sniper to suggest patience.

Nonetheless, she began to hum as she did from time to time, beginning to unpack the radio. A small quirk - or even a trick, perhaps. He had said keeping a tune in his mind kept the frost from his hands, and the seductive allure of his dreams far from his thoughts. Perhaps it was a trick of a different sort - for she felt her artifact withdraw from her thoughts. Surely to conceal a smug attitude from providing a placebo for her issues.

Yet, that bit went here. This slid out of a concealed nook, and secured another thing here. It was impressive, how such an otherwise large and cumbersome object could be hidden so, and so simply converted. These three things - the admiration, the music, the ever-present frustration towards her artifact - they occupied the alarmingly short time she had alone before someone would fling the door open.

. . . .


The door closes loudly behind her as the empty hallway warps and fades, almost like a mist, or possibly a mirage. It was an odd experience, her vision fading away at the edges, slowly moving inward, only for her to see what she felt she had been seeing along. Hélène’s thoughts jump and scream in her head, fighting each other; her muscles twitch in fear and her heart beats like a wardrum in her ears, calling her to battle.

The tone of Herr Stanfield’s voice implies that things have deeply gone wrong.

With no time to think on his conversation, she memorizes as much as she can to examine later. Revealed in the peculiar experience, Stanfield’s back is turned to her, his body blocking whoever he is talking to.

As she takes a step towards him, he suddenly shifts and she is shocked to see Herr Kazetani on the ground, smears of blood around his mouth. The squirming feeling of panic hits her hard in the gut-almost like a sucker punch. To see such a capable Saniwa on the ground looking worse for wear, what would the rest of them come to?

No longer performing for her Nazi hosts, she runs towards them, only barely conscious of the puddle on the ground as she leaps over it. Getting even closer, her heart rate jumps yet again to see such a reputed bodyguard bleeding as well. Aghast, it is almost impossible to stop herself from asking rapid-fire questions.

“I do not have anything in my luggage for this, do either of you have anything that will do?” she asks even as she herds Claire closer to her room. Without even pausing to hear them answer, she emphatically gestures the Gandor man to her door before offering her arm to Miyoshi, who takes it with some reluctance.

Inside, a very bewildered Amelia is met with the bloodied, beleaguered Claire, followed shortly by Helene supporting a wavering Kazetani.

With both bloody men back in her room, she closes the door and turns to survey them in better lighting. The obvious nicks and cuts on Stanfield were concerning, but more alarming was the seeping blood soaking into his waistcoat. A glance at the man still on her arm shows no more injuries than the blood from his mouth, so she quickly deposits him on her bed exchanging a grim look to Amelia’s puzzled expression.

Setting her coat atop the radio, Amelia questions, “What - what even happened?” as her eyes drift between the two battered men.

Lips quirking, and jaw clench in irritated stress, Hélène replies more sharply than she intends. “Why, I’m not quite sure. I am rather preoccupied with treating their injuries at the moment. I’m sure that they can tell you once we have the luxury of time.” She sends a scathing look at the two men seated on her bed, daring them to act before they are well.

“Unless whatever or whoever did this is dead and gone, I’d like to know if I should be holding a gun in hand in case they come through that door to finish the job.” Amelia retorted.

“I've no doubt that the Revenant won't be returning,” Miyoshi firmly says. There is a certain stillness to his gaze, and he does not smile.

Finally , Hélène reaches for Stanfield. “Will you be needing bandages for that?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it Hel, it’s just a flesh wound,” Claire winces as he takes off his jacket, “take care of my old...friend first.”

Other questions strain from behind her teeth, but the dark emotions behind their eyes stop her from badgering them. Stubbornly ignoring his protests, she quickly takes off the apron of her dirndl, and binds the cloth over wound, and ties the apron strings tightly around his chest to stop the bleeding.

Moving to the other side of the room, Amelia soaks and offers a handkerchief to Helene. The other woman uses it to begin the long process of cleaning his less serious cuts, focussed and intent. Narrowing her eyes, she glares in frustration at the layers of cloth in the way. Setting down the cloth for a moment, she crosses her arms. “Your shirt. Take it off. You’ll only contaminate these further.”

Meanwhile, Amelia rummages through one of the smaller pieces of luggage, fumbling through a small pile of clothes to retrieve a small canvas sack, a symbolic, faded red cross peeling from the front. The rusty latches give way, revealing neatly wrapped paper boxes and a few metal tins. She pries a pair labeled “Pansements”, offering them over her shoulder to Helene. “These are - how do you call them in English? Dressings? They’ll keep the deeper cuts clean - after they’re washed, of course.”

Hélène takes them gratefully, giving a long look at the Frenchwoman before turning back. With a deep breath, she sets them carefully on the clean sheets next to Claire. Taking up the wet cloth again, she concentrates again on the newly bared wounds. As she finishes with the last of them, the panic in her veins slowly abates.

Miyoshi’s voice breaks the singer’s focus temporarily.

“Ms. Kohler. If it’s of no trouble, would you be so kind?” Miyoshi evenly says, his voice masterfully controlled. “Just my mouth,” he says, crafting a well-fashioned smirk despite himself.

In spite of the situation, she can’t help smiling at the line. “Of course Herr Kazetani, how remiss of me.” Her own voice is miraculously even, and somehow even manages to come off as warm. She turns to wet her own handkerchief in the sink, and looks at imploringly at Amelia to disinfect Claire now that he is free of blood.

After an odd glance towards the duo, Amelia pointedly focuses her attention towards Claire, exhaling a subtle, quiet sigh as she rips open another package.

“Typical Mouse, flirting even when he’s on the verge of death,” Claire mutters, briefly leaning to Amelia, “he would sell himself out to Nikolai if it made him blush.”

“It was worse earlier. They seemed about ready to ravish one another on the table.” Amelia replied in a low whisper, pinching together a nasty wound on the abdomen while she applies a bandage.

“At least you’ve got your eyes on the road,” Claire winces when the bandage touches raw flesh but covers it up with a laugh, “I’m hoping he’ll snap out of it once the--”

He catches himself before he continues.

“--once the shock wears off.”

Amelia pauses, seeming to listen, but continues regardless. She is silent for a few moments, before speaking as she reaches for the kit once more, “Once the shock wears off, then, perhaps it’d be worth mentioning how a Revenant took two rank A Saniwa by surprise.”

“We expected an assassin,” Claire replies tersely, “but not one after Miyoshi.”

On the other side of the car, the singer is yet again drawn into the Kazetani’s games. Hélène carefully takes his jaw in her hand, fingertips brushing lightly against his throat. Tilting his face towards the light, she leans closer, licking her lips in an odd mixture of nervousness, arousal, and concentration. She gently wipes at the corner of his mouth, moving down his chin to catch the dried blood crusted on his jawline. Satisfied that the last of the blood is gone, Hélène leans back again, giving his throat one last gentle caress before stepping away from the bed.

“Hmmm,” Miyoshi hums, seemingly satisfied with his treatment. Something in his voice indicates that he has more planned for her, though his intentions are masked. His eyes remain locked on hers, and his placid smile grows more devilish as he watches her expressions grow. He seems to have regained enough strength to catch her hand, audacity learned from his British compatriots, and pulls her in slightly.

His lips gently brush by her ear, and Helene feels his warm breath at her neck.

She gives a full body twitch, barely stopping a shudder from running through her body. She grinds her teeth lightly even as she blushes intensely, unable to stop herself from leaning into him.

“That was highly adequate Ms. Kohler. Thank you,” he says, playfully tugging at her wrist. The Spiritualist places a light peck at her pulse point, and releases her when he finishes. He retains a nonchalant mien, and she realizes with annoyance that she is helpless against his sensuality.

Too flustered to speak, she stands for a moment, sharing his body warmth. With a deep breath, she remembers where she is. Hastily steps back, she eyes him from under her eyelashes with a mixture of hunger and wariness. Her cheeks still bright red, and breathing still a little too fast, she asks him drily, “Feeling better already, I assume?”




Note: This has become a 4-way collaboration post with Eva, Bethelit, Alligot, and me (Miraclegem). On a side note-this post has the highest number of hexcodes in the history of TWoS (6)! Fittingly this is because it has the most collaborators of any post.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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“Feeling better already, I assume?” Hélène bristles, though Miyoshi hardly flinches. Hélène Köhler is still a woman after all, he thinks, amused. She is an aroused and angry woman, and an angry woman, as the Kazetani heir is well aware, is a victim to her own devices, and is a source of profit to a level-headed gentleman who keeps his cool.

“Much better,” Miyoshi assures. He speaks placidly than indignantly, knowing that he would thus provoke her further. Her well-known perfume assails his nostrils, and he wonders if she powders her skin with the same fragrance. With an insolent smile, he makes a note to find out eventually.

He looks at her, at her fierce gaze and steady hands, and suddenly an odd memory leaps to his mind: receiving Higekiri at the height of his boyhood. Like the katana and other historic trifles--Helene’s reactions are also his to appraise and elevate.

Wealthy men often commissioned sculptures and paintings of beautiful women, but Miyoshi finds that lush lips and graceful bones are best in the flesh. He could use them, weaponize them, and fashion them to suit his own needs--and the German woman is but a pearl on his string. His escort’s usefulness, however. . .

His eyes fall to Claire’s waistcoat, its muted greys now the same scarlet as his clansmen’s camellia. Noting Claire’s wounds mechanically--the Kazetani assumes that whatever could disappear in a few month’s time could hardly be counted as violence. He corrects his last impression rapidly, as Claire’s wound slightly re-opens, leaving the taller man bashfully aware of his own vulnerabilities.

Miyoshi thinks: we were completely overwhelmed.

What the two men must look like to their female companions. The Spiritualist frowns. His mind shapes itself around his reality.

Despite hiring a bodyguard, spending thousands of francs, and making effort to appease Imperial war machines, Miyoshi is never able to assign worth to his House endeavors. He tries picturing himself in uniform, with a Guntō at his hip, but the picture seems absurd. Through his military training, he carried thoughts like Holy Shield for the Emperor, deep honour, and prideful Kusunoki, though his heart feels no sharper for them. There are many hours when he’s bleeding through his throat again, and it suddenly occurs to him that his suicidal ambitions might be frightfully obscene. The current moment is no exception.

Wordlessly, Miyoshi gestures Claire to follow as he makes a start to leave.

“Thank you for the way you’ve looked after us,” Miyoshi politely says to Amelia and Hélène. “Please join me for breakfast, I’ll reserve us a private table. I’m sure we can discuss the…the events of tonight in the morning. Until then, goodbye, Ms. Renard.” and with a tilt of his head, “And of course, Ms.Kohler.”

Miyoshi leans in to whisper a good night, lingering a moment longer to ensure that his own Douro Cologne Eau de Portugal would be remembered. Underpinned with labdanum, his scent is rather intense--engulfing Helene’s light florals in musk and leather. He seizes the opportunity manfully, as exordium to more exciting pleasures for a later time.

Amelia clears her throat, throwing Miyoshi and Hélène both a pointed look. She motions towards the door with a slight nod.

He entertains the Frenchwoman’s signal, and stirs from his place.

Finally strong enough to support himself, the Japanese man stands staring at Hélène's door, which is adorned with a lurid, painted handle. He pulls it with minor force, satisfied at the return of his motor skills. With Claire at his side, they take their departure, closing the door behind them.

Once again, they return to the familiar boundaries of a hallway of shadows. Underneath their feet, the train shifts, shrugs, and pulls.

. . . .


Within the hallway, the memory of Drusilla remains. Miyoshi’s blood swarms where she touched him, though his body, tempered by Kazetani training, will soothe it in time. With a tired feeling in his shoulders and eyelids slipping heavily over his eyes--the Spiritualist recedes into himself. Fifteen paces to their room, fifteen back, Miyoshi thinks, noting the distance it would take to efficiently return to their room from the opposite end of the hall.

The two Saniwa move carefully towards their chambers, with the American ensuring that they are not being followed. For the rest of the journey, the only sound is of men walking with minimal echoes. Their travel is marked by the sporadic and muted lights passing and receding, and Claire’s dogged breathing.

Upon reaching their destination, the Japanese man grips the doorknob.

With a soft tug, their carriage door clicks open, and he flicks on the light.

Miyoshi pauses.

Inside, Kimura Asagi had been lying on his bed and looking at the ceiling, trying to guess when his master would return. At the sound of Miyoshi’s footsteps, the Artifact starts, and gazes back at his master with some fixed and patient concern.

“Master,” he breathes.

There is a pause, shorter than the first. “Kimura,” Miyoshi responds, giving him a curt nod, before striding over to a suitcase hidden behind the bed, producing a gramophone, and setting “Träumerei” into a quiet spin. Then, looking up from Schumann, he surveys his new environment.

It isn’t much, Kimura criticizes, and gestures vaguely to the room.

They weren’t much either, Miyoshi mentally shrugs, referring to their German hosts. But this place is adequate.

I hate it.

You musn’t be like that, Kimura. They are but ever dutiful pawns. The room says as much. Bugs?

None. No devices. They are rude, but not suspicious too much.

See? Adequate.

His own room is as ugly as Hélène’s, though slightly roomier, and as consequence was much in demand; as a trade-off there is an ill-lit ceiling and minimalist fixtures that make the Joffre appear archaic. It might have been beautiful before the war, but it is currently an atrocious mix of styles, upholstery, and ill-colored woods. A cheerless electric spotlight bathes their ceiling in an otherworldly glare. Claire doesn’t seem to mind his carriage as much. Miyoshi, like his Artifact, is too exhausted to complain.

He seems tired enough, calm but tired, and his Artifact moves quickly to assist his needs. Kimura Asagi, who had been in the room for longer than his Saniwa, appears to be familiar with where amenities are stored. A minor search reveals that the Germans had neither prepared them coffee nor tea. With some frustration, Kimura remedies this by producing a handsome tea kit and brewing his master creature comforts. After passing tea to Miyoshi, the Artifact moves to his bedside. He opens his notebook, and begins coding messages to Rosalind and Yuuki, much to his Saniwa’s approval.

With Schumann playing lightly in the background and china hooked between his fingers, Miyoshi turns to Claire, and seats himself on his bed. A tin of Huntley & Palmers lie in his lap. He eats the biscuits one after another, all the ones shaped like pretzels, then the checkered ones, and finally the fig-filled ones.

“Claire,” the Kazetani commands, after nibbling the last of his confections.

“Huh.”

“Let me guide you through treating the corruption.”

Miyoshi looks dispirited, and his voice lacks its usual theatrical edge. He gives a quick flick of his head, gesturing for Claire to kneel. The latter succumbs with some reluctance.

The bodyguard sighs, and reaches into his breast pocket to produce a bottle of oil and a cigarette box. Mumbling beneath his breath, he slots a cigarette between his lips, lights it, and prepares the holy water next. The Irishman rubs the oil on his wounds, and presses his hands together in an act of atonement.

Then, Miyoshi, quite sensibly, begins speaking to Claire as he would a Catholic priest, no doubt part of his worldly Spiritualist training.

“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” the Spiritualist recites, dabbing a spot of oil on his bodyguard’s forehead.

"You never answered me Mouse," Claire states, distracted and eying the man's abdomen, "how badly did she hurt you?"

“Pay attention,” the Spiritualist says crossly. “I am fine. My body can heal its own.” It isn’t the truth, but he doesn’t feel like explaining.

Perhaps Claire thought that he looked at Miyoshi casually enough, but evidently, his own features informed the Spiritualist otherwise. The latter’s own patience slipping, he stares at Claire for a long time, speaking only when guiding counsel. Through it all, he maintains an air of tranquil assumption, ignoring Claire’s furtive looks of concern. Seated, Claire appears rather childlike, hunched below the Spiritualist’s lithe frame. He looks up at his friend with his signature brand of innocent, frank curiosity that Miyoshi finds absolutely frustrating, but difficult to abhor. Frankly, the Spiritualist is simply uncomfortable with sincere, emotional openness, and seems wholeheartedly focused on ridding his subject of spiritual corruption. His own eyes are firmly planted over the anointed spot on Claire’s forehead.

“May the Lord who frees you from sin,” he circles the blessed oil on Claire’s hands, “save you and raise you up.”

The smell of myrrh and tobacco floods the Spiritualist's nostrils, and Claire looks up at him, a new unlit cigarette trembling at his fingertips.

“God our healer in this time of sickness you have come to bless with your grace. Restore him to health and strength, make him graceful and ready to embrace your will. Grant this through Christ our Lord.”

Miyoshi finishes with a final trace over the afflicted area, voice powerful but lacking the exaltation of a true follower.

“That should do it.” he says with a satisfied hum, nonchalantly reaching for his warm beverage.

“Aren’t you still bleeding?” Claire tries again, only to earn him a second frown.

“No harm done,” the Spiritualist says with some sharpness, his British accent growing more prominent with his irritation.

In the midst of Claire, certain common ideas often became inexpressible, only because Claire is wholly opposed to Miyoshi’s fatalistic philosophies, and therefore immune to his reasoning. Yet, Miyoshi has always known that Claire fears for him, much like his own Artifacts. Although the Kazetani heir carries a carefully manicured disposition, Claire senses instability in the shorter man. And some danger that naturally comes with the Kazetani lineage.

“She said,” Claire bravely starts, voice lowering. “Dru called you a ‘weak pillar.’ I never knew her to be a liar, but are you really gonna stay standing after this?”

“What do you mean.” Miyoshi testily says, taking more seriously the very real and persistent menace that is Claire’s unfailing dedication.

“How much longer can you be Kazetani heir if you’re still taking drugs, still doing all of these things that you keep secret,” Claire stands abruptly upright, “nobody outside of the House knew about this mission. Dru. Who is dead. Is after you. Someone raised her, someone powerful has it out for you.”

For a moment, the air around them tenses, though Miyoshi efficiently dispels the feeling.

“Goodness,” Miyoshi says, eyes closing with some relief and a carefully placed chuckle. “Is this what it’s about? Be a dear Claire. Many people have it out for me. You of all people should know.”

“You’re avoiding the answer Mouse,” Claire retorts, “it’s not Joe Schmoe trying to kill the great Miyoshi Kazetani. This is someone who specifically knew you were here and I want answers. Either it’s someone in the House trying to off you or we’re facing an even greater threat. Why kill you and not me huh? Or Rosalind?”

His own calm is wearing thin, and Miyoshi finds himself becoming increasingly more pointed and unpleasant. Though he’d once made his own subtle but unmistakable passes at Claire’s naivete--the Irishman had been the only one to snare him this evening, and the Spiritualist knows that gratuitous cruelty would make for a magnanimous escape. He changes his strategy, and meets Claire’s eyes in the same way that a schoolteacher would placate a small child.

“Bully for that. Perhaps it is my own father? With this kind of thing, you can never tell, you know.” Miyoshi says. It is a baroque suggestion, but there is nothing objectionable about it. It is on this occasion, he is sure, that the elder Kazetani's "well connectedness" could effectively be used against him. A known rebel--Miyoshi, despite his heritage, is not above being assassinated by his own father.

His words strike a chord.

The air stretches tight, and Claire's jaw trembles. At the sight of Claire's response, Miyoshi fights to keep his aristocratic face from gleaming with pleasure. The Irishman stops again, unable to form words. The latter's eyes continue looking for other places in the room to steady himself on (including Kimura Asagi who proves to be no help) before he finally settles on the floor.

“Maybe your father has his reasons,” he finally replies, turning toward his bed.

“So you agree then,” Miyoshi slowly says, his face carefully impassive. He does not make himself an easy opponent.

“I almost died for you, Mouse,” he says, whirling around, bewildered at how little effect any of his previous words had on his friend. His body goes numb, however, at the sight of the Spiritualist’s lack of expression. The latter’s lips are sealed in a thin line, his posture uncharacteristically rigid. Miyoshi isn’t the type to yell or shout when angered; instead, he chills.

When Miyoshi finally speaks, his words cut like Higekiri, with absolute ruthlessness and precision.

“You almost died for Luck Gandor as well--more often too.” he coolly says. “You don’t owe me anything. As I am no true agent of my father, you are not beholden to my life. You can leave me dead if you wish.”

He sets down his tea with a loud clink before rising altogether, gathering friction at his heels.

“Good night. I am so sorry to have disturbed you.” he manages, his voice poisonous but tightly controlled. He does not sound sorry, but both men know that Miyoshi Kazetani’s apologies, truthful or not, are hard-earned. Regardless, the espionage agent makes no attempt to hide his hostility towards the Irishman, and retires to his side of the room without so much of another word. With deft movements of his fingers, Schumann is silenced, the song fades, and the room is grotesque once more. Miyoshi sheds his immaculate suit. His expression is completely closed off.

Fighting Claire was a decision he strategically made. The argument would make for a more obedient bodyguard later, Miyoshi thinks. He will feel guilty, and he will press less.

With some assistance from Kimura Asagi, he slips into an expensive jinbei. The Artifact acts as if he hadn’t witnessed his master’s tirade, but casts Claire a curt, arctic glance. He knows the truth, however. Intellectually, at least, Kimura understands the purpose behind the battle. There were greater issues to address, namely, the drugs. . .

His eyes travel to Miyoshi's clavicle.

. . .and wounds. The Artifact is careful to avoids touching his master’s skin, but briefly acknowledges where Drusilla had made her mark. The area is a light blue now, fading in thanks to Miyoshi’s spiritual prowess.

Catching his Artifact’s lingering gaze, Miyoshi pulls his jinbei’s collar firmly closed. There is a tightness to the gesture that Kimura recognizes as anger and perhaps annoyance.

“Ah, master, I’m sorry--” Kimura starts, but stops when his Saniwa offers him a haunting, placid smile.

“Goodnight, Kimura,” Miyoshi says with some finality. His eyes are empty. He does not hold his smile for long.

“Good...Goodnight,” the Artifact responds, shaken, his words barely audible.

There is some loneliness in his Saniwa’s gaze that Kimura doesn’t dare dwell on. In some atavistic part of his brain, he knows how his master must feel. An old anxiety swirls in his mind again, and he finds himself at an ancient loss.

Reclining on his bed, he listens to the rise and fall of Miyoshi’s breathing, to the beating of his own heart, and to the silence that reinstalls itself after all life ceases to exist.

. . . .


Miyoshi knows that Kimura Asagi isn’t asleep, and is listening to him. It’s been this way since as long as he can remember. Kimura watching. Waiting. Listening. But it doesn’t matter what Kimura hears. In the morning, he would reprimand his Artifact for a larger grievance, nevermind his own "spat" with Claire.

They were being watched today, or rather, listened to, Miyoshi is certain. There was a man seated behind Hélène, speaking to no one in particular. Although the man had been facing away from them, his body language gave him away. He was gone before the train pulled from the station. Neither Claire nor Kimura seemed to have noticed. Miyoshi curses Kimura Asagi’s loss of focus. In the Artifact’s concern for his Saniwa, he kept track of less. No. This wasn’t Kimura’s fault. It was his own.

Who was the man? Judging by how spooked Hélène looked--something had occurred while he was absent. Did the man return? Had the women seen him? Would Hélène speak? Would Amelia let her? Would he ask Amelia?

No.

The question is--would Amelia trust in him?

He thinks of the knifelike Frenchwoman. Unreadable eyes. A manicured appearance. In his brief moments of meeting her, he recognizes similarities between her psychology and his own. She wouldn’t easily give if it meant that she had nothing to take. The thought that Amelia might try to dominate his authority on the mission would normally have angered him, but he recognizes her manner and ability as helpful to his goals. Truthfully, he is glad she isn’t as transparent as Hélène, lest he’d have to seduce her too to test her predictability. Intellectually, he does not think her beneath him.

No matter. He would work around her. On his own, be it through violating Richter, Neumann, Hélène--or all three of them--he’d get to the bottom of their spy. Whether he and Drusilla are related, he would find out.

There are only three answers, and depending on the course of his interrogations, one would surface to be the truth. It wouldn’t matter for long regardless. The mission ends in Vienna.

From the folds of his jinbei, he palms a small omamori, and sleeps with it close to his skin. Its very smell is like that of a corpse, a tomb, the heavy inertia of soul. Always, he carries it beside him; it is hidden, but ever-present. Unlike most omamori, it promises death.

Gammond would die tomorrow, and Miyoshi is glad.



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A/N: I was fed some lines by Eva for Claire; she allowed me full control over his character for this scene as well. Therefore, this doesn't count as a collaboration post. Additionally, Alligot also fed me a line for an interaction with Amelia.