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TriOctium

CLOSED Mitsuba Academy: Art Club

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"And remember to cut your hair by next week, Raiha-kun," Akira concluded, just as the bell signalling the end of homeroom sounded. "To repeat myself, those of you who are good at drawing can consider joining the Art Club. We will start our activities after school today." From within his briefcase, he produced a bunch of flyers with pictures of famous artists photoshopped together, with the caption 'ARTISTS UNITE!!! JOIN THE ART CLUB TODAY!!!' emblazoned on the top as well as several details on how to locate the Art Room at the bottom.

 

Only those who could see Demons or the supernatural would also notice the luminescent blue words, scrawled across the middle as though it had been drawn with a finger. "Demon Hunters Wanted."

 

"Class dismissed." Akira gave the students a quick bow as they stood up in unison and did likewise, bursting into chatter as he retrieved his briefcase and headed out of the room. Locating the various noticeboards positioned all across the school, he put up more of those flyers on each of them. Being a relief teacher, he didn't have many lessons to take charge of, and had quite a lot of free time, in fact. Enough to give Mitsuba a quick search, in fact. Loosening his tie, Akira headed out of the school gates.

 

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Hellmouths are huge, often cavernous tears in the fabric of reality, linking our mortal realm with that of the demonic world. Being located in between realms, even power users and practitioners of magic cannot normally see it. They can, however, locate certain hotspots around the Hellmouth where the fabric of reality is particularly weak, with the proper detection spells and know-how. These hotspots are normally located in areas less populated by humans, as they give out a sense of dread and fear that even ordinary mortals can feel; the sense of something watching you, giving you goosebumps and causing your hair to stand on end.

 

This was one such hotspot.

 

A lone man stumbled into the dusty room, clutching his head as though he was in terrible pain. "The pain... take it away! I can't take it anymore! Please! KILL ME!!" He collapsed onto the hard stone floor, as a dark shadow loomed over his fallen figure. "Please..." he could still be heard mumbling. "I don't want to give in to the voices..."

 

The robed figure crouched down, running a hand through the man's hair. "Hush now. Everything will be alright. Soon, it will all be over." As he stroked the man's hair, it seemed to get longer and bushier. In fact, the man's entire body seemed to be sprouting hair as it metamorphosed into a more lupine shape, and soon his mumblings became low-pitched and incoherent, the words merging into rumbling growls. Within minutes, there was no trace of the man any longer, only a wolf that lay obediently at the feet of the robed figure.

 

"You will be rewarded for your obedience," said the figure. The wolf slowly stood up, shaking its fur as it glanced up into the eyes of the figure. "Go now. There is work to be done." Wordlessly, the wolf turned and bounded out of the room, headed for the destination that had been imprinted into its head.

 

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It was already late afternoon when Akira arrived back in the compound of Mitsuba No. 1 High School, and students were already streaming towards their various club locations or heading out the school gates. He quickly headed up to room 02-11, where a sign labelled 'Art Room' could be seen on the front door. Below that, the same luminescent blue words 'Demon Hunters Wanted' had been painted over the door. He smiled, entered the room, and took a seat, waiting for the first student to arrive.

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The bell sounded, and with a sigh of relief, Erin picked up her bags and left the class. Regrettably, any hopes of high school being easier than middle school had been cruelly dashed by the gauntlet of lessons she’d just endured. Stay strong, Erin, this is only Day 1 of the Great Struggle. I mean the other Great Struggle, not the one about risking life and limb to stop crazy demon-buggering psychos from obliterating the fabric of reality. The regular Great Struggle involving homework and tests and posses of bitchy classmates and boys and prom-

Come to think of it… those sound pretty insignificant compared to the obliteration of reality. Really quite amazing how struggling against imminent doom and destruction gives you a different perspective on things, isn’t it?

Well, now for the next hurdle of the Not-So-Great Struggle. Well, joining the Go Home Club’s right out – Dad would just dragoon me into the Literature Club. And of course… I don’t want the Literature Club, either. Maybe I should take up Haruna-senpai's offer… she did say I didn’t need experience to qualify. However, it’s not right to be so hasty, right? There’s plenty of other choices-

Then, her gaze fell onto one of the Art Club’s recruitment posters.

Objectively speaking, it was a pretty awful poster. It was a rather ineptly done Photoshop montage, with glaringly obvious areas where the designer had failed to properly blend the disparate images of artists, only for his cover-up attempts to go even more disastrously wrong. The text was in an eye-searing, garish rainbow of colors and in a truly awful font, and had enough exclamation marks to cast serious doubts on the sanity of the creator. Just to top off this affront, no, this memorial to modern art, may it rest in peace, there seemed to be a luminescent blue smudge marring the center of the-

She blinked. Is it me, or does this blue smudge look like words? She blinked again and squinted, and the smudge’s meaning became clear as day. “Demon Hunters Wanted.†Hold on, what’s with all this secrecy? Did I just stumble onto some kind of cloak and dagger bullshi-

Suddenly, she felt a sensation akin to a faint but steadily loudening buzzing permeating through her skull, and groaned. Dad, there’s prudence, and then there’s contacting your daughter through Demon Reaper telepathy just to save on outgoing call fees… With a sigh, she ducked into a nearby toilet and shut the cubicle door. When she was sure no one was watching, she snapped her fingers, and there was a silken hiss as a long, black-handled polearm akin to a naginata with both edges sharpened coalesced in her outstretched hand from a cloud of bluish-white mist.

What is it this time, dad?

<I’m sure you’ve seen those colorful posters?>

What, the ones for the school idol festival? Dad, a man your age shouldn’t be so fascinated with-

<ERIN.>

Oh, right. The Art Club posters, huh? Let me guess… your next sentence is “Join the Art Club and see what’s their deal.â€

<Join the Art Club and see what their deal is. >

… Right. So you want your only beloved daughter to wander into the clutches of a possibly hostile group we know jack shit about?

<You’re a big girl now, you can make your own decisions.>

Decisions?! Didn’t you just tell me what to-

<Good luck! Bye!>

Erin swore as the connection cut and punched the cubicle wall, terrifying a hapless freshman one cubicle over, before dematerializing her Reaper and trudging off towards the Art clubroom, grumbling about her father’s attitude for most of the way.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Erin reached the Art clubroom a few minutes later, stopping outside the door with a bit of trepidation. I wonder who’s in there… What if there’re others there? What if it’s a trap? What if I’ve somehow horrifically misinterpreted the wording and end up stumbling into a Dungeons and Dragons themed covert orgy?

Well, only one way to find out. Erin steeled herself, preparing to let her Reaper drop into her free hand, and slid the door open with one hand.

The inside of the room seemed to be completely lit by purple mood lighting for some reason, and posing in the middle was a half-naked man with his back facing her, his immaculately-toned back muscles clear for the whole world to see. For some reason, she swore she heard a

start playing from somewhere in a distance, and unless her eyes were tricking her, the man seemed to be sparkling slightly....

Then, Erin closed the Art Club door.

A couple of minutes later after, Erin worked up her courage again, gave the door a couple of knocks, and opened it – only to find the strange naked man looming in the doorway looking straight down at her.His hand darted out faster for even her accelerated perception to resolve as more than a blur, and he grabbed her blonde ponytail and pulled it towards him, yanking her face straight into his chest with a jarring thud. Erin was vaguely aware of him making some exaggerated sniffing noises; then, he let go of her ponytail and let her stumble back, his brick-red eyes appraising her like a craftsman might examine a fine piece of jade.

Then, without preamble, he extended a hand to her and gave her a toothy grin. “Welcome to the Art Club.â€

… What?

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Akira Miyamoto is a strange man. Shu thought, reaching into his bento to grab another rice ball. Lunchtime hadn’t come quick enough for Shu as he pushed through the morning’s lessons, fulfilling his quota of acceptable intelligence without being a genius. He was now sat on one of the many benches that were scattered around the school, although he had picked one that was far from others and he knew no one ever used. His bento sat next to him on the bench with the lid half askew to allow Shu access to the rice balls his mother had made for him. In his hand, he held one of the Art Club posters Akira had stuck up everywhere and his bag and tube sat on the floor by his feet; the tube resting up against his knee. The glowing blue writing was as clear to him as if it had been written in normal pen. How he got a job as a teacher, I don’t know. However, he does seem to know about demons, at least in a small amount. No-one could use this substance accidentally.

 

He folded the poster in half, picture on the inside, and had just placed it on the bench when someone punched him in the shoulder. For a millisecond, Shu tensed to react, he didn’t take kindly to bullies, but as he turned he realised that the punch had been extremely light and that the perpetrator was a girl. He relaxed his muscles and looked up at the girl from behind his glasses. She was wearing the standard school uniform, with tie pulled up tight against the collar, but had foregone her jacket somewhere to leave her in shirt sleeves. She had dark brown hair pulled up in a high ponytail tied with a dark blue ribbon and dark green eyes. Shu had the faint feeling they were in the same year, perhaps the same class even, but couldn’t bring a name to mind.

 

“Kagaiba-san, right?†She asked, her hands now resting on her hips. Whoever she was, she didn’t wait for Shu to confirm his identity before confirming. “Of course you are, we’re in the same homeroom after all.†Ah, that’s where’s she’s from. Shu thought as she continued her tirade. “Being a bit of a loner, eh? You should do something about that really, you were the same last year and I’ll say now that it didn’t do you any favours.†She continued her tirade of tips about how he could improve his looks and the like before falling silent when Shu suddenly stood up.

 

“Apologies, but I must be going.†He reached down to close his bento and slipped it into his back as he slung it over his shoulder. He did the same with his tube and then picked up the Art Club poster.

 

“You’re not actually thinking of joining that are you? No girl would look at you twice if you started hanging around Miyamoto-sensei. It’s obvious he’s a bit of a weirdo.†She stared as he slipped the poster into his bag.

 

“I haven’t decided yet. Anyway, it was nice to meet you. Goodbye.†Shu started walking away before coming to a stop again when he felt her grab his jacket sleeve.

 

“You are ruder than you look, I see. You don’t recognise me, do you? And you didn’t even ask me what my name was.†She frowned at Shu’s bewildered look and continued. “It’s Amaya, Rika Amaya.†Before Shu could say anything, she had let him go and disappeared up the path.

 

“How strange.†Shu muttered as he too wondered off.

 

The rest of the day passed quickly, mercifully, and soon enough it was time for club activities. Shu dumped his school bag and jacket at his locker, and made sure his tube was settled at his waist before setting off towards the Art Club. He rounded the corner to where the classroom was located and saw a girl was stood outside the closed door with a very confused face on. Shu came to a stop and remained dead still as the girl seemed to consider something for a minute before knocking on the door and opening it. Shu guessed why she had had the confused face a minute ago.

 

A man, Shu was pretty sure it was Akira, was stood immediately on the other side of the door with his chest bare. With a blur, which surprised Shu as he was used to follow high speed movement with his eyes, Akira’s hand shot out and jerked the girl to his chest by her hair. He then sniffed the air above her head before letting her go and allowing her to move back so he could drop his gaze and appraise her. Shu then watched in confusion as he held out his hand and spoke. “Welcome to the Art Club.†He said.

 

Ok. Time to go. Shu thought and turned on his heel, only to freeze when a shout echoed down the halls. “Another artist I see!†Shu took another step to start walking again but jumped slightly when a hand rested on his shoulder and Akira’s head appeared  on his shoulder. A slight turn of Shu’s head allowed him to see Akira and he ground the teacher sniffing wildly. Then without any further warning, and without asking permission from Shu, Akira swung him around and marched him towards the Art Club room. “Come, we have many canvasses to cover!†his voice was loud and Shu was pretty sure he had said the last sentence in English; though he didn’t speak a word of the language and so was unsure.

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Erize had almost not even looked at the art club posters this year. She was in the club last year and so she knew the drill about it by now. But she was glad she did cast a glance on them, when she noticed the odd blue text she was sure was not part of the regular poster design. All the copies of the poster had it, and nobody was talking about the strangeness of it. Erize could only conclude that she was the only one seeing that part. Sure enough, after taking a photo of it with her phone, the text was not visible in the image. Given she was going to join the art club anyway, this revelation didn't change much for her, although it did promise things would be a lot more interesting this year.

 

Despite her heightened interest, Erize made herself late. It wouldn't do to be organized and early, that wasn't her image. The result was that she had to run through the corridors, drop her things several times, then burst in the art club door panting, bowing, and apologising profusely. She heard the occasional person that she had passed muttering about "typical Erize", and was glad. There was no such muttering inside the club room, however, perhaps because of the fact there were only two other students inside so far. Erize knew she was almost 15 minutes late, there wouldn't likely be anyone else coming in after her at this point. There were a lot more students last year...

 

Upon seeing the teacher posing to be drawn, however, Erize deduced why membership had dropped - last year there was a young, attractive female teacher and not this weird older man. Was that his plan all along? To scare off irrelevant people?

 

Erize looked up from her latest deep bow of apology, and found Akira's face (with nostrils flared) so close to hers she stumbled back in genuine shock. She then quickly apologised some more, but as she looked up at Akira again she had the feeling he wasn't buying her helpless guise. Though she supposed that only made sense - those coming to this room for something other than art weren't likely to be truly helpless.

 

As Erize moved to take a seat at an empty canvas station, she noticed a familiar face - Shu, who had been in the same class as her last year also. Although last year he hadn't been in the art club with her. Wait, does that mean he also...

 

She looked away as Shu caught her looking at him, turning her gaze towards Akira instead. And then Akira caught her gaze and she looked away again, towards the third club member, whom she recognized as the adoptive daughter of Mr Lavalley. While Erize was not in her class, she'd heard during lunch about how Mr Lavalley had thoroughly embarrassed the girl.

 

 

Erize still wasn't sure about the blue writing, however. Keeping quiet was her act, but even normally she was not forward enough to just ask about it. So instead she got out her finger painting set and reluctantly set about drawing the outline of Akira's bared back.

 

At least if he turns out to just be some pervert, I can protect that poor Erin girl. she thought. But then she remembered that that poor Erin girl possibly was as used to fighting demons as Erize herself, if she had also come due to the blue text.

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The three students assembled in the Art Club spent the first thirty minutes of club activity time... well, drawing. Akira continued seated where he was, striking his usual pose, lacking any trace of the overbearingly fierce demeanor he had demonstrated in the classroom earlier. After he was quite certain that no one else was coming, however, he cleared his throat (and it was quite a throat-clearing, indeed), and began to address the trio assembled before him. "~Welcome to the Art Club~ (spoken in English), ladies and gentlemen. For the sake of this young lady here," he said, gesturing to Erin, "I will reintroduce myself. My name is Akira Miyamoto, and I have been sent from the government."

 

Akira gave the room another sniff. "All three of you have undoubtedly arrived because you received my encoded message on the flyers. This means that you have powers of some sort, abilities that are capable of killing Demons, Warlocks and their Thralls. Undoubtedly all of you have participated in some level of Demon-fighting in the past; I can see it in your eyes. Unfortunately, the level of fighting that you have been involved in have been the bare minimal, merely dealing with the spillage that leaks out of the Hellmouth that is very nicely located right beneath our feet."

 

"There is something ~greater~ going on!"

 

He turned to a cassette player on the table and turned it on, causing it to play strange electro music. Akira then abruptly got up from his seat to cower over Erin's wide-eyed expression, his shirt hardly covering his upper body at all. "A Demon, the kind that would cause massive destruction to everything and everyone we know or love, or at least in Mitsuba. That is what is going to come from the Hellmouth if we don't do anything to stop it. You've seen the signs. The number of Warlocks have increased in the past few weeks. There is demonic activity everywhere around town. Fortunately for you, I have the ability to detect these activities, and point you in the right directions. There is one moving about tonight, in fact."

 

Akira started pacing about the room. "He is a Warlock of the Wild Hunt, and thus possesses the ability to metamorphose into a bestial form. This particular one happens to be a generic wolf. Don't underestimate him, however, he also has several Thralls under his command. I have located him somewhere on the outskirts of town. For ~reasons~, I cannot go personally to take him out, but you three just need to continue doing what you do best... Shall we come to a cooperation agreement?"

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This was definitely not how Art Club was supposed to go. Erin hadn’t been in an Art Club before, but she was pretty sure an art teacher would probably talk about using perspective right or the proper use of cross-hatching, or perhaps share a few tips on how to draw hands right…

She was very, very sure whatever this teacher was doing wasn’t considered art by any practical definition. On the other hand, though Erin hated to admit it, he was a pretty interesting subject – the definition of his rippling, rock-hard abs, the lean, hard contours of his arms, the unexplained sparkling around his nipples creating an interesting chiaroscuro effect-

It’s totally alright to stare, Erin. Father did tell me to find out everything I could, after all.

One more student, a tiny-looking girl who had the demeanor and mannerisms of a frightened mouse, hesitantly joined the unfamiliar second-year and her in the room and began to paint; this went on for an awkward, uncomfortable span of minutes before he finally introduced himself and the true purpose of the club. As expected, it turned out that all the other kids were probably Demon hunters as well – apparently, the flyer had done an excellent job of dissuading anyone else from showing up. Now I’m not sure if that was a genius ploy or that this guy’s genuinely awful at art. Strong evidence points to both being true.

Finally, after expositing on some stuff she mostly knew already, he asked if they wanted to form a cooperation agreement – and a pang of doubt struck her. She didn’t know any of the other two here – the only other Demon Hunter in town she really recognized was probably Imahara, the twitchy senior whom she’d helped out last fall. For all she knew, they might not be friendlies – they might even be Warlocks, out to take down a meddling group from the inside. The boy seemed a little too quiet, to say the least, and the girl’s timid nature was almost certainly affected. This wasn’t a business that played well with children; while she herself hadn’t seen much combat, having spent most of her middle school years training in the dojo instead of out on the streets, she’d seen what it had done to Imahara. She seemed so sweet and nice before she picked up that gun, and look at her now. If someone threw her a surprise birthday party, there might be no survivors.

Then again, this isn’t going to go anywhere if I don’t speak up. Those other two look preoccupied in a game of ‘Guess who in the room’s going to try shanking me first’; if I don’t help this guy out, I won’t be making any progress here, and I’d have wasted a perfect nap afternoon.

“Alright, alright. You look… trustworthy enough, I guess. I’ll help you out.†Then, she turned to the other two and stretched out a hand. There was a soft hiss as mist coalesced between her fingers, gaining definition and structure until it resolved itself into the shape of a serrated-edged naginata. “Erin Lafayette, Class 1-C. This is my Demon Reaper, Eternal Blaze. I’ve only been fighting for a few months, but I’ll try my best regardless. Shall we be partners?â€

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Shu wasn’t entirely sure how he ended up sat in front of a canvas with a pencil in hand; Akira Miyamoto sat in front of him with his upper half bare while he struck a pose. It might have been something to do with the stare he had received when he had tried telling the man he wasn’t really into ‘art’, but Shu wasn’t sure. The girl who had been here before him and fallen into the same trap and was now at another canvas with a slightly confused look on her face. 15 minutes of silence passed while Shu and the girl sat at their canvases, Shu had created a rather impressive stick figure battle during this time,  before the door burst open and another student was bowing in the doorway with apologies on her lips.

 

It took him a second, what with her head bowed, but Shu realised that it was Erize at the door; the girl who he had recognised earlier as being in his class last year. What is she doing here? Did she see the blue text? Have I never realised she was also a Demon Hunter? The thoughts blasted through his head as Erize glanced at him and quickly looked away again as she realised he was looking. Interesting. Erize didn’t speak but say down at an empty canvas and pulled out a finger painting set to start creating Akira’s bare back. This continued for another 15 minutes before anything happened; the three students and the teacher sitting there in silence only interrupted by the scratches and squelches of the artwork.

 

The silence was ruptured by Akira clearing his throat, sounding like a building collapsing, and introduced himself as being sent by the government. When he finished his explanation about demons, warlocks, thralls and the like, he ended his talking with an offer of a co-op venture with the other students. So both of them are Demon Hunters. Shu thought as he let his gaze level on each one slowly. Then Shu thought back to what Akira had said and a toothy grin appeared on his face before he could stop himself. “A demon? Then what are we waiting around here for?†he muttered as the first girl spoke; introducing herself and revealing a wicked Naginata that she explained was her Demon Reaper by the name of Eternal Blaze.

 

Shu, the grin still on his lips, nodded at her weapon as he picked up his tube from the ground and stood it in front of him with his hand resting on the top of it. “Impressive.†He said before he squeezed the top of the tube and where his fingers were placed five buttons depressed. With the buttons depressed he twisted the cap 90 degrees and pulled sharply upwards. Inside the tube was a mounting bracket with two straight shirasaya short swords fastened inside. “I am Shu Kagaiba and this is Kuronarabi, it has helped me kill those on the demon’s side for the last 2 years and I have been training for the last 7. I’ll agree to partner up…if you can keep up with me.†A small laugh escaped his lips as he slid the tube and fastened it shut again.

 

He stood up and slung the tube over his shoulder, so it rested near his hand. “So, you going to come as well, Umeda-san?â€

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Erize looked wide-eyed between the other two students and the teacher as they revealed their purpose and weapons. And then her eyelids lowered significantly and she dropped her timid expression completely. "Of course, I wouldn't miss it." she said, her voice also dropping in pitch now. "I'm Erize Umeda, and... well I can't really show what my 'weapon' is here, but... well, sooner we get to business the sooner you'll see why."

 

The group began to pack up to leave, with Akira reminding them to carefully store their artwork so far so they could continue it in future. While Erize had made some attempt at the task herself, she spotted Shu's canvas and saw he hadn't even tried to keep it on-topic.

 

--

 

The sun was setting by the time they made their way to the general vicinity Akira had directed them to. At the edge of town was a warehouse district, and beyond that was a thick forest. Certainly an ideal location for demons to prowl and pick off victims. The warehouses themselves were all quiet this time of evening, workers long gone home and no reason for anyone else to be out here. And the forest was nothing short of eerie in the night also.

 

"I'll go up and take a look around." Erize said, as the group stopped next to a building with a particularly high roof. "I must warn you not to look directly at ZONE. That is, the light."

 

And with that her skirt lifted slightly as if caught by a breeze, and then light exploded out from underneath like a rocket engine coming to life - although this was almost silent save for a faint electrical sort of sound. Her ZONE lasers propelled her upward rapidly and she landed herself on the roof of the building. She knelt down and peered closely at the streets within view, into alleyways and along the edge of the forest. She caught a sudden movement and poised herself to shoot off toward it, but on lengthier inspection it was merely a discarded potato chip bag fluttering in the breeze.

 

But then behind it, she saw a much bigger movement, a large shadow ducking into an alleyway. Too large to be a regular human, probably. She called out the sighting to the others below her, and as they closed the distance on foot she covered it across the rooftops to make sure she didn't lose track of their target.

 

The group reached the alley, and Erize confirmed nothing had come back out of it. There weren't other exits, either. The alley just served as back entrances to several warehouses, which would be all closed up by now anyway. But as they carefully entered the alley to confront their prey, they found it empty. The potato chip bag rolled along, solitary, and all the warehouses were indeed closed up - nothing could have escaped.

 

"Ew." Erize muttered, catching a strong foul scent on the wind suddenly. She realized just in time to turn around before the werewolf pounced at her. It had evidently either leaped or climbed up the building just as they arrived. The hunted had become the hunter instead. Erize managed to catch the paws of the extremely large wolf to prevent it pinning her, and as its gaping maw snapped at her face she used her lasers to jet herself backwards off the edge of the building, and then let the wolf's paws go mid-air, letting it fall. She blasted it with a laser as it fell, but found she had used too much too quickly to be able to jet up to the rooftop again, and instead had to clamber against the wall, grasping at pipes as she fell to slow her descent.

 

The wolf was not too harmed by the laser blast, and it managed to land adroitly, taking no real pains from the fall. At this point Erize would've called out to the others about the wolf, but it was now already amongst them. They wouldn't have lasted even a few days in this game if they hadn't noticed the little scuffle above their heads already.

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It was an old soldier's truism that "no plan ever survived contact with the enemy". That much was true; it inevitably turned out that the intel was out of date, that the summoning ritual had been completed thirty-five minutes ago, that the creepy-looking shrubberies in the Warlock's front yard were actually even more Thralls (Erin was still nursing scars from that lapse in good judgment -- never, ever attribute a Warlock's interior decoration choice to avant-garde artistic sensibilities), that this wasn't even his final form, and so on. Erin dreaded moments like these, when the realization that things had gone pear-shaped struck her like a sledgehammer to the gut.

Or in this case, a thousand pounds of fur, teeth and rage barreling into her from above at ten meters a second.

If she hadn't had her Demon Reaper already readied, she'd have been smeared across the pavement like chiseled Spam. As it was, she was slammed into a chain-link fence fast enough to collapse a twenty-foot section of it, leaving her bruised, light-headed and tangled in a mass of twisted wire. Could be worse. If I'd hit concrete, I'd probably be nursing a few broken ribs already.

She snarled and got to her feet, tearing her way free of the mangled wire and ignoring the broken ends ripping into her skin. The warlock-turned-wolf was squaring off against Shu, the crazy-looking boy with the twin swords, circling steadily around him and looking for an opening. It seemed completely vulnerable from behind -- that thought seemed rather inappropriate, actually -- and she whispered a soft command to her weapon, its blade silently flicking into a horizontal position to form a scythe and its edge starting to glow like the filament of an old lightbulb. You must be new to this, Erin thought as she tensed up, feeling her vitality diminish ever so slightly as power flooded into her Demon Reaper. Not so big and bad now, are you?

However, as she felt a familiar prickling at the back of her neck and sensed a gaping abscess in reality gape open somewhere behind her, one of her father's lessons came to mind: A Warlock never fights alone.

Behind her, concrete shattered, and a flying shard nicked her across the cheek, drawing blood. Immediately, she whipped around and thrust forward, Eternal Blaze's blade snapping upright to form a naginata -- and the Demon Reaper's point passed between the slavering jaws of the charging Thrall and speared it in the roof of the mouth.

The creature was a hulking, jet-black lupine creature the size of a small European car, four pairs of unblinking red eyes glaring at her with unadulterated hatred from behind a short, powerful snout. The force of its momentum carried it forwards despite the blade embedded through where its brain should have been, and the point burst from the back of its head, spraying the shattered rubble behind it with faintly glowing scarlet ichor. That seemed to be little more of a minor inconvenience to it though, as it simply growled and wrenched its head in a way that would have broken any normal wolf's neck, tearing her weapon from her grasp. She swore under her breath, trying to dematerialize the weapon -- but it wouldn't be fast enough. Her mind could envision the next second with perfect clarity -- it would pounce on her, and the blade sticking out of the back of its skull would only hinder it slightly when it gutted her with a single swipe of its paws. Dear Lord, I know I haven't been very committed with this whole "prayer" thing, but I'm doing Your work here. Lend a hand, could You?

Then, for a moment, it seemed as though her prayer was answered; a beam of light lanced out from somewhere above her, smiting the beast in the head and blowing it apart, making her Demon Reaper clatter noisily to the asphalt. She briefly looked up, wondering which deity she ought to thank for that intervention -- only to have to avert her eyes immediately upon seeing Erize falling from high above, her ZONE glowing with an otherworldly light. Just what on earth is with that power?!

She gave the girl a thumbs up as she landed with a soft thump, then looked to see where the Thrall had gone. It seems to have vanished -- but then she caught sight of a wisp of shadow flicking out from the darkness beyond the hole the Thrall's dynamic entry had caused. She squinted, her visual range expanding into the near-infrared, and the blurry shape outlined in reddish and yellowish hues behind the wall confirmed her suspicions. Can't hide from me, she thought with a little smugness, and turned to see how Shu was doing.

The Warlock was currently locked in combat with him, and he seemed to be accounting for himself pretty well. Going to assist might just be getting in his way.  "Go get him," she growled, and she hefted her weapon, its blade unfolding with a click to form a battle axe, and stepped into the darkness.

Immediately, four pairs of red eyes opened within the darkness, all of them staring balefully at her. Well, shit. It regenerated that fast?

Then, the glow in the creature's eyes winked out, leaving her alone in the gloom, and she suddenly felt very, very alone.

She felt a wash of hot breath from her left and immediately stepped aside, feeling a rush of air as something large shot past her. Immediately, she lashed out with a swing and felt a surge of triumph as she felt her blade bite into flesh, followed by an arc of luminescent red splattering across the floor. Just as quickly, pain shot through her as sharp teeth snapped at her thigh, leaving several deep, bleeding gouges. Motherfucker! she swore as she felt the power within her veins ebb as the wounds closed.

She hastily stepped back, narrowly avoiding another bite, and raised her weapon into a defensive stance. It was just in time -- immediately, her arms went numb for a moment as something crashed against the haft of her weapon. Ugh, It's toying with me. Got to focus...

She felt a brief sensation of vertigo as the world resolved itself into shades of grey, red and yellow, and her enemy came into view again -- distressingly enough, it showed no sign of the damage she had inflicted. She raised her weapon and parried a lunging bite, the monster's jaws clamping around the haft of her axe, and with a shout of "MAXIMUM STRENGTH!", swung the weapon, still with Thrall attached, in a great arc, the centrifugal force breaking its hold and sending it soaring through the air towards the other side of the deserted, darkened warehouse.

It landed with four paws on the wall, seemingly completely unfazed by the fact that it was now standing on a 90-degree incline in blatant defiance of the laws of physics, and sprung off against the wall, hurling itself at her like a missile. Her eyes widened as time seemed to slow down...

Then, she ducked beneath the arc of the beast's trajectory, letting the axe blade now interspersed in its path shear the Thrall apart lengthwise. She almost laughed out loud as she heard two separate thumps as the bisected halves slammed into the ground behind her-

-And stopped short when she turned around to see eight pairs of eyes staring back.

The fuck?

The two slightly smaller, but way too large Thralls lunged at her, and with a movement far more sluggish than she hoped for, barely evaded their pincer attack. As she passed, she brought down her axe, cleaving one of them in the spine -- only for its flesh to knit together with her blade still buried within its back, trapping her weapon and leaving her completely open for the other wolf's attack.

The creature wheeled around and lunged, and the world went white.

...

She felt no pain, however, just a sense of relief. Is this Heaven?

Then, she felt a stabbing pain in her eyes, which instinctively snapped shut, and all became clear.

The room was filled with a blinding light from the hole in the wall -- and standing there was the silhouette of Erize, glowing orange-yellow in infrared, holding up the hem of her skirt with both hands. The Thrall that had been about to charge her was prone on the ground, its hind legs missing and the stumps glowing a brilliant white in her infrared sight -- the girl must have used ZONE to blast the creature's legs off. Then, the realization struck her -- The Thrall's only able to regenerate in darkness!

With a heave of magically-augmented effort, she tore her axe blade free of the Thrall's back, the flesh parting with surprisingly little effort. Then, with a spinning sweep, she knocked its legs out from under it with the haft of her weapon, sending it crashing to the ground, and then raised her weapon, its head transforming back into a scythe blade. The weapon flashed as its edge started glowing cherry-red again, and she slammed the weapon straight down into the Demon's skull before it could rise with a shout of "SOLAR!"

Then, her arms numb and quivering with the effort, she finished the incantation. "...OVERDRIVE!!!" Light poured into the Demon's skull, its eight eyes, ears and mouth suddenly blazed with golden light, and its head swelled and popped like a squashed grape.

With a sigh, she slumped over, supporting her weight with the haft of her weapon and panting heavily. When the redness at the corners of her vision faded, she pushed herself to her feet, turning to Erize, who had just finished executing the other Thrall with a point blank salvo from ZONE. "Wow, that was pretty awesome," she gushed. "How did you figure it out? ... Its weakness, I mean."

"It wasn't that hard to figure out." Erize replied, sounding completely unlike the timid girl who had wandered into the clubroom. "It ran in there when its head got blown off, so it probably got stronger in the dark..."

Erin chuckled a little, putting a palm to her forehead. "I'm such an idiot. How didn't I think of that?" Then, she turned to look outside the warehouse -- both Shu and the werewolf were gone already. "Well, I'm spent," she muttered, and winced as a dull aching permeated her arms and legs. "I just hope that Shu guy can walk the talk, or all this was for nothing."

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Before leaving the school to go hunting, Shu switched out the white shirt and tie of his school uniform for a short-sleeved black shirt of which he left the top few buttons undone. He had also extracted a canvas rig from his weapons tube that turned out to be a belt holster that held his two short swords slightly below his waistline to rest on his thighs on each side. The school stuff had then been rolled up and stored within the tube and the tube itself was now attached to a mounting point on the back of his waist, horizontally. Shu’s heavy rimmed glasses were stored in the tube as well and he had tied his hair up in a high ponytail with a length of string he had pulled from his pocket. Two fang-shaped earrings adorned his left ear and a small gold ring hung from the right.

 

The warehouse district they ended up in glowed faintly with the dying light of the sun, and Shu couldn’t help but notice all the dark corners and great hiding spots for Warlocks and Thralls alike. The three of them came to a stop at a taller building and Erize said she’d scout the area from the top of the building. Before Shu could ask how she was planning to go up there, ignoring her comment about some kind of light, a shining light appeared from underneath her skirt and she shot into the air like a rocket. Shu resisted the urge to look up, now understanding what Erize had meant by the light, and glanced at Erin instead.

 

“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.†He laughed. “Are her panties her Demon Reaper or something?â€

 

Erin didn’t have time to answer as Erize shouted down at them about a large figure dodging into an alleyway. With a smile on his face, and Erin in tow, Shu trotted quickly over to the alleyway Erize had pointed out. The girl in question following them along the rooftops. When they reached the target location, however, they found it empty despite the fact it was a dead in.

 

“What the hell?†Shu said, wondering if Erize was seeing things. As he looked up to the building she was on, he saw her flying over the edge with something big on top of her. His eyes lit up with glee. “There you are.†He muttered and lowered his hands to rest on his swords.

 

A blast of light emitted from Erize’s skirt, ZONE doing its job, and the creature was sent crashing down between Shu and Erize. Shu immediately drew his swords, his hands a blur, and jumped back a step to gauge his enemy; the wolf morphing Warlock . The fall, and accompanying ZONE blast, had apparently done nothing to it as immediately attacked Erin and sent her flying backwards into a chain link fence. Shu didn’t wait to see if she was alright, instead he dived forward and aimed to slice into the wolf beast’s ribs. A clawed hand appeared and stopped the blade dead while the Warlock spun and aimed an attack at Shu with its free claw. Shu reciprocated with his second blade and stopped the claws dead with a few sparks.

 

With no hesitation, the Warlock’s head snapped forward with large teeth glistening with saliva and Shu had to bend his neck and head quickly to avoid the gnashing attack. With a smile on his face and a low laugh in his throat, he snapped his head back and delivered a heavy blow with his forehead against the Warlock’s eye. A roar emitted from the snout and with a sudden blurring of the world, Shu found himself sliding across the floor before he slammed into a metal roller door belonging to a warehouse. The metal bent beneath the blow and Shu fell to one knee in front of it, inhaling deeply. If he had been a normal person, the blow would have turned him to paté; but as it was, it was just very painful and a bruise was bound to form.

 

A low growl sounded from in front of him and Shu stood up, flexing his shoulders where an ache was starting to build, and stared back at the Warlock’s wolf eyes. As their stares met, Shu saw Erin with his peripheral vision over the creature’s shoulder, her naginata-turned-scythe ready for a blow at its undefended back. Shu’s smile only grew wider.

 

“If you’re going to bring it…†he said, watching Erin without actually looking. “…then bring it.†Suddenly the wall behind Erin exploded and Shu caught sight of a shadowing monstrosity. Damn, a Thrall. Should have expected one of those around really. He thought as he kept his stare locked with the Warlock. “Or, you know…†he said, now realising Erin was otherwise occupied. “…I could bring it instead.â€

 

With his first step, the Warlock leaped forward with it’s front claws extended to attack. Shu took a second step and allowed himself to collapse forward with a roll, making him pass underneath the leaping Warlock. During the roll, Shu flung one of his swords upwards and felt the satisfying surge of energy that indicated he had drawn blood and his blade was starting to charge. The ability sent a pleasure into Shu’s body that he couldn’t explain, but it always left him wanting more; which he was more than happy to do.

 

The Warlock crashed headfirst into the roller door, creating another dent, but landed without harm and turned to pounce back towards Shu. Except Shu was already on the attack and managed to score a thin slice down the Warlocks face with the same blade he had cut with earlier. The energy flowed again and Shu exhaled with the feeling. The one sword was now charged ahead of the other, so he spun the second blade into a reverse grip in order to remember to lead with the first blade. It was at this point he realised the wound he had inflicted on the Warlocks face had healed without a mark. “Well, that’s just cheating.†He muttered as the Warlock leapt forward once again.

 

This time Shu didn’t dodge and landed a punch on the Warlock’s forehead as the claws dug into the flesh of his shoulders. He gritted his teeth against the pain, his grin not faltering, and sliced up with his first blade to force the Warlock to dodge back lest he wanted his head cut in half. Shu scored another thin slice however and watched carefully to watch how fast the cut healed; it wasn’t very long. Fine, I don’t need him to be wounded to win anyway. He thought as he deflected a flurry of blows by large claws.

 

“This scenery is getting boring, care for a change?† Shu said as he slapped away a wide swipe and stuck his first sword forward, catching the Warlock’s eye and scoring a long slash along the side of its face. As it reared back in pain, Shu kicked up and caught it on the bottom of its Jaw, sending it stumbling backwards. Immediately, Shu used the opportunity to jump backwards onto a pipe running up the side of the warehouse and started climbing; his nimble fingers allowing him to keep hold of his swords while also gripping the pipe. He would probably make a pretty efficient rock climber.

 

He hadn’t gotten more than halfway when he heard a roar and the Warlock appeared at his side, its claws digging into the stone wall to stick him in place like a spider. The large teeth lodged in the dripping jaw leapt forward again and Shu quickly loosed his second sword and jammed it between the teeth, stopping the Warlock from taking a bit from him. Having never tested them in such a way, Shu was glad to see his Demon Reaper wasn’t easy to damage as the Warlock attempted to snap through it to get to him. One of its claws loosed from the wall to attack, but Shu had already let go of the pipe and used the Warlock’s grip on his sword to pull himself on top of the wolf-man itself.

 

The Warlock roared but Shu pulled his second blade free with the help of his first as he stabbed through the flesh that held the jaws together and then jumped upwards to grab the lip of the buildings roof. He was lucky it was a relatively low one, so he had enough power to swing himself up and onto the stone with the Warlock quickly on his tail. Except that it wasn’t his tail as he lunged forward with both blades and scored two slices across the creatures chest. Although he did receive a slice across his already injured shoulder for the trouble.

 

Shu, still grinning, couldn’t help but realise he needed to finish it quicker. For every blow he exchanged with the Warlock, he gained another injury and the Warlock simply regenerated his. I need to fill the meter quickly in one go, that’s the quickest way. The Warlock charged forward with another flurry of blows and Shu skilfully deflected the majority of them, receiving a thin scratch every now and again. He made sure he returned the favour and scored a cut himself, no matter how deep. Shu always led with his first blade, ensuring he filled the meter up as quickly as he could.

 

Suddenly a wild backhand caught him in the chest and Shu stumbled backwards only to trip over a metal railing and slam into a glass skylight. He laughed as the Warlock climbed the metal railing as though to gain a greater height to jump at him, and then stopped when he felt the glass crack below him and he fell through. Sure he was about to go splat, Shu was surprised when he slammed against something much sooner than he had expected. He glanced down and saw he had landed on some sort of high shelving unit that filled the entire warehouse. Another glance upwards showed him that the Warlock was already leaping down to him.

 

With a quick roll he slipped off the shelf and caught himself halfway down before leaping the last bit to land with a roll on the hard concrete floor. A heavy thud and a snarl behind him told Shu that the Warlock had not hesitated to follow. Shu turned and ducked to avoid the piercing blow the Warlock had tried with his claws, and quickly sliced upwards to sever the tendons in the outstretched arm. The arm swung back to the Warlock’s body uselessly and then came up again as the wound healed. Shu glanced behind the Warlock and saw something that made him laugh.

 

“I told you I’d bring it.†He said as he charged forward with a quick flurry of his own and used the melee as a diversion to spin around the Warlock and come to a stop in a low crouch with both swords held ready in his hands. “But you need to return the favour.â€

 

The Warlock complied, whether by choice of bestial rage Shu didn’t know, and charged forward with claws swinging to attack. With quick reflexes, and his years of training, Shu whipped his first blade forward and pierced the Warlocks hand closest to the shelving unit and continued the blow to pierce it against the stack of wooden planks, catching the Warlock in place. The Warlock continued his attack, leading with his jaw, but Shu’s second blade swung up from underneath and pierced through the Warlock’s bottom jaw and all the way into its top jaw, jamming them together. This move, however, allowed the Warlock’s free claw to dig painfully into Shu’s side.

 

“Nice one, Warlock.†He said through the pain, his grin as wide as ever. “But now you’ve given me all the blood I need.†The blade of his second blade, pierced through the Warlocks jaws, lit up with white energy and grew to a full-sized katana of pure white energy. “Ecstasy.†Shu muttered as he forced the glowing blade forward and slice the Warlock in half from neck to groin. A gurgle sounded from the Warlock but Shu didn’t wait to see if he could regenerate from the wound and quickly pulled his second blade free, it too glowing with white energy and now full size, and sliced across the Warlocks chest. The blade didn’t pass through the flesh completely but even as the glow left Shu’s blades, the cut continued to slice through flesh until the Warlock collapsed to the floor in three pieces; the upper half only held together by the front of his snout.

 

Shu jumped backwards, ignoring the blood flowing from his side and shoulders, and watched the Warlock carefully. No blood flowed from the Warlock, his swords had seared the wounds shut with energy, but he didn’t know what the extent of the Warlock’s regenerative powers  were and he didn’t want to be caught off guard if it managed to pull itself together. I wonder what happened to the other two. Shu thought mildly as he watched carefully.

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It wasn't exactly hard to find Shu again -- all they had to do was to follow the still-fresh scent of blood, something Erin had found she was surprisingly good at. They located him a couple of minutes later within a warehouse, covered in blood (quite a lot of which was probably his own) and gazing intently at the dismembered remains of the werewolf. She glanced at the pieces, noting that the cuts were exceedingly clean and seemingly cauterized at the edges, then looked back at Shu and the swords in his hands. Some kind of lightsaber thingy, I'd warrant. Well, at least this guy doesn't seem to be regenerating.

Just to be absolutely sure, she stabbed her scythe blade through what remained of its head, and there was a flash of golden-white light as its head was consumed entirely, leaving nothing behind but scorch marks.

As Erize went to finish the "cleanup", Erin groaned in exasperation as she examined Shu's injuries -- they seemed to be pretty shallow cuts considering the creature's strength, but she'd be damned if they weren't a whole lot of them. Healing all that would probably leave me too weak to stand, but I could probably close them up. "Seriously, you look like you've lost a fight with a wood chipper. Don't fidget."

She laid a palm on his injured, bleeding shoulder, and the aching in her arm intensified slightly as motes of golden light flickered from her fingers into the bleeding wounds, closing them and leaving reddish welts in their place. It's going to take a few days to close up properly unless he's got some kind of healing power, but that's his problem. Then, she slid her hand down her arm, nodding approvingly as her fingers traced across firm, toned muscle -- stay focused, Erin, this is no time for your hormones to be acting up -- and continued closing the numerous shallow cuts and scrapes on his body. "Honestly, you've got to be more careful. You owe me one." she said as she removed her hand,

"You really shouldn't have," the boy replied with a grin.

Erin snorted, folding her arms and looking him in the eye. "That kind of attitude gets good people killed. Well, at least you're alive, and Lawrence Talbot here isn't." She flicked out her smartphone, tapped in a number and raised it to her ear. "Guess I'll just report back to Sexual Harassment-sensei now then."

A couple of rings later, Akira answered the call. "Hey baby, want to come check out my sweet bachelor pad? It won't be a 'bachelor' pad for long though, I assure you-"

Erin hung up on him. Guess I'll just message him, then.

A few moments later, her phone played a little snippet of music as a message came in. <Good work, kids. I knew I'd get a fine bunch of artists to help me out. I've got no other leads for now, so feel free to go home and play video games or touch yourself or whatever it is you kids do with your free time. P.S. I've got some "interesting" selfies, if you need help with the latter <3 >

Erin briefly wondered if there was a way to hang up on text messages.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Akira Miyamoto looked down at his phone screen, and chuckled slightly at the message detailing with unnecessary precision where he ought to stick those selfies. "Heh. That girl's so damned fun to mess with," he said to himself as he got back to the sacrosanct business of educating the nation's future leaders and luminaries -- in this case, pretending to check his email while playing browser games in another window. Why won't you drop for me, my beautiful Zui**ku-chan?

Then, his phone buzzed again, and he frowned as he read the sender and subject. Unknown address, no subject. Sounds... fishy? He opened the message, and his eyes widened, his face turning a few shades paler.

The message had one sentence. Why do you deny the summons?

"Great, so it's personal now," Akira groaned as he put down his phone. "This just keeps getting better and better." He turned back to his computer, and ignoring the cute girls on the screen, closed the browser window. He needed something to take his mind all these developments -- perhaps figuring out how to actually teach would be a good start.

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Erize flopped down on her frilly pink bed and let out a tired sigh. That afternoon's battle had been tough. She considered herself to have been careless, to get caught off-guard by the werewolf. She should've stuck to her usual method of playing the victim, and entrapping her enemies. But having teammates suddenly had made her more confident - if she could handle things solo, surely having a team would make things a piece of cake. But this demon and its servants had been stronger than most she'd faced by herself.

 

Is it only the weak ones who have targeted me in past? Have I gotten an inaccurate idea of what demons can really do?

 

Although Erize had been able to help Erin several times, that was all it was, help. She didn't take on the brunt of the combat herself, and the truth was she had been scared to do so. A supporting role meant that less responsibility lay on her if she failed. But even that consolation was wrought with anxiety. If she had failed in supporting Erin, the latter might have been killed. It wasn't just her own life she was playing with now, mistakes could cost others theirs.

 

She looked back at the message from Akira congratulating them on success, and wondered if it was really deserved. It was a tough first mission, if he sends us on something even harder next time...

 

Erize had never really questioned her demon-hunting activities before, but now she was quite concerned about the danger. She went to sleep that night tossing and turning, her anxiety filling her dreams with the deaths of her allies and ultimately herself. She knew she had to be stronger... but she didn't want to be. She wished she was really just a helpless innocent schoolgirl.

 

--

 

The next day at school, Erize did her best to revel in the mundane. She even paid attention in classes for once, letting the boredom wash over her like a comforting bath. She looked at other students laughing and messing around, and envied them. She tripped during lunch and scraped her knee on the floor, and enjoyed pretending it was the worst thing to ever happen to her. Even when her acquaintances from class chided her with the usual, "You're so clumsy Erize!" she only felt comfort and relief. Within this ordinary school life there were no real penalties. Clumsiness or failure meant nothing compared to what it meant out there.

 

Erize was actually dreading the next art club meeting. She hoped there would not be any more jobs, although she knew eventually there would be. All she could do for now was play make-believe and pretend demons didn't actually exist.

 

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The bell heralded the end of a rather dull history lecture that Erin had mostly spent "enhancing" General MacArthur's portrait, and with a sigh of relief, she packed her things and stood up. Guess I should head for the Art Club, then. Even if it means having to stare at that guy doing a striptease.

"Not going to the Literature Club?" Her new friend asked as she picked up her bokken.

"I'm... not actually part of that club, actually," Erin said sheepishly. "I... ended up joining the Art Club."

"Eeeeeeh?" Keiko gasped. "How can an ally of justice back down from the call?"

Erin leaned in closer, whispering into Keiko's ear. "That club's also got people like us in there. I need to find out if they fight for justice too."

"Ooooh, a black operation!" Keiko exclaimed excitedly, pumping her fists in the air. "May the Norns grant you swift victory, Lancer!" Erin merely sighed and chuckled a little as she turned to leave. Again with calling me Lancer. And if it is a covert operation, you shouldn't be talking about it so loudly! ... Then again, no one takes what you say seriously anyway.

Halfway to the club room, her phone buzzed. It was Miyamoto-sensei; he'd found nothing worth wasting the club members' time on today, so they could go do whatever they liked -- including an open invitation to have a little fun at his sweet soon-to-be-no-longer-a-bachelor pad. I... I'd rather not go there alone, thank you very much. Guess I'm free for the afternoon. What should I do?

Then, she remembered Haruna's invitation to go over to the Archery Club to try it out. I don't see why not.

...

The moment she stepped into the archery range, she ended up on the receiving end of an auditory assault. "WHO DARES TO CHALLENGE THE KING OF ARROWS?!" someone bellowed, and she immediately started having second thoughts about the invitation.

"Don't scare the freshman, Takao-san," Haruna's voice replied. "We're short of members, and that isn't going to help."

"I HAVE NO NEED FOR MONGRELS!" the first speaker replied, and Erin, momentarily stunned by the previous exclamation, finally got a good look at whoever it was. Takao-san was an tall, older-looking boy with a head of slicked-back, spiky blond hair -- judging from the hints of black around the roots, it was probably dyed. He was rather gaudily attired for a high-schooler, with gaudy gold earrings in his ears and a frankly tacky-looking necklace with a silver cross on it gleaming from the neckline of his rumpled shirt, which he'd apparently neglected to button all the way up. I can't believe people can get away with that kind of attire in school. Then again, that Raiha guy's got hair longer than most of the girls. Looks like this place doesn't care much about the dress code, huh.

"Takao-san," Haruna replied, closing her eyes and smiling just a little too widely. Takao-san opened his mouth to interject, but caught sight of her smile, and seemingly decided against it, a sheepish expression spreading across his face.

There was a brief silence, and finally, Erin worked up the nerve to speak up. "So... this is the Archery Club."

"Of course!" Takao-san declared, making a grandiose gesture. "And I, Souji Takao-sama, am its one and only president! Nerd girl over there," he gestured to Haruna and continued, "Is my loyal underling, Haruna Mochizuki. Have you come to test your skills against the greatest bowman in all of Mitsuba?!"

"Second-greatest, Takao-san," Haruna interjected. "You still haven't bought me that deluxe ramen you bet on that match, either."

"I said 'bowMAN', so my point still stands!" Souji continued, completely unruffled by her insinuation. "My ramen..." Haruna muttered under her breath, sighing.

"Actually, I haven't picked up a bow for ages," Erin admitted, twiddling her fingers. "Mochizuki-senpai here told me you accepted newbies, actually." She'd also told me archery was relaxing, too...

"WHAT THE HELL?!" Souji screamed in stilted English, turning to Haruna and jabbing an accusing finger at her. "Y-y-you..."

"Well, let's start with the basics then, Erin-san," Haruna continued, completely ignoring Souji's disjointed rambling and handing Erin a bow. "Remember, the most important part is to keep calm and control your breathing..."

Suddenly, there was a loud smacking noise -- Souji had thrown his glove at the floor, and was pointing at Erin, fuming. "I hereby challenge you to a duel!"

Erin shrugged, and replied, "Best out of five?"

Haruna's smile didn't fade, but she practically hissed, "Don't encourage him, Erin-san!"

"Ha! You've got spirit, girl -- let's see whether you can walk the talk!"

At that moment, Haruna pinched the bridge of her glasses and suddenly started to find the portion of the floor six inches in front of her feet deeply fascinating.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The arrow whizzed through the air, and there was a loud thunk as the arrow landed in the wood six inches to the side of the target. Haruna started clapping politely as Souji tilted his head, his hair flicking to the side melodramatically. "Don't get your hopes up, newbie! I was only pretending to miss!"

Doesn't change the fact that you missed, does it? Erin raised her bow and nocked her own arrow, slowly pulling the bowstring back. It wasn't particularly hard -- her training with a Demon Reaper and the exceptional vitality it granted her even when not summoned did come in pretty handy after all. She relaxed, falling into the same meditative calm her father had taught her to adopt when up against Thralls, and the slight wobble of the tip of the arrow diminished to near-nothing as her breathing steadied. Then, her eyes set on the target, she let loose, and there was a satisfying thwack as the arrow landed a couple of inches off the bullseye. Not too shabby, I guess. I'm actually pretty good at this.

"You're now neck to neck, with one shot left to go," Haruna declared as she scribbled numbers onto a sheet of paper.

"Ha! This has all been part of my plan to crush you in a decisive final confrontation! You ready to get wrecked, girl?" Souji declared imperiously as he raised his bow and took his last shot. The arrow smacked straight into the target just a hair from the bullseye, and he grinned. "Fu fu fu, you scared?"

This is the last shot. I need to hit the bullseye to beat him. Keep calm, Erin. She raised her bow and nocked her final arrow, slowly and steadily pulling the string back. Suddenly, she swore she could hear her father's voice, exhorting her to let go. Shut up, dad. Eyes on the target... The wind's blowing to the left, compensate a little... Raise by a degree to adjust for gravity... Perfect. Tiro... Finale!

The arrow shot forth like a shooting star... and flew straight over the target and off into the distance. A couple of seconds later, Erin heard a surprised yelp from pretty far off.

Slowly, she turned to Souji, who was staring at her speechless. Haruna was standing in one corner, trying her very best to suppress a giggle. For a moment, there was a terrible, terrible silence.

"Uh... whoops?" Erin said with a rather uncertain-looking smile.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Here's your arrow back," said the librarian, a brown-haired young woman who looked suspiciously unremarkable in almost every way, as she handed back Erin's arrow. "Be more careful next time."

"Wait a moment... is that blood on the tip?" Erin muttered, looking at the arrow. Then, her gaze slowly panned across the librarian's figure. "Miss... isn't your knee bleeding?"

"Coincidence," the woman said dismissively. "I got careless and fell down the stairs. Grazed my knee." the librarian replied, looking far too suspiciously nonchalant for someone with a bleeding leg wound. Miss Librarian... you're a very, very bad liar.

"Hey, hey, hey, don't try to hide it," Erin scratched the back of her head as she said mock-cheerfully. "It's my mistake, and I ought to take responsibility."

"It's fine," the librarian said, waving her hand, her expression not changing in the slightest. "Mistakes were made." You can't just brush off accidentally shooting people with arrows as just a little mistake! There was a silence... which was promptly interrupted by a loud growl from someone's stomach. Erin turned red-faced for a moment, and then realized it wasn't her stomach. Her gaze met Haruna and Souji's, and judging from their expressions, it wasn't them either. Then, her gaze turned towards the librarian, who was still looking inappropriately stoic despite the circumstances.

"How about I buy you ramen? My two, uh, friends are going too-"

Suddenly, there was a blur of movement, and the librarian's face was pressed very, very close to hers; her eyes were gleaming so bright they practically glowed. "Yes please." The young woman growled tersely, leaning even closer to Erin. What's with this sudden 180 degree personality shift?!

"Well, it's the least I can do," Erin said nonchalantly. "Think nothing of it."

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Holding to her promise was a mistake. A terrible, terrible mistake.

Erin gazed in horror at the stack of five massive empty bowls beside the young woman, gazing down at the paltry two jumbo-sized ones in front of her -- and she hadn't even finished the second. The other two had long since bowed out; Souji had stumbled out complaining of heartburn before he'd even gotten through one, and Haruna had left half an hour before, patting Erin on the shoulder and silently wishing her condolences as she departed. I really should have said something when Yoshihiro-san said "Are you sure?"

Beside her, the librarian slumped back in her seat -- there was a dopey grin on her face, which had gone beet-red, and she was currently making contented little purring noises as she gazed blankly at a random spot on the wall behind the counter. Erin eyed the proprietor, a decidedly shady-looking man named Yoshihiro who wore sunglasses even at night, and hissed, "What the hell's the secret ingredient you put in the Shin-Ramen Magnifique? Sake?!"

"Ridiculous," Yoshihiro scoffed. "I serve kids like you here, you know. There's no secret ingredient... except passion." Exactly what kind of passion is this?! It looks like she's going to ask for a cigarette and a cold shower next!

"Hey, Yuuchan...you don't mind if I freshen up a bit, right?" The woman said sleepily as she got up unsteadily. "Sure, just go to the back and take a right," Yoshihiro replied with a smile, and the young woman shambled off, vanishing behind a curtain as she entered the kitchen. "Never change, Erika-chan," Yoshihiro said with a sigh and a resigned grin as the sound of running water came from behind the kitchen. SHE'S ACTUALLY TAKING A SHOWER?!

Erin raised an eyebrow at the shifty-looking man and asked, "Yuuchan? Seriously?"

Yoshihiro merely shrugged and replied, "Erika-chan and I go way back. Been through a whole lot together."

"Oh, a childhood friend or something?" Erin said, grinning and nodding. "Doesn't your chef have something to say about that? She seems kinda sweet on you, even if she denies it all the time."

"Strictly professional relationship, I assure you," Yoshihiro said with a fox-like grin. "You sure like rumors, don't you? Well, here's one for you. If you stay up till midnight when the moon is bright-"

"-and tune your TV to a dead channel, a long-haired girl shows up on the screen and whispers the name of your "one true love"?" Erin said sarcastically, inserting a couple of air quotes for good measure.

"Actually, I was going to mention seeing a huge silhouette of a crow blocking out the moon. Silly girl, no one uses analogue TV any more." Erin's ears perked up at the mention of the huge crow. Father had told her about The Wild Hunt before -- their Warlocks were some of the more prolific ones, especially in the States, and they almost invariably took the shape of animals. "You heard anything else about giant crows?"

"Bah, don't be silly. It's just a rumor. Take it seriously and you'll end up like that third-year kid with the tinfoil hat." The proprietor scoffed and waved his hand dismissively. "Still, since you're so curious, I heard that an old widow living around these parts claimed she saw something weird like that when she was visiting her husband's grave. She's probably getting senile, though."

"Oh, interesting." Erin replied with a nod. Then, she gulped as she steeled herself, mentally preparing to broach the elephant in the room. "So... how much for the meal?"

Yoshihiro told her.

A single tear ran down Erin's cheek as she pulled out her wallet, mumbling, "Do you accept debit?"

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The excitement of waiting for school to end in order to attend the Art Club and see what other crazy missions Akira-Sensei had for them had worn off very fast once lessons had started. Shu only just managed to pay attention long enough to make it to lunch without killing either himself, the teacher, or another student. He had now located his secluded lunch bench and was sat, as normal, with his Bento at his side, his bag at his feet, and his tube resting against his leg. As with the day before, his peace did not last long before the girl appeared again. She scooted his Bento aside and took a seat next to him as if they had planned the meeting.

 

“So, you really do eat here alone every day?†Rika said as she looked over to see Shu looking at her through his glasses. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, it’s a good thing I’m interrupting your apparent quiet time.†Shu looked away again, picking a spot in the distance to stare at instead, and continued to eat the Rice ball that was in his hand. “But anyway, I didn’t come out here just to annoy you, as much fun as that would be I’m sure, but to tell you I’m inviting you along to hang after school with some friends and me.â€

 

Shu stopped eating again and looked at her carefully. He wasn’t going to accept, no time for such trivialities with Warlocks on the loose, but Rika didn’t seem like she was going to leave without an answer. “I’m afraid I have Art Club after school today, I will have things to do.â€

 

Rika made a face and leant backwards, resting her elbows on the back and crossing her legs. “You actually joined up to that? That weirdo Miyamoto-Sensei’s weirdness will rub off on you if you’re not careful.â€

 

“Miyamoto-Sensei is n…†Shu paused in what he was about to say, quickly revising it so avoid looking completely dumb. There was no way Akira wasn’t a weirdo. “…is strange, yes. But he isn’t the reason I joined.â€

 

“You just wanted a place to express yourself through your ability to draw?†Rika said, the mockery clear on her voice.

 

Shu let a small smile onto his lips. “Yeah, something like that.â€

 

Suddenly Rika bounced to her feet and placed her hands on her hips. “Ok, whatever. But don’t think the ‘art club’ excuse will work every time; it can’t meet every day of the week or weekends.â€

 

“I don’t know about that; Miyamoto-Sensei keeps us fairly busy with assignments and the like.†Shu replied, reaching into his Bento for another Rice Ball. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself struggling to keep up and so needing weekends in order to complete the tasks he sets.â€

 

“Pfft. Clubs are meant to be fun side ventures, not like more school work. But, fine, I’ll catch you out one day.†And with that said, Rika strode off to the school building.

 

The rest of the day’s lessons passed fairly swiftly, despite the fact that Rika was staring at Shu’s back for the entirety of the Japanese language lesson, and Shu was ready to get back to hunting some demons. However, before he had even gotten halfway to the Art Club room, his phone buzzed. Confused to who it might be, very few people had his number, he pulled it out and frowned when he saw Akira’s name. How the hell did he get my cell number? He thought even as he flicked the phone open to read the text the crazed teacher had sent through.

 

Shu came to a stop with a disappointed look on his face. Damn, no club meeting today. Now I got to find another way to fill the time. Maybe I’ll go out on my own, see what I can find. He thought as he put the phone away and headed out of school.

 

He didn’t get more than a step out of the gate before Rika appeared beside him and pulled him aggressively to the side; she was stronger than she looked as Shu quick stepped to keep himself balanced. “I see my sources were not wrong; no Art Club for you today, so you can come join us.†She said as Shu realised they were not alone. Stood slightly off from where Rika had attempted to throw Shu was a tallish, lanky boy and a small, petite girl.

 

The boy had sand coloured hair that hung around his ears in loose waves and a beaming smile when he stepped forward, nearly glistening beneath his dull brown eyes. “Hi, my names Hiro Mirakami; I’m a third year and Captain of the Karate Club. It’s nice to meet you, Kagaiba-san.â€

 

Captain of the Karate Club? Strange company for Rika to keep, I would have thought. Shu thought as the small girl stepped up shoulder to shoulder with Hiro with a large book clutched to her chest. She had extremely straight black hair that framed a small face and she wore a pair of frameless glasses over brown eyes. “Good afternoon; I am Miko Haruna. It’s nice to finally meet you; Amaya-san has talked about you for a while now.â€

 

Rika stepped passed her and ruffled her hair as she did, messing it up enough that Miko had to release one of her hands to tidy it up. “Yeah, not for that long, bookworm. Anyway, why are we still hanging around here? Come on.†Without even looking back, Rika started off down the path.

 

Shu looked at Miko and then at Hiro who smiled ruefully and gestured gently after Rika. “You might as well learn now that it’s impossible to go against her so you might as well enjoy it. Come on…†he wrapped an arm around Shu’s shoulder and started leading him after Rika; Miko walked silently beside him. “Let’s go and enjoy a drink at the very least.â€

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The demon and the wolf clashed in the darkness of the night.

 

Wind rustled the grass beneath their feet as dark wings extended from the demon's back, launching him into the air as he soared away from the city boundaries. The wolf bounded right along, his silver fur gleaming from the moonlight, a huge broadsword gripped between his teeth. Once more, the wolf make a huge leap, striking the demon in the shoulder, bringing both of them tumbling down to the ground in a mess of growls and fur.

 

Sparks flew through the air as the demon's claw struck metal, rebounding against the silver wolf's fur as it buried its teeth deep in its neck, and for a short moment, the two of them tussled on the ground like that. The demon lodged its elbow against the ground, transforming its arm into a battering ram as it slammed it into the wolf's belly, sending it flying off into the distance. The demon took to the skies once more, blood leaking from the bite wound on his neck, but the wolf had already retreated into the distance, its fur now a matte black as it attempted to blend into the night.

 

...

 

The next day...

 

Akira Miyamoto sat in the Art Club, this time with his shirt still on. Erize, Shu and Erin had assembled after lessons, after the message that he had sent them earlier. "Welcome back, my wonderful Art Club members~" He sang, leaning in uncomfortably close towards Erin. "I trust you had your fun during this period of downtime! It was so mean of you, leaving Akira-sensei out of all the fun. I even invited all of you to my house!"

 

He saw a vein twitch on Erin's head.

 

"But let's get down to business," Akira's voice changed audibly as he jumped up and pulled down a projector screen, pressing a button on his laptop as a map of Mitsuba City was displayed. "Last night, a Warlock was sighted here," he explained, pointing to the outskirts of the city. "He is another wolf shapeshifter, with a unique difference: He possesses a Demon Reaper, like most of you. His Reaper grants him the ability to reflexively turn any part of his body into pure metal, blocking almost any attack. Be careful of being bitten by steel teeth, too. Finally, like most other Warlocks, he will definitely have a couple of Thralls defending him at all times."

 

"The Warlock will be active again tonight. Your job is to go out, work together as a team, and prevent whatever it is he's doing. But do not kill him. If we're lucky, we might be able to gleam some information out of him. Capture him alive and inform me once that is achieved. Any questions?"

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Erin raised her hand as Akira finished her brief, and asked, "Do you know how we can lure the Warlock out?" We lost the initiative in our previous fight, and it almost cost us the battle. This time, we've got to take him on our own terms.

"I've got something for that," Akira said, producing something wrapped in a ziplock bag from beneath the table. "Use this."

Erin glared skeptically at the bag. "Sensei, isn't this a dank, sweaty shirt? What the hell do we do with this?"

"Give it a good sniff~" Akira said, striking a pose. To her surprise, his shirt didn't fall off this time.

"... It's got your scent on it." Erin muttered. "This is, uh, kinda creepy."

"The Warlock got my scent when I was out doing 'field work', and he's got a bone to pick with me," Akira answered, and abruptly broke out into laughter, wiping a tear from his eye as he slapped himself in the thigh.

"What?" The three students said in unison.

"Get it? Bone? Since he's a werewolf?" Akira then resumed guffawing, only stopping when someone in the opposite room yelled, "SHUT UP!"

Ooookay... Moving on...

...

"Someone's coming," Erin whispered, her head pressed against the pavement. The other two nodded, retreating to their hiding places as Erin stood up again, the old shirt draped over her shoulders like a cape.

Soon enough, she heard the sound of heavy footfalls coming from the corner of the alleyway, and immediately, her weapon materialized within her hand with a soft hiss. Then, the source of the footsteps rounded the corner, and Erin found herself face to face with the largest wolf she'd ever seen -- its shoulders were wide enough to scrape against the sides of the alleyway, and it was tall enough to stare her in the eye. "My, my, what big eyes you have."

"All the better to see you with," the wolf snarled; she wasn't quite sure how the Warlock did it, considering how wolves were normally not known for talking. "What is this trickery, girl?"

"Well, it's a trap!" Erin said innocently as she snapped her fingers. Suddenly, light flooded the alleyway as Erize, standing on the rooftop above, lifted her skirt, and Erin immediately shut her eyes, her world resolving itself in hues of red, yellow and orange as her vision expanded into the infrared spectrum. She snapped her fingers, and the air grew thick with power as the talismans she'd surreptitiously placed along the walls of the alley began to glow with golden light -- like the holy water she'd used on Keiko, the life force she'd charged the things with would form an impassable barrier for Warlocks and Thralls alike, cutting him off from his reinforcements. Three minutes before the power I've stored up in those things fades. I hope that's enough.

She opened her eyes again, just in time to see the giant wolf snarl and lash out blindly; despite Erin being prepared for the attack, the wolf's steel teeth nicked her arm, tearing her sleeve and cutting a long, thin red line into her skin. He's fast! She counter-attached swiftly with a jab to his snout, but as her Naginata struck home, there was a clang and a burst of sparks as the blade glanced off metal. Erin grimaced as her arms went numb for a moment, backing out of the way just in time to avoid another lunging bite.

Then, Shu sprung up from behind, kicking off a wall and leaping over the wolf's back, driving his swords into the wolf's back and drawing blood. The wolf snarled, but was unable to turn around in the cramped confines of the alleyway. Erin grinned, her naginata whirring and clicking as it morphed into a battle axe, and then brought it down. She'd once cut straight through a fully grown tree with Axe Form -- metal or not, the blunt force trauma could quite possibly incapacitate him.

However, her blade passed through empty air, and the axe gouged a deep gouge in the pavement. Out of nowhere, the pommel of a greatsword slammed into her gut, knocking the wind out of her and throwing her backwards several meters. She hit the ground painfully, feeling something in her back break and rapidly knit back together. Oh god.

In the brief instant as she swung her axe down, the Warlock had gone back into human form, revealing himself to be a muscular man with shaggy grey hair wearing baggy camouflage pants and a vest. In his hand was a greatsword, brightly glimmering in spite of the shadows of the alleyway. Shu immediately struck at his back, but he whirled around, the short sword sparking as it glanced against solid steel, swinging the greatsword in a vicious overhead chop. Shu brought his other sword up to block it, but was driven down to one knee as the sword almost broke his guard, and without missing a beat, the Warlock kicked him in the face, knocking him on his ass.

The Warlock raised his sword to cut Shu down, but Erin, who'd finally shaken off the effects of the stunning blow, charged at him and swung with her battle axe. The Warlock's entire back turned to steel, and the axe strike accomplished little more than knocking him a little off balance. However, that was enough for Shu to roll out of the way of the execution strike, and he immediately lashed out, stabbing the Warlock in the elbow, the engraving on the blade turning black as it sank several inches into his arm. He can't armor his joints when he's moving them!

However, the Warlock only grinned, and abruptly, his elbow, the blade still buried in it, took on a silvery sheen and stopped bleeding. Shu pulled at his sword to withdraw it, but it was stuck fast in the Warlock's arm. He tackled Erin out of the way with a shoulder shove before she could strike again, his skin hardening to block a thrust from Shu's remaining sword, and leapt over Shu before spinning around so he faced both of them head on, his back facing a wall. "Nice knife," He said with a grin as he jabbed his greatsword into the ground, freeing his hand to pull out the trapped sword. However, as he yanked the sword out, the wound resumed bleeding, and he noticed the crane engraving on the blade turning black as the wound continued to bleed. "A vampiric weapon. How cute," he said as he flexed his injured arm, and the wound stopped bleeding as his skin turned into metal again. "You want your knife back? Come get it," he said, jabbing the blade into the wall beside him, where it sank in to the hilt.

He's weakened now! He can't use a greatsword effectively with one hand, can he? Immediately, Erin and Shu charged forward, only for the Warlock to reach down with his one good arm and whip out a pistol.

Or maybe not.

Eternal Blaze's naginata mode produced a shield that worked effectively against the natural weapons of Thralls and Warlocks' magic, and weaker magical attacks would just slide off the protective ward before her like water off a duck's back. However, to her great consternation, said shield was about as good as wet tissue paper against a mundane firearm. The Warlock aimed for her center of mass and fired faster than she could blink, and two small-caliber armor-piercing bullets ripped through her midsection. The good news for Erin was that the bullets, meant to pierce through body armor, went straight through her instead of tumbling within her body, leaving relatively little internal damage; it'd seriously tax her, but she'd live. The bad news was that this hurt like hell.

Erin screamed in agony, collapsing to her knees as her weapon clattered out of her hands, her vision blurring as she felt life ebb out of her, her strength sapped to knit together the bullet wounds. Sorry, Shu. You're on your own. Luckily for him, the Warlock didn't manage to get another shot in before Shu closed in, stabbing at the Warlock's eyes. He reacted instantly, closing his eyes as his face took on a metallic sheen, and the blade glanced off; however, for the instant he was blinded, Shu made a grab for the gun, tearing it out of his grasp before he could react. The Warlock snarled in anger, throwing an ironclad fist at Shu, who barely evaded it by ducking out of the way before emptying the pistol's twenty-round magazine straight into his face as he backpedaled. He raised his stiff arm to block, and the bullets didn't leave a mark in his steel skin, but he'd forced the Warlock to shield his eyes for a couple seconds -- and that was enough.

While the Warlock was pinned down by the stream of suppressive fire, Erize stepped up beside Shu, so much light spilling from beneath her skirt that it glowed like a lampshade -- and slowly, deliberately lifted her skirt in the Warlock's direction.

In the confines of the alleyway, there was no way she could miss. A beam of light, so bright that Erin's vision turned red even through her eyelids, blasted at the Warlock, and Erin felt a hot wind scour at her face as the beam superheated the air in front of them. The Warlock immediately hunkered down, his body completely turning to steel, but it wasn't enough -- the searing heat of the beam heated his steel skin white-hot, and he screamed in anguish as he fell to his knees, a gout of steam escaping his nose and mouth. After what must have been the longest second of the Warlock's life, the beam finally died down, the glow from ZONE fading back to normal levels. Oh boy, that must hurt. If he'd been a normal human, there'd probably be nothing left of him but scorch marks.

Finally, Erin's bullet wounds closed up enough for her to stand, and supporting herself with her Demon Reaper, she hobbled towards the fallen Warlock, placing her naginata blade to his neck. "You're coming with us."

"Like hell I will," the man growled, raising his hand in a gesture of defiance. Suddenly, Erin's eyes widened as she scrambled backwards, putting as much distance between the man and herself as she could.

In his hand was an armed hand grenade.

The Warlock grinned, his entire body turning to steel. Then, there was a thunderclap and a hammer of force slammed into Erin, hurling her a dozen meters down the alley and slamming her painfully into the ground, the hail of shrapnel from the blast tearing at her clothes and ripping into her flesh. Her head was ringing like a bell and her vision had been reduced to a tunnel, and she groaned as she gazed weakly up at the little strip of evening sky visible from between the alleyway's walls, feeling practically all her strength leave her as her power labored to close the myriad wounds scattered all across her body. Ugh. I hope the others are okay. Then again, I probably blocked the brunt of the blast...

It doesn't matter, Erin reassured herself. That grenade was a nasty surprise, but it's been barely half a minute since the fight started. The magic circle should still hold, and he'll be unable to escape-

Then, she realized that she could no longer sense Eternal Blaze's energy permeating the area. Impossible! I'd warded the place thoroughly-oh God. Oh. God.

She laboriously tilted her head to the side, and her suspicion was confirmed. Attached to the wall was one of her talismans, shredded into uselessness by the grenade's overpressure wave. Erin felt hot breath on her face, and looked upwards to see the horrific, twisted visage of a lupine Thrall almost as large as the Warlock's wolf form itself.

Someone... Anyone...Help...

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As Shu headed towards the Art Club room, he thought back to the evening before when Rika had coerced him to tag along for a social with her friends Hiro and Miko. It turned out, as Shu found out during a very one sided conversation with Rika, that she was the Vice-Captain of the Karate Club. This explained why she was so buddy with Hiro, with him being a third year and generally hanging around with his third year friends. Rika had explained, with much gusto to the chagrin of Hiro, that she had come in and bested all of the Karate Club members with the exception of Hiro to attain her position. Hiro had admitted to Shu afterwards, while Rika was out of earshot, that he had only barely won their fight and he kept refusing rematches on the grounds that she hasn’t trained enough.

 

His thoughts returned to the present as he opened the door and saw that Erin and Erize had already arrived, the former looking fairly awkward as Akira sat pretty close to her.

 

“Ah, arrived at last!†Akira said with a flourish of an invisible cape. “Then let us begin.†After annoying Erin and then explaining the goal for the evening, and then creeping Erin out with his sweaty shirt, the three Art Club members headed out to confront the Warlock.

 

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

 

This guy is good. Shu thought as Erin approached the kneeling Warlock. He had his weapons in hand, one of the blades mostly charged while the other was only partially, and watched the Warlock with a smile on his face. That steel skin sure is useful, although it looks like it acted against him when facing ZONE. The man growled defiance at Erin as she claimed to take him with them and then the girl scrambled backwards as the Warlock held a primed hand grenade. Shu’s smile nearly faltered as the Warlock converted to steel and the grenade exploded.

 

From where he had been standing, Erin had been more or less in front of him, so with a quick shuffle step he put her between him and the blast; a small ripple of shame running through his body as he did. She was launched backwards by the blast and Shu had to flatten himself to the floor as Erin passed above him.  He made himself as small as possible, as flat as possible, and felt the pressure wave from the explosive pass over him. Luckily, for him, Erin had taken the brunt of the force herself. Hopefully she can heal from that. He thought as he stood up slowly to find the Warlock missing.

 

“Damn.†He muttered as he turned to see if Erin was alive. She was, but going by the large lupine form bearing down on her, she wouldn’t be for long. For a brief second, he thought the Warlock had returned, but on closer inspection, as he sprinted forward, the shape and fur were different to its master. A Thrall then. He thought, his smile widening to normal again. I can deal with a Thrall. He decided to ignore the feeling of his failure to successfully combat the Warlock.

 

As he ran, he kicked a crushed can that was lying on the floor and hit the Thrall behind the ears. It spun quickly, showing a number of eyes staring at him, but Shu quickly jumped into the air, kicked off the Thrall’s snout and landed on its back. Without hesitation he jammed his swords down and pierced the Thrall behind its shoulders. His smile finally faded as the Thrall started to buck to throw him off. Shu managed to stay on but wasn’t really concentrating as he twisting the swords in the Thrall’s back.

 

No buzz. He thought as the Thrall settled. A shadow on the corner of his vision told him of an approaching mass, but Shu reacted too late as a second, identical, wolf barrelled into him. With luck, he had moved enough to avoid being taken in the Thrall’s jaws but its shoulder caught him and his much larger size sent Shu rolling across the ground.

 

He stood up quickly but the Thrall had fast reflexes and was practically on top of him already. Shu managed to block the snapping jaws by jamming one of his swords into the Thrall’s mouth and then twisted it to gain access to the creature’s neck. Then he quickly stabbed his second blade into the wolf’s flesh, and with a quick rotation slice, slit the thing’s throat. Shu rolled away quickly and looked down at the swords in his hands; the cranes had not been filled despite the fact Shu had driven his blades deep into both wolves.

 

“What the hell is going on.†He muttered as he heard a ragged growling from behind him. With a quick spin, Shu stood up and saw the wolf he had just cut down standing there was something leaking from the wound Shu had given it. However, it wasn’t blood, it was something else. The wolf stared at him, with its many eyes, but Shu’s eyes remained transfixed on the strange things coming from the creature’s wounds. Then he realised what they were.

 

“Bees?!†He said with surprise. “Well, that could make things more difficult.†He risked a glance behind him, at the second wolf that was already rounding on him, and saw that bees were slowly leaking from his wounds as well. “Incredibly difficult, it would seem.â€

 

Where the hell is Erize when you need her? He thought as both wolves jumped at him.

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