Saturday, October 16, 2010


Illustrated by Hannah Rothman.

Friday, October 15, 2010


((80 — Yami no Butou))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

It was the next morning by the time Seth and Reno made it to the Complex. They had spent the previous afternoon doing some basic reconnaissance, and making their way through the city. Transportation would’ve been easier if half of the trams hadn’t been shut down due to riots. Reno somehow managed to remember the address of one of Cyclops’ old hideouts, and they crashed there for the night.

The elevator descended the central spire, heading towards the open areas around its base. The Complex was buried inside that spire, and the only entrance was on one of the faces. For a moment the elevator jerked slower before continuing—presumably the result of a lack of maintenance or attention.

Reno stumbled, feet slipping out from under her, but Seth took a step forward and caught her with one arm, helping her upright. “You alright?”

She nodded slowly, putting a hand to her temple. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

He frowned concernedly at her. “You sure?”

Reno looked away, out the window. “I…” She sighed.

“What is it?” Seth sounded uncharacteristically concerned.

“I’m pretty sure my dizzy spells are symptoms of demon withdrawal. I need Caf. The connection… it’s… he’s a part of me. I’m losing track of what’s me, and what’s human, and…” She swallowed hard, but her voice was still flat.

He reached out a hand to her back, almost putting it around her, but held back. “Three weeks of freefall would fuck anybody up, yo.”

“If I concentrate on something calming, I should be fine for now. But I… we shouldn’t stay here too long. It might get more severe.” She turned to face him. “I don’t feel like me, by myself. That’s how I killed that pilot. It wasn’t really me doing it.”

Seth just nodded uncomfortably, not sure how to respond. He was saved by the elevator nearing the ground. “You ready for this?”

Reno smiled. “Yeah. I can do this.”

Outside the wide windows of the elevator, the two Talons could see a large plaza before them, crammed with rioters. "Dayum," breathed Reno. "Look at 'em all."

With a loud hiss of outrushing air, the wood-and-glass elevator gently touched down. The cage door retracted, opening out onto a landing platform, up a few stairs from the plaza. Above them, the crystal spire stretched off almost higher than they could see.

A handful of uniformed guards stood nearby, keeping the riot in check. What had been a riot, anyway. Half the people in the crowd looked unconscious, injured, or similar, and the other half looked about to keel over. It looked like the last dregs of a riot which had been going for days--and, from the radio broadcasts they had overheard on the tram, that's exactly what it was.

“Well shit. Ain’t this pretty.” Seth flicked on a pair of shades he’d had stored in his demon-leather trenchcoat for such an occasion.

“You think we missed the bulk of the heavy crap?” said Reno.

Seth shrugged. “S’pose.” They walked the dozen yards along the edge of the crystal spire to the massive door set into it. Etched above it were the words THE COMPLEX. “Looks like this is the place.” The door was easily three meters tall, a heavily sealed array of steel and bolts and deadlocks. There was a small radio panel set into the crystal next to it.

“…and now the big question,” said Reno, squinting up at the behemoth of a crystal prison. “How the living fuck are we going to get Cyc out of here?"

“Oh, I think we might have our ways.” He gestured to his coat, and to one bulging pocket in particular.

Reno leaned over and examined it. "I have a good feeling that this is the part where you whip out the metric crapton of awesome stuff."

“Sounds ‘bout right. I grabbed some supplies from Cyc’s pad while you were still napping.” He patted the pocket affectionately. “Let’s see if we can get in without this shit, though. Of course, if we can’t get in subtly… then it’s time for the fireworks.”

He walked up the door, looking it over. It didn’t seem particularly guarded, at least from the outside. He took a second look at the people dealing with the riot, and noticed the little COMPLEX logos on their shoulders. Lucky riot.

“Well… let’s try knocking.” Seth strolled over the door and smacked it a few times with his fist. The noise was deep and hollow, an echoing vibration that shuddered through the door.

“Oh,” said Reno, with a hint of disappointment. “I thought you meant knocking with literal fireworks.”

The radio hissed, shutting her up, and a voice asked, “Yes?”

Seth leaned over to the radio. “Yo. Here to visit an old friend. Wanna open the door?”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to give me an authorization code for visiting.”

I’m sorry, did that sound like a question? Let me rephrase that. You want to open the door.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir. You’re going to have to leave.”

Seth shook his head and sighed. “No can do, bro.”

Reno leaned into his ear. “Fireworks anytime now, buddy.”

He nodded. “Let’s see here.” He reached into his coat and felt around for a minute. “Ah. This should do nicely.” He pulled out a small glowing crystal, and place it directly in front of the door. “You might wanna take a step back, babe.”

“Okie dokie,” said Reno, obliging.

The crystal pulsed, glowing with... well, it wasn't light. It was an absence of light. The space around it seemed to pulse shadows, as if all the light were being sucked out of it. The air around it rippled, and the crystal seemed to shrink. There was a flash, blinding un-bright, of non-space. The world seemed to ripple, and for a single terrifying moment, a hole opened into absolute nothingness.

The door, the radio, the crystal floor--in the blink of an eye, everything in a two meter radius from the crystal vanished into the black hole, never to be seen again.

Any hint of mental vagueness Reno had at that moment vanished with the door. “WOAH,” she gasped. “What wasn’t that?”

Seth laughed. “Wasn’t not a black hole. Boom, baby.” The hallway on the other side of the vanished crater stretched forward. Seth lit a new cigarette and began to walk forwards. “Let’s raid this place.”

"Aye aye, capitan," saluted Reno, feeling strangely invigorated by the burst of nothingness. Reno hadn't felt this good since before she separated from Caf. It was as though the burst of nothing had subconciously reminded her that there were worse things than being separated from your mental partner.

A small guard post sat to one side of the hall, with the remaining arm and a leg of whoever they had spoken to on the radio. The corridor was moderately well lit by a series of lamps overhead, stretching forward. Various side passages and elevators up and down branched off from the main tunnel. These were marked with various combinations of letters and numbers, denoting... well, to be honest, they had no idea. But they probably denoted something.

“Wonder which one’s got Cyc,” Seth mused as eyed the numbers. “Any ideas, Reno?”

She stood next to him and rubbed her chin in thought. “Let’s seeeeee…” Her chin-finger stopped moving. "Does starting from the bottom and working our way up make any sense?"

“I don’t have any other ideas.”

She grinned. "Or should we just do it the old fashioned way and hold a sharp deadly object to a guard's throat and make him tell us?"

“That’s faster.” Seth shrugged, smiling lazily. “I think we can pull that off. All we need, then, is a guard.”

“A guard and THIS little bugger. I mean dagger.” Reno whipped out the aforementioned sharp, deadly object.

“Excellent. Let’s keep going down this way. Should be a guard post or something.” He began once again to walk. After a few minutes’ walk, they came to a bend, turning left. “Wonder what’s ‘round this corner…” He stepped around it.

The corridor continued along for a good distance. A door was inset into the left side of it, though, with a window-like opening next to it. Anyone on their way through the corridor would have to pass the window.

Seth nodded approvingly. “Bingo. You wanna chat with the bloke? Or shall I?”

Reno grinned. "You know, this is something I've wanted to try for a while, but haven't for weird tomboyish feminist reasons."

“Take it away, my friend,” Seth said, laughing.

((81 — Peeping Tom))

Reno straightened herself, smoothed out her hair, and sauntered over to the guard post in an uncharacteristically sexy way.

The young man sitting inside the window was scribbling away in a journal, eyes down. There was a desk there, cut from the crystal itself, but no glass separating her from him.

“S’cuse me,” she said, lowering the pitch of her voice ever so slightly to induce a more womanly tone. “Sorry for walking in like this. The door was open."

The guard, who didn't look much older than thirteen or fourteen, looked up in surprise. "Wha--?" He shook his head, long brown hair flying out of his eyes. "You're not supposed to be here!"

Reno froze for a moment, startled by how young the boy was, but continued anyway. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, putting on a slightly more-dramatic-than-necessary tweak to her self-protecting hand movements "But my heart tells me I must be here!"

The boy blinked at her in total confusion. "Um? You should leave! Or uh, I'll call the guards!" He stammered awkwardly with every word. "Er, the other guards."

Seth leaned on a wall—out of sight, around the corner—trying very hard not to laugh.

"You wouldn't do that, would you?" she said, leaning in and putting on heavy layers of passion "My lover was wrongly imprisoned here and I must see him again! Please, kind young man! Please tell me where his cell is!" One side of her jacket conveniently slid down, exposing her shoulder and a bit of her chest.

The boy swallowed hard. "That... that would be against protocol." His eyes strayed rather un-subtly to her chest, then jumped back up to her eyes, as his face turned beet red.

Reno took note of this. "Oh, you don't have a girlfriend, do you? Some sweetheart you miss right now?"

"N-no..." He pushed his chair back from the window slightly, starting to sweat, clearly immensely nervous.

"That's a shame," said Reno " certainly don't understand how I feel..." Reno inched provocatively close to the guard. " don't know what it's like to have someone...special in your arms..."

The boy said nothing, simply staring at her, eyes very wide.

" let me put it this way." Reno reached forward and cupped the boy's face in her hands. "You tell me which cell Cyclops is in, and you get a kiss from me. Don't tell me where he is, and I'll kill you." Her sickly sweet tone drizzled over every word.

"...C-Cylops!?" It didn't seem possible, but his eyes widened even further.

"Yessssssss," Reno hissed seductively.

The moment of thought passed through the boy very quickly. "H-he's in solitary confinement... Cell s-seventeen... Down the elevator, end of the hall."

"Wonnnnderful," said Reno, and kept her promise. Her face mashed with the young guard, almost as though she intended to suck the life out of him through her sheer dramatized over-sexuality.

She raised one fist. BAM.

The boy dropped to the floor of the guard post, unconscious.

Seth laughed uproariously. “BWAHAHAHAHAH WELL PLAYED AHAHAHAHAHA!” He slowly wiped a tear from his eyes. “That… that was beautiful.” He doubled over, staggering around the corner, still laughing.

Reno sauntered back over to him. "Glad you enjoyed the show," she said “Because I am never. Doing. That. Again.” She hacked up a mouthful of spit, swiftly ejecting it onto the floor and ridding herself of the pubescent-guard germs.

“Awwww,” said Seth teasingly. He walked over to the elevator just down the hall. “So uh Reno. You looked uh pretty good there. If you catch my drift.”

Reno looked at Seth as though she wished there were knives present directly in front of her eyes so that she could stare them into him.

((82 — Poison Prison))

Seth shrugged and sighed sarcastically. “Was worth a shot.” He hit the button, and the elevator’s doors slid open.

She followed him in, and unconsciously tightened her legs. “Three years ago was a one-time thing, Seth. We were kids experimenting. Nothing more.”

He raised an eyebrow at her suddenly more serious tone.

“B’sides,” she continued, looking away. “You’ve got Spider now.”

He leaned against the wall, eyes aimed at the ceiling. “Yeah. Guess I do.” The air in the elevator suddenly felt a thousand times more awkward and full of tension.

Then the doors opened onto the lower floor. The guard in the post in this window, a middle-aged man, jumped to his feet. "Hey! What are you doing down here?"

Seth pushed off the wall and took a step towards him. “Here to visit an old friend.”

The guard pulled a large standard-issue gun out from behind the desk and pointed it at the two. Clearly he was neither as inexperienced nor as incompetent as his companion upstairs.

“Whoa!” said Seth, throwing his hands up. “What’s with the hostility, bro?”

"Civilians are not allowed down in solitary confinement! Even with visitor authorization." His voice was gruff and to the point. "Which, given your lack of escort, I sincerely doubt you have."

Crap, thought Reno, I guess THIS is what the old saying goes about not bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Seth’s tone took on a severity rarely seen. “Do you even know who I am!? How DARE you call me a civilian. Rent-a-cops these days. The nerve.” Next to him, Reno put away her surprise at once, playing along and assuming a psuedo-stance-of-importance.

The man blinked, suddenly unsure. "Um. Oh jeez, you're not one of the Quinn's crew, are you?"

Seth practically exploded at him. “What the fuck do you think, dullard? In case you didn’t notice, there is an ARMY OF DEMONS COMING HERE. Now, if you don’t want any more bullshit on your hands, like the riot going on outside, you let me the fuck in. I’m here to get a man who can help clean up this mess so that the Sector can survive.” He paused for breath. “Dig?

The man behind the counter swallowed. "Of course, sir. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I understand. I won't get in your way."

“Thank you.” Seth let out a long breath, and walked right up to the counter. “Now, would you kindly direct me to Cyclops’ cell?”

"Cyc--! If... I..." The man's brow furrowed, and he let out a sigh. "Down the hall. The door lock code is 8697." He pointed to the right.

Seth nodded, and walked to the right. He waved to Reno. “Come along, now.” They counted off as they walked--door thirteen, fourteen, fifteen... Down here, the walls were pure crystal, unadorned with anything besides the metal doors and the dim bulbs overhead.

At long last, they reached the door to Cyclops' cell. A simple steel door, with "17" stenciled in white paint on it, and a small electronic keypad set where a lock would normally be

“Let’s see… eight six nine seven.” Seth spoke the numbers as he keyed them in.

The door let out a hiss, mechanisms moving in it as it unlocked, then swung open towards them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


((86 — Building Steam With a Grain of Salt))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

Kasby braced one foot on the creature’s chest, and pulled his crystal sword out of it. He collapsed against the wall, panting. He looked at his leg, where a bullet had grazed him, and confirmed the injury wasn’t too bad. He closed his eyes, took a shuddering breath, and looked at what he had just killed.

It was obvious it had once been human—and just as obvious that it no longer was. Its skin was black and leathery-thick, like charcoal. Its clothes had melted into its flesh, becoming a carapace of sorts. Exposed veins still pulsed eerily glowing red blood through it. Its right arm ended in a twisted hunk of metal—a pistol, fused into the hand that had once gripped it, now all part of the same creature. In life, in humanity, it looked to have been a man, of maybe Kasby’s own age. Now it was just another dead demon.

Slowly, Kasby pulled himself to his feet, took one last look around the shattered lab, and walked out. A crew of scientists would be here soon to perform an autopsy on the creature. He had other places to be. He retraced his footsteps, going back the way he had come, towards the Bioresa tram station.

He had lost track of time, by now. Night had come and gone. He had slept at some point. The hours were blurred together, a vague swirl of trails of blood and corpses and crystal. Every few hours, a new report would come in of someone sighting a demonic assassin, and he would set out to hunt. Two more times it had been Jaz, and both times she had escaped handily. Other demons had gotten away similarly, but he had killed three of the things now.

He blinked, and realized he’d already made it back to the tower, lost in thought and memory and sleepless haze. The tram car door opened onto the central platform of the transit terminal. In the last few days, it had changed drastically, from a bustling place of activity to a nearly empty hall. Most everyone was either in their homes, bolting down and readying for war, or in the streets, rioting. Kasby, cold as ever, strode through the almost abandoned hall to enter the central tower.

The radio at his belt crackled, and Mercuria Barret's voice came through. "Bellwood."

Kasby lifted the radio from his belt, and held it up. "Almost back." He sounded more than just physically tired—exhausted down to his core.

"Don't come back. Got a report in from down in Haraya, of more nonhuman activity." Her voice was terse, to the point, as always, but he could hear the strain of three days running the city by herself beginning to wear on her. "Likely another assassin. Take the 63 Tram down there and check it out."

"On my way," he said, his tone as neutral as he could manage.

"Good. Barret out." The radio clicked off.

He turned around and walked to catch the 63 tram. The tram swung away from the dock without incident, sliding down the wire with an audible hum. The car swooped down, taking him towards the flats of the city, where the lower classes lived, those who could not afford the nicer houses on the quartet of crystal spires that dominated the landscape. Kasby stood in the tram, holding onto the guard rail. He stared straight out at the passing landscape as if it was keeping something from him.

The street was practically empty. Ramshackle houses stood around her, shanties and lean-tos comingling with more solid buildings. Here and there a store or restaurant eked out a quiet existence. They had slammed their doors to her, people fleeing the streets before her.

Skunk clenched her fists and tried to ignore the fearful stares of her fellow humans. In fact, she was starting to doubt she was quite human any longer... She shook her head in irritation. The day since her arrival had been spent aimlessly wandering the city, watching as humanity turned its collective back on her.

From a nearby door, a young boy stumbled out, not older than eight or nine. He clutched a sword made from two pieces of scrap metal glued together, and brandished it halfheartedly at her. "S-stop!"

Skunk glared at him incredulously. "What the fuck you want, punk?"

The boy shrunk back at her words, almost stumbling.

Despite herself, she paused. Softening her tone slightly, she added, "You can forget the the sword, kid."

"I... I won't let you kill my dad!"

Skunk's brow furrowed. "I don't have anything to do with your dad. What are you talking about?"

A man's voice hissed from the door the boy had come out of. "Daniel! Daniel, get back in here!"

Skunk held up a hand. “Daniel. Hold on. Just answer me, I won’t hurt you.”

"Y-you're gonna kill 'im! Like you killed all the people over 'n Storm, an, an, an, an daddy says you killed the Council!" The boy stammered, but was fierce and defiant, his own words seeming to inspire him.

"Look, punk—Daniel. I've been here a few hours maximum, and since I've been here I've done nothing but walk around. I don't know what you're talking about." She paused. "Why do you think it was me?"

The boy frowned. "... your skin. You're not a person, like we are."

"How did I know," she muttered. “Your dad is wrong.” She sighed. "You know what? If all you're gonna do is brandish a stick at me and accuse me of things I didn't do and don't plan to, I'm leaving."

Overhead, a tram car whirred down a cable, settling into a dock a block or two away.

"I'm gonna--" The boy was cut off as his father ducked out through the door, grabbed him, and pulled him back inside.

Skunk blinked. "Oookay," she muttered. Turning to the cable car, she walked over to investigate. The tram building was extremely dilapidated and worn-down, like everything else in the area. The windows were all broken, and large sections of wall and flooring were gone, looking as if they had been pried off with crowbars. She could hear someone moving inside.

Skunk stepped through the door into the tram room, and found herself face to face with the business end of Kasby's pistol. "Fuck! What the hell, Katsby!?" Skunk held herself still, resisting the urge to jump away.

As Kasby made eye contact, he froze for a moment. He let out a breath, and lowered his weapon, but did not break eye contact. He looked... tired. But maybe for the first time in a long while, a little bit relieved. "Skunk. Holy hell.”

"Nice way to greet a friend," Skunk said scathingly.

Kasby almost smiled. "You're alive. Thank the Void... you'll have to tell me what happened later."

"Sure, assuming there's a later." She looked around the room. It was small, with a patchwork roof that let bits of light shine through. "What's happening here? Some kid just tried to kill me. Ranting about how I’m a monster.”

"I'm not surprised. This city's been thrown into chaos... and you don't exactly look human," Kasby noted, gesturing at her metallic skin.

"Thanks, I get that." Skunk's tone was light, forced. "What's happening around here?" she repeated.

Kasby's expression hardened. "....Assassin. Of the demonic variety. Took out almost all of the Council, and now it’s running amok. Not to mention the Swarm is practically at the gates." He looked away.

"Demons come in the assassin variety? I thought they were all ravening beasts.” She sighed again. "I saw you on those, uh... screen things.”

Kasby looked confused. "Televisions? I was on the television?"

"At the assassination thing," clarified Skunk. "I saw you guys."

Kasby blinked. “How long have you been in Sector One?”

"A few hours, I guess."

"On that note, where are Spider and Owl?" his voice was laden with concern.

"Spider? Not sure. Owl is probably still in the library," she added, almost guiltily. "We landed there, and I'm betting she'll stay there as long as she can."

Barret's voice came from the radio clipped to Kasby's belt. "Bellwood! Report."

Kasby grabbed the radio off his belt. "Situation has been handled, Barret. How many reports of non-human activity in this area, again?"

"Just one. Good to hear it, too. We've got another report in from over at Enjaya. Reason to suspect they're trying to take out the reactors."

"On my way," Kasby repeated for the third time that day. He clipped the radio back to his belt without replying.

"Good. It's barely a kilometer away, you should be able to run there. Head straight outwards from your current position, towards the spire." Barret’s voice came through the radio. “Good hunting. Barret out.”

Skunk looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "Where are you going?"

“Demon hunting,” he replied, expression neutral.

"I could do with a bit of a fight," Skunk hinted. "This city pisses me off."

Kasby looked hesitant, for a moment. "...Alright. I don't have time to argue. Just... follow me." With that, he broke off back towards the spire.

Skunk followed, looking distinctly more eager and bright-eyed than she had been.

((87 — Battle of the Heroes))

The direction they were headed was drastically more industrial. A cloud of black smoke hung over the district, drifting out of angry smokestacks. The crystal spire rose dramatically, pointing outwards, away from the city center like the spoke of a wheel. Buildings, factories, and industrial complexes covered it, sprawling up its face.

They hadn’t even been running five minutes when they began to hear the first screams. Kasby’s pace increased. He darted towards the scream, swerving around corners and ducking under pipes as he navigated the industrial labyrinth. Skunk strained to see the source of the screaming, but followed Kasby.

Up ahead, a single large building dominated the base of the crystal. A large pair of double doors opened into the base of the building, hanging open. Two guards lay by the doors, dead of matching slash wounds to the chest. Kasby pulled the dartpistol from its holster once more and skidded to a stop a few feet inside the building.

Skunk glanced at the corpses, then began forming her left hand into a blade. With her right hand, she caressed the whip at her side. Another scream came from inside, cutting off abruptly.

Kasby walked carefully through the interior of the building, his pistol aimed in the direction of the scream. Inside, a quartet of ladders lead upwards, toward a series of catwalks.

Skunk stepped up beside him, peering at the ladders. “That’s… crappy. If we get trapped on those...well, it won't be pretty."

From further inside came another scream, as if falling from a catwalk, ending in an electrical hiss.

"Fuck it,” Skunk swore. “Let’s do this.”

Kasby nodded. "Don't get caught in close range." He was already bounding up one of the ladders. Skunk climbed up beside him, cursing as she re-formed her hand back to its normal shape.

The building was full of an electrical hum, with static electricity setting their hairs on end. As they reached the top of the ladders, they could see down into the center of the building. A trio of massive crystals, glowing with orange light, floated there, rotating in a slow circle. Huge arcs of lightning leapt between them, and to rings of dynamos and collectors lining the room. Metal-lined wooden catwalks stretched outwards from where they stood, overlooking the reactor core. At the center of them, a control platform hung from the ceiling.

"Okay...what's all that? And what should I be expecting from these demons?" Skunk hissed.

In response, Kasby just pointed to the control platform. Half a dozen scientists cowered on it, looking in fear at the figure advancing towards them.

She--it--walked slowly them, crystal blade at her side. The leather clothes, the walk, she short-cropped hair. It was unmistakably Jazrill Quinn. Or what was left of her, anyway.

Kasby raised his pistol and took careful aim.

"Fuck," remarked Skunk, too anstonished to even sound surprised. She took out her own gun as well, cradling it lovingly. "Do you want me to...?"

It took another step towards the scientists, moving slowly, taking its time with the kill.

Skunk kept her tone neutral. "Kasby?"

Kasby wore an expression colder than any Skunk had seen on him before. It might have been that absence of emotion, more than anything else, that showed Skunk the turmoil, the rolling storm inside him.

He pulled the trigger. His hand was steady, and this time, the crystal shard flew true. It thudded into the square of the creature's back, sending it sprawling forward against the catwalk, bringing forth an angry howl. Bracing itself on the catwalk with its blade, it reached its one hand back, grasping at the wound. Slowly, its whole body tightening visibly, still hissing angrily, it pulled the chunk of crystal out. The crystal hadn't gone more than an inch deep, most of the impact taken by the leathery armored skin that had once been a flight jacket.

There were two parallel catwalks running towards the control area. "Run past. Protect the scientists," Kasby ordered Skunk, gesturing to the unoccupied bridge. He broke forward towards the creature, raised his pistol and fired again. And again.

"Got it." Skunk crossed the room in as fast a run as possible, considering their height. "Good thing I grew up on Face," she grumbled.

It was still pulling itself to its feet as Kasby fired, its hand still tight around the first shard. The next shot went wide, but the third and fourth slashed across her sword arm. Jaz dropped again to the catwalk as the arm holding it up was shot out from under it. Kasby continued his frenzied advance, and ripped the crystal sword from its sheath at his side. He flew into Jaz full force.

Skunk didn't stop until she had reached the scientists. They huddled behind a control panel, and one let out a yelp of terror upon seeing her. "P-please..."

"For fuck's sake, I'm here to fucking save you!" bellowed Skunk. "Now MOVE!"

The scientists, a group of mixed-gendered elderly people, blinked at her for a long moment. Then they obeyed her order as one, leaping to their feet before her commanding voice. The scientists took off at a run down one of the other catwalks, fleeing at high speed.

Skunk turned towards the demon, in time to see it bringing its feet up, catching Kasby hard in the face with a kick. Skunk formed both arms into long, hooked blades. She advanced more cautiously than Kasby had, waiting for a clear shot.

Stumbling back, Kasby landed half on the catwalk, one leg slipping off of it. He slipped and teetered, for a moment over the edge.

Jaz took a step towards him, grinning as if meaning to shove him, and in that moment Skunk struck. She darted in close and stabbed with her blades, one after the other.

Jaz swung to face Skunk, bringing her crystal blade up to block both blows. Her wounded arm was moving at half speed, though, and barely managed to knock them aside.

Skunk danced just out of range, grinning manically. The thrill of battle.

Hissing angrily, the creature got fully back to its feet, and took a few steps back, now focusing on Skunk. A yellow sheen passed over the goggle-lenses that emerged from the skin of its forehead for a moment, but it shook its head, clearing them back to their normal red.

Skunk moved in, feinting and then going in, aiming for the creature's belly, under the wounded arm. The distraction of whatever had happened to her was enough, and Jaz couldn't block fast enough. She managed to fall backwards, though, away from the slash, past where Kasby was stabilizing himself. The blade's tip still dug into her chest, flitting away a long line of blood. It hissed furiously, almost spitting with pure rage.

"Did you see that?" Skunk yelled.

Kasby pushed himself forward and regained his balance. He dashed forward towards the combat, ducking under Skunk's arm as he lunged. She attacker as well, and they lunged in parallel, blades extended.

Jaz put a foot back and brought her blade up, free hand wrapping around the base of it for support—

The three blades met with a loud clash, ringing out over the hum of the reactor below.

Skunk grimaced at the shock, but pressed in, striking again. "I can hold her, Kasby!" Jaz blocked a strike, a second, a third, alternating between the two attackers.

"So hold her!" he almost screamed back as he continued to trade blows.

The yellow glow flashed over the lenses above Jaz’s eyes again, looking like another pair of eyes, watching her. A shudder ran through her, and she dropped back, pulling her sword arm away from the three-way-clash. She took three quick steps back, away from the fray, and raised her blade high over her head.

Skunk rushed in with renewed power. “Gotcha!”

Jaz’s hand dropped, sweeping out a full arc, swinging around below her, rending through the flimsy metal of the catwalk. With a horrible creaking, it began to bend downwards, pulled down by its own weight, no longer supported from both sides.

Skunk's eyes widened. "Oh SHI—" Skunk’s momentum carried her forward, into the hole. She stretched with her hooks, and just barely managed to dig them into the wooden catwalk on the other side of the gap. "Fuck!"

Kasby's mouth dropped open. No.

Jaz fell forwads, dropping through the widening gap, down towards the three spinning crystals below. Kasby lunged forward, throwing himself against the catwalk and extending his arm as far as it would go. He grabbed onto Jaz’s arm as she plunged downwards.

Jaz hung, dangling from the catwalk, held up by Kasby's grip. Slowly, she turned her head to look at him, eyes bathed in dispassionate yellow glow.

“Please. Not again,” Kasby said, whispering.

"Kasby, what are you doing?" screamed Skunk. Her blades slowly began to cut through the catwalk, inching her downwards.

Jaz's blade arm flashed upwards, swinging at Kasby's wrist, where it held her tight. The blade bit in deep, throwing blood across the catwalk. But Kasby did not let go. He shook his head, silently, mouthing one word. Please. Please.

She fell away from him, dropping away towards the reactor. Kasby's hand still clutched her wrist in a dead man's grip. As she reached the crystals, there was a swirl of yellow smoke, and she was gone.

"Touching!" yelled Skunk frantically. "Now fucking get me out of here!" She attempted to claw her way towards Kasby. Her motions only pulled the catwalk down further, creaking louder. “Little help?”

Kasby watched the beast that had once been his lover fall into the reactor below. He felt everything. And yet....shock. He looked at the bloody tattered sleeve where his hand once had been.

If only the catwalk were metal, instead of wood boards, she could've bent it into shape, but—another crack. Another crack. The wood itself was beginning to crack, where Skunk's blades dug into it. “Kasby.” Skunk’s voice was quiet, hard to hear with the hum.

Over the creaking of the collapsing catwalk, and the reactors, Kasby managed to hear Skunk. Ungracefully, in the midst of all this, he stumbled to his feet and backed away from the broken edge. "....Skunk. Skunk!"

Skunk gingerly kept her hold on the other side of the gap, a meter away from Kasby. Skunk could feel her heart pounding, adrenaline rushing through her.

Kasby rushed forward again and held out his uninjured hand.
"Grab hold!" He was close enough that she could probably reach him, but it would mean pulling one of her blades out of the woodwork.

"Cocksucker," she groaned. She could almost hear Owl’s voice in her head, saying “language!” The thought threatened to bring a bitter smile to her face, but she fought it off. "Okay, gimme a sec." She cautiously pried one hand loose. “I don’t think you’ll be able to pull me out...”

Kasby looked around in a panic. The pain was beginning to cloud his thoughts. He had to act quickly. The captain ran back to the control panel, and went to work at the display to try and turn the reactor off. "Hold tight!"

“Kasby!” Skunk yelled. With only one hand dug into the wood, she was slipping faster. "Oh, fuck..." She cut an inch deeper into the wood, towards the edge.

The controls were complicated, covered with switches and dials and readouts. "Fuck!" Kasby shouted, before dashing back to Skunk.

Skunk, starting to give up on Kasby, unclipped the whip from her belt with her free hand, and tossed one end away from the gaping hole. She concentrated, melding it with the metal edge of the catwalk.

Kasby skidded to a stop, grabbing hold of the secured whip with his hand. The catwalk frame groaned under the weight, but held. Kasby stabbed the crystal blade into the wood platform and used it to brace his leg. "Alright, Skunk!"

"Okay, no problem," she groaned. She reformed the other blade into a hand once more. With nothing holding her to the catwalk anymore, she fell down, swinging under it, held up by the wire. Skunk grunted, holding onto the whip for all she was worth. She squeezed her eyes shut, just briefly.

Kasby threw himself backwards, bracing against the sword to hold Skunk above the humming reactors.

Between Kasby's grip and the metal bonding, Skunk didn't fall. Not quite.

Kasby could feel the pain beginning to overwhelm him, though, darkness dancing at the edge of his vision, and knew he couldn't hold on for long.

“Okay,” she called up. “Good. Very good. Not dying. Excellent.”

“Hurry, Skunk,” Kasby rasped through the fires that had ignited in his nerves.

“Goddamn demons,” she half-whispered, struggling up the whip. Reaching the catwalk at last, she collapsed onto it, gasping.

As Skunk reached safety, Kasby let go of the whip. He swayed, upright, for a moment, before collapsing to the catwalk.

They lay, side by side, now alone with the massive whirring crystals below them.

"Kasby?” Skunk panted. “You still awake?”

The only answer from the unconscious captain was a slowly expanding bloodstain in the woodwork surrounding his left wrist. Skunk stared for a moment, then picked him up carefully. She was still trembling, but she managed to get him over her shoulder, carrying him away from the hole. She walked towards the control area, the catwalk still making ominous creaking sounds with every step.

The radio at his belt hissed and crackled. "Bellwood!" The voice was the same as before--a harsh, older woman.

She jumped at the radio's crackle, right in her ear, but pushed the talk button. “Uh… hello?”

"Who is this? Where's Bellwood?"

"If you mean Kasby, he's here. Badly injured. Here, I mean... shit, what did he call it?"

There was a pause. "But the reactor's still online."

"Yeah, the reactor. We’re at the reactor.”

"Alright. I'll dispatch a medical team. They should be there within fifteen minutes.”

"There was a fucking demon-thing, and it cut the railing, and then...well, his hand is gone. It’s dead, though, it better be dead.” Skunk knew she was babbling.

"Good. Barret out." The radio hissed static for a moment, then went silent.

Skunk took a deep breath. “Okay.” She lay Kasby down in the center of the controls, and collapsed against a bank of controls herself.

She stared blankly up at the ceiling, settling in to wait for the medical team. “…fuck.” This time, there was no Owl to scold her.

Friday, October 1, 2010


((79 — The Days Become a Traveler of a Hundred Generations))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

Owl turned the page slowly, taking care not to damage the ancient book. She eagerly scanned the new page, taking in word after word, locking them away in her mind to store forever. Each page, each book, brought with it incredible ideas, strange worlds, new people—the memory of an entire civilization.


She had been sitting in the basement of Tanique Hall reading for… she didn’t know how long. She had no motive or means to keep track of time here. The archives were unlike anything she had seen before. A massive underground warren, a labyrinth, with every wall lined with bookshelf upon bookshelf. It was as if someone had taken the Archives from the Corkscrew and let them multiply seemingly infinitely, burrowing out into the crystal.


Periodically Delissa had come down to bring her food and water. Owl quite liked the librarian, she found. The woman was a scant few years younger than Owl, but apparently only qualified as a Junior Librarian. It boggled Owl’s mind to think that in this world, thirty-four was considered young, with a whole lifespan ahead of one. The idea of so much more to learn, to discover, to read… for the first time in months, Owl found herself honestly happy.

“Owl!” This time the voice penetrated Owl’s thoughts, and brought her attention snapping upright. There before her hovered a familiar face, one she hadn’t seen in almost a month.

Blinking calmly, Owl carefully set the book in her lap on the table, then turned to face the girl. “SPIDER!” she yelled, wrapping her arms around the girl in a sudden blur of motion, grinning widely.

Spider laughed, and embraced the older woman in return. “Hey! I thought I’d never see you again!” They broke their embrace, and Spider settled to the wall. “What’s been up?”

“Oh goodness! So much has happened.” Owl opened her mouth, about to lay out every detail of her life over the last month, but stopped and reconsidered. “Skunk and I were captured by a scientist, escaped, and flew here,” she summarized.

“Huh,” Spider said. “Sounds like fun, I guess. I, uh, got a pet demon, and met up with the Talons, and maybe made friends, I think.”

Owl quirked her head to the side. “Talons?”

“They’re…” Spider thought back to the events of the morning. “They’re just people, I guess. From Sector Four.” She looked away for a moment, her eyes coming to rest on the books. “How long have you been down here? Just been reading?”

Owl’s eyes lit up. “Oh, Spider! You won’t believe the things I’ve read!”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“There are so many things in the universe! It’s all so vast… there are these demons that don’t hurt people or have magic, called animals—”

“Anemals? That’s what that lady said about our names!”

Owl nodded. “My predecessor once told me that all of the names in Face came from an ancient record of naming. I think that it was actually a zoology book from the old ship!”

Spider looked at her blankly. “Sure.”

The older woman laughed. “I haven’t looked up what a spider is, but an owl was apparently a big thing with wings and big eyes, that people used to think was very smart!”

“A perfect name for you, then. What other kinds of anemals were there?”

“Well, there were these things that wriggled like this—” Owl made a motion with her hands together. “Called fish! They lived in big water places called, uh, ponds! And people ate them all the time.”

“Weird.” Spider stopped, thinking. “Where was all this water? I thought this place just had fog.”

Owl shook her head. “This wasn’t in the Void.”

Spider looked at her quizzically. “Not… in the Void? Where else is there?”

The rememorist smiled. “This was on a place called Earth.”

“What’s an earth?”

“It was… is… a…” Owl frowned, struggling to describe it. “Imagine a giant crystal, only round. Kind of like Sector One, only a million times bigger. Instead of being made of crystal, though, it’s all made of solid dust and liquid metal, and covered with plants and water and friendly demons that don’t kill you!”

“That… sounds nice,” Spider said, smiling. “Where is it?”

Owl’s face fell. “Too far away. The Templar, the ship that crashed and became Face, was full of people leaving it, to find a new home… as far as we’ve come from Face to get here? That would be like… a millimeter, compared to how far it is to Earth.”


They sat in silence for a moment, thinking, before the calm was broken by footsteps coming around the corner. Delissa walked up, carrying a basket. “I, um, thought you might be hungry, so I brought some food!”

She came a few steps closer, then stopped short, staring at Spider. After a moment, she took a deep breath, and finished her approach, setting the basket on the table.

Owl smiled warmly at her. “Thank you, Delissa.”

“You’re… welcome, Owl.” The librarian bit her lip. “Could I… ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“I, um. Why are your skin and shadow covered with words? And, um.” She looked to Spider. “How is she sitting on the wall?”

Spider laughed. “Oh, man, that’s a really long story.”

“…which I happen to have written down!” Owl grinned. “Would you like to read it?”

Delissa nodded eagerly. “I would love to! If you… wouldn’t mind.” She looked down, her face turning a shade of red.

Owl looked at her in surprise. “What? Would that be odd?”

“I… well, it’s your journal, isn’t it?”

“And what’s odd about that?”

Delissa looked at her in confusion. “Well, you’re alive, and we’re not…” She trailed off, looking at the strange expressions on Spider and Owl. “Are things different in the outer sectors?”

“We’re not—” Owl started.

“Yes. Yes they are,” Spider cut her off.

“Oh.” Delissa nodded. “Well, around here, it would be considered an invasion of privacy to read someone’s journal while they were still alive, or if you weren’t… particularly close to them.” She turned a darker shade of red. “I’ve never read someone else’s journal before.”

“While they were still alive? Why do you keep emphasizing that?” Owl asked.

“Well, of course once they’re dead, you’ll want to read their journal for all the important information they took down,” Delissa said very matter-of-factly.

The rememorist nodded. “I suppose that makes sense.” She smiled. “The books are up in my room. I’ll bring them to you later, alright?”

“That would be wonderful. Thank you.”

Owl sat back in her chair, thinking. “Wow. It’s… so much has happened, these last months.”

Spider nodded, stopping with her hand halfway to the basket of food. She’d just remembered quite how hungry she was. Three weeks of harshly rationed supplies hadn’t been good. “Yeah, uh. Yeah.”

With a start, Owl sat up. “Center.”

Spider looked at her. “Huh?”

“The Center. That’s… that’s where the shadows told us to go. Back when this all started.”

“I missed that part. I was with Kasby.”

“Well, the point is, we’re… we’re here. We’re at the Center.” Owl frowned. “But nothing makes any more sense than it did at the Corkscrew.”

Spider shrugged. “Well, we’re at Sector One, but maybe there’s a way to further into the center of it…?”

Slowly, she and Owl both turned to face Delissa. The librarian blinked at them. “Sorry, I… lost you…”

“We… need to go inside.” Owl said slowly. “Is there a way into the heart of the crystal? Into Sector One itself?”

Delissa shook her head. “Not a way that anyone can access.”

Spider raised an eyebrow. “Is... there a way people can’t access?”

“Yes. The Deepana Caverns. No one has ever come back from there, though.”

“What are they?” Owl asked.

“They appeared two or three hundred years ago… cracks in the crystal.”

Owl and Spider exchanged glances, eyes wide. Spider turned back to Delissa. “Can you take us there? We need to go in there. I need to… I’m an architect. I can check the integrity from inside. See if…”

“… if there’s something trying to escape,” Owl finished. “Whatever’s trapped inside this crystal… right here in the center…”

Delissa frowned. “I can take you to the entrance, but no one’s allowed inside any more. Too many expeditions have vanished inside, never to return. Kids started trying to brave it, on dares to each other, so now the entrances are guarded.”

Spider laughed. “We can get in. Don’t worry about that.”

“If you insist. We can go there first thing in the morning.”

Owl smiled. “Thank you, Delissa.”

The librarian blushed again. “It’s… it’s nothing, really.”

“Now then!” Spider said. “Can it be time to eat?”

Delissa laughed. “Absolutely!”

“Great! I’m starving. What’s for dinner?” She opened the basket.

“I made you sandwiches.”

Spider stopped, looking inside, and then looked up and caught Owl’s eye. They laughed together, smiling with tears in their eyes. Delissa watched, smiling along with them despite her confusion.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


((77 — Distant Lights))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

The wan voidlight illuminated a tired scene. Kiara still lay unconscious on her coat, with Umbra standing guard over her. Not far off, Noh’s fog had gone opaque hours earlier, after the surgery. Chun was curled up in a ball on top of Torrential, who was lying down with his beak under one wing. Reno was the only one awake, pacing uncomfortably, absent-mindedly spinning her crystal dagger through her fingers.

Spider stepped out of Noh and walked back to the group, holding her arms. She looked older now, her eyes grave and heavy with dark circles. Scorpia scuttled up behind her.

Seth emerged from the dark shadows of his demon behind her, and cleared his throat a bit. “Yo. Guys.” He glanced around. “Err. Gals. Whatever. Someone wanna wake Chun for a tic?”

A faint groan came from Kiara, as she raised her head slightly, looking around, finally starting to wake up. Umbra curled up next to her, still in gryphon form.

Seth sighed at the complete lack of action from his fellows. “Alright. I will myself.” He trudged over to Chun and prodded her with his foot.

Torrential was the first to stir. He lifted his head, in doing so knocking Chun tumbling to the ground. She sat up, abruptly very awake. “Whu—oh, hey guys.”

Kiara sat up a little further, resting on one elbow. Umbra flowed under her, stabilizing her. “Anything… happen, while I was out?”

Spider shook her head. “Not really. We can’t stay here forever, though.” She glanced over at Seth.

“…yeah,” he said. “But ‘fore we go. One, uh, minor note.”

“What?” Kiara asked tiredly.

“What just happened back there? Let’s not do it again.”

“Agreed.” Chun got up and brushed herself. Beside her, Torrential mimicked her, ruffling his feathers.

“The whole killing people who thought we were demons thing. It’s… that was not good.” Seth looked off to the side. “There’s gotta be a better way to go about things than… doing what I did. And what that caused you guys to do.”

Reno shifted her eyes upwards. “Well,” she said. “They DID try to kill us. So it’s justified.”

“So, uh.” Spider cleared her throat, and changed the subject quickly. “I figured it’d be safer if we didn’t go charging in with our demons. I think I should fly in first, and try and talk with them. Maybe get a map and find a place for you guys to enter without being spotted, or provide a distraction.” She shifted her feet, obviously a little uncomfortable with this half-formed plan.

Kiara frowned. “And why wouldn’t they just… shoot you, Spider? That’s what they tried before.”

“Well, they’ll wonder how I got to the base, but I won’t have a demon with me.”

“Well, duh.” Kiara blinked at Spider in confusion. “But how do you plan to get in without using your demon?”

“Uh…” Spider scratched her head. “I can fly.”

“Oh. Good… good point.” Kiara closed her eyes, fading back into sleep somewhat.

Spider laughed half-heartedly. “Guess she’s a little more out than she thought… anyway, you guys can NOT bring your demons into the base. It’ll cause a panic, and it’s likely that you’ll just kill everyone. We can’t do that.”

“Yeah,” said Chun. “But someone will see us coming on our demons. It will cause panic either way.”

“You guys don’t come in on demons!” Spider said. “I’ll go alone. Find a way for you guys to come in without being noticed.”

“I’m with Spider on this one, yo,” said Seth. “Worst case, we bring in the cavalry. As a backup.”

Reno tensed a little. “How long do you think we’ll be separated from our demons?”

Spider looked to Seth for support. “Shit, I don’t know. Either you guys wait here, or I bring you without your demons, which will take a while to go back and forth.”

Kiara sat up again, rousing. “Mine can hide… if she chooses. She can help. And… I’ll need her to walk.” She glanced uncomfortably down at the stump of her leg.

Seth glanced away. “We can help you move, Kiara. Actually… perhaps we can use that as an excuse to get in.”

“I was just thinking that!” Spider said.

Kiara raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Explain…?”

Seth half-grinned at Spider, then turned to Kiara. “People see injured person. We get help. They’re much less likely to be suspicious. We’re much more likely to get in… without incident.”

“So we’re using Kiara’s injury as our ticket in?” said Reno, as Caf came up behind her, nuzzling her.

Spider rocked back on her heels. “But we’ll be showing up at the base out of nowhere. We don’t exactly have a ship…”

“If more ships fly overhead we could hijack one,” said Chun.

“Uh.” Spider’s eyes widened. “We do have a ship. We have a ship that’s been in a recent accident.” She looked out at the Void. Sure enough, the ship they had damaged was still drifting, not far off. The gaping hole in its side made it list slightly to port, but other than that it was still functional. Spider jerked her thumb at it.

Seth grinned. “This just might work.”

Spider nodded. “Bet you I can get it working again if there’s any problem. We should still probably leave our demons here, so they don’t get detected.”

“Wouldn’t we still be noticed, though?” Kiara asked from the ground. “I would think they’d recognize their own ship.”

“Sector One is big, right?” Spider said. “And we have someone who’s seriously hurt. They might not pay close attention.”

“We could tell them that the crew valiantly saved us from demons but tragically died,” suggested Reno.

Seth nodded again. “It might not be perfect, but I think it’s our best bet.”

Reno was looking very apprehensive. It was clear that the idea of being separated from Caf was not an appealing one by any stretch of the imagination.

Noticing, Seth looked at her flatly. “Reno. You’ve got two options. Stay here with Caf, or come alone.”

Caf nudged Reno in the back. She turned around and looked her beloved in the eyes forlornly. The girl stood up and cupped Caf’s head in her hands, leaning their foreheads together.

Kiara rolled her eyes. “Anyway, let’s… rehearse our story in more detail. In case they ask. Also… we might be able to sneak one demon in…”

Seth furrowed his brow. “Is the risk worth taking, though?”

“I’m useless without Umbra, right now. Besides…” The demon slid into Kiara’s faint shadow, and faded into it. The shadow darkened, but the demon was quite unnoticeable. “She is a shadow.”

“Huh,” said Spider. “That is a cool trick. Okay. So, maybe we were flying our own ship, but it got attacked by demons. That’s what the other ship picked up on. They rescued us, but died in the process?”

“Drove the demons off?” Kiara said. “Or killed them?”

“I say killed,” Seth said. “That way they won’t go looking for them. If they think there’s an immediate threat, they’ll start looking, and maybe find ours. That is not what we want.”

“Okay, I’m going over to the ship to see if it’s still working. You guys finish up the story.” Spider fell upwards into the mist, heading towards the damaged the ship.

Reno withdrew from Caf, suddenly looking steady of mind. “So why were we out here?”

“Refugees from Four,” Seth said.

“We should get going,” Chun said quietly. “If we arrive too late they may get suspicious.” Without another word, Torrential hopped to the edge of the crystal and took off towards the ship, Chun on his back.

“Let’s move.” Seth jumped up onto Noh and followed Chun. Umbra and Caf lifted off close behind, carrying Kiara and Reno. They approached the bullet-shaped ship, and one by one stepped off of their demons, through the massive rend in the side of the ship. Chun saluted Torrential, who flew back down. Caf and Noh, though, stayed alongside the ship for the moment.

Spider was inside, bent over the controls. “It’s all working here still, thankfully.”

Seth glanced around. “Any recent journals?”

“Umm…” Spider started to check the bookshelf, then remembered that she couldn’t read. “Uh, take a look.”

Umbra flowed into the space under Kiara’s stump, becoming a shadowy leg. Slowly, Kiara made her way to the bookshelf and pulled down the most recent journal. The last update had been about a week earlier, and was just a quick few notes on an uneventful few days of patrolling. Kiara nodded. “Good. Nothing.”

“Alright, let’s go then.” Spider moved towards the controls. “Um. So. Not that I don’t technically know how to fly a ship, but… does anyone else know how to fly one better than I do?”

“I can get by, but I’m not very good,” Kiara said.

Spider shook her head. “You’re really out of it, Kiara.”

Seth flicked a hand, and Noh drifted away towards the crystal they’d been on. “I’ll take it from here.” He stepped to the controls and sat in the pilot’s chair. “All ready?”

Reno took one last look at Caf. Nothing was said. It was all in their eyes. Reno clenched her hand ever so slightly before releasing it again. "Ready."

Kiara braced herself against the bookshelf. “Ready.”

Spider nodded. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”

Seth cracked his knuckles, grinning. “So uh. It’s been a while since I last did this. This should be go.” His hands flicked a control, and the ship accelerated at an uncomfortable speed, lurching heavily to one side.

Kiara stumbled and fell, despite her bracing. She seemed to give up on standing at that point and plopped down on the floor. Umbra disappeared into her shadow.

Chun laughed uproariously as the ship continued to rock and shake. “This is FUN!”

Spider was unmoved by the motions of the ship. “So, right, what’s the rest of our story—” She shut up quickly as the radio on the control panel beeped loudly. Seth barely managed to stifle an ironic laugh.

A male voice came from the radio. "Astartes, Astartes, this is Sector One, do you read?" The words were followed by a half-masked yawn.

“Hey,” Seth replied. “This isn’t Astartes but, uh, we read. Unless Astartes is this ship, in which case… yeah.”

“… you’re… yeah, Astartes is…” The man on the other end sighed. “You know what, I don’t even care.”

Spider glanced at Seth. She stepped from the wall to normal gravity and walked to the console. “We need help, one of our crew members has been really hurt!” She tried to sound as panicky as possible.

“Yeah? Lemme guess, refugees from Sector Four? Stragglers?”

“That we are,” Seth said.

“Well, all of the landing fields are full. Courtesy of the other refugees. Should still be room on the roof of Tanique Hall, though.”

“Spiffy. I can see this ending smoothly already.” Seth rolled his eyes.

“Listen. I’ve directed something like a hundred and fifty refugees ships in the last forty-eight hours. And gotten a grand total of oh… six hours of sleep. Maybe.” The radio operator’s voice was frustrated. "So if you would kindly just shut up and go where the data points you..."

“At least you have two legs,” Spider snapped.

The radio broke into what sounded like static, which quickly resolved into a cracking, coughing laugh.

Spider ignored it. “One of our crew, not so much. Can you send someone to help?”

The laughter trailed off, but the voice now carried a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Yeah, I can totally spare a medic for your injured friend. By which I mean nope, sorry. Between the refugees and the riots, all the hospitals are jam-packed or shut down entirely.”

Seth muted the mic for a moment. “At least no one will be suspicious of us getting in.” He flipped it back on again. “Alright. Let’s just land this thing.” As if on cue, a green light winked on on the console.

“Did you get the telemetry data?”


“Fan-fucking-tastic. Sector One so very over and out.” The radio crackled off.

Seth laughed. “Riots, eh? This might be easier than we thought. That, or very, very messy.”

“Wow. This place sounds lovely,” Spider snickered. “Bet no one really notices.”

Chun grinned. “You know? I almost want to show up on Torrential, just to add to that guy’s bad day.” Spider shot her a cold look, and she shrugged vaguely apologetically, then grabbed a random book off of the bookshelf and settled down to read it.

((78 — Unite))

Following the data, they slowly orbited the crystal. After about half an hour, the city came into view, nestled in its crevice between the massive crystal spires. “Nice,” said Reno with a chink in her voice that was most unlike her.

Chun jumped up and shoved the book in her bag, marveling at the sight. Spider helped Kiara to the window, and smiled as the younger girl pulled out her own notebook, and began sketching a rough image.

Spider admired the massive-scale architecture as the ship came in low over the city. “Impressive,” she said quietly. In several places, especially around the base of the crystal tower in the center, she could see large riot mobs. She looked away, turning to Seth. “You guys don’t have any idea where your friend is being held captive?”

He shook his head as he brought the ship up towards one of the side spires. “Cyc told us about the prison at Sector One, The Complex, but nothing specific. He’s gotta be in there, but no clue where it is.”

“There’s gotta be a map somewhere in this city. Man, it is big!” She looked back out the window as their destination came into view. She smiled at the immense columns along its front, noting how they structurally compensated for the glass wall behind them.

One ship was already on the roof of Tanique Hall. It was a little larger than theirs, with a pair of engines on either side in rotating gimbals. Seth raised an eyebrow. “Great. A roof. Hope I don’t hit that other ship. Could get awkward.” He reached a hand up and brushed his red-tipped bangs out of his eyes.

“Don’t… crash…” said Reno, still with the unusual stutter in her voice.

Seth fiddled with the controls, trying to slow the already-shaky ship down a bit. It jerked its way down towards the rooftop, coming to rest… just above the roof.

“Aw balls.”

With a shudder, the engines cut out, and the ship dropped the remaining foot to the surface. It landed with a resounding crash, hitting and rolling slightly to one side.

“Oh woah!” Spider didn’t move, leaving her now floating a foot about the deck of the ship. “Uh, let’s get out. Now.” She pointed towards the hole in the side of the ship.

Seth nodded. “My work here is done.” He hopped off, blowing a kiss to the smoking wreckage as he did. Chun grinned, and jumped out behind him.

Kiara gritted her teeth, wincing with pain. “Someone want to help me?” Spider set herself down and walked to Kiara, offering an arm. Kiara took it, pulling herself to her… foot. Umbra slipped quickly into her shadow, and they awkwardly made their way down onto the roof.

Reno finally released the support bar she had been gripping, though it was not particularly clear whether this was because she had chosen to let go or because enough sweat had accumulated that her fingers simply slid off of it. She exited the ship, almost tripping over herself as she did.

“Want a hand there, Reno?” Seth actually seemed a little concerned.

“Yeah, that’d be great, Seth,” said Reno, reaching out an arm to him. Seth offered his own, and she rested her weight awkwardly against him.

Spider adjusted her grip on Kiara. “Right, we better get you someplace to rest… if they have any beds left.”

“I doubt they do… but that would be nice. I’d be good with a crutch, though, I think. At least for now.”

“We’ll find something of the sort,” Spider assured her.

Chun readjusted her backpack and slid her goggles over her eyes. “We should stick together, since there are riots.”

Spider nodded, and reached for the door in the small structure atop the roof. Just as she did, it swung open, and a small woman stepped out. Both started and jumped back in surprise.

The woman laughed slightly. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She was dressed simply, in a long green overcoat tied with a plain belt. "Hello, you all must be the new arrivals. We got word there'd be another group landing here..."

“Hi,” Spider said nervously. “Uh, do you think you could help us out?”

“Of course, we’re happy to. We haven’t got much, but, well, no one thinks to go to a Library when there’s a crisis on, do they?” She let out another awkward laugh, tucking a strand of wild red hair behind her ear. “Sorry, where are my manners? I’m Delissa, one of the junior librarians.”

“Right.” Spider smiled slightly. “Um, I’m Spider.”

The girl raised an eyebrow over her thick glasses. “Spider, huh? What is it with you Sector Four folk and your animal names?”

“Anemal names?” Spider cocked her head. “Right, uh, we’re strange like that?”

Chun tried to look composed, which ended up with her looking like she was just frowning hard. “I’m Chun.”

Kiara smiled, though it looked a bit strained. She leaned a bit more exaggeratedly on Spider. “I’m Kiara.”

“Seth.” He waved a hand.

“R…Reno Corbonov.”

Spider glanced at Kiara, then back to Delissa. “Listen, our friend is hurt. Is there a place she could lie down? Or at least a crutch or something?”

“Of course, of course, let’s get you inside.” She gestured for them to follow her, and started down the stairs into the building. As she walked, she called up to them. "We've got a few spare beds in the living quarters here, there should be room for you."

Delissa led the Talons down a long corridor, passing a number of side doors. Eventually she came to one with the door hanging half-open, and pushed inside. She called out as she walked to the door. "Hello? Owl? Are you here?" When no answer came, she shrugged and walked the rest of the way in.

“Wait, wait!” Spider halted abruptly, causing Kiara to grimace in pain. “What? Owl? What?” She looked around, distressed and flustered, her hair seemingly more everywhere than normal.

The room inside was lined with fairly average beds and amenities—tables and lamps here and there. "Owl's the other girl staying here... her and her friend Skunk, but I think Skunk had to run off somewhere. They came in on the other ship on the roof." Delissa smiled, helping Spider lower Kiara into one of the beds. "Friends of yours from Sector Four?"

“Uh, yeah…there we just the two of them?”

Delissa nodded as she filled a glass of water from a faucet in the corner of the room, handing it to Kiara.

“Tch. Owl and Skunk I can deal with. It’s that other one.” Seth spat.

Spider pulled her mouth to the side and shrugged. “Well… I supposed I’ll see them at some point.” She looked at the others. “If you see Owl or Skunk tell them…” She paused the words on her tongue.

“Tell them what?” Kiara asked.

“Tell them… I’m here, I guess.” She looked down, and crossed her arms. “Anyway, we should get a map, that’d be great.”

“Yeah, uh. We need to… find our friend’s house,” Chun said slowly.

Satisfied that Kiara was settled, Delissa nodded. “Hold on, I’ll be back in a minute with one.

“Thanks,” said Chun as the woman ran out of the woman. She stood there, looking around the room awkwardly. It was fairly spartan, but not uncomfortably so.

Reno gently detached herself from Seth’s grip and sat down on another bed, rubbing her temples. Spider sat down, her legs and arms both crossed. She didn’t look like anything, face completely blank.

Seth dropped the remains of a cig from his mouth, leaned against the wall, and lit a new one. “So we get Cyc back. Then what?”

No one responded for a long minute.

Spider looked away from them all. “No one knows what to do,” she hissed under her breath.

Seth sighed. “One step at a time, then.”

The door pushed open again, and Delissa came in, holding a piece of paper. She handed the map to Reno, who was closest. “So where did you say your friend lived?”

“Um… did he specify a district?” Kiara asked from the bed, looking to Seth.

Reno handed the map off to Seth, who blinked. “I uh,” he started. “I think we can take it from here.”

Delissa shrugged. "Alright. I think I'm going to try to find Owl!"

“Great!” Spider perked her head up.

The librarian smiled warmly. "You want to come? She should still be wandering around the archives in the basement somewhere."

Spider looked around at the others. “Uh… I don’t think you guys need me. I can come back and keep Kiara company?”

“Your choice, Spider,” Seth said. “I know where I’m headed. Have an old friend to see.”

“Yeah… I guess I do too.” Spider grinned faintly. She stood up, and nodded at Delissa. “Yeah, let’s go find them.”

“Great! Come on.” She walked out of the door, motioning with one hand for Spider to follow. Spider did so, waving her friends farewell.

Chun looked at Kiara. “I should stay here with her. Make sure her condition doesn’t worsen again… besides, I can go looking in the library for any relevant medical books.

Seth shrugged, then turned to Reno. “That leaves us, then.”

Reno nodded, and pointed to a spot on the map in his hand. “There’s the Complex,” she said quietly. “Right at the base of the central spire.”

Seth grinned. “Then let’s book it. We’ve got a Cyclops to find…”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


((83 — Sandsnake))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

Zebra looked out the window of the tram and sighed. Between the assassination of the Inner Chamber Council and Barret’s declaration of martial law shortly thereafter, the whole city was in a state of pandemonium. The streets below were full of rioting, and smoke rose here and there throughout the city.

Three days had passed since Kasby had stalked off to track down Jaz, and none of the rest of the crew had seen him. Of course, Barret had kept them busy, with hours upon hours of extensive debriefing. Her people had squeezed out every drop of information on Face and the Devourer Swarm the crew had.

Now, for the first time since their arrival, they were being allowed to leave the citadel. Certainly, they’d been given nice enough housing quarters atop the spire, but Barret had made it quite clear she didn’t trust them.

That morning Barret had informed them that one of the defensive platforms on the outer spires had been taken over by a group of rioters and dissenters, and she was sending them to get it back. She made it quite clear that the platform itself—and its massive gun emplacements—was considerably more important than the lives of any of the people inside, as far as she was concerned.

“Remind me why we care about this?” asked Zebra sourly.

Giraffe shrugged. “It’s not like we had much of a choice. She just kind of shoved us onto the tram.”

“I don’t like being a conscript!” said Goat.

Zebra nodded. “Me neither.”

“I’ve got a feeling we’re going to wind up joining those rebel-types,” Goat said hopefully.

“Yes, joining the group of unknowns and making an enemy of that woman is an excellent idea,” Zebra replied.

“Who wouldn’t get behind it?” Giraffe asked sarcastically.

“I didn’t say it was smart,” Goat said. “But we already don’t like her, right? We’re half-way to being enemies!”

“The other half being the part where she wants to get rid of us once she’s doing using us. I’d like to avoid that part, thanks.” Zebra didn’t even bother using a sarcastic tone at this point.

“In any case,” Goat said. “Let’s talk to them first. See why they’re trying to take things into their own hands."

Zebra shrugged and looked back out at the scenery, clearly losing interest. The tram car was taking them up along the edge of one of the three enormous crystal spires that formed the basis of the city. At this point they were high enough that there were no more buildings, just bare crystal. Up ahead, directly atop the peak, was a large building, heavily armored, with numerous large gun emplacements sticking out all over it.

((84 — Judgement))

The tram slid into the dock with a hiss of air and a whirr of gears. The door slid open, and a hail of bullets whizzed into the ground just outside it.

“Guys!” Goat called. “We don’t want to fight!”

“They have really big guns,” Giraffe said, crouching next to her chair.

Zebra shifted position, making sure none of her was directly in front of the door. “Which is why we’d prefer not to fight.”

Goat frowned, and watched as a woman strode out onto the platform. She was large and well-built, with a bandana tied around her otherwise-bare head, and a very big gun held in her one arm, braced against her chest. Two men and a young teen girl followed her out, all clutching similarly large weaponry, and all pointing them at the entrance to the tram.

Goat started to exit the tram, just as she the woman spoke loudly. "Don't let me catch one'a you movin' a muscle." To emphasize her point, she fired the gun a few times at the ground in front of Goat’s feet. “Ah! Nope!”

Goat disappeared. “Whaaaa!” he declared, from several yards in the air.

The woman looked up and scowled. She made a small hand gesture and the three people behind her immediately opened fire at Goat. The boy attempted to dodge, while falling. This was not particularly easy, nor successful. One of the bullets tore through his upper right arm, and another grazed his thigh. His landing was similarly unpleasant, as he thudded onto the top of the tram car with all the grace of a falling brick. “Aaaaargh!” he expressed, pain running through his system.

The woman growled at Zebra and Giraffe. "I say don't move, I mean don't move. I'm not fuckin' around here, kiddies."

“Wasn’t plannin’ on movin’, but thanks for the info,” Giraffe replied.

“Yeah, you got it,” said Zebra, raising two fingers in a mocking sort of salute.

“It was an—AAAAYYGRH—reflex!” yelled Goat.

“Now then,” the woman said flatly. “What exactly do you three think you’re doing up here?”

“Well,” Giraffe said, frowning. “We were wondering WHY exactly you were up here?”

The woman rolled her eyes. "We're up here 'cause the bigshots on the spire are getting themselves killed. We obviously can't trust anyone down there not to be a fuckin' demon."

Goat managed to wriggle his way up to a sitting position atop the tram car, despite the pain. “We were planning on talking peacefully!” He winced, one hand on his leg and the other on his shoulder, pressing on the wound. They were far from life-threatening, but they sure hurt a lot. “Hell, I was thinking we might even join you!”

"Yeh? Joinin' us? We're not some prettyboy club for you and your friends to just waltz in and join."

“That’s fine!” Goat shouted. “‘Cause now that I’ve got a bullet in my awesome leg, I don’t really like you anymore! ARGH!”

"Fine by me. We don't give a flyin' fuck 'bout anybody but us. We're gonna stay up 'ere, and shoot any blasted demons that try to come near us. Fuck th' rest of the city, they're on their own."

Giraffe leaned back against the chair she was sitting in front of. “Just wondering, how or what do you eat up here?”

"We brough' plenty a' foodstuffs. A few cratefuls on our way up,” the woman said defensively. The three behind her exchanged significant glances, but said nothing.

“Right, ‘cause you starving would just be bad,” Giraffe said sarcastically.

The woman took a step towards Giraffe, gesturing with her gun. "I don' think I asked for your advice, y' little punk."

“I don’t think I was giving it,” she bit back.

“On closer inspection,” Goat chimed in from atop the tram car. “There isn’t actually a bullet in my leg. My arm hurts like a bitch, though.” He glanced pointedly in the direction of the tower in the center of the city.

The woman rolled her eyes, catching the hint. “Lemme guess. Barret sent you.”

“Yeah,” said Goat. “But, her being a jerk, we’re not really here on her behalf.”

Giraffe nodded. “We’re jerks on our own time.”

“Jerk. Putting it lightly. Psychotic bitch is closer to it.” The young-looking girl took a step forward and reached for the woman's shoulder, but the man standing next to her caught her arm and pushed it down.

“Anyway,” Goat said. “I’ve got some advice. If you wanna disregard it, and get gobbled up by the—nngh—Devourer Swarm, fine by me.” He sat forward. “The demons that are coming eat everything. Including, but not limited to, what you fire at them. So these guns will pretty much just be good shooting down people like us who want to help you.”

“And why, exactly, should I believe you? Bullets did the trick on you just fine, seems like.”

“Well, that just proves I’m not a demon, doesn’t it? Also, ow.”

Giraffe stood up slowly, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. “See, either you can shoot and kill or harm us and then die, or you can have us help you and maybe not die. Your choice.”

“We can be pretty helpful,” Goat added.

The woman shook her head slowly and unambiguously. “We’re not particularly interested in your help.”

Giraffe shrugged. “If you say so. Your dead corpse.”

“Pity,” Zebra said quietly. “I was so looking forward to getting to know you.”

“Now then.” The woman pointed the gun at them. “Are you leaving via tram or via gravity? Because it doesn’t particularly matter to me.”

Giraffe glanced to Zebra. “Tram good with you?”

“Really, it’s up to you,” Zebra replied. “I’m not even sure why I was sent on this mission.”

“Guys, gravity means falling,” Goat said from the tram’s roof.

“Well!” Giraffe said. “As much as I hate the trams, I was never a fan of falling.”

“Delightful,” the woman said. Without bothering to wait for Goat to get off the top, she shot the lever controlling the tram. The piece of metal snapped off in a blur of sparks, and the tram began to roll back down the way it came, away from the rebels and back towards the center of the city.

Friday, September 10, 2010


((73 — Duran Shoukan))
July 2nd, 802 AT.


“What?” Spider said blandly.

“That.” Seth jerked his head forward, indicating the massive crystal that comprised the center of the nebula. “The city. Well, crystal thing.”

He sat, as usual, in a floating crystal, part of Noh. Each of the Talons was arrayed around and behind him, riding their respective demons. Chun was still asleep, as it was yet early. The light had only just brightened, and no one had bothered to wake her.

“Wonder why it looks like that,” Kiara said quietly from her perch atop Umbra.

“It’s the heart of the thing, probably where all these other crystals came from.” Spider shrugged. “Maybe.”

Up ahead, something sparkled in the air between them and the crystal. Seth squinted, trying to make out whatever it is. As he watched, the single point resolved into a pair, growing larger.

Scorpia sniffed, reaching out to sense for any demonic energy. Spider, straddling her demon, looked as well. “Huh…”

Reno gazed almost lazily towards the approaching points. They grew larger, or came closer. Metallic, and approaching fast.

“Not demons,” Spider said, frowning, feeling what her demon did. “Uh… we’re riding demons, so… this should be interesting?”

“Those… ships?” Kiara said, raising her eyebrows. “I think we should get out of their way.”

“Probably not a bad idea,” Seth agreed, watching the pair continuing to grow closer. They resolved into a pair of approaching ships. “Yeah, let’s not get hit by those.”

“Going down,” Spider said, as she and Scorpia dropped downwards. Umbra and Kiara followed, with Seth descending close behind.

The ships dropped to match them. They continued towards them, maybe half a kilometer out. The one on the left was sleek and bullet-like, with its companion shaped like a tilted cross. Both were clearly heavily armed, with visible gun emplacements on the front.

“Well then. I guess we say hello to these fuckers.” Seth twitched. “Maybe one of them will have a pack…”

“Yup, they’re chasing the demons!” Spider said, zooming to the right to avoid the ships. “Maybe we should split up!” she called, not bothering to stop.

Reno and Caf furrowed their brows. “Huh,” she said.

Kiara coaxed Umbra forward, and she shot liquid shadow forward, trying to cover the viewports of the ships. They broke off, rolling in opposite directions to get out of the shroud.

The ships flew past the Talons, opening up with their machine guns as they did. A hailstorm of bullets streaked towards the teens.

“FuckfuckfuckfuckFUCK!” Seth threw his arm up in front of his face, and a sheet rose up out of Noh, between Seth and the oncoming fire.

The others dodged in various directions, darting out of the line of bullets, separating further. Below them, Torrential Black dropped away, almost out of sight, the sleeping Chun still on his back.

“Dammit!” Spider shouted. “I knew that was gonna happen!”

As they maneuvered, Caf stretched his mouth open wide and let out his own stream of bullets, using his power to copy the attack against him. The ship rolled, Caf’s bullets tracing down its side, leaving heavy dents. “Excellent,” said Reno quietly.

“Alright. Get ‘em, Noh.” He kicked his demon into full gear towards the x-shaped ship.”

Spider came to a halt and hovered for a second. “What are you guys doing!?” As she reached her peak, she saw the ships’ guns stop let up for a moment, apparently to reload. She flipped, and began to fly back down towards the others, Scorpia close behind.

The cross-shaped ship spun towards Seth, accelerating. Reno, watching, shook her head in frustration. “Get your ass into gear, Seth.”

As if in response, Seth dropped out of sight into the core of Noh. The demon then formed itself into a bullet-like shape, with a groove spiraling along it. “Ramming speed. Go,” Seth said quietly. Noh went.

“Are we seriously going to fight…” Spider watched Noh morph, and never finished her sentence. “Oh.”

The demon accelerated, and crystal met metal with a rending tear. Noh won. The creature tore through the ship, through wood and metal and cogs and flesh. It emerged out the back in a flash of shattered steel.

“Yes, Spider,” said Reno flatly. “We ARE seriously going to fight. And it looks like we’re winning.” There was something lacking in Reno's voice that was ever-present three weeks ago.

“I guess so!” Kiara called down, and then swooped in atop her demon. Umbra, still in gryphon form, went for the ship Caf had hit earlier. It spun its gun to point up at them, firing a blast of flame. A shroud of shadow covered the two of them, taking the brunt of the flame, but halting their dive, forcing them back.

Seth’s head popped out of the top of Noh. “Bitchin’.” He looked to where the ship he had smashed was falling slowly back down towards Sector One, and dove, chasing the debris. He looked for anything still alive, but the ship was a mess of sparking electronics. Nothing and no one had survived.

Spider hovered upon Scorpia, uncertain and waiting.

After a few moments, Umbra dove again, this time wrapping herself and her rider with a dense cloud of shadow. The ship fired a second time, but the flames washed harmlessly around the demon. They dropped alongside the ship, and Umbra landed on the side of it. Shaping one leg to have massive talons, she clawed viciously at the hull. The metal rent back, making an opening.

The pilot inside swore violently, jumping back. She fumbled on the wall, pulling down something akin to a shotgun, and blasted at Umbra point-blank with it.

Umbra screeched as the buckshot went through her shadows, then flowed through the tear, liquid-like, enveloping the pilot. “Fuck, shit, fuck, shit!” The woman cursed louder, but managed to get her belt pouch open. The slammed a crystal into the shadowy stuff around her.

Umbra shrieked louder and flew back, through Kiara, who was stepping forward into the ship. A large amount of her essence stayed behind, though, trapped in the crystal.

A ways away, Reno made the most microscopic of nods, and Caf flew in towards the ship to help.

Overhead, Spider looked around nervously. “Oh, shut up,” she said to no one apparent, and dove back down to the others. From outside, the ship was listing hard to port, smoke rising from the engines. Below her, Caf accelerated towards the ship, closing fast.

Kiara leaned forward, putting her weight into a punch that took the pilot square in the jaw. She staggered back, falling against the wall of her ship. “What the fuck!? Who the fuck are you?”

Kiara didn’t answer, instead drawing the knife from inside her coat.

The motion gave the pilot enough time to regain her grip on her shotgun, though, and she leveled it squarely at Kiara’s face. “You’re one of those demon assassins, aren’t you! Well FUCK YOU!”

Time seemed to slow, as a number of things happened very quickly.

Kiara’s eyes widened, and she lunged forward, slicing at the woman’s stomach.

At that moment, Spider and Scorpia both slammed into the top of the ship, with as much momentum as they could muster.

The ship shook hard to port, knocking both girls inside off balance. The woman stumbled forward, her motion taking her onto Kiara’s knife. The blade cut into her chest, splashing red blood out into the air.

With a resounding BOOM that reverberated through the metal of the ship, her shotgun went off. The buck shredded into Kiara’s left leg at the thigh, turning it instantly to mincemeat.

Caf stopped short in the air, launching Reno forward off of her back, targeting the hole in the ship. The crystal dagger slid fluidly out of its holster, and she tightened her grip as she brought her hand back.

“Bitch.” Clutching at her stomach, the pilot shoulder-rammed Kiara out towards the hole in the side of her ship. Her eyes widened as she saw Reno flying straight towards her. “Aw, fuck.”

As Kiara fell backwards out of the ship, Reno flew straight over her, slamming into the pilot. With only the slightest bit of emotion, she muttered, “die, you bitch.” Her knife swung forward as they hit the back wall of the ship, thrusting into the woman’s neck.

Blood spouted from the wound as the woman's eyes froze over in a bitter glare. The pilot tried to choke out a final word, only succeeding in a miserable gasp.

Reno lowered her face level with the pilot’s. “Don’t,” she said quietly. “Ever. Hurt. Our demons.” With one deft jerk, she pulled the dagger out of the pilot’s throat, and she collapsed in a heap against the metal floor of the cabin.

((74 — Nemesis))

Outside, Spider had darted down and caught Kiara before she could fall very far. “What the fuck happened!?” she asked in a frantic voice, lifting the other girl away from the ship.

Kiara just let out a stream of loud, violent curses as what was left of Umbra flowed around her leg, trying to staunch the bleeding. “Fucking shotgun!” she finished.

“Shit… why the fuck did she shoot you?” Spider held onto Kiara, but her eyes narrowed in something close to anger, or at least surprise. “Why the fuck were you trying to kill her?

“Because she tried to…shoot me…” Kiara’s voice came in short gasps, but she raised it to a yell for a moment. “Reno! Get her belt crystal!” She panted for a moment. “She damaged… Umbra…” Seeing Spider’s glare, Kiara winced and continued. “I was just going to knock… the bitch out…”

In the ship, Reno sighed at her bloody dagger. “Greeeat,” she groaned, leaning down to wipe the blood on its previous owner’s clothes. She picked up the crystal where it had fallen, then stepped outside onto Caf’s waiting back, floating up to join the others. As she left the ship, it continued to list to one side, beginning to fall back into the Void without power.

Blood gushed from Kiara’s hip. She couldn’t feel anything below it. She winced, going white with pain for a moment as Umbra spread out, enveloping her whole lower body.

“Hey,” said Reno, holding the crystal. “You wanted this?”

“Yeah,” Kiara said. “Break it for me? I’m not… in any shape to do it…”

“Sure thing,” Reno replied. She put the charged crystal on a metal part of her backpack, then touched her crystal dagger to it before violently swinging the blade up and then down again. The crystal shattered, taking a few chips of Reno's dagger with it.

Umbra's demon essence seeped out from the shards and floated back to its owner. She swelled and darkened, looking far more substantial than before.

"There," said Reno "That's one physically incomplete member of the team put back together again."

Seth rose back to meet the other Talons.“In retrospect, that was horribly unnecessary. But a fucking awesome test of might. We kick ass.”

Spider shot him a vicious glare, and whispered to Kiara, “Can Umbra hold you now?” The pilot nodded in response, and Spider gently leaned her back into the waiting shadow.

“Kiara,” Seth said, raising an eyebrow. “You look damaged.”

"My leg is... fucked." She said, looking down, Umbra shrouding it from view.

“Let’s land and get you somewhere we can fix that, yo. Or at least… make you not die. And such.” Seth looked away.

“Yeah, ‘cause they’ll really want to lend us med supplies!” Spider shouted.

“I’m sure… they have some on board…” Kiara said.

“Spider,” Seth said. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

Spider jerked her head to the ship, motioning for Seth to follow. The two of them shot down to the drifting ship, and in through the hole in its side. Spider immediately began to scavenge for medical supplies.

“Look, Spider,” Seth said slowly. “I know what we did was completely fucked up. I realized it too late, though. Yes, those people were probably just trying to defend this city from what seemed like a demon invasion.”

“Don’t you dare say but.”

But… well, those two are dead now. We’ve gotta keep Kiara from joining them, and keep the rest of these folk,” he gestured up towards the other Talons, “ from realizing what we just did.”

Pulling open a box on the wall, Spider started shoving painkillers into her pockets. “You’re an idiot. If you don’t want the rest of the people to realize the consequences of what just happened, you have to be ready to take the blame for it.” She glanced at the pilot’s body. “Shit. Shit, Seth.” She raised her eyes to him. “You have no idea what you’re doing.”

“… it is my fault. I’m the one who charged them first.” He looked down. “Kicked into oh-shit-they’re-trying-to-kill-me-mode before I could think. That’s no excuse, though.”

Spider bit her lip, and shook her head. “It’s not,” she said, sympathetically. “You’re right, though. We have to get Kiara fixed up, and somewhere safe. Can we get to the city without attracting more attention? Maybe I should just bring her in…” She was focused now on the job at hand, and purposefully didn’t look at the body again.

Having taken what she could, Spider let herself drop sideways out of the ship, and back up to where the others were. Chun had joined them, presumably woken by Reno. “I got some bandages,” Spider said, passing them to Chun. “Take these pills, they’ll help the pain.” She extended her hand, holding three little blue tablets.

Kiara took them and dry-swallowed them with a grimace. “Thanks.”

Chun, riding Torrential as ever, leaned forward and winced at the blood. "That is WAY beyond saving. Shit, shit, shit.” She swallowed. “Kiara, we might have to cut your leg off.”

“I…” Kiara closed her eyes. “Yes. I realized that.”

“Come on,” Spider said. “Unless we get you to the city…”

Kiara shook her head. “Can’t… not in the city.”

“There are other crystals nearby.” Spider didn’t waste any time, heading off towards the nearest crystal. It was a little ways below them—a small dodecahedron, maybe fifteen meters along each edge. The other Talons quickly followed down.

Black landed long enough for Chun to jump off, then retreated to the edge of the crystal and perched. Chun took off her backpack and pulled her goggles down over her eyes. She rummaged through it and eventually pulled out what looked like an oversized scalpel, or very thin knife. Spider came walking up the slanted plane to her, holding the bandages and a bit of disinfectant from the ship.

Chun shook her head. “Spider, we can’t just bandage this, it is shredded. It will get infected if we do that… I think we should cut it off first, and keep as much skin as we can to stitch over the wound and make a stump.

“Uh, okay, I’ve never really done this before…” Spider looked around uncomfortably. “I might have a needle and thread, actually… don’t know what else would work better.”

“Never done this either… just read about it in theory.” Chun kept her face blank, clearly trying to hide how little of an idea of what she was doing she had. “Needle and thread would help.”

As Spider frantically searched her bag, Umbra gently set Kiara down next to them on the crystal. Kiara winced, and her demon withdrew, revealing the mangled leg. The area from roughly the top of her left leg to just above her knee was a ravaged mess of shredded muscle and blood. Bits of shattered bone were splattered throughout as well. Kiara’s face had drained to pale white. “Just take it off… it’s… gone…” she croaked.

Spider came up holding a pair of needles and strong thread. She saw Kiara’s leg and gulped. “Uh… UH.”

Chun knelt down over Kiara. “Spider, do me a favor? Hold her down? You might want help, too…” Fortunately at this point Kiara’s eyes had started to lose their focus, as the pain pills kicked in. Spider gripped her by the shoulders, trying to hold her steady.

“Kiara!” Chun said, and Kiara managed to make eye contact with her. “I need you to concentrate on keeping Umbra from killing me and Spider.” Kiara nodded, clenching her teeth, and Umbra flowed up around her hip, forming a makeshift tourniquet. Chun’s face went pale, and Torrential began fluttering his wings nervously. She took the scalpel and began carving away bits of flesh.

Seth stood next to Noh, leaning on him. If one good thing came out of that fight, it was the pack of cigarettes he’d found on the wrecked ship. He lit up.

Spider held onto Kiara tightly, as if to quiet her own anxiousness. She winced, trying to keep her eyes off of Chun’s work.

Reno sighed, watching Chun take out bits and pieces. "Look," she said "If you want this to be quick and some resemblance of painless, don't you think we should use something bigger?" Reno produced her now-serrated crystal dagger.

Chun shook her head. “Listen, if we’re not careful about that, we might paralyze her other leg.”

“This I can do.” Seth walked towards them, Noh floating along behind him. “Noh can do a pretty clean cut. We might want to use him instead of a dagger.”

Kiara gritted her teeth, apparently more coherent than they’d thought. “Use fucking Noh to do it if that’s what it takes, just take the damn thing off. You won’t—nngh—paralyze me as long as you stay below the hip.”

Chun frowned, biting her lip. “It makes sense, but we’ll need spare skin. I’ll cut a bit loose and you cut off the rest as quick as you can.”

Seth tried to stifle a shudder, and only half succeeded. “Just… just tell me where to cut.” He raised his arm, miming a blade with his hand. Noh sprouted a rather swordlike crystal appendage, mimicking him. Seth looked to Chun, waiting for the cue.

Chun quickly made two cuts and ripped back some skin that was still clinging to the dead useless muscle. She pulled it out of the way and nodded to Seth.

He brought his arm down, into air. Noh brought his arm down, into flesh, tendon, bone. It went straight through, clicking against the crystal below Kiara. The blade then receded as quickly as it had come out.

Kiara cried out with pain, but quickly choked it back, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Umbra tightened around her hip, slowing the bleeding as much as possible. Spider now held one of Kiara’s hands tightly, keeping her shoulders down with the other arm.

“Nice cut, much better than I could have done.” Chun immediately pulled the skin back down and grabbed the needle and thread from on top of her pack. “Shit, Reno, grab some bandages and try to stop some bleeding.”

“Right,” said Reno, reaching for the bandages with a speed somehow slower than that with which she had killed the pilot. She cut the bandages with her dagger before redepositing it in her holster.

Chun wiped the needle on her backpack and started stitching, an awkward uneven line that just got the job done. “Where’s the disinfectant?”

Spider quickly grabbed it and tossed it to Chun, not letting go of Kiara’s hand. She tried not to watch what was going on, but couldn’t help wincing as Kiara tightened her grip.

Seth’s eyes grazed Spider’s hand, holding Kiara’s. Abruptly, he turned away and walked into Noh. The demon instantly faded into a dark fog.

Chun grabbed the disinfectant. “This is going to sting.” She frowned and poured it over the awkwardly stitched wound. She turned paler, but grabbed a section of bandage and helped Reno cover as much of the stump as they could. She tied the bandages as tight as she could, watching as they stained solid red in moments.

Kiara, gritting her teeth, managed to get out a strangled, “Are you done yet?”

Chun leaned back, shaking and looking at her hands. “I… I think I am…” Torrential ruffled his feathers as if he was hit by a cold blast of air.

“It looks loads better now,” Spider said, attempting a smile.

“Well, there’s not much left TO look loads better,” said Reno. Gazing at the blood on her fingers, she picked up the smallest shred of bandage and wiped them clean.

Kiara looked down at what was left of her leg, then lay her head back. “That’ll… hold for a bit,” she said, then quite unceremoniously passed out.

Spider gave Reno a look, frowning.

“Hey, don’t give me that,” she said back. “You know it’s true.”

Chun cleaned her knife and the needle on a piece of bandage, put her knife away and slid her backpack on, then handed Spider the needle, thread, and remaining disinfectant. She got up slowly and walked to Torrential. She sunk down, leaning against Black’s leg.

Umbra grew from the shadows under and around Kiara, returning to her gryphon form and standing over her master’s body protectively. In her unconsciousness, Kiara let out a quiet whimper.

Spider put the supplies in her bag, and carefully slipped her hand out of Kiara’s. She went over and slumped next to Scorpia, resting her head against her demon’s carapace. She looked up into the empty fog ahead, and let out a sigh. “Well, shit,” she said shakily.