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. 

~

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

~

 

 

Chapter 32

 

        

         <07:00, 200m above Base Camp>

 

         It was a beautiful day. The morning sun had just risen, sending sparkling light across the lightly dewed grass. A few clouds rolled lazily across the sky, but without the threat of rain. It was a perfect day.

 

         But the figure toiling in the smoking clearing could care less what the day looked like. He raised a makeshift hoe, sending it crashing through the charred wood that made up the ground. With each swing he moved slightly further through his task, a small section beginning to resemble normal earth.

 

         After a while, a second figure emerged and approached the first. Words were exchanged, the second figure gesturing back the way it had come. The man didn’t seem to really listen, turning away from the other and continuing his work. The visitor persisted for a short while before giving up, depositing something nearby and leaving.

 

         The next visitor didn’t show up for over an hour. By this time the man had worked through over half of the burned area, the clearing beginning to be transformed. The new arrival didn’t approach the man at first, instead inspecting the objects the first had left behind. After she had cleaned them up she crossed to where the man was watching her and joined him in clearing the debris.

 

 

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

 

 

         “Here.”

 

         Constance glanced up, Shamira dumping Jane’s body on the pile. “That the last one?”

 

         Shamira nodded. “Andrew wants them gone. Completely. Burn them, dump the ashes.”

 

         Constance nodded, leveling her flamethrower and beginning the process. Nearby, Cristina sat with Lucina, the two outlining the extent of the caves they had discovered so far and what could be done with them. Behind them Ishara was helping Kuu. As the ElfQueen finished creating a coffin Ishara took it to where Lyn sat, the Enchantress keeping watch over the fallen.

 

         Inside the tent, most of the girls sat in silence. There was nothing to say.

 

         “so.” Yang muttered. “Anyone know where Andrew’s at?”

 

         “He’s working.” Gale replied, the Night Nurse idly picking at a long-cold plate. “I tried taking him some food this morning but he just left it.”

 

         “Hey. Gale. My eye itches again.” Rein volunteered. “Mind looking at it?”

 

         Gale sighed but turned to her. “You’re the one who wanted to keep the scar.”

 

         Rein grumbled as Gale poked at the still pink tissue crisscrossing her eye. “You’re the one who said it wouldn’t do anything.”

 

         Gale shook her head and pulled away. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s healing correctly. Just don’t scratch it.”

 

          Behind them, Nevaeh slammed her hands onto the table and stood. “I’m sick of this feeling sorry for ourselves. I’m going out and doing something. I’ll sweep the area, find some ferals, take a walk, I don’t know. But I’m not going to keep wallowing in despair.” She glared pointedly around the room. “You all can if you want. But I won’t.”

 

         “Calm down, please.” Nevaeh glanced up in surprise as Andrew walked in, the hoe laid over his shoulder. “I just had a word with Kuu. We’ll be ready to move on soon.”

 

         Nevaeh slowly sat back down. “What will we be doing?”

 

         Andrew leaned the tool against a table and sat, rubbing himself down. “We will be dedicating a memorial garden. A place where we can all go to honor those who aren’t with us anymore.”

 

         Gale stood and moved to where breakfast was still laid out. “Here. You should eat.”

 

         Andrew waved away the plate she tried to place in front of him. “I’m not hungry. Please.”

 

         Gale chuckled, pushing the plate past his protesting hands. “You need to eat. Please.”

 

         Andrew sighed, but relented, allowing her to lay out the meal he had skipped. “I’m still not hungry.”

 

         A smile tugged at the corner of Gale’s mouth as she watched him. “I’m sure,” She turned back to the door as Kuu walked in, the ElfQueen haggard. “Kuu? You alright?”

 

         Kuu shook her head. “I will not be alright for a while.” She glanced up. “But we are ready for the ceremony. I have finished with my project, and Lyn and Constance have perfected their method. Whenever you want to begin, we can.” She addressed Andrew.

 

         Andrew pushed the plate aside, seizing the excuse. “Yes. We can start now.” He stood, leaving the barely touched plate behind as the group filed out to where the others waited.

 

         The burned out clearing now looked more like the rest of the forest, except that there were no plants in it, and a large stone took up the middle. It was around this stone that fifteen coffins sat, Lyn and Constance keeping watch. They stood as the others filed in, Andrew at the head.

 

         “Are we ready?” Lyn called, Andrew nodding.

 

         “I want to say something first.” He called, striding over to the stone and laying his hand on it. “This all comes before it’s time. If we had been lucky, our lives would have been lived out never having to form this place because of the events that occurred.” He glanced around. “This will be our sacred place.  This is a place of remembrance. Of joy. Of sadness. Of loss. And of love.” He bowed his head. “It is here that our deceased will be.” He raised his head and nodded at Kuu. “Please begin.”

 

         The two stepped back and Kuu began to sing. At her first words, Lyn lay her hands over the first coffin, directing Constance’s flames so they burned hotter, swiftly turning the coffin and body inside to ash drifting on the light breeze.

 

         “Where hast thou gone? The one I would look to, For Loving and Laughter, My eyes cannot see thee, My ears cannot hear thee. My arms cannot hold thee, My Heart falters alone.

 

         “Where hast thou gone? The forest lies empty, I search for thy passing, But still I am alone.

 

         “Where hast thou gone? The wind through the branches, Gives voice to my longing, While you are called home.

 

         “Where hast thou gone? To where I shall follow, When I’ve grown too weary. My eyes will then see thee, My ears will then hear thee. My arms will then hold thee, When we will have come home.

 

         As Kuu finished singing, and Lyn and Constance stepped away from the last coffin, a breeze picked up, swirling through the clearing and spreading the ashes. In its path, trees began to sprout, slowly growing until a handful stood proudly around the memorial stone. Under their feet grass began to grow until the rest of the clearing had been transformed into a lush green field. As the ashes scattered, Ishara stepped forward, a hammer and chisel in her hands. With slow, precise movements, she began chiseling names. She started with Juel, moving down the list until she finished with Leira. Stepping away, she bowed her head.

 

         The others took their own time. The breeze died down, Kuu lowering her arms and allowing nature to return to normal. Nami merely sat and waited, mourning in her own way. Yang sat hunched against one of the trees, sobbing quietly. Melody and Ann stood, intertwined, slowly rocking to Kuu’s song. Nevaeh stood watching the clearing, while Aella and Cristina talked quietly. Gale accompanied Shamira, the Goldina using her regrown arm to trace Noira’s name on the stone. Fu stood next to Andrew, keeping an eye on him, who was in turn watching Lucina, the Shadowcat sprawled on top of the stone.

 

         “How are you feeling?” She asked.

 

         Andrew shook his head. “I will mourn for the rest of my life, Fu. That question has no good answer.” He turned away. “I’ll leave them for now. Lyn?”

 

         Lyn hurried forward. “Yes?”

 

         “Come with me. We need to talk.”

 

         The two of them left the clearing, not going ten feet before a wail rent the air, giving voice to the silence. Rein collapsed, the Myobu releasing the act she had kept for over a month, the added pressure from the others breaking her open. Soon the other stoic girls had joined her in weeping, and the entire clearing grouped together, taking comfort in those who were still there.

 

 

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

 

 

         Andrew shut the door to his bedroom and turned to Lyn. “I want you thinking very carefully about this. Ok?”

 

         Lyn sat down and nodded carefully. “Ok.”

 

         Andrew raised his right hand, the gauntlet glinting in the light. “What exactly is this, and why is it here?” He shook his head when Lyn made to speak. “No, I mean it. Think very carefully. I’m going to send a message to Iain first, so you have time to consider.” He pulled out his pokedex, turning away from her and opening the camera. “Cortney?”

 

         The Upgrade bowed to him on the screen. “Sir. You may begin recording at any time. I will make sure to screen out anything unnecessary.”

 

         Andrew chuckled. “Thanks.” He cleared his throat. “Iain. Hello.” He gave the camera a half smile. “I hope this message finds you well. We have recently come under attack. We took care of it, but we… lost many of our own.” He took a deep breath. “I refuse to let that happen again.” He grimaced. “And so I need to ask you for help. Given enough time, I have no doubt I could create, buy, or find the materials I need, but time is not something I wish to spend. I want results, and I want them before yesterday.” He shook his head. “I am attaching a more detailed list, but the main concern is a defensible position here. Our enemies walked through our magic like it didn’t exist. One of… One of my women was killed as she traversed the tent we call home. That obviously is unacceptable. So, to that end, I plan to fortify and move into the Carlsbad caverns. In order to do that I need building materials.” He shuddered. “And for personal protection, I need armor. Now, we have a smith on hand here. She can easily create armor and weapons. But I know that, without trying to disparage her, she isn’t good enough. She could never be good enough.” He looked straight into the camera. “So I’m begging you. Please, have something good enough.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t care about any cost you put on this request. Even if I will be in debt to you for the rest of my life, I will take it. I cannot lose anyone else.”

 

         Andrew stayed silent for a while before opening his eyes again. “Cortney, attach a list based on our preliminary plan and estimates on materials. Also, please send the specs of everyone, just in case Iain’s armorer can’t create one-size-fits-all items.” He chuckled. “Oh, and add on that we have some ferals for him. Make sure to mention that they’re just business as usual.”

 

         Cortney chuckled and bobbed her head. “Of course. Message is sent.”

 

         Andrew turned back to Lyn. “Alright.” He cocked his head. “Well?”

 

         Lyn sighed. “I was attempting to boost the power of my spells on your ring while you were under. In doing so, I overloaded myself as well as the ring. In the evolution I was still pumping power into the spells, and what occurred was a combination of those two phenomenon.” She pointed at the gauntlet. “A very large portion of the excess energy released when I evolved was used to turn the ring into that. I’d guess that it functions much the same way as the ring did, but is much, much more powerful.”

 

         Andrew gazed at his hand. “I can’t take it off.”

 

         Lyn bit her lip. “I don’t think it wants you to take it off.”

 

         Andrew blinked. “I’m sorry, did you just say my ring doesn’t want to leave me? Are you saying it’s sentient?”

 

         “Not a ring anymore, a glove.” Lyn took hold of his wrist, picking at the material. “See? It’s fused to your skin. I didn’t do that.”

 

         Andrew flexed his hand. “Then why isn’t my hand atrophying? If this thing is air tight, I’d expect some pain.”

 

         Lyn shrugged. “I don’t think its air tight, per se.” She giggled at his look. “That is your hand now, Master.”

 

         Andrew’s jaw dropped. “Oh.” He flexed the fingers, watching the material carefully. “But… It feels like my hand, still.”

 

         Lyn nodded. “What I should have said is that that’s your skin now. Something that is a part of you, and doesn’t want to leave.”

 

         Andrew frowned. “Right, you’re saying it’s alive again. What makes you think that?”

 

         “Mostly because I created it.” Lyn grinned. “I can feel the magic pulsing through it. It’s regular, almost like a heartbeat.” She laughed. “Oh, and it just quickened. Yes, it definitely understands us somehow.”

 

         Andrew gazed at his hand in disbelief. “So. What do I do?”

 

         “Command it. Pretend it’s your ring. I mean, it really is, just, evolved a bit.”

 

         Andrew lay his hand flat, gazing at it. “Command it…” He muttered. Deciding, he thought about when he had first summoned the armor spell.

 

         The gauntlet flared, light shooting up Andrew’s arm and across his body until he was fully encased in a golden bodysuit, a visor covering his eyes.

 

         “Yea, nothing happened.” Lyn heard, Andrew’s voice slightly distorted by the speakers implanted below the visor. “Nothing feels different or anything.”

 

         Lyn grabbed the pokedex, turning it so Andrew could see himself. “Eh, something happened.”

 

         Andrew gaped at the image on the screen. It looked like a golden statue sat in front of him. Raising his hand, he watched the image do that same. “Holy shit.”

 

         Lyn nodded enthusiastically. “It loves it! It loves it, it loves it. The magic is happy that you’re using it.”

 

         Andrew shook his head. “Wow. Uh, hey? Magic spell?” He called, feeling a little foolish. “Will you be able to automatically deploy if I need you?”

 

         A section of the armor on his chest darkened, a message forming. “Yes.” It read, before quickly being erased. “I am your focus.” It now read.

 

         “Focus…” Lyn muttered. “Hey, dismiss that?” Andrew did, thinking about the armor going back to his hand. It did, his hand now glowing slightly with suppressed power. “Ok. Now, try weaving your magic.”

 

         Andrew blinked, but did as she asked, holding out his hand. Instantly, his pistol appeared and his hand curled into position holding it.

 

         “Holy crap.” He whispered. “I… That was so easy. It just happened, and I didn’t grab that.”

 

         Lyn was nearly vibrating, the Archmage barely able to stay seated from her excited bouncing. “It’s a focus! A magic focus! Oh my gosh this is going to be so cool, you can do more things now, and I’ll be able to watch, and experience it, and it’ll be perfect, and-“

 

         Andrew burst into laughter, dropping the pistol and wiping a tear from his eye at her antics. “Lyn! Calm down!” He nearly doubled over as she attempted to come to a halt but slipped instead, sliding off the chair and landing hard on the floor. “Oh! Oh dear!”

 

         The three shared their laughter, Cortney making sure the speakers throughout the tent were open, allowing their joy to wash away the permeating sadness.

 

 

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

 

 

         <12:00, Memorial Garden>

 

         It was silent in the garden. Many of the girls had already left, driven away by the oppressive feeling of despair. Only a few were left, each in her own separate area as they reflected. They would have sat there forever if the silence hadn’t been broken.

 

         Kuu began to hum softly, at first following the tune of the song she had sung, but it slowly morphed into something else, something that she couldn’t recognize. “Hmm hm hmm, hm hmm hm hmm…” She continued, attempting to place where the tune had come from…

 

         “Softly falls, the light of day…” Andrew finished in her ear. “Where did you learn that tune, Kuu?”

 

         Kuu blinked and tapped her com. “I… I don’t know.”

 

         Back in the tent, Andrew could feel memories resurfacing, flooding him with a cocktail of emotions. “Could… Could you continue?” He asked softly.

 

         Kuu opened her mouth and began to sing wordlessly. Her lilting voice carried the notes that had appeared in her mind, repeating the single stanza. Nearby, Rein and Shamira each looked up, watching the ElfQueen in awe. She seemed to shine from within, her voice perfectly clear as it carried far through the forest around them.

 

         Kuu continued singing for a few minutes before she slowly petered out, the glow that had accompanied the song dying away. Rein was alarmed to see her stagger slightly, falling to her knees. “Kuu! Are you alright?”

 

         Kuu panted, and shook her head. “I’m… I’m fine. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

 

         Behind them Shamira straightened up, turning towards a section of the forest. “We’ve got incoming.”

 

         Rein formed up with her, the two warily watching as a section of trees shook, a large shape pushing through towards them. “Lyn set up wards. Ferals will get turned away, so we should be fine.”

 

         True to Rein’s word, as the figure got closer to the clearing it slowed, seeming to get pushed back. “Oh, good.” Shamira said in relief. “Though we should probably-“

 

         With a growl, the figure pushed past the ward boundary and stepped into the memorial garden. With a cry of surprise, Rein and Shamira stepped back to where Kuu knelt, Shamira beginning to morph to combat the large wolf that now stood in front of them. “Rein! Get Kuu out of here, and get some of the others. I’ll take care of her the best I can.”

 

         The pokegirl growled again, more confused this time, and stumbled towards them. “Kwee… Mih…”

 

         Shamira blinked. “Wait, she’s talking?”

 

         The girl stumbled again, this time falling forwards as her foot twisted out from underneath her. She began to shrink slightly, her battle form wearing off and displaying an oozing slash on her back.

 

         “Queen.” The girl mumbled from her facedown position. “Quee…”

 

         “Alright, let go of me.” Kuu griped, pushing Rein away and staggering to her feet. “She needs help.” She lay her hands on either side of the wound, chanting softly to hasten her spell. Her hands glowed with the heal spell, the girl’s skin twisting as it reconnected until there was only the hint of a scar left. “There.” She sat back and blinked woozily. “I think I need some more breakfast.”

 

         The facedown girl let out a racking cough before rolling on her side and vomiting, small specks of blood mixed in.

 

         Rein winced and stepped back. “Uh, is that normal?”

 

         Kuu nodded. “I fixed the internal damage. She’s just cleansing.” She gently shook the girl’s shoulder. “Hey. Are you alright?”

 

         The girl’s eyes opened slowly, blinking against the light. “Queen?”

 

         Kuu frowned. “Hello. My name is Kuu, and the others behind you are Rein and Shamira. Do you have a name?”

 

         The girl blinked and nodded. “Furia.” She clambered onto her knees, bowing to the shocked ElfQueen. “Queen.”

 

         “Ok, wait a minute.” Kuu blustered. “What are you talking about?”

 

         Furia glanced up in confusion. “Song. Came. Queen.” She looked around. “First?”

 

         “Uh, Andrew, we’ve got what seems to be a near-feral here bowing to Kuu and calling her Queen.” Rein muttered into her mic. “Please advise?”

 

         Back in the tent, Andrew sat up in shock. “Oh, shit.” He grabbed his com. “Rein, ask Kuu what she was doing when she was singing. And hurry.”

 

         “Hey, Andrew wants to know what you were doing when you were singing.” Rein hissed at Kuu, ignoring the confused looks she got from Furia. “He seems pretty upset.”

 

         Kuu triggered her own mic. “I was just singing the tune, just letting it flow. I didn’t do anything special.”

 

         Andrew rubbed his eyes as his pokedex buzzed, a quick glance showing an unread message. “Fuck. Ok, here’s a new question. Kuu, do you remember being in the company of another ElfQueen while you were back with your old group?”

 

         Kuu blinked. “Uh, yea, there was the Matron, but she left us years before you got there.”

 

         Andrew nodded slowly. “Kuu, you unconsciously used the call spell. The ‘Matron’ probably taught it to you but you forgot about it since you were half feral. You just started your own official court.”

 

         Kuu blanched as the implications of what Andrew was saying dawned on her. “You – I – Oh no. No no no. I don’t want this. I already failed once. I’m not worthy of this.”

 

         Andrew sighed. “The pokegirl that’s in front of you obviously feels differently. Maybe she’ll be the only one, but I’d prepare for more.”

 

         Kuu gazed in shock at Furia. “Wait, I thought the call only worked on elves? This one stumbled in looking like a wolf.”

 

         Andrew shrugged. “Courts include other breeds sometimes. She probably heard your call and took to it for safety or something, rather than being drawn to you because she’s an Elf. Was she injured?”

 

         “Yea, she had a nasty slash in her back.” Kuu replied, Furia inspecting Shamira. “What do I do?”

 

         Andrew chuckled. “Rein said she’s near feral. What’s she like? Can she talk?”

 

         “Yes, but only in one word sentences.” Kuu turned back to Furia. “Furia?” The girl cocked her head. “Do you need sex?”

 

         Furia’s eyes widened in surprise and she shook her head vigorously. “No! Not Queen. No.”

 

         Kuu giggled. “Hey, she used two words. We’re getting somewhere.” She smiled. “Furia, it’s alright. Even if you don’t want to have sex with me, you’ll have to with someone.” The girl blushed and looked away, but nodded. “Alright. Now, what happened to you?”

 

         “Birds.” The girl winced as she tried to touch her back where the gash had been. “Attack, sky.”

 

         “Kuu, try getting her to relax.” Andrew mused. “I’ve met some people who could only talk like this when they were nervous.”

 

         Kuu frowned. “But how am I supposed to do that?” She whispered back.

 

         “Figure it out.”

 

         Kuu nodded sympathetically with Furia’s story. “Scary.” She held out her arms after a slight hesitation. “Furia, come here.”

 

         A hopeful smile creased Furia’s face and she scrambled to her feet. “Queen?”

 

         Kuu nodded. “Come here.” She embraced the girl before pushing away slightly and looking into her eyes. “Furia, you are welcome in… my court.” She leaned in and kissed her cheek. “You may serve me.”

 

         Furia howled in joy before clamping her mouth shut with her hands. “Sorry! Queen!” She blinked. “M… My Queen?”

 

         Kuu giggled and nodded. “Yes, your Queen.”

 

         Furia disengaged herself and bowed again. “Furia serves my Queen.”

 

         Kuu breathed a sigh of relief at the change in her attitude. “Well. That helped her.”

 

         Andrew laughed at the tone of her voice. “You need some too?”

 

         The ElfQueen hugged herself to try and keep from shaking. “It’s just too much all at once.”

 

         Rein put her arm over Kuu’s shoulders. “Hey. We’re here.” She nodded at Shamira. “Mira, mind keeping watch on our new friend? Kuu needs some time.”

 

         Shamira nodded. “How’s she going to react to Andrew?”

 

         Rein lead Kuu away. “That’s your problem.”

 

         Furia watched them go with a frown. “Where Queen going?”

 

         “Home.” Shamira gestured. “Follow?”

 

 

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

 

 

         Andrew mentally catalogued everything that was occurring. He had Draken investigating how the Goths had found them, he had an accidental court being formed with one member already, and he had a new message from Iain waiting for him. Not to mention the magic that now seemed to be quite literally attached to him. He shook his head. Nothing was ever easy.

 

         Deciding, he pulled up Iain’s message first. The first thing he noticed was a glass sitting barely in the camera’s field of view, and he could see what seemed to be wine. Iain’s face was surprisingly neutral, though the lines creasing his forehead told Andrew that it was probably an act. He hit play.

 

         “Hello Andrew. I wish you were having a better day, but you’re not so I’ll be brief. The body armor you might want is available and I’m attaching the specs to this message. If so, just reply and Theodora will send down a drone with the cargo. It comes in basic sizes, small, medium, large, and bigger. You should find the right sizes for everyone. Also you’ll find attached some construction material specifications. I can provide it in sheets that you can chemically weld together or we can survey where you want to build and provide you with prebuilt modules that are welded together. It’s your choice and we can do the survey tomorrow morning and deliver modules that afternoon if you want to go that route. As for price, don’t worry about it this time. We aren’t friends yet, but if this helps towards someday, it’s worth it to me. Feel free to contact me if you need anything else. I sell a dandy pistol and assault rifle set.” Iain’s face changed to be slightly more morose and he shook his head. “I should probably say something about your loss, but I only met some of your girls briefly and anything I could say would sound stupid. So I won’t. If there’s a wake and we’re not invited, which would make sense to me, drink your enemies to hell for us. Later I want to talk to you about whether or not you know how fucking Sanctuary Goths came to this world and whether or not I need to destroy a continent back where we came from, but it’ll wait. So I’ll just say goodbye for now. Iain clear.”

 

         Andrew blinked as he processed the message, rewinding a few times to replay parts. “Of course we’re not friends yet.” He muttered. “We’re both too busy fucking up our lives.” He sighed and opened the manifest, glancing at the body armor specs. Nodding slightly, he sent a quick affirmation back before moving on to the materials, pausing at the offer of a survey.

 

         “We’d benefit.” Cortney offered.

 

         “Yea, you’re right.” Andrew tapped his chin. “Send a full message back. ‘Iain, I’d like to take you up on your offer of a survey. And if you want, we’ll hold off on the drinking until tomorrow. We’ll get all the sadness out of the way today.’” He winced. “I’ve got shit clamoring for my time anyways. The world doesn’t stop just because mine does.”

 

         “Andrew?” Rein called up the stairs. “Mind coming down here?”

 

         Andrew opened the door to see Rein standing in the entryway holding a trembling Kuu. “She needs a hug.”

 

         Andrew sighed, running down the stairs and embracing her. “Kuu. Hey.” He murmured.

 

         Her body shook as she sobbed into his shoulder. “Why do things happen?” She wailed, her body shaking. “So much. So much!”

 

         Andrew held her tight, rocking slightly side to side. “Shh, shh, shh.” He patted her head. “Things happen because life happens. If nothing happened there’d be no life happening.”

 

         Kuu hiccupped, gazing at him in confusion. “…what?”

 

         Andrew laughed. “See? That got you thinking.” He stroked her back. “We can’t stop it, so we deal with it.” He glanced at Furia as she walked in with Shamira. “Like this. You dealt with it.”

 

         Furia started forward when she saw Andrew holding Kuu. “Danger!” She stopped when she noticed Kuu holding him back. “Danger?” At Andrew’s laugh she refocused on his face and realized the last piece. “Man?!?”

 

         Kuu pushed away from Andrew, giving him a smile. “Thanks.” She turned to Furia. “Furia, this is Andrew. He is my Tamer.” She realized Furia had no idea what that meant. “King.”

 

         Furia’s jaw dropped and she bowed her head. “King. Sorry.”

 

         Andrew snickered. “King? I’m only equal?”

 

         Kuu shot him a look. “If you don’t shut up you’ll be the Eunuch.” She grumbled. Andrew nodded solemnly, pretending to lock his lips before bursting into laughter and sitting down on the stairs, earning him a groan and a look from Kuu. “And Furia,” She continued, turning to the girl, “Come with me.”

 

         Andrew watched them go. “Man, I’m glad that she’s not my problem.”

 

         Rein frowned. “She’s becoming a part of the harem. She is definitely your problem.”

 

         Andrew shook his head. “Nah, Kuu barely answers to me, so her subjects won’t even make a blip on my radar.” He sighed. “Besides, I’m not ready for any others right now.”

 

         Rein rolled her eyes. “You’re a little dense, I know, but let me outline it for you.” She pointed at her ear. “You gave her a com. By doing so you accepted her fully. She knows that. She left her entire life behind to come with you. She wants to be here, and she wants to be with you.”

 

         Andrew grimaced. “I know all that. But she has not asked me for a taming yet. She hasn’t insinuated it, she hasn’t made any moves. She doesn’t want or at least isn’t ready for that. So she’s not my problem.”

 

         Rein’s mouth twitched into a half smile. “Isn’t it the man’s job to ask a woman out?”

 

         Andrew snorted and stood. “Please. That custom is dead and rightfully so.” He made to go back upstairs, chasing his beeping pokedex, but paused at some noise from the adjoining room. “Who’s arguing?”

 

         Rein followed him as he peeked into a small room, Cortney standing inside talking with a tall pokegirl. “You’ve only just barely learned to speak. Give yourself time to rest.” Cortney was urging. “Don’t make this decision so rashly. He’s not who you think he is.”

 

         Andrew’s eyes widened and he attempted to close the door quietly, without success. “Who’s there?” The other girl called. “I heard you. Who are you.”

 

         Andrew held the door closed while he debated what to do. Yelping in surprise, he had to drop the doorknob, the metal glowing red hot against his hand. The door swung open, revealing a Blazicunt standing on the other side, her eyes drilling into Andrew.

 

         Cortney shouldered past, giving an apologetic smile to Andrew. “Sir, you don’t have to be here, she was just-“

 

         “I was just about to speak to this man, computer girl.” The Blazicunt said firmly, ignoring Cortney’s protests and striding forward until she stood eye to eye with Andrew. “So. You are the one, hm?”

 

         Andrew fought the urge to back up, sensing that it might not end well for him if he did. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never met you before. Who are you?”

 

         The girl cocked her head. “So her story was true. You were out of your mind then.” She nodded. “I can see it in you, but it is not there now.”

 

         Andrew peeked over her shoulder. “Cortney?”

 

         The Videogirl chuckled nervously. “While you were being attacked, you tamed a Combusticunt so we could make sure they were truly innocent.” She looked meaningfully at the Blazicunt.

 

         “Huh.” Andrew glanced at the girl again. “And?”

 

         A smile slowly appeared on the Blazicunt’s face. “Interesting.” She stepped back slightly. “You don’t take responsibility for your actions?”

 

         Andrew shrugged. “I take responsibility for my actions. But I highly doubt that I tamed you so you would join me. From what Cortney is saying, I tamed you so you could have a free choice.”

 

         The girl laughed delightedly. “Oh, you are fun.” She nodded. “I would join you, man.”

 

         Andrew blinked. “Oh. Alright. Uh, Cortney, would you mind showing…” He looked quizzically at the Blazicunt. “Er, do you have a name?”

 

         She shook her head. “Mate called me other, and Alpha called me second.” She shrugged. “I do not have a name.”

 

         Andrew glanced at Cortney. “Alpha was…” He winced at her nod. “Ah. Uh, how about… Enya?” He continued at her nod. “Ok, good. Cortney, could you please show Enya around and fill her in on how things work around here?” He grinned sheepishly. “I have a message I need to take.”

 

         Cortney shot him a disgruntled look but nodded. “Of course. Enya, if you could just follow me…”

 

         Andrew nearly sprinted up the stairs as they left, Rein jogging to keep up with him. “What the heck was that about?” She hissed, following him into the bedroom and closing the door behind them.

 

         Andrew’s face was pale and he collapsed onto his bed. “She… She was the second in command of the group of ferals we cleared out a few days ago. I executed her Alpha.” He took a shaky breath. “I… Oh god. If I had backed down at all she would have killed me.”

 

         Rein’s eyes widened. “Oh. Oh dear.”

 

         “Yea.” Andrew sat upright and stared at his hands. “I’ll be fine now, right? She thinks I’m a worthy successor?” He shuddered. “Right?”

 

         Rein sat down next to him. “I never felt any malice from her. I think she was genuinely interested in seeing how you would react.”

 

         Andrew nodded slightly. “I know. But…” He stared off into space. “But I feel like that’s what made it dangerous.”

 

         “You think she would have attempted to inherit her position?”

 

         Andrew shrugged. “If she had thought I wasn’t worthy of taking her Alpha’s place, she would have tried to take it herself. If she failed, she would have left, and some day might come back to try again.”

 

         Rein blinked. “You’re letting her stick around to keep her in control?”

 

         Andrew chuckled nervously. “Friends close, enemies closer.” He grimaced. “Don’t get me wrong, I think she’d be a fine fit around here. But that doesn’t change that she’s dangerous.”

 

         Rein giggled and draped her arms around his shoulders. “Am I dangerous?”

 

         Andrew glared at her. “Of course you are. I listen to you.”

 

         Rein laughed. “You’re advised by Cristina and Cortney but you listen to me?”

 

         “Exactly.” He stretched and snagged his pokedex. “Now hush. I need to look at a message.”

 

         Iain looked at him from the screen. “We can be there in four hours, Andrew. Just let me know when and I’ll make sure it happens. Iain clear.” The screen blurred slightly before refocusing. “Oh, Andrew, if you still have them, I’d like the Goth’s corpses. It’s possible that I may be able to use necromantic magic to question them and determine how they came here so I can make sure it doesn’t happen again. Iain clear.”

 

         Andrew blinked. “Ok, and oops. Didn’t I tell Constance to…”

 

         Rein nodded. “The bodies are burnt to a crisp.”

 

         Andrew glanced at her. “Not gone?”

 

         Rein shrugged. “Last I knew they were practicing cremation on them. They probably failed a few times.”

 

         Andrew frowned. “Alright, maybe he can use them, maybe he can’t. Either way, I’ve got Daria investigating, right?”

 

         Rein laughed. “I don’t know. You don’t share everything with me.”

 

         Andrew grinned. “True.” He disentangled himself. “Well. I wonder if Iain would want to come this afternoon, or tomorrow?”

 

         His pokedex chose that moment to chirp at him, a hologram shimmering into existence and looking around. When it saw Andrew it smiled at him. “Andrew, it’s good to see you. Iain and the survey team will be arriving in roughly four hours. If anything changes in the schedule I’ll let you know.” It vanished.

 

         “Huh.” Andrew blinked. “That was Theodora. I guess we’ll be having company soon.”

 

         “I’ll go get everyone cleaned up.” Rein offered.

 

         Andrew nodded in thanks. “I’ll go find Daria and let her know we’ll be taking a look at her findings sooner than expected.”

 

         Cortney materialized and chuckled. “And I’ll send our confirmation.”

 

 

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

 

 

         <17:00, Base Camp>

 

         Andrew watched the shuttle as it descended, coming to a rest in front of him. A veritable parade disembarked, Iain following a Milktit with a  rifle. He smiled at Andrew. “Afternoon. I’ve brought the armor and the survey equipment.” He motioned towards one of the girls behind him. “You haven’t met Canaan yet.”

 

         Andrew nodded. “Iain. Thank you for coming out so quickly.” He glanced at Canaan, smiling slightly at the sight of her belly. “A pleasure to meet you Canaan. Thank you for making the effort to come out here.”

 

         He motioned behind himself at the girls as he listed them. “Cristina can help with the armor, she’s best got her finger on the pulse of the Harem today. If your surveyor needs a guide, Yang and Constance are the ones to talk to.  The others are just hanging around to make sure I don’t get myself into any more trouble.” He sighed. “Iain, you mentioned you wanted to talk. Daria’s back at the tent, and there’s a few things you might be interested in.” He nodded slightly as Kuu stepped forward. “Kuu would also like to mention that the clearing a few hundred feet to our northwest is not off limits, but please be courteous around it. There may be ferals, and if there are, just let her know, please don’t attack them on sight. I know you’re probably more than capable of doing so without collateral damage, but if anything happened to that place…” He trailed off. “Well, hopefully Lyn’s barrier would stop that. Anyways. The other reason is that Kuu accidentally started her own little court earlier today. So far there’s only been one pokegirl who wandered in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more showed up.” He flashed a quick smile. “Oh, and you missed the moping. The drinking, though, that might start sometime tonight.”

 

         “My children need to taste more minds before they are born.” Canaan said with a smile. “In addition, I am a powerful psychic and Iain wanted me to make sure nobody is hiding around here.” She shrugged all of her shoulders. “While unlikely, there is illusionary magic powerful enough to cloak a person completely.”

 

         Iain turned back to the shuttle as the cargo hold opened. He looked back and smiled at Cristina. “Cristina, the armor is in there. Ninhursag will show you where everything is since the helmets are packed separately. We brought more than you needed, but it’s all for you to keep.”

 

         Three spheres about a meter in diameter floated out from the cargo hold in a triangle while a fourth curved out behind them and took up position above the shuttle. “Those are the survey drones.” Theodora stated as she appeared. “If someone will show me where you plan to live I can begin.”

 

         “It’s not too far.” Constance replied, gently tugging Yang with her. “C’mon.” They walked off towards the caverns, Theodora’s drones floating along behind them.

 

         Iain turned back to Andrew. “We didn’t come here to do any hunting, but if we get hit by ferals in this clearing you warned us about we’ll just lure them out of it and then take them down. I presume it’s probably your family plot. As for whatever you want to show us, please, by all means.”

 

         Andrew nodded. “That’s the correct assumption.” He turned away, Melody, Ann, and Aella falling in behind him while Lucina skipped ahead and vanished into midair. “Daria, I’m bringing Iain now.” He relayed through his mic. “Double check with Lyn that everything is still inert. She… thoroughly searched the bodies and belongings.” Andrew directed back at Iain. “They’re still there, for whatever you want to try.”

 

         Iain nodded. “If their skulls are still intact then I might be able to work with them. If not, there are a couple of other options that we can consider. They’re just a little more work and would need some permission from certain individuals here. Can I ask for a rundown of exactly what happened?”

 

         “Well, I was unconscious for most of it.” Andrew admitted. “From what I know, the group of S-Goths that brought me over somehow followed us here. They broke our coms and started… picking people off in the confusion.” He paused. “There were three main battlefields.  Nami, Fu, and Constance would be the ones to talk to about that. That’s uh, the Sharptits, Warvern, and Tank Vixxen. I can’t remember if you’ve met them yet.”

 

         “Gale saw most of it as well.” Melody supplied. “She’s our medic.” She said to Iain. “She and Lyn were taking care of the wounded. And the Commander.”

 

         “I told you, I refuse to wear those insignia.” Andrew muttered as they reached the tent, Daria sitting in its shade. “And we’re here. What would you like to see first?”

 

         “I’d like to see the dead Goths.” Canaan replied. She looked at Iain. “I haven’t sensed anyone out of place except for a couple of feral pokegirls who are nearby, but we all know that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there. We need answers before either we or Andrew’s group can really do anything else. If the corpses can’t provide them, we’ll have to do some interviewing and until I can see the condition of the corpses, I don’t know if I can use them.”

 

         Ninhursag looked at Iain after conversing quietly with Joyce. “I agree with Canaan. We need to solve the question of how the Goths got here and whether or not more are here or can come before we worry about anything else. It will secure both our and Andrew’s people’s safety and, right now, that’s what all of this is about.”

 

         Iain nodded. “Andrew, I can’t argue with her. Can we see the corpses first?”

 

         “Sure.” Andrew waved at Daria, the Vampire looking up at his approach. “Hey, Daria? Where are the bodies?”

 

         She didn’t respond immediately, watching Iain instead. “Why is he here.”

 

         Andrew didn’t bother with a response, instead crossing his arms and scowling at her. “I’ll ask someone else, then. Where’s Lyn.”

 

         “I’m here.” Lyn called, ducking out from the tent and waving at the group. “Hi.” Daria sat back down in the shade, her red eyes never leaving Iain. “I’ve been keeping the bodies preserved inside, but I can bring them out if you’d like, Iain.”

 

         Iain bowed slightly towards Daria. “Ma’am, I’m here because Andrew requested my help and I’m trying to give it. Usually I don’t offend people unless we’ve interacted before and I certainly would remember meeting you.”

 

         “We would appreciate that, if they can be safely moved.” Canaan said to Lyn. “Are they preserved chemically, temporally, or cryogenically?”

 

         Lyn cocked her head. “Yes, and… yes.” She giggled. “We preserved them cryogenically first, but right now they’re being held in a temporal bubble Azhara set up, when…” She trailed off. “Before…” She shot a guilty look at Andrew.

 

         He sighed and shook his head. “It’s alright, Lyn. You don’t have to censor yourself. It just makes it worse.” He smiled. “Azhara set up the space for Juel’s body back when she was killed during the initial battles. Azhara was one of the casualties of yesterday.” Andrew explained to Iain. “I’m actually surprised it’s still active, but that’s a question for another day. Lyn, is there anybody inside to help you move them?”

 

         Lyn nodded. “Mira’s around. I’ll find her. Be back in a minute.”

 

         Daria was still watching Iain as she waited for Lyn to leave. “No, you don’t know me.” She said as Lyn disappeared back inside. “But you and your friends had me running all over with your stupid antics. Did you know that you collectively set back our operations inside The Order by almost a century?” She blinked and suddenly smiled. “But you know what? I could care less what those idiots did. I was just reminded that I don’t have to care anymore.” She shook her head in amusement. “I’m sorry, I relapsed into an old mindset. Cortney, thank you for that.”

 

         “You’re still bitter, and that’s alright.” The Upgrade replied, materializing next to Andrew and bowing at Iain. “A pleasure seeing you again, Iain.”

 

         “It’s no problem, Daria.” Iain said reassuringly. “I was just curious.” He turned to the Video Girl. “And it’s nice to see you again, Cortney.” He replied. “I hope you’ll be happy to know that the new housing we’ll be putting in place will have plenty of sensors you can use to keep security.” He smiled slightly. “My house is the same way. Theodora is wired into the entire thing in case we have a problem.”

 

         Cortney’s smile brightened. “Oh, that is wonderful to hear. I haven’t worked with a full sensor suite in ages.”

 

         “Here we are.” Lyn called, emerging with Shamira in tow, the Goldina hefting three large bundles while Lyn carried a small one. “These are the three bodies we have.” She continued, laying them out and pulling away the plastic covering them.

 

         Canaan glanced at Iain. “Shall I?”

 

         He nodded. “I doubt anything you’re about to do will be too surprising. Andrew says he’s read the story about me and Aella’s one of your people anyways.”

 

         Canaan looked surprised. “What do you mean?”

 

         It was his turn to look surprised. “You can’t tell that she’s a Hunter breed?”

 

         Canaan was suddenly standing between Iain and Aella, watching the Shinryu alertly. “No, the whole idea is that we are indistinguishable from the regular members of whatever breed we happen to be, and as a dark type, she can’t be casually scanned, even by someone as powerful as I am. We don’t have some secret sign with which we identify ourselves to each other.” She inclined her head to Aella. “If you were just outed, are we going to have a problem?”

 

         Aella chuckled, standing nonchalantly at her position next to Andrew. “If we were, you’d have already known.” She shrugged. “I’m not my mother. Although if you had moved towards Andrew instead of Iain, well…” She trailed off. “Well that didn’t happen.” She nodded at the bodies. “Go ahead and assimilate them. I did a full sweep earlier and I was satisfied enough not to, but hey. Maybe that’s just because I’m squeamish.”

 

        

 

         “She’s gone. I got rid of her.” Andrew supplied. “But she brought them with us… She… It’s because of me…”

 

         (“Is there a way…?” Canaan lifted her shoulders…)

 

         “He is pure.” Andrew turned in surprise as Nevaeh walked in from the path they had all taken. “Kiana was granted immense power during his cleansing. She is never wrong. He is pure, and free of conflict.” She gave Canaan a small smile. “Please do not eat my Master’s brains. He has barely enough of them as it is.”

 

         The others erupted into laughter as Andrew spluttered, trying to form a coherent response. “I… you…” He growled.

 

         “She’s not wrong.” Daria called jovially from her spot in the shade. “Although the same could be said for the rest of us, letting them sneak in.” She stuck her hand into the ground, pulling a phased pokepack out. “Here’s the pack in question. There was a strange aura around it, so I singled it out. Good to know I wasn’t just imagining things.” She lofted the pack towards the group, Canaan plucking it out of the air and growling as Joyce moved as well.

 

         “If this is the bag, and someone’s thrown a glamour on it, could there be more items inside?” Cortney asked.

 

         Most of the activity froze, the pokegirls that had just been joking with Andrew now watching the pokepack warily. “Anyone want to find out?”

 

         Dominique appeared, the red headed Archmage eyeing Iain. “I got your summons. Where is it?” He pointed and she pulled her staff from the pocket of her jeans. “Give me a minute to check for booby-traps.”

 

         “It’s from sanctuary.” Iain said firmly. “And the owner is forever unavailable. Take all of the time you need.”

 

         “Death activated traps.” Andrew heard Daria mutter, the Vampire looking like she had just bitten into a lemon.

 

         Dominique nodded absently as she pointed her staff at the satchel. After a minute there was a shimmer around the pack, it’s color changing, cycling quickly through the colors of the rainbow before returning to normal. “There was a trap.” She said as she put the tip of her staff in her pocket and casually shoved the two meter length inside. “But it wouldn’t have killed anyone. In a week or so someone who had handled the pack during that time would have fled to Africa to report to someone in Sanctuary about what had happened.” She smirked. “Of course, the fact that this is the wrong world would have proven a little problematic.”

 

         “Can you tell what’s in it?”

 

         Dominique looked back at Iain. “Not without opening it, but most mages don’t trap the interior of their gear. It’s too easy to set it off yourself if you’re in a hurry.”

 

         “I doubt there was anything useful in it.” Canaan said. “The fight Morgana started was rather critical and, although they did a lot of damage, victory for her was anything but certain. If she’d had something useful in her gear it’s likely she’d have deployed it or given it to one of her associates to use. And Jane doesn’t remember anything like that being put into the pack while she was observing it.”

 

         “Right, so, as far as we know, they were after me.” Andrew rubbed the bridge of his nose. “They’re all dead, and they have nothing left. No giant portals about to spit out more forces, no time released plagues, nothing.” He sighed. “I, on the other hand, have 15 distraught pokegirls and a crippling fear of going to sleep.” He chuckled darkly. “Hey, you think if I stay awake long enough I’ll see them again?”

 

         Lyn wrapped her arms around him. “Hey. It’s ok. Just…”

 

         “But it’s NOT ok!” Andrew spat back, pulling away from her. “I did this. I fucking did this, Lyn. I thought I was keeping everyone safe and I was the enemy. I… I….”

 

         “Please.” She murmured, pulling him back in. “Please just calm down. Remember what Azhara used to say…”

 

         Nearby, Nevaeh coughed and doubled over, clutching her chest. She went unnoticed until she puked, Andrew’s armor covering him simultaneously, forcing Lyn to jump away with a yelp.

 

         “What the hell?” She cried, before glancing closer and her face going white. “Oh. Oh shit.”

 

         “I KILLED HER!” Andrew screamed, his voice cracking under the strain, his whole body vibrating. “ME. I DID THIS.

 

         “Alright, play time’s over.” Lyn quipped, her hands glowing as she grabbed Andrew and bodily dragged him away, the dampening spell keeping the magical overload contained. “Cortney, you’re in charge. Gale, I need you back at the tent right now, and Rein, I need you sooner.” She relayed into her mic. “I would also appreciate someone taking care of Nevaeh.”

 

         “please keep him safe.” Aella whispered as the two were lost from sight. She glanced at Iain with a worried smile on her face. “He’s done this before. It’s resulted in a coma every time.”

 

         “It’s a byproduct of his inexperience.” Daria remarked, still sitting comfortably in the shade. “He’ll be fine. Lyn’s an excellent spellweaver. That armor of hers just absorbed enough power to liquefy the poor man.” She shrugged. “If he had a decent teacher, he’d be an amazing mage. As it is, it’s all he can do to keep it contained.”

 

         Iain gave Daria a sympathetic look. “I understand, probably better than you think. I, too, am hagridden with guilt over things that I know are not really my fault.” His smile was bitter. “And some of them resulted in the deaths of women that I love. And that guilt, combined with the things that the agents of Sanctuary did to me as well as a couple of things I did to myself, almost killed me a couple of times. If we can help Andrew survive without putting my family in mortal danger, we will.”

 

         Dominique eyed Iain for a moment. “I have a spell that will make Andrew have a full night’s dreamless sleep. If he gets more rest it should help to reduce his overall stress. Right now, if he’s like Iain was, he’s in a spiral where the stress of each thing feeds into the next and it’s spiraling out of control.” She shrugged. “I used it on Iain a couple of times before he figured it out and forbade me from casting it on him without his permission.”

 

         “And I have given you that permission most nights,” Iain said quietly.

 

         The Archmage nodded, her expression carefully neutral. “You have. I just wish it was every night.” She looked at Cortney. “I would be willing to pass that spell to one of your people.”

 

         Theodora appeared in front of Iain. “The survey is going to take longer than I anticipated. I estimate another four to six hours until it’s complete.” Iain frowned and she smiled. “The location they want to live isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that the preliminary scan showed other caverns paralleling and crossing above and beneath the one they’ve chosen. Those will have to be reinforced or sealed and filled in to provide the necessary structural integrity for their new dwelling. Because of their presence several additional passes are required.”

 

         Iain turned to Cortney. “Well, I guess we’re here for a while longer. Do you want or need anything from us?”

 

         Aella gave a wry chuckle. “Got anything to drink?”

 

         “You mean would he like something to drink.” Melody corrected gently. “We weren’t planning on anything tonight, Iain. Today was not a work day. Most of the others are off paying respects in one way or another. Tonight we were all going to get back together for celebration.” She smiled. “Grace had a still she thought nobody knew about. We were going to honor them by drinking it dry.”

        

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

 

 

         “Alright Gale, try to stop the bleeding.” Lyn muttered, swabbing at Andrew’s nose. “He’s stopped screaming, so the worst of it has passed. He nearly killed me with those discharges, though.”

 

         “Will he go into a coma this time too?” Gale asked, her hands glowing as she sealed the broken blood vessels in Andrew’s face.

 

         “He shouldn’t. Instead of internalizing it this time he let it go. I think something yesterday made him change how he views his magic. He’d usually be petrified of letting something like this happen.” Lyn glanced at Rein. “Rein. He listens to you. You’re filling the shoes Azhara used to wear.”

 

         “Heartbeat just skipped.” Gale muttered.

 

         Rein cleared her throat. “Andrew?” She watched his face for a few moments. “You can’t blame yourself.” She rolled her eyes. “Ok, you can. But you shouldn’t. Every single one of us was taken by surprise. Including you. We all did the best we could with that. And we all won. Including you.” She cracked a soft smile. “None of our engagements went perfectly. So yours didn’t either. The important thing is that we all won.” She stroked his hand. “Now you’re all alone in your head again. I get that. There’s nobody holding your hand in there, helping you when you’re in trouble.” She tightened her grip. “But there’s someone out here holding it. Let me help you.”

 

         They stayed silent for a few seconds before Gale piped up. “Heartbeat is stabilizing. He’s coming out of it.”

 

         Andrew coughed, curling up slightly. “…Rein.”

 

         The Myobu continued stroking his hand. “Yes?”

 

         Andrew didn’t speak for almost a minute.  When he did, his voice was tired, and nearly silent. “Thank you.”

 

         She laughed softly, clutching his hand to her heart. “We’re all here for you. You’re our Master. Our Commander. You’re strong for us, even though we’re supposed to be strong for you.” She smiled. “You inspire us. You saved us. Let us do the work for a change. Take a break. Rest. Go for a walk, and relax. Do nothing. Do everything. But rest.”

 

         Andrew sighed. “Ok.” He sat up. “What time is it?”

 

         Gale shrugged. “Who knows. The sun’s started to set.”

 

         Andrew struggled to his feet. “The sun cannot set until we’ve had our first toasts.” He stumbled, Lyn catching him and propping him up. “Our farewells.”

 

         “Everyone’s probably waiting.” Lyn said as they walked back towards the tent. “And I heard there’s some real alcohol. My summoned stuff got put away.”

 

         Andrew blinked. “Real alcohol? How…?”

 

         Lyn laughed. “You knew about Grace’s little operation in the back kitchens, right?”

 

         Andrew blinked. “Uh. You mean whatever she was doing back there trying to get drunk out of my sight.”

 

         Lyn nodded. “She had a still set up. There’s a good amount of brew saved back there as well.” She grinned. “The others decided it was more than enough to get the harem drunk. I even heard Fu make a bet with Nami as to who would empty the stockpile first.”

 

         Andrew groaned. “Those two? Getting completely drunk?” He shook his head. “Now that’s a scary thought.”

 

         “Aw, don’t be like that.” Lyn pushed the door open and they walked inside, Daria nodding to them as they passed. “Let them have some fun.”

 

         “I will.” Andrew conceded. “I’ll let everyone have their fun tonight.” He paused at the entrance to the mess and lifted his arm from Lyn’s shoulder. “Let’s begin.”

 

 

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

 

 

         “HERE GOES ANOTHER!” Fu roared, pointing her mug at Nami. “MATCH ME IF YOU CAN!”

 

         There were cheers when Nami stood, the Sharptits hoisting her own mug with a grin. “I told you you wouldn’t beat me.”

 

         Andrew watched them with a smile. The group surrounding the two heavyweights let out another yell when the two locked arms, draining their respective mugs with a flourish.

 

         “How many drinks is that?”

 

         Andrew shrugged. “I lost count at twenty.” He glanced at the Vampire sitting next to him. “Why are you here? You barely knew any of us.”

 

         Daria shrugged. “I live here.” She smiled sadly. “I may not have known them for long, but I lost a few very dear friends yesterday.”

 

         Andrew nodded, nursing his own mug. “Yea.” He gazed into the liquid for a while, slowly sloshing it around. “Yea…”

 

         They sat in silence for a few minutes before a commotion interrupted Andrew’s musings. Glancing up, he could see a cluster of girls standing under the screens. Squinting, he could just make out Lyn in the middle, her eyes angry.

 

         He jumped to his feet as one of the girls surrounding her was pushed away, Lyn’s face twisted in fury. “HEY!” He yelled, sprinting over and tripping over Lucina’s sprawled body. “Alright, break it up! What the fuck is going on over here?”

 

         Lyn’s chest heaved, one shoulder of her shirt hanging ripped on her arm. “She’s being a piece of shit, is what’s going on.” She hissed, pointing at Lucina. “Tell him. Fucking tell him what you told me!”

 

         Lucina averted her eyes from her position on the ground. “It was just a joke, I’m just trying to-“

 

         “YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO WHAT.” Lyn screamed, shoving past Andrew and leaping on Lucina, pummeling the cowering girl. “JUST TRYING TO WHAT?

 

         Lyn choked as a hand grabbed the back of her shirt collar, yanking her off Lucina and sending her crashing into the group that had gathered. She started to seek out whoever had grabbed her but froze.

 

         “ENOUGH!” Andrew stood there, his armor shimmering in the light, his amplified voice echoing around the room and causing all activity to die down. “Enough. Lyn. Let her speak.”

 

         Lucina’s body shook with a sob and she shook her head. “No… No, let her. Let her.”

 

         Andrew pulled her to her feet, blinking in surprise. “Lucina, why… Where are your clothes?”

 

         The Shadowcat tried vainly to cover herself before letting her arms hang by her side. “I was just…” She hiccupped. “I was just trying to joke about, about Ashba, and Phial, and you know,” She waved her hands desperately. “We’re all standing here! And we’re all still hiding.”

 

         Andrew dismissed his helmet, gazing into her eyes. “What do you mean.”

 

         “Clothes! We’re all wearing clothes, but it’s like we’re all still hiding behind them. And… And I said, ‘It’s a good thing we are, since the… the…” She gulped. “The ones who don’t are gone.”

 

         There was complete silence while Lucina sobbed, Andrew watching her with a neutral expression. “The ones who don’t are gone.” He shook his head. “What the hell is that even supposed to mean.”

 

         “I don’t know.” She whispered. “I’m sorry.”

 

         Andrew watched her. “You’re already drunk.” He looked around. “Allow me to reiterate what Lucina was trying to say. I hope.” He glanced back at Lyn. “She’s saying that we’re all still hiding our true selves. We stand here. We drink. We remember those we lost.” He looked down at her. “But we’re also hiding our true feelings.” He turned, pointing at where Fu and Nami still clutched each other. “The two of you have no real way of honoring Grace. There is no large display of power that will truly honor her. Nothing that will bring her back. So you drink, and compete, hoping to bury your grief.” He turned to where Kuu and Rein stood with Enya and Furia, the two new arrivals watching the proceedings with undisguised curiosity. “We cling to our present without truly thinking about our past.” He turned back to Lyn, pulling her to her feet. “Lucina, am I correct?”

 

         Behind him, Lucina nodded, collapsing back down. “Yes.” She looked up at Lyn. “Yes. I’m sorry.” She bowed her head. “I said things that I should not have.” A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “As usual, He is much better at explaining than we are.”

 

         Lyn crouched next to her. “You are an idiot, you know that?” She said softly. She smiled gently at Lucina’s tearful laugh and stood, pulling the Shadowcat to her feet. “Here.” She said, pulling her shirt off and wrapping it around Lucina’s shoulders. “We’re all a part of this family, right? We should be able to show ourselves to each other.” She laughed at Andrew’s look. “Symbolically! I mean that symbolically, you big pervert.”

 

         Andrew chuckled. “From what I can see, you mean that quite literally.”

 

         Lyn stuck her tongue out at him. “It’s both.” She looked around. “Most of you are too drunk to remember tonight. So let’s bare ourselves.” She rolled her eyes. “The clothes can come off if you want. But I mean our thoughts.” She glanced down. “I… I’ll start. I feel like this was partly my fault. That if I had been out there, helping, maybe I could have done something about it.” She shook her head. “All I did was sit in the tent while our sisters died.”

 

         “That’s bullshit.” Aella called back. “Lyn, I wasn’t even here. If it was anyone’s fault because of inaction, it was mine.”

 

         “I ran.” Rein whispered. “Erren could have outpaced me. She was running circles around that Goth while April and I ran. She… She was doing it so we could get away.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I could have turned around. I could have done something to help her.” She shook her head. “I left her to die.”

 

         Kuu draped her arm over Rein’s shoulders. “Girl, I had to stand watch while that thing killed anyone it could find. Do you know how badly I wanted to leap out there? To fight it? But I was ordered not to.” She smiled. “I have no doubt Erren did the same thing. And you listened to her. You may have wanted to help her, but she was doing all she could to save you.”

 

         “I should have gone with her.” Cristina whispered. “We had no idea there was one inside. But we knew it could happen. I should have gone with Nial.”

 

         Andrew glanced around as others raised their voices, offering condolences, or their own doubts. He watched Shamira console Gale, the Night Nurse trembling as she stared at the hands that weren’t able to save everyone. Ishara held Yang, the two reliving their ordeal as Yang desperately tried to relieve the memory of her sister.

 

         “Survivor’s guilt.”

 

         Cortney nodded at him. “Are you alright?”

 

         Andrew lowered his arms, Lucina having teleported away. “I’m just glad the façade has been broken.”

 

         “You knew someone would do this?” Lyn asked him, the Archmage watching him curiously, the rest of the group having drifted away.

 

         Andrew nodded. “We had the toasts. Then we had a few stories. Then everyone just started drinking. There was so much more to be said that I knew someone would eventually break.”

 

         “Not you?”

 

         Andrew chuckled and shook his head. “Not me.” His eyes glinted as he turned away. “I’m already broken.”

 

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

 

 

 

Tech Ops: Cortney – (Upgrade) Videogirl

Commander: Andrew Ranger

Smoke Devils Strike Force

Lucina – Shadowcat

Nami – Sharptits

Fu – Warvern

Cristina – (Blessed, Fiendish) Ophanim

Constance – Tank Vixxen

Gale – Night Nurse

Shamira – Goldina

Aella – (Hunter) Shinryu

Nevaeh – (Blessed, Fiendish) G-Splice

Melody – Wet Queen

Ann – Ice Empress

 

Support Force

Ishara – Romanticide

Kuu – Elfqueen

Lyn – Archmage

Rein – Myobu

Yang – Nereidame

 

KIA:

Juel – Matratya

Ashba – Rosebreasts

Nial – Assasara

Tracii – (Red) Longfly

Azhara – Kyubi

Brigid – Unicorn

Adria – Groaning

Noira – (Flying) Mecha Musume

Kary – Gunvalkyrie

April – Seabra

Erren – Ballisticunt

Grace – Mini-Top

Yin – Nereidame

Phial – Gravelgal

Leira – Queenler

 

Comments (0)

Cancel or