Ayane-chan; The Bashful Oni and the Sad Eyed Salaryman Part 5: Endgame/A Paladin's Redemption
>The facility seemed to loom before me
>Before the opening of the portals it had been a shabby company warehouse, just like so many on what was once the west side industrial sprawl.
>But thanks to the pouring of funds from both our company and some Gremlin engineers on loan thanks to Joey's (Anna's) contacts in Royal Makai the place now looked like a proper commercial hub.
>I'd only been here a few times before, being part of sales, I was never too invested in the distribution side of things, sure I'd meet with a client or two, but handling the product was left to more capable hands than mine.
>Now, it seemed to exude a sterile industrial eeriness.
>No guard stopped me as I drove through the checkpoint, no one was manning the gate
>No opposition as I brought my vehicle to a stop
>The entire place was a ghost town
>Things are too quiet
>I walk resolutely to the front doors
>It's a trap, but I expected that.
>Glancing to my left, I see something that at least fills me with some hope
>A woman is kneeling atop a nearby tower, half her body hanging out of what appears to be a large playing card, with glances I notice even more monsters taking up assault positions.
>I pretend no to notice so as not to give them away
>I push open the door and make my way into the facility
>A maze of shelves and crates and boxes, inventory either unsold or yet to be moved
>There in the center, the portal
>Something moves behind me, I turn around just in time to dodge a mailed fist
>Facing the knight who tried to knock me out in a single punch, I raise my pistol
>Only to have to dodge a sword swing from the side
>Slowly, the other seven knights emerge from the shadows
>I can shoot five, but they probably won't give me time to reload
>That means relying on the tanto
>This does not look good, but it's exactly what I want.
"I've come to talk, Paladin."
"I know you're here, Bohemond."
>"A pleasant night to you, meddler. I was wondering if I would see you again."
>He steps out of the shadows and once again motions to dismiss the knights
>"Tell me, did you give any thought to what we spoke of?"
"Yeah, I gave it some thought."
"You're right, monsterization is really something. I had my sister try and get in my pants."
>"Ah, to see one's own blood relations turn to such depravity is shameful, is it not?"
"But that's the thing, she tried, I said no, and she respected my decision, she didn't hold me down and rape me, she didn't make me her slave though she could have done so easily."
>I mean, at least I hope so, Ayane seems to still be afraid Mandy spermjacked me while she was staying with us
>"Surely you didn't come here tonight just to tell me about your barely averted incestuous liaison? You came here for a reason."
"Yeah, shut down your little operation once and for all, so I can get back to a quiet life with my wife and child."
>The knight's face curls into a small sneer
>"Child? Oh jubilation, another halfbreed."
"That's one thing that struck me, when we spoke last you asked me to imagine if my wife and daughters went feral, how they would devour my sons."
"But isn't it the case that monster cannot have sons? Some curse from your goddess?"
>He furrows his brow for a moment and then sighs
>"This world is different, I will admit, the goddess holds no power here. Already we are hearing the news, monsters giving birth to human sons, the word has come that more and more are trying to enter this world, abandoning the old for a shot at what to them must seem like paradise."
"I thought you'd be happy. Less monsters means less of a job your order has to do."
>"Who said I was not happy? As far as I am concerned your planet can have the lot of them, though as small as it is compared to ours, I doubt that will be the case."
"If that is your opinion, then why continue your campaign of terrorism?"
>"I've told you; you are a planet of lambs letting wolves into your midst. You know nothing of the Demon Lord and her plans for humanity, I would imagine the Earthborn especially, as untouched as they are by the light of the Chief God."
"A good friend of mine is in a relationship with one of the daughters of the Demon Lord, she doesn't seem malicious, in fact she seems to be scornful of her more militant sisters. She speaks the name "Druella" with some contempt."
>Several of the knights wince at the name
>"The Despoiler of Lescatie is well known to us, but because one lilim claims to disapprove of her actions means nothing. I will admit though, your statement has piqued my curiosity."
>"What kind of man is this friend of yours, to win the hand of a daughter of the Demon Lord he must be a great hero."
>Something about that tickles me.
"Ha, are you serious? He's a dweeb, a dork, he's certainly not a powerful hero. He's an upper management goon riding a wave of nepotism, but he's also my best friend."
"Look at me, I'm an office worker, the last time I was in a real fight was sophomore year, and yet I found an Oni. Probably the least oni-like oni in existence, but an oni none the less. I'm not strong, I don't drink, yet she chose me."
>"And that is what I don't understand. Your gods have abandoned you, you have no great heroes in this age, this world was handed to you on a silver plate with no monsters to hinder your rise. Why are they so interested in you? Are the sons of Earth just easy prey?"
>I begin to think, why would monsters be so interested in the men of Earth?
>Obviously with no Order dogma we would be more open to their advances, but that can't be the only reason.
>Then a revelation strikes me.
>The paladin said our gods created no monsters, that our civilization was unlimited.
>So, what then did the gods of Earth create to limit human potential?
>"What are you laughing about?"
>Images run through my head, almost like memories of my blood
>I am a barbarian splitting the skull of a Roman legionary
>I am a knight putting pagans to the sword
>I am a soldier on the western front driving my bayonet through another man's heart
>And across from me is a blue skinned ogre crushing men with an iron club
>The monster looks across at me and makes its challenge
>As the barbarian my club is knocked away, advancing as the knight I draw my sword
>The ogre bats it away with its club and kicks me in the stomach
>As the soldaten I raise my rifle to fire, the bullet pinging off the iron club, the noise causing the behemoth to drop its weapon
>Not wanting to give it even the time of cycling the bolt, I raise my rifle and charge, intent on bayoneting the creature
>The ogre countercharges, catching the rifle in the crook of its arm and twisting it out of my hands
>As it grabs me in its muscular arms, I see its head lower, this beast will either crush me or rip my throat out with its razor teeth
>But as this happens, something changes.
>I no longer feel my helmet, the tightness of the uniform, the confinement of jackboots
>The creatures hold becomes less a death grip and more like the gentle embrace of a lover
>Its features soften, its body softens, where once was rock hard muscle is now pliant flesh with a hint of muscle
>And its mouth of razor teeth going for my throat becomes the lips of my one and only, interlocking with mine
>Where once was a violent monster intent only on my death, now stands the woman I love and I imagine where once stood the warrior intent on her death, now stands I.
"I finally get it."
>"What are you mumbling about?"
"You want to know why monsters are flocking to Earth and its men?"
"It's because we're the same, us and the monsters, humans in your world were all created by your Chief God, all under the same yoke. You worked as one, so monsters were created to stop you."
"In the Bible, man was one until he attempted to build the tower of Babel, a project to raise man to the level of God Himself. As punishment for his hubris, God punished man with disunity. He did not need to make monsters."
>I lock eyes with the Paladin
"Because man was already monstrous enough."
>His eyes narrow, I have offended him
"The Romans burned Carthage to the ground and salted the land so nothing would grow on the place it sat, man killed each other for hundreds of years over slight variations on the same religious ideals, in the last hundred years millions were killed with bullets, bombs, gas, and fire over reasons that by the end did not even matter."
"You know of mustard gas? Atomic weapons? Can you even fathom one of your order cities disappearing with the push of a button? Can you fathom nearly sixty million human dead? Savagery reminiscent of how you described monsters before the Demon Lord."
>"Monsters kill without reason, what you describe is warfare, pure and simple."
"Warfare, you say?"
>My eyes widen, I must look positively demented.
>But that is the point
"What war did the civilians in Hiroshima declare against the United States to deserve being vaporized in Nuclear fire? What war did my Grandmother and her friends, all girls of ten, declare that they deserved to live in fear of being bombed, and later in fear of being raped and shot by Soviets and not necessarily in that order?"
"No, we Earthmen loved the bloodshed, and the suffering, the misery, and the utter degeneracy and rapine."
"As long as you tell a man that God will forgive him, or Uncle Sam, or the Proletariat, or the Aryan race, he is more than happy to become a monster."
"The only reason we stopped is because we became too good at killing each other, to the point that the world would end if we tried it any further. So we stagnated and began to decay as a society, just like the monsters with your goddess's endless cycle."
>"Paladin, are you going to let this lunatic keep spouting this madness?"
>"I will let him finish before I pass judgement."
>Good, stay distracted by the rambling madman.
"You say the Demon Lord came to rule us? No, she came because she sensed there was yet more monsters that needed to be shown her way of loving peace. The monsters known as the Homo sapiens of planet Earth."
"She reunited us with our lost sisters, already set upon a better path, sent them to us so we too could learn to abandon our monstrous ways, to live and love in peace."
"Just like the monsters there are those who embrace the change, and those who cling to their old ways. Ironically, your order is now taking recruits from the most monsterlike segments of my planet's population."
>"I believe I have let you ramble enough, what is the point of your prattle?"
"My point, Paladin, is to answer your question of "why monsters desire Earth so badly."
"The simple truth is..."
>Bohemond breaks the stalemate
>"You are a soul crying out for the goddess's peace, it would be cruel to deny it to you."
"The truth is..."
>I can see figures moving near the skylights, hear movement near the doors, people stacking up.
"The truth is..."
>Here goes my dignity
"EARTH BOYS ARE MADE FOR MONSTER PUSSY!"
>The knights stop in pure shock
>A voice rings out
<"A-FUCKIN-MEN, BREACH AND CLEAR, GIRLS!"
>"I shall tell this story only once."
>As much as I can I lean in close intent on hearing his words, even Patterson seems giddy to hear the story retold.
>"Listen close, sport, to the story of true failure."
>A sharp intake of breath marks the start of the Paladin's tale.
>"I was born into the order, or rather, given unto them at birth. I was told my parents were poor farmers who could not pay their tithes to the church. My first years were as a single aspirant in a group of nearly two hundred orphans and foundlings. I did not even have a name until my fifth year, before then I was simply Aspirant #142."
"They didn't even name you?"
>"Names were earned, usually by attaining squirehood. I can tell you "Bohemond" was not my first name."
>He stops in thought considering his next words.
>"At age eight, the grand monastery was attacked by demons and other Fallen God extremists, intent on either carrying away aspirants for their depraved shotacon tendencies or corrupting the resident angels."
>"I was a scared boy looking for shelter, but I came upon a young girl set upon by demons. I had never seen a woman my age before, something primal drove me to pick up a blade and defend her, all night I ran and slashed until we were both safe."
>"It wasn't until afterwards that I noticed her downy wings and shining halo and felt her arms around me as she held on for dear life. I had made my first real friend."
>I realized then that the Paladin was actually smiling, something I'd never seen him do. A smug smirk or a superior grin, but never a wholehearted smile of enjoyment.
>"The very next day she claimed that the Chief God had spoken to her, I was to be Her chosen hero for this age. A boy younger than nine, and yet the order believed her. I believed her. I spent the next eight years undergoing hellish training to become a paladin, but she was always by my side."
"What was her name?"
>"Gabrielle, her name IS Gabrielle."
>Emphasis on "is", more to this story than it seems
>"When I turned sixteen the order gave me my quest, but at the same time Gabrielle insisted she accompany me as my herald and as my comrade in arms. I should have realized then that she had ulterior motives, she wished to protect me.
>"Thirteen years we spent hunting everything from bandits and highwaymen to necromancers and demonologists, all in the name of bringing peace to the realm."
>"I even fulfilled my duty as a hero and slew the Demon Lord... that is to say that I, Gabrielle, and some champions from Royal Makai made common cause to slay a Demon Lord Pretender."
>"Angels do not usually feel attraction to human men, that is what the Order teaches, but obviously if a man and a woman fight alongside one another for long enough, risk their lives for each other and spend nearly every day together from a young age, it would be ludicrous to not expect feelings to develop."
>"Naught but two years into our journey she began to show her affection, small pecks on the cheek, eventually sharing my bed to "soothe the nightmares that plagued her". I figured that it was only natural for one beloved by the goddess to be beloved by her emissary as well."
>"Years past and the two of us were joined body and soul, no longer simply friends or comrades, but lovers. It was not long before she announced she was with child; this was five years before I fought the false Demon Lord
>My confusion grows
"Someone in the order must have opposed this."
>The Paladin finds this amusing, throwing his head back in a short barking laugh
>"It is an open secret among those in the order that many heroes sire children with their heavenly attendants, of course they attribute the lack of heirs to a life of pious celibacy. Ha! When I was a squire one of my instructors was an old exorcist named Alexios, he had the most unique grey eyes. Another instructor at the school was a valkyrie, one who kept quarters remarkably close to Father Alexios and who had two young valkyrie as her "wards" both of whom had very distinct grey eyes"
>"The order could have tolerated our relationship if we had kept fighting their battles and praising the Goddess, and indeed they did, no one questioned why "Fiendhammer" Bohemond and "Sainted Blade" Gabrielle would be seen playing with a young angel girl in between quests, as long as the cardinals can enlist these daughters of heroic blood to be new soldiers, they are happy to compromise on their dogma."
>"No, our crime was not laying together or producing children, our crime was doing so while being beloved by the plebian masses. Which is why when the cardinals finally decided to try us, they never brought up execution despite it being the standard punishment for this kind of indiscretion."
"So you chose banishment?"
>"She chose banishment to spare my reputation, I refused to entertain the farce, I grabbed my daughter, our little Camielle, and ran as far as I could while still remaining in Order lands. So long as my name held weight, we were given shelter anywhere we stopped."
>Rage builds on his face
>"The order responded with a campaign of slander, suddenly Bohemond the Fiendhammer became Bohemond the Debauched, corrupted during his fight with the false monster lord and by fighting alongside monsters, he was driven mad and forced himself upon his companion, compelling her to take his seed. She bore his child out of duty to the man he once was. Hear the lies they spun with every breath! Our daughter was already a six-year-old girl by the time of our trial!"
>"Instead of being an inspiring example of what the love between two pious devotees of the Goddess can create, my daughter was branded the product of rape!"
>His anger quickly turns to sorrow as he continues
>"I made a vow that she would not be the Order's weapon as her mother and I were. I had her taught the healing arts and forbade her from picking up a blade."
"I always thought your daughter was a human girl who monsterized? You're saying she was an Angel this whole time?"
>"You say that as if Angels cannot also monsterize, and beyond that I raised her human. Is your oni less of a person because of her horns and odd skin? The point being that excessive contact with demonic mana left her on the brink of becoming a Dark Angel. I panicked, my order training overruled my paternal instincts, and the rest you know."
>Taking in his story, I am more confused than ever. How can a man who suffered this much at the hands of the order still be working in their name.
>"I told you, I do not need your pity, meddler. At this point, what would I say if I faced my beloved again? What will I tell her when she asks about little Cammi?"
>A shot rings out, sending the armored man flying back
>"Tell her you failed, Bo, just like you did at everything in your life."
>"Christ, he just wouldn't stop talking, "Boo hoo, I miss muh wife, I tortured my little girl because she was turning into a slut." Get over it."
"Damn you, Patterson."
>"We're all damned boy, him especially. I doubt his goddess will particularly care for what he did in the name of his Order."
>In the name of the order?
"Were any of those attacks truly the work of the Order?"
>Patterson perks up, finally hearing a question pertaining to him.
>"Of course not. My associates and I reached out to the Order asking if they would be interested in carrying out attacks in exchange for modern weapons. Being the cowards they are, nearly all the cardinals refused, didn't want to make waves on Earth. So, who better to push our agenda than a fallen Paladin with an axe to grind."
>"All I had to say is, "carry out some false flag attacks, make us some money, and in return we'll fund your little revenge crusade." Hence the Passchendaele cocktail Halford was moving."
"The gas, wasn't for the Order?"
>"Oh, I wouldn't say that, I would assume Bo here would love to give the cardinals a little taste of what Sarin and Tabun can do to a room full of pompous old farts."
"That explains him, but what's you're end game, Patterson?"
>"Why, profit of course, my dear boy. The order is forced to buy weapons from the defense industry, then the monsters are forced to respond in kind. An arms race, pure and simple, and with our firm getting those new government contracts we would make a fortune."
>"Should there be a war, then all the better, it is an American tradition to sell to both sides. They do the dying over there while we reap the profits."
>"Of course, that was the plan, until it got sabotaged by Mr. Paladin here growing a conscience. Oh, and the intervention of a certain friend of my idiot son."
>I manage a defiant grin, happy to have been a pain in someone's side.
>The feeling is short lived as Patterson slams the butt of his pistol over my head.
>"Why are you grinning, shithead? I said that was the original plan, and no plan survives first contact with the enemy."
>"My new one involves blowing that warehouse to kingdom come. Think about the war that would bring, Order terrorists taking out a Princess of Royal Makai!"
>The target was Anna this entire time
>And if Anna is the target...
"What about Joey?"
>"What about him? My stupid boy, too much like his goddamn mother. If he spent as much time learning to be more like his old man instead of reading "Jojo’s Faggot Journey" or whatever the fuck then I might have spared a second to save him, but as it stands, you were always more of a son to me than he ever was."
>"A hard worker, willing to sacrifice yourself to climb that mountain. You and I can go places."
>At those words, he extends his hand, an offer to join him.
>Though still sluggish from the demon silver, I know what I have to do.
>I spit directly into his palm.
>"Hohoho, Bad choice, boy. A shame really."
>He raises his pistol
>One last mocking sneer
>"By the way, I heard about you and Ogawa, congratulations on your future orphan."
>I resign myself to my fate, there is no way I can dodge this.
>I pick my final thoughts, Ayane, Joey, Anna, all those I failed.
>I hear the gunshot
>I feel no pain
>Patterson stares at his gun, before looking down to see the smoking hole in his pelvic region. Almost comically, he collapses like a puppet with his strings cut.
>In the corner is Bohemond, holding my .38, breathing heavily
>"Oathbreaker, betrayer, and now potential kinslayer. You truly are scum, Patterson."
>I smile over at him, he weakly returns his own before falling limp, his ragged breathing being the only sound left in the abandoned structure.
>I make my way to the Paladin, his breaths uneven.
>"Ha, in my last moments, I helped take one last monster out of this world. Like a true Paladin. Would my Gabrielle be proud of me, I wonder?"
"You know she would, and you'll live to hear her tell you herself."
>I use my swiftly returning strength to bring the Paladin to his feet
"How do we get back home, Bohemond?"
>"Patterson had to get here, ugh, somehow."
>Quickly walking over to the now crippled man, I prod him with my foot.
>A sharp hiss is given off as I apply pressure to his wounded pelvis
"Still alive, eh?"
>"I'm not telling you anything, but I will say you better kill me, because if I survive, I will make your life hell."
>"I know you have family, a brother out in flyover country and a sister down in Cali, not to mention the oni. You let me live and I swear none of them will be sa-"
>I grab his lapels and yank him to be eye to eye with me.
"Listen here, "Joe", I don't give a shit about your petty threats, what you should be worried about is what should happen if the Princess gets her hands on you."
"Think about it, Anna is a lilim, a powerful monster, she could easily tank a small explosion, but if the man she loves gets hurt or killed..."
"She's going to draw and quarter you while making sure you are alive and conscious for the entire process"
"She's going to hang your disembodied head out to bake in the hot sun suspended by a piece of fishing line."
"So I would be co-operative so the worst you have to deal with is her being pissed from the arms trafficking and attempted assassination."
>My cold delivery seems to have shaken him, his eyes dart back and forth
>"Alright, check my coat pocket, you'll find a portal homing beacon in there.
>"I-i'll tell you everything, all my associates and their businesses. But you have to promise me that I get medical attention and get turned over to Earth authorities."
"So you can get suicided, I don't think so, it'll be the dungeons of Royal Makai for you, Joe."
>He starts to protest, but a strong voice silences him
>"Unless you would prefer I tell the order about what mischief you have been up to?"
>"Think, hrk, nothing of it, meddler."
"It's Anon, my name."
>"I know, but you will always be a meddler, and so I name you as such."
>With another grin exchanged between the Paladin and I, I find the portal homer and begin entering in the coordinates for the West Side portal
>A familiar purple swirl appears and hangs suspended in the middle of the room.
>Helping the Paladin to his feet, I support him as he limps towards the portal.
"When you get through, ask for the Lilim named Anna and tell her everything that happened here. I won't be far behind."
>With a flash, Bohemond disappears
>Now alone with Patterson, I take him in a fireman's carry
"As for you, behave yourself as anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."
>"Go fuck yourself."
>Not quite as charming as he once was.
>Yet another familiar sensation of being twisted through a bottleneck and I am deposited in the old warehouse.
>Bohemond is being attended by a grey skinned woman with tear-streaked cheeks wearing a red cross armband
>Anna is consoling a very worried looking Joey, who quickly perks up when he sees me.
>"Holy shit, you're alive!"
>his elation turns to confusion when he sees who it is I am carrying
>Like a sack of potatoes, Patterson is deposited on the ground
"Here is our traitor, Joey."
>"It's not possible, I would have... He would have told me."
>Patterson begins to laugh
>"Why would I have told you? So you could have ratted me out to your Whore Princess by accident during pillow talk?"
>Joey is taken aback by thing.
>"I'd say you're the most worthless thing that came from my pecker, but then I remember I passed a kidney stone last year, so you'll have to settle for number 2."
>Both Joey and Anna are now shaking with rage.
>Anna advances towards him, but Joey raises a hand to stop her.
>"This is my fight, and it has been a long time coming."
>Joey strides forward
>"You're approaching me? Instead of running like a bitch and letting your girlfriend fight your battles, you're coming straight to me?"
>Joey smiles, but something about this exchange feels... off.
>"I can't kick your ass unless I get closer."
>Something is seriously off
>"Ho ho, well then, get as close as you like."
>I see Patterson Senior reach into his pocket
>A small flash of metal
"Joey, watch out!"
>Joey doesn’t hear my warning, as he raises his foot to stamp on his father's face
>Something slashes across Joey's ankle, bringing him to his knee and allowing Patterson senior to grab him around the throat and bring a knife to it.
>"Nobody move, or I cut his fucking throat."
>The scene is tense, until Anna breaks the silence with a small chuckle
<"Is that the dagger I gave to Ayane?"
"It is, he must have taken it while I was carrying him."
>"What are you laughing about? I'll open up his jugular like a fire hydrant!"
<"Oh, my Father-in-Law, you seemed like such an upstanding man, but in the end, you were just another greedy and power mad fool."
>"Alright, have it your way!"
>He draws the dagger across Joey's throat, a red spray comes forth, but no wound is present
>"What the fuck?"
>Anna quickly casts a spell of her own, a black portal opens behind the Pattersons, a black portal which quickly becomes lined with yellow eyes.
<"Next time you try to kill me or my husband, use weapons that will actually work. Not a demon silver dagger and bombs that an infant gremlin could defuse."
>Staring past him, Anna issues a command to the beings in the portal
<"Leave something of his mind intact, girls, we still need to interrogate him."
>Shadowy tendrils snake out and pull the senior Patterson screaming into the Abyss
>With the immediate threat dealt with, Anna's hard expression immediately turns to one of fear and alarm
<"Someone attend to my Jojo, I don't want him getting mana poisoning!"
>She turns to me next
<"You've been shot, Anon!"
"Demon silver bullet, I'm fine."
<"As a non-incubus, no, you're not. Unless you also want acute mana poisoning, go to the hospital with Joey."
"What about the Paladin?"
<"What about him, we're patching him up and taking him to the dungeons."
>I lock eyes with Anna
"Bohemond saved my life, Anna."
<"Bohemond? As in the Fallen Paladin? That's who you've been fighting?"
"You know him?"
<"My contact in the Sabbath is a Baphomet who helped fight a false demon lord alongside him, she and her husband speak highly of him and his angelic companion."
"Then you have their word and mine, he will not escape."
>Her eyes dart between the Paladin and I, until eventually she gives a large exhale
<"If he escapes, I'll hold you responsible. But he's at least earned the right to some proper treatment."
>After that, Joey, myself, and the Paladin are loaded into ambulances and taken to the hospital
>Bohemond is immediately taken into surgery for his gunshot wounds, and I quickly follow in order to remove the realm silver bullet.
>On Anna's orders, I have been placed in a room with the Paladin in order to monitor him
>"What is it, Meddler?"
"Your wife, she's an Angel, correct?"
>"Yes, good to see you paid attention."
"Does, uh, does that mean she looks like a little girl? Because all the pictures of Angels I’ve seen ar-"
>"Shut up. Ugh, I am going to murder that wandering scholar if I ever find him. Angels grow like regular humans; Gabrielle was actually only an inch shorter than myse-"
>Bohemond stares transfixed at the new arrival, a nurse who is setting to work tidying up around the room.
>An older uniform, a fair amount of white hair is gathered under her cap
<"How are we feeling today, Gentlemen?"
>Something about her voice seems familiar.
>I try to answer, but the Paladin answers for me.
>"We were fine until you showed your face, Harlot."
<"Well, that wasn't very nice..."
"What the hell? She just asked how we were."
>"Are you blind, can you not see who that is?"
>The nurse frowns but doesn't look up from her work.
<"You know she still thinks about you, Mikael."
>Bohemond freezes in place
>"What did you call me?"
<"Mikael, that is your name, isn't it? The secret name she gave you that night thirty years ago. I just said that not a day goes by that Gabrielle does not think of you or her daughter."
>"STAY OUT OF MY HEAD, WHORE!"
<"Aww, but I was going to tell you where they've been keeping her all this time."
>Bohemond leans forward and grasps the nurse by the arm
>"Write it down on a piece of paper and then begone from my sight."
>Something comes together in my mind; this nurse reminds me overwhelmingly of Anna.
"Are you? Are you the Ma-"
>She places a finger to my lips, I can see the distinct lilim horns, wings, and tail, now exposed as if a glamour had been lifted
<"I am a simple nurse, nothing more, but if I was who you think I am then I would have to thank you for preventing what could have been a very unfortunate incident between Earth and Royal Makai."
<"I would also say that you have earned not only my gratitude, but also the protection of the Maou for you and your loved ones. Again, if I was who you think I am."
"But you are a simple nurse."
<"Precisely. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other patients to attend to.
>She turns to leave, but as she steps towards the door, I reach out to stop her
>She stops and looks back at me.
"Why did yo-, why do you think the Maou brought monsters to Earth?"
<"Well, If I were the Maou, I would have gotten a kick out of your little "humans are just another breed of monster in need of pacifying" hypothesis."
>Heard about that from her daughter, most likely.
<"Honestly, it was..."
>Before she can answer, a male nurse pops his head in
>"You have a visitor, Mr. Anon."
>In a flash of blue, Ayane has me in her arms.
<"How many times am I going to have to come to the hospital to see you, Hasu?"
"Well, I never plan on getting hurt, Ayane."
<"You never plan at all, that is your problem! I expect that from your friend who worships Araki-sensei, but not you.
>I can see the mysterious nurse give a warm grin at the scene.
<"How far along are you, Mrs. Oni?"
>Ayane is taken off guard
<"Huh, about three or four months."
>The nurse continues
<"Are you looking forward to being a mother?"
<"More than anything, I have wanted to have children since I was a little girl."
"She's hoping for a boy."
<"Not hoping, I know it is a boy."
>The nurse gives a short chuckle
<"I believe that answers your question, Mr. Anon, and congratulations to the both of you."
<"Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see to Mr. Patterson Jr. I swear, if he does that thing with his tongue and the cherry again, I'll make sure my husband and Ann- his future wife hears about it."
>The mysterious nurse exits the room, leaving Bohemond muttering something about "Harlot violating the sanctity of my mind" and "If I was in peak shape..."
<"Who was that, Anon?"
"Just a nurse, Ayane. Just a nurse doing her job."
>For obvious reasons, Anna has kept the hospital under constant surveillance while Patterson is interrogated.
>He wasn't the only one in on the plan, and any one of them could try strike at me, Joey, Bohemond, or any of our loved ones.
>Joey's mom died when he was young, sleeping pill overdose, and he has no siblings
>My parents are both dead, but I have Dave and Mandy.
>That's not even mentioning Ayane and our unborn child, and of course Mika and Eisaku Yamano and their children.
>If any of those white-collar cretins are willing to try blackmailing a former hero of the Goddess, then I welcome them to try.
>But it still means that I will be here for the next two weeks.
>For the first few nights, the three of us were mainly accosted by interrogators from Royal Makai, particularly Bohemond, who was drilled rather hard about his recruitment by Patterson and his intentions.
>But once things got opened to visitors, I found my life growing easier
>Thursday, 11 days remain of lockdown
>Apparently, today is the day the hospital holds it's biannual "bring your child to work" day.
>The manticore nurse from my first visit is chatting with Mrs. Mika
>Apparently the Yamano boy goes to school with the Nurse's daughter.
>Mika and Tracy the Manticore tell me a rather sweet story about her daughter being the only monster in her class, getting bullied by other kids until Kai loudly proclaimed her inhuman features, "Cool, like my Big Sis Ayane."
>Ayane has been roped by the hospital staff into running a small drawing class for some of the kids, so here I sit with the two middle aged women.
<"And so I get a call from the desk, "Uh, Tracy, this is something I think you should handle." And I figure it’s some guy who tried dosing himself on Manticore venom, you know the type, but instead I see an Oni, looks like she just got out of bed, bawling her eyes out because her boyfriend got shanked."
>"Haha, I can remember when Sad Eyes-san tried playing hero for Ayane."
>As I listen to them talking about me, I can see little Kai Yamano playing with a young girl, her hair rust red and matched by the mane around her neck. A rousing game of tag, in which the girl isn't shy about using her tail, causing the boy to periodically shout "No fair!"
>At one point the girl appears to be mimicking her mother going through a check-up
<"Alright, it's time for your shot."
>"Aww man, I hate getting shots!"
<"If you hold still and take your shots like a big boy, I'll give you something sweet."
>The older manticore chokes on her coffee hearing her daughter speak words in a tone that no doubt she had employed at some point toward her husband
>Though she leaps to her feet to try and defuse the situation, she is too late to prevent the boy being pricked by a tail spine
>"So, what happens now?"
<"Dunno, must hurt though because I usually hear Daddy start moaning."
>At this point the nurse has crossed the distance, producing two lollipops from her pocket
<"What happens is you get the sweets she promised you for being a brave little man."
>Her daughter pouts
<"What about me, Mom?"
>The nurse hand her the second lolly
<"And one for my little future nurse."
>While this is happening, Mika is struggling to contain her laughter, enjoying the look of embarrassment on her friend's face.
<"You're lucky Lisa won't have her venom in for another two years, else your little boy would have a problem sweets can't fix."
>"Oh, he'll get used to it, whether he knows it or not that's his future wife he's playing with."
"You're already deciding partners for your children, Mrs. Mika?"
>The nurse shrugs
<"It's just how monsters choose mates sometimes, I mean, if you're already friends, it ain't much of a jump to lovers."
>"Besides, I've always had a knack for picking people who would be good together, like you and Ayane. Did you really think the roads were closed that night she learned about the Order?"
"You lied about a city shutdown because you wanted me and Ayane to get closer?"
>"Of course, It would have taken you ages otherwise."
"Did you expect her to get drunk and try to ride me in my sleep."
>"Not at all, but it worked out in the end."
>As I stare at the newly discovered matchmaking mastermind, Mika Yamano, I notice another face listening intently from around the corner.
>Having heard something that interests her, she quickly moves to insert herself into the conversation.
<"Ah, Hello, you must be Mrs. Yamano. Ayane has told me a lot about you."
>"Ah, and you are the Hime-chan engaged to Sad Eyes' friend, the Otaku."
>She pouts slightly at hearing Joey insulted, but continues
<"So, I couldn't help but overhear your little hobby of playing matchmaker, Mrs. Yamano. You must really enjoy seeing happy couples."
>"Hrm? Oh yes, happy couples, but I will admit I also do it because I enjoy teasing people."
>A mischievous grin crosses her face
>"Like Sad Eyes-san, his trigger was anything involving babies or fatherhood until Ayane actually told him she was pregnant."
>Anna looks intrigued
<"Since you've only ever heard of me, could you tell what to say to get under my skin? Or my husband's?"
>Mika thinks for a second
>"Well, you dislike your man being insulted, also I believe you resent being treated like royalty out of formality."
>"And as for the Otaku, you said he likes the macho manga, correct? Jojo no Kimiyou na Bouken? Hokuto no Ken?"
>"Oh, well, I'd just call him gay."
>I can see Anna's eyebrow twitch, but she calms herself. She did ask for it, after all.
<"If you aren't busy, I'd like to discuss something with you for about an hour or so, do you have the time?"
>"Well, I've never had a princess want to speak with me, so I will accept."
>Being alone again, I wander the hospital.
>I see Joey attempting to teach Artemis and Diana the "Torture Dance", though none of them quite get the steps down
>I see Eisaku Yamano attempting to compare business cards with a doctor
>Failing to find anything stimulating, I return to my room intent on bothering Bohemond some more.
>Only to arrive and hear him happily talking to someone.
>Opening the door, I find him sitting in a chair with a young girl sitting on his lap. Staring intently as she listens to him tell a story.
>"So there I was, facing down the false Demon Lord, an imposing dragon. Not dragons like you see today, but a real dragon in the old style."
>"My ally, Ser Tristan of Royal Makai could only stare at the massive beast. "By Maou, how are we supposed to defeat that thing?""
>His voice takes on a scared higher pitch for the quote, causing the girl to giggle
>"So, I turn to him and say, "We should toss the goat at it.", which caused his companion, Lady Jeanne, to start yelling rather indignantly."
>The Paladin takes a deep breath and continues the story in a bratty little girl's voice
>"How dare you! I am a proud Baphomet, leader of my own Sabbath chapter, not some Dwarf you can toss about like a sack of potatoes!"
>The girl giggles even more
>"But, while she was ranting, Gabrielle took her around the waist and flew into the air, intent on dive bombing the dragon with magic both holy and unholy. Of course, not wanting our wives to take all the glory, Ser Tristan and I charged in after them."
>"Ha, you should have heard the girlish scream from the Baphomet, due to the oscillation of the wind, it ended up sounding like a goat bleating."
>The Paladin and the little girl both laugh, I can't help but notice that they share a style of laughter, though obviously the little girl cannot match the deep barks of the Paladin
>As I get closer, I notice the small golden halo over the girl's head and the small wings jutting from her back.
"Where did you find her?"
>"Wandering the halls, looking for her mother. I alerted one of the staff and offered to watch over her until she could be reunited with her parent."
"This must be nostalgic for you."
>A deep sigh
>"It is at once the most comforting and painful feeling. The only way I could feel worse is if..."
>Almost as if summoned by a curse, a woman walks into the room, skin pale and tinted blue, her blonde hair faded to an almost silvery color, a broken halo shining with a dull light. Wearing a rather casual outfit of long-sleeved shirt and slacks under her doctor's coat
<"Leah, what did Mommy tell you about running off? I'm sorry, about... her."
Almost as soon as she notices Bohemond, she stops in her tracks.
>An uncomfortable silence permeates the room
>"You have grown, little Camille. Though, I guess I can't call you little anymore."
<"And you have gotten old, father."
>"Ha, Not a grey hair on my head yet, only a few in my beard. Besides, you remember what I told you?"
>A small smile crosses the fallen angel's face
<"You swore you wouldn't die until our family was whole again."
<"Did you ever try to find Mother like you always said?"
>Bohemond looks at his slippered feet, searching for an answer
>"Once, but the Order must have kept her on the move. I only recently found they settled her somewhere."
>The two struggle to not meet each other's gaze
>"Your nametag says "Pediatrics", you work with children?"
<"Yes, making sure they are healthy and receiving the proper care they deserve."
>"You always did want to help others, I'm glad to see that hasn't changed."
>The two dart their eyes around, thinking of more small talk
>"So, this is your daughter?"
<"Yes, my little Leah, she turns four in a few months."
>"She reminds me of you at that age, you remember when I used to hold you on my lap? Then your mother would come and drape one of her wings across us like a blanket?"
<"And you would say that out of all the things you had witnessed and experienced, nothing compared to holding and being held by your girls."
>A genuinely touching scene as both Bohemond and his daughter grow similar wistful smiles.
>"I did say that, and yet when fate put me to the test I proved a coward both times."
>"I was too cowardly to stop the Order taking my one and only love.
>"And I was too cowardly to prevent dogma overtaking reason when you fell."
>Camille tenses, but still answers her father.
<"If you had fought, they would have killed you both and raised me to be just another weapon in their arsenal. You made the right choice, Father."
>"You would forgive me so easily, depriving you of a mother?"
<"I blame the Order, not you."
>"And what of your scars, do you forgive me for those?"
>Almost reflexively, the woman rolls her sleeves up, revealing a row of scarified sigils and runes running up each arm. Wards against corruption and runes for preserving purity no doubt.
<"I can never forgive that man for doing this to me, but that man was not you. He was a spiteful shard of the man the Order wanted you to be, making his last attempt to break your will by playing to your fears."
>"That man was your father, so blinded by fear that he, I, didn't see my own daughter as I cut and burned those sigils into your flesh."
<"No, you didn't see your daughter, you saw the devils who tried to carry mother away that night, you thought of your nightmares of a future where she was carried away and corrupted, just another follower of the Fallen God for you put to the sword instead of your spouse. You feared losing your daughter, so you did anything to save me, even if it was reprehensible."
>The paladin says nothing, his face a mixture of shame and sorrow
<"I didn't understand that for a long time, I hated you for so long. But now that I have a daughter of my own, I know the fear that drove you."
>"I abandoned you, left you to fend for yourself as a girl of fifteen! Would you do the same to your daughter and still think yourself a good parent?"
<"You saved my life! What would the Order have done with a Dark Angel, especially one that had the "Fallen Paladin" protecting her? If I were in your shoes and I knew the only options available for Leah were letting her escape on her own or have her face execution, then I would do the same!"
<"Besides, if I hadn't ran I would never have met my husband, or had little Leah, or come to Earth to meet you again."
>The room becomes very tense
>"You are far too forgiving, just like your mother. This old fool hardly deserves it."
>The dark winged woman's face hardens
<"Leah, cover your ears."
>As soon as the little girl complies with her mother's request, Camille unloads
<"Father, I mean this with no disrespect, but please stop with this pathetic, self-pitying horseshite."
>Bohemond is taken aback, I have to admit I am too.
<"Is this what age has reduced you to? A sad old man lamenting his failures instead of carving his own path?"
<"You used to be better than this. What would the younger you think seeing your state now? The little boy who made his own fate the night he chose to defend a young angel from foes he knew knights three times his age had failed to defeat?"
<"The proud Paladin who slew a monster with power on par with the Demon Lord. Would he appreciate knowing his future is to become this old wretch, bellyaching about the cruelty of fate?"
>As she lays into her father, I can't help but notice the tears streaming down her face.
<"If you were as much of a failure as you think you are, you would have complied with the Order's wishes, handed me over to be raised as another mindless drone and gone back to being their dog!"
<"If you were a failure, you would have killed me the moment I fell! After all, is that not what the Order taught you?"
>The Paladin sets the little angel girl in his chair as he rises.
>Bohemond quickly closes the distance, standing just inches away from the Fallen Angel.
>For a second, the two say nothing, just defiantly stare each other down.
>But for one split second, I see the Paladin lose focus, something about this scene has brought up some old memory.
>"You have got your mother's stubbornness too."
<"I am her daughter as much as yours."
>At this point, the Paladin is fighting back tears of his own, matching his daughters.
>"I wish your mother could be here."
<"She can, Father, you said you knew where she is, so go get her."
>Camille glances at her daughter and then back to Bohemond
<"I think Leah deserves to meet her Grandmother."
>Finally making her presence known, the little angel speaks.
<"Mommy, why're you an Grampa crying?"
>The embrace is broken as Bohemond tousles the little angel's hair and her mother picks her up.
<"Mommy and Grandpa were crying because we're happy, we haven't seen each other in a long time."
>The girl looks ready to tear up
<"But Grampa is going to stay now, right?"
>The two angels regard him
<"Well, are you staying, Father?"
>Bohemond rises and places a hand on the shoulder of the small, winged girl
>"Grandpa will have to go for a while, but I promise I'll be back with new stories to tell you, little one."
>The Angel girl perks up
>"More importantly, when I come back, I'll introduce you to your Grandmother."
>I lock eyes with the Paladin one last time, exchanging nods as I turn to leave
<"Who was that man, Father?"
>"Just a meddlesome fool who also happens to be the closest thing to a friend I've had in a decade."
>Wandering the halls, I eventually run into the woman I have been seeking
<"Ah, Hasu. I was wondering where you were. Have you seen Mrs. Mika? She was suppos-"
>Her words are cut off as I pull her into a deep embrace
<"Hasu, have you been crying?"
>Trying to picture me and Ayane separated for twenty years like the Paladin and his wife, I couldn't bear it.
>So instead, I continue holding her close and wishing that I could do so forever.
>A bit later, we find ourselves wandering close to the maternity ward. I almost have to hold her back from pressing her nose against the glass looking at the newborns in the nursery
>Though I have to admit there are some differences from what I expected
>Namely the monster infants spaced among the humans
>A small aquarium where an infant girl with a fish tail slumbers
>One of the incubators appears set to keep the baby cold, and looking through the frosted glass I can plainly see a baby girl with blue skin and odd diamond markings on her cheeks
"Ayane, why does that one only have some sheets in it?"
>The sheets start to breath, and turn over to reveal the face and body of another infant girl
<"Ittan-Momen, I had a friend growing up who was one. She's back in Zipangu, she watches after my father for me."
"Friends with a living sheet, next thing you'll tell me you were friends with an umbrella."
<"Karakasa Obake, I knew one, but she wasn't my friend. That tongue of hers, yuck."
"You're shitting me? I mean, I know living umbrellas are part of Japanese myth, but really?"
<"Less than a year ago the thought of an oni being real would have been just as unbelievable to you."
"Yeah, but seeing is believing, and I did a lot more than just see you."
>I pat her growing baby bump as I say it, causing her to smile, but also flush red.
<"You certainly did..."
>Ayane and I slowly maneuver back to the day room.
>As I pass my room, I see the angel girl, Leah, has been placed in the Hospital bed to nap while her mother and grandfather catch up
>Bohemond and Camille regard me as I pass, the Dark Angel seeming rather surprised at me being with a pregnant Oni.
>I guess she thought by being called "friend" by her father I was some Orderite
<"Who was that with the Paladin?"
<"A fine jest, but seriously."
"I'm not joking, and the little Angel is his granddaughter."
<"The Order executes those who make children with monsters, there is no way."
"They took his wife, she's still alive but he hasn't seen her in twenty years."
<"That is, that is terrible."
>At this, she grabs me into a crushing embrace.
<"I swear that nothing will ever take me from you, if someone or something tries I will fight to the death."
"I can second that, Ayane."
>A terrifying expression crosses her face.
<"Oh no, Hasu, if someone tries to take you, or our little boy, I will personally find them and roast them whole over a fire for daring to lay a finger on my men."
"I love it when you talk like that."
>Just as we break our embrace, I see Mr. Yamano run up, breathless.
>"Ayane-chan, I need you for a moment."
<"What is it, Yamano-san?"
>"It's Mika, that akuma did something to my Mika."
>Ayane freezes up, I know she considers Mrs. Yamano to be like a mother to her
<"I will be back, Hasu."
"Don't do anything rash!"
<"If Anna behaves, and Mika-san is unharmed then there will be no worry."
>Resigning myself, I walk the other direction.
>Quickly returning to my room, I can see Camille has joined her daughter in napping on the open bed
>Watching over the angelic mother and daughter is Bohemond, who seems to be muttering something under his breath.
>I try to sneak close and am caught off guard by sudden voices.
>"She forgave me, just like you said."
<"I told you, you've been too hard on yourself, Mikael."
>"You'll love little Leah, she acts just like Cammi did at her age."
<"I'm sure I will. I'll see you soon, my love."
>The room goes quiet as the Paladin stares directly at me.
"Must be quite an experience having an actual angel answer your prayers."
>"My prayers won't be answered until she is in my arms again."
>The silence returns
>"It occurs to me, Meddler, that you know everything of my story, but I know nothing of yours."
"What do you want to know?"
>"How did you meet the Oni?"
"Alright, settle in, it was just an average day of work..."