Part One: Chapter One: De Die Nocteque


Stainless steel. Nine inches of polished, unblemished stainless steel attached to a smooth round handle made of bird's eye maple, the blade shaped triangular, hollow grinds on each side. All in all, the weapon is 14 inches long. From afar, it looks like a rather large-sized ice pick if one is not familiar with the more odd weapons that exist on God's world.

Yes, steel is pretty. And if God had not wanted men to kill men with steel, He would not haven given man the secret of how to bend and shape the metal until it reflects the sunlight and parts skin with a ghostly whisper.

Steel is the key to the body.

Carnage is beautiful. One has to acquire a certain kind of taste for the intricate curls of the intestines, or the slippery quality of organs fresh from the cavity of the stomach. There is elegance in the smooth white bones of the ribcage, once the flesh has been scraped away. An eyeball can look like a marble; if not round, so it does roll on the palm of one's hand. Blood, clotting or streaming freshly from a wound, is the very definition of 'red'; so full with the secrets of life, it is no wonder vampires were supposed to thrive on the coppery taste of it.

In death, there is intimacy. One takes another person's life and plays with it, shaping and bending it at will, ending it when bored or finished with yet another masterpiece of destruction. A body can open under one's hands like a flower opens to rain. A voice will utter sounds of one's own creation.

But in the end, all that matters is the final moment, the kill. The breathtaking moment when life fades out of a person, the shudders of a body that does not understand yet its time has come to an end.

14 inches of stainless steel whisper briefly before they are tucked away into the dark folds of a vest.

His hands keep a desperately shaking head in place, thumbs placed gently on eyelids, holding them open, to prevent the other from robbing him of that sweetest of moments - when death comes, he wants to be there with it, see it, taste it. Morbidly fascinated by that force of forces, he wants to see it happen every time, although he has seen it so many times before.

He wants to hear God scream in agony as another lamb is brought to the slaughterhouse. Another Judas hung from the Gallows.

Of course, the time one can spend with a body is brief - wont to produce poisonous gases, wont to swell and burst with all the secret chemistry housed in the veins and the alleyways cradled by bones, a corpse is fickle. It will try to betray those who seek to cradle it, for once dead, it will rise again to develop another life; brief in time, this other life was a masquerade of bursting flesh and smacking sounds. It is not surprising how, in the less civilized regions of Europe, the legend of the vampire was born from the dead who moved and smacked their lips even in their graves; how their hair kept growing, their fingernails lengthening; how their skin seemed more healthy dead than it had ever been when the dead had still been alive.

Every doctor of today, every still so insane artist of chemistry could destroy that legend with a few formulas and equations.

But it is far more intriguing to be kept unaware of the truth, and believe in the legend.

"What's on your mind, my dove, my coney...?"

And the best thing is to share all of the above with another person.

He turns the man's still feebly moving head to face the person who stands bent over them both and looks over his shoulder. A moment later, he feels the warmth of another body settle on the man's legs behind him; arms come around his waist to link and lock fingers over his stomach, a chin settles in the crook of his left shoulder. He can feel the tremor run through the chest pressed against his back and smiles; knowing the one behind him is smiling, too.

"Now," comes the whisper, close to his ear, "Do it now."

He does not need to be told twice, and presses his thumps forward into the yielding mass of his victim's eyeballs.

Death is not instantaneous.

Outside the office building, a tall, black-haired man folds his arms over his chest and waits. He is looking up the dark façade of the building and asks himself when Schuldig and Farfarello will be done; unfortunately, his gift of prophecy is not accurate enough to predict the exact hour and minute of death for the man the two killers have dragged into a small office. Crawford can feel the guard's fear in his mouth like a stale drink and asks himself how anyone can enjoy this to the extent Schuldig and Farfarello do.

In the black car that stands at the curb behind him, Nagi Naoe looks up from his laptop and sighs. They have been here for too long already. The job has been done, he wants to go home and sleep, and not wait for an Irish psychopath and a German telepath to finish theirs. Both men are his friends - if not even more, if not even his family - but sometimes, what they do just scares him. There is enough darkness in both their minds to last for a thousand nights, and what little light shines in there is always coloured red or violet. He cannot remember how many times one, or both of them, came home streaked with blood and other matter.

But then, they, and Crawford, are the only family he has, and he knows he will always forgive them.

He looks up at the sound of footsteps approaching the car and watches Crawford open the driver's door and slip inside. The tall American is, if not nervous, then tense - Nagi has never seen Brad Crawford nervous. There is a certain tension in the line of his shoulders as he sits down in the car and closes the door, long, tapered fingers inserting the key into the ignition and starting the engine. Nagi looks to the left again to see the entrance door of the office building swing open, allowing two nightmares to step into the cool arms of the late Tokyo night.

In the cheesy light of the streetlamps, Schuldig and Farfarello look like ghosts. They like to dress in black because blood spots are easier overlooked on black cloth; stylish, snug-fitting pants, dress shirts and jackets for Schuldig, soft leather and cold silver for Farfarello. Their boots make no sound, compared to Crawford's shoes, as they cross the sidewalk and slip into the backseat of the Mercedes Benz. All at once, Nagi can smell the heavy, clotting fragrance of freshly spilled blood filling the interior of the car; he takes a deep breath, almost tasting the blood on his tongue, and rolls his window down a little. If some crazy designer were to fashion a perfume that smelled of blood, Farfarello and Schuldig would be the first to buy it. Their world is morbid and dark, and sensuous. Nagi will freely admit he is as much fascinated as he is scared by it. The art of death has its own magic to capture the innocent, one way or other.

Crawford rolls his window down too as the familiar sound of Schuldig lighting a cigarette comes from behind him, and pulls out into the deserted street. They have a long way to go from the office building to their home, and for some reason, he wants to be home now.

"This city is a shithole."

Crawford looks over his shoulder and finds, to his annoyance, that Schuldig has propped his feet up on the upholstery again. Farfarello is curled up on the backseat like a foetus in the womb, his head resting on Schuldig's thigh. A thin needle sticks out of the Irishman's mouth, it moves as he chews on it, saliva painting the man's lips a pale pinkish hue. Schuldig also rolls his window down and flips ash out, smiling at Crawford as he takes the next drag. "Wouldn't you say so, too?"

Crawford turns back around and concentrates on driving, forgetting about the upholstery and the smell of smoke for now. He will rather deal with those than with an edgy Schuldig and a ranting Farfarello.

Nighttime Tokyo. Through her dark glassy eyes speaks the residue of the day's hustle, her stones and metals cooling slowly under the patient face of the moon. It has been uncharacteristically hot for over a week now, and people are beginning to die in the death throes of summer; during the day, a languid tiredness is wont to befall the elderly, while the young drive their parents mad with requests for ice cream. Of course - the young ones die too.

On their way from Shinjuku West back to Akashicho, they drive through an amazing array of streets. Schuldig once joked that Tokyo's traffic alone is enough to make any half-intelligent assassin do their work at night; Crawford, behind the tight shields he usually keeps around his mind, thought the German did have a point there. In Tokyo, one is lucky to find a street sign, if there is one at all, hidden beneath the eye-mangling number of advertisement boards and posters plastered all over the city.

Tokyo also is a maze. Her inhabitants are the rats, running through the labyrinth with little chance of ever finding what they have come to find. Here, no troll will meet them at the city's many gates, no one will lead them; if they meet a troll, then it is always a man, and in rare cases a woman, equipped with guns and knives and a desperate or plainly sick mind.

Crawford lets his gaze travel over the multicolored light boards and the dark glass eyes of the buildings, thinking, not for the first time, how much Tokyo also resembles a woman past her best years. Gaudily painted, still, but not beautiful anymore. If one looks deeply enough, the crow's feet around her eyes are the cracks in the older buildings; dimpled cheeks, used to laughing, hanging now with age, are Tokyo's districts. A certain kind of decaying beauty, he figures, that still attracted many, and if it was only to gaze at her and imagine how it must have been a long time ago.

In the backseat, Schuldig finishes his cigarette and looks down at his silent companion. He can only see Farfarello's profile and the glint of the needle as it catches the light of the passing streetlamps and places blue and green shadows in the Irishman's silvery hair. Farfarello's seeing eye is half-closed as he chews on the metal, and a brief sweep over his mind confirms that he is still hanging in the aftershocks of pleasure they both derived from the unfortunate guard's death.

Entering Farfarello's mind has become easier ever since they became lovers. It gives Schuldig a warm pulling sensation in his loins when he thinks about that one night so many nights ago when Farfarello, out of who knows what, pressed his lips to Schuldig's and pushed the blood of a dying office worker into the German's mouth; perhaps to share, or perhaps because he wanted someone to understand him. Schuldig does not care, not really. He has spent enough hours in the murky pool that is Farfarello's mind to know that sometimes, some reasons are best left covered.

Farfarello calls him "my pain" when he feels the need to be affectionate, which is rarely. It makes Schuldig happy, almost, because nicknames are slightly embarrassing to be shared in public; more so, he finds it odd that a man who cannot feel physical pain refers to something he cares for by the name of something he lacks.

Schuldig threads his fingers through Farfarello's short hair and leans down as much as he can, sliding his hand from the side of Farfarello's head to his mouth to pull the needle from between scarred lips. He transfers it to his other hand and cups Farfarello's chin to lift it for a kiss, licking the mixture of saliva and blood from the soft skin before he buries his teeth in it.

Still hungry? He asks into Farfarello's mind, as always taking a deeper breath through his nose as the first vertigo of entering the feathery darkness of Farfarello's mind passes. Farfarello's mouth feels like velvet. His tongue is hot, slippery, and agile like a baby eel; Schuldig twines his own about it, feeling the sharp edges of the Irishman's teeth gently dig into his tongue as the other responds to the kiss.


In the front of the Mercedes, Crawford's hands tighten on the steering wheel.

There are some things he does not want to see. But he knows that this is one of the choices he cannot make.

They pass through Yotsuya and Ichibancho; past shuttered shop windows and deserted places lined with benches. Of course, even at night, Central Tokyo is not totally deserted - there is a steady stream of tourists and natives moving back and forth between Ropongi and Ginza, where clubs and all-day restaurants cater to the needs of the nocturnal crowds. In the "Almond" - called Amando by the Japanese - the music is loud enough to be heard for a quarter mile. West of the Almond, the Wave attracts an equal amount of people.

Crawford has chosen Schwarz's home far away from all the lights and the seductive voices of the night. They share a spacious apartment in Tsukuda, a district of Tokyo divided from the actual city itself by the waters of the Sumida River and the Asashio Canal. At night, all one can listen to here are the faraway sounds of the ships in the Tokyo Bay and, if close enough to the waterfront, the gentle, lulling song of the waters that surround Tsukuda and its other three neighbouring districts, Tsukishima, Kachidoki, and Toyomicho.

"Home, sweet home." Nagi exits the car as soon as Crawford brings the black Mercedes Benz to a halt in the designated spot of the underground garage. He crinkles his nose at the smell of exhaust fumes that hang heavily in the air; it is bad enough that he has had to smell the constant fragrance of blood that surrounds Schuldig and Farfarello, but mostly Farfarello. The Irishman looks blandly at him as he stands next to the car, seemingly calm and placid now, but Nagi knows the monster that lurks behind the chiseled features and that one amber eye.

Farfarello's lips are slightly swollen and moist.

The first time Nagi saw Farfarello had been at the Tokyo Airport. He had been chained, his hands in handcuffs behind his back, his feet and knees restricted by leather straps. A length of chain had run from a collar around the Irishman's throat down to the strap around his ankles; it had kept him in a sitting position during the long flight from Canada to Japan. Any pity Nagi might have had for Farfarello upon seeing him like this had evaporated when he had witnessed the man kill for the first time, and then quickly evolved into a slightly uneasy feeling when he learned that Crawford had no intention to chain him up in their apartment. It had merely been a safety measure for the flight, nothing else. True enough, Farfarello had also been sedated and guarded by four Eszet guards with stun guns.

So far, the Irishman has not shown any inclination towards murdering his own teammates. Well, at least one of them, and this one does not really count. But every time that one eye coloured in the intriguing shades of amber, yellow, and molten gold, is trained on him, Nagi wishes he had never had the doubtable pleasure of meeting Farfarello.

"We're on a tight schedule tomorrow," Crawford says as he locks the car and turns the car alarm on. He leads his small procession of killers to a door at the far end of the underground garage and unlocks it with a key card, as always counting the bolts that snap back within the door: one, two, three, four. "We will accompany Mister Takatori to a meeting with his son, the CEO of Kourin Research."

"Ah...the DNA twister," Schuldig says. They step into a small elevator after Crawford locks the door again.

"Masafumi Takatori has made some progress lately," Crawford watches the numbers on the electronic floor panel change. One, two, three, four. Four locks, four storeys. Four is the number of death, and four is the number of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Four is the number of Schwarz.

The irony in this is so lame that it almost makes him laugh.

"Oh, he certainly has."

There it is again, that teasing undertone in Schuldig's voice. Crawford glances at Nagi, but the Japanese youth seems far away, most likely still half-asleep.

"Mangling the human body to create these monsters of his that have been prowling the streets lately," Schuldig continues, "I do wonder - who is more stupid, Masafumi, or his father, who subsidises this idiocy?"

"Eszet Headquarters wants us to keep a closer eye on this project," Crawford replies; a statement for a question, never giving an answer, sometimes this way is the best. "If Masafumi actually manages to decode that last DNA strain, the Elders want to know about it."


"The man plays God," Farfarello speaks up, his voice low and even. "And like God, so his superiority will be his downfall one day."

Crawford knows better than to answer to this. Farfarello's obsession with the Christian God is, at times, wearying, but he has learned to navigate those waters by avoiding them and leaves them to Schuldig and his seemingly never-ending patience with the Irishman.

"Is Masafumi still guarded by those women?" Nagi leans against the wall of the elevator and waits for the others to leave before he exits the small cabin himself; for some reason, okay, for a whole fucking lot of reasons, he tries to never turn his back to Farfarello. He does in the car because separating the Irishman from his German counterpart is impossible.

"Schreient. Yes." Crawford disables the elevator's power system, thereby locking the only ordinary way into their apartment, and walks down the short hallway that leads to their living room. "They will be present tomorrow. Schuldig."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll check them."

"Seven o'clock, gentlemen." Crawford walks through the door into the living room; he has said his good night wishes.

"Seven o'clock, gentlemen," Schuldig snorts as soon as the door to his and Farfarello's large room closes. He shrugs out of his jacket and shirt, throwing them over a chair. "Crawford needs to be fucked good and hard."

"I doubt it would do him any good."

The German turns and watches Farfarello slip out of black leather garments that make no sound as they whisper over ivory flesh. Even despite the poor illumination given by the streetlights outside their window, he can count the scars that mar - perfect, he corrects himself - skin he thought would be rough the first time he saw Farfarello. It is unsettling to see how, even in darkness, his single eye shines golden. The other one, covered with a leather eye patch, looks like a hole carved into the left side of Farfarello's face. Schuldig remembers the day this black hole had been raw and red as if it has been yesterday. Back then, nearly seven years ago, it had shocked him to learn that the Irishman had done it himself - carved his eye out with his own fingers.

Between then and now, a lot has transpired. Now, Schuldig appreciates the scars left by stitches, tiny zigzags of slightly welted flesh that run across the closed eyelid of Farfarello's left eye. The miniscule metal clamps, fitted through the upper and the lower lid to prevent them from opening, taste of tears.

"Crawford..." Farfarello rolls the name over his tongue as though he tastes an exquisite delicacy. "So uptight. So desperately in need to control everything around him..."

"So perfectly bound to fail..."

Farfarello raises his arms over his head and stretches, watching with mild, then growing interest as Schuldig crosses the room and wraps his arms around him. In the Irishman's limited world of darkness, death, and God, the German has carved himself a niche he does not seem willing to give up again; Farfarello thinks he would kill Schuldig should the other ever try to leave. He has grown attached to him as much as he is attached to his hatred for God and his need to kill. A light groan works its way up his chest as a cloth-covered groin presses against his stirring cock, demanding attention; Farfarello wraps his arms around Schuldig's neck and kisses him deeply, hungrily.

Crawford won't know what's hit him. Schuldig's voice whispers into Farfarello's quickly lust-ridden mind as he leads his Irishman to their bed. He'll fall so deep and hard the ground will be all he knows... On the bed, Farfarello slips into his lover's body and fucks him until Schuldig is reduced to keening moans and broken whispers.

In the living room, the newscaster reports an office building in the west of the city on flames. Crawford, a glass of expensive French wine on the low coffee table in front of him, sits on the couch with his hands folded in his lap. His eyes are focused past the flames flickering into the still dark night sky on the television screen as he feels his cock harden in his pants and grits his teeth, trying to hold on to the vision of two pale bodies on a bed three doors down the hallway, their limbs entwined in the throes of pleasure.

He sits on the couch until the first pale pink fingers of dawn reach into the blue darkness of the night.

"They didn't only spell it wrong, they also picked a name that fits them rather well."

The quiet observation gains Schuldig a chuckle from Farfarello and an icy glare from Crawford. They are standing in the back of an office at Kourin Enterprises, windows to their left. The shades have been drawn on those windows, casting the office into a warm brown light.

"I mean, look at them, they - "

"Schuldig, shut up." Crawford speaks through his teeth, keeping his eyes on the back of their client, Reiji Takatori, who is currently doing a far better job at screaming than the four women who have come into the office with Masafumi Takatori.

"Useless! Five years of research, and these monsters are all you have to show me for the money I paid you and Kourin?" Takatori senior, a tall, heavy man who smells of cigars and sweat, brings his fist down on the desk in front of him. "I expect more than that, do you understand? You are my son. I will not tolerate failure."

The man spoken to visibly flinches at the harsh words from his father. Masafumi Takatori, in his early thirties, has sweat beading on his brow and upper lip; to Crawford, it looks as though he has chosen the seat at the desk to bring some distance between himself and his father. Reiji Takatori in a rage is like a bull seeing red and frothing at the mouth - and much, much more dangerous.

"Father, here, let me show you the results of our latest project, you will find them very interesting..." Shaking hands shuffle a pile of paper on the desk and produce a sheet filled with numbers. Crawford doubts it will interest Reiji Takatori. The language spoken by this man consists to two sentences: 'Do as I say', and 'I don't care how you do it, but I want it to be successful.'

He does not have to rely on his Gift to know how Reiji Takatori will react.

"I don't want to see numbers on a sheet of paper, I want to see results!"

"But father..."

He tunes them both out as Takatori senior starts another tirade of lectures on his son.

Four hours. At times, Crawford thinks that is all they are doing: counting the hours that pass by while they are biding their time. Four hours of having to listen to Reiji Takatori scream and snarl at his cheese-faced son have left the Oracle wanting to punch a hole into someone - preferably Schuldig, for the man simply cannot manage to keep his mouth shut for more than ten minutes in a row. At least Farfarello has remained relatively calm so far.

He glances at Nagi. The youth stands quietly by his side, regarding Schreient and Masafumi Takatori with the air of one who studies a bug under a microscope. His gaze, Crawford notes, hangs on the youngest member of Schreient, a girl really, clad in the sickeningly cute outfit of a ruffled, white blouse and a layered blue skirt. She is around Nagi's age, but she seems so much younger; there is a wide-eyed innocence around her, something found only in small children these days.

She is holding a stuffed rabbit.

Crawford sighs. Sometimes he wonders where all those creatures come from. Red flames, no, a house on flames, and blue hair crawling over a floor strewn with debris and chunks of plaster...

The vision comes and goes while Crawford takes a breath. He adjusts his glasses, rakes a hand through his hair. Blue. Mixed with red.

Her name is Tot. Her round, childlike face is surrounded by waves of azure hair, a part of it held up on top of her head in two neat buns. She looks at Masafumi Takatori like a child looks at her father: admiration, love, and warmth in large blue eyes. He wonders if Masafumi sometimes takes advantage of all that innocence, wonders if he sees more in her than just a girl in a ruffled blouse and layered skirt, holding a stuffed rabbit.

Wonders, and decides he does not want to know. Wonders how he would feel surrounded by four women instead of three men.

It takes all his willpower to not turn around and strike Schuldig. He hears the German's nasal laughter echo through his mind before his shields slide back into place; sloppy, Crawford, sloppy. The first thing he learned about telepaths was to never let his shields down around one.

Behind him, Farfarello says something in Gaelic. Although Crawford does not speak the lilting language, he can tell by the sound of the words alone that it has been something derogative. Now if only he could tell if it has been about him, or about Schreient.

"Boring, boring, boring." Schuldig lights yet another cigarette and stares up at the cloudless sky as if that alone were enough to bring some rain down from it, but of course, rain does not come; Schuldig can control the mind of any being less strong than himself, but the weather is out of his league. "I don't know what's so great about these women. I wouldn't trust them to bring the trash out."

The Kourin Research Centre is a former school building in Shinjuku West. The children of British ambassadors who learned here are long since gone and left a building behind that looks as if someone has carved a part of old England out and placed it amid the glass and metal skyscrapers of Tokyo's business centre. A bell tower shaped much like Big Ben, London's symbol of old, dominates its front; but the children have left these illustrious hallways when Takatori Enterprises bought the school for a price the British embassy could never afford.

If there are children here now, then they are poor souls who will not be missed.

Farfarello stands in the shade of an oak tree in the centre of what once was the schoolyard. Walled in from all four sides, he has to stand in the exact middle of the now deserted square where once laughter rang. He looks at the smoke from Schuldig's cigarette; within these walls, the air stands still as if frozen.

"They're basket cases, all of them!" Schuldig shakes his head, lifting his heavy hair off of the back of his neck with his free hand for a moment, and slips into the shadows under the oak tree to stand close to his Irishman. Under the green canopy, the air seems thicker than under the open sky, but at least the sun is filtered through the leaves."The only even remotely interesting one is that glacier with the dark sunglasses."

"Neu," Farfarello says tonelessly.

"Yeah. Her mind is nearly as interesting as yours." With a smirk, Schuldig pulls Farfarello's head around with one hand and presses a soft kiss to his lips. "She and her...sisterhood should provide us with a few hours of entertainment."

Crawford has given them a break while he and Takatori go over the schedule for the next few days. Instead of going back to the car with Nagi, Schuldig and Farfarello have chosen to spend their precious time in the old schoolyard; the meeting with Reiji Takatori's son Masafumi has proven highly uninteresting at best. The four women who came into the office with Masafumi have, no doubt, been as bored as Schuldig is now. He muses on their names and asks himself how anyone could think to name him or herself Schön, Hell, Tot, and Neu. Beautiful, bright, dead, and new.

But then again, he has named himself Schuldig, so maybe it isn't so far off.

One of Farfarello's hands tightens on Schuldig's hips; as the German turns around, one of the women of Schreient is making her way across the schoolyard. It is the glacier with the sunglasses. She does not stop as the passes the two men, does not even turn her head their way, quickly crossing the square she ducks into a stone archway and disappears through an unmarked door.

Farfarello is already moving as Schuldig grabs his hand to pull him after Neu. Like shadows in broad daylight, they slip through the same door and find themselves in a barely lit hallway that ends in uncertain darkness; they both can hear the electric hum of generators as they walk along cold, old stonewalls. There are footsteps in front of them; but it has already been ascertained that neither man makes a sound if he doesn't want to, so their passage goes unnoticed.

In front of them, Neu can't help feeling followed, but each time she tries to concentrate on the feeling, it seems as though her mind is given a push and diverted from the topic. It also seems wrong to leave the heavy steel door at the foot of a stairway open, but again, something convinces her to do it; down another flight of stairs, and here it is, the heart of Kourin Research.

"Most impressive," Schuldig remarks.

They are standing on an overhead walkway and watch Neu descend that last set of stairs. Beneath them is a vast hall lit by the green and red glow of breeding tubes; for that is what they are, these cylindrical glass shapes arranged in straight rows of ten: a garden of monsters. Schuldig leans onto the railing of the walkway and tucks his hair behind his ears as he lets his eyes travel along the tubes, eyebrows slowly raising at the contorted, misshaped forms that drift in green or red liquid. He watches Neu disappear through a door at the far end of the hall, but the silent woman is of no great interest to him now.

"Come on, I want to take a closer look."

Next to him, Farfarello is almost giddy. An artificial Garden of Eden. A playground for little gods.

They walk down the stairs and along the rows of breeding tubes, studying the many forms of horror that float within. Some are as small as a newly received child, no more than a tiny glob of flesh. Others are twice a grown man's size, with deformed spines and sightless eyes; there is one, roughly as large as a ten-year-old child, with a face that seems to consist only of a mouth full with sharp teeth. Schuldig walks around the breeding tube. He reaches out towards the child-sized creature, strokes its brain with soft words and gentleness, and discovers that all that is left within its mind is a primal urge to kill. As he taps his fingertips against the thick glass pain that defines the creature's world, it rears its head like a mole sniffing a worm, grotesque limbs moving. Schuldig counts three fingers on each hand, studies the protrusions along its vertebrae, and digs deeper within the creature's limited mind, finally happening upon something that might pass as a human's memory: glass marbles rolling over a table top flecked with dots of sunlight.

"How limited..." He heaves a little sigh and steps away from the breeding tube. Farfarello, oddly fascinated by the creature's erratic movement, steps closer to the glass. "The perfect monster creates a cheap replica. I wonder if Takatori knows about this underground breeding womb."

"I wonder if its blood is red." The Irishman steps even closer to the glass, ignoring Schuldig's sound of warning. He splays his fingers against the glass and breathes against it; the creature inside, as if sensing him, moves its knotted legs and opens its mouth, giving Farfarello a perfect view into a seemingly endless throat coloured yellow in the green liquid. He wonders what lies at the bottom of that throat.

The sound of a door opening interrupts their sightseeing. Schuldig moves over to his Irishman and cloaks them, spreading the idea of them not being here in the minds he can feel approaching.

Hell is a tall woman in her late twenties, dressed in pants and a shirt that more hides than shows her curves. As she leads her little group of two down the stairs into their laboratory, she feels as if something is amiss, but the thought vanishes before she can get a hold of it. Tot, walking close behind her, is chattering endlessly, damning Reiji Takatori to hell and back.

Yes, the lowest pit of hell seems like a nice place for the old man to be. She does not understand how Masafumi still holds love for his father. It seems, at times, as if all they - Masafumi and Schreient - work for is to place a fatherly smile on Reiji Takatori's face.

In the four years she has been with Masafumi and subsequently, with Reiji Takatori, she has never seen something even close to that on the old man's face.

"The specimens are developing nicely," Schön, angelically beautiful in her flowing dress and flowing golden hair, moves over to the next breeding tube and caresses it with her fingers. There is pride on her perfectly angled face as she looks at the abomination within the cylinder. "A few more days, and we can start testing them."

Hell nods and pats Tot's shoulder as she moves past her, walking along the rows to find nothing amiss among their creations. It is unfortunate that a few days ago, one of their specimens escaped from a holding cell in another, less secure part of the lab and now prowls the streets, but such prices have to be pair for the greater good.

As always, her eyes are drawn to her personal pet project. She stops before the breeding tube and smiles; this one was barely nine years old when she captured it and brought it here for perfection. She is not entirely sure why it is easier to decode the DNA of a child's developing body - perhaps because the cells are growing still, and have not yet settled into the routine of dying.

Something brushes past her. Hell gasps and turns, but there is no one, and from the other end of the row, Schön and Tot are giving her startled glances. For a moment, her heart beats wildly - then she shrugs.

"Must've been a breeze."

"You don't see us."

Schuldig stands close enough to the woman to smell her perfume, something flowery, light, female. He stands close enough to her for his breath to disturb the hair by her ear as he whispers the command into it and drags Farfarello past her by the hand. For now, he has seen and heard enough; he doesn't know yet what to do with the information, but he knows he can do something with it, and that is all that matters.

Farfarello lightly drags a finger across the blue-haired girl's throat as they pass her, grinning as she shivers and holds her stuffed rabbit closer to her chest. As they exit the underground lab into the hallway that leads to it, he stops Schuldig and drags him closer, just holding him for a moment.

"I want to have some fun with them," Schuldig whispers into his Irishman's neck, sliding the tip of his tongue into the hollow at the base of Farfarello's throat. He can feel an insistent nagging in the part of his mind that is constantly connected to Crawford; their leader is calling them, actually risking to lower his shields to gain Schuldig's attention. And Schuldig enjoys ignoring him as much as he enjoys breaking down Crawford's shields. The first thing he learned at Eszet Headquarters was how to manoeuvre around or right through even the strongest mental shielding. How to do that without being noticed was something he taught himself over the years.

There is nothing he does not know about Brad Crawford. The choice to leave the Oracle of Schwarz safe in the knowledge of being able to keep himself closed off to the German telepath is something Schuldig has granted Crawford out of the simple fact that it will provide him with more entertainment.

Boredom is Schuldig's bane.

"I hope you enjoyed yourself." Crawford's voice is pure acid. He leans against the hood of the Mercedes, his arms crossed over his chest; sweat rolling down his temples and slowly drying in the expensive material of his tailored suit.

"You wanted me to check them out, so I checked them out." Schuldig grins at his leader as he approaches the car, his Irishman in tow. "They're a bunch of basket cases."

"Something you should be familiar with," Crawford states, throwing a glare at Farfarello, who is once again chewing on a needle. He does not know what satisfies him more - the Irishman's stare, or Schuldig's slipping grin; it is a fact that the German is oddly protective of his insane lover. Happy to have gotten at least one punch in, Crawford pushes away from the car and walks around to the driver's side. "Get in. You can report during the ride."

"Where are we going?" Schuldig opens the car door and lets his Irishman climb inside first. He is glad to be out of the merciless heat and inside the air-conditioned car, and the idea of having to spend more time someplace else than his and Farfarello's air-conditioned room does not sit well with him.

"Time to pick up the Tokyo Daily."

"Ah." Schuldig smiles. "Farf and I are going out tonight."

"I know." In the rear-view mirror, Crawford's eyes shift to Schuldig's face. "To stake out Schreient. Be careful. They will have trouble tonight."

Their information dealer's lair is an expensive apartment in Ginza, Tokyo's roaring heart. It takes Schuldig's persuading another driver for them to find a parking space along one of the main streets and another twenty minutes of ploughing through the glob of humanity until they reach the Matsuya Shopping Centre. By the time they arrive, all four of them are drenched in sweat, and Farfarello's glares at the people on the sidewalk have reached epic proportions.

Eve Cave lives on the top floor of an apartment building next to the Matsuya Shopping Centre. Her windows look out over Ginza and all the way to the Tokyo Bay on a beautiful day; today is such a day, but the shades, when the buzzer allows Crawford, Schuldig, Farfarello and Nagi in, are drawn against the harsh sunlight. Schuldig immediately lights a cigarette once the door closes behind them; it is comfortably cool in the apartment, and the smell of vanilla cigarillo smoke lies heavily in the air.

"Just a moment!"

There is the sound of wood on wood coming from what they know is Eve's bedroom. Nagi and Schuldig sit down on the leather couch in her living room while Crawford walks over to the window front and peers through the slits in the shades; Farfarello, as always, is magically drawn to the large fish tank that dominates an entire wall. He bends and peers into the water, and the large, brown moray peers back at him from its hiding place amid the artificial rocks and seaweed.

A moment later, he pivots around and catches the large, barbed Bowie between his palms before it can shatter the fish tank. In the doorway to the living room, Eve Drake makes a clucking sound in the back of her throat and snips with the fingers of her right hand.

"Damn. This time I thought I'd get you."

Eve Drake is a tall, heavyset woman in her late thirties. She has been living in Tokyo for almost fifteen years now, and if she can help it, she will end her life in the arms of the city she has come to love. There are snake tattoos winding up her bare arms, and the word "Oroborus" is inked into the flesh of her right biceps. Her voice, eyes and hair are as dark as the bayou quarters and the swamps she comes from, and even though New Orleans is a long way from Tokyo, Eve Drake believes that even in the Land of Smiles, the loa [1] are with her.

Farfarello flips the Bowie and holds it out to her by the blade, then tucks it into a hidden crevice of his vest as Eve waves one hand and moves into the living room.

"The rats are on the move," Eve says, and sits down in an armchair that faces the fish tank and leaves Crawford to her right, Nagi and Schuldig to her left, and Farfarello in front of her. "Them damn monsters got'em crawlin'. They sayin' it's gonna be a hunt one of these nights, but I ain't so sure if they gonna win this."

"I suspected as much," Crawford pushes his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and feels his fingertips slick with his sweat.

"Well, you're the goddamn Oracle between the two of us, so why ya come here askin' me if you know everythin' already?" Eve reaches into the breast pocket of her shirt and shakes a thin cigarillo out of the pack she keeps there and lights it, plumes of sweet-smelling smoke mixing with Schuldig's smoke. "But that snake is gonna bite its own tail, if y'ask me."

Schuldig looks at the word on her biceps and smiles. The Oroborus[2] - the snake biting its own tail - is Eve's favourite symbol for the world. His eyes wander down her arm and come to rest on her glove-clad hands: she is a low-level empath, not strong enough for Eszet to have taken notice of her, but strong enough to use her gift to her advantage. They have come to know her because Eve is a weapon dealer and a source of information valued by many of Tokyo's shadier individuals; her sources are, though, her own, and every once in a while Schuldig wants to believe that the loa are truly with her and whisper in her mind, as she so claims.

Eve touches people and knows them and what they did. That is how she puts it.

"Them damn Kritiker are on the move, too. Sent their little angels out to spread the silence," Eve continues, shifting her enormous mass to reach the ashtray that stands on the coffee table in front of her. "They disturbed more waters then what's good for them. Monsters..."

"Ah, Weiß..." Crawford trails off, a thin-lipped smile gracing his sweat-slicked face. He shifts, turns his gaze towards Schuldig. "Your trouble."

Schuldig smiles back. "My entertainment, you mean."

In her armchair, Eve Drake looks back and forth between the leader of Schwarz and the German telepath, and stubs her cigarillo out in the ashtray. In her mind, the golden coils of a large snake move sinuously, the head coming closer to the tail by mere inches. When it bites, she will stand by and watch. And the loa will be with her.

And it will be a glorious day.


[1] Loa, the - term in connection with Voodoo. Loas are deities originating from the Voodoo cult, who are summoned as personified powers to help with the solving of problems or the granting of wishes. There are two 'groups' of Loa: Rada-Loa, which are considered the good Loa, and Loa-Petro, which are the 'bad' Loa. To summon a Loa, sacrifices in many forms are used. Coal, oils, fruit, alcohol and blood are just a small part of what can be given to the deities as a gift. The word 'Voodoo' itself means 'allmighty and supernatural being', personified by the snake.

[2] Oroborus, the - an old symbol, origins vary according to source. Some say it's pagan, other say it's Christian, and some think it comes from Voodoo. Personally, I believe the Oroborus is more of an universal symbol used throughout many cults/religions. The Oroborus is a circle formed by the body of a snake biting its own tail. It stands for many things; the most notable is the endless circle of birth, death and rebirth, of the world (and our lives) going in circles. Therefor, it is up to the individual to decide whether the Oroborus represents something good or bad.

Part 1: Chapter 2   |   Fanfiction