Thursday, August 29, 2013

Insert Dramatic Rescue Here (part 3 of 3)

Aster gazed at her savoir with bloodshot eyes, one of which was nearly swollen shut, and a rictus smile full of broken or missing teeth. She was literally hanging against the wall, supported only by her bruised and raw wrists. When Adrian appeared, she attempted to stand up properly, but one of her knees unexpectedly bent sideways with a horrific grinding noise, and trying to use the wall behind her as support merely crumpled her wings - already in useless tatters - further. So she settled for simply grinning at him happily.

"I knew... you'd come. You're... the hero... You... come for... everybody..."

For a moment, Adrian couldn't even move. For a moment, this reaction surprised him. The wounds and manner of a torture victim shouldn't have caught him off-guard. He had seen worse. He had committed worse, far worse. Sometimes en masse. This shouldn't unnerve him, not even in the slightest.

But it's Aster!

The Librarian shook his head roughly and crossed the distance between them in a heartbeat, telling himself that the reason he had frozen was because he had not expected to be the one to actually find the fae. Valerie was the healer, she was supposed to find the target, patch her up, and accompany her home. Adrian was traversing the castle looking for a fight, to hopefully take out Runoa and end all of this before anyone else was hurt.

Of course things don't go as planned. This is Runoa we're talking about. What is wrong with me?

"The big hero... come... to save me... Knew you... would..."

He didn't say anything to her. He couldn't. He could only hold her upright as delicately as he could, trying desperately not to injure her further. He reached one hand (which was not shaking, goddammit!) upward to test the strength of Aster's bonds, only to bite back a wince as another sickening crunch was heard - her wrist was clearly dislocated.

"Fascinating, innit?" A nasally drawl reached the Librarian's sensitive ears, and he whipped around. From behind the doors of the entryway Adrian had just walked through (Oldest trick in the book, he thought furiously, how did I MISS that?) came a man in a mauve shirt and a lab coat. His greying hair was receding, and thick glasses reflected the dim lighting to hide his eyes. He was well-muscled, but walked with a slight stoop, and bore a perpetual half-smirk. "They say that girl's the nexus of an entire network o' Asters," the man continued. "One fer damn-near every world there is. Thiss'un can get data from all of 'em if it's programmed right. Send out data too. Might even be it could be weaponized if we could release all o' that Goddess power-"

"I suggest you get out of this castle and out of my way if you wish to continue with your miserable excuse for a life." Adrian levelled a cold glare at the intruder, one that usually silenced the most hardened warriors. With a flick of his sword (a temporary one from the armoury), he severed Aster's chains and allowed her to slump into his arms. There would be time to pry the actual manacles off her later.

The mauve shirt man just threw back his head and laughed. "'Miserable excuse for a life'? Ain't that sumthin'... Seems to me that you're the one who's livin' on an excuse. How many times you gotta die afore you stay dead, eh?"

Adrian's eyes flickered back towards the man, but quickly returned to the broken, muttering heap of flesh in his arms. His current problem: figuring out a way to carry Aster while not hurting her and remaining able to efficiently smite the hell out of anyone that got in his way. And woe betide anyone in his way...

"Come... to save the day... in the... nick... of time... hero..."

"Yeah, I know who ya are, don't look so damn shocked," the mauve shirt man drawled. "Yer always most interesting when sumthin' pisses you right off, which is why I decided to stick around when the alarm went off-" And suddenly he found himself pinned one-handedly by the throat, the furious violet eyes of the Librarian inches from his face.

"You want to see me pissed off?" Adrian snarled. "Keep talking. We'll see where we get."

"Hey, hey, I don't wanna fight ya, now!" the mauve shirt man said hastily, although his half-smirk remained. "I know my limits. Know the girl's too, due to crossing 'em a few times..."

His chuckle was cut off with a squeak as the pressure on his windpipe tightened. "You broke a little girl in half just for some experimentation?"

"...not... a little... girl..."

The mauve shirt man continued to laugh, although each one came out with a burst of coughing as well. "Listen to the fae, boy, it knows what it is. Besides, you make it sound like it was for kicks or summat. There was a reason, one even you could appreciate."

"Enlighten me." The Librarian spoke through clenched teeth.

"I already toldja, didn't I? Potentially, that thing's just a bomb waiting to go off! All we had to do was access the Goddess power, then we'd have sumthin' to work with. Never kicked in, though, no matter what we did to it..."

"YOU TORTURED. A CHILD." It took all of the Librarian's self-control to channel his rage down his right arm, where the man was pinned, instead of his left, which cradled Aster's limp form.

"...'m not a child... Adrian-kun..."

Adrian realized with a start just how little the fae appeared to be aware of. She was reacting reflexively, barely conscious of her surroundings, merely muttering non-stop about the only thing on her mind - him.

She had to get back to the Library, he decided. There was no other option, and no time for fights. Aster's life was at stake, and she was more important.

With a low growl, Adrian released the mauve shirt man, settled Aster into what was hopefully a more comfortable position, and started walking.

"I cannot believe this is really you!" the man exclaimed with a roll of his eyes and an incredulous grin. It irritated Adrian to realize that his victim was not in the least bit afraid. "Master o' the Library, they told me! Counter Guardian extraordinaire, feared throughout the multiverse! And this is the real deal?" he let out a short, bark of a laugh. "You're a little boy."

"He's... a hero... Don't you talk... about... He's... hero..."

"Hehe... And then you turn 'round and look at me like you did jus' now? What was that even supposed to be - disdain? Pity? Ragin' at me for what I did to that thing yer carryin' there? Kid, you got the blood o' thousands on yer hands. I done my share of butcherin', comes with the job, but at least I don't go 'round pretending to be sumthin' I'm not."

Pretending to be something I'm not.

Adrian stopped.

"To save thousands, I kill hundreds, and to save millions, I kill thousands..."

He turned.

"I sit in this goddamn building and watch everyone around me die because it's 'part of the plan'..."

"Adrian... hero... save... the day..."

"I was sort of hoping this could be a fresh start for me. Rebirth metaphors, and all that..."

"It is a fresh start. For everyone..."

"Stupid fairy won't shuddup," the man muttered with a sudden frown. "Wouldn't shuddup all through it neither, kinda pissed me off."

Adrian slowly placed his burden on the floor. She kept murmuring as he took one step towards the mauve shirt man, and another.

"Though you should prolly know," the man said, still looking curiously at the fae. "We kinda passed the point o' no return somewhere along the line. With all the damage to her mind, she ain't gonna hold out much longer..."

"Late at night, when it gets quiet, I can hear them, screaming at me..."

"Trust me, my love. I promise that you will have no nightmares tonight..."

" everyone... Adrian-kun..." Her voice was so quiet now, so weak, and yet it seemed like the only thing he could hear.

"Once upon a time, there was a little boy who thought he could save everyone..."

"Without that Goddess power... yer pet fae's gonna die."

"...Adrian... o-nii...chan..."

Adrian's coat fell away from him, covering the little fae like a blanket and revealing the sleeveless shirt he wore underneath-as well as the dozens of intricate runes that ran up his arms and vanished under the shirt.

Runes that were now beginning to glow a soft red.

The torturer barked a laugh. "Are you going to lose your temper now? Explode in rage and yell and make a fancy light storm of power before swearing that we're all going to pay or are you gonna just go quiet and try to take us all out in icy rage? I've seen it all and it never gets any less amusing!"

To his surprise, Adrian chuckled, than began to laugh.

It was scariest kind of laugh. The laugh that wasn't a laugh at the absurdness of something, at the cold of the universe or a laugh that came from the edge of madness or twisted sorrow. It was a laugh that was as clear as a bell and joyful.

Finally, the Librarian stopped laughing, with a calm smile on his face. "Actually... I don't care."

"What ya talkin' about?" The mauve shirt pointed at the fae. "You saying her life is meaningless. Never expected such cold words from one like -"

"I mean, I don't care about your life."

"...what?" was the flat response.

"You see, I kill people to do my job, but it's not something I enjoy. And when you have powers like mine, you get creative about using it in ways that don't kill people or even bypassing such things like that. Soldiers are soldiers, after all. Doing their duty." Adrian's right hand flexed a few times. "However, this no longer the case here."

"What are you sayin'-" The question become a gurgling scream of pain as Adrian was suddenly in front of him, hand buried in the man's chest and actually hoisting him in the air.

"All that matters is the death of Runoa. Those who side with her meet the same fate." Adrian twitched his hand a little and watched the man spasm, gasping out blood. "You can feel it... my claws against your heart with every beat it takes. I just wanted you to know the same fear you put in your victims before you die."

Then Adrian flexed casually and the torturer went limp as blood spurted out around Adrian's hand. A killer is a killer is a killer, he thought coldly. No use trying to deny it anymore.

Dumping the corpse away, he started for Runoa.



In unison, Michael and Runoa, locked together in fierce combat, lifted their heads, just in time to see a chunk of the ceiling crack down the middle before plummeting towards them. They snapped apart like repelling magnets, as the stone crashed into the floor, sending a cloud of dust everywhere.

"...I didn't order pancakes!" Michael panted weakly.

Stop trying to be funny, the Darkness advised. Its not making this situation any less deadly.

For once, the parasite itself sounded exhausted, but it was nothing to how Michael felt. Being clobbered to the extent he had in the duel would have been enough to warrant exhaustion, but they had now been fighting Runoa for almost ten minutes, and he did not know how much longer it would be before one of them collapsed. As the dust settled, the former Librarian reappeared, armour scratched and dented, blood running down her face and arms, and though she wobbled as she stood, she was tall and still burning for more.

Michael only noticed his sister's flashstep because he had watched her practise so long, but Runoa was forced to take a hasty stumble back as the Assistant Librarian blurred out of her move, Nephthys millimetres away from slicing her throat. Runoa managed to turn her retreat into a sideswipe, slashing sideways at her foe in a move that would have cut Tash clean in two. It grazed her waist, before the Assistant Librarian flashstepped away, blood leaking down her side. Before she could cauterise it, she was forced to duck as a blast from the Divine Dragon Cannon came rocketing toward her and neatly cut a new hole in the back wall of the room, adding to the debris already scattered on the floor.

Michael was ready to leap in again, but he was beaten to the punch. As Runoa aimed another shot, Miriku's magically extending staff shot straight into the side of her head, knocking her onto her side. Lighting fast, Claire was above her, arm blades poised ready to stab, but the former Librarian kicked out, sending the poor girl reeling backwards. She raised the Cannon again and fired, causing the boulder that Miriku had been about to drop on her head to burst into a dust cloud.

"This is the worst Monday ever!" Tash roared, and Michael caught the distinctive smell of burning flesh, that signified her tending to her wounds.

"And it could get worse," Michael thought to himself. "We're taking all these hits, and she's still carrying on through all her injuries. One of us might die here... wait..." he frowned to himself. "That's weird..."

What are you blathering on about? The Darkness was clearly in no mood for thinking when there was blood to be spilt.

"We've been fighting her all this time. WE'VE been fighting HER. She's made no moves to attack us back, except in defence. Its always been us instigating the attacks. Its like she's not even trying to kill us."

Oh well I'm so glad she's not trying... The Darkness replied as dryly as it could. That makes me feel so much better... enough of this thinking bullshit. Just kill her already, boy!

As Runoa rose, dust coating her armour like icing on a cake, Michael watched her move, poised, ready to counter...but not preparing to strike. He watched Claire pick herself up off the ground, and Tash raised Nephthys again. A rumble echoed as Miriku picked up another lump of rock to hurl, and he let the Darkness wrap itself around him, armour covering his entire body.

He didn't know what she was up to, but he would be damned if he let her succeed!


"Your tenacity is most annoying." Order emerged from the hole in the wall, tossing the last shreds of his shirt aside and obviously ignoring the bloody scars across his body.

Valerie simply groaned in pain as a response and forced herself to stand, nearly all of her weight supported by the shelf behind her. A pile of debris and rubble that signified Ari's position stirred and shone slightly with light before fading and falling still. Even the powerful spirit partner had fallen against the Sovereign.

The tiled floor cracked underneath the grey-haired man's steps as he advanced, a flicker of anger dancing across his face. "Those eyes of yours are annoying..."

The healer just looked at him levelly, unblinking and unwaveringly.

"I see... pity... and compassion in them." Order sneered hard at her. "A useless waste. I feel none of the same for you and if you wish to die trying to sympathize with your enemy, I'll gladly oblige." Looming over the Society Agent, he drew back his fists.

Then he paused as chips of stone and debris began to vibrate. His eyes narrowed as an explosion rocked the room behind them and he whirled in time to see a roiling cloud of smoke and debris obscured the hole in the wall.

Then a bloodied figure staggered out of it, bits of their arm trailing around even as Order grabbed them. "What's happening, what's going on!"

The Usurped spasmed in the Sovereign's arms and gray eyes widened as he saw a series of blinking lights in the Usurped's wounds and mouth before they all trilled and exploded violently in a flare of power and energy.

Valerie stared at the scene even as Order stumbled from the explosion, only to run straight into more bloodied and dying Usurped, their wounded bodies laden with explosives and the room shook as more of the wall gave away and bits of the floor began to crack and fall through.

Then her empathetic senses roiled and reacted like a wounded cat before clamping themselves shut. Even as they did, the roaring anger and rage she had sensed leaving an impression like Godzilla had stepped on her.

Adrian strode from the new-enlarged hole in the wall, the healer drawing a sharp breath at the bloodlust in his burning red eyes. He glanced around, but didn't seem to really take anything in except for the Sovereign storming from the explosive cloud.

"You... Librarian..." Order wiped a bit of blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand. "I've heard of you. The greatest obstacle to Lady Runoa's plan. Using those damaged Usurped to carry explosives... you certainly are twisted." He clenched his fists and vanished, reappearing in front of Adrian and launching a double punch towards his chest. "Perish!"

Adrian's eyes seemed to harden and the razor air of Order's attack skewed and impacted harmlessly on an invisible barrier. The Librarian made a pushing motion with his hand and Order was suddenly flattened against the barrier as it hurtled him backwards, through a wall and kept going, shaking the floor with every impact.

Adrian didn't break stride as he moved through the new holes, even as the sound of roars and cries as more Usurped moved to engage him.

As the cries of battle reached her ears, Valerie lurched limply after him. (This is bad... this is very bad...)

Adrian was buried in his rage and given the brief brush she had with it, he would tear the world apart with his bare hands if that's what it took.

And anyone and everyone on it.


"You see? Its not nice fighting like this all the time," Harmony was weaving her way around the Society agents, her spell cast like a strangely enchanting fog. None of the agents lowered their weapons, but they made no move to fight against her. They couldn't. She had no weapons and the way she spoke was almost...hypnotic.

"We weren't doing any harm out here," the Sovereign continued, turning to gesture to the huge mansion, still smoking from the battle in the atrium. "We were happily getting on with our lives, keeping to ourselves in this little fandom. There was no tampering of canon at all by us." She moved to stand beside Purity, who crouched in the grass, watching each agent for any signs of movement.

"And then you all came along," Harmony continued, her voice echoing sadness and a longing for peace again. "You broke in and attacked with no justification..."

Purity gave the tiniest of movements, and Harriet gave a gasp as splinters of ice seemed to shoot up from the ground and solidify around her wrists. The cuffs were cold and she could see several agents trying to struggle against their own bonds, but the ice was as solid as steel. Trailing across the floor was a thin glistening line of ice which twinkled like crystal in the moonlight. It reminded Harriet of the trails left behind by snails, and she understood. Harmony had been a distraction while Purity had been busy binding them.

"What will you do?" the leader asked. "Kill us?"

Harmony gave her a look. "Only if you give us reason to. We'd much prefer you alive as prisoners – corpses are so messy."

"You aren't getting away with this!" Ben chose to shout. He shut his mouth very quickly as an icicle shot up from the ground, its sharp point pressed hard into his throat. A few of the girls, including Lily screamed, and Jess began to swear in every language she knew.

"I'm usually polite, but for rudeness to a lady, I will make an exception," Purity hissed, before straightening up and turning to his comrade. "Now Harmony, my dear. If you could please find where Elegance and Passion have run off to, we can see about getting them inside. I'm sure Runoa will be more than happy with her new test subjects."

Harriet went colder than anything the ice could have possibly induced. Test subjects could only be something to do with Immaculation. She remembered the Usurped Sues that they had fought inside and gulped. She couldn't let her Society turn into them!

A shiver ran down her spine like a warm drop of water, and she turned her head, just as a huge explosion ripped through the trees, something shot past the group of bound Society agents, and Purity was picked clean off his feet. He vanished into the darkness before a loud boom shook the forest to its core, and a cloud of smoke rose like a bubble above the trees. The ice around the Society's wrists melted away, and their hair and clothes whipped around in the breeze generated by the powerful engine now hovering above their heads.

"Okay... maybe the missile WAS overkill..." Emily's voice was tinny through the leader's communicator. The Manta descended serenely above the entrance to the mansion, and from the cockpit, Emily waved to the Society happily. As a horrified Harmony turned her gaze back on the group, the eleven year old responded by letting another missile fly. The Sovereign had the sense to throw herself out of the way of the projectile, which impacted on the front of the mansion and exploded into another cloud. Several of the agents staggered to keep their balance as the shockwave turned their legs to jelly.

"RUN AWAY!" Harriet had the sense to yell.

As the wounded and shocked Society turned on its heel and began to flee through the trees, Harriet had a glimpse of Harmony rolling herself over and looking around in a daze. Gulping, the leader yanked her communicator free and screamed into one end.

"Em, we need pickup and fast! Can you land?"

"Negative Harriet," the sounds of laser fire was replaced by engines, as Emily turned the Manta and soared gracefully over their heads. "There's too many trees. Follow me to the clearing and we can pickup there. Can you all make it?"

The leader's eyes cast over her team, running for their lives, supporting each other through limps, burns, gashes and (in some cases) broken bones. Between each tree that loomed ahead and clumps of bushes that threatened to trip them they dodged and forced their way onward. They would make it. They had to.

"Harriet!" It was Rhia panting for breath as she ran. "We'll never load the ship before they catch up to us! We're too slow!"

"Then we need a distraction," the leader yelled back, performing an ungraceful leap to avoid tripping over an exposed tree root. "Something to hold them back while we finish loading."

"None of our attacks are powerful enough!" this time it was Ben yelling. "Even Jess and Willie's flames did nothing to melt that guy's ice! And we can't even fight Harmony properly!"

"No magic then, something to blast them," Harriet said. "Something that'll knock them off their feet like the missiles..."

A metaphorical lightbulb went off over the leader's head.

"Emily, my slaves are in the cargo hold. Tell them Big Mama wants them waiting on the ramp when we get there," she dodged a clump of brambles that threatened to snag her tights. "And tell them to bring the Sexy Beast!"


The massive room began to vibrate, then shake and a chunk of the ceiling gave away, forcing Agents and Sue to scatter away from each other.

Runoa took flight, scowling at the massive energy signature she was feeling. "This can't be him..."

Then the far wall blew inwards, forcing her to dart to the side as something massive came hurtling past, taking out a dozen pillars before careening to a halt and leaving debris, blood and ichor in its wake.

The former Librarian belatedly realized that it was the now-dead corpse of a Godzilla-like Usurped, it's armor-like scales smoking and half-melted together while the spines were bent and twisted. And charred holes perforated the creature's length.

She whirled to the new door the creature had made just in time to see Adrian stride through the smoke and debris, the runes on his arms pulsing slight. "I was wondering when you'd show up...I take it you found Aster, then."

"What? But that's Aster-" Miri's voice died in her throat as the room she was pointing at faded away like a mirage. "She tricked us!"

"Stalling, actually." Runoa commented offhandedly. "Needed a few more bits of information from your little team pet. Children's card games tend to work well for that."

The other Agents growled at her, but her eyes were fixed on Adrian. "Do you really think you can fight me?"

"One punch."

"What?" Her face twisted in a frown.

"That lizard and his pals. That's all it took to get rid of them." Adrian's voice was calm and without hint of pride or arrogance. A man stating a fact.

"Don't be so cocky that your abilities to use magic will save the day. In case you have forgotten, I was Librarian well before you and anything you can do, I can do better." Runoa's armor creaked as she rotated her blade and drove it into the ground, only a small flare of light from the impact point signifying she was using magic.

Adrian didn't move as a dozen stone golems, each three time his width and twice his height, burst from the floor or formed from the debris in a circle around him. Steam billowed from their mouths and light was visible in the backs of their throats as they all began to power up some sort of attack.

One of the runes on his arm faded away.

As the golems' light neared the blinding point, a halo of energy exploded out from Adrian. As it started to bisect the golems, beams lanced up vertically so that as the energy passed through, they were sliced into neat quarters.

Adrian made a gesture with his hand and the ring began to spin, a violet-coloured blur that sucked in the crumbling golems and briefly hid him from view before rising up around him and then flipping vertically, shredding its way to Runoa.

The Sue braced her sword with her cannon arm, the whirling attack shoving her backwards and sparking against her blade before a blast from the cannon blew it to piece of stone and violet energy that crashed to the ground like glass. "You're going to have to do better than-

His eyes flashed violet and her own widened as she whirled just in time to see the energy and stone pull itself together into a hulking streamlined golem that sent her flying away with a backhand the size of a car.

Flipping around in the air, she flapped back to avoid another punch from the golem, she began to charge her cannon as she twisted and blocked blows from the massive construct, her own counterattacks sparking harmlessly off of it.

"You think I'm going to just stand there?" His voice was right behind her.

Runoa felt rather than saw the blast of magic crash into her armour, sending her tumbling to the floor where the golem began to stomp on her, each stomp producing the sound of her armour being broken.

Then golden energy roared to life, blowing apart the golem's foot before she stood up, slapping a palm on its body and then unleashing a roaring wave of ki energy that dissolved the golem into dust.

Adrian didn't bat an eye as she turned to face him, a glare on her face as the floor around her began to crack and shattered because of her aura. "Super Saiyan 3. So you're basically a giant night light now."

"You have a flippant mouth, boy." She vanished and reappeared right in front of him, her punch carrying with it such force that the air was parted in its wake and the wall behind Adrian gained another hole in it.

Violet eyes flicked along the length of her arm, her fist where his head had been. "Dodging is easy if you're that slow." Then he flash-stepped out of sight and reappeared right above her, volleying a rain of silverly-green magic bolts from his palms.

Runoa's returning golden energy blast from her uplifted palm simply swallowed the volley whole and forced Adrian to switch to continuous beam that barely kept her attack from swallowing. "A beam battle with a Super Saiyan? You don't watch enough anime."

"And you leave yourself open." Adrian vanished again and reappeared right in front of her, his palms slamming into her gut as he unleashed the full fury of his attack point-blank.

The wave of energy shredded both floor and ceiling and whatever columns remained while Runoa was staggering and smoking out of it, clutching the mass of burn marks that was her stomach. "Not bad..." She smirked as Adrian emerged out of the smoke cloud, flipping and twisting away from the trio of destructo disks that were chasing after him like demonic buzzsaws. "But I'm better."

The Librarian rolled underneath a partially collapsed pillar, then flipped back over it, a spear of energy striking one of the discs as they followed him and shattering it. Even as the other two spun up at him, a yanking up gesture sent the pillar hurtling in their way, all three items exploding.

Then Runoa's hand clamped down on the back of his head and she flew him into the ceiling face-first, pinning him there without any effort. "Apparently all of your time dead made you arrogant. You nearly died the first time we fought and now I'm several times stronger than I was then. What makes you think you can fight me?"

Hurling him towards the floor, she places her palms together and unleashed the blue and white Kamehaha Wave that slammed into Adrian and swallowed him up in an explosion of energy and light. "I think a little lesson in pain is in order." Charging up a small sphere of light on a fingertip, she flicked into the roiling sphere of energy that had consumed Adrian and watched with a small smirk as it burst skywards, a maelstrom of blue and golden energy that crackled and sparked like like it was going out of style.

The attack finally faded away, the Super Saiyan Sue standing on the edge of the crater the attack had made and smirking. "Let's see how badly charred you are now, Adria-" Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the hole at the base of the crater. "He blasted through to the floor below!"

The realization cam a second too late as floor underneath her gave way and even as she reflexively started to fly, tendrils of shadow lurched free for the darkness and snared around her and yanked her out of view.


"Silly," Harmony muttered, as she and Purity raced through the forest. "They have no hope of outrunning us!" Both Sovereigns looked windswept from the missile attack, and sections of Purity's white skin were a patchy red, which was slowly vanishing as he healed himself.

"Sinners run when angels approach," Purity muttered, sprinting ahead and skidding into the clearing. The Manta sat like a great silver sparrow, less than half the Society still pushing their way up the ramp. The engines hummed, but there was no way they would fire in time to get the vessel off the ground.

Purity flexed his fingers, which seemed to crack like a cube of ice being broken out of a tray. As Harmony landed beside him, he smirked. "No escape now."

"Oh I think you've miscalculated there," a voice quipped from the ramp. As the Sovereigns watched the last of the agents flee up the ramp, Harriet looked smug, surrounded by her legion of scantily clad slaves, a lighter in one hand, and a French beret on her head.

At the end of the ramp, fuse hissing and spitting, was the Canon Cannon, pointed directly at the two Sovereigns.

"You like cold, Purity?" the Society leader asked. "Well my sex is on fire!"

The fuse vanished, and an earth shattering boom exploded from the artillery, the shockwave bursting into the clearing and sending Purity and Harmony flying back into the trees, which snapped over in half like matchsticks. The Canon Cannon had blown itself backwards into the cargo bay, and now lay in a pile of crushed supply boxes, but it had done its job. At Emily's command, the engines fired and lifted the ship and its injured crew off above the tree line, the ramp pulling closed as they rose high into the sky.

"Well canon is frozen," Emily reported from the bridge. "But more importantly, you sent those two Sovereigns flying!" She gave a whoop. "I have the world's coolest mum!"

Harriet, beret still hanging crooked on her head, fought her way through the agents clustered in the cargo bay, and up the ladder into the bridge of the ship. Careful not to press any buttons or switches by accident, Harriet weaved her way to the front, where three swivel chairs were positioned in front of the main control panel. Emily sat in the centre one.

"All agents, find free seats and sit down," Harriet instructed. "Its going to be a bumpy ride! Slaves! Put the Sexy Beast back where it belongs... and then make us all a cup of tea!"

She fell into the co-pilot seat with a huff. "I don't think I need the gym tomorrow anymore."

"Where to, Big Mama?" Emily asked, running the scanners for any signs of the Sovereigns. Suddenly reenergised, Harriet stood up dramatically, her beret slipping off her head as she pointed dramatically out of the windscreen.

"To the mansion! No man gets left behind in the Society! And we still have men in that mansion! Onward my underlings! Onward for glory!"


"Hold on hon," with a monumental rip, Phoenixia tore another strip off the end of her trenchcoat and wrapped it around Aster's body. She had already used all the gauze and bandages that her first aid kit had to offer, and she knew it was not enough. Aster needed proper medical attention and fast.

Sweeping her phone from the pocket of her ripped coat, she hit speed dial. One of her last acts on the computer before she had followed the same path that Adrian had taken, had been to disable the interference preventing all communicator and plothole generator activity. She hoped that Emily was still parked in the clearing. The Manta was designed so that no plothole, portal or temporal activity of any kind could open within the ship whilst it was in flight – a precaution designed to stop ambush, which she knew could prove a life or death hindrance now.

"Nixie! You're alive!"

"Em, I have Aster," Phoenixia interrupted, before Emily could celebrate. "She needs urgent medical attention. Are you parked?"

"No. There are Sovereigns all over the ground. We only just got away. I can't put down safely."
Phoenixia swore.

"Bring her to us!" Emily was urging.

"I can't! I can't outrun Sovereigns, and I won't make it out of the building in time!"

As if waiting for her panic to bubble up, the hissing voice returned in the back of her mind.

"Look at all that blood... she's not going to last. All your hard work. All that blood on your hands... and it's all in vain. She's slipping! Look at her go!"

Frantic, Phoenixia pressed two fingers against Aster's neck. Her pulse was still there, not as strong as it should have been, but still there.

"Nixie? Nixie!"

Emily's voice could not penetrate the hysterical laughter. Time was ticking away, and Phoenixia was letting it go. She was too slow to catch up to it... too slow to help...

An explosion rocked the room and she overbalanced onto her back. A small cloud of dust floated down from the ceiling.

The fight was nearby...Adrian, Tash, Michael...they were all faster than her...Phoenixia sat upright, one hand wrapping tightly around Aster's wrist. They were close by. If she could get Aster to them, they could get her out of the building and past all of the Sovereigns within a minute – and Michael or Tash could fly or lift her up to the Manta, without the ship ever needing to touch the ground.

The voice was drowned out by sheer determination, as Phoenixia scooped Aster into her arms as gently as she could, and took off from the room.

"Circle overhead Em," she yelled into her communicator as another explosion almost sent her and Aster sprawling again. "Aster's coming! Just hold on!" She hung up, and continued toward the screams of battle.


"Phoenixia says-"

"I heard! I heard!" Harriet assured her charge, already hurrying to the ladder that led up to the bridge and laying on her stomach with her head dangling through the hatch. "OI! UNDERLING KNOWN AS AIMEE! LEAVE THE TREATING TO MIRI! ASTER'S ON HER WAY! SHE NEEDS A DOCTOR!"


A steaming mug, and a pair of heavy looking black binoculars appeared under her nose, the slave below her stretched up with an eager smile. "Your tea and binoculars Big Mama!"

Satisfied, Harriet took them both and patted him on the head, before getting up off her stomach and taking a dignified looking sip of her tea.

"We're circling over the mansion now," Emily reported. "What do we do?"

Harriet paused in her sipping to look thoughtful, as the mansion rolled below the ship.

"When British!" she finally declared. "We keep calm, carry on, and drink tea!"

She threw the binoculars to Emily. "Keep your eyes peeled my dear. They won't be long."



The Assistant Librarian whirled as Phoenixia skidded to a halt beside her, and she could not escape the gasp of horror at the limp form in her arms.


"I can't get onto the Manta," the ex-hologram was speaking rapidly. "Its circling overhead. There are Sovereigns in the forest. You and Michael are the only ones who can reach it."

She held out her arms, offering the battered fae to the leader. Tash frowned. Her instinct was screaming to stay and help Adrian and her friends in the fight. But she was a leader, and she knew she had to take the responsibility of one now. She was the fastest person there – Michael was stronger and would be more help in the battle than she, and (most importantly she realised) Aster was in dire need of blood, and Tash's own blood type was a perfect match for the fae.

Tearing her eyes away from the fight that raged nearby, she nodded firmly and scooped Aster into her own arms – she felt horribly light, as though all her blood was gone already, and she tucked her wings behind her back.

"Michael!" she bellowed over the sound of battle. "If any of you die here, I'll kill you! Is that clear?"

Her brother saluted, and the Assistant Librarian vanished from the room.


Leaves and branches scattered apart as Zero and Elegance locked blades, then leapt apart even as a knife flew from the Sovereign's free hand.

The rogue Stu simply produced another violet blade, deflecting the knife inches from his heart. "You seem quite keen on killing me in one stroke. That's hardly any fun."

There was no response she simply vanished back into the darkness of the trees, barely a rustle of the leaves to mark her light-footed passage.

"You never were one for small talk..." Zero muttered to himself, relaxing and letting his sixth sense guide him. It proved effective as knives volleyed from both left and right. He rolled and twisted, deflecting the blades that didn't miss before he had to jump into a tree to avoid the final strike. "Should have never gotten you that package of throwing knives for Christmas..."

Then the ground rumbled and he spared a moment's glance back towards the mansion as a titanic beam of light speared skywards. "I was right, they don't know what they're doing...sure put on a good show, though."


"Hang on Aster..." Tash whispered, her grip on her friend tight as she race out of the mansion doors and into the forest. She shivered – the forest wasn't just dark. It was almost possible to feel the malevolence. There were Sovereigns out here.

As the trees loomed, she spread her wings and the speed of the flashstep propelled her up into the sky. Peering left and right, she caught sight of a flash of silver, and she whirled toward it.

A shaft of ice rocketed into the sky, missing her by a few inches. Screaming, Tash flailed in midair and just about righted herself as a blast of icy wind buffeted her from below.

Something silver and loud screeched past her, and the trees below exploded into a fireball. Icy wind no longer an obstacle, Tash turned to see the Manta on approach, a smoky trail leading from it – Emily had set a missile off, it seemed. Relieved, Tash sped towards the incoming ship, and up the open ramp at the back.

"Medics!" she roared, as the ramp closed up behind her and a crush of Society agents began to push towards her. Several people gasped and screamed as they recognised their friend in the leader's arms, and as she pushed her way into the small cabin at the back of the cargo bay, Harriet and Aimee barged their way in after her.

"Injury?" Harriet asked briskly, and Tash pointed to the largest and most open wound of the lot. The leader wore a grim expression, as she and Aimee began rummaging through their limited medical supplies. Tash ripped off her trenchcoat and pulled up the sleeve of her shirt.

"However much you need," she said, as Harriet's eyes flicked between the fae and her outstretched arm. "Take it! We're matching types."

Worried, but nodding, Harriet handed the bandages and injections to Aimee, before rummaging around for the tourniquet and a sterile needle. There was no time to take iron levels or worry about how much blood Tash had lost in the fight. Aster needed help, or she wouldn't make it back to the Library.

"Where are the others?" she asked, wiping the disinfectant over the crook of Tash's arm.

"Fighting," the leader reported. "Everyone's alive, but Runoa..." she trailed off, shivering again. "They'll be fine. Just keep Aster alive until they get back."


Claire and Miri stared at the scene of the conflict, the Agents small hideaway near a few collapsed pillars miraculously untouched. "Is it over?"

"Not a chance." Michael replied grimly, nursing his wounds. "Runoa is too stubborn a bitch to be taken out by an attack like that."

As if to prove his point, a section of the floor near them practically evaporated with golden energy as Runoa flew through it, grappling with Adrian who crackling and flaring with a violet aura and the girls screamed. The pair careened into and through several pillars, the ceiling and then totalled Runoa's throne before a combined blast from both them sent them smashing into the floor yards apart.

Runoa recovered first, her massive head of hair smoking from a few of the spike tips while her shirt was now a tattered mess with only enough left to cover the necessary bits, while her pants were much the same. Her eyes narrowed as she flexed the fingers of her left hand. "Had enough yet?"

"No." Adrian pried himself free of the impact crater he had made. His hair was the colour of ash where it wasn't burned and a scar alongside his cheek let blood flow freely down his neck. His clothes were in better condition, but he favoured his right leg slightly. His left was smoking.

"You may be creative with your magic, Adrian, but it's no use. I can do all that you can do and I have access to far more powers than you do." Runoa didn't even blink as he thrust out his hand and made an arcane gesture with them, a rune on his left arm fading away. Six pillars of light erupted from the ground at various angles and interlocked and crisscrossed around her, sealing her movement.

Then her golden aura flared once, twice and shattered them. "I see...those runes are working like magical bullets. You stored the energy for the spell in them and can trigger them when you like. An effective way to fight without exerting your own strength all the time..." Another rune faded and this time, three halos formed around at her odd angles, but a swift swipe of her hand blew them all to dust. "But the catch is you can't add any more energy to the spells once you put them in rune. They aren't strong enough to contain me."

"Distracting you works just as well." Adrian held up his left hand, finishing the movements and a new rune of blue appeared in the air in front of him while at the same his right finished a different set and a golden rune appeared on the ground beneath his predecessor.

"You can cast more than one at once!" Runoa had wasted her time to react with that exclamation, however as the golden rune flared and then magic looped around her wrists, snapping her arms to her sides and locking them there. Then a blue light appeared above her head, releasing four beams trace a square around side the gold rune before snapping into place as a clear pyramid. "What are you doing!"

"Those golden handcuffs you are sporting act as a seal on your power and feed it back on itself endlessly." He watched her aura flared several times, but failed to do anything. "The pyramid is simply a mirror-like cage that will reflect the explosion the feedback causes back at you."

All Runoa had time to do was look horrified before light erupted violently from her body, flaring and crashing the pyramid seal before it became one continuous blinding glare. The Agents shielded their eyes while Adrian just stared at it calmly. A minute of this passed and then the pyramid shattered into fragments, the light erupting upwards like a geyser.

"She was stronger than I thought." Adrian commented and didn't look surprised as the light finally faded and Runoa staggered out. Her clothing was utterly gone and her golden hair was falling off her form in chunks or evaporating away with each movement. Her breath came in heaves as she fixed a death glare on Adrian, her body scorched and burnt. For a few seconds, it looked like she was going to transform back to into her Super Sayian 3 form as the golden aura flared once, then twice. But then it faded completely and she collapsed to one knee.

"C...clever bastard..." Runoa admitted. "But... do... do... you really think... that was the extent of my copied powers?"

"It doesn't matter if you die!" Adrian flash-stepped towards her, a sword of violet energy forming in his hand. It hurtled down towards her head, but before it could impact, her eyes flashed brightly and Adrian was sent hurtling away.

He crashed, rolled and tumbled along the floor before managing to get to his feet and skid to a stop. "What have you...?" His eyes narrowed at what he saw. "So that's it."

"Yes." Runoa was surrounded by a white aura of flame as she straightened, her eyes glowing golden and behind her was the a shadowy outline of some massive humanoid figure, easily a dozen times larger than any of the humans in the room. "I'm a Harmonixer."

"So you defeat demonic or divine entities and take their souls into yours and take their powers." Adrian flung out a hand and a dozen violet beams of light followed the action as they sprang out of the thin air around him.

"In a manner of speaking." The lights simply impacted harmlessly on the aura she was producing. "My copying isn't perfect. So I had to pick and choose the most powerful deity that was worth defeating." A sharp smile. "And lo, and behold, your little Aster's insane pain-induced rants led me to a rather powerful one."

The aura died down, as did the apparition and in doing so, revealed her body healed and a new white version of her previous outfit clothing her. Her eyes flared pure white. "I posses more power than a god."

"So what?" Adrian began to march towards her, the remaining runes on his left arm fading away. In response, a dozen complex rings and seals of all shapes and sizes appeared in various spots behind him, equally large creatures beginning to pull themselves free of them- a titanic armor-plated dragon, a flaming phoenix made purely of white flames, a great spiked serpent who's scales glittered like diamond and more. "I kill gods for a living. You're just another body on the pile."


"Okay, les'see..." Zero muttered to himself as he strode down the darkened hallway. It was surprisingly quiet for the amount of chaos he knew was going on outside. He had barely even been able to see the little golden dragon when she arrived, though she made it pretty clear that she had allowed him to hear her approach. Speaking mind to mind, Zero decided, was an interesting experience indeed.

"Alright then," he said. "Adrian's gone slightly batshit, but Val and the others should be able to take care of that. That means Runoa's being kept busy, any Sovereigns hanging around are otherwise occupied, and..." he peered through a set of doors that looked thoroughly smashed down. The only thing visible by the dim green light of the computers was a man in a mauve shirt, and he was quite obviously (and creatively) dead. "...and it looks like they've picked up the fae. Perfect."

He left the room and jogged off, running for the lower levels where he knew Passion kept a respectable supply of explosives. "Now for the grand finale..."


"This is insane..." Monika whispered out. The Eizenbern mansion was more than half gone and Val's group was standing on the edge of what had been an upper hallway was they stared out at the battle taking place down below. Alongside them, the corpse of Adrian's serpent summon sprawled out like a twisted slide.

Adrian vanished as Runoa's energy blast cratered the ground where he had been, only for him to reappear atop the head of his dragon summon even as the phoenix dive-bombed Runoa, wreathing the white-clad woman in a mushroom cloud of black fire. As a flare of white lightning ripped through the cloud and scattered the screaming phoenix into vapour, a beam of light tore a trench through the earth as it slammed into Runoa, hurtling her skywards where the six-armed archangel descended on her.

The team braced themselves as the shock-waves from the traded blows kicked up debris and made their clothes billow and it was only Ari's intervention with a slash of her claws that destroyed a piece of timber that would have hit Valerie. "It isn't safe here!"

"It's safer here than anywhere else!" Terrie pointed up at the giant storm overhead, the clouds as black as pitch. Lightning arced and danced between them crazily. "That storm isn't natural. It strikes anything that moves."

"I think it's just Runoa..." Valerie watched as the ex-Librarian ripped a pair of the angel's arms off, skewering it on its own weapons and letting it fall. A second later, lightning flashed near her. She twisted and turned, even generating a barrier to block bolts until one caught her from behind and sent her spiralling after the angel. "At least, I hope it is..."


Runoa managed to right herself before she hit the ground, only to get shoved back a dozen yards as another beam slammed into her. Whirling to face the dragon, the apparition of the god she had absorbed appeared behind her, the apparition and dragon slamming together as they locked palms and grappled with one another. There could never be a contest between a god and a dragon, and the apparition seized the great beast's neck and with a sickening crack it had pulled it clean off, tugging harder still and ripping its spine free of the rest of its body before tossing it casually away.

"These are my gods!" the Sue proclaimed. "And this is my victo-"

There was a snap and the area was flooded with light so blinding that everyone was forced to cover their eyes. Cruising above the ruined building was the Manta, lights blazing down onto the battlefield.

"Sorry!" That was Harriet's voice, loud and clear over some kind of loudspeaker. "Someone sat on a button!"

On the ground, everyone faceplanted into the rubble, even as the ship's lights dimmed to a more tolerable level.

"Well at least it wasn't the Emergency Water Landing Button..." Phoenixia muttered to herself, as she got up again. She frowned as she saw the Darkness had vanished, leaving an exhausted Michael to be supported by his fiancé and sister. The ex-hologram watched the fight in worry. What was wrong with Adrian? Why didn't he just stop the fight and focus on getting them out of there?

The lights had at least had one positive outcome – the apparition seemed to scream in agony as though the beams of light were the hottest flames, and with a burst of energy it vanished into wisps of smoke behind Runoa. The former Librarian seethed.

"That won't stop m-"

The earth seemed to rumble beneath her as a giant hand slammed into the ground, sending up huge chunks of floor and earth into the air. Runoa jumped clear and whirled to see the last summon – a giant diamond golem – turning its huge form towards her.

"He saved the best for last," she thought, before smirking and twisting toward her new target. "But that thing is nowhere near him! I can kill him now and end this!"

Energy pooled in her cupped hands like a warm bubble and she aimed at the glowing aura of the kitty eared Librarian...

The wind was knocked painfully out of her lungs as a massive pair of arms seemed to encircle her and squeeze. Diamond glittered in the Sue's peripheral vision.

"Damn! That thing is fast!" She winced as she felt two of her ribs crack.

"Finish her!" Adrian was yelling, but Runoa was ahead of him, slipping out of the creature's grasp and blasting the ground beneath its feet. With a roar the creature vanished into the gaping abyss below and the former Librarian landed some feet away, favouring her left side.

"Arrogant child!" she spat blood onto the ground. "You don't get rid of me that easily!"

"I never expected to," Adrian's smile was sinister, and only now did Runoa register his stance – crouched on the ground and focusing on the floor. Her eyes travelled around the battlefield and she saw what he had been doing.

From a point of light not far from her, a single silvery blade shot towards her, stabbing deep into her side and sending a spray of blood arcing into the air. Another light seemed to gleam and a second blade plunged through her wrist, sending droplets of red dotting the ground as two more blades speared her other wrist and ankle like harpoons. Glowing chains of white energy were attached to the end of the blades, and even as another two flew towards her they were tugging and forcing her to the ground. Snarling, Runoa tried to blast them, but the chains seemed to wrench of their own accord and she crashed to the ground in a bloody heap.

"He's got her!" on the upper floor of the building, Danielle could barely contain her excitement.

"Wait, it's not over yet," Valerie shook her head, shivering as though someone had walked over her grave.

As Runoa lifted her head, six portal seemed to swirl into life around her – they were black holes of energy and pure malevolence that caused everyone to shiver. For the first time that evening Runoa felt fearful.

"The Six Ravenous Mouths! How did he learn something this powerful?"

In one single movement they seemed to expand like hungry sets of jaws and Runoa felt pain for the first time – her flesh was tearing away from her body, sucked towards the six mouths in small bloody chunks. The layers of her skin peeled away and her wounds began to bleed afresh once more as her body began to erode away like termites were feasting on her. She would die slowly as she was painfully ripped apart tiny piece by tiny piece.

"No! I have not come this far to be stopped now!"

"You damn lapdog!" she spat, even as she felt more of her skin tear away. "So what if you kill me? There will be another! There always is, and you just perpetuate the cycle!"

She gave a laugh that sounded more triumphant than anything anyone had ever heard. "A hero who murders and kills. The only reason what you do is heroic is because the winners write the history books! Any good Librarian knows that!"

"Right and wrong aren't determined by winners!" the Librarian's rage permeated the air. "There is just good and evil in this world. And evil like you deserves nothing but death!"

Runoa's only response was to laugh again. "Death? You would kill me, Adrian? You couldn't even kill someone as pathetic as Willowe Foxblade!" she lifted her head and locked eyes with him. "SO HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY KILL YOUR OWN MOTHER?"


High above in the sky, Runoa's words rung through the Manta.

Most of the Society were still sitting in the cargo hold, with no way to view the fight below. But they had still heard everything. Not a single one of them dared to move, afraid that if they did they might make it true in some way.

So focused was she on the battle below, that Emily almost forgot that she was still steering, and she made another hasty circle while her free hand scrabbled for the ship's intercom.

"Hati did you hea-"

"Loud and clear," Harriet interrupted, her bloody hands shaking as they remained paused in the action of replaced the bandage on Aster's limp form. The fae's major wound had been temporarily stitched, but she was still soaking bandages fast, and a second bag was attached to the tube leading from Tash's arm. The Assistant Librarian was perfectly still in her chair, and had forgotten to keep squeezing her hand to keep the blood flow going.

"Tashy?" Harriet squeezed her friend's knee, the combination of her fair skin, blood loss and shock combining to make her look deathly pale.

"Adrian..." tears were springing into Tash's eyes. "Oh God..."


There was not a single sound. Even the engines of the Manta up above seemed to have fallen silent. The portals hummed away, still drawing tiny pieces of Runoa into them, but no one was paying them any attention any more – not even Adrian. The Librarian's eyes were fixed on the Sue chained to the floor, not a single muscle twitching...

Something hard and painful collided with the back of his head and Adrian went sprawling to the ground. The portals winked out of sight leaving Runoa to slump against the ground. The top two layers of her skin were completely eaten away, and she was bleeding profusely. Still she managed to lift her head enough to see Order deliver another blow to the shocked and dazed Librarian.

Over on the sidelines, Phoenixia had not moved from where she stood, her hands covering her mouth in sick horror.

"Oh God..." she thought to herself. "Oh God! I knew he'd find out sooner or later, but I didn't think this soon..."

"Fuck!" Michael broke the spell of silence that everyone had been placed under. "Is she serious?"

Phoenixia could barely bring herself to nod, but she managed it, and Michael swore again as Order delivered another staggering blow to Adrian's side. Magic flared around the Librarian's body and in a blast of magic the Sovereign was thrown backwards and staggered over to the ground. Leaping to his feet, Adrian blurred into flashstep and rushed towards Order, but the Sovereign punched the out and the air seemed to warp around his fist into a razor sharp point, which hurtled towards him. Adrian flung himself out of the way and the attack gouged a huge chunk out of the ground behind him.

Lightning leaped from the clouds and struck where Order had been standing, but the Sovereign was too fast and seemed to vanish into thin air. Skidding out of flashstep, Adrian whirled, fire swarming into his hands as Order reappeared beside him, fist raised ready to strike. Flames met flesh and the two combatants vanished in the middle of the blazing fireball. With their caster now busy, Runoa had begun sliding the chained blades one by one from her body leaving a messy trail of blood in their wake.

"Useless!" Order snapped to his opponent. "You are just an obstacle in the way of Lady Runoa's plan!"

"Well you're just another grave to dig!" the Librarian snapped back, a cocktail of water, lightning and fire circling him as though in a dance. Flipping away, Order snapped into a series of kicks, each generating another blade of wind which sliced through the air towards the Librarian. A tidal wave of water ploughed through the attack and towards the Sovereign, who vanished once more, leaving the waves to splash harmlessly against the ground and turn the earth to thick mud.

Snarling Adrian pulled back his arm to fling a lightning bolt towards the Sovereign, only to catch something in the corner of his eye. Just in time, he flung himself into an acrobatic flip which missed the ball of fiery energy by an inch. Runoa was on her feet again, charging another attack and ready for another round.

No sooner had he landed, when wind and raw energy slammed into the Librarian from both sides as Sue and Sovereign attacked in the blink of an eye. Everything burned under the might of Runoa's attack and the razor sharp wind sliced at his flesh like knives into butter. When the Librarian emerged from the blast he was a bloody and battered mess.

"Pathetic!" Runoa was hissing, a soft glow appearing behind her as the Gate of Babylon slowly open enough for her to reach in and slowly withdraw one of the swords. "Even sad, snivelling little Aster lasted longer than this!" She lifted the weapon above her head, the light of the gate causing the blade to shine. "Go to hell!"

As the blade came down Adrian's battle weary eyes snapped open with blood curling fierceness, glowing a violent red in the darkness of the night.

The word leapt from Adrian's lips.

No one heard the world, but everyone felt it. It pushed at their very beings, their souls, tugging and searing and attempting to consume them in a flash. For a endless moment, their existences were nothing but the fire that was everything they knew.

And then it was gone, like it had never been there, except the Agents were sprawled on their backs, all of them panting furiously and their eyes wide as their brains tried to make sense of what happened.

Valerie was the first to recover. "Wha... what..." She took several deep breaths and let them out slowly, centring herself enough to sit up. Which in turn made her eyes widen.

What had been the battlefield and forest where Runoa and Adrian had been fighting was now a charred wasteland for miles. The forest, the river, they very stone, anything that had been above ground level was just gone. All that remained was a flat surface of ash and Valerie swallowed in fear as she realized the only reason they were still there was that Adrian had had his back to the mansion when he said the word.

There was a hard cracking sound and the healer glanced out to see the Gate Babylon was still in the air, but cracks were spreading all along its surface was whatever blades were sticking out of it fell to the ground. Runoa herself emerged from the Gate, her white aura and clothes gone and leaving her bare. Grabbing a pair of blades from the falling apart Gate, she began to advance on her son.

Adrian, for his part was down on both knees, panting furiously. But at the sight of Runoa moving towards him, he jerked back to his feet and relaxed his posture as best he could. As Val watched, the light around him seemed to distort and warp before transforming into a glimmering blade.

"Word... of Power..." Phoenixia's voice made Valerie jump as she forced herself to a standing position by leaning on some debris, the sniper rifle clutched in her hand. Her face was twisted in anger. "That... fucking idiot..."

"A Word of Power?" Valerie moved over to help the older woman, who was obviously in pain and her body's regeneration hadn't kicked in to fix whatever was paining her. But the ex-hologram waved her away.

"Ultimate magic..." She straightened and checked her rifle. "He said 'Fire' a moment ago and it literally was the concept of fire. But you can't control something like that... no one has ever used a Word of Power fully..."

"You mean... it's full power did this?" Val was horrified at the thought of a single word doing this much devastation in an instant.

"No." Phoenixia shook her head. "No one has ever lived long enough to pronounce a complete Word of Power before, meaning we don't know what they are. Which is good, because even a partially complete Word can crack a planet." She shifted hr gaze down to where Runoa and Adrian where trading blows. "He said the first syllable."


"I must say, I'm impressed." Runoa caught Adrian's blade in a cross and they pushed against one another. "Using a Word of Power to try and kill me. Even I never attempted such a thing as Librarian. Quite daring of you, my child."

"Like I care what you think!" Adrian broke the lock and began to rain hammer-like blows at her which she deftly blocked or parried.

"Oh, but you should." She trapped a low sweep of his weapon with her own and elbowed him in the face, following it with the pommel of her weapon. It sent him reeling back a few steps and spitting blood. "You've turned out well. I'm pleased."

"Good for you." Adrian recovered in time to block a decapitating swing and retaliated with a burst of magic that shoved her back a yard and his furious downward slash sent one of her blades spiraling away. "But I certainly don't need praise from the likes of you. No matter what you say, you're no mother at all."

She seemed unperturbed by the loss of her weapon as they fought, but seemed content to block and defend herself rather than go on the attack. "I never wanted to be one. I didn't want a child. I wanted a subject."

"What did you say!" Adrian side-stepped a blow, deflecting with his blade and then dropping it. Grabbing her sword wrist, he wrenched it aside and back, breaking it and prompting a cry of pain from Runoa. Using the broken arm as leverage, he started yank her into a lock...only for Order's fist to slam the side of his face and sent him tumbling end over end.

"Thank you, Order." Runoa straightened and despite the pain her broken arm was giving her, stood confidently with a smirk on her face. "You heard me. You are my subject for an experiment that has been a long, long time in the making."

"So what?" Adrian got to his feet and flung a fireball at her, only for Order to leap in and swat the thing aside with contempt. "Whatever my origins, I choose who I am!"

"Except that you didn't." She chuckled softly. "Everything that happened to you before you become Librarian was my doing to get you to turn out how I wanted."

"Before I became..." He growled and clenched his fists. "What do you know about my past!"

A delicate eyebrow was lifted. "You mean... you don't remember?" Her chuckle became a laugh. "Marvelous!"

"I don't see what you're laughing about." His eyes narrowed. "If I don't remember it, then it doesn't affect me, does it? Meaning whatever you were trying to do failed!"

"Are you so sure about that, hmmmm?" She raised an questioning eyebrow at him. "For all you know, that's how I wanted it...and that everything you do and have done plays into my hand. Forever my puppet, my plaything and there's not a thing you can do about it, child. You have been nothing more than my experiment since the moment you were born."

"You...!" Adrian flash-stepped at the pair, but Order's fist and the razor wind it generated caught him before he made it halfway. He tumbled back in a spray of blood.

"I do suppose it must hurt to learn your life is nothing at all. But the experiment isn't over, son, so do take some solace in the fact that you have worth in that regard." Runoa turned to leave. "Order, we're leaving. I've had my fill of fighting today. Any more and I might actually lose."

"You're... not... going anywhere!" Adrian got to his feet, his eyes blazing. "This ends right here, right now! You won't get near me or my friends ever again!"

"And just how are you doing to do that...?" Her head craned over her shoulder and then eyes widened as she saw the air around him grow denser and a pressure began to apply itself to her soul. "Another Word!"

Then something barked and Adrian screamed as a bullet blew out his kneecap, pitching him to that knee.

"What?" Runoa lifted her head to see Phoenixia kneeling with her sniper rifle raised and then was forced to jump back as a pair of bullets narrowly missed her feet, a third clipping her neck. "You again..."

Adrian coughed hard, body shuddering, but he began to push himself back to his feet. Violet energy began to spark around his body "I'll kill you!" He swayed... staggered...

Then a swirling rainbow set of lights opened in front of him and another round slammed into his shoulder blade and pitched him forwards into it.


Phoenixia collapsed from exhaustion as the portal opened in the air above the hall floor, spilling out the battered Librarian. "Bastard..."

He ignored her, however as he was already clambering back to his feet, eyes burning with rage.

Valerie winced at the blood-hot rage and bloodlust that was blazing off of him, as well the increasing intensity of the crackling energy. "We have to calm him down!"

"On it!" Michael and the Darkness leapt into action, tendrils wrapping around Adrian's limbs. But to their surprise, he simply yanked on them and reeled Michael in for a punch to the face that nearly dropped the Chief Agent like a sack of cement.

"He's half-dead... and he still fights like this?" Michael winced as the crackling energy around Adrian's form drove away the tentacles, but he caught the second punch and wrenched Adrian's arm around his back, pinning him to the wall. "Take a nap, bro!"

A snarl was his only response and Adrian slammed his head into Michael, freeing himself. As Michael staggered back, Adrian whirled and caught by him the throat with a growl.

"He doesn't recognize us! He's too focused on killing Runoa!"

"Adrian, calm down!" Valerie cried, attempting to take his arm. However, she was shoved backwards into Terrie's and Stacey's arms as soon as the Librarian felt contact. Michael struggled under the Librarian's iron grip. "Adrian, stop this! You know us!"


Everyone, including the Librarian, froze on the spot.

The voice was not loud, barely a conversational tone. But it somehow commanded the attention of every single person present.

Monika stepped forward, blue eyes glinting.

"Adrian," she said in a voice that was both gentle and unbreakably strong, a voice that seemed to echo with the magnitude of the power it carried, "You know who we are. We are not your enemies."

Adrian stared at Monika, but he did not lose his crazed expression. Without releasing the Chief Agent, he turned toward the blonde.

Valerie darted out from her friends' hold and took Monika by the shoulders, extending her power as far as it would go.

"You have allowed anger to cloud your mind. This is not who you are." Monika felt an odd pressure building up within her, but ignored it. Instead, she took the feelings of calm and peace that Valerie was passing to her and projected all of it right at Adrian. "The goal of this mission was to rescue Aster," she said, "and you have not yet completed your goal. Do not lose your focus, Librarian."

"Don't lose my-" Adrian blinked as the red haze slowly broke down under the smothering wave of serenity. Michael twisted out of his grip, coughing harshly, but the Librarian didn't seem to notice.

"Where is Aster, Adrian?"

"But he... and then Runoa... I have to-"

"Is - your mission - complete?"

Adrian actually took a step backward under the force of that voice, that sound. "I left her wrapped in my coat," he insisted, suddenly sounding extraordinarily like a child. "She... I didn't...... oh man..."

"Whoa! Take it easy buddy," Michael caught his friend as Adrian stumbled sideways. "She's safe. You're alright... So are we, for that matter..."

"Oh god my head!" Monika fell to her knees, clutching her skull in pain. Valerie released her connection with her friend, jumping away as though burned and looking rather shocked. Terrie quickly rushed towards the blonde and peered into one eye at a time.

"Backlash," she diagnosed grimly. She and Stacey helped Monika stand up while Danielle looked on worriedly. "Come on. You need rest."


Runoa watched as the Manta pulled away from the ruined mansion's edge. One powerful attack and she blow the entire Society out of the sky right here and now. The annoying irritants that they were gone in a flash.

But she made no move to do so. She needed them alive for the moment. Her plans depended on them and their battles with her, after all.

As the Manta executed a slow, hovering turn, she could see the boarding ramp was still down and standing on the ramp, holding onto a support strut, was a single figure. And even from this distance, she could feel the burning look she was getting from them.

She simply smiled back darkly. If the Society where the gears that drove her machinations, then this series events would have certainly provided enough grease to get them spinning faster than before. Barreling down a road that had no end save the one she wanted.

"My lady?" Order was standing a respectful distance behind her, but she knew that he had a look of irritation on his face. He was practical and probably wanted to eliminate the Society now. "What is our next move?"

"We're leaving..." She watched as even the Manta vanished through a plothole, a series of explosions began to rip through her base and then the mansion, sending gouts of flame into the air. The loss of all her research, technology and even whatever Usurped remained inside was nothing. Just another move in the game. "Things need to be attended to and it will be interesting to see what the Society's reaction will be after this..."

"We should remain on the offensive." The Sovereign's voice was firm. "Keep them unbalanced and on guard and we'll either kill them or break them."

"Oh, they will have a war, Order." She turned and began to walk away, a plothole swirling open in front of them. "But it will be on my terms... and when it is over, my grandest experiment will have changed the very nature of the universe itself and even my son will kneel at my feet..."


The darkness was broken by faint dots of light that swelled and connected, forming into a vague, opaque view of blurry blobs and every movement was slow, sluggish and felt as if every square inch of his body weighed a hundred times what it did. It was only after a few bubbles drifted by, clearer than anything in his vision that Adrian realized where he was.

I'm in a healing tank. It had been ages since the Librarian had been in one; either his natural healing, Phoenixia's expertise surgery or the raw wash of healing magic that had patched his wounds and restored his life to him. The last time he had been in one, bacteria and nanites had ravaged his nervous system to the point where that it would have killed him to use magic or surgery.

Performing a blink that felt like each eyelid was a dozen pounds; the Librarian slowly twisted his head and tried to focus a bit more. The blobs resolved into blurry-edged objects - a table nearby, the monitoring station for the tank and a chair with a figure seated at it and leaning over what he supposed was a book.

A breath of recycled air told him he had a breathing mask strapped to his face and as an ear twitch, he chuckled a bit. "We have plenty of fresh air to pump in, yet we never seem to find time to make the switch."

Only because you do not do it. Phoenixia's voice was as clear as a bell, but he 'felt', rather than 'heard' it and surmised that she was sending vibrations through the mask rather than go to the effort to hook up a waterproof speaker.

"Well, it's not like anyone else uses this tank. Or at least, it was that way. Thankfully, we haven't had need of it yet..." He twisted his head a bit, trying to determine which room they were in, but finding nothing to set it apart from his original adjective of 'non-descript'. "Where are we...?"

A small, out of the way room. The Healing Wing is rather full and after surgery, I didn't want to risk you healing naturally. The blob that was Phoenixia twisted a bit and apparently cast an eye at him. And some conversations are meant to be private.

"And this conversation would be..."

You know damn well what it's about, Adrian. Don't pull that kind of act with me.

"It was a battle and a chance to end the fighting sooner rather than later. You know what happens if we fail to take advantage of a chance like that."

Not when you use a fucking Word of Power! You KNOW better than to even do that, Adrian! You could have killed not only Runoa, but me and Tash and everyone else in the Society!

He bristled and reflexively drew himself up as best he could in his current condition. "Nothing else I was throwing at her was working! She's the most dangerous enemy we have at the moment and the sooner she's in the ground, the better!

And are you willing to risk everything for that! You could have blown up the planet! Not to mention you certainly weren't thinking your moves through! You both were throwing around magic like punches in a bar brawl!

"You saw what she did to Aster! What she was going to the others!"

You lost your cool and everything else!

"I may have overreacted, but anyone else would have done the same!

Was it because you were upset or was it because it was Aster? Phoenixia rounded on him in her chair and despite not seeing her eyes; he could feel the heat of her look.

Adrian narrowed his eyes back. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Bullshit. You've always been protective of her. And when you found like that, something inside you gave way, didn't it? She stood and moved in front of his tank, folding her arms.

"What are you..."

You're getting swallowed by the fight, Adrian. You aren't Adrian anymore, you're the Librarian, the hero, the fighter, the guardian. But you're not a man anymore. Just a position, a title. You came back from the dead not even twenty-four hours ago and you lead a mission into enemy territory and come back with a foot back in your grave! Her voice became cooler, softer. Aster was the last link to the man you were, the innocence...

"You're talking out of turn. I am not-"

"You never would have ordered her on the recon so soon if you weren't so focused on your fight. And had it been anyone else, you never would have tried to use a Word of Power."

Rather than argue or accept the point, he dropped it. "Even if you are right, it's fine. This fight has no conclusive ending, there's always evil to fight. And always the need for soldiers. If I can take the roll of a hundred or a thousand and let them have their lives, then I will."

Her voice sharpened again. Delude yourself however you like.

"How dare you! You know what I've done, what we've had to do and you should-"

I DO FUCKING KNOW, YOU BASTARD! The 'shout' would have blown Adrian off his feet had that been possible, but instead he felt his head pound harshly for a moment and his body ache deep in his bones. She couldn't have shocked him any better if she had struck him.

A few beats passed between the pair, Adrian silently trying to cope with the pain in his body and not showing it and Phoenixia trying to calm down – he could see her tugging at the braid or length of hair or whatever style she was in to keep her temper.

Finally, she found her composure and continued to speak, softly but with an undercurrent of steel that could have forged the sharpest sword. I have known, walked and held you through the last thousand years. Time and again, you dive into the trenches and pull out miracle after miracle, victory and sacrifice. And everytime, you stem the tide, but only for a brief moment.

And every victory, every war, every death pulls you farther and farther away from Adrian the person and more into Adrian the fighter, the hero, the sword. You don't see yourself as a person, but as a role. Hero, lover, teacher, guide, counsellor. You live in these momentary roles, but never weave them together.

"Sacrifices have to be made and if I can take that burden off of others, then-"

No! NO! NO NO! No more martyr! She growled, stepping closer to the tank and staring straight at him. It wouldn't have been surprising had the tank fogged up from the heat of her glare.

That's all you do... sacrifice and give and fight and fight some more. Her fist clenched. That's why you joined the Society, to be a soldier in another fight so you can learn a new threat and deal with it so they didn't have to. She placed her palm against the glass and he knew her well enough that she longed to just hold him in her arms.

He was silent, though whether because he was formulating a response to her words or processing them or just trying to ignore them.

Adrian... my lifegiver... my friend... my lover... my companion. You joined the battle with the Society...and for the first time in a long time, I saw the person inside you re-emerge... you were... happy, hopeful and loving... That scared you... I know it did. And so you went on more and more missions, trying to push him away again. Whether you feared losing your edge or your role or what, I don't know...

Her hand wiped on a spot on the tank clean and she rested her forehead on it, violet eyes staring into him, flooding with emotions like a river overfilled with rain. You died...whether you knew you couldn't stop them or the last gasp of Adrian the man just wanted the fight to stop... you died. And you should not have. A few tears slid down her cheek. Dear god, you shouldn't have...

A long silence. "I... I... did... I don't...

Don't talk. Please don't... I have to say this, love. You died and then you came back, but Adrian the person was still dead...the moment you were back, I knew it... I could see it in your step, taste it when I kissed you...

She wiped at her eyes and Adrian felt a small pang as he realized her arms were heavily wrapped in bandages. Even regeneration was no guarantee against a Word of Power.

Adrian, you musn't carry on like this... you can't. Or it'll destroy me and Tash and so many others...

"You can't expect me to put down my sword." His voice was unwavering and not even a black hole would budge that kind of resolve. "Never that."

So find it a sheath. She stroked the glass of the tank again softly. Put it down, lover. You don't have to fight so hard anymore. You can't.

"I have to."

A hard frown. I saw your fight with Runoa. You were going all out, but you weren't hammering away at her like you should have been against a god-class. You were fighting by proxy, keeping distance between you and her, avoiding damage and using magic to block far more than you needed. And you rarely use runes. Yet today, you were loaded with them.

"Runoa was Librarian too and longer than I have been. She knows more than I do. Any advantage I can get, I have to take."

Her eyes narrowed. We both know it. We both knew it the moment you took your first breath after that crystal melted.

He scowled behind the mask, but kept his mouth shut. A childish belief that if he didn't speak the words, it would not be true and he could change it.

As always, she knew his mind like it was her own. The look she had on her face told him she knew, but instead of speaking it, she changed tactics. What are you, Adrian?

"I'm a hero. A Librarian. A sword. You know the answer to that." His voice was rough and irritated. She had obviously hit a nerve with it. But he refused to say what they both knew. He wasn't ready to admit it to himself.

Do you remember why you become a hero? And if you find the task so distasteful and heartbreaking, why do you still do it?

"That's easy. I-" He stopped talking, no words forming form to speak. A long silence filled the air as he realized he didn't have an answer to those questions.

I thought so. She nodded slowly in understanding. You don't know aren't acting out of a reason, but out of habit. And without that reason, you can't win against your enemies, let alone Runoa or a Sovereign. You can't fight on the front lines like you once did. It would be suicide.

"And yet, I have to! I was the only one able to stand up to her before and the only one who comes close to her, let alone her Sovereigns! And she's my flippin' mother! If I don't..." He drifted off, obviously unhappy with his current train of thought.

Stop. That kind of thinking is what killed you in the first place. Stop thinking like a sword and start thinking like the man holding the sword. Her voice was firm and warm. The Society has grown in the months you were dead. They're stronger now.

"Not strong enough."

Then train them. Teach them. You have everything you'll need at your disposal. Make them stronger. And learn to trust them.


A caress he swore he could feel on his cheek despite the glass and fluid in the way. They won't die. Not as long as we live, they won't.

"...I'm scared."

So we all are. But you're also Adrian. And the Adrian I know takes fear out for lunch, lifts it's wallet, poisons it with drinks and then makes it pay for the tab 'fore it croaks"

" what's that make you?"

I'm the sentient naughty computer program who's going to kick your ass after your fiancé burns your coats to ash.

"Fiancé?" Despite the muffled, filtered quality to his voice, the chuckling incredulity was still audible.

Yes, fiancé. You just tried to die on her again. And I'm pretty sure Death would have not only had her knocking on his door to get you back, but his whole house in flames. She tucked a strand of hair behind an ear and despite the blurriness of her smile, gained a posture of smugness. Besides, you were drugged. It was easy to hand you a ring, point you in Tash's direction and 'return' it to her.

"...I hate you. So much."

No, no you don't. So relax and rest, Adrian. We have a lot of work to do

"Do you think she's right...? About being my mother? And me not knowing who I really am?"

A long pause, but then she gave him a genuine smile. You don't know who you are, lover, but that's only because you haven't taken the time to look in the mirror in a long, long time. You should do so. It does wonders for self-image.

A snort. "I imagine you've had a lot of practice with that since you've got a physical body. So gotten any babies yet?"

When you got it, flaunt it. And for that cheap shot at my pride and lack of contraception, I'm going to make you hurt.

"What are you...?" He blinked as he saw the motions that told him she was shedding her clothes and then sauntering away after blowing him a kiss.

Then his body reacted and his kitty ears flapped as hard as they could under the water as he realized that he had no sense of touch in the tank and there were apparently stitches in that area of his body. "Son of a bitch! You tease!"

A few giggles echoed. No one ever said I played fair.

"When I get out of here, I'm going to-"

Threaten me and I'll shake at you.

The Librarian promptly clamped his jaw shut and gave a small hiss, the wheels in his head turning furiously as he plotted his vengeance.

Ten minutes later, Tash poked her head into the chamber and wonder why the tank was leaking steam. "Ooohhh... he over-worked his brain again."

No comments:

Post a Comment