Disclaimer:

          This work is fiction. The work has no (intentional) relationship with any person existing at any time anywhere whether real or imaginary or copy written.

         Feedback will be read, processed, and if it’s a flame it will be given the finger, then I will burst into hysterical laughter. Constructive feedback, be it criticism or praise, will be read, processed, given a smile, and filed away. To contact me, please send an email to socom.seal@(SPAM)yahoo.com. Remove (SPAM) for a valid email.

         You should not read this if you are not of legal age where you reside. This work can contain rape, BDSM, cannibalism, and probably anything else my sick, twisted mind can come up with.

Note: All times are in a mix of military and standard times. For example, 1AM = 0100 hours = 1:00, while 1PM = 1300 hours = 13:00. I hope this will make it easier on readers to understand the timeline while leaving me in a format that I understand better. If it causes too much of a problem I will switch to standard. 

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Chapter 31

 

“You don’t have to put out the fire when all is ash.”

 –Norse Proverb

 

         <18:00, Base Camp>

 

         Occult flames danced at the edges of Lyn’s eyes as she stood, kicking the shards of the mana crystals away. “He was the variable. I’ve returned Him to His own mind.”

 

         Cristina bit back a gasp when Lyn moved away from Andrew, displaying the hand she had been holding during her evolution. His right hand had been completely encased in gold, most likely the material that had made up his ring before. “What did you do?”

 

         “He had been locked away inside the ring. Whatever attacked him had taken control. The real Andrew, our Andrew, our Master, He was no longer in control.” Lyn weaved slightly. “Now He cannot be dethroned again.”

 

         “Alright, sit down.” Cristina murmured, pulling Lyn down to the floor. “You’re about to collapse.”

 

         “I’m fine.” The Archmage spat, struggling to sit up. “I am more powerful now than I ever have been.”

 

         Cristina chuckled but held her down. “Maybe so. But you’re physically exhausted.” She smiled gently. “Rest.”

 

         Lyn persisted for a few moments before collapsing back into Cristina’s arms. “I… Suppose I could.”

 

         Cristina stroked Lyn’s hair gently. “Rest… Plus you’re in a bit of shock. Relapsed right into your old talking habits.”

 

         Lyn giggled as her eyes drifted shut. “But I always… For Him…”

 

         Cristina detangled herself from the snoring Archmage and looked at Gale. “How’s she doing?”

 

         Gale shook her head. “I have no idea. I’ve tried healing her, but every time I do another wound appears. I think she’s tied to Andrew more closely than we thought.”

 

         “My life is not on the line.” Kore shoved Gale away. “More importantly, have the threats been taken care of?”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         Kary blinked and leapt backwards, her armor snapping into existence. “Tracii. What did I just see.”

 

         The Longfly slowed, peering into the depths. “I… I’m not sure. What did you see?”

 

         Kary pressed her back to a tree, slowly creating her camouflage. “I saw the water move. Can you see Nami?”

 

         “Negative.” Tracii drifted sideways, her wings laboring. “I need to rest. Taking a short break in the trees.”

 

         Kary swiveled her head around, watching in fear as Tracii alit on a branch. “Get back in air as soon as you can. You don’t have any armor, and this assassin could be anywhere.”

 

         Tracii stretched. “Come on. She’s busy fighting Nami. If she wasn’t, Nam would be out here searching.”

 

         Kary grit her teeth. “I saw something. I don’t trust that Nami knows what she’s doing. If she’s in a blood lust…”

 

         “Oh calm down.” Tracii grumbled, but crouched. “Fine. I’ll get back in the air.” She made to take off, stumbling slightly. “Ugh. Still exhausted.”

 

         “Yea, just hurry up before…” Kary started. As Tracii began to lift into the air, a figure stepped around the trunk, its hand already closing in on the Longfly’s head.

 

         Kary didn’t waste time thinking. Her instincts kicked in, bringing her rifle around to bear on the imminent threat. But for all her speed, it was already too late.

 

         Tracii’s neck didn’t quite snap; it more separated, the elementally enhanced blow smashing through any resistances the Longfly may have claimed. Her body continued the motions of flight, but Tracii was long gone, leaving only a ragdoll to flip through the air. With a scream, Kary fired.

 

         Her shot was aimed well; it impacted the dodging Goth squarely in her side, leaving a sizzling hole that the girl quickly covered and dodged backwards into the trees. Tracii’s body slammed to the ground in front of Kary, and the clearing went still.

 

         “NAMI!” Kay screamed, her armor amplifying her voice. “GET THE FUCK OUT HERE!”

 

         Nami burst from the pool, water sloughing from the Sharptits as she shifted out of her battle form. “…what.”

 

         Kary pointed at Tracii. “You let her get away.”

 

         Nami growled, a low, guttural sound that made Kary’s hair stand on end. “She tricked me.”

 

         Kary grimaced. “Obviously. And now she’s out here.”

 

         “Correction.” A voice whispered, a dagger sliding across Kary’s visor. “I’m right here.” Kary yelled, spinning away from the tree and summoning her blades. The S-Goth stood there, inspecting her dagger. “Hm. Strong stuff, that armor of yours.” She gazed at Nami. “And your scales, too.” She settled into a crouch. “But not so much out here, I’d wager.”

 

         Nami roared and charged forward, seeking to grasp their opponent in a bear hug. Jette sneered, vaulting over the other girl and blitzing for Kary. Raising her swords, Kary managed to counter the first attack but missed the second, the dagger sending a spiderweb of cracks across the Gunvalkyrie’s visor.

 

         “No, it seems to be weak.” Jette whispered, beginning to pull back.

 

         Kary’s hand shot up, snagging the blade as it left her field of view. “Slow down, bitch.”

 

         Jette blinked, spending a precious second trying to disengage from Kary’s grasp before she felt… something behind her. Turning, her eyes widened as she beheld Nami inches away. Dropping the dagger, she tried to twist out of the way, to no avail.

 

         The Sharptit’s teeth closed on her arm with a sickening crunch, blood splattering across the combatants. With a grimace, Jette jerked away, leaving her arm in Nami’s mouth. She glanced at the stump before making a decision; with a swift motion, she sliced her own dagger into the flesh above the wound, the bloodflow stopping after a few seconds.

 

         Nami tossed her head back, gulping down the arm. With a grin, she dashed in for a second bite, Jette barely able to dodge out of the way. Behind her, Kary raised her rifle, fighting to see past the cracks in her visor. She didn’t dare resummon it in case Jette managed to get a strike in while she was vulnerable, but it was making it increasingly difficult to see the battle.

 

         The two parried each other’s blows for a few minutes, Nami consistently attempting to get at Jette’s wounded side. After a particularly nasty attack by Nami, Kary noticed the cracks on her visor getting larger. Deciding to take the risk, she dropped her helmet for the split second needed to resummon it.

 

         “Mistake.”

 

         Kary cried in pain as Jette’s dagger scored a hit on the back of her neck but fell forward, her newly summoned helmet trapping the dagger and wrenching it out of Jette’s hand. Defenseless, the S-Goth had no choice but to flee when Nami bore down on her, leaving Kary lying on the ground.

 

         Jette dodged strike after strike, grabbing a tree with her remaining hand and launching herself perpendicular to Nami’s movement. She needed to regroup, find Yogini. If she could just do that, her mission would be complete.

 

         A crashing sound drew her attention to the path in front of her. A large tree was falling, threatening to crush her as she went by. Wincing, Jette glanced at the base and launched herself away from where Nami had uprooted it.

 

         As she found her new trajectory she noticed a small clearing across from where the tree had fallen. No, not a clearing… A hole…!

 

         Jette wrenched her gaze around to where she had thought safety lay. Instead, there was only Nami, the girl towering over the wounded S-Goth. Jette closed her eyes as Nami’s jaws engulfed her.

 

         “I’m so sorry, Mistress.” She thought, teeth tearing into her body.

 

         “I failed.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         “Light.” Fu muttered, the three racing deeper into the caves. “She can probably see just fine down here, so so should we. Light!”

 

         “Roger.” Kuu replied, summoning two orbs and sending them to hover behind Fu and Yang. “I can see just fine, so I’ll give those to you. Be careful. If anything happens to me, they’ll go out.”

 

         “Understood.” Fu skid to a halt and glanced down a split in the path. “Where was the other cave?”

 

         “The one we found the Torch Chicks in. Left.”

 

         “That’s just around the corner.” Fu muttered.

 

         “Yea. Be on your guard.”

 

         Kuu peeked her head around the bend, wincing at the sight. “We’re too late.”

 

         Fu stepped into view, gazing down at the pile of pieces arrayed on the cave floor. The S-Goth, Jane, stood in front of Erren’s body, her bladed fingers snipping another piece off of the twitching girl’s legs.

 

         “You sadistic bitch.” She whispered.

 

         Jane turned slightly, viewing them. After a pause, she stabbed Erren through the eye and let the body drop, turning her full attention to Fu. “She was fast.” Jane muttered. “Now she’s not.”

 

         Fu grit her teeth and settled into a battle stance, her aura flaring around her. “Fight someone who can fight back.”

 

         Jane giggled, the sound sending fear creeping down Fu’s back. The girl strode forward, her razor-sharp blades whistling as they carved through the air. “You are strong.” Her eyes peeked through the matt of hair that covered her head, and Fu could see the madness in them. “Not anymore~!”

 

         Fu grunted as she parried the first blow, her aura flaring in an effort to keep the blades from cutting through. “Go to hell.” Fu spat, sweeping Jane off her feet and booting her through the air.

 

         She hit the wall with a dull thud, dropping with barely any reaction. Fu hesitated, not willing to allow the Goth any opportunity to catch her off guard. After a moment Jane climbed to her feet and brushed herself off.

 

         “Nothing.” She muttered, striding forward again. “Power is nothing.”

 

         Fu’s face set, the Warvern settling in for a long fight.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         “What did you DO.”

 

         Andrew brushed himself off and glanced around the arena. As he looked around, the area began to fade, until he was left in an empty room with Morgana across from him.

 

         “WHAT DID YOU DO!?” Morgana screamed, stepping towards him, only to stop when he held up his hand.

 

         “Hm.” Andrew mused, inspecting his right hand. The ring was gone; instead, his hand was covered in a gold shell. He flexed, feeling his skin slide beneath the gauntlet, but when he tried to pull it off, he found that it had been fused to his wrist. “What did I do?”

 

         Morgana blinked in confusion. “You… don’t know?”

 

         “I don’t think I did this.” Andrew made a fist a few times before looking back at her. “No, this is the work of the ‘other’ you mentioned.”

 

         “Impossible.” Morgana gestured around. “None of your remaining slaves had the ability to do this.”

 

         “You’d be surprised.” Andrew quipped. “A lot of them haven’t even reached their full potential yet.”

 

         “Regardless, It has happened.” Morgana sighed. “I was hoping to deal with you at a later date, but it seems I have to do it now. So.” She spread her arms, “this should suffice.”

 

         Andrew frowned. “No.” He raised his hand and the room wavered, whatever Morgana had begun to do dissipating. “No more games.” His gaze hardened. “I have the feeling I don’t have time to waste. You do.” He pointed at her. “Morgana ‘Duskblade’. I challenge you to a Duel Arcane.” He closed his hand into a fist, a line of runes appearing behind him and beginning to form a semi-circle. “Though my power wanes, thou are not my bane.” The runes flared, finishing the semi circle and wavering at the edge. “In my mind’s eye, we fight ‘til one dies.”

 

         Morgana gasped, feeling the heavy intent of the magic Andrew wove. “You wouldn’t dare.” She gulped as the line slowly began encroaching on her. “You would.” She raised her own hand, fumbling for words to answer a challenge unknown to her. “Accepted, man… To the death.”

 

         Andrew chuckled as his runes swept in to complete the circle, only barely intercepted by Morgana’s answer. “You’ll find this duel has rules.” He smiled. “You’ve already broken one.”

 

         Morgana screamed as a bolt of power lanced into her arm, leaving a smoking wound. “Rhymes. Is that the deal?” She grit her teeth. “Very well.” She took a breath. “A challenge accepted, a body defended. Your death shall be my life’s first breath.”

 

         Andrew nodded as the line was pushed back into equilibrium. “Well done.” He glanced at her. “A bolt of light, though not strong/Keeps this duel from going too long.”

 

         Morgana gulped as the space between them flared, shoving inwards towards her. “Darkness... falls, casts a ghastly pall/You will be devoured by my beast from hell.”

 

         Andrew laughed as her familiar manifested. “A weak summon.” He smiled. “Angels, demons, cowards, all/There were once the Elder before their fall/A fleeting life may be their fate/But hell on earth they will create.”

 

         Morgana winced as the air grew cold, a shapeless… Thing emerging from a portal in front of Andrew. Her hellhound whimpered as it was absorbed, the monstrosity shambling towards her.

 

         And as it got closer, she began to panic, realizing her inexperience in this method of combat left her without an answer.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         Nami stared down at Kary’s body. The poison on the dagger had spread quickly, too quickly for anything to have been done for the unfortunate GunValkyrie. As soon as she had been wounded near the brain it had been over.

 

         Nami hoisted her body and glanced at Tracii’s with disdain. The fool of a bug hadn’t even done anything useful. She didn’t deserve respect.

 

         Grunting, she dug at her gums. There had been a troublesome piece of her meal that continued to irritate her. Finally freeing it, she looked at it curiously. It was a small bundle of electronics, cracked open and slightly destroyed by the abuse. Deciding it not to be important she crushed it under her foot and turned back towards the tent.

 

         “…if anyone can hear this. This message will now repeat.” Cortney’s voice droned in her ear. “To all units who can hear this. We are under attack. Report back to the tent immediately. If you are in need of assistance, reply with your position and enemy. Please respond if anyone can hear this. This message will now repeat…”

 

         Nami tapped at her com until it buzzed. “Shuttup.”

 

         “Hey! Who is this?”

 

         Nami grinned. “That was annoying. Cortney, hello. You can count one less combatant from the enemy forces.”

 

         On the other end, the Upgrade visibly relaxed. “Nami, oh thank goodness. Do you have injuries? Do you need a medevac?”

 

         Nami shook Kary’s body slightly. “Unfortunately no. I have two casualties.” She glanced back and snorted. “Well. One that matters.”

 

         Cortney bowed her head. “I’ll add them to the list of the deceased.” She glanced back up. “Get back here ASAP. We need your backup.”

 

         Not too far away, two others were hunting their quarry. Adria and Ashba had discovered Grace’s battle site and were searching for Yogini.

 

         Ashba poked at the blast mark. “I’d say two separate explosions, linked closely together. Did Grace carry IEDs in her vest?”

 

         Adria shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe. Probably.” She winced. “That’s… actually something she would do.”

 

         Ashba pointedly ignored the shredded body that lay nearby. “I’m guessing she never got a chance to take whatever they were off. She took herself out in the hopes that it would get her opponent too.”

 

         Adria stared at the blast mark sadly. “Yea.” She straightened up. “Enough. We can be sad later. Where did the Goth go?”

 

         “Is it too much to hope she was killed in the explosion?”

 

         Adria sighed. “As much as it pains me to say, yes. The blast did some work, but it wouldn’t have been enough to vaporize the body. We know that for sure.”

 

         “Yea. We have a precedent.” Ashba straightened up. “There’s a section of the woods that’s complaining about being broken. Over there.”

 

         Adria faded from view. “Lead the way.”

 

         Ashba followed Yogini’s trail for a short time before stopping. “We’re close.”

 

         Adria didn’t bother asking for clarification, choosing instead to skirt through the trees in search. “I’m not seeing anything. Any more info?” She murmured into her mic.

 

         “Negative. She’s around here somewhere. Stay hidden.”

 

         Adria mumbled a confirmation, rounding a tree and halting at the sight she found. “I’ve got a large bloodstain. She likely rested here.” Adria blinked. “Ashba, please respond.”

 

         “Oh. She can’t hear you.” Yogini shimmered into view and gazed almost sadly at the invisible Groaning. “I almost hate to do this, but I must assist my Mistress however I can.”

 

         Adria grit her teeth, taking a step towards the wounded Goth. Except, she didn’t. Instead she found her foot unable to move while Yogini continued staring.

 

         “You would be pretty troublesome to deal with.” Yogini continued. “So I’m glad I could get you alone.” Her eyes twitched, but kept their relentless stare. “So. How does it feel? To be helpless?” She chuckled. “I know how it feels, of course. I felt the same way, before Mistress broke me free. But now I’m feeling the same way.” She pawed at her side. “That rabbit made sure of that.”

 

         “What are you doing.”

 

         Yogini shrugged. “Something quite simple, really. I can’t risk you escaping that silly little body, and flying off to get help. So I’m going to make sure you don’t.”

 

         Adria winced, straining against the magical bonds. “Ashba will get here and get me free.”

 

         Yogini shook her head. “No, she will not.” She hesitantly raised her hand. “That plant will likely be my death. But first I’ll take care of you.” She said, beginning to squeeze.

 

         Adria gasped as the feeling of pressure grew, the magic squeezing her inside its grasp. “You’re… going…”

 

         Yogini winced, increasing the pressure. “Don’t fight… it. You’re just making it harder.”

 

         Adria wriggled wildly as the pressure grew to be unbearable. Then, out of the corner of her eye she saw Ashba approaching. “Ashba! Help!” She wheezed.

 

         Yogini laughed as the Rosebreasts drew closer. “I told you. She can’t hear you.” She slid lower into the undergrowth. “And you’re still quite invisible.”

 

         Adria’s vision started to turn red, a blood vessel in the back of her eye popping as the pressure began to exceed the limits of her body. Her next breath cracked a rib; as the structure gave up a slight weakness, the rest of her chest caved in, sending shards tearing through her lungs. Only a few seconds later and the pressure had taken up the new space, making sure the Groaning could no longer draw any semblance of breath. Sensing her new injuries, Adria tried again to escape, or to separate from her body, but the magical hand that squeezed her made sure escape was impossible. As Yogini neared the completion of her fist, Adria’s nose, already weakened and half shoved backwards into her head, broke free, smashing inwards and applying extra pressure to Adria’s skull. The extra push was enough to create a hairline crack.

 

         From the outside, it was pretty mild. Not much rupture occurred across Adria’s body as Yogini’s fist closed, as even her chest had stayed relatively unpunctured from the pressure. But as Adria’s skull collapsed, popping her damaged eye from the socket and driving shards of bone into her brain, there was no doubt that she was long past the point of recovery. And as her life faded, so did her abilities, dropping the cloak of invisibility and leaving her mangled body suspended in the air.

 

         Ashba noticed the change in her environment almost immediately, drawn by the sudden movement that Adria’s body made as it slumped to the ground. And drawing on instinct, she didn’t spend time trying to figure out why, or how. She just attacked.

 

         The lance speared in the direction Adria had been facing, Ashba reasoning that her sister hadn’t been taken completely off guard. Unfortunately it was fired blindly and managed to miss Yogini by a few feet, sailing harmlessly into a tree further away. But it still managed to have the desired effect, Yogini coughing as she dodged away from the attack, giving Ashba a location to work with. Her next spear grazed Yogini’s arm, the Goth diving to the side and landing heavily. Retaliating, she whipped a vine towards Ashba, the Rosebreasts ducking the attack and firing a few chi bursts into the clutter Yogini was hiding in. One hit home, blasting into Yogini’s uninjured side and causing the girl to cry out in pain.

 

         “Give it up!” Ashba yelled, commanding the plants around Yogini to wither until the Goth lay completely exposed. “You’ve lost.”

 

         Yogini grimaced and raised her hand. “Not yet.” She screamed as Ashba fired another blast, but didn’t lower her hand. “not yet.”

 

         Ashba blinked, dodging to the side to avoid another whip, this one falling to the ground weakly. “Fine. You leave me with no choice but to kill you.”

 

         Yogini smiled slightly and twitched her hand back. “Agreed.”

 

         Ashba could have never anticipated the whip originating from a point behind her. Her eyes trained on her enemy, the sneak attack came in uncontested. Ripping into the Rosebreasts’ head, it scraped away until it reached bone. With a cry, Ashba jerked herself away, leaving her left ear and all of its associated structure behind.

 

         Yogini closed her eyes, using the last of her strength to throw the whip into a new direction. “No choice at all.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         Fu dove under Jane’s slash, the girl’s blades cutting streaks in the wall behind her. Another slash, another dodge, and Fu retaliated with a swift punch that did little more than bruise her knuckles.

 

         Kuu watched the fight worriedly. She wanted to slip by, to get to Erren, to try to help, but it was all she could do to just stay out of the way.

 

         “What’s going on.”

 

         Kuu jumped at the unexpected voice, turning to see Constance peering at the fight. “You? You’re here?”

 

         Constance nodded. “Cristina sent me to help. Who is that?”

 

         “One of the S-Goths, the one evolved from a Penance. She… She killed most of the people that were here.”

 

         Constance nodded. “Understood.” She watched Fu. “Does she have it under control?”

 

         Kuu shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I can’t help. I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

 

         Constance chuckled and glanced at Yang at her position nearby. “Oi. Girl. Get ready to douse the fire.”

 

         The two started to ask what Constance meant but the Tank Vixxen didn’t give them a chance; instead, she jogged towards the battle, her flamethrower leading the way.

 

         “FU! GET DOWN!” Constance roared, triggering the weapon and walking a sheet of flame over the battlefield. Fu didn’t bother waiting to see where Constance was aiming, instead diving to the floor as the fire licked overhead. Jane wasn’t so lucky; surprised, she took the attack full on, the fire lighting her clothing and sending her screaming to the floor.

 

         Behind them, Yang rushed up and began hosing down the stray blazes. Shakily, Fu got to her feet and gazed in horrified fascination at the squirming Goth. “That… Worked well.”

 

         Constance shouldered the flamethrower. “Stay at range. She’s tougher than anything you’ve fought, even that other one. But she’s also weakened. The fire should have helped with that.”

 

         Fu nodded, turning back to Jane as she stood up. “What do you suggest?”

 

         “Swordwave. Use that fancy Chi of yours. Focused, powerful strikes. Keep her off balance.”

 

         Fu nodded and jumped forward, sending slashes of Chi flying towards her opponent. Jane was still off balance and the first one hit her squarely in the chest, the powerful attack breaking her skin. Jane stared in shock at her own blood welling from the cut before turning back to Fu. “You… injured…” She frowned. “Only Mistress.”

 

         Fu scowled. “Maybe only your Mistress could do that, but I’m better than her.”

 

         Jane poked at the cut and shivered. Fu was surprised to see her step backwards. “Please… No…”

 

         Fu narrowed her eyes, sending another slash at the cowering girl. This one put a gash in her arm, causing Jane to cry out in a mixture of pain and fear. Fu grit her teeth, continuing the assault, but there was no real point anymore. Jane had been injured. Her mind was lost.

 

         It was over quickly. Jane collapsed, shaking in fear, and Fu strode forward, cutting off her head in order to end her suffering. She watched sadly while Kuu raced forward to Erren’s side, turning away when the ElfQueen shook her head sadly. “In the end… In the end, she was just… Scared.”

 

         Yang laid her hand on Fu’s shoulder comfortingly. “You did what you had to. It was probably the right thing to do, anyways.”

 

         Fu shook her off. “Just because it was right doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

 

         Yang embraced her. “I know.” She whispered. “I know.”

 

         “HEY! Someone else is back here!” Kuu yelled from deeper in the cave. Shaking free from Yang’s grasp, Fu stumbled in to where Kuu knelt. She could make out April laying there, but doubted she was who Kuu was interested in; the Seabra wasn’t moving, her eyes glassy.

 

         Kuu waved Fu over. “Over here. It’s Rein. She’s still breathing, albeit faintly.”

 

         Fu knelt next to her and laid her finger on Rein’s neck, checking for a pulse. “You’re right. It’s weak, but it’s there.” She glanced around. “I don’t want to move her, though. How are we going to get her to the tent?”

 

         “I can stabilize her. You get back and get someone who can teleport.”

 

         Fu nodded. “Alright.” She paused. “Wait, what about the radios?”

 

         Kuu shook her head. “They’re being jammed, remember?”

 

         Fu frowned. “Maybe. Maybe the Goth was jamming them.” She went back to Jane’s body and rifled through her pockets, withdrawing a small device. “This? Maybe?”

 

         Yang looked at it. “Well. Might as well try.”

 

         Fu nodded, crushing the metal between her hands and triggering her com. “Hello. Anyone there. This is Fu.”

 

         “FU?” Cristina nearly yelled through the connection. “You’re alright? Where are you? What’s going on?”

 

         “We’re in the caves. Rein’s hurt bad and we need medical, ASAP.”

 

         “Fu I don’t know how you managed to get through, but there’s a jamming signal at the caves. You need to get out of there, and-“

 

         “I know.” Fu replied. “The Goth is dead. But Rein is hurt bad and needs MEDICAL RIGHT NOW.”

 

         On the other end, Cristina flinched at Fu’s tone. “Sorry. Acknowledged.” She turned to where Lucina lay. “I’ll get someone there.” She shook Lucina’s shoulder, the Shadowcat mumbling sleepily but opening her eyes. “Lucina. Get up. We’ve got another casualty and you’re the only one who can get her here in time.”

 

         Lucina sat up. “Wuh? Yea?” She rubbed her eyes. “I’m awake. Sorry. Where?”

 

         “Back at the caves. Coordinate with Fu.” Cristina glanced around as Lucina disappeared.

 

         “Ok, one more. How’s Andrew?”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         Morgana blinked as she realized the answer. “The second rule. You fight by exploiting the weaknesses in your opponents’ wordings.”

 

         Andrew applauded sarcastically, the eldritch horror nearing her. “Congratulations. But can you win?”

 

         Morgana closed her eyes, analyzing Andrew’s words. “A fleeting life, a fitting end/The Elder gods no more their power lend.”

 

         Andrew chuckled as the monster froze, fading slowly into nothing. “Admirable. Really.” He lowered his hand. “But it’s my turn again." He motioned. “And though you fight, and though you thrive/Your words, though right, do not quite jive/The longer we fight, more ‘o my power arrives/My words will bite, your power will dive/Heed my call oh power of light, swarm her now with thine heavenly hive.” He lowered his hand, light flowing around him. “I’d be careful with my next words if I were you.”

 

         Morgana grimaced. The length of that stanza had been exceptional. And the sheer mass of creatures that flit about Andrew’s head meant she would need something equally impressive to counter. Backing up slowly, she racked her brain for an answer. Something to stop light, something to counter a large swarm… Her eyes darted to the light that pushed its way towards her. Maybe a wall? No, a void?

 

         Andrew watched Morgana sweat. The truth was the stanza he had cast was exceptionally weak. He was counting on her inexperience to fall into its trap - the longer her next spell, the stronger and faster his would move. But all that she needed was one line and his effort would be wasted. He watched her mouthing various words and smiled. She was panicking. He had the edge.

 

         Morgana winced as she bumped against the runes behind her, the magical barrier keeping her from retreating any farther from Andrew’s attack. Oh well. She was out of time. It would have to do. “Light exists not in a void/With this my death I will avoid!”

 

         Andrew watched impassively as his swarm was obliterated, but leapt back into action before Morgana had a chance to recover. “Very well, your death is stayed/Though a grave mistake has now been made/With no room left to plead your case/A simple push wins me this race.”

 

         Andrew’s side of the circle pulsed, sending lines of red arcing across and slamming into the barrier. With a final shove, it engulfed Morgana, bursts of power shredding her body. There was no sound, but Andrew felt a great deal of satisfaction when the circle disappeared.

 

         He looked around, noticing the shades that evaporated with their master, leaving bodies strewn about the room. Picking his way to one, he recognized it as Mir, the aspect’s body twisted and broken. Looking closer, he realized that the rest were the other aspects, each one having been corrupted by Morgana.

 

         “I did this.” He muttered. “What do I do? What…?”

 

         He paused when a thought intruded on his grief. Bartimaeus was supposed to be the combination of the aspects. And he was supposed to be stronger, a true reflection of Andrew’s self. Why then…?

 

         “I’m a fool.” Andrew groaned, gently picking up Mir’s body. “I was so afraid, so ready to cordon off my emotions again… I did this. I gave her an opening.” Mir’s body glowed, beginning to dissolve in Andrew’s hands. “I can’t be afraid.”

 

         The rest of the bodies began to dissolve, a stream of light condensing above Andrew’s head. It flowed over him until he was covered by it, the light pulsing and racing around his body. Feeling a great peace wash over him, Andrew closed his eyes.

 

         The magical construct known as Bartimaeus watched the events with a chuckle. The human he had chosen finally understood the truth. One day he might even be able to take control of his fate. It smiled. One day. But not today. Today he would learn.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         As Andrew opened his eyes, Kore cried out, the splice twitching from the magical overload. A brilliant white light engulfed her in a cocoon that burst after a few moments, revealing her other side – Kiana, the Warrior Nun panting, but pristine.

 

         “The light…” She whispered, glancing at Andrew. “The light. It saved you.”

 

         “HOLD on, just a minute here!” Cristina yelled, yanking Kiana away from Andrew and taking up a defensive stance. “Andrew. Describe to me exactly why Nevaeh is the way she is.”

 

         Andrew glanced at her. “I was attacked and taken over by a fragment of Morgana, left over from my fight with her a month ago. During my battle, I called mostly upon Celestial powers, rather than Infernal. I’d assume that’s why Kiana is here now.”

 

         Kiana stood, brushing Cristina aside. “The sorcerer did her job well.” She peered into Andrew’s eyes. “The other one is gone, of that I am sure.”

 

         Cristina took a deep breath, but nodded. “I will trust you.” She suddenly wrapped her arms around Andrew, burying her face in his chest. “I was so worried.” She sobbed.

 

         Andrew rested his chin on her head. “I’m sorry for worrying you.” He groaned. “I can’t remember anything since Azhara scanned that Blazikunt.” He glanced around. “So, what’s…”

 

         Cristina followed his gaze to where Gale was working on curing Nami. “We were attacked.” She sighed. “We are still under attack, actually.”

 

         Andrew glanced at the bodies all gathered around Gale. “My god.”

 

         Cortney appeared and snapped Andrew a salute. “Commander. It’s good to see you in control of yourself again.” She pulled up a casualty report and handed it over. “Here. Familiarize yourself.” She waited for him to read the list. “Orders?”

 

         Andrew slowly shook his head. “One of them is still out there. We had no communication. I’m surprised we only lost this many.” He turned away. “Grieving can come later. I want a full analysis. I want the teams here to get out there and find survivors. This is a full on assault, and-“

 

         Lucina teleported in, laying Rein down and motioning Gale over. “She’s still breathing. The rest are on their way back now. Should they move to assist Adria and Ashba?”

 

         Cristina made to speak but turned to Andrew instead. “Sir?”

 

         Andrew shook his head. “I’m out of the loop. You’ve been doing well in charge. But I’d send help sooner rather than later. While they’re still on the trail.”

 

         Cristina nodded. “Roger. Fu, change of plans. Rendezvous with Adria and Ashba. They’re tracking the final Goth. They’ll be able to coordinate via their coms.”

 

         Cortney glanced up. “That may be a problem. Ashba’s com cut out a few minutes ago and I’ve been unable to re-establish the connection.”

 

         Cristina cursed. “You said you’d notify me if something went wrong!”

 

         Cortney gazed back at her. “And I have. I had no reason to believe she was in danger until I was unable to reconnect with her.”

 

         Cristina rubbed her face. “Ok. Fine. Fu, your priority has now changed to search and rescue. Go.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         Fu vaulted over a downed tree, racing towards Ashba’s last known location. Kuu was right behind her, the ElfQueen barely able to keep up with Fu’s mad dash. Yang had been left behind somewhere and had decided instead to head back to the tent with Constance.

 

         Fu barely registered Grace’s battle site as they ran past, only recognizing it as a sign they were on the right track. She found what she was dreading nearby.

 

         She slid to a halt, gazing at the carnage laid out in front of her. Adria lay in a heap, her body crushed and almost unrecognizable. Across from her Ashba stood, although not willingly. The vine protruding from her ear had pinned her to a tree.

 

         Yogini lay face down in front of the two. The blood had stopped flowing, her body cold. It had been the last thing they had done, but the two girls had gotten revenge for their fallen comrades.

 

         It was over.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

         Andrew’s face was blank as he listened to the various reports. As the search party returned with the missing pokeballs, nobody was able to read him. His emotions seemed locked away again. But that was not the case.

 

         His emotions were not gone, nor were they locked away, nor were they repressed. They were ignored. A part of Andrew that hadn’t been seen for a decade had taken charge, leaving him fully in control – and planning.

 

         “Kuu.” He said quietly. “I would be honored if you would sing coffins for the deceased. If you cannot, please find a suitable clearing and prepare shrouds.”

 

         Kuu bowed her head. “I’ll figure something out.” She replied, stepping outside.

 

         “Rein.” Andrew glanced to the recovering girl. “Where is Juel’s body?”

 

         Rein blinked. “Still where it has been for the last few months. In the shrine Azhara made.”

 

         Andrew nodded. “Preserved by magic, I’d assume?” He continued when Rein nodded. “Please prepare it with Kuu. She deserves a proper resting place.”

 

         He turned to Lyn next. “Lyn. Later, we’ll discuss what you did to me; but for now, please help Kuu by setting up wards around wherever she’s preparing the bodies. I want it to be somewhere we can visit without worrying about intruders.” He looked up. “Cortney.”

 

         The Upgrade nodded at him. “Sir.”

 

         “How much more of the caves is unexplored? And, more importantly, do you think we could begin moving in and fortifying what we know about?”

 

         Cortney frowned. “I suppose it’s possible. We’d need materials though.”

 

         “Draw up a plan. Once you have, let me know and I’ll take a look, and then we can contact Iain about materials. I’m tired of this tent; and besides, it’s not very defensible.” He winced. “As Nial found out.”

 

         Cortney nodded. “Understood. I’ll get on it.”

 

         Andrew closed his eyes. “Anyone who isn’t doing something and wants to be with me, you’re welcome to. I need time to fix the shattered bonds I now have.” He sighed. “And I need time to think.”

 

         Cristina watched him while the others moved to complete their tasks. “Are you… Normal?”

 

         Andrew shrugged. “I’m coping. Right now I’m falling back on mental exercises I haven’t used since basic. It feels strange, but they work. That’s why I learned them. So they’d stick around.”

 

         Cristina scratched her head but shrugged. “Ok, I have no idea what that means, but I’ll take it as a yes. Why are you having Kuu gather… gather the bodies together?”

 

         “I want to plant a memorial area. First though we’ll be giving them a send-off and preparing the ground at the same time.”

 

         Cristina blinked. “We’ll… A pyre?”

 

         Andrew nodded. “Cremation. I’d ask them if that was how they wanted to be buried, but… Well…”

 

         Cristina chuckled. “I think it’ll be fine.”

 

         Andrew stayed quiet for a few minutes before speaking up again. “Most of the injuries were on the unarmored parts of their bodies. I want body armor. I want it yesterday, I want it to work, and I want it to be mandatory.”

 

         Cristina blinked. “Where did that come from?”

 

         Andrew rolled his eyes. “I told you. I’m deep in thought.” He held out his hand, the air shimmering. “Something… like…”

 

         Cristina watched but the shimmer faded after a moment, Andrew dropping his hand. “Damn. Not yet, huh?”

 

         He shook his head. “No, unfortunately.” He paused. “I’ve come up with a name, too.”

 

         Cristina sat, realizing Andrew was completely lost in thought. “Yes?”

 

         “’Smoke Devils’. We’ll be an untouchable force of destruction for anyone who stands against us.”

 

         Cristina smiled. “Is that so?”

 

         He nodded. “Emphasis being on ‘untouchable’. We will not ramp up our response. We will use the necessary force immediately. We will not allow anyone to get the upper hand again.”

 

         Cristina sighed and gave him a rueful smile. “I promise.”

 

         Andrew sat next to her and buried his face in his hands. “I won’t allow it, Cristina.” He whispered.

 

         Cristina reached over and embraced him, draping her wings around his body. “I know.” She mumbled. “But you’re not supposed to be the one protecting us. We’re supposed to be protecting you.”

 

         “Hello? What’s going on?” Aella’s voice drifted through the tent. “Anyone home?”

 

         Fu stood. “I’ll talk to her.”

 

         “If Aella’s back, Daria is too.” Andrew muttered. “Tell Daria to scan the Goth remains for however they found us. I want an answer.”

 

         Shamira nodded from her position nearby. “I’ll find her.” She volunteered, walking away while testing her regrown arm.

 

         “You’re just going to take it slow, right?” Cristina asked.

 

         Andrew nestled his head on Cristina’s shoulder. “I need to, Cristina. I need to take it slow.” His eyelids fluttered. “All of them… lost…”

 

         Cristina held her Master close as he began to cry, the bustle of the tent fading. His grief had finally caught up with him, and he needed her. He needed them now, more than ever. She started when someone else joined them, Constance nestling into the open space. The normally belligerent girl did nothing but lay her head on Andrew’s chest, her ears tickling his chin. Around them Cristina could sense the others, some standing, some kneeling, but all of them were there. Watching, protecting, comforting the man they all loved.

 

         Andrew knew it, too. As the tears began to dry he felt them all, the bonds they shared flaring with energy as they all attempted to comfort him at once. It still saddened him, seeing the empty spaces that had been created. But the survivors were all there with him. For him. And they would rebuild.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Tech: Cortney – Upgrade VideoGirl

Tamer:

Andrew Ranger

 

Alpha Team:

 

Melody – Wet Queen

Lyn – Archmage

Constance – Tank Vixxen

Beta Team:

 

Gale – Night Nurse

Shamira – Goldina

Ann – Ice Empress

 

Delta Team:

 

Fu – Warvern

Rein – Myobu

Nami – Sharptits

Ishara – Scorpiagirl

Aella – (Hunter) Shinryu

 

Epsilon Team:

 

Lucina – Shadowcat

Sigma Team:

 

Nevaeh – G-Spliced

Omega Team:

 

Cristina – Blessed Fiendish Ophanim

Kuu – ElfQueen

Yang – Nereidame

 

 

KIA:
Juel – Matratya

Phial – Gravelgal

Yin – Nereidame

Azhara – Kyubi

Brigid – Unicorn

Grace – Mini-Top

Nial – Assasara

Noira – (Flying) Mecha Musume

Leira – Queenler

Tracii – (Red) Longfly

Kary – Gunvalkyrie

Erren – Ballisticunt

April – Seabra

Adria – Groaning

Ashba – Rosebreasts

 

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