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Daybreak had finally come for the group of gifted tasked with protecting the Donneur de Fréne, and each member was currently preparing themselves for the upcoming battle.

“Oh ma dame! Embrasse petit oh rouge moi. Oh ma dame! Embrasse-moi donc je ne serai pas libre. Oh ma dame! Les cendres me chantent. Oh ma dame! Les cendres sont mon destin.”

Herah was on her knees before the Donneur de Fréne with a shroud of blue flames engulfing her, as she sung a battle hymn. The youngling now wore a solid black tank top and a pair of black cargo pants. The scales on Herah’s left arm and the top portion of her face had grown back at this point along with her horns which had returned to framing her head while pointing upward. Herah had positioned her single strap backpack so that it sat comfortably in-between her folded wings, with the zipper slightly ajar for easy access. Herah also now wore a bracelet that Owen had fashioned for her the night before. It was completely iron and had a small amber gem embedded into it. Along with this bracelet, Herah wore a golden amulet with a copper cross in the center of it

“Lady Reese, may my work not fail me. Lady Walters, may my craft protect my friends. Lady Grey, may you not yet allow us into the grasp of death.”

Owen sat not too far away from Herah with his head bowed and his hat off preying. The gnome was once again dressed in his blue tunic and was also wearing his own golden amulet. Owen had also sat the only silver skull that had been deemed acceptable in his eyes on his right.

FRRRWWWPPP

Max sat against the Donneur de Fréne in front of Herah springing her deck from hand to hand. The human was now wearing her newly repaired and improved clothing, courtesy of Orange.  Max’s shirt was now red with white letters spelling out: DO YOU WANT THE LIE?, and her khaki cargo shorts had been changed into cargo pants. Max’s trench coat still looked much the same, with the only real modification to it being the copper shoulder plate that was now on her left shoulder. Owen had made it and an accompanying brown glove that had a single rubber pad on the back of it. Around Max’s neck sat another golden amulet with a copper cross in the middle of it. Herah felt a strong sense of calmness (which was mirrored by herself) come through her link with Max, along with some underlying feelings of dread and fear.

PING!

Alex sat crosslegged on the opposing side of the Donneur deFréne, tapping his nose while meditating with his Brigade of Enlightenment orbiting around his head. Every few seconds one of the orbs would change colors and make a high pinging sound that irritated Herah’s ears. Alex had both of his daggers on either side of him and was wearing his newly repaired jeans and white shirt reading: DO YOU WANT THE TRUTH? while his jacket was sitting on his side. Alex also wore a golden amulet with a copper cross in its center.

Now done with her song, Herah opened her eyes and allowed her blue flame shroud to disperse. The youngling then inhaled deeply and let out an annoyed grunt once the overwhelming smell of rot greeted her nose, confirming something the entire group had planned on happening.

With only a 10 kilometer radius separating them, what had to be the remnants of the Oni army had completely surrounded the clearing. Herah knew from information gathered through something of her own creation that it would be another ten minutes before the Oni would begin their march to destroy the Donneur de Fréne.

Herah then turned her attention towards the now destroyed home of the Oni. Well, Herah’s attention was more on something that was born from both the destruction of the Oni’s home and the leader of the Oni forces gift. A massive storm had been advancing towards Alex’s group for the last day or so and would be over them within another three hours by Herah’s own predictions.

Herah turned her attention away from the incoming storm and looked around the clearing.

Owen had finished up his own prayers and now stood with his eyes closed and his breathing steady. Feeling her eyes on him, Owen opened his own and looked back at Herah. The gnome then gave Herah a small smile and nodded his head, soliciting a grin and return nod from Herah. Turning away to face Max, Herah found her friend on her feet as well looking back at her. Since both knew how the other felt, all that was traded between them was a smile and nod. Herah then turned to the Donnuer de Fréne with a small glare. Walking over to and around the ash giving tree, Herah found Alex still meditating with his orbs of lights floating around him.

“Alex, are you ready?”

Alex paused mid tap and opened his eyes. Leveling a small glare at Herah, Alex let out a sigh and stood up. The leading gifted then did a few stretches, before throwing on his jacket and putting both of his blades into his pockets. Now done with that, Alex turned to Herah and told her with a disturbingly emotionless tone,

“Yeah ashbrain, I’m ready.”

Growling at Alex’s nickname for her, Herah turned away from the human and walked back over to Owen while reaching into her backpack and redrawing her sketchpad and a pencil.

“Herah, what are you doing?” Owen asked, as the youngling opened up her sketchpad and allowed for her pencil holding hand to blur as it flew across the page. After a few seconds, Herah had completely finished her new illustration. Herah then used Traduire and immediately felt her left eye turn into paint.

“Herah!” Owen shouted.
“Lavatits!” Max shouted.
“Oh no. Her eye turned into paint. How will she ever come back from this?” Alex said in a completely uncaring voice.

Herah rolled her remaining eye and tossed her creation to Owen before reaching into her backpack and redrawing a single nugget of platinum. Herah tossed the metal into her mouth while also wiping away the paint that was now dipping down her face. Soon afterward, a small red fire appeared in Herah’s empty eye socket and flared for a moment before dispersing. This revealed a new eye in place of her old one.

“See perfectly fine,” Herah pointed at Owen, “Anyway that’s for your protection in case some get past any of us.”

“You mean you,” Alex cut in condescendingly while still maintaining his lifeless tone, “My plan allows for no one to get past me and I know Max well enough to know that whatever she has planned will most definitely be an extremely humane and effective way of getting rid of them. You’re the only one of us whose method of killing is inefficient enough that it might lead to stragglers.”

One annoyed twitch in Herah’s eye and a swift punch from Max to Alex later, Herah wrapped both of the twins in her arms and was preparing to take off.

“This a little to close for my comfort.”
“Shut the fuck up brother, we’re doing this.”

Chuckling to herself, Herah unfurled her wings and launched herself and the twins into the sky, with Alex mumbling something that peeked Herah’s interest under his breath.

“Now let’s go earn our place in hell next to Hitler.”

“Who the fuck is Hitler?”

ONI

Within a clearing that had been created the previous night, a lone Oni who was unlike the rest sat in the lead of her band of warriors. The soon-to-be combatants were currently either praying to the Log, doing whatever maintenance they could on their weapons, or looking just plain old depressed and desolate. This lone Oni however was staring off in the direction that Alex’s group had to be. Her skin was the color of the sky that was blocked out by the storm that was slowly approaching their target. Her body was lithe with only hints of muscle appearing here and there across it. She wore a brown crop top that had white stars dotting it and a pair of gold-colored pants and boots. Much like her contemporary, Moon, this Oni lacked a mask, marking herself as a Keijo. This Keijo ‘s face was that of a matured woman that also retained some of the softness of a younger girl. Her hair was black and lime green with the black portions being stylized into two buns while the green portion was braided into two short braids that hung down on either side of her head. Her eyes were purple and pupilless, holding within them both rage and fatigue. Upon her face, she wore a grimace and ground her teeth together while mumbling to herself.

“Fuck this. Fuck me. Fuck that bitch Max. Fuck that coward Moon. Fuck you Norwe, I know you can hear me. Fuck you dad. Fuck you grandpa. Fuck, I just want this to be over.”

“Cheif String,” Hearing the cheery sound of one of the many Oni that followed her, the sitting Keijo felt a hand rest onto her shoulder and turned to find a lime green-skinned, female Oni with a slim body and awkward stance decked out in red-wooden armor covered in moss styled like overhauls looking down on her, “It’ll be time for us to begin our advancement soon enough. Our soldiers could use some words from their leader, the great String Kujo, to inspire them.” The Oni reached up and stroked the chin of her own mask while letting out a pondering sigh, “Maybe it’ll help calm you as well.”

String Kujo let out a sigh before smiling up at the other Oni and quietly saying,

“I’m hardly great C.C., though you’re right. I need to inspire my people, not bitch about my problems.”

String Kujo rose up to her full height, revealing that she was just a bit taller than C.C. Walking past the Oni, String looked over her band of warriors and got their attention.

TWEEEEE!

Immediately everyone paused and turned to face String.

‘I fucking hate how I can’t tell anyone’s expression thanks to their mask. It’s annoying as all hell. Whelp, let’s get this inspirational shit over with already.’

String took a deep breath and began to grunt loudly.

“I know that right now, shit has hit the fan. Shit has hit the fan then got all into the fan leaving the damn thing a completely broken mess. Of the 3 million Oni that used to be, we only have 5 hundred thousand left. Many of you lost loved ones in the Mushroom Massacre, that has effectively crippled our species. Many of you aren’t even soldiers since most of our military was killed in the attack.” String let a frown come to her face as she moved a hand into her hair and began to rub it furiously, “Fuck! That isn’t very inspirational, give me a second.”

String turned away from her soldiers (who were looking at each other in confusion) and began mumbling to herself.

“Damn it String! You need to fucking elevate these guys. You can’t just tell them what they already know. Come on! Think of something inspirational, fuck I hate being the leader.”

“String,” The Keijo in question turned to face C.C., who once again rested her hand on her leader’s shoulder, “Give yourself a moment, then try again. I know you can do it.”

String let out another sigh before smiling at C.C. and nodding. Taking a few deep breaths, String turned back to the gathered Oni and found them all looking at her while shifting around restlessly. String took another deep breath and let it out, before grunting once again.

“Look, I know that the odds are, at best, unfavorable for us. The enemy we face has a lot more power and skill in comparison to most of you. All we have are numbers and that could be more of a detriment to us than anything. But I also know something else. We have a chance. We have a chance to save our people from extinction. We have a chance to come back from this. We have a chance to once again prosper as a society.”

By this point, the Oni had stopped with their restless movements and some had began to nod along to her words.

“Let me be clear on one thing. Most, if not all of us, will die here today. The odds are against us and we’re on our back once again. But we’ve stayed strong through the drought that left us leaderless. We’ve stayed strong through the attack of Human and his subsequent followers. We’ve stayed strong through the years of distrust that was our trial of trust. We’ve stayed strong through the tumultuous years after my father’s and Diavolo’s death. So once again, we must stay strong no matter the outcome.”

The gathered Oni were becoming rowdier. Some looked down at clenched fist while others let out approving grunts.

“To be honest, I don’t know how this will end. By the end of today, that tree may or may not be destroyed. Our opposition may or may not be dead. Our people may be damned or saved. These are all things I don’t know. But I do know one thing for sure, we will never lose our strength!”

A chorus of shouts filled the clearing as all the gathered Oni banged their hands against their chest while shouting out,

“KUJO!”
“KUJO!”
“KUJO!”
“KUJO!”

“Now it’s almost time for us to begin our march. I expect for those catapults and archers to be here and armed by the time our company makes contact. The north and south companies should have either made it to the clearing at that point or met resistance. Remember, we have to arrive before the east company can do their part so get ready to move out!”

Immediately after her words were finished, all the gathered Oni rushed to get their stuff together and finalize any preparations they had started. String turned away from her forces and instead redirected her attention to C.C. with a reluctant smile on her face.

“I know you’re smiling under that stupid fucking mask.”

“Ahahaha.” String felt a wave of delight wash over her at her friend’s chuckle, “You did great String! Norwe was kind enough to broadcast your little speech to all the other companies, so that should improve morale all around. Now, all we’re waiting for is the signal to begin.”

String felt her mood fall slightly at the mention of Norwe but shook her head and kept on smiling at C.C.

“C.C., before I sound the attack I need to do something with you.”

“What do you need Chief?”

String said nothing else, instead, the chieftain took her right hand and popped out the claw on her forefinger.

Anata wa shōkan sa remashita.”

String then dragged her claw down the center of C.C.’s mask, a glowing blue line being left in its wake as it went.

CRI-CRACK!

C.C.’s mask dropped to the ground, revealing a childlike face and slightly agape lips that sharply took in air. Her eyes were black and pupilless and were in the process of slowly widening. C.C. raised a single hand to rub her face, a gasp leaving her as her fingers touched skin that had felt nothing but a mask for all of its life.

String let out her own chuckle at C.C.’s reaction and rested her hand on the stunned, newly made Keijo’s shoulder.

“If I fall today, you must lead our people. As my most trusted friend, I believe that your hands are the best prepared to lead the Oni.”

C.C. said nothing, instead, she looked down at her hands and nodded before looking back at String with a serious and thankful look in her eyes.

“Thank you for trusting me enough to lead in your stead.” C.C.’s eyes took on a humorous glint, “But it won’t be needed. We got this.” C.C. sneezed, “Stupid pollen, I gonna miss my mask for that single reason I tell you.”

String just chuckled at C.C.’s words before telling her to help prep for the catapults that would arrive soon. Once away from her friend, String looked back towards her objective while a scary thought came to her mind.

May I be forgiven for what happens next, and I hope not to use your sins father. That might prove disastrous.’

Shaking her head once again, String reached down to the center of her stomach just above her waist were a tattoo of an arrowhead had been carved into her skin. Giving the arrow a soft tap, the tattoo began to glow before a weapon appeared in String’s right hand.

It was a nine-section chain whip, with each section being a 5-inch steel rod with three rings of metal connecting all of them together and to the handle and metal dart that ended it. The whip’s handle was made of smoothed redwood and wrapped in black leather. The metal part of the chain whip was made of a steel/silver alloy that caused the metal to shine rather brightly in the starlight. On the dart end of the whip hung a red flag that somewhat concealed the end underneath it.

Entering a relaxed stance, String tossed the end of her whip to the side and began to twirl the chain in a tight circle on the right side of her body. As the soft whirring or her chain cutting through the air filled the clearing, String looked back at the warriors behind her finding that they all appeared to be at the ready, waiting for her command. Seeing this, String looked forward once again before whipping her chain towards the sky.

CRAAAAAK!

A red bolt of lightning shot down from the clouds above and struck Strings chain. The electrical charge rippled down the chain before seemingly disappearing into the handle. String let out a pleasured sigh as she felt electricity course through the entirety of herself, feeding her energy.

With that done, String reached into the pocket of her pants and withdrew a pair of shades. Throwing them on, She then began to walk towards the clearing that held the Donneur de Fréne.

The Oni’s attack had begun.

HALT

CRAAAAK!

As soon as Owen saw and heard the lightning, the gnome took his hat off of his head and threw it high into the air. Just as the hat reached the apex of its height, Owen mentally commanded for it to enlarge.

BOOM!

Owen stumbled slightly as the clearing shook with his hat now encompassing the entire area. With that done, Owen sat down and let out a deep sigh before grabbing his silver skull and saying,

“Grant me the sight loss by the Blind Devil Murdock.”

Light appeared in the eyes of the skull before a blinding flash filled the clearing. Rubbing the blindness out of his eyes, Owen set down the skull and backed away from it.

After Owen had gone a suitable distance, the silver skull began to project a map that displayed what was to be the battlefield of the battle that would decide both the fate of the Oni and that of the Gifted.

Allowing his eyes to start at the center, Owen found a large orange circle a blue dot within it.

‘So nothing has reached the clearing as of now. Good.’

Owen then allowed for his eyes to go up the map where a single green dot lied in the path of a large horde of approaching black dots that was led by a single purple dot.

‘Alex has yet to encounter the front forces of the Oni, I hope he’s okay.’

Owen then looked more to the right of the map and found a single red dot not moving as a much larger horde of black dots were almost upon it. Owen reached up to his amulet and held his pinky to it. Closing his eyes, the gnome then sent out a mental message.

‘Max are you okay? The Oni will be upon you in about four minutes.’

After a few seconds of nothing, Owen received a reply.

‘Yeah, I’m fine. And thanks for the heads up. Max out.’

Owen nodded at Max’s words before allowing his eyes to roam to the left side of the map, where a single red dot stood between the clearing and a horde of black dots equal to that of the ones approaching Max. Owen once again took his amulet in between his pinky and thumb and sent out a mental message.

‘Herah are you okay? A large amount of Oni are-‘

‘Now approaching me. I noticed. Thanks anyway for the heads up. And I’m doing fine right now, don’t worry about me. Just remember to let me know when the east side of the Oni forces starts moving.’

Owen sent a mental confirmation to Herah before cutting their link and directing his eyes to the bottom of the map. It was here that the largest horde of black dots lied, unlike the other hordes, however, this one was not moving. Owen felt his eyes drawn to the very center of the horde, which homed a single silver dot that caused shivers to run up his spine.

‘Yeah. I’ll make sure to let you know.’

With his examination now done, Owen allowed his focus to shift back towards Herah’s dot.

She would be the first to make contact after all.

ONI

Jacob lacked direction.

He lacked direction for much of his life. He only ever had direction when he was with his girlfriend, Audrey. To be exact, for seventy years Jacob had direction. That was until a day ago.

Radiation poisoning did absolute wonders to the Oni physiology.

So now Jacob was once again directionless, just going through the motions of life. Maybe that was how he ended up marching through a somewhat lit forest that for some reason had glowing black and white flowers sprouting sporadically in places while what he guessed to be ash covered much of the forest floor that his squad of 450 Oni warriors walked upon. A single leader led their squad, watching them from the treetops while also looking out for any danger that might be hidden within the trees.

Jacob’s body wasn’t particularly fit and his skin was red. He was bald and his face was covered by a mask that was an exact copy of every other Oni’s. He wore the same chainmail that most of the other Oni in his company wore and had a pair of kama hanging from his sides like most other Oni in his company did.

‘We have 50 squads all coming in from the general north, with about 100 meters separating each squad. This is supposed to make it so the enemy can only concentrate on a single squad at any given time. Depending on who we have to deal with this might or might not be effective.’

Jacob thought of this while also paying attention to what his two companions close to him were talking about.

“Damn.” One blue-skinned Oni in front of Jacob began, this one much fitter than him and wielding a tachi hanging from his side, “String got me so pumped up for this fight! The only thing that brings this down is all this dirt or ash or whatever that seems to be covering everything, plus the black and white flowers are kinda scaring me.”

“Sam, that’s the fifth time you said something about what I’m pretty sure is ash, stop complaining about it logdammit. At worst, it’s a minor annoyance.” Another Oni, this one a female with yellow-skin and a katana at her side, responded to the Oni named Sam. “And while I will admit that the speech from the chief brings me some peace, I know that she could’ve told us to fuck off and die in a fire, and you would still be so pumped.”

“Maybe I would. I mean that’s one of the reasons I was chosen to be apart of our military.”

“Which is now only 7% of the actual forces going into battle.” Jacob intersected, sounding absolutely abysmal, “We’re so fucked.”

Jacob watched as Sam began clenching and unclenching his fist, causing a sigh to leave the simple Oni’s mouth as he knew what was about to come.

“Every party needs a pooper, that’s why we invited you.”

“My one hope is that you die before me.”

The yellow Oni turned to look back at Jacob with a hand on her hip and said,

“But seriously Jacob, can you not be such a killjoy right now. We all know what our chances are, but we should at least hold some sliver of hope.”

“My hope died with Audrey.”

Jacob heard both of his friends sigh, before Sam stopped and turned to face him.

“What do you wa-”

KRAKK!

Jacob’s head snapped to the side, as his vision filled with white dots. The Oni then began to fall back, but Sam caught him by the bottom of his mask and pulled him back up.

“Stop being such a mopey bitch. You’ve been like this for the last two days and its just disgusting. How do you think Audrey would feel seeing you like this?”

Jacob looked down to the ground and let out another sigh.

“Like shit.”

“Then pick your head up and try to act alive.” The yellow Oni commented, “You stopped your job as a historian to come fight for her, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, you’re right Lucy.” Jacob nodded his head before taking a deep breath and letting it out.

“Hey!” Jacob and Co. looked up to the treetops where the squadron leader had stopped, “Get your asses moving already! An attack could occur at any moment!”

“We’re at the back though,” Another Oni not too far away from Jacob’s group said, “We should be alerted to any attack before it even reaches u-”

BOOM!

The sound of the sound barrier breaking set off numerous alarm bells in Jacob’s mind, causing the Oni to look up towards where the sound came from. What he found wasn’t what he feared, but something much worst.

The sky had become ablaze.

Balls of blue flames were now raining down from the sky and striking everything and everyone indiscriminately. Trees went up in flames within moments of contact and fire spread across the ground much quicker than it normally would. Jacob watched in horror as a fireball struck an empty spot between two groups of Oni not too far from his right and quickly engulfed them and much of the ground near them in flames that did nothing to silence their screams. Looking back up, Jacob gasped at the sight of his squad leader falling from the treetops