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Gatewatchers

Sanctum City

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a part of Gatewatchers, by LookingAtPerks.

None

LookingAtPerks holds sovereignty over Sanctum City, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

1,234 readers have been here.

Setting

Default Location for Gatewatchers
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Minimap

Sanctum City is a part of Gatewatchers.

11 Characters Here

Minori Fukutawa [45] "There is nothing that cannot be explained or understood... Now hold still"
Sillo Deskern [44] "Looking at the stress around me and seeing what it does to people, I prefer to not give a shit."
Aldred Kynn [37] "The world isn't kind to good people. It'll eat them up and spew out their bones. Good thing I'm not a good person, right?"
Zane Bell [28] "I will find the answers I seek, I will find the truth, no matter who or what tries to hide it from me".
Damion Gray [28] "There is one undisputable fact. Everything has gone crazy".
Selena Stone [24] "Whoever fights monsters should be wary lest he himself become a monster. And should you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
Nathan de Vries [16] "I dunno what's going on with you guys, but everything will be fine since you're friends! Right?"
Maric Boone [8] "Don't judge a book by its cover".
Piper Borges [2] "Do that again, and I'll drop a piano on your head."

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Selena Stone Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Zane Bell Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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Sneaking in had been relatively easy for Zane. He had examined building security before, so it was a breeze to get through the first few levels undisturbed. Using the mimicry kits, the sensor disruptors, and everything else, he had made it to the top floor, where only the CEO and the top employees got. And he understood why it was only the top employees. He stood there, wide eyed, with his red and white jacket with his hood up, looking at what appeared to be saw blades, lasers, and spikes that shot in and out of walls in the hallway in front of him.

"This guy has insane security" Zane mentioned, as fire erupted in the middle of it all and then dissipated. "Okay, that's just overkill".

Still, Zane could manage it. He examined every moving piece, analyzing it all, memorizing its placement, and then he timed it just right. He dodged the saw blades, jumped through the lasers, during the time the spikes were shooting back in, and right as the fire erupted behind him, got through before the spikes shot out. "Whew, that was interesting".

He walked into the next room, and there it was. The treasure room. However, his Oracle ability let him know something bad was about to happen. He ducked as a giant broadsword swung where his neck used to be, and he jumped back to gain distance. As he did, he spotted the two red gems he had come here for. And on the other side of the room, the Crime Boss Emerian Jones.

"Well well, if it isn't the so called 'Crimson Mage', Zane Bell. The only one to learn Blitz style within two years" he mentioned, as he braced his Broadsword. "I have to admit, I was thinking of eliminating you for awhile now. You and your 'Helping' has caused a lot of damage to my businesses!"

"You mean your crime spree! I know you used Mana to manipulate people to work for you for less then they should, and use hypnosis spells in your commercials to get people to come to you! Truth is, I wanted to hit you for awhile now, but now I have a great excuse" Zane said with a half smile, touching the ground with his index and middle finger before raising back up and facing his opponent, pointing both fingers at him. "Hope you are ready to lose!".

"I don't think so!" he said, swinging his blade around and causing a supersonic slash attack. Two. He used two focuses for the attack, movement and item. Zane barely was able to dodge the attack, and then launched one of his own. He employed fire into both his fists, and then smashed them together, creating a tidal wave of fire. Unfortunately, he used his broadsword to slash through the fire, but this gave Zane an opening to launch a lighting attack that hit him directly. However, he remained standing. "A simple electrical attack? My magical defense is too strong for those kinds of things! Give up now!"

"NEVER!" Zane yelled, unleashing a wave of fire at him, which he just cut through again. However, Zane then appeared behind the slash, taking advantage of a moment of weakness for him to strike with. He managed to get Static Burnfist to hit, but suddenly, the sword came back around and sent him flying. As it did, he appeared over him, smashing Zane down into the ground and inflicting severe damage. Zane sent a massive electric attack at him, but again his magical defense blocked it. It became clear to Zane that he practiced a defense type magic, likely Sho Rho or Battleguard Style.

Alright, alright. So I will need more advanced spells then my lighting bolt. Projectile attacks mean nothing with his broadsword's defensive capabilities, which means I need to score direct hits with lightning fast attacks. His broadsword is also strong enough to break through Dragons Fang...but...I might be able to use...yeah, that's it! Zane summoned a large amount of fire in both hands.

"Don't you know? My wind will blow out your fi-" the man started, then fire and lightning suddenly started to blaze all around Zane. He put both his hands together and intense mana built around him. "What the! What are you doing?"

"Ultimate Spell Technique! The Ultimate Sword of Fire and Lightning, Blazestorm Zero!" he shouted, before slashing with it. "Burning Lightningslash!"

The boss blocked with his broadsword, but he still got hit with some of the attack and was injured. "The fuck? A runt like you can summon Blazestorm Zero? Fine then, guess I will have to fight at full power!"

Good, that's what I wanted. After all, your full power is nothing like her full power. Even knowing her tricks, her power level is immense. I would die if I fought her as I am now. By fighting you, I will grow more powerful. By gaining the gems after that, it will boost my power even more. And then, I will fight on her level. I will beat her! I will! The sheer power of his thoughts combined with his mana, causing a shockwave to emit from the top of the building.

"What the fuck, who are you? Where is all this power coming from?!"

"Its because there is someone in this world stronger then you, and she killed my mother and father. And I intend to end her, one way or another! So there is no fucking way I am losing to a guy like you!"

"No one talks to me like that! I will show you true power! I am more then just a businessman, I am a hunter! I have captured many spirits and creatures, and can draw on their strength!" he shouted, as he pulled out a bracelet. Zane recognized the gem in the center as a Demon Capture Charm. To draw power from a Demon Class Entity was dangerous, not to mention stupid. But somehow, Zane had really pissed the guy off. Zane hoped it wouldn't weaken his battle skills. Zane needed a strong opponent to train him. However, while he was busy charging up on Demon Juice, Zane grabbed the gems and stuffed them into his pants pocket.

"No one steals from me!" he shouted, shattering all the windows. Clearly, Zane might have pushed him a little too far. But, he did want to battle this guy. He was the boss because he was tougher then everyone else. If he beat him, it would prove Zane was ready to take on Rose. Rose was even stronger, so he had to beat this asshole. He had no other choice!

He had to do it for his father.

Suddenly, the man moved at unrealistic speed towards Zane, and his blade was at his neck. He nearly landed a lethal blow, when a burst of red light appeared from his pocket. Suddenly, a phoenix appeared in front of him and deflected the attack. "What the....who are you?"

"I am the Phoenix, Aurell. I was sealed away inside those gemstones, but your mana awoken me from my slumber. Your mana, your emotions, your thoughts. I have heard your pleas, your quest, your heart, and I have decided to join with you on your noble cause!"

Zane wasn't sure what, or how, but he did know why. Phoenixes are known as the Noble Magic Bird. They are known as healers and warriors, defenders of the just by the Mana User society. They exist to help keep the peace. And, they are hopeless romantics and are almost always prey to a bleeding heart story. But, you know, no one is perfect.

Still, Zane had his doubts this wasn't all planned. A staff that works perfectly for him, leading him to gemstones that led to a perfect ally for him? Someone was pulling the strings in the shadows. Someone had carefully managed to manipulate his moves, and that was not easy to do without him noticing for so long. The issue is, whoever was doing it was an ally since they were helping him. So, who is it, and why are they being so elusive?

Still, Zane had to focus on the matter at hand. It was just so annoying, who was this ally who was keeping to the shadows? Who set this all up?

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"Everything going as planned?" Loki asked his mysterious accomplice on the phone. "Good. Continue the operation".

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Artemis would soon be approaching Minori who was with Cedric, to ask her about Rose, and about learning spells the Gatewatchers had kept secret due to their danger....and their strength. All the while, being watched by a stranger in the distance on the phone.

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Rose looked out into the stormclouds, with a phone to her head. "I don't care what anyone says, he must die".

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A man with a cigar looked out towards Zane, watching him while holding a magically infused Revolver in his hand. "Understood. Just keep up your end".

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A mysterious young boy wearing a brown cloak with a hood walks into the outskirts of town, looking at the sunset. He couldn't be very old, but his mana signature was enormous. He was on the phone with someone. "Don't worry, I got everything under control. After all, dead men tell no tales. Just remember your end of the bargain".

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A man with a magically infused Sniper Rifle took aim at Selena, while on the phone. "I am about to complete the job now, just one or two shots and I will disappear. Target locked. Taking aim. Firing in three, two, one...."

Click.

(I bet I got all your attentions now!)

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Damion Gray Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn Character Portrait: Nathan de Vries
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Once they had reached the facility, Aldred had shown Sillo around with something that resembled glee. As Aldred introduced Sillo to the runner of the joint, Mr Ian Cohald, who looked like he was made out of rock hard muscle but was as soft as a marshmallow, it became increasingly obvious that Aldred had frequented this place frequently.

Gym's, changing rooms, viewing rooms - Aldred knew where everything was, showing Sillo around and adding some tips on which one had the best equipment. The blonde teen knew people too - he waved and greeted people who seemed to be regulars, who waved back, and kept offering introductions such as "That's Mrs Herlisten. She might look like a tiny old lady, but she's very strong - she's controls threads so unless you want to fight buck-naked don't fight her." and "Hey, Mckinzie! Sillo, meet Mckinzie. He's a few years older than us, and he's got pretty good skill with sound. Nearly made me permanently deaf once. He still won't teach me that spell that disrupts equilibrium by messing with the ears. Eh, I'll figure it out someday." and "Screw you Ken, I won best out of three that time and you know it! Now cough up that five dollars you owe me - no, I don't care that you're fourteen. You've owed me for over a month now."

After showing them around, Aldred finally lead Sillo to the training rooms. The room was just like one of the many other training rooms created underground of the facility, and the walls were filled to brim with magic designed to hold it up and steady. Even five infinity spells fired at once couldn't bring it down - that was how strong it was. Nobody wanted a sudden collapse in case an earthquake or a spell gone wrong hit the walls underground, and great effort had been made to ensure that nothing would wreck them and cause massive destruction on them all in case it fell.

It was also equipped with magical technology that allowed a change in the surroundings for more realistic simulations. Just one press of a button and poof! The battlers could be standing in a dry desert with the wind blowing sand in their faces or an urban neighbourhood or anything in between. There was also a recorder, which allowed the fighters to review their moves in an adjourning room to see if any improvements could have been made during the match.

Filled to the brim with hightech magic, the training center was the place to go if you wanted to try out any new spells or battle simulations, or in Aldred and Sillo's case - sparring.

Normally, Aldred looked calm and collected, with a steady smile shot someone else's way. He wasn't exactly lifeless compared to other people, but the blonde teen had always been a bit more subdued, in a way similar to how a faded photograph would look against a modern photograph filled with vibrant colour. He perked up a bit when it came to other people, but only a little - in color terms it'd be like a dark purple turning a shade or two brighter.

In battle, the purple would turn into a blazing light purple almost too bright to see.

The normally restrained teen looked like he was filled with life and truly enjoying what was going on instead of just mild enthusiasm. His cheeks were flushed a healthy pink, and Aldred was practically brimming with energy despite having been sparring quite a while, his feet swaying rhythmically; almost relaxedly to an unknown tune that only he knew while remaining just enough tension in his body to move the moment something happened. Despite his clothes being dishevelled and strands of his blonde hair starting to slip out of the simple ponytail he had placed it in before they had started battle, Aldred looked relaxed and cheerfully energetic to a degree that most people who had never seen him fight would have thought him incapable of.

Ah, this feels nice...

"Alright, one more round!" Aldred bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, raising curled fists up in front of him again in quick, efficient motions like a boxer. Aldred quirked his head at Sillo, who was a few feet opposite of him, and shot him a smirk designed to goad him into hopefully accepting the challenge. "Unless you want a rest?"

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"And dismiss!"

Nathan heaved a sigh as he walked out , shoulders drooping dejectedly as he remembered what went on during the meeting. He had asked what was going on, but the higher ups wouldn't tell him anything other than that he should just get back to his own work and that nothing was missing! He'd tried snooping around to see what he could have found, but the lists didn't say anything! Nathan didn't want to go back with nothing; what if they got dejected about it?

Was something really missing at all?

No, there's got to be something! Ok, think! A look of concentration crossed Nathan's face as he walked through the corridors, cycling through the lists one last time. Every detail about it stood out clear as if he were looking at the real thing, but try as he might he couldn't see anything gone other than some walls. There's something missing, but the people won't tell me anything and its not on the lists. That must mean it's something important! Important enough to hide! But what? and why?

Maybe it was something embarrassing like pink underwear? Maybe its something dangerous like those gates in the lab? But the HQ floors were destroyed, so it's gotta be something...


Nathan was so deep in thought that he had forgotten his surroundings until he bumped headfirst into someone. The impact jarred his side, and Nathan let out a yelp at both the sudden impact and the surprise of bumping into someone. "Sorry, sorry!" He apologised anxiously, shaking his head. Looking forward to see that he had bumped into a brown-haired boy around the same age as him, if a bit younger, Nathan reached a hand forward sheepishly. "I forgot to look where I was going, sorry! Are you alright?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Selena Stone
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Selena lounged in the rich leather back seat of the Escalade, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the phone. Rain pelted the tinted windows erratically, and yet within the chaos, Selena could notice a strange pattern. Dorian was silent, vigilantly watching the road as he navigated the twisty roads that led past the outskirts of the city to where Selena's estate was located.

Selena conversed with the voice on the other end of the line in code for most of the conversation. To anyone not versed in their personal code phrases, it would merely seem like two business partners discussing finance and production in relation to Selena's private business. At last, the black vehicle came to a stop at the gate to the Stone estate. A twelve foot tall stone wall surrounded the vast property, infused with various wards and enchantments set by Selena herself to keep out unwanted visitors, including one preventing teleportation in or out of the compound. Dorian entered a code into the vehicle's computer, which interfaced with the gate, causing it to open. Moments later, they were within site of the manor, a massive building of brick and stone that dated back to the time of the revolutionary war, when her family's ancestor, Thomas Stone, signed the Declaration of Independence. Despite being sold out of the family decades prior and eventually becoming a museum, Selena reacquired the property shortly after she joined the Gatewatchers. Called the Habre de Venture, the house has since been retrofitted to provide both a comfortable and secure living space for Selena, as well as provide the privacy and facilities needed for her personal research and anything else she might need.

She kept a small staff on retainer, including a security force, which made it very concerning when no one was waiting to greet them. As the car parked, a body of one of Selena's security team came in to view.

"I will get back to you," She spoke calmly into the phone. "Someone just made a very big mistake."

Both Selena and Dorian quickly exited the car and moved to the man, revealing a gunshot wound clean through the skull. In an instant, Dorian drew his handgun and Selena began the process of preparing her mana, only to realize it was coming to her noticeably faster and stronger than before. Seemingly in unison, her left palm began to pulsate to a strange rhythm. Then she heard it, a whisper coming from inside her head.

He is about to pull the trigger.

Selena instinctually knew what to do. She jumped onto Dorian just as a shot rang out, tackling him so that they both ended up behind one of the stone dividers. The bullet struck a few paces past where Selena had been standing. It didn't take long for her to realize it would have passed clean through her head as well, had she not moved. Another shot rang out, this one connecting with the stone divider and spraying a bit of dust and debris over Selena.

"Magical rounds." She realized upon sensing the red mana in the air, and immediately told Dorian. His handgun had it's own magically infused bullets, capable of disrupting the mana of anyone they struck, and were even effective against magical barriers. From the direction of the shots, Selena could tell the shooter was in her house, firing from one of the upper floors.

"I'll cover you ma'am. Get inside and flank him. Dorian spoke like former SAS member he was, and as soon as Selena nodded in agreement, he popped up over the divider and began firing at the shooter's window. This gave Selena the opportunity to sprint into the the house itself. Unfortunately, she couldn't simply warp herself into the sniper's room without first dismantling her own wards, however, it did mean that her assailant was trapped, and that did not bode well for him.

Making her way through the house and up to the upper levels, she counted the bodies of three security guards and one of the non-security staff. Hopefully the others had found a safe hiding place. It didn't take long to discover the sniper, as his mana was radiating everywhere. Red mana was Selena's least favorite, because of it's tendency to be emotional.

You'll be feeling very emotional when I get a hold of you.

With a flick of her wrist, the door to the room ahead of her flew open, revealing the shooter just as he was clipped in the shoulder by a shot from Dorian outside. He stumbled backwards and dropped his rifle. Upon noticing Selena, he launched a small fireball at her while simultaneously reaching for the rifle. Selena barely needed to glance at the fireball to snuff it out, and with a snap of her fingers, the rifle cracked and shattered as the shooter frantically grasped at it.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you that it's rude to show up unannounced?"

Selena's voice was monotone and dry, which made it even more chilling. The man, bleeding from his shoulder, muttered something quickly to try and cast another spell at Selena but she stifled that one before it could even leave his hands.

"Silence." At her command, strips of skin from the would-be assassin's cheeks peeled off and wormed the way towards his mouth. He screamed for a moment before the strips interlocked through his lips, sewing them shut. Selena took a seat in one of the armchairs in the room and crossed her legs. "You made the biggest, and last, mistake of your life today. Clearly you don't really know me, so let me introduce myself. I am Selena Stone. Perhaps you've heard of me? International weapons manufacturer, billionaire businesswoman, and last but not least, Gatewatcher operative with a reputation for gruesomely lethal results." The man was trying to scream, but the sound was heavily muffled through his sewn together lips. Blood dripped from his face and shoulder onto the carpet.

"Please try not to bleed on my carpet, it's very expensive." She paused for second, to let the gravity of the man's situation sink in. "It's obvious to me that you don't know me, which means you had no reason to attack me. So, who hired you?" He made a muffled noise and furrowed his brow at her.

"I can't hear you, can you please speak up?"

Another muffled grunt. At this, Selena stood and moved towards the man. He had a knife in his boot, which Selena reached for. He tried to go for it was well, only to have his hand swatted away and magically bound behind his back. Selena took the knife and slid it between his slips, slowly cutting each strip of skin until his mouth was free once more. Then she returned to her seat.

"You fucking bitch! I'm not talking. You might as well kill me!"

Selena laughed out loud, but with her monotone voice and emotionless stare, the laugh was flat, clearly fake, and hung in the air awkwardly. The man looked confused.

Oh, I'm going to kill you. But you get to decide how quickly it happens. I have all day. We are in my house, remember? So I'll ask again: who hired you?

The man spat a thick mixture of saliva and blood at Selena's feet.

"Fine, torture me. You won't get anything. If I talk, they'll kill my family."

Selena smiled her creepy, fake doll smile.

"Family? Oh friend, if you don't talk, you're going to wish I only killed them." She touched her hand to the man's uninjured shoulder, looking into the memories the cells in his body contained. Psychometry on living things was difficult. She saw him take aim at her and Dorian, she heard him speaking on the phone but could not make out the voice on the other end. Then she went back further. He was at home. He had a wife and daughter. She wondered if they even knew their father worked as an assassin. A bit more probing and she had their names and address. She let go of his shoulder and returned to the present.

"Milena is such a pretty name, and she is quite adorable." She looked the man in his eyes, staring past them into his soul. "I was a few years older then her when I awoke in a bloody pile of my own family's mutilated corpses, but I imagine it will leave a similar impression on her. If she's lucky, she'll kill herself before I come back for her. If not, well, I think you can imagine the rest.

"Fuck lady, you're twisted! I...alright I'll tell you what I know. Just...please don't hurt my daughter!"

"Sure, whatever."

"The people that hired me, I never met them. A packaged showed up on my door a week ago, with ten thousand dollars, a phone number, and a promise that I'd get ten times more when it was done. I've done this kind of job before, so I got a burner, called the number, and hammered out the details. The man identified himself as Mr. King."

"That's a fake name, if I've ever heard one."

"Of course it is, I'm not an idiot."

"From where I'm sitting, you are. Please, continue."




A few minutes later, Selena left the room and was greeted by Dorian, smiling politely and offering a fresh new outfit. Behind him stood two of the remaining security guards, and behind them an assorted group of the surviving staff members, looking justifiably shaken. Dorian nodded, and the two security guards moved into the room Selena had just left to take care of the body.

"Thank you Dorian. You performed admirably. However, I will not be needing a new outfit. I have some business to take care of and I feel it will be messy. Have the guards bring the body to my basement study, and then put on some tea. Also arrange to recompense the family's of the dead staffers, give the survivors a month's paid vacation, and have the staff at the flat prepare it for my arrival by tomorrow."

"Yes Ma'am, right away."

With that, Selena made her way to the basement study, where she kept her collection of magical artifacts and books on magic. Nearby, in the same open space but in a distinctly separate portion that resembled a morgue. It was going to be a long night.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa
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As Cedric drove on, the duo in relative silence after Minori finished speaking, she could almost feel him flinch at her suggesting there was a mole in the organization. It probably took him a second to register that she wasn't accusing him, and if anything was verifying that he was the only one she could trust with this hunch. He was safe because Minori had sensed him drive up after the bomb had went off, and his mana had shifted slightly from his emotions at seeing the chaos. If he were its cause, given his black mana, it should not have changed in the slightest at the chaos.

"Well, they asked me to do it, but I told them when I over throw the organization I'm going solo, I want all that glory for myself." He said, chuckling to himself as he turned down an avenue towards the east end. "You're right though, as powerful as the concealment on the bomb was, I have a hard time believing either of our suspects could have just walked into HQ and nobody would notice. Oh, that place has great bagels."

He punctuated the statement by pointing out a quaint looking cafe with a blue awning on the corner. It seemed like the last place one would find Cedric, but the thought of him sipping coffee with a platter of pastries sitting on a platter at his table made Minori smile. She'd always liked Cedric, even if they had different ideas about how to accomplish things sometimes. She was objective, so the stigma of his mana color had never bothered her, and both tended to operate in more morally grey areas in their work. Minori, for example, knew several of the creatures she had held captive for years were sentient. This knowledge had done nothing to secure their release, but simply drew her interest to them in more intense bouts. Her lab was sound proofed for a reason.

"I wouldn't even know were to start looking, it's not like I get to the office all that often. It's the object that they took that intrigues me, who ever these people are, they went to a lot of trouble to get it. Council rarely sees fit to tell me what they are keeping locked up at HQ, other than what I bring in myself."

Cedric side-eyed Minori after that, giving her an invitation to speculate.

"I see what you're driving at, but unfortunately I'm a biophysicist. Science Division is riddled with orange mana users, as I'm sure you can imagine, so to keep specimens preserved our clearance is not universal. I only have inventories on organics and notes pertaining to my field. We have, for example, the actual Shroud of Turin in the vault at Northern HQ. I can't just pop by and study it because I lack the archaeological and history backgrounds to do anything but get in the way. Similarly, no one can treat my captured specimens like a zoo without my permission," Minori countered with a shrug, though after a moment's thought looked back at Cedric. "You didn't hear about the Shroud from me."

It wasn't long after Minori put her foot in her mouth that they pulled into an alley close to the bar Cedric wanted to go to, and it was definitely a Cedric sort of bar. Minori took a step inside and nearly waited for Hemingway to begin narrating its description. Low lit, hardwood floor and a mahogany bar, as welcoming as it was exclusive. There were three other patrons besides themselves, two wearing business formal attire, while the third had a laptop out, trying desperately to let everyone know he was writing something without actually speaking. 'Michael's' was quiet, though, which is just what Minori needed after today.

Cedric offered her a seat at what she assumed was his regular table, and took the one which allowed her to see the door. She didn't want more surprises after the museum thing, and keeping tabs on who was coming and going would calm her nerves a bit.

"Needless to say, there is a lot to worry about right now, not the least of which being one of these kids going and getting themselves killed trying to mess with things that are over their heads."

Cedric sighed and rubbed his temples, prompting a soft chuckle from Minori.

"You don't get an appreciation for how strong they can be until you see them take on someone with the power of a god. I wasn't the one to run her off, believe it or not. Stopped time and nearly carved her kidney out, but she didn't even slow down. It is not fun being on the receiving end of a beating when it happens in a nanosecond, by the by," Minori mused, though froze as she quickly realized her phone was not, in fact, on silent. Cutesy techno played as a girl happlily sang out:

'Doki Doki Morning!'

Just before heavyily distorted guitars began blaring from her phone. Minori scrambled to retrieve it from her pocket, blushing furiously as the song continued to play, before finally answering it. She smiled apologetically at Cedric before turning around in her seat to take the call. There was a long pause as Minori listened, only replying with a simple, "Yes, that should work. I was planning on looking into a magic square tattoo myself after a bit of research. Something by Abramelin the Mage. Even if it doesn't work out, it's something I've always kind of wanted to do. Try not to get into any more trouble and I'll call you back when I've gotten some things lined up. Take care," She said, smiling as she hung up and turned back to look at Cedric.

"Sorry, that was rude of me. Where were we.... Oh! Getting killed while messing with things we don't understand. What dangerous thing do you have in mind to go poking around with? I'm sure the sudden need to get stronger has provided some inspiration," She asked cheerily, as though what they were talking about was completely normal.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa
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Cedric nodded his understanding, while he had never fought a mana user that was that powerful, some of the creatures he had encountered were capable of bending time and space to mind numbing degrees. He didn't doubt that many of the younger members were powerful mana users, mana seemed to be no respecter of age, but from his experience delving into some of the more powerful arcane arts could have unforeseen consequences. There was knowledge that could be learned and knowledge that only came with experience, there were things out there in the abyss that would put these new mana users to shame, singularities and anomalies that defied not only the laws of space and time but also what they had come to know as the basic nature of mana.

His thoughts had wandered as Minori answered her phone, clearly embarrassed at the situation as she scrambled to answer the phone in order to stop it from ringing. It wasn't until she asked him "What dangerous thing do you have in mind to go poking around with?" that his focus returned.

"Unfortunately the first thing on my list is to stare down my own mana and see just how far I can take it without completely breaking my own mind. You know I have negative reactions to my mana use." his thumb instinctively rubbed the ring on his finger before he slipped it off and held it up. It was black, impossibly so, in so much as it didn't just not reflect light, but radiated blackness out into the light. "This little gem has been dutifully regulating just how much mana I use at a time, keeping the reactions to a pleasant 'migraine from hell and the feeling that your muscles are trying to tear off of your bones.' as opposed to having my soul and consciousness forcibly ripped into two and fighting to the death. Pro tip, if you ever want to experience something similar, ask Selena to heal you with wild mana. It'll give you a new appreciation life... and death." he slipped the ring back on his finger. "Don't actually." he sighed. He knew that experience was never going to go away, it sent a chill down his spine just thinking of it, and he was sure it was going to add to his already troubled nights. "After that, I really don't know, maybe a familiar. I've experienced minor power gains while controlling certain gateway inhabitants that didn't seem to increase my reactions at the same rate, almost like I could use there mana by proxy. Something that gave a sizable power boost would require a lot of initial mana to bring under control though." He realized he had never thought to discuss this with Minori, and considering her field of study he silently berated himself for the oversight. "Hey, you wouldn't happen to know anyone who has a small collection of magical creatures locked up in a secret room somewhere do you?" he smiled.

As they spoke the bartender approached, just far enough away as to not be impolite as he waited for a break in the conversation to ask Minori what she would have, then address Cedric, "The usual?" to which Cedric nodded. "Also, your car has arrived, and your clothes are in the office if you would like to change." the man nodded quickly and then went to fill the orders.

Cedric was still wearing his overcoat over the blood stained and torn suit, which he very much wanted to get out of. "If you'll excuse me, blood stained clothes aren't the most comfortable thing in the world. I'll just be a second." he stood, finishing with "Andy's the bartender, he'll jump if you so much as bat an eye for something." before he went to a small office tucked away on the other side of the bar.

The office was much the same, though simpler than the bar area. A wooden desk, a number of chairs, various pictures adorned the walls, a coat rack and a book shelf. All in all it looked to be well kept but little used. Cedric's new clothes lay neatly across the top of the desk, and that is where he went.

He pulled off the bloody jacket and shirt, taking a look at where there had been a hole in his side. Gruesome or not, Selena did a good job. He could still feel the wound when he touched it, the area was sore and tender, but outside of that it was as though it never happened. Cedric had been through his fair share of such healings, not to the same extent, but magical none the less. He was well aware of what Minori had been referring to when she told the others to be careful about wantonly causing damage just because it could be fixed magically. The mind does not forget trauma.

Slipping his new clothes on, which were much the same as his old clothes for all appearances, sans various tears, holes, and bloody patches, he felt much better. He tucked the old ruined suit into a bag and set it next to the door where the staff would make no second thought about picking it up and tossing it, this certainly wasn't the first time Cedric had used Michael's as a place to clear away the minor messes from work.

As he reached for the door his phone buzzed unexpectedly. Pulling it out he saw a number that wasn't saved, but that he recognized immediately.

“Arkangel, long time no chat. I take it you've heard about Valentine Inc's recent partnership with Atlas Electronics? I'm thinking the new and improved eastern headquarters should have a nice big corner office with my name on it. And maybe a bowling alley, and a pool.”

He shouldered the door open and flipped the light off as he left.

“Of course you don't think so. Yes, first things first though, no use in me trying to find this guy if he's just going to crush me when I do, no matter how much Loki would appreciate that happening. But you might have to be a little more forthcoming with your closely guarded secrets, he tooksomething, eventually we're going to need to know what it was. Yeah, you do that. I'll be in touch.”

He hung up and slipped the phone back into a pocket. “Might need to just bring another round off the top Andy.” he quipped as he passed the bartender on his way back towards Minori.

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Character Portrait: Selena Stone
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Selena stood in her basement study, the room silent except for the faint whisper of her breath. Before her was Karl Roche, the man who had, forty-five minutes prior, been shooting at her. His corpse was splayed out across a table in the morgue section of the study, his chest neatly excised and split open, revealing the contents within. Selena learned his name, and a myriad of other useless secrets of his by meticulously poring over the memories contained within his flesh and blood. Nothing she learned brought her any closer to the mysterious Mr. King, and now she was certain that her would be assailant did not know anything more about his employer than he divulged before his death. Selena sighed, and wiped a bead of sweat from her brow, leaving a swipe of blood from her hand in it's place.

Blood spatter drenched Selena in a Rorschach pattern, stretching from her breast to her knees, and painted her arms scarlet up to her elbows. Although the excision itself was done with a surgeons precision, the follow up was less methodical. She took a step back from the operating table and sat in a chair to rest. Then, it whispered to her again.

All that blood! All that power! It could be yours. You want it. You need it.

Selena glanced at her left palm, eyeing the brand she had drawn in her own blood and seared into her flesh. It was slick with Karl's blood, gleaming in the sickly, fluorescent light.

My mark is what saved your friend, not your own strength. He was drifting, despairing, dying. And you couldn't save him. You were too weak.

Selena buried her face in her hands, not caring that they stained her face red, and ran them through her hair. Her breathing grew heavier, and she could feel her heart beating, the same strange rhythm as the rain. She inspected the mark again, and found that it too seemed to pulsate to that rhythm.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

You will always be weak! You were nothing before I came to you!

Selena clenched her fists so hard her nails dug into the flesh of her palms and little droplets of blood mixed with Karl's.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Everything you gave, you gave willingly. You murdered your own family! You tore their bodies to pieces and decorated the room with their blood! All so you could overcome your weakness! They are dead because of you and your failures!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

And for what? Here you sit, still weak. Still unwilling to seize the power that rightfully belongs to you! You are drenched in it, and still you won't accept my gift! The other Gatewatchers should kneel before you, worship at your feet, and tremble in your wake! You deserve it!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

And the man at headquarters? You should have ripped him apart. But we both know that if Cedric didn't pull you out of there, you would have been squashed like an insect! Are you an insect? Are you going to run and hide once more? Or are you worthy of my gift?

"I..." Selena stuttered, her voice cracked and a tear slid down her cheek.

Then take it! Stop being weak! Embrace the strength that you paid for!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

"Yes! Alright Yes! Make it stop please!" Selena screamed. Her chest had grown tight, and her sides felt as if they were splitting. The rhythm pounded in her brain, and it felt as if it was cracking her skull from the inside. Her eyes and throat burned, and she looked down. She was standing over Karl's corpse once more, though she could not recall standing up and crossing the room. There was even more blood drenching her now. She'd been digging deeper into the corpse. In her hand she held a fractured bone. Panicking, she realized she'd been using it to cut her own flesh. Symbols, all like the mark on her hand but all distinct, stretched up her arms, each painstakingly cut with bone. She realized then too that she had torn her shirt from her back, and that the symbols stretched across her chest down to her navel.

Selena dropped the bone. Her hands were shaking. She didn't remember any of this. The last thing she could recall was hearing a faint whisper as she sat down. How long had it been? She looked to the clock, and noticed that nearly an hour had passed. All at once, she began to feel her wounds. The pain was mind-numbing, and her vision became spotty. She fell to her knees, gasping for breath but finding none. Then, for a second, her vision went blank. She could see nothing, hear nothing but her own screams. And crackling.

Her vision came back in time to witness the last dying embers snuff out over what was once her self-inflicted wounds. Now, they were closed, cauterized, their shapes branded into her skin. Selena coughed and spit blood. She lay on her back now, and squinted at the fluorescent light above. Even breathing hurt, and each breath felt like inhaling smoke and exhaling ash. She touched her face and was relieved to find it smooth, albeit sticky with dried blood. Her eyes felt like someone had scrubbed them with a scouring pad, and each bone creaked as she sat up. The room smelled of sulfur and blood, and no matter how much she tried to spit and clear her mouth, she could not shake the taste of iron and chalk. She wondered for a moment why Dorian had not responded to her screaming, before remembering that she had set the magical lock behind her when she came down.

Mustering all the strength she could, Selena crawled to the base of the stairs, an endeavor which grew exponentially harder the closer she came to her goal. She didn't have the time nor the mental stamina to undo the lock, so decided to take a page from the man who attacked HQ and sent forth the strongest wave of energy she could measure, warping gravity and tearing the door, lock and all from it's hinges.

"D-Dorian..." Selena croaked, unable to bring her voice above a hoarse whisper. She tried once more, this time expending some mana to amplify her voice. "Dorian! In a moment, he came to the door and, upon seeing Selena, rushed to her side.

"Ma'am! We need to get you to the hospital! I'll send for an ambulance!

"No...I'm alright. I-" She coughed once more. This time there was no blood. A good sign. "I just need to rest. Please, bring me to my chambers, and fetch water." Dorian nodded, and lifted little Selena into his arms. He carried her to her chambers and laid her gingerly on the bed.

"Dor..." Selena fell unconscious before she could finish her sentence, at last drifting into bliss as the sound and pain of being awake melted away. Just as the last lights of her conscious were flickering and going dark, a whisper echoed within her own mind, laughing.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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(So, iv been working on this post for awhile now! Hope you guys enjoy! This makes 4/4 on Battles I instigated that contain plot development or are at least plot relevant! >:O) (Sidenote: Artemis is female. Remember this)

Zeus smiled as he watched Artemis approach Midori and Cedric. He looked back at his orders from the boss, and then across the street, where other then the kid playing outside everyone else was inside the building. He had to eliminate that specific person, but attacking all of them should hide who his true target was. He just smiled, as he stroke one of the lightning bolt tatoos on his arm. "Oh, how the plot thickens".

He then sent a storm of lightning at the whole building they were in. Except, before it hit, the lightning was suddenly reflected back at Zeus. He only barely managed to dodge it, but now he was pissed. This was supposed to be a simple sneak attack, yet something reflected his attack? It should have been too fast, and none of them were aware of his presence, so none of them could have known he was there attacking. The only one who could actually see him was the boy on the street.

Suddenly, that is when Zeus noticed it. It was only he and that boy on the street, no one else. So how did...

Zeus suddenly jumped back when he felt a mana spike emerge in the boy, even though before he had no mana presence at all.

Meanwhile, Artemis was temporarily caught off guard by the mana spike. This mana....could it be....? She shook it off though, he could investigate that later. She looked back towards Minori and Cedric. "I trust you know who I am? Gatewatcher Fukutawa, or if you would prefer Minori, I recived some...disturbing...reports reguarding an incident at the museum. Due to the attack on the Eastern HQ on the same day, and the fact our Gatewatchers nearly got massacered in that Museum, the Local Gatewatcher Council has decided to investigate, as well as to investigate a breach in Gatewatcher security reguarding the apparent leakage of Gatewatcher intelligence, at least around the Infinity Spells. I want to know everything about the museum, as well as what you know about this Red Mana User, Zane Bell".

Meanwhile on the outside, Zeus faced off against the kid, who was now the only one on the street with him. Not even a single car or pedestrian passed by. And this kid eminated an aura that was insane. How did he not sense it before?

"Alright, kid, who the fuck are you and what the fuck did you do here?"

The boy simple smiled. "The name is Maric Boone. And what we are standing in right now is a Super Super Happy Happy Fun Fun Zone. Its a Spatial Zone that phases Mana and Mana users out of sync with the normal world, so you can't go and hurt other people or expose magic. Its difficult to even sense one's mana when your not in the same phase. And, it lets me be able to fight at full power".

"That won't change anything, except now I have a name for your tomb stone!" Zeus yelled. "Lightning Spear!"

Maric pulled out his small dagger, named Zu-Zu. "Infinity Counter!"

Infinity Counter. The fourth Infinity Spell. Uses a bit of mana, but it will reflect an enemies attack back at them with increased strength. It can only be used on a single attack though, so a spell that fires multiple projectiles would get through it. Zeus was hit by the lightning, but he managed to block most of the damage. It was his own attack, after all. However, before he could get a word in, Maric pointed his dagger at Zeus. "Zu Zu Special Swarm Attack Go!"

Suddenly, hundreds of Zu-Zus appeared out of thin air and attacked Zeus. The swarm clones were not as strong, but they still hurt Zeus despite his lightning shield. Zeus then fired lightning back at Maric, but he threw down the dagger, which acted like a lightning rod. "Alright, Zu-Zu Super Expansive Growth Activate!"

Suddenly, the small, tiny dagger known as Zu-Zu turned into a giant blade that was three times the size of Maric. Maric picked it up like it was nothing. In response, Zeus created a lightning sword, and clashed blades with him. The first attack caused them to repel each other, but the next sent Maric backwards a little, but Zeus with a cut on his arm. His blade bent the very space around it to ensure a cut, even if it was a minor one. Maric was no normal Gatewatcher, or even a normal person. As he charged up his blade, glowing stars appeared all over his skin. Invisible Magic Tatoos, that only become visible when in use and only to those with mana or are otherworldly. The same kind Rose, Newton, Dreamy, and Zeus have. Just like the terrorists.

"Thats it! You might be able to stop one attack, but can you stop me from attacking every single innocent person around and yourself at the same time?! Ultimate Storm! Raging Thunder Hurricane!"

Several bolts of lightning came at him, but instead of using mana to block, he jumped up over the lightning, made a one handed landing, jumped off that hand again, and then kicked Zeus square in the face, knocking him back against the wall. Zeus however let loose a powerful lightning attack before Maric had a chance to counter. It was clear to Maric based on what he said earlier he wasn't the smartest one of them, but he found it strange. According to the reports he got, Rose was capable of defeating five of the strongest Gatewatchers herself, and Newton brought down a whole building solo. So how is it this one wasn't anywhere near as fun? Was he just an underling, or was there some conditions other then the tattoos and specialized magic that made them more powerful?

Suddenly, that energy charged up into his sword.

"Zu-Zu Star Slash!"

As he swung Zu-Zu, a large amount of energy stars came at Zeus with precision and force. It knocked him back, but in response, several lightning bolts came at Maric from different directions. He tried to establish a null void barrier, basically removing all matter to create an empty vacume which would cause the lightning to fizzle, but no such luck. The lightning hit him directly. His magical defense took most of the damage, but it pushed him back towards the building the others were in. He was pushed through the window. It was then, in that instant, he cast three different spells. The first one expanded the phase zone so that he couldn't hurt anyone inside. The second one created an illusion around the broken window to make it seemed like it was in perfect condition. And the third stopped him from ramming into a wall, but instead into Minori.

Artemis scowled. "Oh great, its him. One of the most elite Gatewatchers, the White Star, Maric Boone. Known for being a master of Celestial and Star magic. However, he is known for one other thing..."

Maric winked at Midori as he pushed off of her chest to get back on his feet. "Hey, sorry about landing on you beautiful. I will make it up to you, maybe take you back to my place afterwards".

"...he is also known for being the youngest 26 year old, and a complete and total flirt, and partial perv".

"Sorry about interrupting, please return to whatever you were talking about" he said with a face full of childish innocence. "I will make sure he doesn't make more of a mess, so no one gets disturbed. Afterwards, we need to have a calm, friendly conversation. For some reason, I was called in because of some ruckus about a mole? So, here I come to find you guys, and this meanie gets in my way!".

"Did you just fucking call me a meanie? Now I am going to fucking use lightning to rip your head...." he started, but then in the blink of an eye, Maric was right next to him, and got a full, critical hit on Zeus knocking him backwards. When Zeus got up, Artemis charged up her own power, Gravity Crush, and began crushing Zeus with overwhelming gravity. Enough that he turned into lightning and ran off. "Don't think this is over, shrimp!"

Maric then used his spatial magic to remake the window he broke by having all the pieces return to their original spatial configuration, and then used mana to fuse them together, before looking back at the other three. "Maric Boone, Elite Gatewatcher, here from New York City to sniff out our mole, at your service! Now, can you also tell me about this mana user named Rose, and this other one named Newton, as well as all current suspects please?"

Artemis shook her head. "The number of suspects right now is endless, because we have no idea who or what total information has been leaked. But we think its someone high up on the command structure, which eliminates all of you as suspects. It could be someone who works closely with the intelligence department though, they would also have access. Personally though, I am suspicious of Loki's actions".

"Really?" Maric asked. "Cause he is the one who contacted Regional Command about the mole. Who I am suspicious of is Arkangel, actually. He always wears that Arkangel armor, so no one even knows if its the same guy, and no one has confirmed his mana color even for the past eight. Though I am kinda distracted by being sad right now. I heard that this Rose fought five Gatewatchers and won, only to run away on a technicality. And her brother, Newton, brought down Eastern HQ. This guy I just fought, Zeus, must be an underling, or conditions were not met to fully charge his power. Though, if he is an underling, and they have more underlings like him, that could be big trouble for a lot of innocent people".

Artemis looked at him, half puzzled and half shocked. He was disappointed his opponent was not strong enough? Was it because he didn't get to use his favorite Ultimate Move? Or because he did not find it hard enough? Artemis could usually figure people out, but Maric? Other then his obvious womanizing nature, nothing about Maric made sense to her, because of his unique situation and personality. It made reading Maric, the true Maric, much more difficult then anyone else. She looked back towards Minori and Cedric. "I should point out, both of you are not suspects. Cedric, simply put, everyone knows your mana color, so you attract far too much attention to be the spy. And Minori, Rose would have killed you, and your position also attracts too much attention to be the mole. As a result, both of you are cleared. And, Maric can't be the mole, because he only arrived today, which means he simply doesn't have the timeframe. And with the attempt on my life, I am cleared as well. But seriously, are you sure we can trust Loki? Even for a councilor, he seems secretive, and always jumps to eliminating anything unknown, or learing everything about it via whatever means he can use".

"Hold on, by that logic, wouldn't Councilors be exempt too?" Maric asked.

"Considering how much power we have, no. Any of the other four could be the spy" Artemis replied, before looking back at Minori and Cedric. "Thats part of the reason why I am here. I need to know, if you have any theories on who the spy could be?"

Deep down though, Maric had a suspicion. Zeus was clearly trying to wipe these three out, probably because none of them could be the mole. But how did they know all three would be together? That is what troubled Maric. That is what didn't make sense.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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(Co-Written with Alle9009. Hope you guys enjoy!)

The training facility wasn't a place Sillo had ever gone to before. It didn't matter how many times his superiors asked him to. He just didn't do it. It didn't catch his particular interest given he practiced his abilities every day given he never had to drive anywhere.

But he'd never fought anyone as strong as Rose had been. And this meant if he was going to succeed, he'd have to get stronger.

So he went with Aldred, who seemed extremely excited to be here. There was a spring in his step, an extra color in his cheeks, an atmosphere of pure warmth as he showed Sillo around the place. This was home to him, it was clear and plain to read. Sillo enjoyed watching the blonde teen bumble from place to place, a stark difference from the stoicism and thin smiles Aldred normally had. A change of pace...

The end of the tour was in one of the training rooms...the room the two would be sparring in. Sillo didn't have the ability to sense Mana, but he could practically feel the mystical aura emanate off the walls and structural support beams around them. This room was covered with it, presumably for protection of the building as a whole. No sense in having a Training facility if it's going to come down every time someone uses it.

Sillo set himself up on one side of the room, conjuring the weapon he had used the last time against Rose: a Naginata. While he'd typically used the bow staff, Sillo knew a stick wouldn't suffice against Rose. He'd need something more useful...something more sharp. So he wielded the ninja weapon like a bow staff, placing himself in a fighting stance. Feet shoulder width apart. Eyes surprisingly focused. He was ready.




SIllo couldn't tell how much time had passed since they had started. He only knew it was tied between them.

Aldred had struck quickly and powerfully on the opening spar, landing hits left and right and winning round one before Sillo ould even set up a rebuttle. Round Two fared a lot better for the Naginata-carrying teen with Sillo winning it on a well executed cheap shot. Aldred responded next round with a magnificent groin shot that had Sillo down on the ground instantly, mostly from pain, but some from lighthearted laughter. Sillo got his revenge for it next round, using his conjuring skills to his advantage as he weaved a web of metal around him and played Whack the Pinata until the blondie cried Uncle. Suddenly, it was two to two.

Sillo was physically tired. He'd never worked out before this fight. Hell, he'd never worked out ever before this moment. Aldred was a physical boy and despite breaking a couple of sweats, he was still bouncing and jiving as if he was still on Round One. Sillo was leaning on his Naginata, catching his breath.

However, he was more than ready mana-wise. He had more than enough stored up in that department and he was ready to unleash it all over Aldred. Smiling in confidence, he set himself up again and hit the Random button on the Scenery Changer. He watched the room melt around them as it changed to...whatever it would end up being.

"There's no way I'm ending this on a tie," he gave a thumbs up to Aldred, "One more round. For all the marbles!"

"Yeah, yeah," Aldred snorted, but the smile he sent Sillo's way was soft, filled with both fondness and assessment of his abilities. The other teen might look tired, but he seemed ready to go another round. "All the marbles in your head, mabye. Still..."

Sillo had improved marvelously. He was inventive and quick, and with the amount of mana at his disposal he could do a lot more than Aldred's usual 'beat-em-up' routine. His physical stances had needed work, but he'd picked up Aldred's tips pretty quickly, and now the other teen knew how to throw a punch without the risk of dislocating his thumb, and how to swing his whole weight into a punch instead of just his arm.

Aldred kind of regreted teaching him that when he used the punch to land that cheapshot, but at the same time he was proud. He'll know how to defend himself physically now anyway. Takes a load off my mind.

Alright, enough rest time. Aldred nodded to himself as the scenery changed, trees and plants galore swirling into view slowly as if fading in reverse. A sudden tropical smell, a mixture of both greens and moist, fresh air, filled their noses. and the air suddenly felt humid and damp. Judging from the vines and jungle trees a few yards away, they were in a clearing inside a rainforest.

Sweet. It would have been better if the plants could come up alive and try to kill them the way Rose probably would, but eh. Beggars couldn't be choosers.

"Alright, we got a rainforest this time." Aldred settled into a low stance, steadying his center of gravity and taking a deep breath. As he let it out, he raised a hand up in front of him like a brawler in the streets, fist cocked and sure and ready for anything. "I'd say let the best man win, but well, I want to win." Aldred said dryly. His mouth quirked, sending out a lopsided grin Sillo's way. "Best three out of five?"

Sillo nodded, his own confident and carefree grin appearing on his face as he examined his surroundings. The air was mostly stagnant minus a slight breeze escaping through the thick canopy every once in a while. The trees were numerous, blocking the view any further than fifty feet. Which was good for Sillo, who liked to use deception to his advantage whenever he could.

The amount of green in this landscape is just TOO DAMN HIGH!

So he'd play to that. He twirled the Naginata menacingly (or was it enticingly? He could never tell with Aldred given the blondie's love for combat.) and set himself up, breathing deeply and calmly. "You strike first."

It was the pacificst nature in Sillo coming out. He almost never took the first swing and he wasn't going to start now.

"Eh, sure." Aldred's eyes narroweda slightly at the suggestion as if he were skeptical about it, but he kept his mouth shut and shrugged it away, a sharp roll of the shoulders as a pair of thick leather gauntlets started to form on his hands. They formed into reality from the tip of his fingers and around his hands and arms, and by the time Aldrd had competed the roll the guantlets were complete, the brown leather and plated metal that decorated and added more sturdiness to the gauntlets ending near his elbows. Aldred knew that even if he was strong enough to survive a train crashing into him at full speed without much damage (don't ask), that did nothing against sharp objects. Human flesh could be cut apart really easily, and it helped to have protection at hand.

The blonde teen tightened his fingers into fists, breifly enjoying the feel of leather on his hands as he bent his knees and raised his arms in front of him, digging his feet into the ground. "Here I come then." He yelled to Sillo, getting ready to move. A warning to be on guard and that the battle had begin, and all bets were off. It wouldn't do to attack a friend without warning in this situation.

Almost immediately after Aldred had yelled he moved. Nothing but a pair of footprints dugged into the ground left any indication that a person had been standing there seconds ago. The blondie's body moved with comfortable grace as he leaped forwards, sprinting towards Sillo so fast that he was almost a blur. Within seconds Aldred had made it to Sillo's side with a fist cocked like a gun ready to fire, and without hesitation Aldred launched a series of punches at Sillo's head and chest, warily testing the waters.

But Pavlov taught Sillo well. He did what he knew how to do in similar situations and teleported out of the way. The barrage of fists struck nothing but air and now Sillo was behind him, a sly grin on his face.

"Boop!" he cried as he rapped Aldred's head with the shaft of the Naginata. It was more like a cute love tap than it was to doing actual damage, but it was spontaneous, it was a hit, and most of all it was hilarious. Before the blondie could turn around Sillo was already gone again, teleporting high into the trees.

Now the game of cat and mouse had begin. Aldred played Tom while Sillo would do his best at being Jerry. He'd already used this tactic in spar and found that the result could go either way. If Aldred ended up being hyper sensitive to his surroundings when Sillo launched a sudden attack, Sillo would likely be on the ground. If not, then Jerry would once again doop the kitty and land a couple more blows. The time would come, but for now Sillo stood in the branches, high above Aldred, using the lack of far sight the rainforest provided to his advantage.

Aldred whirled around once before coming to a stop, reaching a hand up to rub his head. He rubbed his head as if it had hurt and faked a wince as he looked up, but it was merely a disguise for what Aldred was really doing - getting a good look at his surroundings to see if he could find Sillo hiding somewhere.

"You didn't let me prepare my fight music!" Sillo whined, his voice hard to locate with all the foliage around them.

"Because the last time I did you ended up playing some weird chipmunk voice spanish song on high speed while you hit me with a stick." Aldred said exasperatedly, although there was an amused tint to his words. Getting hit felt more like flies hadn't really affected him, but having that song blasted in his ears at full volume until he surrendered did the trick. In his hands, a machette appeared, and he swung it silently to his side. "Dale Dale Dale', seriously." Aldred closed his eyes as he hummed the tune with a faint smile, tilting his head upwards.

Dale, dale, dale, No pierdas el tino...

As his head tilted up Aldred's eyes opened slightly, the slit so small that it was almost like his eyes were still shut. The voice came from up... but where? The treebranches? Still humming, his eyes flickered around the treetops, his expression giving nothing away of his true intentions. The humming was nothing but a disguise for what Aldred was trying to do - find Sillo.

That, and it really was catchy.

"It's still stuck in my head, you know," he said breezily, listening carefully. He looked forward again, his body tensing just enough to be on his toes as he waited for an attack he wasn't quite sure would come. "If you promise not to play that damn song again, I'll give you enough time to choose an epic battle song before we start."

Sillo laughed as he remembered the song he'd used to throw his opponents off guard from time to time, "Alright, then. I'll pick a different song," he conjured the familiar boombox he knew how to make and set it down on a particularly wide tree branch. Thinking about what song he should pick, he figured he'd at least give Aldred some PTSD in the process. So...

Dale, dale, dale Canción para romper la piñata

Aldred winced theatrically and resisted a groan. "Oh Gods, not this tune again. Really, Sillo? Really?!" He waved the machette threateningly at a random direction. Sound definitely from the top. A bit to my left... I think. "Are you seriously trying to get me to kill that poor boombox? Because I really will slice it into little bitty pieces just to make it stop singing that song."

A much harder laugh erupted across the rainforest, "Just kidding! " He turned the song off just as epiphany struck him and he realized what the perfect song would be. Smiling in satisfaction, heput the real song on and listened as the rainforest filled with noise.

Tobu - Higher

Nodding his head to the beat of it, Sillo teleported away from the boombox so his baby could stay safe from Aldred's potential wrath. Although this was a much better song than Dale Dale Dale. He'd likely find that Aldred agreed.

For a moment, everything was silent. The air was still. No leaves rustled. Even fake simulated wildlife remained silent. It was just the music that filled the air. Sillo remembered the spot where he'd left Aldred, knowing he didn't even need to look to figure out he was likely still there. He felt the beat slowing down...the part right before the beat would explode and the full intensity would be relinquished. Now.

Sillo teleported back to Aldred, appearing right behind him. He lunged forward, bladed end high in the air, threatening an arcing downward strike on Aldred's head. But the forward strike would never come. Aldred had already been turning the moment Sillo had begun to lung forward, having already readied himself for an attack from any direction. His arm blurred as he twisted his body, bringing the machette in his hands up in a swing to block the naginata's blade.

Sillo had anticiplated the block, figuring beforehand that Aldred learned how to deal with that move from a couple spars ago. Switching tactics quickly, rather than swing the blade down, he stuck the shafted end of the Naginata into the soft earth, feeling it dig deep in. He then propelled himself up, his body sailing over Aldred in a magnificent pole vault. He landed on the other side, but not before aiming for the back of Aldred's head with the blunt end, slightly harder than the first strike.

"Seriously, dude...need a helmet," Sillo quipped.

"No thanks, I'd rather not have something that easily breakable on my head," Aldred replied breezily, deflecting the blow to the back of his head. Sillo pivoted, bringing the bladed end in front of him in anticipation of a counter strike, and Aldred did not dissapoint. Steel clashed against steel as their blades met, and for a moment they were locked together, struggling to gain the advantage over one another. Then Aldred gave a sharp experimental push to get Sillo off balance. Sillo was pushed back a peg, but kept his feet planed. The earth slightly gave way under him from the pure strength Aldred had used in that thrust. Sillo finally used enough force to push the machette outward, leaving him open for a rapid counter with the familiar blunted end of the naginata as he sent it crashing into the vicinity of Aldred's ribs.

The best thing about carrying a two-sided weapon was that Sillo could go back and forth with strokes much quicker than one could with a single blade or axe or hammer or rocket lance. And while the Naginata typically functioned as a one-sided weapon, Sillo's familiarity with the bow staff gave him that extra mph! he needed to have the upper hand in dexterity.

The best thing about carrying a one-handed weapon, however, was that you had one hand free to defend with. Aldred's mind rapidly cycled through options. Grab it and break it? Tank it and then break Sillo's ribs with a punch before he realises that it didn't work? No, that wasn't what people normally did. This was training in combat for Sillo, so Aldred did what he thought was the most commonly chosen option - his free hand blurred as he brought his hand up in an open palmed slap against the blunt end of the Naginata blade Sillo tried to crash into his ribs.

Okay, new tactic! Sillo brought the bladed end up, catching Aldred's machette as he did so, and swung it around. The key was body placement. Because Aldred chose to slap the Naginata away rather than take the full force, Sillo would stay where he was. He contorted his body to the right as the blades came down, hitting the O Horizon below them. And just as quickly, Sillo spun around, going from directly in front of Aldred to directly behind him. The Naginata swung around, the blunt end aiming for the knee. A slight peripheral glance upwards told Sillo that a low hanging branch was nearby. He caught the sharp end in it, letting the blunt end sink into the earth. Now that it was stabilized, he would use his whole body weight as he grabbed the middle of the Naginata and went airborne as he swung around it, full force exerted while his feet beelined for Aldred's stomach.

The blow to Aldred's knee felt a little like someone slamming a small branch to the back of his knee - it felt like a normal blow, but easy to handle. Ignoring the impact as if it were nothing, Aldred felt a grin cross his face as he heard the sound of steel biting into wood, having his unspoken question confirmed as he whirled around in a half-circle to see Sillo grab the Naginata in the middle. Without pausing, Aldred dropped his machette to the ground as he completed the circle. The soft thud of metal hitting earth had barely resounded before Sillo came into view feet first Aldred took a breath and raised his arms out in front of him, grabbing Sillo's feet inches before it landed on his stomach. Sillo jerked to a sudden stop as Aldred jerked back slightly from the impact, but Sillo would suddenly feel his feet encased in a tight vice-like grip as Aldred shot him a smile, completely unaffected by the blow Sillo had tried to land.

"I think you're the one who's going to need that helmet," Aldred said lightly. Sillo might have improved, but there was no way he could beat Aldred in a physical fight at his current level.

He pulled Sillo away from the tree. Whirling Sillo around like a baseball bat and slamming Sillo's upper body against multiple trees in the process, Aldred swung him three times in quick succession before slamming him headfirst into the ground as if he were trying to drive a Sillo-shaped nail back into the wood it came from.

"Nope!" cried Sillo as he phased...his word for entering the Observer realm. Before Aldred could do anything more, he was out of his grip and nowhere to be seen. He took a second to breathe, recover slighty from the fast-paced fighting that had been the previous few seconds. His head would be a swollen lump right now had he not done it. All this fighting they'd done and Sillo had only just now learned that the physical strikes wouldn't work against Aldred. Concentrating hard, he thought about what to do. Aldred was going to unleash Satan's Fury if he tried anything direct again. Or at least Mike Tyson's...

And then he remembered. To be fair, it had been so long since he'd used this ability...about a couple months to be exact. He was now kicking himself for forgetting about this. He could've used this against Rose! Well, the least he could do is beat Aldred with it.

Now overwhelmingly pleased and pissed at the same time, he rolled back to his feet, phasing back in to the arena right next to his Naginata. Sillo made no motion towards the bladed staff. He merely stood by it. But his eyes seemed to radiated an electric blue as he stared at Aldred, a gleam of satisfaction crossing his eye. The Naginata was suddenly launching itself from it's perch on it's own accord, heading straight for Aldred, blade first. Sillo just stood there, hands in his pockets, but all intensity on his face.

Aldred bent to pick up the machette he had dropped. He spun it in his hand like a cheerleader's baton, rotating in quick circles as he brought it up to shoulder height. As it twirled in his fingers the blade grew longer, thinner, and the handle changed into something with a shorter grip - a sword with a long blade that gleamed in the light. Aldred gave a sideway's swipe, and the Naginata was flung back. It had barely touched the ground before it came back for more.

"Nice," Aldred said appreciatively. He was parrying on automatic now, blocking and exchanging blows with the Naginata, but no matter how many times he sent it to the floor it came back like a dog trying to get a bone.

"Forgot I could do that," he muttered, referring to his long forgotten telekinesis. He didn't slow the onslaught, conjuring a variety of sharp things. Knives, shurikens, fingernail clippings, and other pointy objects swirled around Sillo before propelling themselves at Aldred. The sword in Aldred's hand morphed into a long dagger as he placed both hands on the now-simple leather hilt, and when the blonde brought his hands apart the dagger split into two. Taking a step forward, Aldred began to run, but not away from the, horde of incoming objects determined to take his head off - instead, he sprinted towards them.

For the first time, Aldred's lips curved up into a small, pleased grin. Things were finally getting serious - in a fun way, of course. He couldn't send them back to their owner or they'd just turn and try to gut him like magical homing missiles, so he'd have to destroy them instead.

"Whoa," Sillo muttered. Aldred was surrounded so much that it was almost as if he were in a very solid hurricane, but no matter how fast the objects moved Aldred always managed to deflect or swipe them away with his weapons, destroying each object approaching him within instants, blocking anything from coming close to his back with a round shield that hovered close behind him. He duelweilded the daggers like a pro, weaving his way through a path between the objects lunging at him and destroying them with inhuman grace and speed, as if he had experienced this many times before.

It was a breathtaking sight to behold. Aldred moved like a sword dancer at high speed, effeciently slaying anything in his path as he headed for his opponents, but even his strength and skill couldn't do anything against the sheer numbers Sillo had sent against him.

For every one object he knocked away, there were three more to take its place, and soon Aldred's clothes were seeped in both blood and holes from where he had been unable to avoid the knives. Still, despite having half of the Storm of Pointy Objects left to deal with, Aldred still found time to kick some nailcutters towards Sillo while parrying a kunai and trying not to get fingernail clippings in his mouth. They flew like lightning fast mini missiles out from between the gaps left between the knives, heading straight for Sillo's torso and face.

The knives whizzed by Sillo, but never managed to cut skin. Well, there was one exception as a finger nail dug into his right arm. "Ah," Sillo muttered as he pulled it out and tossed it to the ground. The rest of the projectiles Aldred managed to throw in his general direction Sillo managed to air push just enough to change the direction of flight to where it wasn't hitting him. But he needed something heavier...something that wouldn't be blocked so easily. He decided to take it a step further, lifting his hands to the sky as he concentrated really hard. Before Aldred knew it, a massive Boeing 737 was being hurtled at him, the paint job on it flashy enough to be potentially distracting as Aldred might wonder "Why is the plane neon green?"

He did wonder why it was, but only for a moment. Neon green plane? Only Sillo. Bad attempt at cameoflage though - green's too bright to not attract attention. What to do?

Rapidly, Aldred cycled through his options, kicking a kunai straight into a horde of nail clippings. Situation - a hurricane of pointy objects and fingernails he was currently in the middle of, and a neon green plane. Everwhere he turned the sharp knives surrounded him, and when his eyes flickered up he could see the neon green plane's girth growing wider every second. It wouldn't be much long before it landed on him in a blazing fireball. Problem - Neon green Boeing was about to crash into him if he didn't suffer from death by stabbing or choking by nailclippings.

Solution - Destroy Hurricane Sharp and Neon Boeing 737, then attack Sillo before he could do anything else.

How?

Aldred's grin widened as he settled on a plan. This is going to be fun.

What happened next took only seconds.

Shifting to the left to avoid a sword thrust to his foot, Aldred ducked to the ground to avoid a pair of scissors who had decided to try and give him a new haircut and threw his dagger up high into the air as if he were trying to win a javelin-throwing contest. The objects swarmed away from the thrown object as if it were a beam of light piercing a hole through the cloud, and Aldred instantly leapt up into the cleared path before it dissappeared. A pair of footprints were left dug into the ground from the sheer force of his jump, and as he leapt Aldred's remaining dagger morphed into something small that fitted into the palm of his fist. Raising his arms to deflect any objects heading his way, Aldred's leap left him a good two feet above the enchanted weapons. As he began to fall, Aldred took aim and hurled the object in his hand to the center of the weapon storm before summoning a pair of earmuffs and a kite shield strapped to his feet.

If the weapons had eyes, they would have seen that it was a bomb set to go off in three, two, one -

KABOOM!

The explosion was small but intense. The weapons and any greenery in the vincinty disintergrated from the force of the bomb, leaving nothing but charred earth and a heatwave hot enough to belong to a volcano behind. The light from the explosion was blinding, as if someone had lit up the sun in a pitchblack room, and the sound was enough to deafen anyone within hearing vincinity. The force of the explosion was enough to send the jungle trees bending backwards almost in half - and more than enough to fling a well-prepared Aldred upwards like a rocket-propelled surfer.

"WHOOO!"Blood singing praises in his veins to the andrenaline rush he was getting, Aldred's grin widened into a fullfledged beaming smile of excitment as he shot upwards. The force had been absorbed by the shield which both acted as a cushion and surfboard to boost the physically enhanced teen up, and the silencing earmuffs he was wearing negated any hearing damage he could have gotten from being so close to the bomb. Using the force as a boost, Aldred flew upwards high enough to see the top of the trees before using the shield as a platform to leap even higher. The shield crashed back into the jungle like a shooting star as he shot upwards like superman.

The Boeing 737 was directly in front of him, still continuing its trajectory downwards. Perfect.

The shrill screech of metal tearing apart rang in Aldred's ears as he grabbed hold of the plane's nose hard enough to dent metal. Gritting his teeth, Aldred's muscles bulged as he tightened his grip on the plane, and with both the force from his bomb-enhanced flight and magic enhancing his normally over-the-top strength Aldred began to move his arms, grunting as he tried to pull the plane off course.

For a moment it seemed that the plane wasn't affected. Then the tail began to slide to the left, and soon the plane was swooping around in an arc mid-air as Aldred began to spin in mid-air with a yell. As it continued to spin like an out of control top the plane began to blur, gaining more force with each gyration until:

"HERE'S YOUR FLIGHT, SILLO!" Aldred yelled, grinning fit to burst, and with that he threw the plane down towards Sillo with all the force he could muster - which for a close-combat mage with enhanced strength was a lot.

With a whistling sound that felt like the horn of doom the plane crashed down towards where Sillo was standing faster than a kamikaze pilot could blow himself up. Landing with a earth-shaking crash, the neon green Boeing mowed through the flora shortly tumbling to a stop - whereupon it exploded and showered the now-wrecked jungle with flaming machine parts. With a sproioioioiing, a flaming pilot seat ejected into the sky before a parachute appeared, fluttering gently down into the wreckage.

But Sillo wasn't a part of that wreckage. In fact, he was standing a couple feet in front of where the plane first made contact with the ground, a massive line of wreckage and debris behind him where the rest of the plane slid and was effectively blown to smithereens. How he had done it was simple. He couldn't quite stop the plane's momentum in mid air with the telekinesis he used to launch it at Aldred, but he certaintly could redirect it. And slightly above Sillo was better than on top of Sillo.

Sillo would only have a moment to breath before he noticed a sound similar to a mini-rocket. Still in the air, Aldred had summoned a MK4 Folding Finn Aerial Rocket while the plane was still crashing and fired it in quick succession. The nineteen rockets tseered as they splitted up. Flying around dizzily like drunk men trying to find the way home, the rockets arced around like runaway fireworks. Unlike runaway fireworks, the explosion was a lot more larger when they landed, designed to decimated the clearing.

Explosions. Lots and lots of explosions. The world around the white haired electric blue eyed Sillo was nothing but expanding fire and an insane amount of noise. None of which caused any real damage to Sillo as he managed to enter the Spectator Realm at the time he needed to. The first explosion was the indicator. When he phased back in, the remnants of the simulated rain forest was left in his wake. Everything was flat, charred, and violent, the bountiful and beautiful flora that had once surrounded them replaced by ash and smoldering embers. Smoke drifted up in plumes, making the whole arena a bit foggier than it had been. Behind Sillo rested the remnants of the Boeing, the bright and shiny paint barely shining through the twisted metal and jagged pieces of silver and charred black.

But what made Sillo truly mad was that the boombox that was playing his fight music was destroyed in the fray as boomboxes tended to do when sharp pointy things, a crashing cargo plane, and a rocket that split into smaller rockets existed within the same confines. Despite everything Sillo had done, it was miraculous he hadn't been hit by anything other than the finger nail.

I swear to God if the finger nail infects me with some fungal disease...

Ignoring the potential irony, Sillo looked out to Aldred's body, bloodied and full of cuts. But he was still standing with a lot of stamina left within him. The nerve pain would likely be taxing, but nothing critical had happened because of the Razor Whirlwind Sillo threw his way. He was in one piece. And he didn't looked too tired.

Sillo was already physically tired, but he'd reached a new kind of tired...a kind of tired he rarely came across. Mana-tired. Telekinesis, the wind based mana moves, and soooo much conjuring had done a number on him. He was conditioned and had a high storage of mana, but even he had a limit. Typically an attack like that would leave a Gatewatcher out of mana and down on the ground from exhaustion...like Goku's Spirit Bomb. A slight headache throbbed dully in the back of his mind while he pushed his exhaustion aside and activated the Airbender side of himself as he walked towards the blondie. He wasn't overdoing it...not yet.

"Not bad, all things considered," Sillo said, conjuring a bow staff as he set himself up once more, "But now, we get real."

He twirled the bow staff in front of him as he got used to the old familiarity of the weapon. The Naginata was nice and all, but Sillo felt it was time to return to his roots and what he knew best. This meant a lot of air-based techniques with the bow staff for support, defensive in this case. Still, he'd throw in some of the things he'd used...the things he'd learned as he'd been fighting Aldred. This was for all the marbles, after all.

And Sillo was going to get every single one of those marbles.

Before Aldred could even think about setting himself up in response, a big tree branch rose up on it's own from the pile of ashes. It tried to wham itself against Aldred's head like a baseball bat going for a home run, but before it could Aldred's fist blurred backwards and the branch shattered into pieces, the blonde still keeping his gaze on his opponent the whole time. Sillo smiled, his eyes twinkling with the laughter he wanted to emit as he stared at Aldred, motioning for him to make the first move.

"Sorry, had to. Now we can get real."

"Finally." Aldred grinned, the curve of his lips sharp and feral and just as amused. Contrary to Sillo, Aldred had yet to extend most of his mana in this fight, at the cost of cuts on his body and the lack of injuries on Sillo - although that was about to change. Aldred slammed his fists together, and a eerie light spread faintly around the gauntlets, the same etheral glow that the Dimension Swords had. Aldred raised his fists in front of him like a brawler, bouncing lightly from foot to foot to a tune that only he could hear. A little mana drifted into his veins slowly like water trickling through a dam, prickling his blood and lighting a spark inside of him, as if a small flame had just been lit.

No more being on the defensive. Now was the time to attack.

For a moment, everything was still. The tension in the air rose, crackling like electricity gathering in a storm -

Aldred dashed forwards fast, landing a few quick punches against Sillo's face and torso to test the waters. Sillo dodged or deflected the blows with his staff, wincing from the strength of the blows, and Aldred's speed increased as his blows grew more and more furious until he was almost a blur of movement. As Aldred sped up, so did Sillo, meeting each strike with the shaft of his bow. Full concentration was in effect for Sillo as he played the defensive role this time...a standard in his way of life. He spun the stick around, catching a right hook, and shoved it out of the way. A careful sweep in front of him sent a kick off the designated target. But deflection was one thing...Aldred's power was another.

The next time Sillo raised his staff to block Aldred's kick shattered it into two, and Sillo reeled back from the force of the blow, nearly toppling over. He changed tactics as he wielded the two sticks in front of him like Kataars, twirling them between his fingers as he parepared for the next attack. Sure enough, Aldred's fist came flying towards his midsection. It wouldn't matter what dimension Sillo had phased to - it would land with an oomph in Sillo's chest with enough force to break a couple of ribs.

Unless he teleported. A quick jump through space put Sillo about twenty feet from Aldred as his punch would likely come up with air. In response, Sillo threw the two sticks at the blondie like miniature javelins. Before Aldred could turn and deflect them, Sillo had teleported again, tossing another stick from another direction. Then repeated the process again...and again. The effect was a series of projectiles coming from a variety of angles, similar to the razor whirlwind he'd created earlier, except the projectiles would be faster and more direct to Aldred's current position.

Aldred shifted back to defense. He kept dodging, moving like he was in a particularly dangerous game of dodgeball. The sticks upgraded to hardened steel, then sharp hardened steel, but it didn't matter - Aldred merely grinned as one stick flew past his eyes by mere centimeters, twisting his body fluidly to dodge the strike to his leg at the same time in a move that was almost like a gold-star Olympist twirling in mid air, senses stretched out close to the limit to sense where the next move would be coming from.

As a steel stake flew towards his hip Aldred's hand reached out to grasp it's shaft. The steel went from full speed to stock still as Aldred's hand gripped it tightly. Without pause, Aldred threw the stake up to meet the Kunai that came from above. The tip of the stake met the tip of the knife with enough force that both of the weapons rebounded in different directions, sparks glittering down onto the two combatants like stars.

Sillo immediately changed tactics, teleporting straight in front of Aldred immediately after the blonde let the knife go. His arms crossed in front of him in a block as Sillo sent a quick and sudden Air Blast thrusted straight at the blondie's meat-gringing abs. The gauntlets he was wearing absorbing some of the impact, but thanks to unstable footing Aldred flew backwards to what remained of the trees. Sillo grabbed a piece of contorted metal from the wreckage of the plane and sent it towards him with Telekinesis as Aldred righted his center of gravity with a quick twist, facing the twisted piece head on.

It was too large to dodge at the speed he was at, and it wasn't like It was made from Steel, aluminum, but mostly steel. And steel was made from carbon and iron, connected together with bonds that were hard to destroy... Normally.

Right. Aldred clapped his hands together in front of him with a sharp grin as he sped towards the twisted come of metal Sillo sent his way. A faint gleam glowed around his gauntlets as Aldred slammed one fist into his hand, refining his focus. His fist was a blur of movement as Aldred swung out with a punch towards the metal.

"Shatter."

Aldred's whisper was lost under the sound of cracking metal. A crackly energy that looked similar to white electricity wreathed outwards from where Aldred had touched the twisted piece of metal as atoms rearranged themselves faster than thought - and the metal crumbled away like pencil lead under Aldred's punch, leaving a clear path for Aldred to go through without harm.

But one more strike to sweeten the deal. Aldred's momentum would carry him right to the tree line where Sillo teleported to, having conjured a reinforced bow staff. He spun the steel-tipped weapon around him, gaining momentum for the grand slam home run. Aldred was the ball and Sillo was carrying the bat. As Aldred got within striking distance, Sillo extended his arm as well as the staff it carried, aiming for the head. To add some extra power, he used his air magic to put force behind his swing. If SIllo were hitting a normal teenager, the stroke would be lethal, smashing the skull into mush as well as likely breaking their neck. But this was Aldred, someone who could take such a critical strike.

Aldred saw the blow to his head coming, having destroyed the diversion Sillo had been hoping to use. Reacting on pure instinct, Aldred hunched his head and punched at the bottom of the staff to send it upwards and away from his face, magic aiding his blow. As the staff flew up close enough to pass through his hair, probably causing Sillo to get off balance, Aldred became a blur of movement, hands snatching out to grab at the wrist of the hand holding the staff and Sillo's shirt in a grip tight enough to break bone. Sillo grabbed at Aldred's wrist instinctively, but Aldred wasn't affected. Momentarily forgetting himself, Aldred's face formed a terrifying snarl as he pulled Sillo roughly forward into a devastating head butt. The grip on Sillo's wrist was tight, and mana roared through Aldred's veins; sparking up and down his body and igniting a fire inside him as he used a large chunk of it to make him real in all dimensions.

Another large chunk of mana he used to enhance his physical body. He still had enough mana left, but unless he wanted to dip into the mana reserve he kept for healing in case of deadly injuries he'd have to end the fight quickly. As they tumbled off the treebranch Aldred's grip tightened to the point of grounding Sillo's wrist bones together. Gritting his teeth and tanking any blows Sillo rained at him, Aldred kneed Sillo in the solar plexus as he gave the wrist he was holding a hard yank, dislocating Sillo's shoulder with a Nasty sounding pop as he used his free hand to slam Sillo's jaw shut to prevent any air bending yelling moves. Tumbling together, they landed on the ground, Aldred sitting on Sillo's chest with his hand still on the other boy's jaw.

And suddenly Sillo was back. Back to the museum. Back to the battleground. Sillo was staring Rose in the face once more. He was reliving the fight over and over again. The many attempts he'd taken to landing a single blow. The effortless parries Rose came back with. The pain...so much of the pain. It was the pain that had brought him back to that moment...that brought him back to the brink of death.

I'm not letting that happen again...

When Sillo's eyes shot open, they were fiery red. His white hair changed color, fading to a pitch and powerful black. With his uninjured hand, he grabbed Aldred's arm and squeezed. The force of the squeeze would no doubt surprise him as he squeezed harder and harder...right on the pressure point...until...

SNAP! The bone broke right at the elbow. Sillo could already feel the power behind the hand that clasped over his mouth weaken as all energy faded from it. He didn't even have to hear the surprise in Aldred's gasp or his face deliberately turning blank like plain white canvas. The moment it did, Sillo teleported to the clouds, taking the blonde boy with him.

And for a moment, all was silent. All was calm. Sillo and Aldred were painted on a landscape of blue and white, the jungle below them. They were staring each other in the face. Aldred's expression showed worry, his eyes wrinkled with confusion and concern at the sudden change in personality and tactics. Sillo's showed no mercy.

"Sillo..?" Aldred's voice was not exactly uneasy, but there was no denying the tension in the questioning lilt of his voice; the worried furrow in his brow.

Sillo's response was physical. The teen ripped Aldred's grip off of him, the grip itself being so strong that he took a piece of Sillo's shirt with him. With a rough shove, almost like a toss, Sillo threw Aldred below him as they freefalled, heading back down to the ground below them. Sillo used his good hand to add more force through the throw by Air Pushing Aldred beneath him as the two gained speed. They were beyond terminal velocity at this point.

Sillo gave one more mighty Air Push, nearly doubling Aldred's speed while halfing Sillo's as the two hit the ash covered arena below them, Sillo on top of Aldred in an echo of what had happened moments ago. There was an ominous cracking sound from Aldred's ribs as he hit the ground, and his face twisted with pain as the force of the impact made itself felt. A sonic boom appeared an instant later, covering Aldred's shout and letting the blonde know that he had broke the sound barrier when he hit the ground.

It hurt. Just because Aldred was strong enough to withstand crashing like a meteorite didn't mean he couldn't feel pain - it just meant that his pain threshold was much, much higher than others. Pain throbbed through his body like a blazing fire and centered towards his ribs, and distantly Aldred registered that most of his ribs were broken, the rest cracked in varying degrees depending on how far they'd been from Sillo's air push. His broken arm continued to throb, sharp flickering pain resembling electricity from a flickering lamp that originated from his elbow, adding a twinge to the rest of his body.

Breathing. Fuck, every movement his lungs made felt like they were being set on fire while being eaten by army ants, but Aldred pushed away the pain with practiced ease and did so anyway. In and out, in and out, Aldred kept his breaths carefully even so that he wouldn't accidentally puncture a lung as he kept himself still under Sillo's hold.

At least it isn't as bad as back then...

Nothing can be as bad as that day.

Agony throbbed inside his chest as Aldred's broken rib began to knit itself back together, but it was welcome. Aldred tilted his head up and shot Sillo an annoyed look, irritation spiking through him. "Dude, if this is how you respond to a dislocated arm I'd hate to see what you'd do if I'd broke it," Aldred said grumpily, his voice breathless and wheezy. His tone sounded irritated and not at all frightened, almost as if Sillo had just played a prank on him instead of slamming him down at the speed of sound in an effort to kill him. Eyes narrowing in puzzlement, Aldred studied his friend. "What happened to you anyway? Was it the knock on the head I gave you?"

If it was due to a concussion, it didn't explain the sudden change. Sillo had turned into an almost opposite version of himself. The boy kneeling above him had black hair and red eyes, in contrast to the normal white hair and blue eyes. The normally merry twinkle in his eye had faded, replaced with a blank, merciless look. His strategy had changed too - while Sillo normally hesitated to land any killing blows this version of him had immediately tried to send Aldred to the afterlife without hesitation - A fact he demonstrated as Sillo brought his fist down towards Aldred's face like an answer.

Aldred tilted his head to the side as Sillo brought his fist down with a loud smack into the earth where his face used to be, so close that the velocity from the force brushed wind against his cheek.

Yup. Definitely not the friend he knew.

Sillo continued to pound the ground as if he were playing whack-a-mole with Aldred's head as the mole. His dislocated hand hung uselessly by his side as his other hand moved with a blur of speed, but Aldred kept up easily. After a few seconds Black Sillo (Aldred's prototype nickname for him) decided that the game was apparently taking too long and grabbed Aldred's neck, pinning him to the ground.

Sillo's hand began to squeeze.

"Ok," Aldred said, sounding a little choked as Black Sillo's hand began to tighten like a vice. He glared up at his friend's emotionless face, fist tightening into a fist against the ground as irritation flickered through him. "You know what? Fuck this." Aldred wriggled his hand out from under Sillo's knees. His elbow wasn't entirely healed, but it was enough for what he had planned. With his good hand, Aldred gripped the wrist of the hand Sillo was using to strangle him with enough force to leave a handprint on Sillo's skin.

"I don't know what the hell is going on in your head right now, but I don't like you killing me." Aldred continued, but despite the calmness in his tone there was an undercurrent of rage in it, a carefully held back beast that was threatening to break its collar. Sillo's grip loosened as Aldred tightened his grip to the point where Sillo had to let go or risk breaking the metacarpal's inside his wrist. Tightening his grip even more, Aldred opened his mouth to say a few final words:

"You're pissing me off. Sleep."

CRACK.

Sillo's broken wrist hung limply in Aldred's hold. He tried to rear back as Aldred brought his other hand up in what seemed like a punch, but Aldred still had his wrist hostage and Sillo roared in a mix of agony and rage as dirt entered his eyes. Aldred didn't give him any time to recover, reaching up to grab his shirt and pulling the teen into a good old fashion headbutt. There was a loud crack as their heads met like bulls locking horns, and as they both reared back Aldred used both his hands to both bring Sillo back down into another devestating headbutt and to bring himself up into a sitting position.

Blinking pain away from his head, Aldred lashed out with an elbow jab as Sillo tried to fling one of his wrecked arms at him. There was another crack as the radial and ulna bones snapped. Another cry of pain emmitted from Sillo as Aldred used the time to get to his feet, flying towards Sillo immediately for a punch to the ribs.

Sillo's arms were a mess. The dislocated left one and the broken right one hung limply by his sides. He was on his knees, staring at the ground, breathing hard. Not out of relaxation...but with a hard anger and an even harder determination...to kill. He looked up at Sillo, a cruel sneer on his face, spitting on the ground in front of him. His eye twitched.

When he spoke, his voice had changed. Aldred could hear an undertone quality to it...something sinister lurked there. And when he said these five words, there couldn't be any more death subtexted within.

"I don't need my arms."

Aldred suddenly found himself floating in the air as a surge of power contorted around his body and sat there. Aldred growled and tried to get back to punching , but he couldn't move. Sillo's head was shaking, his eyes deep in concentration as he focused on the blonde. Aldred was flung back, hitting the tree behind him with an insane amount of force. The tree snapped in half under the sudden weight being thrown. He then was flung forward...into another tree. And another. Sillo was ragdolling Aldred with Telekinesis and there was nothing he could do about it.

Clang! Against the plane wreckage. Smash! Into the ground.

Aldred growled as he flew around like a living hammer, a pissed off look forming on his face with each slam as if Sillo were knocking him into plasticine instead of wood; steel; the ground. The anger from before came back with a vengeance, but this time Aldred allowed it to course through his mind instead of holding it back. He fed it instead, forcing every negative emotion he had felt that day into it.

Irritation from the fight having turned serious, the rage he'd kept locked away from Rose's arrival, the pissed off feeling from the humiliation of losing that battle. Annoyance at having to go through the pain of healing breaking ribs, of having broken ribs, of the fact that Sillo had turned apparently insane and also just because he was pissed off and being flung around like a ragdoll. They all blended together into pure distilled fury, and power began to pump through Aldred's body as if the rage was trigger to a powerup.

Rage, annoyance, irritation, fury. People normally expected red mana users to be the angry ones thanks to the personality trait identified with them, but black and purple mana were a close second. It made sense - black mana users tend to feel angry when they hate the world, and while people tend to feel sorrow during grief there were also people who channeled that grief into anger.

Aldred was one of those people. And Sillo had just unleashed the beast.

"If you think that's going to work, think again." Aldred snarled under his breath. The faint purple ring at the edge of his eyes began to grow and bleed into the green until there was more purple than green. The next time Sillo flung him into a tree, Aldred reached out blindly and gripped at bark with both hands. He gritted his teeth and clung on awkwardly until Sillo gave an extra hard yank and uprooted both Aldred and the tree he was holding on to.

Gritting his teeth and ignoring the weary feeling of his arm ligaments getting out of whack from the effort, Aldred twisted his torso and swung the tree towards Sillo like a baseball bat gone out of control. As he swung a bright electrical glow fluttered through the tree as its molecular structure rearranged itself, and suddenly the tree was a polished spiky bat that was dense enough to, while not exactly sink, made it very hard to float.

Sillo deflected it with a snarl using telekinesis and ripped it from Aldred's hands. Stopping from using Aldred like a sledgehammer for the moment, the bat steadied itself in midair before dropping to the ground. Sillo didn't have a use for it.

And then Aldred was floating in the air once more, directly in front of SIllo. A small knife was conjured behind Sillo's fiery gaze, slowly advancing. It stopped right on Aldred's neck, digging into the skin far enough to draw blood, which trickled down onto his shirt, but stopped at the point where it would cut his neck wide open. Sillo glared mercilessly as he held the blondie on the brink of death.

Aldred glared back just as fiercely, the purple in his eyes glowing bright. "That's not how you kill people," he said, reaching up to grip the knife. Sillo tried to move it through his neck, but Aldred held it still easily, the handle nearly crushed in his grip. Slowly, the knife began to move backwards away from Aldred's neck, and soon enough Aldred had it pointed at Sillo with both hands. Enraged, Sillo's gaze grew brighter as he focused his telekinesis further, the blade of the knife slowly pushing back towards Aldred. The knife crackled as an electrical energy passed through it, and the blade morphed into a useless metal trumpet. Fighting for control, Aldred slowly brought it up towards his lips as he took a deep breath, focusing what remained of the mana he could spare on a spell as he locked eyes with Sillo, message clear in his eyes.

This is how you kill someone.

Aldred blew with all his might through the trumpet. Instead of music coming out, energy crackled as the molecular bonds within the trumpet changed, causing something to shoot out with a small boom and hit Sillo in the face at the speed of sound like a spitball.

A metal spitball that began to change shape, connected by ever thickening strands to the trumpet Aldred was still holding - only it wasn't a trumpet anymore but a big mass of fluidly changing metal that slid down the strings to gather on Sillo's face with dizzying speeds and wrapping around it like a spider wrapping its prey in sticky silk. They shifted and moved the way a tsunami did - once you saw it it was too late to avoid. The metal strands shifted and flowed like a living thing, never stopping and deceptively fast as it rolled towards Sillo's face like a hungry monster. Sillo couldn't do anything to it - it weaved through and around his clawing fingers like water and hardened on his face. Before Sillo could blink the web of metal had covered his mouth and was working its way upwards, covering his mouth and eyes and nose until he looked as if his head were in a cocoon made of metal, trapped and completely unable to breath.

No sight, no sound, not being able to hear anything but his own rapidly increasing heartbeat as his lungs ran out of oxygen. Sillo staggered back, clawing at the metal on his face - and Aldred dropped to the ground as Sillo lost control of his telekinesis.

Aldred didn't waste the opportunity. He was a blur of movement - one second he was a few feet away from Sillo, next he slammed into Sillo with enough force to break ribs and grabbing his arms, bringing up a knee to slam into his pelvis with enough force to shatter bone. Blinded and cut off, Sillo couldn't react in any way. Mercilessly, Aldred grabbed Sillo's broken elbow hard enough to grind the shattered bones together and ducked in close, bringing his hand up, nails gleaming wickedly in the light as it flew to spear through Sillo's chest and stab the heart apart -

Friend, not foe.

Aldred's fingers flew apart as he shifted the angle just in time, cutting a deep gouge in Sillo's side instead of through his heart. Reaching up with his good hand, Aldred grabbed Sillo by the shoulders and glared with eyes so bright it hurt to look at them. Sillo stared back anyway through the metallic mask with his own bright glare. The two colors of purple and red radiated in between them. The mask exploded, sending shards of metal outward and exposing Sillo's face wrought with rage. The shards came within inches of hitting Aldred square in the face, but the teen barely flinched. Instead, his grip tightened hard enough for Sillo's clavicles to creak.

"SLEEP!" Aldred roared, and with that he slammed his head into Sillo's face. There was a crunch of bone, and when Aldred moved back blood was dripping down his forehead. Sillo's nose was off center, bleeding as if he was an anime character who had just seen porn.

And then Sillo slumped forward. He exhaled slowly as his knees hit the ground first, then his body. As he fell, his hair was changing...back to their originally white color. If his eyes weren't closed, Aldred would've been able to see the red clearing from them, replaced with their electric blue iris. He lay still.

The scene began to change around them, back into the training room-like setting it had before.

Panting for breath, Aldred raised his fists warily, watching Sillo with a hard look on his face. When Sillo didn't move, Aldred lowered his fists and walked over to the unconscious boy, carefully limping his way across the room. Tentatively, he nudged Sillo with his boot. When Sillo didn't budge, Aldred carefully, slowly leaned down and checked his pulse, carefully placing fingers against his neck. Dude wasn't dead, was he?

The pulse beating against Aldred's fingers was steady and strong, as if Sillo were just asleep. The fight must have had sapped all of Sillo's energy, along with the shock from all the sudden broken bones. Relieved, Aldred slumped to the floor in a sprawl, sitting loosely in a cross-legged position as the tension seeped out of his body. His eyes were already losing their purple glow, the wisteria seeping back from the green.

Thank God he's not dead.

Eyes back to their normal central heterochromial state - a faint wisteria ring close to the outer edges of the iris which turned into a deep green the more it approached the pupil, Aldred sighed and suddenly felt very tired. He felt as if he could sleep a week, but he knew the pain was only moments away from appearing, like the lightning flash after the huge crack of thunder. Well, he could leave it to the others to deal with. Wearily, he took stock of his own injuries, eyes coolly taking in the extent of the damage.

It wasn't really much compared to Sillo's shattered bones, but it was still pretty bad.

Aldred's ribs were no longer broken, but that was small comfort. They were still cracked beyond belief like his fractured elbow, which made it hard to breath. His elbow was fractured, and he had cuts on him all over from the eariler fight. They were still bleeding, dripping blood onto the ground. Aldred hissed as he raised a hand to his neck where sweat dripped onto an open wound. When he pulled away, the red on his fingers was unmistakable. He had a headache and likely a bump somewhere on his head. So much for a mere training match.

Minori is going to kill us.

But that was later. Right now, Aldred had to wait and make sure that Sillo was alright...that he didn't push himself so far that he'd be damaged for life. They both had taken it too far. And while Aldred was sure they'd be stronger because of it, he wasn't looking forward to reliving those moments again. He glanced at the sleeping Sillo, many a question still hung in the air.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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Minori could tell as soon as the question left her lips that Cedric had been thinking about this a good deal, watching with curiosity as he slipped off his ring.

"Unfortunately the first thing on my list is to stare down my own mana and see just how far I can take it without completely breaking my own mind. You know I have negative reactions to my mana use."

A fact Minori knew well, though Cedric wasn't as keen on the idea of figuring that out as she was. Or he was afraid of needles after the last time... It was hard to tell since most of her specimens couldn't exactly complain. So far the closest she could tell was either Cedric had an allergic reaction to his own mana, or he somehow was rejecting his own mana color. He certainly didn't behave like most black mana users. Hell, she'd peg Selena as one before Cedric.

"This little gem has been dutifully regulating just how much mana I use at a time, keeping the reactions to a pleasant 'migraine from hell and the feeling that your muscles are trying to tear off of your bones.' as opposed to having my soul and consciousness forcibly ripped into two and fighting to the death. Pro tip, if you ever want to experience something similar, ask Selena to heal you with wild mana. It'll give you a new appreciation life... and death."

'I can imagine," she said, focusing more on the ring now than the conversation, though his next words took a hold of her interest again. It was no offense to Cedric, but the scientist had a one track mind, and putting any mana related weirdness in front of her was a guaranteed victor for her attention. She nearly lost her arm once because a specimen howled in a way she'd never heard before as she was in the middle of feeding another.

"After that, I really don't know, maybe a familiar. I've experienced minor power gains while controlling certain gateway inhabitants that didn't seem to increase my reactions at the same rate, almost like I could use there mana by proxy. Something that gave a sizable power boost would require a lot of initial mana to bring under control though."

Minori smiled. "Oh dear, now that would be a challenge..." She said playfully, grinning when Cedric realized who he was talking to.

"You want to come to my lab, then? I've plenty of suitable specimens... though I'll sick Selena on you f you don't return them in a good of health as when you took them. I think you might like Gertrude or Sebastian... Cecil is off limits though," She mused, not bothering to explain the creatures that bore those names.

As Cedric mulled that information over, the bartender came to take their drink orders, Cedric getting his usual and Minori politely asking for a glass of bourbon and a plate of chicken tenders if they had them. It was a safe option for bar food, she believed, and she had yet to have lunch.

Cedric excused himself after that, in order to change clothes, which Minori didn't mind in the least. It was weird seeing Cedric in rags like that, though she couldn't help but imagine what entity they encountered to do that to him in the first place. Chances were pretty good she might fight that member of Rose's group rather than Rose herself, assuming she wasn't near Zane when Rose struck again.

'Mana? Outside...' Minori thought, her mana sense kicking in as she felt several signatures closing in on them. Three notable signatures, one quickly closing in on another, and the third was coming from the opposite direction at a casual pace.

By the time Cedric returned from his business and made his quip to the bartender, The casually paced mana source entered the bar and revealed itself to be Artemis, who Minori stood briefly to salute before enthusiastically accepting her food and drink from the bartender.

"I trust you know who I am? Gatewatcher Fukutawa, or if you would prefer Minori, I recived some...disturbing...reports reguarding an incident at the museum. Due to the attack on the Eastern HQ on the same day, and the fact our Gatewatchers nearly got massacered in that Museum, the Local Gatewatcher Council has decided to investigate, as well as to investigate a breach in Gatewatcher security reguarding the apparent leakage of Gatewatcher intelligence, at least around the Infinity Spells. I want to know everything about the museum, as well as what you know about this Red Mana User, Zane Bell"

"I would prefer Minori," the scientist started, taking a drink from her bourbon and a bite from her food before she continued, "and I'll tart with the incident at the museum, if its of no consequence to you, mam. For starters, it was a trap. The woman known as Rose planned that location very carefully for that showdown, and I believe has a precognitive in her employ. She knew how to pick each of us apart, which would be impossible without knowing who would respond to the Museum call ahead of time. She also used a gateway to revive a mana user from his sarcophagus in the museum," Minori said, glaring just a moment at Artemis before continuing.

"As for Zane..." She started, but instinctively ducked before she could continue, though was unable to avoid having the small child ram into her as he was flung through the window from outside. The force of it knocked her to the ground, landing on her back as glass fell on the kid who had landed on top of her.

Artemis begrudgingly introduced him as Maric Boone, though the placement of his hands as he pushed himself off of her said all Minori cared to know about the gatewatcher.

"Hey, sorry about landing on you beautiful. I will make it up to you, maybe take you back to my place afterwards", Maric said, electricity instinctively crackling to life on her skin as if to dare the boy to touch her again.

"Where? A McDonald's Playplace?" Minori growled as she got to her feet and swept herself off, ignoring Zeus as she looked back to Artemis, who seemed almost as annoyed at Maric as Minori was.

"...He's also the youngest looking twenty six year old, and a complete and total flirt," Artemis explained, practically cringing at the indignity of having the explain that to one of the Gatewatchers in her employ.

"Unfortunate. Back to Zane..." Minori started, though Zeus began yelling obscenities and made it impossible for the young woman to think. She was about to deep freeze him herself when Maric finally finished the fight he had insisted on taking into the bar. Minori couldn't help but cast a forlorn glance at the chicken tenders that lay on the floor now, covered in the broken glass and bourbon from her drink.

She decided then to take her bad day out on Maric should he so much as look at her in a way she disliked.

"Maric Boone, Elite Gatewatcher, here from New York City to sniff out our mole, at your service! Now, can you also tell me about this mana user named Rose, and this other one named Newton, as well as all current suspects please?" He said in a chipper tone, and Minori began to immediately tune out the conversation as a result. She could care less about this mole unless they had intentions of stealing her notes or specimens. Internal Investigations existed purely for this purpose, and she wasn't in that department for a very good reason.

"Thats part of the reason why I am here. I need to know, if you have any theories on who the spy could be?"

Minori let out a soft sigh and rubbed her temples in annoyance. "Well, if I had to guess, it would be someone with access to the same method of locating us you would have, mam, as the only people who knew we would be here were Cedric and myself. Sillo teleported us from the museum back to what used to be HQ, and I only mentioned going to a bar to Aldred. I never said which one..." Minori said, crossing her arms and looking back to Artemis.

"So we're going to need to drop the secrecy act if you're earnest about this mole. Tell us how you found us, we destroy the thing telling you, and we hold this conversation elsewhere. Otherwise, no information can be said without it immediately being compromised and assumed to be known by the enemy. Furthermore... If space and time are absolute, then the speed of light must be relative, depending upon the speed of the observer. The speed of light is absolute and does not depend upon the speed of the observer, therefore, either space or time must be relative," she said, her incantation to slow time activating just as Minori reared back her hand, slapping Maric across the face as hard as she could manage before dropping the spell, only using it long enough for the strike.

"...I don't like being touched, and I couldn't care less about the cause for the contact. You being thrown through a window had no bearing on where you chose to put your hands when you got off of me," She spat, walking back over to Cedric and effectively turned her back to the conversation for the time being. She wouldn't consider Cedric a close friend, but she felt more comfortable with him acting as a barrier between herself and Maric, or just being near him in general.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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"I want to drink in peace, but we can't always get what we want..." Cedric mumbled as Artemis launched strait into business, basically ignoring the fact that Cedric had returned. Minori gave a run down of the events at the museum, which Cedric didn't pay much attention to since he'd been filled in. Instead he looked out the window, which lead to a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, and the realization that there was a black mana user nearby.

He didn't have time to say anything about it though, as the window exploded, a small body flying through it and landing atop Minori. "Fucking Boone?" Cedric moaned as Artemis began an introduction, which was made all the more awkward by Maric himself, being the perv that he was. "First impressions never cease to amaze." another sigh. Cedric hadn't exactly known Maric, but he had seen him around on occasion, and was decidedly not a fan.

Minori didn't seem to be a fan either. "Where? A McDonalds Playplace?" she shot back at his oh so smooth pick up line. The thought of the elite gatewatcher fumbling around in a ball pit put a grin on Cedric's face as he let out a chuckle. Before he could even turn his attention to the other mana user Maric was already set about mopping up. Cedric didn't like him, but he couldn't deny that the kid was good at what he did.

He caught Minori's glance at the ruined food, and sent a wave to Andy that clearly meant "We're gonna need another one of those."

The few other patrons hadn't seen anything, but Andy had dealt with Cedric enough to not ask questions. The man wasn't a mana user, but he was one of the few people outside of the organization Cedric trusted enough to have filled in on his occupation. Andy also had a small arsenal of weapons with magic bullets and mana scopes, he may have been much more than a barkeep in his former life. So the man simply nodded and set to work on getting another plate.

The conversation turned to who the mole could be, and Rose and Newton. "Well, Newton tried to kill me by flattening a large building. So all I know about him is that I'm gonna have to flatten a slightly larger building on top of him." Cedric shrugged. "I was a little busy at the time for much else. Oh, he's got a black mana signature the size of Ireland. As for the mole, it's not Minori, she likes the labs to much to let people go around crushing gatewatcher buildings. I'd guess Selena would have let me die if she was a mole. So, basically every one else." Cedric shrugged again. "That's not what they pay me for, but if I was going to think about it, I'd look at people who mysteriously show up places to speak to people that made no record of where they were going." he probably could have veiled that a little better, or at all, but he wasn't really excited about the fact that a casual 'normal' drink had been interrupted. He also wasn't entirely happy about Maric crashing through his window, even if the man had mended the damage.

He let out another completely unveiled laugh as Minori slowed time to slap Maric square across the face before she moved to stand near him, clearly not interested in continuing any further with the man. "Well, now that we've got that out of the way. How about you two hurry of to internal investigations and do what ever snooping needs done? I intend to have a drink before I cast myself into the oh so entertaining task of preparing for this mission."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Zane Bell Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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As the Phoenix deflected the shot, some strange markings appeared on Zane's skin. Zane recognized the symbol on his right arm, it was the symbol of the Phoenix, bonding the two of them. But the other symbols were written in an Eldrich language he didn't understand. It wasn't Arcanic, it was something stranger, older. But somehow, he could tell, it was fueled by his desire to become stronger. To defeat Rose, his parent's murderer. Aurell looked back at him. "Zane, control your emotions and focus! Those symbols are not something you should use!"

Zane snapped out of it, and withheld the symbols he didn't understand. He clashed blades with Emerian Jones, who was now part demon and whose broadsword burned him with demonic energy. As they clashed though, the demonized man smiled at him. "Those symbols...I see now, so thats who you are...valuable indeed, I guess I should leave you alive after all....once I break every bone in your body!"

"Not...going to...happen!" Zane shouted while under strain, repelling the attack with Blazestorm Zero. Still, he couldn't run. If he didn't win here, he would never beat Rose. But would one battle really give him enough strength to allow him to fight Rose? The jewels alone would strengthen his power, and the Phoenix now moreso, and with his knowledge of Rose's tricks, he would be able to ensure she wouldn't weaken him again. But even then, would it be enough? What if he failed?

Zane quickly realized he got distracted for a second, and tried to react to an attack but was too late. However, before the broadsword struck him, someone else had appeared from nowhere and blocked it...with a revolver. Zane stood in awe as he looked at his mana levels. A spell seemed to have temporarily paralyzed the enemy as well that came from him. "Who...are you?"

"A friend. However, I won't be helping you again. I only stopped that attack because you got distracted with worry you would not get strong enough to fight your real enemy, right? That if you couldn't beat him, you couldn't beat that woman either?"

"How do you know so much?" Zane asked.

The man smiled. "Sorry, secret. But, you have to remember one thing". He took out something and handed it to Zane. Zane looked down at it, and it was a Gatewatcher's ID, Emeregency Beacon, and Enchanted Phone and earpiece. "You are not alone. You might not like all the things they do, but everyone has differences of opinion. You have friends there, so you know this. So stop acting like you will be fighting Rose alone. Even if they are not there physically, their mana, their skills, their friendships, their techniques are always there, helping you get stronger. Because they are the people who you fight for when you cannot fight for your family".

Suddenly, the man disappeared, and the man unfroze. All this time, Zane fought for two things. The truth, and for vengeance. As an orphan, he grew up alone. He was used to being alone. He expected to be alone. He was used to the turmoil inside of him. So never once did he consider this. This man, he hurt a lot of people in Alleytown. He considered that it would help them, but it was never a reason he was here to fight, or he would have shown up sooner. That was different now. Now, it was a reason. Now, it was a part of him.

So when Jones attacked again at full force, he blocked the attack with Blazestorm Zero...using one hand. He wasn't alone. "Aurell. We are not going to be allies. We are going to be friends".

"I have no complaints about that" Aurell mentioned, flying out from Zane's arm and attacking the demon man.

Meanwhile, Jones looked in anger. "How? Blazestorm Zero takes two hands to use at full power! You cannot use it with just one!"

"I can" Zane said. "I can because my friends need me to".

Aurell smiled a little inside. Actually, that is sort of true, but not completely. Your mind is so focused now. Before, you were too distracted by another opponent. By another fight. It was weakening your magical power. But now, you are focused and sharp. There is more then one way to strengthen yourself, just like there is more then one way to weaken an opponent. One's conviction affects their mana strength. And now that Zane is focused, he can use his teachings to their fullest...

Zane meanwhile flashed back to what he learned from his master, about the truth of magical fighting styles. While it certainly helps to learn one, in the end mana is different to each and every person, and so their fighting style differs.

"Something always bothered you about learning Blitz Style. Tell me, what is it Zane?" "Its just, some of what you teach, it seems a little contradictory. And what if I cannot keep up a steady pace of attacks because someone's defense would counter it? What if I have to wait and take time?" "To be honest, Blitz Style does have a secondary method. People hear Blitz and assume a flurry of attacks. But in truth, Blitz style is all about the Blitz of the enemies movements. Figuring out how to keep them on the defense or the retreat, finding the weaknesses in their defense, and then exploiting them. Blitz isn't just about speed. It's about timing. Choosing the right time to attack, and the right time to strike". "Hold on, aren't they the same thing?" "When you are in a battle against a difficult opponent, you will realize what I mean".

I understand now what you mean, Master. And this is my plan of attack for this battle... Suddenly, a large amount of magical energy focused into his free hand, and smashed it into the stomach of Emerian Jones, sending him flying. However, he suddenly sprouted wings, and turned around midair and charged back towards him. The broadsword was going to be a pain, but Zane had no intention of losing. Last time, technically he and the other Gatewatchers lost against Rose. Sure, they left the battle alive, but only barely, and it was certainly a defeat more then a victory. After all, it had been five vs. one. Zane brought his full strength to his next attack, and charged forward. Before the two clashed though, the phoenix flew in front of him. "Phoenix Feather Portal!"

Suddenly, Zane went through a portal and appeared behind Jones. He slashed one of the wings, sending him crashing into the ground, before Zane landed on him again, and stabbed his right arm, causing him to lose grip of his broadsword and drop it to the ground, sliding across the floor to the far wall. Zane stepped back. "Alright, now together! Burning Phoenix Fire Wave!"

"This again, I will just..." Jones started, when he realized he had dropped his broadsword. Was that his intention the whole time? All the sword clashes, had that all been to measure his grip strength? Were all of his attacks simply to prepare for this final strike? After all, Jones' main hand was his right. Furthermore, the wing he hit was the left, which ended up making the right easier to hit. And that was when Jones saw it. There was another mana color underneath the red. There was...white mana. "Just who the fuck is this kid? Is he even human?"

And then the fire wave hit him, full force, with Phoenix energy to increase power. He looked at the Phoenix, and he could see it in its face. "So, thats why it was so easy..."

Jones fell to the ground. Although Zane knew he should have survived the attack, he started to crumble into dust. Zane looked confused. "What is going on? That wasn't a lethal hit, not for a mana user".

"Its the demon's energy. He needed to drain you of your energy so that he could live without the demon class entity. He did this to himself though, your mana would probably have poisoned him anyways. No matter what he did, he was dead the moment he used the demonic power" Aurell told Zane. "His blood is not on your hands".

"His might not, but hers? Hers soon will" Zane told Aurell, as he fit the gemstones into the slots of the scepter. He felt his mana level increase on the spot. "So this is the power of an item focuser infused with mana? It still won't be enough for me to take her on, but....I won't be alone either".

As Zane began to head through the doors, Jones got up with his broadsword recalled towards him and charged towards Zane. Zane made a handsign. "Eight Trigram Seal! Explosive trap!"

Suddenly, the floor Zane had touched earlier at the very beginning of the battle revealed trigrams, and an explosion occured right as Jones went over it, finishing him off.

"You are stronger, and you know Rose's secrets" Aurell commented. "So why are you not happy?"

"Because of two things. One, that man isn't the one behind all this. He wouldn't have revealed himself if he was, he would have been more subtle. And two, there is no way they could prepare this unless one of the Local Council had authorized it. Which means, there is at least two people hiding things from me that I should know" Zane told Aurell. "I don't know what is going on, but its possible I am just a pawn for a bigger scheme. And I don't know if this scheme is something to support, or stop".

"You shouldn't let this distract you" Aurell warned.

"I won't. But before the rematch with Rose, I need answers".

Suddenly, a large influx of power emerged from the center of the room. Music Zane turned around, only to see a Rose stuck in the ground, and a Gateway opening right in front of him. As it did, a strange bubble invisible to those without mana emerged from it, surrounding the whole top of the building. "What the...?"

"Its a Null Zone! Beings from other worlds take exponentially longer to manifest in the real world depending on their power and size, and so the Gateway will project a bubble, known as a Null Zone due to the fact it nullifies the disruptive affects of entering a new world until it is completed, to allow it to stabilize in our world. It means, we have company. Alright, its time to get to work!"

Suddenly, Zane's power spiked even greater. He was focused now, and his focus gave him strength. And he would need it, because his opponent was strong. Dark energy came through the Gateway, and flowed into the remains of Jones, causing a new, monsterous form to be created. It was a demonic figure of untold scariness and power. "Well well, if it isn't a runt".

Zane twitched, and his power spiked further. "Did you just call me a runt!?!? Time you got a taste of Blazestorm Zero!"

"Lets go, runt!" it yelled, as the two charged towards each other. The demon summoned a blade of darkness, and countered the attacks from Bladestorm Zero. All of the attacks. Whatever this demon was, it was even more powerful. The blades clashed, and huge amounts of power vented out, practically putting a mana flare on the building. The power was so intense, the glass completely shattered. They fianlly disengaged the clash, and Zane's power kept increasing. The demon sent various boomerang shaped blades made of shadows at Zane, to tear him to shreds. Zane managed to dodge them all, but then was attacked as they returned from behind. They tore through his chest and arms, ripping his shirt to shreds. "Did you really think that you could face me, boy?"

Zane looked back up with a pissed off expression on his face. The demon scoffed, as his wounds healed themselves. Is this.....could he be.....is this boy even human?! I better kill him quickly! Zane moved up right to his face, and gave a full roundhouse kick to it. Magic was floating through his body. This was one of his Special Arts: Total Boost! The ability to temporarily boost every attribute, though it meant he was spending mana even faster. Still, his supply of mana seemed boundless. The demon was sure of it now, he knew who this boy was. It was him! The Demon launched another powerful blast at Zane. Zane then used another Special Art: Countless Clones. By creating copies using illusion magic, and then projecting energy within them, he could create clones that could do actual damage.

"Lightning Pierce!" they all shouted, as they all used Lightning Pierce on the demon. The demon, in term, took up the broadsword and destroyed a whole swathe of clones. It was now wielding two large blades, which it brought down on Zane. Zane created an neergy barrier, stopping the attack, but only for a few seconds. The demon charged forward, and tried to obliterate Zane with its fist. However, Zane focused all the mana in his body into his right hand, and caught the fist bare handed. He then crushed the demon's hand, shattering every bone in its body.

"Now, explain to me...." Zane started. "Why have I fought two demons today? One I can understand, but two? ANd then an ancient mana user earlier. And then before that, on the train, there was another dark presence I could sense. Tell me, who is following me other then that man?"

"You think I am going to tell you anything? Obliteration..." he shouted as he charged up energy in its mouth. "....Cannon!"

Suddenly, a large amount of dark energy hit Zane full force, but Zane caught it in both hands. "First comes Suppression!" Suddenly, the energy was suppressed, no longer able to cause any harm or influence on other mana. "Then comes Compression!" Then, the energy shrunk into the size of a basketball, with Zane holding it with two hands. "Next comes alteration!" Suddenly, the energy changed color and other powerful energies were mixed in and started radiating out of it. "And now...RETALIATION!" He then threw it with one hand right back at the demon.

The demon took the full brunt of the attack. This Zane was different from before. In fact, Zane's entire mana presence changed. Before, he was just fighting a demonized human. But once he encountered the demon itself, his power level skyrocketed, as well as his magical capabilities. Zane did an uppercut kick, sending the demon sprawling backwards.

The demon then moved behind Zane at lightning speed, and smashed him into the ceiling. Zane's magical defense remained strong enough for him to take the blow. Thankfully, Mana Users had magical defense, or else they would end up flattened, smooshed, or completely totaled, like what should happen to most anime characters.

As the two forces clashed, suddenly the Gateway began to get bigger, and the Null Zone started to fade. Zane could not let this demon escape into the world, it was too dangerous. He pointed out his hand, and suddenly, Blazestorm Zero and his scepter appeared next to each other. He clashed blades with the demon, and the force of their collision did permenant damage to the building. Suddenly, the demon shifted behind Zane, and stabbed him in the back. However, Zane's sword shifted behind the demon, and stabbed it in the back as well. "Special Art: Perfect Mimicry".

"The fuck, how do you know so many Special Arts? You are only a kid!"

"I am not just a kid! I....am....a damn Gatewatcher now!" Zane yelled, as he used a firefist uppercut on the demon. That wound is serious, but I am still in the game. I can use my mana to heal myself once I take down this demon. "Aurell, its time!"

"Fire..."

"Phoenix..."

"Nova..."

"Feather..."

"Storm!"

Suddenly, a barrage of fire and lightning charged feathers errupted towards the demon. It got injured in the attack, and when the smoke cleared, Zane was standing with his blade at its neck. "Now, tell me why you are here! Why are these dark energies following me?!"

"You really don't know? Heh, how hillarious. You don't know a thing about your own bloodline...about your own father".

Zane's anger and curiosity sparked. "What do you know about my father!?"

"I know what he meddled in....I know why he died".

"Tell me everything you know! Tell me right now!"

"Why should I, when I can watch you suffer instead!" he shouted, slashing Zane's back with his claws. Zane quickly dodged the rest of the attack, avoiding a lethal blow, but the scratch still hurt. Suddenly, waves of shadow energy was sent at Zane with such tremendous power that even with a full block, he was injured. Suddenly, the demon was right up in his face, but then he vanished from sight, reappearing behind the demon. Its a fire based technique, where you heat up every cell in your body to bring forth more energy at once, allowing near lightning fast movements. Its called Flashfire.

Zane then brought down a full power magical kick onto the demon's head. Zane then switched to a long range position, and drew a ring of fire in the air. He then pressed the palms of his hands together in front of him, and then directed them outward. "Circle of Flame! Resolute Destruction!"

The demon took several massive hits. Even when he tried to dodge some of the attacks, the tracked him, and when they hit, they exploded in a fire that could burn through steel. Zane then used his mana alone to push the rubble out of the way, and face the demon. "Now, tell me what you know!"

"Never!" the demon raged. "I will never tell you, you brat!"

Suddenly, a large explosion occured behind the demon, sending him flying right into another one of Zane's kicks.

"Okay brat, just what is..." he started, when he saw it. Zane's shoes were covered with impact trigrams. That was why Zane's physical attacks often included kicks. "I see, so thats it. You must have several surprises prepared ahead of time".

"I actually have trigrams set up in most public places I frequent, if not all of them" Zane mentioned. "Now, tell me what you know".

"Not in your life, bloodscum!" it shouted, launching a full power attack at Zane. He managed to dodge it, but as the demon clashed blades again he only barley had time to block. Suddenly, it was in that moment his scepter became a sword".

"What the....oh, I see now. So the Sceptor has various configurations, huh? Well then, lets try configuration three!"

Suddenly, it became a spear that could float on its own in front of Zane. Zane moved his fingers around, and it seemed to respond to that. The demon charged forward, but Zane struck it in the face before it got close, and then knocked it back. The spear floated back to him, and he jumped on it. As he did, the null zone finally broke. "Ha! Now I am at full power!"

"About time" Zane mentioned. "This is training after all, how am I supposed to get stronger without strong opponents? I just had to do enough damage to you so you couldn't run away when you reached full power".

The Demon just looked confused and bewildered. "Hold on, did you just say you let me get to full power?"

"Oh yeah, but I had to wound you enough so things wouldn't go out of hand. You see, I couldn't risk the possibility of you winning, so you kept you just weak enough to prevent that. My calculations are quite adament" Zane said with a smile. "Weak enough for an assured victory, strong enough to be full of experience. Sounds like its time to go full force! Lightning Spear, only this time with a real magical spear!"

Suddenly, an electrified spear stabbed through the demon. "Oh yeah, since its a really cool shape altering weapon, I should give it a name. It shall be known as...Aetherion!"

"SERIOUSLY?!?! THATS THE NAME YOU CHOSE?!?!" the demon yelled. "And you claim to know nothing. I see now, boy. You are the biggest liar of all times, even if you don't realize it. Why don't you look down?"

Zane looked down, and saw he was floating off the ground without realizing. Flight magic, but he never learned flight magic. So how....

Zane just barely dodged the attack done by the demon. THe demon must have caused him to float without him realizing it, to distract him so he could land an attack. Zane was back on the ground now, with his spear spinning between them. "Aetherion, lets try out your fourth configuration!"

Suddenly, Aetherion turned into a powerful Manabow. Zane fired off an arrow from it, which then split into eight arrows, which all exploded with magical energy when they hit their target. Zane also notied seveal other applications for this weapon, he would have to try out later.

"Back to Third Configuration Aetherion, and lets go with a Lightning Joust!"

"Unholy Damnation!" it shouted, laucning a massive shadow attack of unknown levels at them. The shadows ripped through the floor, through the building, through everything. Aurell let loose a barrier, and Zane tried to use his mana to suppress the attack. It was then, at that moment, that symbols in a spiral pattern appeared on Zane's back, and various other symbols appeared on his chest. What trasnspired next was insane. Zane appeared on the other side of of the demon, his eyes empty. Aurell was flying up above. The demon turned to face him, when he saw it. He saw Zane's face. "To think, that is the kind of man his father is....to have used this level of caution and safety",

And then, Aetherion emerged from where the demon's heart would be, returned to Zane, and went back to configuration one. At the same time, the head itself fell off the demon. "Shit. I wanted to question him some more, try and get more information out of him".

Suddenly, the ground exploded underneath Zane. It was a different demon this time, with ice shards sticking out of its body. Zane looked back towards the Gateway. "What the hell? I never saw anything else pass through".

"It must have been when you temporarily lost control" Aurell mentioned.

"That was only for a second though" Zane mentioned, though he was wrong. In fact, he lost control for ten minutes. The fighting during those ten minutes was insane. Zane didn't even register the wounds he got. There was clearly something wrong with him, but something stopped Zane from seeing it. Still, now he had a new demon to deal with. He looked back to the Gateway. "Okay, this thing needs to be...."

Zane lost it again, as another presense became known to him. He quickly jabbed his hand into the Gateway, and began draining it dry faster then normal. Most of the time, Gatewatchers never (for lack of a better word) physically touch the Gateway directly to close it, due to obvious dangers. But Zane had to bypass that, because deep down fear and anger had taken over his body. Something horrible existed inside this Gateway, lurking. Waiting. Hunting. It was after someone. Maybe multiple someones. But its Mana levels....it surpassed Rose by far. If it were to get out...

He ripped out the mana from the Gateway, absorbing it into himself and causing the Gateway to close. It also restored his own magical power. He then turned towards the demon. "Well well, look at what we have here..."

Zane quickly held the demon by the throat, the symbols spreading throughout his body. They started to flow into the demon, and it triggered one of Zane's visions. He saw people entering a Gateway, about a place called Lab 51, and something about blood. And then he saw it. Beyond the Gateways, there was something. A temple. "Why do you demons know so much?! What happened to my father?! Why was he killed!?"

The demon stabbed him through the chest, but not the heart. Even at the distance, Zane had managed to dodge the lethal blow from the ice spike the emerged from its body. Still though, it ran right through him. His hand then crushed the demon's shoulder, and his other broke the ice crystal itself. Zane shouldn't be this strong, but it wasn't him in control right now. Something was wrong with Zane. Something was broken, and its been broken for a long time.

Zane unleashed Static Force on the demon, causing Zane's body to become electrified and zap the demon. He then used Flamefist to uppercut the demon, before kicking it right in the stomach. He was getting really pissed off. All he had were questions, but he had no answer. As a result, by the time he came to, the demon was already smashed, and Aurell had manifested into the Phoenix marking on his arm. "Are you okay? What just happened here?"

"I am not sure. But all I have are more questions" Zane replied. "But right now, I think its time we left".

The room was in fact beyond recognition. As in, most of it was charred, zapped, crushed, or beaten. And lets not bring up a few priceless artifacts in the room. Zane quickly disguised himself and left before anyone could arrive.

"I think its time we started looking for answers...." he said, as the symbols retracted from sight, including the spiral on his back. "But who delivered that rose?"

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Meanwhile, on a different rooftop, a man spied on Zane with binoculars. "Yeah, well I have no opening right now, but I have good news Rose. You can have you rematch with this boy. Once of the pieces we need? Its sealed inside his body. Clever bastard, his father is. Tomorrow, you can kill him, and still be on mission".

"Good" Rose said over the phone, clearly pleased. "I will rip it out of his body, as well as his heart. If he has one to rip out, that is. If it is there, I may crush it while he is alive first".

"Then I shall make my leave, so he does not notice my presence. Him, or that other man..." he said, quickly disappearing into the night.

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Maric got a little bit steamed, embarressed, and defensive all at once. "Hey, hey, I was more focused on the fight then anything else! And I am not a perv! That is a vicious lie spread by Harmony in communications after I tried to hit on her! I am just really eager to find someone who can love me, okay? You try that with this body!"

Artemis nodded. "Uh huh..."

"Now, can we stop beating around the bush. AKA, Stop lying Artemis. I know why you are really here" Maric told her.

Artemis looked stunned. "What do you mean?"

"No offence to either of you, Minori and Cedric, but neither of you are the type to ask about a mole. Minori is too focused on her research, and Cedric people find too suspicious. Which means, you are here to ask them about Project Icarus, which I know you are planning Council knowing or not".

Artemis scowled. "How the hell did you find out about Icarus?"

Maric suddenly teleported to the counter between Minori and Cedric. No one seemed to notice anything, so it was safe to guess Maric coated them with an illusion spell, to prevent eavesdropping and what not. "It was easy. Besides, you know my Spatial Magic will help build the bridge when its time, so you should bring me on anyways, just like how you want to bring Minori and Cedric here". He then looked at the two of them. "Project Icarus is fairly simple. Artemis plans to send a team through a Gateway to the other side. She has been planning it for some time now. Likely using the research from Lab 51, she plans to open a Gateway to the Other Side and send a team there. Not just any Gateway either, but I suspect the very same Gateway as in Lab 51. Its the only logical conclusion".

Artemis was a little bit concerned. How did Maric figure this all out? He has been in town for less then a day, yet he knows secrets that are highly classified. Could he have learned some of this before he transfered. As Artemis considered options, Maric teleported a beer into his hand, and continued drinking. Technically, he was above the legal age, and its not like it could affect him anyways. "Fine Maric, you are on the team. But, there is one other I want to recruit. Zane Bell. GIven the reports I saw, I am convinced he may hold the key to building the Perfect Bridge, a Gateway Link with no danger or ill effects at all, that will allow us to travel to the other side of the Lab 51 Gateway and learn what happened. You see, this is not the first time we attempted this. The first time was at Lab 51, 20 years ago, when Gateway activity suddenly went out of control, and people with no previous connections to mana began to develop mana abilities and what not. To discover this, we connected the Gateway to a place known only as The Hub. Based on accounts from some Visitors, many Gateways lead to this Hub, from all worlds, and it is common to pass through it. Apparently, it takes the shape of a subway terminal. We will open the Gateway to it, create a stable, or maybe even a Perfect Bridge, and cross into it. The research and data we can collect is one goal, but another....we also want to learn the truth about what happened twenty years ago to cause the spike in activity, and Cedric, your power makes you a clear choice for the team. Additionally, we will see things no human has ever seen before. So, you two, what do you say?"

Maric looked at Artemis questioningly. Why the hell did he try to hide the existence of Project Icarus from me?

Suddenly, Artemis punched Maric straight in the face. "And I told you this would happen if you ever followed me. You don't care about hte mole either, at least not as much as you claimed to. Thats not your style. You wanted to question me about Project Icarus, you little perv!"

"I am not a perv!" Maric exclaimed. "And seriously, this body isnt that physically endurant! You gave me a nose bleed, jerk!"

It was clear these two did not get along.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Damion Gray Character Portrait: Nathan de Vries
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Damion was wondering where everyone went. After all, it seemed like they had all scattered. Then again, with what just happened, and the fact Eastern HQ got smashed, he realized that should have been expected. After all, the world just got a whole lot more crazy. Still, he had gotten some new, useful weapons at his disposal. He decided to try one out. He used his growth magic to summon the talking tree. It used a bit more mana then he expected, but it worked. Then, it smacked him. "What the hell?"

"Seriously? One focus is all you used to summon me? If you want to summon me at full power, you should use more focuses" the tree replied. "I am an Ultimate Summon after all. And my name is Arborroot. Got it?"

Was Damion getting scolded by his own tree? "How are you...?"

"Let me guess, first time summoning a creature with self intelligence right? Well guess what, yeah, I still have partial control over myself. I mean, I am still bound to you and am inclined to help you, but seriously, you need to learn this stuff!" Arbotroot told him. "Now, you should probably go find some friends. Behind you, five O clock, strange van".

"Yeah, with several people inside disrupting the natural mana around them. Given how their mana is affecting natural mana, probably Black Mana users. If any are as strong as Rose, I am screwed if I face them alone," Damion replied, as he recalled the tree. He made his way to the next Gatewatcher building, but shortly after entering, was knocked to the floor after being run into by someone. As he pulled himself up with help from him, he could see that this guy was a Gatewatcher too. "Yeah, I am fine. I would be a lousy Gatewatcher if a small fall could hurt me. Damnit though, I still need to get stronger. Today was just a slaughter".

"Oh, I thought I'd bumped into you!" The orange-haired kid let out a silent sigh of relief, but a troubled look crossed his face when Damion mentioned what had happened earlier. "Yeah, it was." Orange-hair kid nodded, as if he had seen the wreckage. A shudder ran through him before the kid gave Damion a smile, although Damion couldn't help but think that it looked a bit forced. "But the other Gatewatchers can handle it, right?" The kid said optimistically. "We're strong! If we worked together then we can handle whatever comes next, right? Although I'm not sure if I'll be of any help..." Orange-haired kid gave a small sheepish laugh, although he seemed a bit downhearted about that.

Damion shrugged a little. "Takes more then teamwork, given the enemy we are up against. We need to get stronger. What's your name anyways? I don't recognize you".

"Oh, I'm Nathan! Nathan de Vries, but you can call me Nate! Nice to meet you, Damion!" Nathan gave Damion a bright smile before turning around to seeing anyone was around before answering the question. The hallway was empty except for the two of them. That meant it was ok to tell, right?

...

"Can you keep a secret? Because this is a secret! It's important! Nobody should know!"

"Eh, sure. Stop looking so scared, I already said I wouldn't tell anyone, right? What's up?"

"an You'll remember, right? And I... I've sparred a lot!" Nathan said brightly, although he kept his voice low. He bit his lip awkwardly, unsure how to explain, but he gave it a shot anyway. "I... It's not that I'd... Lose... Exactly..." Nathan's uncomfortable look and hesitant words made it clear that he wasn't telling the truth. Damion looked at Nathan sceptically, and Nathan's expression and shoulders droop like a wilting flower. "Alright fine I lost every match I was in and I'm not suppose to tell anyone." For a moment, Nathan looked dejected, but then he forced a smile on his face. "Sorry. I don't know what went wrong... So!" Nathan now looked determined. "Could you please help me out by sparring with me so that I can compare data?"

"Sure. I need to test some things anyways, not to mention get stronger myself after what happened today".

"Uh." Nathan's eyes went wide, as if he hadn't expected Damion to say yes. Then they began to sparkle. "Really?! Thanks!" The wide beam on Nathan's face was like the sun, bright and blinding and absolutely pleased as if he couldn't believe his good luck. "Thank you so much!" And with that Nathan glommed Damion in a tight hug.

"Uhhh." Damion tried and failed to struggle out of the other child's hold. "Lego of me - which ways the facility again?"

"Ah, I know the way. Here!" Nathan said enthusiastically. Grabbing Damion by the wrist, he teleported them to the training facility without asking. They landed outside the entrance without a hitch, and Nathan smiled brightly and looked pleased with himself. "No need for walking this way." He explained to Damion, waiting for the inevitable vertigo the brunette kid must've been feeling to wear off. Taking Damion's wrist in his hand again, Nathan took the lead. "This way!"

Damion couldn't help but smile a little, taking his own fighting stance. "Alright then. Eternal Forest!"

Suddenly, Damion slammed his hands to the ground, and a small forest grew inside the training room. Damion immediately went to gain the advantage, by turning the battlefield into one that supports his magic. With a Yelp, Nathan hurriedly summoned a fire-glyph to burn the forest as the tree roots began to ensnare him. He dodged back as the symbol glowed a bright red on the tree roots before bursting into red-hot Flames that set the trees on fire, the heat of the Flames warming the room as Nathan waved the smoke away from him with a cough.

Damion was immediately wary. After all, Runes and Tri-Grams were basically the same thing. It was a very flexible and adaptable type of magic.

Shocked, Nathan sent a wide-eyed look at the rapidly burning trees. Remember what you learned from Father and Mother, he reminded himself. Damion was looking warily at him, and Nathan steeled himself as he imagined the disappointment (anger) on his parents faces. They wouldn't like it if they found out he lost. Shoving away the shock from the suddenness of the battle, Nathan's expression hardened as he slammed a hand against the floor.

He couldn't lose.

Thinking quickly, Nathan slammed a hand against the floor and sent out another rune. The circle appeared underneath Damion, and Damion barely had time to dodge out of the circle before dark squiggly lines rose up and out like paintings coming alive, wriggling like thick black rope worms to wrap around someone who was no longer there. Damion only barely managed to land on his feet. "Ensnaring Vines!"

Suddenly, vines ensnared and entrapped Nathan. He let out a yelp of surprise as the vines wrapped around his waist and legs, hands frantically scrapping at the plants like a surprised cat. The plant didn't budge, but before Nathan could think to try anything else Damion was yelling another spell. "Energy Drain!"

Nathan winced as the vines began draining him of his energy and mana. Thinking quickly, Nathan drew the first rune he had used in the fight, his hands shaking as he traced the figure on the thick green vine trapping his waist. The rune glowed red as the plant burst into fire and turned to ash, but the damage was already done - Nathan could feel a slight emptiness in him from the drained magic, like someone had taken a sip from a Nathan-shaped drink. Biting his lip, Nathan rapidly traced another shape in the air. The rune was filled with simple curly lines, free and twisting like leaves in the air, and gusts of wind began to pick up as he drew, sending the two combatants hair flying in all directions. A large gale of wind blew Damion's hair out of his face as the wind tried to blow him off his feet, but thick brown roots ruptured from the ground and wrapped themselves sturdily around Damion's feet and ankles, keeping him steady on the ground.

Nathan bit his lip, trying to think quickly. Don't wanna hurt him, don't wanna hurt him - I know! A way to merely cause hurt instead of harm! A grin broke out on Nathan's face as he rapidly traced some runes in the air. Six runic circles appeared around Damion as he endured the gale, surrounding and covering his small body from sight in a rough dome.

The circle on the right - the one with what looked like a ball etched in it - glowed, and before Damion could even blink a small dense ball flew out of the center of the circle like a cannonball, clipping his arm before rebounding back from the tune behind it and zooming so close past Damion's ear he could practically hear the wind. Damion had barely enough time to bring up a barrier before the ball began to whiz around like a sugar-rushed child with cabin fever trapped in a small room, rebounding from each rune it touched like a trampoline. Every time it touched a tune it got faster and faster, banging into the barrier with loud thuds.

Damion then had an idea. "Alright! Ultimate Summon, Arborroot! I need your help!" Damion yelled as he summoned Arborroot. Arb then launched several roots at Nathan. Flinching, Nathan tried to burn and slice them away using Runic Magic, but found the roots to be stronger then he expected. They were at least as strong as steel, the roots, and they moved a lot faster then normal Growth/Nature Magic controlled and summoned trees. Additionally, one of the roots didn't just grab the ball, but completely engrossed it with roots, stopping it from moving entirely.

Nathan immediately knew this tree was anything but normal. This must be the tree Damion wanted to test, Nathan decided, dodging a branch to the head. He studied the tree. It looked huge, scary. It reminded Nathan of Tolkien's Elk's, although the tree seemed like it couldn't move. Leaping above a tree branch aimed at his shins like a high-jumper, Nathan missed the vine creeping towards his waist until it wrapped around him with a whip-like crack while he was in mid-jump.

"Agh!" Nathan struggled, kicking his feet and trying to pry open the vine trapping his waist, but to no avail. Still struggling, the boy was brought up closer and higher to the tree until he was close to the trunk of it. Wriggling and preparing a rune in his hand, Nathan brought a hand up, ready to use it in an attempt to escape, but got caught by surprise as what he'd thought were holes in the bark moved, blinking at Nathan as if registering him for the day.

The tree spoke, in a deep and barky voice like a hoarse man. Did you really think you could dodge me boy?"

"Whoa!" Nathan stared back in shock, but rapidly gained his meals back. "You can talk?!" Nathan announced in shock. He'd heard about talking plants before, but this was the first time he'd come across one. Was it really capable of conscious thought?

When the tree nodded proudly, Nathan beamed widely, eyes going so wide that the light could be seen sparkling in them like multiple stars. "That is so cool! How long have you been able to talk?! Were you born with a consciousness or did you gain one over time?" Questions were tumbling out of his mouth as Nathan asked everything he could think of, momentarily forgetting that the tree was trying to get him. "Oh yeah!" Nathan gasped, remembering another important question. This was the most important one! "What's your name?!"

"Well." The tree looked nonplussed at the beaming sparkly-eyed kid in front of him. Nobody had really asked it questions like that before, unless you counted being prodded at like an experiment questions. Mostly they just tried to kill it or ran away screaming or tried to kill it while screaming in fear instead of asking things like "Do you grow fruit?!" And "What're you called?!"

That might have been why he halted the attack momentarily. The branches stopped inches away from Nathan's back, and the tension in the atmosphere seeped back as the tree opened its jagged mouth. "Name's Arborroot," he answered hesitantly. "And, er, I don't know." The tree answered reluctantly. "I've never tried it before?" A branch curled up against its bark in a manner resembling someone scratching their head. "I've got flowers I think, but..."

"Ooo!" Nathan's gleam brightened as Damion stared with growing disbelief. The orange-haired boy shot a sunny beam at the tree, bouncing up to it cheerily. "I'm sure it looks pretty! Can I see?!"

"Are you serious," Damion muttered under his breath, staring at the pleading, 'please give me a stick to catch I promise I'll be good' puppy-eyed look Nathan was giving Aborroot in complete disbelief. Aborroot had been in charge of the Gateway for years! He'd killed scientists with evil laughter going on in the background! He'd have killed Damion if Damion hadn't killed him. And what's more, they were in the middle of a fight! Surely the tree wouldn't actually answer the other kid, right?

Apparently he would. "They don't look pretty, kid, they look badass!" It boasted, straightening its branches with a shake. Setting Nathan onto the floor, Aborroot loomed to its full height. "All the lady trees lo-"

"OI!" Damion yelled, interrupting the conversation. He stomped towards the Aborroot with a scowl. "What're you guys doing?! We're in the middle of a fight aren't we?!" Damion scowled at them, crossing his arms. "And you!" He barked at Nathan. "Don't ask trees what's up with them in the middle of a fight!"

"Oh," Nathan blinked, then remembered the situation. "Oh! But -"

"Hey, I can do what I want, you brat!" Aborroot growled at Damion, waving its branches around. "I already told you - if you don't use enough Focus I'll have free will, dumbass." It chided Damion, waving a vine side to side like a nagging finger. "Use enough focus and I'll do your bidding, but if you don't you'll need to communicate nicely if you want us to help you. Like with that kid over there." The tree continued in a lower tone, waving a root in Nathan's general direction. "Make us want to help you out instead if you can't overpower us, got it?"

Damion then focused his mana, and Arborroot cringed for a moment before getting better. "Arborroot, I was TRYING to be friendly. Please return the favor, or I won't be so nice. Besides, you still owe me from earlier. I am trying to push past the you trying to eat me, after all".

"Now you're getting it. Sorry, kid!" The tree loomed up to its full height, and Nathan gulped as he readied himself, taking a step back as he realized just how scary the tree looked. Quickly, he drew a few sharp defensive lines in the air that appeared in black at the top of his head.

A protective sheet appeared around him like a see through dome not a moment too soon. "Steel Leaf Whirlwind!" the tree yelled as it shook its branches, and Nathan raised his arms over his face instinctively as green leaves sharp enough to slice like steel knives flew out of the greenery towards his face only to be repelled by the barrier. The tree sent out more leaves in retaliation with a bloodcurdling yell, and Nathan was soon in the middle of an ever-increasing leaf storm that left him blinded to what was going on outside him.

Notgoodnotgoodnotgood. A glance up at the shield rune revealed that the thick dark lines that made up the rune to be cracking under the assault, although it could still hold on for a while more. "Need to get rid of the leaves," Nathan muttered worriedly to himself, rapidly drawing the rune he needed with a jerky hand. The rune glowed red as it appeared above Nathan's head and intersected with the barrier dome rune, causing the dome to turn a translucent pale red. Nathan breathed a sigh of relief as the leaves began to burn upon contact with the barrier. The burning leaves spread their fire to the other leaves, and after a blaze most of the leaves had burnt to ash, leaving the battlefield clear once again with a thick ash floor.

Warily looking around, Nathan had just enough time to realize that Damion was missing before hearing something crack. His eyes widened as the barrier dome finally gave out, cracking and shattering silently like something going through a glass pane. Realization flashed through him like a bolt of lightning but before Nathan could turn around, something smacked harshly into his back. At the point of impact, Nathan could also tell that Damion had focused a large amount of magical power into the hit.

"Waagh!" Nathan let out a yell filled with both shock and pain as a leaf-covered Damion slammed into his back like a cannonball. The leaf storm had been a diversion - it weakened the barrier Nathan had set up and blocked Damion from view, allowing him to sneak up behind Nathan to send him flying towards the tree. Nathan let out another yell of pain as the tree slammed a branch into his back to send him back to Damion, as if the two were playing volleyball and Nathan was the ball. It hurt, just like those times! It hurt!

Could he give up here?

As if in response, his father's deep voice echoed in Nathan's mind. Remember, child. Never lose.

Before Damion could send Nathan back for round two, Nathan disappeared from sight. Both Damion and the tree looked side to side immediately - only for Nathan to reveal that he was in the air above them when he yelled "Runic Fire Blast!"

Gone was the hesitation to attack. Nathan's eyes had hardened, replacing his soft expression with a determined one. Defending wouldn't help Nathan win the match (What would his parents say? Would Damion still be a friend if he lost?), so he'd have to deal damage to his friends even if the thought made his stomach shake. Bringing his hands forwards, a complex rune appeared in front of him, thick red lines swirling and curling with sharp explosive edges; thinner lines fiery and unwavering with sharp jagged edges. Biting his lip in concentration, Nathan slammed his palms forward through the rune. "Runes: Fire Dragon!" Nathan yelled, and the rune glowed red.

A small dragon made from flames shot out of the rune towards Damion and Arborroot as if they had disturbed his slumber, scales gleaming a dark reddish tint in contrast to its orange body, shimmering from pure heat. It opened its mouth and roared, fire bursting out of its mouth as it slammed right ointo Damion and Arborroot. Both of them got knocked down by the dragon, knocking Damion back and doing severe damage to the tree as it rammed into it hard enough for it to explode in a shower of sparks. Landing lightly on a runic circle like a platform, Nathan sent another flaming dragon at them.

Damion managed to bring up an energy barrier for defense, but the heated ash and sparks still hurt like hell. Grabbing some gravel off the ground, Damion's hand crackled with energy as he flung them towards Nathan as hard as he could. The pieces of gravel transmuted into blunt steel spears designed to cause massive bruising as they flew towards Nathan, but the orange-haired boy merely dodged. The runic circle carrying him moved as if responding to his thoughts, and the soaring metal bars failed to land against flesh as Nathan moved around as if he were riding a UFO.

That wouldn't work. Damion gave a tch under his breath as he dodged another fireball, running variables through his mind. Nathan was too high above Damion for him to do anything but run around, while Nathan's runes gave him great range. Still crouching on the circle, Damion squinted up at the figure close to the ceiling...

The ceiling? The ceiling that was connected to the walls...

Damion hissed as his ankle got seared by a weak fireball, designed to cause temporary burns rather than or prolonged pain, but his eyes light up as a plan slotted into place in his head. Bingo.

"Arborroot!" Damion dashed up towards the tree, assessing its condition with a cool eye. The tree was in bad shape. It's trunk was burnt black, and it's leaves were almost all gone or charred almost to ashes, along with some of its branches on the peak of falling off. It wouldn't last long. Still, despite being in what must've been unimaginable pain the tree was still alive and kicking, expression perking up in a scowl as it noticed Damion. "Whaddaya want, kid?" It creaked, speech a bit slurred.

Damion leant in close to whisper. "Listen..." The tree's expression brightened up in surprise at Damion's plan, then grinned. "That's a good one!" It chuckled, sounding like the rustling of the trees in a breeze at night. "I'm starting to like you, kiddo! But now -" Arborroot's face turned serious. "Scram."

It pushed Damion out of the way of another cannonball. The ball grazed Damion's side before landing against the wall with a crash, landing with a thud on the floor before rolling to a stop. Up above them, Nathan spread out his arms as he casted another rune, and this time a gale began to grow, blowing their hair away from their faces and rustling what was left of Arborroot's leaves.

"No you don't!" Grabbing more gravel, Damion flunked it at Nathan. Energy crackled like electricity as the gravel began to shine and spread, turning into light but blunt discuses that fought against the wind. Bringing himself up a few feet higher, Nathan redirected the gale to deflect the few discuses against Damion, who dodged and began to throw more objects at him.

It was a bit like playing attack the invader on both sides. With the help of a shot put, Damion aimed to shoot Nathan down like a hunter aiming for a goose in midflight, while Nathan weaved through the flying objects on his flying rune platform while shooting down blunt objects like hail. Nathan was grinning worriedly, pleased but unsure about what was going on, while Damion's face was serious, almost blank as he carefully shot another discus towards Nathan, who weaved to the right.

If Nathan hadn't been too focused on the battle and trying not to get knocked out of the sky like an apple from a tree, if he'd thought back about all the efforts Damion had made at using him as target practice, Nathan would have noticed that most of Damion's efforts were carefully calculated to miss. He'd also have realized that Damion was making him go higher and higher with every few throws, as if he'd wanted Nathan near the ceiling. As it was, Nathan didn't notice when exactly he shot so close to the ceiling that his hair nearly grazed it, so he also didn't notice when Damion shot a glance at Arborroot while slamming another discuss towards Nathan's face.

It was an error he was going to regret.

Weaving to the left, Nathan craned his neck as the discus flew through where his head had been a few seconds ago - and promptly got entangled as thick brown roots erupted out of the ceiling inches above his head and grabbed him.

"AAAGGHH!" Nathan screamed in both shock and fear as he felt himself engulfed by living wood. He struggled to get free; fingers clawing at the bark instinctively, but smaller roots just came over and restrained his fingers apart so that he couldn't draw a rune that could get him out of the bind he was in. He made to kick at the bark desperately, but the tree grabbed hold of his foot before he could move more than an inch and restrained his feet together. Trapped like a crucified thief, Nathan squished his eyes shut and waited for a blow; a hit; anything to land.

It didn't come. Nathan squeezed his eyes shut for a few more seconds before opening his eyes in confusion. Huh?

"Checkmate" Damion said with a grin, as he had a hand full of energy pointed at Nathan. "You give up now, or do I need to make the final move?"

"U-Uh yeah! Yes, I surrender!" Nathan squeaked. The pressure against his throat decreased, but his body remained tensed as he was lowered to the ground. A few seconds after he landed and Damion was doing nothing more than stare at him cluelessly, Nathan relaxed and let out a small sigh of relief. Resting his hands against his knees, Nathan panted for breath.

Then his face blanched as he remembered that he'd lost. Crap, they're going to get mad - but Damion said that he wasn't going to tell them! So they won't find out I lost! with that reassurance Nathan's color began to return, but the worry and fear remained, a twisted feeling in his gut that added to the disappointment of his defeat. He really was worthless after all - he'd have to work harder. ...Right?

"Damion!" Reaching up a hand, Nathan grabbed Damion's shoulder hesitantly as if he weren't quite sure that he was allowed to; expression filled with worry and anxiety with a hint of fear. "You remember promising not to tell my parents about this fight, right?!"

"Don't worry. Thats up to you, hope your in a good enough state to pretend like it didn't happen" Damion mentioned with a grin.

"Oh, ok then!" The weird mixture of emotions on Nathan's face washed away at Damion's reassurance. "Phew. Wanna get something to eat?"

"Yeah, might as well. I could use some food, but we better hurry. Its getting late, and after this I need some rest" Damion told him. "Anyways, good to meet you. Nice to have another friend in this line of work".

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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It only took three minutes before the training door opened. a quiet swoosh that broke the silence. Aldred raised a hand wearily from where he was slumped against the wall, hand raising away from Sillo's carotid artery in a wave that was more of a wiggle of the fingers than a whole hand movement. "Yo." mustering up a faint smile on his lips.

"Hey." Mr Cohald returned the greeting, booted feet coming to a stop beside Aldred. Behind him people were rushing in with stretchers and a first aid kit, two guys Aldred vaguely recognised as workers from the medical bay rushing over to Sillo with a stretcher. Or maybe they were trainers. Aldred wasn't really sure, since his vision was starting to get a little blurry around the edges. Frowning, Aldred blinked a couple of times to clear it, and when he opened his eyes Mr Cohald was crouching down in front of him with a gentle smile, hands resting against his knees and taking up surprisingly little space for such a large man.

"Never thought I'd see the day someone'd do this to you." Mr Cohald raised an eyebrow at Aldred's injuries with an impressed whistle. Aldred shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes as if to say eh, it'd have happened sooner or later. The large man sighed, expression turning serious and more business-like. "Injuries?"

"Cracked ribs, fractured elbow, cuts everywhere. Mostly concentrated on my arms and torso and legs." Aldred rattled off mildly, as if he were reciting a grocery list. Mr Cohald passed him some gauze from the first aid kit he had, and Aldred pressed it against the hole in his neck to staunch the bleeding. "I'm still bleeding. Bruises concentrated on my back and on my head, and I'm out of mana." A distant look crossed his face as if he were focusing inwardly on his head. "I don't think I have a concussion, but I feel a bit lightheaded." Aldred said calmly, resisting the urge to squint at the man. Who knew? Maybe he did have a concussion, and maybe he didn't. But it was probably from the cuts that hadn't been healed. The lightheadedness felt a bit like the lightheadedness that came from bloodloss, although it hadn't gotten dangerous enough for a transfusion yet.

Yet another thing to add to the list of things that nearly killed me today...


"Sillo - the one over there -" Aldred eyes slid towards Sillo, who was being gently loaded onto a stretcher by people. "He's got more than half his bones broken." Aldred's face and tone was carefully expressionless as he rattled off the amount of injuries sustained. "Broke his ribs, all of them. A gash on the right side. Dislocated his dominant arm and broke the bones in his other arm. His legs are intact, but I shattered his pelvis bone."

"Ouch."Mr Cohald winced as he connected the dots, glancing back at Sillo with newfound sympathy. Aldred tried to keep a straight face. "Good thing he's unconscious then." The man said, then he turned to the medics surrounding Sillo. "Oi, Mordel! C'mere!"

"Wait, I-"

"What is it, boss?" A woman in her late twenties with tropical sea blue hair bounced over towards them, carrying a first aid kit in her hands. She was dressed in practical but refined clothes, a simple blouse with shiny stones sewed at the edges and practical jeans, with tough boots that had beads glued to the cuffs. Felicia Mordel gave a low whistle when she saw Aldred, eyebrows rising high into her hairline. "Whoa, the hell happened to you? Looks like you got beaten to hell and back, kid! Didn't think it was possible, with that body of yours."

"Haha, well, hell didn't like the taste of me," Aldred joked mildly, lips curling upwards with humor. "Spat me back out like regurgitated mouthwash, and l took him with me as a reward for the trouble." Aldred smiled, eyes slipping half shut as he looked at them. "Going alone didn't really appeal to me, you know?”

“Dragged him up kicking and screaming, more like.” Mr Cohald snorted. He nodded to Felicia as he stood up, movements fluid and swift as he began to walk towards the medics. “Help patch him up. Wheelchair's on the right. I’ll be going with the other kid to the infirmary. Record’s at the Bin; up to you what to do with it. Don’t get in trouble!”

And with that the Facility Head was gone with the rest of the crew, door closing silently behind them as they escorted Sillo towards the medical bay.

Aldred and Felicia stared at each other for a moment. Aldred shifted as if he were considering standing up, but Felicia narrowed her eyes in a glare and Aldred stilled. He narrowed his eyes back in a frown, but Felicia didn't look away. Instead, her glare intensified, and for a few seconds the staring match continued until finally, Aldred jerked his head away with a sigh and settled back onto the floor.

Felicia smiled cheerfully. "That's more like it," she said, and began to work.

-----------------------------

"Alright, I'm done!" she said cheerfully, packing up the kit. Aldred sat up, looking over himself. Bandages were wrapped around his chest and arms, one of them resting comfortably in a sling and cast to prevent him from jostling it too much, and there was one on his head that covered the scrape Sillo had given him. "Those cuts were more flesh wounds, so they'll heal pretty easily. The broken ribs won't though, I'm still not sure how you were able to talk so casually with them." Aldred didn't bother to say anything - having a high pain threshold did wonders, and she was continuing on as if she didn't expect an answer. "Didn't know that was even possible. Never thought you'd need my services till now, mate."

"I got slammed through the sound barrier," Aldred said serenely, trying to stand up. He blanched and wobbled as if he were about to fall, vertigo washing over him, but Felicia grabbed him and steadied him, hands firm but gentle as she took a good grip on Aldred's ruined clothes as she helped him into the wheelchair. "Thanks. Getting slammed through the sound barrier would hurt anyone, I'm pretty sure of that. I'm not invincible, you know."

"Suuuure you aren't." Felicia's skeptical look would have made a scientist proud. "You just said you got slammed through the sound barrier but you're still alive; how the shit are you even breathing? And does 'Vera Hall Nine' ring any bells? Munich abandoned army base, half a year ago? I was there, you know. I still can't believe you survived that."

"That's because she was weak like a newborn baby." Aldred said dismissively, waving a hand. His expression darkened. "She didn't even try to kill me herself, she deserved to have that tank thrown at her. But that doesn't mean I can't get hurt. It's like..." Aldred frowned, trying to explain. How did you even begin to explain that getting sent flying twenty whole feet through the air by a truck going at full speed wouldn't do anything but make him feel irritation?

"It's like this." Aldred finally said decisively. Felicia hummed to show that she was listening, head still bent over the kit she was packing. "Say I take a hammer and slam it against your knee. Normally, your patella would break, right? Like a normal person."

"Because I'm not monstrously durable like you are."

"Yes, yes. But if you slam a hammer against my knee, it won't break. The pain would still be there, but compared to others it'd be more or less manageable. Same with knives." Aldred gave a one shoulder shrug, mindful of the sling. "I can still get cut, but you'll need more effort than most to break through skin." Not that much, but enough for Aldred to never get papercuts by accident. "I can get shot, and it'll hurt and bleed, but it won't bring me down."

Which was something Sillo had learned from the matches they'd had. Otherwise the cut on his neck would have been a just as shallow as the cuts on his arms and torso. Aldred frowned, hand going up subconsciously to the bandage wrapped around his neck.

Rose had known, too. She would know now anyway, from the way her vines had squeezed Aldred's whole body as if he was a lemon that needed juice to be squeezed out of. If it hadn't been for his Unique Ability, Aldred was fairly sure he'd have died; his flesh pulverised and bones grounded into powder by her commands. I'll have to return the favour, Aldred thought mildly. The spar had helped to clear his head like he'd hoped it would, although it'd left him with more questions and worry about his friend.

It had also made Aldred nearly lose control over his self, but that was a different matter. Absently, Aldred touched the bracelet on his wrist, fingers stroking the charm. There was still a current of mana running through it, keeping the beast at bay, and not for the first time Aldred gave thanks to whoever made the charm. Without it, he'd have...

"Right, I'll help you to the infirmary before I head off home." Felicia's voice snapped Aldred out of his thoughts. "Need to head there to log off before I get to go home anyway. Don't you dare break out, ok?"

Aldred didn't reply, merely smiled serenely at her. She tched at him, but silence fell between them as they made their way towards the infirmary until:

"Hey." Felicia's voice was quite, unlike the carefree rough tone she had used earlier. She didn't stop pushing the wheelchair, but her fingers tightened against the handlebars. "I know you have your reasons, but why the act? You freaked Ken out, you know, smiling the way you did earlier."

Unbidden, the words Rose had whispered mockingly in his ear before squeezing the life out of him echoed in Aldred's head. How would they react, boy, if they knew what you were really like?

Ah. He'd hoped they wouldn't bring that up. Aldred smiled up at her, quizzically tilting his head even if he didn't feel puzzled at all. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Felicia didn't look impressed. She didn't stop walking, but she slowed down to a stroll. "You don't have to keep up the act around me, you know." She reminded him quietly, a slightly hurt look on her face. "I was there that day you got sick."

Aldred's smile slipped off his face like water droplets rolling down a window pane, his fingers twisting the charm on his wrist. and when he looked up Aldred's face was expressionless, blank except for seriousness. "I know." He said seriously, and for a moment, Felicia looked hopeful. It fell of her face when Aldred continued matter of factly, voice brooking no argument. "Like you said, I've got my reasons. Besides, it..." Aldred hesitated, taking a deep breath. "It wasn't entirely an act."

He'd really did have fun showing Sillo around, surprisingly enough. That part had been real. Plus, it wasn't like he could stop now. That had been the mask he'd worn in front of Minori and the others when he'd first met them, and as far as Aldred was concerned that would be all they needed to know about him. Just because his emotions weren't entirely there meant that he had no want for friends, and he liked them enough to continue the act. It didn't really cost much energy, either, although his cheeks tend to cramp up sometimes. Smiling made things more convenient, so why stop?

It was also the last thing the only two men whom Aldred felt mattered had both wished for, so even if Aldred didn't really see the point he was going to carry it out anyway.

"... It doesn't matter." Aldred's tone was final, and Felicia didn't ask any questions after that, merely tossed her head and snorted. She began to walk faster again, almost as if she were angry. That wouldn't do, he might need her again someday, so it would probably be best to lighten the mood. Turning to face her, Aldred shot her a well-practiced smile. "Enough about me. How's life been?"

Felicia snorted, grinning. "Life, huh?" The anger receded from her face, and she leaned forwards conspiracy-like. "Life's been..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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Shortly after Minori walked off to stand back with Cedric, Maric resumed talking. It probably said something in regards to Gatewatchers hiring policy that hearing a nine year old voice talking about espionage didn't sound out of place to her, but she didn't take an active interest in paying attention until Project Icarus was mentioned. A project to go through a gateway and explore the other side. A project that practically had Minori drooling at the mere thought.

The only downside so far was that Maric might be involved. She pondered for a moment how difficult learning spatial magic might be considering her grasp on phyics was probably far stronger than hat of the twenty six year old toddler. When the question came up for whether or not Minori was in, she nodded, but pointed a finger at Maric.

"I'm in, but only under the conditions that he stays on the other side of the gateway, or is placed with a seperate exploration team than myself. I refuse to have such a monumental moment spent babysitting, or feeling someone's gaze on my ass the whole time. I actually have a few candidates in mind for an exploration team from the science division, if you'd like me to send a list for your approval. One of which being Aldred... we could use someone who's magic is inwardly focused since we have no idea how mana will be affected by being inside of a gateway..." Minori mused, though snapped her fingers and smiled as an idea hit her.

"I'd also like for Sillo to be at the testing grounds. Not for the exploration team, but to teleport nearby. I have a suspicion this hub may be the dimension he teleports through when he uses his powers. Anyone else I'll trust to your discretion, mam" Minori said, looking over her shoulder as she noticed the bartender arriving with a replacement of her order. She smiled contently as she sat at a booth that wasn't covered in glass, and happily resumed her meal. It was clear that she could care less now about what happened unless more information about the project was provided.

"There are plenty of RaMESSES agents that will be just as good for the job." Cedric piped up, "I'm not working with him. No offense Maric, but you offend me just by being near me." it was clear he wasn't interested in being convinced as he turned his back to the conversation and leaned on the bar with his drink. "Besides, there's no such thing as a perfect bridge. Come talk to me if you actually get Zane, I won't hold my breath."

His phone began to vibrate as a message came through. Pulling it out he read through the details quickly, recognizing the origin point as the museum the others had encountered Rose in. "Minori, did they let a Tyrannosaurus Rex lose at the museum?" he cast a raised eyebrow at her, "You don't already have one of those in your personal petting zoo do you?"

Minori raised her head as she thought, chicken tender hanging unceremoniously from her teeth.

"I went through the Japanese exhibit so I can't say for sure, but that does sound like something we'd do. We barely made it out alive, no way in hell we were doing a perimeter sweep before going back to base," she said, punctuating her sentence by tilting her head back and devouring the tender.

"Well, as much fun as it has been having my private life interrupted, duty calls." he wagged his phone in the air before slipping it back in his pocket, "Want to tag along Minori? I'll even do my best not to annihilate it so you can add it to your collection." He nodded at Artemis as he passed, ignoring Maric completely as he pushed the front door open. Next to Minori's car now sat a low, sleak, black AMG GT, which only served to highlight the fact that not that long ago Minori had had one of the richest people in the world driving her around in her little car. "So your car or mine?" Cedric asked with a hint of a grin crossing his face, walking out on a regional council member had put him in a good mood. "We'll need to head to Alleytown, someone there should be able to give us a lead on where to start looking."

"Alright... though I do have a bit of business to attend to if you wouldn't mind. I'm a bit nervous about it and could use a friend... though you'll do," she joked, though the humor was to hide the nerves shaking her voice. Whatever it was she needed to do in Alleytown, it definitely had her worked up.

Looking from her own humble Mazda to the vehicle beside it that was worth a decade's salary for her, she couldn't hide a slight grin.

"Well, you did drive my car here. Only fair..." She said, holding out her hand to accept the keys, to which Cedric shrugged and opened the drivers door, which unlocked as his hand touched it. "This one doesn't use that kind of key." He smiled and motioned for her to take a seat. "You also can't ruin the seating, it remembers."

-=-

The hustle and bustle of Alleytown was both foreign and welcome to Minori. On every corner was a different aspect of mana, either being studied, taught, or sold outright. Minori giddily pointed out the different spells and disciplines to Cedric as they traveled through the neighborhood,

"Oh! Cedric look!" Minori cried, slapping Cedric's shoulder as she pointed off to a woman dancing on a street corner, water gracefully snaking through the air around her in time to the music playing from the guitarist off to the side. During a particularly dramatic sting, the water exploded into mist arund her, concealing her form in the mana laced vapor, only to shift just so and produce a rainbow around the dancer as she bowed.

"Do you have any idea the technicality of those spells?! The physics she is managing to calculate and manipulate at will, and in time to music no less. Why just the feat of producing that rainbow would take umerous calculations... and exact knowledge of the vapor density required to reflect the light, the positioning of the sun, the shape of the vapor... and did you see the control of those spells? I just... ugh! No one in Gatewatchers thinks of mana being used like this. It's all about combat application and secrecy..." Minori said, voice shifting from that of a giddy schoolgirl to an uncharacteristic melancholy in a matter of seconds.

"Without culture such as this, mana is merely a weapon, and Gatewatchers is filled with child soldiers. If not for the budget for my research... Cedric, why do you stay with the organization?"

"Convenience I suppose. Certainly not the paycheck. I suppose it's got some perks, access to some good mana researchers for one thing. I only came on because I hoped someone could help with the mana reaction, I guess I stay because it's something to do. Cedric Valentine, action hero..." He smiled, "Or overly qualified animal control officer, which ever way you want to look at it." Minori was right though, the organization was all business, all about efficiency and execution. They didn't take time to step back and marvel at what could be done. "You know she's probably not doing any of those calculations." he commented as he nodded towards the dancer, "She's on the opposite end of that spectrum, if anything she just knows, deep down, how to do it. She might know it if you asked, but she's not thinking about it. That's what the organization is missing, they think to much." He cast a glance at the researcher, adding "But in a bad way, not in a productive way."

Minori gave a thoughtful nod, but smiled as she returned her gaze back to the road.

"True, she's probably not, but that's what makes it an art and not a science. A healthy appreciation of the one is necessary to do the other, I think, but I have to come here to see any art. I sneak here on lunch breaks to just watch, sometimes. I've frozen time to study feats like her dance on more than one occassion. The performers being cute certainly helps," Minori said, her grin shifting to a smirk.

The wonder of Alleytown could be captivating, but it also came with dark shadowy bits. The black market dealers, the less than trustworthy magical 'problem solvers', the types of people that normal people generally avoided. "What was it that you had to get? I've got to find some folks who tend to dislike being questioned, so it might get a little hairy, if you're looking to shop around we should do that first."

Finding an empty parking spot outside of an Irish pub boasting 'Magically Delicious' food, Minori took great care to park Cedric's ride before considering his query.

"Well, it's actually to get a tattoo. A magic square made of mana infused ink, like the old runes you find in museums. It should streamline my mana a bit for when the enemy comes around for round two... but I've never gotten a tattoo before. I don't suppose you'd be willing to pencil that in to your investigation time?" she asked innocently, though if Cedric looked past her, he would notice the bright neon lights advertising the tattoo parlor the researcher apparently had in mind.

"By all means, the black market won't be going anywhere any time soon. They don't know I'm coming yet." Cedric nodded as he saw the lights, "Don't ask for advice though, never got a tattoo. Who knows, might see something I like."

Cedric's response was a sigh of relief to Minori as she opened the door to the car and stepped outside, inhaling deeply as she felt the air of the mana around her. Not ten feet from where she had parked, a man was using mana to hold a bucket of molding clay in the air beside him, dabbing globs of the stuff into the space before him, starting his sculpture from the top. Behind him, a group of teenagers were using mana to recreate a scene from a tv show.

"I AM MELON LORD!" one cried, throwing flaming canteloues at her friends as they laughed and dodged the hostile produce. A nine year old near by was playing hopskotch, her set of hopskotch squares snaking along the sidewalk and up the side of a building.

"There's a beauty and simplicity to this place. I think after Project Icarus I might take a leave of absence for a month or so and just hang out here. I could learn so much... I could open a pet shop," Minori said, smiling as she looked back over at Cedric, but quickly regained her focus. She could play tourist once they had finished with their business here. Work to be done, and all.

The tattoo parlor lacked a creative name, the sign merely reading 'Tattoos', but examples of the artwork the artist within had done were moving, the animals acting like animals within the confines of their pages, the faces of people watching with a smile as people walked by, some even giving people directions after being asked. The only sign that didn't move or have a living entity within it was one that hung on the door, which simply read, 'No tribal tattoos. Violators will be prosecuted'

Minori regarded the sign for a moment, and nearly jumped when one of the faces lining the wall beside her looked over and began to speak.

"Vera got tired of drunk frat boys coming in wanting barbed wire and random designs they could get out of a gumball machine," The face, an elderly woman's face, politely explained. "First time, dear?"

"Yes... a little nervous, but I brought a friend so I think I'll be fine," Minori said, patting Cedric once on the shoulder. The old woman's face smiled warmly at the duo before the door gently swung open for them. Minori bowed her head and returned the smile in thanks before pressing inside.

"She's not going to be happy to see you boy." the warm smile turned into what could only be explained as an old ladies polite scowl, the kind that only old ladies were truly capable of that showed a particular level of distaste no other single look could show. "It was one time." Cedric said waving off the comment as he followed Minori into the parlor.

A bell overhead rang out, a gentle ring in the otherwise quiet parlor. A woman stood behind the counter, drawing on a sketchpad before looking up to see who her new client might be.

"Welcome! Be forewarned, if you get a dolphin on your ankle, it WILL need water every day," she started, though stopped and looked Cedric over, recognition taking over her facial features. She didn't seem particularly enthused to see him.

"Cedric Valentine... Of course you'd walk in today. This isn't a Watcher shake-down, is it?" Vera asked, crossing her arms and scowling at the man. "Because my permits are air tight, and so is Felix's, so you can shove whatever warrant right back up your ass."

"Nice to see you too Vera. Calm down, unless you've tattooed a large extinct reptile recently I'm not interested in your permits. And for the record, that suspects 'pet' killed a kid." Cedric responded with a mix of his general polite nature over a much darker tone, like an animal who isn't interested in a fight but still needs to send a reminder of who's who, just enough to ruffle feathers.

"Actually... I'm here to get a tattoo..." Minori interjected, timidly stepping between Vera and Cedric, the former reluctantly taking her eyes off of the man. Vera studied her customer for a moment as Minori dug out her phone, moving to stand beside of Vera to show her the picture of the artwork she wanted. Vera looked down at the screen but occassionally looked up to scowl at Cedric, though once she realized what it was Minori was wanting her eyes lit up.

"Magic square, huh? That's, what, one of Abramelins?" Vera asked, snapping her fingers three times as her sketchpad lazily lifted off of the counter and floated to her waiting hand, the artist immediately sketching out the design.

"So where we putting this bad boy? Shoulder? Thigh? Lower back? I love making tramp stamps out of ancient mystical runes. Highlights of my fucking day," Vera said, slapping Minori on the back and nearly causing the researcher to drop her phone.

"I was thinking of putting it on my back, actually. About the size of your sketch, but I need you to use your best ink for it. I plan to use it as a focus."

"Understood. I take half up front, and half when the job is done. For simple line work like this, I usually only charge about fifty bucks, seventy five for the scale. For the ink you're wanting, it's going to cost 275 for the whole thing. I only accept cash, and I only accept cash from hat ATM in the corner over there," Vera said, pointing to the machine positioned off in the corner behind the duo, in a place where Vera could see it from her counter at all times. "You wouldn't believe the problems with counterfeiting we have here. Not that some dick holes need an excuse to barge in and demand shit," Vera added, scowling at Cedric again, who waved a couple of fingers at her and shot a raised eyebrow across the room "Who, me?"

Minori withdrew the full sum of the estimate from the atm, wincing at the dip in her balance, but decided that living would be quite worth the cost, and handed Vera te first payment, which the artist took with a wide grin.

"Alright, chair is over here," Vera began, sweeping her arm off to the side room where her actual tattooing set up was located. "Going to need your bra out of the way, and your shirt off of your back so I can work. I'm not sacrificing quality just because a strap kept getting in the way, and for almost three hundred bucks I doubt you want that either."

Without a second thought, Minori reached up the back of her loose fitting white shirt, fidgeting for a moment before she began to follow Vera to the chair, which the artist was repositioning so that Minori could sit comfortably on her stomach while she worked. By the time Minori got to the chair, her bra was in her hand and her shirt was pulled over her head, though she kept her arms in her sleeves, using the shirt itself to cover her chest, and Cedric had found himself interested in a number of sketches on the counter. He had been caught off guard by the general lack of concern for his presence, though Minori didn't actually look at him until she knelt into the seat and crossed her arms on the headrest. Even then, the look was not one of modesty but one of anxiety, the researcher's gaze shifting between her friend and that of the needle Vera was preparing.

Once everything was set up, Vera excused herself just long enough to dig in what Minori assumed was her supply closet before returning with a dark blue ink, though the ink glowed so long as Vera made physical contact with it.

"This color fine with you?" Vera asked, and Minori gave a solemn nod as Vera grabbed her needle and made the final preperations. The researcher cast a nervous glance at Cedric as Vera rubbed a cleaning solution on Minori's back, squeezing the headrest tightly.

"Now this is going to sting, but the line work isn't the bit that really hurts, okay? I'm not going to be staying in one spot for very long so t won't have much time to make the skin raw. That said, if you need me to stop just speak up, okay? I'm just going to make the square, and then the letters, and at most I might go over everything twice to make sure enough of this ink gets in to get the job done. We're talking forty five minutes if I take my time, okay?" Vera said softly, her rough voice actually quite soothing when she wanted it to be. Minori nodded, body gently shaking as she glanced back over at Cedric, holding out a hand expectently for him to hold.

Cedric paused for a moment, smiled at the irony, and walked over to extend a hand. "See Vera, I'm a big ole teddy bear once you get to know me." the artist gave an indignant snort in reply.

"I'm scared of needles..." She said softly in explanation, though Vera only waited a few seconds for Cedric to move before she got to work. The pain made Minori jump at first, but she settled once the initial shock was over, squeezing the headrest tight enough that it might have bruised a person, her grip on Cedric's hand a similar vice. Vera hummed quietly to herself as she worked, carefully making the initial square which would encompass the rest of the tattoo, making sure to go over each line two or three times to enforce the mana being stabbed into the girl's skin, as well as make sure the lines were nice and solid. After that came the lines for the grid, which weren't as thick but still required an additional pass before Vera was satisfied.

"Okay... I'm ready to start the lettering. Halfway there, kid. Going over them twice each to make sure they're nice and bold and powerful, okay? You're doing fine," Vera said, her voice almost warm as she looked back to her sketch for reference. This would be the part where the actual spell would come in, and a mistake from Vera would undo everything her client wanted.

As Vera resumed her work, Minori looked back over at Cedric, obviously trying really hard to keep her tears internal, but was only mostly succeeding.

"You said you were interested in a familiar? What sort of creature did you have in mind?" She asked, wanting something to take her mind off of the pain on her back.

"Oh, I hadn't really thought that much about it. Obviously something that has a natural mana tendency, probably something brooding and spiky, like Vera," he shot a glance at Vera whos eyes narrowed, though she never skipped a beat in her work. "So you get to do what you want with gateway creatures while you hassle everyone else over them?" she growled.

"Yeah, pretty much. Perks of the job. I suppose that's another reason I stick around." he turned his attention back to Minori, referencing her question from before, "Anyway, there are any number of possible creatures, like I said, it's really a matter of getting one powerful enough to be worth it but not so powerful that I couldn't subdue it fully."

"Alright.. last pass and then we're done. The ink should react to your will when you focus with it, and if it doesn't I know some tricks to fix it up, which I can do free of charge if youcome back in the next week, okay? I also sell the stuff to clean this, but you don't need anything mana specific if you aren't local and can't mae the trip back whenever. Got a few touch ups to make, but ou'll be all done in about five minutes, alright?" Vera said, the warmth in her voice replaced with some pep as the worst of the ordeal was over for her client.

When all was said in done, Minori stood at the counter, properly dressed once again, but was still shaking like a leaf from the experence. Vera seemed t be amused, albeit sympathetic, as she accepted the rest of the payment for her work.

With the transaction complete, Vera put the money in her till before glancing over at Cedric, her scowl prominent once again.

"I don't suppose you came in here to do anything besdes loiter," she spat, punctuating her sentence by slamming her register drawer closed, never breaking eye contact with the man.

"Like I said, perks of the job." Cedric tipped his hat slightly and flashed a sarcastically polite grin, "You stay out of trouble now Vera, wouldn't want that old lady out front to have to remember any more unpleasant visits."

"You leave my grandma out of this you piece of shit," Vera snarled, electricity crackling in the air around her head. Minori, sensing conflict was inevitable, thanked Vera for her work, and grabbed Cedric by the arm as she made a run for the door.

She was now as ready as she was probably ever going to be for her next fight with Rose.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Zane Bell Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa Character Portrait: Maric Boone
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Maric got really peeved at that babysitting comment. "You realize I am older then you right? I would be babysitting you. Well, not sure about Cedric, his file is surprisingly well classified, but yeah. Anyways, you know, all I did was try to be nice, and this is the thanks I got! Jeesh!"

Artemis looked at him with a look of half disbelief, half confused. Did you not just...uhg, nevermind "Seriously Maric, just let it go. What would your family think..."

By the time Artemis had said those words, it was already too late. It radiated so strongly, everyone could feel it nearby. Feelings of sadness, anger, and regret. Artemis knew she shouldn't have brought that up. Maric was many things. Some of those deserved a slap on the wrist. But the last thing one should ever bring up was his family. Maric's negative emotions were so strong, even non-mana users could sense something was wrong. He glared right at Artemis, with a cold look. "What? I think you were about to say something, damnit!"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to drudge up those memories" she mentioned, as Maric got up and started to leave. "That was uncalled for".

"Fuck yes it was uncalled for" he swore in a disgruntled voice, his entire mood having shifted. Artemis looked towards the two of them.

"Sorry about that, Maric deserves to be scolded every so often, but bringing up his family, at least like that, wasn't something anyone should do. You see, his Unique trait was actually something else before, but he was suffering from this rare affliction that was believed to have been put on him as a baby. Mana poisoning. His family tried to use a dangerous spell to cure him, and as a result, it killed both of his adoptive parents and his sister. They brought him into their family, and then they sacrificed themselves so he would live. I think the real reason he is like...well, him, is cause he lives with the guilt of it every day, because in his mind, he thinks he murdered them".

"Anyways, with that over, let me explain. When we finally begin the operation, it may be important to spread out among different paths to collect as much information as possible, but you should all stay in one general area. You shouldn't risk getting split up, because there are dangers beyond the Gateway you can't even imagine. Avoid pitch black caves, ice caverns, volcanic areas, and anything that either looks extremely threatening...or nowhere near threatening....as much as you can without impeding progress. Anyways, we won't force anyone to go, but you can invite anyone you like as long as they have the experience for it. Though, Damion is a recommendation mostly because of his ability to control nature. You run into hostile plantlife, and he may be your only lifeline".

With that, Artemis left....hoping she had not set Maric over the edge again. On occasion, Maric had episodes, where after he was reminded of his family, he wouldn't be seen for weeks, or once months. It affected him that badly. Still, what did always bother Artemis...is that he always seemed to hold something back.

(Time skip to Morning)

Maric woke up to the sound of his alarm clock. it was early in the morning, but he had someone he had to visit early in the morning. He got dressed, opened his door, and made his way to the door across the hall. As he opened it, a woman who appeared to be incredibly old was lying in bed. "Oneechan?"

"Hello, Mari-Chan. How are you doing today? And please, don't reply by asking me how I am doing, little brother" the 50+ year old woman told Maric. This woman was Maric's sister, and they were born only a few years apart. The reason for the suffixes was a little inside joke they had together. Something special that was for between the two of them.

"Fine. Yesterday, I got closer to my goal. Of entering the Lab 51 Gateway, and making it towards the Star Fragment that resides within. Our goal is finally within reach, Oneechan".

"You really should stop calling me that" she mentioned with a bit of laughter. "But I am so glad. After everything thats happened, we are close to our goal. But, what of the others? What if they try to stop you?"

Maric gave her a cold stare that was uncharacteristic for him. "If anyone tries to stop me when I am so close, I will slaughter them. Nothing will stand in my way".

"I just hope you find happiness, once you can finally be yourself Mari-Chan. You were always the unique one of us all, after all, so you can find a way. After all, Frozen State....as well as the Sword of Judgement...are still affecting your personality. And Frozen State isn't even your real Unique trait".

Maric picked up a picture of their parents. "It will be over soon, and all the damage done will be wiped clean".

"Do your best, Mari-Chan".

"Always, Oneechan".

After making sure she had plenty of food and water, Maric went out to do his job. Granted, any job he did do was only a cover, so he could obtain his true prize. A Star Fragment. It was so filled with mana, it would be just what he needed to save people. But he couldn't let the other Gatewatcher's get it. No, they would want to lock it up and use it for themselves. Maric could not allow that, ever, to happen. He had to be the one to use it, no one else.

He would no longer let anyone else die because of him. No more.

No more!

Suddenly, he was alerted to an active Gateway. It was opening way too close to home for his liking, as well. What was even more strange is that Gateway activity in this area was rare at best. So, he went to investigate. As he turned the corner, he came face to face with a Gateway, only something was off about it. It was open, yet also closed. Suddenly, a dark impulse emerged from it, and presented itself in front of Maric. What happened next took place in the span of miliseconds. The shadowy figure plunged a shadowblade at Maric, which he just barely deflected with Zu-Zu before directing it down, and kicking the figure in the face. It was pushed back, but then Maric saw it. Black flame. Maric then put up a barrier around himself, before the black flame launched at him.

After all that happened, Maric did not dare make the first move. After all, his magic was great for defense. He had good offensive magic too, but between Infinity Counter, Null Zone, and Condensed Space, his defense was through the roof. However, Maric did not anticipate the sheer speed of his ene....

"Hold on, where did he go?!" Maric asked as he realized the entity was gone. Furthermore, the Gateway closed on its own. "Oh, you have got to be....what the hell? Who is that guy?! Well, its too close to home for me, and all the evidence is gone, so no point in reporting it".

Maric did a quick sensor sweep for the pressence before, but nothing was around. It just vanished. How the hell could it vanish?

As he made his way through the city, he had a cloak spell around him and was jumping from rooftop to rooftop. He could just fly, using his Spatial Manipulation magic, but this had a bit more thrill to it. He looked back at Central HQ. About all the secrets that lay within. And about the Vault of Relics, a place where they held all acquired magical items they deemed too powerful to risk being out in the open. He considered the possibility a Star Fragment could already be in there....it might reveal he was up to something with the others, but it was a risk that he had to take.

Suddenly, he felt her presence behind him, and stopped. "Oneechan, why are you here? You should be resting, with your weakened state. I have too many things to look into to find out, and with us being so close, we shouldn't take risks now".

"Don't worry, I am not asking you to train right now. Besides, we both know who would win anyways" she said with a smile. "There is one thing. Just now, did I sense...."

"Listen, it was some sort of fluke or something. It was open for less then a minute. Something did get through, but it disappeared too. Just, please rest".

"Okay, but be safe Mari-Chan".

And suddenly, she had disappeared completely. Maric let loose a tear, before heading towards the Vault. She was another reminder of his own situation. A reminder about how he was responsible for their parents deaths. How he murdered them. How they died so he could live.

It burned him up inside. Still, he dropped it once he got to the vault...only to see the door was wide open, and investigators were already there. He quickly flew in to examine the situation. There were a bunch of guards in the vault. Some of them tried to stop Maric, but he just outright ignored them, examining the crime scene. He then showed them his ID. "So, what was stolen?"

"Oh, sorry sir. It looks like just a few things. Some highly magically infused piece of wood, a crypt containing a specter, and a Star Fragment piece" the guard told him. Maric cringed at that. He had been so close to getting his Star Fragment Piece, and it was stolen? He managed to suppress his rage. Which was a good thing, because Loki appeared behind him.

"We suspect the terrorists are involved with this" Loki mentioned. "They stole something from Eastern HQ, and now here? But why are you here?"

Because I want a damn Star Fragment, no matter what gets in my way I will deal with it ruthlessly and relentlessly. "Saw a commotion while passing by. Got curious. This situation is getting worse",

"I hear you met with Artemis yesterday".

Don't tell me he had me and/or Artemis followed as well. "Stop snooping and focus Loki" Maric told him as he put a hand onhis dagger. So help me, if you even know about my sister being here, I will hut you right here and now. "Did the security cameras or Crystal Guardians record anything?"

"Just this figure, but it doesn't match any of the terrorist's build profiles" Loki told him. "Which likely means they have more members".

"More members? Shit" Maric mentioned. "Guess that means we have to hurry up operations..."

And more importantly, I have to retrieve that Star Fragment... Maric thought to himself. He decided to start investigating leads by heading to Alleytown. But first....

He went up to a female guard. "Hey, when does your shift end? Maybe we can go out sometime, cause whatever time that is, I will make it good".

He was still Maric, after all.

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Zane walked through the halls of the library, yawning. A perk of living inside an abandoned library? No one to wake you up, and no noisy neighbors. He had reconfigured several rooms recently, to be more spacious. He went around in just some PJs and slippers to the main library. To think, all of this was just left alone for years, all these books. Well, to be fair, Zane now owned the building, even if the means he used to get the deed were not quite fair. Still, it was the way he preferred things. Honestly, given the state of things, it was better for him here then in a foster family or a group home.

As he entered a makeshift living room, he turned on the TV as he put up his feet on a footrest. He checked the diviners next to him, which he had setup as a slightly more accurate weather forecast...only slightly though. As he listened to the news, there was a report of strange large footprints heading towards the sewers. Given the size of the footprints, many believe it to be a prank, though some believe it to be a T-Rex. Still, no witnesses have come fort to confirm this.

"Wait, wait, hold on. How the hell did not a single security camera get a visual on the T-Rex? What the fuck, is this T-Rex supernatural or something?"

After all, mana has in fact existed for more then twenty years...

"Wait, could it be.....naaah, that would just be silly...right?" he asked Aurell, who spoke to him through the Phoenix Mark.

"Well, it would be strange...but not impossible".

"A T-Rex with mana? That would be interesting, especially if it really does have a cloak ability. Maybe it can also summon magical armor, too" Zane mentioned. "Anyways, we only have part of this day till Rose returns. I hope she comes for me first, I will take pleasure in crushing her",

"Didn't she totally crush you and four others last time?" Aurell asked.

"Shush. It will be different this time".

Zane looked around the room, and looked around at some of the books. It was shocking, just how many of these books were disguised as normal books, when in fact they contained magical research, terminology, species logs of what has been seen coming through the Gateway, and power ratings of notable power levels. He even found one of a Legendary Gatewatcher, known as Liza the Holy Knight. She disappeared quite some time ago, but some say her Holy and Knight based magic was incredibly strong, especially against those with dark intentions, but still strong against anyone in general. No one knows why she disappeared, but they say it was because of a treacherous fiend.

There were other legends too, those about temples that appeared and disappeared, some about parallel dimensions and time fragments, a few about the possibility of hybridization of races, and one about considering the possibilities legends such as Pandora's Box and Excalibur are actually true. It was a lot of information, and Zane was soaking up all of it. With all that said and done, he went to the kitchen and made himself breakfast.

Today, he would not lose. At least, not so easily.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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The harsh brightness of morning sun filtered it's way into the infirmary at the training facility. There were surprisingly no gadgets or gizmos scattered around minus the heart monitor checking the pulse of Sillo and Aldred. The volume was turned off, however, so as not to disturb the two while they slept through the night, but would go off if either of their pulses made any rapid changes.

As Sillo regained consciousness, Aldred was already awake on the other side of the room. Blinking his eyes open slowly, he had a strange feeling. It was the feeling of waking up in an area he'd never been before. Everything seemed foreign to him. He wouldn't have even had a clue had he not spotted the IV on the left side of his bed. Ah... he thought, I'm in a hospital of some kind.

He shifted in his bed, then regretted doing so immediately. The mana doctors and staff at the training facility had done a fantastic job, pretty much making him as good as new. But he was still very sore and his head had a dull throb accompanying it. He he breathed in sharply, holding in place for a second before settling again in the new position. What happened to me?

He checked himself over. Everything looked fine, he thought. He tested his arms and legs to make sure he still had the ability to move them. He rolled his head around on his shoulders, wiggled his fingers and toes, and patted his chest to make sure no broken bones were anywhere, which they weren't. He sighed in relief.

Alright...what happened?

Memories came flooding back in chronological order. They had fought, Aldred and himself. It was a training spar. There was some particular moments that stood out to him. Like he knew he threw a giant plane at the blonde at one point. And Aldred had used rockets in response. Had it not been for the stability of the training room, the whole place likely would've come down. At some point, he knew Aldred had come at him with full force. He caught him by the mouth. He felt a pain, like his arm bone being torn from it's socket. And then...

Everything went black.

He chuckled as he realized that he had lost the match, then and there. The two of them likely pushed it a bit far, but it was a fair fight. Aldred must've performed a move that knocked him out instantly.

Though he couldn't shake the feeling he was forgetting something...like there was more to it than that. For one, his head throbbed like a mother, but he couldn't recall receiving head trauma or damage. Maybe it was when he was being flung around near the beginning. But the more important detail was this: He could understand why he was in the infirmary. He got his ass handed to him after all. But why was Aldred there?

He hadn't done that much damage...had he?

Grunting as he moved again, he gave a weak wave across the room, that familiar Sillo grin crossing his face.

"Mornin'!" he said cheerfully, "Man, didn't think you'd take me down this badly. I hurt all over. I guess we pushed it a bit, huh?"

Setting

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Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa
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(Coauthored by Chuckles and Bravo_Zver)

The moon was hanging over head by the time Cedric and Minori left the tattoo parlor, the old lady's face scowling at the former, but casting an approving smile towards the later, "I do hope you'll be back now young lady. Maybe with out the boy next time though."

Cedric ignored the artwork and continued back towards his car, "Got to grab something before we make our next stop." He explained, but stopped mid step as he noticed the car, which was very much black when it arrived, was now covered in a sea of moving colors, not dissimilar to the effect of the artwork adorning the tattoo parlor. Almost immediately a younger boy came running up to him.

"I tried to tell em sir, he didn't know no better though. I tried to warn him not to." Cedric knew the kids face, he was one of the many pranksters who enjoyed taking advantage of visitors to Alleytown. Most of them had gotten the idea that pranking Cedric Valentine was not in their best interests, but every now and again a new kid thought that just presented them an opportunity to prove they were more mischievous than the rest. Cedric saw the kid immediately, standing off in the corner, trying to look disinterested but too proud of his work to achieve that. "Don't hurt him." the young boy pleaded before giving up on the cause and backing away.

Cedric's finger ran across his ring, an annoyed look crossed his face, and he blinked. Suddenly the boy who had been trying to covertly admire his work was admiring the second button of Cedric's vest.

"It seems my car has had a case of color change fever." Cedric spoke softly. "We wouldn't happen to know anything about that would we?" Mischievous eyes glanced up at him, "Nope, wouldn't know a thing EEEK!" the boy squealed as he was suddenly lifted to eye level with Cedric who's eyes stared, dead white, into the boys. "You can't prove nothin!"

"I don't need to prove nothin. I know it, you know it." Cedric's face was cold and deadpan, his eyes seemed to flash like a projector filing through images, the people around them seemed to fade away, the street below them fell so far below and there was only Cedric and the boy, the people around them wouldn't notice any of this, only the boy peering out from the corner, though if they were astute the would notice that Cedric was no longer standing next to Minori.

"Your friends, you didn't notice that they avoid my car?" The boy began to squirm a bit while still attempting an air of defiance, "This ain't real, you can't trick a trickster!" Cedric smiled an unfriendly smile, "How sure are you? There's a reason nobody else touched that car." The look of defiance slowly began to fade into fear, was this guy for real? It certainly felt real, he wouldn't would he? His friends had warned him, they had never warned him not to mess with anyone before. He started to realize he might be in over his head. "I can fix it! Honest! It was just a little joke! No harm done!"

Suddenly the people were back, the street was where it was supposed to be, the boy was back on his feet, and Cedric was brushing his shoulders off, with no visual explanation of how he got there. "There we are, seems you had a little fall there. Now then, what were you saying about my car?" he turned back around as the boy undid his spell, returning the car to it's intended state. "Yes, yes it is very nice. I'm glad you like the color. Now, off you go, turn your tricks somewhere else." Cedric tucked a five dollar bill in the boys pocket and patted him off, the menacing look all but gone as he made his way back to Minori. "The new ones need a good scare sometimes to get the idea. It's just to much hassle dealing with them every time I come here. Though there was one kid, he turned a Ferrari into an actual prancing horse, that one was impressive."

Knowing Cedric as she did, it was a little hard to take the man seriously as she watched him intimidate the kid. She knew a scare was all he'd be in for, but the look on the prankster's face as whatever illusion Cedric had cooked up played out nearly got a laugh out of her. Had the boy done something besides change the color, she might have felt some worry, but Cedric was no monster.

When Cedric came back and made his quip about the horse, Minori grinned as she looked back at the car. "I wonder if it retained the horsepower once transformed..." She mused, finger gently tapping the hood. "So I'm shit with this whole detective thing. Where are we going first? Need me to do anything or just stay out of the way?" she asked, looking back to Cedric now. "Also, don't think I didn't see you slip that kid a five dollar bill. Cheapskate," she joked.

"They get enough, trust me." He smiled, "I don't only use fear to keep them away from my stuff. Reward and punishment in equal measure make the best of informants, and the most well behaved of pranksters." He popped the hatch of the GT and pulled out a dark leather satchel before closing the car up again. "There's a, pet shop, down just a bit. The owner has some black market connections. We'll start there." He slung the bag over his shoulder as he started off, "I'm going to warn you now, this could get messy." a cautious look crossed his face, but he didn't go into detail. Vera wasn't the only one in Alleytown that wouldn't be happy to see him walk though the door. He had a reputation of getting what he wanted, and not being afraid to play rough to do so. Not every shop knew him like that, there were quite a few that just knew Cedric as a customer, the polite generous man he was when he wasn't on a mission. It was just those unfortunate shop owners and citizens who had connections to the seedier side of the community, they didn't necessarily hate him, but they preferred when he passed them by. Some, like Vera, hated him, but not enough to commit a crime against him.

Others would very much like the chance to get at him, the actual criminals. Most of them weren't foolish enough to actually do it, though there were always exceptions.

The warning weighed on Minori for a moment, nodding once in a show of seriousness, though followed it up with a pat on Cedric's shoulder. "I have stood inside of the lower intestine of a creature that had ammonia for blood. I fear no mess, Cedric," she said, preemptively undoing the strap on the police baton that hung from her waist. "I'd also like to be on the winning side of a fight in the past twenty four hours. I'm ready when you are, Teddy Bear" She said, referencing his quip to Vera earlier.

The two set off down the street, the air had changed ever so slightly, Alleytown was a spectacle during the day, but it was something special at night. It was like stepping into a movie where the color palette was just a couple of shades away from normal. It was the neon lights of main street, the dark paths of an alley, the busy subway, and vaudeville all rolled into one scene. Certain colors seemed to pop as if they had been painted over a monotone image, invading the dull scene in a surreal way before giving way to the next strange sight. The performers were still out, turning their trade, a man sat in one door way playing a quintet of various wind instruments, each floating in the air as if an invisible man was standing there, they moved in rhythm and took turns leading the tune with solos. The whole thing had the air of a noir film, complete with the fedora wearing hard ass detective and a lovely lady with a less lovely streak.

"This is us." Cedric spoke softly as they came to an unassuming store front with a sign reading 'Pets and other oddities.' over the awning and a plaque hanging on the door that assured the passerby that they were opened. Cedric opened the heavy wooden door and ushered Minori into the shop before following her in, flipping the sign to 'sorry we're closed' as he did.

There were only a few customers browsing, a family with a child, and an older boy, mid teens. Nothing out of the ordinary, dogs and cats, rodents, lizards, snakes. The bats were probably the strangest creatures on prominent display in the front show room, certainly nothing that would raise an eyebrow, nothing illegal.

"Sorry folks, shop's closed." Cedric announced, more of that dark tone and much less politeness this time. The parents were quick enough to begin ushering their child, protesting that he did in fact want a puppy, to the door. The husband cast an annoyed look at Cedric as he passed. "Go get yourself some dinner. They'll be opened later. Maybe." Cedric said dryly before walking over to the teen who was doing his best anti-authority impression by keeping his focus on some exotic snake. "Beat it kid."

The boy took a moment before giving an exasperated sigh and turning towards the door, trying to leave in the most defiant way possible, but unable to keep himself from speeding up the closer he got the door, the unnerving feeling Cedric was sending down his back propelling him from annoyance toward fear until he was safely out in the street. With that Cedric pointed at the deadbolt and made a small circular motion with his outstretched finger, the lock flipped with a heavy satisfying slide and clunk.

"Now you might like this one, it's from our special collection, can't find these just anywhere you know." a portly man made his way from the back of the shop, his focus on a glass case he was holding tightly as he made his way around various crates and boxes, "And you remember, if someone official asks you didn't get it here." he set the case down in front of Cedric and looked up, his satisfied expression melting away in an instant. "Uh oh..."

"Ricard." Cedric made the name sound like a threat, the man had always liked his name, except for now he found himself wishing his was any other name in the world. "He-hello Cedric... I, uh, found this the other day. I was just going to have it turned over." the man laughed a nervous laugh "But you're here now so, look at that. Well, there you are, here that is, uhm, yes. Glad to be rid of it."

The case groaned in protest at being sat down, which immediately got Minori's attention. She knew what it sounded like, but she doubted that Ricard could keep one contained.

"I'm sure." Cedric slid the crate aside with out so much as looking into it. "Let's talk." the shop owner found himself being drug over the counter as Cedric marched toward the clerks door at the end. As he hauled the portly fellow along like an overweight toy, Minori lifted the case and was surprised to hear a growl, albeit a weak one. If it was what Minori thought it was, it was malnourished. Not wasting any more time, she froze the lock on the case and yanked it off, opening the door to the cage.

"My friend here wants to see the exotic merchandise. All those other oddities you advertise. Isn't that right Minori?" Cedric asked as he shoved the man back though the door he had appeared from unceremoniously.

Minori's only response was to approach the two men while holding what looked to be a puppy, though it's fur was a coarse black and it already looked to have the jaws of a pitbull at about 4 weeks old. She cradled it in one arm, while the other brandished a knife made of ice.

"She's got a keen interest in oddities. Likes to stick them with the pointy end of stuff and see what they do." Cedric smiled a most unhappy smile, "Always thought you were a bit of an oddity myself Ricard." the mans eyes widened as he flashed concerned glances at Cedric and Minori in turn, had this lunatic gotten a partner? Wasn't there supposed to be a nice cop too? Suddenly Cedric had a tight hold of his arm again, the man's heart beat started racing, eyes wide.

Without ever saying a word, Minori made a quick cut on the back of the man's hand before dropping her knife, taking the man's injured wrist in her own grip and yanking it towards her. Ricard merely winced from the pain but any of his struggles were in vain. The pup in her arms sniffed the air, tail weakly wagging as it struggled to make it's way to the bleeding hand now in it's reach. It lapped up the blood enthusiastically, though Minori gently poked it in the side of the head when it attempted to nibble at the wound to open it further.

"You don't even know what creatures you have, do you? This little guy is a barghest, and although it looks like a cute little pup, it feeds on blood, not meat. I doubt you even gave it that, you monster. What else are you mistreating in here?" Minori asked, now the one yanking Ricard into the back as she looked around. 

Her heart sank at the sounds of groaning and howling, looking from cage to cage with a sour look on her face. 

"Cedric, hold him. I might need more of him to fix this mess," She said, handing Cedric the barghest and the man's wrist, who's owner was inconsequential to Minori at the moment, as she wandered further into the back on her own. 

Cedric set the creature down on a table before jerking Ricard's arm down, causing the man to double over. He reached into his satchel and pulled out a metallic ring, about four inches thick the same diameter. Manipulating it swiftly one side unlatched and he slapped it down over the man's arm, at which point it conformed to the size, tightened ever so slightly, and a number of legs shot out into the table top to resemble roots. The barghest took a step back for a moment as the artifact latched on to the table, cocked it's head curiously, then went back to happily lapping up the blood trickling from the now captured hand. 

"Well, looks like you've been busy." Cedric commented as he propped himself up on the table. "You know, I'm guessing there's about six violations just for this little guy alone. Couple dozen more that I can see from here." he looked around casually, "Not to mention what she's going to do to you."

"Cedric! He has two Haetae in the same cage! They are territorial, you ass! Look at the bruises they've given each other!" Minori called out from around the corner. "Their horns will start growing in in a few weeks, what did you plan to do about that? Sell the slightly less impaled one?"

"Doesn't sound happy." Cedric mused. "So where is it?"

Ricard was whimpering now, "Where is what? I don't know what you even want!" he started to squirm, but felt Cedric lean his elbow onto the back of his shoulder heavily. "Oh, you know. Come on, where is it." he put more weight into Ricard's shoulder.

The man hesitated for a moment before protesting again, "I don't know what you're talking about!" which resulted in Cedric quickly standing up and pulling the man over by his hair, twisting his arm back painfully, causing him to yelp. "You mean to tell me a live Tyrannosaurus Rex broke out of a museum not twelve hours ago in this city and you haven't heard a single. Damn. Word?" Cedric's face came closer with each accented word until Ricard could feel his breath heavy on his cheeks.

"Ahh! Ahh! Okay okay! Maybe I've heard some things." Cedric eased up slightly at the response, allowing the man's arm to go back where it was supposed to be. "Now, I just know that it's been seen around the south end, down by the park, but it's sneaky, nobody can get a good trail on it." mostly true, but something perked Cedric's ear.

"Nobody?" he asked, tightening his grip slightly on the man's hair. "Nobody you know, or nobody you're willing to tell me about?" the man remained stubbornly silent, "Minori, anything back there looking to eat a freshly cut off hand?"

"Okay, okay okay! There's a couple of guys in town from Boston, I've heard they have been tracking it since it came up." the man was sweating now, clearly uncomfortable with his situation, but he finally decided to protect himself from the threat that was offering to cut off his hands at the moment and deal with what ever else may come later. "I don't know them, their names, but, I've heard they have a set up off of Blanton street."

Cedric smiled and finally released the man's head. "You see, that wasn't so hard." placing a hand on the artifact it released from the table abruptly, causing the barghest to jump again, and rolled back into a ring with a snap. "Don't make it a thing next time Ricard." he patted the man on the cheek before calling back to Minori, "We should probably pack it up, got to head across town."

It was around then that Minori rounded the corner, gently holding a hairless and shivering creature, her face still twisted in disgust, though with a hint of disappointment. 

"We're not cutting his hand off anymore?" She asked, huffing in annoyance as she looked around and found another cage. She reached out and froze the lock once again, yanking it away n a swift jerk. 

"It's not what you wanted but I hope it helps," She said gently, quickly opening the cage door and ushered in the hairless creature before slamming the cage shut once again, freezing the door shut just as the sounds of growling began. Minori had only taken one step away again before a loud thud shook the wall of cages, blood leaking down the cage floor before another thud saw a splatter splash the cages across from it. After that, all that could be heard was the loud crunching of bones. 

"I'll be ready in just a second,' She said, eying Ricard as he nervously began to make his way back to his counter, and presumably the front door. 

Minori shot forward and grabbed him by the back of his collar, frost instantly spreading along his shirt once physical contact occurred, the collar frozen solid almost immediately. 

"I will be back, Ricard, at an unforeseeable time in the near future, and we are going to ensure a healthy understanding of the creatures in your care and their proper diets and living conditions. After that, if I ever hear that you're mistreating one of these creatures, I will feed you to them. I'll start with the fingers and toes, cutting off your circulation as I move in to your torso to slow the bleeding process, and you won't be allowed to die until the little chupacabra that I just fed is ripping out your entrails," Minori spat, the man's shirt frozen solid, as was the ground around her. She let go just as suddenly as she'd grabbed him, leaving him a whimpering mess on the floor as she stepped forward towards the door leading to the legitimate half of Ricard's business. 

"Oh, I almost forgot... how much do I owe you for that Jackalope?" she asked, but after looking back up at the bloodied floor near the chupacabra's new cage, she shrugged and turned back. 

"Invoice me. You also might want to put up some new locks before they melt," she said coldly, and made her way back to the traditional pet shop, still obviously fuming but waited patiently for Cedric to follow. 

Cedric whistled a long slow note, gazing down at the man. "Yup." was all he said as he stepped over him and pushed through the door. Wheeling around towards one side of the shop he took a slow path in front of the more mundane creatures that Ricard had for sale, a hand hovering out at his side, pausing every so often over one or two animals. He had almost made it to the end of the aisle when he stopped, took a step back, and lifted a puppy up. It was all white and tan and black, with floppy ears and big eyes, maybe a couple of months old. It's long sinewy legs dangled carelessly below. Cedric turned his head slightly as he examined the dogs face before he finally said "and don't pee on the carpet." as if he was finishing a thought. The dog seemed to nod it's head with an emphatic yes.

With out any more hesitation Cedric tucked the dog under his arm, legs still dangling lazily, and made his way out into the street. As the now trio made their way back to Cedric's car they passed a restaurant with tables strewn out on the street, which would move as traffic needed to pass, whisking the dinners around in a slow carousel of constant motion. Cedric stopped as a particular table came up in front of him, the family they had kicked out of the shop just in the middle of a meal. Cedric set the dog down in the empty seat, "Sits at the table, doesn't eat dog food." Cedric said simply and patted the boy, who's face had lit up, on the head as he walked off. The parents weren't unhappy, having seemingly just saved a decent amount of money on a dog they were going to buy anyway. Cedric could hear the question, "Well what should we call him?" from the mother, to which the reply "You could try Charlie." was uttered in a voice that was long and full and happy, like someone stretching out the words just a little to long because the enjoyed saying them so much, "it's my name after all. Pleasure to meet you." 

The scene played out like something from a cheesy kid's show, though it was a good note for her day to end on. Minori waited off to the side while the adoption took place, reminiscing about the last talking dog she'd encountered. Oddly enough, the speech centers of their brain weren't particularly larger than any other dog's, nor were their mouths any better suited for talking. Much like the flight of a bumble bee, the lack of understanding on the physics didn't prevent the phenomena from occurring. 

When Cedric returned, Minori was smiling as she watched the pup lick the kid's face.

"Ricard must be a good informant," she said flatly, her tone not matching her expression as she continued watching the family. 

"He's just bad at being a criminal."


___Time__Skip___


The sun wasn't quite peaking over the roofs, Cedric and Minori sat in the GT tucked in a side alley, a small warehouse door visible across the street. From the outside the car looked like a dumpster, covered by a illusion spell Cedric was projecting over it. They had taken turns napping through out the night, waiting for their prey to arrive. 

Finally, after a long night waiting, the door began to open. Cedric watched as a black SUV drove slowly into the warehouse, but couldn't see much inside before the door closed again. "Looks like our new friends are home."

"Five more minutes..." Minori grumbled, still half asleep.

There were a number of ways into the building; the roll up door the SUV had used which had a regular door next to it, a loading dock about fifty feet down from that, and a few other doors on the other side that they had seen when they first arrived. Cedric had placed small monitors at the few entrances that they wouldn't be able to see from the alley but hadn't expected them to be used since there was no way to get a vehicle through them. Some people would try to use a covert option for the next step, but Cedric had other things in mind. 

"Ready for the fun part?" he looked at Minori, adjusting his hat down over his forehead, and opening the car door. 

Minori stretched and let out a slight yawn in response, a little worse for wear at having not gotten a proper night's sleep since her run in with Rose. She wasn't used to sleeping in short segments like Cedric seemed to be. She followed his lead regardless, opening the car door and stepping out, stretching her legs to get the blood flowing in them again. 

It was quiet, most of the city was still asleep, and this neighborhood was full of empty buildings and storage units, not a hub of activity, the perfect place for an illegal operation, and the perfect place for a raid. Cedric scaled the few steps to the door quickly and kicked the door with his heel just below the door knob. He had boosted his strength enough to be sure the door would open, and it did, in violent fashion. The door handle practically exploded off the frame, bits of it scattered across the floor, and the door swung back against its hinges.

"Gatewatchers, everybody freeze!" Cedric yelled. There were two men standing by the SUV, both caught completely off guard by the sudden intrusion. One turned towards Cedric and raised a hand, shooting a fireball across the room. Cedric yelled "Minori, get the other one!" as he blinked through it, appearing in front of the man and countering with a mana buffed punch to the gut. "That means you pretty boy." he growled before pointing at the ground where ice crept up suddenly around the man's feet. "I don't have time to play."

The other man jerked his head around at the other Gatewatcher running towards him, a strong wind suddenly blowing through the warehouse as he lifted into the air, his hands and feet generating wind to create the necessary lift. 

"Very impressive, but you'd do better on the ground..." Minori said, reaching for the baton at her hip. 

The man screeched, the frequency and volume of his voice shattering the windows of the warehouse in unison, but even as her ears bled, Minori just rolled her eyes. 

"Last chance! I prefer captured to killed and you're altitude only gives me the one choice!" Minori shouted, only hearing the last bit of her own words as she used a bit of mana to heal her recently ruptured eardrums. 

A strong gust of wind snatched Minori off of her feet, slinging her backwards until she slammed into the far wall, her body pinned by a continuous jet of air, the mana user controlling it floating before her with his arms crossed, smirking at her. 

"You have no power here, bitch," He spat, unfolding his arms and pointing his palms at her face, a grin on his face filled with malicious intent. 

Once again, Minori rolled her eyes, her grip on her baton firm as she angled it skyward. She turned her head and closed her eyes, a bolt of electricity shooting up into the metal beams supporting the roof. The electricity surged strongly between two beams directly over the man's head, the sight catching his attention just before the electricity surged down and struck him like a bolt of lightning. 

Had he kept to the floor, he might have been grounded and had a chance at survival. Minori rarely used this school of magic on people, but the man would have had no strain using his wind to blow away any fire she might have thrown, and he was too fast for any ice. 

The lightning strike hit his head and followed his veins down to his feet, the intense heat of the strike cooking the meat around them as it traveled. When the energy got to his feet, there was nowhere for it to travel to make a circuit, and so it kept searching for one in the man's body. The man had lost consciousness as soon as the strike had hit him, his wind dying and his body falling to the ground, and by the time he hit, he was steaming from his insides having cooked, thunder rattling the building to signify his death. 

Minori fell as well, but she whispered an incantation and was greeted by a snowdrift to catch her. She looked at the man she had killed and sighed. Cedric would be cross with her. 

Cedric had bound his opponent with the magical cuff that he had used on Ricard, and a hand gagged the man to keep him from speaking while Minori fried the other suspect. He shook his head slightly at the unexpected turn of events. "I guess I should have been more clear on how this kind of raid works." a hint of annoyance in his voice, but he turned to the living partner, "She's new to this whole field interrogation thing. As you can see, she can be overly excited." he nodded towards the still smoking corps. "So, where is it?" 

The man wasn't anything like Ricard. There wasn't fear in his eyes, he had clearly been in this type of predicament before. Dead eyes stared back at Cedric, for a moment they seemed to fade, then the pupils vibrated strangely before returning to normal. A smile could be seen despite Cedrics hand clasped firmly around the man's mouth.

"Sir, my concern is not whether god is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on god's side, for god is always right." a voice echoed from somewhere inside the warehouse. Cedric heard footsteps, then saw a man step out of the shadows. He was tall and skinny, with a crisp suit, a square set jaw and full beard, with bushy eyebrows under a tall top hat. Cedric blinked, it was Abraham Lincoln. "And who might that be?" he asked loudly.

The man he held shook out of his grip and smiled, a flash crossing his eyes. "Me." a sudden force hit Cedric square in the chest, sending him to the floor where he slid backwards into a wall. The man quickly burnt off the ice clamping his feet to the ground but his hands were still tightly clamped together with Cedrics artifact. 

He watched as Lincoln strode over and with a swift swing of his hand snapped the cuff in two. Cedrics jaw dropped, the thing was made from some of the strongest material on the planet, not to mention it had multiple enchantments on it. "That might be a problem." he stood quickly and shot a barrage if dark energy blasts across the room at the two. He was beginning to think they weren't going to get many questions answered from this guy either.

The dust cleared and Abe was standing there, a mana shield around him and the suspect. "You see, gatewatcher, this is my little pet project. The muscle as is were. I've spent years adjusting him, increasing his mana potential, his abilities. He's just about autonomous now." Cedric's eyes narrowed, "You turned honest Abe into a golem?"

Abe flashed across the room with blinding speed. Cedric barely had time to blink out of the way to see the puppets fist go through the wall. Cedric crouched and shot his palm up at the elbow, cracking it and causing the arm to bend at an unnatural angle. Abe simply pulled his hand out if the wall though, turning with that same speed and grabbing Cedric with his other arm, lifting him easily off the ground. The gatewatcher attempted to break out by physical means first, which failed miserably, then reached out towards Abes face and shot it with a fireball. This also didn't serve to accomplish much in the way of getting lose, though it clearly did at least some damage.

"Would love to hang out," Cedric quipped before blinking out of the predicament and appearing behind the tall man, "but I've really got other things to deal with." he raised both hands, lifting the man up in the air with telekinesis, and slammed them towards the wall, then the ceiling, the floor, SUV, floor, ceiling. Finally he let go, watching the body fall. There were small craters where he had smashed his opponent around, the SUV in particular was trashed, he had put a little extra on that hit so it couldn't be used to escape. Despite the pummeling Abe stood back up in short order, dusting off his coat and turning slowly towards Cedric. A hand rose, the long fingers stretched out from the coat sleeve, twitching slightly. Suddenly electricity shot out at Cedric who quickly cast a ward insulating himself from the shock. "Shit, he's not just physically enhanced, this thing is a walking talking mana turret. Hey Minori! Remember what I said about questioning them? Nix that. Kill that son of a bitch. He ruined my favorite president."

Watching things unfold had left Minori with a strange and surreal state of mind, her eyes seeing Cedric telekinetically flinging about a former US president, but her brain unable to accept it as reality. Was this an illusion meant to punish her for her performance in the raid?

It was about the time that Lincoln began shooting electricity at Cedric that she noticed the man Cedric had been trying to question jogging away from the chaos. As Cedric yelled for her to nix the whole raid thing and get to killing, Minori grinned. She was called a field researcher despite mainly working in labs, but when she did do field work, it wasn't for capture cases. It was usually because something big that only Minori had a proper understanding of had gotten loose, and it needed to be taken care of. It was why she was having a harder time dialing herself back compared to Cedric. 

But now Cedric had given her the all clear to cut loose. 

As the man continued to flee, Minori put away her baton, not wanting a repeat of the other guy she was supposed to have questioned, and instead raised her hand, causing a wall of ice to spring up a foot in front of the man and resulted in him running straight into it. 

As soon as his butt hit the floor, ice crept up and covered his legs and derrier, keeping him from moving further. 

"I'm impressed by your golem, sir, but I did want to ask you... why does it also act like Abe? It's not a part of the spell, yet you made the conscious choice to include that... why?" She asked, but was only answered by a blast of fire streaming from the man's mouth, first at her to create some distance, and then at his legs in order to melt the ice around them. His pants were singed, but it did the trick, and he was on his feet by the time Minori got close again. 

"It was an innocent question!" Minori shouted, ducking under a fireball the man threw before they both took off into a run. 

Cedric ripped a shelving unit off the wall and slammed it into Lincoln, who was still sending electricity through the air. The man faltered for a moment, just long enough to let up the attack, and give Cedric a chance to counter. He had already started buffing his physical abilities, reactions and senses, just to keep up, now it was time to start figuring this thing out.

He fired another volley of dark energy at Abe, this time reaching out with his mimicking sense to try and see exactly how the golem was reacting. But he couldn't find Abe, the dust cleared and there was nothing there.

Looking around frantically he expected a blow to the back, but found Abe running towards Minori and the other user. "Guard dog instincts." Cedric mused and took off in pursuit, casting a series of ice walls to slow Abe down. The result was watching honest Abe crash through rather thick sheets of ice while not slowing down all that much. "Okay, really strong guard dog."

Not wanting Abe to be able to get an attack at Minori while she was occupied he blinked directly behind and tackled him, latching onto his back and using his momentum to flip the golem onto the ground, holding a full nelson tightly. He had seen Abe's strength in action but it still surprised him. Even with a full physical buff Cedric struggled to hold the golem down. "Really strong guard dog!" he repeated in astonishment.

The man was serpentining as he fled, like a little field mouse running from a cat. The analogy amused Minori as she whispered an incantation under her breath and another wall of ice sprang up in front of the man, the moment of hesitation as he reacted to it's appearance being all Minori needed to close the gap between them. She had her forearm on the back of the guy's neck and a fist full of his hair before he could resume fleeing, his face getting slammed into the ice wall as punishment for being too slow. She let go of his hair and raised her free hand just long enough to form a blade of ice along the edge, preparing to end things nice and quick. 

It was dumb luck, really, that prompted her to glance down in time to notice the glyph forming on the ground below her, one that would burn her alive if she didn't let go now. She barely had time to let go and leap out of harm's way before a vortex of flame shot straight up, scorching the ground on which it was summoned and raised the temperature inside the warehouse a good fifteen degrees just from the short burst. 

When the flames subsided, the ice wall was gone, and the man was running again, but this time towards Minori. He'd realized she wasn't going to be shaken that easily, though the grin on his face unnerved her. Was his eye twitching?

Cedric knew he wouldn't be able to grapple Abe for long, so as the golem began to gain leverage and  stand he had to think of a new strategy. As he thought he saw the remnants of the fire column, and the user rushing towards Minori. It was a sudden change of tactics, one that worried Cedric. There was a twitch in the man's eye, and as he got closer Cedric could feel his mana level ramping up. Clearly the switch had flipped from flight to fight, and the man had a rage buff.

"Alright, time for some trickery." Cedric thought out loud before releasing his grip on the golem. Abe was surprised by the sudden freedom, turning to face Cedric quickly. There was a flicker in Cedrics eyes, like a projection, "Have a nice trip."

The golem saw itself being thrown clear across the room, spinning wildly. When it came to it saw Cedric, Minori, and its master, seemingly right where they had been, and set off to come to the aid of its master. The problem was Cedric had cast a illusion and projection, mirroring what was actually happening but flipping it on its axis so that by running towards what was seen, Abe was running away from the actual fighting. The scene would constantly move away from him to keep him occupied, but it would only last so long with out a lot of focus from Cedric, focus he wouldn't be able to give it. 

"Alright Alastar, let's brawl." Cedric called to the man, who's attention turned quickly when he heard his name.

"So you know me?" He hissed, "and you still thought this was a good idea?" he shot a fireball at Cedric almost casually, though this one was much more powerful than the others had been. 

Cedric blinked away from the fire with little effort, "Wouldn't be a very good Ramesses agent if I didn't. Wanted on two hundred and thirty seven counts ranging from illegal capture, sale, smuggling, reckless endangerment... Murder. That last one is kind of a big deal."

"I know you too, Cedric Valentine. Billionaire, business man, playboy, not things that strike fear into a man like me don't you think?" Alastar spat, both words and fire. "Soon we can add dead to that list."

Cedric cast constant ice shield until the fire subsided, "Come on now, you left out the best part." he blinked right in front of the man, his fedora was gone though, replaced with a hard black mask that covered down to his nose, with pointed ears on the sides. His suit had turned into a long black cape, with armor underneath, various pointy bits in various places, and a bright yellow belt. He spoke in an overly gravely and deep voice, "I'm batman." as he delivered a mana buffed punch right to the man's throat which caused Alastar to cough violently and reel back. Clearly he had not been expecting that turn of events. 

There was yet another roll of the eyes on Minori's part as the two men exchanged macho banter back and forth, knowing Cedric enjoyed it was all that kept her from reprimanding him like Selena might. After Alastar took that punch to the throat, Minori moved in with her baton out, the metal already charged with electricity. She aimed a swing at the man's head but he quickly ducked, shoving Minori away before she could follow up. 

"You think this is some kind of comic book bullshit?" he snarled, a stream of fire roaring from his hand at Cedric to keep him at bay. "Well you're not the only one with a sidekick tonight!"

"Yeah, but yours is an old ugly guy." Cedric quipped as he blinked around the room while Alastar's fire followed him, "Mine's not." The batman get up disappeared as he said it, returning to his normal suit and hat, if fighting in a suit and hat could be considered normal

Minori could sense the surge of mana Alastar put out to signal his pet, and after having seen Abe and Alastar moved, knew they couldn't afford a tag team match. 

"Cedric... I don't suppose you could take Abe one on one after this, could you?" Minori asked, muttering an incantation under her breath. The length would tip Cedric off as to what she was planning, and also what it would entail. 

As she finished the last word, everything stopped in it's tracks for Minori. Alastar was forming a fireball in his free hand, Abe was starting to double back, and she could see the fatigue hinting in Cedric's face. They couldn't afford to play around much longer. Minori darted in and moved around the frozen Alastar, elbowing him in the back and undoing her spell. 

When Minori suddenly appeared on the other side of Alastar he was sent flying forward towards Cedric, who realzed exactly what she had done and nodded his approval of the plan. He rubbed his ring, muttering a simialr incantation, one of the few spells he had to speak to use, and time slowed. It wasn't the same level of slowdown, as he stepped to the side it created a streaking effect in real time, but Cedric was still physically buffed from his encounter with Abe which helped to increase the perceived speed. He ignited a fire around his hand and through a right hook just below Alastar's center of gravity before releasing the spell.

Reactivating her time stop, Minori began running forward and jumped, landing on top of Cedric's shoulders to get a boost in her height, and came crashing down hard with her baton still in hand, the metal bar catching Alastar in the back of the head and painted the ground in red, liquifying everything in the area of impact. 

Minori ended her spell just as the blood hit the ground, having to take a knee from the strain on her mana. She wasn't used to slowing down time more than once at a time, especially in such rapid succession, but if Alastar was controlling the golem, it should fall over once the connection to its master was severed.

"Glad that's over," Minori said between heavy breaths, winded from the effort. Cedric looked up at her from the ground, where he had tumbled after Minori's use of him as a stepping stool. Luckily the physical buffs had kept any real damage from occurring, but his reaction was starting to kick into high gear. "Oh yeah, thanks for that." He smiled as he rose.

"I guess we should load up honest Abe, might be an interesting speci-" Turning to where the golem had been approaching them Cedric trailed off. It wasn't there. "Uhm. There's supposed to be a body on the ground over there too correct?"

"There should, yes. Curious thing, isn't it?" Minori replied, still panting. 

Cedric put both hands on his knees, his head and muscles aching, partially from the fight and partially from his reaction. When he closed his eyes he could see dark spots staring back at him, so he kept them open. "How the hell," he took a breath, "does a golem just walk off after the controllers head has been painted on the floor?"

Stumbling over to where Abe should have been lying on the ground Cedric found his way to the smashed SUV. The back door had been ripped off, and a number of heavy duty cases were open on the floor. "This looks like a gun case." he mused.
Suddenly there was a shake, a quick low tremor. They could feel it in the ground. Another, then another, closer and closer. Cedric got a knot in the pit of his stomach, but it wasn't from his mana reaction, it was an instinctual feeling, something that came with having fought so many powerful animals over the years. 

"I got a bad feeling about this." Cedric sighed.

Suddenly there was a crash and a roar. The roll down door of the warehouse tore up and in as something massive pushed at it. In a moment it was hanging awkwardly from one end, mangled and twisted. Staring down at them was a massive set of teeth, attached to a massive head, attached to a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex. On it's back was a carbon copy of Abraham Lincoln, with an M16 in one hand and a chainsaw in the other.

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Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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Aldred looked around from where he'd been standing close to the window when Sillo shifted, noticing the sudden movement. Dressed in fresh jeans and a dark T-shirt with a stylish logo, Aldred had been getting ready to go out for his daily warmup when he noticed Sillo regaining consciousness. He turned around as Sillo chuckled, one hand still removing the bandages wrapped loosely around his wrist.

"Top of the morning, Sillo." Aldred greeted pleasantly, walking towards the bed. He returned the wave and grin with one of his own, smile bright and serene.

Despite the fact that Sillo had nearly tried to kill him last night, Aldred wasn't particularly affected by it. Although people might have hesitated at sharing the same room with the person who'd nearly tried to kill them and tried to kill in self defence (ah, but it wasn't, not really), Aldred had entered the room without care, flopped onto the bed and was snoozing like a well fed baby within seconds. People had been trying to kill him (and him them) for a long time already, so what was another one added to the list? As far as Aldred was concerned, people made friends, then one side tried to kill the other side or betray them or something, and whoever survived was the stronger one. This one, at least, Aldred knew was there now.

Ahh, it reminded him of the old days. Silly of him not to have expected it not to have happen, haha. And, well.... other things.

I promised, after all...

It helped that the others just believed it was a training match gone a little overboard instead of a sudden deathmatch, although a look at the tapes might change that opinion. Despite Aldred's attempts, he hadn't been able to sneak out towards the Bin to get it, and even if he did get there he wasn't exactly sure what to do. He knew what the phone buttons represented, minimally, but anything more high tech than that? It was a bit like getting a drunk crazy ape to operate a military nuclear base - the result was a lot of destruction, explosions everywhere and banana's getting squished into little radioactive pieces.

Not a good idea to let Aldred near machinery, in other words.

"Mornin'!" Sillo said cheerfully, "Man, didn't think you'd take me down this badly. I hurt all over. I guess we pushed it a bit, huh?"

Aldred couldn't quite stop his eyebrows from rising up in surprise at that statement. Does he not remember? he thought, mind cycling through options on how to react. Sillo was back to normal but didn't seem to know... interesting. Inwardly, Aldred grinned as interest sparked in his brain, settling on an idea. I wonder how he'll react...

"You don't remember?" He asked curiously, grabbing the visitors seat belonging to Sillo's bed. Twisting the chair so that the back was now facing Sillo, Aldred sat and rested his elbows against the back of his chair, crossing his arms to rest loosely against the top of the chair as he continued to unravel the bandages, revealing healthy, if tender-looking pink skin. "Yeah, we did. You slammed me through the sound barrier and I broke half your bones, it was pretty fun. Been a long time since I fought like that."

Aldred's words were said as casually as 'yeah, you bought me lunch and I bought you dessert', but they sounded genuine. The calm, bright smile he had on his face and his cheerful tone, as if recounting a happy story, added to the dissonance the rest of his sentences.

"I'm not quite sure what happened," He continued in the same pleasant tone, finally unravelling the bandages. "You went a bit insane near the end, and for a moment I thought I was going to lose when you tried to stab me in the neck with telekinesis after flinging me around like a ragdoll a couple of times, but you stopped after I nutted you in the head, haha!" Aldred gave a light chuckle, as if he was recounting something funny instead of attempted murder from both sides. Shifting the bandages to the side, Aldred continued on with a smile on his lips, patting Sillo lightly on the shoulder. "Sorry for almost killing you, though, lost control of myself for a bit, but it was still pretty fun! Wouldn't mind doing that again, you know." He said somewhat wistfully, as if entering a deadly deathmatch was something he wanted to do on a daily basis.

Well, considering that Aldred had spent over half his life fighting like the only survivor in a battlefield of enemies, deathmatches actually was something normal. In the past, anyway.

"But anyway, I won. And you owe me a new shirt, that can be the prize. And Minori is going to kill us once she finds out what happened!" Aldred said cheerfully, as if Minori was going to give them a present instead of kill them for going overboard. He grinned cheerfully at Sillo as he rummaged through a paperbag on the table beside them. He held out a hotdog still in the wrapper and a packet of chocolate milk towards Sillo. "Breakfast?" he asked, smiling pleasantly as if he hadn't dropped a bombshell of information.

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Character Portrait: Selena Stone Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine
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Selena stood in front of a mirror, wearing nothing but her underclothes. It was the morning of her eighteenth birthday, and she frowned at what she saw.

"Ugly."

"You have no friends."

"People like you for your money."

She posed herself differently in the mirror, trying to find an angle in which she found herself pretty while cruel words echoed in her imagination. No matter the angle, Selena found herself consistently disappointing. She was envious of many of the girls with which she went to school, and although she was among the most popular of people at her school, she often felt like an outsider.

"Miss Stone, may I enter?" The voice belonged to Katelyn, one of the Stone family's hired help and Selena's personal maid. She was only a year older than Selena herself.

"I...Yes. Come in Kate."

The girl came in, closed the door behind her, and averted her eyes out of politeness.

"Kate, am I pretty?" Selena asked the older girl with more than a hint of nervousness in her tone. Although Kate was employed by her parents, Selena was close friends with her and would often spend time with her while she was not working.

"Of course you are, Miss Stone. You're one of the most beautiful girls I know." Kate kept her professionalism while she worked, and still kept her gaze averted politely.

"Kate stop. You can call me Sel when my parents aren't around, and I don't want the opinion of my maid, I want the opinion of my friend." She stepped away from the mirror and made an exasperated motion with her hands. "And damnit, look at me. You've seen me undressed before, it's alright!"

Kate sighed. "Sel, yes, you're gorgeous, how often do I need to tell you?" She made sure to lock eyes with Selena to let her know she was being serious, and handed her a selection of outfits Selena had approved the night before.

"Ugh I wish I looked like you. You make looking flawless look easy. And not to mention your boobs are bigger." Selena's sly smile hid a hint of playful jealousy, but not well, and she cupped her own breasts together to make them appear larger.

Kate laughed despite herself, and playfully tapped Selena's arm. "What can I say boss, some of us are just born perfect!"





Selena now stood in front of her mirror, examining her torso. Symbols branded into her flesh, from her wrists to her shoulders and down her chest to her navel, a pattern of disturbing, non-euclidean shapes and eldritch runes woven across her upper body like a spider's web. Like the symbol branded into her palm, each of these new runes pulsed with an unseen power. Despite the damage she had inflicted upon herself the night before, she had never felt more magically empowered. While her bones ached, and her skin burned, and a migraine pounded within her skull, she smiled at the artwork she had carved and burned into the canvas that was her flesh.

"Ma'am, may I enter?" Selena knew Dorian had reached the door even before he had spoken, despite not probing for him using magic. Had her natural senses increased?

"Yes." At her command, Dorian entered the room, and averted his eyes. Selena hadn't bother to cover, but she didn't seem to care.

"Look at them Dorian! Nothing in all of my research says anything about any of these symbols, save the one on my palm, naturally. Even that one has no history besides being present during my family's murder."

"They are certainly unique, ma'am." Dorian didn't look up, but rather continued to stare at his hands.

"Unique is an understatement. None of these symbols appear anywhere. Ever. And yet their composition is too precise to be random. The evoke something beyond this world. How did I know how to carve them?" Dorian cringed at the mention of carving flesh. Despite being former special forces, he didn't like to imagine gruesome violence, especially when it concerned his employer. Selena turned to face and stepped towards him.

"Forgive me ma'am, but you say you cut these symbols into your skin and then cauterized them, without knowing anything about them? Is that very wise?

"Dorian, I appreciate your concern, but it is unwarranted. I needed to do this." Selena began to dress as she spoke, somewhat easing Dorian's awkwardness. The pair of them stood in the master bedroom of Selena's apartment in downtown Sanctum City, which they had arrived at several hours earlier. It was still morning, although noon would be upon them sooner or later, and Selena wished to be out before then. "Now, to business. I trust you have already begun the repair process for the estate?" He nodded, allowing her to continue. "Good. Now I need you to contact Cedric. I have business to attend to regarding the gatewatchers and I trust only him to assist." Dorian gave a playful glance towards Selena, indicating that her niceness towards Cedric was out of character. She quickly amended that. "Unfortunately."

With that, Dorian took his leave. Selena finished dressing herself, choosing a long sleeved, black trench coat and black gloves to ensure her new markings were all covered. It was a little much, but it served it's purpose and was still technically fashionable. When she was satisfied, she found her own phone and dialed a number she had memorized. A voice answered after precisely one ring.

"I was worried you might not call me back. I trust you solved your problem yesterday?" Loki's voice on the other end of the phone was somehow crisp and oily. He was the only Councillor that Selena trusted, and she was one of the few that he trusted.

"I learned a few interesting things, concerning the terrorists who bombed HQ as well as your suspected leak. I will forward the relevant information. Also, I'm now free to pursue your other target. The red mana user, Zane. Did you want me to kill him, or interrogate him first?"

"Look at you, so eager to commit violence. No. For now, just watch him. Artemis thinks he could be a valuable ally. I disagree. Just stay close and be ready to take him out when I give the order."

"Fine. As long as I don't have to be his friend."

"I'd never make you stoop so low! And another thing, Artemis thinks she can keep secrets from me. Secrets like Project Icarus. Going through a Gateway is foolish, but she's going to do it with or without council approval. I need you to be my eyes and ears when she does, so get on the team. She's going to ask Cedric to join her, so speak to him."

"Through a gateway?"

"Yes. I imagine you in particular find the prospect fascinating. Imagine what...or who you'll run into. Might find time for some long overdue vengeance?"

"I'll get on the team."

"I knew you'd say yes! Alright, that's it, you're free to go. Don't kill too many people mole hunting! Oh, and one last thing, Maric Boone is in town. You've been warned." With that, Loki terminated the call. Selena sighed. Boone had a reputation. Thankfully, so did she. She wondered if his flirtatiousness was strong enough to tempt him to dare her wrath?

Setting

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Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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Sillo's typically calm and cool exoskeleton was a bit rattled by the mentioning of these apparent actions he had partaken upon Aldred. Smashing him through the sound barrier? Holding him at knife point? He didn't remember doing any of that. He'd think he remember a fight in which he threw a lime green Boeing 757 at his opponent, but he wasn't like he wasn't going to trust Aldred. What the actual hell happened in there? He didn't want to believe it, but maybe...maybe the fight did go on after he dislocated his arm.

Still, he decided to inquire further through the facade of ignorance as he took the unorthodox breakfast of hot dogs and chocolate milk, "Er, thanks," he muttered, "I guess there were no eggs or bacon left."

Taking a bite, he shook off the rubbery taste at eight in the morning as he shifted his gaze back to Aldred, "But what do you mean by all that? I did that? Because I don't exactly remember going through those moments. Last thing I remember was you dislocating my arm. Didn't I black out after that?" He needed tangible evidence if he was going to take in fully what Aldred was saying. It just seemed so bizarre to him...so out of nature.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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  1. Forgot to add that the whole heading towards the bin to see footage is only a go if you wish it to be a go. If you don't want it to be a go, Aldred will gladly comply for whatever else is going on, since he's a bit too lazy to protest lol. - Alle not logged in

    by Anonymous
  2. Nah, you act your character out as he would. My character shall react as he should.

    by NeverEndingFlip

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"Er, thanks, I guess there were no eggs or bacon left."

"... Yes." Aldred lied with a smile, pulling another hotdog out of his pocket. He stuffed half of it into his mouth, chewing quietly.

Sillo didn't need to know that Aldred had just decided to grab the easiest foodstuff to carry - which happened to be hotdogs instead of the steaming pile of eggs or bacon provided a few plates away, beside the plate containing grilled toast. Maybe he should have gone for hotdog-on-toast instead? But ah well. Food was food, and hotdogs counted as a breakfast food, right?

At least, he thought it did...

Does it really matter anyway? Also, doesn't sausages count as breakfast?

"But what do you mean by all that? I did that? Because I don't exactly remember going through those moments. Last thing I remember was you dislocating my arm. Didn't I black out after that?"

"Yeah, you did it all." Aldred said, eager to turn the topic away from possible breakfast foods. He pointed the half eaten sausage thoughtfully at Sillo, recalling the fight. "I think me dislocating your arm was why you turned serious, to be honest." Aldred made sure his mouth was clear before he spoke, a faint smile crawling over his face as he recalled the scene. "It was pretty fun, it kind of sucks that you don't remember. You didn't black out, though. You looked like this."

Aldred gestured to his face, which had already begun to morph. His cheekbones grew more higher, and his face began to narrow in while his hair began to shrink back into his head, darkening as if it was being dyed black. Within seconds, Aldred's head was a rough imitation of Sillo's face. If someone had came across them at that moment, they would have seen two nearly identical people - one with white hair and blue eyes seated in a bed, the other with black hair and red eyes leaning on the back of a chair, grinning at Sillo as he chewed a lump of sausage.

"Looks pretty good, right?" Aldred asked breezily around a mouthful of meat. His face morphed back to normal as he swallowed, and Aldred squeezed his cheek his cheek. "Huh, forgotten how that felt." He muttered to himself with a mildly surprised look on his face. He looked back up at Sillo. "Anyway, if you did black out like you said you did, then how did we get all these healed up injuries?"

It couldn't have been an imposter. The Sillo in front of him was the one bearing the healed up wounds. Aldred didn't think the confusion was fake, either - Sillo looked genuinely clueless, as if he really did have no clue as to what Aldred was talking about. Even if Aldred talked about it all the leu-long day, Sillo wasn't likely to believe him either without actual physical proof.

Wait a minute. Proof...

Got it!

"Well, it might be best to see it in person for yourself," Aldred decided, finishing the sausage. He stood up and stretched, taking a glance over at himself and Sillo. He was dressed (black shirt and grey pants with hospital slippers, wristband bracelet on his wrist as ever), but he wasn't quite sure about Sillo's choice of clothes. "After you change or do whatever, we'll head to the Bin. There're tapes from the security cameras there; we can check out the fight. They won't let me touch anything since I nearly wrecked it last time, haha-" Aldred scratched his head with a sheepish laugh "-but I think they'll be ok if you ask."

The Bin was inside the security guard room, where most ordered tapes were stored. People liked to rewatch footage of them doing training in the rooms, and provided they went through some security checkups to prove that they were allowed the tapes they could take it, head to a room with a VCR and slot it in to see the data stored in the disc. The security cameras were functional even within the dimensional bubbles people fought in, being able to capture footage no matter what dimension they were in or how badly the place was blown up. Some might call it overbearing and an invasion of privacy, but it was a great safety precaution against people who thought that a multidimensional training room would allow them to kill someone 'by accident' and get away with it.

Once Sillo was ready to leave, they could head towards the Bin, Aldred leading the way with a stroll. They'd get past the security without much problems, find that the tape was reserved for Aldred in the box, and after that they'd probably find somewhere private to watch it. That was, of course, if Sillo wanted to head towards the Bin. Aldred was pretty much willing to go elsewhere if he didn't.

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Character Portrait: Damion Gray Character Portrait: Nathan de Vries
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Friends? Friends! The word echoed in Nathan's head like a recorder on repeat, sending a warm feeling through him. He'd never had any friends his age before! He almost felt like crying from happiness, but Nathan restrained himself to a big happy smile that beamed like the sun. Nobody liked a crier, after all! Without thinking, Nathan grabbed Damion in a bearhug and squeezed emotionally, surprisingly managing to keep his voice stable. Friends! "Ok! Nice to work with you too!"

Damion was not quite expecting that reaction. "Uhhh....can barely...breath..."

"A-Ah, sorry!" Nathan abruptly let go, although he still kept a hand on Damion's jacket, fingers curled tight into the fabric. Taking a deep breath to keep his emotions in check, Nathan gave Damion a bright smile before feeling his stomach grumble. His cheeks flushed in embarrassment at the sound, mind running through the previous conversation. Food. Dinner. Right. Food! "Dinner, right? I know a good place near the electronics store! Should we go there or do you have any other place in mind?"

"There is a good burger place a block away. Great fries too. How about there?"

"Ah, sure!" Nathan thought for a moment, recalling the route. He'd been around most of the city, he knew where most things were. "Want me to teleport us there, or do you want to walk?"Nathan asked, twitching the hand he had on Damion's jacket in demonstration.

"Teleportation is cooler." Damion replied with a smile, and with that they were off, disappearing into the night.

---------------------------------------

They reappeared in the morning. Nathan had woken up early in bright spirits that had carried over from yesterday and walked out of the house as quietly as he possibly could, dressed in a long-sleeved red jacket and jeans. Teleportation wasn't possible within his household - there were wards set to prevent anyone teleporting in or out of the house, which meant that Nathan had to use the boring method of walking to get to where he wanted. His parents were out (like always) but his sister was still in her room - he could hear the loud pop-music from outside her door - so just in case, Nathan left behind a hastily scribbled note that he was heading out taped against the fridge before tiptoeing back to his room.

He wouldn't be scolded if he left a note behind, right? Plus, he was meeting his brother for breakfast! They couldn't be mad about that, right?

Nathan carefully ignored the voice that reminded him that his father and mother tend to frown when Rowan was mentioned, as if they were remembering some bug they'd just sat on with a loud squish. Bug guts and bug fluids everywhere! But Rowan wasn't a bug, so it'd be ok! Probably...

He was outside the house now! With a flash of yellow, Nathan disappeared from view and reappeared above a fire escape. He landed lightly on the platform with a faint thud that shook the fire escape slightly, although it didn't bring it down. Wobbling for a second before regaining his balance, Nathan quickly looked around only to see that there was nobody who saw him appear out of thin air.

Nobody was there - and why would they be? He'd teleported into the warehouse section, after all. Rowan had said over and over that it was perfectly ok to teleport so long as 'they don't land in the middle of the street or people or inside the shop or, y'know, where people can see, so as long as you stick to roofs and deserted areas you'll be ok', but parental training overtook brotherly assurances. Father and Mother had often told Nathan (with great emphasis) that he wasn't allowed to teleport at all, either in the manor or anywhere else since it made people mad and if they said so it had to be right, right? They were the best, after all! And he didn't want to make them angry! That wasn't good at all!

Which was why he was on top of a fire escape in the abandoned warehouse section closest to where Rowan had asked to meet. Nathan quickly scrambled down the fire escape, landing on firm ground within seconds. Quietly, he walked out of the alley onto the open, empty street....

Only to whirl around with a yelp as a primal roar resounded in the distance.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
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"Yeah, you did it all," Aldred started to grow more and more excited the more he talked about it, "I think me dislocating your arm was why you turned serious, to be honest. It was pretty fun, it kind of sucks that you don't remember. You didn't black out, though. You looked like this."

Sillo grew a bit more anxious as Aldred morphed his face into a near carbon copy of his own, with the exception of the black hair and red eyes of course. Had he really looked like that. "That's like, the exact opposite of me. Like a dark personality split copy of myself or something," Sillo thought aloud, "Weird."

"Anyway, if you did black out like you said you did, then how did we get all these healed up injuries?"

He looked down at his arms, noticing the raw skin standing apart from his own. "Well I figured you'd caused them in battle. Though now that I see it...there are more than I anticipated." There was still that shrivel of doubt behind his words, as if he needed further proof to believe what he was seeing and hearing was real. For a moment, neither boy spoke.

Then Aldred snapped his fingers, "Well, it might be best to see it in person for yourself."

Now he was curious. Sillo shot a brow up as Aldred got out of bed, "You taped the fight?" He started sliding out of bed himself, revealing he was wearing his standard white long-sleeved shirt with blue jeans. Sillo liked the casual style of it.

"After you change or do whatever, we'll head to the Bin. There're tapes from the security cameras there; we can check out the fight. They won't let me touch anything since I nearly wrecked it last time, haha-" Aldred scratched his head with a sheepish laugh "-but I think they'll be ok if you ask."

"Right," he was honestly rather complacent with moving on from the event and forgetting like it ever happened. But Aldred was right. This was something he had to see. This was his body after all. He had to know about all it's functional parts. Plus, he was also interested in the second part of the fight...the part he missed.

"So where is this Bin anyway?" Sillo asked as Aldred led the way, a bit more cheerful than he was...almost like he was being toured around the facility again.

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Character Portrait: Cedric Valentine Character Portrait: Minori Fukutawa
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Cedric stared up at the massive jaws above him as the t-rex sniffed the air, deep rumble emanating from it's throat. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, he could feel the aggression from the animal in the air. His muscles ached, his head ached, and he knew Minori was running low on energy as well after multiple time stops.

"Oh, yeah. Sure, you couldn't show up a couple of hours ago and make it easy." He breathed heavily before blinking to the side as the creature tried to snap off his upper half. "Minori! Research time!" He appeared next to her and stuffed his bag into her arms, "Datalogger in the bag, tracker in the car!" He explained quickly as he pulled a small tracking dart out of the strap of the back and twisted it to on. "Never thought I'd be using one of these on myself." he muttered and turned back to their foe.

"Alright you big ole iguana, fetch." He shot a fireball at the rex's face before breaking out into a sprint across the warehouse. It didn't take a look back to know that it was a good thing he still had a speed buff on, the rex was having no trouble keeping up with him. He ran as fast as he could towards the opposite wall, towards the same small door that Alastar had been attempting to exit. Turning his shoulder forward he lowered so he would hit the panic bar rather than blinking through it or simply smashing it open. He had a feeling he was going to need to conserve as much energy as possible. The T-rex wasn't prone to such worries though, it simply smashed into the warehouse wall full force.

Minori merely blinked a few times as Cedric spoke, fatigue slowing her reaction time and making her feel sluggish. She accepted Cedric's gizmos as he got the monstrous duo's attention before sprinting off. The T-rex roared and gave chase, Abe clearing the way for the beast's charge. The ground shook as half the warehouse got blown away by the golem's magic and the dino's strength, all the while Minori stood in stunned silence and watched, the only noise she produced being her own desperate draws of breath. Stopping time was a powerful spell, and one she used when alternative means would not get the job done. If she had known that Alastar's death would not have taken his golem with him, she would have saved her strength. As it stood now, she'd need either a power nap to get back into the fight, or she'd have to think of a way to bring their opponents back down to their level. 

Seperating them might be a good start. 

She made a dash for the car, flinging the door open and leaping inside as quickly as she could, thankful that Cedric had left his keys in the cup holder rather than keeping them in his pocket like a normal person. 

For a moment Cedric thought the building might contain the creature, but as he risked a glance back he saw that Abe had super heated the metal and as the creature smashed into it glowing slag exploded into the street, more that a few pieces nearly landing on Cedric as he dodged them hastily. "Holy shit, that's a lot of mana energy. How big of a battery does this guy have?" he thought out loud as he hurried down the street. "Alright Minori, heading north, ask the car to show tracking and the GPS will pop up on a HUD on the windshield. Then kindly come rescue me!"

Pausing for a moment in incredulity, Minori looked about the car before clearing her throat. 

"Show tracking?" she asked timidly, jumping slightly in her seat when a miniature GPS map popped up in the lower left hand side of the windshield. 

"Fucking rich kids..." she muttered, igniting the engine and slamming her foot down on the gas pedal, traffic laws be damned. 

The car guided her true, and before long she was only a half mile behind the chase going on between Cedric and the T-rex. Cedric was trying to keep from getting too close to residential areas, opting for the commercial district instead. 

Cedric cast a few spells back at the T-rex as he ran in an attempt to keep the massive creature from gaining too much ground on him. More of his focus was on removing obstacles ahead of them though. He had to telekinetically move a number of cars aside as he ran, awestruck drivers left in shock as the scene passed them by.

"You know, we could probably label this as a movie promotion. Lincoln has already been a vampire hunter..." Minori mused as she put on cruise control, humming to herself as she formed a bar of ice between the door and latched it to the steering wheel to keep it steady as she leaned out of the now open window. 

The data logger was an artifact, similar in make to the shackles Cedric had previously owned, looking like a monocle but was infused with mana. As Minori put it to her eye, she could see mana trails, as well as concentratons therein. Lincoln was white hot, filled with Alastar's black mana, but with other objects inside the mannequin that seemed to generate the stuff. For all the spells he'd been using, he didn't seem wanting for energy. One thing had her curious, however. 

"Cedric... there's a huge concentration of mana in the back of Abe's head, but it seems separate from his energy source. I think it's important. You doing okay up there?" Minori asked, smirking to herself as she leaned back in to the driver's seat and snapped her fingers to evaporate the ice that had held the wheel during that straightaway. Thankfully, Cedric and the dino were very efficient at clearing any traffic. 

"Oh, just dandy, morning jog!" his voice was clearly strained from the effort. He was having to start rebuffing his stamina and speed, as well as keep up a kinetic barrier behind him to ward off the rounds Lincoln was firing at him. It all added up to start straining his reaction, the longer this kept up the less he would be able to do when it was time to turn and fight. "Any minute now would be great!"

"So... does this thing have an autopilot?" Minori asked, a feminine voice interrupting whatever response Cedric might have given. 'Autopilot engaged," The car said, causing Minori to grumble about the wealthy once more. The car corrected itself to the center of the lane, still following the tracker as Cedric turned a corner. Soon they would be in downtown. 

Leaning back out of the driver's side window again, Minori took a deep breath before focusing her mana and freezing a patch of the road in front of the T-rex. It would either trip the beast or get it's attention on Minori, who had a very fast car with which to flee should she be chased. 

The ice sprung up at Cedric's heels. He didn't bother to slow down or turn until he heard the crash, at which point he blinked into a side alley. The wall had been enough to break the beasts focus on Cedric, and it turned wildly as it regained it's composure and tried to find it's footing. Lincoln still firmly attached up top was firing rounds in various directions, knowing Cedric was around some corner but unsure which one. The animal found it's new target, it was like it could sense that Minori had cast the ice spell, it wheeled around finally and let out a loud challenge at the black car coming towards it.

Watching the T-rex fall was definitely a sight to behold, stopping the car and watching as the beast fell onto it's side and slid several feet, before snarling and rolling to it's knees, using it's massive snout to hoist it's weight back to it's feet again. The way it's head swirled around to glare at Minori implied intelligence she didn't believe the creature could reasonably possess, but as it roared it's challenge directly at Minori, she realized the beast didn't give two shits about what it could and could not do. The autopilot disengaged as she slammed onto the brakes to come to a stop, not wanting to get within biting range just yet. 

Sensing Cedric was probably up to something, Minori began honking the horn and turning the headlights on and off to keep the dino good and focused on her, ready to test how good the warranty on this car was as soon as it charged. 

"Hope this thing is still running on natural instinct." Cedric leaned against the wall of the alley, his head throbbing, muscles starting to feel like they were tearing. His eyes began to flash as he reached out with his mind to try and find the rex, it would be much easier if he could at least connect with the creature using his ability rather than mana alone. Eventually he found the mind, a ball of rage and instincts, he could tell right away that he wasn't going to be able to directly control it, either because it wasn't actually from a gateway, or because whatever Lincoln was using to guide the thing was blocking him out. "Have to rely on instincts then."

He started to project a scene around the animal, the city faded away, over run by nature in moments. The buildings gave way to dense stands of trees and massive rock formations. All around other creatures suddenly appeared, all issuing challenges to the T-rex. This caused the animals previously single minded rage to become divided, confirming Cedrics suspicion that Lincoln had merely been pointing the animals rage. "Alright Min, this should keep rex distracted, but it's still dangerous, and we still have to get Lincoln off." as he said this the corner of the building he was hiding behind exploded above him. Lincoln had switched to magically enhanced bullets, he had turned his rifle into a miniature howitzer for all intents and purposes. "Shit these guys were well prepared."

Cedric's words came through at about the same time the T-rex started jerking it's head to the right and the left, as if seeing more threats. It took a few steps back and let out another roar before charging forward to take a massive bite into a billboard, sinking it's teeth in and delivering a massive kick to the two story building it was perched on. Even without seeing the illusion, Minori could tell what the T-rex was seeing but her crytpozoology lesson was put off when she saw Lincoln starting to take aim at the car. 

"We're not exactly flush with long range firepower. Abe has been shrugging everything off, right?" Minori asked, studying the symbiotic pair as she slammed the car into Reverse and got out of the way of the burst of fire Abe sent her way. Fotunately, the T-rex bucked to the right towards another imaginary foe as Abe readjusted his aim, ruining his shot. 

Minori took a deep breath, summoning as much mana as she dared before leaning out the window and thrust her hand at the dino, causing ice to form on the ground in front of the T-rex again, resulting in it slipping and slamming down hard onto it's side, this time in the intersection. Minori hadn't even so much as cast the spell before she slammed her foot onto the accelerator and made a beeline for the monster, swerving to aim for Abe as soon as the dino became parallel with the ground. Abe barely had time to react before the edge of the car's bumper caught him in the side, throwing him from the beast's back and skipping him across the pavement. The impact was enough force to deploy the airbags, hitting Minori in the face hard enough to knock her out briefly, ensuring the car rolled to a gentle stop in the middle of the intersection as the T-rex once again started to get on it's feet. 

Cedric winced as he watched the scene unfold, the second car in as many days to be damaged. "At least that's fixable." He sighed. Despite what amounted to a minor loss, the gambit had worked. Abe was sprawled on the floor across the street and the T-Rex was rising to it's feet. Cedric reached out with his mind and found the creature had drastically calmed in comparison to when Abe was atop it. As much as he hated it, he tried to nudge the animal away as he removed a number of the illusions he was conjuring, except for a few smaller ones that would seem to wander off. Abe was more of a problem right now than the T-Rex was.

The nudging and leading on seemed to work as the animal began to lumber off, though it did cast a glance back towards Cedric, it's huge head turning intentionally towards him. It didn't give Cedric the most pleasant of feelings, something about the way the animal looked at him, but regardless it seemed like they had finally managed to get down to one foe. Two drained mana users against a golum with a mana charge that seemed to be the equivalent of a small nuclear power plant.

He made his way to the car, attempting to ignore the damage to the front end from where it had impacted Abe. "No telling what this thing will do with out a direct controller, we can't even count on it to run out of power." Minori was slouched forward and practically cocooned in airbags, he opened the door and cut the side airbag away with a knife he retrieved from his jacket. "Nice work getting him off the Rex though." He tried to smile, but his face betrayed just how tired he was from trying to stave off the mana reaction, and just how dire he thought their situation was becoming.

The world was hazy right after the airbags deployed. She was concussed from the impact, drowsy and sluggish, but the healing spell she'd started prior to impact had kept anything permanent happening to her brain. She couldn't afford to be out of the game. Not with Abe still running around and Cedric already pushing himself too hard. 

She was thankful for Cedric speaking, giving her mind something to focus on as her consciousness clawed its way from the foggy corners of her mind. She nearly let out a laugh as Cedric called her reckless move 'nice work' but swallowed the sentiment. She needed to focus on getting out of the car. 

"You've got triple A, right?" She quipped, though her tone was still slow, focusing on each word as she shifted to the left to exit the vehicle. Her mind was screaming for her to hurry, not knowing how long until Abe would be back on his feet. 

"It's last command was to kill us, and it will follow that command so long as it has power. Just... now it can't be told how to go about it so it's going to get creative," Minori added, nearly falling out of the car as she slid out, standing and putting an elbow on the top of the car to steady herself until the world stopped shaking. One last ounce of magic went into a healing spell to clear her mind, but she was nearly running on fumes. 

"We need to buy time until one of us gets some mana back to hit this thing. Or call for back-up. I am perfectly fine with tagging someone else in. Maybe Selena would come running if you called," Minori suggested, grinning slightly as she looked at Cedric, hoping the joke would keep his mind from going to darker places. 

"We can also steal someone else's car and just keep hitting it till it stops moving..."

Cedric looked toward the golum, already rising to its feet, "Some how I don't think that's going to work." he helped pull Minori up from the car, "Let's get a head start."

Setting off down the nearest alley, he was hoping at this point that they could keep moving long enough to regain at least some mana, enough to hold up until someone could come and bail them out, he reached up and hit the button on his com that would open a channel to the main gatewatchers network, "This is Cedric Valentine, requesting emergency backup, west bound off of Blanton and, shit..." he couldn't recall the last cross street they had been at, "35th I think." He risked a glance back to see Abe entering the alley, "Fucker." his attempt to detail the situation was derailed by the sound of rifle fire and mana infused rounds ripping past his head. "I'm gonna shove that damn rifle up his-" a round exploded next to Cedric, throwing him hard against the opposite wall, which he was surprised to feel give way.

As he regained his bearings he realized the wall had been a door. He was in a dark hallway that looked like it was part of a receiving warehouse or something similar, he cursed not having paid more attention to where he was. His vision blurred and his ears rang loudly as he stood, giving himself a severe case of vertigo. As he got hold of his senses he noticed the sign next to the door that read 'stage hands only! no loading this door!' He pressed the open com button again, "Ford Redux Theater! Make it snappy or send a hearse." releasing the button he started trying to figure out an endgame. "You go that way!" He motioned for Minori to head down one end of the corridor, "Keep going until you circle around to the front. I'll try to lead him around the other way. Maybe you can get enough mana built up to catch him off guard."

He didn't wait long for a reply as he moved back into the other side of the hall. The shots had stopped in the alley. It wasn't until he heard the familiar growl of a chainsaw motor spoiling up that Cedric knew just how close Lincoln was. He couldn't help but wonder why this was turning into a campy horror flick. "Is that how I'm supposed to die, B movie in real life?" He muttered as the silhouette entered the hallway. It turned away from him, towards Minori. Cedric summoned up a decent spell and shot a blast of dark energy at the back of Lincolns head, but the golum turned with that inhuman speed, catching the blast square in the face. 

When the spell cleared Cedric was already running, breathing heavily, down the corridor.

The reprieve from the golem's onslaught gave the researcher very mixed emotions as she hesitated, looking back over her shoulder as Lincoln began to double back. She'd never seen the ring Cedric wore under such strain, and though she wasn't authorized, she'd thumbed through some of his medical records. Idle curiosity during some downtime in her lab, wanting to learn more about the agent who was usually tasked with acquiring new specimens for her. His reaction to his own mana would have begun kicking in a while ago. Now Cedric was essentially taking this thing on solo in the hopes that maybe Minori could finish it off. 

Minori was more worried she'd watch a co-worker die.

She ran down the corridor Cedric had shoved her towards, keeping her head down and trying to ignore the sound of the revving engine as she stuck to the plan. Kill it, or keep it occupied till back-up arrived. Coming to the end of the hallway, the only options she found were an emergency exit and stairs leading up to the balcony sitting. She would be lying if the exit hadn't looked tempting, but she shook the thoughts from her head and began a hard run up the steps. She could still save Cedric if she hurried. 

"Mother fucker!" Cedric grabbed a chair and threw it at the saw blade as it came down, knocking it off it's path and avoiding a nasty hole in the head, but he was unable to counter the blast from a rouge rifle round. The force sent him flying backwards like a rag doll, smashing through a set of double doors and out onto the main stage of the theater. Lincoln strode confidently onto the stage.

“War at it's best, is terrible, and this war of ours, in it's magnatude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible.” Abe quipped, the first words he's said in a long time, before his face resumed its stoic expression and he brought the rifle to bare

Cedric rolled wildly as Lincoln fired another round at him, blowing a hole in the stage where his prey had been. Sweat was pouring from Cedrics brow now, he had been using mana in chunks just to stay ahead of the golum, he was well beyond what he usually considered safe operating with his reaction. His ring was casting a dark halo out around him, it made the darkest parts of the room look bright. His muscles felt like they were going to tear off his bones, the nerves in his back were firing constantly, shooting pains to any and every ligament at random intervals. He had already been fighting voices in his head, fighting to keep his vision. It felt like his entire body was trying to tear itself apart and beat itself to death with the pieces, it felt like Selena's wild magic healing. He wished he was dead.

At this point it was a burning hatred of this thing, this lifeless golum standing over him, that kept him going. That and a vain hope that at least Minori would be able to get out of this alive. Next to him was a peice of steal, from some project going on at the theater no doubt, what ever the case he reached a shakey hand out and grabbed it, using it to help himself stand slowly. "Alright, warmup time is over you son of a bitch." He spat the sarcastic jab, knowing it meant nothing, but he poured mana into the bar anyway, buffing its strength in much the same way he would himself, but also heating it until it seemed to glow with a dark reflection, giving off a glow that was eerily similar to Cedrics ring.

He raised the bar and slammed it against the side of the oncoming saw blade, dodging to the side to avoid the chain as it swung wildly. The sudden return of strength caught Lincoln off guard for just a moment, long enough for Cedric to wind up and deliver a massive blow to the arm holding the rifle. At the moment of contact Cedric felt as if time was moving slowly, not because of mana, but because his thoughts were racing. What if he wasn't strong enough? What if this glanced off like so many other attacks seem to have done? There's no plan b.

He heard the bone crack, the hand clenched, a round fired right at Cedrics feet, the explosion launched him away, tearing through skin and muscle and bone. He slammed into the stage floor, his head smashing against the wood hard. He thought for a moment the chances of finding himself in this kind of predicament twice in as many days, but he watched the rifle fall to the ground, at least that worked.

Lincoln's face was expressionless as he looked down at his rifle, chainsaw idly yet ominously rumbling in his good hand. The golem would have smirked if its face was capable, looking back to Cedric as it raised it's chainsaw up and revved the motor. 

"The ballot is stronger than the bullet," it said, preparing to bring the weapon down into Cedric's back, but the faint sensation of a shoe hitting the back of his head made the golem freeze in place, head swirling around to glare at the woman standing in the balcony. 

"What kills a skunk is its own publicity!" The golem said, tone conveying a hint of annoyance as it relaxed its grip on the chainsaw, turning and crouching before leaping into the air, landing with a heavy thud in the balcony.

"I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end," it said as it began to raise its arms, hesitating only slightly as Minori mirrored the action, quickly thrusting her arms up and shouted. 

"As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant minimum!" 

the water vapor in the air around them spontaneously froze, first covering Lincoln in a layer of frost, but as Minori kept pushing, the ice built up rapidly until everything below the golem's neck was contained in a block of ice three feet thick. The chainsaw was worthless, and not even Lincoln's strength could budge from his confines without momentum or inertia.

Now!... Cedric!..." Minori shouted, the last ounce of her strength having gone into that attack. Without any energy left to keep her going, and her body crying for rest, the woman collapsed where she stood, falling on her back as the consciousness left her body. Lincoln was unable to move, his neck angled back just enough for the back of his head to be an excellent target from the main stage. 

Cedric could hear voices, see shapes, but he couldn't understand them, and he couldn't distinguish between real and imagined. 

There was a man, darkness, smiling. Cedric knew this man, this thing, was causing all of his pain, all of his agony. The man stared at him, crumpled on the floor, helpless. ".ʞɒɘW .mυloϱ ɒ lliʞ nɘvɘ Ɉ'nɒƆ"
the voice dripped with disgust and disdain. ".ʞɒɘW".υoγ loɿɈnoɔ I ʕɘm loɿɈnoɔ blυoɔ υoγ ɈʜϱυoʜɈ υoY"

There was a rage in the pit of Cedrics stomach, he would find this man. He would kill this man. But first he had to live.

Reality reformed through a haze of blood and vomit. He could see Lincoln, frozen solid in the balcony, Minori falling backwards on the balcony. He summoned all the hate and anger and fear and rage in his being and forced his muscles to move. The pain was excruciating, he could feel the bones in his leg moving in places they shouldn't, he could hear something hard scraping against the wooden stage. But he pushed through.

Abe was already beginning to heat himself in an attempt to thaw the ice, Cedric knew he wouldn't have much time once the golum started ramping up the heat, if it got free it was game over. He crawled towards the rifle, just a few more feet.

Heat was building up rapidly around Lincolns body, creating a layer of pressurized water against the ice. Still restraining movement, but showing progress.

Cedrics hand wrapped around the grip of the rifle, rolling over in a effort of sheer will, he lifted the weapon off the ground. Black spots swam in his vision as he looked down the sights. "Sic semper tyrannis you son of a bitch." his finger squeezed slowly.

In his state the concussion from the shot was enough to knock Cedric unconscious, so no one saw the bullet enter the back of the golums head where it shattered the artifact that had been providing a state of autonomous life. Without the hexes and spells to hold everything together the mana powering the construct began to dissipate quickly. The ice reformed around its body as it was no longer able to maintain the heat spell.

The theater fell eerily silent. 

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sillo Deskern Character Portrait: Aldred Kynn
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »
  1. I'd include a segment of Aldred deliberately messing with the guards by deliberately destroying a toaster accidentally-on-purpose, but eh. Felt it'd get too long that way. So just dialogue instead.

    by Alle9009
  2. Forgot - if this offends anyone I apologise.

    by Anonymous

0.00 INK

"Here, follow me." Aldred grinned as they head towards the Bin, making sure to take the long way around. The short way contained the canteen, which had to be avoided if Aldred wanted Sillo to still believe in the lie. As they walked down the hallways; Aldred making brief commentary that described the functions of the rooms they passed with a professional smile on his face, acting like a tourguide. Nothing out of the ordinary, until a stout middle aged woman with freckles and bright red hair spotted them. Slowing down slightly, she grinned and said in a thick Scottish accent that made it almost impossible to hear what she was saying properly,

"Oi, Smilin' Robot! Showin' yer new frein aroond the place?"

"Ah, Marcie!" Aldred smiled brightly, and when he spoke next his voice was faster and more singsong like Marcie McSkinner's speech, as if he were trying to copy her speech patterns. "And aye, I am!" Aldred called back, shooting a smile her way as if he understood what she was saying. "Sillo, this is Marcie, a regular customer at the gym. She's got superstrength. Marcie, this is Sillo, he's new here." He introduced them quickly with a smile, without a pause in stride. "Also, I'm not a robot. I'm made out of flesh and bone. Why does everyone keep calling me that?"

"Aye, aye, keep on thinkin' that. Pay no attention to him, me lad!" Marcie ignored Aldred's puzzled frown in favour of shooting a mischievous, broad grin at Sillo that'd looked a bit unsettling on her face. She threw back her head with a friendly, explosive laugh and patted Aldred's back with a thump that made Aldred stagger a few steps forward. "Ye see how he's always smilin' even when its minging? Why, this one time he-"

"Marcie." A smile was technically a warm and peaceful gesture, but Aldred's smile felt cold, almost like a warning. "Remember the time with the dog and the tar and feathers?"

"Ach, dinnae get yer knickers in a twist, Aldred, ay ken what ay said," Marcie said, waving her hand in the universal gesture of 'nevermind, nevermind'. "Change oh the subject, aye? Ahm headin' hame, now. Night Shift's over, and ah miss me kids. Those wee bairns are gonna be the death of me someday," she chuckled fondly. What about you lads?"

"We're heading to the Bin."

The Bin?" A disconcerted look flashed past Marcie's face, as if she'd just heard that a bomb disposal squad was on their way to her workplace. "You sure? Ye do realise that -"

"Yes, I'm sure." Aldred interrupted, his faint grin turning into something that was still a smile but more long-suffering. He looked as if he wanted to sigh, but was keeping the urge in check by forcing his lips to curve upwards. "Just because I accidentally pulled out the plugs, spilled water on the electrical fuses and made the whole room explode doesn't mean I'm incapable. It was two years ago! Surely they'd be over it now?"

Marcie shot him an odd look. "Ye do remember that Don got stuck in the hospital fer a week thanks to that..."

"Ah." Aldred blinked as if he'd just remembered that fact, then shrugged tentatively. "... Sillo's with me, they can't just refuse to serve someone new?" He tried, shooting Marcie a hopeful grin. "Plus, Mr Cohald helped me reserve the disc; they can't just ignore that either."

"Guid luck gettin' Don tae forget that." Aldred sighed ruefully as Marcie laughed loudly, throwing her head back. "" They reached a bend in the hallway, and Marcie took the left while Aldred turned right. "I'm headin' home fir a kip. Bye now! Ye wee laddies have fun!"

As they continued down the hall Aldred leaned towards Sillo. "Don't worry if you don't understand," he whispered quietly out of the corner of his mouth "She's Scottish, but whenever she meets new people she exaggerates the accent and the slang until she sounds like she's from Glasgow to people who don't know Scottish. Normally it isn't that noticeable." He shrugged. "Apparently she thinks its funny, and it kind of is, I guess. Ah, here we are."

----------------------

"ALDRED! EVERYONE CODE R.B.W.E., CODE R.B.W.E.!!"

"KYNN! DON'T YOU DARE ENTER THIS ROOM! STAY OUTSIDE THE DOOR!"

"Very funny, O'Hara, Don. We're just here for a disc."

"A-Ah, really? Which one? But can you blame us?! That explosion would've taken the whole place down if it hadn't been for the wards! You wrecked a rooms worth full of cameras! Do you know how much time it takes to reset it back up?!"

"Well..."

"The answer is two months, Kynn. Two months of checking that everything was in place and fit and magicked to standards. You nearly killed everyone in that room, especially me! I looked like a half cooked lobster with a toupee; I had a date that day! A hot date. My first time out with a girl in months and we had to spend it in the hospital thanks to you, you electronically inept bastard. I'm not risking that again, so stay out of the room!"

"That was two years ago, Don, geez. I got better! Now I only break my phone every half a year or so."

"And that's suppose to reassure us how? Back me up here, O'Hara."

"Gotta agree with Don on this one, Aldred. Sorry. Which room and time are you after?"

"Training room 24, yesterday evening. Mr Cohald helped me reserve it; is it there? And Don, If she broke up with you just because you had second degree burns and lost every single hair on your body then she clearly wasn't right for you. It takes someone with true love to go on a second date with someone who looked like a hairless overgrown baby-"

"Whatever you say, battle freak. At least I don't laugh like a maniac when I see someone being trampled to death by a bunch of cows. I'm not crazy like you are. O'Hara, found it?"

"Not yet. Got any idea where it is?"

"Hmm. Gimme a sec, I think its in those boxes. Ah, here it is. Aldred, if I give you this CD promise me that you'll never step foot in this area again. My arm still itches whenever I remember what happened last time. I don't care if you step foot inside a tv shop in the mall - just not here. I'll get in trouble if anything else blows up. Got it?"

"I give my solemn word not to step into this place unless absolutely necessary. Can I have the disc now, Don?"

"Say it with more meaning! My job's on the line here! Ugh, whatever. Here - no wait, better let your friend hold this. And don't come back!"

---------------

And with that conversation Aldred and Sillo found themselves seated onto a soft couch rewatching the clips of the fight on a tv screen, with a bowl of popcorn inbetween them. Aldred chewed slowly on a handful as he leant forward, studying the footage with an analytic glint in his eye and a cheerful smile on his lips, mentally calculating a few moves he could have done to make things easier. Despite treating the whole thing as easygoing as watching a movie, however, his eyes gradually turned distant, half lidded as if he were recalling something else.

Which he was. Aldred's smile faded into a rare look of seriousness, and subconsciously the blonde teen leant forwards, chewing on popcorn automatically as his eyes narrowed at the screen. This might help in figuring out what had happened, and it was good entertainment at least. Small him on the screen cracked Sillo's elbow, and Aldred was suddenly reminded of the nightmare that woke him up at the crack of dawn.

Sleep well, yes. Waking up well? No.

Flashback:


Darkness was everywhere, a pitch black so dark that it was as if his eyes had been covered in thick black paint. Aldred looked around him blindly, a snarl on his face. The blonde teen looked ragged, worn out, skin covered in blood. His face was rounder, and he was shorter, thinner, but just as muscular as he would be in four years time.

Normally fourteen was a very awkward age, but Aldred didn't really care at the moment. The worries over puberty and growing spurts had long faded way into the horizon in comparison to being unable to see and unable to move, and -

Pain struck through him like lightning, blazing through his body fast and harsher than anything he had ever felt before, stabbing through him like white-hot knives. Aldred collapsed onto the ground faster than he could register, curling into himself in agony as pain washing over him in waves and throbbing wherever it touched. He tried to move, but the moment his muscles tensed the pain intensified, and Aldred's strength failed him. It was too much for him to handle. All he could do nothing but lie there and bear it the best he could, pain encompassing him until all he could focus on was the pain.

It wasn't until the air was suddenly silent that Aldred realised that he had been sobbing, the harsh keening cut-off wails of an animal with not enough air to do more than gasp pitifully as it lay dying in wretched agony in a death trap. Too much in pain to even scream, sensations heightened by the lack of sight, Aldred wasn't sure how much time had passed until the pain lowered down to more bearable levels. An hour, two hours, a whole day? Not that it mattered anymore, Aldred thought dizzily, gasping shallowly as the agonising throb died down. Dimly, he realised that there was a warm liquid running down his palms. Probably blood - he could feel his nails digging in so deep that they cut flesh. Yet another wound, although the pain was atomically small compared to the agony he was experiencing.

Despite the pain fluxing through him in waves, what really hurt most was the emotion he was feeling. Pain he could handle. Despair so deep that made his heart feel like it was being torn into pieces, settling into his bones like lead weights and taking away his strength and the will to live and continue living, replacing it with the bleak urge to just give up and curl into a ball and cry until the world ended, that was a little bit harder to handle.

It wasn't suppose to turn out that way. Aldred had spent years researching, working things out, testing. He was certain it would work! Why hadn't -

A faint tap from the ground, the sound of converse against rock. Aldred tensed. There was supposed to be nobody but him present in that location, and yet....

Someone was here.


..... Funny, he could have sworn that there was more to the dream. Ah well, no matter.

The sudden silence snapped Aldred back to the present. He blinked, shaking away the memories mentally as he looked at the screen. The video was done playing, great. Taking a moment to collect himself, Aldred plastered a smile on his face and turned to face Sillo, painting on what he hoped was a convincingly cheerful look, instead of the gloom he was feeling. It wasn't that hard - crinkle your eyes, curve the lips upwards, and that was enough to convince anyone who wasn't looking close enough. It never failed.

Well, most of the time.

Grabbing some popcorn, Aldred stuffed some into his mouth. "Well?" He asked Sillo around a mouthful of half-chewed popcorn, raising an eyebrow after a beat or two. "What do you think?"