Jin was tired from being kept awake for so long after enthusiastically applying herself to the task of fun at the Borysov compound celebration. She’d been energized by the prospect of danger but the pokegirls from Mars canceled their attack at the last minute. Now the young Witch from some of the furthest East portions of the Asian mainland was running on exhaustion and disappointment as she lashed the yurt frame together for the billionth time. A bend and twist at the waist reminded her of the wand she’d been given in case fighting broke out. Tempted by Elena’s promise of witnessing potent spellcraft and operating with substantially reduced impulse control from sleep deprivation, Jin unsheathed the ornate wooden rod and pointed it at a miserable little shrub. She channeled her magic into the wand to cause it to activate.
The air temperature plummeted when Elena brandished her staff at the unassuming undergrowth and Astoreth bristled with chaotic energies as well. Both of the veteran’s attention was locked onto the scraggly bush for a split second before they scanned for a target worthy of their ire. Then, after a few more moments stretched by, they turned their unhappy stares towards the Witch holding the wand. Jin took in both of their displeased expressions, looked down at the implement in her hand, and then matched their gazes again. “You said this was for master class wizardry but it barely did anything.”
Astoreth’s eyes narrowed to the point they resembled gilded slits and she resumed packing up without a word. Elena marched over to Jin and aggressively plucked the wand from her fingers. “I said if you used it right you would get to see master class wizardry. You would be calling targets for us because you have no business trying to match a GunValkyrie in combat. This is a spell Chandrakanta developed to aid us in some of the most chaotic conflicts we’ve entered and we trust her not to use it frivolously.”
“Well you didn’t explain any of that to me,” Jin protested in defense of her impulsiveness.
“Jin, if I had told you what that wand did, would you have still used it or would you have put it aside to charge your Mana Bolt?” Jin refused to answer so Elena was fairly confident she was doing so to avoid lying but also avoid admitting the Grandelf was correct. Elena sighed. “Jin, if we had more time we would have worked up a better strategic role for you and your capabilities but for tonight we gave you that hoping it would keep you out of danger. If Astoreth or I had attacked, as we are used to doing immediately after perceiving that mark, the collateral damage could have hit you. Or Isaac.”
“Oh,” Jin said flatly. It was as close to displaying repentance as Elena expected.
“I will show you the spell I was going to use. Because you paid attention to my lecture.” The Witch’s face lit up when she heard this. Elena leveled her staff at the shrub, it was a suffering little thing with roots infested with insect larva anyway. Cold mist appeared to seep up from the ground and condense around the stems and leaves into an icy sheet. It was all done as quickly as the eye could blink. Vapor poured from the bushy limbs and it tinkled and cracked as the ice that had consumed the undergrowth expanded in the warmer night air.
Jin dashed over and plucked a branch off of the frozen woody bush. It splintered off just like if it were an ice sculpture she had molested. “Cooool… But you didn’t use any chant.”
“That’s because I’m not teaching. I train to cast all of my magic without their somatic or verbal components. Very useful in an actual fight, or when showing off to little Edo spellthiefs.”
Jin spun towards the Grandelf and made a rude gesture while wearing a playful expression. “I’m going to learn all of your magic someday, Elena.”
Elena smiled down at the Witch. “Maybe, but you’ll have to come up with something on your own and trade for my best spells.”
Chandrakanta smiled as she always did when watching Elena interacting with her pupils and then made her way over to Astoreth. She was currently consumed with aggression and alarm. Chandrakanta could see the black and crimson vortex anchored in the infernal’s heart lashing out with bloody tendrils that were kept in check by nothing but Astoreth’s incredible resolve. She used to be consumed with these episodes of bloodlust right after the war ended but after she and Chandrakanta had first met Astoreth quickly learned to utilize her disciplined mind to cage in the love for violence. It left other faults in her character unguarded though, ones that turned their harm inwards.
Because of this Astoreth was always motivated to find work. ‘Idle hands are the devil’s playthings,’ was a phrase she adopted from the humans. Astoreth would put herself to work ‘destroying’ problems. There was nothing to solve at the little decoy campsite they had set up though, leaving the infernal warrior woman left with no recourse but to stew. The Megami put a hand on the infernal’s shoulder and didn’t flinch away from the fury she witnessed buried just underneath the surface when Astoreth turned to face her. “Star, are you alright? Jin wasn’t that bad.”
Muscles bunched in anticipation under slate blue skin and auric eyes met scintillating prisms. “No. She wasn’t.”
“You really wanted to kill them.”
“They threatened us. They threatened Isaac. One of them was pointing her weapon at you.”
“I know,” Chandrakanta responded evenly. “I could feel her conflict. They weren’t bad girls, Star. They were just soldiers. Back when you were a soldier, what would you do if two of yours were slain?”
Astoreth straightened out her posture. She knew the answer and knew that if she followed the rationale the Megami was going to put forward she’d have no choice but to agree or play the part of the fool. “We’d have come back with more and killed whoever killed them.”
“And then Isaac would be in even more danger. All of us would be. It might not have been the next one, or the one after that but you couldn’t beat them all, Star. Thank you for not killing those two.”
Astoreth flexed her grip while staring at the ends of her fingers. “They could still come back.”
“If they do, we'll be here. It won’t be tonight though. Come on, why don’t we go back to your place and I can work on some of the tension you’ve built up?”
Astoreth raised an elegant brow in response to the suggestion of her friend. “Could that involve a match? Nothing serious. Knife fight, first blood. One round.” The Megami sighed before she offered the crook of her arm. Astoreth looped her arm through it and leaned into Candi’s gentle but firm strength. In Astoreth the bloodlust was always there, but for now it was at least reintegrating into the rich pattern that made up Astoreth’s intangible self. ‘A high contrast soul,’ was the phrase Chandrakanta had once. She didn’t think what she saw was actually a soul but it was very poetic and Chandrakanta loved the richness of the word choice, so she kept choosing them.
By the time Elena had shepherded Isaac, Jin, Neasa, and Oleksandra back to her home they had all lost the adrenal boost of energy that had been allowing them to stay alert and awake. Everyone was shuffling on groggy feet and weary limbs. When Neasa split off from the group first to go to her sleeping spot behind the greenhouses her only response to Isaac wishing her a good night’s rest was something to the effect of, “ngh.”
Elena turned to follow the Elf. “I need to make sure my sensory network is going back to normal, put this to bed too.” She lifted her staff half heartedly. “I’ll be a few minutes.”
That left Isaac with Jin and Oleksandra trailing behind him up the stairs to the attic space above where the house had only a single level. It had been converted long term to be Isaac’s bedroom. A problem quickly arose as Isaac and Jin started to peel out of their clothing. “Isaac’s bed is only big enough for two. I’m his first pokegirl so I outrank you, meaning I get to share the bed with him,” Jin informed the Battle Battle Angel who had been standing around expectantly.
Oleksandra’s ears fell back and she looked towards Isaac with uncertainty. Isaac dropped his head and shook it with weary effort. “Jin…”
“What? I am your first girl!”
“Yes, but that doesn’t give you the right to my bed. Oleksandra’s joined us so you need to make sure she’s included and it’s her first night. Shouldn’t that also mean something?”
“Why does she need to be your pokegirl too? She could just be like Neasa and you’re helping her until she figures things out and moves on.” Oleksandra remained silent as her head swiveled back and forth to observe the one speaking.
“Oleksandra, you said you wanted to join us, right?”
“Correct,” the steel type with rabbit ears answered. “Selecting a single long term tamer is more reliable.”
Jin continued to argue. “But if she’s picking you as her tamer then she should respect my rank.”
Isaac sighed. “Jin, you don’t have a rank.”
The Witch’s tone was becoming a little pleading and Isaac recognized that she was becoming upset from the way her words were starting to tumble together. “I- Okay, but you needed restraints to tame her. She could still accidentally hurt you in your sleep, right? So she shouldn’t get to sleep with you until we’re sure she has better control.”
Oleksandra’s ears fell to the sides dramatically. Her eyebrows were dropping at the corners and her mouth was stretching into a frown. She was unhappy. Jin was unhappy. Isaac was unhappy. Everyone just needed to not worry about the sleeping arrangements and sleep.
Jin’s last argument had merit but it was also fairly obviously an attempt to ‘win’ without considering much else. Like how it might make her new harem sister feel. It wasn’t okay and Isaac was anticipating this sort of issue with Jin but he wasn’t ready for it right now. He didn’t have the energy for any more social complications without sleep. “I’m just going to sleep with Elena tonight then. We can figure this out tomorrow.” Isaac left his bedroom and crossed the hall to the Grandelf’s.
Oleksandra and Jin both watched him leave with equally displeased expressions. The red-headed Battle Battle Angels long ears raised slightly as she turned towards the black haired, dark eyed Witch. “We could both fit in the bed now,” she offered.
Jin spun with a huff and made her way downstairs, through the kitchen, and to the couch. Isaac was unhappy with her. What had she done to make Isaac unhappy? She was just trying to make sure she kept what was important to her. Why did Oleksandra have to show up? Why did no one ever tell her what she did wrong? The distraught magic pokegirl from the Edo league dropped herself on the couch and angrily tossed around lap blankets and throw pillows until she felt comfortable enough to fight off tears however long it took to succumb to exhaustion.
Oleksandra’s ears fell backwards and her entire expression dropped with them. She padded over to the still empty piece of furniture and studied it. If she could dig out underneath it she thought that would be a better place to sleep. She placed an experimental hand on the mattress. It was soft. She pushed down on it. It quickly became firmer but the cushioning on top made it so soft and warm. The Battle Battle Angel crawled up on top of the mattress on her hands and knees and gently bounced as she pushed down on the mattress with both palms. She lifted herself upright to make one last glance towards the darkened hallway before flopping onto her side and almost immediately falling asleep. She’d never known anything so comfortable.
There were very few public buildings in the tiny Sapphire League village of Slov’yanka. With such a small population even what businesses did exist were mostly run out of the homes belonging to the residents. One of the exceptions to this was the sheriff’s office. It was a brick and stone building situated between the clinic and post office, the only other two league buildings to be found.
It was early in the morning and the middle of the harvest period so very few people were moving on the few streets that intersect to serve as the grid the rural community was built around. One exception to this was a man who caught everyone else’s attention because they did not recognize him. He was dressed in a way that would be nondescript in a city but the synthetic fabric jacket and low end designer sunglasses placed him apart from the simpler fare of the rural people. He was accompanied by an identically dressed feline pokegirl.
Everyone who studied the two could tell they were probably league operatives but since the pair’s business wasn’t with them, no one bothered to seek more details.
The stranger and his pokegirl slipped through the front door of the sheriff’s office. Klavdiya, Denys Kohut’s Chocoboob, was acting as the receptionist today and looked up to smile at the newcomers but her expression melted away when she recognized the faces. She didn’t trust the names this man provided, mostly because he offered different ones every time he visited. He was very mocking towards Denys the first time they’d met. Whoever this man was, he had some sort of connection to the clandestine elements of the Sapphire League Rangers and seemed to have assumed the role of unofficial liaison between his organization and Denys.
The sheriff and his family had been expecting this visitor. He always arrived to check in after Denys filed reports about strange or mysterious occurrences. It wasn’t frequent but given Sheriff Kohut’s obsessions Denys likely had more interaction with this government agent than most of the citizenry. It’d happened enough to at least establish a routine. Denys and the visitor would go in Denys’ office for a private talk and visitor’s pokegirl would stand outside the door. Marta stood outside the same door only on the opposite side of the door frame.
“How’s the kids, Denys?” The visitor dropped himself into a seat before Denys had made it around to his own chair.
“The kids are fine, …” The sheriff trailed off. His guest hadn’t offered a new name but he’d made it clear on his last visit as well that he wasn’t fond of his alias at that time, Ipatiy.
“Just Robert today. Simple and easy. So, this alleged crash site?”
Denys nudged his field computer towards the league agent. “Photos are on there.” The sheriff then pulled a small plastic bag out of his breast pocket and set the one piece of physical evidence he’d collected from the scene down next to his computer. “This piece of metal too. Seems like it could be aerospace, don’t you think?”
The agent didn’t respond to either item. “Aerospace materials? Denys, I thought the Martians used the StarfireDluxe breed.”
Denys leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms behind his head in a small stretch. “Well then maybe this was nothing. A weather balloon, possibly.”
‘Robert’ copied the sheriff’s gesture. “A weather balloon. I like that. Classic.”
“You could always tell me what’s really going on.”
The agent pulled out a sleek and compact computer and sat it down next to the sheriff’s device. He plugged in some quick commands and the two machines started an automatic file transfer. “No need. You’ve got it all figured out. It was a weather balloon that fell off course.” Denys sighed. He was powerless in these matters because whoever ‘Robert’ really was, he had jurisdiction and Denys didn’t. Denys was also the one in a long term and loving relationship with an OfficerJenny who was always doing her best to make sure the father of her children didn’t step out of the bounds of his office.
Still, there was something about this visit from the mysterious league man that made Denys feel quite pleased with himself. Marta could tell as soon as he returned from seeing ‘Robert’ out. “What is it Denys? You’re usually not so happy after the league comes and claims all of your evidence.”
“Marta my darling, I know his badge is very shiny and that just does things for you, but as a man able to look beyond that I just notice some things. Our friend was much, much more interested in hearing my account of the scene and hearing the testimony we took from Gregor. Normally he can’t help but let a little bit of condescension show through, like I’m wasting his time.”
“Denys my darling, you usually are wasting his time. Do you remember when we spent two weeks chasing UFOs when it was the Yurisov’s girl that turned that KATTLE inside out? Poor thing thought she had a cold and didn’t realize she was thresholding.”
Denys cleared his throat. Marta was always his harshest critic among his own women because she always, always sided with the official stance of the league. “Yes I remember but that was right after we moved back here. Can a man ever live down the mistakes of his youth?” They both shared a chuckle. “Anyway, it makes me think I was actually close this time,” the sheriff said as he put an arm around his OfficerJenny and stared at the sky outside his window.
The morning light was shining through the windows of Elena's home as all of the occupants fought to deny the rising of the sun. Oleksandra had demonstrated strange sleeping habits. The Battle Battle Angel seemed to only sleep for a single ninety minute cycle and then wake, where she would get up and move around for a few minutes before returning to bed and sleeping for another hour and a half.
As it was her home and Oleksandra's presence within it was new, Elena kept waking up to ascertain who or what was moving about. This left her without a single period of meaningful rest.
Isaac was her bedmate so even when he failed to detect Oleksandra on his own Elena's reaction would wake him as well. Every time that Isaac woke up the part of his mind seeking to identify the issue causing him to wake first noticed the absence of Jin. His mind had to become more active to rationalize why the Witch wasn't with him. That involved remembering the dispute about sleeping arrangements and reminded Isaac that Jin had been becoming very unhappy. He was worried that she would still be unhappy because Jin tended to get hung up on her negative emotions.
Downstairs on the couch Jin hadn't faired any better. She had fought tears long enough to hear Oleksandra stirring twice before she gave up and let the crying commence. There simply hadn't been enough hours left in the night for her to be rested after that.
Neasa had experienced no trouble sleeping alone, outside, away from the others. Elena grew hot tomatoes. Neasa had quickly identified this and put down her bedding up against the exterior wall that also anchored the lattice supporting the growth of the heat radiating vine. She rose with the sun and checked over the fletching of her arrows after having a breakfast of great grape jam on toast.
Elena had spoken to her about the hunt they were going on later today. They both knew Neasa didn’t have the knowledge necessary to subsist off of an open patch of fertile ground. The Grandelf had been satisfied with the performance of the Elf-in-exile once they’d worked through her fixation on Elena’s living weapon. If Neasa hunted for the late queen, she could hunt for Elena. Neasa was inspecting the arms of her bow for signs of wear when she finally detected the others up and moving inside.
Isaac got up after the need to adjust to the absence of Elena’s body heat made remaining in bed futile. Elena let him know she would be making porridge as they passed at the doorway leading to the toilet. He saw enough of Oleksandra through the entry to the attic to see she was still asleep. That meant he was able to check on her on his way down to see to Jin.
Isaac recognized the general humanoid form buried under the blankets on the couch as that of his Witch. He sat on the cushion that was only occupied by her feet. The Witch under the blankets poked her head up to see who had joined her on the couch and fully emerged when she recognized it was Isaac. Her hair was a disheveled disaster that was only mitigated by how fine the raven black locks were. There just wasn’t as much hair to pile on top of and tangle with itself. Her eyes and nostrils were lined with irritated red and both were encrusted with dried mucus deposited by the previous night’s tears. Her eyelids were still a bit puffy and discolored.
Jin rubbed her eyes as she sat up straighter. “Jal jasseo?” This was a Korean phrase Jin used in place of ‘good morning.’ A phrase that would literally translate to the English greeting wasn’t common in the birth tongue of her father. So far Isaac was the only one she used it for. It was a rather informal phrase and roughly translated to the question, ‘Did you sleep well?’
“Not really. You?”
Jin fell over to lean against him. “No.” She stretched out the single syllable enough to load it with a wavering, distressed tone.
Isaac sighed heavily. “Sorry for… just going off to Elena’s bed. I don’t think that was the right thing for me to do but I was too tired.”
Jin scooched herself closer to her tamer without leaving her cocoon of bedding and pressed as much of herself into the nooks and crannies of his side as she could. “What did I do wrong?”
Isaac sighed again. Just because he had recognized something as immoral didn’t mean he had a ready explanation. “You were just being too mean. You wouldn’t treat me like that, or Nell, Candi, or Star. And you would be really angry if someone treated you like you were treating Oleksandra. Because you wanted to be the one to get to be in bed with me I thought, even though you were right about Oleksandra possibly being dangerous, if I let you ‘win’ then you wouldn’t learn to ‘play nice.’”
Jin was peering intently into his eyes, hers narrowed and her brows scrunched together in concentration. The tension left her face and she responded with little more than a mildly apologetic, “Oh.” She was silent for a few seconds before her attention moved towards the kitchen and she sniffed the air. “Is Elena making breakfast?”
“Yeah, she is. I’d better go get your new harem sister.” Isaac stood up after Jin removed her weight from him.
The Witch’s attention moved towards a bare patch of the walls up near the corner where it met the ceiling. “Harem sister,” she said to herself under her breath before standing and softly padding towards the smell of cooking grain porridge and sausage. “Harem sister…”
Once again up atop the stairs, Isaac took the time to really study the state of his bed and the Battle Battle Angel occupying it. She was wildly sprawled atop a crude nest of bedding with her head pointed towards the foot of the bed. Her long limbs were splayed in four different directions and, with the way blankets and pillows were compressed under them; it was pretty clear Oleksandra had been moving just as much in her sleep the previous night as she had been during the periods of wakefulness. Jin definitely had a point about sharing a bed with her new harem sister possibly leading to injury.
The late morning hunt wasn’t very complicated. Elena exercised very strict control over her land and the ferals she allowed to inhabit it. Some, like Flowergirls, she was happy to have living in her woods. Other breeds that preferred to keep their distance and didn’t damage her trees were tolerated. The ferals she had been unhappy to discover last night though were Ninsect of the Aquassin subtype. The stealthy bug types were gorging on the sap of trees descended from the ones she planted. It was in preparation for the approaching winter where they’d allow themselves to be frozen in a pond until thaw. Elena wanted them gone and didn’t care how, so they were ideal targets for their newest acquisition to be tested against.
There were three Aquassins total and they kept grouped up. Likely they were all from the same litter and finally reached the age where they were seen by their feral mother as rivals rather than offspring. They were inexperienced and the relative safety of the territory they trespassed upon allowed them to be lazy.
Elena could neutralize all three with little more than a thought from where she was observing them along with Isaac and the others. The advantage their bug typing granted them over her as a plant type wasn’t enough to bridge the gulf in power. That wasn’t the point of this outing though. “Oleksandra,” the Grandelf motioned for the Battle Battle Angel to come closer. “What I want you to do is simple. Just attack the middle Ninsect with as much force as you can from here.”
Oleksandra’s rabbit ears fell backwards, then rose and pivoted in the air as she focused on the target she was given. The feral born pokegirl’s caution was laudable when she was on her own but her predisposition towards flight would not serve Isaac well if she needed to defend him. Not unless she could be habituated towards picking up Isaac and carrying him with her. “They are not threatening us.”
“That doesn’t matter. Part of Isaac’s job as a tamer will be to capture, eliminate, or drive away ferals encroaching on civilized territory and these ferals are encroaching on our territory. More importantly, I’m not sure if you’ve fought since you evolved and acquired the Battle template. If you don’t know how powerful you are it will be a lot easier for you to accidentally injure Isaac or someone else important.”
Oleksandra’s focus became distant for a moment and her ears perked up after her attention returned. “I see. Her memories do indicate I should be better at fighting than before. I do not like fighting…” The Battle Battle Angel locked her eyes on the unaware feral. She shifted her weight from leg to leg, leaning forwards and tensing the muscles in her arms and then rocking backwards and stretching away from her target. Her ears kept twitching backwards and the motion became more dramatic with each repetition. It was when a snarl began rippling across the Battle Battle Angel’s lips that the nearly instantaneous action started.
Starting at the strange seams at her ankles, wrists, and the base of her tail, metallic plates rolled up across her skin and fused to make a featureless suit of unpolished gunmetal. Totally form fitting, even protecting the rabbit extremities. The joints were protected by a thin mesh of woven metal fibers the same color as the plates and this lighter under armor was the only break in the design save for a glassy dome fitted over the upper portion of the face.
The largest solid plates started at her hips and covered the outer edges of her thighs down to the top of the knee. The shaped panel on her right leg opened and ejected a metallic cylinder on two mechanical arms powered by servomechanisms. The refined tube split, extended, and unfolded until it assumed the form of a cannon held with a rear trigger grip and a centre handle above the relative center of mass. Lightning and thunder temporarily blinded and deafened everyone present. After they opened their eyes from shielding against the flash of plasma leaving the barrel they saw the carnage from the shot’s impact.
The upper third of the Ninsect Oleksandra had fired upon was gone. She’d targeted the upper portion of the Aquassin’s center mass and a beach ball sized hole had been created where the plasma had dumped most of its energy into the flesh and almost instantly converted it into vapor. The liberated gasses that had once been most of her head and chest expanded so fast it tore what remained of the body into steaming red pulp all along the boundary of destruction. The pressure blast was enough to throw the other two ferals into the trunks of the trees they’d been feeding from and had knocked both of them unconscious.
The Battle Battle Angel was frozen stiff and still encased in her armor. Her ears were housed in portions of the armor with radiating panels and were standing straight up. There were thermal ripples that dissipated into the air coming off of them.
Jin started laughing like a maniac and ran over to chatter incomprehensibly at the shocked Oleksandra. Elena blinked away the light spots in her eyes before she turned to Isaac. “You’d better capture the two that are left. I guess the third is only good for fertilizer now.”
(-[|]-) End 7.3 (-[|]-)
잘 잤어 (Jal jasseo) - Korean “Did you sleep well?”
Astoreth and Chandrakanta were waiting outside Elena’s home. Waiting with them was a team of Ponytaur all dressed in stylish uniforms with rigging incorporated to hook up to the stagecoach Astoreth had rented to take everyone to Dnipro. What was the point of wealth if the people important to you still wound up riding in a cramped and dirty hay wagon?
The two veterans had been surprised when they didn’t find Elena, Isaac, Jin, Neasa, and Oleksandra at the house. Their delta bonds with Isaac let them know they weren’t in danger and not very far away; off in the woods that made up the Grandelf’s territory. Isaac was confused and conflicted though and was certainly calming down from a great surprise. When the group lead by Elena broke through the line of trees Chandrakanta and Astoreth could tell the very mild shock was spread across all of them, even the three and a half century old Grandelf.
Astoreth’s eyebrows climbed closer to her horns as she studied all of their expressions. “What? What happened? Why do you all look like that?”