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Everything posted by Kyo

  1. Pulse

    Shaun Meyer was not having the best of years. In fact, it was fair to say that Shaun was not having the best of decades. Not that he had any particular reason to complain, mind you. He had been a pretty average kid his whole life. When you're eight years old, there's nothing particularly wrong with being average, in fact it's probably the best thing to be. But for Shaun, things started to go down hill when he hit his teens. Suddenly everybody had to be somebody, everyone had something they were good at, even if that something was having a really rich father. In High School the popular kids were the athletes, the cheerleaders. Even being a smart kid got you far, after all it wasn't the nineties any more. Although it was still important that you weren't nerdy smart. Although, Shaun often thought that even nerdy kids had it better than him. At least they had something to be passionate about, and friends to share it with. The worst thing you can do in high school is be average. Not too dumb, not too smart, not unhealthy enough to be a pariah, not fit enough to be an athlete. No matter what you are, there are always people to share it with. Unless, that is, you're a 17 year old, short sighted, averagely intelligent, lanky, awkward kid with ADD. And when you're mother is a slightly controlling, god-fearing, anti-vaccine advocate, well, you can forget medication. He didn't necessarily blame his ADD for the fact he was failing Math, but it certainly didn't help. In truth the reason he was failing was because he didn't care. He didn't care about, well, anything. So he sat on his second-hand, beaten up, old Vespa, staring at the note Miss Jones had written him, which required a signature from his parents. 'Shaun is struggling to engage with the coursework' - Yeah, no shit. He pulled his helmet over his short, brown hair and adjusted his glasses. He stuffed the slip of paper in his denim jacket pocket, and turned the ignition on the scooter. To say it roared to life would be a gross exaggeration. The engine whined like a particularly upset cat, and he took off out of the school parking lot, passing by all the other students, hanging out in their various cliques. Nobody paid any notice of him. He might as well have been invisible, which he supposed was better to being actively bullied. If only he could make himself visible at home. --- --- --- "I just don't understand." Avery Meyer said to her son. "How many times have we had this conversation already?" "Too many, I guess." Shaun replied moodily, leaning against the wall of his mother's kitchen. "And yet here we are again." She said with a sigh. "You'll father won't be pleased." "Well I guess he can give me a piece of his mind when he get's back from Seattle." Shaun bit back with a scowl, "Whenever that'll be." He added. "Young man do not bring your father's work schedule in to this!" His mother snapped back. "This is about you not doing well in school. This is on you, dear." "Well I don't know what you want me to tell you." Shaun said with a shrug. "I suck at math." "Your teacher says you aren't applying yourself." His mother replied. "She says here that you have potential, Shaun." "That's what they say about all the dumb kids, mom." Shaun said. "It's not like they can just call us retards and be done with it." "Watch you mouth!" His mother shrieked at a pitch that could shatter glass. "We don't use that word for people." "Yeah, whatever." Shaun said, shaking his head. "Just sign the paper please, Mom. I need to hand it back tomorrow." "I will, but in the meantime you're grounded." She said flatly. "Oh, no, anything but that." Shaun replied sarcastically. "What with my active social life, and all." "Keep it up and I'll have you clean out the garage as well." His mother snapped. "You know this attitude won't fly when you go to college." "Yeah, college, right." Shaun said, rolling his eyes, and he turned around and left the kitchen, passing through the living room and up the stairs. When he reached his room he slammed the door shut behind him. He threw his things on his single bed, and followed them, slumping down at the edge. Shaun's room was about as ordinary as he was. Blue walls, a couple of posters of rock bands, a desk and a laptop. In the corner there was a surprisingly pristine Fender Stratocaster his father had bought him for his birthday a few years ago. Like any teenager, Shaun loved music, but not to the extent that he had any drive to play. His father had latched on to any interests Shaun had and had tried in vain to turn them in to skillsets. Not that Shaun was ungrateful. He loved the guitar, and he had tried to learn. It just seemed like a lot more work than he had first anticipated. Even if it just sat in the corner of his room collecting dust, it was still one of the few possessions he had that he valued. He lay down on his bed and reached for his phone in his pocket. However he found his pocket empty. "Shit..." He cursed quietly, remembering that he had left it in his locker at school. Not having many friends, Shaun wasn't one of those kids who had his phone glued to his hand 24/7. So it wasn't the first time he had left it somewhere. He supposed he could have gone without it, but he had been using it to record a few of his lessons. It was something he often did, in the hope he might pick up a little more on a second or third listen. He supposed he had better go get it, and try to do some of his math homework before school the next day. It wouldn't have been an issue if he hadn't been grounded. He'd have to wait until his mother had went to bed before he could sneak out. The school would be locked up, but there was a busted door at one of the side entrances. He knew because it had been busted for about 3 years. Like anyone would want to be in school after 5pm anyway. --- --- --- The hallway was dark when Shaun reached his locker. He put in his combination and opened it up. Sure enough his phone was sitting on top of a small pile of books. He picked it up and checked it. It was dead. "Great..." He said with a sigh. He put the phone in his pocket and closed his locker, ready to make the trip back home. As he wandered down the hall in the dark, he noticed a light coming from the door of one of the classrooms. Curious he walked over to it. Inside there was a teacher at her desk. What was her name? Miss...Walker. That was it. He looked at his watch, it was after 11PM. What was she doing here this late? "Are you going to stand there all night, or are you going to come in?" Miss Walker asked, as she rummaged in her desk, sorting out the notes she'd kept filed away. "Uh..." Shaun stammered, he hadn't realized she'd noticed him. "Sorry...I came to get my phone...and..." "It took you half the day to realize you didn't have your phone?" Miss Walker shrugged with a smile, "I thought kids these days were chained to them." "Uh..." Shaun scratched his head. What the hell, it's not like she could get him in more trouble. "...Grounded. Had to sneak out when my mom went to bed." "You're such a rebel." Miss Walker replied with a tone of mock sarcasm, "Even so, Shaun, you shouldn't be out this time of night." She held up the local newspaper without looking up from her work, "The streets are a dangerous place to be after dark, it's not worth it to see if your girlfriend has sent you a text." "Yeah, right." Shaun said, rolling his eyes. "Some crazy lunatic coming to get me just might be the most interesting thing that would ever happen to me in this town." "Do you know why I teach history, Shaun?" Miss Walker asked, stopping for a moment to look at him through her tinted shades. "Not a clue." Shaun said with a shrug. "Because it interests you, I guess." "I suppose that's a fair answer." Miss Walker nodded, with a toothy grin, "History is a chronicle of our choices as a species. We need history to remind ourselves of where we've gone wrong, in the hopes that we don't repeat those mistakes. Now," She stood up, packed the last files into her bag and slung it over her shoulder, "Your mistake was going to school for a dead phone in the middle of the night, when you're grounded, and you let a teacher stop you." She crossed the classroom and put her hand around his shoulder, "Come on, i'll give you a lift back to your house." "Uh, thanks?" Shaun said uncertainly. He'd left his Vespa at home, the noise would have woken his mother. A ride home sounded good, but equally, if it meant Miss Walker was going to knock on his door and wake his mother up then the prospect didn't sound quite as appealing. "Y'know my mom will pitch a fit if we wake her up." "Then you should probably be quiet when you go in." Miss Walker replied, chuckling. "Quieter than stomping around here, anyway." She pushed him out of the class, "Come on, we're getting you home." "Okay, thanks." Shaun said with a nod. He followed Miss Walker out of the school and they walked along the parking lot towards her car. They walked in silence side by side, until Miss Walker stopped in her tracks. Shaun turned to her, raising his eyebrow. "Everything okay?" "Everything's fine, Shaun." She replied, then stepped in front of him. A few moments later a man emerged from behind her car. She could smell the booze on his breath, and saw he was holding something. He was holding a pistol, and raised it to her chest."Gimme your wallet, lady." The man wore an old dark blue tracksuit, and had short scruffy brown hair, "You too, kid. Now." "Whoa." Shaun said shakily as he held his hands up. "What the fuck, dude!?""It's alright, Shaun. Just give him your wallet," She pulled out her own, and offered it to the man. She glanced down at the pistol. "You don't need that, just take the wallets and go.""Wait, what!?" Shaun spat. He couldn't quite believe he was saying it, really. He was scared, scared out of his mind. He wasn't a brave kid, or anything like that. However, amidst all the fear he was feeling, the adrenaline seemed to trigger a sense of bubbling indignation about the situation. He didn't have the faculties at present to really consider it, the words just came out. "No way, I'm not giving him my wallet!""Shaun, give him your wallet. Remember our conversation about mistakes? Well this isn't one you get to make twice.""Give me your god-damn wallet, now!!" The man levelled the pistol on Shaun and pulled the trigger back. He was serious. "Ah...fuck!" Shaun cursed. "Just take it easy man, alright?" He sighed. He went to reach for his wallet, fear beating down the anger that he felt. Just another in a long line of ordinary, cowardly things for him. He wondered if Miss Jones ever found it, maybe she'd tell him he should have just applied himself. The thought of it gave his anger another jolt. Before he could think, his feet were moving. Suddenly he wasn't reaching for his wallet, he was rushing the gunman, his hands outstretched to take his gun. Miss Walker held her breath and tensed, launching forwards. She was between them in a second, and stretched out her hand as the gun fired off twice. She was like a blur, and with her free hand she struck the man in the chest with her palm and he flew across the car park like a rag doll. A superhuman strength, speed and reflex hidden beneath a small, unassuming frame. She came to a stop a few feet away and grimaced, holding up a clenched fist. Slowly, her fingers unclenched, revealing her bruised fingers which were healing even as she realised the terrible reality. A single bullet lay in her palm. She turned back to see a little red dot in the centre of Shaun's chest. The red began to spread outwards in a circle, then it began to pour down his shirt."Shaun!!" Miss Walker ran to Shaun, dropping the bullet as she caught him just before his legs buckled. "Shaun?!" She patted him on the cheek, he looked like he was about to pass out. "Shaun, you have to stay awake!!" She scrambled for her phone. Shaun, for his part, wasn't quite sure what he had saw. Everything had happened so quickly. Now, though, everything seemed to have slowed to a crawl. His head felt light, his body numb. He tried to remember where he was, what he was doing. Miss Walker looked worried, but he wasn't sure why. Right now, all he wanted to do was sleep. It occurred to him, quite suddenly, but without alarm, that he was dying. He couldn't bring himself to be upset about it, though. He just felt like he was slowly slipping away, and that didn't seem so bad. The last thing he could remember was thinking that, as morbid as it might seem, he had found the whole situation quite exciting. He'd never felt a rush like that before. Moments before his death, he had never felt so alive. And then, with less fuss than he expected, he was gone.
  2. For a long time Eli was still as Violet sobbed on his chest. It was clear that he hadn't quite expected that particular reaction. However, after a moment his expression softened to a resigned smile. He took his daughter's hand, to stop her from beating him any further, and he lead her to the sofa and sat her down, sitting next to her. Meredith joined him and sat down nervously at the other side of him. "Hi, Gramps." She said, nervously pulling her hair away from her face. "Yes, hello Merry." Eli said, giving her a smile and patting her hand, Then he turned his attention back to his daughter. "Violet, I know I left you. Please believe me that it was the last thing I wanted. There is so much I have to explain to you, both you and Vincent. I promise that I will tell you everything, but first we have to save my son." Violet took a deep breath and exhaled. Then her smile dropped from her face, and what was left behind was red hot rage. "Thank you, i'd had just about enough of that." She muttered. She looked her father over once more and closed her eyes, as though willing herself not to do anything."Well done." Dee put her hand on Violet's knee, "That was like a 6/10 for effort." Violet shot her a furious look, "6.5?""Violet..." Meredith said, biting her lower lip. "I'm...I'm sorry."Violet's expression remained, she looked as though were she to try and move, it would be to level the entire block. But despite her pained expression, the words coming out of her mouth seemed strangely level."It's alright, Mere. We'll get over it, just don't, y'know... invite any more family members." Then her mouth closed and her jaw tightened. "So, I suppose I should explain a few things." Eli said, looking a little uncomfortable. "Violet, before I do, I need you to give me the Grimoire. Merry said Vincent left it with you, is that true?""I can't give you the grimoire." Violet replied simply, her face tensing. Eli gave a short sigh, but he did not show any frustration. "I understand, you made a promise." Eli said with a nod. "But I need to use the Grimoire. I need to speak with Vincent, or well, his consciousness within the book. He is the only mortal who knows the way in to Arctaeros.""I love you, dad. That's the only reason we haven't gotten off this couch yet, because it's taking all my willpower to stop..." Violet trailed off for a moment and approached her response from another angle. "I love you, dad. But I don't trust you." "Violet, I have held that book before." Eli said. "I know all of it's contents, except Vincent's. But only a Hallowed wizard can access it's contents. I...don;t deserve your trust. I wouldn't ask for it in any other circumstance but...there simply is no other way.""Yes, there is." Violet replied."Vi, you can't use the Grimoire any more," Dee interrupted, "You don't have any blood, which is a specific requirement of the ritual pact.""No, but you do..." Violet looked to Meredith. "Me?" Meredith said, looking a little shocked. "No, you can't." Eli said, shaking his head. "She's too young, it's far too dangerous for her.""I'll do it..." Meredith said, ignoring Eli. "If it's for Vincent, then I'll do it."" would be easier if I did it." Eli protested. "Auntie Vi told you she won't." Meredith said sternly. "First lesson about your daughter; She doesn't back down, okay?" "Don't kiss ass, dear. It doesn't suit you." Violet replied, stretching her jaw, "Ah, that's better! Finally. Now, i've been patient enough with the lot of you mayflies, so..." She stood up and faced her father, "You don't have any rights here, you walked out on those. You don't get to tell me what to do any more. We're in agreement on that. You're just another gun." Violet grinned, "It's nice to have full use of my faculties again." Then she looked to Meredith, "I'd smite you if you weren't so damn sneaky." She gave her a playful wink as she reached into her own chest, her hand phasing through her body as if it was nothing. A moment later Violet heaved the Grimoire from her chest. "Here, knock yourself out. You're a good kid." She said smiling as she passed Meredith the large tome. "I feel like i've shed 5lbs, it's wonderful - you should try it." She added, giving Eve a cursive look at her figure. Meredith held the book in her hands, opening it up to blank pages. She turned to Eli for instruction. "Just a few drops of blood and your full name, given willingly." He explained. "Okay..." Meredith said. She held up her thumb, and ran her finger over it, reciting a spell she used for rituals that Vincent had taught her. A small cut appeared on her thumb, and she allowed the blood to drop on to the pages of the book. She gasped a little as she felt a sudden thrum of power emanating from the Grimoire. Then she spoke her name out loud. "Meredith..." She paused for a moment, looking at Violet. "Meredith Violet Hallow.""Charming little scruffbag, that one." Violet raised her eyebrow at Dee who smiled back at her, "No, I won't." Violet added to the air, "Because i'm done hugging the fleshies. That's why." "Blood has been given. A name has been given." A booming voice thundered out from the book. "What do you seek, Meredith Violet Hallow?""Um..." Meredith hesitated. "Careful." Eli warned. "Speak only to Vincent. And only take the knowledge we need. His knowledge of The Ways, and the path to Arctaeros.""Right..." Meredith said, taking a shaky breath. Then she spoke to the Grimoire. "I want to speak to Vincent.""Do you agree to bind yourself to this Grimoire?" The book asked. "I do." She said. "Then it is done." The book said, and suddenly Meredith felt herself being pulled away from the sofa, the apartment melting away from her. Suddenly she was stood outside a door to an office. On the door there was a sign that said; 'Vincent Hallow - Paranormal Investigator'. Meredith stepped forward and put her hand on the door. She took a deep breath, and then she pulled down the handle and pushed the door open. Sitting with his feet on the desk, across the room from her, was Vincent. He was smoking a cigarette and reading a trashy romance novel. He looked up from the book, and smiled at Meredith when he saw her. "Hey, what can I do for you, Grasshopper?""Vincent?" Meredith asked. "In the flesh, well, actually not so much." Vincent said, shrugging and putting the book down. He stood up from his seat and walked over to her. "It was weird for me too, when I went through this."" you know what's going on?""Yeah, you allowed your consciousness to enter the book. Since I'm part of the book, I know what you know, and so I know what's going on." "Even..." Meredith whispered. "Yeah, even that." Vincent said. "But the real me doesn't know, or at least I don't think he does. He didn't know the last time he held the book, that's about as much as I can tell you.""This is...confusing." Meredith said"I know, right?" Vincent said, rolling his eyes. "At least you have me to talk to. I had to talk to a weird British guy.""I..." Meredith sighed. "You're not really Vincent. I'm sorry but...I want to find the real thing. I don't have time to chat." "Well time here isn't a factor..." Vincent then noticed Meredith's worried expression. "Okay, I get it. Don't worry, we can cut to the chase. You want my power, right?""Just the Ways." Meredith said. "And the way to Arctaeros.""Right, that's what you need, but it's not what you want, at least not the only thing." Vincent said. "Look, to be honest I don't even like that you're here. I don't want you to put yourself in danger...I'd rather you just left me.""But...I need you." Meredith said, feeling another fit of tears coming on. "I know..." Vincent said, smiling. "Which is why I'm going to help you.""Why...why are you so happy?" Meredith said, frowning. "Vincent doesn't act like that.""He did, once upon a time." Vincent said. "The thing is, since you came here, I know some things that Vincent doesnt. Things that will make him happy.""...You mean?" Meredith asked"He thinks his daughter is dead, Meredith." Vincent said. "That's bound to make a guy a little grumpy." "...Okay." Meredith said with a nod. "Then when I find him, I'm going to tell him everything.""I think he'll like that." Vincent said. "Now it's about time you get what you came for.""The Ways." Meredith said. "Come on, kid." Vincent said. "You can't lie to me in here. You can't lie to yourself, either. What do you want?""...I want to be able to do what you can do." Meredith said, and her eyes were filled with a sudden fury. "Screw the illusions, and the veils. I want to hurt Isoleth.""That's my girl." Vincent said with a smirk. Suddenly Meredith was back inside the apartment, and people were yelling. "Don't give me tha' bullshit, Eli. I'm yer best friend, an' ye couldn't even let me know ye were alive!" Al had arrived in her absence, and was currently standing in the kitchen, livid, and about ready to burn Eli to cinders. "Al...look you don't understand." Eli said calmly, holding his hands up in protest. "Ye left those poor kids without a father!" Al roared. "D'ya have any idea what ye've put them through, Eli!? An' I defended ye, all this time! Thought ye'd died tryin' ta protect 'em!""You think I don't know that!?" Eli yelled back. "You think I wanted to leave my own kids!?" Meredith had seen enough. She got up from the couch, and before she could think, her hand raised and she snapped her fingers. "Ignis!" She barked, and suddenly a burst of fire exploded in between Eli and Al. Nothing huge or destructive, but it was enough to drive them back from one another, and they both turned around to face her, their eyes wide with surprise. "Merry..." Eli said. "What are you-""Have you forgotten why you're here!?" She yelled. "You two are bickering while Vincent is stuck in some cell somewhere!""She gets that from you." Dee turned to Violet with a stern glare."I know!" Violet replied, positively brimming with glee. "Merry, I'm sorry." Eli said. "Look, did you get what you need? Let's get going, hm?""You know what?" Meredith said fiercely. "I'm tired of being told what to do. Vincent didn't answer to any of you...and...neither am I!""Girl's all fired up." Al said, smirking. "Alright, hoss. You lead the way.""Wait, Al...I..." Eli began"Save it, Eli." Al said. "It's time to save yer boy, so saddle up." "Where are we going?" Eve asked. "Is there a portal?""A Way." Meredith said. "It's not exactly close, but it's the only Way that goes in to the heart of Winter. It's as close as we're going to get. I can get us the rest of the way.""Well at least someone here has a spine. Put the kettle on, David, we'll all be back in time for supper." Violet walked out with Dee close behind her."I think not." David cried after her, somewhat indignant. As he went for the door he grabbed his broadsword and his coat and disappeared after them. "Well, guess it's a suicide mission." Eve said, crossing her arms. "Better get it over with." She added, and she left as well. "Come on then, let's get this over with." Al said."Let's go get my boy." Eli said with a nod. "He's our boy, an' don't you forget it." Al said. They grabbed their things and left. === Blood stained the crystalline ice floor. Somewhere, there was a baby crying, but Vincent couldn't quite place where it was. Before he could begin to search, he felt a chill in the air, and suddenly he was lifted from the ground, his body wracked with bitter winter chill. The ice had encased his body and lifted him skywards, holding him, immobilized in a jagged, chaotic sculpture of ice, with only his head and neck free from it. A deathly shriek echoed through the courtyard, and the skies above began to rumble and shudder as if in response. The wild, pain-filled screaming rattled through his head. What had he done? He felt dread, and despair like he never thought possible. He had done something awful. But what? What had he done? "What have I done?" He whispered. Suddenly reality came crashing down on him. Vincent opened his bloodshot eyes to find a pair of icey, blue cat-like eyes peering back at him. He was trapped on a bed of ice, his arms and legs outstretched and encased in it, and he has naked, his skin turning a pale blue, with purple marks slowly forming around his feet and hands. His chest was soaked with blood, the result of sharp, icey nails that had been raked over his body. Isoleth straddled him, a wicked grin on her face. She leaned down so that she was but an inch from his face, and she let her tongue caress across his neck and cheek, before she moved to his left ear. "Starting to remember, I see." She hissed in his ear. "Still, a long way to go." She sat back up and placed her hand on his chest, her sharp nails penetrating his skin and bringing fresh, cold pain. He went to scream, but his voice had long lost the ability to do so. "The thing is, boy..." Isoleth said, as she closed her eyes, relishing the pleasure, and she plunged her hand deeper, tearing deep in to his chest. Vincent's eyes were ablaze from the sheer pain of it, but still he made nothing more than whispering moans and gasps. "...I'm afraid, as much as I would love to take my time with this, there is a matter of impending battle with Summer. I'm going to have to speed things up a bit. But just think, the sooner you remember, the sooner this ends. How many times have I brought you to the brink of death now? Is it seven or eight times? I'm going to keep healing you, bringing you back to good health, and then I'm going to do it again, and again, and again. And when you remember, only then will I kill you." Vincent spoke something, but it came out as an inaudible whisper. "What's that?" Isoleth said, holding a hand to her ear. She leaned closer to him. "You're going to have to speak up, dear." Vincent made an effort to swallow, but his throat was dry, and stressed from the screaming. He opened his mouth as she put her ear to it. "I..." He croaked. "I remember...a little..." "Oh? Do go on..." Isoleth said, smiling gleefully. "...Claire." He wheezed. "...You're not Claire." "Oh, very good!" Isoleth cooed as she sat up and clapped excitedly. "So where is Claire then?" "...Dead." Vincent said. "Right again." Isoleth replied. "And who killed her?" Vincent paused, closing his eyes from a moment, the memories flashing through his head. They felt far away, like they did not belong to him. "Who. Killed. Her?" Isoleth said again, slowly. "...I did." Vincent choked, a single tear shedding from his eye.

    Riff and Dax sat in the back of a taxi speeder as it cut through the busy skies of Nar Shaddaa. The sprawling, vertical city was bathed in a golden glow, with plumes of murky, polluted air glinting in the bright neon lights that bombarded them from every direction. The Ecumenopolis was smaller than Coruscant, but still managed to be one of the wealthiest planets in the Galaxy. Yet the two were in stark contrast to one another. Nar Shaddaa was an ancient city that had stood for millenia, controlled by the Hutt Cartels who had managed to maintain their neutrality throughout almost every galactic conflict. Yet even with all of it's riches, the city was full of poverty. It was the very embodiment of corruption. "Strange." Riff said as he looked over the edge of the speeder, down to the depths of the city, watching the layers of busy traffic go by. "To think that anyone would find hope here, in this dump." "Hope is a luxury." Dax replied, folding her arms and looking out over Nar Shaddaa, "And a dangerous luxury to cling to." "Hope is necessary, Dax." Riff said, shaking his head in disagreement. "All beings hope. It is needed to conquer fear, to achieve anything beyond mediocrity." "You're wrong, Jedi." Dax sunk into her seat and stared into her lap, "You don't conquer fear. You come to live with it. You accept it as a part of your nature, and you live in spite of it. You use it if you have to, to survive. Fear helped me more than hope ever did. Down there, hope gets you killed." Dax nodded her head at the ground below. "Correct." Riff said with a nod. "Although, I think you probably misunderstood me. Do you not think hope plays a part? When your life is in danger, you have fear, which is natural for most. But in those moments, what drives you to even act, if not hope? Fear is...easy. Hope is not." "Fear drives you to survive. That's all i've ever known. Hope drives you to..." Dax struggled to find the word to finish that sentence, and eventually after a minute's silence she let out a breath and abandoned it altogether. "What happened to the Jedi? You're nothing like I imagined..." Riff drew in his breath and thought for a moment. He leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering that time of his life. "You would have been a child at the time." He said, "We were well in to the war when it happened. The time before the war had been peaceful, and for the Jedi this was a time of learning, a time of contemplation. Our Order had finally began to reclaim the knowledge that had been lost to us over the centuries prior. I am told that the Jedi were different back then, but I was born in a time of turmoil. The Jedi were guardians of the Republic, we had a duty to protect. When the Empire emerged, there was a call to arms. In times past a Jedi's training was difficult, and there was no guarantee of passing the trials for many." Riff opened his eyes and looked at Dax, a sombre expression on his face. "Younglings were trained far more quickly. Knights would take often take on two padawans at a time, and the focus of our training shifted more towards combat, and strategy." The Taxi began to descend as Riff continued. "It was not the wish of the Jedi Council to do this, but it was something of a necessity. I am a child of that era, I am no sage in search of wisdom. I am not a teacher. My life as a Padawan was spent in conflict zones, and when I became a Knight I became a watchman, a solitary position that kept me away from home most of the time. I wasn't there when the Empire came in force, and took Coruscant for their own. I wasn't there when they systematically travelled through each system, wiping out every temple and academy they could find." The taxi finally pulled over on street level and Riff paid the driver and climbed out of the speeder. "I felt it, the death of all of my comrades, all of the younglings within the academies. Fear was a towering presence at that time, had I succumbed to it, well..." Riff shook his head. "I would be something far less than the broken man you see now. I'm not a Jedi, Dax. Not any more." "Well, that's about enough sob stories for today. I need a drink." Dax coughed to ease the tension and stepped out of the speeder and looked around. Riff followed behind her, quiet. How could Asha even consider the prospect of training Dax? Sure, she was smart and capable. The Force was strong in her, too. Yet she had grown too old, perhaps impossible to teach. Fear clouded her judgement, she was quick to anger, quick to use force. He shook his head. It really was impossible. "So." He said, finally, "Where to?" "I don't know /all/ of Nar Shaddaa, Riff." Dax laughed, "Despite what some of my friends might tell you." They started walking and Dax occasionally glanced at the ragtag stalls and shops they passed. "No, not there." She added, shaking her head. Despite the place looking clean and pleasant inside. "You probably won't come out of there with all your organs on the inside." She let out a smile, despite the comment and then saw something at the end of the street. "Hey there, look!" She nodded at an old alien with red skin and horns. A zabrak. "Hey old man, you cookin' Parth?""'Ey, depends, you got money?" He asked, looking up at them."Uh..." Dax turned to look at Riff expectantly. Riff reached in to his pocket and retrieved a handful of gold coins. "I always carry Wupiupi." He said. "Credits won't get you very far in the Outer Rim.""They'll get you dead is what, I tell you what you..." The old Zabrak rumbled off into muttering and grabbed a handful of something that looked like green string. But as he brought it towards the large steaming pot in front of him it writhed and wriggled and became frantic, sending out little green tendrils in all directions as it fell into the pot and a thousand little screeches echoed inside the metal container for a couple of seconds. "So, what you here for then? You're a local." He said, nodding at Dax, then looked at Riff, "You ain't." The Zabrak frowned."Nowhere's local for us." Riff said, folding his arms. "Just stopping by before heading to Nal Hutta for a shipment.""Spacer, eh?" The Zabrak said. "Looks like you're in for a long stop over." Riff glanced up at the sky, where the Imperial destroyer still sat on the edge of the atmosphere, and tiny moving objects whizzed around the sky. TIE Fighters. "Yeah, you don't have to tell me." Riff said, shaking his head in annoyance. "If I catch the sorry low life that's pissed off those Imps I'll put a blaster between his eyes. Some of us have a job to do, you know?""Oh, I hear that." The Zabrak said with a nod as he stirred the pot. "Word on the street is something went down at Veshka's hangar. The Cartel ain't gonna like that, that's for sure.""Even the Imps would think twice about crossing the Hutts. Must be a big deal." Riff said. "Just one destroyer, though. If it was that big a deal you'd think there'd be a bigger fleet.""Well don't ask me, I ain't know Moff." The Zabrak said irritably, and he slopped the food in to two bowls. "Here you go, enjoy." "Thanks." Riff said as he took a bowl from the Zabrak. Without pause he poured some of the contents in to his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. "Mm, Haven't had Parth this good in years.""You'll just keep surprising me." Dax stifled a laugh as she watched Riff eat, taking the second bowl and thanking the street vendor before drinking from the bowl as if it was a cup. Most off-worlders would turn their nose up at Parth. It wasn't exactly a visually - or even audibly - pleasant dish. But it tasted pleasant, it was hot and it filled you up. That's all that mattered. "When did /you/ last eat Parth?" Dax raised an eyebrow in curious amusement. Riff motioned for Dax to follow him and the two wandered a little out of earshot of the Zabrak. "A few years in to becoming a Knight I was stationed as a Watchman on Kal'Shebbol. A Watchman's job is to live discreetly as a guardian of their assigned territory. Gathering intel, protecting the innocent, and identifying potential initiates. Truth be told I haven't left the Outer Rim since. I've spent almost half of my life out here." "Well, for a watcher, you seem to have done a lot, i'll give you that." Dax replied with a grin, enjoying her food with relish."You have to blend in." Riff replied with a shrug. "It's not really that difficult. Cultures change but people are the same, deep down."True. They'll fleece you given half the chance." Dax reached out and managed to snatch the collar of the old man as he was trying to leave. She hadn't given him as much as a cursory glance. "This weasel charged you about ten times the cost of Parth on Nar Shadaa. And he was just about to sneak off.""What are you talking about?! I turned around, that's all!!""You were practically running!" Dax barked, holding her empty bowl in her spare hand, she pulled her arm back ready to throw it at the vendor. "Stop." Riff said in a calm but authoritative tone. "Let him go.""Why?!" Dax yelled. Her raised voice barely registered to anyone around them, as disagreements were commonplace on this planet, and nobody wanted to get involved. "This scum-sucking thief was going to run off with our money!" "Am I to assume you were a Judge all this time?" Riff said, shaking his head. He turned to the Zabrak and held up his hand. "You should go home. Best to forget all about this." "I...I'm going home!" The Zabrak said nervously, and he ran off in to the crowd. Riff turned back to Dax, frowining. "What exactly would hurting him accomplish?" "He was stealing from us!" Dax threw the bowl at Riff. "He gave us food, I gave him money." Riff said. "Do you think you can sense deception where I do not? You, who doesn't even know how to use the Force in the way I do?" Riff looked around, noticing that people were beginning to stare. "The Force is strong in you, and as such your attuned senses come naturally, but without discipline you also cause, well, this..." Riff inclined his head to the staring people. "Even ordinary beings interact with the Force, innately, in small ways. When you feel strong emotions, you project it outwards, through The Force. They sense it." "Stop talking to me about your--" Dax stopped almost immediately when she saw a man staring at her over Riff's shoulder. It was only then that she realised that in their little corner of Nar Shaddaa, the street had all but come to a stop. "W-what..." Dax frowned, and took a step back, looking like she was ready to bolt at any moment. "This isn't normal..." "Calm down." Riff said, closing his eyes as he did. He began to breath slowly, and methodically. And with each breath he took, a sense of calm washed over the area. At first nothing happened, but slowly, after a while, people began to go about their business. And then after a few more moments, there were no more eyes on them. Riff opened his eyes and nodded to Dax. "Walk with me." he said, and he lead her out of the street and on to another, walking swiftly. "Through The Force we can impart our own emotions on others. Strong emotions ripple through The Force, and all living creatures take notice. It's actually the basis of the Jedi Mind Trick." Riff waved his hand in the same gesture to show what he was referring to. "With the right training, and discipline, a Jedi can bring a room of angry men and women to silence. The Watchman used this technique to manipulate local governments in their sector, for benevolent goals, of course." "Wait--" Dax stopped Riff by putting her hand on his chest and she walked around in front of him, "Have you ever waved your hand at me?" She asked, eyeing him critically. Riff smirked in response. "If only I could." He said, shaking his head. "Your eyes are open to the effects of The Force. You can sense it happening, and as such you cannot be affected." Riff paused for a moment but lifted his hand for Dax to keep listening to him. "Well, I could, but not without you knowing. I would have to force you, by chanelling my own strong emotions, and the process would be very painful. Such an experience is what will await you with Baal, should he find you." "I feel like I don't understand anything any more." Dax replied, rubbing the bridge of her nose, "Jedi, Sith, the Force... it's too much." "That is why Jedi are trained at a young age." Riff said. "But...your power is greater than I have ever seen in a Force Sensitive. No doubt Baal wishes to use that power for his own gain. I truly wish that you could just walk away from all of this, but there is a good chance that it won't be possible. Jedi see glimpses of the future through The Force, and yours, despite your power, is clouded." "Clouded how?" Dax asked, looking slightly concerned. "Anyway, and i'm not saying I am... but if I am, but i'm not--" Dax corrected herself, and gave Riff a look that said 'Don't say a word'. "If i'm really a... a force-sensitive? How would that help Baal?" "He will bring you to the Dark Side." Riff said. "You would not be given a choice. The Sith use torture to bring you pain and fear. He would provoke pain, and anger from you. Turn it in to hatred. He would make you Sith." Riff sighed. "Being a Jedi is the harder path. The Dark Side would be easy for one such as you." "One such as me?" Dax pushed Riff and pointed at him, "What are you trying to say, huh?" "You're too emotional." Riff said, showing no sign of anger at the gesture. "For any normal person, that would be fine. But The Force flows through you, and if you allow it, it will corrupt you. The Dark side is very alluring. It can achieve things that a Jedi cannot, things that we are not meant to harness." "But emotion can be a positive force as much as a negative one." Dax shook her head in disbelief, "I understand that hatred or, or... pain could lead to a dark path. But feelings like compassion? Love?" Dax shrugged, "Listen, I might be a cold-hearted, space-bred smuggler, but i'm not heartless." " you have someone you love, Dax?" Riff asked. "Have you ever lost someone that you loved? Without discipline, and understanding, the pain of such a thing is unimaginable. Now consider that you have power, power so great that perhaps you could even conquer death itself. Look at that outburst back there. Sure, that man may have been overcharging, but look at your reaction. Even out of decency, emotion is very dangerous for people with power." "Right..." Dax sighed, "It's about balance. I just don't think the Sith /or/ the Jedi are right. You talk about one group of people harnessing emotion to an extreme, and the other abandoning it to almost the same downfall. If balance is really what is sought, then it needs to allow both..." Dax took a deep breath and fell into quiet thought. "Dax, I'm not saying you can't have emotions at all." Riff said. "I'm just saying you need to control your emotions. Part of that is looking at things a different way, and through understanding The Force. For example, it is wrong to say I do not fear. I have fears just like everyone else, but I have conquered them. I do not fear death, like most would, because I know there is nothing to fear. I do not mourn those I have lost, because there is no need. They have become one with The Force, something which should be celebrated. But, there are other fears we all still wrestle with, and in truth that is what makes us weak. There is no stronger Jedi than one without fear, I promise you of that." "Trying to remove any part of you absolutely, even fear, doesn't make you stronger. You'll never convince me otherwise. But I understand what you're saying, Riff." Dax nodded quietly and then after a long silence she added, "Thanks. I feel better now." She let a smile appear in the corner of her lips. "Oh good, you feel better." Riff said, rolling his eyes. "Next time see a shrink, I'm not telling you these things to make you feel better." Riff shook his head, turned, and began to walk away. "Come on, we better get your ship. The sooner we get you out of here the sooner you can go back to whatever you did before."
  4. "Sit down, kiddo." David said as he went in to Vincent's kitchen to do what he did best, make tea. Meredith sat herself on the sofa, and almost immediately began fidgeting with her fingers. Sitting down seemed like the most unreasonable thing in the world to her right now. She needed to act, to save Vincent, but she didn't know where to begin. Yet sitting around waiting for tea didn't seem like it would accomplish anything. The thoughts were whirling around in her head so quickly that it seemed like David had sat by her side only seconds after her, but he was holding two cups of hot tea. "I know it might seem inappropriate given the situation, but would you like to talk?" David asked. "I...don't know what to say, or what to do." Meredith replied, taking her cup and clasping her hands around it, allowing the heat to burn her fingers just a little. "At times like this, I find that faith is very important." David said as he sipped his tea. "The Lord is on our side in this mission, the fact that I am here is evidence enough." "...I don't know if I can put my faith in something like that." Meredith replied, her eyes fixed on the floor. "But I'm glad you're here, David. I can put my faith in you. It wouldn't be the first time you saved me." "Ah, yes." David said with a nod. "We were in a bit of hot water back then, with those Faeries. I suppose now is not so different." "It's completely different." Meredith said, frowning. "Vincent isn't here..." "Yes, his absence leaves quite the void." David said with a nod. "But more reason to get to work in saving him. How about we focus on what we can do?" "And what can we do?" Meredith asked, looking at David hopefully. "We find allies." David said. "Vincent had a knack for making friends, considering how abrasive he could be." "...Al, he'll help us." Meredith said. "I don't know where he is but Violet can probably find him." "Yes, he's a good man. Definitely someone we can rely on." David agreed. "What about his..." David sighed, disappointed in what he was about to suggest. "That vampire he knows." "Careful old man." Eve said as she entered Vincent's apartment. Meredith jumped a little, she had forgotten Eve was with them. "Something against my kind?" "You are an abomination." David said simply, his eyes hardening. "But..." David noted Meredith's lack of alarm. "I assume you are an ally." "Charmer." Eve said rolling her eyes. "Who the hell is this old fool anyway?" "My friend." Meredith said testily. "Eve, this is David. David, this is Eve. She works for Lucia. You could say she's on loan to us for the moment." "Wow, way to make me feel welcome." Eve said, folding her arms. "Whatever. I've scouted the city as best as I can. Whoever sent that letter hasn't left any trail, at least nothing the storm hasn't swallowed up. The streets are dead, and you can't even see the sky. First time I've been able to walk around after sun up for a long time." "I think an explanation might be in order." David said. And so Meredith explained the entire series of events to David, and after about an hour she had gotten him up to speed. After hearing everything David sat silently for a moment, clearly struggling to take in all that he had heard. It was Eve who broke the silence. "Look, at any moment Acherus could give the word, and we'll all be called upon to start this war." She said. "There is something bigger than your brother happening right now. Don't expect the supernatural community to come to your aid." "Vincent taught me to never expect anything from the Wise anyway." Meredith said coldly. "We'll do this without them, or well, what's left of them." "Well, then I suppose we better ask Violet if she can find Alphonse for us." David said, and he stood up and walked towards Vincent's bedroom. He knocked gently on the door and waited. Dee opened the door, looked David up and down and then smiled, "Hello, David. How are you?" "You..." David paused for a moment, clearly struggling with something internally. "I...sorry, have we met?" "I'm sure we have." Dee replied with a smile, genuinely happy to see David as though they were old friends, "I knew your parents." She added. "...I...think I understand." David said, frowning a little. "It seems there really is no limit to the kind of friends this lot keeps." "I think you do." Dee replied, a wide grin spread across her face as a sort of pleasant surprise took her. "Speak for yourself, David." She nodded at him, "Not everyone down here has the friend you do." Dee's eyes momentarily darted skywards and then she sauntered past him as Violet came to the door."Oh, David..." Violet smiled weakly. "Violet, how are you doing?" David asked. "Unbalanced." Violet replied with a sheepish grin. Dee snorted a laugh out and Violet looked as though she was going to lose her temper, but eventually chuckled instead. She took a deep breath, and as she sighed, her hair fell down against her shoulders, and she became cloaked in her human form. Violet wriggled a little as though she'd pulled on something uncomfortable, but she was happier with how David saw her now."I'm sorry, I know this is difficult." David said. "Meredith has explained the whole thing. She thinks Alphonse might be able to help us. Do you know where to find him?""I'm sure Alphonse could help, David. But if he doesn't want to be found I don't think we'll ever find him. I would have thought now more than ever he's gone into hiding." Violet crossed her arms and tried to think. "That man mentored you, Violet." David said. "If he would have allowed for anyone to find him, it would be you and Vincent.""I can try?" Violet raised an eyebrow, unsure of herself. "To be honest, I have to tap into a part of myself i'm not really..." She looked to Dee."Violet is in a period of adjustment." Dee replied politically."Thank you. What she said." Violet smiled at David, "I can try, but i'm just worried that I could do more harm than good. My mother said that Nagloshi are among the most powerful beings in creation. But, our weakness is it takes us many hundreds of years to hone those skills. I must be an infant to other Nagloshi..." Violet trailed off as a thought occurred to her, "I wonder if that's why my mother treated me the way she did..." "An infant Nagloshi, you might be..." David said with a nod. "But you are still every bit the capable woman you have always been, Violet. You are a wizard, a police officer, a detective, a sibling and..." David turned his head back to Meredith. "...and now an Aunt. I have every faith in you.""Oh..." Violet looked from David to Meredith and back again, and then grinned, "Well isn't Vincent going to be pleased when he finds out he's the last to know." She chuckled a little, "Alright, well then i'll see what I can do." She gave David a nod."Thank you." David said with a nod. "And perhaps you should take uh..." David inclined his head toward Dee. "I imagine she can help you more than anyone else can."

    As the night began to settle the Rogue hummed quietly through the low levels of Nar Shaddaa, away from the crowded streets, it passed through the dark and forgotten passageways, before finally dropping down in to a large tunnel. Local vermin scattered from the tunnels as the ship's lights scanned the interior of the pipelines, pushing forward silently and gracefully. After following the pipeline for a few miles, the ship pulled in to an intersecting pipe and began to descend until it finally landed, and the walkway extended outwards from the back. Ami was the first to disembark, moving swiftly with a blaster held at the ready in her hand. "C'mon Shora, you big furball, help me get the supplies." She said as the Wookie descended after her, responding with a resigned growl. The pair moved in to the smaller tunnel ahead and opened the blast door which lead in to a large warehouse, filled with crates of supplies. "What is this?" Riff asked as he stepped inside the warehouse with Dax and Calen in tow. "How has this managed to stay hidden?" "Nar Shaddaa is sprawling, and millenia old." Calen explained, "With constant restructuring, and with ownership passing quickly from the different Cartels, there's a whole bunch of sectors that get lost along the way." "Including us." Dax muttered, looking around the warehouse, "You remember where all this stuff is? You could get lost in here and they'd never find you..." "We've had a lot of time to familiarize ourselves." Calen replied. "We've been at this for ten years. There used to be more of us, but..." Calen lowered his head. "Oh..." Dax bit the inside of her cheek and sighed, "I'm sorry." "Not necessary, it was the Empire who killed them." Calen said, a bite of anger in his tone. "But they knew the risks, and they were dedicated to our cause." "And what is your cause?" Riff asked. "To destroy the Empire, isn't it obvious?" Calen said. "Forgive me, but don't you think it a futile endeavour?" Riff said. "Three of you against an Empire that was sprawled across the galaxy like a wildfire, what hope is there in that?" "Not a lot, sure." Calen said with a nod. "But we aren't alone." Riff lifted his head at that. "So...this isn't just a rogue resistance group then?" "Yes, and no." Calen said with a wolfish grin. "We're our own team, we don't take orders from anyone else. But...we're part of something bigger." "You're part of something bigger? Well that's specific." Dax muttered, losing interest, "You can't win against the Empire, boys and girls. You just can't. You can run, you can hide, but as you've learnt today, just as your lost friends learnt - the Empire has already won.""Geez, and I thought the Jedi here was a pessimist." Calen said, shaking his head. "I prefer the term realist." Riff said with a sigh. "Oh really?" Calen said, stopping and folding his arms across his chest. "So why did you send out that signal? Are you really so selfish that you wanted us to just come and save you, no questions asked?""Well I had hoped-" Riff began but Calen cut him off. "Hoped." He parroted. "Hope is all we have, General. But it can be a powerful thing. It saved your hide back there, you'd still be in that cell if it weren't for hope." "No, we'd still be in that cell if it weren't for a couple of blasters, and a bunch of nut jobs willing to risk their lives for a signal that could have been anything or anyone." Dax corrected Calen, "That's being a realist.""Fine, if you don't want to help then you can go." Calen said, shaking his head. "But before you do, I want you to meet someone.""And who might that be?" Riff asked. "It's better if she tells you herself." Calen said. "Follow me." They walked together through the large warehouse, until they reached the other end and left through a set of blast doors. They moved through the corridor until finally they reached a room with a large console, and behind it a large, circular holonet. Calen stood at the console, typing away at keys for a moment. "We gave word that we were coming to get you. She'll have been trying to reach us no doubt.""You've been communicating over holo?" Riff asked testily. "How can you be sure the Empire haven't been monitoring the channels?""We're careful." Calen said. "Or rather, she is. She provided us with the ID scrambling techniques for the Rogue, and she's been communicating with us by hacking Imperial Channels. She's truly a master...we'd be lost without her." Calen opened up the channel and the holonet hummed to life. A flickering, blue image appeared before them. A woman was stood, dressed head to toe in a hooded robe that showed only the lower part of her face. "This is Valor." She said, her voice scrambled and distorted to further hide her indentity. "Rebel 8, come in Rebel 8.""Valor this is Rebel 8." Calen replied. "We've returned from our expedition.""And how is your cargo?" Valor asked immediately. "Safe." Calen said. "Party of two. A...smuggler?" Calen said, looking Dax over. "Also, someone we didn't expect. A Jedi!" Valor barely reacted, apart from her lips visibly tightening. She paused for a long moment, and then folded her arms in front of her chest. "A Jedi?" She asked. "Are you sure?""Positive." Calen said. "I have him here with me." He added, and he inclined his head to Riff, urging him to step forward so that he could be seen on the holo feed. Riff sighed, and begrudgingly stepped forward so that Valor could look at him. "You..." Valor said as she inspected him. "Can it be...?""It can." Riff said. "And you are?" "I am Valor, and that's all you need to know for now?" She said"We'll see about that." Riff said, unimpressed with the woman. "What do you want with me?""You reached out to us." Valor said. "I reached out to the good people around me." Riff replied testily. "I do not know you, or your intentions.""Trustful sort, isn't he?" Valor said, looking to Calen "I've had first hand experience with Watchers." Riff said. "Imperial Agents specially trained to intercept enemy cells.""Give it up, Riff." Calen said. "Without Valor we'd have never accomplished any of this.""That's what they do." Riff explained. "Help you, gain your trust. They allow you to succeed in small operations, and they wait until you give up something more valuable. Such as the locations of your allied cells.""I don't trust anyone i'm not close enough to shoot." Dax scowled at the hologram. "I like her." Valor said, a smirk forming across her lips. "So, Smuggler was it? Disappointing. You look capable, but we can't trust people who live for Credits.""What makes you think either of us are interested?" Riff asked. "Before you decide whether you can trust us, you might want to try convincing us to trust you." Valor tilted her head slightly to the side, trying to assess Riff. "You said Watchers befriend rebel cells in order to gather further intel." She said. "Our operation works in quite the opposite way. I have all the intel, General Riff Suthra, accolades; Jedi Knight, Republic General, Watchman of Ord Mantell. Trained at the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. Padawan of Jedi Master Asha Moren. I know everything about you, at least before you disappeared. I am Valor, the sole lynchpin that holds together the Rebel Alliance. I operate in this way, so that Watchers cannot infiltrate rebel cells and attempt to bring down our entire resistance." Dax looked from Valor to Riff and then back again, "Y'know what? You say you can't put trust in people who live for credits, but you're cloaked and masked, on a hologram in who knows where, with a voice modulator, giving cryptic messages to thousands of people who fight and die for you every day. Where do you get off telling me how to live? People die never even knowing if they made a difference, if they could even trust you. I don't trust you." Dax put her hands on her hips and let out a quick breath, "I'll stick with the Jedi. At least the boy scout has a code.""Oh, I really do like you." Valor said with another grin. "Perhaps I misjudged. I apologize for that. However it doesn't change anything. I can't show you who I am, because if you are captured by The Empire, then they will absolutely take that information from you. Whether you like it or not." "Good plan." Riff said with a nod. "I hope it works well for you. But I'll be taking my leave." "General...if you'll spare me just one more moment." Valor said, before turning to Calen. "Calen, can you take the smuggler and leave us." "Uh...are you sure?" Calen asked. "Leave me with the Jedi, I may yet convince him." Valor said. "Then the hell with you," Dax growled, "Jump out an airlock." She muttered, as she walked off. Calen followed her out of the room and Riff turned to watch them leave. While his back was turned, the hologram of Valor removed the hood from her head, and looked down at Riff. Her skin was entirely hairless, and smooth, with only tattooed markings for eyebrows, but there were wrinkled marks around her eyes and lips. Instead of hair she had two, long tail-like lekku protruding from her head, which were clamped together with two thin braces. She smiled as she looked at him and put her hand on her hip. "She's strong in The Force, I could sense it from here." She said, and the distortion in her voice was gone. Riff spun on his heel at the sound of it, and he stared at her in utter surprise. "...Master!" He breathed. The Twi'lek standing before him was older than last he saw her, but she was still as beautiful as he remembered her to be. "Hello Riff." She said in response. "I'm glad you're alive. Surprised, I take it?""I thought..." Riff said, but he couldn't finish the sentence. "I'm not dead yet." Asha said. " saddens me to see you like this. You've lost your way.""I...the Order is gone, Master." Riff said. "Ah, so walls of stone make a Jedi then?" Asha said, raising her brow. "Look at who you are talking to. Excuses won't get you anywhere. You've turned your back on The Force.""The Force abandoned me." Riff grumbled. "It stopped guiding me.""In one day you have found yourself in the midst of the Rebel Alliance, and reunited with your Master. Not to mention the girl, she'd make a good Padawan, don't you think?""Too old." Riff said dismissively. "It can't be done, and what even makes you think I want to?" "Yes, she is a bit old." Asha nodded in agreement. "But you can feel how strong she is. Without guidance...she could be a problem.""Perhaps, but I;m dealing with that." Riff said. "I'm trying to keep her away from The Empire. I can at least do that much.""You could do more, though." Asha said. "We're losing, Riff. We need all the help we can get.""Well then tell me where you are." Riff said. "I'll come to you. I'll help."", Riff." Asha said, shaking her head. "If my sources are correct, Baal's destroyer is the one chasing you. It is far too much of a risk." "Baal, who is he?" Riff asked. "He seems familiar.""I wish I knew." Asha said, shaking her head. "But you need to stay away from him. Both of you.""I'm not training her, Master." Riff said with a tone of finality. "She doesn't even want it.""Really? And since when were you the Master, hm?" Asha said. "Stay with her Riff. It could lead to salvation.""I don't think she needs saving." Riff said "I meant for you, Riff." Asha said. then she turned to look at something outside of the holo. "I need to go. Riff, nobody can know who I am, not even Calen. I trust them's for their own safety, and the safety of the other rebels.""I understand." Riff said. "Goodbye, Master.""We'll speak again." Asha said, and then she was gone.

    As soon as Dax had reached the top of the walkway, Calen and Shoraddik followed her up, and finally Riff began to walk up. However, in that moment he felt a horrible sensation rise up in his chest. He turned around and held out his blaster to fire, but before he had pulled the trigger the pistol had exploded in a shower of sparks and flew from his hand. Across the hangar from Riff, the Mandalorian stood with his blaster pistol drawn, steely and confident, his face masked by the helmet he wore. "Get on, quickly!" Calen yelled at him. Riff shook his head. "He won't let that happen." He said, and then he lifted his hand in a simple gesture, and his lightsaber flew from it's position on Dax's belt, and landed softly in his hand. "Sorry, I need this right now." He said as he stepped off the walkway. "Calen, get this ship moving." "Are you crazy!?" Calen yelled as he let off a round of blaster fire from his rifle, towards the Mandalorian, who moved effortlessly away from the trajectory. "Trust me." Riff said finally, and then there was a hissing rush as his lightsaber ignited, a burning amber blade humming with power. He walked forward with a purposeful stride, holding his lightsaber in front of him in both hands. The Mandalorian let of a barrage of laser bolts, but Riff moved his lightsaber with expert precision, deflecting the bolts back across the hangar as he steadily began to close the gap. As he drew closer, his deflected blasts became more precise, and the Mandalorian caught a blast to the shoulder, and ran to the left. Riff broke in to a sprint, chasing him down with alarming speed. He was faster than the Mandalorian in his heavy armor, and as he reached him he brought his saber down, but the Mandalorian nimbly sidestepped it, Riff dragged the saber back up in a horizontal slash, and the Mandalorain leaned back, narrowly avoiding a cut to the chest, before he exploded in to the air, propelled by a jetpack. He turned in the air and pointed his wrist at riff, and took aim. 3 heat seeking missiles shot out from his armour, and came hurtling towards Riff. With a push of his free hand he sent the first spiralling off course with The Force, but the other two kept coming. At the last moment he leaped into the air, amplified by the force he reached a great height, but the blast of the missiles forced him backwards, sending him crashing across the smooth hangar floor in a heap. As he began to get up he heard the whooshing noise of the Mandalorian's jetpack, and then the tap of feet hitting the ground. Riff got up, and realised he had dropped his lightsaber during the fall. He turned around to search for it, but found the Mandalorain holding his blaster, only a few yards away. "Give it up, Jedi." The Mandalorian said, "You're worth more to me alive, but don't think I won't cook you if I need to." "I'm afraid I can't do that." Riff replied. "But I'll give you a fair opportunity to walk away." "Didn't know Jedi told jokes." The Mandalorian replied. "Take a look around, even if I let you go you're not getting past that blockade." "You didn't think I'd get out of my cell either." Riff said in an amused tone. "Enough talk." The Mandalorian said, gripping his blaster tightly. "Your time is up." --- Meanwhile Calen was rushing through the corridor of his ship with Dax and Shoraddik in tow. "Ami!" He roared as he reached the bridge, "We need this bird in the air, now!" "Yeah, yeah, I'm already on it" The pint-sized pilot replied, her head barely reaching over the headrest of her chair. "Who's the green chick?" "Who's the pint-sized pink punk?" Dax raised an eyebrow at the young girl."Name's Ami, and I'll be the one escorting you through that blockade the imps are setting up." Ami replied without turning to face Dax. "So is all of our cargo on board?""No, we're still waiting on someone. He's tangling with a Mandalorian outside." Calen explained"Bucket heads..." Ami muttered. "Well what are you waiting for? Get on the main gun, I'll turn this baby around and give him a work out." "On it." Calen said, as he disappeared down the corridor. "Okay Hotshot, you want to be useful? Take that console over there." Ami said, pointing directly to her right. "Good as I am, and I am good, Rogue took a bit of damage coming in here. You know the systems of a VCX-100 Light freighter?""I will in five minutes." Dax ran to the console. "What do you need me to do?""I'll need you to know it in three." Ami replied, "Rogue is an old pile of junk, but we've made some modifications. Baffled engines, energy dampeners, static jammers, and a combat retrofit. Our hull took a beating getting in here. I need constant diagnostic sweeps, we make a wrong move and we'll be in the dirt. D7 is surveilling imp comms frequencies, he'll let you know what they're up to." D7, the astromech, was in the corner of the room currently probing a small port. After hearing his name the droid gave a little beep of approval and carried on. "Wonderful. I've gone from ship Captain to assisting a droid." Dax came to grips with the systems in a matter of moments, "D7 can you tell me why the scanners say we have an imperial fighter directly behind us?""Oh, whoops." Ami said, and she beat her fist down on the console in front of her. "There, fixed. It does that sometimes. Now hold on to your metaphorical hats!" Ami pushed the two levers in front of her forward, flicked a couple of switches and then ship came to life with a light, silent hum. After a moment the ship rose up in to the air and hovered in place. "All right Calen!" Ami said in to the comms, "Get that gun ready, now!" --- Just before the Mandalorian opened fire, he turned at the sound of the Rogue rising in to the air. The freighter slowly turned on the spot, until it was facing the Mandalorian. The top of the ship opened up and a rotating turret popped out, with Calen at the helm. Red bolts shot out of the ship's cannons, and the lasers blasted along the ground, blowing up crates along the way, and the Mandalorian fled further in to the hangar. Riff saw his opportunity and ran towards the ship, a hail of blaster bolts flying over his head as the Mandalorian opened fire, with more of the guards coming to his aide. The Rogue turned back around, until it's walkway was facing him. The ship began to rise in to the air and Riff leapt up on to the walkway as it rose. He turned around to see the Mandalorian staring as the walkway slowly began to close. Then at the last moment, Riff saw it. His lightsaber was lying on the floor of the hangar a few yards away. He took a deep breath and reached out his hand, and the lightsaber flew to him, just as the door of the Rogue closed shut. Riff made his way to the bridge to see Dax and Ami, and the droid D7. "Introductions later, laserbrain!" Ami yelled before he had a chance to speak. "Hold on to your butts!" Then the ship lurched forward as it shot out of the hangar like a bat out of hell, flying low over the buildings of Nar Shaddaa. Shoraddik and Calen entered the room behind him. "Glad you made it." Calen said with a smile. "Let's get out of here.""We'll never make it through that blockade." Riff said. "Well, duh." Ami said from her chair. "We're not going through the blockade. We're staying right here on Nar Shaddaa.""What? They'll track us down!" Riff protested. "Chill out old man." Ami said. "We'll lose them through the city, and let Rogue's tech take care of the rest. Our static jammers are top notch. We can even replicate solar fluctation signals if we need to. But if we lose them and lay low, we can scramble our frequency, and then we'll just look like any other freighter on their scanners. Easy, right?""I...well that is quite impressive." Riff admitted. Then he tossed his lightsaber back at Dax. "Promise is a promise." "True. I promise the next time you take that from me will be the last time you touch anything again." Dax snarled at Riff almost like a feral beast then returned her attention to the console. Riff shook his head, but a hint of a smile spread across his face. "So what's going on? What are you two doing on Nar Shaddaa?" Calen asked . "Bit of a misunderstanding to tell the truth." Riff replied. "Or a series of misunderstandings.""You sent out a Republic distress signal, and The Empire is after you, and...well you're a Jedi. Don't pretend this wasn't your intention." Calen said "Calen..." Riff said with a soft sigh. "Let me guess, ex-military?""Republic Commando." Calen confirmed. "I served on Correllia, until the end of the war at least.""Well, Calen." Riff continued. "I'm not a soldier. I appreciate the assistance, but I don't want you getting any ideas.""The hell you're not!" Calen snapped. "I know who you are, General." "General?" Dax pulled herself from the console and almost felt like checking her hearing."That...was a long time ago." Riff said, his gaze falling to the floor. "It wasn't uncommon for Jedi Knights to lead forces as Generals. A formality, really.""With all due respect..." Calen said. "You're General Riff Suthra. Your efforts let Republic Troopers drop boots on Balmorra. You set the Imps plans back by 5 years.""I delayed the inevitable." Riff said. "And got a lot of men and women killed in the process." "Jedi and a General...? Well, doesn't surprise me. He's almost gotten me killed a half dozen times today and its not even dinner time yet." Dax smirked at Riff and hopped up onto a console. Just as she did, D7 let out a whoop of distress and Ami slammed her fist on her console."Karabast!" She exclaimed, "We've got a couple of bogeys on our tail.""TIE fighters..." Calen said as the horrendous wailing sound of their engines grew louder. "I prefer to call them 'target practice'." Ami said. "I can't lose a fighter in this ship. Shora, on the back gun. Calen, main gun.""Is she in charge?" Riff asked. "No, I'm in charge." Calen said. " she's right, I need to get up on the main gun." He added before running off down the ship. "We're not going to shake them on our own." Ami said frustratedly. "There's a shuttle attached in the back. It's been combat retrofitted with front facing artillery, and it can keep up with a TIE.""Well I'm not pilot." Riff said, scratching his head. "Good, you can take over for Dax. She's rubbish as a co-pilot anyway." Ami said, before turning to Dax. "If you can fly, and you can shoot, then get in that shuttle and show those Imps how it's done."
  7. Ivy and her vampires had procured a couple of large SUV's to make the trip to their larger facility. Violet, Meredith and Vincent piled in to the back of one of them, with Ivy at the wheel and in no time they were on their way. The drive was uncomfortably silent, and for the most part Vincent had stared out of the window as they passed through the streets under the cover of night. At some point, quite shortly in to the drive, he had drifted off to sleep. He had been fighting the urge, but eventually his body had given out. Another round of disturbing nightmares had followed. Nightmares consisting of memories that were not his own, memories of horrific events playing out in a time he assumed to be the dark ages. Occasionally he would awaken fitfully, but just as quickly he drifted back to sleep. And then he found himself sat at a table made of what looked to be glass. He looked around, and noticed th at he was sat in a courtyard constructed entirely of the same thing. It wasn't glass, he now realized, it was ice. The courtyard was furnished with a number of other tables like his own, each of them occupied by the beautiful men and woman he knew to be Sidhe. There were some other Fae creatures among them, a couple of Dryads, notable due to their plant-like appearance, and their hair consisting of leaves and petals. There were also a few Ogres and Trolls that had been somewhat comically dressed in suit trousers and tailcoats. The gathering was some kind of party, celebrating something he knew to be important, but he couldn't quite remember what it was. "You look a little uncomfortable." A voice said to him, a sweet and familiar one that made his heart attempt to climb up his chest. He turned to the woman sitting across the small table from him. She was a vision in a shimmering emerald dress that contrasted well with her long, red hair. He became instantly lost in her hazel eyes, and her distinct smell of summer flowers. "I know you don't like this fancy stuff but...well they tried really hard to make it a bit more normal for you." "Yeah, nothing says normal like a 15 foot Troll in a tailcoat." Vincent said sarcastically. "Look I appreciate the effort, Claire, really I do..." "Well then crack a smile for a change." She said with a smirk. "The gloomy boyfriend thing is real cute and all, but you're a daddy now. You need to smile, for our daughter." It was only at this point that Vincent had noticed the little baby wrapped in soft blankets that was sitting in Claire's arms. Why hadn't he noticed that before?" His heart began pounding. The love he felt for Claire, as strong as it was, it was nothing compared to how he felt about the little girl in her arms. He felt a smile spread across his face as he looked at the little treasure. His daughter. Little...what was her name? He couldn't remember her name. How could that be? He clutched his head as a sharp, constant pain exploded in his skull. It was agony. He felt like his brain was going to burst through his skull. white noise whistled through his ears and his world went white. He couldn't remember where he was. All he could think about was the pain. He felt the ground fall away from him, followed by a sensation of falling that made his stomach churn. He was falling forever, spiralling in to a white abyss. "Claire, darling, there you are." The voice brought Vincent back to the courtyard instantly. The pain was gone. Another Sidhe had approached the table. She was tall and slim, and dressed in an elegant but elaborate white dress, that shimmered and glinted like the ice that was all around them. The woman was pale, with long white hair with soft, wavy curls, and her emerald eyes were predatory and cat-like, and her lips a light shade of blue. The air became cooler just with her presence. "Izzy, are you enjoying the celebration?" Claire said, smiling brightly at the other woman. Looking at both of them, Vincent noticed their similarities. Although they had different coloured hair, and different eyes, their facial features were uncannily similar. "Bit of a bore, but not your fault, dear." She replied. "It takes a lot to get me excited these days. Oh, and how are you doing, Vincent?" "I'm just peachy, Isoleth." Vincent replied. "Thanks for, uh...making the place a little more...human?" "Well I did try is a really boring realm." Isoleth said with a soft shrug. "Still, we have to cater to family I suppose." "You hear that?" Claire said to Vincent with an amused grin. "She's calling you family now. Better watch out." "Oh, please." Isoleth said, "That little changeling in your arms sealed the deal. He's mine now." "I think you'll find he's mine, Izzy." Claire said, and she reached over and gently put her hand over Vincent's. "All that is Winter is mine, dear." Isoleth replied, and she looked once more at Vincent. "It's just a fact, you mustn't take it personally. It's not like I have any use for a silly mortal, wizard or not." "Well I'm feeling more special by the minute." Vincent said, rolling his eyes. There was another wave of pain, and then a flash of emerald light, that blinded Vincent. The air crackled with magical energy, and he could hear Claire screaming. He could hear the baby screaming. Something was hurting them, but he couldn't see. The anger of his helplessness built up inside of him. He felt rage like he had never felt before. He wanted so badly to go to them, but he could not. And then he felt a powerful chill wash over him. He began to shiver, the cold felt bracing, and more tangible than he had felt before. It felt real. ====== Vincent woke up in the back of the SUV, and found that he was shivering. He wasn't the only one, Meredith was sat next to him, rubbing her hands together for warmth. "Wh...what's going on?" Vincent asked "Not sure, it's some crazy blizzard." Ivy said from the drivers seat. Outside the car the roads were blanketed in snow, and the road ahead was barely visible. "A Louisiana?" Vincent asked. "We got severe weather warnings before the radio went out. Apparently it's happening all across the states. It started in Los Angeles." "What!?" Vincent gasped breathlessly. "Christmas came early this year." Violet added, with a weak smile. She had reformed what she referred to as her 'human suit' and looked like any other normal person, though with no discernible scars, marks or blemishes. Looking like a human was usually more helpful than an energy creature. Even in these strange times. "You alright?" She asked, inclining her head to examine him. "Weird dreams, not the time though." Vincent replied. "This isn't just a freak storm. This can't happen! It's too soon..." "Winter..." Meredith whispered. "This is the Queen's doing, isn't it?" "It started in L.A" Vincent said. "This is a message for me. Powerful as she is, she cannot directly use her power on mortals...but she can create one hell of a storm." "Is she that powerful?" Meredith asked. "Maybe not normally...but the balance of power hasn't moved to Spring as it should. The longer her reign lasts, the stronger she gets." "So when can we bust down her door and smoke her?" Violet asked, "I'm getting rather bored of all this running around." "Look at what she's done here!" Vincent growled. "This is just a fraction of what her true power is like inside The Fae! Do you have a deathwish?" Violet turned to look at Vincent, and it was clear she was not at the helm, "Vincent..." She chided him, yet smiled warmly all the same. "Be patient with us." Vincent sighed in frustration, still not entirely used to Zeal's occasional interruptions. "This blizzard isn't letting up." Ivy said from the front. "At this rate I don't think I'm going to make it to the facility." No sooner had Ivy finished speaking, had a large black cat appeared sitting on the dashboard. Ivy let out a surprised yelp, and the car screeched as she hit the brakes. The back of the car spun out of control, until they came completely off the road and crashed in to a pile of snow, stuck fast. "What the hell is that?!" Ivy yelled. "I am not 'that', I am Eldest." The cat replied in a horrible mewl, before turning it's head towards Vincent. "Wizzzard...It is not safe here." "Yeah, no shit!" Ivy yelled "You nearly killed us!" "Ivy, be quiet for a minute, please." Vincent said irritably, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. "Eldest...what's going on?" "Winter's wrrrath has come, Warrr is nigh." Eldest said grimly. "Time is up." "We need Lucia's support to fight Winter's forces. The Wise won't mobilise without it. To do that, we have to finish this." "Queen Aurora will wait no longer, Wizarrrd." Eldest mewled. "She will fight without the aid of mortals and the plagued ones." "What did you call me!?" Ivy snarled "Vincent..." Meredith said nervously. "Eldest, I never asked for your help. If you need to go back to your Queen then do so, I need to finish this." "Vincent!" Meredith said again. "What?" Vincent asked, turning to her. Meredith pointed her finger towards the road outside of the car. Vincent turned his head to see a black dog sitting on the side of the road. "Oh for fuck sake." Vincent snarled, and he got out of the car. He slammed the door behind him and stamped through the snow towards the dog, his temper soaring. "What, now!? What the fuck do you want from me now!?" He yelled, throwing his hands up in the air. "I'm doing what you asked! What can you possibly have to annoy me with now!?" "The Wise have fallen." The dog said in Acherus' voice. "Jeremy...he has betrayed us all." The words made Vincent's heart skip a beat. He went to say something but he was lost for words. "" He asked finally. "I do not know, yet. Something has...shifted. There are whispers in the shadows...old voices that have not been heard for millenia." "Speak english, for fuck sake." Vincent said harshly. "Something much larger is happening. Petty feuds have been set aside. The Wise are gone, and so I have taken matters in to my own hands." The black dog suddenly warped and twisted, shrouded in black smoke with glowing embers, and then from the smoke Acherus emerged, holding a mangled and bloodied corpse by the throat, in one hand. Vincent inspected the corpse, and he saw the pale skin, and the pointed canines. It was a vampire. "What the hell!?" Ivy said as she came out of the car. "You''ve killed him!" "Who is that?" Vincent asked her. "Are you kidding!?" Ivy said. "That's...Lassiter! Silas Lassiter!" She looked, surprisingly, upset at the scene. "Well...that's good right?" Vincent said. "This means we've done what we need to do." "You...don't understand." Ivy said, and she closed her eyes, and Vincent thought he might have seen her shed a tear. "What do you think they're talking about?" Violet asked, peering out into the snow. "I fancy a look." A moment later Violet waved to Acherus, "Hello again, lovely weather?" "I've finished your task on my own." Acherus said, ignoring Violet. "Lucia owes her service to me. I will make arrangements, as for you, well...." Acherus dropped the corpse to the floor. "I'm sending you back to your home. Get yourself ready, we'll need you shortly." " can one person take out every council member of The Wise?" Vincent asked. "I still live." Acherus pointed out. "This is not your concern for the moment. Winter is a far more immediate threat." "Right..." Vincent said with a sigh. It wasn't right at all, but there was no point arguing with a Dragon. Acherus took a deep breath, and then he puffed out another plume of black smoke, that engulfed Vincent, and everyone else. Suddenly they were tumbling through darkness once more, moving through the strange dimension of Acherus' dragon fire magic. Vincent hit hard floor and then his apartment whirled in to focus. He looked around, dizzy for a moment, and felt relieved when he saw that Violet, Meredith and Ivy had arrived safely with him. "What...was that?" Ivy asked, looking around the room. "Where are we?" "My apartment in L.A" Vincent replied. "And that was dragon's fire." "That guy was a dragon!?" Ivy gasped. "I thought they all died..." "He's the last one, as far as I know." Vincent said. Meredith walked over to the sofa and sat herself down. "I've never been so glad to be home." She said with a sigh. "I can't say I feel the same." Vincent said as he peered out of the window. The streets of L.A were blanketed in snow. He had never seen a blizzard as bad as this. The entire city must have been forced to a halt. Businesses would be closed, and nobody would be able to travel very far outside. If this kept up, there would likely be a growing mountain of casualties. A short moment passed by and then Eldest reappeared. "Wizzard...please alert me next time you decide to sail the rivers of time and space." "I didn't exactly get a choice." Vincent said. "Anyway you got what you wanted, Eldest. The Queen will get her support, minus a few of the most badass wizards I've ever known." "What a load of rubbish." Violet rolled her eyes, "'Dragon'? I've met more threatening lizards. Everyone is running around acting like they have the whole picture, pushing their agendas, meanwhile the Queen of Winter uses our in-fighting to her advantage." "That dragon is older than any of us, perhaps even older than your crazy mother." Vincent said. "He's a pain in the ass, but he's one I'd rather have on my side, that's for sure." Vincent wandered over to his apartment door and picked up the mail that was sitting by the door. "Vincent, I haven't heard from Lucia." Ivy said. "And I don't know where my men are. This isn't acceptable. I can't stay here." "I'm not stopping you from leaving." Vincent replied. "This is totally out of my control now." "If I don't hear from Lucia shortly, then I will be leaving, rest assured." Ivy said "Fine by me." Vincent said as he opened a letter addressed to him. Inside was just a single sheet of paper. He glanced over what was written, and then he felt a sudden chill. "Vincent!" Meredith said, standing up as she saw the colour drain from Vincent's face. Vincent looked up, and went to speak, but before he could, there was a flash and a screech, and then he was gone. "Vincent!" Meredith cried as she ran over to where he had been standing. In a panic she dropped to the floor and picked up the letter. When she read it she covered her mouth in shock. Tears welled in her eyes and she broke down crying. She dropped the letter on the floor. It read only a simple statement: 'The truth will emerge in Arctaeros.' ====== Vincent opened his eyes and found himself in complete darkness. He tried to move but he could not. His entire body was freezing, and he couldn't move and inch. He tried to summon his will, and managed to create an orb of light that hovered a few feet above his head. He looked down and saw why he couldn't move. He was completely encased in a thick layer of ice, rooted to the spot on a dark, stone floor. Memories of this place flashed through his head. He had been here once before, just after his whole world had been turned upside down. Five years ago he suffered here in ways he had never suffered before or since. It was, in his mind, hell. He fought the urge to cry. "Well, well..." A cool, sinister voice echoed through the darkness. "Five years...has it been that long? So nice to see you, Vincent." Isoleth stepped in to Vincent's light, she was dressed in a revealing number, consisting of an intricately patterned cloth that was held over her shoulders, and pinned around her breasts. A thin, translucent skirt hung loosely at her waist, and her white hair was pinned back and decorated with a crown of dark blue roses, with icy spikes protruding outwards in a fan shape over her head. Her emerald eyes glinted in the light, and she licked her blue lips like a hungry predator. "How did you do this!?" Vincent snapped "With a little help..." Isoleth said with a smirk. "I've been waiting for this for a long time, Vincent. I have waited for what is mine to be returned to me." "I am not yours!" Vincent yelled, fighting back tears. "I don't care what deal was made, I will never be yours!" "So you still have some fight, that's good." Isoleth said. "It would be rather dull if you'd given up already. But I am going to enjoy breaking you, Vincent. Do you know how?" "I don't care!" Vincent spat. "Just kill me and save yourself some time!" "Kill you?" Isoleth said, touching her lips for a moment. "Why would I do such a thing? My dear must receive a more fitting punishment for your crime. A crime that you have scrubbed from your own memory. I am going to make you remember it...and it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt so much. I can promise you that..."

    Nar Shaddaa's neon skyline disappeared as the Jade Centurion descended in to the hangar, and Riff let out a heavy sigh. He reached in to his robes, and there was a light clicking noise. He retrieved a cylindrical object made of smooth, stainless metals. Small gaps between the frame showed the complex inner workings of the object, and the length of it was wrapped in dark leather material, that looked old and worn. At it's head was a cylindrical hole that lead in to the inner parts of the machine, and judging by the way Riff held it, it was clear to be a hilt of a weapon. He held it in offering to Dax. "This will likely be taken as soon as we leave this ship." He explained. "Take it. On the slim chance that you make it out of here alive, then consider this the rest of my payment. I'd sooner you had it than the Hutts." "Is this a lightsaber?" Dax asked, taking the weapon. She held it in her hand, turning it over until she saw a small button and curiosity took the lead, she held the button down. A brilliant solid amber light surged from the end of the hilt with a surprisingly loud hissing crackle which faded into a dull thrum. "Slim chance i'm making it out alive?" Dax rolled her eyes at the Jedi, "Who do you think is walking out of there, old man? The noble jedi or the smuggler? This is Nar Shaddaa not Coruscant. This is worthless to me... So you better pay me the rest when we leave here." Dax lifted her finger from the button and the lightsaber instantly deactivated, appearing to recede into the hilt, then she stowed it and returned to Riff with an irritable sigh. "It's me they want." Riff replied stoically. "If you cooperate then they might let you go. Hutts are greedy and cruel, but much smarter than they are given credit for. Nations have crumbled and fell countless times, and the Hutt Cartels have always managed to keep afloat. Play your cards right and they'll see your worth, letting you leave unharmed might be considered a good investment." "This ain't my first rodeo, old man." Dax retorted, "I'm sure she'll be pleased to see me again." She flashed Riff a devilish grin and opened the hatch and lowered the walkway onto the docking bay. In a single graceful motion Riff pulled his hood back over his head and tucked his hands in to the sleeves of his robes. He moved quickly down the walkway, his head bowed and his pace steady, calm and non-threatening. It was a motion practiced over the course of his life, that had become natural to him. Jedi considered themselves peacekeepers, a notion Riff himself had found a little inaccurate. Underneath the loose fitting robes, he was a toned, strong man. Warrior was a better term for who he was, but he had been running for many years now. The sagely robes were his disguise, he found it much easier to move around as a kindly, harmless man. This particular situation was far from average, and when he looked to his future he saw that it was cloudy at best. He had to be patient. He stopped short of the well armed Gamorrean entourage that stood in formation, protecting their master who was a few yards behind. Veshka the Hutt was a large creature, her olive green skin covered in wrinkles and boils. A pair of large, frog-like eyes sat in the centre of a fat, shapeless head, with a thin and wide mouth underneath. She moved slowly along on her tailed body. Not that Hutts couldn't be quick. Riff lifted his head very slightly to meet her gaze, and she returned his while uttering something in Huttese. Dax noticed the lack of understanding on the Jedi's face, so she translated, "She says she is at our service, which is a load of rubbish. Last time she tried to--" Veshka spoke once more, she sounded irritable. Whatever she'd said clearly annoyed Dax because she replied in Huttese and the two of them seemed to argue until Veshka rose her voice and Dax fell quiet. Veshka spoke again and pushed Dax when she remained silent, pointing at Riff."She wants to know where your rebel friends are. " Riff furrowed his brow at the request. "Tell her..." he said, choosing his words carefully, "...Tell her I have no idea what she means. But assure her, that even if I did know, I would not tell her."Dax replied, speaking directly to Riff, as Veshka, "Jedi are clever. But no need to become my enemy, Riff Suthra." Veshka followed her statement with a rumbling laugh that sounded like she was half-choking on her own spit."I mean no harm to anyone." Riff replied directly to Veshka, lifting his head a little more so she could see his face. "But I have already told you, I don't know what you are talking about. It has been a very long time since I had any dealings with the military, I assure you.""You are not aligned with the rebels?" Veshka asked, she stroked one of her chins in contemplation. "Why are you here?""You know what I am." Riff said plainly. "The Core Worlds aren't safe for me. I move around the Outer Rim and Hutt Space, never stay in one place for too long. Keeping a low profile, I'm sure you understand.""A law-abiding citizen like me?" Dax replied for Veshka, but licked the inside of her cheek in irritation. "Speaking plainly, Jedi... you have brought a great deal of trouble in your wake. I don't like it when my business is interrupted." "Apologies" Riff said with a nod. "I have no desire to be detected. I'm assuming that is what has happened, however. How can I fix it? Everything can always be negotiated, can it not?" Veshka said something but Dax didn't translate. Footsteps approached, Veshka slithered to one side and a man in dark blue Mandalorian armor, complete with helmet and jet pack. "She said," The bounty hunter explained, "I found a bug planted on your ship, it belongs to the Empire." He showed the little device in his palm, then crushed it. Though at this point it was little more than an empty gesture."...This is my fault." Riff said, bowing his head. "I shouldn't have come. Do what you must, but please...let the Captain go. She didn't know." "It's true, it's entirely his fault." Dax added. Veshka said something to the bounty hunter and Dax tried to reach for her blaster but the Mandalorian only needed to raise his arm. "Feel like getting a tan?" He asked, his voice tinny through his helmet. "Considering it." Dax snarled, half frozen. Veshka laughed and said something that sounded suspiciously derogatory and then began to slither away. "You're coming with me. You're both guests of the Hutt." Dax felt a blaster press into her back. They were surrounded. As they walked Dax muttered to Riff, "Still happy you left your light stick behind, old man?" "Do you believe my lightsaber is what makes me strong?" Riff replied, and he extended his arms outwards in a gesture of submission. "Do what you must, Mandalorian. I will not struggle.""I think it would help." Dax muttered. "Quiet, both of you." The Mandalorian interrupted.Riff allowed himself to be restrained, and Dax as well, with perhaps a little more struggling. And the two were carried away by the Mandalorian. As he was walked further in to the facility, Riff could feel the dark side closing in around them. The Empire would be upon them eventually. Yet as he looked at Dax, and saw the fight in her, he felt also a glimmer of hope. Hope he had no felt in many years. ====== Deep within the vast cityscape of Nar Shaddaa, in a dark room lit only be the glowing lights and screens of computers, a little astromech droid with old, maroon painted metal, sat quietly, it's probe connected to one of the computers, slowly spinning around gathering the constant stream of data. Suddenly the little droid sprung to life, the lights on it's chassis blinking softly before staying on. It made a whistling noise to itself, as it removed the probe and backed up on it's treads. Whistling and beeping again it rolled off out of the room and up the long corridor, and then up the ramp that lead to Dusty Wompa, a cantina. Energetic pipe music played in the room as the droid rolled across it, dodging and weaving through the various patrons until finally it bumped against a nearby barstool, rousing the attention of the person sitting on it. "D-7..." The young man said as he looked down at the droid. He was a Zabrak with pale skin, and dark markings around his yellow eyes. Instead of hair, his head was adorned with short, curved horns. He was dressed in red leather trousers and black boots, with a dark brown pilots jacket over him. "...What's all the fuss about?" The droid whistled again in response, and the Zabrak's eyes widened in response. "Are you sure?" He asked. The droid beeped in a way that sounded a little irritable. "All right, all right." the Zabrak said with a nod. He got up from the bar stool and looked across the Cantina until he caught the eyes of two other figures. A young human girl, no older than 16, with a heavily freckled face and red hair, and a pair of goggles hiding her eyes. Sitting next to her was an enormous furry creature. The Wookie gave a pleasant rumbling cry across the Cantina, and the Zabrak waved his hand, urging them to follow. The trio followed D7 back down to the dark computer room, closing the blast door behind them as they all sat around the cramped room. The young girl was the first to speak. "What's going on, Calen?" She asked. "D7 picked up an odd signal." The Zabrak, Calen, explained. "Show them, D7." The droid gave another whistle and then sent it's probe back in to the computer. The speakers in the room crackled for a moment, and then gave out a static sound. The Wookie gave an annoyed growl and Calen frowned. "Quiet, Shoraddik. Listen closely..." he said. Shoraddik give a little huff and fell silent again. "Oh...I hear it!" The girl said with a smile. "Hidden in the's a signal, right?" She asked. "That's right, Ami." Calen said with a nod. "It's hidden in the ambient frequencies. It's an old trick used by the Republic to send secret messages." "The Republic!? Really?" Ami said with a grin. "You mean...someone that could help us?" "I'm not sure...but the signal doesn't say anything as far as I can tell." Calen said. "But we can track it back to the source. D7, if you please." The astromech beeped and whistled, and then fell silent for a brief moment. A light shone out from it, and the light projected cool, blue shapes in to the air around them. A hologram of the surrounding area of Nar Shaddaa appeared, and a red dot flashed at a location within the nestled hub of buildings. Shoraddik roared again in outrage, and Calen gave a heavy sigh. "That's Veshka's hangar, right?" Ami said. "But she's been helping the alliance bring in refugees...we haven't had any in months." "I think we have, Ami..." Calen said, his voice sounding angry, and a little choked up. " many has she hidden from us?" Shoraddik gave another reverberating growl. "Yeah, you're damn right we're going to do something about it." Calen said. "Spread the word, we're going to stop that low-down gangster...and save those people!"
  9. Mods?

    Considering activity is low, might be worth doing away with the graduation thing, since students might struggle to get someone to graduate them in a timely fashion.
  10. When they pulled up to Adelaide Main Street it was crawling with eager onlookers. The street had been cordoned off and as they pulled over two officers came to the car with umbrellas, handing them to Ryan and Rosa as they stepped out. Ryan thanked the uniform and stepped past the police tape and on to the street. In the light of the, admittedly, gloomy day, the street was quite picturesque. There was a small mom and pop diner on the corner, and many of the buildings has little bushes growing in planters on their window sills. The beat cops and the lab guys were gathered around the alley between a grocery store and a butcher shop. "What have we got?" Ryan asked as he walked alongside one of the uniforms. "Victim's name is Amy Schultz." The uniform replied. "The medical examiner put's the time of death some time between one and three am this morning." "How'd it happen?" Ryan asked. "It's probably better if you just look, Sergeant." The uniform replied. "All right then." Ryan said and he walked away from the uniform and stepped in to the alleyway. Amy Schultz, the victim, was lying on the ground like a ragdoll. She had a face like a doll. Dressed in a powder blue dress, her skin was almost white, her face clean of any make up she might have been wearing, the rain had seen to that. Her golden hair was soaked through, but Ryan imagined she was quite the looker in any other situation. Her stillness, however, gave him a horrible sensation in the pit of his stomach. He crouched down next to her, examining her body closely. The dress was stained with blood, but the sidewalk was wiped clean from the downpour. She had single stab wound in her stomach, just under her rib cage. He stroked his chin in consideration. The wound was thin and clean, but went deep. If it had been anywhere else she might have survived. "Hughes." He said to the bespectacled and balding man who was crouched over the body near him. Hughes was a medical examiner with the department. A specialist who dealt with Myths, so he was a familiar face in cases like these. "What have you got for me?" "Detective Ryan." Hughes said in a monotonous tone that suggested he was concentrating. "The rain's cleared up most of it. I'll need to confirm back at the morgue, but it looks like a single stab wound. Punctured lung, and she bled out quickly. Probably dead in minutes." "No weapon left at the scene?" Ryan asked. "No such luck." Hughes replied. "But here, take a look at this..." He said, and he carefully pulled on her dress up, revealing her underwear and most of the rest of her. Ryan gave an awkward shrug to show his discomfort, but he soon saw what Hughes was referring too. All up her right side of her torso were dark purple blotches. "She took a few punches." Ryan said, shaking his head. Old fashioned thinking, it might have been, but he didn't like the thought of anyone hitting a lady. "Funny thing is, the bruising is already set in." Hughes explained. "This probably happened a few hours before the murder, maybe longer." He added, before his eyes lifted upwards and he stared past Ryan. "Who's this?" "New partner." Ryan said, inclining his head to Rosa who was standing behind him. "Hughes this is Sergeant Rosa Drago. Rosa, this is Ernest Hughes, S.I's medical examiner." Rosa leant over the body, momentarily shading what used to be Amy Schultz from the onslaught of the rain. She heard the two men talking, but she only had eyes for Amy. She stared down at the girl and sighed. The loss of life was always sad, but she couldn't help but be hurt by the scene. This could have just as easily been her. Beaten, and left in the cold, bleeding to death, with nobody there to help her. Her jaw involuntarily clenched, as did her fists, and little droplets of blood ran out between her fingers. Rosa took a deep breath and told herself to shake it off."The blood hasn't had time to coagulate. It was recent, even in the rain, you can see her puncture wound is fresh. Her body is still pliant, rigor mortis hasn't set in." She lifted the girl's arm to show how easy it was to move, "And this wound, its a kill. The murderer knew where to aim, she didn't just bleed out." Rosa straightened up and then nodded to Hughes. "Good eye." Ryan said with a nod. "At first I thought it was maybe an accident, but the location of the wound. It's likely the killer knew what they were doing.""I'll still need to get her on the slab." Hughes said. "The rain and the cold has kept the body fairly fresh. I'll need to look further to get a more accurate time of death.""Hang on Hughes, I'm not done." Ryan said as he stood up, sweeping his gaze over the scene. The way Amy was positioned, it was clear she had come from the alley. But the wound was at her front, it was clear she locked eyes with her killer. He cast his gaze over the floor, and up the wall closest to her. He leaned across the wall and indicated the a few red specs along it. Blood. He bent down again and lifted the victim's left arm up, and found a graze on her elbow. "Looks like she hit the wall when she tried to struggle." He said. Then he indicated to her wrists. "No bruising, so her attacker didn't hold her. Think about that. The attacker came from the front, and she's tried to back off. Why did she move in to the wall? If it were me I'd back off to my right, where there's more room." "She was surprised..." Rosa muttered, sadly. "What?" Hughes yelled over the rain, unable to hear her."She knew the killer!" Rosa yelled back at him, "Look! No defensive wounds on her arms... she didn't run, because she knew them, she didn't think she was in mortal danger so she wasn't tryin' to run, she was backin' away. They pulled a knife on her when she was against the wall, when she couldn't run any more!""They is the word, Rosa." Ryan said. "It's just a hunch, but I think there was another walking alongside her, on her right. That's why she hit the wall. They boxed her in.""You're speculating, Sergeant." Hughes said irritably. "The woman was likely afraid. Perhaps she made a mistake. We can't confirm there is a second suspect just yet." "You stick with the science, Hughes." Ryan said dismissively. "I know people, and I know fear. Fear saves lives. If I'm right, and we don't do anything about it, we could be overlooking a whole other suspect. It's worth considering.""Possibly" Hughes sighed. "Now if you don't mind I need to finish here before they take the body away. The locals are getting a bit reckless.""Right." Ryan said with a nod. "Get the uniforms out canvassing. Talk to the locals, see if anyone saw anything last night. We've got work to do." And with that Ryan and Rosa left the scene and walked back out on to the main road. Before going back to the car Ryan made his way to a phone booth and called the station. After a few rings he heard Mickey's voice on the other end. "Mickey, It's Ryan." He said in to the phone. "You got the file for our victim yet?""Yeah, I got it." Mickey said. "Amy Schumer, Age 27. She's registered. A Siren, apparently. They're reported to have beautiful singing voices, quite irresistible to men.""Might be relevant, too early to tell." Ryan said. "Listen, I've got uniforms canvassing. Can you track down her place of work, maybe her family? Anyone suspect, bring them in for questioning.""Already on it." Mickey said. "Why don't you and Rosa go to her apartment and try and dig up some clues. Speak to the neighbors, see what they know.""Good idea." Ryan said with a nod. "What's her address?""Apartment 29, 221 Bankton Drive." Mickey said. "Bankton? That's up on the west side. What the hell was she doing all the way out here?" Ryan said"Do I look like a crystal ball?" Mickey said. "Go find out." he added, and then he hung up. Ryan closed the door after getting in to the car and waited until Rosa was sitting comfortably. "That was some good work. You worked homicide back home, right?""Yeah." Rosa replied, and looked at her palms. There were little puncture wounds, but they'd already stopped bleeding. She licked the wounds and pressed her palms together, "So what now?""We go to her place and see what we can dig up." Ryan replied. "Long drive, she lives up on the west side. Makes me wonder what she was doing down here in the early hours.""Right. Well let's get goin' then." Rosa replied. She cleared her throat, "What would she be doin' down here, then..." She thought aloud."All sorts." Ryan said. "Although, considering the circumstances, probably nothing good." He turned the key in the ignition and made way to Bankton Drive. Hopefully, they'd find some answers there.
  11. The rain was coming down so hard it swept the sidewalks clean. Thee figures stood at the exit of a dark alley way, their silhouettes illuminated by the street lamp a few yards down from them. Two of the figures were standing, and the other lay on the floor, with the stillness that only the dead could manage. Her face was obscured but no man ever had a set of pins like that. A crimson liquid flowed down the street, dancing in the light of the street lamp. The two other figures were stark opposites. One of the men was calm, collected, his face obscured by the pulled up collar of his trench coat, and his wide-brimmed porkpie hat tilted forward, obscuring his face in darkness. The other man was dressed in light blue jeans, a black leather jacket, with a white t-shirt underneath. His greased blonde hair was stuck to his head, soaked by the downpour. Unlike his companion, he looked nervous, on edge. "Th-this wasn't what you said would happen!" He said, his voice light and panicked. "Sometimes the unexpected happens. It's of no great concern." The other man said in a deep baritone, with no hint of care for the corpse he stood before. "Don't worry Carmichael, I'll make sure you don't take the fall for this." "But I didn't-" Carmichael began but the other man cut him off. "That's right." The calm voice said. "You weren't even here. So there's no need to worry. This won't make the papers anyway. Nobody in New Haven wants to hear about a dead myth." "She' of those freaks?" Carmichael asked. "I couldn't even tell." "That's kind of the point." The other man said. "You need to go along home now. If the police do visit you, be cooperative, but remember; you were never here, okay?" "R-right." Carmichael said hesitantly. "And what about you, Boss?" "Don't concern yourself with that." His boss said. Despite the circumstances he was down right charming. "Just forget this ever happened. Go on now." With a nod Carmichael left, and disappeared down the street. His boss took his time, considering the corpse of the young woman, before turning and disappearing in to the darkness of the alley. The girl was left, alone, the rain washing her clean, leaving only a pale, lifeless doll behind. ====== The morning sun only barely penetrated the tightly closed blinds of the New Haven Police Department's 13th Precinct. Rows of private offices with brown oak walls, and dust coated glass surrounded a large open space in the centre full of desks, all stacked with paperwork and files, and each with a single black typewriter, a dirty ashtray and old coffee cups. The residents of the bull pen were a lifeless sort this early in the morning. They sipped coffee, and smoked cigarettes, as they lazily scanned the files on their desks, trying to switch on their brains for the day. There were three men currently at their desks. Nearest the door was Lieutenant Michael Maguire, Mickey to his friends. He was on the wrong end of 40, with slicked back silver hair, and a prominent flavour saver. He was dressed in a white shirt and a silver tie, with grey trousers and braces pulled up over his chest. The sleaves of his shirt were pulled up, and the man had enough hair to be mistaken for a well-dressed gorilla. Mickey was a tough but fair type. He was old enough to know when to lay down the law, but not so long in the tooth that he'd forgotten what it was liked to be in the trenches. As far as a boss went, he was all right. A good cop, too. The desk to his left was occupied by Sergeant John Rawlins, almost as old as Mickey, but he looked older. He was balding but had rather ungracefully chosen to comes a few remaining strands over his bald spot. He was a chubby fellow, a little red in the face, and his grey three piece suit was a little too small for him, the buttons looking ready to burst at any moment. Rawlins gave a heavy sigh as he sipped from his coffee cup, and then a little rumble came from his chest, his acid reflux acting up again. "You need to stop putting sugar in your coffee, John." Mickey said with a soft chuckle. "Ah don't you start." Rawlins replied, his voice a southern drawl. "Edith's got me on that sweetener crap at home. Shit tastes like I've got seltzer in my coffee." "Edith's a good gal, John. She's just looking out for you." Mickey said. "Enjoy it while you have it. Divorce is no picnic. Two kids I only get to see on weekends, and you should see the numbers on my alimony cheques." "Heh." Rawlins chuckled and shook his head. "That's what you get for bustin' yer ass in this place, hm?" "Married to the job, as they say." Mickey said with a nod. "Of course it's easier just to not get married like that bum." Mickey inclined his head to the desk in front of him, that was positioned to face his. "How's the single life at 39, eh Ryan?" The third man looked up from the file on his desk. a half burned cigarette sat loosely in between his index and middle finger. He glanced at Micket and put down the case file in front of the name plate at the front of his desk that read: Sergeant Nick Ryan. He was dressed in a well fitted white shirt and a navy blue pinstripe three-piece, the jacket thrown over the back of his chair, and his waistcoat buttoned up around his white shirt. His dirty blonde hair was slicked back over his head, neat and tidy. He was clean shaven, and smooth skinned, but his eyes were dark from lack of sleep, and he'd been drinking his coffee with a little bourbon to take the edge off. His steely blue eyes, however, looked sharp and strangely observant as he looked at Lieutenant Maguire. "Wouldn't you like to know, Mick." He said in a cheeky sort of way, taking a drag from his cigarette. "Which one d'you want to hear about first? Angie? Grace? Jade? That's just this month..." "One of these days yer gon' fall in shit, and for once, ye ain't gon' come out smellin' o' roses, boy." Rawlins said with a wheezy chuckle. "That'll be the same day you lose 30 pounds, Rawlins." Ryan replied with a smirk. "Oh, so when hell freezes over!" Mickey added, and the three men fell into a raucous laughter that seemed to go on for a couple of minutes or more. Then a door slammed shut and the laughter was sucked out of the room in the blink of an eye. When the door to the department slammed like that, there was only one person coming in. Heels clacked along the corridor in a military fashion, and all three men straightened up and hurried to look busy, rustling papers and pretending to read case files. A woman emerged in the bull pen dressed in the military fitted blue dress suit uniform of the NHPD, complete with the stripes and pins that marked her status within the department. The woman was middle aged, her face a wrinkled frown, her blonde hair tied up in a tight bun. Captain Enid Mayes was a stern, ball-buster of a Captain. Nobody blamed her really, it was tough for a woman in this line of work, and she was the only woman in the city to ever make Captain. Some might have found this quite an achievement, but Mayes found it a bitter insult. You see, she was Captain of the 13th Precinct's Special Investigations Department. The only one of it's kind. A special department assigned all manner of cases involving the rarely spoken shame of New Haven. The 13th Precinct S.I dealt only in cases involving Myths. It had only been 8 years since Myths had become common knowledge to human society. Most people liked to pretend they didn't exist, and others made it their duty to actively hate them. It was rare to find people who would be accepting of them. Ryan sort of understood. Vampires, Werewolves, they were the ones people had heard of. But all manner of strange people now lived in New Haven City, part of some Federal initiative to register all Myths and keep them in a controlled space. New Haven just happened to be that space. When Mayes had made Captain, she had been placed in control of the S.I department, she thought, as some kind of cruel joke. Everyone in the force had considered the department either a laughing stock, or a kind of embarrassment. Most people didn't care about the Myths, as long as they stayed out of sight. What a fitting reward for New Haven's first female Captain. In time the cops who worked at S.I were called the 'Black Cats', some kind of attempt at a joke. However they had come to own it in their own way, and often laughed about it. All accept the ever-serious Captain Mayes. The chip on her shoulder would probably never wear down. She cast her intense gaze over the bullpen, but said nothing. "Good morning, Captain!" Mickey said brightly, being the highest rank aside from the Captain, it was his responsibility to dive in first and save his men from the first onslaught. "I daresay that's still to be decided, Lieutenant." Mayes said in a very clear and precise way, her tone just a little shrill. "This office is in a sorry state. What a way to greet our new staff member." "That's today?" Ryan asked, and then let out a sigh, immediately regretting his action. "Perhaps you would have remembered, Sergeant, if you had gotten a decent nights sleep for a change. I can smell the bourbon from here." "Sorry, Captain." Ryan said meekly, pretending to sip coffee from his now empty cup. "Your new partner is just downstairs signing in. She'll be up in a moment, so I suggest you look sharp." Hayes said. "I'll be sure to be real presentable for the rookie, Captain." Ryan assured. "Sergeant, once again you are mistaken." Mayes said. "Your new partner has been on the force longer than you have. Her record is exemplary compared to your own, although I suppose that's hardly a stretch." "Uh, great." Ryan said with a forced smile, before muttering. "God help me if this dame is anything like you..."
  12. Mods?

    Also still around, but only really for private rping.
  13. When Violet had planted her hand in his chest, Vincent felt an enormous pressure building in his head. He felt like screaming, but no noise came out. His vision blurred, and then was washed away to an endless, blinding white. Time seemed irrelevant, had he been like this for minutes? Hours? Day, even? All he could see was white, and all noise was drowned out by a high pitched whining noise that reminded him of the few times he'd experienced tinnitus. And then, as quickly as it had happened, it was all over. Violet and Meredith were looking at him expectedly. "Ready to go?" Violet asked with a smile. Vincent blinked twice, and then held his free hand up to his face, flexing his fingers. He felt a strange tingling sensation all over his body, and when he pushed out his will he felt the thrum of magic had returned to him. He also felt decidedly lighter, but also quite odd. "Let's go." He said finally, and the platform they were standing on began to move on it's own, apparently at Violet's command. Vincent sat himself down on the moving platform with his legs crossed, and looked up at Meredith. "Circle, please." He said. Meredith nodded, and began to cast her magic. A blue ring of light appeared on the platform around him, an illusion conjured by Meredith's magic. Vincent sent his will in to the circle, and began to concentrate. "What are you doing?" Meredith asked. "Running interference." Vincent said. "Actually, you can help. Get in the circle." Meredith increased the range of the circle illusion so it covered her as well, and allowed Vincent time to re-apply his will. She sat down on her knees and sent her own will in to the circle, and felt the familiar sensation that she could only describe as a link being activated. She waited quietly for Vincent to instruct her. "Just focus on your own breathing, and my voice." Vincent said. She took slow, methodical breaths, regulating her breathing as she had done so many times before, although never whilst hovering above a sea of zombies. "Now let your will extend outwards." Vincent said. "Sense with your will, let it just wander, allow it to take in everything around you." "Okay..." Meredith said uncertainly. Vincent waited for a moment. "Can you sense that?" He asked her "Yeah...I think...oh...Vincent, no!" Meredith said with a gasp, holding her hand to her mouth. "You can't!" "Meredith...their just shades, not the real thing." Vincent explained. "You know this." "But...I can feel them." Meredith said, her eyes tearing up. "They're in so much pain. You're hurting them." "Don't get upset, Meredith. They're not people, they're not even alive, they're just..." Violet rolled her hand around on her wrist as if cycling for the end of her thought, "I don't know, but spilled milk and all that." She rolled her eyes, but then suddenly her demeanour changed and she knelt down besides Meredith and put her hand on the girl's shoulder, "We understand." She added, "But it is necessary." "Meredith, I need you for this." Vincent said patiently. "All my attention is on calling them forth. I'm essentially ringing a big bell, getting them to look through the void and focus on us. I need you to help them cross. Let them see their corpses. They have to see what you can see." "I..." Meredith said tearfully. "I don't think I can." " can." Vincent said, and he looked her in the eyes for a moment. He felt something pull at him, something otherworldly, and he looked away at the last moment, before he was trapped in a soulgaze with the young girl. That was the last thing he needed right now, for Meredith to be carrying all his baggage around in her head, or him carrying hers for that matter. "I'll try." Meredith said finally, and the anger in her words felt like someone had felt like a knife in his gut. He hadn't quite realised until that point, that somewhere down the line he had began to care for Meredith a great deal. The thought of her hating him, well, it didn't bear thinking about. He continued with his spell, and allowed Meredith to do her part. As they continued, a tension began to build in the air. When spirits were present there was always an odd sensation, even ordinary mortals could feel it somewhat. This was the very same feeling, but turned up by an order of magnitudes. There was a buzz in the air like static, and slowly a cosmic wind began to blow, as spirits manifested en masse, tearing apart the barrier between this world, and The Void. A horrendous, screeching, cacophany of noise filled the air, as wisps and shades materialized, and swarmed around in the air, appearing and disappearing through The Void, their skin and clothes transluscent. Men and women in clothing of ages passed took to the battlefield, outraged by the forms of corpses rising again. They swarmed each of them with menace, their cold ectoplasmic forms passing through the creatures, tearing at the magical bindings that tied them to their master. The gunfire became much more frequent, the vampires no doubt confused and startled by the emergence of ghosts as well. The spell complete, Vincent stood up and went to help Meredith, but she would not move. She sat on her knees, tears streaming from her eyes. The knife in his gut twisted. "Violet, you can let us down now." He said. Slowly they descended to the ground, and the platform disappeared. All around them, zombies had began dropping to the floor like flies, the magical bonds holding them upright torn away by the terrifying power of angry and vengeful spirits. "Meredith, you have to get up, we need to keep moving." Vincent said. "No, you can't just leave it a mess like that." Meredith bit back. "You can't just leave this mess in your wake. I'll stay here, and settle them." "It's not safe." Vincent said with a frown. "No, where you're going isn't safe." Meredith replied. "Just go." "Okay." Vincent said with a nod. He looked out in to the emptiness. "Eldest." He called out. The black cat appeared from nothingness and looked around at the remaining spirits that were swooping and shrieking overhead. "Quite the display, Wizzzard." Eldest mewled. "Guard Meredith with your life, understand?" Vincent ordered. "A poor use of my talents." Eldest said indignantly. "But it shall be done," "Good." Vincent said with a nod. Then he and Violet pressed on through the street, now littered with corpses. As they moved through the dark street Vincent had realised the drumming had stopped. He supposed continuing would be quite pointless if there were no zombies to control. But it had only been a temporary measure. If he was given enough time, he would most assuredly be able to enthrall the corpses once more, and have them rise again. As they pressed ahead Vincent flexed his fingers and turned to Violet. "I feel...weird." He said. "I guess it's like when you put the wrong type of oil in your car. I mean it's magic's not mine." "It's yours now. Just give it time to settle in." Violet replied, "Once I get the hang of it, i'm hoping to reduce possible side-effects. It worked a lot better this time, I was pretty sure on what went wrong last time." "Last time?" Vincent asked. "Yeah." Violet replied, with a sheepish smile. "Last time I tried to do that, it didn't go to plan. But I'm pretty much 100% sure on what happened, so don't worry." "Who was it last time, Violet?" Vincent clarified. "I don't know. I didn't get the chance to find out. They were hurt and I tried to help them, is all." Violet replied, slightly annoyed at Vincent's accusatory tone. "So you didn't just come straight back to see your dear old brother when you returned then?" Vincent pressed further, but he quickly shook his head. "Now's not the time. Your business is your business. Sorry, I'm just tired. Truth be told I've been tired for about a year." "Actually, I did. More or less. I was trying to help someone in the Void, but that doesn't matter now... look, I know i'm not perfect, and i'm pretty much a vampire for all intents and purposes, and... I share my body with another part of myself, which is a cat rabbit something... but despite all the weirdness... i'm also more confident in who I am. I'm happier... for the most part. I feel like i've been stumbling through life with blinkers on until now, so maybe just be happy for me." "You're right." Vincent said with a nod. "I'm just deflecting. It's myself I'm mad at. All this bad shit keeps happening, and every time it does I make another compromise. Another exception. I might not have broken any laws, but I've sure as hell skirted the line." "You've always enjoyed living dangerously, Vince." Violet replied, "You just don't see it like that." Violet let out a long sigh, "Well it took a while, but I suppose i'm right there with you in that regard." She laughed, awkwardly. "If it makes you feel any better there are other advantages to being a cosmic wizard assassin..." She looked at her brother, "I can read in bed with the light off." Violet grinned at Vincent and continued on. Their conversation was cut off by the sound of more gunfire up ahead. "Come on!" Vincent said, and they went off at a sprint. They took a right on to Race Street and crossed the road to the small park, where flashes of muzzle flare illuminated the darkness. When Vincent run up on to the grass he held his cane forward and shot ethereal blue light overhead, illuminating the park. Ivy was moving across the grass like a blur. Two of her men lay dead, and the others weren't anywhere he could see them. Ivy was carrying a pistol, firing expertly at a dark skinned man, who was completely bald, and dressed in a simple tan coloured shirt, and torn, blue jeans, and sandals. As she reached him she swung a kick with inhuman speed, and the dark skinned man blocked it as if swatting a fly. Ivy swung at him with her pistol and fired at point blank, but the dark skinned man seemed to have completely avoided it. Vincent opened his wizards sight, and he saw what had made the man so resilient and fast. An aura of dark smoke emanated from the man. A familiar sensation crawled up Vincent's skin. This man was the voodoo witch doctor they were after, and he was channelling the dark energy of the Loa, Baron Samedi. "Violet!" Vincent called. "That's the guy! We need to take him out, now!" "Right. Let's not mess about then." Violet replied, and pointed her forefinger at the witch doctor. Without a moment's pause, a tiny jet of light burst from the end of Violet's finger and shot towards the witch doctor's head at an imperceivable speed. The shot connected with the witch doctor and the impact sent him off of his feet and in to the air, before crashing in a heap on the ground. "Fucking hell..." Vincent whispered, in disbelief. That seemed a bit easy. But he had clearly spoke to soon. The witch doctor rose to his feet once more, the hole in his skull still smoking. He glared at Violet, but didn't say a word. Ivy saw this as an opportunity and appeared at his back in a blur, her hands fastening around his head, yanking hard and snapping his neck like a twig. She smirked in satisfaction, but it quickly turned to a frown, and she saw the man blink at her, even with his head facing the wrong way. Then with an effort of will, his form was engulfed in a white light, the light of faith. The light burned the vampire and she recoiled in horror, screaming as she fled in to the darkness. The witch doctor grabbed his head, and with a sickening crack he twisted his head back round, and looked back towards Vincent and Violet. "Now that the devil's spawn has been dealt with, it is time to deal with both of you." He said calmly. "I am Giconi, and I serve my master, Baron Samedi. I have nothing against you wizard, I am simply destroying these creatures as is my master's will." "I'm afraid I can't let you do that." Vincent said, putting on his cocky demeanor in front of the enemy. "How about you try me on for size, I assure you a little holy magic won't do shit against me." "Arrogant." Giconi replied, shaking his head. "You do not even comprehend the power my master wields. I am but his vessel, but I am loyal, and I will not die by your hand on this night." "God, why is it that every time someone like you opens your mouth to speak, you sound like the Cobra Commander delivering a victory monologue...?" Violet rolled her eyes at the witch doctor, "Any thoughts, Vincent?" "Just one." Vincent replied. "Keep him busy!" He held out his cane towards Giconi. "Ignus Magna!" He roared, and there was a loud bang as white hot fire shot from his cane like a cannon, scorching the grass as the giant ball of fire careened towards Giconi. The witch doctor raised his right arm, and the flame exploded around him, engulfing him completely. But the fire began to pull inwards, slowly dissipating as Gicono inhaled it in to his own mouth, his eyes giving off an orange glow. When he had consumed the last of it there only remained black smoke and scorched grass around him. "Uh...well, fuck." Vincent said. "Hi, i'm supposed to keep you busy - game of hot potato?" Violet asked, creating a heavy dark blue light in her hand that formed into a glass object, "Catch!" She yelled, and threw it at Giconi and then flew into the air, distancing herself from the imminent explosion. Vincent saw the explosion before he heard it. Blue energy lit up the sky, engulfing the part of the park where Giconi stood, sending dirt and rocks scattering every which way. Vincent had to raise his charm barrier to deflect the rocks coming his way, and when the energy finally settled there was only dirt, and rock left behind in a large crater, and Giconi stood within it. His skin was charred to a crisp but healing rapidly, and his expression was one of extreme disappointment. "Are you quite finished?" He asked, gently dusting off his charred clothing, as if it would do any good. Now practically bare chested, Giconi stepped out of the small crater and advanced on Vincent, holding his hand out with an open gripping motion. He began to chant words in a language Vincent didn't understand, and suddenly Vincent felt like the temeprature had dropped to below zero. Black smoke emerged from Giconi's outstretched arm and snaked towards Vincent like a living thing, clawing through the air like the energy that had sapped him of his magic back in The Void. Vincent raised his barrier once more, and at once the black smoke was repelled, but continued pressing up against the barrier. Vincent's wrist burned with pain as his charm bracelet turned white hot, and he cried out as the trinket suddenly sparked and shattered, falling from his wrist, and his barrier shattered. The black smoke engulfed him and he fell to his knees, gasping for breath as he had done before. The horrifying sensation washed over him and he began to panic. Nothing he had done had so much as put a dent in Giconi. He felt so weak and intimidated. He didn't stand a chance. Violet's eyes shone through Giconi's black smoke, and she flew at him without reservation. Both her fists glowed as she channelled energy into them and with a cry, she threw forward her fists and released two enormous balls of concentrated energy. The mass looked almost as dense as dark matter and it seemed to warp the air around it. It wasn't incredibly fast moving, but Giconi had extended his will too far to swiftly adapt to the projectiles. The first ball of energy gently passed through his right shoulder and everything from shoulder to his entire right arm disintegrated in a second, leaving nothing behind. Giconi wailed as the second orb was almost upon him, and this one was dead centre. Giconi fell to his knees as his chest began to crumble away, and the black smoke retreated inside him. Giconi lay still, nothing but a husk, but the black smoke danced around him, clearly hard at work. Vincent coughed and spat on the ground, tasting copper in his mouth. The fact the smoke had retreated with Violet's assault meant that they had found a weakness. Clearly the dark energy of the smoke was what kept Giconi resilient to attacks, and it was already well at work to repairing it's vessel. Their time was short, and Vincent was once again exhausted, having been attacked for a second time by the consuming powers of the Loa. Still on his knees he put a hand to the inside of his coat pocket, and pulled out the leather bound book, The Grimoire. "Damn it..." he cursed as his grip tightened around the book. His entire body trembled. Vincent had not dared open the book since Violet had been trapped within a dream world. The experience had left him with a year of horrific nightmares, and the small piece of knowledge he had absorbed had felt like a sledgehammer against his skull. And yet now, he would do it again. He closed his eyes, trying to control his fitful tremors. And then, slowly, he opened the book. === Vincent found himself still on his kness, but he was aware that the ground beneath him had become hard and cold like stone. The room around him was dark, with an eerie green light. The large stone walls were covered in moss, and the air smelled of damp, and sulfur. "Asher." He coughed weakly. "Asher...are you there?" "He is not." A voice replied, a female one, that sounded vaguely british. "Where is he?" Vincent asked breathlessly. "I need him. That's how this is supposed to work, right?" "It is." The voice replied, sounding slightly amused. "At least it would, if Asher was who you required." "What are you talking about?" Vincent asked. Footsteps echoed across the stone, and a pale slender hand gently caressed his chin, and lifted his head so he could look at the woman. Her skin was pale, and unblemished, her hair jet black and frizzy with curls. She was wearing a dark red lip stick. and her eyes were the same emerald green as his own. She rose to stand at her full height, revealing a slim frame wrapped in a dark green bodice, a black cloak draped over her shoulders, and her legs covered by a flowing, black skirt. "Dear child, when you spoke with Asher it was because you sought wisdom about the Grimoire." She said quite matter of factly. "As the creator of the book he holds the most knowledge in that particular avenue, and so it is he that you spoke with." "And why are you here?" Vincent growled, growing irritated my the woman's tone. "Because you seek the knowledge that I hold, the knowledge of..." The woman paused for a moment, touching her lip with her index finger. "...Power." She said the word as if it's very sound filled her with immeasurable delight. "You seek power Vincent. Power to destroy your foes by any means necessary." "Thats....that's not what I want." Vincent replied. "I just want a solution to this problem, this one right now. No more, no less." "Yes, you do like to tell yourself you're a good little boy, don't you Vincent?" The woman said with a smile. "But I would not be here unless you wanted what I offer. And I offer power, in it's purest and greatest form." "Who are you?" Vincent asked. "Ah, a good question." The woman said as she turned from him, wandering the length of the room. She passed by each of the glass containers on the wall, her fingers dancing over them, as she examined each of the sleeping entities within. "I believe I have many names in your time. Granted many believe me but a simple fairy tale, but I am still known. My name is said in many ways, and in many tongues, although I particularly like the 'Morgue'. But you will know me as Morgana." "Morgana?" Vincent almost choked. "As in the Morgana? Morgana Le Fey?" "The very same." She said with a toothy grin. "So...King Arthur, and Merlin...all that stuff happened?" Vincent asked. "Ugh, Merlin." Morgana shook her head. "Stuffy old coot. I blame him for why our kind are in such a story state in this day and age. The Order of The Wise, indeed. He always did think a lot of himself." "Merlin was in The Wise?" Vincent asked. "He founded it, silly." Morgana replied. "He liked keeping ones like us in line. He was scared of another me, I suppose." "You're a dark wizard, then." Vincent said. "Oh don't insult me." Morgana hissed. "Dark Magic is simply what you call the magic you don't understand. It drives most mad, eats away at them. Quite pathetic, really. Most can't handle real power. You and I, well we are different. We are Hallowed, after all." "I still don't even know what that means." Vincent said, and he pulled himself slowly to his feet. "It means we are better." Morgana explained. "We are pure. We alone can harness the untempered nexus of this world to it's fullest capabilities. Well, the only mortals at least." "Sounds pretty arrogant to me. That's how the Sidhe talk." Vincent said with an accusatory glare. "Well they do call me Le Fey, don't they?" Morgana said with a smirk. "They're not as bad as you think. Winter are a horrible lot, not the best side to make friends with." "I doubt Summer are any better." Vincent said. "Not better, but quite different, perhaps you shall see one day." Morgana replied. "If you survive, that is. It would be a terrible shame if you died now. Especially since your sister went and cast her gift aside." "I'd do it myself if I could." Vincent said venomously. "Oh but you can, you can just let yourself die." Morgana said. "It is of no huge loss. There will be others to take your place." "Others?" Vincent asked. "Who?" "At least one, that you know of, and thus I know of." Morgana said with a smirk. "But that conversation is not one you should be having with me. You need me to give you power." "I won't use dark magic." Vincent said flatly. "Oh please, still going on about that." Morgana said, waving her hand dismissively. "Those Wise have really done a number on your generation haven't they? I have already told you, Vincent, you are different. The rules do not apply to you." "They do if I chose to live by them." Vincent snarled, his eyes narrowing. "If I compromise there, then where will it end? What would I become? It's not something I could ever take back." "You are quite correct." Morgana said. "Power is very alluring. But it is your birth right to wield it. If anyone can do so without fear, then it is you." "I won't!" Vincent snapped. "I won't use that kind of power!" "Then why are you here?" Morgana asked. "We can go round and around for days, but the fact remains. You stand here before me, because in your heart of hearts it is what you desire. I mean...why would I care? I am very much dead, and have been for a very long time. All that is left is my knowledge, here in the hands of a mere child. You are so much like your father." "Shut up!" Vincent roared. "I am not like him! He was a coward! He ran away and got himself killed. Meanwhile I sacrifice all of my principals for the people I love!" His hands balled in to fists, his arms shook with rage. "I'm so sick of dealing with his shit! He burdened me with all of his fucking responsibility! He even burdened me with this god damn curse! My whole life I just thought I had a knack for running in to trouble! But it's not me, is it!? It's this fucking Hallowed bullshit! It happens to all of us, doesn't it!?" Morgana paused for a moment, for once she was not smiling, and she bit her lip as she contemplated her words. Finally she said, "Yes, dear boy. That is the case." She gave a sigh. "It's unpleasant, at times. I won't tell you that it is all for the greater good, or that you are destined to be a hero. It would just be sweet lies, and you would know it to be untrue. But it is none the less the power that you wield." "Well I dont want it!" Vincent cried, and he really was crying. Tears finally began to fall, after holding it back for so long. For years he had held it back. The person he had been was now, in his mind, so cracked and broken that it was barely recognizable. He had lost so much, he had lost his father, his daughter, and his only love. For a time he thought he had even lost his sister. And when she had returned he had greeted her with scorn. He couldn't even allow himself to feel joy at having a loved one any more. It was too hard when he inevitably lost them. "Vincent." Morgana said softly. "If you love them so much, then what are you waiting for? You know what you must do." "But..." He breathed. "I...don't want to give up who I am." "But you must." Morgana said, and she approached him, once again caressing his face. "Change is what shapes us. You are so broken, because you have not allowed yourself to change, to become something new. Your sister said as much to you, she's been saying it to you since she returned. You have been fighting her because she has changed. But you must see how happy she is, because she took that brave step. And now you must." "This isn't the same." Vincent protested. "I'll become something I hate...If I just give in, I'll become something people fear." "And so people should." Morgana said with a nod. "Sorcerers have become so dull in your time, hiding themselves away. There was a reason we were feared back then. We are a very frightening thing, you especially. That is why The Wise keep their claws in you, and try to limit you. Even they are afraid of what you might become." "And how does that make it any better?" Vincent asked. "That just gives me more reason not to." "Perhaps." Morgana nodded. "But you are one of the few who can master your power, even the great and terrible kind. You just need to accept who you are, and believe that you can." "I..." Vincent hung his head in shame. "I can't...I can't just make myself feel differently with the snap of a finger. It doesn't work that way." "Well...there is another option." Morgana said, and a smile returned to her lips. "You won't like it though." "Will it allow me to defeat this guy?" Vincent asked. "I would like to think so." Morgana said with a nod. "Although I hasten to add that you could have done that anyway. You have used what you might call "Old Magic" before. When you killed the Queen, and once before that." " I haven't." Vincent said. "When?" "Ah..." Morgana said hesitantly. "How strange. I am sorry, but I am afraid that when you shared your consciousness, you did share all of it. Even the part that is locked away from yourself. I would love to tell you but...memory is quite a delicate thing. It is something you will have to figure out for yourself." "Great, more bullshit." Vincent said with a sigh. "So what is this other option. My magic is all tapped out, I can't use anything too powerful." "Vincent, dear child." Morgana said, shaking her head. "You are not a vessel in which magic is stored. You are a conductor, you simply have to draw in more, and rather more quickly than you would naturally. It is not difficult when you know how." "Then show me." Vincent said. "That is exactly what I have been suggesting." Morgana said, rolling her eyes. "That is the other option. Allow me to do what you cannot. I will show you how it is done, show you what you can do. And then, if you choose to do so again, you will know how." "That sounds..." Vincent scratched his head. "Damn it...I don't have a choice. Fine. One time only." "Marvelous." Morgana said. "It has been a while since I stretched my legs..." === Giconi finally stood up, once again fully restored by the power of his master. His attention turned to Violet, who was up and ready to fight, but she was tiring, and Giconi was confident that she would not have the power to defeat his master. A dangerous creature she may have been, but she was still a fledgling, whereas his master was nothing short of a God. He advanced on her, chanelling his master's energy. This time he would take her power, like he had taken the wizard's. He was down, and no longer a threat to his master. He need only repeat the process with this one, and then he would continue his mission. "Well, well..." Giconi turned at the sound of the voice. Vincent was standing, and he looked quite calm and confident, a soft smirk on his face. "...Don't you just feel oh so clever, hm?" Vincent said, and Giconi noted that he seemed to be putting on a british accent, for some reason. "Give up. You have already been beaten." Giconi said. "Really? I think I am going to have to disagree with you there." Vincent said, and he lifted his cane, looking at it with a raised brow, before casually tossing it aside, as if it were no more than a trinket. "America, is it? Very warm here." He said to himself, and then focused back on Giconi. "So, like I was saying. You appear to think yourself rather clever? Allowing yourself to be enthralled by you even know what it is, actually? Loa spirit. Well if it makes you happy. A demon, is a demon, is a demon. All the same to me." "Baron Samedi is no demon. He is the Keeper of the Dead. And he demands respect." Giconi said angrily. "Well he would tell you that, wouldn't he?" Vincent said, sahking his head. "You see you can never trust a demon. Harnessing it's power, now that is quite commendable. But you have made a most grave error, well, two actually." "And what would that be?" Giconi asked. "Well first, you picked a poor opponent." Vincent said simply. "But I suppose the worst of it is you allowed the demon to control you. You never let the demon control you. Let me show you how it is done. Azog, Shiggurath, come." Vincent snapped his fingers and on either side of him the ground suddenly erupted in an emerald flame. Two forms began to manifest from the fire. The creatures were almost identical, both of them large and moving on all fours, with beedy emerald eyes, and a horrific maw of sharp needle like teeth, each of them slobbering, their tongues hanging out like beasts. Their skin was a black, and coated in greasy, matted fur. Black iron armour coated their shoulders and chest, and each of them had a chain tied around their neck, with the other ends sitting in Vincent's hands. "What are these creatures!?" Giconi spat. "They are demons. I think I made that quite clear." Vincent said casually. "They are very, very old, much older than the one inside you. But most importantly, they are mine." "Then I will destroy them, along with you!" Giconi yelled, and he thrust his arm out, summoning the black smoke as he had done before. The smoke snaked towards the two demons, and Vincent shook his head in disappointment, before letting go of the leads. "Time for dinner, boys. Off you go!" He said, and in response, Azog and Shiggurath bounded forward, slobbering hungrily as they reached the black smoke. devoruing it in their gaping maws, before finally turning on Giconi and grabbing him in their clawed hands, tearing and gnashing at him violently. He tried to scream, but he had barely had a chance before they began to gobble him up rapidly. In the end all that was left was a splatter of blood on the floor. "There we go." Vincent said. "You see, that is how it is done, Vincent. No need to thank me. It was nice to get out for a while." And then Vincent retrieved the Grimoire from his coat, and allowed it to fall from his hands. And just as suddenly, he collapsed backwards on to the ground, gasping suddenly, an expression of horror on his face. When Violet came to his side, he pointed frantically at the Grimoire. "G-get that away from me!" He yelled. "Violet, please! Take it away! N-never let me have it! Please!" He lay back on the grass, staring up at the night sky as he tried to fathom what had happened. What had Morgana done to him? What had she made him do? His hand fell over his mouth, and finally, he wept, his eyes wide in hysterics.
  14. Vincent observed the strange creature that had appeared on Violet's shoulder. His instincts had urged him to react, to blast the thing with magic. Fortunately, he'd become a little too overexposed to such things, and had learned to still his actions, if only a little. Violet's reaction was a little tense, but she didn't seem to be alarmed by the creature's presence. And the creature itself, while quite unnerving, did not seem particularly dangerous. Still, there was no harm in checking. "Violet, would you like me to torch this thing or what?" He asked, making sure he had a firm grip on his cane. "It won't do you any good." Violet crossed her arms irritably."It won't." It repeated, chuckling. "Unless it would make you feel better. In which case, it would.""Willing to take one for the team..." Vincent said with a smirk. "I like this guy...or girl? It?""I am a..." The creature pondered for a moment, "I am a thing. But you may refer to me as whichever sex you wish, or none at all." "Violet, can you translate for this Jim Henson reject, please?" Vincent asked. "That..." Violet scowled at the creature as it beamed back at her, "Is... well...." There was no other way of explaining it, "My soul.""Your..." Vincent said, as he squinted at the creature, examining it carefully. "...hmm, neat." He managed to say finally. "So, Violet's soul, can you tell me all her secrets?""I'm right here, Vincent." Violet bit at her brother."He's curious." It suggested."Pfft," Violet rolled her eyes, "Can we just do what we came here to do?" "Nooo...this is way more fun." Vincent said with a devilish grin. "So, Violet's soul, you got a name? Any hobbies?""I would bare myself to you," It replied."You can't tell him your name directly, he would have too much power over us." Violet warned."My name is--""--Zeal." Violet finished. "Zeal, huh?" Vincent said, and he eyed Violet suspiciously. "A little jumpy there, sis. Do you really think I'd perform magic on your soul?""I think it's my soul." Violet retorted. "She has a point." Zeal added. Violet jabbed her thumb at Zeal as though to say, 'See?!'"Come on, Vi." Vincent said. "You can see my soul whenever you like, you just have to look me in the eye." "He has a point." Zeal added, smiling."It's not the same, Vincent!" Violet started pacing uncomfortably, "I don't know..." She rubbed her forehead as though she was getting a headache, "We're both different, but the same. We're both part of the same being, but we're different, too. It's symbiosis.""Two minds, two hearts." Zeal said quietly. "Right...seems to me like the cat-rabbit is making more sense than you at this point." Vincent said, and he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So, Zeal, would I be correct in saying you are entirely true to yourself, right? Humans, we're conflicted, we don't even know who or what we are most of the time. You know who you are, yeah?""I am. I do." Zeal replied, nodding. "Great, so..." Vincent paced around them, gesticulating with his hand to get his point across. "So Violet is a mess, sorry sis. But Zeal, you're clear. You know who you are, and you're part of The Void. So, by any chance, do you know how to navigate this place better than Violet?" "We are joined. Two voices in one form. Violet can traverse the Void, because I can traverse the Void." Zeal looked at Violet and the two looked as though they had held a conversation before both of them faced Vincent once more, barely a second later. "Alright you're losing brownie points now." Vincent said. "Enough of the Jedi bullshit. I am looking for a big, bad local spirit, who's been getting plenty of worship lately. This shouldn't be hard. I'm looking for the fattest dude at the buffet table. Let me think...if I recall, the one I'm looking for, he loves tobacco, and rum. Y'know? Spooky skeleton dude, big top hat, tail coat? Probably rude as hell." "I remember what you do not." Zeal nodded."Excuse me?" Violet raised her eyebrow at him."But it is not safe, I do not wish harm upon myself, Violet, or my brother.""Charming." Violet sighed and started walking, "I have vague memories of when I had privacy in my own mind..." She mused. "Sadly we don't have much of a choice." Vincent said. "But I did come prepared." He took a pouch from inside his pocket. "A little bit of Ghost Dust. Cold iron shavings, salt, basil...and a few other things, like depleted uranium, and don't ask how I got it." He wiggled the pouch in his hand for effect. " probably shouldn't touch this either. It's pretty much a catch all for most Void creatures, no idea what it would do to you.""Uranium would be beneficial... the rest...." Violet frowned."I would rather it remain a mystery to us." Zeal added, eyeing the pouch."Sure, no problem." Vincent said as he put the pouch away again. "Alright, well lead the way then.""We're already here." Violet replied, nodding at Vincent. Or rather, what was behind him. The swamp was broken up - if only momentarily - by a small shack. It was run down and looked like it could fall to pieces at any moment, and yet there was something strange about it. Disturbing, even. "If we're doing anything, we should go in guns blazing while we have the upper hand.""I advise caution." Zeal warned, Violet scowled at him. "I'm with Zeal on this one." Vincent said. "Always best to be careful with spirits. They're fickle, and their loyalty can be swayed. If we do it right then we might come out on top. Just follow me, I'll do the talking. Oh, and Violet, do not sass the ancient spirit demon. I mean it.""Oh please, I--" Violet stopped mid-sentence and gave Zeal an incredulous look before falling to silence. Then Zeal disappeared and Violet licked her lips and finally nodded. They made their way cautiously through the swamp, until eventually they reached the shack. Vincent took a deep breath and stepped up on to the porch, moving slowly, the wood creaking under his weight. No sooner had he reached the top step, the doorway to the shack was filled with a dark, flowing, black smoke, that seemed to dance around as it moved forward, like a living entity. Vincent forced himself not to take a step back, he couldn't show fear, not now. The smoke began to take shape, and before their eyes a being dressed in a black tailcoat, and black trousers appeared. His face was a white skull, and on his head was a large, black top hat. The spirit leered at Vincent for a moment, but said nothing. "Baron Samedi." Vincent spoke the spirit's name, and it seemed to darken in response. "Who are you to tread so carelessly in to my domain?" Samedi asked, and it was impossible to read it's expression, it's face was just a skull after all. "Vincent Hallow." Vincent replied. "And I come...with a gift." He reached in to his pocket and produced a packet of cigarettes. He retrieved one and tossed it at Samedi, who snatched it hungrily from the air, tearing away the filter on the end and sticking the cigarette between his teeth, It lit of its own accord and he took a deep, hungry drag. In one pull he'd burned halfway down the cigarette, and when he exhaled he blew a large plume of obnoxious smoke in their face. "Baron Samedi, I humbly come to you seeking information." Vincent said respectfully. "And who says I give a rat's ass?" Samedi replied, before letting out an arrogant chuckle. "Who says I want to speak to you, hm?""Well if you keep talking to me, I'll keep the smokes coming." Vincent said, and he shook the carton in his hand. Samedi eyed it hungrily, and grumbled, muttering to himself for a moment. He took another drag and burned away the rest of his cigarette, and held his hand out pleadingly for another. Vincent tossed one to him. "I need to know if another wizard has been visiting you recently.""Hm? Oh....yesss." Samedi replied as he tore in to the next cigarette. "Oh yes, very often. A very generous soul, a very obedient soul.""That must be nice." Violet muttered, then piped up, "Name him.". "Why should I?" Samedi replied. "Why should I do anything for you? I have never seen you before. You are not know...nothing of voodoo.""But I am more powerful." Vincent said confidently. "I would be able to do so much more, with your support." " do I know what you say is true?" Samedi asked. "Will you let me drink from you?""I..." Vincent hesitated, but Samedi did not wait for approval. In a sudden motion he inhaled from the air, and Vincent felt like his soul was being ripped from his body. He fell down on one knee, and instantly held his hand up to stop Violet from charging in. "Wait..." He pleaded. Samedi gave another obnoxious chuckle, and inhaled again, and Vincent found himself down on all fours. His world was spinning. He just had to hold on a little longer. If he could gain this spirit's trust, then he would find the dark wizard. "You...are most powerful." Samedi affirmed. "But you are a fool!" He snapped, and Vincent realised he had made a terrible mistake. "The Loa do not serve, it is your kind who serve us! The Witch Doctor is my servant! He moves as I demand! And you...are meddling. Yes...I see it. The home where the death cheaters reside. The one with the little girl...she has darkness in her. Now I know...""Violet!" Vincent coughed. "!"Violet took a step forwards but before she could do anything she stopped and her expression fell neutral, "Let him go." She said calmly."Hmm...let's see..." Samedi said in an amused tone, "I don't think I will. I should think you should flee, before I decide to have you as well, brethren.""Then I am sorry." Violet replied, and then suddenly her expression changed, and she was full of rage, "LET GO!!" She screamed and flew at Samedi, crashing into him. Her hands grasped his face and she drew from him. She felt his power surging into her and her eyes went wild, "Not so fun?!" She asked, pushing her fingers into his skull. But even as she did so, she could feel his power surging up from deep within him. Violet's reaction was not unlike a human who drops a dish having not realised it had been in the oven a moment before. She recoiled and leapt back, floating into the air and threw her hands forwards and released every bit of energy she could, including the energy she had absorbed from Samedi. The light and heat from the blast enveloped the shack and in that moment, Violet whirled around and grabbed hold of Vincent, and suddenly they were back in New Orleans, standing a stone's throw from the war council. Violet handed Vincent to Meredith, and then fell to her knees and slumped over. The light from her body dulled, and her hair stopped hovering and sank until it barely levitated above her shoulders. She looked over at her brother and smiled, "See? Was that so bad?" She muttered, looking as though she was falling asleep. "Violet..." Vincent gasped through deep breaths, as if he had just emerged from water. His skin was pale, and his eyes had become dark and his expression heavy. "...They know where we are...they're coming!" He managed to choke, before trying to stand up. But no sooner has he got up, he fell back down with a crash, and Meredith pulled him up, taking his weight awkwardly in her sleight frame. "What happened!?" Ivy demanded. "...No time." Vincent said. "Ready your men...they're coming.""What did you do!?" Ivy snapped, but she quickly calmed herself, and her expression became that of steely resolve. "Everyone, to your positions! This is not a drill!" The vampires around the house began moving quickly, gearing themselves in combat overalls, and loading magazines into military grade assault rifles. "Civilians were evacuated days ago, and we've made sure the local law enforcement won't interfere. We go at them with a full assault!" "Meredith..." Vincent whispered. "I need help me do this next bit." He stood up, finally managing to stand on his own two feet. "I'm not at my best, I need you to stay with me, okay?""Of course." Meredith said with a nod. "Vincent, is Violet okay?" Vincent looked down at his sister, he looked worse for the wear, but he knew she would live through it. "Hey Vincent..." Meredith said with unease, "...Do you hear drumming?"
  15. A few minutes later the group strolled out of the fairground on Santa Monica Pier with Vincent leading the way. He took his phone from his pocket and scrolled through the contacts list until he found a phone number under the name "Vampirella" and hit the dial icon. The phone rang three times, before there was a long pause of silence, before a voice purred "Vincent, you do have excellent timing, child. I am in need of your assistance." "That's my line, Lucia." Vincent said. "We need to talk. Now." "Still haven't managed to muster any patience, have you?" Lucia replied, sounding quite amused. "No matter, it so happens that I need to put you to work quite urgently. I'll be more than happy to quadruple your usual fee, of course." "Look, you can keep your money. I don't have time to run an errand for you, there are more pressing matters." Vincent said. "Yes, I was expecting a call from you." Lucia replied. "Your kind are not the only ones who are aware of the current...climate. While our kind don't fear the cold very much, it would be unfortunate if our primary food source was to plummet in stock. How about this? Do this task for me and my brood will be at your disposal for as long as it takes to get your affairs in order. See? Am I not reasonable?" "Yeah, right, sure you are." Vincent said, rolling his eyes. "Look, let's talk this out in person." "Oh, I would really love to but..." Lucia drew in her breath dramatically, she seemed to be enjoying making this dramatic. "I'm in my estate in Italy. Deep within my Court's territory. I'm afraid that is why I need your assistance. Sort of a little spat going on inside the Midnight Court, a dispute over territory. It turns out my colleague didn't much like it when I decided to...mmm...well, de-throne him." "So you planned a coup and it backfired...great." Vincent said, shaking his head. "Oh it hasn't backfired, just a little hiccup." Lucia assured. "As is the way with feuds, I have chosen to seclude myself where I cannot be reached by those who are not loyal to me. Rest assured, I have my best operative on the job. I want you to meet her, and she'll discuss your objective." "Which is?" Vincent asked. "To assasinate Count Silas Lassiter." She said simply. Vincent pinched the bridge of his nose, his nostrils flaring as he did. Silas Lassiter, Count of the Midnight Court, was the current head honcho in charge of all the Sanguinarian Vampires in the Southern states of the USA. Lucia was his counterpart, controlling the Northern states. If she wanted to take him out, then it would mean her taking control of all of the vamps in the USA, minus Alaska which, apparently, the Midnight Court had decided was basically Canadian. "Yeah, sure, no problem." Vincent said sarcastically. "So how does that work? Do I get to meet Bill Compton?" "Ah, jokes. There's the Vincent I know and love." Lucia said. "2127 Prytania, New Orleans. Tomorrow night, you will be expected and Guest Rights have been extended for yourself an no other." "So I can't bring a date?" Vincent asked with a smirk. "Oh, finally ready to let little Merry come on a mission with you?" Lucia asked, before quickly adding, "and don't act so surprised, you know I have my eyes on you, child. I will extend the rights to her as well." "And...what about Violet?" Vincent asked. " you've heard from her...wait..." Lucia gave a little chuckle. "She's there, isn't she?" "Are you literally watching me right now?" Vincent asked. "Oh no, us girls simply have our ways." Lucia said. "I'm afraid the Accords only apply to those races who have signed the treaty. Violet is a darkling, she consorts with my kind at her own risk." "...Great." Vincent said with a sigh. "Fine, I'll speak to you later." "Goodbye, child...and safe travels." Lucia said, and then there was a click as she hung up. Vincent turned around to face Meredith and Violet, and gave the back of his head an awkward scratch. "Well...of course, this day just had to get worse." He said with a frown. "I can do a lot these days, Vincent. Mind reading is not among them." Violet raised an eyebrow at her brother and grinned impishly, "So...?" She asked. " order to get support from the Midnight Court we need to assasinate the Count in control of the entire South region of the USA. Oh, and you might want to pack. We're going to Louisiana." Vincent said. "W-wait, what!?" Meredith gasped. "What do you mean assassinate? We can't...can we?" "I guess we're going to find out." Vincent said. "I'd rather go alone, but with something like this I have a feeling I'm going to need your veils, Meredith." Vincent glanced at his sister. "And I get the impression you wouldn't stay even if I wanted you to." "I've never listened to you before. It would be out of character for me to start now." Violet replied. "Figures." Vincent said with a nod. "Well Lucia has provided Meredith and I Guest Rights, which means we'll be safe from harm with her brood, but no such luxury for you I'm afraid. Nagloshi didn't sign the treaty, so your safety isn't guaranteed." "When is it ever." Violet muttered, "Speaking of which, we have uninvited guests." Vincent slowly glanced around the streets, but he didn't see anything. Then he did so again, this time using his Sight. The city was a grim, almost eldritch nightmare when looked upon with the Sight, but this wasn't unusual. And still, he so no creatures hiding behind veils. "Are you sure?" He asked. "I don't see anything." "I feel..." Meredith said, closing her eyes in concentrating. "Malice...pure malice. It's faint's getting closer." "Two out of three..." Vincent said, raising his brow. "I can't fight what I can't see. Meredith, veil us." There was a trickling sensation that washed over him as Meredith's will formed a veil, obscuring them from view. "You made sure to mask our scent as well this time?" "Mhm." Meredith said with a nod. "I...I think we should get moving, though." "If we wait around then we might catch a glimpse of our stalker." Vincent said. "'s's like they're pleased." Meredith said. "We need to run." "Rubbish." Violet scoffed and stormed out into the middle of the quiet street. "I am not in the mood!" She growled, her feet lifted from the road and she raised her hands, purple light forming around them. "There!" She yelled, and thrust one arm out sending a blast of magical energy. The beam struck something and it howled mercilessly but even as a smile touched Violet's lips she suddenly found herself falling, a heavy weight on her chest. Why hadn't she sensed it? How could they possibly hide from her? Fire engulfed the invisible creature atop her and she quickly scrambled up and sprinted back to Vincent, "Changed my mind, run!" She yelled, silently thanking Vincent for his quick reflexes as she passed him at speed. Vincent and Meredith went off after her at a sprint. Whatever was chasing them, he had no way of seeing them. He considered opening a Way to escape them, but he had no way of knowing if they had snuck in with them. It was too risky. They turned and made their way up a narrow street heading back in to the City itself. He turned to check Meredith was still following her, but as he turned he felt his steps slow, and instantly realised his mistake. He raised his arm up to his face, his shield charm creating a cool sensation on his arm as it activated. There was a crackle of magical energy, creating ripples along the invisible barrier, and as it flashed he caught a brief glimpse of a tortoiseshell fur, and a pair of deep, yellow cat-like eyes, and a maddening, toothed grin. The creature bounced off of his barrier and instantly disappeared again, as if it had been nothing but an illusion. He wasted no time in grabbing Meredith by her arm and taking off again at a run. "Siths!" He snarled. He knew exactly what was chasing them now, but it didn't make him feel any better about facing them. Cait Sith were the personal assassins of the Sidhe. They were ruthless feline hunters, powerful and deadly. They wielded only one kind of magic that he knew of, a strange and unique method of disappearing from reality, far more effective and useful than any veil. He'd never heard of one being killed, let alone how anyone would even go about doing it. They were a fae creature shrouded in mystery, their only claim to fame being the inspiration behind the creature in Lewis Caroll's tale, known as the Cheshire Cat. Unfortunately, they were not impish, mad little creatures. They were the quickest and most effective killers in The Fae. "Violet! We can't out run them! They are way too fast!" "What did you do?!" Violet yelled, as she ran. "Killed a Faerie Queen, if you'll recall!" Vincent yelled back. "Although you were kind of blind at the time so I'll forgive you!" "Oh my... No!" She yelled back at him in frustration, "I saw it, didn't you? What magic did you use that made it appear?!" "Magic? What-Oh!" Vincent called. "I get you now! Here's a hint!" Vincent stopped at the top of the street and turned, holding his shield charm in front of him for protection, and his cane aloft. He channeled his will along his arm and up his cane, imagining the sensation of fast, crackling energy. "Fulgur!" He yelled, and suddenly the sky lit up at white bolts of lightning crackled through the air, lancing chaotically from the tip of his cane. With each spark, came images of creatures moving in the darkness, and with each flash they drew closer and closer. Vincent saw four, perhaps five. "Electricity?!" Violet grinned, "Now that I can do! Let's play a game Vincent!" Violet lifted into the air and grabbed hold of one of the cables overhead, "It's called target practice!" Then she reached out and grabbed the next cable over, creating a circuit. Electricity passed through her body, frying her human 'layer'. Burnt away, only her dark purple form remained and she began to glow brighter and brighter. "I think..." Violet winced, "That's enough!" She yelled out and channeled the stored electricity outwards. Bolts spat and crackled as they skipped across the road, catching on anything and everything they could, held at bay only by Violet's magic. But revealing them meant she couldn't attack, "Any time now, fleshies!" Violet yelled with what little mirth she had left. "Do you remember when you were the subtle one?" Vincent called back with a smirk. "Let's go with an old favourite. Ignis!" Vincent roared and flame shot out of the end of his cane like a bullet from a gun, and crashed in to a nearby Cait Sith, sending him hurtling back down the street. Two more came bounding towards them and he shot another flame at one, but the other was too close, and leapt for his throat. He held out his wrist with the shield bracelet once more, and focused his will. In the last year he had spent a great deal of time training Meredith in the fundamentals of magic. In doing so, he had found that teaching the very skills he had acquired, allowed him to evaluate them in an entirely new way. In the last year he hadn't become much stronger, but he had learned a few new tricks. There was a crackle as his shield began to force his shield to change shape. The dome began to collapse in on itself, and extend forward in to a sharp lance, which the poor Cait Sith managed to impale itself on, letting out a horrible, high-pitched mewling noise. The fourth Cait Sith descended from above them, and it was Meredith who had noticed. She raised her arms in the air, and sent up a dazzling display of light and sound, that reached the Cait Sith and suddenly exploded like fireworks, the bright flashing and loud noise disorientating it as it fell to the floor, jumping and flitting about like a mad kitten. Vincent raised his cane again and sent another bolt of flame, and the Cait Sith ran around, screeching as it's fur burnt away, until it finally collapsed on the floor. "Well then..." Vincent said with a sigh. "I guess that's the las-" A black furred cat three times the size as any normal one materialised from the air in front of him, diving hard at his chest and knocking him back on the floor. The creature leapt on to his chest and calmly placed it's claws at his throat in an openly threatening gesture. "You fight well, Wizzzard!" It mewled, it's vocal chords clearly not built for human speech. "You have murrrrdered my kin! Fortunately for you, I am not the kind to hold grrrrudges!" "Vincent!" Meredith cried, but as she went to move the Cait Sith's claws dug sharply in to Vincent's neck. "Your kin would do well to be still." The Cait Sith mewled. "If you comply then I may not end your life this day." "Pussy!" Violet barked at the top of her lungs - in a manner of speaking. "Do you know what happens to a cat when it's struck by a bolt of lightning?!" "Your previous attempts didn't work too well, did they, Hunter?" The Cait Sith replied confidently. "I am not kit, not like the others. I am Eldest, and my lap is that of Aurrrora herself. You would do well to heed that inforrrmation." "Th-that..would be the Queen of Summer...just FYI." Vincent coughed under the cat's paw. "Fine." Violet scowled, and let go of the cables, "But I don't make deals with pets." At her last word, Violet held out her arms and without need for the words, Eldest was suddenly airborne. It didn't matter if she couldn't hurt the creature, as long as she could hold it there long enough for Vincent to get out from underneath it. "Take your time, Vincent. No rush." She bit sarcastically. Vincent shuffled out from under Eldest and stood up, picking up his cane and pointing it at the creature. "I bet fire works just fine." He said with a smirk. "If it reaches me..." Eldest said, and then with a flicker he disappeared, and then reappeared on the ground, licking his front paw with the utmost disinterest. "I grow tired of playing." Eldest continued. "My Queen wishes to test you, Wizzzard. You have passed the first." "I don't have time to play Aurora's stupid games. I'm trying to fix this whole mess." Vincent replied. "A mess you created." Eldest said flatly. "My Queen cares not for the needs of a morrrtal. She deems you ill prepared for what is to come." "And what is to come?" Vincent asked. "I'm busting my ass to wrangle an army to take on Winter, I'd expect Aurora to help me, not make things more difficult." "The trial ahead is difficult." Eldest said. "My Queen thinks you may be strrrong enough to do what is rrrequired. Yet she must be surrre." "I can see why someone would have to take copious amounts of opium to make any bit of sense of the utter nonsense cascading from that orifice, let alone transcribe it into a book." Eldest gave Violet a cursory glance, and flicked his tail indifferently at her. "So what do you want, Eldest?" Vincent said. "If the test is over then why don't you just get lost?" "My Queen offers her assistance." Eldest said. "It loathes me to say...but I am yourrrs to command, until the deed is done." "You're kidding, right?" Vincent asked "Fae cannot lie, or have you forrrgotten?" Eldest said. "Consider me your ally, until a new Queen has been crowned." "And how do I do that?" Vincent asked "A Corrronation cannot be forced, Wizzzard." Eldest explained. "It will happen when it happens." "So you expect me to walk around with a giant cat at my heels?" Vincent asked. "Not quite..." Eldest said with a grin, and as he said it only his grin and his feline eyes became visibe, apparently floating in the air. "I will prowl the shadows. You may only speak my name, and I shall come forth. Until then, Wizzzard." And then Eldest disappeared from sight altogether, leaving the three of them alone in the midst of the devastation they had wrought on the street, with sirens blaring in the distance, and drawing ever closer. "It's just one thing after another." Vincet growled. "Alright, back to the apartment for some supplies, then we take a Way to Lousiana."
  16. "You know, I always wanted a dog." Vincent said casually as he sat next to the large black dog, who had was simply staring off in to space with his tongue hanging out, yet again. Once Vincent had approached him willingly, the dog began to lead him to where they were, apparently, supposed to go. It was safe to say that The Wise took secrecy to the next level. He had only been to meet their Council once before, and it had been a pretty unpleasant experience. Aside from that he wasn't even sure if he would be returning to the same place as last time. However the dog had taken him, after a particularly long walk, to Santa Monica Pier, and more specifically, to the large ferris wheel. "I didn't think they'd let a dog on a ferris wheel." He said as he took a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it, staring out through the cage bars of the small car they shared, that was now at the highest point of the wheel. "What'd you do, bribe the guy with some scoobie snacks?" he asked. The dog kept staring out at the ocean. "You're an awful good listener." He said as he continued smoking. "It's almost like I'm talking to myself, but that's crazy, right? I mean what's not normal about a man taking a stray dog for a ride on a ferris wheel? I do this every Tuesday." Vincent eyed the dog expectantly, but still got nothing. He sighed and took another drag on the cigarette, trying to keep his fingers from quivering. While it was quite a cold night, the shaking was more likely to be because he was absolutely terrified. It seemed odd to him, after all he was just sitting next to a harmless, dopey-looking dog. But he knew the people this dog served, and he hated them even more for making him wait like this. Granted, he'd been dodging this particular trip for a fortnight, but he was a undependable but lovable rogue, and these guys were supposed to be, essentially, the wizard government. "Perhaps that explains it." He said to the dog. "You ever had to go down to tax offices? Those queues are horrendous." "Has anyone ever told you that your attempts at humor are quite childish, Vincent?" The dog said, much to Vincent's surprise. It's voice was deep, calm and quite eloquently spoken. There was a hint of a British accent but it was difficult to discern where from. Vincent froze for a moment as he heard it, for he knew that voice very well. "Acherus..." Vincent said, his nostrils flaring. "That's a neat trick. Most people just settle for teaching their dogs to fetch, you know." "Do you really think it wise to test my patience?" The dog turned to Vincent, and it's eyes had become a pair of amber orbs, with sharp reptilian slits. They considered him like a hungry wolf would consider a baby rabbit. Suddenly the black dog did not seem quite so harmless, as he bared his teeth, pawing towards Vincent, forcing him to press up against the steel cage behind him. "I thought perhaps you had become a man, but alas, I still see a boy stood before me." Acherus' voice sneered. "So be it, little boy, it is time that you face up to your misdeeds." And with that, the cage was suddenly engulfed in golden embers and black soot. Suddenly Vincent felt like he was falling, tumbling through darkness, hurtling towards a ground that could have been miles below him. He had experienced this horrible sensation before. This was Acherus' magic, the great power of dragon's fire, sending him hurtling through the nether, his destination unknown. He fell for what seemed like hours, until finally, he found himself stood on his feet, and everything had become suddenly and incredibly still. The ground beneath him was flat, and smooth like marble. The room was dark, but he could see a few shapes in the darkness. He was not alone. He remembered that he was holding his cane, and in an instant he had channeled his will through it, creating an eerie, blue glow of wizard's light. He stepped forward, holding his cane in front of him to light the way. But he had only gotten 5 steps before the entire room was illuminated, as torches ignited themselves with golden fire. He was standing in what was, at some point, probably an ancient cavern beneath the surface of the earth. However the great cavern had been reconstructed, with supporting pillars, and a smooth floor, and a short series of steps that lead up to 5 throne-like chairs. All of it, in it's entirety, made of pure obsidian. Sitting in each of the thrones were faces he instantly recognized. The far most left chair was sat upon by a decidedly short and frail looking man, his wrinkled, leathery skin was covered in liver spots and deep, blue veins. His fingernails were long and black with decay. The man had barely a hair left on his head, but did sport a long and thin mustache. Vincent knew this man as Lao, one of the greatest alchemists to currently live. If the legends were true, Lao had managed to prolong his life by several hundred years. One to the right from him was a little boy, no older than 12, with shock white hair and pale skin. He was playing a handheld video game console, and otherwise seemed oblivious to what was going on around him. Vincent didn't recognize this one, clearly a new addition to the council. However, he bore an uncanny resemblance to the man who had once held his place, right down to the white hair. In the central chair was a very plain looking man, dressed in a sharp, if slightly dated, suit. His silvery hair was swept back, and he had a thin beard, and pale blue eyes. Deacon Swan, he was the only American on the Council, and he was the sort of man who was firm, but fair, if a little strict. To his right was a an Indian woman, dressed in a beautiful red and gold dress, her long hair was a very dark brown, her skin the colour of caramel. Her name was Prama, and despite her beauty, she was the type who did not suffer fools lightly. Unfortunately, she considered Vincent to be something like the Prince of Fools. She eyed him with little to hide her contempt, but said nothing. And on the far right next to her was a tan skinned man, who looked like he was possibly of Italian descent, with lightly tanned skin and black hair with a distinct widows peaked, dressed entirely in black. However he was certainly no Italian, not even human. Acherus Draven's amber, reptilian eyes gazed at him with that same predatory shine. His nostrils flared and smoke plumed from them, a trick only a dragon could pull off without a cigarette. "So, you have decided to grace us with your presence, Mr Hallow." Deacon said, clasping his hands together in front of him. "Do you think we have nothing better to do than wait around for you?" "More like I was just shit scared, truth be told. Still am, actually." Vincent said, struggling to channel his usual childish mannerisms. "Perhaps the boy holds a modicum of wisdow after all." Lao commented, looking highly amused. "Perhaps." Deacon agreed with a soft nod. "Let's not waste any more time though, Vincent, do you know why you have been summoned." "Well." Vincent began, "I have a pretty good idea at least. Is it because I murderer Queen Shaylee, Sidhe of Spring?" "Indeed." Deacon said. "Perhaps you are not aware of the ramifications of such an act. Suring the equinox this year, there was no Queen to contest the Winter. Queen Isoleth's rule has continued past it's due, and if something is not done about it quickly, then it could spell catastrophe all over the world. If Winter's power cotninues to grow, then even Summer will be unable to contest it." "I understand." Vincent said. "Eternal Winter, doesn't sound very nice. So I suppose we better stop it." "And how would you propose to do that?" Prama asked, her tone entirely unimpressed. "Take the fight to Winter. Summer has every interest to help us on this occasion. With a few badass wizards on her side, she could put a stop to Isoleth's reign." Vincent replied. "Even if such an attempt were successful, what then?" Prama asked. "Do we just rinse and repeat year after year? This will only happen again as long as there is no Queen to rule Spring." "So then Spring need a new do we do that?" Vincent asked. "We dont know." Deacon said irritably. "Um..." The young man with white hair raised his hand, like a child with a question in school. "Yes, Jeremy?" Deacon said. "Well...the simplest solution would be to kill all the Queens." He said, as if this was the simplest thing to do in the world. "Just have the Hallowed one kill them all. Things should fall in to the natural order of things that way." "Uh...first of all, fuck that." Vincent said, shaking his head. "I'm not even sure how I killed Shaylee. It was an accident, and if I'd know how to control it I'd never have done it. You think I want this mess?" "Ah, so the Hallowed does not even know..." Jeremy said. "Perhaps that is for the best." " all know about this...power, that I have?" Vincent asked "Of course." Deacon said. "We have always known." "And...none of you thought it would be a good idea to let me know?" "Vincent, you are quite fortunate we have not decided to execute you on the spot." Deacon said. "A power like that, the power to kill immortal beings, it is far too dangerous." "So...this might be the most stupid thing I've ever said, but, why haven't you killed me?" Vincent asked. "Hahaha..." Acherus' laughter seemed to echo through the room, he had been quiet this whole time but had been watching with open amusement. "You really are quite a dull creature, Vincent. My colleagues may be one for holding a pretense of decency, but let me be clear. You are a dangerous weapon, one which we would like to keep on our side, so we may point you wherever we desire." "But...Deacon just said my power is too dangerous." Vincent said "Oh it really is." Acherus agreed. "I suppose it is rather the same as why mortals keep nuclear weapons. We all know nothing good can come of it, however, better to have something and not need it, hm?" Vincent's fists clenched at his side, and he glared at Acherus. "I'm not your fucking weapon, let me be perfectly clear about that." He snarled. "That's quite enough of that." Deacon said, his tone that of finality. "Vincent, your abilities are not something I wish to address today. Nor are you to concern yourself with the mess you have brought upon us. We are hear to hold trial." "Trial?" Vincent parroted. "I haven't broken any laws." "You killed with magic!" Prama snapped. "Not anything with a soul, though." Vincent said. "Check your rulebook, I think you'll find I've managed to skirt that one quite successfully." "He is also training a young wizard who is tainted." Jeremy said flatly without looking away from his video game. "It's his duty to report such things, and yet he has not come forward." "Ah, yes." Deacon said with a nod. "I notice you chose not to bring the young girl. Why would you do that, unless you suspect her guilt?" "All I suspect is you wouldn't even hear her out." Vincent bit back. "Nobody ever get's away with it, you know that." "You did." Prama said simply. "Saved by one vote, which I feel was a grave error." "That was different. I did that to survive and escape captors. I came to you straight away. I knew what I had done, and I came to you for help." Vincent said. "And all I got for it was persecution, and to yet again fear for my life. It was Alphonse who helped me through that time in my life, and I'm helping Meredith in the same way." "She is still required to stand trial." Prama said. "You cannot ignore our rules." "She used her magic on a Sidhe who was trying to kill us!" Vincent snapped. "She has never harmed a mortal." "A technicality." Prama said, shaking her head. "She is tainted, it will only be a matter of time before she breaks the laws. And then she will stand trial, rest assured." "Well until that happens you better pull another one out of your ass if you want to keep me here." Vincent snapped. "Point." Jeremy said, raising his finger. "The death of Queen Shaylee will no doubt result in the death of countless mortals. You are the catalyst of this problem, one could even say you have committed in act of war. We would be well within out right to imprison you at the very least." "Well then what are you waiting for!?" Vincent yelled, holding his hands up at his side. "Go ahead, lock me up, kill me. I don't give a shit any more. What you should be doing is finding a solution! I am standing here, willing to help, and all you want to do is knock me down. Fine, do what you want. What I say doesn't matter." There was an uncomfortable silence for minutes afterwards. It was Deacon who finally spoke. "Shall we put it to vote, then?" He said. "All in favour of the incarceration of Vincent Gideon Hallow, for his negligent actions, please raise your hand." Prama raised hers immediately. Soon afterward Lao raised his. Jeremy thought for a moment, and then went back to his video game. "I still think we should just kill all the Queens. It's the most logical choice." He said. "It is not an option." Deacon said firmly. He turned his head to Acherus, who was staring down at the darkness at the other end of the hall. "Acherus, what say you?" "I say that we must postpone this." Acherus said, and he scowled in to the darkness. "Something comes." "What do you mean?" Prama asked. "An intruder." Acherus said. "They are coming. I am keen to see what creature dares breach my domain uninvited..."
  17. Light rock music sounded from the carefully positioned speakers dotted around the small independent music store, the sign outside reading the word Harmonix. Inside the shelves were lined with CDs categorised first by genre, and then alphabetically. A few large tables in the center of the room housed rows of boxes, each filled to the brim with old vinyl records. Any spare space on the walls were lined with T-shirts, pinned up in display, depicting the logos of various bands like The Ramones, Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Harmonix was not particularly busy, especially considering most people listened to music online these days, and so much of their regular patrons were purists. A couple of them were sifting through the boxes of vinyl while two girls sat chatting behind the cash register. "-So then Brian, totally wasted, just straight up punched the guy. Can you believe that?" One of them said in the very definition of a monotonous tone. The young woman was currently picking at her pink and black painted nails. She had platinum blonde hair that looked a little dry and damaged from years of peroxide abuse. She was dressed in a little, red tartan skirt, with fishnet stockings and a pair of black boots, and a tightly fitted black T-shirt with the image of a pair of bright led lips, and a red tongue licking the teeth. "...Merry, are you even listening?" "Hm?" the other girl replied, only now managing to peel her gaze away from the book she was reading. Meredith had made more than a few drastic changes in the past year. The flat, brown hair she had received on becoming mortal had been dyed half bubblegum pink, and half baby blue. She had a small, silver stud in her nose, and a silver hoop through her bottom lip. She had her hair shaved on one side, and the exposed ear was covered in piercings, and a large black spike through her lobe. She was wearing a sleeveless, black T-shirt with an exposed midriff, and a pair of tight-fitting leggings depicting a black and white Rorschach design, and a pair of Converse sneakers, one depicting an image of The Batman, while the other depicted his arch nemesis, The Joker. "Sorry." She said finally, "I'm just a little tired today." "Engrossed in that book, more like." Her friend said. "I can't believe you're 20 years old and you haven't read Catcher In The Rye." "I just never got around to it." Meredith said with an awkward shrug. "There's a lot of stuff I never got around to." "Well it's okay, I'll let you off this time." Her friend said with a smirk. "Thanks, Kate." Meredith said with a nod. "So are you free after work?" Kate asked. "I know you're not old enough but my friend can get you a fake ID and a bunch of us were-" "I'm busy tonight, sorry." Meredith interrupted. "Well can't you reschedule? You never come out with us!" Kate protested. "Because I'm not old enough, Kate." Meredith replied, "Besides...I have something to do tonight. Family stuff." "Bummer." Kate said, clearly unimpressed. "Sounds boring." "Far from it." Meredith replied, and she couldn't help but give a little smirk. ====== It was dark outside when Meredith left the store to make her way home. She had put on a black, leather jacket, that had a tailed section that went down to the back of her knees. It had been a gift from Vincent a few months prior, apparently he considered it of utmost importance to have a cool signature coat. She smiled to herself at the thought of the conversation they'd had at the time, it was a somewhat fond memory. Such things were precious to her these days. It had been almost a full year since they had rescued Violet from her dream state, and since that day things had become increasingly hard for her. On the news of what had happened to James, Violet had flew in to a rage and had went to attack them. Quite unexpectedly, it was Vael who had saved them. She had grabbed Violet, and spirited her away in to the Void before anyone could argue against it. Nobody had seen either of them since. For the next few weeks afterward Vincent and Al had spent every waking minute searching The Void for her, but they never came up with anything. David stayed with her as long as he could, but eventually he had to go back to his home in Iowa. He had made a point of visiting them throughout the year, however. Al also left after they had given up looking for Violet. Thereafter it had just been her and Vincent. She had thought he might have taken things a little harder, but ultimately he said he knew Violet was alive, and that was all that mattered. Besides, he had a promise to keep to her. As soon as things got quiet Vincent had began to spend a lot of time with her, teaching her the fundamentals of magic. The process had been particularly difficult for her, as long as she could remember magic had been as easy to her as breathing. Then the nightmares started. Vincent said they were a result of the taint within her, brought on by using dark magic. He had explained to her that the term "dark magic" was a poor term in the first place. It was used to describe incredibly powerful magic, magic born of raw will and desire. Vincent said it was easy magic, and that was why it was risky. Everything had a cost to it, and if we used magic without cost, it would corrupt us on the inside. The nightmares hadn't really ceased, and according to Vincent, they never would. However, he said she would eventually learn to live with them. She wasn't entirely convinced of that, after all Vincent wasn't exactly a healthy minded individual, and he had been going through this for years. Still, she supposed things could be worse. She had managed to get herself a job, and with the extra income coming in, Vincent decided it was time that they moved out of his apartment. They had moved in to a two bedroom apartment in the downtown area, and she was pleasantly surprised at how much better her life felt when she had a bed to sleep in instead of an old sofa. Also, throughout her training, it became quickly apparent that her abilities were intrinsically different from Vincent's. He had called her a "sensitive", explaining that she seemed to have a strong sense of magical energies, and how they flowed in the environment around her. This made her much more adept at delicate forms of magic, such as veils and illusions. However, offensive magic like evocation was difficult for her. She knew how to do it, of course, but her sensitivity also meant she could truly feel the intent behind magic. Magic born of anger and aggression made her feel sick to her stomach, and so she avoided using it at all costs. Finally, and this was something Vincent seemed to find the most annoying, was that she had no need of a focus. Staffs, wands and trinkets were of no use to her, and she'd found that in fact they were more of a detriment. Vincent looked at magic like a science, he used tools to help him visualize and understand it, whereas Meredith simply, well, felt it. It was as simple as that. Looking up from her daydream, Meredith realized that she had been walking for a while now. She was now standing in an eerily quiet part of the city. This hadn't exactly been an accident, though. She wasn't lying to Kate when she said she was busy tonight. Working in a record store was what she did during the day, but at night, well at night she defended the city against the forces of evil, of course. She allowed her will to reach out in to the empty streets ahead of her. Her magical sense for oddities was apparently, far greater than her mentor's, and she had managed to hone in on this location with relative ease. Something dangerous was lurking nearby, and the more she analysed the situation, the more she realized that she was, in fact, being stalked. "Fantastic." She said flatly to herself. Then she took a step forward as she allowed her will to form a thin bubble around her. Meredith's Veil was so delicately woven, that she experienced very little dulling of her senses while she stood within it. What's more, as she turned her head around, she could see that she had left an almost perfect replica of herself standing behind her. Veiling was a great way to hide from potential dangers, but if you wanted to take control of the situation, then you had to lay a trap of your own. She made sure to adjust her veil to account for the sound of her footsteps as she crossed the road and stood on the other side. It was just one of the many calculations you had to make, as well as considering the changes in lighting and shadow, although veiling at night was significantly easier. She waited on the opposite side of the road, watching her copy stand on the street corner, looking nervous and checking her phone periodically, making it appear like she was waiting for someone. Her stalker was quick to make a move. In such a quiet area, she supposed that opportunity was bound to arise more quickly. A large shape moved in the shadows, she tried to follow it but it moved swiftly despite it's bulk. She frowned, when after quite a while, the creature had not bothered to strike what she felt was an easy target. In fact it hadn't allowed itself to be seen at all, and the movements she had seen looked like it was moving away from her illusion. That didn't make a lot of sense to her. Unless her stalker had noticed her illusion. The thought made her heart leap from her chest for a moment. How would that even be possible. She had been so careful when constructing it, allowing it to stand perfectly in place as she threw up her veil. Where had she slipped up? Then it dawned on her. Whatever was following her, was moving like an animal, not a human. Animals didn't use their eyes very much when stalking their prey. Most of all they used their sense of smell. She hadn't accounted for that. Her replica would have no scent to it at all. She quietly cursed to herself, and then froze as she felt a creeping sensation crawl up her spine. If the creature was using it's sense of smell to track her, then that would mean... Meredith spun on her heel in time to see the large beast burst out from the shadows behind her, bounding towards her with bright, yellow eyes and dark grey fur, and powerful teeth bared to rip her to shreds. Instinctively she threw her hands up in front of her, and summoned a dazzling array of light and sparks, like someone had set off some fireworks in between her and her foe. The bright flashing and the noise startled the enormous wolf, causing him to back off momentarily, snarling viciously. Meredith saw her moment and went off at a sprint, abandoning her useless veil and tore off down the street as fast as her legs could carry her. She heard the scratching of paws beating against the pavement behind her, growing steadily louder. She knew enough about werewolves to know that running from them was an essentially pointless endeavor. She turned down a thin alleyway, and hastily threw up another veil, this time making sure to mask not only her sight and sound, but also her scent. The wolf turned down the alleyway after her and paused for a moment, slowing it's pace as it sniffed at the air. Realising that her scent trail had disappeared, it let out a low growl of annoyance. Meredith had ducked down behind a dumpster, and it was all she could do to stop herself from shaking in fear. Calm down, she told herself, You need to think! She thought about what she had read in Vincent's bestiaries. Werewolf was a bit of a catch all term, after all. The thing that was following her was an over sized wolf, but a wolf in every aspect of it's form. Lycanthropes, she remembered, were actually human in form, but only had the strength and senses of a wolf. Loup Garou, on the other hand, were bipedal wolf men that only transformed on the full moon. Neither fitted the creature currently hunting her. That meant this wolf was a shapeshifter. Shapeshifter wolves usually moved in packs, and this one was alone. This seemed quite odd. Unfortunately her inquiry was answered, as another large, grey wolf came padding down the other side of the alleyway. Meredith cursed inwardly. She was hidden, for now, but she was cut off on both sides. Eventually they would find her, even if she tightened the radius of her veil, eventually they would step in to it and break the spell. It was at a time like this where she wished Vincent had been with her. This was the sort of situation where his loud tactics were actually useful. She had to think about her enemy, and figure out their weaknesses. Shapeshifters were human, after all, and in a sense their abilities were just a very particular branch of wizardry. So they could be bound by the same means, presumably. She thought about forming a barrier around herself. At the very least that would stop them from reaching her, but then again they would probably just wait for her magic to weaken, and take her out when it dropped. But what if she could trap them in a barrier. She had to perform the next few steps quickly, and with perfect timing, or else she was done for. She got up from her hiding spot and stood facing the first wolf she had encountered. Unlike Vincent, she had no need to draw a circle. She could envision it clearly, using her magic to create an illusion only she could see, and as she raised her hand she saw a faint blue glow form the shape of a circle around the wolf. She released her will, and in doing so her veil dropped. The wolf lunged at her, but slammed against an invisible barrier, it was trapped within her magic circle. One down, but she could already hear the second one bounding towards her. She raised her arms to repeat the process, but as she turned she gasped as the beast was already upon her. She had miscalculated it's speed, and as fear gripped her she fell backwards to the floor and closed her eyes, waiting for her imminent end. But it didn't come. "You need a hand up, miss?" A strong male voice said to her. She opened her eyes to see the form of a well toned and very naked young man, who had an impish grin on his face. "Oh...OH!" She said as she covered her eyes with her hands. The young man laughed at her reaction, and she heard another laugh coming from behind her, from inside the circle she had created. Then there was a third laugh, one that she recognised instantly. "Vincent!" She hissed, removing her hands away from her eyes and staring past the naked young man. Behind him stood Vincent, dressed in his stupid, old duster, his messy, black hair now a little past his shoulders and in desperate need of a cut. "What the hell!?" She fumed. "You no like way I teach, hmm, Grasshoppa?" Vincent said in a stupid accent, grinning from ear to ear. "Teach? You mean this was training?" Meredith said as she got to her feet. "I could have been killed." "Nah." Vincent replied. "Eddie and Jake are old pals of mine. They're a local pack." "Yeah, We owed Vincent a favour so...sorry, miss." One of the werewolves said. "Can you forgive us?" "I..." Meredith glanced over the young man again, and then turned herself to face the wall. "Will you put some clothes on already!" = "Here." Vincent said as he handed Meredith an ice cream cone. She was standing by their car outside an ice cream shop in the city. Meredith snatched the ice cream from him and proceeded to scowl at him as she took a lick. "Don't go thinking this let's you off the hook." She said. "I least 5 more ice cream cones!" "Hehe...fair enough." Vincent said with a smirk. "Look, I couldn't very well warn you. I needed to make sure you could react to a dangerous situation." "Why?" Meredith asked. "Because..." Vincent looked down the street as he spoke, and he inclined his head so that Meredith would look as well. At the bottom of the street, under a streetlamp, sat a big black dog, it's tongue sticking out as it panted away with a doggy grin. Meredith raised her eyebrow. "So? It's just a dog." Meredith said with a shrug. "That dog has been everywhere I go for the last two weeks." Vincent explained. "And I mean everywhere, I took a Way to London and the damn thing met me on the other side." " that a bad thing?" Meredith asked. "He looks friendly, maybe he just wants to be pals." "The dog is a big old softy." Vincent explained. "He's simply called 'The Black Dog' by most. His owner, however, is Acherus Draven, The Dragon." "...Why do I think that isn't just a nickname?" Meredith said in a worried tone. "Because it isn't." Vincent replied simply. "Acherus is one of the last of his kind, and he's also an incredibly powerful wizard. More importantly, however, is that he's holds one of the five seats of the council." "...You mean that council?" Meredith asked "The Council of The Wise, yes." Vincent said with a nod. "In a sense, he's my boss, kinda." "Right, so what's with the dog?" said Meredith. "The Black Dog is how Acherus tells you he's watching you, and in particularly, that your presence is required at a meeting with the Council." Vincent explained. "You were Fae once, don't you think it's a little cold, I mean Spring started a few weeks ago." "I guess...but..." Meredith dropped her ice cream on the floor. "You killed Queen Shaylee..." "Yep." Vincent said with a nod. "And I'm guessing that means nobody was there to contest Winter when the seasons were supposed to change. pretty bad, all things considered." "Vincent...are we in trouble?" Meredith asked. "Oh yeah...big time." Vincent said with a heavy sigh.
  18. "Hoss', how's it comin'?" Al called as he walked towards Vincent, who was inspecting a vial of dark blue, opaque liquid, whisps of steam still escaping from the top of it. "Sleeping potion is done." Vincent replied. "Jus' need to make a circle around me and Violet, and complete the ritual before I go under.""Dangerous, putting yerself out like tha'" Al said. "Yup." Vincent replied. "But there aren't any other options. I need to get in there and get Violet to snap herself out of it.""So...aren't you entering her mind?" Meredith asked. "Isn't that a taboo?""It is." Vincent said with a nod. "But I'm no entering her mind, I'm entering her dream.""Is there a difference?" Meredith asked, screwing up her face in confusion. "There is." Vincent said with a nod. "Dreams kind of...well when you dream it's like you make your own little pocket dimension, I suppose.""More enter the dimension of the Dream Aspect." Al said, raising an eyebrow to show his skepticism. "You make it seem simple, Hoss', but I've never heard o' anyone in my time doing such a thing. To be lucid in your own dream, thas one thing...but to enter the dream of another? I don't know...""It can be done." Vincent said. "I've done it before...or...well the book has. It's a long story.""And one we don't have time for." David said. "My prayers will be with you, and I trust you. That is enough for me.""Thanks, David." Vincent said with a nod. "Hang on." Meredith said as she waved her hands in front of her. "Dream Aspect?""Mm." Al nodded. "It's only a hypothesis, really. There are some things in life tha' even Gods and Immortals have no control over. Absolutes tha' have always existed, and will always exist until the end o' days. We call 'em Aspects, but we don't really know what they are. Like Death, for example.""Yeah but death is just something that happens, it's not like a living being." Meredith said, shaking her head as if she was the only one speaking any sense. "It's different with mortals." Vincent explained. "We have souls. There's a significance there. I mean there isn't any way to truly know, but you've heard all the mythology behind angels of death, the grim reaper, shinigami. It's a prevalent notion in every culture, stretched all across time." "There's usually a level o' truth to myths like that." Al said."Never heard of a Dream Aspect, or whatever, though." Meredith replied, clearly not convinced. "Mr Sandman...bring me a dream!" Vincent sang with a soft smirk. "Bum, bum, bum, bum!" David chimed in. The pair chuckled at each other, and it felt entirely surreal to do so. Sometimes you just laughed when it was least appropriate. "Dream, Death, Nature, Time..." Vael listed names between a sip of tea as casually as listing ice cream flavours. She stared into the contents of her cup and swilled it around irritably, "Needs sugar..." "I don't get it." Meredith said, looking a little bemused. "Don't worry about it." Vincent said. "All you need to know is I'm going to go to sleep, and when I wake up, so will Violet.""Cocky." Al said. "Thas' the boy I know.""Yeah, well, I've been kind of a bad ass of late." Vincent said with a soft smirk. "Well what are you waiting for?" David said. "Go save your sister.""Yeah..." Vincent said, nodding, and for a moment his false confidence faltered, and he looked fragile. He made his way to the bedroom where Violet was before anyone had any time to comment on it. In only a few minutes he had drawn a circle around the bed where Violet was lying. Vincent lay next to her, and had bound his right wrist to hers with a length of thread. Just another symbolic gesture to strengthen his purpose. Thaumaturgy was his specialty, but this was no time to be throwing out the techniques he had held true to his entire life. Everyone was stood quietly around the room, silent either out of respect, or perhaps they were just unsure of what to say. He gave each of them a nod, and dutifully downed the contents of the vial in his free hand, and placed the empty vial on the bed next to him. He quickly projected some of his will in to the circle, sealing the area with his magic. He lay down and immediately began to focus on what he had to do. Already he could feel the effect of the potion. His body felt warm, and numb. Moving felt like a bothersome prospect, but lying still had the added advantage of helping him focus his mind. He thought of Violet, and focused on his desire to be close to her, and after a while he began to forget where he was, or what he was even doing. There was a deep haze, and then finally, a fade to black. ====== When he opened his eyes again Vincent felt suddenly, almost painfully alert. He was stood on the edge of a cliff face, the rocks beneath him as black as ink, and the sky a deep red. Beneath the cliff was a sea that stretched as far as the eye could see, it's waters violentally crashing against the rocks. The ocean was so black and mursky, but tinged in the red sky it looked like blood as it frothed and swayed down below. " definitely not Kansas..." He said to himself. Was this Violet's dream? He couldn't see her anywhere. Had he failed? Wherever he was, he was certainly dreaming. There was no place on earth that looked quite like this. "Disappointing, Vincent Hallow." A deep voice said, coming from his left. He turned his head in shock, but the voice was familiar to him. A tall and pale faced man, with blackened eyes and black, untamed hair was stood next to him, dressed head to toe in a robe that looked like it was a living entity, shimmering like the stars in the sky. "You know I do not allow others within my domain." He continued. "I would suspect you have a death wish, but then again, it would be my dear sister you would have to seek out." "Sorry." Vincent said. "I guess I took a wrong turn. I wanted to go to my sister's dream.""Our meeting is no accident." The entity reponded, his empty eyes staring ever forward in to the abyss before them. "Again an arrogant old one invades my domain, and again you can be of good use, fortunately for you.""Is that your way of saying we're buddies?" Vincent said with a smirk. "I told you once before, do not mistake my actions as an effort to help you in any way." the entity said. "I have brought you before me to inform you that what you have done, in any other situation, would not be tolerated. If you enter my domain again, under any circumstance, then you will not leave it. Do you understand?""Uh...yeah." Vincent said, feeling his smart-assedness withering away. "So...can you take me where I need to go?""I can." the entity said, and he turned his empty gaze on Vincent. "And I will." There was a flash of light, and Vincent winced, holding his hands up in front of him. After a moment he realised that there hadn't been a flash at all. His eyes began to adjust to the brightly lit room he was now standing in. He could smell antiseptic in the air, and as he examined the interior he realised that he was in some kind of hospital. He looked around to see if he could see anyone, but aside from a few hospital staff, the place seemed quite empty. He looked down at his feet, and examined the clothes he was wearing. He was dressed in his usual black jeans, black boots and an old band t-shirt, and to his relief he was wearing his trusty old coat. Missing, however, were his magical effects. No staff, no charm, no nothing. He tried to channel his will, and quickly confirmed his suspicions. "No magic..." He said to himself, "Well...that sucks." He walked down the corridor, trying to see if he could see any sign of Violet. This was her dream, though. She could be anything, she might not even look how she normally does. For all Vincent knew, she might be dreaming that she was a handsome, male surgeon from one of those cheesy hospital soaps on daytime TV. He noticed a nurse walking down the hall towards him, and he wondered if he could even interact with a dream character. Well, there was no harm in trying, he supposed. "Excuse me." He called to the nurse. "I'm...I'm looking for Violet Hallow?"The nurse looked at Vincent quizzically, as if trying to understand him, more than what he had asked. Then after a moment's pause she smiled and asked, "You must mean Mrs. Hallow?" She turned and pointed down the corridor, "Keep going straight and take a right, past the nurse's reception desk. Room 112." The nurse nodded to Vincent and carried on down the hallway. Vincent followed the nurse's directions, swinging a righ after walking down the hall. He found his pace turning in to a swift jog as the thought of finding Violet became more real in his mind. By the time he passed the reception desk he had to almost skid to a halt outside Room 112. He paused for a moment, swallowed, and leaned in to the small window on the door. He couldn't see very clearly, but the room looked empty of other people, aside from the woman lying on the bed. Violet looked almost like a ghost, but he was certain it was her. "What's happened to you?" He whispered quietly. He paused for another moment, before reaching for the door handle. "Hello, Vincent." A soft voice called. When he turned, there stood a nurse. She was short, with a mop of raven hair and pale skin. She was beautiful, though petite, and she had a mischievousness about her face. Her lips and eyes were touched by black make-up, and stranger still, the colour of her 1940's nurses uniform was inverted. It was entirely black, and yet, the other nurses didn't seem perturbed by this at all. "Its rare I meet most more than once," She smiled, "But I think this was coming for some time now." She added, her smile broadening and her eyes glistening like diamonds. " are?" Vincent asked, looking mildly irritated at being interrupted. Everything about this woman seemed a little off to him. Her clothing, her demeanor, and how she knew who he was. Even if she was something conjured up from Violet's subconscious, there was something about her that just seemed to break the mold of this carefully constructed little fabrication. "You can call me Dee, if you like." She replied."Right." Vincent said, a touch of wariness in his voice. "It's nice to meet you but...I'm going in here to see Vi...I mean Mrs Hallow.""I know." Dee nodded, "And you can call her Vi, if you like. But doing so to anyone but myself would be a mistake. Also, I would advise caution in revealing your name to anyone but Violet." Dee smiled and reached out, touching Vincent on the side of his upper arm, "You have to be careful here, Vincent. Your enemy is all around you." Even as she said this, a nurse walked past them and Dee stopped talking and smiled at the passing nurse, who smiled back, her gaze lingering on Vincent with a strange expression on her face, but then she had passed them and moved on down the corridor. Vincent stared at Dee quizzically. She didn't seem to be a threat, but equally he hadn't expected any allies in this place. He wasn't quite sure what to make of her. The thought of hitting her with a kinetic blast and asking questions later had crossed his mind, but he had almost immediately remembered that he had no magic in this place. "Alright...I just want to get Violet and get out of here, so that's what I'm going to do." He said finally. He turned around and carefully opened the door, and stepped inside the room, allowing Dee to come in behind him. He turned to his sister, and it made his stomach turn to see her looking so frail and vulnerable. "Violet." He said, his voice a hushed whisper. "'s me.""Vincent." Dee stepped around the bed to the other side of Violet so that she was facing him, "For you, it might only have been days. But for Violet, she's been here for weeks. In this world, she believes you to be dead." She paused, watching Vincent, "You must tread carefully." She urged. "I don't have time for careful." Vincent growled. "She's dying, the real her is dying. She needs to wake up now, she just needs to see that this is a dream." Vincent placed his hand on Violet's. "Vi...can you hear me? Speak to me.""She's been drugged." Dee turned her gaze to the drip beside Violet's bed, and the little coil of tubing that led into her arm. "I can't stay much longer, Vincent. You have to steel yourself. In here, there are only two absolutes, the Doctor and--" Before she could finish, the door handle turned and Dee vanished. In stepped a man in a white lab coat that looked two sizes too big for him. He had a chiselled jaw, and bright blonde hair slicked back. His name badge read, 'Tenenbaum, L. - M.D'. The doctor looked around the room, frowning as though he was expecting to see something but was disappointed with what he was presented, then his disappointment passed and his gaze fell upon Vincent. "Hello, can I help you, Mr....?" His question hung in the air, as he held out his hand to shake. Vincent reached out and grasped the Doctor's hand purely out of reflex. His mouth was opening to speak before he could think of what to say. "Uh...Jimmy." He said finally. His thoughts had somehow fallen on that slimeball vampire who ran a night club in L.A. That was the first time he had seen Violet in nearly 10 years. "I'm an acquaintance. Mrs Hallow used to uh...pop in to my bar from time to time.""You're a bar owner?" The doctor asked, frowning but still smiling. "Excuse me," He asked politely, stepping past Vincent and checking Violet's pulse, and a number of other things. He pulled out a small pad and wrote something on it and then replaced it in his lab coat, "So tell me about yourself Jimmy, how did you get to know Mrs. Hallow? Are you telling me she was a patron of your bar? A housewife and mother?" The doctor looked over his shoulder and gave a wry smile, "I think you two were maybe...." He raised an eyebrow to imply 'something more, something that maybe Mr. Hallow never knew about'. One of the nurses entered the room and fluffed Violet's pillow. "Hardly." Vincent said, forcing a short laugh. "Actually she used to come in from time to time to get Mr Hallow, you know, when he'd had a few too many.""Ah," The doctor nodded, smiling a smile that said that wasn't the first time he'd heard this. "Well Jimmy, i'm sure Violet would have appreciated your coming here, unfortunately, she needs her rest so i'll have to ask you to leave. Miss Hallow has a surgery in the morning, and its vital we let her rest. You can come by and see her in the morning if you like? Nurse.""Of course, doctor. Sir?" The nurse put her palm to Vincent's back and gently pressed. Vincent wanted so desperately to fight her gentle pressing, he didn't want to leave Violet. But he relented and with a nod he stepped out of the room with the nurse. He thanked her and made his way back down the corridor, shuddering as the door to Violet's room clicked closed once more. He made his way to the exit of the hospital and found himself standing in the end of a sunet, light only just disappearing from over the horizon. He let out a heavy sigh as he shoved his hands in his coat pocket, feeling the urge for a cigarette. How very like Violet's subconscious to not allow them to be on his person. He shook his head gently as he tried to think of what he could do. Time was running out and he had none of his usual magical tricks at his disposal. There was no way he could storm in all shock and barrel this time. For the moment, he wasn't a wizard, he had to accept that. So what was he then? Dead, apparently. That didn't really help him though. He had done as Dee had instructed, but he didn't even know if he could trust her. She might have been trying to fool him. Perhaps she was the enemy after all. There was something about her though, something unnerving, and dangerous, but at the same time very gentle. Something told him that he could trust her. "Miss..." He whispered to himself, as he came to a fairly sudden realization. Doctor Tenenbaum had called Violet "Miss", and yet beforehand he had mentioned her husband. Normally he might have thought this an easy mistake for a person to make, but this wasn't real. It was a fantasy. That tiny slip showed a flaw in Tenenbaum's personality, something that he felt shouldn't happen to a dream entity. Dee had said something about Tenenbaum being an absolute, along with another she hadn't managed to say. "Violet." He said to himself. She was, of course, the absolute of her own dreamscape. If Tenenbaum was the same then that could only mean he was the one pulling the strings. But if that was true, then Vincent could do nothing to stop the man. It was just as the Grimoire had informed him, only Violet could get herself out of this. "Guess I have to wait." Vincent said to himself. Then he walked away from the hospital and in to the night. ====== Vincent returned just after midnight. The hospital had become even quieter at night, if that was even possible. Vincent moved swiftly but carefully through the wards, being carefully not to be spotted. He couldn't risk a nurse catching him and potentially thwarting his last chance at saving Violet. As he moved round every corner, the pressure was mounting inside him. He felt so useless without his magic. Even his fairly rudimentary attempts at veiling would have been enough to make this a relatively simple mission, but without even that, he felt terrifyingly normal, a feeling he hadn't really had since he was about ten years old. However, it was Violet's life on the line, and somehow he managed to summon enough care and attention to avoid being detected. When he reached Room 112 again he reached for the handle carefully, and gave it a soft tug, opening the door with a click. The room was dark now, but Violet was still lying sedated on the bed. He rushed over to her and inspected the IV that was fed in to her arm. With a precise tug he removed the needles from her arm, and hoped to hell that dream drugs wore off quickly. He waited a moment or two, but Violet did not stir. He began to feel incredibly anxious, turning his head constantly to check nobody was at the door. Finally, desperation gave over, and he grabbed Violet firmly by her shoulders, and shook her frantically. "Violet!" He hissed in a sharp whisper. "Violet! Come on...come on! Wake up Vi...please!" Her mind felt sluggish. It took time for her thoughts to bubble up to the surface. Before she could gather herself, however, Violet could hear her name being whispered, in a frantic, urgent tone. By someone she knew to be dead. She couldn't see his face, for her vision had not, and might never return, but she knew his voice anywhere. She could smell the stink of his brand of cigarettes. But he was dead. Violet opened her mouth to scream but a hand pressed firmly against her mouth. Nevertheless, she tried. When all the air had escaped her lungs, and she had tired herself from thrashing, she pulled free of her assailant and stumbled out of bed, falling backwards into the hospital wall and scrambling into the nearest corner where she coiled up into a ball, and sat there shivering in fear and confusion. "Violet!" Vincent cried, edging carefully towards her. "Violet...listen to me. It's need to believe me." He edged closer still. "'re dreaming. You need to wake up." He said, turning his head as he heard the sounds of footsteps coming down the hall. "We don't have much time." "No! No! No no no..." Violet kept repeating, "You're dead. You're not here. I have to get better. I have to get better. Have to get better. Have to get better. Better and better and I will I will. No no no no." She shook her head and started crying as Vincent's voice insisted, Violet covered her face with her hands. "Violet!" Vincent said as his hands gripped her shoulders firmly, but not so hard as to hurt her. "Listen to yourself...this isn't you. You're stronger than this. I know you are..." Vincent took a breath and went to continue pleading, when the door opened behind him, and he whirled around on his feet. Tenenbaum stood in the doorway. "Back the fuck off!" Vincent roared at him. He was done with pretending. He couldn't take it any longer. He couldn't stay calm when looking at the man who had utterly broken his sister. "Violet!" He yelled back at her. "Get up! Come on!" "Calm down, Vincent." The doctor had his hands stuffed into his coat pockets. He was backed by large orderlies on either side of him. "We don't have to do this.""I'm better, i'm better. You're not here..." Violet muttered, grabbing hold of her bedsheets and clinging to them."You're much better, Mrs. Hallow, I think maybe we don't even need to do the surgery now, hmm? Just come with me, and i'll make this phantom go away.""Don't listen to him, Violet! He's killing you!" Vincent snapped. "You have to believe me...believe me, even just for a moment, and I can show you." Vincent raised his hand towards Tenenbaum, hilm palm open towards the doctor. "This is your dream, Violet, only you can change it. Remember what it feels like to use magic! Remember the first time you used it!"
  19. Hush

    Tatsuma was smoking his e-cigarette as he made the short walk to reach Nagai. He observed the scene with the same cold, detached expression, aside from a mild flaring of his nostrils which revealed his annoyance. "Let's not beat around the bush here." He said as he reached in to his jacket and retrieved a handgun from the holster strapped to his chest. The pistol was made of silver metal with a black metal grip, coated with a dark green anodised grip. The barrel thick and bulky, with a thin strip of green led light glowing across the side. It was a government issue EXT-19 Hand Cannon, the standard weapon of choice for people in his line of work. The pistol itself was loaded with highly destructive hollow point round designed to combat the more dangerous threat of a Bakemono. However it was also equipped with a electroshock pulse function, for a non lethal approach. However the key feature of the fun was the built in threat detection software designed by the Security Division of the government. "I'm sure you know how this works." Tatsuma said, and he held the gun as if presenting it, rather than pointing it right at Nagai. "The EXT-19, often called the Equalizer. Based on the current scenario, it is likely that the threat detection system will consider you an individual who deserves lethal force, whereas this bystander here would be considered non-hostile and the pistol would be unusable. Perhaps if you were very fortunate the Equalizer would only authorise non-lethal force. However the system in place is quite flawed, for example it is unable to understand the potential value of this bystander to our investigation. It is quite likely that the system would authorise for me to shoot through this bystander in order to put down a highly dangerous individual like yourself." He took another pull of his cigarette and exhaled, the vapour swirling around his head. "However if I point this weapon and the assessment is made, I am duty bound to follow through with the order. So tell me, am I going to have to do that?" "Hey, you talk a lot when you hold a gun." Nagai sucked in air through his lips and looked at Cho for a few thoughtful moments, "That thing only every says 'kill' when it looks at me." "That probably isn't far from the truth." Tatsuma said with a nod. "Listen to me carefully, Nagai." He made a point of looking directly in to Nagai's eyes. "You said earlier that no human would hold your gaze, and yet here I stand as evidence to the contrary. The reason for this is that I don't particularly care about your propensity to commit crimes. Unfortunately it is my job to ensure that you don't, and I do not compromise when it comes to by work ethic. You have keen senses, if you choose to utilise them properly you can be a great asset. However, if you would rather just be a dog on a leash, I can work with that just as well." "Crime?!" Nagai spat, laughing. "You think humans don't look at me because I commit crimes? What's my crime?! I eat to survive." He shook his head in disbelief but took a deep breath and relaxed his grip. Cho quickly wriggled free and ran to Tatsuma, leaving Nagai facing him without a shield. Nagai patted his chest, "Well come on then, see if you can shoot faster than I can reach you. Then you can sleep at night knowing you did the right thing, huh? What are you waiting for?!" "I think I was quite clear that I would rather not shoot you." Tatsuma said. "Point your grudge against the world at someone else. I have a job to do and I intend to do it. It would be a lot easier on everyone if you did the same. There are advantages to playing the game to a degree. At any rate there is nothing I can do to change your situation, other than offer you the easiest solution. I'm glad you decided to take it on this occasion." Tatsuma turned to Cho and grabbed him firmly by the arm. "I am going to be placing you under arrest now. You will be taken to the station for questioning and if you cooperate fully then, if you have done nothing wrong, you will be free to go. If you don't resist then I can leave the cuffs off. Do you understand?" "Y-yes." Cho muttered, looking back at Nagai. "But I haven't done anything wrong?""Tch!" Nagai growled and shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, and walked back to the car, muttering, "The easiest solution would be eating you and migrating to somewhere with beaches and babes..." As he opened the passenger-side door he called over his shoulder, "Runners are always guilty!""Mm." Tatsuma agreed to himself, "Guilty of what, though?" He added as he followed Nagai to the car with Cho, and led the young man in to the back seat and closed the door. He then got in to the driving seat himself. As he started the car he turned to Nagai. "When we get back go get something to eat." He said. "SETS provides for you, right?"Nagai stared out of his side window, "Mmh... no." He replied, "When you're done questioning the kid, I get to eat him.""W-what?!" Cho squeeked. "I-I...!!" Looking over his shoulder, Nagai grinned wickedly at Cho and closed his eyes, pleased with himself, "Gotcha!" He chimed, and then settled back in his chair."So you've got jokes." Tatsuma said. "Good to see it's not all self absorbed whining and acting out.""Oi, Tats?" Nagai shifted tone, he sounded serious. His eyes focused off on something distant outside, "I hope you never know what its like to feel a ghoul's hunger. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy..." Tatsuma shook his head, but chose not to continue the conversation. He didn't respect excuses very much, and that was how he saw this, right or wrong. It was true that Nagai's need for human flesh went against the values of human society, for obvious reasons. However Tatsuma saw it differently. Nagai was an animal who was depriving himself of what he needs. The reasons for this could be many among Ghouls. Perhaps they feared the penalty for feeding on humans, others might have tried to hold on to their humanity as much as possible, and for those like Nagai who were under constant watch, it was challenging to truly keep your hunger in check. He understood that it was not easy, but then life rarely is. For Tatsuma, if a being is not willing to do anything for the sake of their own survival, then they deserve all the pain that they bear because of it. It was not a conversation that he wanted to have with Nagai, as it would be unlikely to reap any benefit for either of them. Regardless he was much more interested in the leads they had established on the case. The young boy, Cho, he held valuable information. He wasn't guilty, at least not in the way Nagai had implied. He was far too cowardly, too genuinely afraid and surprised by what had happened. He didn't fit the profile at all. This boy wanted nothing more than to fade in to the background. The killer was the opposite. He wanted them to see what he had done. He wanted people whispering and gossiping, and he wanted people to be afraid. If killing was an art, then this killer was an artist.
  20. Hush

    Tanaka Tatsuma was sitting alone in one of the booths of a small cafe called Orais. He was warming his hands over a cup of black coffee, wearing a dark grey shirt with a slate tie hanging loosely from his neck, a long coat of matching colour was lying in a heap on the tacky red faux-leather of the booth's seat. Orais was decorated with a holographic design of a Parisian cafe, no doubt a vibe to complement their excellent coffee. He lifted his hand and ran it through his unruly, dark hair, before reaching for his breast pocket and retrieving a single cigarette. He placed it at his mouth and inhaled, the end of it lighting up without need for a flame. It was, of course, an electronic device that had been made to look like a cigarette, but he knew what he was inhaling was the vapour produced from a synthesized blend of chemicals designed to mimic the feelig of smoking, but this method was much safer than real tobacco, a substance that had been illegal for quite some time now. He smirked briefly at the thought that this little device was much like himself, a mimic. For all intents and purposes it was the same as the real thing, but in reality it was simply a pretender. Tatsuma was a pretender to the human race. He had watched them his whole life, so much so that he had learned to make the motions expected of him in order to fit in with society. He had been watching the other patrons of Orais during his visit. A couple sat at a table nearby, talking quietly to themselves. What they were saying was of no importance to him, after all most people were liars so he found it poor practice to trust anything that came from their mouths. Instead he would simply make observations about them to uncover their story. The couple were young. The man was well dressed, a professional. His posture was relaxed. Considering Orais was not the cheapest of places, Tatsuma could assume that the couple were not struggling financially. The young man was also smiling, genuinely. A real smile has nothing to do with the lips, and has everything to do with the eyes. Most people can force their lips to smile, but most lack the skill to hide the real expression shown in their eyes. It only took a few moments for Tatsuma to see that this young man was content with his life, and as a result everything about him became like an open book. His posture was relaxed and welcoming, his smile was out for all to see with nothing to hide. The young woman, however, was a different story. She was also smiling, but her eyebrows were drawn up, showing ones in the know, like Tatsuma, that there was sadness lurking within her. Her posture was an attempt at being relaxed, but relaxation is difficult to mimic, because the very act of forcing yourself stops you from being relaxed. She fidgeted with the ring on her finger, and she was unconsciously leaning away from the man she was sat with. Throughout their conversation she never once looked her partner in the eye, and she was always touching her face, subconscious attempt to conceal it. This was an emotion Tatsuma understood very well, despite never experiencing it himself. Guilt. With this information it would be quite easy to speculate what was going on. The woman had betrayed the man somehow. Chances were high that she had been unfaithful. However she could have also been careless, and gotten them in to debt. Either way the woman was to blame, and she knew it. Had she planned to leave the man, or grown to dislike him, then she would have exhibited other traits such as disgust. To find out more he would have to probe, but that was where he would draw the line. It was not his place to actually do anything about this, he simply enjoyed observing people. It was how he liked to pass the time, and keep his mind in the game. He was a Handler for SETS, and soon he would be meeting his new Hound, a Bakemono named Nagai. Tatsuma had read his file. A human, once upon a time, now turned Ghoul. Responsible for the death of several members of his family, apparently through negligence rather than intent. It was nothing he hadn't read before. It seemed somewhat typical for Bakemono to lead tragic lives, and the ones who became Hounds were almost guaranteed of it. He pulled back the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a thin, silver band around his wrist. Almost immediately a sequence of tiny laser-like lights glittered from the bracelet and formed a holographic interface above his wrist. He pulled up a media file and allowed it to play, the audio set to be heard only by himself. Tatsuma watched carefully as images of a mutilated corpse flashed across the small screen. Next was the news footage of security minister Nori Masahiko. He didn't bother to listen to his words, he had watched the video before, and he found a scripted public statement to be all but useless when he was investigating. Instead he watched the man himself. As the questions continued the expressions of stress on Masahiko's face seemed to drastically worsen. Tatsuma noted the clenching of the jaw before answering, the way he glanced at the reporters screamed of contempt. A fairly common reaction to the press, in fairness. "The involvement of a Bakemono is all but confirmed," The minister nodded, "No human being is capable of this level of brutality." "Lie." Tastuma said, shaking his head and turning off the video. Humans were capable of untold brutality, Tatsuma knew this from the bottom of his heart. However he could tell by the minister's expression that he had also known that, and he had simply lied. He didn't judge him though. It was a necessary lie when dealing with the public. It wasn't indicative of the truth to condemn all unspeakable acts to that of the Bakemono, but it was the simplest solution to keep the public from becoming more panicked. He drained the last of his coffee and grabbed his coat, standing up and throwing it over his shoulders as he went to leave. It was time to work. --- Masao Ko was speaking to someone as Tatsuma quietly entered the room. They were talking about the case. The young man with the tattoos he recognised from the file he had read. It was his new Hound, Nagai. He decided to wait and listen to what he had to say. "Looks like her body is intact, in a manner of speaking." Nagai looked back at Masao with a grin, "But, some of her organs are missing. Unless they're pulp, I don't see a heart, or lungs, or liver." He noted, pointing at certain areas of the images. "Which means, either they took the organs, or--" "--they ate them." Tatsuma said, finishing the sentence. The two men looked at him, suddenly aware of his presence. Nagai looked away, somewhat disinterested, and then continued his train of thought. "They could have taken the organs for any reason, I don't see any signs of feeding in these pictures. Maybe we should see the body first hand, hm?" Nagai turned and looked at him expectantly, whilst Masao Ko gave a contemptuous snarl. "How 'bout it... partner?" " we're letting them play detective now, Ko?" Tatsuma said, ignoring Nagai. "I was just familiarizing him with the case." Masao Ko replied. "Besides, if the culprit is feeding then who would know him better than another Ghoul?""Him?" Tatsuma asked with a raise of his brow. "I didn't think we'd identified the gender of the killer. I'm fairly certain something like this is well within a woman's capabilities.""Don't be a smartass." Masao Ko growled. Tatsuma didn't reply, and instead he reached for his wristband again, and with a few gestures the display projected on to the blank wall of the office. The display was something akin to a murder board. On it was a photograph of the victim, as well as evidence files including the news report from the minister. Over the section marked "Suspect" there was nothing. He cleared his throat and then gestured to the board. "What we're dealing with here is a show off. The extravagance of the scene, and the public status of the victim both point to someone who was looking to make a show of him or herself. This was no crime of passion, it is a deliberate attempt to provoke fear within the public. Forensics will be able to tell us if any organs are missing, and if that's the case then we can look in to the how's and why's." Tatsuma turned to look at Nagai and paused to observe him, assessing him carefully. "We need to interview the witnesses, as well as the Mayor and his family. Before that, however, we need to take a walk through the crime scene." He turned for the door as the holographic display disappeared, and he stopped at the threshold of the office, waiting for Nagai to follow.
  21. Konoha Gaiden [Private]

    [Ninmu] Long after everyone had eaten their fill, the night drew in to the early hours of the morning, and the adults said their goodbyes and retired to their beds. However, two young ninja had waited until their houses were quiet. And now they had met each other under the twilight sky, standing on the rooftops of Konoha. "My dad went out like a light." Jin said with a grin. "So where should we go first? If we can find out where they are holding the second exam then we can get an idea of what's to come." "I could take Saya's form, or Isamu's." Yuri suggested, "Between our encounter with the Crimson Field, and my sister's teaching, i've learned a thing or two about disguise. I'm confident I can fool even an ANBU, so long as they don't have a password or something." "They might be on high alert if they expect something like this." Jin said. "Plus people are going to find it odd if the Hokage is wandering around in the middle of the night. As for my mom...I don't even know what she's like as an ANBU. She's pretty careful about that stuff. Seems a little risky. Hey...what about Hisato? Do you think they'd let him know what's going on?" "Hisato?" Yuri asked, and then considered it. "Do you think he knows about all that?" She asked, unsure. " know, the old lady would probably help us out." Jin said. "She doesn't give a crap about rules anyway." "Mmm... I think she would be our best bet. She has a vested interest in you, but is also willing to break the rules." Yuri nodded to herself, "Yes. She's our best bet. But, would she help?" "I'm not really sure, she's a bit unpredictable." Jin said. "But there's no harm in asking her. Now all we have to do is find her..." Jin scratched his head. "I don't know if I mentioned but...she's really fast.'s almost like she can teleport. She could be anywhere by now." "But will she still be somewhere in Konoha?" Yuri asked. "Well if she is, then I think I know where she'll be." Jin said. "It's where I first met her. Come on, I'll show you." And Jin took off, Yuri following quickly behind him. [Akatsuki] As Jin and Yuri took off on their midnight mission, they had not noticed that they were being watched. A mysterious figure in a black cloak stood atop a building shaped like a tower, balanced on the top of the roof. The figure's face was entirely concealed by a strange, silver mask that was shaped like a mythical demon, known as an Oni. It featured two horns protruding from the head, and a fanged mouth, with two larger fangs protruding out of either side. The figure also wore a black, fitted hood under the mask, completely concealing any distinguishing features. The mysterious figure kept watch of them, until they were completely out of sight. Then he turned and leapt off of the tower, landing on the rooftops below and going off at a sprint. After he cleared a couple of rooftops, there was a tap as another figure started running alongside him. This one was dressed the same, but his Oni had a single horn on the front of his head. As they progressed, more and more figures joined them. There were now 6 figures running alongside each other, all dressed in black, and each with a silver mask, each Oni looking similar, each one with a number of horns on their head to indicate their number in the group. They kept going until they had cleared the residential area, and descended to street level, weaving through the tight alleys without a soul even noticing. Eventually they came out at a run down, old building not far from the Hokage's office. They each scaled the building and broke in through the windows around it. They entered in to a room of complete darkness, but they struck out violently, and there were multiple thuds as the ninja laying in wait were put down effortlessly. They descended in to the depths of the building, and when they reached the basement they were greeted with light once more. Ahead was a long, metallic tunnel, one of the secret entrances in to Konoha's ANBU headquarters. The Oni each gave each other a cursory glance, and then they went off down the tunnel. When they reached the other end, several ANBU appeared to bar their path. One of the Oni cut off from the pack, speeding ahead and running up the side of the wall, greeting the first ANBU with a spinning kick. The next one went to react, only to find two more of the Oni leaping on top of him and putting him down with barely so much as a whimper. They didn't stop to survey, they simply knew where they were going. They weaved through the labyrinthine corridors, before emerging in a room that looked like a large warehouse, filled with rows and rows of shelves that reached right up to the roof high above, and on each shelves were countless scrolls. Once again they each gave each other a cursory glance, and then they went off in separate directions without a single word for confirmation. Each of them began searching carefully through the shelves, making sure to put each scroll back after checking. The one with the two horns was the first to find what they were looked for. He examined the scroll for a moment, and then rolled it back up, then gave a short and sharp whistle, before moving back towards the tunnels. [Jinchuuriki] Stood at the only way out, were the two remaining members of the Goei Shotai, Uchiha Mirai and Masamune Kotetsu, and behind them about 20 ANBU ninja. The two horned Oni stopped in his tracks, and each of his companions dropped around him from the parts of the warehouse they were lurking. The two groups stared at each other for a moment. The two horned Oni tied the scroll he was carrying to his belt, and then looked at Kotetsu. "Masamune Kotetsu...Samurai from the Land of Iron. You're a long way from home." The man said in the youthful tone of a playful prankster. "Small talk will only delay the inevitable." Kotetsu said, as he rested his hand on the katana at his belt. "Spare yourself the trouble and come along quietly. You will be interrogated so that we can learn your motives for this unwarranted raid, and then you will be imprisoned. Either that, or you will die by my sword." "Hmm..." Two horns said as he rubbed the chin of his mask in a mocking fashion. "Is there a third option? I don't like those ones very much." "The third option is I subject you all to a hundred years of misery, in the blink of an eye." Mirai said coldly, and her eyes flashed a deep crimson as she awakened her Sharingan. "Oooh...creepy." Two horns said. "But your Genjutsu only works if we look you directly in the eye. I don't think we'll make that mistake." "Enough!" Kotetsu said, and he strode forwards slowly. "Do not try to stall with me. Come and face me." "Aww, you're no fun!" Two horns said. "Well, it's your funeral!" Then he went straight for Kotetsu at a blinding sprint. Kotetsu gripped his katana, and then he drew it outwards in a horizontal slash. There was a moment where nothing happened, and then Two Horns was torn to shreds as if a thousand blades were cutting rapidly at him, and his remains scattered the floor unceremoniously. The Oni paused, and looked a little anxious. Kotetsu eyed each of them as he brought his sword back in to it's sheath. "Who else want's to try me?" He asked. "Oh! Me, please!" Two Horns called, as he stepped out from behind one of the bulkier members of the Oni. Kotetsu's eyes widened in shock. " that possible?" He asked. "Oh I have a few tricks." Two Horns said. "I liked that one though. Infinite One Sword, am I right?" "Who...who are you?" Kotetsu growled. "You know too much." "You can call me Spirit!" came the reply. "These are my friends, Malice, Avarice, Wrath, Faith and Saint. Pleased to meet you!" "He mocks us." Mirai said. "Let's not waste time. They are likely agents of Akira." "No way, lady!" Spirit said. "You've got us all wrong! We just want to borrow this scroll, then we'll be out of your way." "This archive contains Forbidden Jutsu that have been locked away for a reason." Mirai said. "Whatever you have planned, we can't allow it to happen." "Well if you want to know what we're planning all you had to do was ask." Spirit said. "It's not like you can stop us anyway." "Confident." Mirai said. "You underestimate us." "You've got it backwards." Spirit said, and his voice sounded a shade colder, and more twisted. "You have completely underestimated us. We know all about Akira and his little Tailed Beasts, that's why we're taking this scroll." "What are you talking about!?" Kotetsu barked angrily. "This scroll is just one of five. Five scrolls shared between five great shinobi villages. When you put them together, they show you how to summon and control and Tailed Beast. Pretty handy, don't you think?" "If that's true...then you will not leave her alive!" Kotetsu snarled, and then he went at a sprint towards them, Mirai and the rest of the ANBU following closely behind. [Kokuten] The large Oni with five horns, Wrath, moved quickly, drawing his own blood and placing his hand on the floor. He summoned a large boar that charged at Kotetsu. Kotetsu leapt in to the air, drawing his sword as he flipped over the boar, cutting it clean in two, before advancing forward. The three horned, Malice, and the four horned, Faith, both intercepted him, drawing their kunai. The three clashed, Kotetsu's katana a whirlwind blur as he moved expertly to parry their strikes. Meanwhile the six horned, Saint, moved for the ANBU, pressing his palms to the ground and unleashing a dragon made of rock that exploded out from the ground and crashed in to the ninja. They spread out to avoid it and advanced forward on Saint, sending a barrage of fire and water at him. Mirai's body blackened and took the shape of a murder of crows, weaving through the carnage before her, and emerging from behind spirit, and hurling a barrage of shuriken at his back. Spirit moved quickly, summoning a wall of earth to protect himself from the blow. Then before he could react his wall was shattered by a great fireball that Mirai had sent his way. Spirit fell forward, but managed to get back on his feet. His hands were a blur as he performed the necessary seals, and then he pushed his hands forward, and sent a hurricane of wind towards Mirai, knocking her off her feet and sending her tumbling back in to the rows of shelves. Spirit realised too late when he saw Mirai's body explode in to a murder of crows once more, and the real Mirai appeared behind him, and plunged a kunai in to his neck. However this, too, was a feint. The real Spirit emerged from deep within the warehouse, riding high above on the back of a great hawk. The bird took a dive, knocking Mirai off her feet, before arcing round towards the other Oni, who leapt on to the bird, one by one, before it ascended in to the air, climbing higher and higher towards the roof. Working together, Faith and Saint summoned a giant ball of flame, and fired it at the roof, blowing it open, and the hawk carried them out in to the sky above Konoha, and away from Kotetsu and Mirai. The hawk swooped over Konoha, and spirit gave a soft chuckle as he took the scroll from his belt and examined it. "That was a little too easy, don't you think?" He said to his comrades. "Guess again." Malice said, and he pointed ahead of them. Standing with his arms folded, floating in the sky, was a young man in his mid 20's with a lean, muscular physique. He was dressed in black trousers with bandages wrapped around his lower legs, and was wearing a sleeveless, green combat vest with a hood. His hair was light brown, and cut short and spiky. His skin was tan, and his eyes were a dark brown. "I-Is he...flying!?" Saint gasped. "There's only one ninja who can do that..." Malice said. "That's Azuchi Dai, The Tsuchikage!" "Shit...the chuunin exams. He must be attending." Spirit said. "This could be bad." Dai lifted his head slightly, eyeing the hawk flying in the distance. He unfolded his arms, holding his hands close to his chest. A transluscent cube formed in between them, with a single white orb in the centre. Then he sent the orb forward, and as it hurtled towards the hawk, it expanded in size, growing larger and larger until it seemed completely unavoidable. "Dive!" Malice roared, and the hawk plummeted almost vertically, narrowly missing the expanding cube, pulling up just above the rooftops of Konoha, and the Oni all leapt off of it and began sprinting across the rooftops. "Particle Release, I've seen it before." Malice said. "It's a Bloodline Selection, more powerful than a Bloodline Limit. One of the only ones known." "Yeah, great!" Spirit called back. "How do we stop it!?" "You don't." Malice replied. "It allows the user to completely disintegrate anything within the space on a molecular level." "That's insane!" Spirit yelled. "Agreed." Malice said. Before they could make their escape, Dai came swooping towards them at speed, and stopped, hovering, before them all. "To invade one of the Five Great Shinobi Villages, during a Chuunin Exam, is an insult to us all." He said, his voice quiet but filled with a raging anger. "You are the ones who have raided Sunagakure and Kirigakure already. Even if you think you can take me on, which I sincerely doubt, I am sure the Hokage will be along shortly to assist me." "This is bad..." Malice said. "I've been in worse scrapes!" Spirit said in response. "Leave this to me, just get out of here!" He tossed the scroll to Malice, and then the rest of the Oni went off at a sprint across the rooftops. Dai shook his head in disappointment. "You are a fool. I will dispose of you, and then catch up to your allies." "No you won't." Spirit said. "Because you have no idea what's going on." "And I suppose you are going to enlighten me?" Dai said. "You think you can reason your way out of this?" "I know I can." Spirit said, and then he removed his mask and revealed his face to Dai. "You're...what is the meaning of this!?" Dai snarled angrily. "I'm glad you recognize me." Spirit said. "Allow me to explain everything..."
  22. Konoha Gaiden [Private]

    [survival Examination] Jin was beginning to feel tense. He was past the point of feeling hungry, or even tired. The exhaustion had caused a pressure to form in his head, and every muscle in his body was tingling. His head bobbed as he struggled to keep himself from passing out. He was also worried about Yuri. Her little outburst seemed out of character, and he was concerned that she was being through too much stress in this situation. But worrying about Yuri was starting to become a difficult process as well. After all, he wasn't coping very well either at this point. He felt like he was going to fall asleep at any moment, and then all of this would have been for nothing. He'd be letting Yuri down, and that was one thing he couldn't bear to do. For a moment he had forgotten where he was, and then, as realisation of what was happening came to him, he jerked to keep himself awake and fell from his desk, hitting the floor hard. The hard floor's impact shot a jolt of pain through his whole body. Exhausted as he was, even something as simple as falling over was overwhelmingly painful. "Jin..." Yuri pulled herself out of the chair and helped Jin back to his seat, "This is too much..." She muttered, "Some of the Genin here are in serious trouble, and we're not far behind..." She looked Jin over, her black eyes searching him up and down. For a moment, the veins around her eyes turned black, showing prominently beneath her pale skin, then they returned to normal. "You need healing." Yuri put her hand on his shoulder. Jin brushed her hand from his shoulder and shook his head. " need to conserve your chakra." He said. "It's okay...I can do this!" "I've enough... to do this." Yuri replied, and before Jin could argue, she grabbed him firmly by the shoulder and pushed her palm into his chest. "Hold... very still." She added with a cautionary tone. A pool of black spread out beneath her hand and ran up her arm, at the same time as it spread across Jin's chest until it could be seen moving up his neck. A few minutes passed and then the spreading black mass subsided, withdrew and returned to Yuri's hand and she quickly pulled away. "I've stimulated your body to produce endorphins... to block pain and serotonin to... make you feel better. It might only last a few hours though, if that... And I won't be able to do that again..." Jin stood up, and sat himself back on his desk. For a moment he was silent, and he rubbed his hands together nervously. After a moment he nodded and turned to Yuri. "...Thank you." He said. Yuri nodded but sighed, "It won't mean much... if this keeps up for much longer." She took a shallow breath and tried to continue, "We're going to have to make a choice... sooner or later. If we leave the room, we fail. But doing nothing is... only making us weaker. We have to make a choice... act now or accept the consequences... no matter the cost." Jin didn't respond. The exhaustion he was enduring him was reminding him of another time in his life. It reminded him of the importance of what he was doing, and why he had really came back. [Caution] Feet crunched along the stone-covered bank of a river that was running down from the stone mountains ahead. There was a forest on either side of the river, and Jin was walking upstream, following Sorano under the moonlit sky. He was carrying the large camping rucksack on his back, and looked exhausted. "How much longer?" He whined complacently. "Not far." Sorano responded. "We're almost there." "Could you maybe carry the gear? Just for a little while." Jin asked. He had been travelling with Sorano for three months now, and not once had she ever carried the equipment. "Are you so weak you'd have an old woman carry things for you?" Sorano said irritably. "If you can't carry a rucksack a few miles how will you ever hope to accomplish anything in life?" "A few miles!?" Jin said through gritted teeth. "We've been walking for a full day!" "And you've barely ever opened your mouth other than to whine about it." Sorano said. "Look, it's up here." Jin stopped to look ahead. The river had ended at an enormous cliff face, and he looked in awe at the great waterfall that cascaded down it, the tremendous force of the falling water sounding like a rumbling earthquake up ahead. "Whoa..." He said. "...Please don't say we have to climb that..." "No, boy." Sorano said. "We go through it." "Through it?" Jin asked. "Come along." Sorano said, and the pair continued down the river bank towards the waterfall. When they reached it, the fine mist of water sprayed over them, and Jin found the sensation a little refreshing. Sorano moved closer to the falls, and then she disappeared behind them. Jin followed her, stepping in to the gap between the rock face and the waterfall, and the water rushing past him became deafening. He moved through it, his whole body getting soaked, before emerging in to a dark tunnel behind the waterfall. He followed the faint shape of Sorano, treading carefully to avoid tripping over the rocks. Eventually they came to a flat stone wall at the end of the tunnel. Sorano placed her palm across it, gently feeling her way through the carved markings in the wall. Then, as he had seen her do at least once before, he watched as her fingertips glowed with a gentle, blue flame, and she pressed them on the wall. The flames carried through the markings in the wall, until eventually they made the shape of a strange symbol he had never seen before. It consisted of three concentric circles, and around them were symbols he didn't recognize. "The elements of chakra that you know, are Fire, Wind, Water, Earth and Lightning." Sorano explained. "These symbols are known as the Five Movements. They represent an older view of the elements known; Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal." "So what is this symbol for?" Jin asked. "Do you remember when we met on the day of the attack on Konoha?" Sorano asked. "On that day I mentioned a clan that has been extinct for over four decades. This is their symbol. The Hitotsuyunagi Clan." "Hitotsuyunagi...I've never heard of them. Were they from Konoha?" Jin asked. "At one time they were." Sorano explained. "During the time of the First Hokage. However, in time they chose to leave the village. They became a nomadic clan. However, they had a few hideouts in various places. This is one of them." "So...why are we here?" Jin asked. "To show you this world's past." Sorano said. "And to help you decide your own destiny." She turned her hand on the stone, and the fire spread further, weaving through the intricate carvings, creating a leyline of glowing fire across the wall. There was a rumbling noise, and then the wall slowly began to rise up and disappear. Torchlight ignited and the path ahead was illuminated. Sorano walked through and Jin followed. The interior walls were smooth and man made, and the ground had become flat. They walked down the corridor for a few minutes, the torches lighting up as they drew close to them. After a while they emerged in a pitch black room. It was difficult to see anything at all, but Jin got the impression that the room was quite large. "We're here." Sorano said. "Finally." Jin sighed, and he dropped the heavy rucksack on the ground. he stretched his arms, flexing his fingers, enjoying the sudden sense of weightlessness he felt. "Jin, if you will recall I mentioned that part of the seal on Yuri was derived from a Hitotsuyunagi Sealing Style. Do you know why they created such techniques?" Sorano asked. "Is it something to do with Jinchuuriki?" Jin asked. "I'm not even quite sure what that is, I mean, not really." "Observe." Sorano said, and she bent down and placed her hands on the ground beneath her. Torchlights blazed around the room, flooding it with light. Jin watched as the sheer size of the room became apparent. It was a large ceremonial hall, and as his eyes fell on the walls of the room, he felt a sense of terror grip him. [Destiny] Across the entirety of the walls, was a large painted mural, one that was very old. It depicted a series of strange and terrifying creatures, each uniquely different from the other. Among them was a large, blue cat, as well as what looked like a cross between an octopus and a bull. Another was a hulking, crimson gorilla. The creatures were all painted together, four on either side, and in the centre was huge, snarling, red eyed monster. A demon fox with nine tails. Even though it was just a mural, the creature looked truly terrifying. "These are the creatures known as tailed beasts." Sorano explained. "They are a calamity. A tremendous force of nature. That one in the centre is the Nine Tails, which some believed was the strongest." "These things...are real?" Jin said with a gulp. "They were...or they are, I suppose." Sorano said. "They were sealed away. It took a tremendous amount of planning, and a huge sacrifice. The entirety of the Hitotsuyunagi Clan gave their own lives to seal away these creatures, so that they would never harm any one again." "Old lady...why are we here?" Jin asked. "To learn the mistakes of the past." Sorano said. "You see, before they were sealed away, the Tailed Beasts were a great and terrible foe. One thrash of their tails could destroy and entire village. And yet as with all powerful things, ambitious men tried to control it. Many people came to the same conclusion, which was that the Tailed Beasts were too dangerous to be left unchecked. And so it was decided that they would be sealed away, to be used in a method that posed the least amount of risk, and in a way that would provide the captor with a truly awesome power." "Jinchuuriki." Jin whispered. "...They sealed these beasts inside people? Inside ninja?" "Indeed." Sorano said with a nod. "Jinchuuriki became invaluable assets. They were considered weapons of mass destruction. Each village possessed at least one of them, at one time or another. Just the threat of unleashing the Jinchuuriki was enough to stop wars from happening. They completely tipped the balance of power." " of them is inside Yuri?" Jin asked, and he sounded like he was trying to fight back a bubbling rage inside him. "That's...not possible." Sorano explained. "The Nine Tailed Beasts are gone. If Akira is to be believed, he has created his own. Tailed Beasts created by man. I never thought such a thing would be possible. And what's worse is he has committed a sin of the past, and created Jinchuuriki to house his creatures. Nothing good will come of that, do you understand?" "So...what do we do about it? If the Hitotsuyunagi Clan are gone, then they can't stop this from happening." Jin said. "One remains." Sorano said. "And she will train another. If he so chooses." "She? You mean...?" Jin looked at Sorano, and she smiled back at him. "I am Hitotsuyunagi Sorano." She said. "Sole survivor of my clan, and the one who holds all of our knowledge and secrets." "Old lady..." Jin said. His fists were clenched and shaking. "You're whole family..." "All gone." Sorano said with a nod. "But...what was that sacrifice for if this is happening again?" Jin barked. "Why!? Why did they have to die if it was just going to keep happening!?" "Exactly, boy." Sorano growled in a tone of quiet rage. "That punk Akira has insulted everything my clan fought and died for. That is why I have chosen to come out of retirement, and to train you for what's to come. Do you think you are up to it?" "I want to protect Yuri..." Jin said. "...If this is how I do it, then there's no question. I'll do it." "A good answer." Sorano said, but her voice sounded sad. "However, there may come a time when you need to protect everyone else from Yuri. Are you prepared for that?" "I..what do you mean?" Jin asked. "Yuri would never-" "Yuri won't have any choice." Sorano said. "When you see her again...there will be signs. They will be subtle at first, but I will train you in how to spot them. To protect Yuri, to protect everyone, you will need to know how to stop her. I can show you how." "...Okay." Jin said. "How long do we have to train?" "I've never seen anyone master the necessary abilities in under ten years." Sorano said. "You're talented, but I would say that's your benchmark." " we have that long?" Jin asked. "You best hope so..." Sorano replied. [Naruto Main Theme] Jin's fists clamped around the edge of his desk firmly, as he stood up, and with a frustrated yell he hurled the desk across the classroom, smashing it in to the wall. Kazuo put his book down of the table in front of him and stood up, glaring at Jin. "What he hell do you think you're doing!?" He barked. "I've had...enough!" Jin yelled back. "You've kept us in here, starving and tired for three days now! How much longer do you plan on keeping us here!?" "Get your desk and sit back down, before I toss you out of here!" Kazuo ordered. "Go ahead!" Jin spat back. "But if you try it I promise I won't go without a fight! Maybe you'll beat me...but...I'll keep fighting until my last breath. You can starve me, beat me, you can even torture me. I'll never give up on my destiny! I'm going to...I'm going to be Hokage!" "Hmph!" Kazuo smirked. "You've got guts, but that's not enough, kid." Suddenly a table flew across the room and Kazuo was forced to react. He drew his kunai and sliced through it, the two halves flying past him and crashing into the wall behind him. Kazuo tracked the arc of the huge projectile and saw Yuri cracking her knuckles. "What are you going to do about it?" Yuri asked, raising an eyebrow. She put her hands behind her back and released her insects in a wide pattern, dispersing so that few in the room could see them. Suddenly a dozen more students appeared out of nowhere and started clamouring. "Let us go!" "I've had enough of this!""Throw him out!!" The last one yelled. Then they vanished, but were replaced with the indignant cries of the remaining students, brought to action by Jin and the rebellious students who first became vocal. Yuri brought her insects home and gave Jin a wink before turning her gaze back on Kazuo. "You heard them." Yuri said finally, putting her hands on her hips. "So we fight." Totsuka said as she too stood from her chair. "Interesting...I doubt this was how they wanted this test to go." Nonoi said as he followed suit. "But I must admit, I want this to end just as much as the rest.""The Konoha brat makes a fine point." One of the Kirigakure ninja said as he stood. "Besides...I'm itchin' for some bloodshed!""I this is how it is." Kazuo said, shaking his head. "Is this your idea of being an effective ninja, Hideo Jin? You've caused a full scale revolt during an official examination!""So what!?" Jin snarled. "If my enemies captured me and did this...are you saying you don't expect me to revolt!? Give me a break!""Hmph!" Kazuo smirked. "Interesting...this is a higher number than we expected all pass!"Yuri grabbed the nearest chair and ran at Kazuo, only to find a half dozen of the other Genin were trying to hold her back, "I'll kill him!!" She yelled, cursing and throwing the chair across the room and began to pull the Genin holding her across the floor, her strength overpowering them. "Ahahaha!" Kazuo threw his head back laughing. "Quite the temper, Satomi Sayuri. How about you save it for Round 2, hm?"Kazuo's question confused Yuri long enough for her to stop her advance. She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose before sitting back on the nearest chair."That was my seat--"Yuri turned and met the ninja's indignant expression with her own. Black eyes staring him down, her iron will and fiery rage mixed with a confident authority. The boy held his hands up and lost the colour in his face before backing away."So..." Yuri growled, turning back to look at Kazuo, "What's round two?"You'll be briefed just before it commences." Kazuo replied. "You have three days to rest up. Someone will contact you with a time and a location, and you will go there. What I can tell you is you will be working in your teams, and you will all be each others opponents from now on. Even teams from the same village will be pitted against each other. Also, the next test is designed so that at least half of you will be guaranteed to fail. No more questions, you can go now." "Ah...finally." Jin said with a sigh. "Yuri, I hope your dad is ready for a large order. I'm going to need at least ten bowls of his Tonkotsu Ramen to get over this!"Jin turned around and saw that Yuri was nowhere to be seen. There was a small note on the chair beside him. Picking it up, he saw it read:Jin, I wrote you a Haiku to pass the time, enjoy. The noodles are mineAnguish now in despair, friendI feel no guilt bye. "...Eh?" Jin said, completely bemused for a moment. Then there was a croak from his stomach. "...YURI!!!" He roared. [Little Song] When Jin finally arrived at the Ramen stand, he found Yuri sitting on a bench, quietly eating her food. He sat down next to her and saw that there was a bowl of ramen already waiting for him. He smiled to himself, and picked up a pair of chopsticks without a word, snapping them apart, and whispering "Thanks for the meal." And then he began eating in silence. After a few mouthfuls he let out a satisfied gasp. Ibiki's ramen had never tasted so good. The two continued eating next to each other, and never spoke a word. There was no need. Despite their exhaustion and hunger, Jin could feel that they both felt the same. They were excited about what was to come, and glad that they had passed the test. The Yuri with him now looked perfectly calm as she sat and ate, nothing like the highly strung Yuri that looked on the verge of a breakdown before. "You know..." Jin said, putting his chopsticks down for a moment. "...Everything has been a bit of a rush since I came back. I think over the next few days we should spend some time together. We have a lot to catch up on, and we might not get this chance again. I was thinking, I'll speak to my dad, maybe you could come round for dinner tomorrow? We're going to have a tough time ahead so we should enjoy the quiet times, like this. What do you say, Yuri?"
  23. Hi there! Did you guys know that Surreality is on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr? If you did know, that's awesome. If you didn't you know! So before I go on here are the links: Twitter Facebook Tumblr Now let me tell you a little bit about why we are using social networks and how it will hopefully affect us in the future. Surreality is currently trying to embrace social networking in a big way which we have never truly attempted to such an extent before. Now I'm sure many of you know how social networks work, right? Simply put we want to get lots of likes/follows on our social networks. Why? Because it increases our online presence which means we are reaching out to more potential members of our community. Every connection through such networking is a potential new member, or at least a gateway to which we can find more members. Aside from that social networks allow for us to communicate with you guys in a bunch of different ways. Whilst we all have our fun here on the forum, there may be some interesting information to be gathered from our social pages. For example on twitter we might retweet some interesting information about writing, or maybe i'll post a tumblr blog with a tutorial for making signatures. Perhaps I'll showcase some of our more interesting topics on facebook. What's more is all of our updates on events, contests and changes to the forum will be posted on facebook, twitter and tumblr so that everybody get's the message in some form or another. So I bet you guys are wondering how you can get involved? Well that's simple. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter and Tumblr. share our posts, retweet our tweets, reblog our blogs. Help us cast our net wide and reach more people. It's good for the forum and good for our community. We're not asking for you guys to go out of your way of course. If you dont do twitter then dont join twitter just to follow us. But if you do spend your days on Tumblr then it'd be great if you guys could follow us. In return we'll follow you and who knows maybe we could get you some followers and reblogs! All in all this post is just a little announcement to make sure you guys are all aware of the different ways you can connect with Surreality and we hope that if you want to, you will use those avenues. Love you all more than I love cake (it's a lie I love cake too much!) - Blackfrost
  24. Konoha Gaiden [Private]

    [Nine Tails vs Black Nine Tails] The brief pause when Jin's clones had landed, had felt much longer to Hisato, as the 5 clones, Yuri, and Hisato all squared each other up. That moment happens often in battle, where all the opponents wait for the other to make a move, waiting to interpret each others actions, and hopefully react quickly enough to come out on top. Jin's clones were the first to move. Confidence came with numbers, and they attacked in unison. One leapt and came down at Hisato from above, two more charging at him from behind, one more from the front, and the last from his left flank, with Yuri blocking the path to his right. Hisato had nowhere to run to, his only option was to fight back. Everything happened in an instant. The clone to his left flank was closer by a small margin. Hisato brought his leg up and kicked him full force in the chest, sending him back, before the clone at his front threw a right hook at his face. Hisato weaved his head away from the oncoming fist and brought his own to the clone's chest, right under his outstretched arm. He jabbed him twice, hard, before bringing a left hook down on the clone's jaw, cuasing it to explode in a puff of clouds. The two from behind were next. Hisato leapt and spun around, catching the first with a sweeping kick to the head, before landing and immediately catching the foot of the clone from above, dragging him down and swinging him in to the final approaching clone, and they crashed in a heap before dispelling. Expressionless and silent, Yuri ran for Hisato. She slid to the ground at the last second and kicked up into the air, forcing Hisato to leap up and at that moment she kicked off from the ground and pushed off from the ground with her arms, kicking up like a rocket. Hisato gasped and quickly kicked her away, careful not to touch her. Her hands touched the ground for a second time and she used the momentum to whirl her legs around like a capoeira martial artist. Hisato leapt back out of the way and formed a seal, a jet of concentrated water burst from between his lips and cut a line through the ground towards Yuri, fanning out and becoming a sheet so there was no escape. Yuri sprinted forwards to meet the water and leapt into the air. For a moment, Hisato saw nothing, watching Yuri disappear behind his attack. Then she burst through it, somehow unscathed, and he was forced to dodge out of the way - straight into Jin's assault. Three more clones came at him. This time they moved in a tighter formation and came at him head on. Unlike the last assault, these clones were moving in harmony with one another, and Hisato's movements became a blur as he blocked and dodged the strikes coming at him. What the hell is this? He thought as he deflected a punch and sent a couple of jabs back, finally taking down one of the clones. These clones are far more prepared. I can't defeat them with Taijutsu alone! Hisato dropped low and swept his leg out under one of the two remaining clones, who leapt up to avoid it. Hisato's hands weaved a few seals, and then the earth under the clone shot up like a pillar, but with the force of a cannon. The clone dispelled and Hisato dodged in time for the last remaining clone to send a punch straight in to the pillar of earth, followed by the cracking sound of broken knuckles. There was a high pitched chirping noise, and then Hisato finished off the remaining clone with a shock of lightning from his palm. Finally Hisato turned to see that he was caught in the centre of the clearing, with Yuri behind him and the real Jin facing him. "Yo, sensei!" Jin called, "Looks like you're finally trying!" "You're not the one who should be testing me." Hisato replied. "I understand now. You sent clones in to test my taijutsu, and used their combined experience to strengthen your own knowledge for the real fight." "Yeah, that's right." Jin said. "Plus, I wanted to fight the real Hisato." "That's not the point of this exercise." Hisato said. "I don't need money" Jin said with a smirk. "Besides, this is fun, no? I know it is for me." Yuri straightened up and faced Hisato, for a few seconds she barely moved, then she smiled, "As fast as ever, Sensei." Yuri added, "You moved so fast my bugs couldn't even stay attached to your boot." Then she started walking towards Hisato, "I'll have to do something else, so..." She seemed distant, as though in a daydream. Her tone and her expressions seemed muted somehow. "Are you ready, now?" She asked, her smile disappearing. Something tells me she wasn't being serious before Hisato said to himself. I need to prioritise keeping my distance from Yuri. Jin might cause problems but at least I don't have to worry when deflecting his strikes. Hisato smiled softly. "You've really grown up, both of you." He said. "Aww look sensei's getting all sentimental on us, Yuri!" Jin said with a wide grin. "I suppose we better hit him where it hurts and take his money now, hm?" [Keisei Gyakuten] "What are we planning, Sensei?" Yuri asked, her tone seemingly indifferent, as she strode towards Hisato. "Maybe the fly is in the spider's web, and has yet to realise." Suddenly Yuri launched forwards, opened her mouth and spat. A thick glob of spit flew at Hisato who ducked to avoid it, as he did so, Yuri swept his legs out from under him and he hit the ground hard. But as quick as he'd touched the dirt, he vaulted back up and away from her. The spit hit the trees behind him and sizzled, eating through the trunk to leave a hole the size of a fist. Hisato was just getting his bearings when he felt a presence directly behind him. He dodged just in time as Jin's foot swept over his head. Jin landed in front of him and whipped his other foot back round for another strike which Hisato blocked his his right arm and went on the offensive. He swung at Jin's face and the boy moved only a fraction to avoid being hit. Hisato dropped low and swept his foot out but Jin hopped to avoid it and moved back a few inches. Hisato was already coming back up on his front leg and spinning round to kick with the other, but Jin nimbly ducked and avoided it again. He's seriously fast! Hisato thought, This is the training of the God Step, no doubt about it. Hisato charged forward and sent a punch towards Jin's chest, but he dodged with a flicker and used Hisato's arm to rebound upwards and over with a flip in the air, landing with a tap on the ground, before lunging forward, his fingers grasping just inches from the note attached to Hisato's belt. Then Hisato also disappeared with a flicker, and Jin stopped mid sprint and straightened himself up, turning round to see Hisato a few yards away, keeping his distance. "So you've mastered the Body Flicker Jutsu?" Hisato said with a smirk. "And your reaction speed is flawless." "Yours isn't too shabby either, sensei!" Jin said with a smirk, "But you don't have time to be running your mouth!" He added, before dashing forward in a sprint, closing on Hisato with alarming speed. Hisato only then noticed, that Yuri was closing on his back. Yuri thrust her hand out, her palm clenched into a tight fist but Hisato knew that Jin would reach him first. He deflected Jin's first attack and immediately whirled around to face Yuri, but as he readied to deflect her attack indirectly, the sleeve around her arm morphed and expanded out, turning black as it turned into a large black maw with teeth. The jaws slammed shut on Hisato's arm but before Yuri could celebrate, Hisato vanished, leaving behind a cloud of smoke. Yuri turned just as Jin flew through the cloud of smoke, his fist primed. She dodged to one side, and grabbed his bare arm as he passed. Jin's face lit up, somehow Yuri had passed information to him. Then they both turned, and charged for Hisato once more. Hisato had finally accepted that he was going to be able to protect the note with both of his students coming at him head on like this. However he wasn't beaten yet. As they came rushing towards him he let a small, black orb drop to the floor. As it bounced off the grass the orb burst with a hiss and the area was surrounded in thick, black smoke. Hisato rushed through the tree tops, hopping from branch to branch away from the site. He had to clear some distance, lay low and rest. He couldn't help but smirk as he had fled. They still weren't tough enough to beat him in a straight fight, but he couldn't keep it up without actually hurting them. Still, they had pushed him further than he had expected, and that alone made him proud. He almost felt bad for leaving them in the dust like that, but hard lessons were the best ones to learn. Before he could finish his thought, however, he became aware of another presence. He turned his head and looked down to the forest floor just behind him. Trailing behind him in a full on sprint, was Jin. [breakdown] I can't believe it! Hisato thought, he's matching my speed! I suppose that's to be expected from Sorano's apprentice. Below him, Jin clapped his hands together to form seals, and then thrust both of his hands forward, sending a torrent of wind rushing up to the trees, cutting through the branches like blades, and causing Hisato to drop to the ground level. Hisato spun on his heel to meet Jin, who put his hand in to his leg pouch and hurled three shuriken directly at Hisato, who quickly swerved his upper body to dodge them. That attack was predictable he thought, and then his eyes widened as he realised the true nature of the attack; a diversion. Jin flickered behind Hisato from above, gripping tightly on his jacket, and as his feet touched the ground he hurled Hisato over his own shoulder in to the ground. Hisato reacted just in time, and managed to get his feet on the ground, sliding across the dirt a few feet. He stood up to see Jin waiting, ready to fight. "You...really have improved. You've even managed to learn Wind Style ninjutsu" Hisato said with a nod. "But your Taijutsu still needs a little work. You're not ready to take me on in a one on one fight, even if you can match my speed." "Hm...I know." Jin said with a nod, and he smiled. "But I have to try, right?" "Right." Hisato said with a nod. "But you made a mistake, and it means you lose." "We'll see!" Jin said, and he gave a little chuckle. Hisato and Jin sprinted for one another, and as they met they clashed in a blur of punches and kicks, each one matching the other, dodging, blocking, weaving and countering every blow. Finally Jin flcikered behind Hisato and saw his chance, and lunged for the note once more. He got so close that his fingers touched the very edge, and then he felt an iron grip around his arm. Before he knew what was happening he was being hurled through the air by untold strength. He crashed in to the ground unceremoniously and rolled a few feet before stopping and laying in a heap. He pushed himself up and bgean brushing the dirt off of himself. It had all happened so quickly, he hadn't even known what had truly happened. He looked back at Hisato, who was facing away from him. His blonde hair had looked longer and wilder, and his skin had went a dark tan colour. However the affect seemed to be dissipating already, his skin lightening and his hair receeding back to it's normal length. Hisato turned around and Jin just managed to catch the glimpse of a golden flow in Hisato's eyes that was quickly fading. "Hmph! I can't believe you made me use that technique..." He said with a toothy grin. "What...the hell was that?" Jin asked. " why they call me the Lion of the East." Hisato explained. "And it's the reason you have no chance of getting this note. You left Yuri to pursue me on your own, and that was your mistake. You can be as fast as you like, but if you leave your team mates behind you'll always be at a disadvantage. You're done." "Mmm...." Jin said as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Then he burst out laughing. "What's so funny?" Hisato asked. "It's just..." Jin said as he tried to compose himself. "...I was a little worried that maybe we'd have changed too much, and Yuri and I couldn't work as well as a team." Jin's looked at Hisato, and his eyes held a devilish glint. "I never imagined that we'd actually get you though, sensei!" "Get" Hisato froze. Everything he had missed starting falling in to place in his mind. He had fallen in to their trap.
  25. Konoha Gaiden [Private]

    [Homecoming] The sun was shining, and Konoha was busier than usual. The streets were full of people, with lot's of new faces seeing the sites, browsing the market district, and finding room at the inns. A crowd of people were walking through the gates at the entrance of Konoha, the proceedings being held up by sweeps being performed by the ninja at the gates, who were checking people's bags. Sorano had dutifully allowed for her small bag to be checked, after all she didn't carry much other than her grey kimono and grass hat. She stepped over the threshold and made her way in to the village itself, surveying the rows of buildings, and the streets in between. Her gaze followed all the way up to the mountain at the farthest reach, where there were once 7 stone carvings when last she saw, but now there were 8. Sorano smirked at the new face on the mountain, one which she recognised. She turned her head back towards the gate with a sigh. "Are you coming or what? All you've talked about for the last 5 days is Konoha, and now you're lolly-gagging?" She called back to the crowd. A brief moment passed where nothing happened. Then, from the crowd, a young man emerged. He was tall and lean, with the beginnings of well-defined muscle definition showing in his arms and legs. He was dressed in a pair of white shorts with an orange stripe down either side, and a matching shirt, sleeveless, and wrapped loosely around his front exposing his chest, and a fish net garment underneath. He also had orange finger-less gloves on, and his wrists were wrapped in white bandages. He was carrying a large hiking backpack, with pots and pans strapped to it clearly the bulk of the travelling gear. Hideo Jin had become a young man in just a short year. His distinctive spikey, red hair had been cut short at the sides, with the length left at the top. His dark blue eyes were full of energy as he made his way towards Sorano, but he wasn't looking at her, he was looking over his home. "Wow..." He said with a grin. "Looks like they've rebuilt everything already." "Stuff like that gets done fast when everyone pitches in." Sorano said. "I can't believe it's been a whole year." Jin said. "It feels really good to be home. She'll be here, right?" "Hell if I know. It was you that wanted to come back here as soon as you heard about the Chuunin exams." Sorano said. "Yuri said Mira wanted to train her for the Chuunin Exams. So Yuri will be here...I know it." Jin said with a nod. "I wonder if my parents are home." "Well I'm pretty sure your father is in the village." Sorano said. "What makes you say that?" Jin asked. "Oh...I just have a feeling." Sorano said with a smirk. Jin furrowed his brow, perplexed. Then he saw it. The eighth stone head that was carved in to Konoha's Hokage monument. "Is dad!?" "I think so." Sorano said. "Looks like he's been busy this year." "My the Hokage!?" Jin just stared on at the monument. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. "This surreal." [i'm Home] "I told you things would change." Sorano said "I need to see them." Jin said. "My Dad, my mom, Hisato...and...Yuri! Let's go right now!" "Nobody is stopping you, boy." Sorano said. "I've got my own things to do. Quite frankly I'm sick of the sight of you anyway." "Old lady..." Jin said with a smirk. Then he looked at her and she smiled and nodded back. "Go." She said. "And leave the backpack." "Thanks, I'll see you soon, old lady!" Jin said, and he let the backpack drop from his shoulders. It hit the dirt like a ton of bricks, causing splits in the dirt underneath. Then Jin took off like a shot, scrambling up to the rooftops and leaping across the buildings, faster and faster as he made his way across the village at rapid speed. He didn't know where he would find everybody, but he knew the first place he was going to look. As he reached the other side of the village he finally found the building he was looking for. The Hokage's office. With a final leap he landed with a tap on the roof of the building, and no sooner had his feet touched the ground, has several Shinobi dressed in black emerged in front of him, each wearing the mask of the ANBU. "The Hokage's Office is off limits to visitors!" One of them said sternly. "Huh?" Jin said. "But-" "Jin!" One of the ANBU said in shock. Jin frowned, the voice sounded familiar. "Yeah, that's me." Jin said. "Oh...Jin!" The ANBU stepped forward, and she removed her mask and hood to reveal a head of long red hair, and dark blue eyes, just like his own. "Mom!" Jin cried, and he ran forwards to meet her, and the pair embraced. Saya rested her chin on her son's shoulder, breathing a sigh of relief. She lifted it again, however, as she realised how tightly Jin was hugging her. His arms were shaking. "Jin?" She said in a worried tone. "I...I missed you, mom." Jin said, his eyes shut tight, and tears dripping down his cheeks. Saya smiled, and rubbed Jin's back. Her son was finally home. --- [Kakashi's Theme] "So let's see now..." Isamu said, as he looked over the pile of scrolls on his desk. "So I think we should be fine if we just do these two missions. They carry much less risk, and that should allow us to meet our budget." "Uh, Hokage-sama...." A woman in spectacles was sitting across the desk from him, her blonde hair tied back in a bun. "What with the extra security precautions during the Chuunin Exams, our budget has almost doubled this month." "Oh...right." Isamu said, scratching his head. "Well then we can take the S-rank as well, that should do it." "I'm afraid we are a little stretched thin, what with most of the Jounin stationed here for the exams." The woman said, and she adjusted her glasses. Isamu's head fell in to his hands and he let out an exasperated sigh. " made this look a lot easier." He grumbled to himself. "Hokage-sama, if you will allow a suggestion." The young woman said. "Yes!" Isamu replied. "Anything, please, if you don't mind, Sarada." "Well..." Sarada began, and she pushed her glasses up again, and the glare from the light made her look like a mad scientist. "You see these numbers are based on our current outgoing expenditure. If we implement a series of cost saving initiatives, and do a little creative reassignment of our Jounin for the exam, we can reduce our outgoings by at least 30% This would additionally free up Jounin to take on the S-rank mission which would inrease our incoming revenue for the quarter." "Uh...right." Isamu said. "Let's do that then." "Very well." Sarada said. "That just leaves the these release forms, and a few risk assessments that need signed off, also the Kazekage has made a few special requests for his living quarters during his stay. Then you have a meeting with the Elders in an hour and-" "I hate this job sometimes..." Isamu grumbled. "Why did I even agree to it?" "The other two candidates said no." Sarada replied. "Ah, right...that." Isamu said with a heavy sigh. Just then the door opened and Saya stepped through it, with Jin following closely behind her. "Sweetheart...someone is here to see you." "Please tell them I'm busy, dear." Isamu said, not looking up from his desk. "I'm neck deep in-" "Dad..." Jin said, and Isamu's head shot up at the sound. "...Jin!?" Isamu gasped. "You're home!" He got up from his desk, abandoning the giant stack of paperwork, and went over to Jin, hugging him closely. Then he let go and started squeezing Jin's arms. "Have you been working out?" He asked. "Not really." Jin replied casually. "The old lady always makes me carry the gear though..." "I have to say...I'm quite surprised." Isamu said. "I didn't think you'd be keeping up with your training." "Oh, I'm doing a different programe now." Jin said. "Well a few, actually. I haven't really had time to practice our old forms." "Are you kidding!?" Isamu gasped. "My Taijutsu training was supposed to be my legacy to you!" "Well Sorano said it didn't fit with my training." Jin said. "She taught me her Taijutsu instead." "Is that so?" Isamu said with a smirk. "And what use have you for Taijutsu." "Oh, right." Jin said. "I decided. I want to be a ninja." [sasuke's Theme] "You're...serious?" Isamu said. "What changed your mind?" "I haven#t changed my mind." Jin said. "I don't like how ninjas act now. So...I'm going to be a different kind of ninja. I'm going to set and example for everyone else." Isamu looked at his son, but struggled to find words. The last time he had saw Jin, he seemed so lost, so unsure of himself. The Jin who stood before him now was a calm and confident young man. He answered quickly, but without hesitation, like someone who was sure of himself. What's more was the kind of calm aura he was displaying was almost zen. "Well that's great news son." Isamu said finally. "I'm sure I can set you up with a new Genin team soon." "I already have a team." Jin said. "I want to be paired with compete in the Chuunin exams." "Uh...but've only ever done one mission." Isamu said. "And Yuri is still off training I think." "She'll be here." Jin said confidently. "I'm heading off soon to find Hisato. I want to train a little before the exams." "I...see." Isamu said. "Well if Yuri does show up, and Hisato agrees, then I don't see any reason why you can't." "Thanks, dad." Jin said. "Oh and congratulations on becoming Hokage." "Well, thanks." Isamu said. "It's a tough job." "Then you're the right man for it." Jin said, and he smiled at his dad. "Oh...I decided one more thing while I was travelling." "And what's that?" Isamu asked, folding his arms across his chest. "I'm going to become Hokage." Jin said confidently.