IT WAS 9:30 PM. A full moon. A smaller red ‘moon’, known simply as The Yolk, was hovering just beneath it. The fair weather of the day had given way to a harsh chill by nightfall, making him grateful that he had listened to Christy and worn his long thermal black jacket over his skin-tight suit. He sauntered through the cemetery, reading the engraved names on each tombstone he passed. Conrad Kittles...Meredith Patterson...Francois DuBois… He'd read up to ten different people before the next one stopped him dead in his tracks. A massive tombstone stood before him. It bore the symbol of a black dragon, belonging to one of Taqora's most powerful families. That is, until four years ago when a terrible massacre wiped out all but one of their members. A massacre that had become synonymous with their name ever since.
“Kageryuu...” As Amos read that name aloud, his skin tingled. He tightened his lips and sank to his knees, forming a seiza sitting position before bowing in honor of the fallen clan. While he didn't know anyone in the family personally, he always felt a strong connection to his fellow countrymen.
“Yasuraka ni nemutte kudasai.” Let all the souls here rest in peace. From afar, he could almost feel his sister Frida's silent judgment, but he chose to ignore it.
Just then, a few will-o'-the-wisps emerged from the Kageryuu gravesite, one of which levitated over to Amos.
I must report this to Kaname-senpai.
He stared at the lone specter for a while then nodded before standing up, adjusting his headset, and flicking a switch.
“Wolf to The Garden. Come in, Grand Fisher.”
After nearly fifteen seconds of silence, a teenage girl about two years his senior responded.
“Go for Grand Fisher. Report.”
“I’ve arrived at Holden Cemetery,” Amos began. “The thermal scanner didn’t show any signs of life...”
"Well, duh,” Kaname chortled to herself. There was a brief pause, perhaps to see if Amos would bite. When he didn’t, she cleared her throat. “Sorry, bad joke. Please continue.”
“But, I did happen upon a specter. It is now known that Subject-724 is residing here. The spiritual pressure is quite strong.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
Amos nodded. “Positive. If she were to hide out anywhere, it’d be a place with a plentiful amount of souls.”
“Understood,” Kaname said, “So what now?”
“Gather as many souls as I can find so I can face her head-on.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
His target, Subject-724, was the human subject of their client, The Grimm. Female, blonde hair, short of stature, and an extremely powerful soul mage, S-Class. The target escaped from the client’s underground laboratory, leaving many corpses of failed experiments and unlucky lab assistants in its wake. Not even an ounce of blood was spilled at the scene.
For five long years, Amos had been trained in the art of assassination. He made it a habit to come prepared every time he was deployed. No matter his target’s size, strength, or experience, he did well to study their strengths and weaknesses down to the last detail before setting out.
“Hey, so I’ve been curious,” Kaname began, changing the subject. “When you were coming up with your codename, what gave you the idea for ‘Wolf’?”
“Your sister was the one who had proposed it to me.”
“Oh, you don’t say!”
“Yeah. I wanted to go with Ghost Charmer, but she told me that it was ‘too on the nose.’”
Kaname couldn’t stop herself from chuckling. “Wow, didn’t know my little sister had that much of an influence over you,” she teased. “Sounds to me like she’s got you wrapped around her little finger.”
Amos felt a wellspring of heat wash over his face. “Uh... it isn’t like that, Senpai, I promise. I just thought the name was fitting.”
“Ha, whatever you say loverboy! I know you’re blushing.”
Kaname was so immersed in her teasing, that nothing could prepare her for what came next.
The sudden noise on Kaname’s end made her yelp. These antics were not foreign to Amos. Only one person in all of Eden Academy could get that kind of reaction out of her. Sounds like Christy just clocked in. Thank the gods for her.
“Chris-er-Twin Drills!” Kaname yelled, still catching her breath. “I thought I told you to stop sneaking up on me like that! You tryin' to make me have an accident, girl?!”
Inessential information, Senpai…
“Wow, you actually went ‘kyaahh!’ Gods, that was lush!” Christy laughed her machine gun-like laugh. This was usually accompanied by her holding her stomach, but Amos couldn't tell, what with being five thousand miles away and all. “I’m sorry, but you just make it too easy, K,” she went on, pleading her case. “And besides, your reactions are priceless. What would you expect me to do, not act on such a golden opportunity?”
“That would very much be preferred, thank you.”
“Bah! You’re no fun.”
“Well, there’ll be time for that later, hop on a set and help me out here.”
There was a small hum emitting from Amos’ headset. Christy had opened a channel of her own.
“Twin Drills to Wolf,” Christy called, sounding much clearer than before.
“Go for Wolf.”
“Feel around your headset for a tiny button.”
Amos did as he was told. He tried to reach up with his only hand and feel around for the button but to no avail. After a few more failed attempts, he simply removed his headset to find a tiny yellow button. He sighed at his inadequacy as he used his thumb to press the button and quickly put the headset back on.
“Oh hey, we got a visual!” Kaname cheered. “Nice one, T.D.!”
Amos was still a bit confused. “Uh, so did I activate some sort of camera?”
“Uh-huh!” Christy beamed proudly. Amos could tell that she was grinning. “K and I can now see exactly what you’re seeing. So when we go into radio silence, we’ll be able to keep up with the action.”
“I see,” Amos said, sounding impressed. “This will help quite a bit during these missions moving forward.”
“W-Well, I remembered you talking about having difficulty fighting and briefing at the same time, so I figured this would help you focus on your missions. No big deal.”
“It is. Thanks, Twin Drills, I very much appreciate it.”
There was a long pause. A second longer and Amos would’ve assumed he had lost connection if Christy hadn’t spoken up.
“Hmph! As you should!” she scoffed. “But, don’t let this one little favor go to your head.”
“One? Seriously?” Kaname chuckled. “So what about all those times you helped him clean the dorm hallways?”
"Th-that's only because those hallways are massive! No one can clean all that by themselves!"
“Ms. Yamamoto does.”
“Ms. Yamamoto is a professional janitor in the Queen’s uniform and she has two hands!”
“Hm, true that....”
While the girls were bickering, Amos had made quite a bit of ground, all the while finding and contracting will-o'-the-wisps and other spirits that had yet to pass on. She has to be here, he told himself, but why isn’t my mana detection working? Is her spiritual connection that much stronger?
Amos surveyed the area around him after each step as there was a good chance that the target was made aware of his arrival. While he did not doubt that Frida would be quick enough to intercept a potential attack, it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Okay, then,” Amos heard Kaname say, “how about all the times you wake him up early, do his laundry, or when you bring him food?”
“Um, he’ll sleep all day if I don’t, his flat’s always a total mess whenever I arrive, plus he can’t necessarily work a stove and I’m no Marsha Steward, so I have little to no choice!”
By the time Amos returned to their conversation, the girls were still arguing. Although only five minutes had passed, he had already forgotten the topic of their discussion.
“Okay, okay,” Kaname said, having had far too much fun at this point. “So why does it have to be you?”
“Huh? K, what are you…?”
“I mean, there are plenty of people who've got Wolf's back,” she pointed out. “Hell, one of whom could quite literally give him a hand. Yet you always take it upon yourself to help him instead. Hmm… I guess you could say I'm curious as to why that is... ”
Oh, that’s right, he thought to himself as a bit of pondering brought the subject back to the forefront.
“Th-th-that’s…w-w-well… you see...” Christy went into one of her stammering fits while Kaname simply just laughed. Amos took this opportunity to chime in.
“Hey, uh... For what it's worth, I don't mind it when Twin Drills helps me out. I'm always busy, and it's not like I can just call upon the spirits to do my chores. Things were a bit rough when I first arrived in Cambridge, so it's nice to have an extra pair of hands from time to time…”
His statement came so abruptly that the girls had fallen silent. Amos was seriously beginning to doubt the quality of these headsets. Kaname had claimed they were “brand-spanking-new” and “top-notch”, but after nearly five hours in the field, they've proven to be anything but.
His concerns were quickly dispelled when he finally heard Kaname and Christy speak.
“Oh… my… gods…”
“You... you idiot…”
“That was the sweetest thing I've ever heard anyone say about... well, about anyone!" Things appear to be looking up for you, Twin Drills. Don't let this chance go to waste or you'll regre—Ow!!”
Kaname was interrupted by the sudden sound of rapid and heavy pounding against flesh. The perpetrator had to have been Christy, as she was cursing something in her native Zelsh in sync with the pounding.
“Ah! Hey, that hurts like hell, you little shit!” Kaname cursed back in the Common Tongue. “I’m so gonna get you for that later…”
Christy's frequency wavered slightly as she blew a raspberry at her upperclassman. Amos sighed and rolled his eyes. At this rate, they'll probably kill each other before I've even pinned down the target's location. He’d imagine an outsider would have difficulty discerning how these two even became friends in the first place…
Suddenly, a low melodic hum drew him out of his reverie. Amos came to a halt and listened. The hum was distant, but not too far off. As he shifted his gaze from side to side in search of the sound’s origin, he felt the facet joints in his neck crack.
“Wolf...?” Kaname called.
“You've been quiet for a while,” Christy said. “What’s wrong?”
“Shh!” Amos pointlessly brought his index finger to his lips. “Listen…”
The girls simmered down and sharpened their ears. The humming was dulcet, graceful, almost angelic. Akin to a merrow performing Siren's Song to lure in its prey. With each stride Amos took, its volume increased. It was now clear to him that the sound was coming from just ahead. After a few seconds, Christy spoke.
“Is that a… a children’s nursery rhyme?” The tremble in her voice made her perturbation quite clear.
“Mm, not any I recognize...” Kaname paused, perhaps giving the humming another listen. “Ah, it’s a desert elven folk song... S’hara of the Dunes, I think?” Her conclusion seemed to elicit an audible shudder from the younger girl.
“Ugh, humming an old dreary folk tune from Lai-Fatt Desert… In a cemetery… In the dead of night?! Uh-uh, that’s uber-creepy, no matter how you slice it. You’d best be on your guard, Amos!”
The boy nodded. “Will do.”
Amos trudged on. He was only a few steps away from a tunnel of densely planted shrubs when he felt a faint tinge of aura. He sank to a knee and pressed his open palm against the wet grass. As soon as he made contact, a powerful flow of mana began to emanate from just beyond the tunnel. And as he watched the energy swirl and flow around his arm, he began to feel a sense of familiarity. The same feeling he got when making contact with wayward souls. There was no longer a single doubt in his mind.
“Mm. I believe I've just found our target, Grand Fisher,” Amos reported. “She’s dead ahead.”
“Copy that,” Kaname said. “Okay…” She took a deep breath and then continued. “Now remember, Wolf, Subject-724 is an S-Class target, capable of killing an enraged manticore in less than five seconds, unlike anything you've ever seen on the Junior team. If there's even a single misstep, the mission won't be the only thing in jeopardy. We'll be keeping an eye out, so call us again if things get hairy. And please… be careful.”
“And you’d better use your damned brain for once!” Christy demanded. “If you mess around and die, so help me, I’ll curse your name for the rest of my life! Am I understood?!”
“But you kind of already do that, T.D. Quite often if we’re being honest.”
“Then I’ll do it twice as much!!”
Christy was one of the first friends that Amos ever had. As far as he could remember, anyway. They met around five years ago when he was brought to the continent for the first time. Things were a bit rocky at first as he struggled immensely with the Common Tongue, leading to numerous misunderstandings between them. Once Christy, a native Zelsh speaker, learned of his background, she could relate to his struggle to learn a second language and decided to take it upon herself to help him improve. Since then, he's frequently found her at his apartment with either food or a laundry basket. He considered himself fortunate to have met her and was eternally grateful for all she has done.
They then met Kaname Fischer when they were recruited to The Order of Eve's Junior Squad in primary school nearly two years ago. The headmaster of Eden Academy insisted that building trust with the faction's support team would be beneficial to their development. They worked together to complete ten missions, with the team guiding them every step of the way. Kaname, a freshman at the time, was the only member left, as the majority of the faction and support members had graduated or perished before her two lowerclassmen became official members. They've all since remained good friends.
Amos felt the corners of his mouth curl up. This was his first major assignment as a member of The Order of Eve, and it was unquestionably his most difficult one yet. The rest of his comrades were not skilled in soul magic, so they couldn't help him against Subject-724. Aside from Frida, who remained on standby, Amos was practically alone. He was grateful to hear familiar voices throughout his journey.
“I will, Senpai,” he finally said. “And don’t worry Twin Drills, you’re understood. I promise to be careful. Talk to you guys, soon.”
“Over and out,” Kaname responded.