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Bonded of Cadis Etrama di Raizel

Chapter Text

Tao and Takeo were recovering, but only because he had spent his own lifeforce to save them. Frankenstein could have healed them, if only M-21 hadn’t asked them to take in M-24.

 “Please take care of them,” Frankenstein said to M-21 and the others before the door closed behind him as he left his ruined lab. He had another patient to check on.

Because Raizel, the Noblesse, was sleeping in that coffin.

Talking to the others didn't help. It just made M-21 angrier, that these were the people who were suffering because of him.

Clenching his fist, he knew that he could never forgive M-24.

He left the room, ignoring their attempts to call him back. He had to, to apologize to him, and Frankenstein.

He had to do something.

By the time M-21 got there, the doors to the elevator that led to where Raizel slept were closing behind Frankenstein. "He'll be sleeping for a few days," Frankenstein said to himself. "Which should be enough time to accomplish this without it disturbing him. I couldn't inflict that on Master."

"You have a plan?" M-21 asked him eagerly. "Whatever it is, let me help!"

Frankenstein turned to him, almost looking startled to see him there. Was that how tired and wound up all of this had made him, that he was focused enough on his own thoughts and worries about his master to tune out M-21's approach? "Even though he was your friend?"

"All of this is my fault."

"Your fault?" Frankenstein chuckled, first condescendingly, and then even darker. M-21 took a step back, watching in case that dark energy appeared around him. "You think it's your fault?"

The scientist walked past him, still chuckling, and then turned around to look at M-21, glints of that purple in his eyes. "I am the source of all the Union's human modification techniques. Everything that you and M-24 experienced was because I trusted when I should not have trusted."

Frankenstein was still smiling. It was the smile he had when he told M-21 to not actually kill the sort of people gauche enough to drive a van onto an area of his schoolgrounds where vehicles weren't permitted and then threaten two of his staff, but other than that?

That was just the school his Master attended, M-21 cleaning up an unsightly thing his Master should not have had to see. What was he going to do now that his lab had been destroyed? That Tao and Takeo had nearly died, and Frankenstein with no lab to treat them? Now that Frankenstein had allowed a mess to happen big enough to force his Master to step in and save their lives?

M-21 gulped. For a moment despite his resolve he wanted to plead for his former friend's life, but… Tao, and Takeo… Him and Frankenstein and everyone's home. He couldn't forgive M-24. If this even was his former friend. "I'm coming with you. I need answers," he said, hurrying to follow Frankenstein to…

…the kitchen?

"Oh, he'll answer for this," Frankenstein said, and opened the freezer. M-21 couldn't see what he was doing through the door, but he drew out a small vial of something red with a white label on it.

"You had another blood sample?" They weren't all destroyed with the lab? "Do you think I can use it to find him?" he asked a little doubtfully. They were all tired: he wasn't sure if he could transform at all, and he hadn't practiced tracking by scent.

"Don't worry, M-21. He'll come to us. If he lives that long." A truly vicious expression appeared on Frankenstein's face for a moment as he stared at the vial. Then he sighed. A flicker of distaste appeared in his eyes, maybe even remorse. "I never wanted to have to do this, but after everything the Union has done I can't allow Crombel to keep that data. Once it's destroyed, and you have your answers… If M-24 is under the Union's control, I can use this to free him. From them, at least."

"If you had a way of finding out if he was under their control and fixing it, why didn't you use it before?" M-21 asked, getting worried.

"Because I spent a century and a half of my life killing anyone who did what I am about to do," Frankenstein said, removing the cap from the vial and placing it into the sink. Where the dirty dishes went, M-21 thought, as his eyes returned to the vial in time to see Frankenstein raise it to his lips and tip it down his throat.

M-21 watched him swallow, and then Frankenstein shuddered, raising a hand to his head and wincing.

"Are you okay?"

"Brain freeze…"

The werewolf just stared for a moment.

Frankenstein closed his eyes, focusing, leaning back against the fridge. "A modified human with the ability to incorporate others' DNA – I could swear I made certain that journal was among the ones I burned! Yet there's no way someone as ignorant as Crombel could possibly have reproduced this on his own!" 

"Then I was tricked." He'd asked them to accept a Union agent into their home, again. Kept imposing on their generosity until they paid the price.

"The one that spoke to us wasn't lying. Mark created a cover persona to avoid the nobles' psychic powers. 'Mark' hid behind that persona and slept, until he was triggered to awaken and act against us." Frankenstein opened his eyes.

"You can tell all that just from tasting his blood?" M-21 marveled, but really, why hadn't he done this before.

Frankenstein blinked at him, eyes incredulous blue. "You don't know what just happened? I know the Union didn't tell you anything – even Dr. Crombel clearly didn't know the first thing about how this worked, but I did explain it to you when you said you thought Master and myself were 'Noblesse, vampires, same thing,'" he said, sounding a little annoyed.

Now that M-21 knew what Noblesse really meant he had to wince, because comparing him to that mutant M-24 created, in front of Frankenstein? No wonder Frankenstein had been a little annoyed with him when he first moved in, if he kept unknowingly insulting Frankenstein's master like that! "You said that only one noble was the noblesse, and that vampires were mutants."

"No, I said that mutants were a type of vampire, the ones humans tell stories about since they're anything but subtle. You do remember that nobles have power over blood, yes? Master's is especially strong, because he is the Noblesse, but if a noble drinks the blood of a member of a different species, they can use that blood to control the person or animal they took it from. That's why it's normally forbidden these days for a noble to drink a human's blood. A human who has their blood taken can be controlled by the noble at any time, but in exchange they can call on some of the noble's powers. And one of those powers is…?" Frankenstein prompted him, showing M-21 the vial in his hand.

"…Controlling people after drinking their blood?" M-21 looked up at Frankenstein. "You're a vampire? I thought you said you were a human." He'd lied? "I thought you were a vampire when I moved in, you didn't have to lie."

"I didn't lie. A vampire is still a human. Or a dog, or a horse. Think of it as just a type of enhancement: it's the basis most of them ultimately derive from, since studying mutants allowed me to observe the human body replicating noble abilities. There were stories of dhampirs - humans with vampiric powers who were able to fight vampires effectively."

Ordinary humans were helpless against even mutants. Well, Shinwoo, but he wasn't normal. Frankenstein might be much better than Shinwoo, but if he'd been a scientist back then? "So you tried to turn yourself into one to get strong enough to kill vampires?" 

"And fight off their mind control. It was obvious after their leader froze the town guard just to show off that if I couldn't resist their mesmerizing effect then I couldn't fight them at all. Thank goodness I did, otherwise I would have ended up a vampire when that leader licked my blood off his sword. I thought I was safe unless he managed to bite me. Now that was a close call," Frankenstein said, sounding almost fond of those old days, like when he'd gone off into that spiel about the joy of seeking knowledge in the days before search engines. "If he'd been able to get a grip on my mind, channeling only barely-controlled noble power into me would have turned me into a mindless mutant like the other humans whose blood he took. Fortunately, I killed him first.

"Well over a century later, I met Master, and an embarrassing number of years after that I found out the truth of what he was. Although, in my defense, trying to learn how to control Dark Spear and fighting noble clan leaders took up most of my attention." Those blue eyes looked soft for a long moment, before he sighed. "He had to Awaken me to save me from Dark Spear. I gave him my blood willingly, as a pledge to stay by his side forever, as proof that he would never be alone again. Once he drank my blood, even if I was fool enough to wish to abandon him, it would be child's play for the Noblesse to force me to remain. He did me the unparalleled honor of entering into a Contract with me, and since that day I have had the honor of being the Bonded of Cadis Etrama di Raizel, although I'll thank you to not compare either of us to the Twelfth Elder and that traitor Roctis Kravei."

Despite the expression of clear warning, M-21 was dazed enough he couldn't help asking, "Does that mean you can turn into a bat?"

"No. I told you, the Twelfth Elder enhanced himself before entering into the contract." Frankenstein's expression darkened. "The Union wants to abandon humanity for power, thinks that they can become something better than humanity so they deserve to look down on us..." Clearing his throat, he regained control of himself and the menacing energy subsided. "I took care not to stay human, so I don't have a transformation. If that Elder's transformation had anything to do with the contract, he'd have turned into a sea serpent. Or possibly a whale."

"A whale?"

"The Leviathan, sometimes called Cetus, is the symbol of the Kravei Clan." Not that this mattered, Frankenstein's slight eye-roll said clearly. "Having a blood sample easily accessible has several uses in emergencies – I'm not a noble, so I can't use blood magic without drinking it, but that's what Regis and Seira are for. Not this of course, they're children and what I'm doing is punishable by forced eternal sleep. Fortunately, as a human I'm not subject to Lukedonia's laws."

Oh no. "What about him?" M-21 asked.

Frankenstein blinked at him. "Master? He'll be sad that I was forced to do something that has so many memories for me, or that I had to take his duty upon myself to protect you while he slept, but the Noblesse is the one who watches over the nobles from the shadows. A… wider selection of tactics is permitted for him than for Miss Seira." He shook his head. "Listen to me ramble on. I'm splitting my concentration too much." He walked past M-21, then smiled absently, telling him. "I'll be going to bed. Don't allow anyone to disturb me – unless Master wakes, of course. Tell Tao to use my phone to call Gejutel and have him send me Ragar-Rajak Kertia. I will have a list of database codes and facility locations for them in the morning, and I expect Rajak and Tao to be ready bright and early."


"Dr. Crombel, sir?"

Dr. Crombel snarled soundlessly. How dare anyone interrupt him while he was studying such beautiful data! But no, perfect timing. He needed more. He started to turn away from the screen.

"Where. Did you get. That journal."


"Yes. Journal." M-24's scarred face smiled at him, the expression dripping with patronizing contempt. "Don't tell me you thought the other Union Elders didn't know! Not after they put so much effort into spreading disinformation throughout the Union so that people like you wouldn't have even the most basic information necessary to become truly powerful on their own. A little brat who swallows the party line that two plus two equals five suddenly shows up with a sheet of new mathematical proofs, claiming to have solved them all himself? You're a fake, Dr. Crombel, and everyone knows it. You're far too stupid to have figured out how to create a modified human like this on your own.

"Why do you think the Twelfth Elder came to Korea so quickly after you ordered the destruction of that lab? Because even a fellow double-digit errand boy was in the know that you were nothing but a plagiarist, and he hoped to find evidence that your 'discoveries' came from other Union researchers so the other Elders would have you disposed of instead of permitting your continued existence until the First Elder's modified clone could discover where you got my journal and if there were any more."

Dr. Crombel grinned with delight, well aware of how psychotic that grin made him look. "You're F!"

"The first time we met, you boasted of how little you knew. You told me – me! – that I wouldn't be aware of such advanced scientific concepts of how the earth was flat and the moon was made of green cheese. You didn't have the basic knowledge necessary to deduce the existence of the ability you gave Mark, and replicating something that complex-"

A beam tore through Crombel. If it had only cut him off at the knees he wouldn't be worried, but everything below his heart was gone! It hadn't come from Mark – behind him, through the console?

"-by complete accident? Impossible for someone like you, who wastes a hundred lives on experiments that obviously won't work to pretend those experiments are where you got your knowledge."

That craggy face smiled again, as Crombel's enhanced body let him cut off the pain and move his arms to lift himself up from where he'd fallen on the console. His body was still on the chair, if he could get to it they'd knit together again. He coughed once, but his lungs were already nearly repaired. Damn, having two sets of some organs would add extra time to reconnecting. He still grinned: that wasn't a fatal shot. Leaving him alive? That offered opportunities.

"Now I have no further need of Yuri." Mark tapped Crombel on the lips and came away with a bloody finger. Raising it to his mouth, he licked at it with a delicacy that clashed with the appearance of the body he'd – what, mimicked the way Mark had mimicked M-24?


Just imagine what could be done with that… And he would, he knew, because the dark power F had used against him? The kind of person who would lick an enemy's blood was child's play to manipulate-

His body fell onto the floor, muscles, nerves and even brain overrides no longer responding.

"All the resources of the Union, and you couldn't track the provenance of a single book. All the evidence that M-21 and M-24's abilities were outside your estimates, and you didn't look up their names and track down their families to see if genetics was a factor." A thoughtful sound. "You know nothing. That makes you useless to me. But I suppose that's a good thing. It means I don't have to leave someone like you alive."


"One for each of us," Tao said, spreading out the vials he'd found in the hidden compartment in the freezer. "They're labeled. The extras are Sangeen and Yonsu, and the kids."

The mention of the kids drew an atavistic response from all of them, but M-21 knew, "After all the times they've been attacked or kidnapped… If the boss could take over one of them, or just give them his power so they could get to safety…"

"Imagine Shinwoo with an enhanced human's strength." Tao grinned, and then they all remembered the KSA and how close he'd come. How it had nearly cost him his chance at a normal, happy life. "The KSA agents are modified humans not registered with the Union."

"Crombel would want them to see if there are any new techniques in them," M-21 knew. The way he'd destroyed the Union's lab in Korea because there was a new technique there, and he wanted to keep it to himself.

"It's disgusting," Regis said, shuddering and staring at them with a look of betrayal in his eyes. He'd thought Frankenstein was an elegant person! Drinking blood was not elegant. "Being forced to do things against their will is the worst thing that can happen to anyone! Any noble would rather be forced into eternal sleep!"

"They're not for enemies," M-21 said. "They're for us. He needed Tao and Takeo's blood to Awaken them." He looked up at each of them. "If M-24 was still in there, and the Union just implanted commands in his head? He would have done anything to get them out and make sure he was safe to be around."

He reached forward and closed his hand around cold glass.

Chapter Text

“You don’t need to be here, M-21,” Frankenstein said, most of his attention seemingly focused on the paperwork that piled up while he was out for three days, busy elsewhere.

“You did that for me. In case it was still possible to bring him back.”

“It was my own decision. Not something to thank me for.” Frankenstein reached for his coffee cup, and grimaced when he found it empty. He’d wanted something to wash the memory of that taste out of his mouth.

The scent of blood in the air was back. He used to be a doctor even before he became a vampire hunter; He was used to blood, but when his master used so many blood fields he’d begun to hate the smell of it, and now it was starting to sicken him.

What if that had been the real M-24? M-24 had sacrificed himself to save the children, but for Frankenstein to do something that would affect Master for his own reasons?

He’d wiped the memories of both humans and nobles before, used the psychic abilities he’d copied from nobles to absorb languages and cultural behaviors when he moved into a new region to continue his search for Master or simply create a new identity.

This was different. This was a nauseating parody of the bond between him and Master. No wonder the Previous Lord had said they were completely different things, even if both were triggered by blood and allowed a noble’s powers to be used by the human whose blood they drank.

It was a relief that Crombel and the agents Frankenstein had used to get to him and be sure he’d secured all the data were all dead, well before his master could wake up and feel their presence. Master would not be angry with him – he had not abused the weak or innocent, and it was the Noblesse’s duty to probe the minds of clan leaders – but it would sorrow him to find what his bonded had done, what he had only been able to do because Master gave him what he wished by drinking his blood, and Frankenstein wished so much to spare him that.

A new coffee cup appeared on his desk, slid in front of him, and Frankenstein’s nose wrinkled.

No. The smell of blood wasn’t his imagination.

He restrained a sigh and hoped this wasn’t how Master felt, after he’d saved the human who had moved into his house and repaid the favor by disrupting Raizel’s daily routine of window-staring with meals and other gifts he didn’t need. And, of course, playing the model manservant when others visited for the sake of irritating the nobles – or boggling their minds – as much as possible.

Urokai Agvain was an easy target. Finding that one of the ‘superior’ nobles was so easy to reduce to a frantic jealous wreck accusing him of plotting to harm someone as ridiculously powerful as Cadis Etrama di Raizel, as though the Noblesse was some damsel deceived by a suitor with foul intentions… was far less funny in hindsight. The fact that nobles couldn’t handle their emotions was one of the cornerstones of his combat strategy, and instead of taking a moment to wonder why Urokai’s behavior was so uncharacteristic for a noble, when he was there partially to learn how the clan leaders ticked, he’d bullied an insecure orphaned teenager, thinking that he ‘deserved it’ on the grounds of his species?

When the Previous Lord had explained the duties of the Noblesse, he’d given the former clan leader of Agvain, Urokai’s parent, as an example of one of the nobles Raizel had spent his lifeforce to execute. Unfortunately, after being nearly devoured by Dark Spear and seeing the noble he’d looked after for ten years bleed from the mouth because Urokai pulled out Tesamu’s necklace, Frankenstein was in no condition to care about what it meant that Urokai was so devoted to the Noblesse even though the Noblesse forced his father into eternal sleep.

The bonds between parent and child were even stronger among nobles than among humans, which made strong evolutionary sense when children were so rare. Urokai would not feel grateful to his father’s executioner without very good reason.

Was it only the Union’s slander or Frankenstein’s species that made Urokai think that he was a danger to the Noblesse. or had something about him reminded Urokai of the previous clan leader?

He’d taken his cue from how Urokai’s visits seemed to upset his host, but of course Cadis Etrama di Raizel was a gentle soul who was repulsed by the thought of being offered gratitude and tribute for doing his duty. For killing.

Now Urokai Agvain was one of the traitor clan leaders, and there was a chance Master would be forced to spend his life to kill two generations of that clan, because Frankenstein had thought it was funny to exploit an abuse victim’s emotional vulnerabilities. It made the high school chairman want to go back in time and stab the vampire hunter. Speaking of people in need of stabbing: Ragar Kertia.

What the devil had he been thinking, leaving an emotional infant with a brain developed enough to remember the trauma of his only parent choosing to abandon him with no one to look after him but a child who couldn’t have been much more than Seira’s age?

Most of his feelings for Seira were pure projection of his younger self’s circumstances onto her, thinking the fellow orphan needed someone older who would devote his time to her the way Rajak clearly hadn’t. Probably too focused on his training because of the incomplete Kartas. However, Seira had Gejutel, and zero interest in being talked at because of Rael’s failure… to deal with his own… issues…

This was going to be Urokai all over again if no one stepped in and shored up Rael’s sanity before the Noblesse had to step in. Frankenstein probably owed it to Ragar, after all the help the Kertia Clan Leader gave him with Dark Spear.

Master might say he trusted Frankenstein’s judgment in all things, but the fact that sometimes Frankenstein’s judgment failed to see anything wrong with things like bullying emotionally fragile nobles was one of the reasons he felt… better, in the Noblesse’s power. With his head already on the chopping block, if he ever abused the considerable power he’d gained. Their contract would make it easy for Master to do his duty, if it ever became necessary. If he ever went the way of the Union, he would be handled before innocent lives could be lost, at a minimal cost to his master.

There would still be a cost. It would still bring him pain. So that became another reason to hew to his principles.

That was the logical argument for giving the Noblesse his blood. Who else could be trusted to take down someone with enough power to fight noble clan leaders, someone who was still growing stronger?

There was nothing of logic in cutting his wrist open with a fingertip, deep enough to stay open long enough for a drop of blood to fall into the tea. It was not about him. Not when Frankenstein was wracked with guilt over what Master had just done for his sake, when he would do anything to stay with him. Even give a noble his blood, when Frankenstein knew that for all he had modified himself, Cadis Etrama di Raizel was the Noblesse.

There was no one more skilled at controlling blood, or controlling those with blood. Once the Noblesse drank a drop of Frankenstein’s blood, he would be able to take control of Frankenstein’s mind and override his free will at any time.

And that was alright.

He had tried not to expect, to dare to dream of a contract with that lonely, exquisitely pure being, to have their souls bound together for as long as they lived. But if Raizel had Frankenstein’s blood, then he could be certain that Frankenstein would never abandon him. He would have someone who was his, who he could know would always stay by his side. And that was what Frankenstein had wanted, more than anything else.

Caught in memory, he raised the spiked cup to his lips and pretended to take a sip. “This tea tastes different,” he remarked.

“It’s… coffee.”

“…Yes, coffee.” Frankenstein lowered the cup and sighed. “Nice try. This is exactly how I became a vampire. I tried to trick Master into drinking it.” Of course the greatest master of blood could sense it. Frankenstein might have been slightly in shock at the time he did it, but that didn’t make it any less embarrassing in hindsight.

M-21 flushed, embarrassed to be caught.

“Master did me the honor of using the ability to control me granted to him by that gift of blood to create a contract between us. That is… different. It is a bond of the soul, not simply power bought with the loss of integrity.” The sacrifice of the noble’s honor, and the human’s self. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of it. “It is wonderful.” Something exquisite held in his hands. Something so pure and kind, entrusted to him. Someone he could entrust with his own soul, when the Union’s treachery and Dark Spear’s whispers undermined his faith in everything. Especially himself, and his own ability to know right from wrong.

“He was born only to die: to have this chance to protect him, to give him a normal life… But,” he rallied, because there was a point to this other than reminiscing, “I was well over two hundred years old,” Lukedonia’s age of majority, “and knew what I was getting myself into. No. I didn’t know… I had no idea what it was truly like.” The Previous Lord had tried to explain what Frankenstein was going without, by not seeking a contract with Master when he clearly wished to be by his side, but what were mere words to this? “But I knew the worst case scenario, and I knew Master.”

“I know you,” M-21 said, eyes downcast to show polite submission to one of his parents. Or one of the two ‘pack alphas,’ to use the popular terminology based on observations of wolves in settings far more like M-21’s life in the Union than a healthy environment.

Honestly, this kid. No wonder he’d given Master such severe cuteness proximity even when he was a Union thug. There was a reason Miss Seira saw Shinwoo as an adult, or at least a young adult her own age, and M-21 and the rest of Regis’ new playmates as tiny children who must be protected at all costs. 

Master was the Noblesse, so of course he had seen past M-21’s façade. Now the enhanced human was no longer a snarling, abused stray that tried clearly futile snaps at the hand that fed him (or gave him safehouse access) because it just hadn’t occurred to M-21 that someone might feed a stray unpoisoned food.

One of the things that made it possible to forgive M-21’s involvement in attacks on the students as youthful folly was how young he was. The Union certainly didn’t have any interest in teaching people how to tell right from wrong, whether it be in ethics or information. Fortunately for M-21’s sake, wolf, human and werewolf instincts were broadly compatible, unlike human and noble instincts. Put him in a healthy environment – an environment designed to be healthy, for Master’s sake and the students’ – and he sorted himself out without any need for more active measures.

M-21 was not going to trust any kind of doctor with what was going on inside his head, after the Union, and Frankenstein loathed manipulating people. His distaste for it grew worse as he gained psychic abilities and centuries worth of head start. M-21 deserved to become his own person, not have what kind of person he would become decided for him. That would be no different from what the Union tried to do to him.

Now M-24 would have been a mess even without the cellular degeneration issue. Sitting down and trying to figure out what would result from transplanting a noble’s heart into a human should have made it obvious that Crombel had intended the M-series to fail so that no one else could possibly get data out of those experiments.

And Crombel clearly hadn’t known a third of why it was just asking for it to implant the organ that controlled and managed blood flow and the attendant nerve cells from a species that controlled the mind via blood into a human body with a human brain. When nobles regenerated nerve cells without trouble – the reason it was so dangerous for human bodies to create new nerve cells (they did it, but sparingly) didn’t apply to a species that had an external, non-physical DNA and cognitive backup.

That was part of what made it so impossible for even the Noblesse to figure out the truth about Mark by comparing their scans of him to what they’d registered from the real M-24. Mark had his own buried personality and the M-24 persona, while M-24 had an ‘echo’ to his sense of self that came from having the equivalent of a third brain hemisphere with signaling problems.

If they’d brought M-24 home with them back then along with M-21, Frankenstein would have had to abandon his hopes of keeping his Master secret and safe (it gave him no joy that he’d been right, and there were traitors among the clan leaders) until he recovered to travel to Lukedonia and shake down Gejutel for everything he knew about noble infant development.

He likely would have had to contract to M-24 regardless, or ideally make Gejutel do it (he seemed the go-to foster parent for noble children), in order to have any chance of stabilizing the growth of M-24’s soul before his body gave out under it.

Human bodies had evolved things like the autonomic nervous system, dozens of regulatory hormones and mechanisms for regulating cell processes that were suited to the human body. Nobles were beings of unknown origin who had copied human appearances and entire swaths of their genetic code (which made Frankenstein feel a bit better about so many of his early enhancements essentially being copying noble capabilities – they borrowed humanity’s evolutionary advantages first), but in computer science terms they were running humanity on an emulator. The underlying system that managed nobles’ growth, health and appearance was their soul. Human souls were generated by the brain’s signals: they simply didn’t have the processing power to run the brain, much less the entire body.

The only helpful ingredient in the pills that served as M-21 and M-24’s leash to the Union, thinking no one but the Union could make them, could be found in foxglove. They could have retired to the countryside and drank tea, and it would have done them more good than those pills. Crombel was the kind of… inelegant bastard who would get a kick out of adding that kind of insult to a legion of injuries.

All in all, Frankenstein was very glad that the modern Union’s modified humans considered themselves something superior to humanity, meaning not human. That meant it wasn’t his species they were making look contemptibly stupid, but their own. They were gearing up to attack Lukedonia, which would have unleashed angry refugee nobles with no one to keep them from raising vampire armies, and instead of getting their act together before the world they planned to rule was overwhelmed by something much more deadly than the zombie apocalypse of recent pop culture they encouraged this institutional cult of incompetence just to hold on to their personal power bases?

Unleashing vampire plagues on innocent people just for the sake of their own hunger for power? A thousand years and more, and they hadn’t changed.

With M-21 glancing at him out of the corner of grey eyes, he couldn’t let any of his disgust for the Union show on his face. M-21 would misinterpret it, and Frankenstein wasn’t going trivialize this with references to ‘kicked puppies.’ Not when he was dealing with someone who had spent the only childhood they remembered in a lab with all bodily and mental autonomy stripped from them, watching the only people who treated them like people die, one by one, helpless to save them.

Thankfully, a werewolf’s regenerative powers had protected him from the normal, physiological consequences of that kind of chronic agony. Figuring out antidepressant doses for a constantly-changing hybrid physiology would involve far more trial and error than he wanted to inflict on an experimental victim, and Frankenstein had put significant work into figuring out alternatives to giving M-21 any kind of pill to take for good reasons.

Frankenstein chuckled. “No,” he said, kindly. “Your memories stretch back less than a decade. Come speak to me when you’re legally old enough to make decisions like this.” On Lukedonia, preferably. “The only way to make this fair to you would be to make it a contract, and that would bind you to me, body and soul. It’s not something a child is able to understand well enough to consent to it.”

“You’re talking about it like it’s marriage.” M-21 looked at him, worried. Was it?

“Very like it,” Frankenstein agreed, both because it was true and because that would put M-21 off the entire idea. “At least, how marriage was defined in the place and time that I was born. Not the physical aspect,” not necessarily, “but I am Master’s. I am able to think my own thoughts only because he has given me leave. I still breathe only because he permits it.”

He saw the look of recognition in the werewolf’s eyes. Recalling what the Noblesse said when he made Jake kneel?

“You are talking about putting your life, your soul, in someone else’s hands, M-21,” he said, voice soft, trying to make it clear that this was kindness, not rejection. “I know that you do that when you enter my lab, I know that you have done that on the battlefield, but the Union treated you as property. Like a thing.” He couldn’t keep the flash of fury, both his and Dark Spear’s, from showing in his eyes, and he let it, because M-21 needed to see it. To truly believe that what was done to him was wrong, that he deserved better. “I want you to belong to yourself for a little longer. So that, when you find someone you wish to stay with for the rest of your life, someone you wish to belong to and with, you understand the value of the gift you are giving them. You understand how much they should value that gift, and refuse to give it to anyone who will treat it carelessly.” Frankenstein frowned. “Master tends to value me… more than I wish to be.”

“We’re more valuable than his own life to him,” M-21 agreed.

Frankenstein sighed. “And that is the reason he is more valuable than my own to me. To the nobles, he is the Symbol of Strength:” when the word Virtue meant strength, strength not merely of the body but of the unconquerable soul. “Master is my ideal, the living avatar of the principles I dedicated myself to over a thousand years ago, but he is also a person who was alone for so very long, to spare others the fear of him even as he protected them. I want to give him everything, and my soul is part of everything.” His mind, his will, his thoughts, his breath: the things he’d defended to the death from so many other vampires, from the Union? They were what he wished most to give to Raizel, in the hope that they would give him especial joy. “You are welcome in my master’s home always, M-21. We will do everything we can to keep you safe.”

“You said you could remove Union programming from M-24’s mind. Do you think you could unlock my memories?” If there was even a chance, then M-21 would be willing to pay even this price to keep his promise to his comrades.

“Even nobles don’t have perfect recall, unfortunately. The Previous Lord forgot his own name over the ages of being called simply Lord.” No, he couldn’t search M-21’s subconscious for those lost names. Hmm. Yes, that might work.

He leaned back in his chair, removing his glasses to toy with them. “Then again, perfectly obedient servants have their uses. I’m fond of the janitorial staff at this school.” He was very particular about them, of course – they were caring for the place of Master’s happiness. “And of course I can’t allow the others to get out of doing their share of the chores, but I’m sure I could find something to do with you…”

No, no, entirely the wrong tack to take, he saw from the blushing. He had assumed that M-21’s mind would leap to the threat of being experimented on, when there was a little menace in his voice. That it would remind him what it was usually like to be in someone’s power.

He restrained a sigh. Well, thankfully he had a great deal of practice handling unwanted crushes even before he became a high-school Chairman and most of those crushes were from among the underage.

Then again, thanks to the Union wiping the memories of their test subjects, in terms of his understanding of ordinary human relationships, much less human kindness, M-21 was younger than all of his students.

“If you took your vial, have the others destroyed theirs?” Unless M-21 had simply cut his wrist to obtain the blood, the way Frankenstein had that day. It would be impossible to tell when M-21 healed that fast, but he hoped not. He’d been injured far too many times as it was.

“Not when I left.”

Frankenstein had gone back to school early to avoid them as much as to get caught up on the paperwork. He should have taken care of the vials first… but then, they deserved to see them. To know the danger and make their own decisions.

“If they don’t destroy the vials, I will.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and put his glasses back on. The glasses were practical, for hiding how acute his vision really was. Reading glasses and other little things helped convince others that he was aging. It was almost time to leave Korea and found another school when Master appeared here. “I had never done that before. It was unpleasant, and I do not wish to do it again. I’m just glad Mark was an enemy already marked for death. If he was alive, if I still sensed his mind?” he shuddered. If any of them were still alive, but he wasn’t going to mention that. If t’were done, t’were best done thoroughly. Once was already one too many: he had to make it not necessary a second time.

He might have been conflicted over keeping Crombel, torn between repugnance and the useful intelligence he could provide. But he took Yuri first and it became clear that no, keeping Crombel would not give him a trusted spy in the Union, so he could give a sigh of relief and just kill the bastard.

“It would be worse with any of you. It would bother me to think of any of you in a situation where you could be used and taken advantage of, and contracting to you? I can’t even take proper care of Master.” He winced, realizing the confession that had just slipped out of him. They hadn’t wanted the children to worry.

M-21’s eyes flashed around desperately before finally a hand patted his shoulder – M-21, imitating Master. He looked ready to jump back and run for the door, if that was something Frankenstein wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. It made his lips twist in a smile.

“You gave me a home,” M-21 said. “For Takeo, and Tao, and M-24.”

“It was Master’s decision,” Frankenstein told him. “Master’s generosity. The same as he did for me, long before we contracted.” No need to tell M-21 the whole story, although in the human world, a house like that would fall apart without servants to look after it in the blink of an eye from a noble’s perspective. “Don’t try to slip blood into Master’s tea. If it is your will, he might drink it, and you don’t have enough control over yourself and your power yet.”

“Don’t have enough control for what?”

“To avoid calling on his power. When a human is merely controlled by blood, they can only use whatever powers their controller permits. In a contract, our souls are bound together. The power of my soul would be his to call on… or it would be, if the Noblesse was capable of using powers other than his own life and soul, and I may call freely on his. He has so little left.” He could not risk someone contracted to him using his bond to Master to call on Master’s power, but he didn’t want M-21 to know that he had endangered Master, trying to pledge his loyalty to them. That would be cruel. “When Tao and Takeo come in, tell them to get those vials destroyed. I’d rather not even look at blood right now. And fetch me another cup of coffee.” Frankenstein gave him a stern look, holding out the cup M-21 had given him. “In a different cup, but I want this one sterilized.”

M-21 took it with a quick gesture that was more of a head-bow than a nod and fled the room.

People these days were far too casual with blood. As a doctor, blood banks delighted him: as a vampire hunter, they terrified him. Thank goodness M-24 was too weak for that ‘infected’ he’d created to have enough power to set up secondary links to other victims, otherwise they would have had a mutant plague on their hands when Jake took that infected to a blood bank.

And the Union showed no signs of backing down from a confrontation with Lukedonia despite losing more half the elders. They simply weren’t going to have the enhanced manpower to keep refugees from escaping, and most of their enhanced humans couldn’t even sense nobles! How did they expect to track down shapeshifters whose psychic abilities would let them quickly imitate natives if they lost their arrogance, the way fleeing the destruction of their homeland would force them to? It was only the mutants who were vulnerable to sunlight: if any purebloods escaped that could be a dozen generations of vampires who would have to obey that noble before they started to produce mutants instead.

It was the Union’s intention to supplant humanity as Earth’s dominant species. Even if they failed, if they managed to destroy Lukedonia’s ability to enforce its laws it would be the nobles who ruled a world where humans were prey. Then there were the werewolves, who needed to be constantly reined in by Lukedonia’s superior numbers and political unity even when the human-friendly Muzaka was the Werewolf Lord. It didn’t take finding a werewolf among the Elders to know that they were involved in the Union. Almost certainly involved in sabotaging its ability to actually win for their own species’ advantage.

When the powerful fought for more power, played their little games, human lives, entire cities were devoured.

And Cadis Etrama di Raizel was still convinced that the only purpose of his existence, the only reason he had any life-force to spend, was to spend it putting a stop to the powerful when they abused the weak.

There were seven billion humans on this planet, and the Noblesse knew it. Frankenstein himself was the one who had put together that overview of the current state of the world.

It would not be possible to make him sit this one out. He would protect the humans who lacked the power to protect themselves, thanks to the Union enforcing a monopoly on human enhancements.

Frankenstein couldn’t stop him.

He would be there doing the same, as Dark Spear devoured him.

If it was possible to stop Raizel, his beloved Master, from protecting this world, then Frankenstein would never have knelt before a noble.

So he would fight and die to protect his master and this world, humans and the nobles like Seira alike. His master would fight and die to protect both the honor of the nobles and the humans who died before reaching their third century.

He was never one to give in to fate, but he was a scientist. One first had to acknowledge reality in order to change it. Yet… above all else… These were the children they had decided to protect, no matter the cost. As long as they survived, then… then their lives had meaning. That of the Noblesse, and that of the Father of Human Enhancement.

Raizel was an entirely different species from him. Their lives had nothing in common until they met. How on earth had they ended up so perfectly, frustratingly alike?

Chapter Text

“He said no?” Takeo asked when M-21 slunk into Tao’s security control room.

“He’d never done it before, and he hated it. He wants all the vials destroyed.”

“Is that a good idea?” Tao asked, spinning his chair around. “I mean, we were just Awakened, and the lab was destroyed. Doesn’t he need before and after blood samples to check how we’re doing?”

“What if he’s reluctant to draw blood from us, if he thinks we won’t trust him with it?” Takeo asked, frowning as he continued to clean his gun. “And having uncontaminated blood samples from the children might help if anything happens to them.”

Tao and M-21 winced.

“He made me feel like a little kid, asking for something like that.” M-21 wanted to default to resentment, because usually when people were older and wiser than he was and left him feeling confused, like he’d done something wrong or just generally inferior in the Union, it was the Union. Internal terror and trying to not seem weak when everyone knew he was because the weak were put down were the only sane responses.

He didn’t want to be used against everyone like this again. Now he felt like he’d done something as wrong as asking Raizel to awaken the (fake) M-24, only unlike the way-too-kind-for-his-own-good Noblesse, Frankenstein would say no. Unless it was Raizel asking.

He’d wanted to not mess up anymore, but he’d messed up again. It helped a bit to know that Frankenstein had felt… something like the way he felt now once, but it almost made it worse, because seeing those two as fallible people like him just made him realize how much he needed to help them.

How must Tao and Takeo feel, when despite trying to get stronger so they wouldn’t be a burden, they were beaten up and captured by Union agents and they had to watch Raizel pass out saving lives the Union taught them were worthless?

He had always been so unimaginably strong, Frankenstein had always known what to do, and to see Raizel on the noble version of life support, not even to make him better, just to try to stabilize his condition so he didn’t fall apart even without using any more power and Frankenstein out of options because of their own weakness? Raizel couldn’t just let them die, and Frankenstein couldn’t stop the Noblesse from saving human lives, their lives.

M-21 wasn’t the only one to feel like he had to make up for this somehow, had to give them something to make up for what they’d sacrificed because of him. ‘We didn’t do this for gratitude, or to be remembered,’ Raizel had told the children. That meant that thanks and giving them things weren’t want they wanted, but then how was he supposed to ever repay this?

Their limitless generosity made him feel so small. What if he lost this, his home, everything, because he screwed up? What if he lost them, because he was too weak and stupid to protect them?

No one but Frankenstein has ever wanted to protect me before,” Raizel said when M-21 tried to get him to run away, before stepping forward to be the one to protect him from the two Union Elders.

He knew that the fact he was trying meant a lot to him, but he didn’t want to try and fail to protect them, he wanted to actually protect them, be an asset instead of a burden!

Now Raizel’s body or life force or whatever was falling apart, like M-24’s, and M-21 didn’t want to watch, to hear the person he wanted to protect telling him that it wasn’t his fault he was weak and useless, that he should live. Hearing them worry about M-21 when they were dying. He couldn’t go through that again.

He had to get stronger, but he couldn’t risk draining Raizel’s lifeforce, again, to do it.

“Well, the boss is like over a thousand years old,” Tao said. “He’s good at acting like he isn’t, but we’re still only twice the age of his students.” He probably meant to reassure M-21 that it wasn’t him, Boss did that to everyone, but the reminder of how stupid he was compared to the people who had taken him in didn’t help. He didn’t want to be the chink in their armor.

It wasn’t his fault, they would say if he asked. He’d done the best he could.

Like a failed experiment’s best was worth anything.

Like he’d ever be worth anything, like he’d ever be able to help them when they needed help. “My memories were wiped, and a lot of the time I do remember was in that lab. I bet he thinks I’m not any older than Regis.” M-21 winced, realizing his mistake.

“Who is a hundred and ninety-nine years old,” Takeo reminded him, hair swishing as he examined M-21.

“Let’s not remind them that we don’t remember before the Union got us, ok?” Tao said, looking thoughtful. “Although he knows Union SOP.”

The DA agents were wiped too; that was how Aris got her hooks into Takeo, the modified human not knowing he hadn’t had a sister before. Not one like her, anyway. Hopefully.

“I’m less than Ikhan’s age, then,” Tao said, leaning back in the chair to look up at the ceiling. “Well, if contracts are off the table, how are we going to get stronger? Does it have to be him, thought? We’ve got other nobles around.” He tilted back down, looking at Takeo. “RK-03.”

Normally it took awhile to realize what Tao was getting at and if he was serious. Staring at him, M-21 wished it took longer this time.

Tao kept smiling at them undaunted as they stared at him, so Takeo was the one to have to speak and say, “Weren’t you listening when Regis and M-21 told us about this? It’s illegal in Lukedonia.”

“Yeah, Regis’ Grandpa’d be angry at us, but if it’s okay for Boss and him… But Boss does what he wants, and who’s going to give him a hard time?” Darn.

“He’ll feel it,” M-21 said. “Regis is a kid; I’m not bothering him like that just to get stronger.” The entire point was for the rest of them not to suffer because he was weak!

“Seira thinks of all of us as kids,” Tao said, leaning back again in the chair. “It’d be kind of nice if Boss does too.”

“It would be one thing to see us as adults and treat us like children, but to feel that we are children and still treat us like adults free to make our own decisions…” Done, Takeo closed his gun and began concealing it in his clothes.

“Boss said that window was the only precious thing he had.” Was Tao blushing, just for a moment? “Do you think we’re precious to him? Like the kids? And if we’re precious to him, then we are to Boss, too. Since Boss wants him to be happy.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Takeo said, shaking his head, hair swishing behind him now that he’d stood up. “They’re family.” They all remembered Aris, but Takeo lifted his head. “The importance of protecting family is something I decided for myself.” A part of who he was the Union hadn’t been able to erase.

“I was looking up vampires in case Rael came after us again-“ Tao started to say. Seeing their ‘what’ expressions, he explained that, “I figured we could attack while he went into apoplexy. Of course, I’m going to need to work on my script – it isn’t much help to say Edward Cullen was based on him without explaining who Edward Cullen is – but in some of the stuff people have made up? If a vampire drinks your blood and that makes you another vampire, they’re now your father.”

Takeo looked from Tao to M-21. “After what he did for us, for all of us,” because M-21 was Awakened before, “is that really necessary?” He shook his head.

M-21 closed his eyes. Even Tao was silent in agreement. For a moment. “So, if contracts really are out,” said the self-appointed Number 01 of the knights Raizel hadn’t asked for, “We need to find some other way to get stronger.” The Union was going to send more people to investigate the loss of two more Elders, and they couldn’t let it get bad enough that Raizel had to wake up and come save them while he was still in critical condition.

“I’ve considered asking Frankenstein to train me,” said Takeo. Right, he’d fought Frankenstein, M-21 remembered, and winced sympathetically. “But I haven’t felt strong enough for it to be worth his time.”

“Yeah, he’s got more combat experience than anyone.” Tao said. “Even more than Regis’ grandpa, I’m sure of it!” Then he sobered. “I’m going to ask him to enhance me, too.” The question hung in the air, unspoken because just assuming that someone would want to volunteer for experiments? What if they felt forced into it? They’d all had enough of that at the Union.

Takeo nodded.

M-21 remembered how desperate he and M-24 were to hide that they’d grown stronger. To escape falling back into the hands of the scientists, so they could spend their last days somewhere other than that lab. Now they were talking about volunteering for experiments, and all he could say was, “Yeah.”

Honor wasn’t a concept in the Union. Trust? He’d trusted M-24, and Crombel and his agents had spat on that trust.

He was going to put himself into the hands of a scientist because he could trust them. And that was what would let him get the power to destroy the Union and find the names they’d taken from him and the other M-series.

He couldn’t fail them. Not his fellow experiments, who were with him in that hell. Not the new comrades who were with him now in this place where… If M-24 really had been here with him, he would have had to wonder if his body had finally given out under him.

But experiments. That weren’t Frankenstein wanting his recipes taste-tested.

No, no, it was sparring with him that was going to suck worse, M-21 thought, a hand reaching up to touch his chest, wincing at the memory of those wounds that refused to heal.

There were scarier things in the world than being experimented on? Really?

Losing them, any of them, ever again… yes. That was scarier.

“Come in,” Frankenstein said absently, hearing the knock on his door. One of these days he had to get around to training Tao in how to do some of this paperwork, or getting a secretary, but Master was so happy here. What if someone else, who didn’t know Master’s taste as well, missed some key detail?

They came in to stand in front of his desk, but didn’t say anything. The aura was too serene for his visitor to be Regis, so, “Yes, Miss Seira?” Another day he might have said, ‘What can I help you with?’ but she might perhaps be here with a message from the Lord.

Gejutel was more likely, to both tell Frankenstein that he was severely disappointed in him and to see if Frankenstein was alright, as if being a human still automatically made him a child in need of looking after despite all his centuries, that irritating old noble.

“I was not aware that you were contracted to the Noblesse,” Seira said, elegantly composed as usual.

Well, of course she hadn’t been. She might be his student, but Master liked his privacy; most nobles did, and unlike the Twelfth Elder Frankenstein had competent mental shielding. Frankenstein didn’t lie to the household, and preferred not to hold back information if they asked, but first they had to ask.

Seira was his favorite because she was willing to ask. Well, state her wish to know something.

Nobles did not ask personal questions, or pry. It simply wasn’t done, not when they had used psychic abilities long before they started using language, and using psychic powers to pry into someone’s innermost thoughts was clearly wrong. Then, when they picked up words from the human populations that clustered around them, they’d treated them as essentially the same thing. The unethical, or ‘inelegant’ nature of trying to break into someone’s mind and force them to bare their private thoughts kept them from asking questions, and the taboo against being noisy caused them to attempt to tactfully ignore the words of anyone who went around being talkative, because realizing that they’d spoken significant amounts would obviously embarrass them later, once they regained their senses. That meant that if they needed information, they either had to resort to their psychic abilities, when not reading private thoughts unnecessarily was the entire point, or attempt to throw out bait and see if anything bit. The fact she remained standing in front of his desk indicated this was a matter of some importance.

Tao was an inquisitive child, but he was still far too scared of scientists to go up to one and admit that he was ignorant on some matter and ask for instruction. Finding out things on his own was what he was designed to do, and he knew what the Union did to failures. Frankenstein could give him materials and self-study projects, try to nudge him into finally beginning to ask questions with ‘you didn’t ask,’ but it was Seira who tasted his cooking and indicated that she wished to learn from him the very day she moved into his home.

The combination of a student willing and eager to learn and how much her personality resembled Master’s made him very fond of her as soon as he knew she wasn’t a danger to his master. Regis was a brat, but Seira was a very responsible young woman, trying to bear far too much of the weight of the world on her shoulders. Noble or not, she was a child, and children deserved care regardless of species.

He remembered being that age. Both by human standards and noble standards.

This was likely to take awhile. Seira knew that he preferred for her to simply say when she wanted to learn something, the way she’d stated that she wanted combat training and believed he was the only one who could teach her what she needed to learn. It had to be a delicate matter for Seira, with her practiced control over her emotions, to feel enough embarrassment to ignore her teacher’s known preference and ‘ask’ this way instead. That itself would be embarrassing her further, and like Master she defaulted to noble reserve when uncertain or strained. He’d have to be gentle with her instead of pushing, or this would take even longer.

During which this paperwork would be here, making his desk untidy. What if some of it blew off his desk and made a mess on the floor? But, Seira was a precious student.

Frankenstein smiled and stood up. “Why don’t I get us some tea.”

Even with the tea, Seira’s focus remained on him, instead of entirely centered on the experience of drinking the tea.

It made him twist his lips in a smile. Well, she was very young for a noble, but still. This must be something very important to her. He hadn’t been given a chance to observe noble children or even the equivalent of younger teenagers like Seira and Rael on Lukedonia, other than Raskreia, otherwise he might have had a better chance of figuring out that Ragar and Urokai were significantly younger than Master despite looking older. After the Union’s rumors and the truth about his experiments on nobles, no noble but the eccentric lord was going to allow their children anywhere near him.

Then, of course, he kept company with the Noblesse, when ‘be good or the Noblesse will be forced to send you into eternal sleep’ was what the clan leaders used to teach their heirs.

Frankenstein’s housekeeping and combat student was no more cautious around Master than she was with himself, even with Regis to protect. Since the two of them were so much alike, she worried Master less than the others did. It made Frankenstein smile to see them drinking tea together, Seira expressing her admiration for Master’s calm and elegance by visibly imitating it. Master was always so touched that someone would find a pariah like him a model to emulate.

As for Regis, the child orphaned at a mere hundred viewed Rai’s elegance and Frankenstein’s fealty to his master as role models to emulate. After Gejutel, of course, but finding that Frankenstein drank blood and used, well, ex-human minds as his pawns would have upset him. Frankenstein couldn’t have Regis thinking that Frankenstein’s actions reflected on the Noblesse. Or thinking too deeply on what the Noblesse’s duty really was, outside of these unusual circumstances where things were as simple and clean as executing Union Elders and agents.

Not when Master adored children as much as a proper noble, and for him to have human children who wished to play with him and noble children who didn’t see him as the bogeyman? Frankenstein would not let him wake up to find Regis avoiding him. Not out of cowardice, but so Gejutel didn’t have to suffer losing his grandson so soon after his son.

“Sir Gejutel made contracts in the past, before the nobles were commanded to cease their interference in human affairs,” she said, trying to focus her gaze on her tea while maintaining a reserved expression. “He has never spoken of the details.”

That old man – “Sir Gejutel,” he said with more respect than usual, because the Landegre clan leader had raised Seira since she was little more than a century old, “is acting properly.” As always. “Contracts are personal matters. If they were his own personal matter I’m sure he would tell you, but he can’t speak of someone else’s personal matter without obtaining their permission.” And those humans were long-dead. Gejutel wouldn’t have made any contracts since the Previous Lord… the Previous Previous Lord, these days, created Lukedonia and nobles had trouble remembering details from that long ago. Even important details, like their own names. “Until we encountered the bonded of Roctis Kravei, I thought it likely that there hadn’t been another contract in centuries.” Since himself.

The Union, at least whichever elders were aware of his existence after the Union tried to erase him from their history and slander his good name, must have heard of his contract with Raizel from the traitor nobles. He’d hoped that their hatred for him would make contracts unpopular. He hadn’t expected that when he made contact with the Union again, even their researchers would be completely unaware of what used to be basic concepts. The historical foundation of human enhancement. And the original Union’s power, for that matter.

“Ah,” Seira said, lowering her teacup, attempting to hide her embarrassment at having come so close to prying. She knew he wanted her to ask questions, but her respect and fondness for him meant she really didn’t want to insult him by prying.

He smiled reassuringly, letting her know there was no need to beat a hasty retreat, he was just teasing her a little. He was probably still a little too fond of toying with nobles, even the ones who truly did have nothing to do with the mutant outbreak. Seira wasn’t even born back then. “My Master has given me leave to tell all of you whatever you need to know. I can tell you what a true contract is like, from the human’s perspective.” 

Her relief was palpable for someone with long practice reading Master’s moods. “I am always grateful for your instruction.”

He smiled. “I’m always happy to help my students.”

The KSA was firmly under his thumb and knew better than to come anywhere near his students, but Shinwoo had come to the attention of Crombel’s agents too many times. Crombel might be dealt with, but Yuri’s reports were beyond Frankenstein’s reach. Finally killing him would keep him from sending more, but the First Elder would be a problem.

The Union’s records only contained their slander, but someone must remember what he was really like.

That before he met Master, his students were the fastest way to his heart.

They would be aware that Shinwoo was a martial arts genius, but have Yuri’s confirmation that this meant nothing. The Union’s belief that their enhancements made them superior was the reason so many of them hadn’t been able to resist letting Shinwoo fight them for the sake of their egos. For all his talent and training, he simply didn’t have the enhanced strength and speed necessary for it to be a fair fight.

Shinwoo didn’t.

The Bonded of Seira Loyard could be able to fight not on the level of an ordinary contractor, but a pureblood noble like Regis.

The Twelfth Elder had never drawn on Roctis’ soul weapon, which was merely one of the things that made Frankenstein certain that the bond had been tampered with somehow. Then again, seeing a mere human call on her family’s soul weapon for power, even if he wouldn’t be able to wield it? Ignes would have pitched a fit.

The very ability to call on Master’s true power that made his bond with Frankenstein potentially deadly to the Noblesse would allow the Death Scythe to Awaken both Seira and Shinwoo. A clan leader’s soul weapon could only Awaken the soul of that clan leader, but it could do that because it was bonded to their soul. So if a third person was bonded to the soul weapon through the clan leader, it should be possible for a complete soul weapon to Awaken them as well.

If Frankenstein’s theories were correct.

Which, of course, they were. They had better be, when harnessing the principles behind soul weapons was his best chance of extending his master’s lifespan.

Regis confronted him in his office shortly after the end of the last period.

Of course he did: the Landegre were always ones to attack matters head-on. A refreshing quality in a noble, when it came to conversation instead of combat. Seira had come during physical education class – a sacrifice for her to miss Shinwoo in action. The nobles had standing permission to play hooky from that class whenever they wished. He’d managed to press that on them by pointing out to Seira that Regis was still underage, and it would be a pity if there was a mishap with his strength on a day he was feeling distracted. However, to avoid Regis feeling singled out and ashamed, of course he would have to extend the same precaution to her. And as a responsible adult, the Loyard clan leader would set a good example by refraining from participation in PE under any circumstances in which she would wish Regis to do the same.

Seira was pushing herself far too hard to become an adult. At least she was still willing to admit that she needed to test and refine her control, although he wished she hadn’t tested it on his good cookware.

After he’d finally let her graduate from the practice set he bought her – only the highest quality materials, of course, but it was in need of aging.

He hadn’t been much older than Seira when he first visited Lukedonia, but the difference between them? Even if both of them were painfully aware that people died, and determined to prevent it.

The little Landegre prince wasn’t looking at Frankenstein with the contempt he’d given Rael. Regis’ expression still made him chuckle. “Well, I can see the resemblance to Gejutel.”

“How could you use the power he entrusted you with so inelegantly?” Regis asked him, looking affronted, disgusted… trying not to look betrayed. “There’s nothing worse than forcing people to do things against their own wills!”

Regis really didn’t have any idea, did he? That forcing people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, and certainly didn’t wish to do, was much of the Noblesse’s duty. Things like telling him all their most inelegant thoughts, fears and plans. Coming to visit the Noblesse when they were contemplating things that would very likely end in Raizel forcing them into eternal sleep.

Raizel would never execute someone merely for having an idea, or else Frankenstein would have died within minutes of their contract. It was the choices people made that defined them. But when thought could lead to action, he’d been forced to monitor those clan leaders very closely, as they told themselves that they were monitoring him.

Obviously Frankenstein wasn’t going to tell Regis how… inelegant the Noblesse’s duty ordinarily was. “For someone to be forced to act against their own will is a violation of their self, soul, integrity. What do you call what the Union did to M-21, Tao and Takeo, by stripping them of their memories, of their knowledge of who they are, and forcing them to serve their violators? Of course, I’m not going to teach you that evil is any less evil if they did it first. A necessary evil is still an evil. However, all my options were worse. Leave Master’s sleeping body undefended while I tried to hunt down Crombel? Unthinkable. And if I found myself in difficulties, it would wake him when he desperately needs to hibernate until the latest wound inflicted on his lifeforce…” Not ‘stops bleeding.’ Raizel did not have the resources to heal, not anymore. Frankenstein needed to focus on designing and constructing a seal capable of holding in his lifeforce. “I do not have time to waste tracking down an Elder of the Union and getting into fights when I must focus on Master.”

The Landegre heir was raised to value loyalty. He understood that Frankenstein couldn’t abandon the Noblesse, even while Frankestein was equally duty-bound to keep his own work from being used to abuse the weak – and damn that canny old fool Gejutel, for leaving two young, impressionable clan leaders and future clan leaders in his grasp. He must be counting on the fact that Frankenstein would have to mentor them, make sure they understood their responsibilities and how many would suffer if they did not live up to their principles, both for Master’s sake and humanity’s.

It was already clear Gejutel had drawn on what he learned from watching Frankenstein while instructing Regis.

Until Frankenstein encountered Rael, Regis was the rudest little brat of a noble he’d ever seen. Urokai at least had to be provoked, and others hid their contempt for the human or seeing an enhanced human as a carnival freak (World’s Strongest Mere Human) reaching above their station under a veneer of noble civility. By noble standards, Regis was atrociously arrogant with nothing to back it up…

…And enraging those who were stronger than him was Frankenstein’s strategy. It gave the weak an advantage against the strong. And against traitor clan leaders like the one who killed Regis’ father, Gejutel’s grandson was terribly, nightmarishly weak. Regis knew he was weak, and that was much of why he went on the offensive. Or why Gejutel hadn’t scolded that inelegance out of him. Insults were being talkative, as well.

Regis looked like he wanted to object, insist that Frankenstein should have found another way.

But he already knew that being an adult… that being Regis’ father didn’t make someone perfect or invincible. Didn’t mean they couldn’t be pushed to the wall and find themselves out of options.

Regis wanted to think that of course Frankenstein hadn’t really had to do it. That there must have been another way. But there hadn’t been. Not unless he was willing to let innocents suffer at the hands of the Union. Just like Master had no alternative but to awaken Tao and Takeo.

“You are correct, Regis. It was disgusting. I should not have done it. I should have taken better precautions so I did not have to profane my bond to Master like that. It is because I failed to have the back-up lab ready that two of Master’s loyal knights almost died, and Master was forced to summon forth so much power for their sake.”

Regis swallowed, gathered himself to ask the unpleasant question. “…How much power?”

“More than it took to execute the Elders. Only the Lord and the Noblesse have sufficient power to perform Awakenings. Even Clan Leaders can’t bring forth the full potential of anyone but themselves, and only by summoning their soul weapons.”

“…You must save him,” the little noble told him, and if it weren’t for the fact those red eyes were wide and pleading, Frankenstein would have informed him that he didn’t have to do anything some noble told him to do.

Yes, Master, but his allegiance to Master was a reason to not give obedience to any other noble. Or anyone, for that matter. He couldn’t cheapen it, now could he?

“I am doing everything he will permit me to do,” Frankenstein promised the child. “Now that Master has allowed me to resume research, and I’ve had the chance to… at least try to observe the mechanics of what his power does to him,” obviously he couldn’t let Raizel waste his power by asking him to perform a technique in laboratory conditions. “My chances are… better.”

“You did not stop him from saving Tao and Takeo. Even though they did not choose to live at his expense.”

“No. I did not stop him. If I stood in his way, he would have ordered me to stand aside. He would have gone through me, if need be. If he was someone who could stand by and watch humans die in front of him without doing whatever it took to save them, no matter the cost to himself, I would not have pledged myself to him. He has my blood, Regis. He could do to me what I did to the false M-24 and Dr. Crombel.”

“He wouldn’t!” Regis declared, shocked that anyone, but especially Frankenstein, would insult such a noble being like that.

“Exactly,” Frankenstein agreed. “But there have been many nobles who would. I saw the bodies, was forced to mercy kill the mutants they left behind. Cadis Etrama di Raizel is a paragon among nobles: that is why you are here, to demand an explanation for why I disgraced myself when that would reflect poorly on him. You must consider the power you and the other nobles hold, Regis. You must consider how many humans will have their souls violated if you turn a blind eye to others’ abuse of that power. The revulsion you felt when you heard that I drank someone’s blood and made use of them, turned them against their master? Remember it, Regis. Remember it well.”

Chapter Text

After they asked Frankenstein to train them, M-21, along with Tao, Takeo and Regis had trained with him half the time, and Seira trained with him on the island the other half, because they had to take turns guarding Raizel while he slept.

It took all four of them to equal Seira? No, she was a clan leader with a soul weapon. They didn’t equal her. It was enough that Frankenstein trusted them enough that he was willing to leave Raizel with only the four of them with protection.

Then they got the news that more Union Elders had arrived and started blowing up downtown in order to call out the nobles who’d taken out the ‘double-digit errand boys,’ as Frankenstein was calling the Elders they’d faced so far.  

They’d hurried home on the helicopter, but while they were still en route, Seira had left the house to fight the Elders before they killed any more humans. Frankenstein had to hurry to join her, but before jumping out of the helicopter he’d given the rest of them strict orders to get home and stay there to guard the sleeping Raizel.

Tao had snapped off a salute and said, “Don’t worry, the RK-4 won’t let anyone past us, and if he wakes up and tries to leave the house we give him puppy dog eyes, got it – sorry, M-21!”

This wasn’t the first time they’d been left out of a probable fight, even if this time Regis would be staying home with them.

When Frankenstein and Raizel went back to Lukedonia after Seira was summoned home by the Lord and Regis’ Grandpa was probably in trouble, they’d taken Regis because the kid was worried, but the three enhanced humans were not invited along.

It made sense: when Lukedonia thought of enhanced humans, they thought of the Union – that was pretty clear from Regis, Gejutel and Rael. They’d look at M-21 and the former DA-5 agents and see scum who’d abandoned humanity for mere power.

Which was probably along the lines of ‘betraying your species for the sake of really nice hair,’ for nobles, since while power was the obsession of the Union, nobles were just kind of born with it and if you wanted more there was clearly something wrong with you.

Nobles saw power not as something that let you do whatever you wanted, but a reason you were stuck doing a bunch of things for other people. Volunteering for more power was probably like volunteering to do the dishes in Frankenstein’s house: hope you like wearing an apron.

Tao gestured for Takeo to shut the helicopter door after Frankenstein jumped out.

“Why didn’t you let me object?” Regis demanded as soon as it closed.

“It’s an important duty, right?” Tao reminded him. “Protecting the Noblesse? And this is an RK-4 meeting, Regis. We need a plan.”

“For if the Union defeats Frankenstein and Miss Seira?” Takeo asked, frowning.

As powerful as the two of them were, they were fighting Union Elders, and everyone in the helicopter knew that the world wasn’t kind enough to let you keep people just because you loved them.

Tao shook his head. “For when he wakes up. Boss’ll have to use Dark Spear to fight Union Elders, and it’s trying to eat his soul. If he gets distracted, or tired, or it tastes blood or he has to summon more power than usual, he’ll start to have trouble, and the contract means that if Boss’ soul starts getting eaten, he’ll feel it. There’s no way he would have gone to sleep even for a little while if he didn’t have a way to know to wake up and help us if we were in trouble, and I bet that’s it. Boss has to know it, but he can’t let the Elders win, or kill Seria, so he’ll still have to go all-out and hope he can beat them before the Noblesse wakes up and gets there if things get rough.”

Regis looked stricken for a second, then slammed down a mask of determined noble composure and nodded.

“We can leave the house to protect him if we have to,” Tao said. “You know how no one’s found that huge lab under the house while putting in water pipes or something? Boss showed me the thing that does it, and he says it’ll make the house invisible and intangible too. People’ll just walk through a vacant lot, like they can sail right through Lukedonia.”

The kid noble blinked. “The Forbidden Area was always empty, but Frankenstein was looking around for something in the woods and a manor appeared. Frankenstein can use that outside Lukedonia?”

“So it’s not a normal noble thing?” Tao asked.

Regis shook his head. “The clans have powers only they can use. Authority over the world is the Lord’s, although they can order the world to obey others in certain ways. If he can use Blood Fields, maybe Frankenstein could do that because he has that authority?” From the way Regis’ eyes narrowed, he could see that Tao was about to ask. “The unique aspect of the Landegre is not of use in combat,” he said stiffly.

“Are you sure?” Tao asked. “Remember why Boss was annoyed we didn’t get the lab set up first? It’s not just combat abilities that are important…”

Regis shook his head as Tao kept talking, cheeks red. Impossible to tell if it was because he was embarrassed, angry, or embarrassed he was angry, or because people were asking prying questions. “Children have no place in combat!” he finally snapped. Then blushed harder, because they all knew he hadn’t reached his majority yet. It was why he’d been sent out to South Korea in the first place, to prove he was capable by handling the investigation of a potential mutant before he hit two hundred.

“Children?” Takeo asked.

“It’s why there are more Landegre than just Grandfather and myself,” Regis said, looking grumpy. “The Landegre have an easier time creating children than other clans. The Loyard were a normal-sized clan, so Seira was the only child. Most clans don’t have more than one child at a time – that way, the entire clan can focus on protecting that one child. A lot of the other clans think the Landegre are careless with the lives of children because of how many we had.” That was deeply insulting for nobles. Had to be, if inelegant and noisy were fighting words. “Since Grandfather served the Lord as an advisor, there were six Landegre who remained in Lukedonia and survived the traitors’ cowardly use of hostages.” In the battle where the traitor clan leaders nearly wiped out the Landegre and Loyard clans. “Two of them have already reached their age of majority, but the clan still has two children to protect, and nowhere near enough adults to ensure their safety.”

Adding that up, Regis definitely wasn’t counting himself as one of those children.

 “So you and Seira both had only one parent?” Takeo asked, since he was the only one of the three of them who knew much about ordinary families, from thinking he’d had a sister. M-21 had known theoretically that he… probably had a family once, but he couldn’t find them unless he found that name, so there wasn’t much point in tormenting himself with what-ifs that weren’t about how to survive.

Regis looked down and to the side. Seira’s posture was always perfect, and Regis’ was most of the time, but his shoulders seemed a little hunched in. “We had two. They decided to make children practically at the same time so we could be ‘siblings.’ We were created separately so we could be pureblood clan heirs, but we both had a great deal of family. And then we did not anymore,” Regis said, doing his best to seem unaffected, but the subject change gave him away. “Rael used to not be so inelegant: he was glad that there were other nobles with siblings, even if my blood isn’t related to Seira’s. Then Seira lost her parent and he got this ridiculous idea.” Regis sniffed. “Saying that Seira was alone when she had myself and Grandfather and she is a Loyard.”

“A Loyard?” Takeo was the one to ask before Tao could do so eagerly.

“They can speak to people in their dreams. It’s why humans called them the gods of death,” Regis said. “Even though humans die instead of going to eternal sleep.”

“Dreaming… Eternal sleep?” Takeo asked, eyes widening, then he smiled. “That’s good. So Seira has her parent with her.”

Regis nodded. “Grandfather has said he will pass down Regasus when I reach my majority. It won’t make me complete because the Previous Lord asked him not to enter Eternal Sleep, but even if I won’t be able to talk to him...” Regis seemed to realize that he was telling people private things and being talkative when they had planning to do and pulled himself together. “Sleep… Yes.” He told them that, “I’m certain the Noblesse already knows that the Elders are attacking: Seira would have done him the courtesy of informing him before she left.”

So even though Raizel was asleep in that coffin, he might decide to start waking up? “What if he leaves before we even get there?” M-21 wanted to groan. When he pushed back his hair, he was momentarily surprised to see that his fingers weren’t already clawed. Of course he wouldn’t transform before a fight even started, he didn’t have that kind of power to spare.

Was the werewolf heart Crombel implanted influencing his mind? Making him think that his hands shouldn’t be human hands, especially not when they were talking about pack members in danger?

Regis gave him a ‘did I really just hear you say that?’ look. “And assume his Bonded and a clan leader couldn’t win their own battles? He has far too much class to insult them like that!”

“Right,” M-21 agreed, remembering the time Raizel claimed that he absolutely hadn’t blocked that attack because M-21 might not be able to survive it, but because the infected had done or said something vaguely insulting to Raizel that M-21 didn’t even remember. At the time, he hadn’t really questioned it because Raizel was just weird, but in hindsight? Yeah right. And then he’d Awakened M-21 so M-21 could win on his own, just so that the (failure) enhanced human didn’t keep thinking that he was weak or pathetic. “There’s still no way he won’t wake up if he knows they’re in trouble.”

Everyone nodded. Takeo with a small, pleased smile, and Regis with the shining eyes he got when something was so admirable! Even if it gave them a problem, when Tao’s RK thing meant keeping Raizel from exhausting himself until he dropped dead was their job. If Frankenstein was trusting them with that, too?

Tao was still mission-focused. “How do we keep him inside?”

“Jam the door locks!” M-21 realized.

Everyone just stared at him for a moment, because how was a mere lock refusing to open going to stop someone who could kill people who made buildings vanish? He saw their eyes widen as they remembered Frankenstein and oh.

 “That’s mean,” Tao said, impressed. “If we pile stuff in the hallway to the elevator, that will slow him down and we can try to convince him that Boss really wouldn’t like it if he got damaged, either.” Tao clapped his hands together in front of his face, bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut as he said, “Dear god, I mean Boss. Please, please have mercy on us for what we are about to do to your fine china, the champagne glasses and the silk dress shirts.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Takeo said, a corner of his mouth turned up. M-21 himself was finding it almost impossible to keep a straight face. It wasn’t that this wasn’t serious, because stuff getting damaged upset Frankenstein and Raizel really might die, but just… they were talking about stopping one of the most powerful beings on the planet with nothing more than the fact that if he kept moving forward, someone, a human, might be upset?

And it would probably work, up until the point where Frankenstein really was in immediate, deadly danger.

“Have you lost every shred of class you once possessed, Rael?” Regis demanded. “This is his home! We can’t fight here! Damaging the Noblesse’s property because of a personal matter is inelegant!”

Tao and the two looking over his shoulders at the security screens saw Rael’s eyes widen in the cameras, but, “And I thought you couldn’t get any lower than fighting alongside trash like that!”

That meant them, M-21 knew. Enhanced humans, those who abandoned humanity for power, even if they hadn’t asked for this, and power? The Union certainly didn’t think they’d given him any power.

Rael glared at Regis. “You’re hiding behind him the way you hid behind Seira? How dare you tarnish someone else’s name with your cowardice! No more excuses – we’ll fight where we fought before!

That close to the school? Oh no. Oh no. They might – might – be able to clean up the obstacle course in front of the path to the elevator before Frankenstein saw it, or at least enough he could get through to check on Raizel when he came home after the fight was over, but if the school got turned into a crater? It was just fixed up after Yonsu punched M-21 into a wall!

“Do you think I am stuck here by choice?” Regis demanded. “I have been ordered to remain here on guard duty while the Bonded of the Noblesse and Seira are fighting Union Elders…”

“What!” Rael yelled, red eyes glowing beneath golden curls. “How… you… Even if he did fight my brother, how could you remain in safety while Miss Seira…”

“Because I have been ordered to remain here to guard against cowardly attacks while they do battle!” Regis told him. “How dare you stand here and pick a personal fight when you, unlike me, are at liberty to join that battle?”

True, Rael’s snarl acknowledged. “I’ll kill you and those vermin later, when your duty is complete and you have no more excuses!” The Kertia vanished right in front of their eyes and cameras.

“Yes!” Tao said into the microphone, punching the air. “Good job, RK-03!”

Regis sniffed. “It’s only Rael, but he does have a soul weapon.”  So he might add some strength to their side even if he’d subtract elegance.

Raizel’s poker face was normally incredible. At first M-21 thought that he was just expressionless, unless he decided to don one. What with not being human.

While Regis had a variety of ‘what the fuck’ expressions, ranging from the one Tao insisted on calling ‘confuzzled’ to the one the Union being the Union merited, Raizel really didn’t seem to feel shock or confusion… ever, in M-21’s experience.

Maybe it was because he was really ancient, or maybe since he’d stayed in that manor almost all the time for so long he was just used to seeing a bunch of things he’d never seen before whenever he stuck his head out the door. He’d woken up after 820 years not long before M-21 met him, so if you thought about it, wanting to take a minute to examine a new thing like automatically opening and closing doors? You’d assume he’d be doing a lot more of that.

If Frankenstein was the first human he’d spent a lot of time around, then he might just figure that massive technological advances were only to be expected of humans.

Carriages that moved around without horses? Heck, for all M-21 knew, Raizel was around before humans figured out the wheel.

Stuff all over the floor in Frankenstein’s house, though? Tao had left a half-meter clear in front of the elevator, so hopefully Raizel had time to realize what he was faced with before he stepped on anything.

Tired red eyes looked at them. Raizel had to be wondering why they weren’t cleaning this up, but he looked back down at the ground in front of him. Save Frankenstein first, save them from Frankenstein second?

He lifted his foot with the elegance nobles always had in their movements, and they saw him realize that no amount of grace or precision was going to get him through Tao’s minefield.

Tied-together shirt tripwires – any motion could disturb a plate balanced on top of a glass and set off a cataclysm.

An ordinary minefield would have put Raizel’s life in danger. Except not, given the kind of attack Raizel could casually block (at what price, though?). This one put them in danger of death by angry homeowner.

He looked back up at them.

Tao added on the puppy dog eyes. “Step away from the china and go back to sleep? Please, sir?”

“Frankenstein has given much of himself to Dark Spear, so they may fight united in their wrath.” Raizel sighed. “They face Urokai Agvain and Zarga Siriana.”

Two of the traitor clan leaders, M-21 guessed.

“They have become offenders I must eliminate,” Raizel said, distant sadness in his eyes for a moment. “I must end the battle. A battle between clan leaders in a city…” He blinked, and glanced at Regis.

Regis looked away. “They couldn’t… not in a city. And then the Union bombed it anyway, to kill everyone who saw what happened. The humans were bombing cities then, but just because humans were killing humans, that did not make it right for nobles to let humans die. Not just to avoid eternal sleep! Humans die, and we do not, so isn’t it obvious that… But you will die!” he told Raizel. “That’s why you don’t have a soul weapon, even though you have predecessors. Your soul can’t go to sleep, there won’t be any of it left! I can’t let you go fight while I’m still awake! Not when you’ll die and I’ll just go to sleep!”

“While I slept,” Raizel said, “those who abandoned the honor of the nobles prospered, and those who embodied it perished. This is why I must be the Noblesse,” he said, and floated over the minefield.

It wasn’t a leap, although he the way he moved echoed a jump. As graceful as it looked, it didn’t make any concessions to physics. M-21 would know, he’d done a lot of roof-hopping.

“You must put Frankenstein’s things back,” he said when he landed on the other side of them. “Their souls wish to sleep, but they will still fight. I do not think I will be too tired after the sentencing, but if I am indisposed, and Frankenstein finds all those things between him and the Sanctuary?”

That was what worried Raizel. That Frankenstein might have to break… very nice china, glassware and shirts, but still just things that wouldn’t matter to him, not compared to a broken Raizel

It would just make it even worse for him, and even though Frankenstein called Raizel master, Raizel still thought about his feelings and wanted to spare them as much as he could.

 “That you wished to protect me… is more than enough.” He turned his head, looking off in some direction and opened the door.

They looked at Tao: doing something about the security doors was his job. “I told you I couldn’t get into the safety overrides!” he said. “It must be in there.”

M-21 sighed. Yeah, it seemed to matter to Frankenstein that his master wasn’t trapped anywhere. “If we’re lucky he’ll get lost and miss the fight,” he said, even though it wasn’t likely. There was more of a light show than just Dark Spear in the sky when they landed, and they’d felt the ground shaking every so often before they went down into the lab.

Regis looked downcast. “The Kertia and Sir Karias can fly, and Sir Rozaria’s clan can move other things without touching them as well. If the Noblesse has the Lord’s power over blood fields, then I should have considered the possibility.”

Takeo patted Regis’ shoulder and smiled down at the noble when red eyes stared at him. “Well, you heard him. We should get started cleaning this up. I’m sure they’ll be home soon.”

Chapter Text

Frankenstein watched the others as they returned to his house from the battle. Rael bloomed when Rajak said that he was proud of Rael for coming to help Seira… keep the Union Elders from blowing up any more of the city and kill humans who couldn’t defend themselves.

That obviously wasn’t the real reason he’d come, but Rael was sticking close to Rajak’s side, willing to pretend to care about humans if it meant more compliments from his big brother.

That meant it would still be easy to bait him into becoming a better person. He was over five hundred years old, therefore Frankenstein’s objections to the emotional manipulation of children didn’t apply. He had a soul weapon, so it was vital to disarm that ticking time bomb.

Before he became another Urokai Agvain. Another offender for the Noblesse to eliminate.

Urokai Agvain was (past tense, but not long past enough to keep Master from having to clean up a mess Frankenstein had only made worse) a single-digit Union Elder with voting privileges and by process of elimination, Lagus Tradio wasn’t? If Tradio wanted the Union to succeed, someone as hopeless as Urokai would not have been on the board.

That confirmed that the Union and those in its shadow weren’t any kind of single enemy that could be defeated or reasoned with. Like the Agvain clan’s symbol, it was a hydra, and chopping off any one head would just encourage the other ones to think that the time had finally come to put their ‘allies’ in their place and assume their rightful rule over the pathetic humans. No wonder the Union was allowed, no, encouraged to be so incompetent, when every single faction in it wanted to set the other factions up to fail.

As for how many clan leader-level combatants, or people who thought they were the equals of the ‘young, weak’ clan leaders were out there? Who the hell knew, when the Union’s factions were all so determined to keep each other from knowing. The roster of elders might have been halved, but that clearly meant nothing.

Thankfully, at least the werewolf and traitor noble factions had failed to think about the fact that since soul weapons grew more powerful with each soul that joined them, the Previous Lord’s plan meant that the younger clan leaders all had more power to draw on than the last generation. Except Erga Kinesis di Raskreia and Rajak Kertia, but they had something that made them much more dangerous than raw power… provided they lived long enough to learn anything.

Tradio was alive when Lukedonia was made and the nobles were forced to leave their territories and live there! He had to have seen what the Lords were truly capable of!

No, Frankenstein knew he couldn’t understand people like that. Maybe Tradio just wanted that power for himself. Maybe he even simply wanted revenge, for the nobles eliminated so humanity could become independent instead of domesticated.

Speaking of confirmed fears, the Fifth Elder was a werewolf. And she still lived, because Master had told her to tell the Union that the Noblesse had returned.

He wanted to serve as a deterrent, Frankenstein knew. Keeping the powerful terrified of him was part of Cadis Etrama di Raizel’s duty. The part that made him confine himself in his manor, because seeing him frightened them and he did not want to do that to them. Even though he must.

It wasn’t going to stop the Union. It couldn’t. There was no unified ‘them’ to stop – just three or more factions all aiming to reduce each other and humanity to lesser races. Or extinct ones. And at least one of those factions knew that a Noblesse’s power was finite, and all of them would be overjoyed to have someone else eliminate their competition for them.

Seira had been fairly severely injured when Frankenstein arrived at the battle, but her natural healing had taken care of much of it while Frankenstein kept the Elders’ attention on him. She had clearly recovered enough to hide all signs of her recent injuries as she leapt gracefully from rooftop to rooftop.  Ragar and Rael hadn't exactly escaped unscathed, but Frankenstein's injuries were the worst.

Rajak and Rael. It wasn't as though Ragar and Rajak were all that much alike, appearances aside. Ragar was, well, blond (Frankenstein was certainly free to reference blond stereotypes when he was one). That song about blonds never having to think used to be far too true for nobles in general, but while Ragar was a bit spacey and genuinely seemed to believe that everything the Previous Lord did was wonderful, he wasn't actually a fool.

He'd only fallen for 'look behind you' a few times. Gejutel, on the other hand...

Rajak was as focused as the blades he summoned. While Ragar had genuinely never encountered a need to press the limits of his abilities, Rajak considered himself weak, and knew that he would have to work and think to win despite that weakness.

It was interesting to see certain of his own traits reflected in Rajak and Regis, the son and grandson of the nobles he probably should have called friends. It was proof that Gejutel and Ragar had truly respected him. Gejutel was still breathing, even though he'd clearly rather not be, but Ragar... Ragar's soul dwelled within Rael's Grandia.

Rael kept pissing off the wrong people and it was only a matter of time until one of them killed him for it. Ragar had done Frankenstein a favor by allowing him to practice keeping control over Dark Spear in combat, so he couldn't just watch it happen. Couldn't force Ragar to watch powerlessly as it happened.

Normal soul weapons improved their summoner’s regeneration rate. He had Dark Spear. Well, he couldn’t complain; its ability to suppress regeneration was useful when its (their) wrath had a target other than him.

It might take him a little more time than a clan leader (much less a werewolf), but he would recover, and not having any other patients meant he could take some time to recover before confronting Master. 

“That little sleep would not have improved your condition,” Frankenstein said, looking into Raizel’s eyes after finding him on the balcony.

Nobles normally either focused on one thing at a time, or achieved effortless serenity by emptying their minds of all thoughts, which was another reason why a species with so many thousands of years to spend thinking had so little practice actually thinking. With focus, and decades, centuries, millennia of experience, anything a noble did looked like a meditation of elegant perfection.

Frankenstein wasn’t there when the students had brought Master his first bowl of that noodle soup, otherwise he would have served Master something more impressive for his first meal outside Lukedonia. Still, he was sure that Rai was just as elegant then as he was the second time. Other people slurped down ramyeon, failed to think before moving and splattered broth on their uniforms. Cadis Etrama di Raizel could make watching someone eat instant noodles as spiritual an experience as watching someone who had practiced the tea ceremony for decades.  

It was obvious when a noble tried to multitask. Most of them were abysmal at it, because they had no idea how. When they lived so long, they could afford to do one thing at a time, focusing on doing them correctly and elegantly over quickly. Right now, Master was trying to reassure him and do something else at the same time.

Something like using his shapeshifting powers to hide how much damage the Noblesse’s ability to maintain a living body had really taken.

What humans accepted as natural aging was really accumulated damage to their DNA. Nobles didn’t show signs of aging unless there was something wrong with them. Not with their borrowed DNA: that was easy to fix, or just replace. With their souls.

How Raizel looked after he’d trained Raskreia, because there was no one else who could show her how to bring out the full potential of the divided Ragnarok?

Just as Gejutel planned, and while Frankenstein could not blame Gejutel for something Master did of his own will, he was not going to forget it.

No, killing Gejutel, or rather forcing him into eternal sleep, would be too merciful. If Gejutel wanted to live, he wouldn’t have practically demanded that the Current Lord take his head off with Ragnarok and gone on to do something so likely to earn Frankenstein’s wrath. The Previous Lord’s message stating that Gejutel had only remained in the world of the living by his request explained much.

He could sympathize with Gejutel not wanting Regis to enter eternal sleep so soon after Rousare. With the Union out there, Regis’ odds of survival were far better with a complete soul weapon. Gejutel was too old to remember much of anything about his own creator. It certainly hadn’t occurred to him to think about what it would do to Regis, to lose his father and grandfather within a century of each other, and then to realize that Gejutel had gone into eternal sleep for his sake. Since Frankenstein didn’t have to care what the Lords wanted, he might have sent Gejutel to join his son if the old noble had requested it of him… However, the thought of losing his grandfather made the noble child desperate and stupid, so he clearly wouldn’t agree with Gejutel on the subject of what was best for him. After what that stunt Gejutel pulled did to Raizel, Frankenstein liked Regis far more than he liked Gejutel.

Frankenstein never wanted to see Raizel like that again. Raizel had noticed his distress, of course he had.

So the noble who gave him sanctuary that night was – had to be – repairing the cells of internal organs before he coughed up any more blood. Had to be repairing damaged pigment genes and overwriting any skin cell that lost elasticity, trying to hide that he was barely able to keep his body from falling apart.

He wouldn’t call him on it. His master deserved to have his dignity, and it wasn’t just Frankenstein anymore. The kids would worry. He couldn’t go to school looking decrepit, either. Shapeshifting was nothing to a noble. Raizel’s unhealed soul had to be bleeding several times more power per second than maintaining the appearance of health was costing him.

He still wanted to tell him to stop it, because patients shouldn’t conceal their symptoms from their doctors. Frankenstein wanted to tell him that he only going to worry more if the only way he had of gauging his master’s condition came from internal bleeding or the trembling hands.

Epileptic seizure. Or a stroke. There was nothing else it could possibly be. Oh, a wounded noble might stagger after being injured, but that was because the human body’s regeneration didn’t really include nerve cells, and a noble wouldn’t learn that they needed to handle that manually until they’d been severely injured in enough battles to get it down. Well, it was Frankenstein’s own fault he’d lost that advantage against one of his old sparring partners, from abusing it by going after Ragar Kertia’s tendons so often…   Not that he hadn’t deserved it – why the hell hadn’t Gejutel stopped him?

Ragar wasn’t a Landegre: creating two pureblood children that close together? It was a wonder Ragar hadn’t ended up the first noble to wind up in Eternal Sleep from childbirth! It was a toss-up whether that would have left Rael more or less traumatized.

Trying to think about the Kertia’s problems instead of his master’s wasn’t helping the desperation curled in his chest, a tightly-wound spring with nothing he could do.

It wasn’t in him to accept helplessness. If he gave up when faced with the impossible, he would have been eaten by a mutant over a thousand years ago.

No. There had to be something. He already knew he needed to hurry and make seals, more of them, more powerful ones. At least bandage Raizel’s wounds, staunch the blood flow, even if those wounds couldn’t heal. Dark Spear would be willing to help him: they’d managed to eat much of the Eighth Elder, his soul weakened from what the Union did to make him into their weapon. If he promised Dark Spear more of the Union’s monsters, he might have enough willing souls to equal the power of the cross earrings the Previous Lord made for Master with pieces of his own soul, long before Frankenstein came to Lukedonia. When he gave Master a birthday.

Leaving an Elder alive long enough for Dark Spear to finish consuming them for the sake of their vengeance was a risk, but if he could find someone with a weak soul…

“I wish to go to the school,” Master told him.

It was the middle of the night, but “Yes, Master.”

Raizel sat at his usual desk in the classroom, staring out the window at the empty playing fields.

Frankenstein stood there, waiting quietly for him to finish thinking. It wasn’t an imposition. He was glad that Master wanted to come here. That he was being quiet and resting.

Then the Noblesse turned to him, frowning slightly. Master picked his words carefully, trying to avoid insulting the children by implying that they been inelegant despite making a deliberate mess, or noisy despite insisting on speaking to him when he had young clan leaders to rescue …and Frankenstein.

My, my. More than a thousand years old, and he still hadn’t seen it all, it seemed. “Did they… did they really?”

“Ikhan wanted to watch a movie called Home Alone some time ago. It may have given them the idea.” In which case it was Raizel’s fault Frankenstein’s things had ended up on the floor and his shirts were knotted, because the students came over to visit Raizel.

Frankenstein smiled. “Of course, he’s a budding computer engineer.” Or an engineer period. So no, it wasn’t Master’s fault he hadn’t thought to veto that movie to prevent anyone from getting clever with Frankenstein’s things.

They’d tried to use… Preparing the battleground in advance was a valid tactic. One he’d used himself against mutants, especially before he managed to equal their abilities, but trying to use fragile glass and porcelain to confine the Noblesse?

“No, Master,” he assured him, chuckling. “I’m relieved, not angry. It’s so childish of them. So innocent. It’s a good sign, that they’re reclaiming what was taken from them.” They were starting to internalize the idea that people cared about others’ feelings, otherwise they wouldn’t have hatched a plan relying on it.

Soon after Master woke up, when Frankenstein was trying to gather information on where that coffin had come from and what exactly the Union knew, he’d come home to find a broken window handle on the coffee table, and his master sitting there with the dignity of someone who would make no excuses and accept no pity for their transgression, but expected a just punishment for their crime so they could regain their honor.

Frankenstein was already upset after his fight with Mary. He’d let that arrogant amateur who thought no one else could possibly be a threat to her because she was superior to humanity actually cut his sleeve. Was he that out of practice?

Then he came home to find that Master had sensed the fight and attempted to leave the house to intervene, which meant that Frankenstein was going to have to be careful, or Master would use his power rather than let Frankenstein get into a situation where he might get hurt, without the ability to call on Dark Spear. Not that Raizel was angry when Frankenstein called on Dark Spear, just sad, because he knew how much summoning Dark Spear hurt. Raizel’s confusion over the newfangled door mechanism had saved some small fraction of Master’s life, but that didn’t mean he liked the idea of his noble being trapped in a house again.

That was why he’d encouraged Master when he opened the door by himself to leave on another day, to assure him that yes, it was alright to go outside to do things and explore. M-21’s complete confusion was just icing on the cake.

With the door incomprehensible the sheltered noble must have tried the window next – after all, the handle looked about the same as the one in the manor.

…it just turned in the opposite direction from the only window handle Raizel had ever seen.

Piecing together what happened had made him look upset enough that Raizel got up and patted him on the shoulder. Thank goodness, because if Master hadn’t forgotten in his concern over Frankenstein, he would have insisted that Frankenstein do something to punish him for breaking one of his things, when to Master windows were especially important things, and how was he supposed to punish Master?

Especially when the first time they met, it was because he’d invaded some noble’s home and stolen one of his shirts when he was on the run from the law. It would have been rational for an ordinary person to be worried about the dangerous criminal. On the other hand, there were stories of what happened to humans who took shelter in the manor of a red-eyed ‘vampire.’ Disheveled clothing was usually involved, now wasn’t it?

He started laughing at the memories. At how outside normal expectations they were. At how curiously endearing Cadis Etrama di Raizel was, even as clan leaders bowed before him while he stared impassively down at them.

The Previous Lord had asked him why he’d stayed with a noble for ten years when he wasn’t getting anything out of it, and Frankenstein hadn’t even considered the question until then. It wasn’t that he felt he needed Raizel’s protection, even if he was glad the strange young-looking noble had sent the clan leaders away. He’d needed to stay somewhere while he investigated the clan leaders and learned how to handle Dark Spear, and it was a huge mansion and Raizel barely went into any of it, and it was an opportunity to observe nobles in their natural habitat, which in Raizel’s case was standing in front of a window? That couldn’t be right…

Here he was, a vampire hunter, when nobles were the ones who started the plague, and he was more annoyed by Urokai trying to make Raizel drink his complete failure to make tea than some of the other clan leaders trying to poison Raizel’s mind against him for more nefarious reasons.

The Noblesse would never change, he thought, shoulders shaking, raising a hand to cover his eyes.


…die first.

He didn’t hear Master standing up from his school desk. He didn’t know he had until he felt Master’s hand on his shoulder, patting it carefully, arm almost out straight in case someone being too close bothered Frankenstein. 

It took him a moment before he could uncover his eyes and smile. “I’m fine, Master.”

As a percentage of Frankenstein’s life, he hadn’t lived with Cadis Etrama di Raizel for very long. As a percentage of Master’s… but thinking of that just made him realize how rare and precious his companionship must seem to Raizel. Proof that his duty as the Noblesse had been worth it? He didn’t want to be a prize Raizel could only earn by throwing his life away.

Even if he couldn’t find Raizel after his disappearance, the piece of his Master’s soul bound to his own was still there. He’d spent most of the time blocking the link that let him sense Master even before Raizel disappeared. It was just common courtesy not to flood someone else’s mind with his thoughts… and he didn’t want Master to feel what Dark Spear did to him. He couldn’t keep him from knowing when Dark Spear tormented him, the Noblesse could just see it looking at Frankenstein, but he couldn’t let Dark Spear harm the innocent. Not when they were his responsibility.

At least the bond had still existed, and that meant that Master could not be dead, because a Noblesse’s soul ceased to exist when they died. Master could have gotten his attention when he woke up in a strange city – any city would be a strange one to someone who had never seen that many people in their entire life – but Master hadn’t had any idea what was going on and probably hadn’t wanted to surprise Frankenstein when he might be in the middle of doing something. 

Mistaking Mr. Park for an enhanced human had probably helped reassure Raizel that the place where the children were going in decently elegant uniforms had to be the right place.

“Master, do you know why I founded this school?” he asked. “The day I met you… I wanted you to live a normal life.”

“I know,” Raizel said, turning towards the window. Perhaps he needed the comfort of looking out a familiar window, because Frankenstein could read him well enough to know he was gathering his courage to say, “I have always appreciated everything you have done for me.”

It made him smile with relief to hear that.

At first when he moved into Raizel’s home he hadn’t really cared what Raizel thought of a human sitting in the room with him taking notes and making tea and food and expecting him to have some of it. Later, after learning more about the Previous Lord’s attempts to drag Raizel out of his manor, he’d begun to worry that his actions were just as much of an imposition and Raizel was just too… too passive, too used to letting others do what they willed, to tell him. Even if he was willing to say no to the Previous Lord.

He didn’t expect gratitude for taking care of Raizel. It was what he wanted to do, but it still… he could see it there, could feel it, and he was happy. Not just to hear it, but that Raizel had made the considerable effort to find words to tell him. He was still unpracticed at speaking to others, and even if a noble’s pride let him hide nervousness, Frankenstein knew that the thought of saying the wrong thing and hurting them worried his Master.

“I also wanted you to live a normal life,” Raizel said, before Frankenstein could frame a reply and… that this was so important to him?

Frankenstein bowed. He would not bend his head or neck for any other (not unless it was in mockery), but his master deserved… so much more than he would ever ask for.

“I am precious to you, even though I am the Noblesse.” The nobles’ inquisitor, powerful and terrifying.

The way Frankenstein’s power was terrifying to humans, and that fear made it so easy for the people he’d fought for to believe the Union’s lies. Left them both alone among the people they lived for.

Solemn red eyes searched his, hoping to see that Frankenstein understood, even though Raizel could touch his mind. His master was not used to being nervous. “You consented to our contract and entrusted yourself to me. It has always been an honor.”

Despite the greedy and the power-hungry using it as a way to enslave humans instead of giving the humans they cared for the power to protect themselves.

“Humans are precious existences,” Master said, looking around the room at Shinwoo’s desk. Yuna’s, Suyi’s and Ikhan’s. Regis and Seira’s desks – Seira had wanted Regis to experience age-appropriate activities like attending class while they were in the human world for the investigation, and Regis had picked out Ye Ran for the sake of the school’s uniform. ”This is the place you made for me.” Where he would be surrounded by children¸ whose lives were doubly precious. Raizel had to turn away, to try to hide a slight blush.

Nobles – or the nobles when Frankenstein first met them, before the Previous Lord put his plan into motion – considered allowing their emotions to be brought to someone else’s attention highly intrusive and inelegant. It was a holdover from when they only had psychic abilities for communication, before humans came around with words and body language allowing people to express themselves without forcing their thoughts or emotions on someone else.  

Even if Raizel was young (by the standards of Lukedonia a thousand years ago) and socially isolated before he came to the school (by any standards), he was caught between wanting Frankenstein to know that he was grateful and the lingering awareness that being grateful at people was intrusive and probably not wanted.

“There must be nobles who think it would have been better if we never evolved,” Frankenstein said, mainly to change the subject and rescue Raizel from feelings of awkwardness and anxiety a noble had no idea how to handle. “Your kind aren’t actually stupid. Zarga and Urokai both believed that those who were supposed to protect Lukedonia and the nobles,” the Lord and the Noblesse, “were favoring us at their expense, and they weren’t entirely wrong. Obviously we aren’t the source of all evil in the world, but we did present a host of temptations that the nobles weren’t equipped to handle.”

“Humans have not changed since you were hunter-gatherers,” Raizel said, looking out the window at the soccer field. “You still care for others so much, and so easily.”

Frankenstein chuckled. Well, he had no one to blame for Master’s sheltered opinion of human nature but himself. The school was built to be an environment that would bring out the best in people.

Raizel looked at him. “Humans died because of nobles, and you still wished to help me as soon as you sensed me.” He shook his head. “You are wanted, but the danger to nobles is if we want enough to ignore the cost to our honor. To our own souls.”

When it was a noble’s soul that kept them alive. “When I first went there, Lukedonia was a land of ancients, and now they’re all well-meaning teenagers.” Adults… technically. Still open-minded and willing to learn, because they were aware of how little they knew. Any teacher knew that was the first step on the path to wisdom. He saw why the Previous Lord did it, Frankenstein had seen long ago that if nobles started thinking they would be much better off. And much more dangerous, but that wasn’t a bad thing for them to be, when someone needed to save humanity from the Union, when the Union had done its best to make damn sure humanity couldn’t save itself. “Your lifespans used to be… eternal. What has happened to your mortality rate, to your life expectancies…”

Raizel sighed. “You are not saying that humans should not exist.” That would be silly.

“No,” Frankenstein said. No.

“But you do not want to exist at the expense of others.” Raizel nodded. “If we do not respect your wills, then we will not respect our own.” And it took a strong will and sense of self for someone to live for millions of years without going mad or losing all motivation and going into eternal sleep. “The idea that people’s wills and selves do not matter: that is what can corrode the soul and force us to go into eternal sleep before we are lost. Nobles have been tempted to keep you for themselves instead of protecting you so you may live in accordance with your wills not because you are worthless, but because you are priceless.”

When Frankenstein was born, Africans were considered intelligent, well-educated and upper-class because the majority of the Africans who lived in Europe were. Then they became valuable labor because they could survive disease and tropical conditions better than any other human population on Earth, between coming from those conditions and having a healthier gene pool.

The change from ‘intelligent person’ to ‘subhuman thing’ was blindingly fast… and Frankenstein wished he had been surprised by it, but he grew up in a country that practiced serfdom. Where almost the entire population was considered of subhuman intelligence and therefore only good as slave labor, ‘part of the land’ like the game animals in the forest, there for the nobility’s benefit, because of their ‘bad blood.’

People weren’t taught that they were inferior because they were worthless. No, they were taught they were inferior because they were worth something, and other people wanted to take it from them.

It was almost surprising that Cadis Etrama di Raizel was aware of the concept, but nobles weren’t stupid, and looking into people’s minds and seeing the real reasons they might do terrible things was part of his duty.

 “You came to Lukedonia, and demanded that nobles respect the wills of humans.” Raizel hesitated, glancing at him, and seemed to think better of saying something. While Regis was quick to praise people, when Frankenstein first visited Lukedonia, it was only appropriate to praise someone when they performed better than could be expected of them, and Raizel didn’t want to take the risk of implying he thought little of Frankenstein.

Honestly, poor Master. He was lucky that Frankenstein had stopped taking notes on him as an important case study not long after they met – it was rather in poor taste to do that to one’s host. Gejutel and Ragar were fair game – but not Regis, Seira or Rael, when despite their calendar ages and Lukedonia’s age of legal adulthood, none of them were anywhere near equivalent to a human eighteen-year-old yet. 

“For now, I must be the Noblesse. Once there are more humans like you, perhaps the Previous Lord’s wish will come true.”

No more need for the Lord to throw away their identity or the Noblesse to throw away their lives.

No more statues in front of the Sanctuary. No more dying young, even though Raizel was older than all of Lukedonia’s loyal clan leaders except Gejutel now.

Frankenstein had seen the tiredness in the Previous Lord’s eyes, when he said that no matter how he tried to guide the nobles, it didn’t work, the Noblesse kept having to kill and die. It was not really a surprise that he was willing to go so far as to try to reboot their society, even entering Eternal Sleep himself. Because this wasn’t working, and something had to happen, the nobles had to change, or else they would just keep decaying. And he was the Lord, therefore it was his duty to make a way for nobles to have a better future.

But the real reason it was happening wasn’t anything the Previous Lord could control. It was because humanity was tempting and vulnerable, unable to defend itself. Lukedonia was created to try to contain the nobles, but they still had to patrol the human world, because there were always, always criminals, and people who would hide the crimes of their comrades because reporting a brother-in-arms, just for taking a human’s blood and giving them power when that was what the humans wanted anyway?

 “I know that it is your will, but you are trying to mingle our souls together enough I will use yours instead of mine.” Raizel sighed.

Frankenstein smiled in answer. Well, it wasn’t like he hadn’t known he would be caught. Master had sighed because he knew it was very like Frankenstein and it wasn’t like he was going to stop. A pity it wasn’t likely to work, for the same reason Raizel couldn’t use Ragnarok.

Frankenstein looked out the window himself for a moment. “If we can destroy the Union’s monopoly on human enhancement... Deal with the traitors and restore Lukedonia’s reputation of strength so the werewolves know they can’t conquer humans without being smacked down by nobles.” So humanity could grow strong, with no one left working to keep them weak. “If healing and lifespan enhancement can become common knowledge, if…” All the dreams he’d once had.

“Then the next Noblesse will not have to be the Noblesse, as the Previous Lord wished,” Raizel said. “The humans need you, Frankenstein. And the nobles need the humans to prosper.” So it was Raizel’s duty to protect him, and Frankenstein needed to not die.

“My technology can be reinvented without me.” Once the Union was no longer there to strangle innovation in the cradle. “Humans need the nobles to get their act together and get out of our way long enough for us to get our act together. Isn’t that why Lukedonia exists?” Why Raizel existed. Not that Frankenstein cared what Lukedonia’s traditions dictated. Raizel was a person, not a tool. He only tolerated Raizel spending his life as the Noblesse because it was his will; no one was forcing him into it.

Raizel sighed again, and turned to the window, because Frankenstein was a very difficult person and honestly he just gave up. A noble with mind control powers on the level of the Lord’s just gave up, faced with the obstinacy of a human who gave him blood.

The flood of warmth was enough to bury the cold dread of knowing his Master’s days were numbered. This was why… no, this was only one of the reasons why he adored the strange creature he had found that night.

The bond between them opened, and it would have been perfect, to know that to Raizel, it was simple fact that Frankenstein was every bit as precious and unique and worth a thousand times the trouble he could possibly ever cause… except that it also meant he felt something of how close to death his master was, even though he did his best to hide it.

It meant he felt that Cadis Etrama di Raizel loved him, and the school Frankenstein had built for him, and the children they had taken in. They made him infinitely happy, far beyond the ability of someone from a species with no language instinct, someone who had spent thousands of years speaking to another living soul perhaps every other century, to find words to express his feelings.

Frankenstein had succeeded in giving his master joy.

Therefore, Raizel would die for them. Frankenstein’s desire to avert that fate warmed his master’s heart, but it was not a desire he could afford to share. The nobles, the humans, the home they had here: they were precious. They must be protected.

So Cadis Etrama di Raizel had to be the Noblesse.

The only noble to ever truly die.

Chapter Text

Rael understood why Rajak had to train, when Rael’s Grandia was the reason his brother was incomplete. With the traitor clan leaders and the vile enhanced humans out there, the Kertia were Lukedonia’s warning system and first line of defense against the traitor nobles and the Union. Rael understood that even before Seira and Regis lost their families.

Like Rajak, Rousare was incomplete because Gejutel’s soul had not joined Regasus, but the previous Loyard clan leader had a complete soul weapon. It still wasn’t enough against the traitor nobles and traitor humans who helped them kill the Landegre and Loyard clans.

Those disgusting enhanced humans… it was not possible for them to kill Rajak, it simply wasn’t!

…But if a human could force Rajak, could even force their father to acknowledge the power of this Frankenstein? Then, then what if this ‘Union’ really could…

It wasn’t just the insult and finding out that Rajak knew Rael was the reason Kartas was incomplete and Rajak had to train so much. Rael had to take apart the enhanced humans to learn how strong the traitor humans were, and who had made the things. This ‘Union’ – he had to kill them all, before the Kertia Clan died like the Loyard and Landegre.

Two of the traitor clan leaders were dead. There were only four more of them out there, and Frankenstein had killed one of the humans who abandoned humanity before Rael arrived. The werewolf had fled from the Noblesse with her tail between her legs, and Rajak had praised him! Even if he had come to assist Seira, not the humans, and had no idea his brother would be there.

He hadn’t managed to detect the signs that his brother was in the area, when Frankenstein had, but then neither of them had found signs of Rael’s presence, so it wasn’t that embarrassing.

They had been invited to stay under the Noblesse’s own roof, instead of trying to find decent lodgings in a human city. Rael had used mind control to get rooms in the best hotels on his training trip while he learned to how endure the insults of humans without losing his temper, otherwise there was always noise.

Here, however, it was quiet enough for them to sleep. He’d offered to stand watch so his brother could sleep – Rajak had arrived at the battle first, and been injured protecting Seira – but Rajak had looked disappointed at him. Even if Rael had run away before the explanation of the true nature of the Noblesse, it was unbecoming of a Kertia to assume treachery on the part of comrades who had fought beside them. Even if they were in the human world, and one of them was an enhanced human.

An enhanced human with their father’s approval?

When Rael woke up, Rajak had already left their rooms. He flushed as he dressed. He hadn’t been fighting as long as his brother, so he shouldn’t have needed more time to recover. And he’d missed his brother leaving the room! Or had the Kertia clan leader used their clan’s power of stealth to avoid waking him?

He found his brother sitting on one of the couches that were on either side of a low table. The Noblesse sat at the head of the table, as was proper, and Frankenstein sat across from the Kertia clan leader.

“Rael,” Rajak said.

Rael snapped upright. “Yes, brother?”

“Come here. We are discussing training.”

“Yes,” Rael said, and hurried to sit where his brother indicated. Right next to him.

“Our father benefited greatly from training with you,” Rajak said, looking at Frankenstein but clearly for Rael’s benefit. “Seira is also far more capable than she was when she last assisted me with my training.”

The Lord had placed Sir Rozaria in charge of Seira’s training, and Sir Karias in charge of Regis’ training, even though Regis had not yet inherited Regasus and should have been trained by Gejutel regardless.

Rael had wished he could train with his big brother, but when his father’s soul weapon came to him, after his father entered eternal sleep with the Previous Lord? He… Rajak couldn’t know.

But Rajak had known all along, and wasn’t angry.

He’d been afraid all that time, and… had he really thought so poorly of his brother? And of course his father wouldn’t fail to warn Rajak that his power would be incomplete!

Frankenstein smiled. “As I told you, Ragar Kertia was also a great deal of help to me in my attempts to master my own soul weapon. Of course I’m willing to assist you with your training, but since the situation with the Union is stable, for now, and you and your brother are here to assist Miss Seira, there is some… private training I need to seize this opportunity to do.”  

“We would be honored to protect the Noblesse in your absence,” Rajak said.

Rael found both of them looking at him. “…Yes?”

His brother turned back to the human with an approving nod.

“In my absence, my master’s knights are responsible for his protection,” Frankenstein corrected Rajak with a smile. “Miss Seira will assign the two of you your duties. Once I return, as I said the most efficient course of action seems to be to focus on Rael’s training.”

Rajak nodded. “I have my duties on Lukedonia. Rael will have to return there to pay his respects to the Lord eventually, but I will inform the Lord that he is training with my approval.”

Rael gulped. He hadn’t even thought about how leaving Lukedonia without permission would make him look like the traitors!

“If Frankenstein trains you,” Rajak told Rael, “then when you return to Lukedonia we can train together.”


“And once he’s passed my lessons on to you, Rael can return to my home for more training. If that’s acceptable to both of you?” Frankenstein asked, looking between them, before focusing on Rajak.

Of course Rael nodded, even though he was wondering why the human said this was his home. Wasn’t it the Noblesse’s?

Rael dared a glance at him. He’d defeated two clan leaders who summoned the spirits in their soul weapons to send against him. His dignity, even saddened by how they’d abandoned their honor and turned against the nobles, his calm reserve… Cadis Etrama di Raizel, even his name was elegant!

…Not that Rael was obsessed with elegance, like little stuck-up Regis, but it was still admirable. In people who actually had it, unlike Regis with his bratty, talkative mouth.

What the Noblesse said about Rael’s father, how he had always unfailingly proven his honor in silence? Rael was nowhere near a century old when Ragar entered eternal sleep, but yes.  That was… yes.

“We were speaking of how we would repay you for your generous assistance,” Rajak said.

“Miss Seira assists me in serving my master, and Regis has become one of my master’s knights – of course, since the Lord is the Symbol of Authority, Regis’ oath to Erga Kinesis di Raskreia when he becomes a clan leader will take precedence,” Frankenstein said. “This is more than enough to repay me for the time spent on their training and the cost of Ye Ran’s tuition fees.”

Rael did not like the smile Frankenstein wore as he said, “My school has a special security force – you’ve met M-21, Tao and Takeo.”

“That trash?” Rael protested. “Brother, you can’t…” Order Rael to fight beside them?

“Be silent!” Rajak ordered him. “Calling enhanced humans trash, in the presence of the Bonded of Cadis Etrama di Raizel?”

Rael instantly went pale and shrank back before daring a glance at the Noblesse as Rajak bowed to the human, apologizing for the insult and the noise.

Sitting at the end of the table, said exalted being sipped his tea, kindly ignoring Rael’s insult and both of them being noisy.

Silently, Rael thanked him for his generosity.

“Those who choose to abandon humanity are trash,” Frankenstein said, and Rael blinked to not see fangs in that smile. Why was this human so like a noble? No wonder even Miss Seira hadn’t been able to tell that he was human. Perhaps it was his contract to the Noblesse. “M-21, Tao and Takeo did not choose anything. The Union stripped their identities from them, and forced them to serve it. They have chosen to fight the Union to protect humanity: they are not traitors to their own kind like Zarga Siriana and the other traitor clan leaders, and I’ll thank you to not compare my master’s knights to that trash.”

“His knights?” Rael stared at him with wide eyes. “…Is that why Regis was fighting alongside sc-I mean, enhanced humans like that?”

“Regis and M-21 first fought together to defend innocent humans against Union agents.”

Rael didn’t care about innocent humans. That was how the Landegre and Loyard died, and he hated that the same thing was so likely to happen to his brother. But he wasn’t stupid enough to say that in his brother’s presence, and the Noblesse would certainly not approve. “I see,” Rael said instead, ducking his head to hide any flash of annoyance.

“I would offer to allow Rael to enroll in the same class at Ye Ran High School as my Master and Miss Seira,” Frankenstein said, “but I’m afraid that his stealth training has been deficient.”

Rael started to bristle, but Rajak nodded. “I heard that he made a great deal of noise and attracted Union attention when he went into the human world to bring the Loyard clan leader the Lord’s message. However, Rael told me last night that he left Lukedonia to go on a training trip in the human world, to improve his ability to avoid losing his temper when faced with insults or perceived insults. I believe he is determined to overcome that shortcoming and gain the ability to blend in with humans.”

“Then he won’t object to additional training,” said Frankenstein. “I believe Rael also expressed a desire to become the next Kertia clan leader after Ragar entered eternal sleep?”

Rajak nodded.

“Would you object to Rael being trained to assist you with your duties as clan leader?”

Oh? What was this? The human he’d underestimated so severely was… Was this why his father had acknowledged this human?

“No,” Rajak said. “I’m aware of my inexperience. With the loss of the Landegre, the Kertia have been forced to take over their duties. I believe my father said that you were the reason that he and Gejutel took on the task of improving our oversight of noble activities in the human world? You made him aware of how nobles were abandoning their honor and allowed him to be of service to the Lord by dealing with it. It is another reason he felt grateful to you.”

“There must be a great deal of not just administrative tasks, but intelligence gathering and analysis, involved in your post, is there not?” Frankenstein smiled when Rajak nodded. “As I’ve said, I am the head of a high school – both the Chairman and Principal. This involves organizing over a hundred staff to manage thousands of students, as well as managing logistics and making contacts with other organizations, while gathering intelligence on prospective students.”

Rajak gave him a truly respectful look. “Managing that many children…” Incredible.

 He gave them a modest smile. “Much of it comes down to effective leadership: choosing the correct staff and delegating intelligently. Rael, I’m not certain of your ability to pass for a human child not much older than Regis, but I would be willing to accept you for training as an ‘intern.’ First, I will show you how the administration of Ye Ran functions and you will assist me with paperwork to train you in managing an organization and analyzing reports. Once I am satisfied with your ability to pass for a human, I will allow you to take on some secretarial duties during school hours.”

“It is a pity that I must return to Lukedonia,” Rajak said, eagerness showing through his reserve. “Rael, would you be willing to teach me this as well when you return home?”

Rael was about to complain about doing servant work for a human when Rajak spoke. His dignified brother’s words shocked him. “…Really?”

“Power is not everything,” his brother scolded him. “Those skills are invaluable for a clan leader. Frankenstein is the Bonded of the Noblesse: any clan leader would be blessed to have his student for their second-in-command.”

The human smiled. “You flatter me,” he said, but it was clear that he agreed that the flattery was an understatement, if anything.

“You really want me to learn this?”

“Rael, if you learn this, then I would gladly step down and give the leadership of the Kertia to you,” Rajak told him, with complete seriousness.

“Brother, that’s not…” Rael started to say, and couldn’t say the rest of it. I don’t want it anymore! I just want to help you, instead of being a burden! Instead of being the reason you’re weak!

When Seira was watching over Regis as he went to lunch break along with Shinwoo and the others, Takeo came to ask Regis to join an RK meeting in Tao’s security station. Since Frankenstein and Cadis Etrama di Raizel were not at the school, clearly she needed to attend to provide adult supervision.

“What is this about?” Regis asked when they arrived to find M-21 already there.

“I got a call from the house,” Tao said, now that everyone was there. “Boss got Rael Kertia to agree to being an intern!” When Seira was not the only one whose calm was unruffled by this news, he explained, “That means minion. Unpaid minion.”

“Rael is going to live with us?” Regis looked worried. He was always very excitable.

“Yeah, he’s…” M-21 scowled.

“Boss’ll handle him,” Tao said gleefully.

“It’s not just his inelegance! When Seira told him he wasn’t her type and walked away when he kept being talkative? He lost his composure and started breaking things!”

Seira realized that if Rael did that in the home of her housekeeping teacher, it would end far more badly for Rael than a mere ten years’ confinement. It would be none of her business, but Frankenstein was her teacher and she could not allow someone to cause him difficulties.

M-21 seemed to agree with Tao that this was a problem that solved itself. “The rest of us need to be ready to duck and cover.” Yes, the weaker members of the household would need to avoid the houseowner while he was unbalanced.

 “Rael is also not his type.” Seira had learned to imitate Cadis Etrama di Raizel’s little sigh. It was a very good way to tastefully convey one’s embarrassment that someone was being noisy without having to be noisy or talkative oneself, the way Regis was when Rael’s inelegance embarrassed Regis just looking at it.

She remembered what happened the last time Frankenstein was displeased by Rael’s conduct at his school. Seira had been forced to intervene and break up the fight before there was any more property damage. Even if Frankenstein had behaved with appropriate courtesies and she would have been willing to testify to this before the Noblesse if she was not called back to Lukedonia, it was simply poor conduct. Yes, Rael had cleared out the humans beforehand, but honestly. The humans needed those buildings and her teacher was a human (even if she was uncertain at that point), so he had no excuse for not knowing that.

“Suyi said that if I had any more ‘hot guys’ who were not my type, she would be willing to take them off my hands. I will make inquiries when we return to class.”

Regis gave her one of the expressions of confusion that were understandable from someone who had not yet reached his majority. “But Suyi is elegant.” What would she want with Rael?

Seira nodded, taking out her phone to begin texting. “She is Rael’s type, and she is used to dealing with those of the same type as Rael at her work.” Male idols were often prima donnas. “She informed me that she may be willing to ignore how difficult Rael is if he is sufficiently ‘hot.’ I will obtain pictures and give her a detailed description of the nature of his difficulty.”

Yuna and Suyi commenting some time ago that Seria was ‘surrounded by hot guys’ had confused her. She had looked around the room to see: a child she was responsible for; three even smaller children (closer to two hundred than a hundred years younger than her); her household management instructor (she would need these skills to restore her clan); and a strange and high-maintenance being (she was not aware of the Noblesse’s identity back then, but he was still not her type).

Later, after Seira told them that she had previously rejected the proposal of yet another immature person, they had explained their strange reactions by introducing her to the ‘reverse harem’ genre, and Seira had resolved to trade Yuna the Angsty Werewolf for Yuna’s Unlucky Childhood Friend.

“What about the age difference?” Tao asked.

Seira nodded. Yes, that might present a problem disposing of her own Unlucky Childhood Friend. “He may be too immature for Suyi.” Suyi was a career woman, while Rael was Rael. Hopefully, she would find him an acceptable ‘trophy blond.’

When they got home, Raizel was the only one in the main room. Not long after, M-21 heard Rael yelp, “They thought I wanted to do what to Miss Seira!”

Regis looked up, but Raizel and Seira ignored the sounds coming from the upper balcony. Tao looked thoughtfully at the door to outside, but Takeo put a hand on his arm and shook his head. Tao frowned – he was modified for information gathering, if M-21 remembered correctly – but decided that not escalating the situation with a noble prone to property damage was the better part of valor.

Frankenstein came down five minutes later. “Master, it seems that Rajak will be taking Rael back to Lukedonia. Rael will join us when he’s recovered.”

Raizel gave a dignified nod and sipped his tea.

“What did he do?” Regis asked, looking a little worried even if he and Rael were officially not friends, complete with stabbing.

“I intended to explain to him that his sexual harassment of Miss Seira was unacceptable, and it seems that no one ever explained to him, or to Rajak Kertia, what sex was.” Frankenstein looked around the room with a raised eyebrow.

M-21’s sex education from the Union boiled down to the fact his genes were proprietary and he was not allowed to have any, or leave any other evidence of his existence, but he didn’t want to know. He’d read the stuff in the staff handbook about students and co-workers, so he should be fine, right? He bet he wasn’t the only one avoiding Frankenstein’s gaze.

“I believe the Previous Lord mentioned it,” Miss Seira said, and M-21 winced. There went his hopes that the subject would be dropped.

“The Previous Lord was often… talkative on the subject,” Raizel said, with a pointed sigh.

“…Ah,” Seira said, and M-21 prayed that was the end of that.

“If you’ll excuse me, Master,” Frankenstein said after a moment, bowing.

Raizel nodded and Frankenstein left, thank goodness.

Now as long as he didn’t come back with diagrams…

When Frankenstein returned home from his ‘training trip,’ he found Raizel standing on the balcony and joined him there.

“So this is why you are more injured than when you left,” Master said when he examined the items in the box Frankenstein opened and presented to him. He looked as though he was regretting missing school the day before Frankenstein left so Frankenstein could take the readings he wanted, if the outcome wasn’t Frankenstein feeling better but the human coming home injured and in pain.

Of course he could see that the earring (an imitation of the Lord’s design) and the links of the four chain bracelets were made with Dark Spear’s power.

“I will recover, unlike you,” Frankenstein said, still holding out the padded jewelry box, because he could not allow the sadness in Master’s red eyes to sway him. This would help Master, therefore he would do it.

From his expression, Master had to admit that he had no right to object, when he had allowed himself to suffer wounds that would not recover with mere rest. Including Frankenstein. Not that this was repayment. For this to be a transaction would demean it. They were bound by contract, for as long as they both lived.

A too-pale hand picked up the earring. The change in the atmospheric pressure when he placed it in his ear and it activated was dramatic enough to create a gust of wind, and Frankenstein winced at the reminder of just how badly his master had been bleeding.

Raizel stood there with his red eyes closed in meditation, and when they opened and met Frankenstein’s, he could see that his master’s attention was no longer divided. Good: Frankenstein had been right that having his power more concentrated within his body would improve Raizel’s control enough he could finally make more headway on repairing his body, instead of just trying to stay on top of how damage to one organ, or blood where it shouldn’t be, would damage others.  

Normally a noble’s control over their body was too great for cancer to be a concern, but if their healing and cell generation powers were not under sufficient control, there were all sorts of nasty possibilities for a body without most of the human body’s mechanisms.

Cadis Etrama di Raizel was a dead man walking. They both knew it, but while his master could accept it, could even be happy that he got to spend the brief time he had left in the wonderful place Frankenstein had made for him, Frankenstein could not.

It was impossible for human to live a thousand years, and yet it could happen. He could not, would not, give up. He did not tolerate the destruction of his possessions, and his master was not a mere possession.

“What is this?” Raizel asked, interrupting Frankenstein’s thoughts by picking up one of the bracelets. His curiosity was genuine, but of course his master had sensed his grief.

“That is a charm bracelet. They are in style again,” or they would be within five minutes of a noble wearing one – his master could make anything look good, although he had very specific tastes. “The charms can represent people, or events, or anything you would like.”

But these dark silver charms had specific meanings, he thought as he watched Master slowly go through them, one by one.

A wolf’s head. A laptop. Takeo was a little difficult, when his signature was a weapon and Takeo was not. Master let the hairbow pass without comment. Crossed knives for the two children left behind by Ragar, who despite his power was as simple, direct and stupidly decent as the Landegre.

When he came to Lukedonia, he’d wanted to punch those two clan leaders in the face the way M-21 and the others wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine after their training. When he left… he couldn’t trust anyone on Lukedonia, not with his master vanished, but those two… yes, he had wanted to see them again, and not only because that would mean he’d found Raizel.

A small silver unicorn. A frying pan with a hole in the center – it wasn’t that he held a grudge (better his cookware than his student’s skull), it was that he liked nobles better when they were willing to admit they were as fallible as any human. It was good that Seira appreciated the importance of proper testing, even if he was having a hard time luring her into the sciences.

An apple. Frankenstein had taken care not to have any symbols or motifs show up in his work or personal items after the Union started tracking him, and he certainly couldn’t use Dark Spear to symbolize himself when they were their own people. It had to seem a somewhat random choice to his master, but he would know it by process of elimination.

Master carefully put on the bracelet and lifted up the other one that had charms on it. A teacup, a door and a window; Master paused, and Frankenstein saw he’d reached the instant ramyeon packet.

He could feel the warmth of Master’s happiness at the memories, but the Noblesse still sighed, because he knew what Frankenstein was trying to do, and he knew that Frankenstein knew he knew.

The Previous Lord had also tried to get Cadis Etrama di Raizel to see that there was more to life than psychic interrogation, forced eternal sleep and a lonely mansion. Tried to give him a birthday, an identity other than the Noblesse. Reasons to live.

The earring was a seal, but the bracelets were focuses. The Noblesse threw up a blood field first thing in combat because it multiplied the effectiveness of his techniques against those with blood, and meant he did not have to use as much power to fuel his techniques. Unfortunately, blood fields could be broken and the other traitor clan leaders would have practiced the technique, just like Zarga and Urokai. It would be easier to block attempts to destroy the bracelets. As for blocking…

The charms were energy deflectors, because Master’s inability to train without dropping dead meant his ability to dodge was unreliable and he usually blocked attacks, even though that cost power. Blocking someone’s strongest, most desperate attacks was intimidating, and projecting invincibility and implacability was a job requirement for the Noblesse. It was hard to scare the hell out of clan leaders.

Frankenstein would know. He’d tried. The Lords doing it simply by existing was a puzzle until he began unraveling the secrets of the Sanctuaries trying to locate Master.

The charms might be made out of soul weapon, but they’d still burn out their energy nullifying attacks from a noble’s soul weapon. Technically he could have made more, but any more than that during a first trial? The risk was unacceptable. He’d survived experimenting on himself by taking care to keep to the right side of the thin line between desperate and stupid.  

Raizel looked again at the first charm bracelet, carefully lifting up the apple on a fingertip. “You have…”

He’d known that Master was the Noblesse. He would be able to read what Frankenstein had done to make each of them.

His ability to control Dark Spear and the pain and blood that came with summoning it were enough to manage the earring. Gathering power from it to make the bracelets was pushing it, but easier than he’d expected, when the bracelets were meant to help kill enemies and the Union’s victims loathed it.

Protective charms?

“I will recover,” he reminded his Master. His soul wasn’t mortally wounded. He could afford the equivalent of blood donation.

“I liked the life you were living when I woke up in this time,” Master said, sadness in deep red eyes. “I wished for you to keep living like that. In this place, you smile all the time. You had a home where your things were safe, instead of your labs being destroyed.” Usually by him, to keep them from falling into Union hands, but Raizel knew how much destruction and disorder in his environment upset him. Back then, it was just one more straw for the pile of rage against the Union and the nobles, but it mattered to Raizel. “You weren’t getting into fights.” Master worried for him, when Frankenstein was always fighting and of course Frankenstein fought the strong, not the weak. “You were surrounded by students, and no one was scared of your power.” The way they were scared of his Master’s.

When Raizel woke up, Frankenstein wasn’t conducting desperate, reckless experiments like letting Dark Spear tear off pieces of his soul so he could use them to craft soul weapon-type items that weren’t running on the desire to hurt others as they had been hurt.

Souls grew. The harder people lived, the more they were themselves. Whatever sent Raizel into a coma had burnt up enough of him that it took eight hundred and twenty years for the Sanctuary system just to stabilize him. Master had known when he woke up that he wasn’t going to recover (not without help…), and his priority was doing the most he could with what he had left.

Frankenstein had a terrible suspicion of just how badly they had hurt Master. For one of the only people potentially capable of fighting Master to vanish at the same time? The obvious hypothesis was that the traitors had somehow forced Master to have to fight his only friend, and how on earth had they managed it? Raizel was too gentle to attack anyone without reason, and Muzaka had no reason to attack him. Had the traitor clan leaders somehow managed to mind control the Werewolf Lord? But if so, why was Raizel alive? He would not be able to bring himself to harm an innocent in self-defense, so a controlled Muzaka would have slaughtered him the first time Raizel was unable to block in time, distracted by trying to free Muzaka’s mind. The bar against harming the innocent was why he still couldn’t bring himself to manage a single kill in Counterstrike despite Frankenstein’s attempts to explain to him the concept of video gaming.

An ordinary human soul wasn’t powerful enough to become a soul weapon, Frankenstein had determined. He’d thought that once human lives became longer that would change, and if noble souls could accrete over the generations, then human souls joined together for a common cause might be able to hit the threshold of power necessary for a soul weapon. How like the Union to turn ‘for the sake of a common goal’ into ‘having massive numbers of people all die of the same cause.’

Frankenstein had intended to become a soul weapon whenever something went wrong and he finally died.

Then he discovered the true nature of the Union, he’d found Dark Spear and, well, he couldn’t just leave them there.

The way he couldn’t leave another living weapon just standing there, lonely and full of the kind of quiet despair that came from accepting there was no such thing as hope. Only duty.

“The Union was gearing up to attack Lukedonia and seize control over the world openly. My peaceful days would have come to an end before long,” Frankenstein told him, even though it was no consolation.

“But it would have come later. You would have had longer like this.” Just like Frankenstein wanted Raizel  to have longer to live. To truly live, not stare out the window at the world he could not join because he was created with a duty. The other charm bracelet was closed around Raizel’s delicate wrist (humans would have to fumble around, trying to do that one-handed without practice). “The you who cares for children… your soul was not meant to kill.” A delicate finger touched a tiny pair of glasses.

Frankenstein chuckled. Master, really? “Neither is yours.”

Distant pain for a moment. “I must.” ‘I’ll do it – you don’t have to’ – Master wanted to say that so much, and it tore him apart that he couldn’t, the way Frankenstein couldn’t tell Master that it really was alright for him to rest until Frankenstein could find a way to help him, they weren’t going to need him.

“We will,” Frankenstein promised him, because even if the odds were still against him there was such a thing as hope. As making a way. “Once they are safe, my power can be sealed away again, and I can start examining which universities are worthy of your consideration.”

He would just build one, but there were only so many hours in the day, even for him.

Especially with a war to wage and a patient to save.  

Chapter Text

M-21knew that if he wasn’t enhanced, he’d be complaining about having to get up early to meet the KSA people before work. Still, they need the KSA to know the tracking system to catch people roof-hopping Tao’d set up around the city and how he’d be sending them certain information so they could evacuate civilians. It wasn’t like Tao’d have the time to coordinate that himself when the next attack came, not when he had RK’s tactics to manage. And it would be good for the KSA to do their jobs instead of endangering the students.

He didn’t want to meet up with them (saving Sangeen from Cerberus was different), but M-21 couldn’t skip out on the meeting and let Tao go alone, or only with Takeo. The numbers would be even then, even if the KSA’s enhanced humans weren’t anything on the upgrades Frankenstein’d given the three of them.

That just meant Tao’s body would be really valuable to the Union. Maybe enough for them to look the other way to South Korea making enhanced humans without telling them.

“You look like you have a question,” Tao said cheerfully to the KSA representatives.

“I know that we don’t have a right to ask questions after everything you’ve done for us,” Yonsu said, looking away and scowling. Obviously she still wanted to pry.

“Go ahead and ask,” M-21 said even though he didn’t like them, remembering what Frankenstein told him about asking questions. That he couldn’t tell him everything, and there was a lot Frankenstein knew that M-21 wouldn’t have trusted himself with, things that would put people in danger if the Union knew,  but he’d still give him answers if he asked.

The married couple looked at each other. Sangeen was the one to start talking, carefully and a little slowly, watching them in case he needed to stop. “When we thanked Lukedonia’s representatives,” the ‘children’ at their school, “and wondered why they were coming to talk to us separate from the Chairman, they said that the actions of the Chairman – and someone else? – were separate from those of Lukedonia’s government, although he wasn’t unrelated to it.”

“That sounds like politics,” Yonsu chimed in. “You don’t have to tell us if it’ll cause trouble, but the last time the KSA got caught up in politics?”

The power struggle between Crombel and the Twelfth Elder had almost wiped out the entire organization. M-21’d heard that everyone in their headquarters was killed except their Chief, so all they had left were the people who hadn’t been there.

M-21 wondered if the trainees they sent to test their candidates had survived, but when they’d attacked the high school kids he didn’t care enough to ask.

Takeo was looking at Tao, who had his hand behind his head, laughing a little nervously, clearly trying to make it casual and apologize for not being able to tell them anything.

“It’s because he’s human,” M-21 said. Of course Frankenstein would want them to know that.

Everyone turned to look at him. Sangeen and Yonsu had their mouths open in shock.

“I know!” Tao said.

“We were shocked as well,” Takeo agreed.

“He’s really… That’s what an enhanced human is capable of?” Yonsu asked, but she didn’t look happy or hopeful. Just sad, a little angry at herself. Probably because she and her husband hadn’t been strong enough to protect their comrades at the KSA, despite volunteering for unauthorized experiments at incredible risk of the Union doing its considerable worst.

“So he survived leaving the Union by allying with Lukedonia, but he’s not under their authority because he’s not a noble?” Sangeen asked, pulling himself together.

“No no no!” Tao said hurriedly, waving his hands. “The Boss was never part of the Union!”

“I’m not certain how much more we can tell you,” Takeo said, “but that is something you need to know.”

“It’s probably a natural assumption to make, when he took us in and we were Union experiments, but it’s a good thing you didn’t make that assumption anywhere he might hear it!” Tao warned them. “The Boss despises the Union.”

Both of the KSA agents shuddered: they’d seen Frankenstein angry.

“You don’t have to tell us anything more,” Sangeen said. “When we asked him who he was he wouldn’t tell us anything except that he was the Chairman of Ye Ran High School.’” Sangeen frowned at himself. “Oh, right, you were there.”

The three of them looked at each other. “It was weird,” M-21 was the one to say, since he’d been with them longest. “He’s always answered our questions. I didn’t know much, but that was because I didn’t want to risk it.”

Tao perked up. “They aren’t part of the family.” So Boss would tell them things he wouldn’t tell allies, because they were special?

Takeo nodded. “The Union already went to the KSA for information once. We know Frankenstein took precautions in case they captured these agents.”

“Right!” Tao slammed his fist into his palm. “We should tell them something.” He turned to Sangeen. “You know how we called ourselves RK?”

“Yeah, I… wondered about the masks.” Wondered what they were thinking, probably.

M-21 wondered if these two thought they were all as crazy as Tao and Frankenstein. Not that he cared.

“We’re the Raizel Knights!” Tao declared, striking a pose.

“No, you can’t recruit them,” Takeo said firmly, trying to head Tao off. “They’re sworn to defend South Korea, and Raizel occupies a position in Lukedonia’s government.”

“Government?” M-21 blinked. “There’s the Lord, but… I guess they are kind of in charge.”

“They’re nothing like the Union, or the governments of the countries DA-5 operated in, but monarchy is a form of government. I hope it’s not a problem that the clan leaders are here helping us out so much.” Tao looked thoughtful. “Does Boss have to take orders from the Lord? I mean, he wouldn’t because he’s Boss, but isn’t the Lord the ruler of all nobles? He is a noble. Maybe that’s why Regis and Seira said that we weren’t unconnected with Lukedonia, since he’s a Lukedonian official.”

“Since he swore an oath of obedience, perhaps,” Takeo agreed, looking a little surprised.

M-21 frowned. “Oath of obedience? You really think he’d be okay with something like that?” He was still baffled by the idea of Raizel being government. Weren’t they like the Union Elders, controlling things? He couldn’t imagine Raizel in charge of anything, ever. He had his powers and could give orders, but mostly he sat there, drinking tea or looking out the window, minding his own business, until one of his classmates decided that they were going to go play Counterstrike or something. M-21 really wasn’t surprised to find out that the Contract with Frankenstein and Frankenstein calling him Master was Frankenstein’s idea, so Raizel went along with it.

He usually lets humans do what they want, so if that was what the Boss wanted to do?” Tao shrugged. “I hope not, though. He wouldn’t like it much.”

“’He?’” Yonsu asked, attempting to mimic the particular emphasis.

He,” Tao corrected her helpfully. “You know, the kids call him Rai. Drag him away from fights if you can, okay? He’s really nice, and it bothers him to have to kill people. And when he’s sad, everybody’s sad, and when Boss is sad?” Tao shuddered dramatically and wailed, “He spring cleans!”

M-21 and Takeo looked at each other. They wanted to say that Tao was being overly dramatic as usual, but… Yes.

Takeo nodded his head slowly at the KSA agents, forced to acknowledge the truth of Tao’s words. “The janitor at Ye Ran must be a saint.”

M-21 nodded. “He puts up with it because if the Chairman wasn’t a good person the kids wouldn’t be so happy there.”

He’s happy there, and he wouldn’t be happy unless the kids were happy,” Tao chimed in.

“Rai… Cadis Etrama di Raizel? The Ye Ran student who finished off the Twelfth Elder but didn’t come to our meeting with the Lukedonian officials?  He wasn’t exactly attentive,” Sangeen said.

“And he always had an excuse for getting out of PE,” Yonsu added. “Although that makes sense.” All of them knew about having to hide enhanced strength. The other nobles also got out of PE while the KSA agents were watching the students.

The agents couldn’t possibly have missed all of them looking sad. “He stares out the window all the time,” Takeo said – they’d seen him in the classroom through that window, when they were patrolling the campus. “He’s… used to that. His life before he met the Chairman was… lonely.”

“That’s why he wants us to be happy.” M-21 said, looking to the side, wondering why he was being so talkative. He didn’t like these people, why did he care what they knew about anything? “He knows what it’s like to not get to have a normal life.”

“He’s saved all our lives,” Tao said. “That’s why I make RK, to protect him.”

Yonsu gave him a skeptical look. “Protect him? He killed two Union elders. What does he need protection for?”

M-21 didn’t even realize he’d taken a step towards Yonsu before Tao and Takeo grabbed his arms. He swallowed and grabbed hold of his temper. “Right,” he forced out through gritted teeth. “He said that before me, no one except F-the Chairman had ever wanted to protect him.” Raizel’d said Frankenstein’s name once on the battlefield, but he hoped the KSA agents were too overwhelmed to really catch it. He didn’t want them assuming things based on the Union’s old lies.

When he stepped back so they could let go of him (not that Tao did), Tao and Takeo looked at each other, frowning.

“Sangeen really didn’t…” Takeo looked at Tao, puzzled. “I didn’t notice how… important,” Takeo said, after failing to find a better word, “he was until later, but they saw what he did to the Twelfth Elder, and heard why.”

Yeah, M-21 hadn’t realized that Raizel was anything special, he’d faded into the background behind Frankenstein somehow, but then M-21 had seen him use his power and whatever was keeping him from realizing that Raizel was important couldn’t fool him anymore.

“It’s one thing to not notice us, or Boss, but three nobles sitting right there with the kids he was supposed to observe, and he didn’t think they were important?” Tao nodded. “They must have been doing that thing that makes you not notice them. Probably only during class. It’s interesting how the school’s so used to them now. You get a lot more attention, M-21,” Tao said, squeezing his arm before he let him go. “From the Union’s data, a modified human who looked like them should make everyone freak out, thinking they’re wrong and probably sick because they look too perfect. Uncanny valley. I guess it’s because humans and nobles used to live together, you know? It’s funny to see people just… pay attention when they see him or Miss Seira, even little Regis, but once they get over the shock it’s just ‘oh, nobles,’” Tao waved a hand nonchalantly, “and they’re like… just nice to have around. You’d think that Miss Seira’d have a fan club like M-21, but it’s like she’s a really gorgeous sunset or something that’s just nice to look at and M-21’s actually hot.”

“I have a fan club?” M-21 asked, shocked, even knowing that this was Tao and that reaction was exactly what he was going for.

“You’re lucky you were considered a failed experiment,” Takeo told him, looking away, voice grim. “I’m lucky that… she decided to play the game she did. Dr. Aris isn’t the only Union official with a known fondness for pretty things, but Crombel labeling you a reject meant they left you alone.” Trash wasn’t a status symbol. “Tao is correct. Humans don’t seem to see nobles as sexually available. It would be… noticeable if they did.”

“We’re working at a high school,” Tao said, with a cheerful grin, the kind successful data-gathering gave him. “Hormones and young love all over the place. It’s a lot of fun to watch,” after Shinwoo asking them for advice made them all realize they just didn’t have a clue.

Or maybe Takeo did, and that was why he’d fled the scene? No. DA-5 was very closely monitored, and Dr. Aris probably wouldn’t have let anyone else play with her toys. M-21 knew that some experiments still talked to each other, even if he and M-24 were out of the loop because they were failures and no one wanted to be tainted and terminated by association. Takeo was friendly and Tao was designed for intel gathering and monitoring, so they would have been more hooked in than most.

“The nobles were tampering with our minds so we didn’t notice them?” Yonsu demanded.

How was that her business what they did to hide them from the Union and keep everyone safe, M-21 wanted to growl at her, but right. Her country. Tampering with their minds, though? “That can’t be right,” M-21 said, frowning. “It must work some other way.”

Tao tapped his fingers together thoughtfully. “Regis thought it was okay to try to Jedi Mind Trick the boss into letting him stay at your place, right? He was okay with the memory wipe on Ikhan and the others, but that was to save the kids from the Union, and it was the boss that did it. He just didn’t stop Boss from doing what he wanted. There are still more traitor nobles at the Union, so we should probably ask Boss how all that works. If he’s thinking about intel leaks from the KSA, then it wouldn’t be a bad thing for them to come too, right?”

For some reason they looked at M-21, who shrugged. If Frankenstein wasn’t worried about these agents getting dissected by the Union even after they’d had plans for his students, he wouldn’t have had those vials. It was probably because he approved of humans sticking up for themselves, and people defying the Union to create enhanced humans. If Frankenstein wanted them to get lost, they’d get lost. If they ended up running away from the school with their tails between their legs, good. It’d keep them away from the students.

“They are psychically null, like werewolves,” Frankenstein said, sitting at his desk in the Chairman’s office, giving the five of them a look over his glasses before zeroing in on a specific target. “Which is part of why I did not want them in possession of any information,” Tao. Of course it wasn’t hard for him to know who was responsible for this. “I took a look at their enhancements. While the KSA’s program doesn’t have the Union’s particular institutional incompetence,” inventive underlings without patrons were massacred, like the Union’s South Korean lab, by someone who wanted exclusive knowledge of that research, “or propaganda, the doctor who worked on them had to make much of it up as he went along, and was of course completely ignorant of the historical context of enhancements and the reality of humanity’s position on this planet. He entirely shut down their natural psychic abilities thinking that would help keep the Union from detecting them.”

“Humans are naturally psychic?” Tao asked, acting heedless of the fact the KSA agents were right here and he was asking for information when they’d hear it.

“Yes. Verbal communication and symbols are far more effective and generally useful, so obviously we evolved to prioritize language, but we still use psychic abilities not just as a method of clarifying meaning, but for data transfers. That’s why nobles can learn languages and how to fit in so quickly: it’s being uploaded to them. There’s a certain developmental stage when it becomes very obvious if a child lacks psychic powers – it’s a communication disability. They have to learn what other children simply download.”

M-21 glanced over at the KSA agents to see them just stunned. Sangeen was a little better at hiding his emotions than Yonsu, he guessed, but M-21 was used to nobles, so he might as well have had his jaw dropped.

Someone just knew all this, and talked about it so casually? Handed out the kind of knowledge the Union killed hundreds, thousands of people like M-21 to obtain?

“I’ve developed techniques for assisting students like that, of course,” Frankenstein went on, thoughtfully.

There wasn’t a transition from scientist to high school Chairman. That was another strange thing about Frankenstein, to M-21. That scientist mode and ‘looking after people’ weren’t mutually exclusive to him. Wasn’t science supposed to mean cruelty and detachment? Frankenstein could be cruel (training came to mind) and he could detach himself from a situation (in order to be sure he saw everything) but it was always for the sake of being kind. For being sure that he was taking the best care of all of them.

“Since the condition is better known these days and it was almost time to leave Ye Ran, I was considering having the next school be preschool through high school, and getting some of those techniques out there. Of course, I’d have to let the teachers think they’d figured out those tricks themselves; it’s not safe for me to publi-“ Frankenstein blinked at them, finally noticing that something was wrong.

“Leave Ye Ran?” Takeo asked, pale.

Leave the school, leave the students? Leave the first job M-21 was happy to do?

Frankenstein held up his glasses, tilted them in the light so they would see the bifocal lenses. “I’ll teach you how to manage as immortals, but the most important thing about faking aging is, don’t bother. It’s incredibly time-consuming and all of your brains are still adapting to manage your changing bodies and abilities. You need your rest. It takes a certain number of years for a school to become an institution, to develop the quantity and quality of tradition that will let it endure changing political winds, the temptation to prioritize prestige over truly doing good for the students and the world, assassinations… The varying hazards of the educational field. When the KSA asked me how I was able to mobilize the government to give their organization what they needed to recover so quickly, I told them that I was the Chairman of Ye Ran High School.” He smiled at Sangeen and Yonsu. “Because it was as the Chairman of Ye Ran High School that I placed a call to our alumni association. It’s always rewarding to watch children grow up and spread their wings.”

Turning back to the school security’s infamous ‘Parachute Trio,’ he told them, “Yet the fact that my students were able to take the KSA’s problems – aside from the surgery – off my hands means I could now move on knowing that Ye Ran would be in good hands.” He smirked, more proud than anything. “But, Master has friends and a life here. Don’t worry. You won’t have to leave Ye Ran anytime soon.” He chuckled. “It isn’t as though I haven’t been called a peacock before. There’s nothing wrong with letting people think I’m a little vain and spending far too much money to hide the signs of aging.”

Takeo and Tao were relieved, but, “Immortal?” M-21 asked. He’d known that Frankenstein just had to be really old when he thought the two of them were ‘noblesse,’ and then he’d found out that Frankenstein was human and Raziel had been asleep for 820 years.

M-21 had always known that the Union just hadn’t gotten around to terminating a failure like him yet. Frankenstein and his master had given him a chance to live a longer life, but he’d known that the Union was going to try to kill them all.

Now immortality was on the table?

“Physical immortality is not difficult,” Frankenstein told him. “I primarily use a variant on the noble method since the werewolf method comes with the risk of mutating substantially away from the human baseline. I suppose it doesn’t benefit the werewolves or traitor nobles in the Union for humans to develop or refine abilities that the other species already possess: they want to help themselves, not humanity. Dr. Aris had a pair of disgusting creations, made by turning humans into machines that wore out their lifespan.” They sensed Dark Spear’s aura flare around him, Frankenstein and his soul weapon united in their hatred of the Union.

Turning humans into weapons? That was what happened to Dark Spear.

“I should have made more of an effort to try to periodically stamp out those cockroaches.” Frankenstein’s eyes narrowed and M-21 considered taking a step back. There were only flickers of Dark Spear in the air around him, but they’d cut M-21 if he came in contact with one. Sure, these days his werewolf heart’s power was strong enough that the wound would actually heal, and heal fast, but it still hurt. “They didn’t have the sense to stay under the radar unless someone was keeping them in their place back in my day, but I shouldn’t have assumed.” That other people were doing their jobs and keeping the Union suppressed?

Sangeen and Yonsu, who had seen Frankenstein summon Dark Spear in a fight, were eyeing the door and window. M-21 saw Takeo move closer to the window, shaking his head to warn them not to even think about going through it.

Frankenstein didn’t even seem to notice the sparks. “But six traitor clan leaders – seven, unless I manage to kill Ignes before Roctis Kravei – and an unknown quantity of clan leader-level werewolves would be a bit much even for me. Especially with Dark Spear sealed.”

And Frankenstein wasn’t like the Union. He wasn’t going to turn other people into soldiers for him.

“It’s okay!” Tao said, broadly smiling. “I mean, half the Elders are dead, before they even really had a chance to get started! They wouldn’t have been so overconfident if you’d been kicking their asses for centuries, Boss.”

“Yes, but eight hundred and twenty years?” He rubbed his temples. It was strange how often someone enhanced like him got headaches…

Oh. Dark Spear, even if the sparks had gone away now that Tao’d made Frankenstein think about something else. It couldn’t be happy that the Union was allowed to thrive.

“It isn’t as though I didn’t keep busy trying to find Master. Locating Sanctuaries and get into sealed spaces is a challenge even if you are the bonded of someone with authorized access. Dimensional physics was not my field. Thank goodness I already knew the security system was tied to the movements of the moon and other celestial objects.”

 “Oh!” Tao realized. “That’s why the data in your lab wasn’t encrypted?”

His boss stared at him. “It was encrypted.” Obviously. “Everything except you three, the treatment plans I put together for you to follow and a general explanation of what I was working on with you written for the layman, because you had a right to understand what was being done to you.  And the finalized recipes, for Miss Seira,” he added. “It was the general explanation that made those files so dangerous. The Union keeps its members unaware of major, foundational concepts, so they have made very little headway on the theoretical understanding necessary to actually design and optimize enhancements instead of trying random things to see what happens.” The M series. “When Master and I left for Lukedonia, I left you enough information to continue to stabilized and enhance yourselves safely,” he reminded Tao. 

“The overview I left you wasn’t just based on the understanding of the theory I had 900 years ago – even though I haven’t been experimenting with human enhancement since then, I have had a great deal of time to consider the matter. In order to find and hopefully help my master, I was also working on developing an understanding of high-level noble abilities. The type of ability that allowed a single person to create Lukedonia and the Sanctuaries that concealed Master. I’ve also been hoping to free the souls imprisoned in Dark Spear, and have made some attempts to nail down that theory. Obviously I didn’t write out ‘How to Attain Godhood In Four Easy Steps,’ but if someone knows the theory, the rest is just engineering, and of course a member of the Union is going to be looking for the most twisted ways they can apply any knowledge they can discover. Drs. Aris, Crombel and the Ninth Elder already saw humans as raw materials! They’ve been mining for lead to make water pipes, with no idea that the ‘worthless dross’ they discard as soon as possible can be turned into nuclear weapons!”

Frankenstein shuddered. “Imagine if Dr. Crombel had known what the hell he was doing! Billions would die!”

Tao drew in a breath, and M-21 turned to see him pale as ice. “Boss, can we… change the subject? Before… I think I should… Can I please not remember what I just figured out?”

He winced, standing up. “My apologies.”

“I don’t want to know.” Tao wrapped his arms around himself. “I really, I really don’t want to know. Because I would. To protect everyone. I would. And then the Union might find out it’s possible.” He shuddered. “That’s why you gave him your blood. Because you think of things like that.” He shook his head, staring at something only he could see. “I don’t want to be the kind of person who would do that. I don’t want to be like the Union. But they made me, and if any of you died I, I couldn’t let them… If I had that kind of power, he wouldn’t have to fight but he’d have to kill me, wouldn’t he, I don’t want to do that to everyone…” His hands lifted up, clutching his head.

“It’s not the temptations you’re faced with that define you, Tao,” Frankenstein said, coming around the desk to put a hand on Tao’s shoulder to steady him, meeting Tao’s pleading gaze when the former Union killer dared to look up at him with compassionate blue eyes. M-21 couldn’t see even a trace of Dark Spear’s violet hatred. “I would never hate you for wanting the power to protect others. The fact you’re now able to recognize that there are some prices which should never be paid is progress.”

The KSA – the outsiders who threatened the kids shouldn’t be here for this, M-21 knew. The way Frankenstein put his hand on Tao’s shoulder reminded him of Raizel putting down his tea and standing up to walk over and pat Frankenstein’s shoulder when Frankenstein saw the damage to the school from M-21’s fight with Yonsu and Takeo’s with Sangeen.

…Well, who else would Raizel have learned to do that from? Nobles didn’t do touchy-feely stuff.

“No, I’m not wiping your memory,” Frankenstein told Tao. “You’re actually intelligent, and you’ve seen theory in action. Once people know it’s possible to do something, others will figure out how to accomplish it, which is why the KSA’s doctor was able to create these two without data from the Union. When you were in the Union, you weren’t allowed to have scruples. Now that you’re a free man, you’re going to have to learn how to overcome temptation. How to choose the principles you will live by and stick to them.”

“…can’t you threaten to feed me to Dark Spear or something?” Tao asked, trying to joke.

Frankenstein gave him a look. “If I was alive to stop you, then you wouldn’t feel the need to do it. I know this is a radical concept to someone who only remembers the Union, but power is not the be-all and end-all of existence, and just because someone can think of a way to become more powerful doesn’t mean they have to do any such thing. …Of course, if I’m not alive to stop you from doing that, then I won’t be alive to stop Dark Spear from eating you for it.”

He patted Tao on the shoulder and returned to stand in front of his desk, leaning back on it a little in a deliberately casual pose, changing the subject. “Unless something goes apocalyptically wrong, the KSA won’t need the ability to detect nobles, so the only issue is the lack of the… muscle, let’s say, that resists mental domination.” Which was the problem under discussion.

Looking thoughtful, he frowned briefly. “Werewolves are also psychically null, but their method of fending off mental assault seems to be a scorched earth policy and the ability to constantly generate new neurons. Originally, I thought werewolves were another clan of nobles, but the way they handle fundamentals is so different. Two powerful races on this planet with completely different origins. Then some early human generated enough of a psychic signal for nobles to notice our existence, werewolves had a much easier time having a relationship with the ancestors of modern humans than another werewolf, and within living memory for nobles, here we all are,” he mused looking around the room.

Two Union-designed enhanced humans; two independently enhanced humans – stealing data from the Union was too risky; one enhanced human (originally) based on samples he’d obtained from mutants with abilities originating from nobles; and one human with a werewolf heart.

M-21 stiffened. “There are humans who are descended from werewolves?” How many? How like him were they? Maybe he was one even without the heart? Maybe that was why he was compatible enough with it to be the only M-series to live. Was it a clue to his identity?

Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein, shook his head absently. M-21 kept getting hit with how strange it was to see someone in scientific mode and have it not be scary at all, although who knew when Frankenstein would decide to go over to scary mode, especially with the KSA here. M-21 wasn’t the only one who wanted to scare them away from the students. Maybe another part of it was the school, seeing the teachers here? Mr. Park proved people could know things without seeing everyone else as things?

“Most if not all werewolves are descended from humans – their traits are strongly dominant due to how their abilities function. According to Muzaka there’s no correlation between percentage of human ancestry and power level – what I’ve observed from you would explain it.” Frankenstein tapped the table with a pen, having picked it up absently. “I wouldn’t be surprised if all werewolves were chimeras. I’d like to have a theory on either noble or werewolf origin, but bar a stroke of luck we’ll probably never know. Nobles didn’t keep historical records until recently – they didn’t have a language or writing system to record them with. All they have is what is within living memory, but the Previous Lord believed that weight of history was strangling Lukedonia’s future and took much of it into eternal sleep with him.” Frankenstein chuckled. “I’m sure future historians will wish they could wake him from eternal sleep so they can murder him.”    

He paused, and M-21 saw his realization. Ah yes, there was a point to this conversation. “Modern humans still subconsciously recognize nobles because our ancestors spent a few million years evolving to benefit from the fact that nobles would protect us. It’s instinct to rely on them. On some level, Agent Sangeen, you knew they were nobles, otherwise I’m sure you would have assumed they were modified humans and reacted accordingly. Most people are ‘stunned’ the first time they see a noble because their psychic abilities are grabbing for a larger share of brain function. This usually isn’t something they’ve experienced before, and the natural assumption is that they are paying particular attention to this person for a reason. Shinwoo Han thought Master needed looking after,” which made Frankenstein smile in approval. “Interesting, when it used to be the other way around.”

Tao would have reminded them of Ikhan’s adoption of fellow shortie Regis, but he was leaning against the wall close to Takeo. M-21 hoped it wouldn’t take him too long to get back to normal.

“Is that why they said that it was… normal for them to help us now that the Union was attacking?”

“They haven’t done anything about the Union before,” Yonsu added.

“No, I won’t be giving you intelligence on Lukedonia’s political situation,” Frankenstein told the KSA agents, putting his glasses back on. “And don’t try good cop bad cop on me, you’re a thousand years too early,” he added, giving them a look over his glasses. M-21’d bet he’d put them on again instead of fiddling with them just so he could do that. “If the Union’s intelligence is as inaccurate as it seems, then we all want to keep it that way. Any society will produce criminals, and needs mechanisms to keep them from abusing the weak. Because the nobles were ordered to live on Lukedonia, most human contact with nobles within our recorded history has been with criminals and traitors. Then there’s the Union’s recent propaganda – they’ve been gearing up to invade Lukedonia, and managed to inspire rather suicidal overconfidence in their main battle fleet.”

Suicidal enough for an ops team to run into the Noblesse’s manor house and fire warning shots into the ceiling in front of Frankenstein, expecting people they must have assumed were nobles to surrender to unenhanced humans.

Seeing the plaster fall onto the floor, M-21’s life had flashed before his eyes.

If Tao hadn’t managed to knock them all out while Frankenstein was still too stunned by seeing his property (technically Raizel’s, but that just made those soldiers even more screwed) damaged to react, M-21 did not want to think about what would have happened to them.

Frankenstein smiled, the kind of pleasant that didn’t mean anything good for whoever he was smiling at. “I would ask you whether or not, if you saw Regis or Seira about to be killed by Union forces, you would try to help them, but your actions are those of South Korea’s government and you cannot afford to antagonize the Union.”

There was a reason he’d said ‘try to help’ instead of actually help. If Frankenstein (or M-21, for that matter) was interested in being fair to the KSA, they weren’t anywhere near as strong as M-21 was after Frankenstein had worked on him. The two of them being able to help out Regis, much less Seira?

Regis fought up close like M-21 instead of being ranged support like Tao and Takeo because even if he was the noble version of like ten or twelve (M-21 had his memories of being a child wiped, he didn’t know how to figure out people’s ages), he was still a pureblood noble and the strongest out of the people Tao managed to drag into his RK… thing.

M-21 ignored the little voice that said that Tao had managed to manipulate Regis into joining up and even wearing the stupid tiny mask because Regis was like a little kid, and Takeo was Tao’s comrade from DA-5 and probably felt compelled to tag along to try to rein Tao in a little. What was M-21’s excuse?

Sure, it was fun to do the hero thing, and to get to deny the Union something – no, someone – they wanted, but there was a reason he’d said no to acting like they were some kind of hero team like the ones Shinwoo liked to watch.

Seira was a clan leader with a soul weapon. If some Union Elder was about to kill her, the KSA agents weren’t strong enough to matter in a fight or fast enough to get her out of there. If Sangeen was faster, it would have saved M-21 a lot of trouble when Tao decided that they had to rescue him from Cerberus.

“I could ask you whether or not you would allow ordinary, human children to be put in danger on your watch, but you sent trainees to attempt to beat up one of my students, when accidents happen.” Frankenstein’s smile was edged. Oh yes the Chairman of Ye Ran High School was going to bear a grudge for that, even if he’d eventually forgiven M-21.

M-21 wasn’t sure why Frankenstein and Raizel had forgiven him for putting the children at risk. At the time he hadn’t thought about it, but once he had thought of the children as people, like him and M-24, and how wrong it was to treat the children the way the Union had treated them? He wasn’t sure if he could forgive himself. That was why it was so hard to forgive Yonsu, for ordering something like that without taking a minute to think about the fact that Shinwoo was a kid, an ordinary kid with a chance at a life, and she was putting that in danger. Taking that away from him, when M-24 died to keep them alive, so they had that chance!

“Still, ordinary, decent human beings will try to save a dying child, and nobles in general are no different. Lukedonia’s age of majority is two hundred, unenhanced humans are more fragile than noble children, and the reason that human and noble psychic abilities are so compatible is probably because our ancestors evolved to better imitate a noble child in distress. Under ordinary circumstances, which the past seventy thousand years have not been, nobles reproduce once in a few million years. Children are rare and infinitely precious. Ask an ordinary, decent noble whether or not unenhanced humans should be protected even at noble expense, and they would have trouble understanding the question. Of course, when the question finally was asked, the fact that it was so hard for nobles to find words to give an answer would not have helped matters.

“Unfortunately, as with the parent-child bond in both species, instinctive trust holds great potential for abuse if the one in a position of power is not trustworthy. I enhanced my psychic abilities to an extreme degree trying to block what I thought was external mind control instead of instinct. In hindsight, it was not a coincidence that I found my way to the one person on Lukedonia able to tell two clan leaders on a mission from the Lord to get lost… I didn’t want the Union to know that my master had returned, but he told that werewolf to tell them, in hope it would make them think twice. Then again, obviously the werewolves don’t want the rest of the Union to succeed, so she may not have warned the traitors to either the nobles or humanity. I don’t want to hand information to the Union because I underestimated their selfishness.” What to do…

“Regardless,” he told the KSA agents, “the Union certainly has the knowledge of how to give someone psychic abilities they can use to become trusted. Yuri demonstrated that. The two of you need mental shielding in case anyone at the Union realizes it might be worth inserting a cuckoo in the KSA. Please do tell your own doctor that. I’m afraid I cannot assist you in that regard: the last time I let anyone at my work, the Union happened.”

“When Regis fought the rest of DA-5, his mind control was really useful,” Tao said, clearing his throat and making an effort to be back to normal, “but we didn’t even notice anything when the Central Order Knight tried to ask us questions, right guys?”

M-21 and Takeo nodded.

Frankenstein frowned, then looked a little worried. “Perhaps I should go over your modifications with you in more detail. All of you consented to being stabilized, and the minimal modifications necessary to undo the damage caused by the Union’s incompetence and keep you alive, even before you requested that I actually upgrade you. I should have remembered that the Union doesn’t consider the life expectancies of its agents a priority, so your idea of the basic survival package is probably very different from mine. Mental shielding was one of the first things I worked on, since it was useless to try to fight vampires without it. As for Lukedonia’s attitude towards mind control…”

The darkness began to rise up around him, that contempt appeared in a bitter smile, the hatred directed at himself more than anything. “I can’t quite point fingers, now can I? They tamper with human memories because otherwise the Union will take anyone who encounters a noble, I tampered with noble memories to keep the clan leaders from rescuing the criminals and executing them before I was done with them… Seira would have gotten a hotel room, but I wasn’t expecting to have nobles suddenly shown into my office. I believe Regis felt traces of Master’s soul from me, and made an impulsive decision because he was drawn to it. He’s only a hundred and ninety-nine: if I couldn’t forgive children for doing childish things, I’d have no business being an educator.”

Chapter Text

Tao was the first one home, but even so he still took off his shoes and put on house slippers before running up to his room. Sure, he was about to risk his life, but there were limits! He was the tactician, he wasn’t going to make his odds worse.

Buried in among the equipment in his room was a tiny freezer.

M-21 had tried to get something past Boss: not happening.

In the Union, you needed to be tricky to survive, but Boss and Boss’ master were honest people. Who cared about what he wanted. So he was going to make that clear.

The Boss was still in his office when Tao got back to the school  - Tao had known he would be, when the meeting with the KSA in the morning ate up the time Boss had planned to do his paperwork before staff meetings and appointments with visitors began.

Blue eyes didn’t look up at him from behind cosmetic reading glasses – some of Boss’ glasses did have lenses, but they practically microscope lenses – which meant he really was trying to power through that pile of paperwork. Normally, the Chairman of Ye Ran was as good as pretending that he couldn’t sense who people were without looking at them (when he was ‘looking,’ anyway) as he was at hiding that the foreigner known for his compassion for students’ woes and his donations to charity could kill everyone in this school in… maybe more than a minute? Tao spent a lot of the school’s money on those shelters and upgrades, it’d be embarrassing if it didn’t make any difference at all!

He threw what he had in his hand down on the desk. Frankenstein’s pen stilled as he watched it roll onto the PE department budget proposal he was correcting, mainly upwards.  He cared about the health of his students.

He cared about their health, and that was why Tao wasn’t going to back down the way M-21 had.

“I’ve always done whatever I had to do, been whoever I had to be, in order to survive,” Tao confessed, standing there in the Chairman’s office, vial lying there on the desk between them. “I liked Takeo because with him, I didn’t need to be evil to be the kind of person he would want to keep around, and with Ikhan… I could be a fun person, not meaning anyone any harm. You, and him, you’re terrifyingly powerful. So I had to be whatever person you would what me to be, whatever kind of person you would like, you know?”

Frankenstein nodded sadly. “I’ve seen children raised in the power of monsters before, Tao. You aren’t doing anything strange or wrong. You lived. That is what is important. Of course you’re afraid. You lived in terror for years, and the organization that hurt you is still out there. Still wants to destroy you. Of course you’re having a hard time discarding the shield that protected you. Especially now that you have people you want to protect.”

Tao looked down at his clenched fists on Frankenstein’s desk, shoulders hunched over, and laughed nervously. “You say things like that, you’re people like, like the two of you are, and it makes you even scarier, you know? Because I want to think it’s safe, I want to come out from behind, behind the mask. The shield?” Both were right, weren’t they. “But then, what if I get hurt. What if you hurt me? I think I’d die.” He raised a hand to wipe at his face. “Like Takeo wanted to die after Dr. Aris, huh. M-21 would want to punch me if he was here, giving up surviving for so little…” It was hard not to laugh again, to try to hide behind that as a shield, but he didn’t know if he’d stop.

“Your social skills, your masks, are a skill, Tao. Just like your hacking skills, and Takeo’s aim. How you use that skill is up to you. And you used it to pack ramyeon so Master had something of home in the place where he was alone for so long.” Frankenstein smiled gently. “I told him about your Raizel Knights and he blushed, Tao. The Noblesse blushed and made little noises. It was adorable.”

Hearing that was a shock of… not of cold water. Still enough to make the rising hysteria vanish. Really? Had he really managed to make him feel so much, care so much about Tao did that it broke a noble’s, that noble’s composure? Did he deserve that reaction, though? “I just wanted to make you like me,” Tao said quietly.

“So?” Frankenstein wondered. “An amazing percentage of all human effort is dedicated to making other people happy with us. It’s natural to want to be loved. M-21 had the rest of the M-series, who wanted him to live. Takeo thought he had a sister who loved him. You had Takeo… some of the time, because you couldn’t afford to be the kind of person Takeo would like when the others were around. Takeo’s ability to kill let him afford to be soft: you were designed as support, so without someone to back you up… And Takeo had to put his sister first. You knew he couldn’t put himself on the line for you. Humans need other people to survive and be happy. It is not good for us to be alone among enemies. You are a child and you want to live.”

“I want you to drink it. If you don’t, I’ll ask him.” Tao cringed, because that was unfair, that was an ultimatum, putting him on the line was going to end in Dark Spear crackling around him.

Yet the menacing aura didn’t come, only a measuring gaze. No, not measuring. Already measured. “You want to be known. You want to be found worthy. You want to be loved for who you are, and if that will never happen, then you want the pain to stop. You want to stop having to pretend to be vicious, dangerous. You want to be safe. To be secure. To know that you have the loving family every child should be entitled to have.”

Boss was a thousand years old, and from those eyes, Tao wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before, in way too many kids. It still pissed him off, and Tao could see him suppress that anger (anger for him instead of at him!) so he could continue to speak calmingly instead of flipping into scary mode and maybe scaring Tao.

Frankenstein sighed. “In your case, I’m… considering options.”

Tao jerked his head up, staring at him in hope.

“At least enquiring of Seira how exactly the bond she has with Regis functions. Even if Gejutel is worried for them, I can’t see him telling children how to set up anything permanent or intrusive.”

If Gejutel thought it was okay for children, then maybe Boss might decide it was safe enough for Tao?

“But if it is possible for a temporary, non-mind-control-based bond between two noble children to function for humans, then if you want that bond with me I’ll have to do it for M-21 and Takeo, and that’s four times the risk someone will drain Master’s power, and if that happens, how do you think you will feel?” Frankenstein asked him. “Then there’s adding an energy channel – which will have a certain error rate, I am not a noble – into your body’s ongoing stabilization process.”

When that meant it would slow down how fast even Boss could safely make him stronger, and Tao was already the weakest.

Normally, contracts were supposed to make humans stronger, but after Raizel had already awakened him? Tao couldn’t drain anymore of his lifeforce, he just couldn’t.

Dr. Aris hadn’t exactly cared about Tao’s lifespan. Frankenstein hadn’t even finished getting all the damage from the modifications and taking those pills tidied away without letting them lose any power while he switched them over to ways of having the same powers that didn’t slowly kill them when Tao asked for more enhancements on top of that. Each change meant a new baseline needed to stabilize, or stabilize enough, before additional changes could be made. The Union, when Tao was made, couldn’t modify people more than once, because once modified they weren’t baseline humans anymore. Most of the Union’s experiments fell apart, too. Constantly watching over them and making adjustments the way Frankenstein did, making sure they didn’t fall apart?

The Union’s modifications were science fiction to civilians, and they were trial and error. What Frankenstein could do knowing the theory? It wasn’t that he was careless. He took meticulous measurements when he was experimenting with cooking, he wasn’t going to be the kind of chef that just tossed things in a pot dealing with people, but Tao bet he totally could whip something up in a cauldron if he wanted to. It wasn’t like they had this kind of lab equipment back when Boss was modifying himself, right?

If the Union could turn Elders into praying mantises or whatever, there was no way Boss couldn’t turn someone into a human-sized frog if they annoyed him enough.

How was Tao supposed to coordinate tactics and use his equipment from a lily pond?

“If a bond between two nobles won’t function for humans, a contract is not something that can be revoked. It takes a noble’s power, or borrowed power, to link our souls, but once they are linked even… even Master’s death would not sever us. Once the Union is finally destroyed and I’ve settled any remaining affairs, my soul is promised to Dark Spear. While Dark Spear isn’t able to affect Master, you are vulnerable to it. If we are contracted, when it takes me it will obtain a piece of your soul, and it will not stop trying to consume the rest of you.”

That made Tao gasp.

Not that part about if he outlived Frankenstein, because how likely was that to happen, but was Boss really going to let Dark Spear eat him? In exchange for using it? Or trying to make it be less scary or something?

Something else for the list of things Tao needed to find some way to stop being powerless to stop.

“If we make a contract, you will be hurt,” Frankenstein told him.

“I don’t care,” Tao said without even thinking about it. He was leaning forward over the desk now, searching for some sign of Dark Spear not as a warning he needed to run for it but was Boss okay?

“I see why you don’t, when you’re hurting this much already. But, you see,” he said, and smiled. “I refuse to be a reason you suffer. If allowing you to suffer was acceptable to me, you would not be here trying to force your blood on me, or at least I damn well hope you wouldn’t.”

Tao hesitated. He wanted to say that he was desperate enough to do it anyway, to make a contract with someone who might treat him like the Union did just so the boss would be worried enough to resort to desperate measures, but… “No. It’s because… It’s why you gave him your blood, isn’t it? I can… I can trust you to think about what’s best for me. That’s why I don’t want you to be able to leave. When he told all of us to leave, before you explained that it was because he was afraid he couldn’t protect us and wanted us to be safe even if it meant he was alone, it…” It had hurt. “I don’t trust myself, but I trust you.”

He wanted to argue that this would make him stronger, so he could protect Boss and Boss’ Master, but he understood about how the main issue was his stability, his body being able to handle the strain so it didn’t fall apart like his. If a Contract would be a source of instability? He couldn’t protect them if he screwed up and dropped dead like Dr. Aris when she ate that pill.

Watching him, the boss sighed. “You’re my employee. When we get home, sit down next to Master and I’ll walk him through giving you a hug.”

Tao jerked his head up to stare at Frankenstein again. Really?

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Like, aside from knocking people to the ground and standing on them, or showing Tao how to insert IV needles so he could do it for himself and Takeo instead of having a scientist do things to them, or actual surgery, Boss didn’t touch people. Tao had figured he didn’t like it, and according to his research that could fit with how he hated it when things were filthy. Raizel was more likely to touch Frankenstein than Frankenstein was to touch Raizel, and Raizel was a noble. Frankenstein’s Master only touched him when Frankenstein was very upset and the situation called for drastic measures.

That smile actually reached Boss’ blue eyes, so yes, really. “I am… working on it, but I discovered the existence of germs during a trying time in my life. Master restricts himself to patting me on the shoulder because when I’m already strained, it can be harder for me to restrain obsessive thoughts. Go to Master when you want a hug. He will be very happy to have something he can do to help you.” Frankenstein gave him a warning frown. “Be sure you are wearing clean clothes and wash your hands, however. I’m aware that secondary infections can’t happen to nobles, but he is weak, in humans that makes them vulnerable and he is dear to me. That’s why it’s hard to keep the need to have a clean environment for him under control.”

Tao nodded. Hearing and obeying an order was an easy mode to fall back on, but the Noblesse hugging him?

Was that… really going to happen? And the boss would help make it happen?

Frankenstein smiled. “As your employer, it is improper for me to initiate physical contact under any circumstances. However, there is no one here, and Master and I will respect your will.”

Tao was over on his side of the desk in a flash. He’d just been told that Frankenstein had a problem with hugs, but here he was pressing his face against the man’s neck anyway, like he was the vampire. He should pull back and ask if that was okay, but he didn’t want to.

He felt glee, that he was actually getting to do this! And it was okay, or at least Frankenstein was okay with doing this for him, since an arm wrapped around his back and Frankenstein attempted to settle Tao comfortably against his side but the chair wasn’t really made for that. “Let’s sit down on the couch,” his boss told him when Tao showed no signs of letting go. It wasn’t like Tao cared if his spine spent awhile being scrunched.

Still, it was an improvement. He got to sit half on Frankenstein’s lap, with his head tucked under his chin somehow. One arm wrapped around his back, and the other one was for awhile too before it reached up to start going through Tao’s hair.

Normally, he didn’t like not having anything to do. It meant he thought about things, and that wasn’t a very nice thing to do when he worked for the Union. He had to think about his situation to survive, but it wasn’t something to dwell on or he’d just give up inside, like he’d seen others do, and then they were terminated. Had to stay busy. Had to prove to the Union that they wanted to keep him around.

These days, his mind went to worrying about the household. What if he messed up, what if he lost this?

“Thank you for coming to me with this instead of Master, Tao,” Frankenstein told him. “You did the right thing.”

“Seems kind of silly, I mean, I know… He would say yes, right?” Tao wondered. So why had he gone to the person who had told M-21 no?

“Yes,” Frankenstein agreed. “He would give you what you wanted no matter the cost to himself, and blame himself if it made you sad. He can’t say no to you. He loves you too dearly. And before you say that he only loves the mask you’ve cultivated, Master is the Noblesse. He is made to see people’s true souls, and he is certain of yours.”

They were just such ridiculously wonderful people that the part of him that calculated survival, that saw everything as assets, freaked out every time it looked at them. It wasn’t just ‘don’t offend them or you’ll die,’ it was ‘hold on to these for dear life.’ Like he was used to making do with paperclips and bits of string and suddenly a supercomputer.

Awe. And ‘Mine!’ He couldn’t risk them getting away!

They’d given him enough power to eat Shark for breakfast. With the power they’d given him, he would have had to be so much less afraid back when he was in the Union… But no. He’d have to be even more afraid. Because they’d want these modifications, want Boss’ work. They wanted the shiny things he’d found. They wanted to take these people away from him.

He couldn’t let them! Not when he had someone with the power of an Elder who was willing to just sit here and hold him so he’d feel better. Even after he’d tried to take Boss’ Master hostage, what had he been thinking. He was lucky Dark Spear wasn’t eating him!

It wasn’t, because they were… nice.

“It’s like unicorns,” he said, randomly, so Boss wouldn’t worry. Saying whatever he wanted to say without having to care about what other people might think: that was the Tao he’d become here, instead of the one who had to use words like knives to fend Shark off, because otherwise the real knives would come out.

“Oh? What about the Landegre?” Boss wondered, fingers rubbing his head in locations and with a pattern that seemed to have some purpose to it. Something for getting rid of headaches? Felt nice.

Tao almost went bolt upright with glee, but that would have meant leaving the hug. “Regis is a unicorn?”

Boss hummed. “Quite possibly – they are shapeshifters, and they must have looked like something before they took on human form. The unicorn, or possibly karkadann, is the Landegre clan’s symbol.”

Oh wow this was going to be fun. What was Rael’s clan symbol, then…


That was what they’d wanted from him, wasn’t it? For him to get to play around. Not pretending to be harmless, but getting to do what he wanted. What made him happy. Like someone who didn’t have to be deadly serious, because there were other people to be deadly serious for him.

Like unicorns, he’d thought good people like this didn’t really exist. Then he’d found some, and other people wanted to kill them for, for things that weren’t anywhere near as valuable as what they were worth to Tao alive.

Huh, he realized, pressed against Boss’ chest. Frankenstein’s heartbeat was really, really slow. Enhanced humans’ were slower than normal humans’, but not this slow. Like how enhanced humans needed less sleep, but too much less and their bodies broke down, while Boss went into his bedroom for like a half-hour and definitely didn’t suffer any cognitive impairment. If he even spent that entire half-hour sleeping, since there was probably getting ready for bed and post-waking up rituals in there.

He was being pressed against a warm body protectively. There was an arm wrapped around him that could wave buildings off the map. He…


No, no, he was only safe as long as nothing happened to them, he couldn’t let anything happen to them, and it made him shudder. “We weren’t lying,” he said, and had to swallow. “I wasn’t lying when I asked him not to save us. It’s not just Takeo. I, I would have died too, instead of letting him use up his life just to save us. I don’t… I don’t want to go back to being alive when you aren’t with me. I don’t want…”

“You don’t want to be alone. You don’t want to lose your parents,” Frankenstein said, although he waited awhile after Tao’s voice failed him before speaking. “Do you want to cry?”

Tao laughed nervously. “No way! Why would I want to cry?” That was blood in the water, wasn’t it? That was a death sentence. Anyone who did that was going to vanish before very long.



“Because you finally have someone who will listen, and care. You have people who will guard your back while you cry. You are allowed to be weak, and need help, and you will be given help.”

Instead of terminated for being weak and useless. If Tao’s enhancements were a failure, they’d need to get rid of him, start on another test subject. The Union couldn’t, wouldn’t help him. If he needed help, that was the end of him.

Raizel would help Tao even if it killed him.

He… he had people like this? They were real? They were… this was what it was like to have parents?

“It doesn’t bother me to be cried on,” Frankenstein told him. “It’s rather like being bled on while I’m trying to staunch a wound. Someone in pain concentrates the mind wonderfully. I have an overactive need to fix things. I don’t like things that are out of place. Crumbs on my furniture. Children in agony.”

“I need to do something,” he said, tugging on Boss’ shirt. “So you’ll keep me around.” He said things like that, so Tao needed Boss to be happy with him. To love him. Need him, anything that would reduce the risk that he’d lose this.

Even if they’d let themselves be taken away from him over their dead bodies.

Especially because of that.

“No,” Frankenstein told him, “you don’t. However, if it would make you feel better, more secure, I don’t think anyone would complain if you managed to reduce Master to blushing and tiny inarticulate noises again. It was adorable… and I think it would help you, to understand how happy you’ve made us.”

Because when Boss’ Master was happy, Boss was happy. Like if they were happy with him, Tao would be happy? “Right!” he chirped, snuggling against him. “Leave it to me!” He could feel the plotting wheels engaging again, not desperate like they were before but with something wonderful to think about, a prize he really really wanted and might actually have and no one looking over his shoulder to terminate him if he wasn’t good enough, or even because the model waiting in the wings was better.

If Boss didn’t like having lots of kids around to look after, he wouldn’t run schools. Tao was still special, because he got to live with him, and after more than eight hundred years Boss had started enhancing people again just to help him and the others get stronger.

Right, though. He did have to get stronger, but that could… he’d have to keep thinking about that, if Boss giving him a Contract wasn’t the answer.

It was okay to think about something else for now though, right? To give Boss a squeeze, and say something enthusiastic and ridiculous, and run off leaving him smiling?

Was it really… Yes, that really was all they wanted, scientist and noble or not.

So he was going to be the best at it ever.

Frankenstein got another cup of coffee, sat back down and sighed. “Thank goodness I have all that practice letting people down gently.” Oh, that reminded him of that time he was going to give Shinwoo some advice on how to stop breaking the hearts of all those people who fell for him when the boy ran off suddenly. He should probably get around to that before there was another incident like that with both halves of the couple from that other school. Or not. Mr. Park deserved some entertainment as compensation for Shinwoo always being late on his gate duty days. He had offered to help the young man…

Hmm. Now all of the children had come to him for The Talk except Takeo, come to think of it. He would probably have to initiate the conversation with Takeo himself. Takeo was too practiced hiding from his own thoughts and needs by putting someone else first, beginning with that ‘little sister.’

For the others to have their concerns addressed while he was left out, even if it was by his own choice, would just feed that mindset. And it fed far too neatly into what the sniper had internalized of the Union’s opinion that Takeo, and his own needs and wishes, were worthless.

Interesting how, out of all the things Frankenstein had been doing for the past eight hundred years, it was the wistful thinking, self-indulgent almost-hobby of ‘if I do find him, what will we do then? How will I make him happy and keep him distracted so he doesn’t spend his life while I finally get around to investigating the traitors and Union again and gradually assassinating them?’ and founding schools that was serving him in such good stead.