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Cole MacGrath was a simple bike messenger who was delivering a package for someone to somewhere in the Historic District of Empire City. In the midst of his delivery however, his package exploded, destroying half the city and killing thousands. However, this event resulted in Cole gaining the power of Electrokinesis. Surprisingly, the Blast does not kill Cole but greatly injures him. The city was later left in quarantine leading to anarchy. MacGrath awakens four days later and discovers he has electrical powers which he later learns to control. The military learns of the cause of the Blast and blame it on Cole. The result was the whole city populace turning on the protagonist. Cole must escape along with his friend and girlfriend and find refuge. However, Cole cannot escape Empire City without recovering the Ray Sphere, the cause of the Blast. The Karma system affects Cole's power depending on the choices the character makes.
- 1 Battle vs. Mewtwo (by Cfp3157)
- 2 Operation Zodiac (by Leolab)
- 2.1 Prologue: A New Semester
- 2.2 Chapter 1: Shumba Inotaurira Nyaya Yake Yenyaya
- 2.3 Ch. 2: Dar Alas a los Escorpiones
- 2.4 Ch. 3: One Doubts Nothing, The Other Everything
- 2.5 Ch. 4: Solange der Bauch Stumm Ist
- 2.6 Ch. 5: Демоны живут в стоячей воде
- 2.7 Ch. 6: लंगड़ा केकड़ा सीधा चलता है
- 2.8 Ch. 7: 竜頭蛇尾
- 2.9 Ch. 8: Roghnaigh Idir Dhá Ghabhar Dall
- 2.10 Ch. 9: El arquero que falla tiene una mentira lista
- 2.11 Ch. 10: Mae Gan Bob Heid Ddefaid Du
- 2.12 Ch. 11: จับปลาด้วยสองมือ
- 2.13 Ch. 12: Grab the Bull by Its Horns
- 2.14 Epilogue: A Bug’s Life
- 2.15 Expert's Opinion
- 3 World War Royale (by Cfp3157)
- 3.1 Prologue: In DFederal...
- 3.2 Part I: Fuck You Kai Leng
- 3.3 Part II: I.C.E. Ruins Nico's Day
- 3.4 Part III: Nieder mit Dem Patriarchat
- 3.5 Part IV: Bring Me the Boy and Wipe Away the Debt
- 3.6 Part V: We Have A Mexican Showdown
- 3.7 Part VI: Co-Op Mode Unlocked
- 3.8 Part VII: The Boss Battle
- 3.9 Part VIII: Heroes Unite
- 3.10 Epilogue
- 3.11 Expert's Opinion
- 4 Battle vs. Jesse Faden (by BeastMan14)
Cole awoke with a sweat, breathing in heavily as a voice shocked him awake. He instinctively allowed a bolt of lightning to form within his palm, aiming it at the doorway before hastily putting it down at the sight of his friend Zeke. "Cole, get the hell-oh shit. Calm down man, I'm on your team!"
The Conduit cracked his back as he stood up, muttering out a greeting before hastily being yanked out of his sleeping bag. "What the hell is going on, Zeke?"
"Don't know, but it's time to get to gettin' pal. Some brand new monster is out wreaking havoc again."
"Who is it this time? Bartrand? Or some new nutbag with a grab bag of powers?"
Zeke's sunglasses covered his eyes, but from what Cole could tell he looked confused. "We...I mean, LaRoche's men can't really tell. All we know is that it's tearing the Ascencion Parish up like a bull in a china shop. It's weird, and scary."
Cole groaned as he used his electric tether to launch himself towards the nearest train tracks. "Sounds like just another day to me."
Slowing down as he approached his destination, the sparks generated from Cole's Induction Grind couldn't even begin to overcome the blasts of gunfire and explosions. He jumped up from the train tracks, the momentum of the leap briefly levitating him in air before causing him to fall down. He landed on a nearby car, quickly absorbing the power of the engine to leap straight back up again. Launching another tehter to a telephone pole, he began to grind on the power line towards the center of the noise.
Pulling to a stop, he saw several wounded police officers and resistance members on the ground. In the center of the wasteland of a city square stood Mewtwo, gripping LaRoche in its hands. The Pokemon roared in the man's face, before raised its psychic blade to deliver a killing blow. Cole immediately launched several weak bolts at the beast, falling towards them with his Amp in hand.
Mewtwo felt the three weak bolts of lightning strike it from behind, turning around and lashing out with Psycho Cut. The psionic purple blade clashed with the Amp, holding briefly before dissipating. Mewtwo activated its Barrier as Cole swung again, the piece of electrified metal slamming the Pokemon back several yards unharmed.
Cole sheathed the Amp and prepared another bolt, only to be greeted with Mewtwo's telepathic voice.
Hitting me with a piece of metal. Primitive, even for a human.
"Holy shit, you can talk?"
Mewtwo's response was a bestial roar as it used Shadow Ball, the orb of dark energy hurling towards Cole. Hastily erecting his Polarity Wall, Cole blinked once only to see Mewtwo gone. He felt immobilized as Mewtwo's Psychic powers lifted Cole into the air. It flung Cole into a wall, then slammed him into the ground.
Interesting. I didn't think your kind could do what we do. No matter...
Mewtwo's attack finished by flinging Cole into the air, expecting him to fall to his death from there. Now, to deal with the rest of this cesspool of humans.
Its train of thought was interrupted as Cole began his Thunder Drop, electricity coursing around him as he plummeted into Mewtwo. Bits of debris and sparks of lightning dug into Mewtwo's body as it hastily erected another barrier, while the sheer force of the attack sent it crashing into the glass window of a storefront. Painfully standing up, Mewtwo used Recover as Cole wiped off the dust from his landing.
"I don't care what you are, you're going down hard. Now."
Cole whipped his arm back and launched an Electric rocket into the store, the explosion blasting right into Mewtwo as it finished recovering. Mewtwo barely teleported in time to avoid the projectile and landed in mid-air, using Psychic to levitate itself. Snarling, Mewtwo hurled another Shadow Ball at Cole, who quickly rolled to the side and threw a Shock Grenade at his target. The bomb exploded into several clusters, peppering Mewtwo with sparks and shocks.
Not letting up, Cole used his Electric Tether to position himself onto a telephone pole, draining its energy as he unleashes several more bolts. Mewtwo flew and avoided each attack, launching itself at Cole with Psycho Cut ready. The purple blades sent Cole spiralling down, but another Electric Tether let him catch himself mid-air and propel him onto power lines. He began to slide on them and harassed Mewtwo with more bolt attacks.
"Goddammit, this thing's tough. Got to find its weakness."
Mewtwo, its anger heightening, roared in defiance as it hurled and missed several attempts with Shadow Ball. Enough of this nonsense Mewtwo bellowed, using Swift and sending several small energy projectiles towards Cole. He attempted to outrun the attack by turning around and jumping over them, but looked in surprise as Swift followed his change and pursuing him even faster. He erected the Polarity Wall just as the stars would've collided, dissipating them all, but turned back around to see Mewtwo in his face.
Mewtwo used Psystrike, the expanding psychic field catching Cole off guard as it exploded. The blast sent Cole off course, and he crashed into a fountain. The water started to electrocute him, and he rolled out of it and onto the ground. "Ugh, I'm gonna feel that one for awhile."
Cole's muttering was interrupted as Mewtwo let out a bestial roar. I grow tired of this. The Pokemon glowed as it triggered its Mega Stone, taking its Mega Evolution. Cole stood up and launched another rocket at it, only for Mewtwo to swat it aside with its Psychic powers.
Mewtwo slammed its fist into the ground, causing shards of stone to rise up. Mewtwo used Stone Edge to launch these projectiles forward, which Cole blocked with his Polarity Wall. He responded with a shockwave, which did little to halt Mewtwo's progress as it slammed forward with Drain Punch.
Cole felt his energy slip as Mewtwo absorbed his life force, and he utilized his Ice Launch to propel himself away. Looking around desperately for something to heal himself with, he glimpsed a nearby radio. He put his hand on the radio and absorbed its energy.
Mewtwo slammed its foot into the ground, using Earthquake. A fissure split the ground itself open and sped towards Cole, sending shards of debris and stone into his face. Barely able to react, Cole blindly launched an Electric tether. The vigilante felt himself pulled away from the fight as he wiped dust out of his eyes. Landing on a roof, Cole could see Mewtwo glaring at him with defiance.
"Alright big guy, let's see you take this."
Cole put his hands together, and focused his energy to form his Ionic Storm. With a yell, Cole threw it out into the area. A large tornado, crackling with lightning, instantly formed and tore the battlefield apart. Mewtwo grunted as it was dragged into the tornado, struck by lightning and tossed around like a rag doll. He hastily conjured a Barrier, but even that did nothing as it shattered beneath a lightning bolt.
Mewtwo used Teleport, landing beside Cole, only to be met by the Amp's steel prongs forced around its neck. It let out a roar as Cole pinned it to the ground, and screamed in pain as he surged his electricity into it.
"C'mon, just go down already!"
Cole put one final blast of lightning into the Amp, hoping to finish Mewtwo for good. In a last attempt to stop Cole, Mewtwo put its palm forward and used Aura Sphere. The blue orb slammed into Cole's face, causing him to relent and fall backwards in pain.
Mewtwo quickly rose and used Psychic, holding Cole in place with its mind. He quickly chucked Cole into the fountain again, seeing the sparks fly. Cole screamed in pain and started to stand, only to feel Mewtwo's Psychic keeping him down further.
Putting all of its effort and power into this attack, Mewtwo used Psychic to keep Cole down underwater. The storm of lightning and electricity soon subsided as his muffled screams changed to quiet bubbles of water, before total silence.
The eerie quiet took place as Mewtwo paused to catch its breath, floating upwards and away. Looking around at the destruction it had caused, Mewtwo retreated to its lair - leaving the New Marais, and its broken hero, behind.
Despite Cole's greater tactical ability and experience, Mewtwo's sheer variety of power triumphed. Anything Cole threw at Mewtwo, it could take and counter with something even more powerful, leaving Cole with precious few options but to try and keep it away while trying to find a weakness to exploit, which he ultimately could not.
Operation Zodiac (by Leolab)
Prologue: A New Semester
Liliana Guenther jogs into the classroom, her blonde twin-tails bouncing on the two-toned shirt she wore and hitting the bottom of her skirt. She scans the seats to see if she knows anyone, and waves to a trio sitting in the middle. One of them, a tall, voluptuous woman wearing a fancy shirt and pants, waves back, her golden right eye shining. The boy sitting a seat away from her waves back with his free arm, and the younger girl wrapped around the other couldn’t decide whether to glare at her or at the woman in the next seat.
“Hi guys,” she says brightly as she sits down between them, and turns to the woman next to her. “You know anything about the teacher, Jo?”
“He is… unique,” the woman replies, letting out a soft laugh that drew the attention of every man in the room, “It’s really better if you see for yourself; I can’t spoil the surprise.”
“Not even to your sister’s roommate?”
“No, not even to Amy’s roommate,” she says.
“Well, he can’t be more intimidating than Professor Signum,” the boy says, shuddering, though whether at the memory or at the girl next to him placing her finger on his chest Liliana couldn’t say. At her quizzical look, he continues. “This is Naomi, by the way,” he says, pointing at the girl, “My little sister. Naomi, this is Lun Lun, one of my classmates.”
Her reply was cut off by a gust of hot wind from the back window as a man smoothly opens it and flies in. “Still whipped by your sister, Junichiro?” He says teasingly as he flies to the seat next to him. He throws an easy grin at the rest and lounges in his seat, not even bothering to open his book.
“Kazuma…” Jo starts severely.
“Yes, yes,” he says, and waves his hand dismissively at the open window. Another gust passes through the room as he manipulates the wind to shut it, ruffling the papers of a man wearing a feathered coat, who glares at him. “Sorry,” Kazuma says, not sounding like he means it in the least.
At that, the door opens, and a tall man wearing a priest’s robe walks in, setting an open can down on the lectern. A quick squint told Liliana that this was beer, and her head snapped towards Jo, who let out a sigh and was holding her hand to her head.
“Hello,” the man said, sounding weary, “This is Theology 101; if you’re not signed up for this class… it doesn’t matter,” he continues, to laughter, “I’m Tenkei Iwafune, but most people just call me Old Man. So, theology. The study of religion. Can anyone tell me what religion is?” he asks, taking a sip from his can as several hands shoot up. “You, in the suit,” he says, pointing to a well-dressed young man, “And your name, please.”
“I’m Light Yagami,” the man says, arrogantly, while fingering a black notebook, “And religion is a set of rules one uses to commune with god.”
“Exactly. Theology is, at its core, a study of God. What is God, you ask? Well, as a priest I can answer that,” Iwafune continues, gathering more laughter with his easy manner, “God is a lie.”
And with that, silence descended on the room.
“God is a construct people create when they don’t have the power to protect themselves,” he continues, drinking deeper from the can of beer, “But relying on God will just get you killed, see. Power is worthless if you can’t protect what you want to protect. God supposedly has infinite power, but He does not use it to protect infinite things. Why, a good quarter of those of you in front of me have power, power you use to defend what’s dear to you. You, my dear students, are a more potent force than God!” The stunned silence continues while Iwafune drains the can. “Now, then, onto our journey into the world of lies and false salvation. The first notion of a ‘higher being’ dates back to the paleolithic era, when people still…”
“That was a fun lecture,” Kazuma says to Jo, as the group walks out through the chilly fall air, making their way towards the center circle between the three sections of the campus.
“It was… certainly something,” Junichiro says, Naomi still plastered to his arm as they walk through the gates leading to a large fountain. Sitting on the edge were three girls and a boy, likely from the high school division, along with what seemed to be an elementary school girl. The girl with pink hair, wearing a green shirt and skirt, notices them first and gets up, storming towards the group.
“Ka. Zu. Maaa,” she growls, “You’re late! You said you’d be here half an hour ago!” she says, and aims a kick at his face. Kazuma simply stops it with one hand.
“You know, Ayano, I’ve told you before,” he says, “You shouldn’t do high kicks in a skirt. I’m not a fan of purple, by the way.” Ayano blushes furiously and stomps on the ground, swinging her fist at Kazuma. Jo rolls her eyes at the supposed lovebirds as she walks to the other four, residents of the dorm floor she oversaw as an RA. The other boy-girl pair seemed to be having an argument of their own, however.
“You should be more aware of your position, Nii-san!” the black-haired girl says, pointing furiously at the tall boy with glasses, “You’re the eldest son of the Tohno family! You can’t go running and playing pranks on the first day!”
“Sorry, Akiha,” the boy says sheepishly.
“Geez, what would I have done if you’d collapsed? You know you have anemia…”
“Hi Jo,” the boy says, cutting her off. Akiha glared at her brother, a silent promise to continue the lecture later.
“You shouldn’t cause trouble for your sister, Shiki,” Jo says, smiling, before turning to the blonde girl. “And who’s this, Ayaka?” she asks, pointing to the child.
“I’m Parcel,” the child answers, pulling her mouse-eared hood up.
“She’s a friend of mine, we met last year and hit it off pretty well. She has some… family circumstances, so she’ll be staying in my room this year. I have the paperwork in.”
“All right,” Jo nods, “Don’t forget we have a floor meeting tonight.”
“I’m heading back,” Liliana interjects, waving to the group, and jogs towards the gates leading to the dorms, passing two men talking as she heads to the rightmost building.
“Come on, Zeke,” the taller of the two says, a man with a buzz cut and muscular arms, “This plant’s a damn weed.”
“Cut me some slack, Cole. I’ve been working my ass off getting the dorms clean. You know how much crap these little shits just leave lying around?”
“Yeah, yeah, trash man,” Cole says, “Still, these black dandelions are cropping up everywhere. Some of the high schoolers are saying it’s a curse; we need to get rid of them, and that’s your job.”
“I know,” Zeke says, sounding more serious for a second, “Thing is, and don’t tell the students this, none of our herbicides work on it.”
“What? None? That’s impossible.”
“It’s true, man. Weirdest thing since you. We even put that poison-making girl on it. You know what happened? Damn thing stayed alive while everything around it died. Shit’s creepy, man. I don’t like it.”
“You tell the headmaster?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know what he’ll do about it. Astaroth gives me the creeps, anyway.”
“Tell me about it. Now I gotta do some real work, Zeke; I’ll see you later.”
“Hey, I do real work!” Zeke protests.
“Ogling high schoolers while pretending to pick up trash?”
“Come on, man, you know that ain’t fair,” Zeke says, even as his eyes follow a trio of girls with silver, pink, and red hair walking back to the dorms.
The redhead lets out a forlorn sigh, drawing the attention of her companions.
“That was quite the sigh, Misuzu,” the silver-haired girl says, putting her hands behind her head as a long, thin cord suspends her bag for her, “What’s on your mind?”
The query only got a noncommittal grunt as the trio walked past the messily-trimmed hedges, Misuzu trailing her hand on the greenery.
“Tonya, Tonya,” the pink-haired one says with a theatrical whisper, “I think I know why.”
“You do, Nana?” Tonya replies in a similar manner, “What is it?”
“You remember when she came to talk to us at lunch, right? That boy in our class, the one with the eyepatch.”
“Ah,” Tonya says, malicious grin creeping across her face, “Kakeru. I see, I see. Our stone-cold Misuzu has become a maiden in love!”
“Would you stop that? I’m not in love with him!” Misuzu yells, blushing furiously.
“That’s for the best,” a voice comes from the bushes, startling all three of them. They look towards it, seeing a girl with blonde twin-tails crouching down, two long strands of hair sticking up, almost like antennae.
“What do you mean, Oki?” Misuzu asks, immediately concerned.
“He and that childhood friend of his, Yuka, are a little too close, if you get my meaning,” Oki Megumi says, “And keep your voice down. I’m hiding from Kabutomushi.”
“What did you do this time?” Tonya asks, patting the crestfallen Misuzu on the shoulder.
“Accidentally called her ‘auntie,’” she says, shuddering, “Now go, move. You’ll draw attention to me.”
“Oh?” another voice comes from behind them, and Oki goes pale, “Who exactly are you trying to hide from, Gokiburi ♡?”
The four girls turn in unison, spotting a woman in a frilly, lacy dress. They instinctively swallow in fear at the smile on her face, and the trio takes a step back, exposing Oki.
“Hi Kabutomushi,” Misuzu says, the only one able to speak, “Are you teaching our year’s combat course again?”
“I am, Misuzu. Hope you keep up as well as last year. Now, Goki-chan’s asked for some extra strength training, so…”
“I did no…” Oki says, starting to protest, before a glare cuts her off. Kabutomushi lifts the limp girl up by the collar, and tucks her under her arm.
“Well, girls,” she says, ignoring Oki’s screams of pain, “Have a good evening, and don’t bother your RA too much.”
“We will,” Nana squeaks, and the demonic teacher walks off.
Later that night, Iwafune sinks into a chair in the lounge of the staff dorms while pouring some sake into a porcelain dish. As he brings it to his mouth, however, a burst of flame sets it ablaze.
“I think you’ve had enough today,” a red-haired woman says as she walks through the door.
“Come on, Signum,” he replies, “Good sake is the only refuge I have left.”
“You should join us once in a while,” Kabutomushi says, hoisting the entire liquor cabinet in one hand, “Especially since Iwafune’s drunken lectures are already the talk of campus.”
“E tu, Kabutomushi?” Iwafune says, grumbling, “Just pour more salt, why don’t you.”
“Salt you say…” she says, before snapping her fingers in inspiration. She grabs a couple bottles, dashes to the kitchen, and comes back holding a wine glass in one hand and working the tungsten-carbide cocktail shaker in the other. With a devious grin, she pours the dark liquid out, and hands the glass to the older man. He takes a sip under Signum’s disapproving stare and Kabutomushi’s expectant glee, and nearly gags as the concoction makes its way down his throat.
“What is this stuff?” he wheezes, “It’s… spicy? Savory? I don’t even know.”
“It’s a Bullshot,” Kabutomushi says, grinning while Signum giggles at Iwafune’s discomfort, “Beef broth, salt, vodka, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, and a dash of absinthe.”
“Tastes better than it sounds. Not that that’s high a bar,” he says, taking another sip before holding it out to Signum. “Wouldn’t mind if you burned this one.”
“Sounds like a reason not to,” she replies, smiling. Iwafune grimaces, and takes a contemplative look at the brackish liquid. He downs it in one gulp, and puts the glass down. A few seconds later, he turns pale and gets up, staggering out of the room and towards the bathroom.
A few seconds later, Kabutomushi stretches and gets up. “I think it’s time I went to bed,” she says, waving to Signum before heading upstairs.
At night, twelve people and one plant see the same dream. A man in a blue mask appears before them, and starts to speak.
“Hello, all of you. The thirteen of you are entered in an assassination game. You lose if you die, or if you get discovered and arrested. You win by being the last person standing. If you win, you get one wish granted – it can be anything. Since you might not believe this dream, you’ll get a card under your pillows… well, one of you doesn’t use one, but this isn’t exactly going to make a difference to them. That’s all, have fun.”
The next day, Kabutomushi, Cole, Signum, Tonya, Nana, Misuzu, Junichiro, Kazuma, Jo, Lun Lun, Akiha, and Iwafune all find the card under their pillow, while the Black Dandelion twitches, sending its seeds out on the breeze.
Chapter 1: Shumba Inotaurira Nyaya Yake Yenyaya
Misuzu stares at her notebook, not having written a single line. Geography bored her, even with the entertaining stories their teacher told them. What troubled her more was the card she had found under her pillow that morning, and the memory of the dream before it. There were no dream manipulators in the student rolls, so it couldn’t have been a prank.
A vine pokes her in the cheek, startling her out of her thoughts. The thorny purple lines trace back to the professor, an older man who somehow retains the physique of a bodybuilder. His blue-grey eyes glare from under his tan fedora, looking quite upset.
“Summer break is over, Misuzu. Daydream back in the dorms.”
“Sorry, Mr. Joestar,” Misuzu says.
“Well, it’s lunchtime, anyway. Enjoy your youth,” he says, and the air in the class immediately relaxes, the students gathering their textbooks and filing out. Misuzu does the same, and makes her way to the cafeteria with the crowd. She looks over the meal set, white stew paired with kimchi pancakes, of all things, and scans the crows to see if her friends are already there, trying to spot them in a kaleidoscope of hair colors.
She then feels a heavy poking at her shoulder, and turns to see a steel weight at the end of a yellow cord. It snakes back to Tonya, sitting with Nana and Oki, who waves her over to the table. She greets them all as she puts her food down, feeling a bad premonition from Tonya’s malicious grin.
“No Kakeru today,” Tonya says, “Though he and Yuka will eat with us for dinner.”
“Tonya, you…” Misuzu starts, before lapsing into a blushing, flustered silence.
“Oh, no need to thank me. I’ll always help a maiden in love.”
“I’ll be rooting for you, too!” Nana chimes in, usual bubbly smile in place.
“I swear, you two…” Misuzu says, giving a sigh in mock exasperation before starting on her food. “What do you have after this?” she asks between mouthfuls.
“Free period,” the three say at the same time.
“Oh. I’ve got Practical Combat with Kabutomushi. She’ probs be fine with you watching, if you want to.”
“Geh. No thanks,” Oki says, looking slightly sick, “Knowing her, she’d spend most of the time beating on me if I did show up.”
“Where do you know her from, Oki?” Nana asks, “And why does she call you Gokiburi? I thought your name was Oki Megumi.”
“We grew up in the same orphanage, though she started working there around when I can remember. The… organization that runs it gives us nicknames if they can’t find our real ones. Mine was Gokiburi, and Kabutomushi still uses hers as her actual name.”
“Oh, now I see,” Nana says, “And what was your punishment yesterday?”
“That’s it?” Misuzu asks, confused, “That’s just a warm-up.”
“Not when Kabutomushi’s sitting on you and curling 100-pound weights to ‘tone,’” Oki says, shuddering at the memory, “I’ll probably be having nightmares for days.”
“Nightmares, huh?” Misuzu says, thinking of last night’s dream as she takes another bite of the pork.
“Oh, yeah,” Nana says, clapping her hands, “I had a weird dream yesterday.”
“Oh?” Tonya asks, a sudden tension between the three friends, “What kind?”
“I don’t remember,” Nana says cheerily, “just that it was weird.”
“Weird as you?” Oki asks, snapping the three back to their usual banter.
“Haha, you’re the last person I want to hear that from,” Nana says, softening the words with a smile as the group finishes their food.
A half-hour later, Misuzu finishes doing some warm-up stretches in the gym, and looks around to try and find a sparring partner. Everyone else had already paired up, causing her to grimace. The twin sins of being too strong and too prideful isolated her from her class, making Nana and Tonya the only actual friends she had on campus; while she wasn’t on bad terms with Oki, the girl also preferred to keep to herself.
“Need a partner, Misuzu?” Kabutomushi asks, looking around at the class.
“I do, yes.”
“All right, then. Since you’re a senior… I’ll add an extra hand to the handicap.”
Misuzu swallows and nods, unable to fully shake the worry off of her face. Her instructor was an absolute demon even with a single hand, and now she was using both. Kabutomushi, still dressed in her frilly dress, bonnet, and pump heels, stands twenty paces from Misuzu, drawing incredulous stares from the rest of the class.
“EVERYONE, START!” Kabutomushi shouts, and the gym erupts in the din of battle, every student, powered or not, striving to best their partner with minimum force, able to spare no other thought. Misuzu rapidly completes the spell allowing her to summon any of her swords at will when Kabutomushi lashes out with a palm strike, still ten paces away.
The pure strength in the strike creates a wall of air pressure, which lifts Misuzu off her feet and throws her back. She flips in the air and draws one of her swords. “RAIKIRI!” she yells, and swings the crackling blade. Electricity arcs towards Kabutomushi, capable of frying any of her sparring classmates if her aim was off by a hair. Kabutomushi simply punches the ground, shattering one of the copper plates that protected the electronics below from attack. Simply pulling back her hand creates enough force to draw the shards of copper before her, dispersing the strike. Another palm strike sends a few shards flying at Misuzu.
The jagged metal hits home, but Misuzu disintegrates into a pile of paper dolls, Raikiri falling to the floor. She lets out a cry from above, bringing Kashagiri Hiromitsu down in an overhand chop, the massive weight of the nodachi augmented by gravity. Kabutomushi simply grabs the blade with her other hand, looking disappointed. Misuzu immediately channels the fire imbued in the sword, instantly heating the blade to flesh-searing temperatures.
Kabutomushi lets go of the blade, and instead grabs onto one of Misuzu’s arms. A contemptuous flick of her wrist sends the onmyouji flying. Misuzu rights herself again, re-sealing Kashagiri Hiromitsu as she flies. She crashes into the wall feet-first, unsealing Kannagiri Nagamitsu as she pushes off, putting all her strength into a stab. Kabutomushi looks bored, and moves her hand to intercept the blade.
Misuzu then presses a switch on the handle of the blade, shaped like a giant clasp knife. It shoots out, almost doubling its length. Kabutomushi’s eyes widen in surprise, but she simply sways back and throws out a lariat. It catches Misuzu square in the throat, bringing the onmyouji to her knees.
“That was good at the end there,” Kabutomushi says, “Your use of trickery in combat is commendable, especially when you’re at a disadvantage in strength. You just released the blade a little too early. Wait half a second and it would have been a clean blow.”
Misuzu nods as she tries to regain breathing and staggers to her feet, looking at her instructor with determined eyes. It was time for round two. She would get a hit in, even if it took every trick in her arsenal.
A few hours later, the school day ends. Misuzu punches the ground in frustration as the last bell chimes for the high school division. She had thrown everything but Doujigiri Ysutsuna at Kabutomushi, but the woman’s incredible physical strength was a fortress as well as a cannon.
“You’re doing much better than you were last year, Misuzu,” Kabutomushi says breezily, showing not even a drop of sweat. “Go take a shower and get changed. Can’t try to entice that junior boy when you reek of sweat, can you?”
With a sigh of genuine exasperation, Misuzu picks herself up and gets in line to use the showers, and then sighs again when she notices she’s the last one of the class to line up. When it’s finally her turn, she stands and soaks in the cold water, letting the chill reduce some of the bruising. After giving herself a good scrub – Kabutomushi was right, after all – she steps out to change back, and notices Nana’s gym clothes pinned on the drying rack.
She sighs again, this time fondly, as she reaches for the clothes, taking them off the rack. She winces, and looks at her finger, noticing a wet redness on one of the pins. She grumbles and sucks on the finger before putting a bandage on it, and puts Nana’s clothes in her bag, grabbing the mysterious card. She jams the offending pin into the cork message board, and steps out through the ajar emergency door, leading to the back of the gym, still holding the card.
The world suddenly starts to spin, and Misuzu passes out cold on the ground.
Half an hour later, Kabutomushi finds Misuzu lying in the grass, unconscious. Worried, she runs to her student, and sees that she’s still breathing. She sighs in relief, before noticing the card the girl held. Her expression tightens, and then she sees a line of steel cable attached to the side of the building, tied around a metal ring, and a flagpole jutting out near the top of the building. A quick look at the line tells her it’s the exact height she needs, and she gets to work.
A few minutes later, she throws Misuzu into the air, and the line acts as she expects. Kabutomushi tosses the card on the ashtray built into the garbage can and lights it on fire, trusting no one would notice a few bits of extra ash. She walks away, leaving Misuzu’s unconscious body hanging, suffocating by the tightening line.
Ch. 2: Dar Alas a los Escorpiones
“She’s late,” Tonya grumbles outside the larger dining hall the school used for breakfast and dinner.
“And after all the trouble you went through for her, too,” Nana says, her usual smile plastered on her face, “I’ll go look for her. Let Yuka and Kakeru know.”
Before Tonya can react, Nana runs off, smile growing wider. If Misuzu hasn’t shown up, it can only mean that she’s taken the bait. The older girl had reacted a little too obviously to the mention of weird dreams at lunch; it was child’s play to sneak into the locker room during her free period, since combat classes lasted for hours, and set her trap. A few minutes later, she reaches the gym and dashes into the locker room, and sees it sprung.
“Misuzu! You there?” she yells, in case the girl had realized the danger and lay in wait. Hearing nothing but the creaking of something blowing in the wind outside, she plucks the poisoned needle from the corkboard where Misuzu had stabbed it and returns it to its case, careful not to let it prick her, too. The compound coating it would render its target comatose for 10 hours, give or take.
She grabs a knife from the lost and found, having placed it there herself, and steps outside to finish the job. She stops in shock, however, when she sees that someone’s already done her work for her. Misuzu’s corpse dangles off the steel cable, clearly dead.
A gout of flame erupts in the distance, and she knows immediately what she must do.
Cole sighs as he opens the door to his room, helpfully marked with “Residential Dean.” He’d gotten the job through Zeke, and it was as tiring work as his friend. He cracks open a beer, confident everyone else would be at dinner. A knock comes at his door just before he takes a swing, and he mutters a few curse words under his breath. He tosses his beer back in the fridge, and opens the door.
“Oh, Signum,” he says, surprised – and more than slightly flustered – by his visitor, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry,” she says, and Cole ducks as her blade flies over his head.
“Wait, what, Signum…”
“The card. You received it, too,” Signum says, “You disposed of it too late.
“Fuck this,” Cole says, and immediately throws a few shock grenades.
“Panzerschild!” her sword says, to his confusion. A barrier blocks the explosion completely, throwing Cole’s room in disarray.
“Laevatein! Cartridge Load!” Signum yells, and a mechanism on her sword functions.
“EXPLOSION!” the sword says, mechanically. Getting a bad feeling, Cole creates a shockwave behind him.
“SURMWINDE!” She yells as he leaps back through the window, chasing the man with a blast of fire. Cole rolls to the side, and sends a lightning blast towards Signum, who casually blocks it with Laevatein.
“Purple Lighting Flash,” she says holding her sword at the ready. She dashes out, her sword enveloped in flame. Cole leaps just in tome to avoid getting hit, and grabs onto a windowsill.
“That’s got neither purple nor lighting!” he yells, “Here’s what you’re really looking for,” he says, and unleashes a barrage of lightning and kinetic energy at Signum, an attack Zeke liked to call a “rocket.” Signum walks out of the blast unharmed, and Cole grimaces. He leaps up the building, firing blasts of lightning behind him as he jumps.
Signum merely intercepts each blast with a barrier, and leaps to the roof as he reaches it. Desperate, Cole launches a barrage of lightning as he backpedals towards a chimney. He blows it up with a quick lighting blast, and grabs the Amp he hid inside it. He swings at the charging Signum, who catches the glorified tuning fork with her sword.
The sound of metal hitting metal rings out on the roof, and Cole notices some students running towards the school. He gives an internal sigh of relief; he now had an end goal. Survive until Astaroth is notified. Signum takes the opportunity to leap back and shoot a few blasts of fire in his direction, which he dissipates with a blast of energy. She then sheathes her sword, and Cole takes the opportunity to strike with a lightning blast, which is stopped cold by a barrier.
“Schlangeform!” Signum yells, and draws her sword, which extends to a several-meter long whip.
“Oh shit,” Cole groans, and immediately dodges under a swipe, and leaps over its follow-up. He runs across the building, dodging and rolling to defend against the assault. His movements eventually take him near his attacker, and he jumps over another blade, building up ionic energy as he does so. When he lands, he lets loose an ionic strike of ice, a gift from Kuo. Sub-zero temperatures and pillars of ice launch in a circle around him, and Signum leaps to the sky, and stays there, hovering.
“Flying Dragon Flash!” She yells, and the whip encases itself in flame and launches at the stunned Cole. He swiftly transitions into an Ice Launch, propelling himself upwards. He throws the Amp as he ascends, and cups his hands together, as if holding a sphere. He pours all his power into it, completely draining himself of energy and even the remaining ionic charges he had stocked. He lets it fly, and a massive bolt of lightning leaps from his chest as he reaches the apex of his jump.
“Panzergeist,” the sword says, and an immensely powerful barrier springs up in front of Signum. The bolt strikes the Amp, which lives up to its name and boosts its power. It pierces through the magic shield, and strikes Signum in the arm. She screams in pain, and directs another gout of flame at Cole, who is unable to dodge.
Cole yells, the intense heat charring his body. As the acrid smell of clothing fusing to flesh fills his nostrils, he hits the roof, hard. He struggles to right himself, but his bones – likely fractured, if not shattered – scream in protest.
“Laevatein, Bogenform,” Signum says, solemn, as she places the hilt of her sword in its sheath, which them transforms into a bow. “I can take no chances. Sturmfalken!” she yells.
“Jawhol Meister! Lasst uns die Hacke töten! Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiicke!” Laevatein says, to Signum’s momentary confusion. Brushing it aside, she readies the arrow that will obliterate her foe, and aims it. She lets it fly, and the world turns monochrome.
The arrow stops before it hits Cole, and simply falls to the rooftop as the door slams open. Signum quickly swaps Laevatein to Schwertform, and points it at the bent square of metal. Out of it steps a man with long hair and glasses, wearing a sharp suit, half black and half white, with a fur collar similarly divided. The slender, pretty man is Astaroth, Prince of Hell and the school’s principal.
“You know what my monochrome world means, Signum,” the man says with a mocking smile, “So I suggest you put that down, unless you wish to face my Raison d’Etre.”
Heedless of the warning, Signum dashes towards him, sword extended. She moves faster than the eye can see, a simple, pure stab that no one should be able to react to.
It stops short of Astaroth’s throat, and the Prince of Hell simply punches her, throwing a right straight. The punch shatters Signum’s armor, pulverizes her bones, sends her the full ten kilometers across the campus, and finally through the disciplinary room’s wall.
In front of where she lands is a red-haired youth wearing a jacket and pants of the same color, wielding a revolver in one hand and a massive sword in the other. Camael, the head of the school’s disciplinary arm, hits Signum with the flat of the sword, sending her into the open cell before shooting the revolver at her, four times. The bullets impact her wrists and ankles, and pin her to the wall in a mock crucifixion.
Color returns to the world as a blonde-haired girl in a blue dress walks out from behind Astaroth and looks down at Cole disinterestedly.
“He’s going to die,” she says, looking back at Astaroth, “The only healer we have who can regenerate this is…. What’s-her-face. Kurumi? And she graduated last year.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic, Samael,” Astaroth says, “You can create medicines too, can’t you?”
“I create poisons. I’m the Angel of Death, Astaroth. The best I can do is kill him quickly.”
“Take him to the infirmary, then. Hopefully he’ll live.”
Samael simply shrugs and tosses the charred, moaning man over her shoulder, and begins the long trek to the school’s infirmary.
Three minutes and a bottle of eyedrops later, Nana pounds on the door to Astaroth’s office.
“Come in,” he says, and Nana fumbles the handle and stumbles in, ignoring the Asian boy sitting in front of the man. “What happened, Nana?” he asks, startled at her appearance.
“Misuzu, she… behind the gym, she…”
“Calm down, Nana. Please, tell me exactly what happened.”
“My friend, Misuzu. She was late for dinner, so I went looking for her. She was,” Nana pauses, taking a theatrical breath, “Hanging, charred… behind the gym.”
Astaroth inhales sharply, and gets up from his seat.
“Thought it was only attempted murder, but this…” he sighs, and turns to the boy, still sitting in the chair, “Tee, you’re dismissed for now. We’ll discuss your plagiarism later.”
Ch. 3: One Doubts Nothing, The Other Everything
“I regret the necessity of this assembly today,” Astaroth says, standing on the auditorium stage while flanked by Camael and the rest of the disciplinary team, “However, there has been an attack.” He pauses and steps away from the mic, allowing the gasps of shock to ripple through the room. Once it quiets down, he steps back in.
“One of our college faculty, a history professor named Signum, attacked and killed a high school student yesterday. She also attacked the dorm manager, who died of his injuries this morning. We are discussing with… higher authorities as to what to do with her. Before we continue, let us have a moment of silence for Misuzu Kusakabe and Cole MacGrath.”
Astaroth looks down as the somber silence stifles the room, as much a product of numb shock as genuine mourning. Once he judged it to have gone on long enough, the demon looks up, and continues to speak.
“Until someone else takes up Cole’s mantle, the RAs will be given more autonomy. And, to give mourners time to rest and the investigative services time to act, there will be no classes for the next three days. Please use that time to rest and recover. Dismissed.”
Unlike usual, the tension doesn’t bleed out of the room when the students get up to leave. This was, however, understandable given the circumstances. Astaroth shuts the mic off and turns to the so-called “Disciplinary Committee,” who were actually more akin to a secret police force.
“Camael, step up your patrols this week. Even if there’s nothing else, seeing you and the others keeping vigil will calm the students down.” The man in red nods silently at Astaroth’s instructions, and the Prince of Hell turns to the older man on his left, dressed in a butler’s outfit, complete with a monocle. “Lucifuge, watch the other instructors. It’s still too early to tell if this was orchestrated or not.” Lucifuge gives a bow and melts into the shadows as Camael departs, each seeing to their own tasks.
Kabutomushi pushes open the door to the library, and steps into the space. A large silo, spiraling underground for a full ten miles, the library was devoid of its usual inhabitants. The Dantalions, a legion of bodies sharing a mind, went about their work, categorizing and shelving the staggering amount of knowledge within.
“What do you want?” one of the identical high-school looking males asks, looking up from his desk.
“We did not expect visitors other than her today,” one of the identical females of similar age continues, throwing an irritated look at the blonde woman lost in a book.
“Yes, I should have expected Raziel to be here,” Kabutomushi says, “Though what I’m looking for is any information we have on beings on-campus with abilities.”
“Beings? Not just people?” the male asks with surprise.
“Yes. Something was bothering me about the attacks,” Kabutomushi says, not the least of which is that she didn’t burn Misuzu’s corpse.
“I see,” the female Dantalion says, “You’ll find our records on the sixth level, radius thirteen.”
“Thank you,” Kabutomushi says, scrupulously polite; the Dantalions may prefer their books to combat, but even Astaroth walks wary around them. She enters the lift heading down, lost in thought until she finds the books she’s looking for. Until she knew exactly who she needed to hunt, she would at least learn basics of what people were capable of. Any animals, too, as the man in the dream mentioned that the rules “didn’t make a difference” to one of the competitors.
As soon as she sets the books down on the table, however, the elevator opens again, regurgitating two college students.
“Looks like someone else had the same idea,” the taller of the two, Josephine March, says.
“Ah. So she got the card, too,” the shorter one, Liliana Guenther, says, looking somewhat nervous.
“Card?” Kabutomushi says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just thought there was something weird about the attacks, so I was looking things up to see if Signum might have had any help.”
“From animals? Ah, the one that doesn’t need the card,” Liliana says as the pair sit down across from Kabutomushi. That bit settles it; they know what they’re talking about. And, since they hadn’t attacked her yet, there was something more they were after.
“So you’re saying Signum and Cole had the cards, too?” she asks, dropping her pretense.
“Yes. And likely Misuzu, too,” Jo says.
“She had one, yes. I found her corpse, and it had the card underneath,” Kabutomushi lies, “Burned it in the ashtray. Thing is, her body wasn’t burned when I left it.”
“Meaning the real killer came back and burned her, to make it seem like she was attacked by Signum, too?”
“My money’s on Nana Hiiragi, then,” Liliana chimes in, “She’s the one who reported Misuzu’s death, and that soon after Signum was caught.”
“That certainly makes her suspicious, but there’s not enough to go on to pin her as the killer,” Jo says, “Ah, but we’ve gone off-topic. Kabutomushi, Lun Lun and I would like to include you in our alliance.”
“Interesting. What’s in it for me, and what’s in it for you?” Kabutomushi asks, tense and ready to lash out with her Kabuto Spikes if either woman shows any sign of hostility.
“Well, I’m an RA in the high school dorms, Lun Lun’s well-connected in the college dorms, and you’re likely similarly placed in the faculty dorms. We’ve got access to a lot of information, and we’re no slouches in combat, either.”
“Hmm… Yeah, guess that’ll work,” Kabutomushi says, and relaxes a bit. “Mind letting me know your powers? Just so that we know where to back each other up,” she asks, conveniently leaving out the part of knowing where best to strike when it was just the three of them left.
“I can control water,” Lun Lun says, “In any form. I’ve also got special battle clothing that enhances my abilities, and I can access a pocket dimension to fight in.”
“I can see through lies with this eye,” Jo says, pointing to her right eye, “And I can control any living humanoid I’m in contact with. I’ve got a pocket dimension similar to Lun Lun, and my axe can break magic. How about you, Kabutomushi?”
“I’m the strongest. And I have steel plating on my organs.”
“You’re… the strongest?” Lun Lun asks, “What exactly does that mean?”
“Physically,” Kabutomushi says, propping a book up between them, “You could both push on the back cover with all your strength – even the massive part that normally goes unused – and it would take me one finger on the front to push your chairs back.”
“There’s no way that’s true,” Lun Lun says, looking ready to try it.
“She’s not lying,” Jo says, clearly shocked, “My Elysian Eye isn’t reacting at all.”
“You probably detected a lie when I said I would handicap myself by only using one hand during Practical Combat, right?” Kabutomushi asks, and continues after Jo nods, “That’s because it’s not the only handicap I gave you. I also toned down the force to where an ordinary human can survive it.”
After a brief silence, Jo nods and extends her hand.
“I look forward to working with you, Kabutomushi.”
“And I with the two of you. You’ll pardon me if I don’t take your hand after that explanation of your powers, though.”
In the cafeteria, the building ate at a low murmur, its usual clamor and cheer missing. Akiha and Ayaka eat in contemplative silence, barely touching their food. Beside them, Shiki and Parcel eat normally, though in the same silence.
“How do you do that?” Ayaka asks her friend, genuinely curious, “Two people just died.”
“That’s hardly unusual,” Parcel says callously, “The friends of the dead mourn a bit, and then move on like the rest of the world. If you were the dead one, Ayaka, I probably wouldn’t be this calm. But I didn’t know… Misuzu? Cole? Was that their names?”
“She’s right,” Shiki says, continuing to eat, “Anyone and anything can die at any time. If we focused on every death, it would break us.”
“That’s a very nii-san way of looking at things, nii-san,” Akiha says, seemingly regaining some composure, “Perhaps it may not be so bad to take a leaf out of your book.” She gives him a wan smile, still a far cry from her usual self but seemingly comforted. Re-heartened, the four eat their meals until Kazuma and Ayano come over, the normally brash girl pensive and the usually arrogant boy with his arm around her.
“Mind if we sit here?” Kazuma asks, and both Parcel and Shiki wordlessly squish in to make room. “Thanks,” he says, and guides Ayano to sit down next to Shiki before taking the seat opposite her.
“Is she okay?” a blushing Akiha asks, looking around her brother.
“She’s… in a bit of a shock, and I’m not sure what to say,” Kazuma says, watching Ayano mechanically shovel food into her mouth, “It’s not that she knew Kusakabe or MacGrath well. It’s that she knew Signum, even idolized her.”
“She was my hero,” Ayano says, voice cracking, “And now she’s a murderer. She was my goal, and now… now…” the distraught teenager lapses into silence as Kazuma holds her hand, grimacing in concern.
“There’s nothing you can do, Kazuma,” Parcel says, the cold knife of her logic shearing through his uncertainty, “Nothing you can say. Just be there while she restructures herself, and she’ll be fine in time.”
“I hope you’re right, Parcel. I really do,” he says, squeezing his lover’s hand. “Say, Ayano,” he continues after a brief silence, “Do you want to stay in my room tonight?”
She nods, blushing slightly, and withdraws her hand. The color returning to her face a bit, she begins to eat again.
Ch. 4: Solange der Bauch Stumm Ist
Four weeks later, life had settled down a bit. The flowers in front of the images of an embarrassed Cole and an uncomfortable Misuzu wilt as the school moves on, not quite out of mind but distant enough to hurt less. With some normalcy resettled, however, comes some normal problems.
Josephine March knocks on the door to Naomi Tanizaki’s corner room for the third time, trying to wake the girl up before her classes start. Again, there’s no answer, and the sighs, plucking the skeleton key from where it hangs around her neck. She turns it in the lock and opens the door, intending to rip the girl forcefully out of bed, friend’s sister or no.
She pauses once inside, blinking in confusion. Naomi was in her bed, yes, but under her is her brother, Junichiro, held in a vertical four-corner hold. The man is fully awake, and looks at Jo in a silent plea for help. She sighs and walks over, placing her hand on Naomi’s back while recalling her neurobiology class from the previous semester. She uses her Art to manipulate the girl’s body, forcing the production of the complex neurotransmitter cocktail – ACH, serotonin, norepi, histamine, and a good dose of orexin – that tells the brain it’s time to wake up.
Just in case, she also makes Naomi synthesize low levels of Substance P, stimulating her survival instincts. The result is the young girl shivering and waking up, clinging to her brother even harder before realizing the situation.
“Jo?” she says, still half asleep, “What time is it?”
The two magic words cause her to leap off the bed and dash towards the bathroom, trying to prepare to leave in the half-hour before her classes start. Junichiro, finally free, pulls himself out of his sister’s bed and massages his joints, withering under Jo’s questioning stare.
Half an hour later, Jo and Junichiro sit down next to a window in the dining hall. Just before they start to eat, Jo spots a younger girl, blonde hair held back by a headband, her green eyes searching to a place to sit. She waves, and catches the girl’s attention. She waves and makes her way to them, dragging an even shorter woman behind her.
“Hey Amy,” she says, greeting her younger sister, who is her physical opposite. Short, flat, and delicate where Jo was tall, voluptuous, and muscular, the sisters stood out in different ways.
“Hi Jo,” her sister says, smiling; she had been making an effort to act extra sweet lately, for whatever reason. Behind Amy was another, shorter girl in an orange shirt and blue sleeves, a plaid skirt, and had her blonde hair in twintails. She places her tray on the table and sits next to Junichiro as Jo nods at her, half-envious and half-pitying that she looks half her age.
“Hey, Lun Lun,” the man says, grateful to see someone he can look in the eye.
“Hi,” she says between mouthfuls, “What did your sister ‘force’ you to do this time?” she asks with her customary cheer.
“She wanted to talk about that flower tattoo fad,” he says, grateful for the chance to explain, “apparently, there’s people who have the tattoo but have no idea how they got it. You’ve seen one, right?” he asks, and all three of them nod, each knowing at least one person who has one of the tattoos, and then he nods outside the window. “Look familiar?”
The three women look outside, spotting one of the Black Dandelions spreading throughout the grounds. Jo and Lun Lun lock eyes for a second, knowing exactly who they need to mention this to. The glance, however, was not lost on Amy.
“Oh? You have an idea about this?” she asks innocently.
“No, but we might know someone who does,” Lun Lun says smoothly, “You know the practical combat instructor, Kabutomushi? She’s told us that Astaroth asked her to look into some of this stuff.”
“Asking Kabutomushi makes sense,” Amy says as Junichiro nods, neither noticing Jo’s Elysian Eye flashing like a strobe light, the golden shine drowned by the morning sun.
At night, Tonya looks out her window at the mirror she had placed on a tree, angled so that she could see the room above hers. She was fortunate enough to have a corner room, giving her an isolated wedge to herself between two of the larger rooms; the one above her housed Naomi Tanizaki, who was often visited by her brother and who often leaves the window open. To her good fortune, she had overheard the brother searching his sister’s room to see if she had received a card, marking him as a target.
Naomi had left the window open this night, and now Tonya simply waits to see if her target would appear. As she does, the window to the right of her opens, and a pair of heads pop out, one blonde and one pink.
“Good night, Tonya!” the blonde says, while the pink-haired one simply waves.
“Good night, Ellen, and to you too, Kaoru,” Tonya says, waving first to the blonde then the other. The pair closes the window, followed by a muffled thump – likely them moving their swords – before going silent. Tonya sighs in relief, grateful they hadn’t caught her in the act; the pair has a strong sense of justice and an almost telepathic knowledge of what the other is doing, so much that it was as if they were two halves of a whole. The ideal relationship, she muses, losing track of her true task for a second.
The lapse only lasts until she spots Junichiro enter his sister’s room, followed by the girl leaping into his arms. Tonya swaps the blunt tip of her Kikimora for a razor-sharp tip as she indulges her inner voyeur, and sends the thin yellow cord up the side of the building. Eventually, about half past three in the morning, Naomi grabs a towel and heads out the door, leaving Junichiro alone. The man lounges against the wall, his back to the window.
The blade plunges swiftly into Junichiro’s neck, severing the spine around the second cervical vertebra before he can make so much as a sound. The man dies almost instantly, and she swiftly and silently knocks the mirror into the woods with her Kikimora. She then dips the blade into a bucket she left below the mirror to clean off the blood, and sends that tumbling down as well.
An hour later, Naomi comes back into the room, and almost immediately collapses from shock. Her trembling fingers reach for her brother’s neck, only to find no pulse. Greif wells up and threatens to consume her; at that moment, the seed of the Black Dandelion in her body – which had found its way to the most intimate of places – sprouts, sending its stalk twining around her torso and its leaves encasing her legs.
The Black Dandelion could finally act. Naomi, now controlled entirely by the plant, gets up and activates the power it gave her, a simple ability, but one that furthered its aims. She created a new seed, which falls on Tanizaki’s body. He gets up, his corpse now a puppet, and Naomi scatters more of Black Dandelion’s seeds on the wind.
Zeke swings himself out of bed half an hour later, stretching and yawning. The dorm manager starts their day later than the groundskeeper, but still earlier than he would have liked. His eyes fall on the picture of Cole hanging on his door, and he throws it a salute.
“You’ve left big shoes, brother,” he says to it, “I may not fill ‘em, but I’ll do my damnedest not to do anything you wouldn’t.”
His morning routine complete, he puts on his clothes, grabs his trusty clipboard, and picks up his toothbrush. He sighs when he hears screams outside, grumbling about the serial pranksters on the floor. He slams the door open, ready to give them hell, and stops cold. The scene outside is too outlandish for a mere prank.
The walls are splattered red with blood, and the few students alive frantically try to defend themselves from the corpses of their classmates, which now have flowers growing out of them. Before he can react, one of the living falls, clutching his stomach. The boy’s girlfriend screams, and a dandelion sprouts out of both of them. All this washes over Zeke, however, when he sees who stabbed the boy.
“Cole?” he whispers, staring in disbelief. The body of his friend, preserved as if he were buried yesterday, stares back through blank eyes, bits of charred flesh not fully covering the writing mass of stalks, leaves, and flowers. The shock renders him unable to react as Cole dashes towards him and shoves the Amp into his stomach.
Zeke stumbles back into the room, grabbing onto Cole’s arm. He pulls the zombie down with him, tumbling to the floor. He then reaches under his bed and draws the revolver he keeps underneath it, just in case someone tried to attack him, too.
“Looks like I’ll be joining you, brother,” he says as Cole’s corpse growls in his face, “Just gotta make sure you rest in peace first.”
And with the last bits of his strength, he levels the gun at the dead man’s forehead and pulls the trigger. The bullet tears the top half of Cole’s skull off, splattering gore all over the room. Zeke’s triumphant smile quickly turns to horror, however, as the corpse pulls itself out of his weakening grip. It turns around, not bothering with the dying man, whose last sight was a single dandelion seed, colored pitch black, floating down to his chest.
As day breaks, cries of terror resound throughout the campus as students and teachers flee the hordes, some successfully, others cut down by the growing ranks of the frontline brainwashed students. Gunshots and explosions ring out as everyone tries to flee, most making for the gym or the library. The attack, furthermore, exposes the main flaw in the school’s defense structure. Anyone trying to reach an alarm is cut down.
Worse, each person killed adds two to the horde, more often than not. One’s dying screams would set off the tattoo in another, which would add another brainwashed student given superpowers. By the time the doors slammed in the gym and the Dantalions made their perimeter around the library, the tens of thousands of students and faculty had been reduced to barely half their number.
Nearly a thousand students huddle in the massive gymnasium, its doors and walls reinforced to withstand the strongest of attacks. Jo and Iwafune spread out, the two main voices of reason, and attempt to calm the masses.
“Everyone, find someone you know!” Jo yells, “Find a friend, classmate, roommate, whichever. Find someone and make a group.”
“Groups, come to me!” Iwafune says, unusual urgency in his voice, “Tell me who’s in your group, and take a seat somewhere. Stay calm.”
“Hey,” one of the students asks in a low voice, hiding under the bleachers, “Where’s the discipline committee?”
“Oh, Oki,” Jo says, “You stay with me, I’ll be part of your group. As for the committee…”
“They’re not allowed to act until a student or teacher has notified them of a threat, or in self-defense,” Iwafune spits, “They do, they get erased. To prevent them from going mad with power, see. Unfortunately, they can’t take the word of one of their own as reason to attack, and we can only reach them from some very specific alarms.”
“I got a text message, Iwa-san,” Jo says, face flushing with some relief, “Ayaka and Parcel made it to the library, and it looks like there’s a lot more students there than here.”
“That’s… that’s good,” Iwafune says, also relieved, as a black sphere opens behind him. He turns on his heel, about to draw his gun, when he sees who it is: Parcel and Ayaka, the two students Jo had mentioned.
“Why are you…” Jo starts, as Parcel sprints towards one of the windows, peering out.
“Shit. SHIT!” she says, obviously agitated, “How is that bastard…”
“Wait,” Iwafune says, “You know what this is?”
“The Black Dandelion,” she spits, “Thought Hei killed the stupid little…”
“The… you mean the cursed flower?” Ayaka asks, eyes growing wide.
“Is that what you were telling me about?” Parcel asks, turning pale, “If only I’d listened, this…”
“Is not your fault,” Ayaka says, giving Parcel a hug as Jo’s phone beeps again, signaling another text message.
“Shiki, Akiha, and Nana Hiiragi are in the chem lab,” Jo says to Iwafune, “They and some other students were… setting up a prank, apparently. They’ve barricaded the doors.”
“Parcel, what exactly is the Black Dandelion?” Iwafune asks, turning to the youth.
“It’s a Contractor, like me. Only it’s lost its human form, and is instead a bunch of dandelions. I can teleport with that black sphere you saw earlier, and I have to wear animal ears for it to work. The Black Dandelion can control people and give living, normal humans it controls powers. Its price was to be forgotten, and it paid that in full. Even it has forgotten what it once was. If you see any… I guess we’ll call ‘em zombies. You gotta destroy the heart, not the brain. You said there were students in a chem lab?” she asks, turning to Jo, “Can any of them synthesize chemical compounds?”
“Nana’s a veritable genius at it, yes. Give her a formula and she’ll make it.”
“Send her this,” Parcel says, drawing a small SD card from her pockets, “It’s an anti-contractor serum. It hits the Dandelion, or me, it’ll kill all of it. Or me. Oh, and isolate anyone with the flower tattoos. They’re the ones likely to become the powered zombies.”
“I sent it to them,” Jo says, “But they’ll need protection to deliver it.”
“Leave that to me,” Iwafune says, drawing his gun and exhaling. He invokes his Sanctum, and a massive sword appears over the gym: slim, elaborate, and covered in fog. The sheer power it exudes repels the horde slightly, and Iwafune’s gun takes on a grey glow. “Teleport me to the roof,” he says to Parcel, who nods.
Ch. 5: Демоны живут в стоячей воде
Iwafune steps out of the black sphere, now on the rooftop of the gym. The young girl in the mouse-eared hoodie looks down at the horde, and gives him a small nod before teleporting herself back inside the gym. Iwafune sighs in exasperation and manifests his Grey Sanctum fully. Impenetrable fog coalesces around the campus, smothering the dawn in swirling gray.
He leaps down from the roof, landing without a sound in front of one of the zombies. Sensing his presence, it turns around to lunge at him, but he simply levels his revolver at the corpse’s chest and fires, imbuing a bit of his Aura into the bullet. It carves a hole where the zombie’s heart was, and it falls flat on its back, unmoving.
Pieces of a black notebook scatter out of its suit, and Iwafune recognizes one of his students. He kneels and closes the boy’s eyes, before getting back up and holding his revolver at the ready. He moves forward at a brisk walk, pausing every now and then to shoot the heart out of a zombie that notices him. As he reaches the door to the main school building, however, it goes flying off its hinges.
A student walks out, her left arm replaced by a large dandelion stalk, its head where her hand would have been. She raises it, and a beam of light scythes through Iwafune’s fog. It swiftly dissipates, and the fog rolls back in, undisturbed. His ability wasn’t known as the Ultimate Defense for nothing. The student fires several more beams, each lance of light flying wide and fizzling. He strolls up to her, and hurriedly strengthens his Sanctum as she aims directly at him. A barrage of beams stops short a small distance in front of him, too accurate to be fired on instinct alone.
A swift scan of the surroundings shows him another student perched on top of a tree, likely the girl’s spotter. Any power that could see through his fog should by all rights fry the user’s brain, but it seems the plant could still get use out of a vegetable. He channels a vast amount of his Aura into the chambered bullet and pulls the trigger, letting fly a shot with enormous power. The enhanced bullet vaporizes the student, along with the tree he was perched on.
That annoyance taken care of, he drops the output of his Sanctum, letting the student shoot wildly once more. He channels his Aura into the gun itself and flips it around, holding it by the barrel. A swift strike with it breaks off the plant stem, causing the student to shriek in pain. An Aura-enhanced roundhouse kick to the side sends her flying, and Iwafune casually pops the empty cartridges out of his gun. He enters the building, each step punctuated by the clink of brass on steel.
“How’re you doing, Nana?” Shiki asks, leaning against the barricade. A futile gesture, but everyone needs to feel useful.
“Almost got it,” Nana says, usual cheerfulness gone, “But there’s barely 20 mls. Apparently, we need to hit a flower with it and, well...” she trails off, looking at the charred corpses in the corner.
“Sorry,” Akiha says, draining the liquid into a test tube, “I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay,” Shiki says, “Iwa-san’s going to get us out of here.”
“I hope so, Nii-san,” Akiha says.
“If even Iwa-san can’t, we’re done for,” their college student chaperone, a man named Fushimi, says, “So he’d better.” Six shots ring out in the corridor as he finishes, bringing a sour smile to his face.
“Yo!” a languid voice shouts from behind the door, “You alive in there?”
“We are,” Fushimi calls back, “We’ll let you in in a sec.”
The two boys remaining in the group pull one of the cabinets blocking the door out of the way, and the knob turns as Iwafune pulls the door open. His sardonic smile slips as he spots the remaining two of their group of six pranksters, but he quickly looks at Nana, who nods.
“All right, then. Time to water the plants.”
“I’ll clear a path,” Shiki says, taking off his glasses, “The ones without flowers are… already dead, right?”
“I’ll cover the rear, then,” Fushimi says after Iwafune’s nod, “Akiha, you can find someone alive, right? Guide us.”
“I’ll take care of anyone who gets past you two,” Iwafune says, “Can’t risk prolonged combat too much at my age. Let’s go, then.”
The motely crew steps out into the hall, which has already started to fill with zombies. Akiha sends out her Caging Hair, looking for any point where she can leech life energy.
“Up ahead… left at the second cross corridor, behind a pillar in the atrium,” she says. Shiki nods, and extends his knife, holding the implement in a reverse grip. He dashes through the crowd of zombies, slicing one in pieces before stabbing the next through the point of death, turning it into dust. He ricochets throughout the corridor, bringing final rest to the corpses of students in his way as the group advances, moving away from the sickly smell of roasting flesh that Fushimi creates while protecting their back.
They make their way as Akiha directs, coming to a large open space, surrounded by pillars. As she had predicted, from behind the pillar across from them steps a pair, one zombie and one human with a dandelion wrapping around her body.
“Naomi?” Akiha gasps, looking at her friend in horror, along with the corpse of her brother beside her. The girl, unable to hear or recognize her comrade, simply opens her fist, revealing a lump of seeds which she tosses into the air.
“Nana, throw the vial at her!” Iwafune yells. Nana does as ordered, and Iwafune snaps off a shot at exactly the right time to shatter it over Naomi’s head.
The plant shrieks and wails as the deadly liquid hits it, a sound that should not be possible. It withers, dying, and all the zombies collapse at once. Naomi collapses, unconscious, as Iwafune fires another shot to trigger the alarm.
“We will be installing more alarms,” Camael says as his angels haul away the unconscious Naomi, “I wish this hadn’t alerted us to the need for it, but…”
“But it still happened,” Iwafune says, “Perhaps it’s time you lot renegotiated your contracts.”
“Perhaps it is,” Camael says, grimacing, “I don’t think they were drafted with this kind of scenario in mind. We have, however, been able to confirm that all the Black Dandelions on campus have withered. Raziel wanted to keep them for study, but we burned them.”
“Good riddance,” Iwafune says, “But how are we going to move forward after this? We’re half the school we used to be.”
“I don’t know, professor,” Camael murmurs, “I don’t know. That, thank the Lord, is Astaroth’s job.”
Ch. 6: लंगड़ा केकड़ा सीधा चलता है
In front of the library, the Dantalions lower their weapons. The multitude of spears, knives, bows, and swords scatter into paper as they set about gathering the dead and unconscious. The students helping them lower their own weapons and deactivate their powers, letting a sigh of relief go around the area. Lilian Guenther joins them, letting Twinkle Fortune hang by her side as she lets the tension drain out of her. Just as she’s about to dismiss her Dress, however, she feels a tap on her back. Turning around, she spots the worried face of Ayano Kannagi, still holding the wooden sword she uses to channel her fire magic.
“Hey, Lun Lun, you’re friends with Kazuma, right?” she asks.
“I guess you could call us that, yes,” Lun Lun says cagily, anticipating trouble.
“Well, he texted me saying he was using his Wind Magic to hide near the dorms, something about not wanting to be caught by a cardholder. The Dantalions have asked me to help with cremation, so could you get him for me?”
“Sure,” Lun Lun says, “Did your beloved say where he was hiding?”
“Next to the founder’s statue on the path to the fountain. Thanks, Lun Lun!” Ayano says, huge smile on her face as Liliana squeezes her way out to hunt down her target.
Liliana arrives at the statue a few minutes later, and swiftly activates the Guarden, pulling both Kazuma and herself inside. She takes aim at the surprised youth, firing a quick salvo of water bullets at his face, which he barely deflects with a shield of wind.
“Lun Lun, what…”
“You had a card.”
Liliana fires as soon as he speaks, not intending to give up an advantage. This wasn’t the Waltz; she had no time to play fair. Kazuma blocks the burst, the water splashing in front of his face on another wind barrier. It swiftly drops, restoring his sight, but the shots already did their job. Lun Lun swings the water whip her gun had spewed, striking at Kazuma from below. He leans back out of his way, and the whip falls, no longer under Liliana’s control.
“Call! Icicle Blitz!” she yells, and pulls the trigger on Twinkle Fortune. The squirt gun lets out a spread of icicles, which launch at nearly point-blank range. Kazuma manipulates the wind to launch him skyward, just barely dodging the attack. He turns, intending to send a wind blade scything down at his classmate, when he sees her pointing her squirt gun at him.
“Call! Cannon Blitz!” Liliana yells.
“Oh fuck,” Kazuma mutters, and swiftly surrounds himself with a shield of air, only to find the attack not coming. He’d lost track of his foe in his panic, however, and he looks around him to try and find her again. He locks on to a shout, and his eyes grow wide.
“Fury of the Seven Seas, Sea Divide!”
Liliana pulls the trigger again, sending a far more powerful shot at her foe. The sphere of water rips through Kazuma’s shield, sending him flying into the pillar opposite Lun Lun. She points Twinkle Fortune at the spot where he landed, only to roll out of the way when two wind blades slice towards her. Kazuma descends back onto the field, eyes now shining blue.
“You’ve been holding back during Practical Combat,” he says, smirking, “but so have I.”
A wave of pressure slams into Liliana, nearly forcing her to her knees. It gets heavier and heavier as Kazuma smiles, confident in his victory.
“Call! Hard Rain!” she yells, “I command the heavens! Strike the earth! Heed my call! I am she who rules the seas! Minor summons of the seven seas!”
At her command, it starts to rain. Kazuma looks up, and feels the refreshing drops on his face. He turns back to her, arrogant smirk growing wider.
“I thought this would be something bigger,” he taunts, “But it’s simple rain.”
“Call! Infinity Chain!”
At that, water stretches out of her gun, in the same gelatinous form as her whip. The raindrops meld together as well, forming a dense network of fine chains. The air around her loses its pressure, and she leaps, landing delicately on one of the chains, posing as if she were at a ball.
“Air control is troublesome,” she says, relishing the reversal, “But then, I can force the air to be the sea. Blockader! Battle Mode!”
“You… damn it…” Kazuma growls as the countless chains wrap around him, heedless of his struggles to break them. Liliana strolls along the chains, moving from her perch to in front of the struggling man. His eyes display fear as she levels the Twinkle Fortune at his face.
“They’ll realize it was you, Lun Lun,” he says, trying to save his life, “You’re the only one here who can control water well enough to defeat me. They’ll realize it was…”
“Call. Thunder Blitz,” she says, and Kazuma’s life flashes before his eyes. A bolt of thunder flies from the muzzle, electrocuting him.
“I found him, Ayano,” Liliana says through the phone, trying as hard as she can to sound genuinely shocked and sorrowful, “I’m sorry, but… it looks like he got attacked. He didn’t make it.”
She winces slightly as the girl on the other side of the line gasps, sounding like she was about to wail with grief. Her lover was dead, and Liliana had killed him. She’d need to take extra care around Ayano now; the last thing she needed was to fall to the revenge of someone uninvolved.
Ch. 7: 竜頭蛇尾
“All right, Delsin’s floor over here,” Jo says, waving over a group of high schoolers, “We can’t find him right now. Line up, and tell me your names.” The students rattle off their names one by one, most of them looking utterly exhausted. Jo mechanically ticks the names she hears on the clipboard, almost missing the tall man walking in, who would be well-dressed if hist tie weren’t loose and the top buttons of his shirt undone.
“Jo, Parcel,” the man says, “We need your help with interrogation.”
“All right, Belial,” Jo says, and Parcel nods in assent. “Tonya, Nana, please finish marking who’s here from your floor,” Jo continues, passing the clipboard to the pink- and silver-haired girls. She follows Belial, the Jurist of Hell, with Parcel in tow, the younger girl pulling her hood tighter over her head as she walks.
“As you’ve probably guessed,” he says with uncharacteristic sobriety, we’re going to have Jo check for lies, and Parcel knows how the Black Dandelion operated, so she’ll need to tell us if any testimony suggests outside action. We’ve got who we believe is patient zero, so we’ll start with them.”
“Who was it?” Jo asks.
“Junichiro’s not going to take that well.”
“I’m sorry, but…”
“I also hate being the bearer of bad news, but Kazuma, as well.”
“I know. Lun Lun told me.”
“How much farther is this?” Parcel interjects as she struggles to keep up with the longer strides of the older pair.
“It’s about four kilometers that way,” Belial says, pointing. In silence, Parcel creates a black sphere, encompassing all three of them. When it shrinks, they find themselves in front of the Disciplinary Committee’s holding office. Parcel gives them a smug grin as Belial walks forwards to open the doors.
“You’re taking this pretty well,” Jo says, patting the younger girl on the head.
“I’m a Contractor,” she says, “No emotions.”
“Probably useful in this situation,” Belial says.
“Not as much as you think. Even if Ayaka died, I’m not fully equipped to mourn, past the basics. That… bothers me.”
“I see. I’m sorry I brought it up,” Belial says, opening the final door between them and the captive Naomi, who sniffles and looks up at the trio.
“All right, Naomi,” Belial says, voice gentle, “Please, tell us anything and everything you remember.”
“I… don’t remember anything about when the flower controlled me,” Naomi says, “All I remember is coming back from the bathroom to find my brother dead. The next thing I knew, I was barely conscious in the atrium.”
“She’s telling the truth. Not that I think she’s in any state to lie,” Jo says. Belial nods, and looks to Parcel.
“And her story’s consistent with how Black Dandelion operates. I’d recommend focusing on Junichiro’s death,” Parcel says, “If you want outside interference, that’s the best place to start.”
“Good idea, Parcel. You had a corner room facing the forest, yes?” Jo asks, and Naomi nods, “All right. Lun Lun’s nearby, so I’ll ask her to investigate the area.”
“You know of any surviving psychometers?” Parcel asks, “If Lun Lun finds anything, they can trace it back to the killer.”
“The only one we had was in a coma after using her ability on Iwa-san,” Belial sighs, “I don’t know if she’s still around, but…” Jo and Belial grimace, annoyed by the lack of options, while Parcel looks at Naomi impassively. Belial’s phone lets out a short chime, and the demon checks it. “One bit of good news,” he says, “Professor Mercer survived. He’ll do the autopsy on Junichiro, so we’ll get information in a few minutes.”
“Good,” Jo says as her own phone beeps. Looking at it, she sees a series of three photographs from Lun Lun: a broken mirror, a tipped bucket, and the view from a tree, seemingly able to look into all the corner rooms.
“Look at these,” she says, and Parcel, Naomi, and Belial crowd around her phone, “Looks like whoever killed Junichiro was in or around the dorms at the time.”
“We’ll have Lucifuge look at the grounds footage… ah, they finished the autopsy,” Belial says, checking his own phone, “Looks like he died from a blade to the back of the neck. Small enough to slip between two vertebrae, so the professor doesn’t think it was thrown.”
“A small blade that wasn’t thrown, needs the user to be able to see inside, and someone on the corner dorms…” Parcel mutters, just before Jo gasps.
“It’s Tonya!” she says, “No one else fits. Antonina Antonovna Nikitina, a junior in the high school division. She was in the gym, has silver hair and a Kikimora, a flexible rope-like-thing attached to the base of her spine.”
Belial grabs his phone and hits the quick-dial. “Camael! We’ve found who set off this attack. Grab Antonina Antonovna Nikitina, she’s…” Belial says as soon as it connects, rattling off the description Jo just gave him.
“What’s going to happen to Naomi?” Jo asks, concerned.
“I… don’t know. She isn’t culpable for this, we can tell that much. For now, we’ll take her to the infirmary, to make absolutely sure she’s okay.”
“All right. Do you want me here for Tonya’s questioning?”
“And are you finished with me?” Parcel asks.
“I am, but Camael and Samael will likely want to ask you a few questions about the Black Dandelion. I’ll try to spare you Raziel, at least for today.”
“All right,” Parcel says, “I’ll head back to Ayaka, then.” The youth vanishes in a black sphere, leaving Belial and Jo waiting for someone to take Naomi away and bring Tonya to them.
A few minutes later, Tonya is marched into the room by Camael, who looks increasingly grim. Belial nods in thanks, and the angel retreats through the door, taking Naomi with him.
“Tonya,” Belial says, “We’re trying to piece together what happened last night. Can you tell me everything you remember?”
“I was looking out the window for a bit,” the silver-haired girl says, “Kaoru and Ellen poked their heads out, too, and said good night to me. I went to sleep myself after I closed the window.” Tonya’s eyes flick between Belial, seated across from her, and Jo, leaning against the corner, clearly nervous. Given the rumors about the Disciplinary Committee’s powers, though, that was actually a fairly normal reaction.
“Was there anything in particular that made you want to look outside?” Jo asks.
“Not really. Why?” Tonya says, and Jo’s gold eye flashes.
“Tonya, do you know why I’m here?” she asks, pushing herself to a standing position.
“I was wondering that myself, Jo,” Tonya says, regaining a bit of her attitude when talking to someone familiar.
“You see, I can tell if people are telling the truth or not. You told us a lie, and now we're going to have to find out why you lied to us.”
“All right. I’d set up a mirror on a tree outside,” Tonya says, thinking quickly, “I’d been concerned about Naomi’s relationship with her brother for a bit, so I figured I’d spy on them.”
“There’s a lie in there somewhere,” Jo says, her eye flashing again.
“See, Junichiro died before the Dandelion incident,” Belial says soothingly, “You’re in the room below them, so we’re trying to figure out what happened there. We think it was the trigger.”
“That was…” Tonya whispers, shocked.
“That?” Belial asks, not missing a beat.
Tonya pales, realizing that she’s being cornered by the Juror of Hell and a living lie detector.
“I… saw him die,” Tonya says, shivering while telling only the literal truth, “I wasn’t able to see who did it, but I feared that if it got out…”
Belial looks at Jo, who shrugs at him. Satisfied, he continues, “All right, then. We’ll place you in custody for now, Tonya. We do need to get to the bottom of this, and I still feel like there’s something you’re not telling us. You’re not actually under arrest, though. We want to be sure you’re safe.”
“Belial! We need you out here, stat!” Camael’s voice comes through the intercom, “We’re stretched thin trying to gather everyone.”
“I’ll take her to her holding cell,” Jo says, “I know the way.”
“Thanks, Jo. I’ll get going, then,” Belial says, and strides out the room. Jo claps a hand on Tonya’s shoulder, and uses her Art to force the girl’s body up and to follow her. She marches the young girl through the corridors, devoid of cameras; who would try to escape the stronghold of both angels and demons, after all?
“I’m guessing he had a card? And that you do, too” Jo whispers as Tonya passes by several filled cells, with nameplates saying “Sun Tzu,” “Jack the Ripper,” and others. The girl’s eyes grow large, giving Jo the answer she needs. “I’ll settle you into your cell,” she says, and enters the small room with the other girl.
Once there, she immediately uses her Art again, and manipulates Tonya’s Kikimora to wrap around her neck, the thin yellow cord digging in. She manipulates the tip to break into Tonya’s palm as the girl holds completely still, prevented from even struggling by Jo’s power. She uses the Kikimora to write Tonya’s confession on the wall, and waits a few seconds for her to stop breathing. Satisfied she had killed her mark, she exits the cell and closes the door.
Ch. 8: Roghnaigh Idir Dhá Ghabhar Dall
“You know, Kabu-chan, I really envy your position,” Iwafune says, stretching in his office as Kabutomushi assists him with paperwork, “Practical Combat’s easy to restructure.”
“Yeah, I hear you on that. I had to help fill in for Joseph while he recovered. Poor man lost his grandson to the incident.”
“Ah. Losing someone close to you is… tough,” Iwafune says, “And I think I’ve finished my part. You done, Kabu-chan?”
“I am, Iwa-san.”
“Then let’s get these to the Dean. I’ll make us some of my signature karrage later.”
“And I’ve got some new additions to the liquor cabinet,” Kabutomushi says, her face breaking into a smile.
“Now that’s what I like to hear,” Iwafune says, taking a sip from the open can of beer he pulled from nowhere as they gather the papers and open the office door. As they enter the hallway, a girl with black hair rushes past them, and Kabutomushi gets a whiff of a fermented oil, though the girl had tried to cover it up by bathing. She fiddles with her cellphone, letting Jo know that a flat, black-haired high school student had tried entering her room while she was out.
By the time she finished, Iwafune had reached the theology dean’s door. The man knocked, and received a terse message to come in.
“Hey Kratos,” Iwafune says, opening the door, “Got more forms for you.”
“Just what I need,” Kratos growls, clearly not enjoying his position. “BOY!” he yells, and a young child runs in through the door. “Check these papers,” he orders, and Atreus dutifully takes them from the pair.
“Bye now,” Iwafune says, and closes the door to the dean’s office behind him, cutting off Kratos’ disgruntled grunt.
Later that night, Akiha slips out of her room, careful not to wake her roommate. She moves as silently as she can towards Josephine’s room. Her investigations had given her a pretty good idea that Jo was one of the entrants in the assassination game, and a quick kill was likely the best way to go about it.
She crouches behind a pillar, keeping her eyes trained on the room. Her powers wouldn’t go through the door, so she simply has to wait until Jo leaves the room. She waits in silence for an hour or so, getting somewhat impatient. Her irritation catches up to her, and she stands, ready to kick the door down.
At that instant, however, she feels two jabs in her back, next to the spine and above the kidney. She collapses immediately, unable to move save to look up at her attacker. She meets the contemptuous eyes of Nana Hiiragi, who holds a pair of needles covered in blood.
“That was just so sloppy,” Nana says, “Jo isn’t even in that room right now. Amateur.”
Nana simply watches as the poisons paralyze Akiha’s lungs and heart, waiting for the girl to die. Once she’s satisfied her prey is dead, she simply walks off, heading towards the stairs.
Ch. 9: El arquero que falla tiene una mentira lista
Nana Hiiragi walks into the front lobby of the high school dorms, intending to go to the faculty side. As she crosses, however, the other stairway door opens, and out walk a pair of girls, one blonde, tall, and curvy while the other was short, flat, and had pink hair.
“Where are you off to, Nana?” Ellen, the taller one, asks.
“Faculty dorms,” Nana says, cheery smile back in place, “I want to see if I can change rooms now.”
“We’ll go with you then,” Ellen says, “We’ve got to turn in some forms. Work-related absence.”
“All right,” Nana says, while Kaoru simply groans while being shepherded by the taller girl. The trio walks the well-lit path to the faculty dorms, Nana and Ellen having a lively chat about nothing in particular while Kaoru looks increasingly glum. Eventually, the shorter girl tugs on Ellen’s sleeve, throwing a pleading look her way. Ellen crouches, and Kaoru climbs onto her back.
“Thanks,” she whispers, holding tightly to Ellen, who simply smiles.
A few minutes later, they arrive at the faculty dorms and enter, going up to the common lounge on the second floor. They entered into a surprisingly calm scene, with only Kabutomushi and Iwafune sharing a meal and a small circle in the corner for the RA meeting, about a third its usual size. Nana grimaces internally when she sees it; Jo is sitting in the corner, not exposing her back at all. Instead, she follows Ellen and Kaoru – the shorter girl now walking on her own feet – towards her other target.
“What’s up, girls?” Kabutomushi asks, noticing them first.
“Work absence form,” Kaoru says, sounding annoyed while Ellen hands Kabutomushi the paperwork.
“Again?” Iwafune asks, “You should unionize.”
Ellen takes one of the free chairs, while Nana takes another.
“You mean revolutionize,” Kaoru grumbles, taking her usual seat in Ellen’s lap, “We do all the work, why aren’t we in charge?”
“You’d have to work harder,” Ellen says, evidently used to this kind of outburst.
With the duo providing a distraction, Nana slips a bottle out of her sleeve and adds a couple drops to Kabutomushi’s wine glass. Not a fatal poison, but a sleep drug. The wine, a Barbera d'Asti, was acidic enough to cover the taste, or so she hoped.
“And what did you need, Nana?” Kabutomushi asks, taking the poisoned glass in her hand.
“I wanted to see if I could switch rooms with someone. Looks like the RA meeting’s going to drag on a bit, though.”
“Fights build friendships, you know,” Iwafune chimes in as Kabutomushi flicks her eyes over to the RA meeting, meeting Jo’s for a second.
“Her roommate was Misuzu, Iwa-san. Hardly the troubles of youth,” Kabutomushi says, causing Iwafune to look apologetic
“Sorry about that. You can have some of the karrage to make up for it.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Nana says, taking a piece while the other four chat. Kabutomushi eventually closes her eyes, and Ellen and Kaoru take that as their cue to leave. Iwafune gets up to put the wine away, and Nana realizes this is her chance. She slips a small syringe out of her pouch, and surreptitiously attaches a hollow needle into it. The syringe contains 20 ml of undiluted Botulinum toxin H, one of the deadliest substances known to man in several orders of magnitude more than what would be needed to kill an elephant.
Confident she wasn’t taking any chances, she slides her hand towards the blanket Iwafune had draped over the other teacher. At that moment, however, Kabutomushi’s hand shoots out and grabs Nana’s wrist at full strength, pulverizing the bone and causing the younger girl to scream in pain.
The yell brought Iwafune’s hand immediately to the alarm, and the world went instantly monochrome. A few seconds later, Astaroth slides in, followed by Lucifuge.
“What happened?” Astaroth asks, looking at Kabutomushi and the still-screaming Nana, while Lucifuge looks at Jo, who is also staring at the pair.
“Someone slipped something into my drink. A sleeping drug, by its effects, so I pretended to be asleep, just to see what would happen. Then I see Nana here trying to jab me with a needle. Crushed her wrist.”
“I did no such thing!” Nana protests, needle already lost in the black hole under the seat of a dorm couch, “I was waiting for Iwafune to come back and Kabutomushi just attacked me.” She grimaces through the pain, mentally exulting. If she could just get them to believe her, it would still be her victory.
“Ms. Hiiragi is lying,” Lucifuge pronounces, his cruel voice cutting off Nana’s hopes, “Jo’s eye shone when she spoke.”
“Very well, then,” Astaroth says, “Grab Belial or Camael to take her away.”
Lucifuge nods and melts into the shadows, and Astaroth steps outside to receive whoever would be coming. Jo hurriedly wraps up the RA meeting, as none of the college students want to be nearby. Iwafune gives an uninterested shrug and returns to the kitchen, cleaning the cookware. Seeing they would be uninterrupted, Kabutomushi leans in and whispers in Nana’s ear.
“Full marks for effort and planning. You were just a little short in the execution, Nana-chan ♡ If you’re not going to skimp on the killing blow, don’t skimp on the prep.” She pulls away as the Disciplinary Committee enters the room, and smiles insincerely at the younger girl. “Have fun being disciplined. ♡”
Ch. 10: Mae Gan Bob Heid Ddefaid Du
“And from the parallels between the Four Horsemen in Christianity and Kalki in Hindu tradition, we can see that most religions owe quite a bit to earlier ones. Even if your local zealot tries to claim otherwise, all human creations are built upon the past. And that’s all for today. Go home and study while I go home and drink.”
Iwafune’s joke broke the studious mood of the room, and the students got up and left, much more hurriedly than they would have two months ago. As the classroom thinned out, he spots a pair of blond twintails making its way through the crowd. The youthful hairstyle materialized into a youthful-looking woman; Liliana Guenther could give Kabutomushi a run for her money in the “looking young” department.
“Hey, Iwa-san, I’ve got a schedule conflict with your exam,” she says, slightly nervous, “Professor Chin scheduled the communications exam at the same time.”
“Ah. That’s no good. Well, I owe Jordi a favor, so I’ll move it back a day for the whole class.”
“A favor for a favor, Lun Lun,” Iwafune says, and looks to make sure the class has left. “How’s Jo handling it? She was there when Nana attacked Kabutomushi, and I heard that Akiha was found dead outside her door. Nana confessed to that, too.”
“Well, with all that’s happened this year, she… we are kind of numb to it. It hasn’t even been a semester and there’s been Signum’s killings in January, the Black Dandelion stuff on goddamn Valentine’s Day, and now Nana. Those of us who want to transfer can’t find anywhere safe, what with the closest place being Hell School.”
“I have a feeling it’s going to get worse, too,” Iwafune says, grimacing, which wrings a sigh from Liliana. “I hope the other three kill each other off,” he mutters under his breath. Not quietly enough, apparently, because Liliana’s face goes blank. She fiddles with her phone for a sec, and then Iwafune suddenly finds himself in a square arena, with pillars on each side. Liliana’s clothes transformed into a navy-themed dress, complete with a faux-tricorn.
“So you also got the card, Iwa-san,” Liliana says sadly, “I’m going to miss your class.”
“Ah, I’ve been trying to avoid these,” Iwafune says, grumbling as he activates his Sanctum. Fog fills the battlefield, obscuring Liliana’s vision, as a massive sword appears above Iwafune. He snaps off a shot towards her, infusing the bullet with his aura. To his surprise, however, the bullet slows before it reaches its target, and eventually simply drops out of the air.
“So I was right,” Liliana says, smirking, “It may weaken my abilities, but it’s still fog.” Iwafune’s eyes widen in shock as the youth takes control of his Sanctum’s form, causing the fog to swirl about him. The force eventually creates a gap, and Liliana jumps in the air, spotting it from above.
“Call! Cannon Blitz! Fury of the Seven Seas, Sea Divide!” she yells, and fires a cannon shell of water at her professor. Iwafune flips his revolver around and, the weapon now glowing grey, uses the grip to smash the attack aside.
“Kids should be energetic,” he says, “But you’ll need more than that to match a King.”
“Call! Canon Blitz! Reload!”
Iwafune sighs, and concentrates the entire power of his Sanctum into his next shot. The bullet leaves the barrel, ionizing the air as it passes through. To his shock, however, Liliana plummets out of the way of the attack, much more rapidly than by simple gravity.
“Fury of the Seven Seas, Sea Divide!” she yells, and fires another shot. Unable to block in time, it slams into Iwafune, sending him flying. He flips in the air and lands on his feet, as if he were a cat instead of a person. His usual carefree smile, however, now has a bit of an edge to it.
“So what if you’re a King? I’m Liliana Guenther, Princess of Renstanza. Also known as the Princess of the Storm, and I believe I’ve earned that.”
“And I’m Tenkei Iwafune,” Iwafune says with a chuckle, “A flightless chicken, as my name implies. But I used to be known as Seigo Ootori, the Sixth and Gray King. Though I suppose that means as much to you as your titles do to me.”
As he speaks, the fog creeps back up, obscuring the battlefield once again. Iwafune fires off another two shots, which Liliana dodges by the skin of her teeth. She dashes forward at his fifth shot, which she manipulates the fog to throw off course.
“You’re using my Sanctum to track me,” he says, sounding impressed, “Of course. You can control water, after all.” He levels his gun at her and fires his sixth shot, which she evades by a hair once again.
“Got you! Call! Whip Blitz!” Liliana yells, spontaneously forming a whip of gelatinous water. She flicks it up at Iwafune’s head, but his Sanctum pulls it apart before it can hit. He swings his gun again, and she ducks under it, turning to face upwards.
“Call! Fire Blitz!”
“Whoops,” Iwafune says, jerking back to avoid the point-blank assault of superheated water. He lands a kick on her face as she jumps back to create distance, and she crashes into the ground a few meters away. Iwafune then hisses in pain, and grabs his arm. Looking down, he sees a bright red burn, even though he’d avoided the attack. A quick glance at the ground told him why: Liliana had tossed his bullets in the air, and melted them with her missed attack.
He quickly reloads as Liliana staggers to her feet, and starts to laugh with joy.
“Ah, you’re strong,” she says, exulting in the fight, “I’m not Angela, but… this is fun!”
“You youngsters and your energy,” Iwafune says, sounding irritated, missing Liliana’s next incantation. The fog freezes into spears of ice, entirely surrounding him. I quick gesture from Liliana beings them crashing in, and he hurriedly puts up his Sanctum’s strongest defenses. The grey sword pulses above him as the spears shatter against his barrier. He exhales as the last of them falls, and his eyes grow wide as he realizes he’s lost his quarry.
“Call! Icicle Blitz!” Liliana yells, and Iwafune looks above him to see the girl hanging off his Sword of Damocles, holding onto the edge of one crossguard. A flurry of icicles pour out of the gun, dropping straight towards Iwafune. He dodges, and fires a shot straight up, aiming at the defenseless girl. Liliana’s eyes grow wide, seeing the impending death.
She then gives a confident smirk as the bullet stops, wrapped in several layers of water webbing. She gives it a light tap, and the web snaps back to its original shape, propelling the bullet downwards even as Iwafune’s Sanctum breaks the water apart. The bullet slams into the ground, barely missing Iwafune but throwing him off balance and making a large crater in the field. He manages to fire several shots, however, which all hit Liliana.
She lands more softly than she should, likely manipulating the fog to soften her landing. Regardless, she’s bleeding from several places, and Twinkle Fortune lies next to her. She starts to say something under her breath, something which sounds almost like a prayer. Iwafune grimaces as he reloads his revolver; it seems she hadn’t learned his lesson not to rely on divine aid. He stops as a gem rises from the broken water pistol, and Liliana’s voice grows louder.
“Call! Final Blitz! Prepare for the liberation of the seven seas!”
Instinctively knowing this would be bad, Iwafune hurriedly finishes reloading as she rattles off the seas of her home one by one. He levels his gun and fires twice as she yells the last one. The blue gem turns red, and his shots stopped in the air, frozen solid in his fog.
“Release the seven seas! Set free the seven swords!” Liliana yells, and her shed blood solidifies, crystalizing into seven red swords, floating in the air. “Lock on! Begin automatic target tracking! Stop him, Blood Claymore!” she yells, and the swords fly towards her foe. Iwafune snaps off four shots, each shattering one claymore, and intercepts a fifth with his gun. The other two hit their mark, however, and pierce through his right foot, nailing it to the ground. It was a flesh wound, but the Blood Claymores would not let him up.
“Bloodmerald Break!” Liliana yells, and the red gem shatters. Iwafune hurriedly manifests his Sanctum’s defense at full strength as Liliana completes her chant, holding her hand outstretched.
“King of the seven seas, Absolute Zero!”
The directed blizzard freezes the fog as it passes, and eventually hits the inner barrier of Iwafune’s Sanctum. It pushes against the invisible wall, chilling it as Iwafune channels all his power into defending against its might. The Sword of Damocles shines as it attempts to defend against Liliana’s ultimate attack, the frozen fog creating a shell of ice.
As her stamina fades, the beam sputters out, and once it thins to a needle thread the massive sword fades into fog. Liliana collapses, trying to decide whether to grin in victory or grimace in pain. After a few seconds, she struggles to her feet, looking at the small hole in the massive dome of ice. She hadn’t wanted to use her final technique, but she had no choice.
She turns around, looking for the broken Twinkle Fortune, and at that moment a bullet flies out of the hole and hits her in the back of the head, killing her instantly. Iwafune exhales and shivers, as much due to the cold as to the fight. He manifests his Sanctum again, and a pair of full-powered shots from his revolver create a path through the ice dome. He checks to see if Liliana retains a pulse, and closes her eyes as the Guarden fades, returning him to the classroom.
He uncorks a small bottle and pours it on his foot, a healing elixir left by one of the former nurses. He slips his shoe back on as the door to his classroom slams open, and both Jo and Kabutomushi run in.
“Attacked you without waiting for us,” Jo says, grimacing and looking down at her fallen friend, “But now that we’re both here… deploy Cracking Field!” she yells, and the three of them get sucked into a dark space, more open than the Guarden and with pillars surrounding it at odd angles. Iwafune sighs as he draws his revolver yet again; it seems the death game would finish today.
Ch. 11: จับปลาด้วยสองมือ
Once again, Iwafune deploys his Sanctum, calling the grey sword above his head and the fog around him. On the other side of the field, Jo, now dressed in a form-fitting – and, with her figure, eye-catching – black garment, with green stones embedded into the claws on her hand. Her left foot rests on the head of her axe, and she grasps the haft with her right. Next to her, Kabutomushi, now wearing a simple blazer and skirt instead of her usual getup, unfolds the large, two-pronged spear that she calls the Kabuto Horn.
“My, you’re overestimating this old man,” Iwafune says, smiling wryly, and extends the fog towards the pair. As it reaches them, Jo gives a small swipe with her claws, and the fog melts. Kabutomushi charges, her incredible strength sending her leaping towards Iwafune, who concentrates his Sanctum’s defenses. Kabutomushi unleashes an axe kick at full power, rattling the barrier but not breaking it. The blow sends her in the air, where she flips around and slams the Kabuto Horn into the barrier. Iwafune puts more strength into defending against the most powerful assault his defenses have taken yet, but Kabutomushi uses this as leverage to launch herself even higher.
She spins again in the air, this time aiming her forearm at the Grey King. A few drops of blood hit the barrier first, causing him to realize she’s extended her Kabuto Spikes. The steel spikes protruding from her forearm hit the barrier, which holds for a fraction of a second before shattering completely. His eyes widen in shock, and Jo takes that moment to Manipulate her muscles to their fullest extent, sending her flying across the field in an instant, axe ready to swing.
Iwafune leaps over the swing, and uses that momentum to land a roundhouse kick on Kabutomushi, who uses the force to get some distance. While in the air, he fires a shot at Jo, who anticipates this and forces her body to accelerate faster, sending her on Iwafune’s other side. He fires two enhanced shots at Kabutomushi, who manages to slow them with a pressure wave and dodges while Jo charges from his other side, axe set for an overhead swing. Iwafune infuses his fist with a Grey Aura and punches the axe off course, and then flips his gun around, now infused with the same, and slams the grip into Jo’s side, sending her reeling with pain. He steps to the side, avoiding a blow from Kabutomushi’s spear that leaves a crater in the floor and her suspended by its haft. He takes the opportunity to slam his elbow into her solar plexus, and then smashes his fist into her face.
She uses the momentum to swing her spear back up, the air pressure from the swing sending Jo back a safe distance. Iwafune jumps back to avoid a follow up, but Kabutomushi sends a palm strike his way. It falls short, but a small pocket of air sends him flipping through the air. He fires off three more shots as he flies, one to correct his spin and the other two to distract Kabutomushi and Jo while a burst of fog shrouds his landing point. He quickly reloads his revolver, cursing himself for never bringing a speedloader.
Jo slices the bullet coming for her in half, while Kabutomushi simply twists so that it glances off of the steel armor on her organs. Iwafune raises his Sanctum’s output as far as it can safely go, filling the entire field with impenetrable fog. Jo takes an experimental swing with her axe, but the dissolved sections of fog regenerate instantly.
“Can’t hit what you can’t see, eh?” Iwafune says, confidence restored as he takes potshots at the pair, who manage to dodge or deflect all six. He opens the cylinder, giving a small sigh. The most dangerous part of his fog wasn’t that it dispersed magic, nor that it obscured his enemies’ sight. It was that it didn’t obscure his. As long as he varied the intensity of his assault, paranoia would set in and his foes would act rashly.
“You know, Iwa-san,” Kabutomushi says with an insincere smile, a surefire sign that she was pissed, “Aren’t you underestimating me a bit too much♪?”
As Iwafune finishes reloading, a sudden crash resounds from where Kabutomushi is standing, as well as a massive gust of wind, enough to actually blow his fog back a bit. The woman starts to walk forward, her weapon seeming to blur as she holds it to the side. Cracks appear in the ground around her as she moves, surrounded by a windstorm. Iwafune fires a shot at her, only to hear a plink of metal as it gets deflected a few feet in front of her face.
“The famous Kabuto Slide, eh?” he says, his usual carefree smile strained, “I’m honored.”
He fires again several times, increasing the power of each shot to no avail. As she got near enough to blow his hair back with the air pressure, he puts all his power into the next shot. He fires, aiming straight at her heart.
Jo leaps over the rampaging Kabutomushi, and smashes the bullet down with her axe. She then rides the storm of wind to reach Iwafune, who throws his shield back up. Jo swings her axe with a yell, and it shatters the barrier. He ducks under the follow through, and jams the barrel of his revolver into Jo’s stomach as she grabs his shoulder. To his shock, his arm twists, pointing the gun at his own head. He re-manifests his Sanctum quickly, and the expanding barrier tosses Jo away and gives him control back over his body.
“That’s an interesting weapon you’ve got there, young lady,” he says as the three face off again, at an impasse.
“The Engine Axe Hephaestus, combined with two fragments of the Emerald Tablet. I can slay any fantasy.”
“Oi, oi. That’s cheating.”
“Can’t play fair against someone of your caliber,” Jo says, clear respect in her voice.
“I can see that,” he says, firing off a shot at Kabutomushi, who was attempting to flank him while the conversation goes on, and breaks open his gun to reload, “How about we call a truce, eh, Kabu-chan?”
“We’re the only three left, Iwa-san,” Kabutomushi says, “It’ll end up like this again.”
“That’s a shame,” Iwafune says as he finishes reloading. He fires at Kabutomushi again, who bats the shot aside while Jo charges. Iwafune puts up his barrier again, hoping to delay her long enough to strike. She swings, shattering the magic but leaving herself open. He aims, before feeling a sharp pain in his knees. Kabutomushi had taken advantage of the distraction, and had swung her spear at his kneecaps, shattering the bone and nearly tearing them off. Jo swings her axe upwards, slicing off Iwafune’s weapon arm, and Kabutomushi catches and crushes the gun as she kicks him, sending him flying across the battlefield, mortally wounded.
The older woman waves for Jo to hang back as she talks over to the dying man, slipping a flask of rum out of her sleeve. She kneels beside him, opens it, and hands him the drink.
“You know me too well, Kabu-chan,” he says with a wry smile, and takes a drink, “It may have ended up like this, but you were a good friend.”
“You were, too.”
“One last request,” Iwafune gasps, “Nagare Hisui, my foster son. Look after him, will you? Tell him I sent you, and he’ll pay whatever you wish.”
“You have a deal, Iwa-san,” Kabutomushi says, and the Grey King departs to join his Clan. Kabutomushi closes his eyes, and gets up to face Jo.
“He’s dead?” Jo asks, looking sad.
“He is. Shall we?” Kabutomushi asks, readying her weapon.
“We shall,” Jo says, taking her combat stance.
Ch. 12: Grab the Bull by Its Horns
After a breath, Jo charges in, swinging her axe towards her foe. Kabutomushi’s endurance is neigh-bottomless, so she needs to finish the fight quickly. Kabutomushi stops the blow with the haft of the Kabuto Horn, and Jo then takes a swipe with her other hand, using her Art to draw out as much strength as she can. Kabutomushi pops out her Kabuto Spikes, parrying the blow, but Jo catches her arm, and breaks out into a vicious grin. Her victory was assured; she just needed to use her Art.
Kabutomushi grabs the younger woman’s wrist and flings her away like a rag. Jo rights herself in the air, and slows her flight by digging her axe into the ground. She lands, less smoothly than she would have liked, and gives a questioning look at her foe. Her Art should have worked, but the older woman shook it off.
“You told me your art works on things with a human shape, Jo,” Kabutomushi says, mirroring her earlier smile, “How human do these make me?” she asks, pointing at the still-extended spikes.
“Damn,” Jo mutters, before launching another attack. Even if her trump card was invalidated, she could at least try to win their fight. She dashes forward, aiming her axe at Kabutomushi’s knees. As the assassin leans in to parry the attack, Jo jumps, and forces her body to contort into an overhead strike. Kabutomushi grabs the blade before it hits, and Jo uses the leverage to swing Kabutomushi up above her by the arm, and smashes her into the ground. Another swing of her axe sends Kabutomushi sailing off, heading straight for the massive clock tower that sits in the void around the arena.
Kabutomushi flies up and over the tower, just missing a grip at the top. Jo catches her breath, glaring at the tower. After a few seconds of nothing, she prepares to dismiss the field, but then she hears a crack. Her mouth drops open as the clock tower begins to topple.
Kabutomushi gives her Kabuto Horn one more shove, breaking the tower off at the base. She leaps onto it, hastening its fall as she runs along the pillar. She leaps as it crashes through the battlefield, bringing her spear down in a simple overhead strike. Jo whips her axe in the air, hitting Kabutomushi in the side. The steel plating on her organs makes the wound shallower than it should be, but sends her off course.
She breaks the ground as she lands, and throws a torso-sized piece at her foe. Jo shatters it with a swing of her axe, only to find Kabutomushi ready and waiting behind it. She jams her bident downwards, trapping Jo’s axe between the prongs and smashing it to the floor. She punches forward, her fist going clean through Jo’s solar plexus, before dislodging her spear and smashing through Jo’s neck. The woman’s head flies off, killing her instantly. As that happens, a red light blinds Kabutomushi, filling the crumbling pocket dimension.
Epilogue: A Bug’s Life
The light fades, and Kabutomushi finds herself in a large room, opposite a man in loose grey clothes, wearing a blue mask with orange linework. The man starts to clap, his body language showing no indication if it was genuine or sarcastic.
“Congratulations, Kabutomushi. You won,” he says, and her eyes grow wide as she recognizes the voice.
“You’re the organizer,” she says, “I guess this means I get to choose my reward?”
“Yes. And a compound wish won’t be granted, mind.”
“In that case, money,” she says, taking no time to think.
“A couple billion should do.”
“Hmm… US Dollars, I guess? Not too confident in the stability of the Euro and Pound right now.”
“Done,” he says, a note of amusement in his voice, “A rather banal wish, all things considered, but a wish all the same. I’ll send you back now.”
“Nice working for you,” she says, and the man waves his hand, causing the woman to fade away.
With the killings done and the beetle enriched, the man turned back to his computer, typing up a brief report of the results for those who couldn’t read, wondering briefly why a written report would alleviate that particular malady. He looks it over once finished, and presses a switch. The school reverts itself back to its initial conditions, and the only remaining evidence the battle had taken place is Kabutomushi’s newly-inflated bank account. At least until he posts the transcripts, or a certain other user messes them up trying to be helpful.
13th place: Misuzu Kusakabe, 12 points. Misuzu wasn’t the best equipped for this kind of battle. Her flashy powers and arrogant personality dragged her down in a match where keeping a low profile is a key to victory, ultimately scoring less points than Diarmuid did in JT.
12th place: Signum, 23 points. Signum, like Misuzu above, isn’t particularly well-equipped for this sort of match with her flashy powerset. She had better stealth abilities, but ultimately fell out early despite being far and away the most powerful and most skilled in direct combat, the only ones close to her being the top four. She couldn’t rely on Shamal to clear people out, which led to her discovery.
11th place: Cole MacGrath, 36 points. Cole’s powers also attract attention, but unlike Misuzu or Signum Good Cole is a fairly nice person, allowing him to gain acquaintances whose presence would protect him. He’s ultimately, however, not smart, ruthless, or powerful enough to truly utilize any of his advantages.
10th place: Junichiro Tanizaki, 48 points. Tanizaki ultimately makes it here based purely on his stealth powers, which allow him to go undetected. Unfortunately for him, his lack of any other combat abilities and genial attitude prevents him from breaking out of double digits. If the scenario had allowed him a partner, in this case Naomi, he likely would have gotten farther simply due to having a motivation to fight.
9th place: Black Dandelion, 52 points. Black Dandelion was ultimately underestimated, as its powers force it to stay undetected for long periods of time, and the zombies it creates have the advantage of either numbers or powers. It was a little too far out of left field for voters to properly categorize.
Maybe I should use the Army Ants from Arachnid if I do another one of these
8th place: Kazuma Yagami, 53 points. Kazuma makes it pretty far based on his powers and ability to conceal himself, but his general personality placed him in a vulnerable position. Being an arrogant ass, even if you can back it up, leads to being isolated and in a good position to get shanked.
If Skully had bumped BD up one more place he could have had a better death
7th place: Antonina Antonovna Nikitina, 62 points. Tonia makes it a bit farther than Kazuma due to having a stealthier powerset, but she’s a stealth and infiltration specialist, not a combatant. Everyone above her is either better at stealth, is more powerful, or can access pocket dimensions to fight at full power without being discovered.
6th place: Akiha Tohno, 83 points. Akiha, despite her isolating personality, has strong enough and stealthy enough powers to defend herself without it being obvious that she’s a killer. Ultimately, the only competitor who can actually see what she’s doing is Jo, which got her pretty far. What holds her back, however, is her naivete in such situations, being more used to straight attacks with overwhelming force than assassinations.
5th place: Nana Hiiragi, 84 points. Nana gets the top five for being sneaky, efficient, and creative. Despite not having any powers at all, she’s more than capable of murdering people who can control time through sheer guile. Unfortunately for her, everyone else above her can see through her tricks or are more practiced with them, with the notable exception of Iwafune.
4th place: Liliana Guenther, 107 points. While Lun Lun is one of the most powerful combatants here, likely able to give Signum a fair fight, she’s ultimately a poor match for the top three. Iwafune and Jo can both reduce or nullify her magic, her main source of attack and defense, while Kabutomushi can power through it. She loses not because she’s bad at any of this, in fact she’s one of the best, but because the other ones who make it this far counter her abilities.
3rd place: Tenkei Iwafune, 111 points. Iwafune has a great skillset and personality for this match. While it’s easy to notice when he’s using his powers thanks to the Sword of Damocles, his abilities are entirely defensive. His reliance on mundane methods of attack give him a stealth advantage, and he’s third overall in terms of direct combat ability out of all the combatants. He gains third because his passive attitude means he won’t even be trying to participate until near the end, letting everyone else come to him, and his abilities nullify the forms of attack of almost all the other contestants.
2nd place: Josephine March, 119 points. Jo gets second due to a powerful combination of techniques. She can detect lies, and thus tell when others are attempting to deceive her, she can access a pocket dimension to fight without worry, and her weapons negate magic. She’s a natural counter to everyone except Nana and Kabutomushi, as all their abilities are some form of magic. This, combined with her ability to manipulate her body and those she comes in contact with, propelled her to second place.
1st place: Kabutomushi, 123 points. Kabutomushi won this
because I pulled for her pretty hard due to her incredibly mundane powerset. Her ability is incredibly simple but incredibly potent, and her skills as a professional assassin also win her the day. She was able to stay under the radar, form alliances due to her genial personality, and fight off anyone who comes at her. She ranks fourth in terms of combat ability purely because she doesn’t have any magic. Her monstrous strength more than makes up for that, however, and she is able to easily overpower anyone who doesn’t have plothax.
See Epilogue in the battle
World War Royale (by Cfp3157)
Prologue: In DFederal...
“Alright class, remember to do the Constantine and Darhk readings before your discussions, and we will pick up with Summoning the Undead next class. My office hours have been cancelled today - please reach out to me over email if you have questions.”
Kayneth Archibald rubs his temples as his class leaves the room. Once a master magus and the most renowned voice in magical academia; reduced to teaching GE credits to overeager freshmen and seniors who can’t manage a schedule. One of the former approaches his desk, a young blond woman in her late teens. “Professor Archibald, I was wondering if I could-”
“Did you not just listen to me, Mrs. Chase? Office hours have been cancelled. If we have this problem again, I will deduct your grade even further.”
Before Annabeth can continue her protests, Kayneth puts up a firm palm for silence. He grabs his pack, and leaves the room. Annabeth frowns and marches out into the hallway after him.
She looks around, trying to find her professor, when a melodic voice calls out to her. “What’s the matter, Annie? Upset you don’t get to be perfect anymore?”
Annabeth turns and scowls at the blue-coated young man before her, a cocky smile upon his face beneath a pair of glasses. “Consider it a flaw, Saruhiko.”
As they walk outside to the campus of Eastern University, Kayneth Archibald takes his train to the Blue Collar district. The sunny sky and lush green public parks of the Wealthy District gives way to the darker, congested urban jungle where the magus was forced to live.
Kayneth lays his head down and looks pensively out the window. As the subway rolls to a halt, he nods at the young man in the green hoodie before getting off at his stop. After a short walk, Kayneth buzzes into his building. As he passes through the lobby, a man covered in green scales barges past him.
“Jones, when are you going to get around to fixing my shower?”
“When I can Blondie. You’re not the only person that lives here.”
“Don’t forget who you work for, Croc.”
At that, Killer Croc turns around and lets out a snarl. Kayneth yelps, resulting in a chuckle to escape from the mutated supervillain. The magus quickly hides in his home- a three room apartment, with a decent sized kitchen, a bathroom, and his bedroom.
He collects his mail, tossing aside bills and spam mail before settling on the final message. Trapped in a silver and red envelope, the paper states only a few brief lines. As his eyes wander down the page, Kayneth's disinterested scowl turns into an elated grin.
“A battle royale...At last!”
Kayneth triumphantly stands and crushes the paper in his fist. “This is my chance! I shall restore myself back to a position I truly deserve.” The magus walks into his bedroom, pulling out the flask which contains his Mystic Code. “One of these warriors is even a child! My victory is guaranteed.”
He looks out the window at the outward limits of the city, where he could glimpse the grand mansions of the 1 Percent district. He could practically taste the splendor and prestige he once took for granted. Rereading the names on the list of his opponents, he recognized one from the list of Heroic Spirits he'd learned of in preparation for the Grail War.
"I will find you first. Ire: Sanctio."
Across the city, Astolfo strolls through the White Collar district. His horn hangs at his side loosely, and his lance upon his back. The paladin approaches a large two story house, checking the letter once over to ensure the address was correct.
He knocks on the door, and out steps his cousin Roland. “Cousin, how are you! It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen you.” The two men briefly hug, with Astolfo giving a slightly concerned look over Roland’s figure.
“Indeed. I rarely get to travel up to this part of town, but who am to deny Charlemagne an audience?”
Astolfo solemnly nods as they walk into Charlemagne’s home, where their king sits in deep conversation with a man in a bright red cape. “How is it you haven’t managed to get to the White Collar district yet?”
“Some bad luck I’m afraid. My entry application put me downtown and I haven’t gotten updates since. I’ve heard rumors of one who could help, but…” Roland shrugs, and the pair sit at the table.
“I thought you had another bout.”
“Firstly, that was not me. You are the fifth person to have confused the two of us today.” Roland hangs his head in frustration. “Even if it were, the results aren’t in yet. I doubt they’ll be done anytime soon, so I would be stuck either way.”
Charlemagne’s booming voice interrupts the two cousins, and he puts his hand over the shoulder of the man beside him.
“Ho friends! My good man Richard here was just regaling me with his own tales in the Holy Lands. Quite a good time, these Crusades it seemed.”
The band of warriors laugh, with Astolfo pouring a healthy serving of ale into his tankard. Astolfo glances around the table, before walking over to a window. The paladin sighs in wonder at the hustle and bustle of the city outside.
“It’s really something else, isn’t it?”
Astolfo turns to see Richard walk over to him. Astolfo begins to bow, only for Richard to laugh and wave the gesture aside. “Although I appreciate the gesture, there’s no point for grandstanding. My title doesn’t have quite the impact it used to.”
The king looks out the window to watch, before turning to the paladin. “Quite different, isn’t it? And to think - this is just the middle. Average." Richard says, with emphasis on the final word." Imagine what I feel like, just a single district above you.”
Astolfo slips into a scowl, but forces his smile back into place as Richard turns back to him. “I’m sure you live a good life indeed, your majesty. Although, one would be blessed with any of our lives.”
“Only those that lack ambition would say that, dear Astolfo.”
The knight stomachs his pride, before walking back to the table. He grabs his abandoned scabbard, and begins his good-byes. “I wish you all a good evening, but I must bid farewell. Adiu, my friends.”
The other noblemen wave as they continue their feast, and Astolfo walks out. He bumps into a blond girl, who grunts in surprise. “I just left the office to deliver this to you. Perfect timing, buddy.”
Annabeth hands him an envelope before walking away. Astolfo reads the battle notice, and lets out a laugh. He whistles, where his loyal hippogriff lets out a screech as it lands beside him.
Mounting the beast, Astolfo flies into the city with a war cry. Battle awaits.
Beneath the flying knight - in fact, beneath all of DFederal - Cole MacGrath finishes climbing down the ladder of a manhole. He lets out a cough as the scent of the sewer fully engulfs him, before taking a careful step over one of the many puddles of water and sludge as he walks towards his home.
Cole pulls out his cellphone to check his emails. “Figures.” He says, reading the latest reply to his failed job application. “‘Regret to inform you’ my ass.”
The Conduit groans in frustration and punches the wall beside him, denting the pipe. A gruff voice echoes from within, a heavy drawl of anger. “You have any idea who lives here, punk?”
Cole hurries to the end of the tunnel as a gigantic man in sunglasses steps out of his own crawl space. “Yeah you keep running pal. Come back ‘round here and I’ll open up a fresh can of whoop-ass just for you!”
“If you could do that, you wouldn’t be down here Duke!”
Cole chuckles to himself as he arrives at his own space. Outside, as usual, Diarmuid sits with his two spears and a small fire outside of his humble shack. “How fares the job hunt, sir MacGrath?”
“It’s going, D. It’s goin’.”
The Irish warrior chuckles lightheartedly and gestures to the rare spot of dry land. “Take a seat then, Cole. My fire has not much, but it is warm and I’ve a skin of water to share.”
Cole shrugs and nods. “Keep your water, D. I’ve got something for myself.” He walks into his apartment, opening the cooler that doubled as a coffee table to grab two beers. He walks out and pops the caps, handing one to Diarmuid and keeping another for himself.
“Any luck getting out of here on your end?”
Before the Fianna could respond, a black orb opens up in front of them and a small girl teleports in front of them. “Is this the residence of Cole MacGrath?” Parcel says, frowning as she lifts the tails of her jacket out of the sludge.
“Yeah, that’s me.” Cole responds, with Diarmuid’s typical grin twisting into a frown. The two men rise as Parcel holds out a thin piece of paper. He groans as he grabs it and reads, while Diarmuid looks at the small child before him with disbelief.
“Child, you were the one who got second in the Juuni Taisen yes?”
“Technically I tied, but yes.”
“‘Tis a shame, it was not a victory." Diarmuid says, his frown replaced once again with a mirthful grin. "I thank you for the mercy you gave to me towards its conclusion. The humiliation of my defeat was unbecoming, to say the least.”
“...Don’t mention it.” Parcel looks at Cole as he reads his newest battle notice. “The instructions are on there. Good luck.”
She disappears without a good-bye, leaving the two men alone. Diarmuid looks at his friend and leans on his spear. “So, what’s the news?”
“Oh you’ve gotta be kidding me. Another one.” Cole crumples the paper and walks into his apartment. When he reemerges, the Amp is slung across his back along with a small backpack.
“Another freaking royale. You’d think whoever organizes these things could actually be original…”
Cole chugs the rest of his beer, and sprints towards the nearest exit. Diarmuid waves at his friend and raises his own bottle.
Cfp watches over eight monitors from his office, sipping from a glass of water. His assistant walks into his office, handing him a stack of papers. “Here is the latest batch of housing reports.” Annabeth says, getting only a tense grunt in response.
“Really glad I could help, boss.”
The user just grunts in response. Realizing her presence, he finally looks up and puts them to the side. “I assume our newest welcomes have been given their entry test.”
“Now, that just leaves-”
As if planned, a small black orb opens and Parcel appears. “That was the last delivery.”
Cfp smiles, and gestures towards the door. “Thank you, go with my assistant and she’ll write up your payment.” The two girls start to leave, before Cfp raises his hand. “Quick question - is it bad? Like how bad is his place?”
Parcel gives a noncommittal shrug, and they leave. The user chuckles and looks back at the monitor. He pulls up a separate tab on his computer, where a timer is counting down with one minute left.
Annabeth walks in. “Who do you want rounding them up first?”
Cfp smiles as he watches the clock tick down, barely paying attention.
“Oh…” Cfp looks down at a spreadsheet, tracing his finger along its names. “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe.” He points at a name on the sheet. “I choose them.”
“How thorough of you.”
She leaves to draft the notices, leaving Cfp to watch the monitors alone.
Cole climbs out of a manhole, quickly checking over his shoulders before launching himself onto a nearby roof.
Kayneth leisurely strolls out of his apartment, a large silver blob trailing behind him.
Astolfo flies over the tall buildings, his lance in hand as the hippogriff scans for targets below.
Merrill exits the small shack where she lives with the rest of her friends, before burying herself in the earth and leaving a trail of dirt in her place.
Nightcrawler gets off the bus and looks around, swords at his side, before disappearing into a cloud of brimstone and smoke.
Kung Lao starts to bounce up and down in anticipation, before letting out an excited cry and sprinting towards a fight.
Nico di Angelo barely edges into frame from the shadows, his pale face and sunken eyes darting back and forth before slinking back out.
Psycho Mantis hovers in the air for a brief second, turning his head towards the various citizens traveling to and fro through DFederal.
Cfp leans back into his chair and puts his feet onto the desk.
“Let the games begin.”
Part I: Fuck You Kai Leng
As he climbs out of a manhole, a rejuvenated Kai Leng raises his head as the citywide speakers blare to life. The traumas of the last time he heard them flashes into his mind, causing him to shake his head in a mix of fear and anger. He stands still, crossing his arms in impatience, as a voice speaks out.
"Attention all patrons of DFederal; the following individuals have been declared Persona Non Grata. Any person found to have been willingly assisting them will be put on an official watch list and dealt with accordingly. Do not interfere. You have been warned."
Kai Leng gives a dismissive grunt as a list of names are read aloud. I have more important things to do..., he thinks as he approaches one of the borders between districts. Suddenly, a sharp pain pierces his mind. Bringing his hand to his temples, Kai Leng draws his sword.
"Who's there? Come out and I might let you live!"
Psycho Mantis floats down from above, his face an enigma beneath the gas mask he wore. The psychic tips his head to the side quizingly, and Kai Leng's pain increases even further.
"Now what have we here?" He purrs, his voice nearly indecipherable due to his mask and his thick Russian accent. "Looks like you were on the way to your own little fight."
The cyborg huddles down to his knees, before immediately stopping. He stands back up, his eyes peeled back and his mind gone.
"Why don't you come with me first?"
Slowing his sprint to a halt, Kung Lao looks around for any sign of his would-be opponents. It was cowardly, the way they would hide and burrow away instead of facing him in true combat.
"Is there no one here who would face me?"
A laser blast flying past his head answers his challenge. The crowds all disperse as Psycho Mantis and his thrall, a cyborg wielding a sword, appear before Kung Lao. The monk grunts in approval, and raises his fist in satisfaction. "Ah, finally! Prepare to face the might of the Shaolin, Psycho Mantis!"
The monk begins to walk forward, only for his opponent to levitate up and his minion to draw his blade. "Face me yourself, fool."
"Something tells me that would not be wise." The psychic replies, peering into his mind for something to use. "Besides, it would not be a challenge for the descendant of the Great Kung Lao to best us both, would it?"
Kung Lao grits his teeth, and beneath his mask Psycho Mantis grins. "Or perhaps you were the wrong one to send? Your cousin would make quick work of this pathetic boy."
Lao nods in determination, raising his hand as a challenge to Kai Leng. The cyborg raises his own palm, firing off another attack from his palm blaster. Kung Lao teleports forward, letting the projectile fly behind him and into a nearby wall before breaking into a dash.
Using the momentum of his burst of speed, Kung Lao tosses his razor-brimmed hat at Kai Leng. The ninja deflects with his sword, but overcommitts and the blade follows the hat as it spins to the side. Kung Lao breaks the distance and slams his fist into Kai Leng's jaw. The cyborg grunts in pain, blood and teeth falling out of his mouth, before a quick knee to the groin has him doubling over.
Kung Lao's hat reappears on his head, and he follows up by tossing it behind his foe as he rolls backwards. The cyborg's sword clumsily passes over where Kung Lao once was, and Kai Leng clumsily attempts to course correct. Holding the sword out in front of him, Kai Leng flashes a devious smile and prepares to attack again.
The hat boomerangs into Kai Leng's head, slashing across his neck and drawing more blood. The ninja doubles forward, only to receive a swift kick from Kung Lao. He falls backwards, stunned and bruised.
Seeing his opportunity, Kung Lao tosses his hat into the ground. The saw spins as Kung Lao grabs his fallen opponent by the legs. Kai Leng looks in fear and starts to scream in terror, resisting to no avail.
Kung Lao drags his victim through the hat, sawing Kai Leng in half right down the middle.
"Is that the best you have, Mantis?" Kung Lao says, raising the two halves of the cyborg in victory. The spy merely crosses his arm, and quickly raises his hands.
Two nearby trash cans levitate, and fling themselves at the monk. He easily knocks them aside with two kicks, before dashing forward. He tosses his hat, which Psycho Mantis stops with his telekinesis.
"Not that easy, pal." Kung Lao says, slamming his fist into Psycho Mantis' chest with a palm strike. Much to his shock, his hand passes right through. The image of Psycho Mantis looks down, and a laugh begins to echo as it disappears.
"You really thought it would be that easy against me, the Master of psychokinesis!"
Steel scrapes over concrete as Kai Leng's sword floats into the air. It quickly charges forward, piercing into the monk's back. Kung Lao gasps in shock and pain as the sword cleanly penetrates him. Psycho Mantis deactivates his octo camo, before pulling the blade out with his telekinesis. The floating blade quickly thrusts itself into the monk again, and he falls to his knees.
Psycho Mantis looks at his victim, a hint of disappointment in his voice. "I sense much shame, and anger in you. We may have worked well together, in another time." He shrugs, before causing the blade to slash across the monk's throat.
The soldier looks around, noticing the sound of police sirens beginning to approach. As the announcer states that Kung Lao has been eliminated, Psycho Mantis hears the whispers of another mind near him.
This one full of self-hatred and envy. A perfect choice. he thinks to himself, reactivating his camo and floats towards the city's inner layers.
Part II: I.C.E. Ruins Nico's Day
A young man emerges from the shadows of an alley, a black sword at his side. Nico di Angelo huffs in a breath of air, looking over his shoulder at the squad of police chasing him. He quickly thrusts out his hand, and the ground behind him splits apart as he shifts to create a gap. Several of the DFPD officers stop, only for one to vault over the chasm before it gets too large. He pulls out a gun, aiming it at Nico.
"This is Officer K of the DFPD! Nico di Angelo, you are to turn yourself in immediately."
Nico scoffs, turning the ring on his right hand. Suddenly, three skeletons begin to rise out of the ground. Two draw small short swords as the third levels its own flintlock pistol. K groans as he fires, putting one down as the other two converge on him.
The demigod looks around, but puts aside the idea of shadow travelling again. He probably didn't have the energy for it, and he was already lost anyway. I have to get away from these people. he thinks to himself, only for a piercing cry to break his train of thought.
From the sky, Astolfo flies down upon his hippogriff. He raises his lance at Nico, aiming for the boy's chest. Nico raises his sword and attempts to parry the thrust, only to be launched backward by its magic. As he flies backwards, he thanks the gods for such magical intervention as Astolfo's hippogriff slashes its claws where he just was.
"You use foul magic, child. I would stay my blade, but your crimes cannot be forgiven." Astolfo says, the hippogriff landing and prowling forward. Nico groans in exasperation, pointing the edge of his sword forward.
Nico opens up the ground beneath the hippogriff, causing it to flap its wings to regain footing. The demigod sprints forward, leaping off the ground and tackling Astolfo off of his mount. The paladin recoils as a feeling of despair briefly overtakes him just Nico brings his sword to Astolfo's throat. Noticing the ruffle of wings, Nico turns around and swings it in a horizontal arc. The blade cuts the hippogriff, who recoils back at its touch.
With his opponent momentarily distracted, Astolfo shoves the boy off of him and draws his sword. He takes a quick swing, which Nico barely parries in time. Astolfo pushes ahead, towering over Nico as he swings his sword over and over again. The boy put up a better fight than expected, as his own silver sword is blocked at every strike.
Seeing his chance, Nico deflects another wild swing from Astolfo and feints a swing to the left. As Astolfo lowers his blade to block, Nico sweeps his leg underneath Astolfo's. Nico thrusts into Astolfo's hip, barely penetrating the chainmail but sending the paladin backwards in instinct.
Suddenly a wall of mercury blocks the two apart, with Astolfo on one side and Nico on the other. "Who dares to interrupt our fight?" The paladin snarls, turning his sword to the new fighter.
"This is nothing. A barbarian and a child - little match for me." Kayneth taunts as he strolls forward. Astolfo's hippogriff soars over the barrier that Kayneth's mystic code erected, screeching as to protect its master.
"Well, I'll let you handle the supervillain. See you 'round." Nico says as he disappears into the shadows. Astolfo mounts his hippogriff to flee, but collides into an invisible barrier of magic.
"While you two were scuffling in the dirt, I employed a bounded field. You're not going anywhere, rider." Kayneth pushes his hand forward. "Scalp." Several tendrils of mercury fling forward. Astolfo and his hippogriff barely avoid them as they fly forward, Astolfo aiming his sword at Kayneth's heart. He quietly looks down at the tome in his lap, muttering an incantation in a desperate attempt to stop the magic before him.
"Fervor, mei sanguis."
The Mystic Code instantly recoils back towards Kayneth, before reforming into several spiked columns in front of him. Unable to slow down, Astolfo and the hippogriff slam into the barrier at full speed. Astolfo is thrown from his beast, and Kayneth smiles behind the barrier. "Scalp".
Tendrils of mercury fling themselves forward, slashing both the hippogriff and Astolfo into ribbons. "I can't believe you fell for that. Such a simple trap, Astolfo..." Kayneth muses, looking at the bleeding paladin on the ground.
"I have no use wasting my time on you." The magus continues, looking at a piece of black fabric that had been sliced from Nico's own shirt. "But, I must play by their rules. Such a shame." Kayneth says, his voice dripping with malicious sarcasm.
Part III: Nieder mit Dem Patriarchat
In a small hovel, Merrill bows her head in reverence at the woman before her. The white-haired women before her finishes her final touches, and presents her with a gift. "Thank you, Asha'Bellanar." Merrill breathlessly states as she humbly accepts a broken shard of glass.
"Do not fret, child. I have always helped the People.." Flemeth muses, turning her back to the elf. "When they remember to help me."
The witch mischievously raises her eyebrow, causing Merrill to gulp back her fear. Merrill gave her farewells, before departing the witch's hut. She looks into the miniature eluvian in her hand, where the blue-furred face of one of her opponents appears. Merrill looks up to see a faint blue arrow of mist rise from the ground.
"This is much more convenient than a string."
"Mein gott, this is bothersome."
In a cloud of brimstone and smoke, Nightcrawler appears out of thin air beside a cell tower. He wraps his tail around the structure, while his two feet cling to its side. Spinning himself around, he groans in frustration. Where is everyone?
A light thwip reaches his ears, and he unsheathes his sword to point it behind him. His guard raised, Nightcrawler turns around, only to let out a laugh and put the blade away.
"Now, is that anyway to greet me Blue?"
"Mister Parker! What a surprise to see you!" The two old friends shake hands as Kurt sheathes his sword. "I don't suppose you're here to help then?"
"Meh, I might be able to fit you in between my hectic schedule. I've got a knitting class that I have to get to, y'know."
Suddenly, a giant boulder slams between the two. Nightcrawler teleports to the ground, while Spider-Man leaps off the surface and lands beside him. Before them, Merrill twirls her staff and lets out another blast of magic. "Na abelas."
"Did you get that one?"
Nightcrawler shrugs, before drawing his sword. "Don't suppose you'd be willing to take time out of your very busy schedule?"
Spider-Man laughs as he assumes a fighting stance. "Oh, I think I could manage to squeeze you in. Besides, everyone gets one."
Nightcrawler disappears in a puff of smoke while Spider-Man launches himself forward, aiming a shot of webbing at Merrill. She lights the material on fire, before barely dodging a punch from Spider-Man. She casts a mind blast, sending him reeling, before turning around to block a sword swing from Nightcrawler.
"I don't suppose we could settle this amicably, mein fraulein?"
Merrill just grunts and shoves Nightcrawler away, manipulating the earth to shoot vines and thorns around her. He slashes at the foliage, before teleporting back to safety.
The two combatants and Spider-Man look at each other in a face off, waiting for one of the others to make a move. Suddenly a wall of mercury surrounds all three of them. A blond man in blue approaches, clearing his throat.
"You, trespasser. Who are you to interefere in our combat?"
Spider-Man innocently brings his hands to his chest. "Oh, just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. How can I help?"
"I am Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi, ninth-"
"Oh, so we're using our fake names. I'm Webhead McGee."
Nightcrawler leans on his sword in amusement. "Aye, and I am the Dread Pirate Bluetail. At your service, mein freund."
Merrill giggles at the jokes, causing Kayneth to yell in anger. "How dare you insult me! Do you have any idea who I am?"
"Did the jokes not give you a hint?" Nightcrawler retorts, showing off with his swords. He looks at Merrill, nodding almost imperceptibly at her. She looks between the two men, and shrugs. "Oh yes, that is a clever plan."
"Well, it's not since you said something about it."
Merrill launches two fireballs at Kayneth, who raises his Volumem Hydrargyrum in a solid shield. The two magical projectiles fizzle out against the metal, before Merrill launches a series of magical bolts from her staff.
"I hate it when we do this." Spider-Man complains as Nightcrawler appears behind him, before teleporting them both. The superheroes reappear above Kayneth, with Nightcrawler going back to the ground. Spider-Man shoots two webs into the ground and slings himself forward, smashing into Kayneth. He stumbles back, before his Mystic Code lashes out at Spider-Man in defense. The vigilante flips over some attacks, before Kurt teleports both of them to safety.
"You dare to strike me? I didn't become part of this ridiculous fight just to end up beating a child in spandex!"
"Yeah, well fighting a grown up Draco Malfoy wasn't how I wanted to spend my afternoon either." Spider-Man launches several webs at Kayneth, where the Volume Hydrargyrum blocks the attacks. "We need to get rid of that thing."
"I can take care of that." Merrill says, dispelling the magic. Kayneth watches in surprise as his Mystic Code temporarily collapses into a puddle, only to look up to see two fists swinging for him. Nightcrawler and Spider-Man both lay into Kayneth with a flurry of kicks and punches, who collapses under the attack.
Nightcrawler and Spider-Man look up to see a ma aiming a pistol at them. Nightcrawler teleports his allies away from the scene, leaving only Kayneth to deal with the officer.
"By authority of the DFPD, I have been hired to bring you in."
Kayneth sluggishly rises as his Mystic Code returns, lashing out with his back still turned to the officer. "Do you think I would even think to hand myself in? How dare you! Scalp!"
The tendrils lash out, launching themselves at the officer. Kayneth smiles smugly, only to whimper in despair as he hears a familiar voice. "Time Alter, Doubel Accel."
Kiritsugu flips over each tentacle, before shooting his Thompson Contender. Reacting on instinct, Kayneth raises the Hydrargyrum's defenses. Realizing it one second too late, Kayneth remembers the power of the gun and screams as it tears through his stomach.
Collapsing into a pile of blood and mercury, Kayneth falls down with broken breathes. Kiritsugu effortlessly reloads the Contender before looking at the still-breathing Kayneth. He wordlessly fires the pistol into Kayneth's face, killing him again.
Nightcrawler, Merrill, and Spider-Man all reemerge from the fight, taking shelter in what appeared to be an abandoned restaurant. The three all cautiously look at each other, unsure what to do next. Nightcrawler breaks the silence, attempting to strike a casual pose.
"Merrill is your name, right? That's what the paper said."
Merrill nods. "And you're Nightcrawler? Under other circumstances, I'd like to meet you. But..."
Nightcrawler wraps his tail around Merrill's staff and yanks it away. "Let's not be too hasty about this. We've got, what, three others to worry about?"
The elf mulls it over, before nodding and lowering her hands. "I don't see why not. Besides, we don't have to kill each other. It'll be nice to make some friends in the city."
Smiling in spite of himself, Nightcrawler offers his hand to Merrill. "I believe that makes us allies, Merrill."
Spider-Man smirks and walks towards the door. "You two kids have fun. Don't stay out too late."
"You're not going to help, Peter?"
"'Fraid not. I don't like playing cosmic puppet as much as the next guy, but these guys are dangerous. Even Cap and Tony don't try to mess with 'em."
The thought of that makes Kurt shudder. "In that case, auf wiedershen."
Left alone, Nightcrawler decides to take first watch as night begins to fall. Merrill cautiously places magical barriers around her, before drifting off to sleep.
Part IV: Bring Me the Boy and Wipe Away the Debt
Cole wandered around the edges of the Blue Collar, easily hiding himself in the nightlife crowd as people returned home from work or took to the streets. He'd been in enough matches for everyone to have an idea of what he could do, so they all turned their eyes as if none the wiser. It was a welcome change of pace from New Marais or Empire City, even if it meant living in a sewer.
"Spare change, sir?"
Cole looks down to see a young man, no more than sixteen or seventeen, raising a cup in hand. "Please, anything can help." Gaara said, his eyes pleading with the Conduit. Cole rolls his eye, but fishes out a couple coins and tosses them in.
The Conduit kept walking, before finally finding what he was looking for; Jordi's Place. He walks inside, and breathes in the electricity as the numerous cameras, television screens, and various other electrical appliances hummed in his presence.
"You really know how to make an entrance, pal."
Cole turns to see the store's owner, Jordi Chin, standing in the shadows. His white suit did little to hide the criminal's mischievous air, with a crooked smile that didn't reach his eyes and a head of shaggy black hair.
"What can I say, Jordi? How's the school been?"
"Meh, it's here and there. But that's not why you're here."
Cole shakes his head, and Jordi pulls out a cellphone. He hands it to Cole, who shoves it in his pocket. "You'll owe me for this one, Sparky. I had to pull a couple strings to get that made."
"How does it work?"
"That phone is tapped into the entire district's surveillance system. And no, I don't know how it works. Point is, those cameras are now trained on each of the fighters you're up against. If they get out of range, another camera finds 'em."
"Got it, Jordi. How did you even get this?"
"I know a guy." Jordi says, putting his back to Cole. "And now, I know you to. Remember that."
Cole walks outside of the store, swiping through the feeds. A headache begins to form, and he rubs his temple in frustration. He spots the youngest one, Nico, and a pang of guilt entered his mind. Shame about this kid. Maybe if I keep an eye on him, I can still get him second...
His mind made up, Cole puts the phone away and begins walking towards Nico.
Nightcrawler is awoken with a start, swinging his tail in a defensive manner. Merrill catches it, and he teleports out of her grasp.
"It's okay, Kurt. It's just me."
Blinking his eyes, he observes his new companion. Merrill had her staff loosely in her hand, and a shard of glass in her other. He finally noticed the sound that had awoken her; police sirens.
"Gott in Heimel."
"Oh, I've never heard that before. What language is that? I've only ever heard the common-"
Nightcrawler grabs her hand, smiling and looking in her eye. "Merrill, we need to leave. Are you ready?"
The two disappear in a cloud of brimstone, reappearing on the roof. Merrill takes a deep breath, unused to the nature of Nightcrawler's teleportation, and rubs her head in pain. She looks at her eluvian, which shows the face of the masked man, Psycho Mantis.
"Can I see that?" Nightcrawler asked, and Merrill handed him the mirror. Rapidly, Psycho Mantis' face shifted to the boy's. A black mist rises from the ground and heads into the city; away from the police sirens.
"Can you see the arrows, Kurt?"
He nods, and the two begin to follow it.
That couldn't have gone better.
Psycho Mantis smiles beneath his mask from the balcony of an apartment. The owner had been incredibly nice - once he was convinced to be, that is - to let Mantis stay. Even if his religious rambling made for an annoying experience, Azrael had been easy to subdue with his broken mind.
Stopping his musing on the subject, Psycho Mantis watches as Nico di Angelo scrounges through a meal. The boy's angst and fear was practically a beacon for Psycho Mantis. From a peek into his mind, he'd also make an ideal target to take out sooner rather than later.
Locating the others wasn't hard once he knew what to look for. Holding the police back just long enough to get the duo moving; subtly putting it in Cole and Nightcrawler's minds to target Nico next; and none of them the wiser for it. He simply had to wait for someone to get there, and he could get them all to kill each other.
The girl will have to be eliminated first. She had resisted his telepathic suggestion with surprising ease, but he could feel the cracks were there. He would have to wait until everyone was together first, but until then all he could do was wait.
Nico glances over his shoulders as he takes the last sip of a can of soda. He could swear he felt eyes in the back of his head, but he put it aside. Rubbing his ring in spite of himself, Nico finished his meal and reached for plastic water bottle he had stolen. He uses his sword to poke a hole in it, pouring it out in a slow but steady stream. After several minutes of shoving it in various corners and nooks, Nico finally angles it correctly with the morning sun. A small rainbow forms, but just large enough to work.
"Oh Iris, goddess of the rainbow, accept my offering." Nico tosses in a gold drachma into the rainbow. "Percy Jackson."
In the mist, a boy with black hair appears in the Iris message, sleeping. Nico rolls his eyes, before speaking loudly "Percy! Get up!"
With a start, the demigod rolls up and looks in shock at Nico. He hastily covers his chest with his blanket. "Nico, it's like seven in the morning. What are you-"
"There's no time to explain. Where are you?"
Before Nico can answer, he hears a faint pop in the air. He instinctively turns, his sword drawn, as Nightcrawler and Merrill teleport behind him. He begins to rise, and looks quickly over his shoulder. A man jumps off from a rooftop and crashes through the Iris message, dissipating it apart. Cole instinctively launches a bolt of lightning at the duo, who teleport out of the way.
"Get behind me kid. We'll get you out of here."
Part V: We Have A Mexican Showdown
The four warriors face each other down, waiting for one of them to make a move. Nico acts first, raising multiple skeletons out of the earth. Their grey and white hands claw at the surface as they rise, and the first stumbles out with a dagger in hand. It lunges at Nightcrawler, who easily swats the attack aside and slashes at it with his sword. The skeleton collapses in half, still rattling its teeth.
Merrill quickly dispels the remaining skeletons, who stop growing as Nico's magic is halted. He yelps in surprise, giving Merrill a chance to launch a bolt of spirit magic at him. Cole leaps in front of Nico and raises an electric shield. The bolt dissipates in the field, and Nico launches a crescent shape blade of shadow at Merrill. She surrounds herself in stone, and the shadow breaks away upon contact.
"I don't need your help, old man."
Cole grabs Nico by the collar, and creates a pillar of ice beneath their feet. He leaps into the air, bringing Nico with him, and tosses a shock grenade behind him. Nightcrawler grabs Merrill and teleports them both above their quarry, tackling Cole and sending all four onto a nearby roof. Merrill is the first up, steadying herself with her staff. A splitting pain hits her head, causing her to scream in pain and lean onto the ground.
Nico stands up next, slamming his foot into the ground and causing several black shards to rise from the ground. He hesitates for the briefest moment, and a raspy voice enters his mind. "Strike her down. Finish this."
Psycho Mantis floats up to the roof, followed by a knight in red armor. He reaches out again, sending Merrill to the ground and trying to take over Nico's mind. The boy grabs his head and screams as he and his rocks fall down. "Interesting..."
The psychopath forces his control over Nico, only for the demigod to rise and launch the stones at Mantis. "You dare to resist me?!" He yells, halting the stones inches from himself. The two stand off as the others slowly rise, realizing their threat. Cole and Nightcrawler nod at each other, and attack Mantis as one. Azrael steps in the way, swinging his wrist blade at Cole while launching a blast of flame at Nightcrawler.
Cole narrowly dodges the blade as Nightcrawler teleports away, before grabbing the Amp off of his back and swinging it at Azrael. The weapon slams into Azrael's face, sending him recoiling back. Cole follows up with several bolts of lighting, frying the vigilante. As he struggles to stand, Nightcrawler teleports above him and slams down with a kick to the face, knocking Azrael out.
Merrill rises up and summons several pillars of ice to rise in front of her, forcing Psycho Mantis back. The four warriors face down Psycho Mantis, who stands alone. He growls in anger, before floating up and away from them. "If you won't fight each other for me, I will kill you all myself!" He gestures at Azrael, who's collapsed body rises against its will. The sleeping man draws a fiery sword, while Psycho Mantis heads towards the roof's edge.
Interrupting them, the blare of a siren stops all five warriors in their tracks.
"This is a Category 5 threat. All residents return to your homes - conflict is likely to occur."
The combatants see an army in the street below them. A hodgepodge of soldiers wielding an equally unique arsenal of weapons stands at casual attention. One steps forward, an alien that shocked all of them. His blue armor stood out among the various others, as did his facial scars and the hefty hand cannon of a pistol by his side. "I am Lieutenant Garrus Vakarian of the DFPD! You will surrender, or face the consequences."
Unsure what to do, Merrill, Cole, Nighcrawler, and Nico all look at each other in concern. They all knew they didn't have to kill each other, after all. A chilling laughter broke the silence, as Psycho Mantis floats down in front of the army. "You have amazing timing, commander."
"I don't do this for you, Mantis. Now show me your-"
Garrus' voice goes silent, as he and the army before them lower their weapons. Psycho Mantis' laugh pierces into the four others' souls as he forces his way into their mind. The ground shakes as the army, once collected to finally round up the fugitives, marshalls under Psycho Mantis' control. Garrus himself aims his pistol at the roof, silent.
"You are all nothing before me! I will kill you, and then take this whole city for myself!"
Cole looks at the others, before creating an arc of lightning in his hand. "Yeah, not gonna happen."
Part VI: Co-Op Mode Unlocked
The Conduit leaps into action, flinging himself into the air on a pillar of ice before slamming into the ground with a Thunder Drop. He launches several of the soldiers back, before they start to open fire on Cole. He quickly raises an electric shield to absorb the projectiles. He glances up at the others. "A little help would be great."
To answer his call, Nico groans with effort and raises his hands into the air. Waves of skeletons rise out of the ground, charging to attack the army before them. As a row of bullets and lasers try to cut them down, more break through and reduce the fight to a brutal melee.
Nightcrawler teleports Merrill and Nico to Cole's side, before drawing his swords. A bullet whizzes by his head, causing all four to duck. The four look up to see a sniper on the rooftop, preparing to fire again. Nightcrawler teleports up to greet him, swinging his swords down. Deadshot abandons his rifle as he tumbles out of the way, opening fire with his wrist guns. The mutant teleports out of the way, behind the mercenary, only to receive an elbow to the gut.
"You're not the first freak with teleporting I've taken down, punk."
Deadshot turns and lets out another burst of gunfire at Nightcrawler, who barely dodges it. Suddenly, two small hands grab Deadshot's foot. "What the hell..." A bamf cackles wildly at him as it teleports them both into the air. Deadshot freefalls towards the ground, where Nightcrawler quickly teleports above with his sword aimed at Deadshot's chest.
Back on the ground, Nico summons more waves of skeletons as Cole and Merrill take down rows of cops. Cole ducks under one wielding a laser sword before slamming the Amp into her gut. She convulses and launches backward, knocked out, while one of her comrades swings a chainsaw bayonet at the distracted Conduit. He rolls out of the wave as Merril traps the soldier in a telekinetic prison, crushing him with magic.
She then focuses on a crowd of reinforcements, and dips into her blood magic. The army of soldiers collapse onto their knees, wretching blood and falling into heaps. She summons a storm of fireballs above them, burning all that managed to survive the onslaught. Nico looks in shock at the mage, who innocently shrugs before continuing to fight.
Psycho Mantis growls in frustration as his new minions crumple like paper. He reaches out to Azrael, who leaps down from the roof and swings his fiery sword at Cole. The Conduit blocks with the Amp, launching him back with a shockwave. Mantis reaches out, looking for any mind weak enough to swing to his side.
Cole raises a shield, just as Nightcrawler teleports beside him with Deadshot. Nightcrawler slams the hilt of his sword into Deadshot's face, breaking the helmet and knocking him unconscious. Azrael approaches Cole and Nightcrawler, Garrus by his side.
"Blue, you want the pyro or the super cop?"
Nightcrawler looks the two over, before raising his sword at Azrael. "I'll take that one." He teleports forward, swinging his swords at Azrael, as Cole launches a lightning bolt at Garrus. The Turian rolls to the side, firing three shots right at Cole's torso. Cole leaps up and hovers in the air to avoid them, before launching a rocket at Garrus. He leaps back, caught in the explosion, and gets flung into a car. He weakly stands, before Cole tackles him down and locks him into place with a lightning arc.
As the skeletons leave the rest of DFederal's finest beaten, they start to surround Psycho Mantis. Nico stands among them, his sword drawn, as Psycho Mantis floats with his arms crossed. "I'm ending this, Mantis." The ex-soldier just laughed, uncrossing his arms and launching another telepathic attack at Nico. The demigod shakes his head, looking up to see his skeletons replaced with clones of Psycho Mantis.
"You're outnumbered, boy."
Nico gulps back his fear, unintentionally radiating in a deathly feeling of terror. Psycho Mantis recoils on instinct, and his illusion temporarily slips to reveal the skeletons silently awaiting Nico's command. The demigod grits his teeth, and the illusion shatters completely. As he prepares to give the final order, the ground shakes beneath them with a sickening thud.
Nightcrawler parries a final stab from Azrael and trips him with his tail, plunging his blades into the warrior's shoulders to pin him down. "Tell me that's you, mein freund?"
The demigod shakes his head, a shadow plunging the morning street into darkness. They all look up to see a large lizard bearing down upon them, quaking in legitimate terror as Godzilla roars at them.
Cole groans as he claps his hands together and stretches. "He's got a kaiju. Because of course he does."
Psycho Mantis floats up to its shoulder as it leans down to make room for him, smirking underneath his mask.
Part VII: The Boss Battle
Nightcrawler grabs Nico and teleports him to the roof as Cole and Merrill unleash a barrage of attacks at the kaiju. She blasts lightning, fire, spirit magic, ice, and whatever spells she has at her disposal as Cole begins to glow with a purple aura. Nico's army of skeletons charge at Godzilla, only for to get stomped under foot with each step it takes.
"I'm getting tired Cole. Hurry up!"
Finishing up gathering ionic energy, Cole flings his arms out as a crack of lightning pierces the battlefield. A gigantic bolt of electricity emerges from the sky, slamming into Godzilla. Everyone briefly covers their eyes as Godzilla absorbs the impact of Cole's Ionic Storm, pure white light erupting from the explosion. As the smoke settles and they readjust, Godzilla stands only slightly weak and glowing blue. It opens its maw, and an orb of blue energy begins to form.
"That can't be good."
Cole launches an electric tether to a nearby rooftop as Nightcrawler teleports Merrill to safety, narrowly getting out of range of Godzilla's attack. The kaiju unleashes its' atomic breath at full power, reducing the street of DFederal into cinders and burning the broken skeletons and dead cops into ash. Windows shatter, cars explode, and the sewage pipes explode beneath the ground into piles of steam. One such pipe launches a homeless child into the air, incinerating him in an instant.
The four warriors look at the devastation unleashed in total awe as Godzilla gathers its strength. It lets out a victorious roar, much to Psycho Mantis' frustration. "Attack them, you dumb beast!"
Godzilla swings a claw down, and the four barely dodge it in time as Nightcrawler teleports them away. "Can we do anything to stop that?"
Cole shakes his head, weakly launching a couple more lightning bolts. "I just hit it with the biggest lightning blast in the history of lightning, and that damn lizard is still kicking!" Nico raises his hand, knuckles pale in determination.
"I've got something. Cole, Merrill, we need a distraction."
The two oblige, launching blasts of magic and energy at the kaiju. Psycho Mantis lets out a laugh as Godzilla shrugs the attacks off and slams its tail into the building. Cole launches himself off of a pillar of ice to flee while Merrill burrows her way underground, both fleeing to safety.
"You have nothing! Absolutely nothing!"
Psycho Mantis feels a hand on his shoulder, and turns around to see Nico plunging his sword into Godzilla's skin for a handhold. Nightcrawler teleports away, leaving the two alone. Psycho Mantis chuckles as he observes the child. "Do you really think that blade will be enough to slay me and my masterful control of this beast!"
Nico wordlessly lifts his hand, and magical energy pours out of him. Psycho Mantis' laughing quickly recedes as he feels himself floating down. Looking over his body, Mantis screams in terror at his pale, intangible body floats towards the ground. Nico, visibly exhausted, speaks with a frighteningly low voice. "I, son of Hades, banish you to the Underworld."
Psycho Mantis' screams echo as the earth splits open and the wailing of the souls of the damn penetrate the air. Mantis' voice soon joins them as he floats into the crack, and it closes with a resounding, final thud.
(Cut the music please.)
Part VIII: Heroes Unite
Nico closes his eyes and collapses, falling off of Godzilla. Nightcrawler quickly teleports them both to the ground, laying the boy on the ground. As Merrill and Cole walk over to them, , Kurt puts a finger to Nico's pulse. The three surround the young boy, who lays silent. "He's alive, but barely."
Cole turns as loud steps interrupt them. As Godzilla wanders off, no longer under Psycho Mantis' control, Garrus limps over to them. He holsters his pistol and puts his hand up in surrender. He calmly walks over to the trio, placing a pair of hand-cuffs on the dying Nico's wrists. "And then there were three."
The Turian grabs Nico's body and places him gently in his cruiser. Garrus crosses his arms and looks at the remaining three. Cole breaks the silence first. "Is he gonna be okay?"
"By my calculations, he'll probably die." Garrus explains. "We could get him in a car and drive him to a nearby healer's to stop the damage. The guild can surely cough up someone that can fix him."
"Why don't you do that then?"
Garrus awkwardly starts to back away. "If it were up to me I would. But we've all got strict orders from up top. I can't let you out of my sight until someone..." Garrus trails off, and the three remaining combatants grimly wait for the answer they all know is coming.
Silence hangs in the air, no one sure what to do. Garrus silently gets into the driver's seat of his car, giving the three the space they need. He bitterly slams his fist into the dash, cursing the users who ran these stupid games.
Merrill draws her staff and assumes a fighting stance. She sends a small bolt of spirit magic at Nightcrawler, more as a courtesy than anything else. Cole and Kurt leap back in surprise as Merrill prepares another spell. She summons pillars of ice in front of her, clearing out the space for a final fight.
"Mythal'enaste. I hate to do this." She mutters, throwing a fireball at Cole. He launches himself on a pillar of ice before chucking lightning bolts at Merrill. She counters with lightning of her own, stopping the blast in its tracks, and follows up with tossing a large boulder at Cole. He dodges, and Merrill turns to see Nightcrawler teleport in front of her.
"Don't hold back, eh fraulin?" He says with a smile as he grabs her staff with his tale, kicking and using her as a springboard to flip to safety. She briefly stumbles before throwing a blast of icy magic at Nightcrawler. "I won't lethallin!" The spell collides into Nightcrawler, who briefly freezes in place before he can teleport to safety.
Merrill turns as Cole launches several ice crystals at her, hastily throwing up a barrier in defense. He launches a rocket at her as well as several cluster grenades, trapping her in a field of electricity. She burrows under the ground and escapes the cage, only to be hit by a single, precise bolt of electricity. Merrill gasps in pain as Cole follows up with a stream of quick bolts, each sending her back in pain.
Nightcrawler teleports behind her and sweeps her off her feet, and she lands with a thud. He wraps his tail around her leg and teleports her over to Cole. She casts a telekinetic blast from her mind, sending both men recoiling as she stands up again. Merrill summons a forest of earthy roots and vines from her feet, trapping Cole in place. Nightcrawler jumps and lunges forward.
"Not this time, Merrill!" He easily jumps and dodges around the vines attempting to catch him, before tackling Merrill to the ground. Nightcrawler grabs her by the shoulders, and begins a series of teleports around the area. He kicks, punches, and throws Merrill, never relenting as he exhausts her. Merrill barely sees the mutant in the haze of purple smoke, and the effects of interdimensional travel rip her apart.
Kurt lands with a final push to send Merrill in front of the now-free Cole, and she collapses at his feet. The Conduit creates an arc around her hands and feet, trapping her in place. Between ragged breathes, Merrill pouts at a grinning Nightcrawler. "No fair, I got tired."
Cole and Kurt laugh in spite of themselves, before awkwardly looking at each other. Nightcrawler assumes a fighting stance as Cole draws the Amp. "Best man wins, Blue." He throws his hand out, launching a shockwave at Kurt. The mutant teleports to safety, desperately looking for a weapon. He quickly retrieves his swords and attacks Cole, who raises the Amp in defense.
Nightcrawler teleports behind him, slashing at Cole's legs. The Conduit winces as the blade stings against his ankle, launching himself to safety on a pillar of ice. Nightcrawler pursues, slamming his fist into Cole's stomach mid-air. He lets out a grunt as he slams into a wall, while Nightcrawler teleports to give him a chance to breathe.
"Stay down, Sparky."
Cole looks around, grabbing a nearby lamppost. "I can do this all day Blue."
He drains the electricity from the utility, restoring his energy and healing the various cuts and burns he'd earned through the day. Nightcrawler lets out a grunt, both impressed and annoyed, as Cole charges forward with a stream of lightning blasts. The mutant barely dodges them with a quick teleport before Cole is on him again, swinging the Amp. This time Kurt plays defense as he deflects the weapon, only to heave as Cole tosses a shock grenade at his feet.
In the blast, Nightcrawler is flung backwards. He groans, only to feel a foot firmly plant itself on his chest. He looks at Cole, who shoves the Amp around Kurt's neck. "I think this means I win this one, Kurt." The mutant laughs, raising his hands in mock surrender. His tail whips forward, only for Cole to catch it in his grip. Cole sends a volt through it, shocking Kurt once again.
A horn blares as soon as Nightcrawler says this, signalling the end of the fight. The screeching of tires follows immediately, as Garrus' cruiser blares its own siren and he blasts off to the nearest hospital. Cole looks at Nightcrawler and offers his hand, bringing the mutant up to his feet.
"Welcome to the city, pal."
Cfp watches from his laptop as Kurt's screen goes black, and Cole's is the only one still lit. Annabeth strolls into his office, chucking an empty coffee to-go cup at his head. "You never told me Nico was one of them!" She draws her knife and shoves it in his face. The user barely bats an eye as he deactivates the computer.
"Can you draft the new housing notices? I'll contact housing to create space for the new arrivals, but I need you to write up the moving notices for Astolfo and Kayneth."
Annabeth screams in anger and tries to shove it closer, only for a strange force to hold her in place. Cfp's hand is slightly raised, and his casual frown slips cracks into a firm scowl of anger. Even beneath the domino mask, she could feel his eyes glaring at her.
"Please don't make me ask again, Mrs. Chase."
She reluctantly sheathes her knife and leaves the office, throwing Cfp the finger on the way out. He wordlessly grabs his cell phone, placing a call. "Governor, it's been done. I've done my part, and your boy is out of the sewers. God bless the U.S. of A."
In his new house in the Slums district, Cole plops down on the couch and cracks open a bottle of beer. As he pulls the recliner and turns on his television, a door bell interrupts his moment of peace. Groaning, he stands up and walks to the door. Opening it, he allows himself a smile as Diarmuid, Merrill, Nightcrawler, and Nico all let themselves in.
"Congratulations lethallin!" Merrill says as she hugs Cole, and the rest walk in. Nightcrawler and Diarmuid reveal a large cask between them, setting it down on a table. The small group barely fit in Cole's apartment, but they paid little mind as they sat around the table.
"This is beer from one of the finest breweries in Germany." Kurt says, tapping the keg and handing Cole a mug. Diarmuid raises his own in victory. "Hear hear, to the man who got out of the sewer!"
Cole laughs as they salute. "It ain't much, but it sure smells better." He turns to his former opponents. "I'm a little bit jealous. I won, but how is it you all got into better houses than me?"
Before anyone can answer, the doorbell rings again. Seeing the surprise on their faces, Cole stands up and approaches the door. He opens it, to see a young man in a maroon shirt and yellow domino mask.
"Who the hell are you?"
Cfp waves to the others before answering. "There's no need to worry about that. I'm just here on behalf of your country, to thank you for your service."
At that, Merrill pipes up in the back. "That reminds me, Mister...what's your name again? Anyway, I was just wondering how I happen to be from "The United Kingdom"? I've never even heard of that country in Thedas, and I-"
The user quietly groans, gesturing for Cole to come with him outside. The Conduit obliges, closing the door behind him. Cfp laughs as he runs a hand through his black and grey hair. "I'm thankful you didn't end up friends with Kayneth. If I have to explain that nonsense one more time..."
Cole coughs, and crosses his arm. Cfp realizes he's blabbering and quickly straightens himself out. "Anyway, I'm here for two reasons. The first is simple; I'm aware you're currently unemployed. I've got two choices for you."
With two pieces of paper, Cole reads them over as Cfp continues. "The first is simple - Ice-T Puppy Incorporated uses a rotating security staff of group warriors. However, after some recent debacles, I've decided to offer you one of our permanent positions as my private security. You'd answer directly to myself, my assistant Annabeth, or my company's head of security Clint Barton. Ask Nico or Kurt about either of them; they'll vouch for their character."
"And the second?"
"Yes...that one's a bit weirder. I had to pull some strings, but co-king Beast has expressed a willingess to let you help with a pet project of his. You'd have to ask him personally for it though - he won't even tell me what it's about." Cfp pulls out a photo of a man in all white. "He said contact this guy if you're interested."
Cole lights up, shaking the user's hand. "Gee, thanks for the boost. I really needed this." Cfp smirks and begins to walk away. "Don't thank me yet- I didn't say the second thing yet."
Cole watches in confusion as Cfp snaps his fingers, as a parade of people come out onto the street. A band begins to play America the Beautiful, while several men in red fire bazookas into the air as fireworks. The crowd starts to chant as Cole and the others watch in wonder.
"USA! USA! USA!"
Cfp laughs to himself and watches the chaos unfold. "Once again, Cole - congratulations. You've made it."
For full explanation, see the rankings.
- 8th Place: China, Kung Lao, 9 points
Kung Lao's ferocity as a fighter was matched only by his overconfidence and his lacking in options outside of his fists. In a normal fight that may have been suffice, but in the situation presented Kung Lao ended up biting off far more than he could chew.
- 7th Place: France, Astolfo, 19 points
Astolfo's magical items and his hippogriff mount ensured that he would present a strong fight against any of the warriors he ended up competing with, but he lacks guile and suffers from Kung Lao's problem of actively seeking out fights. His weapons weren't enough to serve as an overwhelming strength for that to be an adequate strategy, and he falls next because of it.
- 6th Place: Japan, Kayneth Archibald, 26 points
Kayneth's mystic code had the potential to be one of the single most powerful forces in this battle, but he was the worst warrior to wield it. His arrogance led him into situations where he underestimated a cast of warriors he really shouldn't have, resulting in him falling victim to himself more than anything else.
- 5th Place: Russia, Psycho Mantis, 38 points
Psycho Mantis is in the right place, but frankly there was a concern that his abilities would be overestimated. Mantis' powers are most effective when he gets the chance to play a long-term game and take control of the situation, but without the ability to do so Mantis didn't have the power to win.
- 4th Place: Italy, Nico di Angelo, 46 points
Nico is much more impressive on paper than in practice, considering the considerable restraint his powers place on him and, in turn, he places on himself. He's in the top tier because he can defend himself against threats and won't get drawn into fights he can't survive, but this is the point where surviving isn't enough and he has to actually try to win.
- 3rd Place: United Kingdom, Merrill, 52 points
Merrill may have been underestimated in this match. She has the most versatile power set of anybody involved in this match, and she's got the power to back that versatility up. The only flaw she's got in her camp is her lack of proper mobility powers or healing capabilities, making her a glass cannon that the others could exploit.
- 2nd Place: Germany, Nightcrawler, 61 points
Nightcrawler earns the runner-up position not in spite of his lackluster powers but because of them. Nightcrawler was simply the hardest person to actually hit, allowing him to fight against any of the other combatants and emerge unscathed until the final fight. However, by this point, his lack of any offensive options besides his own fists made him unable to secure the win.
- 1st Place, United States of America, Cole MacGrath, 69 points
Cole MacGrath won World War Royale, thanks in part to the raw power and the options he did have at his disposal. In terms of pound for pound power, Cole's electrokinesis was unrivaled, and was further bolstered by his ability to draw on the city as his entire battery. He could compete with the more mobile warriors thanks to his grab-bag of mobility based powers, while he had the perfect personality to ensure he could make and break alliances on a whim. Cole ultimately proved to be the strongest, the fastest, and the deadliest warrior.
Battle vs. Jesse Faden (by BeastMan14)
The New Marais militiaman gave a grunt of pain as a bolt of lighting slammed him into a wall, his gun clattering out of his hands as he hit the ground. Through pain, he watched as one of their trucks was lifted off the ground and tossed directly into a crowd of his men, the ensuing explosion sending them flying, though one managed to stagger his feet and raise his gun at a figure stepping through the carnage. Before he could fire, the figure pulled a metal tuning fork from his pack and lunged, knocking him out cold with a well-placed hit.
As the apparent last of the Militia ambush fell, Cole paused to catch his breath. He wasn’t breaking a sweat on these guys, but they were still a pain in the ass to deal with when you were just trying to get across the city. A bullet streaking by his head took him out of his moment and relaxation, and he turned to see the last Milita member had gone for his gun. Cole blasted him with another bolt, knocking him out cold, then snapped, “Stay down this time, asshole.” Giving a cursory glance to make sure no civilians were injured, he went to climb back to the rooftops when the entire city shook.
Cole staggered, cursing as the quake subsided as quickly as it had come. His radio went off and the distinct drawl of Zeke yelled out, “Cole! Cole, you feel that? Jesus, haven’t felt that since the time we stole that sports car with the weird suspension.”
Cole chuckled, then responded, “Yeah, I’m good man. Just glad to see that wasn’t just me wrecking the city for once. Since when does New Marais get earthquakes?”
“Well, that’s the interesting part, man. Me and Kuo did some digging and we mighta found somethin’. Something that could help ya take down the Beast.”
Cole perked up at the mention of the Beast, then replied, “Alright man, I’m on my way. This better be good.”
“10-4. See ya in a few.”
With that final exchange, Cole leapt for one of the nearby buildings, then pulled himself up to the roof before taking off in a sprint, leaping from rooftop to rooftop as he headed to the rendezvous point.
Jesse shed her gold jacket and slung it over the medical room chair, smiling sadly as she looked at Dylan, eyes closed peacefully, the only sound in the room the quiet beeping of his life support. She slouched in her chair, trying to ignore the feeling of exhaustion as she sat down for the first time in two days. She hadn’t heard from the Board since all the stuff with Marshall and Former deep within the Foundation, but that was fine with her. She needed a break from the cryptic lectures anyway. For the moment, she was just going to sit in the silence.
And talk to Dylan.
Polaris’s voice rang in the back of her head, and she nodded and replied, “Per usual.”
She wasn’t sure why she visited Dylan, who had become a cruel parody of himself thanks to the Bureau and this Hiss, but maybe he’d be better once he woke up. Assuming he did wake up, anyway. Maybe it was because she liked having to speak to someone who didn’t put her in a position of authority, or maybe it was just because he was the last piece of her old life that hadn’t been destroyed by extradimensional horrors.
She leaned forward, starting to talk, when a polite, if nervous, “ahem” caught her attention. Suppressing a groan, she turned to see Emily Pope standing in the doorway, holding a file with a look of urgency. She smiled and waved, and Jesse stood up from the chair and grabbed her jacket.
“Emily, what’s up?”
“Director Faden, I am really sorry to bother you when you’re with…him, but this is incredibly urgent.”
Jesse nodded, her small smile replaced with a look of grim understanding, then said, “Alright then, Emily, explain away. And, please, just call me Jesse.”
Emily nodded, then replied, “Okay, Dir-Jesse. It appears we have a new Object of Power incident.”
Jesse shrugged, then said, “Another escape? Surely Langston’s people understand that we need to actually lock the doors on them, right?”
Emily laughed in spite of herself, earning an amused grin from Jesse, then quickly attempted to take a serious expression again before continuing, “Well, Jesse, this isn’t, um, a Bureau incident. We detected the readings in the city of New Marais.”
The implications hit Jesse immediately. She’d finally get a chance out in the field, away from the Oldest House? She took Emily by the shoulders, any previous amusement gone, then ordered, “Take me to Investigations, I need to see the readings.”
Emily curtly turned and gestured for Jesse to follow, and she gave one last look at Dylan, still lying silently, before following.
“So, what is this thing, exactly?”
Jesse followed closely behind Emily as she led her through the Investigations Sector. Much of the damage of the Hiss Incursion and her own fight with the Hartman creature had been repaired, though it was easier said than done, given the scale of the invasion and Jesse’s own powerset. Regardless, the Bureau had managed to get operations running smoothly, with no major incidents to speak of. Until now, anyway.
They stopped in the control room, where countless technicians worked at their desks and a giant map of the country hung above them on an enormous monitor, a small area in Louisiana lit up a Christmas tree. Jesse looked the operation over with an impressed expression.
So that’s what this place was for. Feel kind of bad for throwing the computers around so much now.
She gave a curt nod to Arish, who was already waiting with several of his Rangers, discussing something about an “initial approach strategy” while Emily pulled a long sheet of paper from a printer, showing a line going straight before spiking massively, then resting again. She set it on a table and waved Jesse over.
“Okay, so this is a reading of Louisiana’s seismic activity. It’s completely steady for months, then an enormous one shakes half the state. My research showed that the largest earthquake ever recorded in the state was a 4.2. This one? It was a 6.8.”
Jesse shrugged, rubbing the back of her head in mild confusion, before saying, “Emily, this is a cool lesson, but how is this an Object of Power event? It just sounds like an earthquake.” Emily grinned, then pulled out a small map of the state and set it down on the table, showing a massive red dot in a specific part.
“That’s what I thought too, until I realized the quake is almost entirely localized to a small area of New Marais, originating almost thirty feet underground. It wasn’t a quake at all. Something made that activity on it’s own.”
Okay, that made more sense, at least to Jesse. She leaned on the table and looked closer at the map of the city, noting the circle by a church.
“So, if it’s underground, where is it, exactly?”
“From my research, I’ve uncovered writing of a series of catacombs underneath the entire city, with the access point somewhere around the St. Ignatius cathedral. They were built decades ago, and there’s been urban legends about a horde of vampires living down there, but I’ve never been able to find evidence that confirms it.”
Jesse laughed, “Besides, vampires are just a story anyway.”
Arish chuckled nervously, then added, “Well, American ones are, anyway.”
Jesse made a mental note to learn more about vampires later, then turned back to Emily, who continued, “So, what I’m suggesting is Arish and his Rangers lead a small expedition into the catacombs, uncover this object, then either bring it back or secure it for the Research Division to investigate further. I really want to get this before the entirety of New Marais turns into an AWE. So, do we have director’s approval?”
Jesse crossed her arms, looking at the numerous data sheets tossed haphazardly across the table, and thought it over. So, this was her first big crisis outside of the Hiss as Director, and it would be smart to send Arish, but also, it would very much be nice to go somewhere that wasn’t the Oldest House or the Oceanview Motel. Polaris gave a small tingle of affirmation, and Jesse cleared her throat, confident now in her orders.
She nodded, then replied, “Yeah, you’ve got the go-ahead.”
Emily clapped her hands together excitedly, then began to give further instructions, only for Jesse to hold up a hand, silencing her before continuing, “But, I want to accompany Arish on the expedition. I want to see this for myself.”
Arish raised a quizzical eyebrow, and Jesse noted an equally uncertain expression on Emily’s face.
“You sure, Director? I don’t know if it’s the best idea for you to head out into something like this.”
“I mean, I’m the only one with special abilities, and Trench and Northmoor both went out on field work all the time.”
“I don’t know if they count as good examples of Directors in the field, Jesse.”
She shrugged, then replied, “Well, maybe, but as Director, I feel it’s best if I accompany you on this mission.”
Arish nodded, recognizing the authority in the statement, and Emily reluctantly replied with, “Alright, so you and Arish’s team will head out to New Marais. We’ve already got a jet lined up, so you should get there by tonight if everything works as intended. And I should really urge you to be careful. Objects of Power in the wild are a lot more dangerous and unpredictable than in the Oldest House, and I really don’t want you getting hurt.”
Jesse smirked and replied, “Look, by this point I know to never let my guard down around this stuff, so it’ll be a walk in the park. Or, well, a walk in the catacombs.”
With a grunt, Cole pulled himself onto the rooftop to see Zeke and Kuo both waiting for him. Zeke grinned, taking a sip of his beer, while Kuo went back to looking over a map and some old photographs. As Cole stepped up, Zeke clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Good to see you’re safe, brother. Hell of a quake back there.”
Cole smiled, then replied, “Yeah, sounded like it scared the shit out of you.”
“Hey! I wasn’t scared, I was just, y’know, surprised. New Marais ain’t really supposed to be earthquake territory.”
Kuo finally looked up from the map and said, “That’s because this wasn’t an earthquake. I’ve been doing some research and I think I’ve found something that could help us against the Beast. It’s worth a try, at least.”
Cole walked up to her and looked at the map, which was a layout of underneath the city, and the photos, which were all black and white and depicted men in fancy outfits around some machine.
“The hell is all this?”
“I’ve uncovered of a secret society that operated across the country for centuries, but they had a special hold in New Marais in the early 30s. I think you might recognize them.”
She pointed at one of the photos, and Cole squinted to see a star with an eye on it on each man’s suit. His eyes widened in recognition.
“Holy shit. The First Sons?”
Zeke perked up at the mention of the Sons and scoffed.
“So what, you’re sayin’ is the First Sons built some kinda earthquake machine, and stuffed it down in the underground?”
Kuo scoffed, “I’m not saying it’s an “earthquake machine”, specifically. What I’m saying is whatever the Sons built before moving out of New Marais is down there, and I think it’s been reactivated. And, if it’s strong enough to shake half the state, imagine what it could do for Cole.”
Zeke seemed impressed by this, while Cole continued looking at the map, which Kuo had drawn a path through, with occasional circles along the way.
“So, what? You want me to go down there, find whatever caused the quake, then see what we can get out of it?”
“Well, that’s the idea. I have a sense that it’ll be more complicated than that.” Cole chuckled at that.
“Yeah, that’s the truth of it. So, where am I headed?”
Kuo took out another map and pointed to the cathedral.
“From what I can determine, the access point to the catacombs underneath the city are here. So, you enter there, then just follow the paths until you find something. Make sense?”
Cole nodded. Nothing like exploring the dark, abandoned underground of the city to put yourself at ease.
The squad of Rangers walked in a triangle formation, three on each side, while Jesse and Arish took point, flashlights shining cautiously ahead as they walked through the winding, dark catacombs. After the Foundation, Jesse could have gone her entire life without going underground, but this was the job. As they continued walking, she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up as Polaris gently whispered for her to be careful. She clicked a button on her walkie-talkie and spoke quietly, “Emily, we getting any closer here? Because I can definitely feel…whatever it is down here.”
“Like a danger sense? Interesting. Maybe the Board is giving you some form of limited precognitive powers as a means of protection outside of the Oldest House. We’ll have to run some form of field test when-“
The Head of Research was broken out of her quiet contemplation and stammered out a reply of, “Oh! Uh, the signal on our end appears to be getting stronger, so it should be coming up soon. Remember, we have no idea what kind of form this could Object could take, so you need to exercise maximum caution.”
Jesse smiled softly. It had been a while since anyone had really doted on her like Emily did, and despite the seriousness of the situation, it was kind of nice.
“I got visual on something.”
Arish’s voice pushed the thoughts of Emily out of Jesse’s head, and she raised the Service Weapon, set to Grip, as the squad turned a corner into a large room, where a glowing rod hovered, surrounded by floating debris and a shadowy dark essence. The squad hesitantly lowered their weapons as Jesse and Arish stepped closer to it, and Jesse winced as a quiet, ominous whisper grew louder with every step. One that sounded intimately familiar. Polaris’s words of caution had grown to pleas to step away, but Jesse ignored her for now. She knew exactly what this was.
“Emily, we’re looking at the object right now. It’s some sort of…stick, I think? It’s just floating here…menacingly.”
Arish eyed it nervously and trained his gun as Jesse looked it over, doing her best to avoid any contact with it. Watching from a distance, the Rangers shifted uncomfortably.
“Dir-Jesse, what else can you tell me? Any defining characteristics or strange activity, besides the floating?”
Jesse observed as the rod seemed to shift slightly, seemingly trying to stay away from her, and she quickly held it in place with Lift, straining slightly as it attempted to squirm out.
“It’s trying to avoid me, and it’s…whispering. I think it’s been tainted by the Hiss somehow.”
“Can’t be, Director. You sealed up the last of the Hiss two weeks back, so there can’t be any way they got out of the Oldest House.”
Emily interjected, “Well, if it’s the Hiss, that explains the other readings. I chalked it up to faulty equipment at the time, but we’ve gotten small spikes of otherdimensional activity across the country ever since we pushed the Hiss out. I think that it may be searching for an alternate route in.”
Jesse nodded, impressed as she watched the rod continue to struggle.
So, this Hiss found an Object of Power and latched onto it? Clever. Too bad I’m here.
“Alright, I’m gonna try and cleanse it. Everybody stand by.”
She pulled it into her hand and let Polaris’s energy flow through her and into the object, and the whispering turned into a full-on mental screaming fit, Jesse yelping in pain as the sensation of burning shot through her body. She fell to her knees, eyes rolling into her head, as she suddenly found herself floating in an infinite dark space. She squinted, trying to see through the darkness, just as a massive looming beast, skin a mixture of crimson red flame and shadows, appeared, towering above her. It reached for her, but was swarmed by a red mist.
The figure batted uselessly at the energy as it enveloped him, and Jesse watched as, just for a second, it took on the form of a smaller, frailer man before returning to it’s original form. It roared as the new energy surged through it’s body, and Jesse’s eyes snapped open as she found herself in the catacombs, staggering back and hitting the floor as Arish rushed towards her.
“Director! Are you-“
She waved him away, looking over to see the rod, and the rubble seemingly tethered to it, had fallen uselessly to the floor, the whispers gone.
Well, that Cleansing worked out. I think.
“Jesse! Jesse, answer me!”
Emily’s voice came to her, and she groaned as she replied, “I’m fine, Emily. Cleansing just went a bit weird, but it should be good.”
Emily breathed a quiet sigh of relief, then ordered, “Okay, just grab the object and get out of there. The readings have gone stable, so there shouldn’t be any reason to hang around.” As the Rangers gathered around the Object, Arish walked up to Jesse, concern evident on his face, and looked her over, much to her annoyance.
“You sure you’re good, Director? You didn’t look okay from where I was standing.”
Jesse smiled, then answered, “Yeah, it just got a little weird there for a second. I’ll give a briefing on it when we get back to the Oldest House. For now, let’s just pack up this damned thing so we can all see sunlight again.”
Watching from a perch in the ceiling, Cole surveyed the strange figures in armor as they gathered around whatever the hell the Sons had stashed down here. He pressed his radio and whispered, “Zeke, Kuo, I found whatever set off those quakes, but looks like somebody beat me here.”
“Who? Militia? First Sons?”
He shook his head and responded, “Nah, they got tech straight outta some comic book from the fifties. One of ‘em shut the thing off by touching it, but it looks like it messed her up a little.”
Kuo answered, her voice taking on an anxious tone, “Okay, do they have the object?”
“Yeah, they look like they’re packing it up, but there’s only a few of them. Gonna move now.”
“Cole, be care-“
Cole hung up on her and leapt down from the perch, landing a few feet from the figures and letting electricity crackle off his fingers as they trained their guns on him. The redheaded girl, who appeared to the leader, trained a strange pistol on him and said, “Who the hell are you?”
Cole raised his hands defensively and replied, “Look, don’t know who you guys are, but you gotta trust me. Just hand the…stick over, and nobody will get it.”
Jesse narrowed her eyes suspiciously as she looked at the new arrival. The small briefing Emily had given her had said nothing about another Parautilitarian in New Marais, and especially not one with some form of electricity powers. She gave a small nod of her head, and Arish and his men formed a circle around the Object of Power while she took a step closer to Cole. “Sorry, buddy, but I’m not gonna hand this over to some guy who just fell out of the sky. Step away, now.”
Cole shrugged and mumbled, “Suit yourself.”, then lobbed a shock grenade towards the group. Quickly summoning a shield, Jesse grimaced as the blast pushed her back and sent the Rangers scattering. In the chaos, Cole charged forward, blasting a Ranger with bolts as he staggered to his feet, then drew the Amp and swung, connecting with a second Ranger’s jaw and knocking him to the ground. Jesse dropped the shield with a yell, the debris pelting Cole and giving him enough pause for her to dash forward and knock him to the ground with a telekinetic shove.
Groaning, he cursed under his breath as the Rangers recovered and opened fire, the concentrated fire forcing him to roll to cover behind nearby rubble. Jesse quickly switched to Charge and fired an explosive round into the makeshift cover, with Cole giving a quiet, “Shit,” as it exploded next to his head and knocked him back. Ears ringing, he staggered to his feet and fired a few bolts, knocking another Ranger to the ground as he ducked and weaved to avoid fire before summoning a Frost shield, grinning as the rounds slammed uselessly into the field. As the Rangers furiously reloaded, Jesse lifted a piece of rubble and tossed it at Cole, who returned fire with a rocket, destroying the projectile and scattering his attackers as they tried to avoid the flying debris.
Pushing through the chaos, he grabbed the rod from where it lie and quickly tucked it into his pack, then looked around quickly. He was gonna get cut to pieces if he hung out in close quarters, so it was time to make an exit. He looked up at the roof and grinned before lobbing several grenades that quickly stuck and detonated, raining rocks on everyone below. Avoiding bullets and explosives, he dashed towards the opening and use a pillar of ice to launch himself through it. He landed with a hard roll in a back alley, giving an impressed look at his surroundings as he realized just how expansive the catacombs were, then leapt on top of a trash can and onto a pipe leading up a building.
If he was going to lose these assholes, he needed distance.
Jesse fired another Charge shot out the opening and cursed, then turned to look at Arish, who struggled to stand as blood trickled from his forehead. Jesse rushed to his side and helped him up, but he pushed her away and yelled, “I’m good, don’t let whoever that was escape!”
Giving one last nervous look to her men, Jesse turned and ran towards the opening, then levitated through it, landing gently and furiously scanning around her for any sign of Cole. She looked up to see him pulling himself over the top of a rooftop and yelled, “Hey!” before lifting a trash can and hurling it at him. Cole cursed as the can slammed into him, pushing him onto the rooftop but knocking him forward, and he turned around to see Jesse levitate to the roof and draw the Service Weapon, a grim expression on her face.
“I believe you have something that belongs to my organization.”
Cole sighed. Another shadowy organization was exactly what he needed today. He raised his hands in mock surrender, then quickly sent out a blast of energy that enveloped and lifted her into the air. Jesse yelled in shock and confusion as she slowly floated away, and Cole smirked and gave her a mocking wave as he fired a bolt, the explosion sending her hurtling to the ground.
As a strange woman hit the ground in front of them, civilians panicked and ran, and Jesse staggered to her feet, pushing through the crowd as she ignored the pain in her side. She was fairly confident she’d cracked a rib in the fall, and the explosion somehow managed to feel like being set on fire and electrocuted at the same time. And, while it wasn’t really a major issue in the context, she was fairly confident the blast had torn apart the back of her suit jacket.
Well, let’s hope the Bureau pays for replacements. If not, I can make a decree of it, probably.
Cole leapt from rooftop to rooftop, ignoring the occasional shot from Jesse as it whizzed by him. His radio beeped and Zeke’s mildly concerned, “You good, brother? Hearing something about explosions downtown.”
Cole turned and fired a bolt at Jesse, who ducked behind a car to avoid it, then replied, “Yeah, I got the thing, whatever it is, but now some chick is on my ass. Some sort of Conduit that can throw shit with her mind.”
“Well, kick her ass, then!”
Cole chuckled, then responded, “Working on it,” before hanging up and leaping off the roof towards Jesse, letting the energy gather around him as he plummeted to the ground. Jesse swore under her breath and managed to pull up a shield just as Cole impacted, the blast tearing the shield apart and sending her flying into the street. Cole drew the Amp and charged forward, but Jesse switched to Shatter and fired, the rounds smashing into Cole’s chest and knocking him to the ground.
As Jesse pulled herself to her feet, Cole crawled towards a parked car and quickly drained it, sighing in relief as he felt his wounds knit themselves together and his strength renew itself. Fully restored, Cole lifted his hand and fired a Shatter Blast, Jesse crying out as the shards tore through her clothes and left cuts all over her skin. He used the momentary distraction to his advantage, falling back and letting loose several bolts in quick succession, Jesse narrowly dashing to avoid each as she switched to Spin and returned fire. Reaching out, she lifts a car and tosses it at Cole, who activates Kinetic Pulse and catches it.
For a moment, the two stood locked in place, each straining to overcome the other, before Jesse reached out and pulled a fire hydrant free, sending it flying into Cole’s side. He grimaced, the pain distracting him enough for Jesse to drive the car into him. Stunned, he struggled to push the wreckage off of him, only for Jesse to leap on top of the car and point the Service Weapon at his head, pausing to catch her breath.
“It’s over, man. Just…hands up, I guess?”
Cole smirked and quipped, “Nah, ain’t over yet.” before balling his hands into fists. The sky darkened, and Jesse looked up in confusion seconds before dozens of lightning bolts rained down on her, each connecting and sending pain shooting through her body. As her skin crackled with electricity, Cole activated Kinetic Pulse and tossed the car, her still on top of it, aside. The car exploded and Jesse was flung aside, smashing into a wall and hitting the pavement.
Pain radiating from every part of her body, Jesse crawled towards the Service Weapon, raising her hand weakly as it shook, then lifted itself towards her. Just as her fingers touched the grip, Cole kicked her in the side, knocking her over, then placed restraints on her before crouching down and placing the tip of the Amp next to her head, letting the electricity crackle off it as a clear warning. Satisfied, he replied, “No, now it’s over.”
Jesse squirmed, trying in vain to get free as Cole pulled the rod from his bag and presented it to her.
“Now, you’re gonna tell me what this is, and then maybe I’ll think about letting you go.”
She gritted her teeth and responded, through strained efforts to free herself, “You…don’t know what you’re dealing with. You need…to give…me that!”
Cole shook his head.
“Nah, trust me, lady. If you knew what was coming, you wouldn’t be fighting so hard for this. If I’m gonna stop the Beast, I’m gonna need everything I can get. So-“
The mention of the Beast made Jesse stop, flashing back to her vision, and frantically say, “Wait! Are you talking about the monster? Big guy, made of fire, or something?”
Surprised, Cole nodded, and Jesse replied, “Trust me, you’re gonna need my help. If you and I are thinking of the same Beast, or whatever it’s called, it’s worse than you expect.”
Cole seemed to consider it, then knocked her out with a kick to the face before absorbing the restraints. With a grunt, he lifted her onto his shoulder, then switched on his radio and said, “Zeke, Kuo, I took care of that Conduit chick, but she knows something about the Beast. I’m bringing her back so we can get some real answers out of her.”
With that, he used an Ice Launch to propel himself towards another rooftop, then made his way to the others.
The vision of Director Trench took a long, slow drag of his cigarette and smiled sadly, looking into the distance as he thought to himself.
“The Astral Plane…to us, it’s a blank white space used by the Board. But Darling always said there were other entryways, other pieces of the plane we just couldn’t see. We contemplated expeditions, of course, but when our probes didn’t return, we stopped contemplating. Too much risk, he told me, couldn’t waste personnel. I disagreed, but…fighting with Darling wasn’t worth it.”
He took another drag, then turned to look directly forward, as if he could see Jesse looking at him.
“There are days still where I lie awake, wondering who else, besides the Board, could be using the Plane. And not knowing, to me, is far scarier than anything that could be out there.”
Shaking the vision out of her head, Jesse looked the key in her hand over as she walked up the stairs to her apartment. After the fight with that Cole guy, she’d woken up and found herself in this city. After the initial confusion and panic, she’d learned that it was called “DFederal” and, while she’d dealt with a fair amount of weird shit, this one really took the cake. When it became clear she wasn’t getting out, she settled in, minding her own business while trying to figure out a way to contact the Bureau. Emily was probably worried sick about her, and Jesse felt a minor pang of guilt before pushing it aside.
She pushed the key into the lock and stepped into the apartment, shivering slightly at the mild chill in the room. It was modest, a little bit rundown, but after spending most of her teenage years sleeping in shelters and park benches, it was nothing really worth complaining. As she stepped into the kitchen, contemplating dinner, Polaris, who was blissfully still with her, chimed in with words of caution, and she drew the Service Weapon and pivoted to see a man with white hair and a suit to match sitting on her couch. His hands were folded and he politely nodded to her, the nod doing nothing to defuse the tension.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Interesting design on the weapon. Cole told me about it when he put in the good word for you. After doing a little digging, I must admit that I am impressed with you.”
She switched to Shatter and gripped the weapon tighter.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
The man nodded, then replied, “Name’s Elijah Snow. Something tells me you’ve been looking for answers on this place, and I might be able to help with that.”
He held up a single envelope, marked with a wax stamp symbol of a globe, and replied, “Believe it or not, there’s people just as curious as you out there. Enough, in fact, that I’ve assembled a small organization of them. Whether you want to help us is up to you.”
Jesse lowered the Service Weapon slightly, contemplating his offer. Judging by the chill going down her spine, something told her that if this man was a real threat, he would’ve acted by now. As she went to say a response, a familiar, loud ringing broke the silence, and both Jesse and the man looked as a bright red phone appeared on her coffee table. The man raised an eyebrow in confusion, then watched as Jesse answered it, then froze in place as she found herself before the looming, upside-down pyramid.
So the Board had finally found her.
About goddamned time.
“We/Us/Board have discussed this man/friend/ally. It is in our and your interests/goals/dreams to work with his group. As Director, these are your orders/objectives/demands.”
“So, you can send the Hotline, but you seriously can't get me out of here?”
“You are needed/wanted/desired. Our connection here, the man/fool/beast, arranged your time here for reasons/purposes/goals unknown to us. Standby for further instructions.”
The Board hung up, leaving her standing in front of the man, who watched with piqued interest as she hung up the phone and replied, “Alright, I’m in. First, you’re going to tell me what this organization of yours is.”
Elijah smiled and replied, “Well, Ms. Faden, that's a very long story.”
Cole won this match because of the sheer versatility and destructive power of his moveset in comparison to Jesse. While she did pack a superior weapon and her abilities are nothing to scoff at, Cole outmatched her at every other effective range and could hit with a wider variety of abilities that enabled him to fairly handily stay ahead of her and pull a win here.To see the original battle, weapons, and votes, click here.
Battles here were deemed to be unfair or otherwise not in accordance with wiki standards, and have been removed from the statuses of the warriors and displayed below.
Battle vs. The Agent (Crackdown) (by 123chaseyoung)
" Listen Agent. You're target is Cole MacGrath. A man with unknown powers that may be a threat to our dear Pacific City. You're job is to to contain him. But be careful. His powers interests the Agency and he may be of great assets. Bring him alive as much as you can. Now GO!" The Agent jumps from the top of the final beacon and lands fist down on the street pavement. Meanwhile, Cole MacGrath is walking down towards his path. "Zeke. I'm already at my destination, and yes I know we are to look for that...what was her name? Ah yes, that scientist Dr. Catalina that may know about us conduits. No sign of her yet. But will proceed and wish me luck."
As Cole puts down his communicator, the Agent sees him and rushes with his assault rifle blazing. Cole suprised, creates a polarity wall that blocked the incoming fire. The Agent jumps and prepares to punch him to the ground,but Cole sommersaults and lands behind the Agent. Cole touches the assault rifle and it exploded. Agent then roundhouse kicks Cole that sends him feet away. Cole gets up and jumps on top of a building. The Agent pursues, but as he he lands on it, Cole sends a barrage of bolts at him, sending him back to the street. Cole releases a grenade and throws it at the Agent, but the Agent was unharmed by the attack. Grabbing his Flocket gun, he sends rockets towards Cole. Cole dodges, and manages to swipe back a rocket that hits the Agent, but one rocket hits Cole and he slams back to the highway. Agent continues his barrages of rockets, and hits Cole simultaneously, but Cole manages to lif himself up with thrusters, and slams the Agent with his Firebirds, before Cole throws a grenade that exploded.
Seeing the remains of the ruble, Cole thinking that he won, turns his back. But the Agent jumps up from nowhere, and hits Cole several times with a turret machine gun. Cole was bleeding, but he manages to create a polarity wall. The Agent throws a quacker which exploded on Cole's feet. Bruised, Cole gets up with rage. He picks upseveral cars usng his kinetic and throws it at the Agent, but before the Agent can dodge, Cole summons a huge Ionic storm, that hits the Agent and the cars, resulting in a huge explosion. Cole then summons a vortex that picked up the remains, before using nghtmare blasts that destroyed half of the highway.
But then suddenly, to his suprise, the Agent came out still alive. Cole tries to send a bolt, but he is already ran out of electricity. Pissed, he attacks the Agent with his amp. But the Agent suddenly shows his harpoon gun and fired three harpoons, hitting Cole in the crotch, chest, and head, before it pins Cole on a car. Cole attemps to get the harpoons out, but gasps his last breath and dies. The Agent approaches the dead body. "Dammit Agent! You were supposed to catch him alive!" The Agent then searches the corpse's pockets, and sees a list of ever known Conduits in the world. "Well, I suppose that list may make up for our lost. Go find the other superhumans, and next time, FOLLOW. MY. ORDERS!"
The Agent walks away. He throws a quacker at Cole's dead body and it exploded like firecrackers behind the Agent's back.
The Winner: Agent
Cole may have an advantage becasue of his Conduit powers, but those were proven useless against the Agent's armor which was insulated and fireproof. The only attacks Cole had that affected greatly where the Ionic Vortex and Storm. The Agent was also fast and agile enough to dodge many of Cole's powerful attacks. In addition, The Agent was more skilled, and better trained than Cole. The Agent's durability allows him to survive long enough for Cole to exhaust his powers and to finish the conduit.
The battle was declared invalid because the Agent's armor was buffed to be invulnerable to Cole's powers.
Battle vs. Alex Mercer (by Omnicube1)
Alex Mercer is in New York City strolling and thinking about what happened in his past. Suddenly, he sees a crowd of civilians running towards him. He grabs one and asks her what is going on. She tells him that a man is shooting out lightning from his hands and feet. Alex lets her go and runs toward the lightning man, Cole MacGrath. Alex spots him and unleashes his Whipfist which throws Cole off. MacGrath falls to the ground and uses his lightning bolt power. This shocks Mercer and sends him flying back. Cole runs toward his enemy armed with Gigawatt Blades and slashes at Alex. The Blades cut his chest but this does not waver Mercer who unleashes his Claw Power. He hacks at his nemesis but misses. Cole responds but headbutting Alex, but at that moment Mercer turns on his Armor Power. Cole's forehead hits Alex's hard Armor. MacGrath stumbles back in excruciating pain. He then launches two Shock Grenades at Mercer; the blasts stun him. Alex then morphs his arms into large Hammerfists and he punches Cole. MacGrath is sent flying into a nearby business building. Hiding civilians scream when they see him and run in terror. Cole shakes his head and brushes dust away from his face. He calls in another Lightning Bolt which strikes alex again. However, he was wearing Armor so the Bolt had minimal effect. Alex then unleashes his Blade Power and charges at his enemy. He cuts at Cole who dodges the large Blade. Cole uses his Polarity Wall when Alex slashes at him. The Blade is caught in the Wall and Cole kicks Alex in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He then launches two more Shock Grenades at Alex which knocks him back into the cement of the street. There is a cloud of dust and Cole cannot locate his enemy. He then sees movement behind the cloud and sends in his Lightning Storm Power. There is a big explosion and the light blinds Cole temporarily. After the Lightning strike, he moves forward. Suddenly, he sees Alex in Armored form! Mercer then unleashes his Tendril Barrage Devastator and greatly cripples MacGrath. Cole falls to the ground gasping for air. Alex then grabs him and thows him back to the ground with extreme force and punches him until the blood flies. Mercer then Consumes him and disguises as his enemy in order to escape Blackwatch.
Cole was a fierce opponent, but in the end it was Alex Mercer's superior offensive and defensive powers that won him the match.