Asenath is really prepared, making copies of everything and swapping them. Decades of practice works in her favor.
The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Asenath and Twister explaining the truth to Lincoln. I hope you enjoy it.
“You were a bear.”
The words came in a flat, stunned voice as Lincoln Chambers stared at the young, dark-skinned girl in the backseat of the car beside him. Asenath had ordered them both back there before taking her place behind the wheel (somehow, he hadn’t managed to bring himself to question being ordered into the backseat of his own vehicle) and hightailing it away from the house. Now she was following the speed limit (barely), making seemingly random turns along the dark streets.
The girl, in turn, gave him a thumbs up. “And then I was a squirrel. Kinda see why the bear stands out though. Going from bear to squirrel, it’s like following up Sammy Hagar with Gary Cherone. I mean, it worked when they…
View original post 4,062 more words
Chapter 8: Challenges Ahead
The cawing of the Wingulls filled the air as Plumeria sat down on the bench outside of the Malasada shop. There was a Big Malasada in her hand and another one in the bag on the bench next to her. That one was for Guzma when he got there, being the least she could do since he agreed to meet her there for a face-to-face talk after he got back from Akala Island.
Plumeria was still fixed on what Nanu and Molayne had asked of her. She had a chance to do something for the others and herself, but it wouldn’t feel right to go for it without asking Guzma first. He was their leader and she did respect him more than just about anyone else—other than her granny. So, she felt that she needed to talk to him in person about it.
She was in the middle of taking a bite of her snack when a meowing sound reached her ears. Her eyes drifted down to the ground where, right next to her leg, there was a strange feline Pokémon there. It wasn’t a native Meowth like they normally spotted, rather its fur was mostly a purple color, with the markings above its eyes being a lighter shade of violet.
Plumeria uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, looking down at it. “And what exactly are you?”
“Rroaw,” meowed the feline as it sat down in front of her.
“Hmm…” She held her hand with the malasada in it above her head and began moving it, watching as its eyes followed it. “So that’s what you’re after, huh?”
Its tail swished as it gave her a pleading look, emerald eyes seemingly glimmering.
“Yeah, yeah. No need to be cute with me.” She broke off a piece of it and held it low to the ground in her opened palm. “Here then.”
It purred happily, smiling and about to take a bite—
—when it was abruptly snatched up by the scruff of its neck by Guzma.
Plumeria sat upright and took in his appearance. He was panting, chest rising and falling. He was also soaking wet, his clothing clinging to him. She crossed her arms and asked, “What happened to you this time?”
“This scheming little furball ditched me in the Garden after tripping me into the pond!” he said, glaring at the feline. It hissed at him before taking a swing with its claw, nicking his arm and causing him to drop it. But before it could get far, he raised his other hand with a Poké Ball in it and returned it before setting the ball into an inactive state.
Guzma then sucked in a sharp breath as he sat down on the bench and looked at the blood seeping from scratch that it had made. “Damn cat.”
“Okay, what’s the story here?” Plumeria asked as she reached for her cup on the ground and then pulled off the lid.
“I told you about Hala having me training under that girl, right?” He didn’t resist as she grabbed his wrist and held it out. Nor when she poured the cold water and ice over it slowly, washing away some of the blood onto the asphalt while the cold caused the bleeding to slow. “The one who’s part of the Elite Four?”
“Yeah, the Golf Princess whose daddy runs the resort.” She then had him press a napkin against it while she pulled off her bandana to wrap around it tight. It would do for now. “What about that leads up to the cat?”
“It’s apparently a stowaway Purrloin that somehow got on one of those cruise ships that run to the resort from some far-off region and got stuck,” he said. “It started stealing crap and causing trouble around the place, so she caught it and told me to see if I could reform it as part of training—expanding my horizons and crap like that.”
Plumeria could barely stop herself from rolling her eyes at the thought as she passed the bag along to him. “So her plan is basically to make a former trouble-maker reform one?”
“It’s a devious little pain in my ass is what it is.” Guzma took a big bite out of his malasada. “Mn… It… It acts all cutesy…mmm… before running off. At least we were… mmm… straight-up about…mn… everything.”
“Finish chewing before you speak,” she told him.
He rolled his eyes and then chewed a few more times before swallowing it. A sigh followed and then he leaned back and asked, “So, what’d you call me out here for?”
“The Kahuna came to Granny’s trailer with some guy called Molayne. Said you and him went around with Kukui when you were younger.”
“That was a long time ago,” Guzma said. “Haven’t seen that scrawny guy since he made Trial Captain, though he’d been too old for the job now. What’d they want?”
She hesitated to tell him, not sure about what his reaction would be. Guzma, for all his bluster, took bad news pretty harshly on himself. Especially when he felt that he was the one to blame for everything.
Him getting back from Ultra Space should have been a celebration. But when he’d gotten back, he’d been different. Not just because of what those Ultra Beast did to him, but because he had basically been played like a fiddle by the President—she played them all, really.
As bad as their little group had been, they’d mostly been looking out for themselves. Their Grunts and their Pokémon had to eat, so they did what they had to in order to get by. It was only when she got involved that they started doing things that they wouldn’t normally do, making themselves look worse for the benefits she offered.
Plumeria hadn’t been a fan of it, but went along with it because her family came first. Yes, they were thieves. They got their hands dirty and stained their own reputation in mud, turning from outcasts to petty criminals to get by, knowing that she or Guzma would just turn the Pokémon they managed to get over to the Aether Foundation to be treated and cared for. It was a necessary evil so that she kept the place where she belonged.
But, for Guzma, he liked the praise the President gave him. The validation that came from having a rich and powerful woman telling him everything he’d wanted to hear. So he’d been devastated to be used like that, every bit of confidence he’d gained for providing for their little family and working as her left-hand man crumbling under him.
Now here Plumeria was, offered a chance to do the sort of thing he would have wanted after that.
“…Promise not to flip out?” she asked, reaching into her pocket for what laid hidden there. “None of that beating yourself up or anything, otherwise I’ll be pissed.”
His brows folded inwards at the request, but he nodded.
“They wanted me to compete in the Pokémon League,” Plumeria told him, showing him the Island Challenge Amulet. Then she told him everything else that they’d talked about. That the other adults had been working to change the traditions behind their backs and without them even realizing it. That the Kahunas were in on it too.
By the time she was done, Guzma was no longer looking at her. He was instead looking down at the ground, his hands clenched into fists so tightly they were shaking. Unable to keep it contained, but not willing to break his promise, he slammed the bottom of his fist against the bench hard enough that it shook. “DAMN IT ALL!”
“Yeah,” Plumeria said softly, ignoring the looks they were getting. She knew exactly what he was feeling, because she felt the same.
“If that goddamn Kukui had said anything about his grand plan, I wouldn’t have gone along with the woman’s schemes!” He slammed his fist into the bench again. “I wouldn’t have gone with her and ended up going through… that…”
“Yeah,” she said again, just as soft as before. “This whole mess could have been avoided if they’d said something. But the kids we watched after could have had it worse if we weren’t there and did what we had to do, so it wasn’t worthless.”
Guzma just shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingers before turning back to her. “…Anyway, you should go for it.”
“You sure?” she asked.
“Not going to lie to you, Plume. I wish that I was in your place,” he said, rising to his feet. “But my own screw-ups put the nails in that coffin. Even if Hala’s giving me a second chance, ain’t no way everyone else would be fine with me going for the title with my rep now. So it’s up to you to go and show everyone what you’re made of.”
“Then I guess I’ll see about starting on my Trials soon,” Plumeria said as she rose up as well, wiping her hands on a napkin. She’d also have to apologize to the girl running the trial over in the abandoned supermarket for that mess at the Aether House. “You heading back home?”
“Nah, not tonight,” he said. “I’m going to crash in Po Town for the rest of the day and see about putting this cat in its place.”
“Then come say hi to Granny first and help me carry some stuff from the store,” Plumeria said, turning towards the direction of the store. “If you’re going to be running that way, you can give the three still in that Pokémon Center something to tide them by for a few days as well.”
“Yeah, sure.” He rubbed the back of his head and followed after her.
[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]
Elio sat on the shores of Melemele Island by Kukui’s home as he watched his Starter Pokémon, a female Primarina named Silky, sit on a stone protruding from the salty water. She sung a sweet song with balloons of water hovering in the air, light gleaming off of them in a dazzling display and were kept afloat by the vibrations in the song—at least that was what Rotom explained. A lot of the local Pokémon had gathered to attend the morning concert, acting as her audience as they stuck their heads out of the water to watch her performance.
Ever since he’d arrived on the island and accepted her as his partner, Silky loved to come here and sing. Sometimes he wondered if she would be happier singing than battling, but he wouldn’t have been able to make it this far if not for her. It was only because she had been by his side since he arrived that he managed to do as much as he did, and became the Champion.
As the song came to an end, the water balloons popped into a rain of that caught the light of the morning sun and formed a rainbow. The various Pokémon lingering in the water applauded the performance as she bowed and then dispersed, going back to their normal habits. Silky then dove into the water and swam back to the shore, where she waded up towards him.
“A beautiful performance as always,” Elio told her as he brushed his fingers against her head. She leaned into it for a bit, happy at the compliment, before jumping forward and embracing him with her fins. He was left on the ground, his clothes wet as she nuzzled her head against him in return. “Hey, come on. You know Mom’s going to make me wash my clothes again if they get all wet.”
“Hahaha… she’s playful as ever, huh?” They turned to the source of the voice and found Hau standing there, a cheerful smile plastered on his face as always.
“Yeah, you know how she is,” Elio said as he sat up, returning the smile with one of his own. “I thought you’d be out training with Ilima around now?”
“I just so happened to have finished this morning,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to tell you this personally.”
Elio took notice the way his smile dropped slightly and his tone got a bit more serious, both of which were rare given how laid back Hau normally was. He gently pushed Silky aside, who also took notice of the shift in his demeanor, and rose to his feet. “What’s up?”
“I’m going to challenge the Elite Four and your Championship the day after tomorrow,” he declared. “I’ve already submitted the paperwork, so you should receive the notice later today. But I wanted to tell you in person that I’m going for your Title.”
A tense silence hung in the air for a pause. It was a declaration of war against the newly crowned Champion of Alola. He hadn’t even had the Title for a month now and it was on the verge of being taken from him.
“Whew.” The tension broke like a Hammer Arm had been taken to it as Elio let out a sigh and rubbed the back of his head. “For a second I thought it was something bad. Sure, I accept your challenge. Come at me anytime.”
Hau seemed a bit unsure of that reaction.
Seeing that, Elio just shook his head. “If there’s anything you’ve taught me, Hau, it’s that you don’t need to be overly dramatic in order to be serious. We’ve been through a lot together, and I remember what you told me the day after Lillie left, so I’d been expecting you to issue the challenge for some time now.”
After Lillie had left, Hau came by his home. It was there he told him about the Battle Tree and his intention to take the Championship, and that they’d have the best battle ever. There had been a fire kindled in his eyes unlike before—so it was impossible not to take it seriously.
“When you say it like that, you make it sound like I’ve been dragging my feet.” Hau sighed, letting his shoulders sag before he got serious again. “I’m going to come at you with everything I’ve got. You and Grandpa. So I wanted to tell you to give it everything you’ve got when we face each other—no going easy just cause we’re friends.”
“I had planned to from the start.” He reached over and patted Silky’s head. “After all, Silky and the others fought hard for me to have the chance to claim the Title in the first place. If I didn’t give it my all to defend it, it’d be doing them wrong too.”
Hau’s smile returned. That was the response he wanted to hear. “All right! No regrets, no matter what!”
[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]
Looker couldn’t help but grunt as he looked out to the island that was steadily growing closer, hand on his chin while deep in thought. It had been roughly a decade since he had been back to Alola, incidentally for the same reasons as before. More Ultra Beasts—UBs—had entered into their world after ten years, and they were tasked with eliminating or capturing them for study.
“Is there something on your mind, Mister Looker?” asked Anabel, his superior despite her relative younger age. Ten years ago, he and his superior of the time, Nanu, had found her washed up on shore and taken her back to their headquarters. It was around that time that they’d found out she was bathed in the same energy that came from the Ultra Wormholes, indicating that she’d fallen through one.
“I was wondering if the restaurants have added anything new to their menus since the last time we were here,” he lied—well, partially anyway. He was looking forward to expanding his palate with the local delicacies, and maybe catch up with his former superior who had retired after their last attempt at trying to capture an UB.
But he was more concerned over the fact that, once again, the events of ten years ago was playing out. They’d been deployed to track down an Ultra Beast with a Faller, a person who had gone through an Ultra Wormhole, and tasked with capturing it. But their Poké Balls weren’t capable of properly registering it, so they’d been forced to harm it with their Pokémon drastically in order to have a chance.
It had been excessively cruel. He couldn’t help but pity it. And that moment of pity cost the Faller their life, as she had been untrained. It was only afterwards that both he and Nanu became aware that she had been glorified bait for the purpose of drawing the UB out into the open in the first place.
Anabel merely gave him a small frown at the lie. “I’m certain you’ll have a chance to sample the cuisine after we’ve completed the mission. The Aether Foundation has set up a network to monitor for any signs of the UBs. But it would be best that we try to locate them as quickly as possible before they harm civilians. I don’t wish to eliminate them for lashing out and being confused.”
“I agree completely, Chief.” It was possible now to do so without resorting to the methods used before, since they had access to Beast Balls. For whatever madness had overtaken Miss Lusamine to sink millions into each one, there was confirmation that they worked according to the report given by her daughter to Madam Wicke before their departure. “Even so, the number of UBs is greater than before. We may need to enlist the help of another trainer to assist us in the task.”
“As tempting as that prospect is, our mission is to be classified, Mister Looker,” she said. “We do not wish for that information to fall into the wrong hands. I would hate to think of what would happen if Team Dominance learned of their existence.”
Looker’s frown deepened. Team Dominance would be the absolute worst possible people to be informed of the situation. To have even one of the UBs turned into a Shadow Pokémon would be a nightmare, both for the threat they’d present as well as the inhuman process that entailed.
However, allowing Anabel to handle it alone would be tantamount to killing her. She had bouts of weakness and fatigue, perhaps as a result of the time she spent in one of the wormholes that she could no longer recall. He refused to allow that incident from ten years prior to happen again because they were using her as bait, but he had no Pokémon of his own after the death of his Crogunk.
“Then what about enlisting one of the trainers that Madam Wicke mentioned having fallen through the wormhole? To have survived their time in Ultra Space they must be capable trainers, and the longer we operate on our own, the greater the risk of a sighting and information leak we can’t trace back or contain.”
“…You may be right.” Anabel closed her eyes and considered it for a moment. “Of the two individuals who would be aware, I cannot agree with asking the one who led a gang of hoodlums for his aid with his reputation.”
“Then we should ask the current reigning Champion of the Pokémon League for his assistance instead,” Looker insisted. “He’ll likely have the experience and battle power needed to make capturing them for their own safety easier.”
“…Very well,” she decided after a moment, crossing her arms. “Time is of the essence and if he could reasonably be of help, it would be foolish not to ask him. But I still have some reservations, so I will test the young Champion myself before we begin the operation. Should he be able to best me, I will concede in asking for his assistance. Is that acceptable to you?”
He nodded. It was better that way. The UBs would be drawn to him one way or another, given he was also a Faller. If they left him alone without informing him, he’d likely be stumbled upon by one and attacked without expecting it.
The former leader of Team Skull followed enough of a pattern that he could be observed should one be drawn to him as well. So, barring extreme circumstances he would be left out of the loop. After all, informing him may prove disastrous as he would be the sort that Team Dominance would enlist should they come to the island.
[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]
In the air between Alola and Kanto
“So, you lost to the Vermillion Gym Leader, huh?” Ann said into her Pokégear as the ocean passed beneath the plane she was on, heading towards Alola. Since the operations to capture Bill and secure the Moltres native to the Sevii Islands were delayed, due to the fact that their organization was likely suspect after the interference of the trainer who was accompanying Bill, Ann had been sent towards the islands with two other agents. Their mission was relatively simple—find out what the Aether Foundation was hiding, and if it could be used for blackmail purposes.
They needed to capture Bill because he was the creator of the Pokémon Storage system, and bringing him under their control would essentially give them access to every single Pokémon stored in the PCs. However, with a trainer of that caliber and her daughter staying with him, it would be a hassle to do things in a way that allowed them to go unnoticed. And going unnoticed was essential since the last thing they needed was the International Police trying to gut their organization… again.
Ann had been with the organization since back when they were centered around Kanto and Johto. A few years before they were disbanded and reduced, forcing them to merge with the group from Orre they had been in business with—supplying them stolen Pokémon since the region was barren of them. Having been working in the shady side of things for as long as she could remember, Ann knew just what to look for when searching for signs of illicit dealings.
And there were some pretty big signs when she looked at the sudden change in employment done by the woman’s son almost overnight. A sudden shift in the status quo that left people unemployed would undoubtedly serve as the seedbed for animosity. And that could be exploited.
“Yeah, but we still managed to knock out his first Pokémon,” Astra said on the other end. “It was a Mareep.”
“That’s actually impressive, given you’ve only had your Sableye for a month and Drowzee for less than a day,” Ann praised her. “Those two species can be quite difficult to handle for a new trainer.”
“Jet’s just lazy most times and Blysen is shy, but they’re both good—” A slight pause followed as Astra yawned. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s getting late on your end, so you must be tired.”
“Yeah, and Grandpa is telling me I should get some rest now. Can you call me when you get there? I want to know more about Alola since Lille came from there.”
“Sure thing. Sleep tight.”
What are the chances? Ann couldn’t help but think as she stared down at the Pokégear before sighing. Astra was the granddaughter of Ravin and daughter of her best friend, a sweet girl who was all they had left of her mother. Since they found her, Astra was so… innocent, caring only about fun, traveling, and Pokémon without any ulterior motives.
It was refreshing, admittedly. She wouldn’t have been that way if her parents hadn’t run away when they did to keep her from going through the same things as them. Her mother had been born into the role of being a member whether she wanted to or not, what with Ravin having been a member already, and Ann had joined early on.
They had been the best of friends, or at least Ann had thought so. Yet, she ran away from her without telling her anything. By the time Ann and Ravin managed to find them, both she and her boyfriend—or husband at that point—were dead.
Now all that was left behind was Astra, who would undoubtedly be hurt depending on how things went in regard to her new friend. Or learning just what it was both she and her grandfather were involved in. Ann sighed again at the thought of her looking at them with betrayed eyes and then leaned back on her chair, looking out the window while deep in thought.
Well, if things go smoothly she won’t ever learn. We owe her mother that much, right?
Okay, so if Excalbur came from a Dragon’s Tooth, then Avalon must’ve been given to a… what? An Alter of the Lake?
Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Lincoln Chambers’s efforts to bypass the Bystander Effect that was posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you may wish to click the Previous Chapter button above.
It was time to head back to Crossroads. There was still a lot I wanted to ask these people who had grown up not just with my mother, but with more members of my family on that side. I had more questions than I could even keep straight in my head. Still, after waking Shiori and Avalon and as we walked back out of the cabin with Gabriel, one in particular stuck in my head.
So, looking toward the man who was guiding us, I started, “You said that they had this system for determining who would be the leader of the clan here, picking from the available heirs. But…
View original post 3,500 more words
That was terrifying to read. Imagine knowing your memory is screwy but you can’t do anything but try to work through it. That’s messed up.
The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Lincoln Chambers gradually working his way through the Bystander Effect. I hope you enjoy.
Several Weeks Ago
Flick was lying. Lincoln Chambers was sure of it. He knew she was lying. Every time she spoke to him, she gave the same tells that he’d been able to pick up on without her realizing since she was a little girl. A father just knew when his daughter was leaving things out. Especially when it was something she was uncomfortable with.
But what was she lying about, exactly? He’d tried to pin her down without making it obvious, asking her questions about her school, her friends, her teachers. Nothing specific pinged as being the lie. Which clearly meant that it wasn’t just a single untruth. There was something… big there.
It was the school. Every time she talked about it, every ounce…
View original post 4,976 more words
The Kitsune is the tech-guy. Somehow, that catches me off-guard more than anything else.
“So I’ve got a question,” I started a little bit later as Gabriel and I walked along the edge of the lake toward one of the other cabins. Avalon and Shiori were both catching a nap back in his place, since neither would agree to leaving here without me. It was all I could do to convince them to sleep, even though they’d both been so exhausted they could barely keep their eyes open.
“Well, actually I have a lot of questions,” I amended. “But one in particular, about the heir thing.”
The man glanced at me before giving a slight smile. “You mean why are you considered the heir?”
My head bobbed up and down quickly. “Uh huh. I mean, Mom’s…
View original post 3,408 more words
Mid-Interlude – Ayako Mitsuzuri
A few months ago…
The pub was empty. Silent, save the crackle of the furnace. It had been closed for the night early at the behest of Otoko, a rare occurrence in the history of the Copenhagen as the regulars of the tavern would attest, so she could talk to Ayako without interruption or the fear of being overheard in a relatively safe spot.
The normally lively young woman was just staring into the half-empty glass in front of her. Watching as the ice floated in the alcohol with eyes that lacked life. Her first mission without Issei backing her, now that he had become a Veteran, had been less than two hours ago. She’d come back alive.
Her friend hadn’t.
Aika. The surface of the shochu rippled as a tear fell into it glass, knocked loose as she trembled from the memory playing in her head. She’d frozen. She’d frozen in fear and the one to pay the price wasn’t her, but her friend.
Aika was from Western High, not the school she went to. Ayako had met her in the Game Center at the Verde, and their friendship had been born from a competition at a shooting game that lasted longer than it should have. Now she was dead.
A shuddering breath left of her mouth as her grasp on the glass tightened. She lifted it to her mouth and tilted her head back, leaving the clacking of ice on glass ringing in her ears as the alcohol passed through her lips. The cocktail taste teased her tongue sliding down her throat in three audible gulps before it caught and she started coughing, having taken in air in her haste to drink away the bloody memory.
Otoko sighed, softly and dejectedly, as she watched the younger girl huddle over with the drink slipping through the hand she used to cover her mouth. “You’re not used to drinking, so don’t try chugging away at it.”
It was true. Before now she would have never considered so much as touching a bottle of alcohol. After all, her body was a temple—honed through a variety of sports and exercises that she’d experimented with over the years. Anything that dulled the mind and would hinder her was something she avoided, if only so that she would be able to put forth her best without any doubts.
She couldn’t care less about that at the moment as she set the empty glass down and wiped her hand on her jacket. She just wanted something to dull the pain in her chest. Anything was welcomed at this point.
Otoko refilled the glass and wiped the mess away before taking a seat next to her at the counter, a glass in her own hands. Silence followed as they both sat there and took a sip from their respective drinks. Then Otoko exhaled softly to the side before she faced Ayako. “It’s not your fault.”
It is. Ayako opened her mouth to speak those two words that summed up her shattered heart, crushed under the weight of her guilt and displayed in her eyes that had gone red from the last two hours she spent crying after Issei had brought her here. But only a hoarse and strained breath left out, tinged with the scent of the shochu.
The words, the admission itself, were caught in her throat and threatened to choke her. She reached for the rest of her drink and knocked it down all at once again. Another coughing fit followed, leaving Otoko to pat her on the back as her she laid her head down on her arm resting on the counter and cried anew. Aika died because of me.
Though the scenario differed each time, it was a common tale among the Drifters at this point. How a mission would leave friends and allies dead. How mistakes became chains that dragged them down to the abysmal void of self-loathing and misery.
In Ayako’s case, it came down to more bad luck than anything. How could they have known there would have been a sentry hidden in the snow, observing the location just out of their view? That she’d run into a Soldier Taboo for the first time and freeze up at the thought of killing something that looked so human?
It seemed like just another mission to her at first when she answered the call of Nemesis Q under the threat of death. Issei was watching her body in the Temple, so she figured it would be in good hands. She’d already been on the receiving end of his healing after her first blunder and knew what he was capable of, so anything short of death would be healed as long as she completed the mission and returned alive.
The moment she arrived, Aika already being there, Ayako noted the air was even colder than her first two trips into that frigid and barren world that was supposed to be the future—their future at some point. It was borderline freezing, with grey snow blanketing the scraggy, dark stones surrounding them. It took her a moment to realize they were in a mountain range, standing on a precipice that overlooked what she presumed was the target.
In what looked to be a crater, nestled at the base of a mountain, was a structure erected around it that resembled a circular arena to Ayako. Similar to one where they’d held the Archery Competition last year. But there was a cavity within the center that went down further than she could see with her Sense-enhanced sight, delving deep into the earth.
As expected, there were Taboo around it. Quadruped Taboo with bulky bodies that lumbered about on muscular forearms tipped with claws. She could make out a core on what would be their foreheads, the point she had been told to always target for a kill, and on their backs was what looked to be an organic pouch, filled with what looked to be stones of some kind.
It was a new Taboo for certain, at least to her. A strange sight, but not unexpected. What was unexpected was the fact they were being treated as beasts of burden by what looked to be people there.
They were all similar in appearance. White hair and red eyes, while dressed in some manner of fur-lined uniform and carrying polearms. They didn’t seem bothered by the cold in the slightest as they went about standing guard, with a few also pulling off the organic pouches and tossing them into a pod that the Carriers take off with once they were filled.
As other Drifters appeared, Ayako came to realize that she and Aika were the only Fuyuki Drifters. The rest were people she hadn’t met before, with only two others from Japan. Tatsumi was one of them.
Nemesis Q had waited until they had all gathered before announcing the mission: destroy the Illumina Mine.
Whatever Nemesis Q was, it was apparently omnilingual since everyone understood it. But they weren’t. That made coordinating much harder—borderline impossible, if not for the fact that one of Foreign Drifters was fluent in Japanese too.
Of the entire group, Ayako and Aika were among the most inexperienced. The others had more trips under their belts and a stronger foundation with their PSI. So the obvious reason that they were chosen to participate in the extermination mission was because their PSI happened to be among the most destructive available despite their inexperience.
Ayako’s Burst wasn’t as strong as it would become and had a limited range, but she could still do a lot of damage with it. Easy to see why that would be useful. And Aika had the ability to generate shockwaves strong enough to cause a localized earthquake.
Taking those facts into account, they came up with a simple plan. Tatsumi would fly them around the other side of the mountain where the mine was stationed beneath, and they’d use their PSI to cause an avalanche. That would bury the mine and everything in it under tons of ice and snow, accomplishing the task with no losses on their end.
However, no plan survives unscathed.
The howling, frigid winds obscured their hearing and sight as they flew. But not the Taboo. After all, there was no reason artificial creatures that were constructed to work in that terrain would have a need for ordinary eyes and ears. They were spotted by one that was nestled within the mountain and that alerted one of the Soldiers.
The next thing they knew, things had come to a boil in a hurry. Tatsumi’s construct bird was shot down near the mountainside, the man himself knocked out on impact with the snow-laden ground. That left Ayako to carry him on her back as she and Aika tried to salvage things while the others bought them time.
Ayako didn’t see the attack coming. Not until it was nearly too late. Her first encounter with a Soldier Taboo was when it tried to behead her with the blade of a halberd from the side, having managed to catch up to them despite the cover-fire being laid out by the others. She unleashed her PSI in fear and self-preservation, releasing it from her outstretched palm at a relatively close-range as strongly as she could.
In truth, she had been worried about her PSI since she first got it. She was afraid of what it could do to a person if she unleashed it. It was fine against ordinary Taboo, since they turned into ashes when killed and died with a good hit to their Illumina Cores. It was different with the Soldiers, who didn’t have cores to begin with.
The body burst as the explosion ripped through it. Like a watermelon exploding from the inside out, crimson blood and viscera painted the snow and Ayako’s body. Covered in the warm, viscous fluids, she found herself shaking on her knees in stunned silence as she stared at the mess of meat and cloth, feeling nauseous from the scent of the blood covering her.
That’s when the next attack came. Spearing out of the white veil of snow, something cut through the air with a whistling sound that was partially drowned out by weather. Another halberd thrown like a spear with superhuman strength that would have taken her head off if Aika hadn’t managed to push her aside in time, knocking her and Tatsumi onto the biting cold snow that robbed her of warmth.
A wet thump followed after another layer of blood was splayed onto both the snow and Ayako. She turned her head towards the sound to see that Aika was on the ground several feet from them. A pool of crimson spreading out beneath her and…
And the halberd was sticking out of her chest, the sharpened point running her through.
When she recalled that moment, Ayako couldn’t help but feel choked up as tears fell from her eyes as she remembered scurrying towards her fallen friend to see blood frothing out of her mouth as she struggled to take strained wheezes. A fatal wound that would claim her life in less than minute.
Her trembling lips moved to form words without being able to voice the words she wanted to properly. “Lu… ou…”
Ayako didn’t even realize It was a warning she didn’t recognize until the shadow was cast over her. The Soldier responsible was standing behind her, a knife raised and ready to descend for her skull as she looked up to him with tears trailing down her face. Then he froze in place.
It was Tatsumi, on his hands and knees in the snow. The stinging cold had roused him from unconsciousness and he’d fixed his gaze upon the Soldier, a single eye shining like a burning star. His Burst energy shrouded him before lunging forward in the form a massive bird the size of a delivery truck, pinning the Soldier to the ground with its legs before taking the head into its beak and pulling ruthlessly.
Ayako closed her eyes as a wet, meaty sound followed, only to feel the ground beneath her shake. It was Aika, using her PSI before she died. She was going to complete the mission so that Ayako could get back alive, sending shockwaves surging through the mountainside with the intent of bringing it all down as she drew her last breath. The rumbling of the mountain reached the point where ice, stone, and snow were wrench loose and started rolling down the mountainside, triggering an avalanche.
Tatsumi’s bird pulled Ayako and him away, leaving her to watch as the snow entombed her friend’s body before collapsing the mines, completing the mission.
“I-if I ha-hadn’t frozen up, s-s-she wouldn’t have died.” Ayako insisted in grief as she raised her head off the counter. Otoko’s expression softened as she gently guided Ayako to lean against her, offering her a shoulder to rest her head and keep crying on. From there it was a matter of waiting until Ayako simply had no more tears to shed before the conversation continued.
“It’s… it’s never easy the first time,” Otoko said in a measured tone. “Losing friends or killing something that looks human. But it does get easier, which is the worst part because one day you’ll see someone else forced into the same position. Then you realize just how much you’ve changed—what doing this has taken from you in order for you to survive, and that hurts you because it’s not something you would have chosen on your own.
“Yet, if you don’t, you’ll die,” she continued in a disheartened tone, grasp tightening as if clinging to her. “You’ll die and leave behind people who will miss you. That knowledge leaves you feeling the weight of their lives on your shoulders. So you kill to stay alive, pieces of who you were breaking off and leaving only sharp edges that serve as a weapon to Nemesis Q’s ends for one reason or another.”
Ayako sniffled as she listened and then pulled away slowly, trying to get a hold of herself. She wiped away the tears and spoke in a hoarse voice. “I just… want everything to be normal.”
“Hold on to that feeling,” she said. “Because the moment you give up everything that makes you normal, is the moment you’ve really lost it all. All that’s left is another living weapon for Nemesis Q to throw at its problems in the name of saving the future.”
They weren’t people to whatever Nemesis Q claimed to be. They were assets. Weapons. Resources. Some more valuable than others, but all ultimately expendable once they were broken or useless.
After a moment of silent contemplation, Ayako asked, “…Is a future where we have to send people to die worth saving?”
It was almost blasphemous to say, given that it was the future of their world. Not dealing with it would be the equivalent of leaving their descendants in that unknown year to suffer for their inaction. However, after losing her friend to that cold future, Ayako didn’t see the merit in a future that threatened to take everything from her in the present—including her life.
“Any future where I have to sit down with a girl like you and justify why you shouldn’t feel bad about needing to kill isn’t one that’s worth saving,” Otoko said as she traced the rim of her own glass. “All I care about is that all of you make it out of there alive, so that maybe when it’s all over you can at least try to put it past you.”
In the Present…
With a mechanical coldness, Ayako partitioned a pinch of the energy within her body and moved it to the gauntlet on her arm. The string pulled back and a bolt was forged, ready to fire. With her eyes sharpened, she kept her breathing leveled as she lined up a shot towards the Soldier Taboo that was combing through the streets.
Aiming wasn’t exactly necessary. Not when the shots were forged from her Burst and the amount of energy was minimal. Her ability to control the way it moved and hone it in on a target depended on just how much power was behind the shot, sacrificing power for precision.
With a thought, the string on the gauntlet on her arm thrummed as it was released. The bolt flew towards the albino head of a Taboo that looked human. Its head burst as the force of the silent explosion ripped it apart on impact.
That’s six. She exhaled and then moved again before another came to investigate that death. Once thing she’d learned though the different trips was that they had some kind of hivemind that allowed them to share information, so she had been careful to not be spotted as she executed them one after another. They probably already knew what she looked like from past trips, but because of how versatile Burst could be they didn’t know exactly what killed them—and wouldn’t unless she went all out since a full-powered shot was distinct.
As she leapt from the rooftop of one building to the derelict husk of another, she ignored the rumble of crashing earth as the giant Taboo continued its work. It was far enough away from where they had taken refuge that she felt comfortable killing it last and with the remainder of her power—but only after she’d made sure to have killed the Soldiers that would get in her way, since she’d only get one shot.
With any luck, they’d go back to the past and after that… well, there was no good way to handle it. Leaving aside the fact that this would probably be the largest party of survivors, she didn’t expect most of them to come back and try to survive. Maybe half. And those that weren’t killed on whatever mission they had next would be less.
She’d ensure that Himuro, Makidera, and Saegusa survived at the very least. And Tatsumi’s sister. She owed him that much for everything he’d done.
…Neko had been right, Ayako realized after a moment of thought. Even when she thought of Tatsumi’s death it only gave her a feeling of cold anger in her chest now, a pittance compared to the grief that overwhelmed her when Aika died. Seeing others die was common, killing others was easy here.
Her fist clenched as she thought about what would happen next. The trio from the Track Team were ordinary girls. One studious and responsible, one excitable and proud, and one sweetly nurturing and innocent. Even if she could protect their lives, this world would break them in different ways soon enough and there was nothing she could do.
That was part of why she had been furious with Shinji for following her into the future. Not just because he was risking his life for her sake. But because no matter what happened, he would come out changed in the worst of ways.
She watched him struggle to change over the last few months after their talk in the hospital and that had been a source of pride for her. Shinji was a difficult person to get along with given his confidence that bordered on arrogance, born from how naturally he seemed to grasp difficult things. But he was trying to change after whatever put him in the hospital and she had been proud of him for that.
Then she got involved with all of this sometime later and it began to take its toll on her. She slipped up and let her frustration and exhaustion of what this world did to her bleed over to one of the few bastions of normalcy she had. Shinji noticed and tried to do something despite whatever his own problems were, given his falling grades that had Taiga mention he would likely be forced to leave the club if he didn’t straighten them out at some point.
Ayako… couldn’t have really cared all that much at the time. Not since whatever his problems were couldn’t compare to what she was going through. It was just a matter of priorities—and she couldn’t put his ahead of hers when it involved her life.
Besides, Shinji was smart enough to pull himself together and she knew he hated people prying into his life, so she left his problems up to him to solve and focused on surviving. Even if he did get kicked out of the club, he’d been grooming Sakura to take their place as she should have at the start of the year. So, she thought it was fine for the most part.
How could she have known what was going on in his head?
She felt the warmth sucked out of her body as she recalled that momentary decision. Ayako knew what it was like to go through a waking nightmare at times. Having memories, traumatic moments of her past, intruding in her daily life by reminding her of her failures and the deaths that accompanied her.
People she couldn’t save.
Allies who died in her place.
Enemies who often tried to take her life.
Things that other people didn’t go through as they lived their lives day-to-day. Something she felt envious about at times. She knew that Shinji was going through something the moment he first stepped foot on the mountain temple the day after he’d gained his PSI, but said nothing since she couldn’t figure out what triggered him.
That morning was the second time, definitely worrying since it meant his issues followed him while he was sleeping. It would get them killed if he woke one morning like that and Taboo were around. She had planned on trying to coax him into giving them more details when they had time, in the safety of the present. No matter how stubborn she knew he’d be, she would have made him give her a satisfactory answer for his own safety.
Him having a moment right then and there, in the middle of the street, was the last straw. Ignoring a problem that actively interfered with him in the middle of talking, when he was acting as their means of private communication, was just asking for trouble. So she took a gamble and tried to read his mind since they were connected, despite the fact that she’d told him not to do so and that she trusted him not to do that to one of them.
Ayako expected him to be furious in the aftermath. But dealing with his temperament was better than letting him have another moment like that when they were getting ready to deal with a threat and cost all of them their lives. And maybe, just maybe, in helping him deal with his problem she’d find some measure of comfort in the fact that he was involved in this because of her.
She understood how the Mind Jack worked in principle. It was useful enough that, in the worst-case scenario, she wanted to be able to pass that knowledge along for the future. So she tried to manipulate the Mind Jack with her own energy to read his thoughts (pulling them, rather than pushing) and see what it was that was haunting him.
She regretted it.
Her mind came under assault by visions. Things that made her feel horrible in ways that were difficult to put into words. That she didn’t want to, even if she could recall any of it clearly beyond faint impressions and phantom sensations that would likely slip into the back of her mind and fade from her short-term memory in the matter of a day. But the fact was that she was terrified enough that her mind instinctively reacted by severing the connection between them just to escape it in less than a second.
After everything she’d gone through. After everything she’d lost. After everything this abysmal future had to offer. After all of that, what on earth was so terrifying in Shinji’s head that it caused her to reject it on every level as a human being?
In all honesty, she was afraid to give it too much thought. Just on the off-chance she would end up transferring it into her long-term memory and recall whatever it was her mind was so desperate to make her forget. It actually left her afraid of him using that Mind Jack of his on her again, which was part of why she left him behind.
The irony wasn’t lost on her either. She told him not to go around reading minds as it was an invasion of privacy. Yet she tried to look into his mind to see what it was that left him panicking like that, just to understand it so that she could help him. And now she was terrified of something she had no understanding of.
…An issue for later. Taking a deep breath, she continued her hunt with as much focus and mechanical precision as before. That was one positive that came from doing this. By putting all of her effort into it, she didn’t have to think about anything else beyond completing the mission.
Making an apology, getting an answer—everything else could come later once she killed the damn worm.
Lost in her own thoughts, she never noticed the Mind Jack slithering her way in the air from behind before it abruptly faded from existence.
The only thing more surprising than seeing Avalon with that look on her face was the fact that she gave no reaction to me teasing her for having that look on her face. She just stood there with that goofy smile, staring at Prosser while her mouth opened and shut a few times as if she was trying to say something, but couldn’t get the words out. It was both strange (for her), and adorable.
Not that I was surprised that the other girl was kind of goofy when it came to Prosser. After all, I had seen her reaction before, when she found out that I had met the man. But still, it was always surprising to see Avalon act… well, not-Avalony. And this moment was almost on another level.
I was about to clear my throat and try to get my roommate’s attention when she finally…
View original post 3,129 more words
I swear, Herbie must be sentient by this point.
Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude posted yesterday that was focused on Wyatt and Abigail. If you missed it, you may wish to use the previous chapter button above.
“So, wait, you’re seriously telling me that all these guys were built by one Heretic?”
It was Monday, January 29th, a couple of days since my staff had been upgraded and almost a week since the meeting with the Committee, and… and when I had killed Doxer. Not that it had gotten any easier to think about. It was a good thing I didn’t need much sleep, because every time I closed my eyes, I saw the older boy’s grapple tearing through his throat, and his look of surprise.
Luckily, I had plenty of distractions to keep my mind off it. Two of which were sitting on the arm of the couch in the rec room with…
View original post 3,292 more words
The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Abigail and Wyatt discussing things like Flick, their parents, and Fossor.
The city wasn’t one of the largest in the United States, but it wasn’t that small either. It was one of those cities that fit neatly within the upper end of medium, with several hundred thousand occupants. Large enough that visitors wouldn’t really stand out that much or be that memorable, yet small enough that crowds wouldn’t hide anyone that happened to be trying to spy on them.
At least, that was the way that Wyatt had explained his reasoning for this particular meeting place to Abigail. They had gone back and forth on exactly where to meet, using the coded messages that he had taught her how to make, using Seller…
View original post 3,131 more words
Seems a bit excessive to try and kill her for a mistake he made. A humongous mistake, I’ll admit. Why didn’t he put that effort into killing Fossor.
Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the origin of Pace posted yesterday (Sunday). If you missed it, you may want to click the Previous Chapter button above.
July 10th, 1950
“My son, they would have killed him.”
Two women stood facing one another, their appearances within the illumination of the city street lights starkly contrasting. One was white, with blonde hair that stood out in the night. The other was black, her skin and hair both dark enough to fade easily into the shadows lurking just beyond the street lamps. Overhead, the moon was at its dimmest, a bare sliver that did little more than confirm its existence, while clouds ended any light that might have come from the far distant stars. The city itself, aside from the streetlights above these two women, was as dark as it was silent.
“You’re right, Calafia,” Joselyn…
View original post 3,469 more words
Huh.. okay. So she didn’t have a high opinion of other Heretics to begin with, but now she’s a prisoner in her own body.
The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the origin of the crazy werewolf-Heretic we know as Pace.
A little over one year ago.
There was a pause, followed by a muttered curse and the sound of something being fumbled with. Suddenly, light appeared as the lens cap of the camera was removed, and a face popped into view. It was the face of a Hispanic girl in her late teens, with dyed green hair that was cut short on one side and long on the other. She was obviously holding the camera up pointed at herself. Now in sight, the girl waved. “There! Sorry, technical difficulties. The camera’s the technical, and I’m the difficulty.”
Giggling at her own self-depreciating joke, the girl known as Pace for her hyper-activeness (something…
View original post 1,972 more words
Is that entire family a bunch of geniuses in disguise?
“Now that,” Lincoln Chambers announced while sitting back in his seat at the kitchen table, “was a good gyro.” Tapping his cleared plate, he winked at Asenath, who was sitting across from him. “What do you think? They just opened last week, think they’ll stay in business?”
Senny nodded with a slight chuckle. “If they keep making food like that, for sure.” She winked at him then. “Now we just need some ice cream. Or are we supposed to go with Greek yogurt just to keep up the theme?”
“Actually, before we get to dessert, there was something else I wanted to try,” the man replied. He reached into the box of guns and withdrew a nine-millimeter pistol, turning it over in his hands.
Shifting slightly in her seat, Asenath raised an eyebrow curiously. “Sorry, Mr. Chambers. I don’t think there’s a gun range that’s still open this…
View original post 4,408 more words
Nice combo there. Good thing they think ahead.
March 17th, 2012 (Just Under Six Years Ago)
“Flick, are you sure they’re gonna come?” twelve-year-old Miranda Wallbern asked her best friend while glancing across the food court table that the two of them were sharing. Right beside them was a railing that overlooked the first floor of the mall below, where they could see people walking.
The blonde girl bobbed her head up and down quickly, eyes centered on that lower area while she absently sipped her soda. “Uh huh,” she murmured under her breath. “They’ll be here, trust me.”
“Duh, always,” Miranda retorted. “It’s just, we’ve been waiting here for two hours already and we haven’t seen ‘em. We’ve gotta get on the four o’clock bus if we’re gonna make it home before six.”
Saturday or not, six o’clock was dinner, and Miranda had to make it home in time. Unfortunately, the mall they were…
View original post 4,563 more words
Neat. Dungeon bypass powers.
“Flick,” Professor Dare spoke in a quiet, measured voice. “Are you alright?”
It was a few minutes later, and the two of us were in a side-room away from where the Committee was still talking to Avalon and Gaia. They had asked me to step outside while they continued to speak to the others. I’d felt Avalon stiffen beside me, and knew that the girl had been about two seconds from launching into a rant. She obviously didn’t care who the Committee were or how powerful they happened to be. But I did, so I had quickly interjected to say that I’d wait.
Call me crazy, but as freaking badass as Avalon really was, I didn’t think that even she could come back in one piece from the kinds of things that she had obviously wanted to say to those people. So I agreed to leave, stepping out…
View original post 3,181 more words