Monday, April 23, 2018

Battle Vixens! - 26

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Episode 26: The Second Round


Raw, pure, paralyzing shock. That was what it was that burned the moment, the vision in his mind. To see one of them up close and personal, not six feet away, simply appear out of nowhere and be stuck in place, the mind caught in a race condition between running away and the knowledge that his wife was right there beside him, and if that thing was going to charge them then he was going to be the one who stood there for it to take rather than let her die. It was a frozen moment, an eidetic flash in his mind—so why was it so hard to draw?

The obvious answers were there, of course. Most of his supplies were back at home; there was no natural light to be found in an interior room, and though he had his sketchbook and plenty of pencils to burn through, their nature was just so..alien. It was like a boar, or a bull, but trying to draw it from that frame of reference resulted in a black-feathered mammal—fantastical, yes, but lacking in that indistinct quality that gave them their unique look. Part of him, the same mad part unconcerned with his own survival that had led him to a career as an artist, thought he just needed to study one for a little longer; if only another were to appear today, close enough to examine, and yet somehow far enough away to not kill him before he could get it all down on paper.

The next two seconds were blurry: a jet of water in front of him, hands like ice picking him up, a blur knocking his wife aside out of the way just before the monster ran past. At the time it had mattered that he was okay and she was okay, and a brief few moments later when it was dissipating into black dust it mattered that now they knew he was a target and had a way to protect him. Two nights later and he was feeling far less appreciative than he knew to really be appropriate. Rowan Shepherd had saved his life, and to go home was to put her and possibly everything else in his house in danger—but if he could just see her in person again instead of speaking over the phone, or reach his studio and paint, it would readily quell the storm in his mind and end the ceaseless pacing around in his room. He could go places only at the inconvenience of one of those protectors, and while home was among the possibilities, the idea of putting her in danger again was simply too much to bear.

He was getting melodramatic again. That was what she'd said on the phone just before going to bed. But Simon couldn't help but be melodramatic; it was an important part of his talent, he would say in response. Anyway, if there was a situation apropos to melodrama then surely it was this one: Monsters appearing in the streets, people blessed by some kind of superpowerful magic entity with powers to fight them—like a Greek legend, or a comic book, or perhaps an anime. All very common purveryors of melodrama at any rate.

He had also had the idea to paint them—the fox girls. Respectful portraits, of course; personal presents for them to have, and maybe pass on to whoever they liked should they fall in battle. They might even appreciate them enough to model for one he could sell afterward. Rowan seemed nonplussed by the idea, and that cold-handed girl looked annoyed, but that was how she always looked, wasn't it? But the best he could do for the moment was some sketches from memory and news pictures off the internet, because again—his paints were at home. If he could just get his paints again—!

Simon only knew of his habit of falling asleep atop his bed with a sketchbook open on top of him and a half-finished sketch with several scribbles of notes that looked like a lunatic's ravings from the evidence after the fact, of course. With what the continuity of his mind was able to recall, however, he was sure he must have done that and maybe passed into a dream when he found himself in a place that seemed oddly familiar despite looking literally foreign: An audience chamber of some kind, with a stage in front. There were people here, but he couldn't quite make them out—which for visual thinker was absurd, so clearly this was a dream. He could make out the decorations on the walls, the overall architecture of the building, and set to work memorizing as much of it as he could. Lucid dreams were honestly quite uncharacteristic for him, but if he was going to have one then he certainly wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to say that his latest work came to him in a dream, with a mystic tone of voice that was sure to sell the painting for a marginally higher price than usual.

The star of the would-be painting appeared only a moment later on the stage—a woman clear and beautiful among a congregation of blurry figures, standing on stage where someone like that clearly belonged. It finally occurred to Simon what kind of dream this really was, and he was excited for a number of reasons not the least of which was the opportunity to give a firsthand visual account of a genuinely supernatural event.

She gave the all-knowing smirk he might have expected from a trickster goddess, the one that says "I know exactly how to save them but I'll misinform you just enough for you to watch them die right in front of you" or something else suitably tragicomic like that. His attention was uncharacteristically drawn to her words afterward, despite the veritable ocean of novel visual experience.
"All of you already know what your world is up against. And now, perhaps, you can guess why you were attacked." She frowned slightly, disapprovingly. "The enemy thought to eliminate those with...potential. Many have already died with no one to inherit their gift, thereby returning them to me. I decided to give those gifts another chance at finding a home. So if you want to be an active participant in this little game rather than a bystander or a victim, you will know what to say to accept my gift for you." A blur of voices; Simon heard something like and not-like his own, and instinctively repeated what it said.
"Now, I'll tell you what I told the first to receive my gift. I will be watching, and if you want to make me happy in return..." She pointed vaguely forward, but there was an impression of her pointing right at him that was difficult to place. "Don't. Be. Boring."
"If you survive, perhaps I will see you again soon," she said with a more mischievous smile. "For the moment, I think it is time for you to wake up."

That was the point at which Simon instantly woke with a start, and found himself in the state he'd have expected to wake up in in the first place.

After a second or two to process everything he'd just experienced, some mental noting down of all he'd seen although it didn't seem the memory was quickly fading the way a dream was normally supposed to, it occurred to Simon that he had some very important information all of a sudden, and he went scrambling for his phone.

Within ten minutes Rowan knocked on his door: the stern, loud kind of knock he associated with police telling him that was who was doing it. That, and Rowan was who he'd called anyway. Simon opened up, and the first thing he said was, "Show me."
"Show you?" with an implicit what exactly?
He sighed as if having expected this much to be obvious. "I believe you, but they're gonna want proof of this claim before taking any action. She should have..taught you a phrase to say or something?"
"Oh! I see." Simon scratched his head. "It's just that I haven't tried saying it myself yet. Oh, I hope I haven't called you over for nothing."
Rowan nodded. "Just, give it a shot."
"Alright then. Here goes?"

It felt so a nursery rhyme he known all his life, maybe. The complicated mess of nonesense syllables rolled off of Simon's tongue like an order of his favorite form of vaguely coffee-esque mixture. And that sense of familiarity was joined by an exciting feeling, a rush of—well, something anyway, and it felt pretty good at that.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Simon understood his body differently. It was a collection of former- and would-be dust, a clump of dirt soaked in water and shaped a certain way—like clay. It was clay, and in someone else's hands, perhaps. He felt briefly soft and malleable, and that was seemingly taken advantage of, his body squeezed and compressed down by an invisible potter. His ears were molded up and out, the air pleasantly tickling them as fur appeared there. His hair was teased out longer and longer as he himself grew shorter, until it fell all across his back, some locks finding their way onto his shoulders.
His body was gently but insistently pressed inward, growing slim and small and yet increasingly solid at the same time. One tail, then another, was shaped outward from his back, twisting around each other at first before gently untangling and falling to either side. He felt an inward press between his legs, a gentle change of sex, just before her clothes were torn up and pasted back together as a kind of battle dress: Boots, stockings, a skirt and a robe with detached puffy sleeves over the arms. Her chest was gingerly shaped outward, a modest bust for a modest figure in general. She had a sense of her body possessing the softness of clay and fur merged with rigidity of rock and steel. It seemed seemed to fully solidify after that, a feeling of toughness settling over her that seemed to do away with all kinds of fear.

Simon's hand reached out reflexively, and rock from the building's foundation pulled itself up, tearing through some of the floorboards onto her right hand. A gauntlet it became, and a sword and its sheath, all feeling quite natural to her; the metal felt heavy and solid, yet at the same time light and easy to move by her newfound strength.

She smiled for a second at the way it felt before realizing she'd just destroyed some of the room's floor, and also that Rowan now more or less towered over her. "Ack! Uh, sorry, I don't really know why I did that.." She dropped the sword and the gauntlet, but they just turned into a bunch of loose dirt on the way down. "Aand I guess I don't exactly know how to put it back, either."
"Uh, we'll get it fixed. I think this should be more than enough proof, anyway," said Rowan. "Can you come with me to tell them about the dream?"
"Hmn? Sure." He started moving right away, and she followed, initially thinking that having such a short body—hence a short stride—would have her falling behind but instead feeling like he was going a little slow even with what was clearly a soldieresque quick-march.

"What do you think? I could go home, see my wife and my paints again?" she said.
"Well, you could always do that."
"Right, but there wouldn't be danger from it now. One of those things comes after me again, I could just smash it." She put a fist in the opposite palm. "I feel like I could keep anyone safe!"
"Keep in mind how dangerous those things are, even to us with powers," he said.
"I know I know. But—"
"What you do is your decision, always has been. In your shoes I'd be just as eager to get home," said Rowan. "You would certainly be in less danger leaving here, having powers of your own, if that's what you're asking."
"Ohh, great! I can't wait to see my paints again..."
"I mean my wife. Both! Not, equally. Favor to the lady." Rowan was unable to restrain a small chuckle at her antics.

" soon as they see this they'll want to recruit you."
"To work with the Initiative. Fight those things. You shouldn't feel that you have to. You should take time to really think about it first."
"Well, sure."
"Don't forget that it means risking your life," he said. "We've tried our best, but people are still getting killed or—eaten by those things even with the largest groups we've seen."
"Right right." But if she fought them, she could see them again. Up close, for extended periods! Nobody was drawing those things and really capturing their essence, the fear they really embioded to those nearby. No camera footage or news interview could get to the heart of the matter, not the way Simon could.

The thinking was done. Well, Simon's part of the thinking was done and the answer was yes yes yes! But obviously there was somebody else affected if she did decide to turn into a serious for-real monster fighter. The better half would have to agree with her, so she needed a better reason than 'I want to paint them'. It was time to start thinking about that...Well, Rowan was leading her into an office now, so it would be time to think about that after telling them about the dream last night and what that gorgeous woman had told her—told them all.

The tiredness just after changing back faded as they walked around, easing some of Light's worry about the meeting she'd arranged later that afternoon. Changing back to 'normal' was an awful feeling, like going...dim. As weird as the 'bigger' body had felt at first compared to her usual appearance like this, it just felt good to be that strong and fast and capable. It was almost an...addictive quality. And now that the feeling that came with that form had worn off she realized just how strong a compulsion to go out and fight something—and be a hero—it had come with. That was...undoubtedly something to be cautious of.

Ning sighed. "I think it might be over for me."
"Secrecy. Privacy. I was reckless on the way out of my house, tore the door up, and anyone could've seen me doing it too. It was just—it was right there. I couldn't—I couldn't let it get any closer to her." She paused, looking at Light. "At least you'll still be safe. There's no real connection known between our 'real' selves."
"I dunno if we should give up just yet. Maybe you got lucky, hmm? I mean, the door was broken so early in the fight that the cameras probably weren't looking this way at all yet. So, it could've been me or 'you' getting thrown into it by the tail or something."
"The direction of the damage wouldn't match."
"Maybe not, but only whoever repairs it needs to know that. And one repairman can spread a rumor, at worst. Even if he knows, or suspects—I think anyone could understand your need for privacy in this situation. Especially if he sees Nadia's around."

Ning looked slightly insulted. "I won't—"
"You won't what? Use her as a shield? To protect herself?" Light said, feeling like she was pointing out the obvious. "The reason you don't want anyone to know is to keep her safe, right?"
"Yes..." She nodded slowly.
"Then there's nothing wrong with subtly communicating that. I'm not talking about parading your little girl around, okay? Just happening to see her, long enough to understand that you're the only one taking care of her, would be enough. For that matter—your neighbors know about your, uh, family situation?"
"They do. The ones just nearby, at least." She looked around; they were getting close to her backyard at this point. "This is an old neighborhood, Light. Generations live here. We get a few new ones moving in every now and then, and welcome them, but...mostly, everyone knows each other."
"In that case, I'm not sure you have anything to worry about. Any of them who saw you, just upgraded you to 'neighborhood hero'. And if they know your situation then the last thing they'd want to do is betray their new hero, right?"

"Maybe you're right. But, Light, you make it sound so...I don't know...cold. Calculating?"
"I'm just thinking logically, and taking other people's perspectives into account. You can't fully understand any situation if you only look out from your own head, but you have to keep your own goals in mind to make a good plan. I mean—honestly I am being really hopeful in humanity here, that one of them won't value getting to be on TV for five seconds over protecting you out of gratitude for protecting them. But there's at least some reasons you could still be safe here even if someone saw you."

Ning nodded, considering it. Then she ducked inside the back door, looking around. "Nadia?"
"Here!" She popped out from a nearby closet. "Ooh, hi Light!" she waved.
Ning picked her up in a brief whirl of a hug. "I'm so glad you're okay!"
"Mhm! I hid just like you said." And after she was put down: "Did you beat up the bad guys?"
"Yes...we did," she nodded. "I bet you're hungry by now, too."
"A little." She said it with a bit of a playful tone—child sarcasm, Light thought.

Ning turned back around. "I guess you haven't eaten either, have you?"
"Nnope." Light instinctively brought a finger to the tip of an ear, twiddling it slightly. "To be honest I got some, uh, advice that I should probably eat to keep my powers from burning out as quick, and was on my way here to see if I could get a sandwich or something, pay you back later?"
"Hmph. You don't ever need to worry about paying me back, Light. Come on, let's see what there is in the kitchen."

Nadia hopped down off her chair and marched off to the bathroom in the middle of the meal. This was as private a time as they were going to get, Light thought. "Okay, listen," she said quietly. "What happened earlier—everyone who was being targeted by those things got powers, apparently."
"Everyone? So—"
"Right. Amory's power is like...a meta-power. It can strengthen anyone else's powers. So, doing that to me made me look like...that, and have some better powers than usual. But it's temporary. And she can't fight."
Ning looked surprised. "She can't—"
"Not at all. The—that woman told Amory that he's completely immune to the mist things while changed, but..this needs to stay as secret as it can. Without any ability to fight, Amory could get kidnapped and forced to use it on someone he doesn't want to."

"I see.." Ning nodded. "Thank you for trusting me with this. I would've bought that you'd found some way to 'absorb more light' or something, but then I'd ask you to teach me to do something like it..."
"Yeah. I kept an image of my usual look up for any cameras there were, but I can't really disguise my voice. As soon as I saw you fighting that thing I knew I was gonna have to decide what to tell you. It didn't take me all that long. After all, we're partners, right?" She held out a hand.
"Heheh, yeah." Ning took the hand gently for a second or two before they both dropped it. "Although this marks only the second time we've actually fought as a team."
"I would say we should fix that, but honestly the less fights are necessary, the better," said Light.

The first thing Simon did when his wife came to the door and opened it, saying his name in a tone composed equally of surprise and delight, was step forward, take her in his arms, and kiss her for the first time in three or four days, with enough passion to make up for the lost time. She returned it just fine, hugging him lightly back past the end of it. "Well, I'm happy to see you again, too."
"I'll bet. Your wounds have healed, I see?"
"What, those scratches? I get worse than that in fourth period every weekday. So what're you doing here, huh?"
"I have good news and better news, my dear," he said with a grin. "The good news is those things are probably not hunting me anymore."
She raised an eyebrow and stepped back slightly. "Probably."
"The better news is that if they are then I can do something about it myself!"

She put a hand on one of her own hips. "What, did the scary new government agency give you experimental monster repellent or something?"
"No no no. Karis, this is far too amazing to share with the door open." She rolled her eyes, but indulged him by stepping back enough that he could come inside and close the door behind him. "You know the weird dream a lot of people had a week ago that started this whole mess?"
"More or less. Not personally."
"Well, I got to have one of those last night. Evidently the reason I and everyone else was attacked was because we had 'potential' of some sort, to have powers like that."
"Are you telling me that you got turned into a furry?"

Simon opened his mouth and stayed quiet for about ten seconds, which seemed to have been the intended effect based on that 'trying very hard not to laugh out loud' expression on her face. "Okay, first of all that is not what a furry is, and secondly the more salient point here is—"
"You get superpowers, right? What kind? What do you look like as a kemonomimi, huh?"
"It's no fair when you put out my fire and steal my thunder. Well, maybe I should just show you."

It had, fortunately, been established for him that for some reason the weapon automatically gets summoned with the first time, but after that you can decide whether to bring it out or not. Paying for some new floor just for the sake of this would be worth it, but not needing to was even more so. Simon spoke the word (or words? hard to tell), turned again to clay and reshaped into the two-tailed form from before, everything there save the gauntlets, sword and sheath. "..And there we are," she said, sweeping a hand over her appearance. "Cute, right?"
"Yeah, but..that's, not the first thing I imagined you'd say."
"Hmmn, me either. I guess I must like it, though. This is supposed to mess with your head a little bit." She flicked her ear once or twice, considering it.
"You're nice and flat, too. I can't imagine how you'd handle having real jugs," said Karis. This sparked a mild fit of annoyance in Simon that didn't feel entirely characteristic; after all, she was basically right. Having less weight and volume there made it easier to get used to the body, even with all the other strangeness. But she still pouted long enough for her wife to get a laugh out of it.

"Hahahah, that expression is hilarious. Cheer up, you do have a nice pair..of tails!"
"Oh yeah, that is pretty unusual I think," she said, picking one of them up in a hand. "I'm not sure if it really means anything though, a lot of people seem to get weird extra traits like horns or multicolored eyes or whatever." It slid off again more or less on its own. Her fur was...very soft, actually.
"Mm-hm." Karis crossed her arms. "So what kind of powers did you get?"
"Um, earth powers I think? Pretty sure. I can grab the ground and throw it around, or stomp and make it jump up. I don't look it but I feel super strong like this, too."
"Show me!" she said excitedly.
"Uhh...I don't really wanna tear up our floor, dearest."
"What about pottery? That's made of dirt, right?" She pointed to one of Simon's own works decorating a small table in the entryway.
"I can generally tell when you're trolling, you know. But that seems like it should be close enough, let's see..."

Simon carefully lifted the pottery up off of the table, instinctively holding out both of her hands and waving them around with the intended motion of it. She was able to turn it a full 180 in the air before setting it gently back down again, clapping her hands a bit. "That was harder than I thought it'd be..I don't think it's so well tuned for picking up priceless works of art."
"It just looks like you're using the force," said Karis. "Still, that's at least a little impressive."
"Anyway. I was thinking since I can do all this, I should put it to good use," said Simon.
"You going to stomp out a sculpture in central park?"
"...That's, not a bad idea actually. If I can figure out the precision for it...but! Not what I meant. I mean I can actually fight those things like this. Obviously I would do so if they dared encroach upon our house, but more importantly, I thought it might be good to help out the defense of the city in general."

"What, you? Have you been using a time chamber and not telling me? I mean—you're wonderful in all kinds of other ways, but you've lost a fight with a paper bag before."
"That was the staples," Simon protested. "Anyway, expert fighting skills come free with the powers. You didn't honestly think every person who got powers before me was some kind of expert martial artist or swordsman or...marksman or whatever, did you?"
"I guess I didn't really think about it. So you're thinking of going out and risking your life for the greater good?"
"Right right!" she nodded.
"...What's in it for you?"

Simon pretended to be taken aback by it. "You wound me, my darling," she said, putting a hand close to her own chest. After giving Karis long enough to give a skeptical glare she said, "Just think about it. I can get so close to these world-changing people if I am one. They'll trust me after I fight alongside them, maybe save some lives back and forth. I could draw portraits of them—I could draw those monsters themselves, give people who never had the misfortune of coming near one the idea of what it's like to see it up close, all without the risk!
"This is a major turning point, and I can make works that historians will refer to for centuries! That's not even beginning with the fact that everyone who gets powers like this is more or less an instant celebrity. I don't know why everyone else is so averse to talking on the news, you know—give me five or six days and I can have this Initiative thing funded solely by merchandise, turning whoever's in charge a massive profit and obviously taking a modest gain in exchange."

"I think there are literally dollar bills in your eyes," Karis observed. Simon also noticed that she had started leaning forward slightly and clutching her hands up in the air during all of that. Her wife just sighed slightly, "Well, at least I know you haven't been replaced by someone else."
"I really didn't mean to go quite that into it, eheh."
"I suppose, even with motives like that at least you'll be doing some good." She patted Simon's head a couple of times and rubbed her ears, which felt rather nice, causing the fox-girl to lean forward into it. "Just remember you're in more danger than the monsters. There was a lot of death near the beginning, you remember. Anyone else with powers might come running to kill you, and more of them the more well-known you become."
"Mrrr..let 'em come. Fame is a far better shield than anonymity, and comes with barbs—people don't like their favorite celebrity getting killed, you know. And it's so easy to get revealed and stay revealed forever, but a famous person is always famous—or at worst turns infamous."

Karis said, "So are you sure you're not a furry? You do seem to like the ear rubbing."
"Bwaauh!" Simon hopped back and away a few steps, blushing furiously. "I told you what a furry is and isn't. You even used the right word earlier! A-and I can't help what feels good to this body."
Her wife just laughed out loud again. "I would ask 'can we keep her?', but you're already kept. Are you planning to use a superhero name or just stick with the real one?"
"I hadn't thought of that! An alter ego name would be way easier to brand..."
"What about Petra? Roughly similar to the Greek for rock?"
"That's perfect!" She pounded a fist onto her other hand. "You might have a real talent for this. Maybe you can come up with something for that water-girl who saved us, or those professors at the university..."
She crossed her arms. "I insist that whoever I come up with names for actually approves the name themselves. So I'll be keeping it to myself unless we meet in person about it."

Friday, April 20, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-48

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Now that the idea of flying was in her head, Rose wasn't going to stop until she gave it a try. Zack went a different way to get the wolf back from the guardhouse, and everyone wound up just oustide of the town gates before long. With as big a leap as she could manage (pretty high into the air by itself), Rose unfurled her wings in their more gigantic form and gave a few powerful flaps, driving a massive gust of downward wind with each. In no time she was genuinely flying, making a few small circles in the air before coming back down and managing to brake with her wings to get only a little bit of skidding on her feet on the way down.
"Woohoo! This is sooo cool! I can't believe I forgot I could do that!" she said excitedly. "Is it like that for you?" she said vaguely in Clera's direction.
"I...suppose so," she said with a small smile. "It really is something. Although I believe it's even moreso in your case since you appear to really be defying physics."
"Mm-hm. Um.." She looked around awkwardly for a second. "I, need to go back and check on my forest again soon. And since I can fly I wanted to try and see if I could get all the way there doing it! Soo, see you later?"
"Yeah, count on it," Mira said, coming a little closer to pat her on the head a couple of times.
"Heehee~, okay. Bye~!" This time the flap and the jump were at the same time, rocketing her off into the air. Another "Woohoo!" could be heard echoing in the wind while she did some kind of wild corkscrewing maneuver out toward the east.

Aria had a hand over her eyes to watch the dragon-girl disappear off into the sky. She lowered it and looked around. "Okay, that was cool and all, yeah..but I got the impression there was some bigger reason everyone stuck together after finishing the whole bath thing."
"There is," said Katherine, moving closer to the middle of the group. "Actually—who knows already? Raise your hand or something." Zack, Nora, Rayna, and Lynn did so. "I guess that's why you two hung back earlier...well, I was largely responsible for finding out that you four are from Earth," she said, pointing vaguely at the other group, "which is also where we're from."
"Really?" Aria looked at them all again.
Clera nodded. "I was beginning to wonder..."
"Sweet, more players! What've you been doing with your skills?"

"Wait, why was I the last one told?" said the witch.
"You were always busy with someone else, so I couldn't really get you alone to tell you," said the catgirl. "And I wasn't sure if your reaction would be, I dunno, extreme? With Rose and other people around."
"Awwh, who cares what other people think? So, were you all guys before, too?"
"Guilty as charged," Rayna smirked a bit.
"Technically I am carrying the soul of someone both female and originally from this world, however," said Clera.
"I've absorbed no less than three demon souls from this world," said Mira.

"This is great and all, but maybe we could keep talking inside somewhere?" said Zack. "We're not that far from town, but monsters could show up."
Katherine looked around, remembering that was where they were. "Yeah, good idea. In fact—I propose we talk about all this over supper."
The louder members of the group immediately started arguing about where they wanted to go for that. Zack sighed and just started leading the way back to the town gates, which they more or less unconsciously followed.

Eventually the consensus was for a few of them to actually pick up food from one place and everyone to eat it in another—one of the community center's offices, where they would have relative privacy to talk about things most everyone in this world might not fully understand. It took a little while to get everyone there and sitting down, and by then the sun out the windows of the room was well and truly set.

"What were your names, before?" said Zack. He paused for a second or two, looking at his own party members as well. "...I guess I'm really asking everyone that. I didn't go for changing my name at all..."
"Why the sudden interest?" said Katherine. She thought he'd dropped the idea of learning hers a long time ago.
"I guess I just want to know we haven't forgotten."
"That's...fair, I suppose. Alright, I'll start. It's Vincent. Vinny sometimes, you know, for people who don't like pronouncing the letter t."
"Norrin," said the elf quietly, in between some bites.

Mira was preoccupied at the moment. "Come on, you don't want this? Doesn't it smell good?" She aggressively waved a steak at the wolf, which had moved to put Zack between itself and her, still watching her through the legs of his chair. "I ordered it special, ultra-rare—practically bleeding—well-seasoned..." The wolf just growled suspiciously. "It's a reward for saving everyone last night! Whaat, you don't like being rewarded?" It looked at the 'alpha', Zack, inquisitively.
"What? You eat it if you want to," he said. "We were kind of talking about something."
"Yeah, yeah." The witch set the meat down on the floor and then sat back up in her chair. "I've been listening! It was Mike. I know—Mika wasn't very creative offa that. Another reason I wanted to go with something else after the growth spurt."

"We were Ray and Lyle," said the fox-girl.
"Yeah. We had a idea what people who were watching it think's going on with us now."
"Oh cool, I love your show!" said the witch excitedly. "Good entertainment for the long grind sessions."
"You're talking about...MMO's, right?" said Lynn.
"Okay: Why would you ever play a game so boring that you have to do something else at the same time to not go out of your head?"
"If it's a good one, then it's not that boring all the time. I do it for the fun parts," she said. "Just like life." She looked back at where the steak had been deposited, which was clearly empty floor now.
"That's probably...among the best defenses I've heard."
"I guess nobody else here watched us?" said Rayna. To a brief silence: "Well, one out of six isn't bad. I'd have expected none out of ten. Oh, also we were both sitting in front of the same computer and got sucked into the same room at the same time. Doesn't seem like anyone else had that kind of experience."
"Yeah, we were just alone in our rooms," said Katherine.

"Ian Kellen," said Clera.
"Doctor Ian Kellen," Aria corrected with a grin. "Life-saving kind. Super serious. Right?" She ruffled the winged girl's hair a bit.
"...Correct." She didn't pull away, but flushed slightly and looked in the opposite direction.
"And me, Will. Highly appropriate, almost prophetic: I've got the will to do anything, given the time."
Nora looked up, at Aria for a few seconds, and then back down at her food where her gaze had been this entire time.
"It s-sounded, familiar," she said. "Um, d-did you have some kind of show too?"
"Oh, yeah, I was a streamer. Speedrunner. That kinda thing."
"I th-think someone at the hospital watched you all the time," she said. "I overheard st-stuff like that every once in a while."

"Cool, cool," Aria nodded. "Wait, hospital?"
"Um, I h-have...I, had a c-condition, with my bones. S-so, I had to go in for t-t-treatments pretty often, when I was younger. My leg was b-broken because of it, but this," she waved vaguely at her current appearance, "f-fixed, all of it."
"Did your injury or treatment cause your speech impediment?" said Clera, sounding concerned; her tone made it clearly a yes/no question rather than multiple choice.
"N-no. It d-d-didn't exist before I, w-well, before this. I have to speak very slowly and carefully," she demonstrated, "in order to k-k-k-keep it even mostly out of my voice."
"I regret that I don't really know the correct treatment procedure to eliminate that kind of disorder..."
"Well, you're bearing it pretty well I'd say," said Aria. "Anyway, it's cute in its own way. Probably puts your opponents off, makes them think you'll be weak."
Rayna interjected: "Yeah, and then bam! Your campfire is my bomb!" This managed to get a genuine laugh out of the elf which she couldn't fully shake for about a minute afterward.
Aria said, more quietly: "Wait, did that actually happen?"

For a while they just talked about home. Even among their two smaller groups, they hadn't seriouly talked about Earth at any meaningful length since meeting up. It was a strange kind of nostalgic trip, reminding each other of an entire culture and a level of technology to support it that everyone had already grown used to living without in the span of less than a week. Katherine complained about minutae in the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons; Rayna and Lynn tried their best to remember and partially recount the contents of some episodes they had recorded but not yet edited before being taken; Nora and Clera discovered that they had actually read a few books in common. Conversation continued long after the food was gone and the moon starting to get high in the sky outside.

Well, you look happy. It's a good look for you.
Zack glanced in the catgirl's direction for a second. I just feel like I'm coming up for air. Like I've been going slowly insane for the last five or six days and finally got to talk and act like a normal person again.
You do realize about half of what we're saying would sound insane or at least nonsensical to almost anyone in the world outside this room.
I don't really care.
Uh-huh. Do you want to bring it up or should I? While her thought didn't verbally express what 'it' was, the entire idea was communicated along with the words.

"So, we...were offered a house," said Zack. "In exchange for some work for the Captain. Out where the site Mira's been using is. We were thinking of asking if you'd like to join us there, once it's built—if that's okay," he added, looking at the other two members of the party.
"Sure! The more the merrier," said Mira; Nora just quietly nodded.
"We're not really sure whether it's too late to add more bedrooms—like, twice as many of them?—but...if you want, we can try and make it work," Katherine added.
"I'm already on board with the idea," said Rayna. "Opinions?"
"Yes, please yes. Getting tired of hotel," said Lynn.
Dr. Kellen nodded. "I have no particular objection."
"I think it's only fair to warn you that I come with a 'minmaxing room' requirement," said Aria, half-jokingly.
Katherine thought through the requests for specific rooms that had already been made. "One or two places might be able to serve a dual purpose for that, I guess...depending on what you even mean by that..."

Ian woke up lying down on his couch at home, dressed casually. He slowly sat up and looked around; the house was dark, as if it was night. Clera walked in from the direction of the kitchen. "Hi again..."
"Welcome, I suppose." He cleared his throat, reached over and turned on the lamp next to him. She walked around to the front of the couch, staring at him the entire time.
"Ian, you're.." she said quietly. He reached up and found hair just shy of his shoulders, recognized bangs just over his eyes and more across the back of his neck as well. Then he stood straight up, carefully compared the winged woman's height to his own. And his voice was...well, it had sounded just different enough to want to clear his throat.
"This seems like more than last night," he agreed, sitting back down. Then he waved to the seat on the opposite side of the couch. "I suppose the change of setting is meaningful here, as if I'm becoming comfortable enough to bring you somewhere more 'personal'."
"Yeah." She sat down, and gave him a concerned look. "Do you...aren't you worried? If your own mental image of yourself is changing...?"

He said, "It's quite clear where this is headed at this point, but I never really cared that much how I looked anyway. If anything I'm merely curious how long it will take, what the transitional appearances will all look like."
"Hmn. I wonder if your acceptance of it is exactly what's causing it to continue, though," she said. "Or if this is more of that complicated summoning spell showing itself. There's no other people, all acting so comfortable in bodies clearly not their own."
Ian shrugged. "With a shock this great, a person may simply feel forced to accept what has happened and mentally adapt to avoid simply locking up. Still, I would not be surprised if whoever was responsible for casting it 'tuned' it to make that response easier somehow..."
"That sounds within the means of the spell," she nodded.

"So...four more people from Earth. I wonder how many there are," said the winged girl, leaning back and looking at the wall in front of her. "I wonder if I actually met one back in my old life, and just didn't even know. I...don't really know how I would've reacted even if somene did tell me, though. I probably wouldn't believe it."
"You've never considered the possibility of other worlds?" Ian communicated briefly and succinctly the search for extraterrestrial life, the long history of fiction all about beings from other planets visiting Earth.
"Doesn't really occur, no. I mean—we have the demon realm connected to ours, the regular afterlife, and wherever the gods themselves live. I suppose most people consider that to be enough worlds to keep track of without inventing new ones. But—even if we heard there was another world full of people, the idea of no magic—and the things you're able to do without magic!" she said, waving at the lamp emphatically, "It'd just come across as, unimaginable. I guess we lack the imagination to think up little green men."

The space in front of them rippled slightly, and a catgirl in pajamas stepped out, startling Clera enough for her to jump slightly. "..Oh. Uh, hi?" Katherine waved awkwardly on noticing them, mostly seeming confused that she was here.
"It's rude to invade people's dreams without express permission," said Clera, glaring. "You should be aware anyone with the mental strength of a mage, much less two such minds, can kick even a powerful psion out painfully."
"IIII...did not know that. And I swear this was an accident," she added, putting up her hands, "I was trying to get back into Aria's mind to help her remember that name but it, deflected me or something? I think you must have 'more gravity' from being two minds, too. Wait," looking back at Clera, "do you know about the—"
"We both have all of the memories from being awake in the same body," Ian said, feeling some of the winged girl's annoyance bleed into his own emotion. That was happening more, too...

"Sorry, I overreacted a little bit. You just spooked me, is all," said Clera, calming down. "Let me think...if there's a 'new' portion of her mind emerging then maybe it's confused and you're not used to navigating confusion, got so turned around that you went out the wrong way and wound up here. You should massage her mind from the outside to focus on some memory of both of you together first, and then just insert yourself into the memory-you, and once you're inside you'll be dealing with the mind that's already used to having you around."
"..How do you know any of that?"
"Mage schools here are a lot like colleges on your world," she said. "You end up studying a lot of things you'll never find a practical use for. I took a couple of classes on psions because I was worried an evil one would try to puppeteer me to do horrible things with my magic."
"Oh." Katherine looked at Ian briefly. "..Are you—?"
"Yes. No, I don't particularly care," he said curtly. "Will you please leave now?"
"Y-yeah, sorry. I'll get outta your hair. Oh, but we have been having off and on dream parties. Let me know if you two ever want to join in!" She waved and rippled out of existence again.

"..Ugh, I feel like I lost whatever train of thought I was on," said Clera.
"Aliens. But we had more or less exhausted the topic." Ian stood up. "Perhaps I can show you around. I am a little curious just how different this is from one of your houses."

Katherine had agreed to appear, so it was a little strange when she didn't show up for a while. Eventually Aria decided to just try meditating to pass the time; maybe she was just having trouble getting to sleep or something? Just as she was getting started, something unusual happened: The static wall in front of her (which was honestly pretty good for meditative staring) flickered a few times and opened up to show three of the walls of Tsaron's meditation room, the ones covered in probably-enchanted weaponry all over the place. And Aria was pulled—or it felt more like the spot on the floor she'd been on that day was moved over to underneath her, even though she was definitely somehow removed from the cliff. Katherine popped up next to her in the same position she'd been in at the time, and after a second or two opened her eyes. "...Phew."
"Um..hi? Wait, are you like from the memory or actually...?" Aria started, before realizing the catgirl wouldn't even know what she meant by any of that if this was just a memory of her at that point.
"No, it's really me." She stood up, brushing herself off, and her clothes remade themselves into pajamas. "I had trouble getting in. Clera thinks it might be confusion from the new memories or something.."
"I got knocked into her mind and met her. Um—the, not the winged girl you've met in person but the extra soul from this world," she attempted to explain. "The point is, at least I'm here now."

"Right!" Aria stood up to. "So do you have easier access to that extra part of my mind from here, or anything?"
"...Not that I can tell." She pointed to the giant demon: "That guy still makes it hard to go any deeper than the surface, even here. I really think it's more like you're forcing him to even let me in this far."
"Hmm. Well...let's see here...TV!" She pointed dramatically at one of the walls. "Can you make a TV?"
"Uh...sure?" The catgirl waved a hand, and part of the wall turned into a big flatscreen.
"Just what I was thinking. Now turn it on, I'm going to think really hard about what I saw just after getting my head caved in and try to project it on there."

With that concentration, and possibly Katherine's help, Aria got the entire collection of scenes to show on the screen: Static and sound and all. Eventually it ended. "Hmn. Ar..." However, the psion was clearly still drawing a blank.
"Yeah, it's annoying we only get one syllable so far."
"But you know the other guy's name now, right? It was on that invisible ink note..."
"Yes: Loren."

"Hmm..." Appearing to have an idea, she backed the 'memory footage' up, scanned along it, and eventually stopped at a blurry picture of the dark-haired guy from it. "Loren..." Her body began to glow pink, and she floated into the air slightly. "Loren." She said the name again, but did more than just say it. Aria would be hard-pressed to come up with a good verb for exactly what action she did with the name, but the effect was a visible ripple of space out from her in all directions, rapidly warping and rearranging space. Similar to the effect of being "pulled" into this room a moment ago, the two of them were pulled to the cliffside in the dream, everything spinning strangely until the spot where the altar with the sword on it was broken off and replaced by the cliffside the demon stood beyond, with Aria placed where the white-haired man had been in the image and Loren standing in front of him.

Katherine floated behind him, her arms spread out and her eyes obscured by pure, white light. Glancing into those eyes Aria felt more than heard: I'm holding a pathway open you will have to do the talking here this is the most I can do and it won't last very long so hurry up please.
His image was still annoyingly indistinct; his mouth was open and making almost-word sounds interspersed with static.

"I...knew you, right?"
"You knew me, at least. You must have really liked me to promise to find me..even knowing I was going to forget you."
"Loren. What was my name?" She unconsciously stepped forward.
"—planning—You c—someone else—"
"What was it? You knew, I knew it. Right? A name should be the easiest thing to remember."
"wards—everything. But—not—ever—"
Aria grabbed his shoulders, feeling a painful emotion that was difficult to place the source of. "Come on, it's like the first thing a person with amnesia's supposed to get back, right? You must have said it three or four times right here. What did you say?"
"Ar—those wards—"
"Right, right. Come on.." Something out on the corners of her eyes felt like a piece of paper folding and crumpling itself. The ground around them was being eaten by static.
"—not forever—lead me to you."
"Lead you to who?!" She shook him, feeling certain they only had a few more seconds.
"You. You you you you you—" The three of them were all that was left—Aria, the vague memory of a man whose name was Loren, and Katherine behind him floated in a sea of static.
"My name please!?"
"...Ares." Her head jerked back with surprised expression. For just a second it felt like she could see him exactly—but that image didn't stick around in her memory, just the vague, useless one. He disappeared and the two real people present were abruptly dumped onto the demon's cliffside, the static returned to its usual place.

They were sitting down, which was good because Aria was panting and for the moment didn't quite feel up to standing. "Ares, huh."
"That was...something," said Katherine. "Felt a little like playing tug-of-war with a huge rubber band as the rope, up until it snapped."
"As in the Olympian? Weird coincidence from a different world. At least I know now, I guess."

"...Are you alright?"
"I think so." The shifter put a hand to her forehead. "I felt..something. It wasn't me, but it was."
"It wasn't 'Will', right? It was the other guy," she suggested.
"Maybe. But I'm—me. Not him." She shook her head. "Right?"
"As, far as I can tell. But whatever he is...he's definitely, in there," said Katherine, tapping her own head a couple of times. "If you turn on that Beacon thing and see Loren for real—you know, it might pull him out a lot more."
"Hmh." Aria took a deep breath, exhaled, stood up. "I feel a little scared of what that might mean, I guess. But I won't let that fear stop me." She offered a hand to the catgirl, who just shrugged and floated herself up to her own feet. "I can't let anything stop me, or I really don't feel like me anymore. You get that, right?"
"I think so."

"Anyway, now I know what to say to it. Tomorrow morning, or—maybe it can wait an hour or two. Sometime tomorrow, anyway."
"You're not worried about needing a last name or something?"
"No. It's..." Aria scratched her head. "Now that the name came b—came to me, it feels like I should've known all along that was what I needed to say. Just 'Ares'. Uh, I'm not sleep-talking am I? Can you tell?"
"No, but I think one of your roommates would've noticed it by now. Anyway, it's in your 'inventory', not just out in your hand while you're asleep, right?"
"Yeah. So my point is—work's done, let's play! Now that I know you know what a TV is and how to make one appear, I want to see about getting a NES in here!"

Turning back toward the static wall, Katherine put together a blank wood-floored room with a couch in it, and then made a TV. "I don't really know how successful I'll be at making games..I'd have to remember basically every detail of how it plays..."
"Try my memories. I'm sure I got half the megamans and kirby pretty down pat, at least."
"Alright then, let's see what we can do."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Battle Vixens! - 25

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Episode 25: To Protect

Gerald had put a call through to Dr. Clark Quinn not long after Light left. The store was empty then, anyway. Clark had a lot of ideas for how to use control over electricity, but for the purposes of getting something practical to work quickly Gerald focused him as much as possible on how exactly an electromagnet worked, what he needed to do with the electric flow to quickly get a temporary, powerful one pointed whatever way he wanted. He felt sure that he had enough control now to do what the physicist described, but when he went home and began to try it proved far more difficult to coil the electricity in the needed way than first anticipated. And then there was Nadia to take care of.

Today being a day off from school, the little girl was home all day. After feeding her and playing for a while, Ning let her lie down on the couch and catch her favorite cartoon. She sat in a chair nearby, giving the electric coil another try. She felt certain somehow that if she could get a small, weak one to work then bigger ones that would actually be useful in a fight would be a simple matter of 'scaling it up' and pumping more energy into it, so there was an iron washer on the floor in front of her that she held her hands over in a vaguely circular gesture to try and make it happen. Occasionally, especially during commercials, her granddaughter's attention was drawn to her efforts, a bit of fascination showing at the little coil of sparks forming in the air between the hands and the floor.

It was getting close to lunchtime when Ning finally folded the little coil of sparks in just the right way, and by patiently keeping it working for several seconds the washer slowly levitated off the ground toward it, eventually touching the electricity itself and discharging into the floor with an abrupt little shower of sparks, flying off to one side and rolling away.
"Yaay, you did it!" Nadia cheered, hopping up and standing on the couch to applaud.
"Heheh, I guess I did," Ning said, standing up herself. "Feet off the couch, please."
"Oh—whoops!" She hopped off over the armrest and gave the fox-girl a brief hug.

When they released, Nadia's ever-curious attention was drawn to something behind Ning, making her look back to see what it was. Black mist—just outside the driveway. She felt a jolt of fear and genuine rage at whatever person, being, or group was responsible for those things appearing, an irrational thought of how dare you toward something humans might never understand which had already demonstrated a willingness to kill just anyone it came into contact with. Then her rational thought took back over, she looked to her granddaughter, putting hands on her shoulders. "Nadia, something big and dangerous is appearing out front. I need you to hide in the other side of the house and don't come out until I tell you it's safe, okay?"
"Okay," she nodded with a serious expression, and then started off. Then it was time to take care of business. Ning bolted through the house to the front door and shoved it open just a little too hard, tearing it partway loose of the hinges, making it outside just as the mist began to solidify in the street. It didn't matter that someone might have seen her coming outside; it didn't matter that she had to pay to get the doorframe fixed; what mattered right now was tearing whatever was about to appear into little tiny pieces and making it clear that invading her house and coming this close to her grandchild was not acceptable.

It formed a giant cloud, almost a dome shape, taller than any of the nearby buildings. Six streaks of black mist shot out from the dome, four evenly spaced toward the ground and two longer streams opposite each other turning into a tail with an end spiked like a mace, and what seemed like a taller version of an alligator's head, complete with a giant, powerful jaw, the usual humongous teeth, and glowing, bright-green eyes. It was something like a giant turtle, but far more agressive-looking, and the first thing it did on appearing was snap its head in Ning's direction, closing its jaws on the air as she jumped back, leaving behind a small shower of sparks for it to eat instead. Being turtle-like evidently did not mean it was slow.

She responded by calling a bolt of lightning down, which hit the shell; the electricity spread down across it harmlessly into the ground, not making it leak any mist at all. Evidently that shell genuinely worked as armor; the head at least had seemed slightly hurt by those first few sparks. Then Ning was forced to run as it charged, snapping its head in several more attempted bites; she aimed herself down the road rather than letting the thing get closer to anyone's house.

Ning felt the air pressure from a jaw closing just behind her, and immediately jumped up and around, drawing her sword in a quick slash to its neck just behind the head. Her muscle memory was tuned to resheath the sword after the strike, landing her next to it. Then it turned its head and tried to snap at her again; she ducked aside, striking the side of its head and jamming the sheath vertically between its teeth all in the same motion. The sheath was sturdy enough to keep it from closing its mouth for a couple of seconds, during which she ran around to one side of the thing's massive body; then it broke, bursting back into the electricity it was made out of and briefly shocking the inside of the thing's head again. Ning reformed the sheath around her sword right away.

It turned quickly, but not as quickly as its head had been snapping at her. Ning was able to get the rest of the way around it and deliver a flurry of slashes to its back leg, before instinct told her to jump away and that tail smashed through the road she'd just been standing on. She landed, panting slightly, and then saw something bright out of the corner of her eye and turned toward it. It was...

"Yep." She nodded, but her voice sounded too deep to be Light's. And she appeared to register the confusion, saying, "Not much time to explain, let's just get to work on that thing. What do you know so far?"
"The shell's invincible. Head's really fast," she said. Some undefinable part of her mind insisted that this was Light, different voice or not. But even if it really wasn't, this was someone interested in killing the giant turtle, which was more than good enough. "Seems tough."
"Alright. I'll get to distracting it, just keep hitting." Light appeared to..glow and disappear, and then there were about ten of her all around the thing. Ning ran forward, jumped up onto the shell near the back, slashing the base of the tail twice before making a more deliberate motion to stab the blade directly into the short-lived gash from those, converting and amplifying the sheath into some lightning to attract a genuine strike of it down from the sky through the hilt and into the beast. Its mace-like end whipped around to swat her off, and she had to dive away, rolling on the ground briefly, lying there a second before a little slowly standing back up again.
The turtle-thing was snapping at image after image of Light, never actually finding purchase; the real one was probably off to one side somewhere. She was also calling a laser down on each of its four legs, constantly burning them, but it all seemed fairly ineffectual based on how much mist it was bleeding. This might eventually whittle the thing down, but they were both burning through their energy quick doing all this.

"Any bright ideas?" Ning jumped slightly, not having expected Light to appear right next to her again.
She crossed her arms. "I think we need some way to get past that shell. If it's weak anywhere, it's inside there."
After a moment's thought she did, in fact, have an idea. "Well, I did just figure out how to make a magnet."

Ning drew her sword, turning it forward and putting the hilt inside of the sheath so the rest of the blade was facing out, aimed at the thing's shell. Then she made a spiral of electricity just like before, but bigger and much stronger, around the sheath, using the sheath itself as a ferromagnetic core. Giving the sword the same polarity as the end of the sheath it was sticking out of immediately fired it straight forward with far more force than she could've ever thrown it with, and when it impacted the shell it pierced a small hole through it, burying itself to the hilt before exploding into a shower of sparks from the impact. A geyser of black mist fired from the spot and the creature made a deep, rumbling roar of pain for the first time since it had appeared.
Light followed up, disappearing and reappearing on top of the shell with her own sword drawn, plunging it into the fresh hole and jumping away. Ning struck that with lightning, jumped away as the monster snapped at her, starting another run away from it. This one didn't last long, Light making her invisible and putting an illusory Ning going in another direction to let her catch her breath before slashing its neck another several times. The hole in the shell seemed to have sealed itself up by now, so Ning ran around to one side while the thing snapped at an image of her standing still after the attack. She caught sight of Light slicing into the base of its tail with...two..? of her own sword, seemingly disappearing every time the tail tried to swat her off and reappearing the instant the tail was gone.

The giant turtle was fooled into turning around, away from Ning, on the way to a full 180, which gave her time to line up another shot. The blade pierced another small hole into the beast's shell, and Light followed up immediately, giving Ning time to strike the weapon twice. Then it was time to run as the thing started snapping wildly in the general direction the blade-shot had come from, and Ning wound up on one side of it with Light again appearing next to her. "How're you holding up?"
"Okay..I think."
"Take a minute to recharge when you need to, I'm really good right now. Whoop!" Light picked Ning up in the same motion as jumping away from a tail-swipe, placing her on the ground again a few paces away. She could've sworn Light wasn't strong enough to make lifting the weight of a person quite so effortless, but was grateful for the save all the same; she simply hadn't been paying enough attention and apparently the turtle-thing could hear their voices.

The tail-swipe had been a component of the thing turning around to face them again, and Ning hopped just out of the way of the next snap, slotting her sheath into the thing's mouth again. Seeing this, Light tried adding her own sword in just before it crushed the sheath back into sparks, giving it a nasty surprise sticking up through its jaw and causing it to flail its head around wildly in pain for a few seconds afterward. Another lightning strike hit the blade, traveling through it to the inside of the thing's mouth before it dissipated back into light.
Ning ran around to one side, and Light made an image of her run the other way so the thing would chase it. Then she made a little bit of distance and set up the magnetic shot again, firing into the shell. It was pierce, stab, lightning, run away, and then Ning felt one of the thing's bites coming just in time to dive to the ground underneath it. Thanks to an illusion, the monster bit the air a little farther along the path she'd just been running rather than following through and taking a chunk of the ground along with her, and continued to rotate itself along after that false image.

She rolled over onto her back, panting heavily from a combination of physical exhaustion and fear of just how close that had been to her being eaten. Maybe there would've been a chance to escape from its jaws, but what happened to people who got caught inside of those things was...if not for herself, the horror for the little girl back in her house wasn't imaginable. Perhaps this was a good time to 'recharge', as Light put it. Ning stood up using her sheathed sword as a prop and then brought her hand skyward, drawing two or three bolts of lightning in a row down through it and into herself. Then, with the thing fully distracted by Light, it was time to fire her weapon through its shell yet again. Surely it had to be running out of black mist or whatever it was that made it go by now, right?

Stab, lightning, lightning. Jump over the tail, dodge the next bite from its head and here, have a sheath to eat. Ning passed Light her sword to add under its jaw, and both stabbed it up through the mouth because for as capable as it was at locating them through all of Light's illusions it apparently wasn't very bright, or at least didn't appear to respond very quickly to basic Pavlovian conditioning. It was easier to call lightning down on her own sword somehow—it was made of electricity or whatever—so the inside of the thing's head got even more electrified this time, convulsing wildly from the strike.
Both of them took the opportunity to silently run a a small distance away, letting the thing chase illusions of them going the other direction when it did recover. Light made some letters in the air between them rather than risking speaking aloud: "How's your aim with the magnet thing? Think you could use my sword too?"
Ning considered it, and nodded. It was a good idea—punch a hole through the armor and then a much deeper hole through the inside. She placed her own weapon into the sheath, holding it in place by giving it the opposite polarity to that end of the magnet, and then took Light's in her other hand, taking a deep breath to steady herself.

It was one swift, single motion: Make the electromagnet fire her own blade, give Light's weapon the opposite charge so it stuck into the sheath when she put it there, then reverse it immediately to strike again just when the first blade exploded into sparks. It looked like a thin streak of pure, white light traveling from the sheath into the tiny hole, and then a sword spat out the opposite side of the thing's shell before finally running out of momentum and falling, clattering on the ground. The creature roared its loudest as two geysers of black mist shot out from the holes, but they weren't done yet. Light appeared, struck her sword into the first hole, then appeared and struck her sword into the second hole; there seemed to be a thin string of white traveling up over the shell between the hilts of the two copies. Ning unsummoned her weapon, spreading her arms and concentrating on calling down the thunder, alternating one side and another and directing the electricity to spread all throughout whatever kind of flesh there was beneath the black shell on its way between the tips of the two copies of Light's blade. This concentrated assault was finally bringing the fight to a close, it seemed, making the giant turtle-thing start to blur and dissipate. When the swords disappeared again, Light took advantage of the still-present holes, everywhere in sight growing dark as its light was pulled inside to form lasers piercing all through the inner body of the monster.

It roared again and flailed its head and tail as it finally fell apart for real, bursting into black mist and blowing away on the wind. The sunlight resumed its natural place, brightening the surroundings back to normal. Ning was bent over panting for a moment, and Light appeared next to her again, gently placing a hand on her back.
"I..guess you were at home when all that started?"
"Then we should probably—..we should..." She seemed distracted; Ning stood herself up to try and see what the problem was.

The person standing there looked like...if Light had grown up quite a bit, maybe. Taller, bigger in a lot of ways, skimpier clothes, abs even. Ning couldn't help but think she looked rather beautiful. But she also had a slightly distressed look on her face, and there was a faint hissing sound starting to come from her direction. "Light? What..?"
"It's—don't worry, we're inviI—" Her voice cracked strangely. "Uh, invisible to everyone else, right now." It was changing, growing higher. And she was starting to shrink down, her clothes reshaping slowly. Light's body was pouring out a white steam that disappeared into the air only a few inches from where it began, almost an opposite of the effect from one of the mist monsters dying.

"Ough, this—doesn't feel great," she said, her voice quickly approaching its usual range and her ears drooping slightly. Before long she had shrunk down to her usual appearance, her shirt covering her whole torso and the shorts grown out into a pair of jeans. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, almost a sigh. "Hhh-okay." Reopening her eyes, Light looked slightly tired. "Now like I was saying, we should probably circle around and come in the back way. Nadia's, at home, right?"
"Right...but, what—"
"I'll—I'll explain," said Light. There were some sirens audibly on the way. "Let's, just get back to your house for now."
"Okay," Ning nodded.

Well, suddenly being partially in someone else's apartment—Amory's apartment, even—and not in control at all of the body that was there was not Emma's ideal way of waking up, but she discovered that once again she'd slept much later than she'd intended to, and as soon as Light dismissed the extra body she jumped out of bed and raced through the morning routine as quickly as she could without guaranteeing a disaster like slipping in the shower or falling over while attempting to put on pants (though she still came close to that one).

There was some food and, surprisingly, no mess in the kitchen. It looked freshly cooked, smelled good as usual. Beryl was nowhere to be seen, but had left a note: "Don't be late! -B" Late did she know about the date? Emma was certain she hadn't seen her the night before, but...looking around it seemed she'd managed to leave her phone in the living room before going to bed. Realistically, her password wasn't that hard to guess. Emma had never been particularly good at remembering passwords or anything else like that, and anyone who knew anything about computers would probably spend the rest of their life scolding her if they found out how insecure she let things get as a result. Still, this was a new one; was her roommate really so curious about Emma's love life that she had to break into her phone? This was something to confront her about, if possible...but for now, at least there was breakfast.

Her head went spinning off in another direction, partially due to wanting to be distracted from the idea of confronting someone like Beryl about anything and partially from how she'd been woken up. If Light was supposed to have total control over her powers, could he just summon her 'extra' body into place, give her control and then have her summon the rest of herself along? The idea didn't seem to have crossed his mind, even for use in emergencies, but if they ever needed to meet in private or something it would be a pretty reliable way to at least keep Emma from being tracked. Another step toward "just teleporting wherever", it seemed like. It was also interesting, at least a little, to notice that Emma's powers worked for Light while he was in normal form—and that her 'extra' body could appear even while she was, although something had seemingly been wrong with its usual powers. Maybe there was some kind of balancing thing where having Minus without Plus dragged the body that was there down, too...which didn't really bode well for what might happen if just one of her bodies got seriously hurt.

Getting ready to go and passing the rest of the time went in a bit of a blur, and before she knew it she was standing outside of the restaurant feeling really very..uncertain about all this. She'd been so obsessed and stressed over even getting this far that she really hadn't had any time to worry about what came next. Unlike their brief conversation the day before, or some embarrassingly confused texts, this was sitting down with him for at least half an hour trying to have an actual conversaion and get to know each other. It was enough to make a significant part of her want to bolt, but the rest of her remembered well enough that she'd wanted this all along and it was going to start metaphorically knocking some heads if she went anywhere at this point.

...Was he already inside? That would be a more logical place to wait for the other person, right? Emma poked her head toward the window and looked around, trying to see whether or not Amory was present. She didn't see him, but that didn't necessarily mean anything especially if he'd already gotten a table..was she that late?! She was pretty sure she'd gotten here about right on time...

Emma gasped loudly and jumped, turning around to see Amory with a slightly concerned look. "Er, uh."
After a second or two he carried on as if she hadn't done that: "Sorry, I, ran a little late. You didn't have to wait too long, did you?"
"Um, n-no, j-just a minute or two." Breathe, dummy.
"Okay. Then, let's, go on in." He opened the door for her and gestured to go first, which she leveraged into breaking herself out of total mental lockup so he wouldn't have to hold it forever.
Amory took care of getting them a table while Emma continued nervously bouncing around, trying not to freak out too much. Eventually they were sitting down.

" are you feeling?" he asked after waiting what seemed like a polite amount of time for her to start the conversation. "Rested well enough?"
"Um, y-yeah."
"Sorry about that thing this morning. I though it'd be a good idea, and uh, neither of us knew it would work like that."
"Th-that's okay. I was gonna get up a lot earlier, but, I've had so much trouble waking up lately. I, usually don't even need an alarm clock for school."
Amory nodded. "Doing that stuff wears people out, I've noticed. My roommate, he was asleep almost ten hours one time."

Emma looked down at the table, feeling a little awful. More reminders of how hard Light had been working toward the specific, heroic goal of helping and saving people while she'd been obsessing exclusively over what she wanted.
"Heyy. Eyes up here, huh?" She looked up slowly and Amory gave a small wave once she was looking his direction.
"Um, s-sorry. I just..." Whatever she was trying to say caught in her throat, and anyway the waiter arrived to take their drink orders at this point.

"So, I guess you know my major," he said.
"Um, s-sort of? I just know that it's, uh, sciency." Emma tapped her index fingers together. "I don't really, um..I'm studying English lit. L-literature. Never really been very good with, numbers or, formulas or st-stuff like that."
He nodded. "It's chemistry. I'm looking into biochem maybe, not sure yet." He paused while their drinks were set down. "I guess you've heard, they're opening back up this Monday. I've got most of my homework done, at least."
"Mmh. M-me too. When I um, before I went outside I found out just how good I was at doing two things at once," Emma said.
"Really good, I guess?"
"Yeah. I can uuhm, read and write different things at the same time. Play a game as good as two people. Better, really."
"Pretty amazing," Amory nodded with a smile.

They ordered their food. Emma couldn't help but feel she was talking about something that wasn't exactly her—not her efforts, just a gift given by somebody else—but somehow those stupid powers were the only thing she could talk about without stuttering so far. She'd even implied she was good with words by saying she wasn't good with numbers—and, usually she was! At least, on paper, but she was capable of verbal wit too, sometimes.

"What's um, what's he doing right now?" she said, grasping for something—anything else to talk about.
"He went out looking for something to fight this morning," said Amory.
"...Oh." Well of course Light was doing that.
"Come to think of it, I should probably remind him homework exists..hey."
"What are you beating yourself up over?"

"I..." It wasn't like she'd been subtle. It didn't seem like a good idea to lie, either. "I just feel like I've been...useless. And awful. All I've done, all week, is think about myself..and now I sound like a broken record all over again, a different way."
" shouldn't feel bad about not risking your life," said Amory with a serious tone. "Or not wanting to. You never signed up to be a soldier, right?"
"No..." She knew she didn't sound convinced. "Light said the same kind of thing," she added quietly.
"When was that?"
"Almost as soon as we met. After the hospital. She saw how I was...feeling, and, said something about deciding whether the risk was worth it. I wasn't really in any shape to think about anything at the time..."

"Well, did you think about it since then?" he said.
"I don't know. If you a-asked me whether there was anything I'd risk my life for before, this, I don't think..I wouldn't really have an answer," she said. "But now I'm in it and people are dying and almost-dying, and if there's something I can do about it but I don't...I feel like, I don't have any choice." She looked at the window for a second or five; briefly it occurred to her that she was making a concerted effort to not start crying. "It's, fight and be terrified for a few minutes, or run away and feel guilty forever. So I pick the one that makes me feel horrible for less time. I guess I'm still only thinking about myself, right?"
"That's just twisting the logic around," said Amory. "If you feel guilty at all then it's because you care about the people who might die." He paused, noticing the waiter coming up to put down their food. Once he was back out of earshot he added, "Anyway, you could always help in a way that doesn't involve fightning, or put you personally in harm's way. Yeah?"

Emma sighed. "There are some ways...I can think of, but..." She paused, taking a few bites; Amory waited for her to finish. "Sometimes I wish I'd never learned to summon weapons. If I'd just stayed inside my apartment all week this week, I wouldn't even know I could fight. Maybe I could've avoided ever finding out. And I wouldn't have been..terrified, and angry, and tired, or gotten hurt that one time. But would've died." Amory nodded, acknowledging this. "I think about that...I think about how, there might be someone else out there with someone they care about. Maybe I can—maybe I'm the only one there to protect them. Even if I have risk my life to do it, I don't want anyone else to have to feel the way I did when I wasn't sure yet whether I was gonna be too late, if you were alive or dead."
"Hmm." Amory was still eating, but his eyes showed rapt attention to what she was saying.
"And I know, it's, unrealistic. No matter how hard I fight or how many of me there are, there will always be people I can't even get to, can't even try to save. But, the only way I can imagine not having nightmares about it is if I know, or at least I've fooled myself into thinking that I did everything I could."

They were both quiet for maybe a full minute. Emma took the opportunity to eat some of her food. Eventually Amory said, "You know Emma, you're really a good person."
"Mgh!" She almost-choked on her food in surprise at that declaration. Seeing that, Amory moved to do something about it if he needed to, but after swallowing and some coughing she was breathing normally again. She didn't feel like a particularly good person, not after this past week!
"Uh, sorry."
"I-it's okay. What do you, mean though?"
"I mean what I said. So stop telling yourself how terrible you are, it isn't good for you. And...if you really can't be convinced not to fight, then at least don't try to do it alone. There are people who'll fight with you. I mean—on your side," he corrected, realizing only after saying it the other meaning of that phrasing.
"...I know." Emma's mind was drawn to a cold chill she'd felt from Rory the day before, and Ning threatening one of her bodies on thinking she'd done something to Light. But at least Light seemed to believe in her so far, and apparently—Amory too.

"Well, this is all a little heavy," he said after another pause. "Maybe we should lighten the mood a little?" Emma nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly. "What were you playing with yourself on the other controller?" he asked.
"Oh, um.."