Friday, February 3, 2012



((94 — Broken Home))

July 4th, 802 AT.

The medical room was quiet, unmoving. A technician had come by the night before to clean up the blood.

Skunk glanced around silently as she guided the stretcher bearing Kasby's still form. Kasby lay on the stretcher, an IV drip running into his arm. He was unconscious but breathing. One of his arms was heavily swathed in bandages.

Goat was lying in one of the beds, staring at the window. He looked up when his friend entered. "Skunk!"

Skunk stopped dead. "Goat?"

"Yep!" He sat up eagerly. "I've been getting worried about you guys. Where've you been? Where are the others? What's up with Kasby?"

Skunk snorted. "His hand got lopped off."

Goat observed Kasby's injury as Skunk wheeled the stretcher into position near his bed. The bandages hid anything particularly vicious from sight, but they were soaked through with blood.

"Me," Skunk continued. "Well, I suppose I've been fine. Owl, I haven't seen her in a few days." She furrowed her brow, looking at Got. "How did you get here? And why are you in the hospital?"

"Escaped in the Quinn from Sector... Four... with Kasby, Giraffe, and..." His face fell. "Zebra," he said softly.

Picking up on his tone, Skunk prompted, "What happened to Zebra?"

"The thing that Jaz turned into... got her. In this very room."

"Shit." Skunk bit her lip. "She--it--got Kasby too. Nearly killed me in the process."

"Did you hear how it and its demon friends killed all the higher-ups here but Barret?"

Skunk shrugged. "I heard that some demons had come a-calling at the meeting-thing, but that's really the sum of my knowledge."

"Mm." Goat leaned back against his pillows. "Barret's a jerk."

"Who's she? Sounds fishy to me."

"She was the military leader of Sector One, before all the other five leaders got assassinated. So now she's basically the dictator." Goat lowered his voice. "I think she's a demon."

"What even is a demon?" Skunk asked in exasperation. "At first I thought they were just those things we fought at the start of all this. Then Jaz... well, you know. And now dictator-demons?"

"Apparently they can be humanoid. Doesn't seem like much of a stretch for them to look completely human." He paused. "After Kasby ran off to hunt down Jaz, Barret sent me, Giraffe, and Zebra to reclaim one of the gun towers from some rebels. We tried to reason with them, join them even, but they shot me in the arm." He used one hand to point at his shoulder, which was still bandaged from the fighting two days earlier. "I do not like them."

"Yeah... I don't think anyone does." Skunk sighed. "What about Spider?"

"I was going to ask you that," Goat said worriedly.

"Hmm..." Skunk gazed at the ceiling. "There was no one else, was there? Me, you, Owl, Spider, Zebra, Giraffe. And Kasby."

"Nope. Everyone's accounted for 'cept Spider," Goat said. "Face is running out of survivors..."

"She can take care of herself, I guess," Skunk said half-heartedly. She didn't seem convinced in the truth of her own words.

The hospital room was silent again for an uncomfortable minute.

"Ah, Face," Goat finally said. "Playing hookball with Aardvark and Platypus... Practicing the art of leaping with Master Jellyfish..."

Skunk kept silent. Her memories of Face were not the type of thing that most people found pleasant or cheery.

Goat was still talking. "Shame how he didn't leap far enough that last time..."

Skunk cracked a tiny smile. "All gone now, no doubt."

"Learning to make sandwiches, with Xylophone! 'Goat! You just something between two other things! It's fucking simple!' Xylophone was always yelling..." Goat's smile almost looked real, but his periodic glances at Kasby's unmoving form gave him away. "And Hippopotamus, that girl with curly hair! The times I almost asked her out..."

Skunk changed the topic with a half-roll of her red eyes. "So where's Giraffe?"

"Back in her room, resting."

"Mm. Good." Skunk's voice was flat. "You were saying about the possibly-demonic dictator. That sounds like trouble to me."

"Yeah!" Goat sat up slightly again. "I've got pretty much no evidence other than how all the other leaders got killed so conveniently, but I'm sure of it." Goat's eyes narrowed. "Something in my gut tells me."

"I don't know much about the situation, but it doesn't sound impossible." Skunk walked over to the windows and gazed out at the city below. "What are we going to do about it, then?"

"I'm gonna heal up, first," Goat said, flexing his shoulder and wincing slightly. "Not sure what to do after that."

"We can't exactly let the entire city to fall to bits, though." Skunk frowned, then sighed. "I wonder whether Owl is still at the library... She'd have an idea."


((91 — Darkness))

July 3rd, 802 AT.

As Spider neared the crystal where the Talons had left their demons, nothing seemed to be amiss. The four demons still sat there, mostly asleep and functionally in a daze. Caf idly picked at her feathers every now and again, but other than that the demons seemed to be in something of a holding pattern. There was something slightly odd about the gravity here, a gentle off-center tugging, but Spider ignored it.

Spider fell over to the demons casually, mostly ignoring the others in favor of keeping her eyes locked on Scorpia. The large insect was huddled over in a corner, not far from Seth's Noh.

"Okay, girl." Spider stepped down onto the crystal. "We're getting you off this rock, 'kay?"

It was the middle of the night, and the Void was dark around her. Far behind her was the distant glow of Sector One, barely visible in the thick fog. She had left Owl and the librarian--Delissa, Spider vaguely remembered--hard at work, still investigating the strange portal. The other side had proved far too vast to explore on foot, so Spider had returned to collect Scorpia.

Scorpia looked up at her indignantly. She scuttled over, and put herself under Spider's hand. The girl petted the demon's opaque shell awkwardly. The other demons watched for a moment, but quickly realized their own masters were still gone, and returned to their listlessness.

"So, er, I hope you don't mind the cold. We're going someplace freezing, and I bet you can help carry some supplies.... though I'm not sure how to get you in sneakily." Spider glanced over her shoulder, back towards Sector One. "Maybe you can make yourself... I don't know, not... energy-like?"

Scorpia's antennae quivered, and then she shook, growing smaller and paler until she was almost invisible, much smaller than normal.

Spider raised her eyebrow. "Well... alright. I've already got some supplies, so... I suppose we get going?" She hovered into the air.

Torrential Black let out a quiet little squawk. It sounded very lonely.

Spider looked over at Black nervously. "Um... I'm sure the rest of those guys will come back for you soon," she said vaguely.

She lifted off, Scorpia just behind her. She frowned, though, feeling again that strange tugging of gravity. It was like there was some huge source of gravity lurking nearby in the fog. She looked, though, staring into the fog on the far side of the crystal from Sector One.

There was nothing, just empty fog. It was thick fog, though, and the more she focused on it, the clearer the pull felt. She re-centered herself on it, and started to drop slowly towards it, moving away from the city.

She fell like that for a few minutes, getting closer to the source of the gravity. She was sure of it now, there had to be something there. Scorpia clicked quietly from her side, and Spider looked at her demon. "You feel it too?"

A glance over her shoulder confirmed that the crystal the demons had been sitting on was long out of sight, and now even the glow of Sector One had vanished into the fog. She let Scorpia drift a little closer.

She bumped into something.

The gravity ahead of her resolved suddenly, becoming not one vague wash of density but a thousand points of pull. There was nothing she could see, just more fog, but she could feel it.

A voice boomed out from behind her. "EXCUSE ME."

Spider jolted in midair at the sound, and spun in the air. She bumped into whatever invisible thing she had found. "What!?"

Before her loomed a massive being, easily three hundred meters tall. His skin glowed yellow, and she looked down to see that his feet trailed off into a vague yellow smoke. His face consisted only of nine glowing yellow eyes, but other than that, he looked... human. Humanoid, at least. Spider crossed her arms and pouted up at him.


She raised one pointed eyebrow. "What?" She said it quieter this time, more annoyed.

Its four muscular arms unfolded, and one of them reached out to her. Around each wrist was a manacle of glowing red writing.

Spider scrambled through the air, falling backwards away from the hand. The arm faded elongated, stretching out, following her. As massive fingers closed around her, she switched gravity suddenly, slipping out between them. "Who the hell do you think you are!?" She spun, then smacked straight into the palm of a second hand. The thick yellow fingers wrapped tight around her, pulling her up towards the being's face.


Spider beat her fists on the fingers uselessly, but didn't seem to take the thing too seriously. "What sort of name is that?"

Behind it, the air rippled, as if a curtain was being dropped. The Void suddenly glowed a horrible bloodthirsty red, the glow of a thousand larvae backed by a thousand thousand demons.


Spider stopped hitting his hands. She peered out into the redlit abyss. "Okay... General Soul-Eater. No need to shout." She tried not to be afraid, but was failing slowly.

With one of its three free hands, Magid flicked a finger, and a larva flew forward from its place in the swarm. Its four leathery wings flapped slowly, bringing it towards Spider.

"Okay, so what exactly do you want?" She turned back to the General, and squirmed a bit in his fingers, contorting. Scorpia was somewhere else, but so small and lifeless as to be nearly invisible.


Spider opened her mouth, then closed it. "God DAMMIT. I saw that coming." She sighed.

The all-too-familiar red portal split the air in front of the larva. Snaking red tentacles leapt from its gaping maw, reaching out for her.

It had been said before that Spider was flexible and agile, but even she had boundaries of where she could move. When her life was in danger, though, those limits no longer applied. She squirmed and squeezed and made herself as tiny as possible, folding against the curve of his fingers. At the same time, Scorpia grew again, stabbing the yellow General Soul-Eater in one of his unblinking eyes with both stingers.

Magid hissed angrily, drawing back, a great gout of yellow flame erupting from his wounded eye. In his distraction, he lost his grip on Spider. "THAT WAS A GRAVE MISTAKE, YOUNG HUMAN." His voice was no less deep, but now tinged with anger.

Spider zoomed off sideways, pulling all the gravity in the world with her. Scorpia fell alongside her, zipping away from the sprawling swarm. She looked back, tumbling in the air, just in time to see the yellow smoke at Magid's base swirl up around him. It dissipated into the fog, leaving nothing behind.

A massive hand closed around Spider from behind, yellow smoke blowing past her. "I SHOULD BE NOT SO SURPRISED," the demon boomed. "THE OTHER HUMAN I HAVE SO RECENTLY MET WOULD HAVE DONE SIMILARLY..."

Spider thrashed about, trying to squeeze out again, then paused. "What other human?"


Spider stared up at him with narrowed eyes, her face smug and disbelieving. "What? She's dead."


Spider paused herself, thinking over the man's words. "Uh. Soul Eater. You mean that big army thing?"

"THE SOUL-EATER IS HE WHO IS THE HEART OF THE SWARM. ALL-DEVOURER, ALL-CONSUMER." Magid opened his hand, but this time a ring of glowing yellow circles remained, pinning Spider's limbs to her side. Scorpia was similarly bound, floating a few feet to her side.

"I think I'm actually starting to get it," Spider said with a bitter smile.

A pair of larvae flew towards where they floated in the fog. "YOUR UNDERSTANDING IS NOT OF MY CONCERN, YOUNG HUMAN."

Spider stared at the larvae. The tentacles of energy snaked out, twining around her and her demon. "Bye," she said lamely. She thought briefly of Seth, and the Talons, and of Owl and her friends from Face. She thought of Kasby and Jaz.

Mostly she thought about how much it sucked, how unfair it was, and how unsatisfied she was with everything. She had gone into Face to find answers, and was about to die two months later just as confused as she had been when she started.

She took a deep breath, stared up at Magid, Soul-Eater General, and bellowed, "YOUR FACE IS--"

The red swallowed her, and she was gone.

Friday, January 27, 2012


. July 3rd, 802 AT.

((95 — Industrial Heist))

The cavernous grand hall of the museum echoed with the sudden silence. Seth looked down at where Kiara's corpse lay at the foot of the stairs. Blood seeped out through dozens of tiny cuts, pooling around her and flowing out onto the floor.

He stifled the multitude of curses that nearly flowed from his mouth and began to walk up the stairs, moving as slowly and quietly as he could.

On the second stair he jerked his head up to attention as a skittering sound came from above. A second later it turned to an odd, raspy breathing as the sound came closer.

He raised his blade, frowning at the empty air. "Get the fuck down here, NOW!"

Suddenly he felt putrid breath hot on his face, and the strange sounds were right next to him, filling the air.

“Son of a bitch,” Cyclops swore as he heard Kiara’s yell. “Reno, we’re going to help Seth. Grab one of those swords in the display.”

The glaze that had settled over Reno’s eyes seemed to subside. “Alright. I’m all for experimentation.” She flipped her dagger into her holster, stretched her hand back, and threw a forceful punch into a display case. She seized the hilt of one of the swords, and wrenched it from the case. The oblong metal blade swung out awkwardly, heavier than she had expected.

Cyc didn't wait, just started running off towards the back of the room.

Chun watched them go. "Shit," she said under her breath, then pulled her goggles down over her eyes and withdrew a jagged piece of crystal the size of her forearm from her backpack. She followed after Reno, who was now holding the hefty sword at some semblance of a combat-ready angle.

The remaining Talons arrived at the back door just in time to see Seth staggering backwards out of it, swinging Kiara's crystal sword wildly, his other hand clutching at his face.

Reno's eyes went wide. "Hang on, Seth!" She darted forward, trying to raise the sword and stay balanced.

Seth's blade connected with something hard in front of him. Suddenly he could see it. They all could. It loomed over Seth, a giant bat-like thing. Instead of wings, it had at least thirty long, bony claws emerging from its sides. A human figure was embedded in its chest, but the creature slipped out of sight after a moment, fading upwards into the darkness.

"Son of a bitch," Cyc said as he rounded on Seth. He raised his pistol and opened fire, aiming indiscriminately upward.

Somehow, one of his shots connected. As a shrieking filled the air, the demon became visible for a few moments, and the assembled Talons could see its face. It was the face of Devrah Marash. Chun's mother.

Chun paled, suddenly unable to move. "M-mo-MOM!? Fuck!" She began to hyperventilate, dropping to the floor and trembling.

The demon's features twisted with madness, then fixated on the source of the words as it began to move again, fading once more into invisibility. A terrible keen filled the room, echoing in from all directions.

"Chun, get out of here!" Cyc roared. He blinked once, twice, letting his demonic eye open wide. Now he could see it, a pale hideous creature, somehow using magic to hide from ordinary sight, skittering across the ceiling of the room. "Chun, it's behind you, go!" He raised his gun again, sighting down the barrel.

Her name jolted her upright, and she broke into a run, heading for where Seth stood at the bottom of the stairwell. She clutched the chunk of crystal tightly to her chest, breath ragged in her lungs.

Reno just stared, the sword hanging limply from her fingers. The creature strobed in and out of existence as Cyclops' shots hit it. "Dammit," she breathed, actually looking panicky. "They fused... how did they... fuse?" She was muttering to herself with an air of questionable sanity.

Cyclops' gun clicked, out of bullets, as the creature threw itself from the wall, slipping invisibly through the air at Chun. He bit his lip, then ran for the case full of swords that Reno had opened.

Reno was still mumbling. "If one dies... they both have to die... we can't leave one without the other..."

Chun just ran, muttering "how," over and over again. She felt claws at her ankles, and faltered, stumbling forward. She heard Seth's voice from ahead of her, an unintelligible yell, and she caught herself and ran forward in a burst of adrenaline-fueled speed.

Seth watched her stumble. It had to be right behind her. He streaked straight toward that which was once Devrah, Kiara's crystal sword over his head. As he reached Chun, the blade connected with the thing in midair, and Seth threw his momentum into it.

It appeared fully to sight, now, its body a mass of blood and bone. Seth's blade had sunk deep into it, plunging straight into the chest of the human embedded in the beast's stomach. It screeched terribly as its claws lashed out, ripping wildly at Seth's arms.

"NO!" Reno's yell cut through the air. "SETH! DON'T SEPARATE THEM!" She dashed forward with astonishing speed, raising her sword. "KILL THEM TOGETHER! BOTH OF THEM!"

Seth just screamed, not knowing whether to pull back or keep striking. His hands were still wrapped around the hilt of the crystal sword as the thing scratched at him. Its claws were tearing the sleeves of his leather trenchcoat to ribbons, and leaving deep cuts in his arms.

Chun trembled and slowly dragged herself to standing from where she had slumped on the ground a few feet away. She lifted the crystal slab and took a shaky step forward.

Reno reached Seth and the demon, and swung wildly at its side. Mid-swing, her sword ignited. Her concentration broke, and she let the flaming sword go with a yelp. It still hit the side of the demon, though it clashed ineffectively against the beast's bony arms and fell to the floor.

Cyclops, too, had caught up with them, and thrust his own stolen sword into the creature's back. It howled and stumbled further forward, looming over Seth. Its flailing claws swung back in an attempt to pull the blade out of its spine.

The sudden blaze from Reno's sword lit Chun eerily as she advanced to stand alongside Seth, the light reflecting off of the goggles over her eyes. She raised her crystal block, and swung it hard, arms tense. The solid chunk smashed across the face of what had once been her mother. There was a sickening crunch, and the chest-head lolled to one side. Then the red faded from its eyes, and it was still.

Seth let go of the sword, gasping. He was bleeding from his face, and heavily from his arms. He fell to the ground, and tried to catch himself. His arms crumpled under him.

"I hate kids," Cyclops muttered as he jerked the sword out of the beast, then walked around the fallen creature to look at Seth. "You alright there, Lancelot?"

Seth spat blood. "Been better," he grimaced.

Chun kept trembling, and sat down and took off her backpack. The crystal lay to one side, discarded. She held her head in her hands.

Reno seemed to slowly slide out of her psychotic spasm. "S... Seth?" She stumbled over to him. "Dude... are you..."

Seth looked down at his arms. His jacket was in shreds, and his skin wasn't much better. He couldn't see any exposed bone, but that wasn't much comfort. "I should live," he said, still gasping for air. "Would somebody bind my arms?"

Hearing the call, Chun started taking deep breaths. She pulled out a small notebook and jotted down a few words. Then she exchanged the items for some gauze stolen from the room upstairs. She got to her feet and walked to Reno. "Patch Seth up." Her voice was flat, emotionless.

Cyclops jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the fallen demon. "Anyone want to tell me exactly what that thing was? Or why you didn't tell me about it earlier?"

As the words left his mouth, the thing leapt into the air once again, still fully visible. The grotesque corpse of Chun's mother hung limply from its chest as it went, heading straight for the box in its case. The eyes along the demon's skull had turned a curious yellow.

"Hell no!" Cyc yelled as he spun and made his way after the creature.

Chun glared at the thing. She shoved her backpack at Reno and ran after the thing as fast as she could.

Cyc raised his sword as he gained on it. It wasn't moving fast, crawling along the floor with its bony claws. He swung hard just as it reached the box.

Its claws grabbed at the glass protecting the box, and it jerked back. Cyc's sword cut it, but flew back as electricity jolted through the demon, and from there through his sword and into his hands.

The glass was shattered, though, and the demon pulled itself slowly to its feet, reaching for the box. Chun came up to it, then wrapped her hands around Kiara's crystal blade, still where Seth had left it, embedded in the beast's chest. She tugged hard, and the sword came free. Even as she stabbed at the creature, its bony arms were reaching around her, still going for the box.

"MY. BOX." Cyclops roared in primordial rage, his sword lashing out at the demon. His blade connected, again and again, digging out great chunks. Brown ichor flowed from where he struck it.

Chun's hair was more wild than usual as she kept swinging. Slowly the beast fell back, as the man and the girl hacked at it over and over. It slumped to the floor. Its final keen seemed to crawl down their spines, but still they continued. Chun kept swinging with all her might until the beast was in pieces and Kiara's crystal blade chipped against the concrete floor.

Cyclops struck the ground a few more times for good measure before he dropped the sword. Then he turned on the box. It sat there, completely unprotected. He grabbed it, his hand closing on its cool surface. He grinned, face covered in the demon's brown blood. "Aces."

To his normal sight, its six sides were engraved with strange markings and runes. He looked the box over with his other visions curiously. He could see what looked like tendrils of dormant magic stretching out away from it in all directions, but they looked empty somehow. He shrugged, uninterested in what the thing actually was, now that he finally had it. He tucked it under his arm.

Strangely calm, Chun walked back to Seth and Reno. Seth was lying on his back, his tattered trenchcoat discarded to the side. Reno was hunched over him, the sword clutched in her hand. Its blade glowed a dull orange, and steam rose as she held it over Seth's bleeding arms.

Chun stared. "What are you doing?"

"He was bleeding too much. I have to cauterize the wounds." Her voice was hollow, making her sound somehow more shaken than Chun.

Seth nodded slightly. "It was... my idea..."

"This is a bad idea," Chun said quietly. She didn't make any motion to stop her friend.

Reno took a deep breath, then pressed the flat of the blade against the biggest cut on Seth's arm.

He let out a howl of agony as his flesh burned, but held still as he could. He tasted blood, and he wasn't sure if it was from the cuts on his face or biting his tongue.

"Reno," Chun said. "Don't cauterize his face. Only the biggest wounds."

"I gave him options," Reno said as she worked. "He picked the flame. And don't worry, I won't give him deep-fried face." She moved to another wound, starting to cauterize it.

Chun chuckled just slightly, and Cyclops gave her an unsettled glance as he walked up. He didn't like the smile plastered across her face. "You kids are all types of crazy," he said, shaking his head.

Seth continued to gasp for air, eyes squeezed shut, but they could see it was working. The bleeding had stopped, though his arms were now raw and pink, the flesh slightly charred.

An unfamiliar voice came from the direction of the stairwell. "Hey, you, what's--ugh!"

Cyc instinctively ducked down, looking towards the noise. He motioned for the kids to stay down and started moving towards the stairs, darting from the shadow of one display case to the next.

A guard came out of the doorway, gun drawn, pointed at the ground. He swore and pulled a radio from his belt. "Check, check, we have intruders, I repeat, we have--"

He fell to the ground. Cyc stood behind him. A moment later, alarms rang throughout the building, trilling sharply. Cyc swore. "We need to leave. Now." He grabbed the guard's gun, leaving his empty one behind before rushing off towards the remaining Talons.

Chun's bag was already packed, and Reno's sword had gone dim.

Seth coughed. "Arms numb. Someone help me up?" His eyes were still closed lightly, and his face was now heavily bandaged, courtesy of Chun.

Reno turned to Chun. "Hurry. Help me carry him." The two of them bent down and gently lifted Seth up, supporting him by his midsection.

Several sets of footfalls came tramping down the hallway that the first guards had emerged from. Another trio of guards came into sight in the dim hallway. One of them yelled. "Drop the weapons, and put your hands in the air!"

"Fuck this," Cyc muttered as he ran for the front entrance. His demon eye rolled sideways in his head, and he opened fire at the guards.

Seth spat, and tried to point towards the demon's corpse. Realizing his arms only hung limply at his sides, he nodded towards it with his head. "That's your intruder. Or was, rather."

The guards returned fire, and the giant glass front of Tanique Hall shattered. The sound rang loud in the night, for a moment outsinging the rapport of the pistols.

"Move, folks," Cyclops yelled, pushing the Talons towards the front of the Hall, the box tucked safely in his pocket.

Seth ran, as best he could, still leaning desperately on his friends for support. The night outside beckoned, dark and safe.