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Rules of Nature

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All was quiet on the streets of Rome this night. It was winter, a dreary time when the days were short and the nights were long and bitterly cold --as expected, the usual throng of tourists that crowded the city's ancient streets had thinned out, and even at the great plazas and famous cathedrals that drew millions annually, there were few souls in sight. However, not all was well on this silent night -- beneath this veneer of serenity, a war was afoot.

From a side street came the sounds of gunfire, promptly followed by a crash, the tinkle of shattering glass and the wail of a car siren. Moments later, a young woman with blonde hair hurtled around the corner and hit the ground running, followed closely on her heels by a monster.

The creature was to a wolf what a mountain lion was to a house cat. This was a creature whose kind had last been seen when glaciers still covered Northern Europe; a resurrected nightmare from the dawn of humanity. It was almost as tall as a man at the shoulder, with a gaping maw filled with wicked fangs and steel-grey fur stained crimson with blood. It let loose a blood-curdling howl as it bounded after the girl, spittle dripping from its jaw as it pounced for the kill --

Suddenly, the sound of a gunshot rang out. Abruptly, the beast yelped in surprise as it hurtled skywards, somehow thrown airborne by an invisible force. It sailed helplessly over the girl, who extended her arm -- in her hand was a hexagonal steel rod a foot long, engraved with a series of strange, angular glyphs like the writing of a long-dead language. There was the crack of another gunshot, and the glyphs flashed with golden light, a near-invisible line of faint light extending from the wand's tip.

The giant wolf passed through the line lengthwise, and finally hit the ground on all four paws with a loud thump. For a moment, silence reigned unbroken.

Then, the wolf's body split apart lengthwise, with a torrent of blood spilling from the perfectly straight edges of the cut. The creature let out one final death gurgle, and silence descended once again. The girl grinned toothily as she gave the wands in her hands a flick -- the wands' frames snapped open, and twelve expended brass cartridges tinkled to the ground. Then, with a flash of light, the wands dissolved into golden motes, which streamed into the girl's hands and vanished.

"Unless acted on by an external force, an object in motion stays in motion." She murmured to herself. "Isaac Newton's still the deadliest son of a bitch here on Earth, eh, wolf boy?"

The sound of footsteps rang out nearby, and the girl turned to face the newcomer, a middle-aged man with a neatly-trimmed mustache and a checkered top hat. "An acceptable performance, Julia. However, I must note that you committed several egregious tactical errors in this battle -- if you'd been anywhere as good as Auguste, this fight would have lasted half as long. And we wouldn't have to bribe the carabinieri to write off that wrecked car."

"It was a Hummer, Papa. An American-made monstrosity like that has no business driving on Italian roads." Julia said with a sigh.

"No accounting for taste, but collateral damage is unacceptable. We're done here for the night; come along now."

"Yes, father."


"W-w-what?! You're sending me to America?!" Julia sputtered, her face turning beet red.

"Did I not say it clearly? You're on the 7 am flight to Boston. Get packed." Her father replied curtly as he put down his glass of wine. There was a silence as the two locked gazes, interrupted only by the steady crackle of the antique fireplace.

"B-but... Why? And why was I not told earlier?" Julia demanded.

"Simply put, an old friend called in a favour. You'll have to take over the family name now that Auguste's gone -- it'd do you some good to cut your teeth on a real mission, rather than beating up second-rate Werebeasts here." The elder Zeppeli said, his hands folded beneath his chin and his expression unreadable.

"A real mission? I thought you'd never trust I, a mere child, on something this risky," Julia said bitterly.

"There will be risk, as with all things in life. It will pain me if I lose yet another child, but your death would only prove that you weren't worthy to take Auguste's place. That is all." her father stated, proffering a folded-up note towards her. "Get packed quickly. The taxi will arrive soon."

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“Oh, watch out there, you missed again.â€


Liam sidestepped gracefully as the creature charged forward and attempted to take a bite out of him with its vicious looking teeth. Instead, the creature smacked into the wall and took a chunk out of the plaster. It was definitely a creature, even if it retained a somewhat human appearance. It had long, limber limbs ending with claws instead of nails, a malformed skull, giving it a somewhat snout-like protrusion on its face, and matted hair running down its back. It was commonly referred to as a Werebeast. It let out an animalistic roar from deep in its throat and dashed forward again.


Like he had been doing for the last 20 minutes or so, Liam stepped just out of reach and allowed the werebeast to bite air. “Now I wonder what type you are, a wolf? No, not quite.†The creature swung a clawed hand but missed yet again. “A lion! No, that’s not right either.†With powerful legs it jumped forward in an attempt to grasp Liam by the shoulders, but he wasn’t having any of it as he stepped forward this time and expertly rolled past the attack. “Oh, I know; you’ve got to be little pussy cat!â€


The roar the creature let out echoed around the empty block of flats Liam and lured it into. He had found it on the streets attacking some persons car and had decided to take care of it. Normally, he would of observed it for a while to get into its patterns and the like but the creature before him wasn’t really the normal type Liam liked to go after. The creature tried for another leaping attack and this time Liam let him succeed, pushing him backwards to the floor. But he didn’t let the creature follow up by biting him; instead he hooked a knee in its belly and flipped it over him through a flimsy wooden door that shattered on impact.


Liam continued his roll and bounced to his feet as the creature slid across the floor before scrambling to its own feet. With a smirk, Liam stepped into the room, blocking the doorway in the process, and spread his arms wide. With the sound of metal scraping on metal two deadly looking blades sprung out from between the cuffs on his leather jacket and the top of his wrists.


The werebeast paid no heed to these new weapons and launched itself forward again with an arm outstretched to claw at Liam.


“Now you’re just offering that to me.†Liam said and weaved to the side to avoid the blow while positioning a blade above and below the creatures arm. “Alley oop.†With swift movement he switched the two blades’ positions and thanks to the skinniness of the creatures arm, cut completely through, above and below, it’s elbow. The werebeast bellowed in pain as its arm and elbow fell to the ground and twisted violently, catching Liam off guard and delivering a wide backhanded swipe to his chest.


Liam had underestimated the werebeast’s strength and he was thrown back a couple of meters before crashing through a half-broken window. It was at this point that Liam remembered he was 20 floors up and below him was the hard concrete of an alley. “That’s going to leave a mark.†He muttered as he flipped through the air and started to fall towards the very hard ground.


He didn’t seem perturbed though as he braced his body and with a flash of silver, like light catching a knife, a metallic spine appeared on his back while a collar appeared around his neck and a belt around his waist. Connected  either side of the spine piece were 4 double-layered reels; two on the left and two on right. Liam stuck a hand out towards the nearby wall and one of the reels started to spin quickly, sending forth a metal cable to pierce into the wall. Liam clenched his hand and the reel stopped spinning, locking the cable in place and swinging him in towards the wall. He quickly moved his other hand and a second cable shot out and lodged into the far wall, suspending Liam between the two buildings.


The smashing of glass filled the air and Liam looked up to see the werebeast diving through the window and starting to fall directly towards him. With practiced skill, he released one of the cables and swung towards the wall, spinning so he could use his feet to stop himself hitting the wall painfully. The beast fell past him, useless reaching out to grab at something, before there was sickening splat as it hit the ground.


There was second of silence before the werebeast moaned and started to pick itself up. Liam didn’t give it the chance and started to unwind the reel that held the cable that was currently holding him on the wall. Bouncing like he was abseiling, he quickly got the ground and with the last bounce, landed squarely on the werebeast’s back, crushing it to the ground again with a squeal. With his right hand, Liam released the cable stuck in the wall and with his left, two more unwound from his back and the wicked points on the end shot down quickly to pierce the werebeast through the back of the head, destroying its brain, and the the spine, destroying the heart.


With that done, the creature let out a wail before falling silent and still. Liam stepped off it and with a flick of his wrists, the 3 cables wound back in and like a reflection passing a window, the device disappeared from his back.


As he started to walk away, straightening his jacket as he did so, a vibration in his pocket told him someone was trying to call him. He pulled out his phone and raised an eyebrow at the caller ID before answering.


“I haven’t heard from you in a while, what’s up?†he said, walking out of the alley and onto the deserted streets of the night. “You want me to go where?†he said after a second. “Where the hell is that? More importantly, why do you want me to go there. I haven’t had a job from you in like a year.†The person on the other end of the phone laughed and Liam couldn’t help but join in. “This guy seriously asked for me by name? I’m impressed, I didn’t think my reputation was so good out of the city. But hey, you know what, there’s nothing but trash crazed guys here; I could do with a change. I’ll grab a ride and start my way down there, what’s the guys name again? Got it, see you.†He hung up the phone and slipped it back into his pocket with a grin.


“So now I’ve got to find me a ride; shouldn’t be too difficult.â€

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“You can keep running forever, but I’ll always catch up to you,†sneered Roberta Faulkner.

The Werebeast eyed her balefully, its haunches rising and lowering with each breath. Roberta hadn’t known much about animals before, but ever since she had gotten her Anima she had met enough of the deformed kind that she could sense what they were doing with every gesture. This one was a little too obvious. Anyone would be able to tell it was panting. And panting was always a good sign.

The young woman, dressed in a purple tank top and pink miniskirt today, rested her rifle against her shoulder as she walked slowly up to the creature. It was a strange scene, if anyone had been there this early in the morning to see it. A 21-year-old woman holding a bright red rifle, cornering what looked like a saber-toothed tiger at the rubbish dump of Apartment 502.

A shimmer of light on the tiger’s face made her glance to the side.

“The sun’s rising,†she observed aloud, “which means I’ve been chasing you around for an hour now. Entirely unforgivable. I’m trying to break my speed record, and I’ve an appointment to rush to as well. No choice but to finish you off now.â€

She held the rifle out in front of her and took a moment to take aim. The tiger widened its eyes, seizing its chance, and jumped up to pounce, its claws extending to their fullest. A gash from such a big beast would be injurious, if not lethal, and Werebeasts were known to strike with incredible speed and force, even from a distance away.

Roberta pulled the trigger, and the beast flopped limply on the ground.

“Silly,†she said nonchalantly. “I’ve calculated where your head would be if you jumped up to pounce. It’s one of those skills you need to play first-person shooting games. With a head as large as yours, it’s nothing to be proud of, though.â€

The beast seemed in no mood to appraise her precision shooting, though. Its body quivered as it clenched the ground, each individual fur standing on end, its claws making a scratching sound against the gravel. Roberta was inclined to empathise this once. A Bullet of Ice through the head might, she figured, be quite painful. She took about 5 steps backward, replacing her cartridges. The gun shimmered with a bright blue glow.

This Beast was a girl when in human form. She was a kleptomaniac, so it seemed, and had started stealing from the age of 5. Her father was a drunkard, and seemed fond of pinching her and her sister- Roberta couldn’t read her thoughts so clearly anymore, for it was filled with emotion now. Humiliation that her memories were all returning to her, flooding in, panic because she couldn’t think clearly, everything was swarming around, fury at her father, fury at Roberta for doing this to her, fury at her life, fury at herself, fury, fury, FURY.

Something leaped out from the shadows and pushed the tiger to the side just as Roberta fired off her Bullet of Fire. The bullet hit the rubbish heap with a clink and fell to the ground harmlessly. Roberta lowered her rifle and blinked. Both of them were gone.

She walked cautiously up. What was that thing that had dashed in? How had she not seen it earlier? And most importantly, where were they now? They couldn’t have run down the alley into broad sunlight – she would have seen them if they did. She let her eye linger a moment longer on the shadowed area at the corner of the dump. Two well-placed bins had blocked out the sunlight completely, but could 2 Werebeasts (for the newcomer must be a Werebeast too) hide in that spot? Roberta squinted, but couldn’t pick out anyone hiding there. The shadowy area seemed completely empty.

She had no time to pursue this matter anyway. She had an appointment with Daniel O’Dyna.


Mercia waited to make sure that Roberta was well and truly gone, before pulling Lisa out from the shadows. Both of them were in human form now, but Lisa was still pale, her mouth slightly agape to let in more air, her body drenched in cold sweat.

“Are you alright, Lisa? Speak to me,†Mercia whispered.

She knew what had happened to Lisa. She had seen enough of her sister’s moves in battle. The Bullets of Ice, when shot through the head, would cause the victim’s thoughts to converge and overwhelm her, while allowing the user easy access to read those thoughts. It was the kind of callous invasion of privacy which Roberta would exult in. Mercia clenched her fists. Someday she would fight Roberta, one on one, but for now she could only content with watching her sister from the safe confines of the shadows and interfering whenever she had the chance. She didn’t want Roberta identifying her just yet.

“Here, come with me, I’ll take you to a place to rest,†Mercia murmured, making a move to stand. She slung Lisa’s arm around her shoulder and hobbled off as the sun rose and people began coming out of the apartment to go about their activities for the day.

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"The time is 3.30 pm, local time and the temperature outside is 2 degrees. Thank you for flying with British Airways and have a good trip."

Julia disembarked from the plane, her heart thumping furiously as she surveyed her unfamiliar surroundings. The Zeppelis regularly travelled around the world in their pursuit of the monsters that haunted mankind, but beyond a few jaunts around Europe, Julia hadn't gone to a truly foreign land. Sure, Massachusetts wasn't the Darkest Depths of Congo or anything of the sort, but this was still the furthest she'd ever travelled from home.

Thankfully, despite Heathrow's reputation for misplacing luggage or shipping them off for a sunny holiday in Johannesburg, her baggage all arrived intact, and immigration went smoothly, though she swore that the young, freckled man at the immigrations counter wasn't looking at her face when she handed over her passport. After wandering around cluelessly for a whole, she finally figured out where the car rental was, and set off on her way to Fendale, the town where her father had told her to meet his contact, a man named Daniel O'Dyna.


The town of Fendale was around an hour's drive north of Boston, a picturesque town at the mouth of a river on the Atlantic coast. While several new apartment complexes, ugly, drab edifices of prefabricated concrete, had sprung up like invasive weeds around the periphery of the town, the old town center was still relatively pristine, putting Julia in mind of a Norman Rockwell painting. She remembered Grandfather telling her stories about the region -- apparently, his own grandfather had won a name for himself battling the gibbering monstrosities that had poured out from a newborn Hellmouth and all but taken over one of the towns nearby; it was named Innsmith or something like that. While this town looked serene and decidedly free of eldritch taint, she couldn't quiet the nagging doubts in her mind that history would repeat itself.

It was around sundown when she reached the promenade at the riverbank where she was meant to meet Daniel. It didn't take her long to locate him, unless the dark-haired man with the fedora, tinted shades and the canvas trench coat trying to look inconspicuous wasn't him but a completely unrelated Russian spy. Two others, all strangers to her, had arrived as well: a brown-haired woman a couple of years older than her with looks best described as 'handsome' and a long-haired man with green eyes.

"Oh, all three of you managed to make it. I wasn't expecting to get an answer from all three of you, but it seems like I'm in luck, as I've got a pressing problem around here. Usually, towns like this don't see that many Werebeast attacks; perhaps two or three a month around the full moon, when their bloodlust becomes hardest to control."

And yet, there's been fourteen confirmed attacks and even more unconfirmed ones in the last two weeks, and they aren't random, either. Nine of these attacks have been on Anima users, with a total of three casualties -- and in one case, the body -- and the Anima --wasn't recovered. I was the only one left until y'all arrived."

The three of them all turned pale in unison. A DDR... Lost?! In a way, Anima were more valuable than the people who wielded them -- a new user could be found, but a lost Anima was irreplaceable, or worse, in the hands of the enemy. It was with good reason that the Zeppelis treated the loss of Auguste's weapon as a black mark of shame, as if they were a Roman legion without their standard.

"I've got one lead on this case. A few days ago, I caught a glimpse of a wolf in the forest holding something metallic in its mouth. It vanished before I could give chase, but I believe it might just be our missing Anima."

It was Julia who first broke the silence. "Humph. A Werebeast with a DDR? A crazed beast couldn't possibly use one. We'd be up against something that's both stronger than us and smart enough to use that power. We'll have to work together to beat it, and I definitely can't work with people when I don't know anything about them."

Suddenly, a gust of wind blew as a stream of golden motes emerged from her hands, coalescing into a pair of wands in each hand, their metallic surfaces dotted with droplets of condensation. "I am Julia Zeppeli, heir of the Zeppeli family's legacy. This is my DDR, Hexagrammaton -- its ability is to generate and manipulate force. So... who's next?"

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Fendale was a town of rumors. The locals would tell stories of strange animals who were seen lurking in the shadows, of giant bats that flitted across the moon or wolves whose fur was completely made of metal. They would claim that there have been reports of men who were slain with mysterious claw and fang wounds across his torso, only to be covered up by the authorities. Some even said that a secret cult following was growing rapidly, meeting only on nights where a full moon is out to discuss unspeakable things with one another. Of course, none of these rumors could be substantiated by hard evidence, and most of the citizens of Fendale soon learned to live with the supernatural tales and strange sightings.


Things were just as Akira wanted them to be.


"Chief," a short, blonde-haired woman addressed him as he walked into the office. "Here is the report that you wanted. Charles wanted to talk to you about the Erikson case."


Akira took the file from her, flipping it open as he scanned through the front page. His gaze drifted to the scribbled word under the Name column: 'Luka'. His stride didn't slow down as he continued walking towards his room, with the woman following behind. "Tell him that the case has been classified as a homicide," he replied without glancing back. "Arrange a meeting at 4:30. For now, I want to speak to Subject T. Make sure the meeting is private. You know, the usual protocols."


"Yes sir," she replied, turning to speak to one of her colleagues.


It had been a cold day, and Akira was glad to feel the warmth of his room's heater as he walked through the door. In front of his table lay a spread of documents and files, each one holding the information behind a case that had yet to be closed. It was a ton of work, but somehow or another he always managed to close the case before things got out of hand. And this wasn't even his actual job. Akira slumped onto the chair, holding a hand to his forehead as he closed his eyes and took a sip of coffee. There was a knock on the door, and the woman from before peeked her head in. "Subject T is ready for you, sir."


"Thank you, Diane."



There were two layers of cells in Fendale's prison. The first one was for normal criminals, the ones who wouldn't give Akira too much of a headache. Murderers, burglars, rapists and the sort all went into the first layer, where they could be visited by the public. To get to the door that led to the second layer, you had to pass through three layers of security checks, each one more stringent than the rest. The first was a simple electronic door that required a passcode to enter. The second had a guard posted 24/7, and had a voice-activated lock system far more advanced than what you'd usually find in a small town like Fendale. But the third layer was a simple blank wall, one that would baffle the minds of even the most hardiest of intruders.


It was a unique, intelligent Anima that recognized authorized personnel and let them through. Akira stepped up to the blank wall after the door closed behind him, using his knuckle to tap out the code to activate the Anima. Blue lines streaked across the wall as the glowing symbol of an eye materialized, swirling around to look at him. <Akira Miyamoto, Local Chief Executive, Furry Suit. Entry Approved.>


Soundlessly, the wall suddenly split into two, sliding aside to reveal a descending staircase which led to the second layer of cells, those that held prisoners of the more animalistic kind. Werebeast criminals. It was called The Penitentiary.


Akira removed his jacket as soon as he reached the bottom of the stairs, hanging it on a hook on the wall as he straightened his tie and keyed in his password, sliding the mechanical door open. Down in the Penitentiary, as it was located underground, a powerful ventilation system had been built connecting it to the surface, but even that couldn't completely keep out the smell that was produced by keeping so many Werebeasts in a single place. Most of them were locked in normal cells, but those who could transform into smaller animals were kept in plexiglass ones. Others, who could turn into strong animals like elephants or tigers, were kept in stronger cells and placed constantly on medication to sedate them and prevent them from transforming. It was cruel, but necessary. It was the way Furry Suit operated.


Finally, he reached the cell that he was looking for. It was annotated with a friendly sign that read "Cell #0645", and underneath it, "Luka". Akira looked through the thick steel bars at the giant man that sat beyond, clearing his throat to get his attention. "Congratulations, Mr Luka," he addressed, flipping the file he held open. "Today is the day of your official release. As agreed, upon being released you will pledge your services to... Furryyyy Suuuuuiiiiit. If everything is in order, please sign on this document right here, and you shall be free."

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The pick-up truck jerked to a stop suddenly and Liam woke with the pressure of the seatbelt digging into his chest. He was awake pretty much immediately, thinking danger was close, but after a quick scan found nothing amiss. The old man driving had simply come to a stop at the sign indicating Fendale’s town limits. Liam glanced over at him and the man tore his gaze from the road ahead to look at him.


“I’m afraid this is as far as I can take you. Me and my family are a superstitious lot you see, and I’ve heard many a terrible thing about things lurking in that town there. I get the willies just sitting here looking at it.†His face was apologetic and Liam nodded as he climbed out of the vehicle.


“That, sir, is a fine set of sense you have there; keep hold of that feeling and you’ll probably live to be a…†he paused as he looked at the old man’s wrinkled face. “…very old man. Thank you  for the lift.†He closed the door and stepped away from the vehicle as the man backed it up before spinning it around and heading back up the road he had just come down. Liam watched him go for a minute before turning and looking towards the town. “Better start walking then.†He muttered and stepped off down the road.


By the time he had reached the civilization of the town, the sun was touching the horizon, ready to dip the town into darkness. As Jamie walked through the town, nearly quaint in appearance although a few aberrations of modern flats stood on the outskirts, he noticed that there were not a lot of people around on the streets; maybe darkness was bad to be out in in this town. He paid no further mind to the lack of civilians and arrived at the promenade by the sea in no time at all. There was no trouble spotting the one he had been told to meet; Daniel O’Dyna stuck out like a sore thumb dressed up like some kind of novel spy.


There was no one else nearby as Jamie approached and tapped Dan on the shoulder, making him jump somewhat and turn around. However, before Liam could say anything, a woman probably younger than him with somewhat masculine looks turned up shortly followed by a younger girl with blonde hair. Liam looked at each in turn before turning his quizzical gaze on Daniel, who looked as if he knew what was going on.


“Oh, all three of you managed to make it.†He said as he delved into the reason why he had called three Anima users to a town on the edge of the world. When he mentioned that an Anima had been lost to the Werebeasts, Liam couldn’t help but narrow his eyes in worry. Daniel moved on to explain about his possible lead before lapsing into silence.


The blonde girl was the first to break the silence, Liam had been using it to think of a plan. She mirrored his own initial thoughts that a Werebeast with the capability of using and Anima was bad news and anyone alone would probably not be able to survive. She then said that she couldn’t work with people she didn’t know anything about and Liam nodded his agreement as a strange gust of wind passed over them and amidst some kind of golden dust cloud, the blonde girl’s Anima appeared in her hands.


“I am Julia Zeppeli, heir to the Zeppeli family’s legacy. This is my DDR Hexgrammation; it’s ability is to generate and manipulate force. So who’s next?†she said confidently, looking around and Liam and the other girl.


Liam took this as his chance to speak. “You…†he said while jabbing a finger towards Daniel. “I barely, vaguely trust you and that’s only because Simon gave me his word. These two…†he dropped his finger from Daniel and pointed it instead at Julia and used his other hand to point at the other girl. “…I don’t trust even a smidgen. However, I’m inclined to agree that if we have a Werebeast with the capability of using a Anima, we have a problem on our hands bigger than one person.†He dropped his pointing fingers and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “With that in mind, working with these two seems like the only option and if you…†he nodded his head at Julia “…can’t work with people who you know nothing about, I suppose I could oblige. But I am a friend to no-one here.â€


He opened his arms and lowered them to his sides. “My name is Liam Burkson and this is Scylla.†As he said the name, a flash of silver covered his back as his Anima faded into existence on his back, the fastenings around his neck and waist clicking into place with a quiet snap. “It’s abilities are those you can see.†He raised his hands a fraction and four of the reels on his back started spinning before releasing their cables to circle Liam quickly. He gestured with his hands and the cables whipped around him once more before retracting back into their reels.


“So I guess this leaves you.†He said and looked at the girl who hadn't introduced herself yet.

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Roberta had been watching everyone (well, to be specific, just 2 people) show off their Anima in public, even though there was of course nobody else in the vicinity. Both Anima had been impressive, but fortunately she was well prepared.

All of a sudden, the air around them turned cold, snowflakes glistening beautifully as they gathered around her ready hand. The snowflakes collected to form the shape of a rifle and disappeared to show its real form – a bright red rifle that fitted weightlessly on her palm.

“This is the Hyoukaryuu,†she announced proudly. “I’m afraid I can’t demonstrate its prowess without a Werebeast around, but I basically deal with mind reading and control powers. One bullet through the head allows me to read the Werebeast’s thoughts and thus predict his every movement, but the Werebeast won’t be moving very much because every thought he has ever had from birth to now will coalesce in his mind at the same time, overwhelming him and rendering him unable to focus on anything. And then my next bullet blows up whatever organ it’s lodged itself in. This allows me to fulfil the capabilities of a supporter as well as a ranged striker!â€

She bounced the rifle a few times in her hand before hurling it in the air with a stronger force. The rifle spontaneously burst into flames and vanished. She had been practising this trick ever since she received Daniel O’Dyna’s invitation, knowing that she would need to show off her Anima in front of other users.

“By the way,†she said, turning to Julia, “I heard you refer to your Anima as DDR. What does that mean? Does it refer to all Anima? Is my Hyoukaryuu some kind of DDR too?â€

Next, she turned to Liam and nodded at him.

“I completely understand and agree that we can’t trust each other totally when we’ve only just met, but we have to set aside our reservations and work together against this enemy. If our speculations are correct and the Werebeasts have gained an unhealthy interest in our Anima, the whole community of Anima users is in greater danger than before. It’s up to us to investigate what’s going on!†She clenched her fists tightly in excitement. This mission sounded more important than the petty brawls she had been involved in up to now, though she hadn’t seen a Werebeast with silver in its teeth, or any of the rumours Daniel described. The idea of sentient, scheming Werebeasts only made her more eager than ever. She was born to pit against intelligent enemies after all! Those animalistic beasts were beneath her.

“Where shall we start then?†she asked Daniel. “Shall the 3 of us set off now to the forest where the Werebeast was sighted and begin our search? Or shall we interview the witnesses and ask them for more details on what they saw? I’m more inclined towards the former, but the latter may provide us with some help on what to look out for, so if you ask me, I suggest we do that first.â€

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What an eccentric bunch of companions we have here, Julia thought. The other woman was surprisingly bubbly -- she couldn't have been in the loop for very long. The eternal vigil against the Werebeasts' predation took their toll on a person -- as her brother once said, 'You become hardened to it, or die first.' Evidently, Brother was one of those who'd died first, considering that as far as she knew, he'd remained a sentimental goof until the very end. She'd heard rumors that he'd even taken on an outsider as an apprentice -- a foreign one, at that. One who probably had something to do with her family's lost DDR, but it was a problem for another day. She didn't quite get all the talk about 'supporter' and 'striker', however -- perhaps she'd been raised on video games or something.

The other man seemed shifty. He'd only given the most cursory demonstration of his powers, and had pretty much flat-out stated he had no intention of trusting the others. Clearly, one who'd been hardened by his battles -- it was all too common an attitude among veteran DDR users, to the extent that in certain places, the main cause of death among them wasn't their enemies but internal power struggles. Brother had certainly evaded his fair share of such people in the past, from the letters he wrote back, but perhaps one had caught up with him after all. I'll have to watch my back around him. He might not be able to use more than one DDR at a time, but I can't discount him being willing to trade up for a better one. My power does seem a tad more versatile.

"Anima? Such an uncouth term for a gift from God." Julia said in response to the woman. "Such divine instruments deserve a name befitting their splendor -- like DDR."

Evidently, judging from the blank stare she got in response, she didn't quite get it. Typical.

Daniel cleared his throat to address all of them. "I doubt there is much point searching the forest. A Werebeast smart enough to use an Anima wouldn't confine themselves to a hunting ground like a mere animal. Besides, a creature that crafty would be easily able to hide their tracks. There aren't any witnesses I know of, though asking around might produce a few answers. The police simply labelled most of the cases as mundane homicides; I've got a feeling they're whitewashing the investigation."

"If we press them enough, one of them might spill something useful," Julia interjected. "Back in Rome, there was always at least a few policemen who suspected things weren't entirely on the level. Those are the men we would want to talk to."

Daniel nodded in agreement. "That's plausible, but we should start on that later. Tonight's the full moon, and I'm expecting plenty of action. While the enemy is probably aware of who I am, they can't detect you, just as you can't detect them. I'll be patrolling the streets tonight to lure them out -- one of you should cover me to ambush whoever shows up. Our Anima user might just take the bait, and Werebeast or not, you'd have the advantage of surprise. The other two of you should pair up and cover the rest of the town on the other side of the river. I can't be everywhere at once, and we should make sure the civilians here don't become easy pickings.

"Liam will come with me, while Julia and Roberta sweep the other side of town. Is everyone in agreement with the plan?"

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Sign on the dotted line and obtain your freedom. Certainly it was freedom from this cell, but true freedom? There was no such thing for a man like him. He inspected the contract and confirmed his suspicions. Servitude. Forever indentured to his young captor. This was not freedom at all. What's more, he wondered if freedom would ever be in his grasp. Even if he did escape this place, he would still be chained to his guilt, to his past.

He took the paperwork from his captor. This young man was certainly dwarfed by his own figure. Luka stood a little shy of 7 feet tall, his build wide and muscular. His dark, matted hair was shaggy and in need of a cut, with one side completely shaved. Across the shaved portion the word "Unchained" was tattooed, somewhat ironically considering his current situation. He had torn the sleeves off of the prison uniform he had been issued. Across his left forearm, another tattoo, "BIANCO", and across the knuckles of his right hand, "NERO".

After a moment he signed his name on the paperwork without a word, and then handed it back to his Captor. If he recalled correctly the young man's name was Akira. Quite an illusive person, or at least it seemed that way from behind these bars. He had no recollection of his arrival here, or of how this uni posing figure had managed to haul him in. Regardless, he was grateful.

"I have a request." Luka said to Akira, his throat dry from not speaking in ages. "I work for you, and only you. I don't care about this organisation, or it's motives. I'm told that it was you who brought me in here. You stopped me from losing myself any further than I already have. When the time comes...I expect you to do whatever it takes to stop me again. In return...I'll do whatever you say."

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The people of Fendale quickly learned not to go near alleyways when night fell upon the town, especially when there were sounds of a scuffle going on within. It was generally better to mind your own business, get home, and pretend that nothing ever happened. It was the police's job to nab criminals, not them.


This was why nobody came to the help of Frederick Stone, middle-aged businessman, when he collapsed against the wall, clutching a bloodied left arm as he screamed in agony. A dark shadow fell across his face as his assailant stepped over the overturned trash can, flexing his arms as an elongated structure was sucked back into his chest with a *schloop*. "Help! Anyone! I'm being attacked!" Frederick yelled, his throat already beginning to become hoarse. The hole in his shoulder was only leaking more and more blood as he began to feel faint, and he was beginning to lose hope that anyone would save him at all.


Grinning, the assailant lifted his palm to his lips, slowly tracing his tongue across the blood-stained fingers. A feral smile crossed his face, and he continued to walk towards Frederick with his arms clenched into a fist. "I really hate people like you," he whispered. "Always depending on other people to rescue you. You're weak! Nothing but deadweight on our society!"


"P-please! I have kids and a family! I can give you whatever you want! Is it money? Do you need money- aaarrghh!!"


A foot stomped down on his limp wrist, and Frederick saw his assailant bend over to look at him in the eye. "You think I'm killing you for money?! You really are nothing but trash." He elicited another howl of pain from Frederick as he stepped harder on the businessman's wrist, grinning sadistically at his pain. "I'm killing you because I'm making this world a better place! Your wife will be better off without you, pig." The Werebeast released his foot, allowing Frederick to slump onto his side as he whimpered pitifully in his corner. Then, as though a thought had crossed his mind, he turned back with cold fury in his eyes. "I'm sick of this already. Just die."


There was a sudden motion, and the whimpering stopped.


The Werebeast sniffed the air, turning to look at the road that led to the main street. "Someone else is coming," he muttered to himself. "I'll have to kill these people too. How troublesome."



A silver-gray silhouette darted across the moonlit horizon, bounding from roof to roof with superhuman grace as it made its way across the city of Fendale, stopping only to gaze into the distance. It moved into the shadows for a moment, emerging as a lanky man with grayed hair the next second as he straightened his back and brushed his suit, kneeling down on the edge of the roof as he surveyed the ground below. His ears perked up as the sounds of an anguished cry resonated through the air. "There we go," he whispered, drawing a long blade from seemingly nowhere as metal crept up his arm, engulfing his form completely. The next second, a metal wolf jumped off the building, headed straight for the source of the sound.


It was a gruesome sight. Blood had been splattered everywhere. The dumpsters were overturned, the chain-link fence shattered. And the woman's corpse had been severely mutilated, with wounds that made it look like she had been stabbed repeatedly by a spear in vital areas like her forehead, her chest and her abdomen. The wolf landed next to her with the lightest of clinks, slowly making a circle around the corpse as it lowered its head to take a sniff. Within the wolf's mouth was the blade that the man had been holding earlier; it was gripping the hilt with its jaws like a bone. Then all of a sudden, it raised its head as movement crossed the corners of its sight - and there, it saw two girls who couldn't be older than 21 standing by the crossroads, staring at it like it was the murderer. One of them summoned a contraption out of the air, and the wolf's eyes narrowed. Anima.


There was a flash of movement, and the gray-haired man emerged once more, turning to look at them with a grin as he hefted his sword. "Yo," he greeted with a wave. "If you're here for a fight, I'm your man. I haven't had a decent battle in months, but you two look promising. I suppose I have some time to spare tonight. Come at me, you two." The man's eyes gleamed with excitement, and a snarl escaped from his lips as he took a fighting stance and stared at them.



"Excellent," Akira said to Luka, swiping a card across the reader to his side as the steel door swung open, allowing the Werebeast to leave his cell. "It just so happens that I require your skills. We received an anonymous tip that there will be three feral Werebeasts in Fendale tonight. These Werebeasts are unregistered and will most likely be hostile."


The two of them emerged into the sunlight after climbing the long flight of stairs, and took a right as Akira led them down the street. "I will need you to locate them and take them in, by force if necessary. I will have some men on the field, but they will not be actively supporting you. If they have killed a Normal, you may execute them on the spot. But always remember the Code: Transformation in front of a Normal is strictly prohibited except to save your own life." He unlocked his car with a beep, gesturing for Luka to get in. The two of them drove down a few streets before pulling up beside an old building.


Akira leaned over, handing a set of keys to Luka. "This place is yours to use for now, compliments of Furry Suit," he explained. "Feel free to spend the the time between now and nightfall here sleeping, eating, or whatever it is you Werebeasts do when you have free time. In the meantime, I have a bowling appointment to meet. Ciao!"


And with that, he drove off, leaving Luka standing in front of his own house.

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Night had fallen, and Julia and Roberta had set off on their rounds on the far side of town, crossing a red brick bridge that stretched across the estuary to reach the other end. The far side, or the Old Quarter as Daniel had called it, was the older, poorer and more dilapidated part of town, dotted with run-down brick houses from the turn of the century, their lawns overgrown and unkempt and the paint peeling from their walls. It wasn't exactly the most pleasant of places to take a nightly stroll, and despite the lack of activity on the streets, the tension in the atmosphere was palpable. Bad things are afoot tonight. I feel it in my bones.

It didn't take long before the first signs of trouble began. From a side street, Julia heard a series of crashes, followed by an anguished scream. Immediately, Julia burst into action, dashing towards the commotion. She was greeted by a grisly sight -- evidently, a struggle had taken place here, judging from the shredded fence and overturned dumpsters. There was a woman's mutilated corpse slumped against the wall -- and a culprit was still at the scene. Pacing around the corpse was a huge grey wolf like the one she'd fought in Rome before she'd arrived, except this one seemed different, somehow -- its eyes gleamed a human intelligence, and in its mouth was a great sword, its edges gleaming silver in the moonlight. DDR.

Julia's eyes widened as power surged through her arms like living lightning, streamers of light shooting from her fingers and coalescing into her own Anima. As she stepped forward, she noticed the Werebeast had transformed -- he'd gone from beast to man in the same time it had taken for her to summon her weapon, the greatsword now held in a firm two-handed grip. "Yo," he said, taking a hand off the weapon to wave. "If you're here for a fight, I'm your man. I haven't had a decent battle in months, but you two look promising. I suppose I have some time to spare tonight. Come at me, you two."

"You're wasting my time." Julia declared, raising one of her wands so that its tip pointed towards the man's head. "You didn't kill that woman; even an Anima wouldn't remain unsullied by the blood of an innocent."

"That may be true, but it is also irrelevant." The Werebeast retorted, his sword raised to his shoulder in a fighting stance. He's right. He probably didn't kill the woman, but he might be covering the mastermind's escape -- and besides, he has an Anima. Perhaps it's the one that was lost previously -- on my honor, I should retrieve it from this beast's cold, dead hands.

A grin spread across Julia's face, and her eyes flashed with eagerness. "You'll get your wish. Here I come." However, she did not break into a run or fire her wand, as would have been expected, but instead pulled the trigger on the wand in her left hand hidden behind her back. The hammer struck and an echoing boom rang out, and a sudden kick of force flung Julia towards the man. It was a tried-and-true opening gambit for Julia -- most Werebeasts were crazed brutes, things that fought by animal instinct; the loud noise of Hexagrammaton discharging startled and frightened them, and they were usually left unable to react when their supposed prey didn't flee or try to defend from its blows, but instead hurtled into their jaws like a cannonball. This move would have blindsided any ordinary Werebeast, leaving it open for a killing blow from her second wand.

However, this man was no mere Werebeast, Instead of being caught like a deer in headlights, he merely grinned and deftly sidestepped, letting Julia's momentum harmlessly carry her past him. Then, just as she passed, he transformed in a blur of motion, lunging at Julia with his sword poised to draw a killing blow to her back. Julia pivoted around as her left arm shot out, finger squeezing the trigger of her wand. There was another blast and wolf suddenly halted, his advance seemingly blocked by thin air -- until one noticed the faint impression of overlapping golden octagons hanging in the air in the space separating the two of them. Then, Julia squeezed the trigger again, this time channeling the force of the cartridge's detonation into a spread-out blast of force. It wouldn't be enough to kill a Werebeast with its power spread out -- but at point blank range, such a shot couldn't possibly miss, and the wave of force would at least stagger the Werebeast, opening it up for a finishing move. The wolf yelped as the force shoved him back several feet, his claws throwing up sparks as they skidded backwards against the ground, and Julia's grin widened as she swung her steel wand in a downward chop, focusing the energy of another expended cartridge into a single straight line. It was a technique with devastating cutting power, capable of severing limbs and cutting apart concrete and steel -- victory was in her hands.

The wolf didn't react outwardly -- but abruptly, the wolf's fur crackled with energy as it turned from grey to a gleaming silvery-white, and the blade of force harmlessly glanced off the wolf's newly-materialized iron hide. Impossible! Then, the wolf barreled into her again -- while she managed to throw up another shield in time, the massive impact still bled right though the barrier, hurling Julia backwards several meters and ending with a deafening crash. As she got to her feet, smarting from the bruises and scrapes she'd just picked up, she saw the wolf's form blur again as it shifted back into the form of a man. "New at this, aren't you? Maybe I ought to go a little easier on you." he said sardonically, staring Julia and Roberta down.

"Don't underestimate me!" Julia yelled as she launched herself back at the Werebeast, the runes upon her Anima ablaze with power. For a few seconds, they traded blows back and forth, with Julia catching the man's sword slashes upon her ethereal shield and striking at him with a flurry of slashes and impacts. However, as the duel drew on, fear started creeping into her. He's damned fast for something so big, and even worse, I can't find a single weak point in his armor. I hope Roberta's got a clear shot now, or I'm in for a world of hurt...

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Even though they had been told to watch out for a Werebeast with an Anima, Roberta still couldn’t help doing a double take when they did see it, a wolf with a sword clenched tightly between its jaws. The scene was just so wrong (and not just because wolves didn’t have opposable thumbs and couldn’t wield a sword properly) that she was even more determined to defeat the Werebeast and get the Anima back. Werebeasts weren’t supposed to sully Anima by taking them and using them for themselves.

The righteous feeling was quickly overshadowed by a pure mindless adrenaline rush, though, as she watched the Werebeast easily sidestep Julia’s attacks. He was intelligent, calm and calculating – 3 qualities that Roberta admired and knew were dangerous in a foe. It was going to be a challenge, but she lived for challenges. Julia was not one to give up easily either. She barrelled on regardless of the seeming futility of her blows, engaging him head to head. If Roberta could get a good aim now… She took a few steps back and pointed the Hyoukaryuu surreptitiously at the foe.

She saw the wolf glance towards her 1 second before she fired, a stream of Bullets of Ice as quickly as her finger would let her. She held her breath. Even if the Werebeast shifted away, at least one bullet would lodge itself in the right spot. He couldn’t be faster than a bullet, could he-

All at once, the fur on the side of his body curled around each other, hardening into what looked like a metal plate. Bullets ricocheted limply off the thick shield, leaving only the minutest of dents to set them apart from beans or raindrops, which disappeared away in front of her eyes as testament of its regenerative powers. The Werebeast still kept his eye on Roberta, turning to her now as she readied another shot.

“You like sneak attacks, don’t you? How will you do in a fair fight, face to face, I wonder?†How did it turn into a human again so quickly? She had barely blinked! The man walked up to her. Her finger quivered. To shoot him in the middle of talking didn’t seem to her to be in good taste, but it was not as if he was saying something useful.

Then a minute passed and the choice was no longer left to her. The man lurched forward, instantaneously regaining lupine form, and she fired, a shot of reflex rather than calculation. It turned its head casually, as if shaking off an insect, and with a clink the metal blade in its mouth knocked the bullet away. How it could have seen the trajectory of the bullet was a mystery to her.

She decided to use her Anima the traditional way and hit the rifle against the oncoming beast’s face. Surprisingly, it served its purpose, knocking it backwards. It quickly stood its ground and looked at her, its haunches trembling and its pants coming out in queer gasps. Roberta was confused for a moment before she realised it was laughing. A furious blush crept into her face.

She replaced her Bullets of Ice with Bullets of Fire and fired, not bothering about range or being caught in the impact of the shot. She urgently wanted it to die, and immediately. It hardened itself again, its fur bristling as a silver gleam spread throughout its body, raising a paw to shield its eyes from the incessant bullets. With its other three legs it sprang up, batted the rifle away from her hands with astounding force, and knocked her to the ground, pinning her neck with a muscular paw. She struggled to breathe, her fingers scrabbling for the rifle. It must be nearby, though she couldn’t turn to look; it couldn’t have gotten that far away. The wolf leaned down towards her, its warm smelly breath fouling the precious air she was desperately taking in. It inclined its head to dodge her clenched fist – a final feeble effort to inflict pain, and turned around to look at her companion. Roberta herself could not tell where Julia was during this fight, but she hoped that the girl had had the time to herself to come up with a better plan. It would, after all, be too gruesome to turn out like the dead woman.

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He's toying with us, Julia thought as she fired a blast of force, launching herself backwards and just out of the way of a vicious slash. She had no idea how the Werebeast was using his blade so deftly despite holding it in his mouth, not exactly the most optimal way to wield a sword, but regardless, his technique was flawless, as far as such an unconventional style could be described as such. And yet, while he clearly had an incredible advantage in both speed and strength, he wasn't going for a killing blow, instead seeming to humor her ineffectual strikes. Either he's buying time, or he really is the kind of nutcase who just wants to amuse himself with a bout of fencing.

He abruptly pounced forward, and Julia pulled the trigger on Hammer To Fall in her left hand, hoping to knock him away with a blast of force. However, the striker fell on an empty chamber, and she swore, firing her second wand with a slight leftwards movement of her hand. Under Pressure was built for finesse instead of strength however, and all she managed was to deflect the wolf a couple of feet to the left -- enough to avoid his deadly blade, but not enough to stop his armor-plated shoulder from slamming into her and throwing her down the alleyway. Despite a last-ditch attempt to slow herself with another pulse from her wand, she collided into a dumpster with a mighty crash, making her see stars and showering her with refuse. Ugh. Well, at least I don't seem to have broken anything yet.

Then, a series of shots rang out -- Roberta had taken her chance to strike while the Werebeast was distracted. The Werebeast probably wouldn't be distracted for very long -- he was fast enough that he'd be easily capable of closing the short distance between himself and Roberta, and her weapon didn't exactly look like it was suited for close combat. However, Roberta would probably be able to buy her a precious few seconds, and that might just be enough. She broke open her wands, rapidly loading a fresh set of rounds to fuel her magic, and surveyed her surroundings, looking for something she could use. Then, her gaze fell upon the remains of the chain-link fence, and an idea came to mind. While using the cartridges in her weapon would immediately draw the beast's attention, if she didn't need much force, Under Pressure was perfectly capable of working silently. Time to work a little magic.

Soon enough, there was a panicked, staccato burst of rapid fire, followed shortly by a thump. Julia glanced upwards, and noticed the Werebeast on top of Roberta, pinning her down with one giant paw. For some reason, he didn't seem particularly interested in killing her -- it would have been all too easy to simply tear out her throat right there and then. There wasn't much time to pontificate over his intentions, whatever they were; Roberta was definitely still in danger. Immediately, she bounded out of the alleyway and triggered her wand, an invisible hand of force launching a pair of nails from within the scattered rubbish from the overturned dumpsters and guiding them straight towards the only chink in his armor -- his eyes. The Werebeast noticed in the nick of time, however, and shut them, making the improvised projectiles bounce off his steel-coated eyelids. Immediately, she squeezed the trigger of her wand again, and there was the rattle as the chain-link fence shook. Then, the Werebeast's eyes snapped open again, regarding her with a bemused look, and he instantly became a blur as he lunged towards her with lightning speed. Now's my chance.

With a flick of her wand like a conductor's baton, a wire pulled from the chain-link fence went taut and raised itself to the beast's ankles. However, he noticed that obvious trap easily, letting out what sounded like a snort of amusement and jumping over the wire just before it ensnared his front paws, his trajectory a graceful arc terminating at Julia's position. Time seemed to slow as the great wolf hurtled at her, and for the briefest of instants, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the beast's golden eyes -- a face pale with terror, the expression of a woman who'd realized she was batting out of her league.

And then, that mask of fear turned into a wry smile, and she flicked her wand once more.

Immediately, a loop of wire rose up from the ground, straight into the path of the incoming wolf. His eyes widened, but his trajectory was immutable -- without anything to push against, there wasn't any way for him to evade the trap she'd sprung. Immediately, the loop tightened around his neck like a noose; at the same time, the free end of the wire flew upwards, wrapping itself around the horizontal bar of a streetlight and hoisting the struggling, helpless wolf into the air, its paws batting ineffectually at the steel wire cutting into its neck.

"As I said, you shouldn't be underestimating me." Julia said with a sunny smile, looking at her trapped opponent in the eye.

"Right back at ya," the Werebeast replied. Julia's eyes widened ever so slightly -- he'd transformed back into human form in a split second, and now, the noose was no longer tight against his neck -- and it was a lot easier to pull yourself free when one had opposable thumbs to work with. The Werebeast struggled free, dropping back towards the ground -- and Julia raised Hammer To Fall, the runes along its length incandescent with golden light as she aimed it at the man's center of mass.

"TIRO FINALE!" Julia shouted. In a split second, every single cartridge in the wand's cylinder went off in rapid succession, and the wand glowed red-hot as it focused the combined energy of each explosion into a sledgehammer of raw, unrestrained force. An expression of shock flitted across the man's face as silvery metal spread across his skin, but nothing he could do could prevent the wave of power from slamming into him like a tidal wave, picking him up like a toy and hurling him into the sky. Julia heaved a sigh of relief -- if the man's power had turned him into solid steel, he'd have weighed several hundred kilograms, and the force would probably only have thrown him less than thirty meters at most. She hadn't seen the crack marks a wolf weighing a couple of tons should have left in the pavement; it seemed that her deduction that his mass hadn't changed was correct.

A few seconds later, she heard a distant splash as something hit the river a hundred meters away. She chuckled to herself, and proffered a hand to Roberta, helping her to her feet. "He's not dead, is he?" Roberta asked wearily.

"Certainly not. He'll be back for Round Two sometime soon, but I'm sure his ego's taken quite a beating from that. Let's keep moving; I'm almost certain he didn't kill that woman. The real killer's out there somewhere."

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Lisa awoke to the sound of running water and footsteps echoing from the kitchen, then a soothing hot towel was placed on her forehead and she let out a sigh.

“Are you feeling better now?†Mercia asked. Lisa opened her eyes and found herself on her bed, her roommate standing with her arms crossed and lips pursed. She averted Mercia’s gaze. Mercia disapproved of what she was doing. She did too, sometimes. Her efforts were futile and she left barely a scratch on the Anima users she attacked. And yet, she must. It was something like a goal in life. Without it, she was nothing.

“You look fine, so I’m going out,†Mercia said curtly. Lisa turned to look at the clock, and her eyes widened in alarm.

“You’re late for work! It’s 11.11 already!†she exclaimed.

“It’s okay. I was fired,†came the reply, and Mercia left the room.


Mercia and Lisa rented a unit in an apartment about “twenty minutes away from Fendale by carâ€, which didn’t mean anything to its residents because none of them owned cars anyway. It was the nearest town from this collective block of apartments though, which couldn’t even be called a neighbourhood because it had no shops, no bank, not even a telephone booth. It was strictly a small piece of land packed to the last square metre with residences. It was cheap, and that was the only thing Mercia cared about when she had dedicated all her savings to it. She had not been able to take a lot of money with her when she left, and Lisa had spent away everything she ever had.

Mercia used to have a job in Fendale selling shoes. She wasn’t the hardest worker, neither was she the most consistent. Whenever Lisa got into trouble, she would be forced to set her work aside to protect her. Gradually she became THE least consistent worker, and once the school holidays arrived there was really no reason to keep her over an earnest, pretty, young college student with nothing to do everyday. She didn’t really care much for the job, but it was the end of the month and the bills had just come in. She needed to get a new job, fast.

For some reason, job openings always vanished whenever one was looking for them. She was sure the bakery had been hiring the other day, but she couldn’t find the sign now. The pawnshop had had a job notice too, but it had been filled a week ago. She kept a sharp eye out as she walked, for the familiar white piece of paper or the board advertising “attractive jobs: apply withinâ€. Nothing caught her eye.

She sighed and turned the corner, then stopped short and blinked. She hadn’t found what she wanted to find, but this was something else entirely.


“Sorry to disturb, Chief,†said a police officer with exceptionally narrow eyes as he knocked on the door of Akira Miyamoto, Chief of Police. “This is a pretty small matter, but they’re making a din in the police post, and neither is willing to back down. One of them insists on seeing you.â€

“Look at the scratches! Just look!†the woman shrieked, pointing her arm at any policeman who was unfortunate enough to be walking past at that present moment. Mercia blushed reluctantly. The scratches did indeed look bad. There were 4 long thin red lines extending down the length of her fair arm.

“It’s not my fault!†she tried retorting. “She and her boyfriend came up to me, and I needed to defend myself! This is self-defence, sir! Self-defence!â€

“Self-defence? If people hadn’t known better they’d think a wild rabid cat scratched me!†snorted the woman. Mercia secretly thought she deserved it anyway. She couldn’t have been older than 25, but her face was so covered by powder and makeup that she looked like an old hag trying to hide her real age. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, was a burly man whose upper body was disproportionately over-developed compared to his stick-like legs.

“She attacked me out of nowhere and snatched my watch. It’s made of pure gold too!†the woman added, dangling the culprit with her other hand. “I must see the chief of police here. This is a case of robbery, and I thought Fendale was such a peaceful town too.â€

Mercia gasped. She couldn’t stand it anymore. She slammed a fist on the table.

“The watch was sitting on the bench and there wasn’t anyone there! So of course I’d be curious and pick it up, and then this couple suddenly came up and said I took their thing, and they’d report me if I didn’t pay them money! They’re swindlers!†she spat.

She knew that the protesting was fruitless. Here was a shabbily dressed and rough-looking young woman, and on the other side were excessively-dressed people with a watch of pure gold (which she didn’t believe for an instant; the watch would weigh a brick then). She knew whom everyone would choose, had always chosen, to believe.

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The office wasn't, as advertised, soundproof, which meant that Akira could hear the din that was happening outside even before Michael knocked on his door, explaining the situation to him. He had been trying to get some paperwork done, but he could hardly concentrate because of the heated argument between the young woman and the couple. He sighed, nodded at Michael, and replied, "Alright, give me a second. I'll be right out." It was tiring to be the good guy, most of the time.


The moment Akira had left the comfort and safety of his room, the woman who seemed to be the victim of the assault literally jumped at him, grabbing his wrist with her bony fingers as she began to spit in his face. "Oh good, you're finally here, officer. What took you so long? Aren't you supposed to be serving the public like us?" Gosh, it looked like she had put on way too much makeup. Was she compensating for her lack of natural cleavage? Akira could see the plates she had placed in her shirt to 'enhance' her chest from the way she was bending over like that. "Hurry up and put this violent woman behind bars already. I'm wasting my time here!"


"Trust me, there is one woman in here that I'd put behind bars if I could right now..." Akira replied, throwing her grip off his hand. "Please don't hold me like that. I have personal space issues."


"How dare you talk to me like that?! Who's your superior? I'm going to lodge a complaint!"


"That would be me. Unless you'd like to take a 2-hour drive to Boston to meet my boss in the capital, I'm the authority around here. So sit down, shut up, and let me do my job."


The woman looked like she had been slapped in the face. Stunned, she collapsed back onto her seat, next to her husband who was trying his best to look menacing despite his piddly looking legs. Akira ignored the two of them, inspecting the claw-shaped injuries that had been inflicted onto the victim. They were indeed suspiciously shaped... a wound which human nails couldn't have made. He shot a quick glance at the other woman's nails ("Her name's Mercia, sir," Michael whispered) and confirmed his suspicions - they weren't long nor sharp enough to do something like that. He started to massage his forehead; this problem just got a lot more troublesome. "Alright, Mercia, you're in some deep trouble. I'll talk to you privately. Bring her to my office, Michael."


There were some protests, but the narrow-eyed policeman moved her into the room without a second word. Turning to the couple, Akira continued, "As for you two..."


"My name's-"


"I honestly don't care," he interrupted. "You can proceed down to the infirmary for some first-aid. Diane will help you out. Have a nice day."


Now it seemed like the husband couldn't take it anymore, and stood up to place a meaty hand on Akira's shoulder just as he was going back to the office. "Listen, my wife's been assaulted, and we're not going anywhere before we get some kind of compensation-"


Akira grabbed his hand, forcefully pushing it away from him as a surprised look crossed the husband's face, probably because he wasn't expecting to be overpowered by a scrawny dude like Akira. "Personal space issues, man. I warned you. Just be happy that I'm not following up on that girl's claim on your swindling acts."


WIthout paying the couple any further attention, Akira marched straight into his office and slammed the door, sinking into his seat with a sigh. Michael took his place by the exit, and Mercia was already seated in front of his desk. Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, he raised a hand before Mercia could speak. "Listen, if you're cooperative, I can get you out of this whole mess without much trouble at all. But first, you need to tell me about yourself, and I need you to be truthful. Tell me... all about your ability to turn into a feline."

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Liam had agreed with the formations of the teams and was glad that it was him who had been joined with Daniel. Not only was Daniel the only one he trusted, even if it was only a smidgen, it would also mean he could act alone while Daniel acted as bait for any Werebeasts roaming the area. With that in mind, Liam had used his Anima to reach the rooftops, low as they were, and was now sneaking along the edges while Daniel took to the main streets in an attempt to draw anyone out.


It was while scanning the rooftops that he come upon an assault in one of the alleys in the town. At first he had thought of it as a normal mugging, the gentleman on the receiving end seemed a perfect target for any would-be thief. When Liam caught sight of something shrinking back into the attacker’s chest he became suspicious and moved closer to get a better look. The attacker was toying with his victim and spouting of words that Liam couldn’t hear properly, before coming to a cross roads of the alley where he finished off the victim. The attacker then stepped away from the newly made corpse and sniffed the air before speaking.


So he is a Werebeast. Liam thought and followed above it as the creature made its way towards the exit of the alley. However, before it could fully leave, Daniel came running into the alley with a deadly looking spear in his hand. I presume that is his Anima…but why is he attacking head on? Liam thought as Daniel rounded the corner of the Alley and attempted to pierce the Werebeast through the chest with a surprise attack. But the creature was prepared as he dodged the blow by a hair’s breadth and knocked Daniel back with a swift kick. As Daniel clutched his stomach in apparent pain, the Werebeast tilted his head to the side with a smile on his face.


“Well, look what we have here. I didn’t think you were brave enough to venture out here alone…in the dark. You know, with being the only one left.†The smiled hadn’t left his lips as the Werebeast raised a hand to his mouth and sucked on each finger slowly.


Daniel scowled but didn’t attack this time. “I think you’ve caused enough trouble in this town. I’m going to stop you.†He spun the spear and came to a rest in a ready position to fight. “But who said I’m alone?â€


Liam took this as his cue to entrance so he leapt off the rooftop, aiming at the Werebeast’s back. As the Werebeast started to question Daniel’s comment, Liam sent out one of his cables to latch onto the building to his right and used it as a pendulum to smack the beast in the back of the head with a heavy boot. The force was enough to take the creature of his feet and send him sprawling to Daniel who hit him in the face with the butt of his spear, sending him back the way he had come before settling about an equal distance from the two Anima users.


The Werebeast struggled to his feet with a hand clutched to his face as blood poured down his chest from his nose. “Who the fuck are you?†The creature said with a slight nasally echo as Liam was pretty sure Daniel had broken his nose. However when he took his hand away, the nose was completely healed.


“You don’t look like much; I should really have just let Daniel kill you alone.†Liam said with as much ridicule as he could muster. Since he hadn’t had time to scout this Werebeast as he tended to do other times, he decided that getting him angry enough to show his powers would be the next best thing. Well, after letting Daniel fight first to reveal any powers but it looked like the native Anima user was happy to let Liam be star of the show.


The Werebeast snarled and took a step towards Liam. “The name’s Newt, ass. And I’m…â€


“Newtass? That’s a funny name.†Liam interjected, causing Newt to growl in anger and leapt forward to attack. It was an obvious attack, and amateurish, and Liam had half a mind to simply use his Anima and finish Newt in an instant. But then he decided that would be too boring and instead dodged to leaping blow with a roll forward. As he rolled, he extended his leg and caught Newt square in the centre of his face, sending him crashing to the ground.


As Newt pulled himself to his feet, Liam stepped forward and delivered a straight punch to his face; the satisfying crunch of breaking bone telling him he had broken Newt’s nose for a second time. But again, as soon as Newt was back up, his nose was completely healed. Looks like a pretty good healing factor for a Werebeast; probably something to do with his scrawny size. If that’s the case, let’s see how much he can handle.


This time Liam took the initiative to attack and stepped forward to land another punch to Newt’s face; his fist connect shoddily though, slipping off somewhat compare to earlier. He followed with a knee to the gut before elbowing him the side of the head and knocked him to the floor. As Newt reoriented himself after the blows, Liam grabbed him by the wrist and locked the arm into a gooseneck hold. Then with a perfectly angled blow, broke Newt’s arm at the Elbow. To Newt’s credit, he only growled at the blow before hitting Liam in the chest and knocking him away.


Liam didn’t try to dodge the blow, using Newt’s attack to clear a space between them so he could watch Newt’s newly broken arm. As he suspected, Newt pulled the arm back into the correct position and it was as if Liam hadn’t just broken it. Newt smiled and licked the edge of his teeth. “You should really stop hitting him without paying attention. It could end up bad for you.â€


“I suppose you are referring to that sweaty gunk you’re leaking?†Liam said, referencing the slimy substance Newt was now covered in. “It just makes you even more disgusting.â€


“Pay more attention.†Newt said, smiling again.


Liam did a quick internal check of his body and suddenly realised what Newt was talking about. “I see, some kind of paralysis I take it? But only at the points where my skin contacted the slime.â€


“Liam…†Daniel said with a worried tone from where he had been observing, still in a position to attack should he need to.


“Stay out of this.†Liam said before turning his attention back to Newt. “Unfortunately for you, Newtass…†Liam watched as Newt snarled in anger. “…if I can’t hit you straight on, I’m going to have to up the ante. When I do that, you won’t last more than as second.â€


“Try me.†Newt said


Liam smiled and suddenly three of his cables shot out from his back and quickly wrapped around a limb each, the legs and an arm. Liam used them to lift Newt into the ait and slam him against the wall. Newt cried out in surprise and pain but Liam sent a fourth cable out that wrapped around the Werebeast’s throat, choking him to silence. Newt grabbed the cable with his free arm but couldn’t budge it. Liam smiled and sent another cable shooting forward where it pierced through the free arm and pinned it against the wall. A sixth cable unwound and stopped with the deadly point resting against Newt’s forehead.


“For a Pseudo-Werebeast like you, there’s no way for you to escape. Since you haven’t transformed yet, it means that you can’t transform. Now, I’d like you to answer a question I have and if I don’t like the answer things might become a little painful for you. Now, you wouldn’t happen to know about a proper Werebeast in possession of a stolen Anima, would you?â€

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Julia glanced back and forth along the street, seemingly sniffing the air. Roberta gave her a disbelieving look, and muttered, "Does that really work?"

"Not always," Julia admitted, shaking her head. "But you know how it is with Werebeasts -- spend a whole night running around with fur soaked in blood and grime, and even a normal human could smell you from a mile off. I'm pretty sure it went this way," she said, pointing down the street.

"You seriously smelt it?"

"Nope. I was kinda messing with you." She gestured at the smudged but still recognizable muddy footprints of some large animal going down the road and the scattered debris and overturned trash cans in its wake. "The Werebeast must have fled when it heard the one we fought coming, and in a hurry too. Let's get going."


Newt's eyes, beady black orbs just a little too big for his face, swiveled to look into Liam's eyes while making a choked hacking noise.

"He can't exactly talk when he's, well, throttled." Daniel pointed out. Liam loosened his Anima's grip on Newt ever so slightly, and the Werebeast hoarsely rasped, "A Werebeast... with an Anima. Yes... I've seen one, two maybe? ... I can tell you more... How much are you willing to pay?"

"You're in no position to negotiate," Daniel replied, hefting his spear in both hands and aiming it at the subdued man.

The Werebeast just smiled, a too-long tongue flicking out and licking his front lips. Suddenly, there was a disgusting squelching noise, and a spray of blood splashed over Liam, blinding him -- and moments later, several pointed, bone-white spikes - the man's exposed, poison-smeared ribs - exploded from Newt's chest, shooting straight for him.

Just before it hit home, Daniel tackled Liam with a shout, knocking him out of the way of the deadly strike. The spikes plunged into Daniel's chest and the arm he was holding in front of his face, and his body went limp, bonelessly slumping down to his knees.

"He's dead meat, friend," Newt sneered with a wicked grin as his ribs slowly slid back into his body with a sucking noise. "My slime on your skin might just numb you, but strike the lungs and heart, and it's a whole different story." Before Liam could get to his feet, another of Newt's ribs shot out and stopped short, its slime-covered tip barely grazing Liam's sternum. "Not in a position to negotiate, am I now?!"

Suddenly, there was a sickly squelch, and Newt looked down, his eyes widening as he saw the blood-red spear stuck into his thigh. "Not dead yet, old man?!" He sneered, tensing up as he prepared to extend his ribs again. "A flesh wound like that wouldn't stop me-"

Suddenly, the spear's tip glowed crimson and an unearthly keening noise permeated the air. Then, the unfortunate Newt's eyes rolled up into his head as he collapsed, gouts of blood spewing from every orifice. The spear remained lodged in the wound, its tip having seemingly sprouted metal wires that passed into Newt's mangled body. Daniel, panting with exhaustion, got to his feet, laid a hand upon his spear and whispered a prayer in some old tongue. The spear flickered and vanished, its form breaking up into glowing cinders which then disappeared into thin air.

"Luckily I brought insurance, but I won't be moving this arm for quite a while." Daniel said as he opened his trench coat with one hand, revealing a battered black ballistic vest beneath. He pulled out a dark grey armor plate from its outside pocket, revealing that it had been pockmarked with several deep, cracked dents where the ribs had struck him in the chest and abdomen. There were three bleeding holes in his right forearm, and his hand was pale and trembling, the veins standing out prominently. "You can't afford to toy with these guys -- they're smart, and they play for keeps. The guys who we've lost thought they knew what they were doing, too."

"And maybe, just maybe, you should put a shirt on," Daniel muttered as he gazed at Liam's conspicuously bare, unarmored chest.

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Even with his genetic advantages, tracking was a slow process, especially when you weren't entirely sure what you were looking for. Luckily werebeasts had quite distinct scents. Luka hadn't spent much time in his new accommodation. He had been imprisoned for quite some time, he relished the opportunity to walk the streets again. However he had only strolled around, observed people, and kept to himself. He wasn't ready for interaction with the public, he still didn't trust himself. 


Even with the epiphany he had experienced during his incarceration, it would take more than will and faith to overcome his curse. A Werebeast such as himself was technically classified as sentient, however, with the unpredictable and varied transformation aforded to him, there were side affects. While in his human form he was in control. A few people in the street glanced in his direction, but he was a large man, it was to be expected. However they had not realised the small transformation he had made. 


His eyes were yellow, and his pupils like tiny dots. His nose crinkled as he sniffed the air. So much information passed through his brain with every scent. Sweat was prominent on most humans, the amount usually indicated there disposition to nervousness, or simply that it was too hot. However other traces lingered on their forms, telling him where they had been, who they had met. He could even smell sickness on people. However his eyes were fixated ahead of him. 


It was now late in the evening, and he had been tailing a man who was about two blocks ahead of him. This might have seemed like quite a distance to most, but with the senses of a wolf, he did not need to keep a visual on this human. His scent provided a trail to follow. It was simple enough to lock in on particular values, in fact it was quite instinctual to his wolf form. The human he was following had several distinct markers. First was the smell of fermented sugar, saccharified starch. The man had had one too many beers. 


The second marker was urine, it was all over the soles of his shoes. Most likely he had visited the men's room of a bar. Layer upon layer of dried up piss. No doubt he frequented this bar quite often. The third marker was the key ingredient though. It was an unusual scent, and not one he had experienced before, but it made him think of the ocean. It was definitely something alive, something not human. 


His target was human, he was sure of that, but this borderline alcoholic would likely lead him to his real prey. And so after another ten minutes, the habitual creature had stumbled upon his usual haunt and stepped inside. Luka followed quickly, and went in after him. A wall of smells hit him all at once. Lot's of sweat, lot's of urine, lot's of beer. The music was loud and irritating, irish he believed. Yes this was probably a bar for descendants of irish immigrants. A lot of people were looking at him. 


Luka made his way to the bar, disregarding the stares he received. Particularly he ignored the pair of eyes that had been fixed on him since he had entered the building. The mexican man was just as odd a sight as he was here. However more importantly this particular mexican was the source of the strange scent. No doubt about it, he was a werebeast. 


"What can I get you?" The barman asked Luka. 


"Water." Luka replied. Alcohol was strictly forbidden to him. Anything that lowered his inhibition was far too risky. 

"Yeah, good one." The barman replied. "But seriously, what's it to be?"


"Water." Luka repeated. He looked to the barman, who raised his brow questioningly, before shaking his head and filling a glass with water and placing it on the bar. Luka took a sip from it and sat himself on a stool at the bar. He didn't speak, and it didn't seem like any of the clientèle were particularly interested in pressing him. That suited him just fine. He drank his water and waited. He could feel the mexican's penetrating stare on his back. Clearly his prey was aware of a predator in his midst. 


"Ain't seen you around here, naco." The mexican finally spoke. Luka ignored him. This was important. The mexican had the smell of an angry man. The best way to deal with such men was to ignore them, and let them become blinded by their own fury. There was a scrape of a chair across the floor as the mexican stood up. 


"I'm talking to you, naco!" He snarled. "You will answer me when I speak to you, culero! Do you understand, hm?"

Luka sipped from his water and again said nothing. 


"Hey Carlos, settle down." The barman piped up. "This guy isn't bothering anybody."


"Shut your mouth, puta." Carlos bit back. "This fucking dog better look at me when I'm talking to him!"


Finally Luka turned his head and glanced at Carlos. He had leathery skin and a scarred face. He was older, with shoulder length dark hair and a moustache. His eyes were dark and angry, with large bags under them. Luka turned away from him again and took another sip of water. "I know why you're here." Carlos continued. "Don't act like a little bitch now that you've found me. You want to rumble then let's rumble, eh?"


"Outside." Luka replied. He drained his glass and placed it back on the bar, then he slipped off of the bar stool. 


"The fuck you say to me, bitch?" Carlos asked. 

"Outside." Luka replied. He walked towards the exit and more stares followed him. He opened the door and stepped outside without another word. He had thrown down a challenge, the mexican would follow, he knew that much. He remembered Akira's warning. He could not risk humans witnessing a werebeast transforming. When he got outside he moved round to the alleyway at the side and wandered down it. He heard footsteps behind him and he began to pull his black t-shirt off of his back in preparation. He tossed his shirt to the side and turned to face Carlos. 


The mexican was stood at the entrance to alleyway, blocking his path. He was holding a pistol, trained at Luka's head. 

"You picked the wrong guy to mess with, puta." Carlos said to him. "Who do you work for, eh? A mutt like you didn't find me by accident. What's to stop me from gunning you down right here, right now?"


"If you shoot me, you might hit me." Luka replied calmly. "But I will be at your throat before you can fire a second shot."

"Haha!" Carlos laughed. "So the dog has cojones!" His pistol did not move. "Let's see if you're as good as you say!"


The shot rang out through the alleyway. Luka felt the bullet pass through his right shoulder. The pain was not instant, but the adrenaline rushed through him like a plague. He burst forwards at a run, dropping down on to all fours and padding towards Carlos. He was on him before he could react, grabbing him by the throat and swinging him to the side, slamming him up against the wall and choking him. 


Luka's arm had become coated in grey fur. Black claws protruded from his hand and sunk in to Carlos' neck. The mexican's skin had become lumpy, and a sickly grey colour itself. He squeezed tighter on Carlos' neck, choking the life from him as new strength came to him with his wolf form manifesting. His dark hair was slowly becoming grey, and fur was spreading across his body. He could feel the rage bubbling inside of him, the wolf's instinct told him to crush Carlos windpipe. However as he squeezed, Carlos' mouth opened wide. He felt something force it's way out of his throat, and suddenly a putrid stench engulfed Luka, as protruding tentacles shot out of Carlos' mouth and wrapped around his throat, attempting to choke him. 


Luka let out a growl as his free hand tore the tendrils from his neck and he hurled Carlos the length of the alleyway. The man crashed to the floor in a heap, but got up quickly, the wounds on his neck already healing rapidly. Just what the hell was this guy? 


"We can't all be wolves, puta." Carlos said, his voice garbled behind the wriggling tendrils hanging from his mouth. Luka swowled at him, disgusted by his form. Luka charged forward again, prepared for the tendrils this time. As he neared they went to wrap around his wrists, however, as they did so they suddenly found themselves cut away from their master. Where Luka's clawed hands had once been, there was now a pair of black pincers, sturdy and sharp. They had cut away the tendrils with ease. Carlos did not seem phased by the pain, but Luka took the chance to shoulder barge him, knocking hi to the ground and leaping on top of him, clamping one of his pincers around Carlos' throat again. 


"Chi..." the mexican choked. "!"


A flood of rage overcame Luka. He felt his pincers clamp down, and then Carlos suddenly exploded. Not only did his head sever from his body, but his entire form melted away into a puddle of slime, slipping through the cracks in the stone, and eventually into a nearby drain. Luka stood up, breathing heavily, trying to quiet his anger. He didn't know what the hell Carlos was, but it was certainly unpleasant. 

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Mercia would have giggled at the comedic dialogue between the unpleasant couple and the police inspector, had she not had her lips tightly pressed in worry. She couldn’t land herself in jail, not when Lisa was still in need of help, and even if it looked like the policeman shared her sentiments about the couple, it did not mean he necessarily believed her. After all, few people had ever believed her, especially when delinquent behaviour was concerned. As her mother used to say, she had the face of a rebel.

Rebelling was the last thing Mercia wanted to do at this time, though. She might have a deep distrust for authority, but even she knew the best option to save time and get out of here quickly. She followed the police inspector wordlessly into his comfortable office and took a seat in front of his desk – realising a moment too late that perhaps she ought to have waited for him to tell her to sit down first. He didn’t seem to mind – his troubled face was focused on something else entirely that she couldn’t guess. She waited patiently for him to speak, but he seemed to be lost in his train of thought. She resisted an urge to scratch her neck, which had developed an itch for no good reason than to spite her.

Just as she couldn’t quite bear it any longer, and was about to say “excuse me†and go all out satisfying the urge, the police inspector raised his hand to silence her and began talking. What he said next made the itch stop entirely.

"Listen, if you're cooperative, I can get you out of this whole mess without much trouble at all. But first, you need to tell me about yourself, and I need you to be truthful. Tell me... all about your ability to turn into a feline."

It was her turn to hesitate now. Maybe it was obvious to a smart police detective that he was, that the wounds on the woman’s face were no human marks. She looked down, her hands trembling. How much could she reveal? How much did she know about herself, really? She only remembered turning into a peculiar beast one day, and trying to hide it from her family, and then gradually being able to predict, and finally control, her transformations. How much could she trust this Akira man – or at least, as his name plate suggested?

The other policeman in this room had let out a gasp, but prudently refrained from saying anything either. He had not come to the same bold conclusion, probably.

“I…†she found herself speaking before she had even collected her thoughts on what to say, “I’ve been able to transform into a cat ever since… about slightly more than a year ago. I’m usually able to control my ability, but just now I was in a panic and I think my claws emerged from self-defence. I wouldn’t harm people otherwise. And, well, mainly as a cat I get to hide in the shadows without being seen, even by people with night vision goggles. I’m virtually undetectable whenever I enter a shadow. And when falling I don’t injure myself like humans do… yeah, that kind of thing.†She trailed off, positive that she had said more than she needed to. Now she would probably be sent to prison, or an asylum, or to some secret government quarantine unit that held strange and dangerous people like her.

Though for some reason, she felt a strange inexplicable trust for Akira. Somehow, she knew he wouldn’t do that to her.


Roberta decided that she found Julia an interesting person. The Italian had a rich accent, certainly, but she was quick-witted and knowledgeable, and Roberta was sure that she would improve a lot on Anima wielding and fighting if she hung around her longer. Now was not the time to socialise, of course, so she shelved the thought and set about looking for signs of other Werebeasts, her beloved Hyoukaryuu in her hands.

As Julia surveyed the surroundings with a cold eye, Roberta took the chance to peer at her own weaponry. The Bullets of Fire and Bullets of Ice were both very similar save for a coloured line indicating their type. She wondered where their properties came from. In fact, was it possible to create more bullets, of other kinds, that could be used with her Hyoukaryuu as well? It could expand her attack arsenal infinitely, and she would have a lot of fun figuring out the chemistry behind them. It would surely increase the bond she shared with her Anima. She started to get excited. So many new personal projects to take on!

As she walked, she allowed herself to think of possible properties she would infuse in new bullets. Defensive powers, perhaps. And some all-around epic ones. Battles could only get more exciting from now.

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Liam pulled himself to his feet and wiped blood from his face where Newt had blinded him, as he did so, the extended cables all reeled in quickly to his back. Newt’s body, which had been propped up by Liam’s cables after death collapsed to the ground in a soggy heap but Liam was no longer paying it any attention.  Daniel was still lecturing but Liam only picked up a few words as he cleaned the blood off him as best he could.


“I do not toy with my enemies, I goad them. In normal circumstances my enemies would not have a surprise attack like that because I would have scouted them beforehand; it will not happen again, I assure you.†He adjusted his jacket and pushed his plait back over his shoulder. “The chest is for goading purposes as well; my enemies have the same thoughts you do ‘look a weak point, let’s attack it’ and so I can take advantage of these thoughts and counter any attack directed at it. Also, it makes my fights more fun.†He grinned and started walking back into the alley, where he came across the dead body Newt had killed.


He knelt down and laid a hand on the corpse, lowering his head in respect. “I’m sorry I did not act fast enough to save you.†He muttered before standing up and turning back to Daniel. “Where do we go now then? With Newt dead without giving out any useful information, we’re going to run into a dead end sooner rather than later and there’s really no point joining up with the other two so soon.â€

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Daniel listened to Liam's explanation, nodded and chuckled. "You've got spirit, I'll give you that. Reminds me of myself, back when I was younger." However, his smile quickly disappeared. "But to find joy in all this carnage, this endless cycle of good men and women dying to keep the monsters at bay? You're really a loose cannon, Burkson. There's no doubt you're good with Scylla, but your tactics, to put it lightly, are that of a madman. They might work on a crazed Werebeast, but the ones here are smart enough to consider just shooting you instead."


He shrugged, and continued, "But enough of that. Don't let some old man's gloomy ramblings get to you; if I didn't trust you, I wouldn't have called you down in the first place. Our dear, departed Newt did, in fact, give us a little useful information -- he let slip that there might be two Anima in the hands of the enemy. Not particularly reassuring news, but it's all we've got. Right now, I've got a more pressing matter, however. That horrid creature managed to hit me, and I won't be able to fight with one arm crippled like that. I'll be retiring for the night to get my arm patched up; meanwhile, you should continue the patrol, just in case something crops up."  Daniel turned around, waving to Liam with his one good arm. "Try not to get killed, okay?"




The trail Julia and Roberta were following went off the main road, the prints veering into an alley between two dilapidated warehouses. Cautiously, Julia stepped into the alleyway with her wand raised, motioning for Roberta to cover her back. The alley was a gloomy, grimy little passageway lined along both sides by crumbling brick walls and shrouded in deep shadows, and Julia felt goosebumps rising on her skin as she slowly strode downwards, glancing back and forth for hiding places. Dark, cramped confines such as these were always to a Werebeast's advantage in combat; any range advantage their Anima might have had was rendered meaningless, and at such close quarters, victory in a brawl usually went to the man (or well, man-thing) that could turn into a bestial, abnormally strong killing machine. Well, provided you aren't some kind of were-starfish thing or something. That'd be just sad.


Then, Julia felt her boot land on something wet, and looked down -- she'd just treaded in a puddle of liquid, its color appearing black in the moonlight. She sniffed at the air, and the smell confirmed her suspicions -- that was unmistakably the metallic tang of blood. Evidently, Roberta had jumped to a similar conclusion, judging from how her nose had wrinkled up in disgust too. "Well, shit," Julia muttered, peering past the pool of blood down the alleyway -- and promptly realized it wasn't just a pool, but a trail of smeared blood, as if someone had been wounded and managed to keep walking. Immediately, the two of them hurried down the alleyway following the trail, wincing slightly at the combined smell of blood and decaying refuse. After a minute or so of edging through a twisting, turning maze of narrow pathways, they found where the trail had terminated -- lying in a pool of blood was the naked body of a rather hirsute, portly man with a bleeding hole in his leg. As Julia's vision panned forwards, a surge of bile rose up her throat as she staggered to the side, leaning against the wall to prop herself up -- a good portion of the man's skull was missing, blown off with its contents sprayed across the ground in front of her.


"This man was shot, not gored like the other one." Roberta breathed, her face pale as death warmed up. Like Julia, she wasn't quite accustomed to seeing human-looking corpses, it seemed.


"He's probably not a victim, but the Werebeast we were looking for. I'm guessing he got the leg wound further up the alley, lost control of his transformation and went back to human form, then got finished off right here." Julia said, raising Under Pressure and closing her eyes. The runes upon the wand lit up, and fingers of delicate force sifted through the scene, searching for something. 


"I don't think we should be disturbing evidence at a crime scene," Roberta muttered disapprovingly as she watched Julia work.


"I doubt the police could have made any headway on this case anyway," Julia replied as she opened her eyes, flicking her wand upwards. A small metallic object bobbed upwards from the corpse's thigh, and Julia waved her wand again, moving it closer so both of them could have a better look. "Here's the bullet used to cripple him It's not your typical nine-millimeter or forty-five caliber round you'd expect from a handgun either. This one's a big rifle bullet -- I'm guessing a thirty to thirty-five caliber magnum round. Not the sort of thing a civilian would have; it's only SWAT or the military that uses that kind of weapon most of the time.


"Even more oddly, where I found the bullet suggests that the shooter was aiming down at this guy -- in other words, the sniper was on the rooftop of that warehouse." Julia gestured upwards to the rooftop of the decaying shell of a warehouse that bordered the alleyway three stories above them, with no obvious ways of getting up. "Which is kinda odd, since I've got no idea how a normal human gets up there, let alone one lugging a big scary sniper rifle.


"I'm thinking we should pay the local police a visit. Even if it turns out it's not one of them, the rifle might have been stolen from their arsenal -- and if it wasn't, they've got the right to know if there's a heavily-armed vigilante shooting murderers in their town. What do you think?" Julia asked Roberta.




Fendale was a town with lots of history -- it was said that it was founded by the pioneering Pilgrims to reach the New World, and that it had been a native American settlement even before that. Like any well-established settlement, there were plenty of little nooks and crannies to hide in the town -- and in this case, under the town as well. In addition to the numerous dilapidated, boarded-up cellars lurking beneath ground, the ground under Fendale was riddled with a veritable labyrinth of clandestine passages and hiding places, from disused bomb shelters from the Cold War to Prohibition-era moonshine smugglers' hidden passages -- and some said that the hidden depths beneath the town extended far deeper than just that. It was the perfect spot for anything from crazed cultists to arms dealers to arrange secret rendezvouses, and it so happened that in a crumbling sewer tunnel just a few dozen feet from where Julia and Roberta now walked, such a meeting was taking place.


A shadowy figure garbed in a long coat entered the tunnels from a pitch-black gap where the bricks forming the wall of the sewer had crumbled, glanced at his wrist and drummed his foot on the ground in a rhythmic pattern. Soon after, there was a sickly sucking noise, and a mass of translucent grayish liquid slithered out of the fetid water and rose upward in apparent defiance of gravity, and in another blatant defiance of all that was right with nature, coalesced in the form of an angry, naked Mexican.


"Hello again, Carlos. What do you have for me today?" The man said, tipping the battered old fedora on his head.


"The Jap found himself a new dog." Carlos spat, spitting a gob of something into the water, that wriggled a little before sinking into the murk. "Chimera. Wolf, and some bug. What's with your arm, anyway?" He gestured down at the puncture wounds on the man's arm, which were still leaking blood.


"No big deal," the man said dismissively, rubbing the shoulder of the injured arm with his good hand. "I got a little careless, that's all. It'll be as good as new in a few hours."


He made a beckoning gesture towards the other man and grunted hoarsely, "Tabaco."


"It pains me to see you indulge in this habit. I fail to understand your species' compulsion to shrink your already fleeting lifespans by inhaling those noxious fumes." The other man sighed, but obliged, pulling a packet of cheap cigarettes and a lighter from a coat pocket and handing them over. Carlos took them gratefully, fumbling with the pack until he managed to get it open, but ended up dropping a couple of sticks into the water. 


"I get better. Not like the rest of them," Carlos said, struggling to handle the lighter in shaking, mottled grey fingers. "Only good thing that came out of being fucking ocean shit."


"Let me get that for you," the other man said lightly, plucking the lighter from Carlos' trembling hands and lighting his cigarette, which was quickly followed by an inhalation and a satisfied sigh. "Still recovering from using that little escape trick, I see."


"Like you can't imagine, amigo. I am fucking hurting in places I didn't know I have." He gave the other man a crooked smile as he puffed on his cigarette. "But you cannot be expecting me to defeat the Jap culero and his four lieutenants with these parlor tricks."


"Easy there, friend. Whoever said that was your role in this little play? Your proverbial 'stirring shit up' has attracted the right kind of attention -- three pawns have already arrived, and I've gotten wind that another handful are coming. They'll be the ones dealing with that rat infestation -- we just have to give them the right push. You're doing your part splendidly, Carlos."


"Thank you, amigo."


"Rest well, Carlos. Soon, all the pieces shall fall into place." With that, the two men parted ways, vanishing into the darkness of the sewer tunnels.

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An hour ago...


Another gunshot rang in the air, eliciting a porcine squeal from the rather pudgy man as he ran across the deserted alleyway, desperately looking to his left and right for escape routes as he tried to shake off his unseen assailant. The night was dark, and what few light sources illuminating the alleyway only served to make the shadows around them even darker in contrast, making it nearly impossible to see anything at all. As the man passed under a street lamp, it became clear that he was no ordinary man after all - two large tusks emerged from the sides of his mouth, both of them dripping with blood, and his facial features definitely seemed more pig-like than usual.


No warning came before the third shot, which struck home on the man's leg as he collapsed onto the ground, squealing in pain as he desperately crawled forwards. This was supposed to be an easy task, he thought angrily. That man said that we wouldn't encounter Furry Suit tonight! That he had covered all our tracks...!


Footsteps could be heard in front of him, and the man pushed himself to his feet, lowering his tusks threateningly as the figure stepped out of the shadows...


"Oh my god, Carlos, am I glad to see you," he breathed as the Mexican stepped out into the light. "We've gotta get out of here, there's a Werebeast sniper after us, and I'm pretty sure he's not a run-of-the-mill grunt either. This one's good. We gotta- urgh, get to the boss right now."


"Yes, we must," Carlos grunted, puffing on a cigar. "Where did he tell you to meet him?"


The pig Werebeast stared at Carlos incredulously. "You know we're not allowed to talk about that in public! Now give me a hand, my bloody leg's been shot."


Carlos didn't budge. "He told me he changed the rendevous point and asked me to follow you."


Something flashed in the man's eyes. "You're... you're not Carlos, are you? Who are you?!" He whipped out a knife from his pocket. "I'm gonna kill you, you bloody-"


Faster than the eye could follow, Carlos whipped out a pistol, firing a single shot into the Werebeast's head at point blank, causing blood and guts to explode all over the area. As the corpse fell backwards onto a pool of his own blood, Carlos's skin began to writhe and shift, morphing his appearance into someone completely different... a red-haired woman in a police uniform. She sighed, holstering her weapon as she took out a phone and dialed a number in.


"Evening, Diane," came Akira's voice from the other end. "How was our little friend?"


"I didn't get anything useful out of him," Diane replied, walking over to pick up the large sniper rifle that had been stashed in the shadows next to the dumpster. "Whoever sent him trained him well. But one thing is clear: they aren't working alone."





Akira listened to Mercia's explanation unblinkingly, nodding when she mentioned her various Werebeast abilities. Although he could understand her situation and the feelings she must have been experiencing, he kept up the appearance of a passive listener until she had finished with her story, ending with her trailing off at the end. It seemed that his wild guess had been right - Mercia was almost certainly a Cat Werebeast, although from her description it seemed that she was most probably just a Pseudo-Werebeast. Nevertheless, it was his job to keep track of every Werebeast that passed through the area, even if they didn't know the rules of Furry Suit. It was also his job to educate them.


He nodded to the thin-eyed policeman standing at the door, who pulled on a string next to the window. Blinds fell from the ceiling, shielding every window from external sight. Akira reached below his desk, flicking a switch that turned off the only remaining light source in the room, plunging it into total darkness as a surprised gasp could be heard coming from Mercia.


Akira's pupils were blazing with green fire in the middle of the darkness.


The lights were switched on once more, and under the light the police inspector looked just as mortal and mundane as everyone else once more. "As you can see, you are not alone in your predicament," he explained, stretching his hands out on his desk. "You are a Werebeast, one of us, a human who is capable of taking on animalistic characteristics. As a Werebeast, you come under the jurisdiction of our own kind, the international organization known as Furry Suit. Lin back there is also a Werebeast, don't worry." Akira gestured back to the thin-eyed policeman, who waved lazily and continued to stare at the curtains.


"As a Werebeast, you need to remember two very important rules. As long as you don't break these two rules, you usually won't get into trouble. First of all, you may not transform in front of Normals, unless it is to save your own life." Akira was referring to non-Werebeasts as Normals. "And secondly, do not use your Werebeast abilities to cause harm to Normals. We want to live a life of peace here, not wage inter-species war."


He smiled warmly at Mercia. "Don't worry about your charges. You won't be held accountable for anything that happened earlier today. But in return, I will need you to help me out with something I haven't had time to work on for the past few weeks. According to my records, there is another Werebeast by the name of Lisa who hasn't registered herself with Furry Suit. I highly doubt that she even knows of our existence, and may get herself into deep trouble even before we can take any preventive measures. If you know of this person, could you send her to me?"


Akira handed a card to her with an address written on it. "Here, you can look for this person if you need any help. His name is Luka, and although he looks like a criminal, I assure you that he is working for us. He's a Werebeast like you, but his is a slightly... different kind. Now, if you don't have any questions for me, Lin here will show you the way out."


The thin-eyed policeman named Lin gave her a toothy grin and gestured towards the door.



A couple of minutes past midnight...


Anima could be used in a variety of ways, apart from their uses in direct combat. The one on the floor in front of Akira acted as a long-distance communicator, connected directly to the city of Boston, which could transmit a full-body image of the person you were communicating with... although this time, the other party had chosen to use the voice-only mode.


"... and that sums up my report for this week, sir," Akira said, closing the file that was in his lap. "Although Diane wasn't able to get the name of their mastermind, we successfully repelled the feral Werebeasts and minimized casualties."


"But you let one escape."


Akira paused. "Sir, the important thing is-"


"Is the Third Level safe?"


His lips tightened into a thin line. "Yes, sir. It is safe. All protocols are still being followed."


"Find the insurgents and stamp them out. I do not want anything even close to endangering the security of the Penitentiary. Do you understand, Miyamoto?"


"... Yes sir."

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Mercia’s eyes instinctively turned into slits as blinds fell from the ceiling without warning, enveloping the room in near-complete darkness, save for the green light coming from Detective Akira’s eyes. He wore a look of grim foreboding that seemed dangerous to her, and she had the impression that it was a bad idea to be on the wrong side of this man.

The lights switched on again and she relaxed. Akira seemed to be back to his normal self, talking about the Werebeasts in the community and rules she had never heard of. She had never been one to obey the instructions of adults, but the image of Akira with his blazing green eyes was still etched in her memory and she nodded silently. It was only when he asked about Lisa that she became alerted.

“How do you know about Lisa? Have you been spying on all the Werebeasts? What’re you going to do to her? What is this Furry Suit?â€

It seemed, however, that Akira chose his own time and place to answer questions. Lin courteously but firmly showed her the way out (it reminded her of school teachers when they stopped wanting to talk to their students after the initial reprimand) and she trudged back home staring at the name card bearing the word “Lukaâ€.


She didn’t say a word to Lisa when she got back. She didn’t know how to start, at any rate. It sounded like such a fantastic story. Besides, Lisa was still in her recovering stage. She was starting to eat her usual share again, much to Mercia’s relief, and would talk animatedly about shows she had seen on TV. Mercia tried to push the worry of TV bills to the back of her head. As long as Lisa was contented at home and not causing trouble outside again, everything was well.

Her conviction was further strengthened. She would not breathe a word about an organised Werebeast community to Lisa. It would only instigate her further. If Akira wanted to find her, he must come himself. And when he did, she would make sure that she extracted all information she needed from him.

“Lisa, if anyone comes, don’t open the door to them unless I come back, okay?†she said suddenly, causing Lisa to look at her curiously.

“Why?†was the simple question.

“Well, you’ll know why when it happens. Just wait for me to come back.â€

“Where’re you going?â€

“To search for work again. I’ll be back soon.â€


The address on the card led her to a house down the street, a few minutes' walk away from the main traffic junction. She was probably feeling melodramatic, but she had expected him to stay in some dark, grim cabin, to the side of a dense wood, with overgrown vines on the winding path leading to the door. She laughed. It was silly to imagine that this Werebeast would be any different from her and Lisa in terms of living conditions. Then again, Akira had suggested that he was different. What kind of a Werebeast could this Luka be?

Speaking of which, just what kind of Werebeast was Akira too? She had never heard of an animal with glowing green eyes. It seemed he had somehow transcended the basic beast form into something stronger. She looked down at her hands. Was there some way she could become a much more improved version of her cat form?

She was now at the door, a standard wooden door with every hint of housing a completely normal nuclear family. She raised her hand and knocked.

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The Next Morning

Liam, Daniel, Roberta and Julia had arranged to meet again at the promenade after daybreak and report anything they saw. However, when Julia and Roberta had made their way to the meeting point, having seen nothing out of the ordinary after encountering the dead body, they noticed something amiss -- while Liam had showed up, looking rather uneasy, Daniel was conspicuously not present. Immediately, a chill crept down Julia's neck -- Daniel didn't seem like the sort to be tardy. Something must have happened to him. This man must have something to do with it. He did strike me as someone I ought to watch my back around, after all.

"Where's Daniel?" Julia demanded, mentally counting down the seconds as she prepared to summon her Anima.

"Injured," Liam replied. "We fought and killed a Werebeast, but he was stabbed in the arm by a poisoned spike. He said he was going to get treatment for his arm." Well, he's got an alibi, but it would be pretty easy to see through, wouldn't it? "I'll try giving him a call," Julia said, tapping his number into her phone and placing it to her ear. Moments later, she swore under her breath as she put the phone back down. "The number's busy. Of all times, why must it happen now?"

For a few minutes, they tried to reach his phone number, but to no avail. Finally, Roberta sighed as she put her phone back into her pocket, muttering, "Don't tell me his battery died."

"That's smartphones for you," Julia said darkly as she sent a message to his number -- 'CALL ME' in all capitals. "Your battery dies the minute you step away from a wall outlet, all because you wanted to keep up with the Kardashians in full HD." She gave a meaningful look towards Roberta, and said, "One of us should really head to the hospital and check if he's there."

"There's some other things we've got to deal with, though. We fought off a werewolf with an Anima, but he got away. He's a tough customer, though. He could turn his skin into steel; even bullets couldn't scratch him. He's a guy about six feet tall with white shaggy hair, and his weapon is some kind of old-style longsword." Then, she fished the rifle bullet she'd found from her pocket, saying, "I found this buried in the thigh of a dead Werebeast. Only a SWAT team has any business using this caliber of ammo; I'm thinking we'd find some answers -- or perhaps allies -- if we follow up on this little find. I'll be heading to the police station; see if I can get any leads from it. Does anyone have any better ideas?"


The park was quiet today -- it was a weekday morning, and most people had better things to do at that time than bask in the serenity of this little gem of unspoiled nature on the outskirts of Fendale, save for a rich couple walking a trio of stubby-legged corgis, a suited man wearing mirrored shades surreptitiously tailing a nervous-looking little man who, to their mutual embarrassment, also turned out to be an FBI agent, and a man in a heavy canvas trench coat and a worn-out old fedora feeding the ducks. A few moments later, footsteps broke the silence of the park as another man in a tweed coat strolled over to the bank of the pond. "Hello again, Daniel. What's with the sudden meeting?"

The hat-wearing man nodded imperceptibly, but didn't turn around, continuing to watch the ducks honk noisily as they fought over the handful of breadcrumbs he'd just tossed into the water. "We haven't talked in a while, have we? I decided we might as well catch up, for old times' sake."

Simon guffawed, and slapped his friend on the back, saying, "You're such a kidder, Dan. Didn't we meet for lunch two weeks ago? You're worried we aren't going to meet again, with all the murders and all, aren't you-"

Then, the man's finger brushed Simon's arm, and Simon turned pale and collapsed to his knees, staring at his arm in abject horror -- there was a deep purplish track burned across his skin where his hand had made contact. "Y-you're not-" he gasped, and then retched, spewing his half-digested breakfast across the brick footpath.

"Yes, I am." The man said as he glared coldly at Simon's kneeling form, slipping a thin leather glove back over his hand. "Potent stuff, isn't it? Oldest weapon of Mother Nature's devising, and still among the deadliest. Paralysis, organ failure, and cardiac arrest, all within a couple of minutes. So much for 'all-natural products' being better for you; I've yet to see anything this splendidly efficient come out of a test tube."

"Wh-why?!' Simon gasped, dry-heaving as he continued to convulse in agony on the ground.

"Nothing personal, friend. Just business." The man said, calmly pacing around Simon in circles. "You see, you happen to know a certain Mr. Burkson pretty well, and I'd like to get to know this delightful fellow better too." Then, he paused before Simon, before abruptly jabbing his finger into Simon's neck. Abruptly, some of the color returned to Simon's face as he sighed in relief. "Luckily for you," the man continued, "I am a reasonable man. Unlike mankind and her wasteful excesses, Mother Nature can restore what she destroys. That dose of anti-venom should keep the toxin from stopping your heart for another five minutes. Hurry up, tell me what I need to know -- before I get distracted and forget to cure you properly. C'mon, time's a-wasting."

Shaking and stuttering, Simon revealed everything he knew about Liam and his Anima -- not much, but more than the man himself would have wanted him to let on. Then, he finally finished, looking at his assailant imploringly. "T-The cure. You gave your word, didn't you?"

"Oh, of course I did. Hold still now." Suddenly, the man stiffened and arched his back, slowly reaching a finger into his mouth and pulling out a slime-slicked object -- something that still appeared to be wriggling. The man advanced, and Simon let out a little squeak of horror, trying to back away -- but the paralysis in his limbs set in again, and he collapsed in a quivering, boneless heap. Already, darkness was creeping into the corners of his gradually blurring vision -- and looming huge before him was the man he thought he trusted. Deliberately, the man reached out, forcing Simon's jaw open with one gloved hand. "Stop being a pussy; this is a cure. In fact, I daresay you'll feel better than you ever did... back when you were still human."

Then, he forced the slimy, wriggling thing into Simon's mouth, and screams broke the serenity of the now-deserted park as the transformation began.

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Liam watched carefully as Julia demanded Daniel’s location from him and prepared for her to strike out. However, his explanation seemed to settle her mind somewhat had her demeanour calmed. They weren’t able to get hold of Daniel, but Liam wasn’t overly concerned; he had been walking and talking so it couldn’t have been that bad. With the lack of obvious leadership, Daniel having been the de facto leader by the fact he was the one who had called them there, Julia seemed to take it in her strike while explaining about some options they had to do.


Liam listened with interest when she was describing the wolf Werebeast, it sounded like someone he wanted to get to know. It would aid towards the return of an Anima so he was sure the others wouldn’t complain too much if he scouted the beast out personally.


“The police station seems like the place more likely for anything of interest to happen. That leaves Roberta to check Daniel hasn’t died or something. Sounds like a plan to me. Coming, Julia?â€


He turned away from the two other Anima users and headed off in the direction of the town. Liam didn’t know the exact location of the police station, but he had been to enough places to hazard a guess at its vague location. There would be signs, at some point he guessed. He didn’t even look back to see if Roberta had accepted going after Daniel, or if Julia was even following him.

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