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Literature
Wolf.Spider and Templeton Meet Again!
A horde of soldiers in white armour clashed with those in red across a battle field. At the forefront of the mele, one red soldier stuck out. His armour was the color of blood, a cape of the same color flowing behind him as he moved. He wore no helmet, as if a taunt against his foes, he knew they couldn't land the hit. His hair was a dark black, his skin a light brown, and his eyes a fiery purple. He was plowing into the enemy line, slashing through with a sword gripped in his left hand. He was flanked by ten red soldiers behind and to his sides, preventing the enemy from surrounding him. He ran at a shieldman, swinging his cape at the soldier to startle him, then leaping into the air, landing on his head to take him to the ground. He stomps on the man's head to either knock him out or kill him, the crimson soldier didn't care. As he looks up, a soldier thrusts a spear towards his face. The red soldier side-steps the blow, slicing the shaft of the spear in two, then flipping his blade
:iconProfesorTempleton:ProfesorTempleton
:iconprofesortempleton:ProfesorTempleton 1 9
Aeolian3 by wlop Aeolian3 :iconwlop:wlop 17,961 476 my wife's tali zorah redesign in 3d by nebezial my wife's tali zorah redesign in 3d :iconnebezial:nebezial 9,436 792 Birthday Skeleton by BostonDanceParty Birthday Skeleton :iconbostondanceparty:BostonDanceParty 5,772 568 Officer Mercy by Liang-Xing Officer Mercy :iconliang-xing:Liang-Xing 5,730 97
Mature content
Rough Draft Christmas Special :iconwynterhawke07:Wynterhawke07 4 0
Literature
Christmas Favor
Adamas is standing in front of a mirror trimming a few stray wisps from the white beard he decided to grow for the occasion while GloDAS was busy adjusting the holly sprig attached to the white fur trimmed robe. "Is this costume necessary? The child should be asleep by now."
"Of course! I've been doing this for Wolf.Spider for years, I'm not about to stop now! Besides, I know you've been missing the sounds of little mag-booted feet running around the station."
GloDAS just shrugs. "They made things less static around here. It's been boring without everybody popping in and out. I don't know why I even bother running the remotes through their rooms anymore."
Adamas simply smiles sadly as he removes the cybernetic wings from his back. "Nature of existence. Things change, wars begin, wars end. Children grow up."
"You don't."
Adamas grabs his chest, pantomiming being shot. "OOOHH Right in the heart! Such a low blow to my esteem!"
GloDAS glares at Adamas as she tosses the robe to him. "Consid
:iconWinged-hunter:Winged-hunter
:iconwinged-hunter:Winged-hunter 1 1

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Wolf.Spider looked over the party. Pareina's birthday party signaled the start of the celebrations this week. Some kids from school had come over as well as most of Wolf.Spider's own friends with their kids. She looked over at Artemis across the way. She was talking to some of the kids but they gave each other a weird look and walked away. Robin sighed. She needed more socialization and GLoDaS and a bunch of Wrong Wolves probably weren't the best examples.
Cat was already giving her pointers though and she seemed to be taking them well. It took little goading to convince her to try again with a new group. It seemed to be going a bit smoother this time as the other kids smiled and talked back. Before long they had grabbed a soccer ball and were kicking it around an open space in the yard.
Robin smiled and looked up. The clouds were blocking out direct rays but it remained bright. Taking her eyes off of them still made her nervous but the kids were getting older now and didn't need as much of a constant eye. Even if they did there were plenty of others around to help. She wondered if parents ever did shake that feeling. Her own parents did in the end but she was never a kid back then.
Adopted parents she reminded herself. That word struck her again. A word she had always thought she'd one day get over but it came back just as sharp as the last time. She shook her head. Now wasn't the time.
Across the yard, a woman was talking to Alex and Kitty. She wore the bird mask even here and the topic seemed to revolve around the space-time continuum. Some kids nearby seemed to be listening but it was doubtful that any had the slightest clue what she was talking about and the other parents were informed that she was a sci-fi writer in deep cover for her new book. Robin noted that Vulnes had reacted oddly upon seeing her but lately Robin found that little she did seemed to get much of a response from Vul. Robin thought maybe she should take her to see a therapist but she was worried about making her feel separated. "Maybe I could take them all to see one. A trusted one of course."
"Are you okay?" The woman's voice called out beside her. "You seem to be drifting off there."
Robin snapped too. She had gotten stuck thinking about Vulnes and barely even noticed that Adreanne was standing next to her. "Sorry. Yeah I'm fine." She stated honestly. "Just...a lot on my mind."
"Care to share?"
"Kids." She started short but without even getting prodded she continued. "I don't know. No matter how many, they're each like someone new and I guess I've never felt like I've gotten the formula close to right. I guess some I never gave myself the chance."
"Well for what it's worth," Adreanne added. "I don't think you've done that badly." Across the way, Robin had IMTed across to pick Renard off of the fence before IMTing back and guiding him towards Destiny. "You at least seem to be getting the instincts down...well...maybe not on who best to trust with your kids."
"Hey Destiny's great with kids. You just can't let her pick out any of their outfits or talk about boxes with them...probably should avoid the topic of food too..." Robin joked. "Still, I kind of missed this part."
"Well, I don't know of any other kids you might have had but you were there for Alex." Adreanne smiled. "There wasn't really a way you could have known about Kitty though. That's not your fault."
"Yes. I mean not always." Robin sighed. She reminded herself that Adreanne's memories of the other life were still slightly fuzzy. She seemed to recall more than most but only bits and pieces. "Still that's not what I mean. Whatever happened to me when I was young...I don't remember it and by the time I was "adopted", I was an adult and it was more because I wasn't ready to take care of myself. I don't really know what it was liked to be raised as a kid."
Adreanne frowned. "I wish I could tell you something but I'm not really sure myself. I know I've told you the story probably a hundred times but mom and dad had gone out for a few weeks on some kind of mission with their normal group and came back with you walking beside them." She paused. "I kind of thought it was odd but they explained they had found you washed up. They told me that you had needed a family and we were to be it."
"That's it?"
"Yeah. Decisions were always made quick. That's the nature of how it went back then. If there was anything else to it, I don't recall anyways."
Robin looked at the ground.
"Are you alright?"
"I want to talk to Templeton." Robin stated. "I think it's past time to find out about my birth parents and what happened to them." She looks at Adreanne. "I want you to know that no matter what I find out, they were still my parents and you've always been my sister."
"You're so corny sometimes." She rolled her eyes back at Robin. "I understand. I'm just surprised it took you this long to ask her." Robin was already looking back over to Templeton, hesitant. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No." Robin said. "I mean...maybe after this first time but for now it feels awkward enough going with anyone let alone multiple people."
"Alright."
***
"So you're sure about this?" Artemis Templeton asked as she and Robin left the crowd outside and headed in. The air inside the house felt dry and a bit cool compared to outside and the color of the overhead light dim compared to the sun shining outside the room.
"Yeah." Robin stated. "If anything it's long overdue." She paused. "I mean we're not risking destroying the universe by me seeing myself in the past, are we?"
"You watch Back to the Future too much." Artemis laughed at her. "Technically we're not even seeing your past."
"We're not?"
"No. This is an alternate reality." Artemis talked while calibrating her watch. "It's pretty much identical to your own though. Close enough for our purposes. Here we go. Hold on." The gateway opened around them in a swirl of visual and physical sensations. Robin clutched at Artemis' shoulder trying to steady herself as the world spun and swam around her into a new image. The trip had always been rough but she was getting more accustomed to it. Around her, she felt almost like she was outside again in the warm humidity but the actual scene was much different.
"You can let go now if you want." Artemis' words dragged her back to attention and she pulled her arm back to her side. Artemis looked almost disappointed. "I'm glad that I'm the first thing you reach for but maybe not so tight next time."
"Yeah...Sorry." Robin caught her balance and looked around at the village. The buildings around them appeared to be hastily constructed and temporary. This didn't take her by surprise though but she is surprised when she looked around and saw the villagers with mostly brown hair and brown eyes. "This doesn't look like a Chaos Warrior village."
"It's not but it is your village or it was once."
"So where am-?" Robin floundered and caught herself. "Oh no. Don't tell me you brought me here to watch my birth! I just wanted to know who my parents were."
Artemis smiled back. Her cheeks turning slightly red from a restrained laugh. "No. I mean if you want to see your actual birth we could but I knew it would get you flustered either way." Robin blushed slightly. "I actually felt it was more appropriate to start a little further back then that." Artemis pointed and Robin saw a man walking near them. "Don't worry. He can't actually see us, Ms. Scrooge."
The man was leading a donkey over to a nearby river. Old, he looked like he had seen better days. The man himself was actually barely old enough to be considered such and Robin figured he couldn't be more than 20 if that. He looked like the rest of the villagers except his eyes shown with a bright purple.
"You kind of look like him." Artemis replied. "Same chin. Same pretty eyes."
Robin seemed to miss the comment too engrossed in the man...father in front of her. "He's a Chaos warrior?" Robin looked around herself. She again took in all the villagers. "Living here?"
"No." Artemis explained. "I won't take you back farther than this, so telling will have to suffice over showing." She Looked back at Robin and then continued. "Neither of your parents were Chaos warriors, nor were their parents. However, they did carry the recessive genes from generations past and through chance, you were lucky enough to be born with those genes."
"So I'm like the red head in a family of brunettes."
"Heh. Sort of." Artemis smiled again. "Your family line on both sides dates back to a powerful Demon Kin family. However, they went against the War Chief in the latter parts of the Great War before the Chaos Acolytes rose and were exiled. For the most part, their line died out and what little of their genes remained were spread among those outside the Chaos Lineage."
Robin took this in for a moment before another question struck her. As the man walked into a nearby building, she noticed that there didn't seem to be anyone else there. "Wait...where's my mother?"
"She's around and you'll see her in a moment."
"So she's out gathering food or hunting or something?"
"Again no. Your parents weren't married, Robin." Artemis told her. "This particular tribe actually had no marriage. Men and women lived separately or together and romantic occurrences were just that."
Robin gathered herself again. She looked away from her father's hut out across the village. "My parents were swingers."
Artemis frowned and placed her own hand on Robin's. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Don't worry about it."
"I mean. I know this is a lot to take in and you just seemed to be deflecting..."
"No. You're right. It's a lot to take in." Robin smiled back at her. "But I can handle it."
Artemis hesitated. "I should warn you though. There's more to come. I mean if you want to take a moment at any time just let me know."
"I will."
Artemis glanced over in a direction but quickly turned away and let Robin continue to look around. She felt it was important that Robin spot her for herself. After a moment though the silence seemed to be creeping in on her as well. "So are they cooking or are you?"
"Huh?"
"Well, you are bringing me to meet your parents." Artemis paused just enough to let the statement sink in. "Usually that comes with dinner."
Robin's hand stroked through her hair over her ear. "Aww. You caught-" Robin paused as she spotted the woman now. She had the same purple eyes but her hair was a light blonde. "That's my mother." She knew it without having to be told and followed her as she approached her father's door.
"Her name was Morgan. Your father's Maccus." As Robin's mother drew into the hut, Templeton adjusted her time piece. "Well, I don't think you want to see this part." Time seemed to skip forward on itself and they arrived back in the same village. The buildings kept their temporary look but the wood making them looked freshly cut. Some was even green and dripping with sap. "You seemed not to want to see your birth so I skipped ahead a bit."
Ahead of them, Robin saw herself. A young child with purple eyes and brown hair barely old enough to walk, awkwardly trying to chase after a group of kids slightly older than herself. They giggled as she struggled to keep up. There was a tenaciousness to her as she picked herself up each time she slipped and kept chasing after them, never getting closer. Eventually the woman from before picked her up and held her close, ending the chase. She looked slightly different now. A couple years older, her eyes revealed her weariness and her skin was a bit plumper.
"Mom."
"You should know your mother named you Anant. It means 'from the stream'."
They lingered there for a while. Robin watched her young self play with whatever was around, her mother was always close and occasionally she saw her father appear as well. Artemis for her own part was mostly quiet. Only speaking up when Robin prompted her with questions. Mostly general information but eventually. "We should move forward, I guess." Robin sunk a bit. "Not really much to see here."
"Yeah I guess so." There was a hesitancy to Artemis' words and Robin was reminded that she had been here before without her and her advice about stopping from earlier. She could feel the slight knot in her throat. "Do you want to see more of when you grew up?"
Again there was the implied hesitancy of the suggestion hiding something else. "Yeah. When did I first start showing signs of being a Chaos Warrior?"
Artemis smiled. "Young." She flashed forward a few more years. Again the village looked unchanged but the people within it looked older. Her father was there. He still appeared in his twenties but the look in his eyes signaled a new maturity. In the background, her mother was talking to her younger self. Now around five, the baby fat of her cheeks receding just enough to give the impression that her face would become.
"You were helping your mother gather some things for the hut when you did something you shouldn't have been able to do at that age." Almost on cue with Artemis' words a flash of purple appeared on the child's hands before spurting out. "The log was twice your weight. No one saw but your mother but that was enough."
Almost as if increasing the volume, Robin heard her mother's words louder and could understand them now. The words come out strange at first and Robin is surprised to find it's a language she doesn't recognize. Artemis again fidgets with something on her watch and suddenly the words are coming out in English.
"Anant, you can't do that in public." She told him. Her voice stern.
"I didn't mean to." The child's eyes were wet with tears and confusion. "I was just trying to help."
"I know sweetie and I'm not trying to punish you but others here wouldn't understand." She hesitated for a moment. "Look mommy and daddy's ancestors were both special in ways that the others don't know. They were able to do many things but the others here don't see the good that can come with those things. They've only seen the harm. So you can't be openly showing people these abilities. Do you understand?"
The child sniffed. "No." An indignant look coming into the youth's eyes. "I want them to see the good!"
She smiled and hugged Anant. "I know, sweetie but that's...it's dangerous right now and I don't want to see you hurt."
The father piped in. "My grandfather demonstrated some of this to me. I think he hoped that I had some abilities as well but they never manifested. I can try to show you what I remember him telling me. Let you learn your powers in secret so that you don't lose control. Okay?"
Anant nodded slowly still clinging to mom.
Robin frowned. "I've seen enough for now." She stated.
"Okay. Where now?" Artemis questioned. "Awkward teenage years?"
"No. I want to skip ahead to what happened." Artemis sunk again at these words but she heard the determination in Robin's voice.
"Are you sure now?" Artemis almost pleaded. "I know I promised to show you but...there's nothing good about what happens there and I want to make sure you're ready first."
"I've waited long enough." Robin caught her breath. "You're not the only one afraid of how I might react but...stopping now will only make it worse."
"Alright." The silence that followed was broken up by the changing scenery and when they came to the village had moved. In front of them now was a primitive town. Sturdier buildings having replaced the huts and the river at the edge of town was shallower here and cascaded in a series of small waterfalls, the biggest maybe three meters high. Robin barely had time to find herself, the youth in front of her now, somewhat androgynous but obviously, male, he appeared slightly older than his father had when Artemis had first taken her back. Robin recognized every feature. His hair was shorter and his nose slightly more pronounced but otherwise, it was her face.
Anant was fishing by the river but Robin didn't have much time to think about this when she heard a strange "thunk". She turned in unison with her other self. A strange arrow composed completely of purple energy stuck in a nearby building and where it landed, the building, even the stone, burned with a high heat. Behind this arrow several others followed and now there was a battle cry upon the air.
Men and women stormed into the village, Robin recognized them instantly. Some she even knew by name. Instinctively she tried to grab one of them but her hand went through like air as the man was instead grabbed by her other self and thrown down. He didn't hesitate here. Out of the air, he pulled a flimsy sword of chaos energy and stabbed it down but it shattered against the man's chest plate.
Stumbling slightly in surprise, Anant ran. Robin gave chase behind him. She thought herself prepared for this moment. To know what it felt like to see what was happening and not be able to do anything. Yet seeing this man run and knowing where he was headed as her own thoughts was crushing down upon her.
He hesitates a few times, avoiding the raiders. In front of him now, a man was running with a small baby in his arms. Anant tried to help him but the man was felled by an arrow as he reached the river.
Anant started to check but there were warriors all around the man now and instead, he broke the other way. He stopped at a house and it took a moment for Robin to realize this must have been where her family lived. Her heart wrenched as she saw the entire structure already up in flames. Anant kept searching but he couldn't pierce the flames of the fire. Around them, the villagers were being killed one by one but neither noticed until they heard another battle cry.
Enraged, Anant formed another Chaos sword and lunged at the woman. She was caught off guard and a look of fear momentarily lit up but the sword he had formed broke against her own and the look changed into one of enjoyment. She cut at him, he staggered back barely avoiding the fatal blow as the blade ripped deep into his shoulder. His rage still possessed him though as he launched himself forward trying to tackle her. She merely side stepped and playing with him, cut into his calf sending him sprawling.
The other raiders gathered around them now as the village burned. He saw now the other villagers, some looking directly at him before they were killed and a few were lit with flames. Beyond the raiders, an elderly woman watched him. He made a few more feeble efforts to raise a blade but they all failed.
Finally, he fully collapsed. The woman raised her blade above her head but the elderly woman behind her halted her. "How is it that a Chaos Warrior, even a pathetic excuse for one, wound up in a village like this?"
He hesitated to answer but relented. "I was born here." Anant looked around, barely seeing. "My friends and family lived here. Are any of them alive? Please spare them."
"You are the last here." The elderly woman, the one Robin now knew as Nimue, spoke. She seemed to consider something to herself and then smiled. "You wish your friends spared but we have already killed them. We should atone. Since we can't grant them life, we shall grant it to you. Brenda, since you bested him. He is now your ward."
The woman spoke up. "Grand Witch! You can't expect me to take him in! His ineptitude..."
"You will keep him." Nimue spoke. "Don't take it so lightly. He may seem inept to you but remember he was raised with no one to teach him and yet look at what all he knew. I'm sure he can make a passable Chaos Warrior once he has proper teachers."
A man stepped forward. He carried an actual sword still stained with blood. "Grand Witch, I must
agree with my wife. Even if he was to become a better fighter, that would only allow him that much more access to the vengeance he surely desires."
Nimue considered a moment. "Yes Richard but only if he remembers."
Artemis paused the moment, approaching Robin who stood there watching. Artemis saw her on her feet but knew how she really seemed at that moment. "You don't need to see any more." Robin didn't respond and there was the lurch again as the scene disappeared around them and again they were back in the house.
Robin was still silent but eventually she turned to Templeton. "How did it happen?" She asked softly. "What didn't I see?"
Artemis hesitated. "Your mother was in the house but your father was living elsewhere at the time and survived the initial assault only to be caught and killed with the rest of the villagers...Richard, your foster dad, killed him." She paused. "You have to understand though. Once he realized and once they got to know you, your foster parents did love you and they felt regret about what had happened and to the extent they could, they tried to atone. No more raiding, no more killing civilians and at least in secret, they attempted to wrest control away from Nimue, so that what happened to you and your family didn't happen again."
Robin didn't move. "Please tell Adreanne I want her to leave. I can't go out there right now."
"Robin, she didn't know." Artemis pleaded. "That's why they sent her away to the Temple. So that if Nimue ever did come after them, she'd be safe."
"I don't care what she knew." Robin's eyes were closed as she sat on the couch. "I can't see her right now."
Artemis approached her. "Okay." Bending down, she hugged Robin tight. "I guess I should go too."
She started walking to the door but Robin called out to her. "Actually. Would you stay, please?"

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"This is a big moment you know."

"You act like this is my first place. I moved out a long time ago."

"Yeah but this is a house.  It's a lot different than an apartment.  We're proud of you."

"Thanks. It's really not that great though.  This is a noisy road and it's barely bigger than my last place."

"Yeah and your first place had a highway behind it."  They gesture out to the woods behind him.

"Yeah at least the backyard has some..." A strange creature with a hunched back covered in fur runs by. "Privacy. Was that a minotaur?"

"No. No. No. Look at the antlers. That's a moosotaur." A stranger calls from behind him.

He turns to look at the stranger.  He's dressed in tan and seems prepared for a hunt.  "Who are you?" He looks around and sees no one else. "Where are my parents?"

"Oh they're fine."  He says as he pulls out a strange looking rifle with a bayonet.  The bayonet seems to be an odd color and bathed in what appears to be oil. "I took them back home where they'll be safe.  You however have no such luxury my friend. See you happened to buy a house on the most monster-filled, haunted and cursed street in the world. Congratulations!"

"Cursed?"

"Oh just look around. There's a werewolf." He points to a blonde haired woman with wolf ears. "Anyways. You're free to leave if you want but I'm afraid this task is more difficult than I can handle on my own."

He ponders it a moment. He looks around and notes everything around him. Across the street a house yawns but then turns to wave at him. "I mean I guess this place is kind of strange." In another spot, a vampire appears to have just killed a young woman. "Maybe some of them..."

"Great! Now if you'll just follow me through this door." The man opens the door to the small, modern designed house but on the other end appears to be a busy street. "We need to get you some weapons."

He hesitates to step in. Something about this whole situation strikes him as off but...

"Well are you coming?"

He shakes off the feeling. "Yeah...I guess."  He starts to step through the door when he hears something.  He looks out at a house very similar to his own except that rooms have obviously been added in a haphazard way causing it to appear unbalanced and asymmetrical.  Inside a screen porch, the source of the sound, a young blonde woman in a pink-red tank top and blue jeans, sobs in the corner.

"There's nothing you can do for her right now." The man says behind him. "That house is..."

He lets the voice trail off behind him.  Having always been protective, he couldn't ignore the sound of anyone in distress. He walks towards her.  He calls out from just beyond the screen door but she panics.  She seems to be trying to stop him.  At first, he pauses trying to get her to walk out but she doesn't move.  So he opens the door and steps in.  Except as soon as he does the world shifts.  

She looks around trying to get her barings. The woman is still there and the room unchanged but something feels different.  She shakes her head and calls out to the woman "Are you..." but as she catches something off in her voice, the woman runs off into the house before she can stop her.

Confused she looks down. Her body has changed. Distinctly feminine.  Long brown curls fall in front of her face and she has to push them to the side.  She notes that she is wearing the same outfit as the woman.  A streak of emotion starts to hit her before someone pulls her out.

"Jesus! Look what you've done to yourself!" The hunter looks at her with anger. "I was trying to warn you that house was cursed."

"Cursed?"  She feels her throat still getting used to her new voice.

"Yes. Shouldn't go into a place like that without protection." He gestures to a locket around his neck.  "I guess my condolences on your body. Now if you follow me. We can reverse this."

She stands there a moment taking the situation in. A moment out of a bizzare fantasy.  He prods her though and she steps through the door with him. The street appears to be in the middle of a city.  It takes her a moment but she recognizes it as the corner of Piedmont and Lenox. "What are we doing here?" It certainly appears to be an odd place for a monster hunting store. "Certainly if there was a store for monster hunting people would have noticed it by now."

"Okay. First off, most 'monster hunting equipment' is just regular guns and knives.  I customize them myself and use them in the field. Second,"  He reaches into a pouch and pulls out a large golden object seemingly too big for the space he pulled it from. "anything you can't buy at a regular store, requires a key to find." He inserts the key into the door of Phipps mall having walked there without her realizing and opened it into a strange room filled with tomes and weapons that seemed straight out of an episode of Buffy or Supernatural.  "Welcome to Atlanta's first and foremost monster hunting emporium." He gestures at everything around them.

Her stomach churns. Inside there continues to be that feeling she had since this man first appeared.

"Oh! Of course!" He turns to the shelves interrupting her thoughts. "This tome should have the reversal for your curse. It's just a matter of finding the pieces."  He tosses some gold and silver coins at a man behind the counter.  The man catches the coins and continues reading something back there disinterested.  She takes note that his skin is grayed and stretched, his nose hooked.  The hunter seems to note her interest. "Oh Oscar there? He's kind of like you. Cursed. Of course, unlike yours there's no known cure for goblinism.  Reading keeps his mind occupied for now but every year, his skin will grow taughter. His limbs more disproportionate and eventually even reading won't help.  Before that happens, he'll ask someone to finish him while he's still there.  I hold out hope that it'll be me."

She looks questioningly at him.  "Are goblins that bad?"

"Mindless buggers.  Controlled completely by impulse." The hunter looks at her unsure.  "Now. If I remember right, you're a swords guy.  Hmmm...here." He pulls out a large broadsword, oblivious to her grimace behind him as he passes it back to her. "I hope that's not too heavy. It's your standard all purpose blade. The metal has been mixed with silver.  Not enough to soften it but enough to make it effective against werewolves and vampires and it's got a mixture of blessings and curses to kill anything else.  Goblins, orcs, witches, sympathizers, even spirits."

She pauses at that word. "Sympathizers?"

"Yeah. Well...traitors really." He tells her. "Humans who think that the monsters deserve chances."

"They don't?"

"None I've ever met have."  The hunter says. "Now come on. The first ingredient to your cure is through here." He pulls out the key again and this time the door opens into a wide open valley, the grass in front of them a pure red.  "This is the valley of the weres. This is where we'll find the find the first step."

She follows him blindly distracting herself.  Other than the color of the plants, this place looks like a normal valley. Even the sky above suddenly day, shines with nothing abnormal.  She spends an hour like this taking it all in. It's not until she hears the stomp in front of her that she sees the beast in front. A giant werebear stands in a humanoid stance. Its...his arms and legs thick with muscles and fur.

The hunter stands there unphased. "Here's a perfect specimen." He looks at her. "What are you waiting for? Pull your sword."  She stands there, looking at the werebear.  He doesn't say a word but she could swear the look in his eyes is pleading. It's then that he notices the smaller ones behind him. "Go on.  Kill him and take his fur."

"Wait we only need his fur?" She asks him. "Couldn't we take it without harming him?"

"There's no point." He gestures to the bearman. "This creature isn't human. It's not even animal. Kill him and you'll be doing the world a favor."

The bearman reacts. A low growl and a snort as he seems to be prepping himself. "I..I don't know." She says. The bearman looks at her. His eyes now in a warning.  "Couldn't we ask him?"

"If he wanted to talk he would have done so." The hunter says. "NOW KILL HIM!"

She feels her arms reach for the sword almost against her will. She wants to stop but the bearman is now running at her. In a flash, the sword is out and stained red.  She looks at the collapsed beast in front of her as it's fur pulls back and the human presence returns. Those same brown eyes remain, staring at her as she collapses.

"Great kill!" The hunter calls from behind her. He looks at her kneeling there though and frowns,  "Bloody bastard had surrendered his humanity you know. There's was nothing left to do for him."

"He was just trying to protect his children wasn't he?" The idea struck a chord within her.

"So what?" The Hunter states. "He was just a beast at this point and his children are the same."

"I...we didn't have to kill him, did we?"

"Maybe not but you did the right thing." The hunter sounds almost sympathetic.  "Look.  Go to the river and I'll finish up here."

"What are you going to do?"

"That's not your concern." Her skin is pale with the idea now.

"I can't let you."

"You can't decide anything."

"Yes. I can." She concentrates hard and when she opens her eyes the man is gone.  He's left behind him the key and the tome. She takes them both. She's not sure when she might need the tome but she'll figure it out in the futre.  She looks at the cubs. "Your father. It wasn't my fault. I was mis...I murdered him. I'm..." The word catches in her throat and instead she turns and opens a door. "I'll find someone to take care of you."

She opens the door from the tree and steps out into the busy New York street.  In front of her, there's plenty of people but they don't take notice as she steps out of the hotel.  This was the place she knew. Here she could find the monster hunter who could actually help her. Not like the one she cast out.

In front of her stands a young African American man, he's dressed in streets but she knows he's a cop. "Jale Edmonds?"  He stops and turns to her.

"No one's supposed to remember that name."

"I can't explain to you how I know but I know I am here for you."  She shows him the tome. "We need to talk."

***

The house is empty now as he looks around.  His parents will be back soon. They don't know what has happened nor does he really know how to tell them. This will be there uninterrupted housewarming as his mother tells him the story of their first house. How the roof leaked and there wasn't any central air conditioning.  It had taken them years to find and fix every problem in that house and just as they seemed to have gotten it updated to modern standards the family was expanding and it was time to move to a new place.

After they left, he wondered if it would be like that with this place.  Would he eventually move on? It had only been a few days but already he felt so rooted into the place.

He looked to his neighbor's. One of the vampires seemed to have gone over there.  He hadn't met him yet.  Might be a good time for introductions.  He gazed at the tome. There were still plenty of ingredients left for when he was ready for them. For now...

He walked and the familiar feeling swept over her as she stepped into the house.  The vampire wasting no time to greet her.
Curse
Okay, so this is a really strange dream I had. I expanded it a little and edited it a bit and thought about expanding it more to have it make a bit more sense with a bit more fluidity but I felt like in the end, I should keep it like this with minimal expansions so that it was just enough that you could follow them.

So yeah. Just a strange look into my dreamscape.
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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.

Ascha-Vovina.

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."

*************************************************************

Asura:

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!"

Mature Content

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Mark's voice rings through the station. He had come here hoping to get some answers but now he has learned that the officers assigned to his daughter's case have apparently gone missing.

"Sir please stay calm." The man at the desk's voice seems overly calm to the irate father. "I understand this is concerning but we have all our available resources working on this."

"You just told me that two of your officers have been 'out of touch'?" Mark yells. "The same two officers who are supposed to be looking for my daughter!"

"Understand sir that some officers do turn off their radios when in gang territory to help keep them from being identified."

"So what can you do?"

"Like I said, we are shifting resources to help out."

"What can you do?"

***

Sarah wakes up the next morning with an itch on her nose. Opening her eyes, she sees she must have shifted in the night and now has Abel's ear tickling her nose. As she moves away, she sees Abel's eyes dart open and look at her. "Oh sorry. I just..." Abel's eyes close again before she can finish her sentence.

"Kitchen's downstairs to the right of the living room if you want to eat anything." Abel yawns. "I need a few more minutes. Plenty to pick from the fridge or you could wait to see what Cat and Ren concoct."

"Oh..okay."

She gets up noticing Tatakai sleeping undisturbed. She seems so peaceful now but the words from last night still echo 'only kill'. She wonders if Tatakai's ever had nightmares like Abel or how they would go.

It's easy to wonder just what she's getting into but...she doesn't know how to answer that. she knows that something's keeping her here. Her stomach rumbles and she realizes right now it's not lack of hunger keeping her in this room.

Downstairs is already busy as apparently Ren and Pare have gotten up before the rest of them. She states a tentative "Hi" and walks towards them. She looks around noticing the lack of school supplies. "So...long weekend?"

"Dad might be pulling us out of school." Ren grumbles.

"Huh? Why?"

"The incident at the cafe." Pare responds. "Ren covered his face but it's still possible that someone from school recognized him from the footage. We haven't gotten any calls to suggest so but until we know for sure, it's safer to stay home and it's already been arranged that we are 'attending an urgent family matter'."

"It seems like he keeps you pretty secreted away."

"He does but it's necessary." Pare responds. "You've seen how the world outside reacts to hybrids. We may not be the same but I doubt anyone would distinguish the difference."

"Honestly, I'd kind of like to be out and done with it." Ren states. "It's not really fun having to lie. Always worrying about what if they find out, feeling like you can't tell your closest friends the full truth. I know there's good reason but it's restrictive. Yet being open about it also exposes my sisters, so I keep quiet."

"It's never simple, is it?" Sarah looks around. "Where's my brother?"

"He's with Marisa and Little Sarah." Ren answers. "She was awake and it was either take Little Sarah down to see him or she was coming up, whether she could handle -"

"Quiet" Sarah interrupts them as she raises the volume on the TV.

"Authorities tonight are now publicly asking for assistance in the search for Sarah Lawson." The anchor states solemnly. "She was last seen..."

"Oh god they wouldn't." Sarah's face turns bright red and then she sighs. "I told them I was sleeping over."

"Umm no you didn't." Ren replies. "Remember Rob convinced you not to call them."

"Yeah but I was still going to check in." Sarah thinks back. "I was still going to but...I didn't have a phone and with everything going on I must have forgotten."

"No worries." Pare smiles. "It was hectic for all of us."

"I need to call them. Do you either of you have a phone on you?"

"I don't think that's a good idea." Pare responds. "Last night was one thing but if you call them now. They'll just want to know where you are and you tell them you're here, they'll come over and who knows what they might accidentally spot. Is that what you want?"

"No but..." Sarah's flustered now. "What would you have me do?"

***

Reydon's throat is dry and the water offered to her by the bear woman is a welcome relief. Still, she doesn't know what to make of her situation. She's deep within gang territory and they know she's a cop. The situation here could easily turn violent and she doesn't even have her gun on her any more. Not that she thinks it would do much good. She hadn't seen what had happened but she knows those men were armed with heavy weaponry and this bear woman still ripped through them.

"Bears take eye contact as a challenge you know." It's only when she hears this that Reydon realizes she was staring at the bear woman and quickly looks away.

"Sorry." She says slightly. Her voice is still weak but she can feel her energy coming back. Whatever drugs were in her must be almost out of her system. "I've just never seen a hybrid so big before."

"I'm not a hybrid."

"You're not?"

"I'm something much older than your hybrids." Ohkwari notes the confused look on the woman's face. "Look have you ever looked around this world and seen something that you couldn't quite explain?" Reydon flashes back to that image of Simon, standing over the body pleading with them to kill him. "Spirits operate in that realm of unknown and while are numbers aren't great, we are more common than most humans think in this modern age."

"Oh...I don't think I really understand."

"Most of you humans don't seem to." Ohkwari's statement seems harsh but Reydon hears no malice from the words. "Not any more. Anyways, my name is Ohkwari. I forget if I mentioned that earlier or if you'd remember."

"I don't think you did. Are you going to kill me?" Reydon again looks at Ohkwari. The bear woman could probably snap her neck or rip out her throat with barely an effort.

"That depends on what I hear from you. I don't kill unnecessarily and if you tell me all you know, I won't have to."

***

*12 years ago*

"I've found him." Templeton's voice lacked the usual distortion features. She must have really been in a rush if she called here without using the mask. Wolf.Spider smiles as he thinks of a Temporal detective rushed for time.

"Asura?" Wolf.Spider was still half-dressed as he had the news on in front of him. "Yeah.  It just came on the news about what he did to San Diego. I was already trying to get people together."

"No. Not San Diego. I already checked that lead. It's a dead end. Too much temporal distortion to tell when he entered the city or left.  I was able to track him from there."

"And what did you find?"

"He's heading to Australia. Brisbane specifically."

"Australia? I've always wanted to visit but I was hoping for better circumstances." Templeton failed to react to the information. "I guess I should update everyone."

"I'm already on it.  Got several calls out right now."  It takes a moment for Wolf.Spider to gauge that she didn't mean this was a conference call. He understood the basic concepts of how she works around the space-time continuum but the idea was still a bit foreign in his mind.

"Alright." Wolf.Spider stretches and catches his irritated shoulder. "I'm still not 100% but I'm motivated! Let's get him."

"About that." Templeton's voice came in grave. "You have to understand that this is the earliest moment I can track him.  Add in working around the temporal interference, I have to bring us in about an hour after an event.  I know you won't like it which is why I want to explain now..."

***

"So how can I help you Wolfy if you don't want your box." Wolfen smiles up at Robin. "Maybe you'd like a nice, comfy pokeball?"

"No thank you." Robin smiles back at her. "I'm actually here for the encyclopedia. I hear you know his location."

"Yeah." Wolfen pouts at the words though. "I don't know why you want to see him though. You can't just visit to see me?"

"I would but this important." Robin turns stoic as she decides to tell her the full truth. "I'm ready to take back over my company and I need to know if he has any dirt on Smeyrs."

***

Harrison looks at the suit in front of him and grimaces. His design team put a lot of effort into this design and they put it out there before his pilot was ready. He wonders if Linda is trying to sabotage him again. Well, whatever her efforts, he had already confirmed that the second package was on the way and he can continue tweaking the design of the suit.

Smeyrs probably wouldn't approve of Harrison's new additions to it but Smeyrs wouldn't have to know either. Just a couple of defensive enchantments to increase it's durability and it would be good to go.

He wonders how his pilot will handle it. He remembers that most gave him odd looks when he told them he wanted a washed-up former high school street thug to be his pilot but Harrison had looked into the kid. He knew there was a tenacity to his actions. That tenacity has mostly been squashed since his incident and injury but some key prods and the Reggie he needed would be back.

"Mr. Harrison." The man's voice comes through loud over the speaker.

"Yes?"

"Smeyrs would like to see you in his office, please."

"Tell him. I'm on my way." Harrison responds. He briefly questions the timing of this interference but he knows Smeyrs hasn't taken any direct measures to monitor this section of the company in years.

As he enters the elevator, Harrison wonders how many times Smeyrs has watched that video of Wolf.Spider killing Richter. Whether Smeyrs knows Robert's intent in that action or not, Harrison isn't sure but the effect had it's mark. "This is what I can do to you if you try to go back on our deal."

Harrison steps out of the elevator, Smeyrs' office is in the center of the top floor, decorated in an ornate, polished post-modern style. His desk however is large and made out of mahogany. The increasing rarity of the wood was a clear message that he sent with this desk.

As always, Smeyrs is at that very desk and has been waiting for Harrison to arrive.

"You called me, sir?" Harrison calls out flatly. His voice giving no indication of his thoughts.

"Yes." Smeyrs says back. Harrison notes his voice is quieter than usual. "Have you seen this?" Smeyrs flips on the tv to show images from the cafe. He fast forwards to the incident in the hospital.

"Ah yes." Harrison says still flat. "The fox boy who interceded in the hostage situation." Harrison looks at Smeyrs stoically. "I've already heard some rumors that he's stirred up some sympathy for pro-hybrid supporters. A protest was broken up quite violently in Boston."

"He isn't just any fox boy though." Smeyrs states. "He has to be one of Wolf.Spider's bastards."

"And?"

"And if Wolf.Spider's bastards are making themselves known." Smeyrs indicates towards the screen. "than he must be ready to make his move against us."

"His friends have tried before. They've always been unsuccessful."

"But he never committed. He's committing now." Smeyrs indicates. "Is that new mech back in working order?"

"Yes. I even thickened some of the armor and increased the battery capacity." Harrison states. "It can handle anything you throw at it."

"It'll need to. Gather it and some of the other advanced models." Smeyrs looks him in the eye. "We're going to make our own move against him first."

***

Cat and Eri sit up on one of the upper balconies.

"Why'd you bring me up here?" Cat asks. She rubs her eye, shaking off the last bit of sleep.

"There's some strong people heading this way." Eri responds.

"Oh so you want me to fight them." Cat states. Seemingly waking up. "Who are-" She cuts herself short as a cloaked woman suddenly appears in the courtyard. She has a weapon on her back and seems to look right up at them. Cat nods back and starts to head down. "You've got my back right?"

"If I need to."

Cat walks calmly straight at the opponent who makes a move towards the weapon on her back but Cat knows it's a feint and breaks in to counter the upcoming punch but her own swipe hits nothing but air. The intruder goes on the attack in response. Cat seems to guess her moves before she makes them but still she's on the defensive backing up.

She gets a break from the attacker however when Ren suddenly IMTs behind her and attempts his own strike. The intruder side steps it, easily blocking Cat's kick and counter striking Ren before backing off slightly.

Cat goes on the offensive again. She knows her opening before she can see it as she fakes straight in, the punch going straight past her as she ducks under. What she hadn't anticipated was the punch not being intended for as a shock wave of energy comes off it knocking Ren off his feet and he goes sprawling across the ground. Cat looks back for a second pausing her own offensive gambit but now the instincts are screaming at her to retreat as the intruder again launches her own offensive.

Cat steadily backs up, only able to block the punches. She looks for an opening to counter but even when she thinks she sees one every instinct tells her not to take it. Still her opponent is driving her back into a wall quickly and if she can't find an opening...

Erina looks down at the situation. It looks like it would be time for her to get involved now. She finds her spot to jump in and preps herself when she feels the dark flow of energy behind her a bit too late. "Tatakai! Wait! It's not..."

The corrupted fox girl's form triples into its monster form as she leaps past Erina onto the battle field. Cat falls over in surprise as she lands right in front of her where the intruder had been a second ago. She doesn't hear the cries from around her as she lashes in. The intruder dodges her quickly and for the first time reaches for the weapon on her back in earnest.

The motion seems to leave her open as Tatakai launches herself incredibly fast at her but she seemingly falls out of the way, planting two solid feet into Tatakai's underside as she propels herself away from the attack and rolls out against the ground.

The hammer is in her hand now as she senses the fight suddenly turning serious. The corrupted beast in front of her gives no relent as it's already jumping towards her but the swing of her hammer comes fast and hard, knocking Tatakai back. Tatakai comes in hard again as she narrowly deflects the claws off to the side, they leave a deep furough into the handle but Tatakai is knocked back again as the parry turns into a counter with the staff end of the hammer into her diaphragm.

As the beast doubles over, the intruder wastes no time bringing the head of the hammer back around into her back but is shocked to find the beast doesn't go to the ground instead catching herself on all fours as she braces the shock and then launches herself forward.
The intruder doesn't have time to think as she disappears in an instant, the beast's claws raking only air.

Tatakai turns but too late as the intruder lays another blow into the side of her head. This one hits much harder and her vision swims for a few seconds before she gets her bearings back but the intruder has now launched into a volley of attacks and Tatakai can barely find time to block half the attacks as she tries to get her feet under her. She backs into something now. She turns to see the tree and the intruder takes her opening, slamming the hammer into her again and, as she staggers to the side, the shaft is already behind her knee and the intruder uses it drags her to the ground.

The intruder knocks another quick blow into the beast's chest to make sure it doesn't get back up. Confident that the beast is stunned, she raises her weapon up to strike her hard, energy flaring around her weapon. The tip seems to ignite in purple flames as she tightens her grip. "Hammer He-"

"KITTY! Stop! She's with us!" Cat's voice calls out and Kitty pauses, lowering the hammer in confirmation that she heard but a look of confusion still there. Tatakai seems oblvious to the lull though as she gets back to her feet and aims back at the intruder.

"I kill to protect." She snarls. "I can do that."

Ren places a hand on Tatakai's shoulder to calm her but a quick swipe back and a lash of blood hits the ground as he staggers back away. The fierce look in Tatakai's eye remains for a second before fading to see what happened.

Her form diminishes quickly as she shrinks away from them. Ren's desperately clutching his left arm as Abel is running out into the grass behind them. "Tatakai can't protect. Tatakai can only kill." She tells them before running off in the other direction.

Asura:

Abel watches as Tatakai disappears into the forest on the far edge of the mansion's property. Why'd she run? What am I going to tell Sarah? Turning to look at her siblings, she sees Renard is bleeding from four deep cuts in his arm. Don't tell me... She grits her teeth, turning to glare back into the forest. Dammit!

"What do you mean she's your friend?" Kitty stares at Catalina and Erina, incredulous. "Do you even know what that thing is? What it's capable of? Look what it did to Renard!"

"This... was an accident..." Renard hisses between gritted teeth, his wounded arm hanging uselessly at his side. "I've had worse during training... Besides, I'll be right as rain once Surinae..." he staggers, woozy from blood loss. As Erina steadies him, Catalina rips a strip of cloth from her shirt and fashions a crude bandage to staunch the bleeding.

"Right. An accident." Kitty glares in the direction Tatakai had run. "You should have let me kill it. Now everyone in the city is in danger." Thunder rumbles in the distance, dark clouds rapidly approaching, painting the horizon grey and black with rain as bolts of lightning trace jagged blue-white lines from sky to ground. "We should head inside before the storm hits. Hopefully that abomination will drown or get struck by lightning."

As fat, heavy raindrops begin to fall around them and the wind begins to pick up, Erina shoots Abel a pained glance. "Abel... don't. Don't blame her. It was an accident. I could sense her emotions, just as I can sense yours. If you go now, you can catch up to her before the storm hits full-force and-"

"Stay out of my head, Eri." Abel snaps, louder and harsher than she'd intended, and turns to walk towards the mansion. I can't believe I trusted her, believed her...

Erina continues talking, the wind whipping her hair in front of her face. "People make mistakes, Abel. Tatakai has spent almost seventeen years living as a solitary predator with no reason to suppress her instincts, her bloodlust. You can't expect her to change overnight. She wants to so desperately, for Sarah and for you, but she can't do it alone. She needs help, she needs support, she needs lo-"

"Shut up!" Abel shouts to be heard over the wind, punctuated by a bolt of lightning overhead. "I don't want to hear it! She attacked me, she attacked Ren! Who's next? You? Cat? Sarah? She's a monster, pure and simple!"

"Is that what you're going to tell Sarah? You can lie to yourself but you can't lie to me, Abel." Erina's voice is deceptively calm, bordering on emotionless, even as she rests her palm against her forehead in exasperation. "I hate it when people lie to me. You have no idea what it's like to be able to sense others' true emotions, how they really feel!"

"What's your point, Erina?" Abel snaps. "Stop speaking in riddles!" The rain is falling heavily now, soaking her clothes and matting down her hair and fur.

"She's in so much pain, Abel... she wants to die. Unless you or Sarah stops her, she's going to kill herself."

****

Sarah tentatively knocks on the door to her brother's room. "Bro, are you awake?" There's the sound of rustling cloth, and then the door opens slightly to reveal Marisa looking disheveled, tired, and angry. L'il Sarah clings to her mother's chest, kneading happily as she nurses. "Oh... you're up here? Shouldn't you still be downstairs rec-"

"Not when that nine-tailed hussy has been making eyes at my mate." Marisa's voice is underscored by a low growl, her eyes glowing ominously in the dim light.

"S-sorry for disturbing you..." Sarah backs away, holding her hands up in a placating gesture.

Marisa arches an eyebrow at her, then sighs, her expression softening. Straightening her posture with a yawn that bares all of her felid fangs, she steps into the hallway. "No, it's alright..." She grins, revealing a mouth full of felid fangs. "I'm fine. Besides, that poor doctor is in no condition to be doing any sort of medical treatments."

Sarah's fingers clench into a fist, sparks of fury blazing as she recalls the kumiho's smug, lecherous smile. I can see why everyone hates her... Shaking her head to clear it of dark thoughts, she frowns as she recalls another patient. "What about Tatakai's mother? How is she?"

"Whatever that... that harlot did to her seems to have been similar to what Surinae did to me." The angry growl underscoring Marisa's voice softens and fades, but she still fixes Sarah with an intense look. "Her physical injuries seem to have healed, but when I left she had yet to regain consciousness."

"Well, I'm glad you're OK." Sarah smiles faintly, then yelps as Marisa pulls her into a one-armed hug. L'il Sarah mews and takes the opportunity to poke her nose into her namesake's ear, snuffling and purring loudly. "Ack! Nooo! Stop it!"

Marisa laughs softly. "No, little one. Ear wax is not for breakfast." Her ears swivel backwards towards the room. "Oh, Rob is awake." She passes L'il Sarah to Sarah and heads back into the room, and Sarah smiles down at her niece. Who'd've thought combining babies and kittens would exponentially increase the cuteness? A couple of minutes later. Marisa opens the door to reveal Rob, who while freshly shaved and dressed in fresh, clean clothes somehow looks even more exhausted and disheveled than she does. Sarah can tell his wane smile is forced, and he looks like he's aged a decade.

"Are you... OK?" Sarah frowns as she hands L'il Sarah back to her mother, not wanting to trouble him if he's still afflicted but at the same time not knowing who to talk to.

"No, but I'm better than I was yesterday." Rob frowns at her. "What's the matter, sis?"

"I... it's nothing." Sarah forces herself to smile, pulling her brother into a hug. "I just wanted to see if you were hungry. Ren and Cat made pancakes, toast, and scrambled eggs." As if on cue, Rob's stomach growls and he chuckles awkwardly, Sarah and Marisa laughing. As they walk down the hall towards the kitchen, Sarah considers checking in on Surinae and Vulnes, bringing them something to eat. No... maybe later... If Surinae is still... hungry... it's too dangerous to go alone. I'll have to ask Abel to accompany me.

To her surprise, Surinae is seated at the table, looking looking even more dishevelled, exhausted, and irritable than Marisa and Rob combined. A large pot of coffee and a heap of pancakes, toast, and eggs sit in front of her as she blearily regards them. "... morning." She pours coffee into a large mug and gulps it down, seemingly without registering the scalding heat. "I see you're both feeling better..."

"How about you?" Rob nods at the coffee. "Are you OK?"

"No... I'm not..." Surinae attacks her pancakes, speaking in between mouthfuls. "...but I'm better than I was yesterday. The hunger's mostly physical at this point." Her eye twitches and she downs another cup of coffee. "Mostly."

Thunder rumbles outside, and Sarah spares a glance out the window as raindrops pound against it. "That's some storm. Just as well school's cancelled... I'd hate to be out in that."

"School's cancelled? You can't avoid going forever, you know." Rob sits at the table, cuddling L'il Sarah as Marisa loads a couple of plates with food. "Your education is important, Sarah. Besides, we can't impose on-"

"Not... a problem..." Surinae yawns, then gulps down another cup of coffee. "Can't say we've ever had people stay over before... it's nice." She reaches over and tousles L'il Sarah's hair, the infant purring loudly and leaning into her hand to nuzzle her. Surinae chuckles and pokes L'il Sarah's nose before returning to her food.

"She likes you, Surinae. You'd make a good mother." Marisa smiles as Surinae blushes, sitting down with a plate of scrambled eggs and what appears to be raw hamburger.

Sarah stares at the pink, bloody mush, her appetite waning, and then realizes it must have been taken out for Tatakai. Frowning, she glances around at the otherwise empty table. "Where is everyone?" Ren and Cat had been in the kitchen previously, but are currently absent. Pareina is also nowhere to be seen. Tatakai's probably still in bed with Abel... She feels guilty leaving them alone, especially given Abel's anxieties. I hope I didn't push too hard... I'll have to go check on them. Oh! I can bring them something to eat!  

"So... did you sleep well?" Rob raises an eyebrow at her as he sips a cup of coffee. Sarah pauses, her face turning red. She opens her mouth to explain that nothing happened, and that even if anything had happened it's none of his business. Instead, an embarrassed groan escapes her mouth.

"Come now, Rob... if life has taught you anything it should be that it's not polite to pry into a girl's love life." Marisa chuckles as she scoops a mouthful of eggs and raw meat into her mouth, responding to Sarah's aghast expression with a knowing smile. Before Sarah can protest, a peal of thunder shakes the room and the deluge outside intensifies. L'il Sarah yowls and clings tightly to Rob, who winces in pain as the infant's sharp claws pierce his skin. Marisa takes her daughter and cuddles her to her chest. "Shh... shh..." She sings a soft lullaby, rocking the baby in her arms.

The lights flicker as thunder booms overhead again, and Sarah hears the door open. Everyone was outside? The rapid spatter of rain against the roof and windows does nothing to drown out the hushed but heated argument, and Sarah shoots Surinae a quizzical glance before opening the door to the entry hall. The sodden group freezes, dripping water all over the floor. Sarah recognizes Renard, Catalina, Abel, and Erina, but the fourth person — a woman in her mid-to-late twenties — is a stranger. As the woman removes her cloak, Sarah takes in the large warhammer she's carrying like a golf club, her purplish-pink hair and the faint glow of her eyes. She must be Wolf.spider's eldest daughter... Then it registers that Renard's left arm is bandaged and bleeding, and that the group is staring at her as though she is the last person in the world they want to see. Sarah frowns at each of them, fixating on Abel, but before she can open her mouth to ask them anything the group files past her into the kitchen.

Sarah turns and follows them as Rob looks up from washing the dishes. Surinae gags on a mouthful of coffee at the sight of Renard, coughing violently before shooting him a withering glare, her unkempt bangs framing her eyes to make her look like a monster from a J-horror film. "What... did you... do?"

"C'mon sis..." Renard meekly approches her, then yelps as she rips the makeshift bandage off to reveal four deep cuts in his arm oozing blood onto the floor. "I think my tendon's severed."

"Your brachial artery's intact, so stop being such a baby." As Renard opens his mouth to protest, Surinae scoops scrambled egg onto a slice of toast and bites into it with such ferocity that he flinches. "I'm in no condition to heal you, so unless you'd rather have Abel amputate your arm go down to the medical centre. The repairs should be completed by now." Renard shoots Surinae a wounded look, but turns and shuffles past the others, suppressing yelps every time something brushes his arm.

Sara edges towards Abel, struggling not to retch as she feels her stomach turn. "What happened to him?" ... and how can Surinae and Marisa keep eating? "What's going on here?" As Abel turns to look at her, Sarah frowns at the consternation on her friend's face. "Abel...?"

"OK, everyone." Catalina raises her voice, looking around the room. "Some introductions are in order. This is our older half-sister, Kitty." She points to the woman holding the hammer. She then points to Sarah, Rob, Marisa, and L'il Sarah in turn, introducing them. Kitty nods a greeting to each of them, glancing around with an expression of annoyed impatience.

"Nice to meet you..." Sarah's frown deepens at the air of anxiety permeating the room. "Uh... Pareina went to go check on Vulnes since we haven't heard from her since..." She turns and looks at Abel, a sense of dread taking root in the pit of her stomach. "Wait... Abel, if you're down here... where's Tatakai?"

Abel shoots her a brief glance but says nothing, even after Erina sharply nudges her. Sighing in exasperation, Erina takes Sarah's arm and seats her into a chair. Inhaling deeply, she shoots Abel a dirty look and then closes her eyes. "Sarah... we have some bad news..."

"Melodramatic much, Eri?" Catalina helps herself to some food and plops down into a chair. "I don't get why everyone's getting so worked up. It was a minor misunderstanding."

"No, it's a lot more serious than that." Erina whispers, looking shaken. "You can't sense emotions like I can, Cat. She... she wants to die." A flash of lightning puts the room into stark relief.

"You're not making sense. Who wants to die?" Sarah asks the question even though she already knows the answer. She asks because she refuses to let go of the faint hope that she's wrong. Please no. Please don't let it be...

Abel looks at the others, Erina nodding, but as she opens her mouth to respond Catalina interrupts, speaking through a mouthful of bacon and eggs. "Here's what went down. Kitty showed up out of the blue, and me and Ren decided to have a little sparring match with her. Tatakai thought we were being attacked and intervened, and things got a bit out of hand. It's nothing serious, though. Ren's had worse during training. What I don't get is what Tatakai said before she took off..."

The room falls silent as everyone turns to look at Sarah. She feels as though Catalina's words are a knife, and she's been gutted and had everything inside of her, everything that made her who she is, torn out. She wouldn't... not after the conversation we had...! She struggles to breathe, to speak, feeling as though she's being strangled or held underwater. "T... Tatakai is g-gone... and s-she wants to... to..." She can't say it. Her voice is thick and choked. "Why... why didn't any of you stop her?"

"Because going out there in this weather is suicide." Kitty speaks, looking exasperated and annoyed. Everyone turns to glare at her, Marisa's claws gouging the table and Robert's grip tightening on the handle of a frying pan. "Don't look at me like that. I know more about what that thing is and what it's capable of than any of you do. It can't be controlled, it can't be reasoned with. It can only fight and kill and destroy. If you'd let me kill that abomination when I had the chance..."

A chill runs down Sarah's spine, and she's taken aback by how ice-cold her voice is as she stands and pushes Erina and Abel aside. "What... did you do... to her?" She advances towards Kitty, her fingers curling into fists, her hands trembling. "What did you do?!" Only rarely has she ever felt such intense emotions before, a growing maelstrom of rage aimed at the woman standing before her. This is her fault! We were making such progress and then she showed up and... and...! "If you hurt her... if anything happens to her..."

"Are you seriously threatening me?" Kitty looks taken aback, letting out a short laugh of disbelief that trails into an exasperated growl. "I know a great deal more about what that abomination is and what it's capable of than you do, little girl. I'll tell you here and now it was only a matter of time before that thing turned on you and everyone around it." She points at the bloodstained bandage crumpled on the table next to Surinae, then sighs in exasperation. "Look, I'm not the bad guy here. I'm just trying to protect my family, and you should be doing the same." She glances pointedly at Rob, Marisa, and L'il Sarah, the latter of whom is staring at her with the eerie intensity only cats possess.

Inhaling deeply in an effort to calm herself, Sarah struggles to speak in a measured tone, her voice shaking. "What does it matter what she is and what her powers are? She wants to protect people! I'm not saying Tatakai doesn't have issues, but she's working to overcome them! She needs help and support, and you... you..."

"No, Kitty's right." The room falls silent as Sarah turns to face the speaker, fresh rage surging through her as she stares at Rob, struggling to process this betrayal. Marisa sighs and shakes her head in dismay, her tail lashing. Rob meets his sister's scathing glare evenly, his expression deceptively stoic. "I'm sorry, Sarah, but accident or not this shows that Tatakai is unstable, a danger to everyone around her whether she wants to be or not."

Sarah slaps Rob across the face as hard as she can, snapping her brother's head to the side. Fuelled by equal parts rage and despair at this betrayal, she curls her fingers so tightly into a fist that her nails dig painfully into her palms, then moves to punch Rob, but Abel intercepts her and pulls her into a hug. How dare he...?! How could he...?! "Let go!" Pain and anger and despair and heartbreak overwhelm Sarah as Abel holds her, and she lets out a choked sob. No! I can't cry! I can't give him that satisfaction! Staggering back, she shoots Abel a look of utter devastation, then turns and dashes from the room and up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. As she runs past the rooms, she almost collides into Pareina as she exits Vulnes' room, her momentum throwing her off balance and sending her crashing to the floor. Suddenly drained of the energy to move, Sarah finally breaks down and begins to cry.

"Sarah?" Pareina helps her up, her normally stoic expression replaced by a look of concern. "I could hear shouting coming from downstairs. What's wrong?"

Without answering, Sarah pulls away from her and makes it to her room, slamming the door behind her. Why? Why? Why? How could she...?! Sarah collapses onto the bed and buries her face into the sheets to muffle her scream of despair as the storm outside intensifies, rain clattering against the window. Bolts of lightning spears the sky, each followed seconds later by the rumbling roar of thunder. More bolts dance from cloud to cloud and from ground to sky; the wind shrieking and shaking the distant treetops illuminated by the flashes. She's out there somewhere, alone... The rational part of her brain points out that heading out into a storm of this magnitude is tantamount to suicide, but she ignores it. She needs me. I have to go after her.

There's a knock at her bedroom door, but Sarah barely registers it. I have to go after her... but I can't just go running out there and throw my life away. I need a plan... She scrunches her face up, trying to think of a solution. Frustration builds as the storm outside rages harder. The knock sounds again and then the door opens. Struggling to compose herself, Sarah turns to look at the intruder. "Abel?"

The half-kumiho enters, closing the door behind her with a concerned expression. "You're going after her?" Abel's tone makes it clear she's being rhetorical, not asking a question. Sarah nods wordlessly, daring Abel to try to stop her, to betray her like her brother had. Instead Abel moves to sit next to Sarah on the bed. "Erina and I had a chat and... well... she's good at reading people. Better than I am, at any rate."

Sitting up to make more room, Sarah glances at her with a confused expression. "You're not going to stop me?" Her brother's betrayal stabs into her heart again and she screws her eyes shut to prevent tears from falling.

She feels Abel's hands on her own and opens her eyes to see the half-kumiho looking at her with sympathy, reassurance, and something else... something warm. "If the people I lo... love were in trouble..." Abel half-whispers, glancing away and making an admirable effort to keep her face emotionless, unreadable. "I'd do anything to help them..."

Wait... is she saying she... Sarah opens her mouth to ask a thousand questions, then closes it. No... now's not the time. I need to focus on helping Tatakai, making sure she's safe, bringing her home... "Thank-you." She squeezes Abel's hand gently, smiles through the tears. "A-at least someone has my back."

Abel smiles, reaches out and dabs at Sarah's face with a sleeve. "We're not alone. Erina should be able to get a read on her, figure out where she is and where she's going. There's just one problem..." She glances out at the raging storm and winces. "Pareina says that's only going to get worse. Hurricane-force winds and torrential rain..." As if to prove her point, a bolt of lightning vaporizes the upper ⅓ of a tree at the edge of the forest. "It'll take more than raincoats and rubber boots to keep us dry in that."

Sarah pulls away from her, eyes narrowing. I knew it... "I don't care. I'm still going."

Abel shakes her head, standing. "I know, I know, but imagine how bad... Tatakai would feel if you you got sick or hurt. Dad has some emergency equipment stashed away in case something bad happens and we need to hide out in the forest. It won't make a huge difference, but it'll be better than nothing." She reaches out, takes Sarah's arm, and pulls her into a hug, wrapping her tails around them both. "We'll find her... together. I promise."

****

Reclining on the couch, "Ahri" suddenly sneezes. Wiping her nose on her sleeve, she frowns as thunder rumbles outside. Her beloved had left for one of his walks, leaving her to clean the house, but she hadn't felt up to it. Every time she closes her eyes, she can see poor Kuzu-nim's broken body stretched out on a long white table, so sweet, so cold, so fair. Her lips curl over her teeth in an angry snarl at the memory, rage and grief and despair flowing through her as mystical energy blazes around her like cold fire. I wonder... if this is how my beloved feels about Narii? Never before had she considered enacting the old ritual, eating the heart and liver of another being to absorb their soul and spiritual energy, on another fox-spirit. It was something so taboo as to be inconceivable... and yet so romantic, becoming one in the truest sense. A pity that Kuzu's mutant freak of a daughter had ruined the mood... and doubtless her own children would have decried her actions as abhorrent, denounced her as a monster. Why couldn't they understand it was all for love? Oh, Kuzu-nim, being a mother is so hard. I'm just doing my best, but they hate me and curse me for it. Her own mother had abandoned her as a kit, left her to figure out how cruel the world can be, that to survive you not only had to become cruel yourself but revel in it.

But the demon-fox who had gleefully brought kingdoms and countries to anarchy and ruin, bathed in the blood of innocents and sinners, had been the old her. The new her... the new her had done the unexpected — surprising even herself — and poured much of her power, her life essence, into Kuzu in a desperate attempt to heal her. It had worked, but she'd been so drained that even a sleepless night of ecstasy hadn't satiated her. "Hurry home, darling..." She glances out the window at the pouring rain, checking for any sign of her beloved returning. Seducing him will be a welcome distraction from the thoughts of what she will do to the person who so grievously injured her beloved enemy. The old her had delighted in devising and perfecting so many nightmarish means of physical and psychological torture, but now all of them seemed too tame, to mild. No... the one who hurt Kuzu-nim has to suffer for what he did to her! She is too proud to cry, to let her true emotions show, but her default defense mechanism of amorous licentiousness is pointless if there's no-one home to drown out her pain with pleasure. Then again... she looks down at her hands, flexing her fingers. Better than nothing... Shrugging, she closes her eyes, recalling her and Kuzu's nights together. It'd been rough and painful at first, fuelled by centuries of hate; but there had been such gentle tenderness and passion. "Kuzu-nim, Kuzu-nim, Kuzu-nim~!" Some day... some day we'll be together... together... together... together forever~! As the euphoria slowly fades, she lets out a soft sigh, a single tear tracing a line down her cheek before she wipes it away. I'll find the one who did this to you... and when I do I will pay him back the suffering you endured a hundredfold!

****

The rain hammers down on Marc's windshield, and even turning the wipers up to maximum barely makes a difference. "Damn..." He'd stormed out of the police station a couple of minutes before the storm began, but turning around and seeking shelter there would be too embarrassing given his shouting match with the desk sergeant. He doesn't look forward to giving his wife the bad news... or is it good news? Since Officer Reydon had voiced her suspicions, a shadow had fallen over his wife that he had not seen since she'd kicked their son out of the house. Deep down he'd never agreed with the decision to exile their son... sure, they had their differences, but they were still family, still blood. The car drifts slightly, hydroplaning, and after a moment of panic he corrects his course and regains control. His heart pounding, he slows down and pulls over into a parking spot, pulling out his cell phone. I can't drive in this weather... Knew I should have splurged for the Auto-Drive feature... At least I should let her know I'll be late. The signal is terrible, but he manages to send a text message off. Blue-white bolts of lightning dance from sky to ground, briefly illuminating the swirling black-and-grey clouds. Even though the sun has been up for over an hour, it may as well be night for how little light is coming through.

The power cuts out and he's left alone in the darkness, until an assortment of backup generators kick in. Howling wind rocks the car and for a moment he's worried the vehicle will be picked up and blown away. Good thing I never got around to unloading the sandbags from last winter... He allows himself a small chuckle, but is cut off as a bolt of lightning strikes a nearby decorative tree and turns the upper two thirds of it into smoking shrapnel. In all my life I've never seen a storm so bad, except on TV... He checks his phone, but there's no signal and the battery is running low, so he shuts it off. Nothing he can do now except wait for the storm to blow over.

****

Reydon anxiously eyes the increasingly angry-looking Ferals as the bear-like entity called Ohkwari paces thoughtfully. "Please... I've told you everything I know."

"Have you?" Ohkwari rumbles. "How do I know you're not withholding information? How do I know you're not lying?" She towers over Reydon, her hands shifting to long-clawed paws.

Eyeing the sharp claws, Reydon struggles to think of an answer that will satisfy her, but her mouth is dry with fear. "I says we eats her!" A particularly unhinged canid hybrid smiles malevolently, drooling. Ohkwari shoots him a disgusted glance and then her claws move in a blur. Reydon cringes, feels the air disturbed by their passing... and then she's free, the rope used to tie her lying in pieces on the ground.

"I have not been in this city long, but I have sensed there is something here... a spirit possibly older than myself. I have yet to encounter it in person, but I would not be surprised if it was the culprit of at least some of the murders you have been investigating." Ohkwari turns to look out the window at the storm. "My men have told me of something else lurking in the shadows of this city, something full of malevolent hunger... some manner of wendigo, I presume."

A wha... what's a wendy-go? Reydon shakes her head. No, focus on the case. "You're saying the attack in the alleyway and the missing girl... they're related." Reydon massages her wrists, thinking of Simon and the molten darkness oozing from his mangled arm, and back further to other murder cases where the victims — the majority of them either convicted or suspected criminals — had been torn to pieces and eaten.

"Do not expect to find her alive." Ohkwari rumbles, backlit by a flash of lightning.

Reydon frowns at this. Be that as it may... I need to get to the bottom of this case. As long as there's the slightest chance she's alive, and if not then I need to bring the one responsible to justice. "Thank-y-"

"Oi, hang on a tick! We's just letting her go?" A canid hybrid snaps, baring yellowed fangs. "How do we know she ain't going to lead them coppers straight to us?" Murmurs of agreement spread throughout the assembled Ferals as they turn to glare at her. "Best kill her now and dispose of the body..." He drools and licks his lips hungrily.

Reydon shudders, recalling tabloid horror stories of predator-derived beast-people — almost always males — viciously devouring defenceless humans — almost always women. "H-hang on a second!" Reydon weighs her options carefully. Her back is to the wall and the nearest exit is blocked off by the advancing horde of beast-people. She can't fight back: her gun was taken from her and smashed to pieces, discarded in the alley where she was captured. Convincing them to let her go free is seeming like less and less of a possibility: the other police would try to pin the murders and disappearances on Ohkwari and the Ferals just to wrap the case up, and blame any subsequent disappearances on a copycat. Even if Ohkwari herself were to testify, alleging that a corporation as powerful and politically influential as Neo-Goliath was involved would get it dismissed and swept under the rug, to say nothing of the supernatural aspects. "I'm a cop! Who do you think the precinct will blame if I go missing or turn up dead?" This gives them pause. Many of them bear the scars of violent altercations with the police. She knows many of her fellow officers have used the ongoing investigation as an excuse to openly express their prejudices, heard many jokes bandied around the water cooler about how the case could be solved by rounding all the "mangy beasts" up and putting them down. "Don't give them the excuse-"

"They don't needs no excuse!" The unhinged canid snarls. "They guts us open, probes around innus..." As he draws closer, Reydon can see he's covered in scars, a tattoo etched into his flesh and emblazoned with ink. The Neo-Goliath logo. She'd heard rumours of them illegally testing products on hybrids even after the legislation granting full citizenship had happened, but federal investigations hadn't turned up anything. "I says we eats her!"

"Answering violence with violence will only make matters worse for everyone!" Reydon struggles to speak over the jeering. "As bad as things are for you now, if you kill me..." She's getting nowhere with them. She's going to die here, and chances are the department will stop investigating the moment they find out Neo-Goliath is related to the case. "The humans call you savage beasts, why do you go out of your way to prove them right?"

"She has a point..." Everyone pauses to stare at the speaker, a burly tiger hybrid, who shrugs and absently picks his fangs with a claw. "Mahātmā Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. didn't win independence and civil rights for their people through violence."

"You fink your bein' smart? Who's side are you on?" The scarred canid snarls, barely coming up to the tiger hybrid's chest. "Them's is humans! Dead humans! What does they has to do with us!"

As the room devolves into arguing, Reydon looks for an opportunity to make a break for it. If I can lose them in the storm...

"ENOUGH!" Ohkwari bellows, and for a brief instant Reydon sees not a woman but an elephant-sized bear, towering above even the largest of the beast people and silhouetted by lightning. "You squabble like cubs... no, like rabid dogs over a rotten rabbit. No wonder you were so weak before I came." She ignores the disconcerted grumbling at her assertion, turning to regard Reydon with stern judgement. "I have decided. The human has told the truth regarding all that she knows. For this, and because killing her would instigate violence against our community, she is not to be harmed."

"The old boss was a hunnerd times the leader you is! He dunna gutted her!" The scarred canid shouts, "I says the old ways was better!"

Ohkwari stiffens, turning to frown at him. "Are you challenging me?"

"Mebby I is!"

She sighs, more disappointed than angry. "Then I ask that you please reconsid-" The scarred canid lunges not at her but at Reydon, fangs gleaming. With only seconds to react, Reydon falls back on her academy training and off-duty weekends spent practising at the gym. She strikes a solid blow to the scarred canid's solar plexis, winding him, but before she can follow up he recovers and slashes at her. Claws cut into her forearm and then Ohkwari is there, sending him flying across the warehouse with a single blow of her massive paw. "Does anyone else care to challenge my leadership?" Far from seeming triumphant, Ohkwari closes her eyes with a dismayed expression at the awed silence, broken only as the body of the scarred canid crumples to the ground in a shattered heap. Wiping the blood off her paw, she turns to stare ominously at Reydon. "As I was going to say before I was interrupted, we cannot simply allow you to leave. You know too much for that."

****

Smeyrs reclines in his chair, watching the lightning dance across the cityscape. "Robert, Robert, Robert... you've gone and forced my hand. You've gone and forced my hand..." The uneasy truce that had lasted for twelve — almost thirteen — years was finally coming to an end. Why then, did he feel no satisfaction? No sense of triumph? Ah... it's because I know how badly this can end... He's gone over the footage dozens of times. Robert has friends in high places, friends with abilities science cannot explain. Robert himself is in possession of abilities science cannot explain, as are his mongrel children. Powers that could easily kill him and his supporters, reduce Neo-Goliath to a smouldering crater. Why then, have they not done so?

No... I can't be hasty about this. He can't know I'm the one behind it, can't even suspect, or I'm a dead man... He sits back, weighing his options carefully. What I need is a way to profit regardless of how this turns out... Every year the Police Commissioner put out a petition for his forces to use Neo-Goliath technology in their ceaseless war on crime, but the Governor refused to sign off on it. A waste of tax dollars that could be better spent elsewhere, he'd said. Knowledge of the Governor's browser history and what really occurred on his frequent "business trips" would enable him to pull a few strings in support of the Police Commissioner's petition. Once that was in place, all it would take now was a single anonymous phone call to make it look like a swatting prank gone wrong.

"I never took you to be such a fool, Robert." Speaking of fools... Harrison thinks he can act without me knowing, does he? Assigning Linda to keep an eye on him was a good idea after all. She's smart, loyal, first on my list of replacement applicants for his position... Smeyrs's fist clenches slowly, and he begins to regret having given up smoking. What the hell was he thinking, assigning a high-school burnout turned small-time criminal with PTSD to test a state-of-the-art combat mech? Does he have any idea how badly that could backfire? The more he thinks about it, the more obvious it becomes that Harrison is planning a coup. Doubtless he will pull his own strings and arrange for the boy to lead the charge against Robert. Then the operation will collapse like a house of cards and... I can use that... At least then Smeyrs could pin the blame on his overzealous underling. No, that won't work. Harrison knows too much, and is craven enough to talk. Gritting his teeth, he pounds his hand against the mahogany desk. What I need is a way to ensure this can't be traced back to me... and for Harrison to suffer a tragic accident.

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In the morning as the morning dove sings
The one who is lost will spread her wings.
And cast a radiant shadow on first days light.
In the morrow, as you take
You'll feel all that's left in her wake
As you step outside and greet tourself to the sight.
Powerful emotions played across your face
Not a hint of what you're feeling could you trace.
So just look around this world after she's taken her bite.
You know what she did, every way
You know how she spent that fleeting day.
Yet you're locked away from that feeling of that skylit flight.
A starward stranger in your head
Tries to recreate that path she's led
Its only your voice and cant guess her right.
So live today as you think to tomorrow
If she wakes there's memories you'll borrow.
Smiling to yourself for the memory of her light.

Pride

I AM PROUD

Made with pride by the DeviantArt community BROWSE ALL ART

Listen to know one but yourself and be isolated
Listen to everyone and forget yourself
Listen to neither and be no one
Listen to both and no one will know who you are.

deviantID

the-real-wolf-spider's Profile Picture
the-real-wolf-spider
Robert/Robin
United States
I am who I feel like being that is all any one really needs to know but considering most would find that a cop out answer how about this. I am a student and psychology major. My short term goal is to graduate and get a job in Human resources to pay my way through graduate school. Long term goal is to become a counselor, though if my guitar playing pans out I wouldn't mind being a world famous rock star either ;).
Interests

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:iconvka3:
VKA3 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday, Robert/Robin! And many more.  I know you from Spinneyverse.

Happy Birthday 1 by VKA3
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:iconwynterhawke07:
Wynterhawke07 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
:iconinomitplz::cake::cake::cake::cake::cake:
Reply
:iconthe-real-wolf-spider:
*kicks Asura through 15 walls and then sits down to eat my cakes.*  I get first slice.
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:iconvka3:
VKA3 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Have a wonderful day on this your birthday!

Happy Happy Birthday

Happy Happy Birthday
This Is A Special Day
The Day That You Were Born
Beat A Drum, Blow A Horn
Sing A Song Of Glee
Happy Birthday To Ye
Now You're A Year Older
Now You're Getting Bolder
Happy Happy Birthday Hurray
On This Special Day
Reply
:iconvka3:
VKA3 Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the favs and sorry it took so long
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:iconthe-real-wolf-spider:
It's Christmas time and I guess I was feeling extra jolly this year because I wrote a couple sections up.
Reply
:iconprofesortempleton:
ProfesorTempleton Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2013
I'm starting a story chain I'm interested to see the progression of. If you've got some spare time, I'd love for you to participate.

[link]
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:icontoateku:
ToaTeku Featured By Owner May 24, 2013
So, two questions: Where can I find the chronologically-latest cardboard Chronicles installment and how the fudgesicle do I upload Literature on dA?

... These two questions have nothing to do with each other, honestly.

/-/Toateku
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:iconthe-real-wolf-spider:
Me, Asura (wynterhawk) and Curious each post one to our DA pages or at least we have since around the beginning of the Hell Arc (Curious' first few from the Hell Arc may be only on Spinnyverse). Mine's the latest version as of right now.

As for submitting if you go to Submit art on the submit menu you can choose between entering text directly onto the DA page or uploading a file from word.
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:icontoateku:
ToaTeku Featured By Owner May 25, 2013
Okay. I already have Asura and CSF on my watchlist, so no prob there.

Hell Arc entries the latest on CC-timeline, got it.

Huh, that simple. Can't believe I didn't think of that. xD

/-/ToaTeku
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