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Shadow

CLOSED Gods Among Us

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It was meant to be a lazy day. Lana had planned to make this one Sunday in Spring a very relaxing and easy day. She had no work from anyone and was happy about it. Rather than her usual 8:00 A.M. wake up call, Lana slept in until 10:00. Instead of a rushed morning to get her schedule together and make sure everything was laid out, she moved form her bedroom to the kitchen, fixed a bowl of cereal, the to the living room where she clicked on the TV. Clad in her Pajamas and curled up on the couch, she began her day just the way she wanted. No responsibility and no worries. 

 

Around eleven Lana finally crawled from the comfort of her plaid couch and shuffled to the bathroom. Stripping down, she hopped in the shower and let the water run over her bare skin. Onto her neck, cascading down her breasts and back, and rushing down her legs to meet the bottom of the shower the water went. She shampoo and conditioned her hair, then washed her body, getting all the places one might miss while not paying attention. After that, she just let the water wash over her until she could feel her hands getting too prune'y for her liking. 

 

Lana turned the water off and the silence that followed was ever soothing. After grabbing a towel and drying her hair and body as best she could, Lana wrapped it around her to cover her body then waltzed lazily to her closet where her outfits awaited use from day to day. Rather than something suited for a party or maybe business affairs, Lana chose a pair of khaki shorts that stopped just short of the knees, and a V-neck colored red with the words I'm not lazy, I simply enjoy doing nothing printed across the front. Next came socks and shoes, which had clearly been worn down from use. "All right! I'm finally gunna enjoy a nice Spring day with no destination for once," she stated aloud, daring anyone to object.

 

Double checking everything was turned off and her door was locked, Lana left her apartment with a spring in her step and a body of vigor. She went off down the street of the city and, without destination, walked endlessly under the warmth of the sun that burned in the cloudless sky. Everything was going much better than she'd thought on her day off. No one had even dialed her cell to ask her to come for work or even to just hangout. It was a lovely day up until noon of course. Lana had stepped into one of the largest shopping centers in the city of Konell for lunch. It was one of those multistory shopping malls that have way more shops that any one other place. Standing in line to order Chinese food, the whole of the building shook as an explosion rocked through it. With the food courts on and upper floor and being full of people, it was the perfect target for an attack. 

 

Masked groups rushed, a motley bunch of people, and with the aid of Celestians they took control of the building. Those who tried to escape were captured and thrown back into being hostages, and any who stood to fight were met with vicious assault by the various beasts that aided the enemy. Lana's day went from being perfect to a tragedy in a matter of minutes. After the chaos of the explosion and attacks subsided it was obvious who held control, and they wasted no time either. "Listen here. You are all hostages now. Don't talk, don't cry, don't shout. Just shut the fuck up and do whatever we command. If you try to escape we'll catch you and make and example of your body. If you try to attack us we'll kill you. Simple as that. Now just sit tight and hope your military is willing to cooperate," the man who seemed to have the most authority stated.

 

Lana noted that, while most of them had Celestians at their beck and call, the enemy also held automatic rifles and likely explosives based on their display from before. Why did my day have to turn out like this. Even if I wanted to save everyone it'd be a hassle to get through so many of them. Damn all you bastards! 

 

While thinking to herself, sirens from far below could be heard as the first appearance of help was made. Lana sighed heavily and chose to sit tight for time being. If push comes to shove she could at least escape herself. That much wasn't a grand feat, but maybe the military would be able to play it out smoother than she could alone. Next time I have a day off I'm just staying in and ordering take out she told herself while leaning against the wall they'd been pushed against for easy holding.

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The grey building, nestled low between the taller houses around it, could have been military in comparison with the suburban style of the rest of the street. Technically, it could be considered military since the building had been built and funded by the Government; who also kept up any repairs that were needed. It also helped the military image that the sole occupant was military trained and military raised.  The small garden out the front was free of flowers and was simply a stretch of mown grass from fence to building, the stone path running perfectly settled alongside it. The path led to a grey door, a lighter shade then the building, with a steel handle and a small diamond window centered at head height.

 

The inside of the building was much the same, neat and tidy, even the man sat at the table in the kitchen nodded towards the military. However, the clothes Ryan Yamazaki wore leaned more to the practical side of the military as opposed to the ceremonial side. Ryan was wearing black cargo trousers, complete with extra pockets sewn in various places, tucked into soft leather combat boots. A black vest clung to his chest tightly and a heavy silver ring hung around his neck, nestling in the crook of his collar bone, by a thin line of rope. His dusty black hair was cut short on the sides and back with an inch left to run wild on top; which it did so at the moment to give the impression he had just woken up. Of course, he had just woken up.

 

Ryan was lounging in the chair at his kitchen table with a glass of orange juice in one hand and the other laying on his laptop. He wasn’t doing anything in particular when a notification popped up in his news feed about a shopping mall in a city called Konell. It only garnered his attention because it had popped up thanks to a program he always ran that looked for buzz words on numerous news sites; the particular word that had appeared this time was ‘Celestian’. The pop up consisted of a video shot on someone’s mobile phone and Ryan could tell that the criminals really did have Contractors with them, which made it near impossible for the normal police to make their move without serious casualties.

 

He was already strapping on a webbing belt with various pouches and a pistol, not that he intended to use it, on when his own mobile started ringing. Ryan didn’t need to look at the caller ID to see who it was.

 

“It occurs to me…†he said after he had swiped the screen to answer it.  “…that we should really get some agents into the news side of things. They always seem to get the story before us.â€

 

“Only on the public things.†The man on the other end of the phone replied.

 

“Thankfully, I suppose you would say, James.†Ryan said. James Rayner was his old instructor in the academy and now acted as his direct contact with the Governments higher ups in regards to Contractor assignments. “I take it I’m to be dropped at the edge of the situation?†He switched his phone to speaker and slid it into a slot on his belt designed to hold it. This allowed him to swing a short leather jacket over his vest, the bottom stopping exactly at the height of his webbing belt, and pull on a pair of tactical leather gloves that had the fingers sliced off.

 

“Not exactly; they want a team in there this time.†James replied from Ryan’s waist.

 

Ryan’s face couldn’t hide his surprise. “You’re kidding me right, when have I ever worked in a team?â€

 

“That’s the way they want it. Although why they’ve chosen these particular Contractors is beyond me; mixing them with you will make a bizarre team up.â€

 

“I don’t friggin’ believe this. Can’t you pull a few strings and get me sent in there alone?†Ryan pulled the phone from his belt and switched it back to normal. “I don’t get along well with teams.â€

 

“No can do, Ryan, this ones from the Boss-man himself.†James replied.

 

“Which one?

 

“Does it matter?â€

 

“I suppose not. When is the chopper arriving?†Before James could answer, the sound of helicopter blades cutting through the air sounded from above him. “Don’t worry, I hear them. See you later.†He cut the phone of and slipped it back in its pouch, fastening a strap over the top of it to prevent it falling out. As Ryan exited his house, shutting the door behind him, the helicopter swung into view over the other houses and lowered itself to the ground on the wide road. “Ready to rumble, Zhila?†he muttered to no reply. “I thought so.†The second the helicopter’s wheel touched the ground, the door slid open and Ryan leapt aboard with a nod to the soldier on board.

 

20 minutes later, the helicopter maneuvered into a hover above an open concrete area on the outskirts of Konell. “We’re not allowed to set down here, sir. You’re going to have to fast rope.†The soldier said as he slid the door open and released a long rope that fell to the ground below.

 

“I haven’t done this in a while.†Ryan said as he sat on the edge of the doorway and fastened himself to the rope. With a mock salute to the soldier, he slid into the air and quickly descended to the ground. As soon as he was free of the rope, he gave it two hard tugs and it recoiled back into the helicopter before the vehicle pulled away. As it did an older man in a grey suit came up to Ryan and clapped him on the shoulder before pulling him towards a large semi-truck that Ryan guessed was the mobile headquarters for the siege.

 

“James, when I said I’d see you later, I didn’t think you’d be on the ground. Why are you here?†Ryan said, moving quickly towards the truck.

 

James smiled. “Because without me here, I suspect you wouldn’t agree to the team up. Come on, they’re in here.†He said as he walked up the stairs to the mobile command truck.

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Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep-

 

*WHAM*

 

The fist raised up from the nightstand, now covered with shards of plastic and circuitry, and retreated into the bundle of pink blankets on top of the bed. "Wstfglgh... Ugh, like what time is it now?" A voice emanated from somewhere within the agglomeration of 400-thread count linen.

 

It's 11.30.

 

"Who the hell would, like, set an alarm at... at 11.30 on a SUNDAY?! I'll, like, find that bitch and choke the life out of -- oh wait, that'd probably be me who set that alarm. GAH! PAST ME, I HATE-"

 

Actually, that wasn't your alarm clock. It... kind of was that transmitter Colonel James issued you.

 

"Colonel... Colonel James?"

 

Indubitably, my master.

 

"OH SHIT!" Abruptly, the mound of blankets seemed to explode as its occupant burst out -- it was a petite teenage girl with a terminal case of bed hair wearing goofy rabbit-print pajamas. After a good deal of fumbling (and knocking over everything else that remained on her nightstand), she finally found and slipped on her black-rimmed glasses before pounding down the stairs and shaking the entire house in the process, yelling, "MAKE HASTE, MY PET! WE HAVE A VIRTUOUS MISSION TO COMPLETE!"

 

Hold on, hold on. Yes, I know a summons from the Colonel can only be an urgent matter and all that... but do you really have to-

 

"WE MUST MAKE HASTE!"

 

From somewhere in the vicinity of the girl's left sleeve, there was the sound of a small sigh and a wedge-shaped, serpentine head poked out, a tiny forked tongue flickering. Alright, alright. I will graciously defer to your better judgment, oh wise one.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Colonel James Rayner appraised the recently-arrived "operator", sighing and burying his hand in one calloused palm. He'd been with the force for many years already, and considering the notoriously individualistic and mercurial temperaments Contractors and their bond-creatures often had, he'd learned to exercise some flexibility when it came to handling these unusually gifted men and women... or in this case, child. However, there were niggling things such as public image and acceptable boundaries he, as a career soldier, had to respect, and somewhere or another, he definitely had to draw a line. This operative didn't just cross the line, she probably leaped over it with a flying spin-kick while ululating like a yellow jumpsuit-wearing martial arts movie star. While on fire. On instinct, his hand went to the hip flask by his side, but he caught himself in time and slowly withdrew it, clearing his throat and addressing the new operative before him.

 

"Miss Hendricks... I'm aware that operatives can exercise their own discretion in their choice of equipment... but I must question just why you reported in wearing Pink. Bunny-print. Pajamas."

 

The girl before him smiled goofily, giving him a rather sloppy salute with the wrong hand. "Sir, have you, like, ever seen a Celestian Bureau operative wearing pajamas, sir?"

 

His hand inched towards the hip flask again. "No... I have not." He managed.

 

"Don't you see, sir? It's, like, the perfect camouflage, so they'll never see me coming!" she concluded triumphantly.

 

The Colonel sighed again (it was a gesture he was getting very accustomed to in his time working with Ms. Hendricks), pulling out the hip flask and taking a shot. "... The fact that I'm struggling to think of a way to dispute that terrifies me," he muttered to himself as he put the hip flask back. 

 

"Anyway, Ms. Hendricks... just wait right here. The rest of the strike team will be reporting in shortly, and the mission brief will commence when all three of you have gathered." he said, trying his level best to maintain a facade of professionalism. Dear Lord, I just hope that the last one of them is normal...

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Montessa giggled as she approached her target, who was currently cowering from her with his back pressed tightly against the dead end of the alleyway, a pistol pointed shakily at her. What had started out to be a 20 on 1 ambush against her now turned into a massacre as the bodies of the man's compatriots lay around him, a various assortment of appendages and even chunks of the ground missing, the only clue left behind being rather large bite marks where their limbs once were.

 

"P-please!" begged the man, his hands trembling as he aimed his pistol at her, "S-stay back, you monster! You...you killed all of them!"

 

"An astute observation, Mr Ridley," Montessa calmly replied, "But I wonder, where is that spunk and spirit you just had a minute ago? You were just so happy, I swear on it, when you and your little friends came out and surrounded me."

 

"B-back, you monster!" yelled Ridley as he waved the gun at her, "You've come here to kill me haven't you? I've heard things about you, the lapdog of Cayman, how you and your celestian brutally murder people, even ra-"

 

Montessa let out a mock gasp as she covered her mouth. "Oh my," she spoke, her voice dripping with sarcarsm, "Whoever told you that must be mistaken. I've simply come to read you a story."

 

"A what?"

 

"A story, Mr Ridley. Now if you don't mind, let's begin, shall we?" Montessa cleared her throat as she took several pieces of paper out of her pocket. "Have you heard this one before? It's called Employee Contractual Terms no. 5.8©.(iv)." She gave a short cough as she continued, "If an employee of Cayman Industries Ltd breaks his contracts prematurely or joins a competing company, s/he is subject to liability and blah blah blah, all assets and life, blah blah blah," She tossed a few pieces away as she continued reading through the document, Ridley staring at her with a puzzled look. "Blah blah blah, ah, there we go, subject to immediate termination."

 

He gave her a panicked look as she pressed herself closer to him, her forehead practically pressed against the barrel of his pistol. "Like I said Mr Ridley, there's a nothing to worry about," she cooed as she placed her finger on his lips. "Mr Cayman himself made a special exception for you. All you have to do is return to Cayman Industries like a good little boy, and we can put all this behind us, hmm?"

 

This time, Ridley composure straightened, his hands gripping his pistol tighter as her pressed it against Montessa's still smiling face. "I-I can't do that," he explained, "The world needs to know what Cayman has done. The death of innocents, numerous war crimes, corruption of the federal government and so much more."

 

Montessa's smile turned into a pout as she straightened herself up. "What a shame, Mr Ridley. Maybe Jormungand here can change your mind."

 

"What are you talkin-" Before he could complete his sentence, there was naught but a large chomp sound, and the wall behind seemingly disappeared, a large bite taken out of it and what seemed to be a large floating serpent of black floating behind him, its beady eyes staring hungrily. Letting out a girly scream, he emptied his pistol into the creature, the bullets striking its flesh and slowly being consumed by its flesh, slowly sinking into it like it was quicksand.

 

He turned to Montessa, his eyes pleading. "S-spare me! A-Anything but-" There was but a flash of black, before Jormungand descended upon him ravenously, swallowing him in a single bite.

 

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

 

Michael Cayman was a busy man. He had just finished his 3rd shareholder meeting in a row, his lunch appointment with the Israelian Minster of Defence and several ribbon cutting ceremonies today. He sighed as laid back in his Relaxiner 3000, the latest in comfort technology, as the cushioned pads of the char shifted to accommodate his weight. "I have the hardest life," he muttered to no one in particular as he turned on his electronic organiser. "Let's see what's next," he whispered, scrolling through the list of entries, "Meet and greet with the mayor, done, site survey, done...ah, here we go, a meeting with one of my ex-employees." Almost right a cue, there was a knock on his office doors, before the huge double doors swung open. In strolled Montessa, humming happily to herself as two armed guards flanked her.

 

"Ah, my finest agent, Montessa," said Michael jovially, taking a bottle of whiskey from his drawer along with two cup, "I assume you have...convinced Mr Ridley to reconsider his retirement?" Without a word, Montessa snapped her fingers as Jormungand materialized in midair. Letting out a snort, it eyed Michael warily, considering whether to proceed to eat him. 

 

"Jormungand." Montessa spoke up, her voice carrying a hint of anger, "What did I tell you about eating Mr Cayman?" Letting out a sound somewhere between a whine and a hiss, it looked down submissively. "Good boy~" she muttered, petting it on the head as it let out annoyed grunts, "Now let Mr Ridley have his little talk with Mr Cayman." There was a soft gurgle that filled the room, before a loud belch resonated through the office room, rattling the windows as it vomited out Ridley, black ichor covering his body as he sat curled in a fetal position rocking back and forth.

 

"Mr Ridley, glad you came back!" bellowed Michael as he poured two glasses of whiskey, "Have you reconsidered leaving this wonderful company yet?" As soon as Ridley heard his voice, he lunged toward him clutching Michael's ankle desperately, his hands trembling. "P-please," his voice completely shaken, "D-don't let m-me go b-back there! I'll d-do anything! I'll b-build anything, p-please just d-don't send me back th-there!" He gave a fearful look at Jormungand, who simply gnashed its jaws in return.

 

"Glad to see you could see past our differences," Michael laughed as he beckoned to the guards, "Bring Mr Ridley to his chamber. Get this man a shower, won't you?" Giving him a salute, the two guards grabbed the still-whimpering Ridley by the shoulders, dragging him out of the room as the double doors closed behind them. Sighing, he offered a glass of whiskey to Montessa.

 

"Yet another employee trying to escape. What does that make, 3 this month alone?"

 

Montessa sipped her drink. "Actually, 5. Last two decided to commit suicide before I could catch them."

 

Downing his drink in a single swift motion, Michael poured himself another glass. "I don't get it really. I pay my employees well, give them full healthcare benefits, heck, I even give them 20% more holidays than any other corporation. All I ask is that they build weapons of war, look the other way when asked about ethics, or just you know, do the occasional...er...bad deed." Letting out yet another sigh, he took a long, drawn out sip from his glass, before turning to Montessa. "Tell me, Montessa, am I a bad boss?"

 

She simply gave a grin before finishing off her glass. "The world has varying shades of grey, sir," she muttered, looking nowhere in particular, "All I see is a man willing to do the dirty deeds that the rest of the world doesn't want to do." Pressing a few buttons on his desk, a large holographic display of the globe lit up. "Just look, simply 3 years after buying over and unofficially annexing Yemen and Ethiopia, the regions' economic capabilities have skyrocketed, even beating out Israel and Turkey. All thanks to Cayman Industries opening up factories and businesses in the countries themselves. Even terrorism is at a all time low in the region. You've managed to do in 3 years what the American government hasn't been able to do in 50." Raising her glass in a toast to him, she gave a sly grin. "We're making the mother of all omelettes here, sir. Can't fret about every broken egg now, can we?"

 

Chuckling, Michael raised his head, giving her a hearty pet on her shoulder. "See Montessa, this is why you're my favourite agent." 

 

"Just doing my job, sir. You have the trigger, just point me wherever you need me."

 

Nodding, he straightened himself out. "Well then, onto business. I apologize for sending you into another mission immediately, but a situation has just occured." Pressing a button on his desk, a monitor lit up, displaying the local news.

 

"A local mall in Konnell has just been taken over by terrorists," he continued, "While I'm not one to matter about such...trivial issues normally, this mall happens to house one of our classified research labs in the basement. Your job is to join up with a FBI Contractor squad, while ensuring the terrorists do not steal our research."

 

"A reunion with old friends huh," said Montessa rolling her eyes, "So what's with me joining up with the FBI? Normally you don't even trust the police or FBI in such matters."

 

"I still don't," he answered, his face stern, "So think of it as babysitting them and making sure they don't screw up. The other reason is that there has been talks about outsourcing law enforcement to Cayman Industries' PMCs, so what better way to put up a good show than putting my best agent on this case?"

 

Giving him a mock curtsey, she let out a snicker. "Very well milord, your wish is my command." As she walked out of the office, she heard Michael call out behind her. "Before I forget, Montessa, I've authorized the usage of the new Thaumaturge rifle. Show them we mean business, eh?"

 

Montessa simply licked her lips.

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“Come along then, Pajama Party.â€

 

Ryan strode along quickly, practically jogging, in the direction of Konell’s mall with Alice Hendricks in tow. She had been the second in a three man team of Contractors that had been tasked with taking down the criminals within the mall. However, the third person had not shown up on time and Ryan had successfully argued the point that waiting any longer would put civilians and the mission in danger. James had conceded and had agreed to send the third man on once they arrived; after communicating with Ryan via a radio that was now strapped to his belt with an earpiece in his ear.

 

“Anyway, as I’m sure you gathered during the introductions, I don’t really get on well with team members. I’m more of the lone wolf type deal and I tend to get called into missions that require such people. Why it has been decided to throw me in a team is beyond me, more so with someone like you; no offense.†Ryan spoke fast and with intensity to ensure the excitable girl didn’t interrupt which she tried a few times as he spoke. “Now since I have to use you, I might as well. I don’t know your abilities or those of your Celestian but that doesn’t matter.†The Mall came into view around the corner of a building and Ryan ducked to the side, pulling Alice along with him.

 

“The plan is simple, you need to cause a distraction at the main entrance; it shouldn’t be too hard, really, and I’m sure they won’t shoot a small girl in pajamas; at least not immediately. While you’re doing that, I’ll enter a different way and take them out from behind. I’ll be able to take care of anyone regardless of their Celestian or weapons. Well, unless they have something unprecedented.†He shrugged and then gestured towards the entrance of the mall. “Of you pop, then.†And with that Ryan disappeared into an alley behind them, circling around the Mall to find a more discreet entrance.

 

===================================================================

 

Back at the HQ truck, James Rayner’s phone went off and he was surprised to find the boss was calling him directly. He quickly tapped to answer the call and held the phone to his ear.

 

“Sir, how can I help you?†he said in a polite voice he used very rarely.

 

“It’s more how I can help you. The PMC Cayman Industries has sent an agent to oversee things down there, you may want to intercept.â€

 

“A PMC? I don’t see how they can have any kind of jurisdiction here, this is an FBI operation and they wouldn’t touch a corporation like that with a ten foot barge pole.†James replied with a surprised look on his face.

 

“Not their call this time, unfortunately. There are some big governmental stirrings going on with regards to the kind of Ops Cayman will be doing and apparently city policing has been offered to the table for discussion.â€

 

“That’s ridiculous.â€

 

“It is, but it’s being talked about. I’ve managed to pull some strings and prevent them from taking full control, as some sort of demonstration of their ability, so the agent will be coming in on equal grounds only. The decision is yours, but I’d recommend stalling the agent in order for our own to get the job done before they can interfere.â€

 

“Thank you for calling sir, I’ll make sure the mission brief is long and complicated for them.†The phone went dead on the other end and James slid his own phone back into his pocket. “Well, that’s unexpected.†He muttered before pulling his phone out again and dialing a number to a contact who could get him the ETA of this PMC agent and perhaps some info on them as well.

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"A distraction? Ooh, I love distractions!" Alice mumbled to herself, skipping along as she separated from the other Contractor. He seemed unfriendly. And kinda boring. Perhaps it was for the best that he left to do his own thing. He'd probably turn out to be just like all the other adults, just droning on and on at her about 'collateral damage' and 'acceptable use of force' and other booooooooring things. "That's, like, so lame," she continued soliloquizing as she carried on towards the main entrance. "How do, they, like, live with themselves knowing that they suck?"

I find it endlessly intriguing that I, a Celestian, have a better grasp of human laws and customs than the Contractor ostensibly supposed to guide me through these things.

"And I find it endlessly intriguing that you, a silly talking snake, like, never ever shut up," Alice mumbled, pouting. "Ah, there they are. Bad guys."

The trio of men standing at the entrance were living the cliche -- despite black being, like, so last season, they were garbed from head to toe in it, even wearing the stereotypical ski masks despite it being well into spring already. Clearly, they weren't a terribly well-funded group of generic Hollywood movie villains either, judging from the motley assortment of gear they were holding, from their mismatched bits and pieces of combat webbing to their battered-looking, rather antiquated automatic rifles. They seemed to be on their toes right now; obviously, the police cordon a couple of hundred yards back was doing nothing to assuage their frayed nerves. It didn't take long for them to spot her, and predictably enough, they reacted with some degree of consternation and surprise.

"Hey, kid. You lost?" one of them called out to her, his hands gripping the handguard of his rifle tightly.

"Nuh-uh," Alice called out cheerfully as she walked closer. "I heard there was, like, a sale today!"

Even with his face mostly obscured, Alice could easily see the look of disbelief on the terrorist's face. "Scram. Mall's closed, kiddo. In any case..." he gestured at her pink bunny slippers. "What kind of fucked-up kid goes to the mall wearing that?!"

"Huuuuuuh?" Alice sing-songed, walking even closer. "What did you say?! I was, like, a little far away, so I didn't hear that well... but did you just, like, call my outfit tacky?!" Her smile vanished, and she glared at the guard as she approached, undeterred by the rifles they had raised in her direction. "Insulting my taste, huh? That's like the worst thing to say to a girl, y'know."

"Now you're just fucking with me," the gunman snarled, disengaging the safety on his rifle as his comrades followed suit. "Take one more step, and your head'll be smeared all over the pavement."

Alice gasped in mock horror, stepping back for a moment. "OH-EM-GEE. These guys, like, have zero qualms about shooting unarmed civilians in the head! Hey mass media, you hear that?!" She called out to no one in particular. "STOP THE PRESSES. These guys, like, just threatened to shoot some poor little girl in the head!"

"Back away. Slowly. No sudden movements." The gunman threatened, their guns still trained at Alice's head. "I'll give you five seconds to get lost. Five." No response.

"Four." Alice tapped her foot, and called back, "Now you've gone and done it. My BFFs are gonna be, like, so mad when they hear you refused me entry."

"... Two." She pulled out a smartphone and took a picture. "I'm putting this straight on Instagram."

"One."

Alice Hendricks, self-styled Magical Girl, snapped her fingers and became awesome.

There was the staccato rattle of automatic gunfire... and then a sharp ping as a bullet ricocheted off her forehead. "Contractor!" The second guard growled as he dropped his rifle to hang loosely by its sling, freeing his hands to wave his hand in a complex movement. "Go get 'er!"

The air distorted and shimmered, and a huge black bear, eyes glowing crimson with rage, lumbered towards Alice and reared to its full height, towering over the petite girl and baring its fangs. "Kill her," the man commanded, and the bear's eyes flashed in response as it swung one massive, clawed paw at the girl with enough force to tear a man into half.

She ducked under the claw, which only managed to clip off an errant lock of hair, and stepped closer, raising her hands into a boxer's guard. Then, just before the creature could make a follow-up swing, she weaved in close and lashed out at the bear's belly with a swift front jab, shouting, "I cast FIST!"

As she made contact, there was a thunderous concussion, shattering a good portion of the glass windows of the mall facade. Then, there was a loud thud as an ursine corpse smacked into the ground, sans a foot-wide chunk of its torso -- said missing flesh was now splattered in a thirty-foot trail behind the unfortunate creature, and was also on fire.

The defeated man screamed and scampered, rushing back into the mall, and another ripple of tension passed through the air as the other two other men summoned their own Celestians, spiny, musclebound and scale-covered hulks that only a mother could love. A blind, senile mother with no sense of smell.

"Wow, those are your Celestians, huh? I heard they, like, take after their owners. Kinda glad you're still wearing your masks," She quipped as she slammed her fists together, causing a shower of sparks to cascade out. "C'mon, do you want to live forever?"

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Montessa cradled the rifle in her arms as the helicopter came to a touchdown. It was a long time since she had ever worked with the FBI, the last time being the Maxwell incident. "Could it be," she thought to herself as she slid the door open, "That these terrorists were associated with the Maxwell incident too?" She shook her head and discarded the thought from her mind as she approached the FBI agent waiting for her. There was no time be dwelling on such matters. Now was the time to be...professional.

 

"You must be the agent from Cayman," said the man as he extended a hand to her, "Name's James Rayner, FBI."

 

"Charmed, I'm sure," replied Montessa dismissively as she unslung the rifle from her, flicking a switch on it as it hummed to life, "Now, I heard that there was a Contractor team ready to be sent in? Or are they all dead already?†James grunted and rolled his eyes as he signaled towards the monitor within the control vehicle. “We sent both Contractors in already, first one through the main entrance, second around the back. The assailants are heavily armed, probably professionally trained by the looks of it, and they have Contractors of their own. Total amount of hostiles is unknown, but we estimate at least 20 or 30 inside. SWAT team is almost in position, negotiations are going-â€

 

Montessa cut him off as she headed off towards a side entrance. “Thank you for that, ah, brief introduction, Mr Rayner,†she answered, “I think I can handle it from here on. I’m well versed on how efficient the FBI is.â€

 

James just clutched and shook his head, sighing. “Ryan, I’m so sorry.â€

 

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Tapping on her GPS-watch as she approached what seemed to be inconspicuous wall, she aimed the rifle at the wall, a display popping up as 3 blips appeared on the screen. “Three hostiles,†she muttered. Her plan was to enter the mall from a side entrance, before meeting up with the agent up front. At the very least, the agent who opted to attack from the front would prove interesting. Squeezing the trigger, the rifle whirred and…nothing happened.  

 

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Max whistled as he looked around the lingerie department, the hostages shivering and crying as he pointed his rifle at them. He had to pull a few strings and give a few favors, but he finally managed to snag this position during the operation. “Well, at least I get to look at something interesting,†he muttered to himself as he strolled around the aisles, taking in the various bras and panties on display.

 

A particularly revealing set on display made him stop as he let out a loud whistle. “Damn, that’s hot,†he mused as he wiped the sweat from his brows. He was already starting to feel warm as a burning sensation crept up his spine.

 

“Did someone turn up the AC or something?†He wiped another trail of sweat as he looked around, his vision turning blurry. Without warning, he fell to the ground, unable to let more than a mere gurgle as he saw his two partners fall to the ground too, gurgling as steam escaped from their eyeballs and ears. “W-What –the h-hell-†Before he could finish, he exploded, his body rupturing and sending blood splattering over the terrified customers as they huddled together, wondering what the hell had just happened.

 

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Powering down the rifle, Montessa slung the rifle on her back as she planted a detonating charge on the wall, whistling as she did. Pressing the detonator, a loud explosion filled the air as the wall was torn apart. Stepping through the wall, she looked around, noting the panicking hostages as they pointed towards 3 bloodstained splats on the floor, steam still hissing off them. "Microwaves, never fails to make me smile," she sniggered, “Guess I better let R&D know the Thaumaturge rifle works,†she chuckled as she strolled through the departmental store, ignoring the hostages who were crying, some in complete shock at what had just happened. That would be the FBI’s problem. First priority was to meet up with the agent, and secure Cayman’s labs. Already, she could hear the sounds of battle coming from the main lobby of the mall.

 

As she turned the corner, what seemed be a cross between a porcupine and a gorilla was flying towards her at full speed. Without missing a beat, Jormungand materialized out of midair, chomping down on the unknown Celestian and devouring it in a single gulp, before it let out a belch and disappeared. Up ahead, she could see what appeared to be two fully grown men getting their asses kicked in by what seemed to be a young girl in pink jammies.

 

Montessa balked. “That’s what the FBI has come to since I left? At least I can’t say it didn’t get more interesting.†Walking up to the girl, who was busy polishing up the rather one-sided fight, she raised her watch, a hologram of Cayman Industries logo popping up. “Hey kiddo, you with the FBI? I was instructed to meet with you and your buddies.â€

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Ryan found his entrance quickly after leaving Alice to distract the guards at the main entrance to the mall. It was a small side door that led directly into one of the parking lots, giving Ryan enough cover to move close to the side of the building without being seen. The entrance was being guarded by two guys with mismatched uniforms and the assault rifle of their trade; AK47’s. Ryan could see from where he was hidden, behind a large SUV, that they were scratched, battered, and clearly not looked after beyond a cursory clean. Which probably meant they were not used to the weapons and were probably Contractors.

 

He frowned and then quickly moved between cars until he was just out of view of the guards before dodging towards the building so his back was pressed against the outer wall. From the way the mall was built, the guards in the doorway wouldn’t see him until it was too late. Such as it was, when he was within a couple of steps, Ryan exploded forward and drove an elbow into the firsts guys face. The force slammed his head back and crashed it into the doorframe behind him. The second guy stepped back in surprise, but Ryan was already swinging towards him and caught him in the side of the head with a forearm. As the guards stumbled out of the doorway, Ryan delivered a sharp kick to his ankle and sent him head over heels to the floor.

 

The first guard was dazed but still on his feet so Ryan grabbed the back of his head, took two long steps towards the second guard, kicked the first guards knees out and smashed their heads together, knocking the two of them out. Ryan stayed in a knelt position and listened to see if anyone was coming to check on them but there was no sound so he stood up and entered the mall quickly.

 

A ruckus from towards the front of the mall told Ryan that Alice was doing her job, and he ducked into a sports shop on his right as a gaggle of the terrorists sprinted down the main thoroughfare towards the front entrance. Ryan found two more enemies in the sports store with a couple of civilians lying on the floor with their hands on their heads. Both masked men were slow on the uptake so Ryan took the initiative and picked up a baseball, signed by some famous player, from the counter in front of him and threw it hard into one of the men’s faces, knocking him back in surprise.

 

Ryan quickly vaulted the counter and landed with quick kick to the second guys knee, knocking it sideways. He then stepped forward, wrenched the rifle clear of his hands, and brought the rifle down on top of the guys head like driving a nail into hard wood. As the man fell, Ryan’s hand shot out and clamped around his throat, tightening as Ryan spun around and locked the guy in a choker. The first guy had recovered by now and raised his free hand to summon his Celestian.

 

What sounded like an explosion, muted behind walls, echoed around but Ryan and his opponent ignored it as a cloud of mist appeared and what could only be described as a scarecrow with knives for hands leapt out towards Ryan.

 

“Zhila.†Ryan said but nothing happened and all he heard in reply was a sleepy grunt. “Or not.†He said as he released his hold on the second guy and kicked him in the back towards the scarecrow Celestian. A knife-hand flashed forward and pierced the guy through the chest, killing him instantly. It was at this point that Ryan glanced at the first guy and saw him raised his rifle. “Shit.†Ryan managed before the man open fired.

 

What appeared to be golden petals appeared in front of Ryan and the bullets bounced off them harmlessly and Ryan let a small growl escape from the back of his throat. “Better late then never, I suppose.†He muttered as the golden scales spun in a small tornado before forming into his Celestian, Zhilayastal.

 

The scarecrow swiped at the Dragon-Lion hybrid Celestian but its knife-hand blades broke against her golden scales. Zhila then pounced forward and clamped her jaws tight around the scarecrow’s throat, practically ripping its head free. Ryan didn’t wait for Zhila to finish as he leapt over her and delivered a heavy kick to the terrorists face, knocking him to the floor where Ryan jumped up and down on his face a few times to knock him out. Zhila released the scarecrow as its head rolled away and then disappeared in a swirl of golden scales as Ryan ducked into a crouching position by the door.

 

Ryan looked back at the civilians, three of them now crouched against the far wall where they had scrambled away from the fight, and frowned. “Stay here. Don’t get in the way.†He said as the phone at his belt vibrated. He pulled it free and glanced at the text from James.

 

Cayman Industries operative on site, female with silver hair. Try not to kill but feel free to harass.

 

“Well, that explains the explosion.†Ryan muttered as he slipped the phone away. “Damn PMC’s.†He glanced out of the Sports store and looked across at his next target; a jewelry shop with three more terrorists in, all looking in the direction of the main entrance with tight grips on their rifles.

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Alice looked down derisively from the ex-Contractor she'd just defeated, now curled up in a fetal position on the ground and making pathetic whimpering noises like a whipped dog. his Celestian had been every bit as pathetic as it was ugly, and its iron-hard spines and claws did it little good when she had torn its arms off like they were made of plasticine. Max had tried explaining it to her, once. He'd spewed some technical mumbo-jumbo about weakening the molecular bonds that gave solid objects strength, but clearly that explanation couldn't be true; she wasn't going to be taken in just because that silly snake knew long words. That Rayner guy had told her about Occam's razor before in a futile attempt to convince her that Max was in fact a proper Celestian (for an adult, that man sure believed the most outrageous things) and from what she understood of that principle, 'being so awesome that the enemies of justice just, like, lose the will to live and stuff' was clearly a far simpler explanation than any explanation involving fake foreign words like "Van Der Waals forces", and thus far more likely to be true.

 

She turned to face the other Contractor she'd been dealing with -- he was still sort of conscious, if missing most of his front teeth -- not that this made much of a difference in his looks, in her opinion. She'd punched his equally-ugly Celestian through a wall, but Max had told her to keep on her guard. There was no guarantee she'd beaten it, and some of the enemies of justice could be annoyingly persistent. She walked up towards him, whistling a little misheard ditty, and (relatively) lightly kicked the fallen man in the shins -- if that Celestian was like any of the others, it would have sprung to its master's defense. He screamed, a wet spot spreading across the front of his pants, but no Celestian showed up. She kicked him in the other shin just to balance the books, but the immediate surroundings stubbornly-remained a target-free environment, and she started feeling a little foolish. Huh. Looks like it really is gone-

 

 â€œHey kiddo, you with the FBI? I was instructed to meet with you and your buddies.â€

 

"EEEEK! THE MONSTER CAN TALK - Oh wait." When she turned around, she realized with a good deal of relief that the source of the voice wasn't that Celestian mutant freak but a tall, white-haired woman in an immaculately-pressed suit. Floating behind her was the blurry, translucent silhouette of a serpentine creature with a mouth far too large for a creature of its size filled with way, way too many pointy teeth.

 

We definitely weren't told to rendezvous with anyone during the brief. She's got a pretty scary-looking Celestian there, too. Stay on your guard. Max hissed near-silently into her ear as she was accustomed to. 

 

"Uh, hi!" Alice ventured tentatively, nervously twirling Max's tail (to his great annoyance). "I'm Alice Hendricks, and I'm a magical girl of justice! Yeah, I'm, like, kinda sorta with the FBI. They gave me a badge and stuff, but they won't, like, let me into their super-secret mountain base no matter how much I ask. My buddy -- not a buddy buddy or anything, he's just some, like, random guy who, like, tagged along -- he sneaked off somewhere to, like, do sneaky stuff or something, so it's just me here. Who're you?"

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Lana didn't quite keep a tight track of time while being held hostage. Whether it'd been ten minutes or half an hour was rather irrelevant as she listened and observed the terrorists doing what they did best. However, at a certain point, she noticed unrest within their ranks, especially from the apparent head here. Whether he was the highest of their group she couldn't tell, but he was in charge here. He'd been barking out orders for a short while to his subordinates, occasionally getting whispered reports from masked woman figure who must have been high up in ranks as well. 

 

"Tell them there will be no exceptions on that. If there's one thing I won't back down on, it's that. Have all the remaining units on the lower levels move up. forget about the hostages there. We're going to concentrate our power and force them to submit. The agents might be good, but they aren't too smart just charging in like that. And they won't be able to handle it if we bottle neck them on the 13th floor," he said a little too loud. 

 

The woman nodded this time and fled elsewhere. He turned to a group of hostages and addressed them in a most demeaning manner. "All right. It seems like these people don't take us seriously. So, I'm going to use one of you as an example. Don't worry though. If your government goes along with us, no one will HAVE to be hurt," he said with a chuckle, "Not like they will listen."

 

There was a surge of panic among the groups but is subsided all too quickly as they began scanning the various hostages for a suitable choice. Shit. This isn't going well. And here I thought there would be someone actually competent in charge. This is probably because of whatever's going on outside of here. 

 

Lana watched for a while as they various things were handled simultaneously before someone called out, "How about that child? That always gets a response from them."

 

Her gaze followed the finger that was pointing to a young girl with her back pressed against a concrete support pillar. She had her knees pulled to her chest and arms wrapped tightly around them. When she looked up to the terrorist's gaze, her eyes had lost their shine and she looked more dead than alive. "Tch. These bastards are just making it harder for Contractors to get freedom. Completely useless," Lana said while biting her thumb.

 

A nearby enemy glared at her, clearly having heard something, but unsure what he'd heard. "Keep your mouth. Unless you'd like to take her place maybe?" he added with a rather obnoxious cackle. 

 

Lana didn't suppress the wicked grin that slipped onto her face, her eyes staring daggers at the man muddy brow eyes. "Maybe I would. However, where would that put you when I don't die? Maybe I could carve your eyes out and feed them to my crow, or I could skin you alive, then before you die of blood loss I could dice you up and throw your parts off this building. Or I could just kill you before you move from that spot too," she said, her entire demeanor showing the proficiency to do so.

 

By now the entire floor, including the man who'd been dragging the young girl and the leader, had stopped and heard the ongoings. Ironically, the terrorist had been rooted in his boots temporarily with fear. It wasn't until the boss called out that he snapped out of his fear induced stupor. "Bring that bitch with you. Two an extra one won't make a difference."

 

The previously stunned man moved to apprehend Lana, but she stood up on her own with a hiss at the man and he quickly back off. Lana walked towards the leader with several guns drained on her. "Don, take these two to the roof. We'll use them to negotiate with those buffoons in the government. Everyone else keep a sharp eye on those here. You three come with me and two others go with Don. The rest keep on your guard for anything," he said ordered to under him.

 

This time, Lana hid her devious smile and waited for them to make the grave mistake of making an opening for her. 

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