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"... If you want to speak to authority, contact the Prime Minister. Ms. Iedereen is quite an experienced diplomat."

We have you now, kabroia. The ghostly spectrogram in a portion of his field of vision displayed separate sine waves synchronizing.

A wry smile crossed Tartalo's features as the information was relayed up the chain of command. He noted the immediate assignment of Operative X7B to secure the HVT by General Millheiser. Unfamiliar with that particular agent, Tartalo attempted to access their dossier only to be met with a flashing red chyron across his mind's eye that read CLASSIFIED. Interesting, Tartalo reflected as his attention returned to his captive audience.

"Ezezagunen lurra, otso lurra. A saying ingrained in the nature of my people. Land of strangers, land of wolves."

Merse's ear twitched in response to Tartalo's words.

"I wonder; is Faith something you value? Is it a universal precept, or something idiosyncratic to human nature."

"I acknowledge that there are higher powers even I cannot attempt to comprehend. However, the term god is used too loosely these days."

"I speak not of gods, but of Faith. Gods balk in comparison to its power. With it, men can act against the grand indifference of Nature. Or the unnatural.

But yes, of course. Prime Minister.. Iedereen, was it? How convenient it must be to have such an auspicious figurehead at your disposal. An official head of state upon which to foist the sword of Damocles. That was her hijacking countless novelas across the globe, wasn't it?" Tartalo's words dripped with satisfaction.

"It grieves me to inform you that Ms. Iedereen has been deposed and at this very moment, she is finding herself in a situation very much like your own. Although I doubt she is dealing with someone willing to humor her as I have humored you.

Now, do you have any faith in Ms. Iedereen? In her actions? Does she stand firm and allow violence to continue against her city and those she was elected by? How many have been injured thus far in this quasi-invasion?

Does she cooperate and do what you have refused to do thus far, putting the people she represents before her own selfish gain? Does she attempt to shift the focus away from herself?

She wouldn’t happen to have anything incriminating on you, would she?”

"Nope. I'm certain she does not." Merse added with a touch a smugness.

“If she is intelligent, she’ll accept whatever offer is provided and begin a peaceful transition of power. If she is lucky, she just might find that she enjoys the new hand that controls her.

Now, let us see how much use for you remains. Is there anything we should know about Ms. Iedereen?"
“Girl. Follow or die.”

The words came to her through the sonorous din of the collapsing temple, her eyes following the mtyholi’s form on its journey across the courtyard. She scoffed as she recalled a favorite phrase of her father’s, picked up during his time fighting alongside Americans during the First Contact War. Najwa shifted to English as she muttered into tempestuous winds, “What an asshole.”

She considered the demon’s hesitance at engaging her head on, weighing various contingencies. Perhaps its purpose was to prolong the conflict, thus preventing her from returning to her comrades at Marange. Were they safe during all this? Or did it mean to goad her into lashing out in an attempt to capitalize on an emotional outburst? Calculations drifted through her mind at hyper-speed and she began to act as the mtyholi’s sole foot sank deep into the stone of an adjacent pillar, its intricate design obliterated with the impact.

Najwa’s torso shifted at the hips, knees beginning to bend as her right shoulder came up in a looping arc. She shot forward in a short parabola that covered a few meters, her thrown fist crashing downwards through the initial layer of the courtyard’s cobblestone, driving deep into the mountain. She remained on one knee as a network of fissures erupted from the impact’s epicenter; they channeled through the stone supports of gates and the temple’s foundation alike.

The courtyard shifted in a sickening manner and, with a sudden groan from deep within the mountain, it began to fall away into darkness below with the majority of the temple following close behind. Najwa’s weight shifted as she rolled forward into a series of descending somersaults, the soles of her boots coming into the contact with a plummeting pillar in a feat of exemplary coordination. She ran along its surface before pushing off, her motions bringing her closer to the sensation of moisture that clung to her skin as she deftly avoided the storm of incoming debris. Najwa’s palms pressed against the mountain’s interior wall for but a moment before she sprung off the surface, acrobatically launching herself into a subterranean pool with a graceful splash. She extended her senses outward in an attempt to localize her opponent’s position as wreckage continued to crash all around, the light from high above providing little illumination at this depth.

The hermetic chamber's surroundings faded into kaleidoscopic obscurity, the various augmented reality instrumentation panels whirling through his mind as senses melded. Tartalo accessed Spencer’s surveillance logs, and perspective shifted in a dissociative manner. He found himself looking at his, or rather Spencer’s, reflection in a polished observation portal as he was forcefully pushed into the private cabin by two exasperated stewards. Spencer appeared to be unconscious as he was unceremoniously deposited face-first on lush ultrasuede. The warm sensation of urine pooling coupled with the sickening undulations at the periphery of his consciousness forced Tartalo out of the memory and back to the chamber as Merse spoke of his scientists.

<< Ekhi, what was that? I was expecting an intelligence dossier, not something from some mozkorra. >>

<< I’m finding degradation on a majority of the covalent bonds from the carbon-aerogel pads on his surveillance device. The reports are heavily impacted from asset Tras’ dependency on psychotropics and psychedelics. >>

<< Is there anything you can do? >>

<< Not within a reasonable timeframe. >>

<< Arraio. >>

“You seem confident that their research and assets wouldn’t be seized immediately.”

Consciousness once more plunged into dissociation as he skipped ahead in the voluminous report. His vision focused as best it could on what appeared to be a half-eaten chicken’s drumstick. He felt himself moving as if through molasses as Spencer raised his sidearm and atomized the incoming projectile.

Tartalo scoffed internally as he increased the report’s playback speed. Hounds rose from infernal gashes in reality as old women rained from the artificial sky above the last few members of what Tartalo intuited as a wedding party. Frustrated, he skipped further ahead and picked up the report several hours after the doomed ceremony.

He looked into Spencer’s face through the lenses of his signature shades. They were leaning against a mirror over a running sink, forehead flat against the cool glass. Sweaty strands of ratty blonde hair clung to his skin as he dry-heaved, fighting the urge to purge himself of an ungodly amount of alcohol. A solitary bloodshot eye danced around the washroom, before stopping on a not-wholly unfamiliar sight to Tartalo.

A planet, very much like Earth, filled the majority of the vista through the wide, horizontal panels along one of the room’s walls. At that moment, the mozkorra mumbled a single word. Fortis. As the planet rotated, there was another moment of recognition as the outline of the Iberian Peninsula grew in prominence. But the familiarity ended there, as a technological brilliance grew against the rugged peaks of a range Tartalo determined to be the Pyrenees.

After a few minutes of near silence, Tartalo’s voice cut through the room.

“Tell me about Fortis.”
“No relation whatsoever. Figured he was…”

<< Director Amon has opened a channel in the neural subnet and is following matters unfold closely. He strongly urges you recall that information gathering is our primary goal and while he would not deny you this slight retribution.. >>

<< His sentiments are noted. Anything further, Ekhi? >>

<< Incoming transmission from the Q.U. along with an analysis of several strands of Merse’s fur, collected in the hard light field. >>

<< Patch them in and upload the breakdown. And.. Ekhi? >>

<< Yes, sir? >>

<< Thank you. >>

Tartalo split his attention between the felinoid’s lengthy protestations (with the occasional prod at its ego) and the feeds from three separate security cameras. Each was in a fixed position overlooking decontamination chambers containing Dex, Sweat, and Sarge. Stripped of their T22 armor and undergoing strict containment protocols, they’d been sequestered in complete silence. The T22’s had received a hard-light scouring while analyzing petabytes of combat data stored in each suit’s kinesic-logs. Dex and Sweat found their containment to be an easy-going if lonely affair as they sat in a fog of restorative nanobots, sipping on glasses of aged whiskey infused with a concoction meant to inoculate them against any foreign biological agents that could have slipped past the safety measures built into each MOAA ( Mobius Ops Advanced Armor) suit.

Matters differed greatly for Sarge, who had reacted violently to the whiskey, clawing at his throat as his form hunched over in a vain attempt to ease the burning he felt deep within. The chamber’s graphene walls sprouted restraining filaments that lifted Sarge in mid-air with limbs outstretched. An aperture slowly suffused through the ceiling’s surface. It projected a stream of condensed photons that shimmered as they took on the form of a speculum.

The photonic tool split a seam down the center of Sarge’s pale chest and abdomen. Flesh and muscle posed little opposition and as oxygen came into contact with pulsating viscera, Sarge’s exposed thoracic cavity shuddered with heavy gasps. His nerve-endings howl as he is pushed to the edge of neurogenic shock, the haze of nanobots actively working against his exsanguination. A mechanical limb descends from the ceiling, in its manipulator is grasped a noticeably ancient dagger. Its long blade was stained from the blood of untold legions, and what had once been a pristine ivory handle had now dulled to a sallow shade most foul. The only bit of brilliance on the antediluvian artifact was a silver ring that secured the blade to the ivory. It slowly pierced Sarge as his yells were absorbed by the cell’s walls.

Tartalo receives an alert from the Aldaré as its restraints constrict reflexively at Merse’s attempt to stretch.

“Is that why I allowed myself to be captured?” Tartalo could practically feel the smugness this being exuded. He notes the mass of Merse’s fur that was recovered from Sarge being deposited into an aged clay lekythoi, runes carved along its narrow body.

"A grave miscalculation." A collar grows from the Aldaré and wraps itself around Merse’s throat, pinning his head to its surface. His gaze is directed upwards as a projection of the beam that struck Allure passes harmlessly through the center of his felid skull.

“You claim to not be an active invader, and yet you freely wield such terror. Tell me, did you enjoy taking millions of lives with your arrival? Would this alone not warrant your treatment of being ‘assaulted non-stop’?” Opus 91 had come to its final crescendo and was slowly fading into silence.

<< Patxi… I realize your priorities might not be the same as that of the organization, but I truly wish to help you. While you’ve been busy, I decided to go through all available intel and cross-reference what we know thus far with our records and… We have a concrete connection. >>

<< Show me what you found, Ekhi. >>

Tartalo smiled faintly as he received a lengthy report from one Spencer Tras, informant for The Abditory.

“I will humor you. Tell us, what brought you to Earth in such an inauspicious manner?”
The lapels of her fatigues flapped sporadically from hibernal gusts as globules of congealed blood fell from Najwa’s leading left hand, marring the pristine snow that was gathering at her feet. She had adopted a defensive posture similar to that of a Western boxer, one of many forms she was comfortable with. The demon bleeds… but does it live? Her gaze shifted from each possible avenue of attack she would consider as the lambent interior of the massive structure began to pulse with an amber effulgence.

A resounding crack sliced through the roaring winds and the courtyard shook in its wake. The sound reverberated through the surroundings and cascades of ice loosened from the karsts only to crash into the mountain and create a series of avalanches. The main supports of the temple buckled, its ancient roof crumbling to reveal a tempest of flames. Air had been funneled through the cavities created during their brief yet explosive encounter, feeding the fire’s intensity. The remains of the gate behind her collapsed, devastated further by the temple’s ongoing demolition. She watched dispassionately as distorted shadows danced with the inferno’s frenzied movements, focusing on any movement within the flaming edifice.

It can’t be this easy. It never is.
The force of her blow had caused a sudden drop in air pressure, sending a column of dust and smoke to billow out into the brumal air. Minute variances in this concealing cloud's atmosphere sent shivers across her bronzed skin, revealing the form's presence careening towards her.

Not enough time for a clean dodge, she reflected as her hands shot up in accordance with the attack's trajectory with it shifting from her face to her torso as her form lifted inches off the ground in imitation of the mtyholi's previous movements. The muscles along her arms and shoulders braced at the moment of impact, her armored right palm pressed against the flat of the monster's outstretched foot; her left hand wrapped around the toes.

Najwa gave a horrendous, twisting yank of her attacker's foot that would have torn the limb from its socket in a lesser creature. As she was propelled backwards, Najwa's grip tore loose and the two separated. Her form crashed through a layer of stone wall back-first, through a broad corridor where her body doubled-over itself then through a wooden latticework that overlooked an auspicious courtyard. A few tight sable tresses came undone as she flew across the square and came to a crashing halt against a central pillar of the temple's ornate gate, her boots sinking nearly a meter into the material. Tiles clattered to the cobblestone from its tiered design, their sound muted by the gate's heavy groan of severe structural damage.

Najwa dropped to her feet, immediately assuming a defensive position with fists at the ready, the familiar heft of her sheathed machete shifting along her waist. Her eyes took in the majesty of these empyreal heights, prismatic hexagons of light dancing along arctic winds; thick blankets of snow draped over towering, razor-edged karsts. Any other time, this would have been a pleasant experience. But others relied on her return, and return she would.
“You are wonderful!” the voice struggled against hibernal gales, carried across a wide chasm carved into the mountain the temple had been erected upon. It was immediately answered by the smoldering length of a support beam that had exploded through the remnants of the window, a muted clatter of debris striking against stone before plummeting into an expanse of densely-packed snow and ice.

Cinders fought to stay lit as the projectile soared through the air, its trajectory poised to crush the appendage the mtyholi was using to support itself and send it crashing down into the gulf between them.

Seconds prior…

Najwa holstered the sidearm as her lithe form gracefully pirouetted in mid-air in a short parabola, carried away from the point of contact that had sent that demon hurtling through the window. She noted the majority of her punch’s impact had been dispersed by timely reactions. Caution was warranted.

Landing by the demolished remains of the platform she’d initially leapt from, she heard the distant impact against rock, followed by the sound of its aged croak. She grimaced inwardly at the thought of this monster enjoying itself.

Wood splintered in her grip as she single-handedly tore the support beam loose from the rubble and began a short sprint that sent the projectile flying, approximating her enemy’s position through sound and thermal disparities.

The momentum of her throw continued to carry her forward into a charge that would end with her fist punching down a separate section of the temple’s walls down, creating her own exit from what would become a blazing pyre mighty enough for the Heavens to notice.
Tartalo’s pupils flushed with digital brilliance as the subject adapts its physiology in response to extreme external stimulus. Intrigued at the malleable nature of its fur, he began to ponder what, exactly, its threshold was as he traced an obscure pattern into the air. The nanothin membrane coating Tartalo’s inner retinas parsed the thaumic signature, synapses firing along synthetic tissue into neobohrium spikes in his optic nerves.

Its words came to him with a slight delay as they were filtered through layers of anti-memetic countermeasures, visualized as a translucent spectrogram in the corner of his field of vision. His dialectical optimizer dissected every word and began to assemble a rudimentary psychological profile of Merse.

<< Ekhi, continue to breakdown pupillary responses and infrared analyses with the dermal scanner. >>

“If you deal in information, then this will be a most pleasant exchange.” The music faded into the background but continued to play as Tartalo spoke, the darkness of the chamber suddenly replaced with a simulacra of Earth’s orbit, distant stars dwarfed by a colossal cnidarian flanked by an unfathomable legion that threatened to engulf the planet. Perspective continued to shift, alien worlds suspended between teeming monstrosities growing in scope until the feed was suddenly cut short, once more plunging the cuboid chamber in darkness.

“Why have you invaded us?”

A gestalt overlaid Merse's restrained form, registering spikes in activity in what the Aldaré had determined to serve as its amygdala at the image of the gruesome behemoth. Microvascular activity increased 30% and the apparition's hue shifted along the infrared spectrum as the subject calmed itself. Tell-tale fear responses.

"Invade? Let me respond with a question. Are you familiar with psychic measures of suppression? There is an individual whose existence I have barred from my mind simply because the mere thought of "him" allowed for my location to be revealed and mind to be probed. As an information broker, I realize public knowledge has zero capital. This individual is a threat to my empire. The reason I tell you this is because I have installed specific triggers in my mind to warn me when he was close. The gargantuan horror which I've come to know as Brobdingnag is one of those triggers, and here it is. What doesn't make sense is that if I was found, why use such excessive force? To add to the bleakness of things, I was unaware that Brobdingnag commanded a fleet and other horrors like it. As terrifying as this all is, the absurdity of the situation is quite intriguing. If this isn't all clear to you by now, let me say this. This ‘invasion’, is a mutual problem of ours."

The air grew dense as the chamber's temperature plummeted into the sub zero range, localized around the Aldaré. Another discharge of electricity pulsed through Merse.

“Refrain from any further questions.”

<< Ekhi, ping Apollo and make sure he patches in. Tangential connection with hostiles discovered. >>

“I am quite familiar with methods of suppression, although undoubtedly our praxis differs.” Photons distorted visibly as the image of the titanic jellyfish filled the room, hovering threateningly over Merse. Its form burst into a shower of kaleidoscopic particulates that reformed into the charging figure of gold clad in gaudy clothing.

“What is your connection with this man?”
Marange, NYUNDO Headquarters

"Then out of respect for me and my client..."
"We extend all courtesy and are most gracious to have you as guests." The response came from behind the trio. Startled, they turned to face the broad figure that dominated a kolwezite archway fashioned into the image of a baobab's bole.

Makemba rose from beside Ndakala and stormed across the room towards the new arrival and began to beat them mercilessly with a sullied rag. "Khethiwe! You hyena's ass!"

Khethiwe laughed and gave old Makemba a playful wail in response to the beating as Ndakala and Miss Benson exchanged surprised glances over the stone carafes they sipped from. Surprise soon faded to apprehension as the two whispered quickly in a tongue unfamiliar to Ndakala.

Khethiwe gestured toward the pygmy with a beckoning wave as Makemba took Miss Benson by the arm and gently led her towards an adjoining chamber that rich aromas wafted from. "There is one who would speak with you, my friend. Come."

Ndakala accompanied the large figure of Khethiwe past the arch that shimmered brilliantly in the firelight and down a dark corridor that branched off intermittently until reaching a sight that made the pygmy's steps falter.

The pair had come to something so fantastic Ndakala's mind struggled to process; beyond them was a kaleidoscopic tunnel that wound its way past his sightline. Scurrying to match his guide's gait, he marveled at the tessellated walls that recounted a history he had no time to string together. “Unbelievable, isn't it?" Khethiwe peered over his shoulder and gave an understanding wink, fingertips dancing along a mosaic-- viridian and teal patchwork depicting surging waters.

A muted grunt of acknowledgement was all Ndakala could muster as the two walked in retrospective silence. After some time, the visitor became aware of a distant drone and in stunned realization blurted "Is.. is that water?" A small chuckle was all that came in response as they came to a fork in the path. They continued on the right-hand path when Khethiwe began.

"Makemba tells me you spoke of Phalaborwa and were saddened to hear of it burning. You would be pleased to know that much of its people were saved from such a terrible fate and you personally played a hand in their survival. Most have been relocated further north, while those that wish to fight will call Marange home from here forward. The one you met- the one that charged you with bringing the child to us; she is their champion and would have been able to do little for them had she been focused on protecting the little one."

They paused, and for the first time did Ndakala note that his guide's pace had slowed. Only when abreast with Khethiwe did he observe how haggard, almost shrunken, they were when compared to less than an hour ago. Deep channels had appeared beneath round, cheerful eyes and their skin seemed to have taken on an ashened hue.

"As such, our leader would be very pleased to speak with you." They extended a hand forward and pulled open a pellucid hatch that served as a barrier to the humidity that crept into the tunnel. What had once been a muted drone grew to a roar as Ndakala entered an expansive chamber that once more left him speechless. They stood at a precipice overlooking a worn path that meandered through a forest of towering fungi pocked with spires of crystal, neatly divided by a rushing river.

Their descent was slow going, Khethiwe growing more tired with each shaded crevice or panoramic gulch, and having reached the path's ingress into the mycological marvel they asked for a moment's rest. Ndakala nodded and made his way towards the fungal brake's brink, slightly intoxicated with the surrealness of his environs. As he grew closer he felt a strange quality in the air, his skin tingling in response. In the distance the river's surging was a pleasant backdrop to the retreat at his presence of fat salamanders between gregarious stalks that loomed overhead. Bejeweled beetles fluttered upon diaphanous wings as they sprauchled from bulbs swollen with fluorescent sap, and somewhere far-off he could hear the playful baying of unknown beasts.

Moved beyond the limitations of language, Ndakala lost himself in the primal orchestra that permeated throughout. Wishing to express the gratitude he felt at being shown this place, he turned back to check on his guide. "What miracle created such an environment?"

His words caught in his throat as Khethiwe's form slumped forward from its seated position atop a rock. Ndakala recoiled in horror upon turning the guide's form over with a sickening squelch. A viscous and malodorous fluid poured from several cracks that had appeared along Khethiwe's torso, and with one last shuddering breath their form collapsed in upon itself. Within the cavity that had moments prior been Khethiwe, lay a shriveled figure, slick with putrescence.

"Sorry you had to see that. Thought I'd get here before he ran out of time." Khethiwe stepped down the forest path, offering a hand to the kneeled pygmy.

“Ran out of -- what in the name of Khonvoum? What did I just witness?"

“Not all of our gifts are as wonderful as Najwa’s or Kengue’s,” Khethiwe approached the withering remains of its Helmasi and gave a brief nod in respect of its passing, “but we use what we are capable of to help. Now, unless you’d like to witness how I give the Helmasi form, I suggest you follow the trail until you reach the vitreous lagoons of the Kichaka Siri.” Khethiwe gave Ndakala an encouraging wave of dismissal and as the pygmy began their unaccompanied trek he could hear uncomfortable dry heaving from his former guide’s location.

Meanwhile in the NYUNDO Barracks...

“I should have been more aware of how emotionally compromising the mission was for you. I can only blame myself for your hesitation in separating a child from their family, habibi.” The old man sat absentmindedly picking at a cuticle of his wooden prosthesis. A heavy sigh gave way to a soft chuckle before he continued. “We may come to regret the boldness of our activities, but for now let us celebrate our victories. You make us all proud, Najwa.”

Back turned to Assad, Najwa stood at a basalt basin fed from the grinning maw of a lion and washed away the blood and ash of the previous 24 hours. The majority of the XSF uniform she’d expropriated earlier lay in a huddled mass at her feet. She paused to observe her countenance reflected in the algid pool, droplets running down taut bronze flesh. She stepped away from the basin and entered a chamber adjoining her quarters, its threshold artfully hewn in prismatic dolomite. “Has Kengue returned,” she inquired from the other room as her father gave an aged groan, stooping to collect the uniform.

“I insisted he remain at Malawi and rest. He pushes himself too far, just like you.” The old man deposited the clothes into a narrow chute and stretched, muscles trembling upon full extension.

“You’re one to talk, or do you think we can’t see just how old the Lion has become?” Najwa shot back puckishly. She stepped back into the anteroom, now comfortable in her NYUNDO fatigues. “And Mshale? I heard he too came across the unexpected during his operation.”

“As for that,” Assad began…

NYUNDO Stockades

Mshale held fast to the thrashing ghoul he'd taken from Xanathan’s talons, its gaunt form writhing against telekinetic might, suspended several feet off the mottled cave floor. Guttural curses were locked away as its frame was forcefully flung against a cell carved into the porous wall. Through the application of his willpower, Mshale slid a dense and translucent slab of quartz over the cell’s only opening.

He spat in disgust at the distorted image of his cadaverous captive as it scuttled about its new quarters in bestial fashion. “I should kill you now and be done with this uroyi.” He began to apply more pressure, agonizing rivulets gouging into the creature’s splintering mandible.

A soothing palm pressed against the center of Mshale’s broad back and he turned, immediately relinquishing his psionic grasp. “Release your anger, and focus that ever so dreadful mind on me.” Her voice, sweeter than passion fruit, ushered him out of the stockades and into the warmth of her embrace.

Rendenvauld (formerly Johannesburg, South Africa)

“Tonight marks the third night of skirmishes between Pro-Human forces and dissident elements. The protests are in response to unsubstantiated reports of lethal repression and have once again sparked controversy amongst Xanathan intelligentsia, with some being so bold as to claim that even if the reports were true…” the announcer’s audio was lost within the stochastic *THUNK* of 40mm canisters showering chemical irritants over a roaring multitude of clashing protesters.

Tear gas rose in billowing plumes, choking gasps lost in the throng’s tumult as Jean-Yves Mbappé broke through the mob; his grip a vice around his wife’s hand. They had the misfortune of being caught in a dissident demonstration after the Maglev rails were blocked with overturned construction equipment. Their footsteps retreated down an alleyway as the rapport of several minor explosions shook them to their knees; vivid orange and crimson flames reached for the partially-obscured full moon as he paused to peer back at the thoroughfare. Jean-Yves’ ears rang with the unmistakable staccato of gunfire as he wrapped his arms protectively around Delphine’s shoulders, shuffling onward in a panic. An agitated buzz reverberated through their skulls as they were unexpectedly blinded by the sudden discharge of an immobilizing arclight and they stumbled blindly into the adroitly manicured courtyard of Hyŏng Cybernetics.

“손 들어! 손 들어!” The couple were swiftly encircled by a force of armored individuals moving in unison, K7 submachine guns at the ready.

“S’il vous plait! On ne comprend pas!” Jean-Yves pleaded, eyes flushed with tears. A piercing ring accompanied each interrogatory wave of their barrel-mounted flashlights as his sight struggled to return. Scrabbling in search of Delphine, his world reeled with the impact of a reinforced boot across his cheek. “Je.. je prie…,” he muttered through a swelling jaw as more blows landed. A crumpled mass on the courtyard’s cobblestone, Delphine stared vacantly as her young husband was brutally beaten.

“중지!” An authoritative voice undercut the clattering of ceralloy armor plates, putting an immediate end to the assault. Panting heavily, the detachment stood at attention as the man groaned at their feet. The air grew still with the audible deactivation of the arclamps. A slender figure approaches Jean-Yves, swimming through the haze of pain from his left eye being swollen shut, and stoops to inspect a deep laceration. “C'est une mauvaise lésion,” the figure knelt and assisted Jean-Yves to a seated position, “Devons ralentir le saignement.”

The cool silk of the man’s handkerchief pressed against the wound and without lifting his gaze he commanded, “내 차, 당장!” One of the armored individuals gave a salute in response and withdrew with a hurried jog.

“Mademoiselle, votre mari a besoin d'un hôpital. Es-tu blessé aussi?” No response came from Delphine other than shuddering sighs. “Mademoiselle?”

With a surge of resolve Jean-Yves lifted himself enough to turn towards his wife and shakily rasp, “D-Delphine…” Recognition washed over her features with an audible whimper and she scrambled over to her husband. “J-Jean.. Jean, qu'ont-ils fait? Qu’ont-ils fait..”

“Calme, Delphine.. Calme.” Finally aware of the man assisting Jean-Yves, she bawled while pointing angrily at the remaining armored guards, “Qu’ont-ils fait! Bâtards! Lâches! Mon pauvre mari.. Mon mari..”

“해산!” The detachment departed at the command, leaving the the couple and their unknown protector to be illuminated by the headlights of a sleek luxury sedan. “Aidez-moi à le soulever, Delphine. Allons à l'hôpital.”

A few hours later…

Sudwala Caves, Xanathan Territories

"Ptah درخواست RA،’ چطور باید محدود شوند؟ ‘
'در غیاب من'، اعلام کرد RA
و به Ptah داده شده است

The eldritch invocation echoed through each cavernous chamber of the cave system, its cadence growing in fervor with each repetition. Its source was a hooded figure, clad in cobalt vestments whose utterances were produced behind a mask in the graven image of an ibis. Arms slick with viscera, the figure scrawls an elaborate series of sanguineous runes upon a length of papyrus soaked in the urine of a jackal. Setting the scroll aside, they bent over the lifeless bodies of Jean-Yves and Delphine before straightening with a lock of each’s hair. The papyrus and hair were deposited into a canopic jar, sealed with a lid depicting a crocodile.

"دانتوں اور دانشوں کے گرین کا تیز،
وہ جو بخار میں خوش ہے. "

The robed personage’s chant eerily layered itself upon the initial antediluvian syllables, feeding into one another through an occult ouroboros of octaves. Their footsteps traced a pattern in entrails strewn across the cave floor, the canopic jar held aloft. At the end of the pattern upon a dais of Precambrian design stood a scale that dwarfed its acolyte. Fashioned by no mortal hand, the scale’s fulchrum was carved into the oblong likeness of a six-eared kudu, aureate helixed-horns lined with bands of lapis lazuli and turquoise. A basalt beam was thrust through its eyes, ending in fine chains of silver from which hung deep bowls. Suspended between its cervid antlers was a true microcosm, perceived as a prismatic, pulsating mass; and where they met upon its brow was a glaring third eye, cast in diamonds. Setting the canopic jar within one of the scale’s bowls, the figure was lost in zealous fervor as he began the final invocation.

"היא חיפשה אותו ללא הרף, היא הסתובבה סביב כדור הארץ הזה בצער, והיא לא נרתעה ולא מצאה אותו".

The fabric of reality churned as spacetime was rent asunder, and above the scale’s empty bowl appeared a desiccated heart that undulated sickeningly with its manifestation. It collapsed with a clatter, plunging the cave into a Stygian darkness.

The gap between them had closed during her advance and Najwa now found herself nearing the tiered ring's raised edge. In that time, her mind had begun to assess the principles of her opponent's motions and capabilities. She made note of the furrows carved by her previous shots; the momentum with which her first shots had been returned and the speed necessary to intercept rounds traveling at nearly 1,140 ft/sec. Postulating that the two were of comparable speeds, her next course of action was determined at the exact moment she leapt off the edge.

The platform gave way with a brutal crack as a winding trench split down the epicenter of where she'd pushed off from. Those desiccated husks nearest her had toppled over while others began to fall into the collapsing structure, plumes of disturbed dust and smoke rising towards the high windows.

Poised to strike with a retracted left fist, Najwa soared through the air at a descending 30 degree angle. Wary of her opponent's withdrawn appendage, she would be mindful to clear her own speeding profile with her firearm by tucking in her right elbow as her left arm began to shoot forward to complete a powerful straight punch. If left unimpeded the prismatic alloy of her reinforced knuckles would make a solid connection with the mtyholi's jaw.
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