Friday, March 18, 2011


July 3rd, 802 AT.

The long group bedroom was quiet, and felt very much like a part of the Library that it was—that peculiar silence that only comes of the absorptive ability of thousands of pages of thousands of books.

Kiara sat on her bed, reading an old journal, waiting for something interesting to happen. She’d been sitting for a day, now, and was starting to get antsy. Night had fallen, and brought with it… absolutely nothing interesting.

Chun was in a corner, sitting on a chair, next to a towering stack of books. She fidgeted for a while, then grabbed one at random and began leafing through it. After a moment she decided it was boring, slipped it back into the stack, and grabbed a different one. She’d been doing this since they arrived at Tanique Hall, in between checkups on Kiara’s leg.

Kiara glanced over to the door and sighed. Her shadow fidgeted slightly.

The door swung abruptly forwards, revealing Seth, Reno, and one Cyclops. “Miss us?” Seth said, grinning.

((92 — Wrong Platform))

Chun grinned and tossed the book aside. “Barely.”

“Hey kid, I make the snappy lines,” said the dashing Cyclops, giving Seth a swat on the back of the head as he entered.

Kiara grinned widely. “A bit, maybe. Anyone hurt?”

“None other than a few guards,” Seth laughed. Next to him, Reno shrugged and spun a knife between her fingers, trying and failing to look innocent.

“Funny thing for you to be saying, peggy.” Cyclops made his way over to his wounded Talon. “See, I called you peggy on account of the leg you lost. Want to tell me how you let something stupid like that happen?”

“Don’t know how, actually.” Kiara scowled. “Bitch shouldn’t have been to get me from that close.”

“Which bitch? Be specific, peggy, there are a lot of them.”

“Some pilot.” She grimaced, pressing the end of her stump gently.

“This have to do with that big demon fleet or whatever?” Cyc asked as he waved his hands in the air for effect and lounged into a seat of his own.

“Nah,” Kiara said, shaking her head. “Had to do with… a bit of a misunderstanding on our way in.”

“Suppose it always does. Still, I hate to say it kid, but I don’t know what use I’ll have for you in the next step of our plan here.” He sat forward in his chair, frowning at her. “How well can you get around?”

“With others watching? Not so well. I can move somewhat, though.” Slowly, she pushed herself to the edge of the bed, then stepped off it. Her shadow gathered where her leg should be, keeping her upright. It didn’t look anything like a leg—just a shifting pillar of darkness—but she didn’t fall.

Seth raised an approving eyebrow. “Creative.”

“No reason not to be. I suppose we could wrap some pants and boots around it, though, if really necessary, and we… had extras.”

“Kiara,” Cyclops said casually, his demon eye rapidly analyzing. “I can’t help but notice you seem to have some sort of horribly otherworldly darkness for a leg. Want to explain that?”

Kiara said again, dispersing it. “I’ll let Chun do it. She’ll say it better.”

“Me? Oh, yeah.” Chun looked devilishly excited. “Well. My mom and I were working on a project, see? Playing with crystals and demons. And, to make a long story short enough for you to listen… we found out how to control demons, with crystals.”

“Well hot damn!” Cyclops’ eyebrows shot up. “Any sort of crystal? Any sort of demon?”

“Yeah, any one, any where,” Chun said, eyes dancing.

“If you can catch it first,” Kiara added.

“Yeah, uh, that detail!” Chun admitted, laughing. “That IS the hard part.”

“Catch it how?” Cyc was sitting up now and seemed to be intently listening, like he always was when he smelled profit.

“Like they did in the old days,” Chun said. “Big nets and stun guns. And a LOT of crystal cages.”

Cyc nodded, thinking. “Does this new revelation have anything to do with the hordes of demons I’m hearing about?”

“Nah… we were only doing what all researchers do… and taking it a mile and a half further.” Chun was trying to hide her pride, but only barely. She grinned madly.

“How many demons do you guys got so far?”

“One each. I also have only minimal stuff with me to do any tweaking for any other demons we find.”

“So count off, what do each of you crazy kids have? I gotta say I’m proud of you rascals. Out there enslaving forces of nature and all. It does a man’s heart good.”

Chun Red grinned very widely. “I have a fifteen foot tall crow!”

“Well,” Kiara said. “I’ve got this shadow thing I’m calling Umbra.”

“How physical can it get? Both of them, I should say. The crow and um… er… Umbra?”

“Completely,” Kiara said.

“Mine is called Torrential Black, and he is great, seriously talented at flying, with two sets of wings! He is very physical, and looks like he could fight, though I never got the chance to try.”

Reno just sort of frowned. “Caf is… Caf. I can’t describe Caf. ‘S like… my other…” She trailed off, shrugging.

“Don’t go soft on me now, Reno. Can Caf do anything useful?”

“I… Caf… yes. All sorts of things. Caf can capture anything launched at him and spit it back. And fly. Very useful.”

Seth smiled. “We’ve got a nice little array of friends here, Cyc.”

“Aces. Thanks for that detailed explanation, we’ve all learned a lot. Seth, how about you?”

“Mine’s not here now, but he’s a crystalline—eh?” He cut off as a voice came over the loudspeakers.

The voice was male, and fairly quiet. "This is a reminder. Tanique Hall is under basic lockdown, due to the riots. All staff are requested to remain calm, and in the safety of their rooms." The message had been repeating every few hours all day.

“Oh. Right. That. Anyhow, it’s this crystal-thing. I can change its shape with my mind. The thing’s good at cutting and breaking other things. And probably shielding, though I haven’t tested it out much.”

“Wow wow wow,” Cyc said. “I dig it.”

“Now how are we getting out?” Kiara said, clearly eager to start moving again.

“Slow down, peggy. We’ve got some business to take care of first.” Cyc looked around the room, at each of them in turn. “There is an item, in this very building, that I think should have the luxury—no, the honor—of getting stolen by us.”

Seth’s eyes gleamed. “Do go on…”

Cyc started to get excited as he began to explain the plan to his co-conspirators. “So guys, it’s literally right downstairs. Main lobby. Like three guards max. We’re in, we’re out. Aces. Plus with our demon stuff, it’s pretty much a done deal.”

“What is it?” Kiara asked. “And the only demon here is mine, we had to leave the others outside the city…”

“We could… get them.” Chun grinned quite a bit, obviously wanting to see what Torrential could do.

“Wait, you guys don’t have your demons? Why not?”

“They couldn’t sneak into the city,” Kiara said.

Chun shrugged. “Difficult for a fifteen foot tall crow.”

“I thought you said they lived in little crystals!”

“No, no, they are controlled by crystals,” Chun corrected.

Seth smiled, trying not to laugh. “There’s a fine line.”

Cyclops scowled. “Well, this is nonsense. So we have one demon? Or two, I guess, if you count the mojo I’ve got floating around here.” He poked the scaly corner of his eye a few times for good measure. He turned again to Kiara. “Can you have a shadow leg and do some sort of shadow noose at the same time? Or a shadow club even?”

“She can be pretty much anything.”

“But at the same time, ‘cause you falling over everywhere isn’t going to help us out at all.”

“No idea.”

“Well, why don’t you go ahead and try that out,” Cyclops said slowly, voice clearly bordering on the edge of frustration.

Kiara frowned, concentrating for a moment, then let out a quietly disappointed sigh. “I… no. One shape at a time. But I could… say, sit down around the corner.”

“Or someone could hold you, easy problem to overcome. It doesn’t come with any price, does it? You get tired? Hungry for people burgers?”


“Phew. I’d hate to have a bunch of cannibals to deal with.” Cyclops sat back in his chair. “So, kiddos… want to come steal the magic box with me?” He grinned, then added, “Oh, yeah. It’s a magic box.”

Chun laughed. “Love to!”

“Sure,” Kiara said.

Seth’s smile was his only answer.

“Good, good. This should be fun. Reno? You in or out?”

“You bet your ass I’m in!” Reno said loudly from her corner of the room.

Kiara let out a small dejected sound. “Actually, I may as well just sit here and control Umbra. Won’t get in the way.”

“Aw, that’d be mighty kind of you, but how would we stay in communication? You’re coming.”

“Point… okay, I’ll sit around the corner.”

“Aces. So, someone help Kiara here, and let’s start to head downstairs. I’ll explain my plan as we go.”

Chun leapt to the task, getting her arm under Kiara’s shoulder, and helping her to her feet.

Cyc made a sweep of the room twice—once with his regular sight, and another with his demon eye, to make sure nothing funny was going on. He let his second vision linger for a minute on Kiara’s demon leg, then turned to the door. “Let’s do this, kiddos.”

((93 — Versus))

They went down the back stairway, meant for staff and maintenance only. Cyclops stopped them for a moment on a flight as footsteps approached the door on the landing, but the sound continued past, leaving them alone. A few flights down, they came to the back door to the main hall. Cyclops gently pushed the staff door open, and motioned for the others to follow him into the museum proper.

Inside, it was set up like one would expect of a museum hall. Glass display cases filled most of it, filled with demon skeletons and preserved carcasses, ancient guns and machinery, and other assorted artifacts of leadership. Here was the first crystal sword--there a crystal imbued with demon energy that seemed carbon-dated closed to thirteen thousand years old--the vials containing the DNA of various Earth-based animals that the scientists had never had reason nor equipment to decant and clone. The lights were turned off, and the large hall echoed with darkness.

The Talons eagerly examined the nearby treasures. Reno’s pale gaze slid delicately over everything. Next to her, Chun and Kiara were staring in wonder at the artifacts.

Cyclops tapped his foot once, getting their attention, then hissed to them. “Okay cats, here’s what I’m thinking. I scope it out with the ol’ eye—” Here he tapped his eye for effect. “And we run in, grab the box, and get out. Easy as pie.”

“Put me down,” Kiara murmured. Chun did, resting her just inside the stairwell, then grinned at her friend.

From a ways off, the sound of footsteps carried through the hall--the sound of the night guard, almost certainly.

“Well, maybe not that easy,” Cyc muttered.

“Shit, not again,” moaned Reno under her breath.

“Just knock him out nice and easy.” He turned to Reno. “And to you, shhhh.”

Seth drew his crystal switchblade and began to sneak forward along the edge of the room. Chun came silently behind him, with Reno after her, dagger swishing out again.

The guard stood well ahead of most of the display cases in the room, looking out towards the front doors. He held a large taser baton in one hand. His posture made it clear that he wasn't expecting any particular excitement.

From her position in the stairwell, Kiara closed her eyes, sending Umbra creeping barely visibly along the floor.

Seth watched it creep past him, amused. He took up position behind a case and waited. If the demon didn’t finish the job, he would be ready.

More footsteps came, from off to the right, followed by a voice. “Hey, Max.”

The guard they were sneaking up on turned to look in that direction, and nodded back. "Andrew."

Another guard—Max—came out from behind a segment of wall, looking every bit as relaxed. The two guards began to talk casually.

"Weird, us both being on shift at once."

"It's those damn riots."

Cyclops, watching from afar with his demon eye, whispered to Kiara. “Second guard. Wait for these guys to jet.” Kiara nodded, and Umbra slipped back against the wall, blending into the ambient shadows.

"I know, man, I blame all the refugees,” Max agreed.

"Yeah? My little brother is a radio operator for the landing platforms."


Seth barely stifled a laugh at that, but fell silent as the guards continued talking, not showing any signs of going anywhere.

"And he says there were HUNDREDS of refugee ships. He didn't get to sleep for DAYS 'cause he was landing 'em all."

"Shit, man, way more than they said on the news."


"Hey. You hear something?"

"Like what?"

"I dunno, sounded like voices."

Kiara froze. Umbra tensed.

Next to her, Cyc whispered as softly as he could. "Alright, Kiara, think you can make umbra like a big blanket, and catch them all?"

"You're hallucinating, man."

"I'm gonna go check it out."

"Whatever, man."

Max started walking back towards them.

Seth held his position silently, switchblade closed but ready. Chun bit her lip, trying to hold perfectly still against the wall.

Kiara focused, and Umbra shaped herself into something like a large shadowy net, flat against the wall.

Cyclops waited until Max was nearly level with where Seth, Chun, and Reno were hiding, then tapped Kiara on the shoulder. “Go go go!”

Umbra detached from the wall, and in a blur of darkness wrapped around Max, knocking him to the floor. “What the—!?”

The other guard--Andrew--looked up. "Max? You okay?"

“Score one, us,” muttered Reno. Seth nodded, then began to sneak forward, trying to flank Andrew.

Max called back. "Something knocked me over! Couldn't see it, though..."

Cyc pulled out his pistol and began to advance, moving quickly from display to display, making sure to hide his reflective gun as he did so

Kiara grinned with satisfaction, and Umbra reached out a tendril, wrapping around the second guard’s ankle.

Andrew yelped in surprise. "Something's grabbing my ankle!" Umbra yanked, and Andrew's leg went out from under him, hard. He landed on his back. "Gah!"

Meanwhile, Max was getting back to his feet. "What the fuck is this thing? Did you see it?"

Seth reached Max. “Nah, and you didn’t either.” His grin gleamed in the darkness as the guard spun to face him. He brought the blunt end of his switchblade down on the guard’s head, and Max fell forward, unconscious.

Umbra, meanwhile, had bound Andrew’s weapon arm to his side. He yelled again. “Fuck! Thing’s… got my arm!” He struggled at the shadowy stuff, trying to free his arms to no avail. “Get—off—of—me!”

“Your turn, Andrew.” Seth didn’t bother to keep his voice quiet as he closed in on the second guard.

The guard pushed away on the ground, his eyes catching sight of Seth. "Ah, shit, man, you're one of the demon assassins, aren't you! Fuck!”

Reno and Chun stepped out from behind the case, flanking Seth as he advanced. Both were smiling.

“Forget my face.” Seth laughed. “Or don’t,” he finished, uncaring, hammering the blade casing onto Andrew’s temple. The man slumped, unconscious. Umbra quiet slipped away, fading again into the shadows.

“Okay, demon assassins,” Cyc called, still keeping his voice low. “Let’s get that box.”

Seth cracked his neck, then his knuckles. “Let’s.”

The box was in a particularly large glass display case in the center of the hall. Unlike every other item, it had no plaque to describe it. It was a simple gray box, a few inches an edge, with strange runes etched into each side. It was oddly off-center in its case, as if someone had somehow bumped into it.

Cyclops approached the box, his eye starting to scan for anything suspicious. He suppressed a grin. He had been after this box for far too long now—the only thing he hadn’t yet succeeded in stealing. “Somebody tie those gentlemen up, would you?” He said. “We’re going to need—”

Kiara's voice cut him off, out from the stairwell at the back of the room. "Trouble!" Her voice carried fear with it.

Seth flicked his wrist, opening the shiny blade. “I’ll check it out,” he said, as he began to run back towards the stairwell.

“Good man,” Cyc encouraged, eyes never leaving the box.

Kiara's crystal sword came skittering towards Seth, sliding along the floor. Her voice followed it, panicky. "Demon!"

From her position at the base of the staircase, Kiara could hear something coming down it. She frowned, calling Umbra back to her, to see if it could get a view.

It sounded like... skittering claws. Kiara's eyes widened, and she strained to see it, drawing her crystal sword awkwardly.

The sounds reached the edge of the stairwell, and the thing came around the corner--

... but there was nothing there. The sounds continued towards her unabated, accompanied now by an odd rasping breath. "Trouble!" Kiara tried to call, but her voice came out shakier than she had wanted.

Umbra flickered to Kiara’s side, forming a barrier.

The sound of movement stopped, right above her.

Umbra clawed at where the sound had come from. The claw met flesh and feathers. From her touch, an image rippled outwards. Hanging over her, braced between the sides of the stairwell, was a large creature, somewhat bat-like, with skeletal appendages that looked more like long, bony fingers than wings.

“Demon!” she called, voice shot through with panic. Her mind slowly processed what she was seeing. Embedded in the flesh of its chest was a… what had been human… Kiara’s eyes went wide with horror as she recognized the figure buried in the demon’s chest.

The creature looked down at her with both faces, all four eyes glowing red.

Desperately, Kiara thrust her sword at its center of mass. One of the skeletal wing-segments smacked down, knocking the sword out of her hand. The sword clattered off into the hall.

Umbra lunged upwards, slashing again with its claws, but the creature lashed out with its sharp-edged bones, shattering the shadow and dispersing it. The creature faded into invisibility once again.

Kiara pulled her demon towards her, wrapping herself in her living cloak of shadows. A strange calm settled over her. “Goodbye,” she whispered quietly to herself.

Then dozens of invisible claws tore into her flesh, shredding her skin to ribbons.

In one fluid motion, Seth flicked the switchblade shut and picked up the sword. Jaz had shown him how to use one once. He kept running.

He heard the sounds of a scuffle from the stairwell, and clenched his teeth, trying to run faster. He crossed the last few yards to the stairs, skidding to a stop at their base.

Blood covered the bottom few steps, and—

At the foot of the stairs lay the mangled corpse of Kiara.

Seth let out an almost-silent "fuck" as his breath caught in his throat.

Friday, March 4, 2011


((85 — Untrue))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

The crystal tunnel echoed with the screeching of metal on metal as the hinges protested the opening door. Seth stood outside, calmly letting his cigarette burn itself out. He was wearing his classic demon-leather trenchcoat, and his golden earrings jingled a bit in his left ear’s cartilage. On his face was a wicked grin. He was rather looking forward to seeing his mentor. Reno stood behind him, smiling over his shoulder.

Finally, as the door clanged to a halt, he tossed the dying butt to the floor, and ground it to dust underfoot. “Evening, Cyc.”

“I really hope you brought one for me too.”

But. Of. Course, mate.” Seth reached into his coat and pulled out two fresh ones. He handed one to Cyclops, along with his lighter.

Cyc grabbed it with a smile and a wink. Brown jumpsuit aside, there wasn’t anything normal-looking about Cyclops. His brown hair was styled back, his face covered in stubble. And of course his left eye had three pupils, was red shot-through with violet, and was surrounded by the crimson demonic scales that covered the left half of his face. ((Griffin Simpson))

“Now tell me,” Cyc asked as he took a long drag. “What took you two so long?” This was accompanied with two quick swats to the backs of their respective heads.

Seth laughed, leaning in the doorway. “Oh, you know, the usual. Guards, demons to fight, demons to train, apocalypses…” The prison cell was small and roughly spherical, with a ledge cut into one side to apparently serve as a bed. The only illumination came from the light filtering through the dozens of feet of crystal.

Reno bowed her head shamefully a moment before speaking. "You two catch up. I'm gonna go knock some heads, clear us an escape route." She ran off down the hallway.

Cyc nodded approvingly. “Resourceful girl.”

Seth laughed again. “You should’ve seen her earlier, seducing prepubescent boys.”

After a moment’s pause, Cyc rounded on Seth, his face absent of its previous easy smile. "Now tell me, boy-o of mine. Where are the rest of the Talons?"

“…Recovering.” Seth’s smile was gone too. “We encountered a bit of trouble on our way in.”

“How long are they going to be… recovering?”

“Dunno. Hopefully not too long. They should still be somewhere near a library.”

A muffled whump came from down the corridor, followed by Reno's voice. "One down!"

“Atta girl!” Cyc called out the door, then snapped his eyes back to Seth’s. “They got skinned knees? A little winded? Or are we talking fist-sized holes in their bodies?”

Seth broke the eye contact. “Kiara lost a leg. Well, most of one, anyway.”

“Damn. How long ‘til she’s mobile?”

“Not sure. But it won’t matter soon, will it? She’ll have to move. We all will.”

“Suppose you’re right, prison busts aren’t popular with the locals. But enough talk, you ready to go?” He stretched, rolling his shoulders backwards.

“Yeah. Let’s catch up with Reno.”

“After you,” Cyc said, with a little bow and a gesture for Seth to lead.

Seth nodded. “Let’s book it.” He took off down the hall. Cyc followed him, puffing like a chimney on his cig all the way.

Reno leaned against the wall by the elevator, eyes closed. "What took you two so long?" She grinned wryly. The old guard who had stopped them earlier was facedown on his deck, a small trickle of blood seeping from the back of his head.

Cyc took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew a breath of smoke. "Violent sodomy. Speaking of violence, which one of you delinquents did this?" He said, gesturing at the guard.

"That would be me." Reno hit a button on the wall, and the elevator doors slid open.

Seth stepped inside and pulled a small silver revolver out of his coat.

“Gold star for you,” Cyc said, entering the elevator with Seth. “How many of those hand warmers you got, kid?”

“This’s the only one that makes things go boom. I’ve also got a few sharp things. Any preferences?”

"Whatever you can spare, kid. So what's this big escape plan?"

Reno laughed. "We barely need one. There's just the kid up here, what with the riots."

“You’ve always been a better shot than me,” Seth said, handing Cyclops the gun as he pulled out his crystal switchblade with his other hand.

“Aces,” was all Cyc said as he took the gun, fiddling with it. “I recognize this gun! You kids hit my storeroom.” He thought for a moment. “Gold stars for both of you for resourcefulness.” Then he turned to Reno. “Wait, riots?”

“Shit,” Seth said, eyebrows raised in genuine surprise. “You not hear about the impending doom, corked up down there?”

Cyc frowned at him. “You have some information you want to share with the rest of the class?”

The doors of the elevator slid open onto the first floor hallway. The young teenager still sat at his post, looking around awkwardly. "H-hey!" The boy pointed. "Y-you can't..."

“In a nutshell?” Seth said, ignoring the guard. “We’ve got a fleet of demons coming down our collective ass, bigger and badder than anything you’ve ever seen. Anything anyone's ever seen.”

The guard stammered, gesturing at Cyclops. "He can't..."

Cyc trained the gun on the kid, not even looking at him. "What are they doing about it?" He said to Seth.

The kid shut up quick, his hands raising in the air over his head.

“No clue. Some friends of Jaz—” He paused for a moment and took a sharp breath. “—some friends of Jaz… shit, I don’t even know. But they got here first and warned everyone. Not very well, I guess, given that all hell’s broken loose already.”

Cyc’s human eye brightened a little at this. “So this whole rock is in pandemonium, eh?”

“Yeah,” Seth said, leading the way down the corridor. The rest of the way out was clear. An empty hallway leading towards a huge hole in the wall where the door had been.

“Good. Now let’s got out of here, and then I’m gonna tell you a little story,” Cyc said, making his way towards the hole.

“Sounds like a plan,” spoke Seth, as he stepped outside.

Friday, February 25, 2011


((89 — Beginning))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

Goat’s room in the hospital was a small one, at the outer edge of the crystal spire. A window let a beam of natural light in, gently illuminating the room. The room was long and thin, with space for six beds to fold down from the wall, though only Goat's was in use, leaving most of the room empty.

Giraffe shuffled in through the door, not fully awake yet and trying hard not to spill the tray of food she was carrying. Zebra followed her in, yawning as well. She quietly took a seat in a nearby chair, looking like she might nod off for a bit.

Goat opened his young, naive eyes. Bandages were wrapped tightly around his upper arm, and more over his leg. The doctors had told him the bullets had gone clean through, and with the benefits of modern medical practices, he should be good to leap again in a matter of days. “Good morning!” He said, looking at the two newcomers.

Zebra waved a hand noncommittally. "Morning."

“Here’s some—” Giraffe paused to yawn. “—food, Goat. How are you so cheery?”

“I just woke up,” he said. “The terrible state of things hasn’t gotten to me yet. Plus you brought me food, which is very sweet of you. Thanks!”

Giraffe gave half a smile and shrugged, setting the tray down on Goat’s lap. “Least I could do.” She happily sank down into a chair next to Zebra, and began gently nursing the cup of coffee she had taken from the tray. “Enjoy, I thought it was rather nice myself.” Next to her, Zebra was similarly sipping at a cup of coffee appreciatively. It didn't appear to be doing much to wake her up yet, though.

Goat sat up and instinctively transformed the food into a sandwich, then began munching happily.

“So,” Giraffe said after a minute or two of quiet eating. “How are the appendages?”

“Good, except for the fact that they’re injured. I think they’re getting better though.” As if to demonstrate, he gave a flail with his injured arm, then winced.

“Well that’s good,” Giraffe said, stifling a laugh. “Any idea where we’re going next?”

Goat frowned. “I see two options: we stay here and do Barret’s dirty work… or we go find Kasby.”

Giraffe perked up slightly. “I like option two, Barret bugs me.”

“Bugs? Seems a bit of an understatement. Hey…” Goat lowered his voice to what he thought was a whisper. “Do you think she’s a demon in disguise?”

Giraffe pondered it a moment. “I dunno, the only demons that we’ve seen, even in disguise, have had non-human features. But then again, she could be like us and just scared of more of her/our kind.”

“We’ll see,” Goat said. “In any case, I guess I won’t be doing much ‘til these limbs heal up.”

Giraffe shrugged. “Guess so.”

The conversation trailed off for a long minute. Goat stared out the window, down at the city below. “This city is really big,” he stated quietly.

Giraffe looked at him blankly for a second. “Well that was random. Are you—”

“Hey,” he cut her off, moving his toe nervously. “If we haven’t been eaten by demons when my limbs get better…”

Giraffe continued to look at him in confusion. “Um…”

“Do you want to… um… gonadate?”

“Say again?”

Goat gulped. “Go on a date?” His eyes darted nervously.

Giraffe puzzled for a second before looking at her coffee. “I don’t… know? Maybe?”

From her chair, Zebra raised an eyebrow, and a hint of a smile creeped along the corner of her half-asleep mouth.

Giraffe jumped up. “I need more coffee!”

“Kay,” Goat said quietly.

She shuffled to the door, yelling over her shoulder, “And that wasn’t a yes, by the way!”

Goat let out a sigh, then looked to Zebra.

The girl immediately pretended to be asleep, letting out a pointed and perhaps overloud fake yawn.

After a few minutes passed, Giraffe sauntered back with a fresh cup of coffee.

“Still not sure?” Goat asked tentatively.

Giraffe opened her mouth to respond, but turned her head as something caught her eye. On the far side of the room, a yellow mist was slowly beginning to flood the floor, flowing seemingly out of nowhere.

((90 — 0800 Dub))

“Wha!” exclaimed Goat.

“I dunno!” Giraffe yelled as she climbed onto a chair, trying to get away from the mist. Zebra stood up, looking down at the mist in confusion.

Part of it swirled up in the far corner, beginning to solidify into a human form. Slowly, it resolved into something all three recognized--the creature that had once been Jazrill Quinn.

Giraffe looked wide-eyed at the figure. “Fuck!”

“Gah!” Goat yelled.

Its skin was black and cracking, and its eyes shone red. The goggle lenses now embedded in its forehead glowed a fainter red, looking almost like a second set of eyes. The creature took a step forward, hissing angrily. It looked around the room, looking for something or someone. From a mouth that was far from human, the thing let out an angry howl.

Giraffe stood very still, and began to hiss for Zebra to do the same.

Zebra didn’t seem to want to wait around, though, and hurled her cup of hot coffee at the creature.

The cup hit it in the chest, splashing steaming brown liquid all across it. It screeched again, this time in pain.

Giraffe looked at Zebra. “Now she’s going to come after us!” she screeched.

“Fine by me,” Zebra said angrily, and picked up her chair, holding it over her head like a weapon.

Then the creature ran at Zebra--though it was limping slightly, favoring its right leg.

With one arm, Goat threw his tray of food at the creature, as Giraffe shot a blast of flame at its injured leg.

It leapt into the air, over both the fire and the tray of food, barely avoiding hitting the high ceiling. It came down with the crystal blade emerging from the end of its arm aimed squarely at Zebra's chest.

She stumbled backwards, trying to get out of its way, but the blade sliced through her shirt and chest, spattering blood on the floor.

“NO!” Goat shouted. Giraffe just turned up the heat, focusing on the wounded leg. This time, her blast of flame caught the creature solidly, bringing out another howl of pain. It rolled to the side, out of the way of Giraffe's blast, clutching at its burnt leg.

“Oh no, you don’t get away that easily,” Giraffe yelled as she re-directed her blast to follow it.

Next to her, Zebra looked down at herself, at the blood that was quickly staining her shirt red. Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fainted. As her unconscious form hit the floor next to Goat's bed, the room around them seemed to ripple.

A second room seemed to overlay the hospital, a room of metal and wood. It looked almost like one of the rooms of Sector Four, but the walls were overlaid with thick red wires, that pulsed slightly, like blood vessels.

“What the fall?” Goat said, eyes darting around in bewilderment.

Giraffe let off her flame, nervously pacing. “This isn’t good.”

Zebra now stood again where she had been, looking around in confusion. She also lay prone on the floor, at her own feet.

Where Jaz was, though... A second form overlaid hers, this one a glowing silhouhette of angrily flickering red light. It looked around, scowling and hissing, and then its eyes seemed to settle on Zebra once more. Both forms, the physical and the glowing red, took a step towards her.

“Hey you!” Giraffe shouted at the glowing figure. It ignored her, not seeming to hear at all.

Without warning, it leapt forward, landing right in front of the ghostly figure of Zebra. The physical form landed badly, its burnt leg not supporting it well, but the red form stayed standing.

“What…?” Zebra was still frowning in confusion, not understanding. A pale red line appeared along her chest, matching the cut on her body on the ground. Then she reached out a hand to touch the creature’s face, the angry red mist every bit as insubstantial as her hand. “Jaz?”

For a fleeting moment, the redness seemed to peel back where she touched, and the familiar face of Captain Jazrill Quinn emerged from beneath the rage.

Then the moment passed, and the fire once more covered the creature. With one swirly red hand, it grabbed Zebra by the throat.

“Well, shit,” she said quietly.

The creature's other hand punched straight through Zebra, emerging out the back of her spine in a grisly display of bloody light. She fell backwards, even as a third wave of Giraffe's fire hit the creature in the side.

Before Zebra's ghostly body hit the floor a second time, the world rippled, and the overlays vanished. They were once again in the medical room, face to face with the physical demon that had been Jaz.

A demon that was now right in the line of Giraffe's flame. It shrieked, diving backwards, trying to get away from the fire. Giraffe just growled, increasing the intensity of the heat, channeling her anger into it.

Snarling, the creature locked its eyes on its one escape: the window. In a final burst of effort, it launched itself forward, despite both wounded legs. The creature flew over where Goat still lay in bed, smashing through the window next to him.

The room was suddenly deathly silent.

Giraffe ran over to Zebra, dropping to her knees and looking over her body. There didn’t appear to be very much blood, but she wasn’t breathing.

“Shit,” Goat said quietly, eyes wide.

Giraffe didn’t respond, just pulled Zebra’s bloody shirt back to look at where Jaz’s crystal blade had hit her. The wound was a long cut, a slice that ran from shoulder to hip, but it wasn't terribly deep. It wouldn't be life-threatening, but... Zebra wasn't moving. Wasn't breathing.

“Fucktards,” Giraffe spat bitterly.

“Good thing we’re kind of already in a hospital, right?” Goat offered.

“I… I don’t think it will be able to help much.” Zebra lay still. No pulse pushed blood from the wound.

Giraffe reached out her hand, and gently closed Zebra’s eyes, her own hollow eyes looking down at the corpse of her oldest friend.

Friday, February 18, 2011


((88 — Phendrana Drifts))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

“It’s just up ahead,” Delissa said, looking back over her shoulder at Owl and Spider.

The two refugees were following her through the streets of the city, on their way to the entrance to the Deepana Caverns. They had meant to get an early start, but had all wound up sleeping in, and it was midmorning by the time they got moving. The night before, after checking on Kiara, Spider had split off from the Talons and shared Owl’s room for the night. They’d stayed up late catching each other up on their various exploits since parting ways a month earlier.

The alleyway suddenly opened up into what at first looked like a large courtyard. The ground was made of massive metal sheets, instead of the usual ground-down crystal of the rest of the city. In the center sat a small kiosk, with a single door.

Delissa frowned. “Usually there would be guards, but I guess they’re all busy dealing with the riots…”

Spider touched off the ground, letting herself fall towards the building. “Then let’s head inside!”

Owl jogged after, Delissa close on her heels. Their footsteps rang loudly on the metal, making it quite clear that there was nothing but air beneath the panel. They reached the door to find Spider frowning at the large padlock hanging conspicuously on the handle.

“Won’t open,” the teenager said. “I could hit it.”

Delissa shook her head. “It’s probably magically reinforced, knowing security around her. Crystals inside the lock. I guess we’ll have to come back another time.”

Owl stepped forward. “I think I can do something about it, actually.” Smiling, she rested her hand on the padlock. The pattern of words flowed off of her skin, surrounding and describing the lock. Owl focused, and her mouth moved just slightly, lips shaping out words. The writing on the padlock changed, and the lock changed with it. With a click, it popped open.

Delissa just stared. “I… it just…”

“Yeah. It’s… useful, sometimes.”

The younger librarian nodded. “I read about it in your journals, but it’s… it’s something else entirely to see it for real.” She looked at Owl, who smiled sheepishly. “You’re absolutely incredible.”

Owl blushed. “No, I’m just… I do what I can with what I have, and it’s not…” She trailed off as a loud clanging came from within the kiosk. She turned to see Spider already inside and halfway down a ladder.

Spider looked back at her. “What? I got bored. Come on!”

The crystal caves turned out to be much like the ones they had explored on Face, only scaled up a dozen times. They came complete with strange shadow-filled cracks and long-desiccated corpses impaled on crystal spires.

After the fourth or fifth set of corpses they passed, Delissa stopped, tugging on Owl’s sleeve. “We should turn back.”

Owl frowned at her. “Why?”

The girl swallowed, looking down. “We’ll end up like those people we passed… we’ll get impaled!”

Owl shook her head. “I don’t think so. The shadows—the things in the crystals—seem to acknowledge that we’re on their side now. They made contact with us, back when all this was starting.”

Delissa nodded. “I know. I read about it. It still… it feels uncomfortable here.”

“We’ll be fine,” Owl said. “Spider and I have been through much darker situations than this, I assure you. A little spelunking is, you know, easy as falling for us now!” She laughed awkwardly, and Delissa laughed with her, but Owl didn’t think her half-hearted joke had done much to cheer the librarian.

Sighing, they followed after their gravity-defying companion.

After what felt like at least four or five hours of wandering through the crystal catacombs, Spider stopped them abruptly.

Owl raised a questioning eyebrow. “What is it?”

Spider scowled at the floor, looking at it from where she stood on the ceiling. “Gravity goes all weird, right under us. It feels funny.”

“What do you mean?”

“I dunno, but I don’t like it. Something’s messing with it.”

“Something alive?” Delissa asked, voice small.

Spider shook her head. “I don’t think so. It’s like… there’s a hole, where gravity suddenly goes all flippy, like a ledge or something. I can’t really describe it.”

“Do you think you lead us to it?” Owl asked.

Spider nodded sharply. “Absolutely.”

It took them almost another hour of exploration before they found the source of the strange gravity. The orange light came into view first, flickering strangely in the otherwise white-lite tunnel. They rounded the corner to it, bringing it fully into view.

In the floor of the tunnel was a large crack, at least three meters long and half a meter wide. Its edge was lined with glowing orange lettering, that drifted along the length of the crack, phasing gently in and out of itself.

Owl walked slowly to the edge, staring down at the letters, studying them, trying to read them.

“What is it?” Delissa asked quietly.

“And can you read it?” Spider asked, hovering over her shoulder.

Owl shook her head. “I can read the words, but the grammar doesn’t make any sense. It’s all just strings of numbers and descriptive language… Maybe I could decipher it eventually, but it just looks like gibberish to me.” She let out a frustrated sigh.

Spider fell to the ceiling, inverting in mid-air to land on her feet. She stood over the hole, looking straight down through it. “It’s all just white in there!”

“What do you mean?” Owl followed her gaze, and saw only empty whiteness within. A burst of cold air came out, prompting her to pull her arms against her sides.

“The other gaps all had shadows in them, filling them in. This one isn’t even a crack! It’s just white!”

Owl started to answer, but Spider cut her off. “I’m gonna go check it out!” Owl watched as the teenager detached from the ceiling, and let herself fall through the portal.

Delissa frowned after her. “Will she be alright?”

Owl nodded. “She can take care of herself.” She crouched next to the gap, and touched her hand to the words. Rather than flow off of her, the words on the back of her hand took on the orange tint of the writing on the ground. “Oh!” She exclaimed quietly.

“What is it?” Delissa asked worriedly.

“It’s… I can kind of feel how it makes sense now! It’s like the portal is explaining itself to me…”


Spider came rocketing back up through the gap, a whirlwind of cold following her. She landed again on the ceiling, her head and shoulders now covered with a strange dusting of white. She grinned gleefully at her two companions. “Owl! Owl! There’s a whole WORLD in there!”