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HALT

‘Damn that pissed me off!’

Herah was now floating above the treetops of the forest looking down upon the blazing barrier that had been created to both block off and kill the east company of the Oni forces. At the very moment, the youngling was double checking for any survivors.

‘Well except for that piece of shit.’ Herah let out a snort of flames at the thought of the worthless Oni that had asked her to kill him, ‘I can’t believe that someone like that is even trying to fight for the fate of their people.’

Herah shook her head to try and alleviate some of her anger. Finding the endeavor useless, Herah reached up to her amulet and sent out a mental message to all connected.

‘There’s something you all need to know.’

Almost immediately, Max answered sounding rather worried.

‘WHAT!? Is it why you’re so angry right now?”

Owen was the next one to come in.

‘Herah’s angry, about what?’

Then finally Alex joined the chat, sounding displeased and dead inside at the same time.

‘The fuck do you want right now ashbrain, I can’t be distracted for long.’

‘Oh my bad Alex. I don’t mean to bother you as you do jack shit.’

‘Don’t think Enlightenment won’t work on you through this link.’

‘I would just love to hear what you have to say Alex.’

‘How are those breast of yours feeling right now, lavatits?’

These taunting words immediately shut Herah up as a feeling of shame overcame her, but this also set off of Max who Herah felt explode with anger.

‘ALEX! YOU BETTER FUCKING NOT!’

‘Sis, I won’t.’ There was a brief pause, “As long as she doesn’t waste my time.’

“Alex, I swear if you do it again I will beat you till you’re in a coma.’

‘Now sis, don’t be lik-‘

‘STOP!’ Owen cut in before anything else could be said, ‘Max please calm down, we can’t have you flying off the handle right now. Alex, can you please be an asshole when we’re not in the middle of a life or death situation? And Herah, can you please just say what you meant to say and try not to set off Alex?’

Three collective sighs were felt through the mental link and three more yes were felt as well before Herah started speaking about her reasoning for contact.

‘Oni seem to be able to become Keijo whenever extreme distress is felt.’

‘What makes you say this ashbrain?’ Alex asked, sounding a bit displeased by the news.

‘One of the Oni I killed lost their mask after I murdered their friend, then began to shoot yellow blades of energy at me.’

‘Hmmm.’ Alex mused mentally through their connection, “That sounds like that could be a problem, but I don’t think extreme distress is the only condition that has to be met.’

‘Why not Alex?’ Owen asked.

‘Because if that was true then we would have a lot more Keijo running around due to what Max did.’

Herah felt Max’s emotions spike into disarray as numerous feelings were all being felt at once. Luckily enough for Max, Herah focused on a memory of her own father teaching her the song Nettoyants would sing before going to work and allowed her feelings of content to flow over Max’s own. Herah felt Max’s emotions become stable once again.

‘So what do you think the other condition is?’ Max asked, a barely noticeable shift in her mental tone.

‘I’d have to get a few more examples of this occurring before I could make any conclusions. But an even better option is to not let it occur, so make sure not to be sloppy… Herah.’

‘Fuck off.’

‘Anyway, have you taken out the north company yet?’

‘Essentially.’

‘What do you mean by essentially?’ Herah could already imagine the narrowing of Alex’s eyes.

‘There is one left.’

‘Well you know what to do.’

‘Yep.’

‘Does that mean you’re going to kill them?’

‘Nope.’

‘Herah,’ The youngling knew very well that Alex was gritting his teeth, ‘Why not?’

‘Because it would against my ideals at this very moment.’

‘Did we not just have a talk about being sloppy? Leaving whoever it is you’re not killing alive would be sloppy. It would be soooo sloppy.’

‘I know, but I made a vow to La Flamme many years ago that I would stand by my ideals. And you already know the repercussions for breaking my vows.’

‘Herah?’

‘Yes, Alex?’

‘I hate your fucking guts, I hope you die, and you’re lucky I love my sis so much.’

‘No love lost, I hope you live, and I know.’

‘What I do to the west company is partly your fault, Alex out.’

And with those words, Alex left her mind.

‘Herah?” Max called out with worry in her voice and through their link.

‘Yes Max?’

‘Alex has a point you know?’

‘I do, but I’ll stand by my beliefs even if it gets me killed.’

‘I know, but will you stand by them even if they get us killed?’

‘Yes.’ Herah said without pause. ‘The only thing more important in my eyes is the life of La Flamme and my family, and I’ll be sure to handle it if this Oni if they become a big enough threat that they could cause me my life.’

‘Still lavatits, maybe you should-‘

‘Max!’ Herah cut in, anger coloring her tone, ‘Stop now, my decision will not change. You already know that, don’t you?’

‘I-I do.’ Max sounded a bit sad, ‘Just try not to get yourself hurt, please?’

‘I will.’

‘Max out.’

And then Max left her mind, somewhat.

‘Herah?’

‘Yes Owen?’

‘I think you hurt her feelings.’

‘I did, and I already feel like shit about it.’ Herah let out a sigh and grabbed onto her right horn, ‘Is that all?’

‘Two more things.’

‘Ok then, what?’

‘Where is Jeffery? And the east company has begun to move.’

‘I don’t know where Jeffery is, and I’ll be over on that side soon.’

‘Okay then, Owen out.’

And then Owen left her mind.

Herah let out a sigh before rubbing the side of her head in frustration.

‘I’m gonna have to apologize to Max later, that was sorta cruel of me.’

Herah then let out another sigh before launching herself towards the east company.

‘I hope what you have cooked up for the south company goes smoothly.’

ONI

Ericka had a dream.

Ericka had a dream that she would one day be able to live in a world where the two factions that made up her people weren’t always at each other’s throats. A world that didn’t have to fear the threat of annihilation because of the mistakes of the past. A world that she could find love and hope filling the air. That’s why she fought, that’s why she joined the south company of the Oni attack forces. Destroying their objective would open the pathway to the future she dreamed of.

Ericka was an Oni with brown skin and a fairly fit body, with black hair styled into a bun that was held together by two needles. She wore armor that was a bit more superior to that of her companions. It was full plate samurai armor, red as Sendo (the star that Bizarre orbited) that lacked the standard helmet. On her side hung a katana and a wakizashi, both with red sheaths containing their blades.

Ericka was leaping through the somewhat dim treetops looking down on her squad while also watching out for anything that could be seen as out of place. She had been doing so for nearly twenty minutes now and found herself a bit worried by the lack of any form of attack.

‘Why hasn’t the enemy attacked us yet, my squad is near the middle of the company and we’re nearly halfway there. Did they not set up any defenses, or is this just one big trap?’

Any more thoughts of that nature were lost once Ericka caught sight of something that made her blood run hot.

Just a few branches away, standing atop a rather wide branch, was one of those who were trying to defend the tree her people were to destroy. The defender almost completely matched the description that Ericka had been given just before her squad had left their home, Jubokko. She was a brunette, had green eyes, wore a trench coat with a slight modification to it, had on what was called cargo pants instead of shorts, and had 52 cards floating around her.

This was the one named Max.

But it wasn’t her identifying of Max that made Ericka angry. No, what made her angry was the apologetic and sad look that she wore on her face. A look that seemed to say, I’m so sorry for killing most of your population. I’m so sorry for causing such heartache and pain to your people. I’m so sorry for fucking you over.

But Ericka didn’t need her apology.

Ericka needed her life.

With a furious yell, Ericka unsheathed her katana and launched herself towards Max. Once in sword range, the furious Oni tried to split her target down the middle. Max’s response to this was diving out of the way and rolling into a crouch, while calling a single card to her hand and saying,

This is a shield.”

Almost immediately, an unpainted steel buckler appeared in Max’s hand and was put to work as Ericka withdrew her blade from the branch and once again launched herself towards Max. Sparks flew as Ericka’s blade skidded across Max shield, which was followed up by Ericka beginning a relentless assault upon Max.

“Die you bastard!”

Ericka slammed her shoulder into Max’s shield, knocking her target off balance. Seeking to exploit this opening, Ericka went for a quick stab at Max’s chest that she deflected with a wild swing of her shield. Growling in anger, Ericka flipped her blade into a reverse grip and dragged it up in an upward slash that forced Max back another step, still off balance. Ericka quickly followed this up with a kick to Max’s shield that launched her onto her back. The Oni then went for a stomp on Max’s left leg that just narrowly missed due to Max rolling to the side. This roll left her back open for a brief enough moment that Ericka attempted to slash at it.

SHUKK!

“GAH!”

One of Max’s card lodged itself into the back of Ericka’s hand, stopping her attack and nearly causing her to drop her blade. Then the sound of something cutting through the air reached her ears, so Ericka turned around and deflected five more cards. This little distraction gave Max enough time to steady herself and ram her shield into Ericka’s back.

“GAH!”

Ericka stumbled forward before whipping her leg around and smacking Max in the side and off the side of the branch. She watched as the human lost grip of her shield and tried to grab at the side of the branch but just nearly missed it.

I can fly.”

Ericka let out another growl as Max flew back up and landed a fair distance away from her. The Oni then clenched her teeth and sprinted towards Max once again, this time dragging her katana along the branch before going into an upward slash. This action launched several wooden chips at Max, causing for her to cover her eyes with her arms and leaving another opening for Ericka to exploit. And exploit this opening she did. Ericka slashed her blade downward, in another attempt to cut Max down the middle. Luckily for Max, she was able to move to the left just enough that the blade glanced out of her shoulder pad and once again buried into the branch. This luck quickly ran out, however, when Ericka used her left hand to withdraw her wakizashi, and slash Max across the abdomen.

“GAAH!”

Blood sprayed through the air as Max bowelled over and lowered both of her arms to cover her now open abdomen.  Ericka didn’t give Max time to do much else because she then kicked Max in the face, launching her through the air and flat on her back.

“That was for all the Oni that died in your attack.” Ericka said as she flicked the blood off of her wakizashi and slid it back into its sheath.

Ericka then watched in slight satisfaction as Max laid on her back and breathed hardly. This satisfaction soon left her though, when Max said,

“I’m as I was before.”

And just like that, Max’s wound healed and her clothes pieced itself back together. Ericka let out a growl and got ready to attack Max once again, but then she heard what sounded like an arrow striking the bottom of the branch they both stood upon.

“What the-

We’ll be safe from the explosion!”

BOOM!

Ericka was forced to shut her eyes as an explosion engulfed both herself and Max, and the branch they wore standing on blew up into shards. Now in freefall towards the ground, Erika opened her eyes and looked for her katana and to the nearest tree. Finding both within moments, Ericka snatched her blade out of the air and angled herself towards the tree. She then stabbed her sword into her wooden savior. Almost popping her arms out of their sockets, Ericka’s arms jolted as she began to slow in her decent until she stopped just a few feet above the ground.  Letting out a few breaths, Ericka then planted both of her feet on the side of the tree she had used to slow her descent and wrenched her blade out of its unconventional wooden sheath. With nothing to stop the pull of gravity, Ericka then fell and landed on her feet with a practiced grace.  She then turned around and came mask to mask with one of her subordinates, a purple-skinned Oni with a large muscular figure and a bow at the ready and some arrows in his quiver.

“Apologies commander.” His voice came out gruff but formal, “I figured when you shouted that one of the enemies must have been up there and in my haste to help I risked killing both you and our fellow soldiers.”

Ericka shook her head at his words and replied with,

“Don’t apologize, you had the chance to take out the enemy and you took it. Plus, your explosion reduced the branch to harmless wooden shards. Everyone will be fine.” Ericka then looked up and growled at what she found, “Too bad you didn’t kill her.”

Ericka felt her rage bubble up once again as Max looked down on her and her squadron. Then the sound of Oni drawing arrows filled her ears as many took aim at Max. But before any could be fired, Max shut them all down.

Your weapons are now floating in space.”

Ericka let out a surprised grunt when her sword suddenly disappeared from her hand, which was soon joined by all the other nearby Oni.

“I’m sorry for what I did. And what I do next, I do not because I want to.”

Then Max said,

The ground is shaking.”

As soon as the words left Max’s mouth, Ericka heard a rumble and stumbled as the ground began to shake right beneath her feet. Ericka looked around and watched as many of her subordinates fell flat on their asses or face. She then looked back up at Max and found her pulling a syringe out of her pocket and injecting herself with some green liquid. But her attention didn’t linger on this for too long, instead Ericka felt her eyes drawn to red sparkles that had begun to rain down from the leaves of the trees.

Not quite sure of what they were, Ericka attempted to get away from them but ended up crashing into one of her subordinates and falling to the ground. This left Ericka open to inhale quite a few of the tiny red sparkles.

“Achoo! What the hell are theeese thiiings?” Ericka felt her eyes grow heavy and before she could say anything more, sleep took her.

……

……

……

……

“Wake up!”

Ericka’s eyes shot open and she found herself looking up at a Keijo she had never seen before.

“Who,” Ericka shook her head, “Who are you?”

“I’m C.C.” The Keijo said with a surprising amount of cheeriness.

“What, what happened to me?”

C.C. tilted her head to the side slightly, almost as if pondering how to answer Ericka’s question. After a second or two of thought, C.C nodded to herself and said,

“Well that Max chick ended up using some type of knock out dust that put the entire south company to sleep.”

Ericka hurriedly sat up, nearly hitting C.C. in the head.

“What!? How long have I been out!?”

“About two hours.”

“WHAT!?”

Ericka watched as C.C. flinched at her shout causing her to offer up a small apology.

“No problem, anyway I got some good news for you.”

“What would that be?”

C.C. smiled at Ericka and said,

“We won.”

Ericka felt her heart skip a beat at the words that left C.C.’s mouth.

“Come again?”

“We won.”

“Really?”

“Yup.”

“How?”

“Some good ideas from myself and this Keijo named Jacob, some great sacrifices from Moon and String, and some good old fashion luck.”

Ericka felt breathless at the words that left C.C.’s mouth. Tears began to prick at her eyes as she rose to her feet and looked around her. All around Oni were being awakened to the good news, some crying out in joy while others just nodded to themselves in silence. Ericka felt her mouth twist into a smile as her knees felt weak and she began to weep tears of joy.

Ericka had a dream.

And now, she knew it could come true.

HALT

Max stood over the body of the Oni she now knew to be named Ericka, tears pouring down the side of her face as she looked upon a bubble that showed her the dreams of the dead Oni.

“Tha-That’s part of what the red sparkles do.” Max said to the body as a sniffle left her, “The-They lull the victim into a coma before casting their mind into an unstable timeline that is formed from my gift and their hopes for the future. T-They will then progress through this timeline until their death within which cause the timeline to collapse. Wh-What occurs to their physical body is a near instantaneous and painless de-death.”

Max then looked around herself and upon the sight of the many other Oni that had inhaled the red sparkles (which were still falling) with bubbles floating over all of their corpses.

“It-It’s the least I could do for you after all I’ve done.”

‘Max?’

Max flinched at the sudden intrusion of Herah’s voice. Immediately, she felt a spike of anger rise in her but found it almost immediately snuffed out by her own overwhelming self-hate and guilt. Reaching up to her amulet, Max began speaking to Herah.

‘Yeah, Herah.’

Max winced at her thoughts, she knew that they sounded pained and heartbroken.

‘I’m guessing you’ve done your part.’ Herah sounded uncharacteristically cautious with her words.

‘Yeah, you know earlier I thought I was ready to do this.’ Max rubbed a few more tears out of her eyes, ‘I thought that it wouldn’t be that hard. But I was wrong, I was so wrong and I hate myself even more now.’

‘Well don’t Max, you allowed for each every single of those Oni to live out their dream. To live out a perfect future.’

‘But it’s an illusion!’

‘But they’ll never know, so it might as well be reality.’

‘I killed them!’

‘And you’re going to have to just live with it.’

‘Is that all you have to say!?’

‘Of course not, what I’m trying to tell you is that you’ve already done it! So you can’t take it back now. What you can do is accept what you did and move on.’ Herah paused for a moment, ‘Or at least try to. I know it took some time last time, so I won’t bug you about it too much. We can talk about this after the battle, okay?’

Max sniffed again, before telling Herah okay and allowing for herself to focus on the link the two shared. A sudden rush of caringness and joy from Herah, allowed for Max to stabilize herself and not think about what she had just done.

‘You rest yourself up, I think you’re out of this fight for now. Me and Alex should be able to handle the rest.’

‘Ok Herah and’ Max smiled a small sad smile, ‘Thanks for checking up on me.’

Max could feel the smile on Herah’s face.

‘No problem, Herah out.’

And like that, Herah was gone.

Max then floated up and over the treetops before looking back down and saying,

“Sweet dreams.”

Max then turned where she knew her brother to be and felt a bit of worry. She saw that the storm she had used a fib to slow was just now reaching his location and that he would soon be doing his part of the plan.

‘Hey, sis?’

Speak of the devil.

‘Yeah brother?’

Max heard Alex sigh.

‘I can see you’re still very much pissed at me.’

‘What makes you think that?’

‘You’re calling me brother instead of bro. You only do this when especially pissed.’

‘Ok, so what is that you had to say?’

‘No, of course not! I wanted to check in on you after you started shaking your side of the forest and make sure everything was going okay.’

‘I’ll be fine.’ Max lied, ‘Is that all?’

Max knew that Alex was now rubbing his head in frustration.

‘Is this about that exchange Herah and I had earlier?’

‘Partly.’

‘Why does that have you so miffed?’

‘Because you two are supposed to try and become friends.’

‘And I am, but you know she just pisses me off! I don’t know how but she just pushes all my buttons.’

This time Max let out her own sigh.

‘I know, but can you at least try to be less of a general asshole when dealing with her. For my sake?’

Alex let out one final sigh.

‘Sure thing. Alex ou-‘

‘Before you go, brother, stay safe.’

Max could almost feel her brother’s smile at her words.

‘Will do. Wish me luck! Alex out.’

Alex left Max alone, looking off towards where his battle was to soon take place with worry still on her mind.

‘Good luck bro.’

ONI

Manuel loved the look of fire.

Whether it be through firewood, matches, stoves, or starlight, he loved to see the flames at work.

It was the second most beautiful thing in the world to him to be exact.

Which is why when the bomb went off and engulfed a good portion of his home in the grandest fireball that he’d ever seen, he felt a perverse mixture of happiness and disgust. The sight was absolutely stunning, but its aftermath was such a horrid and painful affair for all that he hated himself a bit for liking how it looked.

Especially since he should’ve died in the initial blast.

The only reason he was still alive was walking behind him, leading him and his fellow Oni warriors from the back as a black storm of her creation floated above and casted a massive shadow over them all.

String Kujo had saved his life and he now marched in front of her, clad in black samurai armor that was supposed to make it harder to find all of him and his allies within the dense forest unless they had the same night vision that all Oni held. However, the enemy seemed to have seen through this tactic before it was even employed since much of the trees that had originally filled their planned out path was now missing. This left a path of dirt that only a single squad had taken due to a switch in plans. They ended up splitting their company up into five squads as a result. Four of these squads split off and were now traveling on either side of his own through the forest that bordered the path that had been created. String Kujo’s squad was now the primary distraction while the other two were to pursue their objective.

Manuel was a rather large and buff grey Oni, years as a blacksmith having given him much training to develop his muscles. He walked in relative silence amongst his contemporaries and leader, the only noise made from him being the shifting of the plates that made up his armor. His group had been marching for a two hours now and nothing of worry or threat had appeared leaving him a bit antsy.

‘I wanna kill the bastards who did this to us. That would be perfect repayment for what String did for me. Now if only one would appear.’

“Hey check that out! A single tree is standing in the center of the path! And one of the defenders is sitting in it.”

Manuel looked up and found a single of the redwood trees that normally filled the forest standing in the dead center of their path with only about fifty feet between his squad and it. Upon a single branch of the tree, sat one of the defenders of the tree his people were set on destroying. From their look and attire, this one was Alex. The brother of the one that had bombed his people. He was casually swinging his feet to and fro and appeared to be looking down upon Manuel’s squad.

“Halt!”

Manuel abruptly stopped alongside the rest of his squad at the sound of String’s command. As soon as the squad stopped, Mauel saw Alex pause in the kicking of his feet and rise to stand up on the branch. As Alex did this, Manuel also heard String approaching from behind, walking towards the front of the squad. By the time she had arrived at the front, the storm that hung overhead had overtaken the tree that Alex stood in and was now inching its way closer to where their target lied. Looking up to Alex, Manuel watched as String called up to the defender.

“You’re Alex aren’t you!?”

“That would be me! I’m assuming you’re String Kujo, the leader of the Oni.” He shouted back down, sounding rather emotionless as he said so.

“That is correct.”

“Good! Great in fact!” Alex shouted back down, lacking completely in the emotion that was supposed to be expressed through his words, “Do me a favor and don’t die from my attack! Norwe would be pretty pissed if he missed one of the main events!”

And then Alex reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a box of something that Manuel couldn’t quite make out. He then saw Alex reach into the tiny little box and pull out a stick before doing a motion that he himself had repeated many times before.

Alex struck a match.

Immediately, Manuel found his eyes drawn to the tiny flame that he was just barely able to make out due to the distance. Though this didn’t mean that he didn’t hear the words that Alex said next.

“Before I do this, know that this is partly because of how pissed off I am at the idiot I’m leading and that your soldiers probably don’t deserve what I’m about to do to them.”

Manuel felt as if time slowed down, as the match fell towards the ground. He felt his mind enraptured by the sight of the falling flame as his eyes tracked it down until it was just eye level with him. By that point, Manuel found his concentration broken by the words of Alex.

The fire on that match is just like an inferno.

Manuel’s eyes widened in shock as a massive torrent of flames suddenly appeared and rushed towards his entire squad. It would be only a moment before the flame arrived and engulfed them, but yet again Manuel felt time slow down around him as he turned to look towards the one who had saved him from a situation very similar to this one not too long ago. Manuel felt no fear as the flames rushed towards him, because he knew that he would once again be saved.

String Kujo raised a single hand.

Just before the fire could engulf String, it was forced upwards by a sudden and powerful gale that caused a massive pillar of fire to form just before the Oni. Manuel felt sweat became to seep from his skin as he stared in both wonder and excitement at the power of his leader.

She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

After a few seconds, all of the fire created was forced up into the sky through the black cloud that hung overhead. For whatever reason, the fire didn’t create an opening of any kind. The flames seemed to just have passed through.

Giving little thought to that, Manuel redirected his attention to Alex and found he couldn’t make out the expression that the defender was making but could understand how he felt from his words.

“I’m honestly impressed!” Alex shouted down at them, the emotion that he was apparently feeling not at all being conveyed, “Weather manipulation, if I am correct?”

“I don’t care for games Alex! I just want to get this over with already and go home!” String called back to the human.

“I agree wholeheartedly with you String,” Alex shouted down, “That doesn’t change the fact that we have to entertain for our survival though.”

Manuel watched as String growled up at Alex before letting out a sigh.

“Ok, so what? Are you just gonna drop another one of those matches, I can block them with ease.”

“True enough,” Alex admitted, “So instead I’ll do this.”

Your Oni warriors should be burning.

Manuel never realized he caught fire.

Manuel never realized he fell to the ground.

Manuel never realized he died.

All Manuel knew before oblivion embraced him was that String was going to save them all.

She had to.

HALT

Alex batted not an eye as all the Oni before him, erupted into flames and fell to the ground.

‘Sorry guys, but you were in the way of what I hope Norwe believes to be an entertaining fight.’

They’re dying.

And like that every single Oni warrior on the battlefield was dead.

Alex looked down at String, who looked remarkably surprised and understandably stunned by what had just happened. During this period of inaction from String, Alex walked towards the trunk of the tree he stood upon and dived off.

Allowing himself to freefall a fair distance, Alex shot towards the ground with seemingly no care for his own person. That was until he was three-fourths of his way down the tree, at that point, Alex flipped upright and whipped out his kris dagger before impaling it into the tree.

POP!

Alex let out a slight hiss as he felt his right shoulder pop out of its socket at the sudden jolt that hit his body. Luckily enough for Alex, he had managed to keep his grip on his blade until he was just a few inches above the ground. Alex then let go of his kris dagger and proceeded to pop his shoulder back into place.

POP!

“Aaahh. That felt good. But it’ll feel even better when Tara heals it.”

Alex then reached into his left jacket pocket and withdrew his other dagger, Tara. It was a kila dagger. A blade of Indian design, made of enchanted iron and brass. The blade of the dagger was made up of three other blades coming together to create a tripled-sided stake design. Within the three corners of the blade was the image of a snake wrapping around another that never quite reached the tip. The handle had intricate designs carved into it and was separated into thee separate sections with slight indent at the end of each one. The pommel had the three faces of Vajrakīla, one joyful, one peaceful, one wrathful.

Alex flipped his dagger and stabbed himself in the side with it, his shoulder now having returned to its state before his fall. Alex then jumped up to the tree he had just been in and ripped out his kris dagger from it.

With all of his stuff back on his person, Alex turned to face String who had finally seemed to get over her shock and now looked upon him with complete and utter contempt.

‘Good. Now your pissed at me. An angry enemy is likely to make mistakes.’

Alex then walked up to String, only stopping when there was about four meters between the two.

“You killed them.”

“Not just those guys,” Alex pointed at the still burning corpses then waved his hand all around, “All of your grunts are now dead.”

“How!?” String shouted, another look of shock passing over her face, “These were the only ones anywhere close to your fire!”

Alex stared at String with zero emotion upon his face.

“It just works.”

String looked down and balled her fist up in frustration, before looking up into the sky and shouting,

“Damn it!”

“Ok String cut the act.” Alex rolled his eyes, “Me and you both know that these soldiers of yours already served their purpose.”

Alex watched as String flinched at his words, another look of shock flashing across her face before it became replaced with a frown as she glared at him.

“Just because they accomplish what I set out for them, that doesn’t mean I don’t care what happens to them.”

Alex rolled his eyes at String’s words.

“Piece of advice, care for very few people. One is good enough in fact. Everyone after that should be considered disposable.

“What a sad way of thinking.”

“Not as sad as what just happened to your forces.”

Alex watched in with a distinct lack of amusement as String sighed in frustration and lost her glare before asking him,

“How much of my plan do you know?”

“My knowledge stops after you release the leash that you have on that storm of yours. Norwe wouldn’t allow for Max to just learn your plan, so we had to use some surveillance of ashbrain’s creation. We “mysteriously”, Alex did air quotes with his hands, “Lost transmission not too long after learning your initial phase 1.”

“But I never said anything close to what you imply during my planning of that phase with the others.”

Alex nodded at String’s words.

“True. I figured out the actual purpose of your plan after a bit of thought.” Alex pointed at String, “But I would love to have you confirm it for me.”

Alex watched as String narrowed her eyes toward him and cautiously stated,

“I’m listening.”

A small hum left Alex before he continued.

“So your cover plan was pretty much to overwhelm us from all sides to make it so that we would have an area that couldn’t be covered due to us having only three fighters. This plan functioned under the assumption that we would not find a way to eliminate one front in time for us to handle the other. That would’ve been the fatal flaw that screwed you all over if that was what was supposed to happen, but you knew this while making your plan. You also knew that I would be the one to attack your group and Herah would be the one to take on east company. But you also figured out that only Herah and my sis could ever hope to eliminate an entire one of your companies quick enough to make them no longer pose a threat. So that meant that those two would have to take on your north and south companies, whichever one either chose didn’t matter.”

Alex paused when he saw String raise a finger.

“Yes?”

“How exactly did Max and Herah eliminate those two so easily?”

“Herah took on your north company,” Alex pointed towards the part of the forest that currently had plumes of smoke pouring up from it, “I had her cover the area we knew that your company would have to walk through with the ashes from the Ash Giver we’re currently guarding. I’m not sure whether you know this or not, but the ash that tree produces is rather flammable. So it was child’s play for Herah to turn that entire side of the forest into both a trap and grave for anyone on that side.”

Alex pointed towards the opposing side of the forest, knowing nothing of real notice was occuring over there.

“I have no idea what my sis did, but I do know that it was a success.”

Alex didn’t flinch at the soul-piercing stare String gave him as a result of his answer. String then shook her head and said,

“If you knew what your sister was doing then that would cancel out the effect of whatever it is. That’s how your gifts interact with each other isn’t it?”

“Yup,” Alex said with a nod of his head, “Now back to what I was saying. You know that my sister is the most dangerous factor we have in this fight, and that while Norwe will not allow for her to instantly let us win that she is still very much a threat to anything you throw in to try and surprise us. Another thing to consider is the danger of the storm that hangs above us,” Alex pointed to the black clouds that hung overhead, “You did mention during your initial planning that a complex weather event like this storm would be near impossible to control after you released it and would function as a threat to everyone on the battlefield. So the entire point behind your initial attack was to eliminate Max from the equation by preying upon her guilt, while also making it so that only your enemies and yourself would have to deal with the dangers of your storm. Am I correct?

“Yes.”

Alex nodded at these words before saying,

“And for that reason and that reason alone, you have both my respect,” Alex loosened the grip his Principle orb had on his emotions slightly, allowing for a frown to come to his face “And my hatred.”

“Your pissed about how I made your sister’s mental stability worse, am I correct?”

“That I am. In fact, that’s partly why I chose to allow so many of your Oni to die by fire. Because I couldn’t think of a way to allow for her to not take part in your initial attack that wouldn’t leave us fatally open.”

“Why do you say that, aren’t I the biggest threat you know you’ll have to face?”

Alex nodded his head once again before replying,

“Yes. You are the biggest threat that I know I’ll have to face. But that doesn’t mean that your the biggest one for our group.”

“Who would that be, Alex?”

“Oh, you know. So do I, so does sis, so does Owen, and Herah especially knows who.”

HALT

Herah stood in the center of a clearing, littered with numerous Oni corpses that were still burning.

‘This had to be Alex, Max isn’t in any condition to do anything on this scale at the moment.’

Herah looked around and rubbed her nose a bit.

“I fucking hate how all of you smell, it’s weird not being able to rely on my nose like this! Why the ash do you even smell of decay in the first place!?”

Herah let out a growl of frustration while also looking around the clearing.

“And why the fuck haven’t you showed up yet!?”

“Because I was trying to come to grips with what just occurred.” A strong and smooth masculine voice from behind Herah said.

Herah turned around within moments, her claws unsheathing, her eyes changing into the mess of colors that symbolized her entering Renaissance à son Sommet, and a mental call for Jeffery leaving her as her eyes laid upon who her opponent was to be for this next phase of the battle.

“Hello Moon, it’s been a while.”

The priest, still dressed in his white cassock and wearing an apologetic expression, emerged from the dense forest. Herah noticed that his left hand had holes filling it that made her feel slightly wary while his right arm had taken the form of an axe. Once fully within the clearing, the priest levied his hole filled hand at Herah and said,

“Would you please back down? I would care for no more bloodshed today.”

Herah just shook her head, before inhaling deeply and exhaling a light blue flame that took the shape of a wisp lantern. Herah reached out to this wisp lantern and crushed it, cloaking herself in a light blue flame shroud.

“Do you really believe you can beat me in five minutes Herah?”

Herah shook her head.

“Of course not, it’ll take fifteen at least. But this is my only way to keep up with you, so I’ll have to work around my time limit.”

Herah then entered her battle stance, watching as Moon frowned back at her looking pained by the thought of what was to happen next.

“I guess our confrontation was inevitable then.”

Herah watched as Moon let out one final sigh before getting into his own battle stance.

“I’ll try to make this quick.”

Herah frowned at these words, before growling at Moon.

“Don’t underestimate me, it will get you killed.”

And with those words, Herah launched herself towards Moon with a single powerful flap as Moon launched himself towards her.

ONI

BOOM!

String looked passed Alex and up as a large dust cloud appeared where she guessed Herah and Moon to now be battling. She then watched as Alex glanced back slightly at the explosion behind him and shook his head, mumbling something under his breath about explosive idiots. He then turned back to String and told her,

“Well since it looks like the idiot and your priest have begun to fight, might as well get to ours then, shouldn’t we?”

“You know,” String reached up to her chin and rubbed it, “I can’t help but feel pity for you Alex, Norwe told me about your teams current dynamic and it’s just sad.”

Alex, for the first time since meeting her, frowned and glared at String.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

String smiled at Alex, a small bit of happiness feeling her at irritating the asshole.

“I mean that the lack of respect from you towards someone who could save your life is so self-destructive. It’s almost as if you want history to repeat itself.”

This seemed to strike a nerve with Alex, because he let out an irritated sigh, his frown deepened, and he redrew both of his daggers. His curvy one being held upright in his right hand as it hovered over his shoulder while he leaned forward with his left hand holding his other dagger over his knee.

“Well, I didn’t ask for your fucking pity!”

String reached towards the tattoo of an arrow on her belly and drew her chain whip from it. She then straightened up her back and began spinning her weapon until it there appeared to be a large metallic fan spinning on her side. String then gave Alex a growl and released her hold over the storm that hung over them. The rumbling of thunder filled the air as rain began to fall upon String and Alex.

String felt the hair on her arms began to rise and her chain whip began to hum and buzz, anticipation building up in her as she waited for just the right moment.

5

The buzzing of her chain got louder.

4

Her braids were starting to rise.

3

The buzzing grew even louder.

2

Alex took a few steps back

1

String whipped her chain directly up.

CRAAAAK!

A bolt of red lighting came down from the sky and struck String’s chain, traveling down until it reached her the handle of her weapon and disappearing just as it had earlier. String allowed a smile to come to her face as she thought,

’12 more and you’ll be dead Alex.’

String then said,

“True, you didn’t ask for my pity. But you might soon ask for my mercy.”

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Thomas Loud
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