Eight Years ago
Vulnes stood their quietly as her father scolded her. His voice wasn't harsh, less than what Cat usually got now anyways but it stung to hear it. Can't he tell?
The memory of what those two men had done to her was still fresh and then there was that monstrous bird that appeared in front of her. She didn't know what happened after that or how she got back to her bed. At first, she thought that it must have been her father that rescued her but if so why was he acting so clueless? Why was he punishing her now?
She scowled to herself and tuned him out. Her thoughts drifting to the device in her pocket. She could always sense the workings of them, even when she couldn't see them. Now she felt comfort in the distraction as her fingers worked over its surface. She could tinker with it once she had more time.
As Sarah and Abel exit the room, they are surprised by Vulnes standing in front of them with her arm behind her back. Abel scowls immediately but Sarah stares at Vulnes trying to figure out the fox girl's expression. If she didn't know better, Sarah would swear that someone had prodded Vulnes to come here. Was Wolf.Spider back already?
"Oh wow." She smiles, trying to guise her initial reaction. "Were you two making out in there?" Sarah and Abel fail to respond but Vul continues ignoring their irritation. "I understand. Don't kiss and tell, right?"
"We weren't kissing." Abel's reply comes out fast and hard. "Not like you'd know what that's like sis."
Vulnes appears hurt for a second but continues. "Oh trust me. I know more than you think."
Abel starts but Sarah gets in between them. "Look family squabbling aside, I feel like you wanted to tell us something, Vul?"
"Well...Not tell you but..." Vul looks behind her as if getting some kind of confirmation from someone but as Abel and Sarah peer around her they fail to see anyone around. "Look...maybe I've been a bit harsh lately." She turns to Abel. "especially to you." Before turning back to Sarah. "And while I still don't trust you. Let this be my way of saying 'I'm sorry okay? I didn't really mean to take some of my things as far as I did or realize how they might affect either of you."
Sarah holds out what appears to be a long cylinder. Sarah takes it for a moment looking at it closely before finding a button. In a surprising whirr of machinery, it opens up with a sheet supported by a thin framework above them.
Abel looks at it then back at Vulnes condescendingly. "So it's an umbrella."
"No it's not just an umbrella..." Vulnes catches herself on the insult again looking behind her into the empty hall. "It's a prototype that me and dad have been developing. We haven't officially tested it but it's made from a new type of sensory fabric. It works by detecting changes in the charge of ions in the air during electrical storms and sends up it's own counter-charge." She takes a breath. "In theory, on top of keeping you dry, it should reduce your chances of getting struck by lightning almost down to zero. Not that it will do anything about the gusts out there, right." She gestures to the window where wind can still be heard through the double paned glass. She looks at Abel's expression suddenly appearing frustrated as she does and looks around. "Anyways, good luck I guess. I'll wait in here with the rest of the non-suicidal"
She turns to leave but feels a slight pressure on her shoulder. "Wait." Sarah's voice comes out soft and comforting. "Thank you, Vul. We really appreciate this." Sarah turns to the still scowling Abel.
"Yeah." The words come out like pulling teeth. "Thank you, Vul."
Vul hesitates. "Yeah whatever. Just try not to stain the grass if you do get killed." She walks off around the corner and makes sure that both her sister and Sarah are out of ear shot before continuing. "Stupid Sarah. Faking like she's nice again."
"I think she seems very nice."
"Shut up. No one asked you."
Twelve Years Ago. Australia
The ground shakes as the beast makes its way to land. The destruction in front of him was overwhelming. Sif...Hetja. He had little time to think about this as the beast roared in front of him.
Asura flexes his muscles. A mix of anger and nervousness drowned out the joy underneath. It had been so long since he had a true battle and here in front of him was the beast of his memory. The God-Killer in front of him now would be a true test. If it hadn't been for what had just happened. Nothing left but to fight for it.
The beast roars as it turns to Asura. A blast of energy met by another from Asura as the lead up to the fight. Around the clashing point, the land rent itself in two and Asura grimaced. He eased up on the blast and let the worst of the opponents slam into him. His armor held but the heat scorched the edges as billows of smokes surrounded him. I've grown soft.
He glances to his right as the beast draws closer. The ocean was still his best bet. If he could draw the battle into the deep, he had the advantage. Now how would he get him there?
It has been a couple hours now since Ohkwari quieted her gang at that one ferals death but Reydon could still see the glare in the eyes of most of the ferals there, she could almost feel the bloodlust coming from them as she passed. A couple have seemed more sympathetic like the tiger hybrid but she imagines they are few and most of the others who feel the way Ohkwari and the tiger hybrid do are probably too frightened to say so.
As if sensing her thoughts, Ohkwari speaks up. "You aren't as alone as you think. I can't move my pack freely in this city as most of them lack the ability to take human form but they are close by and ready to move at a moment's notice."
"How do they know?"
"I share a special connection with all of them." Ohkwari voice is serious. "I believe you humans call them cell phones." She holds up an antique looking phone in her paw.
"Oh." Another part of Ohkwari's statement caught her attention though and she drifts back to it. "You said most of your pack can't take human forms? I don't understand."
"As I told you, I am a bear spirit." She gestures back to herself and then into an accompanying gesture. "My family is mostly bears."
"Right." Reydon's voice is getting stronger by the minute. "I'm still not used to this whole spirit thing."
"You at least seem willing to learn. That puts you ahead of most." Ohkwari looks around them. "It appears it would not be safe to leave you unattended here. You will sleep in my room."
Reydon is taken aback for a moment but her thoughts are interrupted by a commotion behind them. She turns to look at whatever is causing it.
"Leader Ohkwari!" A falcon hybrid runs up to them trailed behind by two large rhino hybrids dragging a large man. He appears to be bleeding heavily from a wound on his abdomen. "We found him trying to sneak into our base. He says he knows you."
"He is with us. Let him walk." As the man struggles to his feet, Reydon notices that he isn't a large man but another bear hybrid, smaller than Ohkwari but still towering over her. He must be part of her family. Ohkwari and the new bear exchange words in a language that Reydon has never heard. Occasionally the words feel like they are being replaced by animal noises. Seemingly at Ohkwari's gesturing, the new bear spirit turns towards the rest of them.
"In the woods..." He speaks slowly, catching himself. "The Wendigo. She attacked us. She's to the northeast and heading farther that way."
"Hmm...we move then." Ohkwari states and then looks at Reydon. "I suppose you'll be coming along. I have nowhere to keep you here but we'll make a stop along the way. With luck you can stay there." She lingers a moment to gauge Reydon's reaction before turning to the rest of them. "Get my grandson to the infirmary. I'm heading out."
"Wolf!" The man's voice comes distractedly from in front of a series of screens. "I've been expecting you. It's been a while how have you been?"
"Hello Instant." Robin smiles to him. "I've been well, reasonably well anyways. Big family means a lot of company, lot of fun and even more drama. How have you been?"
"Great! Thanks" Instant types something into the computer and a video pops up analyzing a recent news story. "Anyways, are you here about Smeyrs or Asura?"
Robin stops dead in her tracks. She hadn't expected that second part. "Has there been something new with...it?" Deep down she always feared that the beast wasn't dead yet. Couldn't be dead but she always expected to have more time and why now when she is finally ready to make her move against Smeyrs?
"Only rumblings. Something is going down on that pile of rocks where you put an end to Australia but it's a dead zone even for me."
Asura can wait. It's trapped there for now. No ships to transport it this time and certainly, Templeton would have contacted me if it had awakened.
"I'm here for Smeyrs today." Robin states calmly. "Do you have much?"
Instant checks his system. "Mostly what you dug up yourself. Some unverified sources that point to him being behind the events that got you fired but nothing that can be concretely tied back to him. Beyond that, he keeps his system locked down. No external access. You'd have to be in the building and for the juicy stuff, you'd probably have to be in the right part of the building."
"Yeah that's what I was afraid of." Robin sighs. This was a waste of time.
"Oh! A layout. I can give you that." Instant pulls up a blueprint labeled Goliath Towers and Robin quickly downloads it. "Good luck with this one. His new mech I heard is quite a machine."
"Thanks." Robin looks down at her watch as it flashes red, a live video streams on from her courtyard where there is fighting going on between a woman and two of her children. She smiles at first until she sees another interloper come into the battle. "Crap." She states lost into the haze as she tries to IMT out. "What?"
"Sorry. Had to proof this place against you." Instant states. "Never know who might try to break in."
Robin looks at the doors. If she runs, it'll be five minutes getting out of this place. She'll have to hurry if she wants to make it. She knows her eldest will be fine but there was still plenty that could go wrong.
Kitty looks around at the full room. She hardly recognizes the faces around her. Still it feels good to be near family again. Cat sits closest to her. Despite the events, she still smiles widely and chows down on her omelet. Kitty almost hates to ruin the mood but she feels the need to speak.
"I know I may have seemed harsh but I've had more experiences with those things than you may realize. It's easy to think that they can change."
Cat glances up at her. "She doesn't need to change as much as you think. She's our friend and she thought she was coming to our aid."
"I know it may seem that way but trust me, it's more complicated than it looks." Kitty looks at her. A part of her wants to dropped it. She remembers how much Cat looked up to Kitty when she was younger. How much she still might look up to her even now and she can already feel some of that respect from Cat slipping away. "It's...her 'father' once saved my life in a different timeline." Cat looks up curious, joined by the others at the table. "I was fatally wounded in battle. I think I even died for a few moments but...he did something and he brought me back. For a while, I was thankful to him for that."
"Then why do you hate Tatakai? If he saved you, certainly you saw good in him too."
"That's the thing." Kitty paused. "I'm still not really sure why Asura saved me but I have seen more than that. Whether he had a moment of goodness or if he wanted me alive for his own reasons, Asura showed me that whatever good was inside him was far out weighed and corrupted by who he really was at that point and in the end, I've seen him kill far more than he's saved."
Erina looks up, jumping into the conversation. "Tatakai is different, Kitty." Her voice is calm. "I can sense her emotions better than anyone. I've seen her spar and I've seen her fight. When we first met her, she thought we were there to hurt her and yet, I never sensed any ill-intent. Even when fighting you, I could feel her bloodlust but I could also feel her intent on protecting us. That want to protect was much stronger. Every other time, she just seemed to be enjoying herself."
"I'd like to believe you're right, Erina," Kitty's purple eyes seem to glow a bit brighter. "but I can tell you from experience that those who fight for fun can be more dangerous than those who fight out of hatred."
Harrison looks at the man like he's insane. "Could you repeat that?"
"Smeyrs wants you coordinating the assault from the backline." The secretary states. "He says it's our first cooperative engagement with police using our mechs and he wants you there as head of engineering to be there to make sure it goes off without a hitch."
Harrison grimaces at this information but fails to see any out. What could Smeyrs be thinking? did Lynda put him up to this? "Tell Smeyrs that I have to formally object to this. We have combat engineers much more qualified for in battle repairs. Besides, I'm sure these mechs will be more than capable of a simple SWAT raid."
"I'm sorry sir but his order is absolute on this one."
Dammit. Well I don't see a choice on this one. I'll play along for now and make my departure before the fighting starts. "Alright. If that's how it has to be but my objection stands for when I get back."
"He says to also bring that pilot with you." The secretary calls after him, making Harrison wince. "Apparently he was really impressed with your test run with him at the controls."
In Australia, five hours before Asura's land fall
The skies above Brisbane, Queensland are still dark, no stars visible through the combined light pollution and haze of smog. The once-beautiful seaside city he skies above Brisbane, Queensland are still dark, no stars visible through the combined light pollution and haze of smog. The once-beautiful seaside city had been transformed by governmental corruption; unchecked industrialization; and a spike in crimes like murder; bootlegging; racketeering; and the trafficking of drugs and weapons into a rotting slum, a shell of its former self. The woman leaning against the wall of the shady hotel appears to be in her early twenties — though she is much older — and is dressed in combat boots, cargo pants, leather gloves, and a black hoodie with studded shoulders. She would rather have gone with something more professional, but a suit would have made her stand out even more than she already does: her short platinum blonde hair contrasts sharply with her tanned skin. Her face is affixed in a stern frown as she waits, eyes scanning the nearby alleys for potential threats, arms folded across her chest. She has long-since discarded her birth name for a series of codenames, the latest of which is "Hetja", a Lochlan word for "Hero". It's ironic, in a painful way, but she has yet to come up with a decent replacement. She had once been an orphan living with her grandmother in Sjórheim, an isolated fishing village on the coast of what in some worlds was called the Netherlands... but that had been in a past life, in another world, and a life of combat and suffering had forged the naive girl she had once been into a soldier.
The door of the hotel opens and a girl in her late teens exits, clad in a red sundress and white jacket; her sandy blonde hair reaching down to her waist. Her fingernails are painted crimson — a habit she's picked up during their stay — and a silver chain hangs around her neck, tucked into the front of her dress. The black leather satchel slung over her shoulder contrasts sharply with the rest of her ensemble, and has been the victim of a number of attempted purse-snatchings and muggings — the perpetrators of which quickly learned that she was far from defenceless. Sif was once a native inhabitant of this world, hailing from its version of Sjórheim — a prosperous port city facilitating trade between the Lochian Empire and the former Red Kingdom — and the spoiled daughter of a wealthy merchant; but like Hetja is much older and more dangerous than she appears. In her hands is a portable computer — a purchase made with money Hetja had looted; and on the screen is a news headline from a month prior detailing an attack on a major west-coast American city by a gigantic monster with six arms and six eyes, which had appeared without warning out of nowhere and razed half the metropolis to the ground before escaping into the ocean in a southwestern direction. "Ah can nae believe this, Hetja!" She grits her teeth, glaring at the screen; her Lochlan accent affectig her voice with a lilting brogue as she twirls to face her companion, sputtering indignantly. "This... this mnahn'hlirgh dares t'think he can impersonate th' God o' Fire an' Earth?!"
Introducin' her t' th'Internet was a mistake... Hetja sighs, uncrosses her arms, and then takes the portable computer and shuts it off. "Calm yer tits, Sif. We've only been here for a month, an' if everything goes as planned we'll be home tonight an' ye can tell all yer wee acolytes about how ye singlehandedly cast t'blasphemous false god int' the depths o' the Underworld." Her Lochian accent is not as thick as her companion's, but still noticeable. As they set off down the street, she warily scans the area acting on a soldier's instinct, taking stock of the thugs and ne'er-do-wells leering at them from the alleys. For the duration of her assignment she's hunted the scum of the city; labelled by the local police as a vigilante, by the tabloids as a superhero. Initially she'd been dismissed as an elaborate hoax, and only in the last week had she become worthy of international news. When this is o'er... maybe this bloody charade can finally end...
Sif huffs irritably, then forces herself to calm down. "Ah suppose ye're right... t'is nae dignified for th'High Priestess t'lose her composure o'er a worthless blasphemer. Ah shall leave it t' th'gods t'pass judgement upon..." Hetja rolls her eyes and tunes Sif out as she launches into an airy speech praising the God of Fire and Earth and the Goddess of Water and Air for various deific feats probably stolen from other religions' mythologies. She knows things about the so-called "gods" that are secret even from Sif... and in fact has kept many things secret from Sif, including her own identity. Whether Sif suspects or has guessed who she is, she doesn't know... but regardless, she feels neither Sif's awe nor admiration towards the self-proclaimed deities. It had taken some time for her to wrap her head around the convoluted mess of explanations; and her feelings on the matter had been, and still are even after all these years... mixed. "Are ye alright?" Hetja blinks, startled out of her grim recollection by Sif, a concerned expression on her face. "It... it's nae yer fault, y'know..."
"That's nae what I was thinking about..." Hetja grimaces. ... and yes, it was. She'd sworn an oath to protect Sif, to teach her as she herself had once been taught... and she had failed with disastrous results. If only Ah'd been stronger... maybe then Ah could've... She grits her teeth, clenching her fist, and then slams it into a streetlight hard enough to send it toppling over.
"Hetja... Ye d'nae have t'worry about me. Ah'm fine." Sif smiles brightly, patting the satchel slung across her shoulder. Hetja scowls at this assertion: Sif's frequent night terrors beg to differ — are part of the reason Hetja accompanies her as her protector. "The gods of war shall grant us victory in battle, an' even should we fail Ah'll be happy as long as Ah have ye by mah side." She grins, then hugs Hetja from behind and nuzzles her, starting to slip her hands under Hetja's hoodie. "An' speakin' o' tits..."
"H-hey! Hands off! Now's nae th'time fer yer antics!" Hetja grabs Sif's wrists and forces them away from her chest, keeping one eye out for danger as they walk down the street. How can Sif be so... so carefree after everything she's endured? Her own suffering has long-since hardened her from the naive young girl she once was, but Sif remains deceptively cheerful and flirtatious.
"Aww... spoilsport..." Sif cuts across her, her smile suddenly mischievous. "It's just us here, y'know..." Before Hetja can react — that's a lie — Sif steps in close so that their noses are touching. Sif is only a little shorter than her, despite their differences in physique — Hetja is far more athletically muscular due to a lifetime of training and fighting, while Sif is more slender and not nearly as toned. "It's been a long while since we've had time t'ourselves..." She takes Hetja's hand and brings it to her lips, kissing the back of it... and then presses it against her chest. "Feel how mah heart's beatin'? We could go back t'our room an'-"
"That's nae yer heart!" Hetja pulls away indignantly, her blush scowl intensifying. Sif's flirtatiousness never ceases to mollify her. Was she always this forward? Ah was ne'er this forward... was Ah? Hetja fixes Sif with a stern scowl. "Ah said enough. We. Are. On. Duty."
"Alright, alright..." For a moment, Sif's smile conveys disappointment, sadness, and fear; though she quickly masks this with a venire of cheerfulness. "Ah just thought Ah'd tease ye, is all..."
Sif sighs, then nods solemnly and reaches into the satchel at her waist and pulls out a tome with a cover made of a black-scaled material, strange sigils and a six-eyed monstrous skull embossed into its surface; six red gems set into the eyes, their facets of shifting like a kaleidoscope as it moves. Its pages are made from the leathery hide of some unknown animal, illuminated with alien script and nightmarish illustrations that would have traumatized even the likes of H. R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński. "Ah am th' Key to the Gate..." Sif intones, opening the grimoire. "Ah must open th' Gate an' summon th' God o' Fire an' Earth, that he may expel th' heretical interloper that has stolen his divine name!"
Ah hate that damned book... Hetja scowls as Sif darts around a corner, picking up the pace to keep up. The face on the cover seems to be staring at her, increasing her certainty that it has a will — almost a sentience — of its own. She grits her teeth and glares at it; the edges of her vision flicker as though with static. It's taunting her... whispering that she- Hetja turns a corner and abruptly runs headlong into Sif, reflexively catching her to keep her from falling over. "Are ye alright?" Hetja sees the grimoire has fallen to the ground in an open position the pages showing an illustration of two six-armed, six-eyed draconic beasts engaged in battle. She staggers as her vision swims and writhes: staring at the the tome for any length of time makes Hetja's head ache, the ink — if that's even what it was — seeming to shift and shimmer like an optical illusion. She averts her gaze from it as her head begins to throb, and Sif pulls free, snatches the grimoire up, and begins striding down the street towards a more affluent neighbourhood. Hetja scowls as she catches sight of Sif entering a deserted construction site, eyeing the surrounding townhouses and apartments. There are too many people here! If she means t'do what Ah think she does... "Sif, hold up! We need t'plan this! Pick a secluded spot!"
"We d'nae have th' time! Th' Key must open th' Gate now!" She grabs the chain around her neck and fishes a twisted black metal key inscribed with eldritch script from the front of her dress. Slipping it free like a magician's trick, she brandishes it; the metal object growing in size until it more akin to a sword. Before Hetja can stop her, Sif rapidly skims through the grimoire's pages. "Ah, yes... this will do..." She starts carving a convoluted magic circle into the ground using the sword-key, biting her lip in concentration. Hetja watches uneasily as Sif etches sigils and runes, biting her tongue in concentration and occasionally stepping back to survey her handiwork. When she is finally finished, she frowns quizzically. "Wait... nae, nae, nae... how could Ah forget... the stars are nae right!" Sif hisses, glaring up at the night sky, obscured behind light pollution. "This will nae work unless..." She wheels to face Hetja. "Hetja, lend me yer power!"
Ah have nae choice, do Ah? Hetja stares at the book with a fierce expression, then closes her eyes as a vortex of gold-yellow energy flares around her body. In an instant her clothes are gone, replaced by an ornate suit of armour that wouldn't look out of place in a Sigil of Flames game. She cringes inwardly as Sif kisses her hard and fierce before beginning to chant in an alien language, the eyes on the grimoire's cover glowing red and the runes etched into the dirt beginning to glow as well. The air over the sigil begins to distort as though via heat haze. Dust slowly swirls into a vortex as the distortion intensifies; Sif's chant reaching a crescendo as a pillar of blood-red and golden light shoots into the sky. A miniature hurricane forms overhead, bloody lightning crackling across the sky. Then the beam of light vanishes and there is silence. Panting with exhaustion, Sif collapses and Hetja catches her pulling her close in a protective hug. Sif reaches out and touches her cheek, smiling blissfully.
"Well met, High-Priestess and Paladin. It's certainly been some time since I last saw you two." The voice is underscored by a low growl, and Hetja looks up to see a pair of glowing eyes staring at them from the plume of noxious red smoke billowing from the centre of the magic circle. An androgynous youthful man — Hetja still thinks of him as male despite him lacking the requisite anatomy or even a bellybutton — steps into view, his mane of unkept black hair reaching to his waist; his unearthly pale skin adding to his otherworldly appearance. His large eyes are framed by long bangs, his irises a fiery yellow set into sickeningly blood red sclera, three cat-like pupils narrowed to slits. Blood-red energy flares around him as he steps towards them, and in an instant he is dressed in a black pinstriped suit, a trench coat, sunglasses, and a fedora. However, he still carries the unnatural air of something that doesn't belong - like CGI in an otherwise traditionally-animated cartoon.
"Lord Asura! Yer humble Priestess greets you!" Despite being on the brink of collapse, Sif kneels... and almost immediately topples over. Hetja catches her before she can hit the ground, inwardly seething. Sif devoutly worships Asura as the God of Fire and Earth and his mate Deva as the Goddess of Water and Air; both deities of war — and if she's honest, Hetja can't blame her: they had saved Sjórheim from annihilation at the cannons and mortars of a massive fleet of pirate ships in a display of overwhelming power. Even so... even so... after all he'd done to distance himself from that identity, how could he embrace it once more? The man she'd known, had thought she'd known, would never have done that... would he? Or had it all been a lie? She bows her head so that Sif cannot see her furious expression.
"At ease, you two." Asura extends a hand to Hetja, who refuses it and pulls Sif to her feet by herself. "Have you been well?" His concern sounds almost genuine.
"Well enough, Ah suppose." Hetja gathers Sif into her arms and carries her to a rest against a pile of relatively soft sandbags. "Yerself?"
"To be honest, you picked an inopportune moment to summon me. Scylla and I were in the middle of fending off an attack." Hetja turns and scowls at this, "Don't worry, it's nothing that Scylla can't handle on her own."
"Lady Deva... will be... displeased..." Sif murmurs, trying to sit up.
"She'll get over it, so there's no need to be melodramatic." Asura's eyes flash an angry yellow, his tone irritated as he mutters under his breath. "Ugh... she knows how much I hate that name... why does she insist everyone call her that? What was wrong with 'Scylla'?"
"Boss... on a more serious note, the thing you warned us about is on its way here." Hetja interjects, pulling out Sif's smartphone and showing him. "Ah have reason to believe it is coming for me." She conjures her sword and armour, striking a combat-ready pose. "And Ah am nae coward. I swear on mah honour-"
"Hold up, Hetja. This foe isn't one either of you can face." The two of them look up at him in confusion and dismay, though Hetja quickly masks this. "What I want you to do is evacuate the city... no, make that the country. Do whatever it takes to get these people out of danger." As Hetja opens her mouth to protest, Asura shakes his head firmly. "No matter what happens to me, focus on evacuating the island and then go into hiding. I'll come find you when this is over. That's an order, understand?"
Hetja scowls at him for interrupting her, then steps towards him and clasps his arm, locking eyes with him as she whispers into his ear. "Be careful... North." She then turns to regard Sif, who is beginning to doze off again, before nudging her with her armoured boot. "Rest time is o'er, lass. We've got work t'do." She pulls Sif to her feet, then nods at Asura. "Stay safe... North"
"You as well, my Paladin." Asura smiles faintly as he watches them disappear into the cityscape, then turns and leaps to the roof of an apartment, and from there to the wall of a high-rise. Standing horizontally, he gazes out to where the first light of dawn is beginning to paint the sky a molten orange. I'd help if I could... nothing motivates a mass-evacuation faster than a giant monster showing up... but I'd rather not draw any more attention to myself... Gazing out over the murky brown of Moreton Bay, he grins as a strategy comes to him. If I remember correctly, Ascha'Vovina can't swim... if I can catch him while he's traversing the seafloor I'll have a significant mobility advantage... A few more roof-hops carry him to a coastal high-rise, and sends him up over the the polluted ocean waters. Plunging headfirst into the murky brine, he shoots through a maze of anchor chains. If only my worshippers could see me now, the god of fire and earth splashing around in Scylla's domain... Suppressing a chuckle, he weaves through a pod of whales. They regard him at first with curiosity and then with growing alarm, identifying him as something that does not belong in their world. He peels away from them, heading deeper into the Coral Sea. As he reaches the continental shelf he transforms; his "divine beast" form a six-armed draconic beast with six eyes; its body armoured in black crocodilian scutes, osteoderms, and pointed tuberculate scales; its triple-jointed arms tipped with long-clawed paw-like hands. Its fangs and claws are an opaque red and almost crystalline; and imbedded in the centre of its chest is a spherical red crystal, framed on all sides by toothy protrusions. His "divine beast" form isn't suited for underwater excursions even with his six arms tucked against his body to streamline himself, but his long, crocodilian tail enabling him to propel himself at a decent clip. He comes to rest alongside the sunken remains of a World War II battleship resting atop and partially assimilated by the bleached ruins of a coral reef. Sharks and other predatory fish scatter as he slams feet-first into the dead reef, clouding the water with shards of Calcium carbonate, but he pays them no mind. Opening his jaws, he lets out a sonorous roar, crimson light shining from the depths of his throat and the gaps in his osteoderms. "Come, ancient Beast of Calamity... I'll show you what the real Asura is capable of!"
As minutes pass into hours, he slowly lets himself drift towards the surface and turns to regard the city. Meh. I've seen bigger and worse... Overhead he can see the vapour trail of a passing airliner, his eyes zooming in on it. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly technology can progress... it's almost touching the upper reaches of the stratosphere, and- The plane abruptly explodes in an eruption of black-and-red flame-like energy. No... Ascha'Vovina plunges towards the heart of Brisbane like a meteor, and Asura quickly calculates that it will impact with enough force to annihilate the city. "Sif!" Through the grimoire, he sends her a surge of power and a command: ESCAPE NOW! Ascha'Vovina impacts moments later, and a sizeable chunk of downtown Brisbane is replaced by a massive crater. The combined air blast and seismic shaking topple high-rises and skyscrapers like dominoes, sending a plume of debris skyward. Twisting his arms to face backwards and transforming them into mana beam emitters, he rockets back towards the city; not quite achieving flight but half-lifting his body out of the water. If anything's happened to them, I'm gonna- Punching through the airblast at supersonic speeds, he lets out a sonorous bellow of rage.
"Was I too hard on her?" Rob massages his cheek where Sarah had punched him, looking out the window at the storm. "I just want to protect her..."
"I can't say." Pareina sips from a mug of coffee, turning to look out the window as lightning dances across the dark grey sky. "I know how hard it can be trying to look out for foolish younger siblings..." She allows herself a small smile at the indignant scowls she receives, then reaches out and places a commiserate hand on Rob's shoulder. "You won't always be around to look after her, so if you truly want to protect her you should teach her to protect herself. How to handle herself in a fight."
"She shouldn't have to..." Rob shakes his head. "Sarah... Sarah only thinks she's in love. Our parents have expected her to behave in a certain way her whole life, to repress her true feelings. It was the same with me. I joined the military to make them proud, but when I fell in love with Marisa I was dead to them. Tatakai has total freedom, no inhibitions... and I can see why that would be appealing for someone in Sarah's position, but she's dangerous, unstable. Sarah doesn't understand that, and if she was hurt or killed..."
"Come now, was I not dangerous when we first met?" Marisa stands in the door to the room, holding her daughter with an amused smile. "I seriously considered eating you, you know." She grins, bearing her sharp teeth, and adjusts her grip on L'il Sarah as her daughter begins to nurse. "Tatakai means her no harm-"
"All it would take is one outburst and my sister would be dead!" Robert inhales deeply to calm himself. "No amount of training could protect her from that. Unless that... Tatakai can learn to control herself, then she's a threat to everyone."
"Which is what we were going to do before Kitty showed up." Catalina responds from the kitchen, where she's making sandwiches. "I was looking forward to it too..."
"No mayo on mine," Surinae calls out from upstairs, leaning over the banister. "I can't find Abel or Sarah anywhere. Has anyone seen Erina or Kitty?"
"Kitty went downstairs to train, and Erina is probably meditating somewhere quiet, like the bathhouse. You know how much she hates arguments." Pareina sips her coffee. "And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where Sarah's gone."
"She's gone after Tatakai..." Robert's mocha-coloured skin pales and he turns to look out towards the storm. "Damn it!" He moves to get up, but Pareina's tails fan out and block his path. "What are you doing? You mean you're not going to stop them?" Rob scowls as the eldest of the half-kumiho siblings calmly sips her coffee. Pareina doesn't immediately respond, instead turning to look out the window as lightning dances across the dark grey sky. Marisa approches and places a hand on Rob's shoulder, but he doesn't relax.
"If Abel is with her, she should be safe. Rob... have you, per chance, ever read White Fang by Jack London?" Pareina finally asks, setting her empty cup down.
Rob blinks, faintly recalls having been assigned the book in junior high but never reading it. "No. Why, what's it about?"
"It's about a domesticated wolf named White Fang who, on account of being cruelly treated by other dogs and his various human owners, comes to hate everyone and everything around him." Pareina opens her eyes slightly and meets his gaze evenly. "But when he finds an owner who treats him with genuine kindness, love, and patience, he slowly grows into a loyal — if fiercely protective — companion."
Rob frowns and shakes his head. "I get what you're saying, but that's a work of fiction written 200 years ago. This is reality. It takes a lot more than a little TLC to rehabilitate someone like Tatakai, and in a lot of cases it just can't be done. Some people are just... broken."
There's a crack like thunder and Wolf.spider suddenly appears, causing Rob and Marisa to jump. Before they can say anything, Robin speed-walks over to Pareina. "What happened and where is everyone?"
One hour prior
Trailing water weeds and caked with thick, slimy mud, Tatakai pulls herself from the depths of the lake and vomits murky water from her lungs. She inhales deep, lets out a sob that builds into a keening wail of despair. Despair bleeds into rage and she vents her frustration and fury on the surrounding forest, gouging furrows into the trees with her claws until she trips and tumbles face-first down an embankment. Huddling into a ball, she coils her tails around herself, staring at her claws. The blood has long-since been washed away by the rain, but she can still see the gashes in Renard's arm left by her claws. She had not meant to attack him, it had been an accident... no, she had meant to attack him when he came up behind her, mistaking him for an enemy in her half-feral state. Her intent didn't matter. In that moment she had lost everything that mattered to her, betrayed Sarah's trust, and proved Abel right. The tentative flame of hope kindled the night before had been all-too cruelly extinguished. For sixteen years she had lived by an amoral system of predator and prey, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. She had never questioned it or her place in it as an apex predator, revelling in thrill of combat, in the hunt and the kill... until she had met Sarah, who by all rights should have been prey but wasn't; who had given her a glimpse into a new world, a more complex world... a world she could never be a part of. The realization leaves her feeling hollowed out and broken. She'd been a fool to think, to dream, that she could tame the darkness that envelops her wretched heart; be anything other than a ravenous demon-fox only capable of bringing death and destruction. A fool to think herself worthy of Sarah's love... but without that what does she have left aside from the darkness? She feels like she's drowning in it, in a bottomless ocean of rage and hunger, weighed down by chains of hatred and despair. No matter how much she wishes otherwise, she cannot protect, can only kill; cannot help, only harm. She is a monster. It was what she had been since the day the darkness had consumed her, corrupted her, reforged her. She could try to suppress it, fight it, crush it down into the depths of her soul... but if the anime Vulnes had shown her had taught her anything it would only manifest as some feral split personality and destroy whatever life she tried to build for herself; she could succumb to it and return to what she had been before meeting Sarah: a vicious, cruel predator who revelled in combat and bloodshed... No, if fighting and killing is all she has left to live for, it's far better to eliminate the possibility of hurting those she cares about, those she loves, ever again. Sarah is better off without her: Abel will look after her, protect her, love her. But without Sarah her entire existence is pain and despair, hatred and rage, without end or escape; but how to end her misery, her suffering? She can't tell how long she's wandered aimlessly through the forest, hurling herself down precipices, leaping into the path of bolts of lightning, diving into ponds and lakes to drown herself — but none of these has worked: the darkness in her won't let her die so easily. She lets out a broken sob that builds into a distorted scream, lashing out at everything around her with her claws and tails.
"Well, well, well... what do we have here?" The deep, rumbling voice causes her to turn, her eyes blazing. She doesn't want to be bothered, not now when she's barely hanging on to sanity, sinking into the ocean of darkness. The speaker is a towering, burly creature, part bear and part human man leaning against a tree, regarding her with a mixture of feigned disinterest and genuine disgust. Instinctively she registers that he is not a true beast-person but a supernatural creature. His nose is broad and flat, his mouth too-wide and teeth a grotesque mix of human dentition and pointed fangs. A mane of shaggy brown hair extends from his head down his back, covering his lower body completely while leaving his broad, muscular chest and upper arms exposed. From the elbows down, his arms are massive paws tipped with long claws, though he has vestigial thumbs. He surveys her for a moment, his mouth curving into a contemptuous sneer. "Wendigo... Your kind is not welcome here, demon! Be gone from these sacred lands! This is your only warning!"
The darkness seethes at this challenge, and she lets out a low growl. Despite his bravado she can smell — taste — his uncertainty and fear. She's barely in control of herself, the darkness inside her eager to rend him with fang and claw, to revel in his dying screams as she feasts on his flesh. "Ssstay away!" Tatakai pulls herself to her feet, snarling and baring her fangs in an effort to scare the hulking bear-man away. "Ssstay away or Tatakai kill you!" It would be so easy to lose herself in the addicting thrill of combat; an escape, however momentary and fleeting, from her suffering. A feral grin spreads across her face, her cheeks opening into a too-wide maw, strands of saliva trailing between her fangs as a red haze obscures her vision. Staring at the bear-man with unabashed hate and hunger, she sinks into a low crouch as the darkness surges around her.
The bear-man cracks his thick neck and then grins, letting out a growling chuckle. "Have it your way, then. I gave you ample time to leave, wendigo. I can't be held accountable for what happens next." Moving quickly for his size, he lunges and his clawed paw smashes into her like a wrecking ball, smashing her into — and through — a tree. In an instant she is submerged in the roiling sea of rage and hunger, the bloodlust and white-hot rage drowning out her despair. Her body transforms and she tosses the shattered tree aside, her fanged jaws gaping in a howling roar. All awareness fades save of the bliss of combat. She laughs as they trade blows, and it is a terrible sound. His flesh is tougher than a normal bear's or a humans, and he screams and tries to fend her off with heavy blows from his paw. She bites down harder. savouring the taste of his blood. It feels so right: the darkness, her instincts, tell her this is the natural order of the world: predator and prey, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. "Demon..." he chokes out, "My mother shall avenge me... she will destroy you..." Tatakai lets out a menacing laugh-like snarl, bears her fangs in a savage parody of a smile, then opens her jaws wide. Before she can bite down a dozen bear-people — men and women — emerge from the rain-obscured forest without warning. Some of them are almost human in appearance, while others are fully ursine. They attack from all sides, pummelling her with their heavy paws and bulky bodies.
She lashes out in a frenzy of claws, fangs, and tails, but working together they force her off and carry her prey to safety. He's badly wounded, covered in deep scratches and bites that will definitely leave scars. She can still taste his blood in her mouth, and the darkness hungers for more. She drinks in the delicious aroma of fear and rage and blood, and she drools in anticipation. As they retreat — many of them nursing nasty bites and slashes — she advances, and when they roar at her she roars back, tongue lolling from her jaws. She prepares to lunge into their midst and- No... Tatakai stops abruptly and sinks to her knees, clutching her head as her tails thrash wildly. No! A memory comes to her, a speck of light in the darkness, and she desperately reaches out towards it. She remembers crouching in a roughly rectangular ceramic basin, Sarah standing over her with a detachable shower head in one hand and a soapy scrub-brush in the other. Gentleness had been something utterly alien to her until that moment, the soft but firm sensation of Sarah scrubbing and rinsing years of accumulated dirt and dried blood from her skin and hair. Tatakai had never felt shame — or pride, for that matter — regarding her body, and she had unabashedly let Sarah examine her with a mixture of curiosity and awe tempered by embarrassment. Sarah's fingers had kneaded shampoo into her unkempt mane of black-and red hair, the fur on her ears and tail; had traced the thick black tendrils fused into her ash-grey skin; the svelte muscles of her shoulders, back, abdomen, and limbs; the ridge of protruding vertebrae running down her spine... Allowing Tatakai to return the favour had been an exercise in trust; full of trepidation, embarrassment, and uncertainty. Tatakai remembers Sarah flinching at the first touch of her claws, claws that could rend stone and steel as easily as flesh; the scent of the warm blood flowing just beneath her soft brown skin. How easy it would have been to kill and devour her then... and yet she hadn't. Instead, Tatakai had striven to replicate the soft but firm touch Sarah had used, feeling Sarah's anxiety give way to relaxed bliss. Sarah had been the first person to not treat her as a monster, even after seeing her unbridled fury, and she had been happy, so happy... and now that was gone. Gone because she couldn't control her bloodlust. Can't control her bloodlust. Can only kill and devour. Throwing her head back, she unleashes another keening scream, channeling her rage and despair into a torrent of black-and-red energy that shoots skyward and punches a hole through the clouds. For a brief moment the night sky is visible — a dazzling kaleidoscope of stars — and she feels neither hate nor rage but wonder and amazement... but the gap in the clouds closes and she is left in darkness again. Wisps of dark energy hissing from her jaws, she spares a final glance at the bear-people before turning and fleeing deeper into the forest, headed northeast.
Almost smiling to herself at the familiar weight in her hands, Reydon checks over her service pistol, which the Ferals had been kind enough — no, "kind" wasn't the right word — to return to her. Her radio is toast, unfortunately. Making sure the safety is off and all the rounds are in the chamber, she holsters it and then follows Ohkwari to a large unmarked van. I hope this doesn't make me a dirty cop... She glances sidelong at the Ferals, who are watching her warily. Since her son was brought in, Ohkwari has been in an exceptionally bad mood, her tone one of carefully controlled anger. And I hope she doesn't do anything rash... Clenched in Ohkwari's son's fist had been a clump of black and red fur, which Reydon had immediately recognized. Without tests I can't know for certain, but I'd bet my badge that's a match to the fur obtained from the Lawson household... The pieces are finally starting to come together, but how they fit is still a-
"Are you coming or not?" Ohkwari calls impatiently, seated in the back of an unmarked black van.
After a moment's hesitation, Reydon climbs in and sits on the opposite side, her knees touching Ohkwari's. As she buckles herself in, the van starts and takes off into the storm, rain drumming against the roof.
After several seconds of terse silence, Reydon speaks up. "What's a 'wendigo'?" Ohkwari looks up and growls at the word. "You mentioned it earlier, and if we're going into a fight I want to know what we're up against."
"No, no fighting... not yet." Ohkwari clenches her massive fists, and Reydon gets the sense that she's implying that whatever they're up against won't stand a chance. "Do not mistake me, Officer Reydon; I am not a violent person by nature. I came here to stop the violence against my kind..." Ohkwari sighs and relaxes her fists. "To answer your question... the specifics vary somewhat across the Algonquian cultures, but some wendigoes are manitou spirits of wind and cold; others are once-human monsters who were cursed or became possessed by a wendigo manitou by breaking the taboos against cannibalism or excessive greed. Both varieties are ravenously hungry, but never able to be satiated."
Reydon frowns. "Did you say Algonquian? I'm no expert, but I didn't think there were any Algonquian people this far southwest."
"Never assume anything." Ohkwari growls, shifting her bulk. "And before you ask, I am not going to seek vengeance for my son. Not yet. I am going to seek advice. There are many things I am not certain of..." Reydon gestures for elaboration, but Ohkwari shakes her head. "The less you know, the better. The world of spirits is no place for humans."
"Duly noted..." Reydon sighs, jolted as the van hits a pothole. "I need to get back to the precinct, fill the chief in on recent developments." In response to Ohkwari's raised eyebrow, she shakes her head. "Don't worry. I'll leave you out of it... not that they'd believe me if I did tell them."
"I'm sorry..." Ohkwari shakes her head. "But I cannot allow that. Trust is something that must be earned, and is in short supply in this age of deception." As Reydon opens her mouth to protest, Ohkwari holds up a paw. "Consider this: there is a conspiracy afoot and your investigation has already led to your life being put in danger once. You are safest in my presence: if I meant to harm you, you would already be dead."
The Commissioner of Precinct 7 scowls at the phone. He's been trying to get through to his wife to see if she's made it through the storm, but instead an anonymous call had just been put in of a terrorist threat based out of a mansion just outside of town, the property one of the oldest buildings on record. Despite interference from the ongoing storm, the governor had been notified and had finally authorized use of Neo-Goliath's combat mechs, but something doesn't sit right with him. It's too bizarre a coincidence... first the string of gristly murders, which all-but cease following the disappearance of the Lawson kid; and then an upswing in gang violence followed by the disappearance of two of his officers, both of whom were working the Lawson case. "It's all connected... but how?" Scratching his bald spot, he glances out into the squad room, at the various officers and constables filing reports or performing casework. Morale has been low given the unchecked rise in street crime, especially after the attack on the Greengate Cafe by rogue members of the West Quarter Ferals — who've been rapidly expanding their territory and evolving into a more sophisticated criminal organization. Word on the street is that the WQFs have a new leader who is the driving force behind its shift in tactics, but due to its strong anti-human sentiment and the police's own lack of beast-person officers to go undercover, obtaining intelligence beyond that has been impossible.
The door suddenly bursts open and a cadet enters. "Sir! Apologies for barging in, but you need to come see this! We've found Inspector Samwell!"
Navigating the storm-swept forest is harder than Sarah would have thought, even with Abel coiling her tails around her to anchor her. Aside from the high-tech flashlight and the soft purple glow of Abel's Chaos Blades, the only source of light is the occasional flash of lightning casting trees into stark relief. Vulnes' umbrella had come in handy... before a sudden gust of wind had torn it from Abel's hands and sent it spiralling skyward. Good thing we wore raincoats... "Any idea where we are?" Sarah has to shout to be heard over the wind and rain.
"No clue!" Abel calls back, using her Chaos Blades to clear a path through the underbrush. "You know, it probably would have been smarter to wait until the storm ended before setting out."
"But then every trace of her would be washed away!" Sarah retorts, scowling.
"Every trace of her has been washed away!" Abel gestures out at the wind and the rain. "If we head back now and wait for the storm to end, we can get the others to help find her. Erina will be able to track her, and if she tries to put up a fight for whatever reason we can stop her before she hurts herself or anyone else."
"But by then we could be too late!" Sarah shudders, Abel's words chilling her more than the wind and the rain. She's right... She turns and aims her flashlight, scanning the trees. Something is wrong. They've been walking for what feels like hours — blinded by the rain and the darkness — but they have no idea which way Tatakai had gone... or which way they came from. "We're lost..." She collapses to her knees, fighting the surge of panic that the realization has incurred.
"We're not lost." Abel kneels and reassuringly places a hand on Sarah's shoulder. "We can follow the pa..." She trails off as she stands and surveys the surrounding forest. "Where's the path?"
Sarah carefully pans the flashlight back the way they came, but there's no trace of the path Abel had carved through the brush. "What the f..." Ears swivelling backwards, Abel suddenly pulls Sarah to her feet and protectively coils her tails around her. "We're not alone."
Harrison swallows harshly, a cold sweat forming as he processes the secretary's words. I'm not an idiot... I see what Smeyrs' game is. He intends for this to fail... for me to take the fall... for me to die. He suppresses a nervous laugh. But... but he can't do that! I'm indispensable to the company!
"... sir?" The secretary's voice startles him. "Are you... feeling well?" The man peers at him with concern, but Harrison turns away dismissively.
"Of course I am, you idiot. Notify Reginald Timmins that his presence is required immediately. I wish to have a word with him in person before the mission starts."
"You're going to brief him... and only him? Shouldn't the SWAT commander also be-"
"Just do as I say!" Harrison snaps, making a mental note to hire a new secretary that doesn't question orders. That is... if I make it out of this alive... "Also... call Lynda and let her know I want to meet with her ASAP. There are important matters I need to... discuss with her." If this is her doing... if she put Smeyrs up to this... He straightens his necktie, pushing aside the brief mental image of it as a hangman's noose, then glowers at the secretary. "Well? What are you waiting for? Do it!"