let me live (let me die)
The end of the fight with the Chevalier, and the start of something between Astolfo and Noé.
< Chapter 4 || Chapter 6 >
Content warning : character death (OC), violence, mentioned character death, implied medical abuse (? Doctor Moreau is talked about)
Noé wants to ask Astolfo many questions, specifically regarding Antonio. Something is bothering him, but it’ll have to wait.
Right now, their focus is the Chevalier Ténèbre.
He still can barely believe that anyone would, on their own will, murder someone’s whole family. There has to be an explanation, a truth neither of them is aware of.
They let him come to them, and the Chevalier has no trouble finding them.
From his perch on the roof, Noé glances down at Astolfo, hiding against the wall at the street corner, a flash grenade held tight in his hands. He is utterly still, for now.
“This is getting rather tedious, though not entirely unexpected,” the Chevalier says. “The Granatums have always been a plague upon vampire kind.”
The glow of his eyes is bright enough that Noé can see it. The shadows move around him, muting his footsteps. It seems to lose some of its density when hit by the moonlight, though not entirely.
So, their suspicions are correct.
Astolfo rips the pin off the grenade, arming it, and lets it drop in the street, where it rolls down the pavement. At this time of the night, when people have either gone home or run away from the fight already, the sound it makes is too loud.
The Chevalier’s head snaps towards it and recognizes it with ease. He takes a few steps back, trying to protect his eyes, but it blows before he has the time.
Noé covers his face, closing his eyes as the bright flash of light explodes through the streets. It feels like it burns through his eyelids still, making him a feel somewhat dizzy, though not as much as if he took the full brunt of it.
The Chevalier isn't so lucky.
He screams, the light snaps his control over the formula, destroys the shadows around him, and Noé winces in sympathy. Having been subjected to an earlier version of the Aegis grenade, he knows it isn’t a particularly good feeling.
Not to mention, any chasseur out and about will be attracting to the flash like moths to a streetlight.
Astolfo darts out of his hiding place, quick enough to come close to the Chevalier while he’s still distracted. Meanwhile, Noé shakes his head to get rid of the lingering nausea, waiting for it to fade before joining the fight.
It looks like Astolfo doesn’t truly need him, though he won’t bet his life on that. He is fast on his feet, striking quick and getting out of range even quicker. Without the distance advantage a spear usually gives him, he has to force himself into his enemy’s space, push him to act before he can think.
Astolfo always was a smart fighter, though Noé supposes he has to be when.
Finally, his vision clears, and reinforces his body before he lets himself fall from the rooftop. His knee collides with of one of his shoulders, sending him tripping forward.
“You’ve brought a friend,” he hisses. “Afraid of facing me on your own?”
The shadows still have trouble reforming around him. The Chevalier’s hands shake as he tries to get them back under his control, and they shift and bubble while Astolfo dashes again. The Chevalier manages to avoids him, but barely, staggering,
Still, Astolfo staggers as well and seems to have forgotten all about Noé’s presence as he turns on his heels and runs straight into him. Noé’s balance wavers, and he grabs onto Astolfo to avoids the both of them stumbling over each other. “Be care—“
But Astolfo shoves his hand off. “Out of my way,” he snarls, pushing him away, “I’ll gut him—”
Noé shoves him out of the way as the Chevalier, having found his lost balance, comes at them. “Be careful!” he calls out again.
Noé’s hands grabs on the Chevalier’s wrist. “A vampire?” the Chevalier says, “no, worse, an Archiviste , helping a Granatum, of all people? Well, I thought I had seen everything.”
“Did you—” The Chevalier tries to rip his wrist out of his grip, but Noé is barely shaken by the struggle, his prosthetic arm holding on tight. “Did you kill his family?”
All Noé needs is a word — a single word that would suggest this man did not do it on his own volition, that something else is at play. Then maybe— then maybe—
Instead, the Chevalier laughs . “And we did our kind a favor ,” he answers, lips curling into a smile. “They deserved it after the what they did —”
And Noé shoves his knee into the vampire guts before he twists his arm until its bends. Then, he kicks his legs, throwing him down on the ground.
The shadows, back in his control, writhe and wrap around his ankles. Noé tries to move to pin him down but they trip him and he almost falls.
Running past him again, Astolfo drops on the Chevalier’s stomach, forcing him to stay down, raises his blade and plunges it deep in his chest.
The vampire howls and trashes, almost throwing Astolfo off but the younger man holds on and, with all the strength his human body can muster, stabs him again — and again and again and again and again , until he stops trashing and the shadows at Noé’s feet fade.
Still, Noé doesn’t move, staring wide eyed as Astolfo doesn’t stop. Blood sprays his face, seeps between the cobblestone squares of the street and his face twists with rage.
“Astolfo,” he calls gently as he pulls on the young man shoulder. “We need to go.” He can hear footsteps coming their way — the chasseurs. If they’re caught here, they’ll be in trouble. But Astolfo doesn’t react, dagger dragging out of the Chevalier’s body with a squelching, wet sound that sends a shiver down Noé spine. “Astolfo, he’s dead!”
He pulls harder at Astolfo’s shoulder, dragging him back on his feet, and the younger man stops. He jerks himself out of Noé’s grip, his blood-streaked face relaxing as he wipes it with his sleeve.
“He is.” His tone flat, he stares, unblinking.
Noé’s eyes linger on the very bloody, very dead vampire on the ground, nausea coming back full force.
Maybe following Astolfo around isn’t Noé’s brightest idea. He isn’t quite sure how many brutal murders he can handle, and as he sends Astolfo a sidelong glance he can’t help but focus on the splatters of blood on his clothes and in his hair.
Astolfo looks back at him, eyes dark — darker than every time the younger man has snapped at him in the past few days, darker than when he’d exploded in anger. But he hides his trembling hands in his wide sleeves and his lips quiver and his shoulders shake as if he’s about to retch so Noé asks:
“Are you okay?”
It takes almost a full minute for Astolfo to answer:
“He killed my mom.” Very audibly, Astolfo gulps and takes in a deep breath. “That night someone — someone was holding me down and I watched him murder my mother. She was— she was screaming and begging and he—”
He doesn’t finish his sentence, but Noé has a pretty solid guess.
She was screaming and begging and Jean Ténèbre laughed.
Then, swiftly, Astolfo kneels back down. He shoves his fingers into the vampire’s mouth as his body starts turning into dust, ripping one of his fangs out with ease. “Let’s go back,” he says when he stands back up, slipping the tooth in his pocket. “I need to clean up.”
With a sigh, Astolfo allows Noé in his hotel room.
Back inside, with the lights on, he looks even worse — dirty and bloody, eyes tired. He drops his dagger in the sink and shrugs of his coat, while Noé sets his own, along with his hat, on the back of the chair.
Soon enough, Astolfo disappears into the bathroom, leaving Noé alone with his thoughts.
In all their years fighting alongside Vanitas, he never killed anyone. He always knew he was capable of it, and made sure it didn’t happen, even by accident. He never settled for Vanitas’ justifications of “it’s too late”, always believing in an alternative. But those vampires were cursed, they did not control themselves. It had not been their fault.
The Chevalier Ténèbre is not one of those vampires and, thinking back on the smug grin stretched on his face, on Astolfo’s exhaustion and despair — to the point of asking someone he dislikes for help — he can’t bring himself to feel sorry for the man they left dead out in the night.
Someone knocks on the door before Astolfo gets out of the shower, and Murr hisses in warning. Still, Noé stands and opens, finding himself face to face with the old chasseur he’d barely the time to great earlier that day.
He’s wearing his uniform, a sword very much apparent at his hip, and doesn’t look pleased at all.
Noé’s heart speeds up, and t. What is he doing here? How did he find them? Is he here for Astolfo? He glances back at the bathroom door. The water is still running, and with all the blood and grime, it’s unlikely Astolfo will have finished cleaning up soon.
In the end, a form of anger or annoyance prevails at the memory of his exchange with Astolfo, how he talked and looked down on him.
“Good evening,” Noé still greets politely, wondering if he should be ready for a fight. The formula around him crackles and shifts slightly, unnoticed by the human, and strengths builds up in his limbs.
“It’s very much not a good evening.” One of his hand rests on the handle of his sword. “I’m here to see the boy.”
“He’s not here?” Noé lies, terribly so.
Antonio pinches the bridge of his nose. “If you tell me he’s dead I will chop your head off, vampire.”
“He’s not!!” Noé immediately affirms, shaking his head quickly for emphasis. “He’s unavailable, but alive and mostly unarmed!” Antonio doesn’t seem to be looking for a fight, but he still doesn’t let go of the formula. “And my name is Noé.”
So many people showed up before him seemingly peacefully and the night still ended with beating the shit out of each other.
Antonio looks him up and down critically from behind his glasses. He notes Noé’s guarded stance, the metallic glint of his wrist peaking between his glove and his sleeve, Murr’s raised hackles, the weapon in the sink. “So, you are the one who killed Jean Ténèbre.”
“Uh? No, I —” he hesitates — would it make a difference? The accords between humans and vampires are still recent, less than a year old, and some terms are still being discussed by the Senate, so he isn’t quite sure yet what would happen to Astolfo if they realize he’s the one who killed the Chevalier Ténèbre.
He could claim it was in defense of his life, which would be close enough to the truth and difficult to prove wrong.
Turns out he doesn’t have to think about it for a long time.
“What are you doing here?”
Noé didn’t even notice Astolfo coming out of the bathroom. He looks fresher already, wearing clean clothes and his wet hair a mess, though his eyes are red and somewhat puffy.
He scowls as he sees Antonio, narrowing his eyes as if to hide that he’d been crying. “What,” he repeats, “are you doing here?”
“Someone,” Antonio answers just as coldly, glaring at Noé, “killed a vampire we were planning on arresting and handing over to Altus Italy, like the new accords stipulate .”
“I’m the one who killed him.” His scowl deepens. “It appears that I didn’t need your assistance in finding him,” Astolfo goes on, chin tilted up. “He came to me on his own, and attacked me. I merely defended myself.”
“You stabbed him seven times in the chest in self-defense.”
He stares at Antonio, challenge in his eyes, daring the man to refute him. But his hands, closed into fists, shake slightly and tension settles in his jaw, so Noé steps up, moving closer to Astolfo.
“Unless you have something else to tell us,” he says, “I think you should leave.”
Antonio stays quiet for a short moment, before he sighs. "First of all, I wanted to apologise for some of the things I said to you yesterday. It was—" he pauses, looking for the right word. "Unecessarily harsh." Astolfo doesn't comment on that, simply crossing his arms, face blank. "And I promised you a talk. About Moreau.”
Blood pounds in Noé’s ears at the familiar name, and he pulls on Astolfo’s forearm, dragging him closer. He clearly remembers the man, the experiments, the way he referred to people as numbers, what he did to Vanitas and Mikhail.
Was Astolfo another one of his test subjects?
“What about Moreau?”
“I thought— he was interested in your marks —”
“So you thought it was an excellent idea to send me over to him so he could study them up close.”
“Do you really believe I wouldn’t have chosen another solution if there had been? You are my best friend’s son ."
Astolfo somehow met the doctor, Astolfo somehow got into grabbing distance of the doctor, and it was this man’s doing.
“No one in the world knew better how vampires worked, how marks worked. He said —” The man falters, and for a moment Noé can see his walls fall apart, see the anger and the guilt. “He promised he would find a way to erase them—”
“And you believed him?” He crosses his arms, raising a disbelieving eyebrow.
“No one had any reason to suspect him at the time — and he was the only option that didn’t involve making my twelve years old godchild a soldier.”
That...makes sense, actually. At least, to Noé it does, but he’s not the wronged party here and it’s not his place to say so. Astolfo hisses under his breath and takes a step forwards, seemingly ready to go for the man’s throat. Noé’s hold on his forearm tightens, so he settles for glaring at the man, not trying to fight Noé’s grip.
“I think you should leave,” he says again, though not as friendly. He bares his teeth, and Murr snarls.
Antonio glances between the three of them and shakes his head, resigned. “You should leave the country as well. I’ll do my best to come up with a slightly more believable story. Be grateful, there won't always be someone to cover for you.”
“We will manage.”
He doesn’t slam the door behind him but might as well have. The silence following his departure feels loud, and Noé doesn’t dare ask Astolfo about anything.
Astolfo suddenly relaxes, his shoulders sagging, and as he drops down on the bed Noé lets go of his arm. He stares up at Noé, wide eyed, shaken. “I didn’t want you to hear this.”
“Is it something you talked about earlier?”
The younger man nods. “I didn’t want you to—”
“I know, and I didn’t want to be here when you two aired your dirty laundry and yet here we are.” He sighs. “I thought you were going to attack him.”
Astolfo’s nose wrinkles as he grimaces. “I suppose I must thank you,” he mutters, and falls silent again. “For your assistance against the Chevalier and for holding me back.”
"You're welcome." Noé sits down on the desk chair, still facing him, and he lets out a small, closed eyed laugh. Astolfo narrows his eyes at him.
“What is it now?”
“You said we too .”
“You said we would manage,” Noé says again, and grins. “As in you and I .”
“I—” he stops himself and sighs. “I guess I did say it.”
“I’m glad.” He is , truly, because it means that Astolfo has accepted his help, that he’s willing to let Noé work with him for the time being. “We should rest, then decide what to do next.”
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let me live (let me die)
In which Noé wanders off and meets someone new.
Meanwhile, Astolfo faces Jean Ténèbre
< Chapter 3 || Chapter 5 >
Content warning : mentioned character death, violence
Of course, Noé wanders off — he wouldn’t be Noé Archiviste if he doesn't wander off. He’s curious and restless, and no matter how long he tries, he just can’t stand there and wait.
So, when he’s kicked out of the room, Noé starts wandering off.
This Antonio doesn’t seem willing to just give out the information they need, so maybe Noé can find it himself. In the past few years, he learned that sometimes, the best way to get information is to avoid asking, but sneak around and find out by yourself.
Better apologize later than ask for permission and being told “no”.
Murr in tow, he goes to explore.
He, somehow, manages to find the archives they passed a few minutes earlier. It’s quiet, and he takes the opportunity to look quickly through the shelves, hoping to find something on the vampire they are looking for.
There are records about him, but nothing recent enough. All he finds are reports upon reports, spanning decades , of a former Chevalier gone rogue with his brother, a thief and conman with a taste for blood, human and vampire alike, who was last seen 6 months ago near the coast, though the operation targeting him failed due to “outside intervention”.
“This is what Antonio referred to earlier, right?” he asks Murr, who sends him flat look, and Noé's eyebrows knit themselves together in worry. The file with the details is missing, along with several others, leaving several empty spots on the shelf, so he can’t be sure, but this is definitely something Astolfo would do.
“Anyone here?” someone calls out from deeper into the archives. Noé winces. He didn’t think anyone would be here, but now that someone is calling out to him, he realizes that archives should have an archivist.
He puts the files back where they belong and, accidentally knocking a chair down on the way, sneaks out of the room, turns at the nearest corner and finds himself into another.
This one seems to be the guardroom. It’s empty and, not for the first time, he wonders where all the chasseurs have gone. They are, though, several pieces of spare equipment in the closet, some which are small enough to fit in his pockets. He takes several, just in case.
He breathes in deeply. Everything is okay, he hasn’t been—
A yelp catches him by surprise.
He turns on his heels, hands raised. “Wait, I—”
Another order given in Italian, which he is sure means “ don’t move”, or at least something along those lines.
He stares at the young woman in front of him, her skin a warm brown and dark hair shaved short, a file tucked under her elbow. She stares back at him, black eyes narrowed, then she swiftly slips something out of the sleeve of her white coat and points it at him, still speaking to him in Italian.
Something about not moving, again.
“I’m not an intruder— I mean, yes I am, but I came with Astolfo and I— uh — got lost?”
She narrows her eyes at him suspiciously, lowering the blade — a scalpel, Noé notices. “Astolfo? Astolfo Granatum?” When he nods, she lowers her makeshift weapon. She raises her free hand to about ear level, and changes language to French. “Are you sure?”
Is he sure he is with Astolfo? What kind of question is that? “He’s about this tall,” he says, hand raising up just a little under his shoulder. “With pink hair?”
“God, I can’t believe Astolfo is back.” She nods, tense, and her weapon disappears back in her sleeve. Then, she shakes her head from side to side. “Although I’m terribly sorry for the rudeness, if I had known...” She shakes her head again, pinching her lips. “In my defense, I’ve never seen you here before, and who would except him to bring a friend —”
“We’re not,” Noé corrects and when she glances at him with a raised eyebrow, he explains: “We’re not friends, I don’t even like him, we are simply travelling together for a while. He’s meeting with someone called Antonio.” He smiles at her, reassuring. “So, don’t worry about the rudeness, mademoiselle. I wasn’t very polite myself, intruding into your headquarters with no warning. I’m sorry.”
“He’s meeting with Antonio?” she repeats, all offense forgotten, her lips pulling down into a concerned frown. “This can’t go well. They haven’t been getting along, lately.”
“It wasn’t going well when I was kicked out.” Noé sighs. “He told me they were friends, but it doesn’t look like it.”
“They used to be close, but not anymore, not since—” She grimaces, and her shoulders slump. “Astolfo has changed a lot since he went to Paris, in good and bad, and when he came back a few months ago—” She trails off, and goes quiet.
“What happened when he came back?” Noé asks. The woman doesn’t seem willing to elaborate, and she looks at him again with renewed suspicions.
“Why do you want to know?”
“We’re working together.” It doesn’t sound like enough of an explanation. “He’s looking for the Chevalier Ténèbre, and I want to help.”
Hearing those words, she makes a face. “Oh no. I—” She grabs the files she keeps under her elbow. “Since they’ll be moving out against him soon, I’ve been studying those to prepare for the next round of injuries. I’m Isabella, by the way, I’m the doctor here.” She draws out her hand, and Noé shakes it, hesitant. As if she senses his unease, she goes on: “Don’t worry, I'm a regular doctor, I don't do experiments.” Her eyes take on a determined gleam. “I think you will understand better if I show you.”
Taking the file as she hands it out to him, he flips it open. It’s a report, stamped with a bright red “archives copy”, and the medical report attached has Astolfo’s name on it – a word is scratched out with black marker where his first name should be, an “Astolfo” written by hand in a big, looping handwriting just above it. It’s probably the files missing from the archives’ shelves, and Noé can’t believe his luck.
It’s curiosity that pushes him to look through it. Another page confirms his suspicions with heavy injuries and near death and descriptions of bloody wounds and torn flesh and an infection.
“That idiot ,” he mutters, the worry quickly shifting to frustration, and Isabella hums in agreement.
“He really is. It didn’t look pretty. I’m— I’m the one who took care of him, it took days before he was well enough to get out of bed and he left before I discharged him.” She glares hard at the words printed on the papers. “I hadn’t seen him in at least six years. Can you imagine? Your friend leaves for over six years, doesn’t even send a letter, and then – when they brought him in, I thought he was dead ." Her voice breaks slightly on the last word. "I had never seen Antonio look so scared, either.”
Of course, Astolfo didn’t tell him. He has no obligation to do so, Noé knows, but he can’t help but feel the slightest resentment and frustration at the memories of Astolfo’s claims of being able to handle himself when there is definite proof that he can’t .
But no, he’s Astolfo Granatum and doesn’t need anyone for anything. He is just going to keep walking straight to his death until he actually dies.
“Antonio?” he asks. “I didn’t think he would be so worried for Astolfo.”
“Are you kidding me?” She snorts. “Don’t let his attitude make you think Antonio doesn’t care; he seems to believe that the harsher he is, the further away from here and the Chevalier Astolfo will stay. It doesn't work, obviously." No, it doesn't look like it does, it just seems to make Astolfo more persistent. "Additionally, he has just been so angry since Marco died.” She pauses, looking at him quizzically. “Have you heard about Marco?”
“I’ve met him a few times.” He didn’t know him well, but he seemed kind, at least kind enough to somewhat temperate the explosive Astolfo.
She frowns. “Wait, how long have you known Astolfo?” Her question about Marco, Noé figures, lets her appraise how close he is to Astolfo, but his answer isn't what she expected, so she must have assumed they met in the past six months. Noé admitting to knowing Marco though, gives her a different time scale and more questions about their potential relationship.
“Three years.” When her eyebrows raise in disbelief, he elaborates, running a hand through his hair and smiling sheepishly. “We hated each other at first. We still don’t get along, but I think we’re past the attempted murders and limb cutting phase.” He wiggles the fingers of his left hand, and the joints click and clack with the movement.
“The what now?” she groans. “I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s always strange to hear about what he got up to in France.”
A door slams shut in the distance, cutting him off before he can answer, and he skims through the rest of the file, trying to find anything useful on the Chevalier before he regroups with Astolfo.
“You said they were going to move out again soon?” he asks, trying to get them back on track.
Isabella nods. “Uhm — yes— it’s supposed to be tonight. In a few hours. Hopefully, Antonio will get Astolfo out of the city before it starts.” She looks up to Noé with severe eyes. “You two need to leave.”
She’s the second person who isn’t so happy to see Astolfo back, but it’s the gravity of her tone that makes it click. “He is in Florence, isn’t he?”
The Chevalier Ténèbre has last been seen in this very city. In Florence. All the chasseurs on duty are patrolling the area before he makes more victims here, which explains the headquarters’ persistent silence.
He is way closer than they thought.
Noé needs to find Astolfo, and fast.
He grabs both of Isabella’s hands in his own. “I’m very sorry, but I need to go now. Thank you so much for your help!”
“You’re going to help him, right?” He nods, so she continues: “He won’t listen to us, but maybe you will: I know he says he’ll be okay, but he can’t fight the Chevalier on his own.” She looks straight at him with gravity. “He will die.”
“He won’t. Not on my watch. I promise!”
And she bites her lower lips, unsure. “I hope you’re right. Do you need help finding your way back to Antonio’s office?”
Noé stops right at the door, hesitant, and Isabella laughs. “Come on, I’ll guide you.”
“Thank you!” He turns to Murr. “Let’s go.”
The cat looks up at him in exasperation.
“Sorry,” Noé tells him with an apologetic smile, though he can feel the worry building up inside him. “But we need to find Astolfo, before he runs into the Chevalier Ténèbre on his own.”
Knowing Astolfo, he could very well stumble upon him by accident.
“It won’t go well if he faces him alone.”
This seems to decide Murr, who sniffs disdainfully and starts walking.
Without Louisette, or more generally speaking, a spear, and the enhancement drug the chasseurs usually have, Astolfo can’t fight as well as he used too. He’s always been smaller than the average boy, both in terms of height and weight. He made up of for it, back then, by choosing a long-range weapon and relying on speed, dexterity and high mobility. With it, he could make his size an advantage, even though it also allowed his enemies to throw him around with more ease if they grabbed him.
The spear allowed him to hit his target while staying away. Now, all he has is his own natural speed and a short weapon which requires him to get in his enemy’s arm reach.
The dagger rips through the Chevalier’s clothes and nicks at his skin, but the vampire grabs him by the collar, pulling him off his feet, and throws him away. His back hits a wall with a thud and, as he falls, he sees stars, the pain spreading through his body in short waves.
He pushes himself back on his feet and picks his weapon. He grins, the rush of the fight coming back to him, warming him up. His focus is solely on Jean Ténèbre, and the humans running away, the chasseurs he is sure are on their way, Noé Archiviste’s departure — all of this is nothing but background noise. None of it matters .
Jean Ténèbre here stands in front of him and this time, nothing will stop Astolfo from taking his life.
Adjusting his grip on his weapon, he lunges, intentionally leaving his side open. The Chevalier takes the bait and Astolfo dodges, slipping under his arm and aiming his ribs. The vampire stumbles when Astolfo’s blade lodges itself right between two of them and he swings his arm, elbow hitting the side of his head.
Astolfo manages to roll away, once again out of range. He breathes hard already, but he can’t stop smiling, face flushed, his weapon bloodied.
“I failed to end you once,” he tells him, laughter bubbling at the back of his throat. “I will not fail again tonight.”
He remembers that night very clearly — every detail of it etched in his mind forever. The night this vampire and his companions slaughtered his family and laughed.
Just as Astolfo prepares to attack again, something catches on his leg, making him tumble down on his knee. He pulls, hard, but his foot is rooted on ground, something dark swirling around his ankle. He tries to pull it off, but it’s immaterial.
“You don’t learn, do you?” The Chevalier’s eyes seem to glower in the darkness, pupils shifting to strange, eerie spirals.
He cannot touch it and no matter how much he tries; it paralyses his ankle. He stands again, trying to force his leg to move, to wrench it off the ground, but it only spreads, keeping him from bending his knee until he’s immobilized all the way up his waist.
Around the Chevalier, shadows twirl and swell, growing more solid, more textured under his power.
All vampires have the ability to alter the very nature of this world, the formula. Some of them learn how to control this power, and some of them specialize. The Chevalier Ténèbre, staying true to his name, decided on darkness .
It wraps around him, taking a hold of his arm, squeezing his wrist until it cuts the skin and makes him drop his weapon. The dagger clatters uselessly on the ground.
“You come to me, in the middle of the night, when I am at my strongest, and you can barely put up a decent fight.” He sighs, sounding disappointed, standing just in front of him. He pats his cheek with a barely there smile that Astolfo wants to rip off his face with his bare hands. “To think my beloved brother lost to that. ”
The touch would make Astolfo shiver if he could move at all and he grits his teeth. He hasn’t changed at all. He is still, without the chasseurs, a weak and helpless child.
Once again, he realizes, Antonio was right. He keeps overestimating himself, trying to make himself believe that he’s still strong enough to take the Chevalier like he took his brother years ago.
Move , he tells himself as the Chevalier’s shadow creep up. Move , as he tries to push it aside. If he doesn't, Astolfo will be hacked to pieces by disgustingly solid shadows, and he can’t even move . Like six months ago, and like when he was eleven and pinned down by those same shadows as fangs dug into his skin.
The thought is what finally kicks him into action.
Astolfo snaps his head, catching, between his teeth, the fragile skin between the Chevalier’s thumb and index finger, and bites down. His teeth sink in. Blood pours out, staining his lips and chin.
The Chevalier yelps, his focus shifts, and his control snaps. Astolfo pushes him back, throwing his balance off. He dives to the ground to grab his weapon and drives it down into the vampire’s foot, before putting distance between them.
His chest rises and falls with his heartbeat, fast and uneven, and he wipes his face with his sleeve, spitting out the blood on the ground.
Then, snarling, the Chevalier comes for him again, faster, and Astolfo won’t have time to move out of the way — but before anything can happen something grabs him around the waist, pulling him off his feet and out of the way.
“Are you alright?”
And he finds himself carried like a sack of potatoes over Noé Archiviste’s shoulder as he turns several street corners, until they lose sight of the Chevalier.
“I learned the Chevalier Ténèbre was here so I came looking for you. But you found him without my help, it seems.”
“I—” Astolfo lets out a strangled sound of surprise, before he truly realizes what position he is in and kicks his feet in the air. “Let me down!”
“Oh, right.” He puts him back on his feet. “There.”
Now back on the ground, Astolfo regains his bearings and huffs. “What took you so long?” he demands as if he hasn’t been scared out of his mind, in a difficult position just a minute ago. “Did you wander off again?”
“What do you mean, again ?” the Archiviste protests. “I even brought something that could be useful.”
He rummages through his pockets and takes out several pouches, which Astolfo easily recognizes. “Are those chasseurs belt pouches?”
“I found them in the guardroom in the headquarters. I figured you could find some use for it, since you don’t have access to those anymore.” He looks back over his shoulder, making sure the Chevalier Ténèbre isn’t catching up yet. “You can’t fight him on your own, Astolfo. At least not without some extra weapons.”
The "you’re a regular human now" hangs between them, unsaid.
“Mademoiselle Isabella showed me what he did to you last time.”
There is something in his tone and in his eyes looking too much like a mixture of fear and worry that make Astolfo want to give up arguing.
It's not like he’s up for an argument anyway. He’s tired, from the last year’s search, from his previous encounters with the Chevalier, from the argument with Antonio, and from the fight, so he just takes the pouches without a word. He doesn’t ask how he even knows Isa, and opens them. They all contain Aegis flash grenades, brand new and polished, warm under his fingers.
All in all, they have four of those.
“This is what you disappeared for?”
“Well, it wasn’t what I was looking for but—” He rubs the back of his head. “Sometimes you take what you have on hands.” He points at the cat still sitting across his shoulders. “Murr helped too.”
“I—” he gulps. “I was under the impression you—”
I thought you left for good .
“You thought what?” the vampire asks, confused.
“Nothing.” He looks away, face pink in embarrassment, recalling his rather childish outburst.
“Are you sure?”
He nods, and focuses back on the equipment Noé brought back. He picks one of the grenades, weighting it in his palm. “This will be useful. The Chevalier Ténèbre can control shadows,” he explains.
“We will be able to counter it with those, then.”
Astolfo blinks, taken aback. He always imagined himself facing the Chevalier alone, fighting alone until who or whatever is in front of him kills him. “We?”
"Yes, we." Noé takes off his coat and hat, which he neatly places on a windowsill, before he sets Murr next to them. His sharp fangs glint in the moonlight as he grins, flexing his fingers, and Astolfo is suddenly reminded that, under his sweet exterior, the vampire is as much as a fighter as any chasseur. “I’m your shield now. You can count on me.”
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