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Do you really think we've only been here 300,000 years? Construction doesn't last that long; concrete disintegrates, tar pavement erodes into the Earth from whence it came. Sapiens or Neanderthalensis, countless brother races of a genus leaving only us to carry on the legacy. We cannot disappoint them. We carry them through our blood and our souls, countless lives spanning across time in a way that we can't perceive from our physical coils. But we can't disappoint them.

Hello, hi and hey! I call myself Atom. Some call me Fen. Others call me Ego, blessing the journey of guiding the individual toward the inevitable endgame that is rejoining the flow of life. I try to keep identity suppressed as much as possible, but I'm not a fool; we're here to express our creative selves. I like to think that our love and desire for creativity carries over far beyond the personal and individual. It's a part of the music of Humanity, and I do love the dance we do.

So, creatively, who is this dork trying to kill his own ego? What's he like? Is he decent?

I'd like to think so. I'd like to think I at least know how to write technically. I'm almost always lacking motivation, but I've just been spoiled over the years. I've had a handful of teachers who have really changed the way I look at creativity and working with the individuals who I'm trying to be creative with. My biggest goal is to give that back to the people who I work with. I want to foster an environment, or at least an expectation that if we're writing together, you'll be writing with a professional.
Professional to me means courtesy and friendliness without ambiguity: A guarantee that one can always expect to be treated with the same values that I would want to be treated with.

So what do I do with my free time? A whole lot of struggling with myself for the willpower and discipline to muster the ultimate muse. So far I've managed to get strong inclination toward effort and motion again, but inclination isn't guaranteed. We've really gotta MOVE THOSE MUSCLES! That's what I'm here for! I want to talk to people about ideas and flesh scenarios out with people that I'm interested in, and I do hope to find others with the same strong sense of creativity that I have. I want to push and pull and stretch the dough of creativity, top it with the things we want to devour, and dive into the pizza we've made together with skill and love!

Lets make it happen together!

Most Recent Posts


Mentions: Anyone not coming to the basement. | Direct Dialogue: Anyone coming to the basement. | Location: ]Kari's House

Ken's hand was rising to his lips, hardly waiting for the group to gather before he sucked the noble liquor from the disposable cup, when the Recollection crashed like a wave across the attendents. He saw Kari, and his body reactively wept at the sight of her smile. The way she held Elsa... But she was talking to Lionel about 8th Street... He knew they'd been pestering her for some time, so he never missed a chance to give Emily G. Reed a hard time just like he had at the Festival. He thought maybe he could protect her...

And he was a fool. A fool who was too selfish to stick around and actually help her.

There was a bit about Sloane, but he hadn't realized they were speaking again. Typical. He didn't ever know much; he felt it straining their relationship more and more everytime he came back. She was less and less inclined to let him stick around for long periods, and more insistant that he get back on the road. He hated that, and the feeling like she was rejecting him, even when she apologized later and let him back. He understood, he always thought. He figured she was just stressed about all the things she could see, and he didn't blame her for the strong reactions.
But by that point in his thinking, the world was already coming back to each of them in full color. He felt the tears leaking down his face and the alcohol leaking down his chin as it had been emptied out into his mouth but never swallowed. It was pain again, and guilt. And anger directed at the same woman who thought it was nice and cool to kick down Kari's door.

But he wouldn't bother the group with his words or his fury. Those who were truly together had to stay that way, or they would die one by one in a slow, miserable pattern of weakest to strongest, most opportune to least. And if that dead Kari wasn't their Kari, then she wasn't really dead... But where the fuck was she?
Classic Linqian was yapping away; he hadn't even heard her laying into Sloane the way he wanted to, rather hearing his name specifically. He wiped the wasted alcohol off his face with his sleeve and nodded before making his way to her refridgerator. Opening the freezer compartment, Ken pulled a small wooden box out and popped it open. Within, a row of shimmering, frozen gold coins were laid in a half-cylinder case upon a velvet bed. The stack was about twenty coins deep, and he pulled a single one from the box before sliding it into his utility pack strapped to his waist. He thought about how she'd once used the thing so many times he had to upgrade her carrying case so she could keep more coins safely.

It was dishonorable to keep them laying out, and she seemed to respect whenever he gave her some strange snippit of culture. She was even good about adopting things like that. It was part of what he liked about her so much.
"Alright, alright. Come with me, and be sure to keep an ear out for Brother Drake. Some should stay up here."
And then he made way for the basement door. Some people had already meandered down, and he lightly thumped down the rickety wooden stairs until he was standing in the dusty haze of the basement. He looked at all the shelving units and workshopping spaces; places she used to be able to keep projects and different plot graphs for areas she was exploring or info she was gathering. There were different rooms in various states of finished and unfinished, mostly done with Ken's help as his trade in the Village had been carpenting.
He stepped up to what looked like some sort of filled-in dumbweight elevator door that had been painted over and sealed shut. It was big; probably the size of an old-school television, or one of those wall safes you'd see rich people having in the movies. As the assorted procession filed in behind him, he turned to face them.

"I don't suspect the Murasaki's ancient technique of Dark Drops to have been compromised by our enemies... But that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend being on guard when I open this. My intuitions aren't what they used to be..."
He waited for everyone who was gathered to ready themselves as they saw fit... Then, with a smooth movement, Ken slipped the coin he'd grabbed into an inconspicuous gap between the plaster of the wall and the actual structure of the dumbweighter. At once, there was a burst of Purple Lux that formed hundreds of Kanji characters scrolling across the surface of the wall. With a slightly wet separating noise. the painted over door to the dumbweighter split in the middle, descending and ascending into slots in the wall.

There was a rush of air, and then it opened fully. Anyone who had traveled with Ken, somewhere between the realms in a place that skirted along the void, the great Master Kai had carved a path in the darkest forest. There, he hid many things, and kept weapons of war and peace. The Forest of Doors: A true Pocket-dimension. And here was a three foot cubed space of it juxtaposed into Kari's wall locked behind a secret door opened with some kind of secret mechanism. The pocket itself was full of possessions and nick-knacks that Kari thought were special.
And like clockwork, the grief-stricken Kenshiro let loose like a man who had truly lost a spouse. Bellowing through tears, his hands immediately reached into the space and started pulling out things to organize them on the table. He started with several hard-covered albums, and opening them would reveal a myriad of incredibly shaped and colored bird feathers. There were also half a dozen glass-topped boxes of the strangest kind of stones and jewels, some luminescent under their own power while others shone in colors that shouldn't exist in the Shimmer. Small albums of picures and drawings that Kari and Ken had shared while she experienced travels of her own.

And pictures of the Coven. Happy and sad days. Memories.
There was also a box labled "Lisa" which contained some of her own personal belongings as well as a diary; probably some kind of safety deposit box agreement. Ken loved how thoughtful Kari could be about her friends...

But panic quickly joined Kenshiro's sniffling. His arms moved away the little privacy cloths, looking around the space thoroughly and at one point hanging his entire body into the hole.
"No... No! NO!-" Ken finally grunted out, pulling himself away from the pocket dimension. "-Her notes! Her notebooks! None of them are here, and the seal wasn't tampered with, there were no breaks in the scripture: Nothing! And her... Her fucking books aren't-"
In a fit of rage, Kenshiro's fist hauled back and drove itself through the drywall above the door. When he did so, the pocket dimension began to flicker in and out of existence until all that remained was a smooth, blank wall behind false doors. His hand pulling out of the wall caused half a dozen of those same coins to fall from the spot he punched.
"-there... The books weren't fucking in there..."

Ken's hands came up and gripped at his head. Reeling, he spun and dropped his hands to the table, staring at the hundreds of little bits of otherworldly materials he'd brought back for Kari to catalogue and retrace whenever she wanted. Like her own exploratory atlas. His legs gave out, and on his knees he once again wept in opposition to being helpful. Frankly, he didn't feel helpful. He felt lost and in agony, and he wanted to make it the problem of those who'd done this, but he had no way of directing such aggression.

It was all just pain and loneliness again.


Mentions: Too many people to be breaking into one house. | Direct Dialogue: Amara King/@Blizz, Clancy Patrick/@Zombiedude101, Sully McPherson/@Atrophy, Aislin Rose/@Estylwen | Location: ]Kari's House

They kicked her door in... Sloane... Kicked Kari's house's door in. Ken's mind reeled as he did his best to hold back wrath and pain. He wasn't known for being a loose cannon when it came to his family; they received the most tender version of himself that Kenshiro could possibly project, even in moments like this. He looked from person to person, watching the dogpile slowly start to form at Sloane's feet, and thought about how badly he wanted to join in. How badly he wanted to be rude like her, and make a mess that someone else had to clean up, like the door he knew he'd be fixing himself...
Well, maybe he wouldn't. Stormy was a professor, but he'd never been afraid to get his hands dirty. Frankly, looking around, he figured he could probably trust just about anyone around to at least give him a cursory hand in one way or another.
Remember your happy place. You have no right to be upset. You gave that up... Let it go now.

And then a young man appearead at the door of Kari's house like he lived there. Ken didn't recognize this boy, he didn't know this boy, and frankly the thought of him crawling around in the house while he'd patiently waited on the roof like a half way polite person made Ken's skin crawl with discomfort.
He walked forward, elevating his hand with a finger outstretched.
"No! No, no, I won't stand for this now! Who... What... Why!? Can't we ever get fucking organized? It's just like making plans! Just like it, I make sure I come back for a certain date, I syncronize my cronometer between the two dimensions, I get home on time to texts telling me that things are canceled like Verizon exists in the Kingdom of Molaran?"
Ken's frustrated voice cut the air across the yard as different members began making themselves somewhat at home. At this point, he was almost certain that neighbors or someone would have half a mind to call the police, and he didn't have the mental fortitude in the current moment to reign it in any longer.

"Sully!? Put the fucking cup away, my friend! Did you not have a dream the other night where a girl took it from a pedestal? And then, coincidentally, you got it stolen at the Festival? It's bad enough there's so many of us fucking here!"
He was accutely aware of other people still bumping and chafing against one another, but he heard Amara say his name from the corner of his attention.
"If there was something off about Kari, where would she have evidence of that sort of thing?"
He turned his head and body with confusion, his glowing purple hands plucking the door from the floor as he did his best to tidy the place up.
"Whatever she would've been working on is either...-" Ken paused, trailing off for a moment before shaking his head.
"-Y'know, I don't fucking know to be honest with you. I wish I did. Really! I..."

Ken's face turned sour, and the tears began to roll from his eyes in a more full bodied fashion.
"God Damn it all... Y'know, forget I fucking said anything, Sully, please can I have a fucking drink? A drink, a drink! When have I ever wanted a fucking drink!?"
The sullen warrior tucked the door back into its frame, clicking it closed so at least the neighbors wouldn't see the broken door if they looked out. Before it was even situated, his back was turned and he was walking toward the patio, looking between Sully and Aislin with red, teary eyes.
"Sorry, sorry... About what I said. It's still nice to see you all; and you Aislin. I... I think Kari maybe would've thought this was funny at some point."
He looked through the gathering now, finding the face of Evelynn Serenelight, and he wondered instantly if she was feeling the same pain and frustration he was. Or if she even felt anything for Kari anymore. He remembered being close with her; close enough to figure out he liked Kari just a bit more. But he never thought anything would come from it. Now he felt the knot of mourning sickness in his stomach and he wanted to burst at the seams.

Fully equipped, he pulled a small cantine from his belt and unscrewed the cap before holding it up to Sully to fill.
"Amara...?-" he turned back to face Amara again. "-Her... Her delicates drawer. She usually kept the important notebooks in there." he closed his eyes, shaking his head. "There's no way I'm looking through them."
He cleared his throat as he turned his attention back to Sully and Aislin.
"That was... A joke." he continued, a dry smile cracking thin across his face. He shook his head, waving her to join them. He looked out toward Lynn, seeing the usual suspects alongside her. He waved for them to come too.
"My Second Clan? Come on, everyone, gather who will for a shot in Kari's memory... And PLEASE stop ransacking her house, because you won't find what you're looking for in any drawer or couch. Kari kept her most private things in a place so safe I'd bet my own life on it."

If only his first clan could prove that statement correct...
"Because I trust locks! And keys that lock the locks! I'm dead serious, Sully, pour the Sake for everyone... Because this isn't just for Kari. This is for Lyss, and Ashley, and for Kali and Jade and Jinhai... No more lost... Please?"
Ken had never been that loud in the old days. Where he came from, one didn't open themselves up like that, to be loud or emotional unless it was anger. But even though he'd felt those emotions, he couldn't let them overpower the love he had for the family he was with now.
"And quick, because the Old Bat across the street is a nosey hag, and if she saw us piling in here, she's gonna call the fucking cops!"
Ken looked at Amara with a smirk on his face.
"Do I know where she keeps her stuff... Up until a few years ago the panty drawer wasn't a joke. But I hooked her up. It took a few days and a lot of raw material, but I got it right eventually. Come on! Gather around and take a shot, then its off to the Basement we go!" Ken called to everyone.

Act One-Two

Casey’s internal clock knew five in the morning like it was branded into his brain with hot metal. Five AM was like a hiccup in a vacuum: It always felt like the world was closing in around him at that time. But today, there was something different. His sleep had been dark and black, devoid of the nightmares that usually plagued him.

He felt a little weight on top of him. She was soft, and her skin was practically hot to the touch. At some point over the night, he had tucked Trisha up closer and tighter to the couch so his feet and legs were sticking out in the cool air of the apartment. He didn’t like being hot like that, but he did like feeling the weight of something on top of him.
There was an order in the mail that he was waiting on: A forty pound aluminum mesh blanket was on the way from this blacksmith upstate.

It was perfect, the kind of material that didn’t add any kind of insulation. Only weight. She was perfect, except the part of his body she was tucked closest to felt like it had turned to sandstone. She’d rolled, and his bare arm was practically stuck to her bare back; apparently she’d accidentally rolled it up.

He took a deep, quiet breath. The cats’ muffled voices echoed from the other side of the wall, instantly aware that Casey was rejoining the world of the waking. November first. He laid there a few more minutes, still astonished that such a cute woman had just curled up and fell asleep.
He remembered being impressed by a joke, but mostly he was tired because…

Casey finally shifted, and felt all the searing pain of the bee sting patches rolling across his body like he’d been beaten up in his sleep. It wasn’t good, but it was at least easier to deal with than the reality that was getting actively stung.
He shifted his body, knowing he had very little room to work with. But she was already tucked and ready to roll into the couch if he slipped out. So, he twisted his torso, and the arm underneath her kept her in place until his legs and ass were free. With a single scoot, he placed her back down fully and got up.

He stretched hard, rolling his hips and midriff while his legs shook from the strain.
”Alright, Baby Bee. You’re just dreaming. Stay asleep.” he very quietly spoke down to her before squatting and scooping Trisha up from underneath herself.

Trisha grumbled in her sleep, a few barely audible and not fully formed words escaping her lips, before she twisted around to press her face against his chest.

He nearly squealed from the cuteness death. However, he had a duty. She was expecting breakfast in bed, but he couldn’t make that happen if she wasn’t in a bed specifically. So, slowly and methodically, Casey carried Trisha back to his bedroom. The gentle water noise and low hum of the electronics made the room a little more noisy, but a little more comforting in his mind.
Bending at the knees, he unfurled the blankets and let Trisha slip into the silky sheets before covering her back up.

With the payload safe, he made for his dresser and grabbed some morning clothing. Clean sweats and a new shirt, new socks; he changed in the living room and locked his bedroom door behind him so nobody could get in from the outside. It was one way, so she wasn’t stuck in there in case she wanted to use the bathroom while he was out.
But he had a strange feeling, and he slipped back in as quietly as possible to get two things: His Channeler, which he stuffed into his pocket, and a pistol in a waistband holster that he clipped to his front and slipped his shirt over.

Forty-Five in a compact, he was used to the jumpy little pistol. It was his range shooter, and the beam on it was nicely aligned so he didn’t have to aim. Just in case anyone felt funny, he refused to not be protected.
He leaned over Trisha, kissing her forehead again and smiling warmly at her before pulling away. He still had the place’s address in his head, and he typed it into his phone, then grabbed his keys and headed upstairs to his car. As he passed the hallway, he made it a point to scoop up all the dirty laundry that needed doing.

Coming out of the door, he turned right and immediately entered the laundry room of the apartment building, and he loaded up the curtains, his and Trisha’s dirty clothing, her bee onesie, whatever was in the pile. The machines were all card machines, so he pulled his phone out and slid it across the mechanical face. There was a gentle chime that told him the machine accepted his money, and the electric hum of the washer began as the barrel rotated. He figured by the time he got back, it’d be done enough to dry.

Coming back out, he came face to face with an unexpected person.
”Casey? Where the fuck have you been?”
Casey looked up at his older brother, who was just a little bit taller as he was still standing on the stairs. Casey’s face was blank, but Leon looked pretty bad. Like he hadn’t slept in days.

”I’ve been here. Why, what’s wrong?”
Leon’s face turned sour. His hands clapped together as he sauntered down the last couple steps.
”Have you bothered looking at your phone? We got hit last night.”
Casey’s gut fell out of his body. His eyes grew to saucers, and he slowly reached for his phone. He hadn’t actually looked at it, just scanned the electronic card…
Ten missed calls, ten voice messages, thirty-five texts.
Casey’s grim expression met Leon’s, and he took a deep breath.

”How bad?”
”Andrade’s hurt. The Doc fixed him up, but Elise is pretty shaken up about it. I guess she put Mondo in harm’s way, and-”
Casey stopped his brother, holding his hand up.
”Where are you in this equation, Mister Bastion?”

Casey didn’t like what Leon was getting at: He was conditioned to this sort of behaviour. If Leon had been there, Elise would’ve never utilised Mia’s gift; her Channeler was far too precious to be destroyed. She had to be desperate, which meant that Leon wasn’t there to help… So now it was going to be Casey’s fault. He was ready.

”Sycamore Business, you wouldn’t unde-”
”No, Man… I understand just fine. We weren’t there, and so you’re catching the heat and you need someone else to blame.”

Leon was silent, staring at Casey with frustration in his eyes. Casey saw his brother’s nostrils flare slightly.
”I’ll tell you what: I was planning on heading over there later. I’ll cancel all of my plans and intentions for you, Leon. So that you can be free to do what you want. Since I know that’s all you want to do, I mean all your friends are home. Who wants to spend all that time looking like he’s some cultist tool?”
”And what fucking plans did you have?”
”Ask my fucking girlfriend if you dare to wake her up.”

Leon had intended to square up and use his size to try and intimidate Casey, but once those words left his mouth, Leon slacked up. Confusion and fear set in.
”L-lena?” Leon croaked, fearing the answer.
Casey’s eyes narrowed. A wide and evil smile crept across his face.
”No, Lee. Honestly? I fucking hate Lena. I hate her fake enthusiasm, I hate the way she’s always on her phone when she’s not pretending to be interested in me, I hate the way she talks like our Mother.”

Leon’s face went from confusion to fear to sadness all at once. He realised instantly what he’d set in motion, and he cleared his throat.
”Is Promiscuous Patricia in my apartment right now?”
Casey stepped forward, cutting Leon’s space as he approached the stairs.
”Do not make your problems with her my problems, Leon. If you really fucking care, like you’ve said that you do? Then you’ll keep the fuck out of it. Please and thanks.”
His feet took him up the stairs, but Leon followed him closely.

”Listen, I just didn’t want to deal with her! But Casey, I promise you that she’s not going to give you anything but grief, Bro!”
”Wow, really concerned about it. That’s touching Leon, I’ll be sure to mark this down in my memories as one of the times you really tried your hardest to be a big brother. Crazy how you’re putting up more resistance about me dating a girl than signing up for a literal World War.”

Leon stopped dead in his tracks, great sadness flowing over him. It was enough of a stun that Casey got out of the side door and into the parking lot without Leon. But that big goofy man stood in the glass door and watched Casey as he got into his car. Casey’s hands flew up, questioning Leon’s actions, and then gestured to his passenger seat. Reluctantly the wolfman came and got into the car. The gate rolled open, and the car slid out into the dark St. Portwell morning.

It was quiet at first, but Leon broke the silence.
”So you… Had a good night?”
Casey didn’t respond verbally, clasping his lips into a frown and nodding.
”Did you?”
Leon shook his head.
”After we parted ways, I ended up getting involved with what I thought would be fun. It just led to a bad situation that could’ve ended a lot worse if some of my friends hadn’t been there.”

And there it was. Casey knew immediately, but hearing Leon say it was vindicating. He’d been fucking off, and because he wasn’t doing his job playing Temple Superman, people they were close to got hurt. Classic.

”So I assume when you got back with your tail tucked, you got your head ripped off?”
Leon didn’t answer with words, but his hand rose up slightly as if to agree.
”Didn’t get that far. After my situation was over, I went back to the tent because I figured there was some more of that health pie left, but I found the place wrecked. I found the two of them at the Merch booth with Keighla and Clarissa. She got things started, but it wasn’t long before Mom appeared out of thin air.”

Always too late to actually be of any help. Classic Lynette. There was another pause as Casey made his way on through the quiet streets. The sweepers were out in force, blowing away the confetti and candy wrappers left in the street the night before. The two men took long breaths between one another, slowly synchronising until their actions were in tandem. Things relaxed again.

”I’m sorry. And I already defended you.”
”What, from Mom?”
”She was pretty upset with both of us. You know how important Andrade is with things; and we haven’t found him any sort of apprentice to teach. But, I made sure she knew it wasn’t your fault. That I told you that you could head home. She’s frustrated you won’t get help with your condition.”

Of course she was; it made Casey less effective overall. He couldn’t deal with crowds, couldn’t deal with long exposure to social situations. He couldn’t be the same kind of butterfly Leon or Junior were.
”I know. I bet she wishes I never-”
”Absolutely not. You know she’s regretful, I’ve told you before. Just give her some time.”

The two dragged the conversation on as Casey drove closer and closer to the bakery. He saw it from the street, but there was no connecting parking. He picked a street spot and pulled in.
”Do you want anything?”

Leon looked out at the bakery and chuckled.
”You came all this way for a croissant?
Casey shook his head.
”I promised her breakfast in bed. Sh-”

Leon immediately clowned on his younger brother, scoffing and tilting his head back. Casey’s hands came up in a frustrated manner, slapping the steering wheel on the way back down.

”No, no, Casey… It’s fine! It’s fine, I just… Man, Patty? Patricia?”
”Just Trisha, man.”
”Well when you get into your first argument, make sure you call her Patricia Punkass, or literally any alliteration to her full name.”

Casey shook his head in disgust.
”Whatever, man. Do you fucking want something or not?”
Leon shook his head, taking his seatbelt off.
”No, the Gym is close enough. I’ll just hit a run and have a protein drink when I get there.”

Casey looked around a little bit, recognizing the neighbourhood a little more. He hadn’t realised their uptown branch was so close, but it made sense. With three Gravity Gyms around St. Portwell, he figured they were just always close to one.

The two brothers got out of the car in tandem, and Leon gave Casey a wave.
”So you’re gonna go over there at least?”
Casey nodded.
”I wanted to talk to Mary-Ann about helping with the Bees and stuff.”

Leon tossed his hands up.
”Well good luck with that. Chances are, all Mom’s concerns will melt away when she smells the money wafting off the body of a Vanburen. Ciao, Little Brother.”

Casey flipped Leon off as he turned and walked away. It wasn’t a great morning start, but he did his best to put the impending doom on the back burner. As he walked down the street, he pulled his phone out and rattled off a text message to Clarissa letting her know that he was aware of the situation, and that he’d be over later on to figure out what the next steps were.

For now, he knew what his next steps were. He stepped on and on, into that little bakery, and when he emerged, he was holding so much that it was silly. They had just finished their bread rolls, and the scent of all the warm wheat came just short of giving him wood for probably the first time in months.
While meat was a source of regret and fear, fresh baked goods were the opposite. They were innocent foods, people’s fillers that were meant to be consumed and had zero morbidity to them whatsoever.

Boxes were filled with muffins and tarts and donuts, bagels, a couple of chocolate filled croissants (his favourite treat since childhood) and loads of other goods that would be happily devoured by the young people in the Temple dorms and commons. He came out with so much actually that a person from the bakery actually helped him get it all out and situated it in his car before he made his way back home.

Pulling back in, he headed around the back of the building so he could leave the car running. He didn’t want to bring all the shit back in, so he had them prep a sampler in a single box, so all he had to do was bring that back inside with him. It was just after quarter-to-six, and he figured Trisha wasn’t going to want to get up just yet. He had time.

Getting back in the apartment, Eddy was up and rummaging through the fridge. She was more than half naked, and nearly jumped out of her flesh as Casey rounded the corner.
”God Dammit Casey!”
She had a hoodie on, but… Just the hood. She grabbed the cloth arms and quickly tied them around her chest to cover.
”You’re fucking out?”

He stood with the box of pastries, confused and slightly concerned. He looked past her toward the closed door. He didn’t need to use words to convey his feelings to Eddy, who knew pretty instantly that Casey was processing a whole bunch of thoughts.

”I-I-I-u-uh… Was… Gonna use Leon’s shower! H-hari said Clarissa-”
Casey put his free hand up to stop her.
”Spare yourself the trouble, Eddy. Just… Please disappear.”

She was gone like lightning, leaving the raw burning smell in her wake. Casey was compelled to open the door, to creep down the hall, to catch them. Just for the forbidden knowledge. But he shook it out of his head. He didn’t need to know about his little sister’s freakshow life. He’d had enough of a morning already, he just wanted to focus on that warm feeling he got when he thought about Trisha.

He pulled a croissant out of the box and tucked in immediately. It was hot and delicious, and the boxes all had this little foil lining that kept them insulated so they’d stay that way longer. He really understood why Trisha had mentioned the place. Their selection was fantastic, and the ingredients seemed premium. The front was covered in flour; he learned in France that you only wanted to go to a bakery that was covered in flour. If it wasn’t, chances are they weren’t working very hard.

The creamy chocolate filling blew his concerns away for the short term, and he set about getting hot water for tea and brewing a pot of coffee. It wasn’t long before good ol’ Hari quietly popped the door to the otherside open and slid in. Casey had the tin of coffee in his hands.
”Whaaaaat?” he groaned playfully.

Important to distinguish was the idea that Casey did love the girls. Mia, Eddy, Hari: But mostly, probably more than his own blood, he loved Hari. She had this aura, this ability to listen and receive and not misinterpret communication. She was patient, even tempered, willing to put up with all manner of frustration.
She was one of his Mother’s Angels. A Temple Crone. It was an important position, and came with a lot of perks.

It was important to Casey that Hari was willing to share these perks. She stepped close to him; very close. Her head was just about empty, conditioned to do so as she delivered a message to her honorary older brother.
”She’s expected.”

Casey nodded his head. Of course their Mother knew.
”Where’s the plant?”
Hari hugged her arms around Casey, squeezing tight. It was obvious they weren’t blood by the height gap, and Hari barely came up to his chest.
”Don’t… It’s not worth it.”

There was a long pause. Casey finished filling the coffee maker with water, started the machine, and then wrapped an arm around Hari. He rubbed her shoulder for a moment.
”It’s worth getting out, Casey…”
Casey took another deep breath.
”You three… Are using again.”

She didn’t respond besides slowly nodding her head. But she pulled away.
”It’s not-”
He put his hand up. He didn’t want to hear her explain.
”Then don’t lecture me about getting out.”
Hari frowned, but she couldn’t do much about it. There was too much to unpack.

”Where’s Ed?”
Casey’s head nodded toward the hall behind him.
”Hiding in Lee’s room like she thinks I’ll disappear.”
Hari sighed, walking around him and off toward Leon’s room.

No fucking peace around here.

He started shuffling through cabinets looking for that tray they used to use on Mother’s Day, finding it buried under a bunch of pans. It was still shiny, and had the etched image of two elk forming a heart with their antlers in the middle. He couldn’t help but smile gently at it. He prepared a bunch of little plates, napkins, cups, then started filling them one by one.

A donut, a cream puff, a few citrus jelly tarts, a beautiful bagel with the choice of spread from cream cheese to butter to jelly. Water with a couple different kinds of tea, coffee, apple juice, and an optional shot of vodka in case she wanted a morning screwball instead of just the juice.
He knew his Mom certainly did.
He asked them for some bacon as well, seeing they had breakfast sandwiches, and laid it on a plate with some of their brioche toast and a warm slice of swiss cheese on top of it.

Before he finished, the two girls passed by him again. At least this time Eddy was actually wearing the hoodie…
”There’s definitely gonna be a meeting.”
Casey nodded as they passed.
”Shit, do we get any love like that?”
Casey grimaced.
”Nope, this is for girlfriends only, and there’s no way I’m jumping in bed with you girls.”

They both just giggled, crossing back into the other side and closing the door. In that moment he swore if he saw a paw, he’d sever it. The cats immediately began beating at the wall and laughing maniacally to themselves. His hand almost reached for his pistol, but it’d be useless. He just looked down at the tray and felt a warm feeling.

But before he woke her up, he figured he’d go turn the laundry over. The units were especially nice, and their efficiency meant that cycles were quick and washing was thorough. Before he transferred, he inspected, making sure there were no lasting stains that needed to be worked out. Once everything was drying, he figured now was the time. Six-thirty in the morning.

A very clearly normal time to be awake considering the Girls were up. It didn’t matter that they’d fallen asleep around midnight to Casey: He was used to days without it in general. A few hours made no difference…

So up came the tray, perfectly balanced in one hand. With the other, he unlocked the door and slipped into the room, closing the door gently behind him. The plates rattled slightly as he placed the tray down on a solid surface. He was sure to unclip his gun and put it back in the drawer before he got close to her by climbing into the bed next to her.

Casey’s arms wrapped around Trisha and he snuggled her gently.
”It’s time to wake up, Your Highness… Breakfast is served in the Kingdom of Crazy People…” he whispered, slowly shaking her.

In her half asleep state, Trisha felt a weight against her back, and soft words buzzing in her ears. It felt… a bit heavier than bees, but it had to be the bees, who else would be there. She rolled onto her back, eyes still closed and mind heavy with sleep. A limp hand raised over her face and waved in front of it as if shooing something away.
“Mm, buzz off, entertain yourselves… it’s too early…” she mumbled, eyes slowly beginning to open. As they did, and she began to wake up, she remembered where she actually was.

This wasn’t her bed. Nor was it the sofa she’d fallen asleep on. That meant it wasn’t bees buzzing or landing on her… it was…
“Oh… Good morning,” Trisha smiled, warm and sleepy. Her eyes blinked open, sleep still a soft gauze over their pretty, hazel surface. She sluggishly rolled in Casey’s arms so she was facing him. She could already smell the food, waking up her appetite along with the rest of her body. It was earlier than she’d normally get up, probably, but she didn’t really mind. Trisha didn’t really have a specific sleep schedule - just when she wanted, tending to sleep long hours because she didn’t have much else to do. But early mornings and shorter hours of sleep were fine too. “I think I want to be woken up like this every morning… Well you don’t have to get breakfast every time. Just the hugging is much nicer than an alarm… definitely much nicer than a bee alarm.”

She yawned, reaching up a hand to rub her eyes, before slowly blinking and seeming to properly wake up. “How did I get in the bed? I definitely didn’t fall asleep here…”

Casey smiled at Trisha like the sun was coming out of his mouth. Pure unadulterated happiness washed over him like an ocean wave a hundred feet tall. He rubbed his hands against her back for a moment.
”The couch has legs, he brought you in.”

“Oh of course, I should’ve known,” Trisha laughed, rolling her eyes good naturedly and craning her neck to glance over Casey’s shoulder. “It managed to get through that door? Or did you patch up the hole it made while I was asleep?”

He scrunched his head into the crook of her neck and shoulder, laughing. He squeezed her tight, then finally pulled away and stood up.
”When I woke up, I managed to get you in there before you got too jostled. Now, sit up. Lemmie get your pillows, so you can be comfy while you eat. You want the TV?” he kissed the top of her head.

He reached for a second pillow on the other side of the bed, propping her up nicely before swinging the tray over and sliding it over her lap. It was quite the spread.
”I don’t know how you like your tea or coffee, but I’m on demand for any condiments. Milk, cream, sugar, just ask. Oh, let me get you a napkin too.”

He slipped out of the door, coming back with a cloth napkin that he daintily laid next to her, along with a spoon, fork and knife.

“Wow.” Trisha was honestly overwhelmed, but in a good way. He’d gotten a whole selection, and actually brought it to her on a tray in bed. She’d… never really had someone look after her like this. It was nice but disconcerting. She wasn’t even sure where to start. With a drink choice, probably. “Just some milk for the coffee? No need for TV- what’s even on at this time? The news? That’s never fun.”

The news was what her mom would watch every morning, ignoring all conversation from Trisha. It was a step up from the finance programs often on in the Vanburen household, where the oldest or biggest got to choose. She didn’t feel the need for that background noise, comfortable with how things were.

Before Casey went to get milk, and she started eating, she leaned over and stretched up to plant a soft kiss on his cheek.
“Thank you, this is actually… yeah… it’s really nice.” She picked up the knife and spread a thin layer of butter on one half of the bagel, before putting on a slightly thicker layer of jelly. She picked it up and took a bite, smile immediately widening. It was as good as normal… he’d really gone to the bakery she’d said about. Not that she’d expected him to try lie about it, just it was a bit out of the way. “You’re eating too, right? This is wayyy to much for just me in the morning.”

Casey came back with milk and sugar, and he snagged one of the tarts from the plate.
”Yeah, absolutely. A lot of things make me feel like shit, but bread and sugar aren’t in that category. I think breakfast was invented by someone who skipped dessert a lot.” he mused, settling down on the empty side of the bed and munching away. He had his own coffee in his hand, black with a lot of sugar.

“It definitely was… At least, breakfast like this, rather than boring toast and cereal,” Trisha smiled, pouring milk into her coffee and taking a sip. It was a bit hot so she put it back down to continue eating the bagel. She twisted her head to look at Casey as she did. “I used to skip breakfast a lot as a kid. Was up late every night so I didn’t have time before school… Don’t know how I did it, it’s the best meal of the day. Maybe I just think that cause I’ve gotten more of a sweet tooth since I got the bees.”

Casey laughed thinking about all the meals he’d missed in his life.
”Our Dad used to always make sure we were eating five meals a day. Small ones. He learned all he knew about fitness from this Guru who was friends with our Grandfather, and the guy was always talking about constantly feeding your gut and making sure it was well worked. You are what you eat, all of that.”
He scarfed down the tart, following it with another sip and nodding.
”So it was all snacks. Apples and tapas and charcuterie boards and these-”

Casey held both his hands up in a box that was about ten inches in height.
”-massive fuckin’ protein shakes. We called ‘em garbage cups, he’d throw everything in. Like, cooked chicken, banana, peanuts, kale. First time I had a chocolate bar, I thought I was going to explode.”

Trisha’s nose scrunched up, and grimaced.
“That sounds… horrible. All of that blended together? I think I would’ve thrown it up- just thinking about it, ew.” She shook her head, taking another smaller bite of the bagel and washing it down with some coffee. “I knew a couple of people who went on these protein shake diets, but it was this powder blend. Not that. What is blended chicken even like… actually, don’t tell me. I don’t think I can handle it.”

Not when she was eating. Or ever, actually. The ‘protein shakes’ sounded like they were something out of a horror movie. “My one or two meals a day seems quite good in comparison. I’m quite glad no one had the time to force a protein shake like that down me- well, it probably would’ve been caviar or something. Dad was always away and mom lives on the other side of the country. One of my older sisters tried to take that role, but it didn’t really work out. She’s-”

Trisha didn’t really know how to describe Tansy- the queen bitch of the Vanburen family. She’d rather not. Her munching got a bit more aggressive as she finished off the half of the bagel, reaching for the cream puff.
“Oh, I think she’d get on with your mom, actually. She did try and push certain ways of eating on us, but it was normally diets. I started skipping dinner for a while so I didn’t have to hear her go on and on about how we should all be eating salads, and oh, there was this special type of water that was better for you than normal water. But… she never tried to feed me blended chicken.” Trisha couldn’t help but laugh at that.

Casey watched Trisha polish off her bagel with fervour and took a mental note that it was the first thing she went for. Typically that was the first thing to go, but if she did so much to it he figured it had to be something she liked.
Maybe she was the type to go for her favourites first, or maybe she was just serious about breakfast just like she was saying.

”The only time I ever heard about special water was when this melonhead from the Reserve office tried to get me signed up for a fuckin’ pyramid scheme. What’d she have like a special filter or something bogus like that?”
The same Private, Casey remembered, was discharged a few weeks later for trying to sell an MP some dope. Moron.

"Hmm I think it had like, shit added into it?” Trisha mumbled out around eating the cream puff. Her eyes squinted slightly as she tried to remember. It had been a while ago and there was always someone in the Vanburen house trying to push some fad. "Like extra minerals and shit added in, electrolytes… it was probably a pyramid scheme that she was running. Supposedly it'd make your skin 'glow' and give you more energy. Honestly it-” Trisha paused, stifling laughter. “It definitely made something glow when I threw some of it in her face.”

She finished the cream puff and paused, just picking up her mug of coffee and sipping it. Honestly, she wanted to eat more but after all that chicken last night there was no way she could. Maybe if she waited a bit.
“So… what are the plans for today?” she smiled at Casey over her coffee. Based on their talk last night, she had an idea of where that might be… however the cat to mother communication went. Or some other way she had to find out, as controlling as she sounded. “Need to know how much coffee to drink to prepare, and if I need that shot.”

There was a warm laugh when he imagined her dumping water into some older lady’s face. He didn’t know why, those kinds of cruel acts usually didn’t sit well with him, but… He imagined her cute face scrunched up in anger, or the way she maybe bounced without realising that she even did it.
It was the same sort of reason you’d get a terrier; feisty but tiny. However, she did drop the question. The Question. She asked if she needed the shot.

”Well, in terms of what I had originally planned, I figured we’d hang around here until the afternoon, bask in one another’s company for a little while longer, then head out. I thought I’d bring you home, give you some personal time if you wanted it or at least let you get some day clothes. After that, sort of depended on what you were going to say. But…-”
Casey grimaced, eyes closing for a moment as he took another sip of his own coffee and bit down on a donut, then followed with a second sip.
”-Well, I had quite the morning while you were sleeping… Shouldn’t say quite, I feel like that’s too much credit. It was annoying. Leon showed up as I was leaving to get this stuff and tried to grill me because there was some trouble at the food tent after we left.”

Casey shrugged, looking down at his cup and then back up at Trisha. It was, he felt, going to be fine as long as she was there too. Like it wouldn’t be a problem if she believed it wouldn’t be.
”I talked him down, and he told me that he took the heat off me with our Mom. Which is great. But, I woke up with a ton of calls and texts from her and my sister. Nothing nasty, just informational shit and them basically repeatedly asking me to somehow answer the phone.
”It cuts off around three-thirty this morning, so I assume at that point she started snooping around the apartment with her magic and either the cats spilled the beans about you, or she knew I had a woman here last night, because after I got back, Hari told me that Lynette is… Expecting you. he said with some discomfort.

“Oh,” was all Trisha said at first as she processed it all. If Casey had talked to Leon, did that mean Leon knew she was here? Had he tried to… discourage Casey from being with her? She knew he didn’t like her - most of the old coven didn’t. Even the ones she’d tried to be friendly with she’d been horrible to at the end, when the coven dissolved. Lashed out like always. But Casey was still here. He hadn’t just kicked her out so Leon probably hadn’t said anything…

The rest was a different matter entirely. So, Lynette could magically spy on them in some way. That didn’t sit well with her, a hint of discomfort springing in her chest. Had she shown herself in a bad way last night? She’d lost control of her bees. She wasn’t doing anything productive, like learning to- Wait. This wasn’t her own mother. Trisha forcefully cut off her thoughts.
”So you had a way better night than the rest of your family?” She started, before realising that was in poor taste if there was some kind of trouble. She took a big gulp of her coffee. The shot was definitely appealing, but one vodka shot and she’d be gone. “I guess we’re skipping all the minions and going straight for the boss fight then- sorry, one of my friends is big into gaming, rubbed off on me a bit. That’s fine. I guess it’s only fair if something happened last night… well not the snooping. But your family will be curious about what was so amazing you couldn’t look at your phone, right?”

She smiled warmly at him, putting down her cup and reaching out to take his hand. She gently squeezed it. Like it was nothing meeting his cult running, magically spying mother on day two.
“We’ll go there then… Well, let’s go to my place first. I want to change clothes and collect some bees.”

Casey felt the warmest wash of radiant emotion rake across his body like a storm of comets turning him into swiss cheese. Between the morbid joke and her unwavering desire to face fear and uncertainty, the word formed on the tip of Casey’s tongue like nuclear fusion. The power of the sun flung itself from his mouth.
”God, I fucking love-”
His voice hitched and he paused. It was brief, but long enough to notice.
”-how… I love how cool you are, Trisha Bee. Like you’re this badass chick, y’know? I show you a cake that heals you, you come play pool with me. I show you a pool cue that can play a perfect game by itself, you ask if you can come over my house. I show you two mind reading asshole cats, you sleep over. I tell you my Mom was probably watching us sleep together, you say let’s break the ice.”

Flabbergasted, Casey flung his hand about, letting it slap his thigh in punctuation.
”Just… So fucking cool. It’s great.” he finished, trying to play things cool and collected.

Trisha blushed slightly at all the compliments, the little anxious feeling in her chest completely replaced by a warm swell. It was something she could never get enough of, the reason she’d always swapped from partner to partner when the last one left her. The reassurance and the compliments that helped her feel just a little good about herself. This was different from normal, though, normally it was all about her appearance, how attractive she was. She’d never been called badass before. It was enough that she could… not think too much about the slight pause after the word love. Maybe he’d just not thought out what he was going to say. Yeah. Had to be that.

”Well, I did fight a world ending snake when I was fourteen. Of course I’m even cooler ten years later. I’ve also had my fair share of family drama… Somehow mom’s side of the family manages to be as insane as the side with dozens of half-siblings. One of my cousins punched one of my uncles once for stopping him fighting someone on the street, so then his kids started beating him up.” Not that she’d actually witnessed that, thanks to living in a different country, but she’d heard of it from one of the few cousins she had some kind of contact with. “So this is nowhere near enough to make me back down.”

She smiled brightly, finishing off her coffee. It had been good, the whole breakfast was good, and she wished she could eat more. But while her appetite was probably bigger than expected, she was still quite small.
”I don’t think I can eat anymore… Thanks for getting so much. Uh, nobody’s gotten me breakfast like this before. It was really nice. Definitely gives me plenty of energy to face the day- With this I can protect you from anything they throw at us.”

Casey grinned at her, listening about the cousin and not backing down. He was excited to see how she handled herself today, especially when his mother could lay things on so thick. It’s like she thought everyone wanted to be special to the point that they were royalty… Maybe Trisha would love it.

Regardless, he began to tuck into the things she left behind, slipping the knife through a donut and laying the bacon inside before chomping down on the absolute worst thing he could eat on the plate. His face was happy as he munched away until nothing was left.
”Do you want to hit the gym before we go? Or would you rather skip it for the day? I wouldn’t blame you, seems like we’ve got enough to do.”

He plucked up the tray, leaving the orange juice and slam dunking the shot with a throaty exhale.
”You’ve got a little bit regardless if you wanna just chill out. I’ve gotta finish the laundry and fix Leon’s stuff after I broke the fixture last night.”

“No way am I going to the gym and facing your mom for the first time in the same,” she shook her head. Honestly, going to gym that early wasn’t her idea of fun… Well, watching Casey work out was quite appealing, but not so much doing it herself. If she was going to have to do it, she’d take delaying the inevitable one more day.
“I don’t have any gym clothes either- I’d trip over doing it in these.” To punctuate her point, she kicked up on leg, showing off the too large sweatpants she still had on. “I’ll just relax here until we leave.”

Trisha flashed him a bright smile, before her eyes half closed again. She’d take this short period to try to let her mind rest before what was undoubtedly going to be a stressful day. But it’d be fine… so long as they managed to avoid her side of the family. Dealing with one would be enough.

Trisha’s (Sabrina’s) House

After laundry was done and fixtures were fixed, it didn’t take the two long to get to Trisha’s place. It wasn’t a long drive, and Trisha had Casey park along the street outside of the gated house. It was too much hassle to get another car in there… and they wouldn’t be there for long. She shoved around in her pockets for her keys, which were all held together by a cute little bee plush keychain.

“I’m on the ground floor, so we don’t have to go too far into the house,” Trisha explained as she led Casey through the front gate, unlocked with a key fob, and down a short path to the incredibly fancy, three-floor house she shared with her sisters. She shook her keys at the front door, pausing before she unlocked it. If Sabrina was in… she really didn’t want to have to stop and talk to her. This was just a quick in and out. Get changed, pack some clothes, check on the bees, and then leave.

She reached out for Casey’s hand, grasping it tightly. It wasn’t like she could forcefully drag him if she had to, but… hopefully she wouldn’t have to. Taking a deep breath, she unlocked the front door and stepped inside.

The massive living room was an absolute mess. There were bottles of alcohol and empty glasses strewn all across the table, pizza boxes beside them and on the couch, and evidence of at least on person sleeping on them. Trisha paused what had been a very purposeful walk in to just gape at it, squinting slightly. The bright white sofas and light themed decorations hurt her eyes slightly after growing adjusted to the gothic darkness of Leon’s apartment.

But, what the fuck had happened in there last night? Did Sabrina throw a party? Who had she had around to drink so much alcohol- sure, the four who lived here could go through that much in a night, but the other two were out of town… Trisha shook her head. She didn’t care, actually. At least there didn’t seem to be anyone around.

“Good thing we went to yours last night, and avoided all that,” Trisha commented offhandedly, while leading Casey further into the house. She took him down a hall directly opposite them, past a few closed doors and to one right at the end. There was a soft buzzing audible from about halfway down that got louder the closer they got to the room. Trisha once again shook her keys to find the right one, unlocking the door and pushing it open to let Casey in.

“Welcome to my home.”

The room was large, with the door they came in through in the middle of the wall. Directly to their right was a large, wooden bee hive. A constant buzzing came from inside of it, but there were only a few bees meandering in and out of it. The other wall it was against had a large window along most of its length. One of the topmost frames, a small square, was left open. Along from the hive and in front of the window was a large desk made out of light brown wood. It had two big computer screens on it, a desktop computer underneath it, and a notebook open over the keyboard with a bunch of scribbles.

Behind that, in the back right corner, was a queen-sized bed. It was high enough for there to be two drawers underneath it, covered in simple dark green sheets with a pile of about six pillows pushed towards one corner. The whole back wall was covered in tall shelving units. Some had books on them - a variety of mathematics textbooks, coding guides and mixed fiction - while others had storage boxes. Small plants decorated the shelves, interspersed with pictures. There was one of a much younger Trisha, with an Asian woman who looked similar enough to her to likely be her mom. The photograph had a clear coldness to it - Trisha’s smile was awkward, and the woman wasn’t smiling at all. But it had been placed in a prominent position, in the centre of a shelf. There were other pictures too - multiple of Trisha with a medium sized group of friends, Trisha with three other girls, one of the same group of friends in graduation gowns, and a solo picture of her graduating too. There was a distinct lack of family photos outside of the clearly displayed one with her mother.

In the left corner was a vanity table, with all sorts of makeup scattered across it. Along the left wall there were only a set of sliding doors, closed, and a slightly ajar door that showed a hint of a bathroom.

Upon entering, Trisha shut the door behind them, not bothering to relock it. Near immediately a couple of bees flew over to her, landing on her shoulders, from their right. She waved them away, consciously using her pheromones to stop them all from swarming her.

“Come over here, say hello.” Still holding Casey’s hand, she pulled him over to the hive. She carefully let her pheromones wash over it, soothing the bees and telling them that she was home. A group of about twenty came out, circling around her as if checking up on her, before landing on various places on her body. She turned to him with a warm smile.
“If you’re alright with it, I can get them to land on you… then they can get used to you so what happened yesterday is less likely to happen. I already let them know you’re not a threat. It’s pretty quiet just now because it’s winter, so they don’t have anything to do… Honestly, they all want to come out, but that’ll be annoying. It’ll just be a couple, but only if you want.”

Casey’s first impressions of the Vanburen house were good. It wasn’t like his Granparents’ house in New York, rather it was a dense little affair that didn’t spread across the landscape it inhabited. He found it comfy for how big it actually was, especially the three-floor height that loomed over the well manicured area. There were cars in the gated off driveway, so he understood why she didn’t want to bother having him find a parking space.

Nobody was going to break into his shitbox anyway, especially not in a neighborhood like this. Entering, he found the white and bright furniture reflecting the autumn morning’s light coming through the windows. It made the whole place feel like it was a big sphere of light, and while he found it easy to see, it wasn’t so welcoming. It felt too clean to sit on, or like it was made for display despite the food boxes stacked up on the table.

Her room was far more cozy, a single window behind the computer setup that he examined with careful interest. Casey’s eyes drew themselves to the books, and he grinned thinking about the fact that she wasn’t just cool in attitude, but cool in interest too. She had smart people books; the type of books he’d catch Junior reading, where there were formulas and math problems and the kind of technical jargon that made his ears ring.

But of course the show was the bees. The thousands and thousands of little girls he felt compelled to apologize to after his previous blunder. Casey had, before leaving, snuck a few fruits into his hoodie, as well as a small pill bottle filled with simple syrup.
He snapped one of the fruits in half with his bare hands, dumping some of the simple syrup on it and leaving it next to the hive before doing the same with the other half and repeating the process all over again for the other fruit.

”Think about this like it’s your first test of the day: Try and command as many as you’re comfortable doing, but keep an exact number in mind. We’ll see if you can control that many specifically. Don’t tell me.”

He dumped the rest of the simple syrup on his arms and held them out like he was going to hug the hive.
”Hi girls! I’m Casey… I hope we can get along, and I hope you know I’m real sorry about what happened last night! I can’t wait to see you guys moved to a place where you’ll be more comfortable. I’ll be sure to get a lot of flowers and stuff for you to rub your fuzzy little asses in… And bowls of fruit daily. You guys’ll love it, I promise.”

Trisha's eyes widened slightly, just staring at Casey for a moment in shock. He'd been stung by nearly a thousand bees yesterday… but today he was apologising to them and covering his arms with inviting syrup. She could sense the bees' interest, the ones on her moving closer to Casey until they were all gathered on one shoulder. At least the hive itself was stocked with honey for them to eat, stopping the whole swarm from coming out immediately to feast.

“They're going to like you better than me soon,” Trisha muttered, looking at the fruit. It wasn't that she was stingy with them, she just didn't make the effort. Getting fruit meant going to the kitchen or the shops, both of which came with interactions she couldn't be bothered with. Though the bees weren't actually bothered… it was endearing the effort he'd gone to, and the way he talked to them even though they couldn't understand.

“Alright, I'll try now.” She furrowed her brow and tried to quickly figure out how many she felt comfortable controlling. For a situation where she was having them attack something, thousands, close to the whole hive… but when it came to something like this, where she didn't want them to attack, probably… not that many. Not that many at all. Two-hundred. Anymore felt like a risk. “I'm going to try have half of them go on the fruit, half on your arms.”

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, before carefully adjusting her pheromones. The precise number was weaved into the scents, and a command to come out of the hive nicely and split between the fruit and Casey's arms. Near immediately the buzzing coming from it grew louder. A large group of bees flew out, a mass of black and dark yellow. It split in two, half descending on the syrup covered fruit and the other half on Casey's arms. There were enough to cover the lower half of both of his arms - definitely way more than two hundred in total. Unlike the day before, they clearly weren't in attack mode- instead they started to suck up the syrup. It would feel like hundreds of little tickles all across his arms.

“Uhhh…” Trisha looked across all of the bees, lips tugging up into a smile at the sight of it before tilting her head up at him. “Do you want the number now, because I can tell you right away that's way more than I asked for."

Casey couldn’t help but giggle as the little bee feet and tongues lapped up the syrup off his arms. It was like being tickled by a thousand little feathers or something, each one independently controlled. It was impressive how much warmer his arms were with a mass of bees on them.
”Way more? That’s pretty funny, actually. From the two experiences I have now, it seems like you overestimate? Or overcompensate, but either way there’s something funny going on.”

He beamed at Trisha, ecstatic about the fact that he was having such a meaningful interaction with the bees. He made sure he kept his muscles loose and his heart rate down, but he kept twitching with each tickle.

”It’s stuff like this that you could impress Blinds with. People love stuff having to do with cute animals. Anyway,-” he laughed, looking around Trisha’s room while the bees went about their business. ”-whatever you need to do, you go for it. I’ll be here. If you gotta change, I guess I’ll close my eyes, or you can try having the bees give me a blindfold, that’d be a neat test. No possible reason they’d try to sting my eyes out of my head, right?”

Trisha shook her head at him, unable to stop her soft smile back. It was pretty cute seeing all the bees on his arms, so happily drinking away. She was being bombarded with content pheromones, increasing the warm feeling blooming in her chest. The fact she overcompensated with them… well, she could see where that came from. She didn't really want to think about it right now. Just enjoy the moment for now.

“I'm not making you a bee blindfold, I don't want to risk your eyes, then how will you see me?” Trisha joked, though she really wasn't confident in doing that anyway. They didn't see a threat right now and she was very calm, but her bees were used to being commanded to fight and attack and not much else. Maybe that was part of the problem. She gestured to the two doors along the opposite wall.
“I'll change in the bathroom, so just make yourself at home. The bees are happy enough you can probably move around with them.”

And she could sense their pheromones from anywhere in the room. After another quick check to make sure they were all behaving, Trisha went over to the sliding doors next to the bathroom door. She pulled them open to reveal a moderate sized walk-in wardrobe. The first half was visible, with two layers of racks with an assortment of clothes hanging from them. The open space between the actual storage went round to the right, where Trisha disappeared. What could be seen from the outside seemed to be sorted by colour, with some random exceptions here and there.

The bit Trisha had gone down into was messier. She'd gotten lazy with putting stuff away and ended up dumping a pile of clothes on the little stool she used to reach things she'd put higher up. She crouched down and pulled out a small suitcase from the very back corner. Honestly, she had no idea where they would sleep tonight but it was better to be prepared when she could be. She packed this first with a selection of outfits - more comfortable cargo pants and tank top combinations, a few nice dresses, a skirt, a hoodie and sweatpants, and some sportswear for the gym. She was quite efficient in her packing, managing to squeeze quite a lot into the small space before she was satisfied.

Then there was the question of what to wear today. Normally Trisha dressed for her audience. She had so many clothes not because she was into fashion, or even particularly cared about clothes. It was because she dressed to give a specific impression towards the people she'd be around. To her, it was just another thing to use to get the attention she craved. If she was dressing for an audience the answer today was obvious - anything black. The gothic aesthetic wasn't one she'd ever delved into, nor did she plan to, but she had plenty of black clothes. She could pull it off if she wanted to.

But that wasn't what she was actually going for today. She didn't want to fit in with a cult. The person she wanted to impress was Casey, not his mom and all of her followers. With that in mind, she took a few moments to pick out an outfit before nipping round into the bathroom to get changed.

“Are they still behaving?” Trisha asked when she came out of the bathroom after not too long. It was a complete change from the cargo pants and crop top she'd been wearing before. A loose, white blouse was tucked into a light blue floral print circle skirt. It fell to just above her knees, incredibly flowy, and she'd worn shorts underneath just in case she had to… run away from cultists or something. Overall it was very cute and very ungothic. She made her way over to the vanity in the corner, sitting on the stool in front of it.

“I only need a little bit longer,” she said, beginning to brush her long hair. After getting out all of the kinks, she pulled it up into a high ponytail, leaving a few shorter strands at the front loose to frame her face. Makeup would be next - normally she didn't wear much, she just didn't feel entirely comfortable going out without it. But she paused, twisting around to look at Casey. “Oh, I packed at least a week's worth of clothes… I figured it'd be useful to have in your car at least, if that's alright? I can leave it behind if it isn't, uh, if you weren't wanting, y'know, to stay together again tonight.”

Casey had been absolutely vibing with a few hundred bees wandering about on him. It was clear to see they were behaving just fine, and Casey was just lost in his flower child phase as he danced about with them. From the outside, it looked like he was imitating something, or someone… A dance he’d seen, the arms were outstretched at the torso like a T, and he undulated from one side to the other by bending his knees and twisting his torso.
Truthfully, he’d seen a gaggle of kids doing it, and was channeling his own inner child as he revelled in the acceptance of the bees.

He was doing the Stickbug Dance. With any amount of time on the internet, the mundane and innocent meme could be recognized from just about any angle. When Trisha came out to speak, he looked up at her like a kid caught doing something wrong.
”That’s a great idea, Trishabee. We’ll keep it in the car, and I’ll give you the spare key in case you have to make a quick getaway. Or if you wanted to keep it in the house that’s fine, I’m just thinking logistically…”

He looked at her with a great deal of admiration; she was very cute. He thought she was just… Just like one of her bees. She radiated in his eyes, and he felt the warmth of the bees around him.
”They forgive me I guess. I’m happy. Thank you, Babe… You take all the time you need.” he smiled softly, sweetly.

Trisha had recognised the dance Casey had been doing, which the bees had been enjoying a little too much. They seemed to enjoy the movement as they finished off the syrup on his arms. Now that it was done, some of them flew off of him and onto the fruit, some returned to the hive, and some continued to meander above his arms and up onto his shoulders. She stifled laughter, deciding not to comment on it… It was ridiculous and goofy but she actually found it quite endearing.

“If I was making a quick getaway, where would I be going except here, where the rest of my clothes are?” She asked with a light laugh, returning his smile with a warm one of her own before turning towards the mirror in front of her and starting to go through her makeup. A light layer of foundation was put over her face before she kept talking.
“They definitely forgive you. In fact, I think they quite like you… most people don’t approach them covered in something they can eat. Keep giving them fruit and they’ll choose you over me. I’m a stingy mom.”

Though, she was fairly certain the bees had forgotten what happened yesterday. They certainly didn’t know he was the one who’d reduced their numbers. But she wasn’t going to burst his bubble. She kept getting ready, not taking long just like she’d said. Some concealer on worse spots, blush on her cheeks, simple dusky pink eyeshadow and soft pink lip gloss. It took her less than ten minutes in total. Once she was done she picked up all of the products she’d used, along with a couple of more, and went to get the suitcase she’d packed. Makeup was haphazardly thrown on top of neatly folded clothes. She also grabbed a soft, navy wool coat and shoved her phone in its pocket.

“Oh,” she straightened up, and went over to one of the storage boxes she had. She pulled out a simple, sealed jar filled with golden liquid and held it up. “Should we bring some honey? Maybe it can be a peace offering if your mom takes one look at me and decides I’m not good enough- or a weapon, to be thrown at someone. Very versatile.”

She played with the jar in her hands, looking away for a moment. She was a lot more nervous about the first scenario happening than she was the more likely one - his mother trying to lovebomb her and eventually control her. She’d be able to handle that a lot better.
“Honey decision aside, I’m ready.”

Casey shrugged his arms a bit and giggled.
”However we handle this, I’ll grab honey and we’ll go. There’s a bunch of pastries in the back? I guess I can open one of the donut boxes and they can chill out in there? Or do you keep them in your coat or something?”
He did his best to waddle over to her, slowly waving his arms to give the bees a gentle rocking motion.
”But as far as you bugging out? I’m gonna talk to someone about this shit, try and find someone from the Corps who can protect you if I fail for some reason.”

“Normally they hide in my coat or my hair or under my shirt. They prefer being near me.” Trisha laughed as he waddled over, deciding to give him a break and asking the bees to get off his arms. The ones that were on his arms flew over and onto Trisha, gathering on her as she pulled her coat. They moved into her sleeves and onto her back, most of them hidden. A few of them stayed on Casey, seeming reluctant to leave. She rolled her eyes at them, but let them be for just now.

“I- Thank you for thinking about that,” Trisha said softly. She closed the remaining gap between them, hugging him and pressing her face against him. The remaining bees on him crawled onto her shoulder and into her ponytail. “Hopefully it doesn't come to that… I'm sure just being with you is a father wolf deterrent. He seems to get people when they're alone- I wouldn't want him to get you either.”

She shook her head, letting go of him and stepping back. The thought of Father Wolf getting her, or getting Casey trying to defend her, wasn't a pleasant one. She'd been trying her best not to think about it, and everytime she did it made her nervous- well, beyond nervous.
“It's nice to have someone who cares that much- but I don't want to dwell on that danger, let's go face a slightly less murderous one- sorry, I shouldn't say that about your mother…”

Casey openly laughed.
”Oh, very dangerous. Once watched her beat Leon with a book of poems for like thirty minutes, and he never picked his hands up to her. Foot and a half taller, hundred fifty pounds heavier, and he just took the beating. That’s power; that’s danger.”
He shrugged, hugging her gently and making sure he wasn’t too tough on the bees. It was a bit of a nightmare, not wanting to scuff them up at all.

”You’re like a walking hive; it must be a nightmare if you accidentally fall over.”
When he let her go, he swung around the corner and looked at the stack of custom wooden boxes she had for keeping the honey. It was fantastic that she had this much, and he imagined her sitting around listening to music while she emptied out the grubless combs and getting the jars all sealed in a boiling pot of water.

He pulled the top crate off the stack and held it in his hand. A dozen jars, sixteen fluid ounces a piece, he figured he was carrying close to forty pounds between the honey, glass and wood of the box. No trouble, it was like a couple cans of ammunition. Just like a box of grenades, he slid it up onto his shoulder next to his head.
There was space for it in the back of the car on the seat opposite the pastries, and he pulled out a donut to eat while they continued their drive.

From Trisha’s house to the opposite was a twenty minute drive around the perimeter of the city, the highway forming a bubble around the outskirts consisting of four sets of off and on ramps serving as the gates in and out. They took the last one, and ended up in a forested suburban area where the homes became older and the spans between grew longer and wider until it felt like they were nowhere at all.

Temple Holy Ground

When it felt like reality was gone, and like there wasn’t anyone around for miles, there was a road. A road with a sign that was a little sun rising over a forest. Gold and orange and white colors, no words or lettering of any kind breaking it up.
It was like a summer camp. At least, until the gate. It was open, there wasn’t any sort of post or anything, but it was clearly a gate and a fence, and they weren’t just chain linked. Metal, with inverted slopes that were dotted by knife-like barbs packed tightly in clusters along the edge. Truly hostile architecture, designed to warn outsiders that it was not a place they were welcome.

”Dad built the walls in a day. The property is roughly six hundred acres; its close to a square mile of protected rural space interspersed by buildable zones. The back area has aura gates that can sort animal from man, so they don’t let people in through the property but the animals can still move freely.” he smiled as he thought about it, his hand leaving the wheel to point into the woods around the road.

”Out there, you see ‘em?”
There were deer out there. He slowed down enough to let her see them, and it became much more clear that they weren’t normal deer. Their antlers were dark, burnished metal that matched their eyes and noses and hoofs.
”Those are project deer… The agriculturalists are working on a project trying to figure out what sorts of extra-dimensional livestock we can replicate here in our world. Their bones are this crazy organic metal.”

“What the fuck? They made them?” Trisha gaped at the deer, leaning closer to the window to get a proper look at them. Outside of the Stygian Snake and all of its minions, she’d never actually seen anything from another dimension. And all the apparitions or similar she’d encountered were… quite frankly, horrible. “Their bones are made of metal? Does that make them super heavy?”

”Yeeeeeeah… They’re beautiful, but they’re not doing so well. Apparently where they come from, the gravity is real low. See how they’re so tall and lanky?”
He pointed at the bull of the group. They were far away, but they were essentially twelve feet tall without the antlers.
”I guess the metal is from their diet, but they developed it because the normal calcium bone structure is actually too weak to keep them together. They did some kind of fucked up experiments I guess, like tracking their evolution through some crazy Pink/White spells. Imagine seeing like, millions of years of evolution that you have to parse out? We have some serious eggheads behind these walls.”

He sped the car up again, finally taking them down the lane to the cul-de-sac that served as the gathering quad for the Temple’s various facilities. Half a dozen buildings of various aesthetic and size shared parking lots on both sides of the ring, and a big chapel style building sat at the back center. It was up on a small hill, looking down on the other buildings like a looming parent.

Casey looked at the radio clock. Close to ten in the morning. Most of their fellow twenty-somethings were either at their jobs already, or still sleeping, so the area was mostly empty. There were a few younger men tossing a football around in one of the grassy areas, and the first blatant display of magical usage as one of them snagged the ball away from another in a burst of light.
There was an ensuing argument as the car pulled into the spot. The manoeuvre had blown the ball apart, so the game was clearly over. But they saw Casey pull in, and they began to approach them. Casey smiled and waved, speaking casually to Trisha as he put the car in park.

”Ah, some slaaaaves.” he giggled, looking over at her then back. ”They’ll take care of the food and the honey, and I don’t even know their names. They know me though!”

And they did. As he got out of the car, they started babbling at him about one thing or another as if he remembered that they’d spoken previously. They probably had, so he played along until they finally got to the point and helped take the pastries into the great room.
By that time, figures had gathered up at the top of the hill at the door of the chapel. For the first time, Trisha Vanburen’s eyes would be able to meet the piercing blue eyes of the captivating widow known as Lynette Richoux.

Her long hair was tied in a single thick, braided tail that fell around her front. She was holding the end of it in her hands, playing with the split ends at the bottom of the braid. She was wearing some kind of robe with multiple scarfs, and some hanging gold baubles that danced about her hidden knees.
At her side, there was a young woman who looked like she was trying desperately to be Lynette’s twin. She had twin tails, loose closer to the head and tight at the ends in triple spools. Both were raven haired, and she had the same piercing blue eyes.

Casey gasped.
”She’s not wearing fuckin’ black! My Gods, is it all ending?”
”I can fucking hear you Casaeu L’del… You know we’re approaching the Solstice.”
”No, Mama, I think you just didn’t want to intimidate your new best friend.”

Casey reached for Trisha’s hand. It shook a bit, even though he tried to hide it by squeezing her hand harder. He may not have sounded like he had a problem talking with his Mother that way, but the physical sensation was completely different.
But he looked at Trisha and he smiled, dropping his head slightly with a laugh. He nodded up a bit at the impending.
”C’mon. Lets do this together.”


Mentions: Kari Wilson | Direct Dialogue: Drake Blackmore, Auri Auclair/@Punished GN, Aryin Thorne/@NoriWasHere | Location: Kari's Grave > Kari's House

The last few days had been Ken spending time with Jack and a few others to discuss ongoing plans. Many people in the Coven were classically unprepared for just about every way for any kind of conflict, and it consistently amazed Ken that they managed to do what they did at the age they did it. Even if his clan had trusted him to be a man at that age, knowing what he knew now, he was still a child. It was a problem now, as they were being grounded in batches it seemed, but there were over a hundred of them back in the day, and sixty losses had a decade of mourning and a victory under their belt to soften the blow.

It wasn't all for naught. But this was different. Kenshiro Murakin had experienced loss upon loss stacked high on top of one another like salted pillars that sucked the moisture and warmth from everything. Four days ago he'd come home from another fruitless trek to claim vengeance and found nothing but disaster waiting again. Even as he tried to parse it together, the only things left were anger and anticipation. He hadn't even given himself time to register what things meant until he found himself at Kari Wilson's grave, weeping like a helpless child. In his hand, a hand woven wreath made of the most incredible kinds of feathers he'd found in the last six months. Every time he came home, he brought her another creation involving their shared love of the beauty that came from avian creatures. Even things that weren't necessarily birds; if it had feathers, chances are there was a majesty to it that no other creature could capture with fur or patterned flesh.

Their relationship had been... Slow. Ken was difficult to be with, given how long one could spend without him. When he had initially come to St. Portwell, the two of them had bonded over shared experiences of the Allverse. Though Kari couldn't travel there on her own, Ken had always promised to take her once things were over. There was a particular realm that she'd had visions of, and Ken had made frequent passage through its jungles for supplies needed by the Gama pact. Dennu'ba, the Banded Worlds. But duty called, and life went on.
He returned to his clan, and Hannako filled that part of his life. They married, and it wasn't long before their child was due when everything happened. It was a four year gap... But when Ken came back to St. Portwell, he found that Kari's feelings hadn't changed much. It only hurt more now, knowing that he never even got the chance to make things up to her. He was too wrapped up in himself, and she understood and accepted him despite it all. Even when she deserved better. And the dream had left him in the worst kind of mood, and reminded him only that something awful was happening.

He was sobbing. Utterly sobbing over her body buried six feet beneath the soil. Stones and rocks and loose headstones bubbled upward into the sky little by little. His sniffling voice spoke up between the tears.
"I-I-'m... So... Fucking..."
He thought about when he got back, how she showed him her project. What she'd been working on. She said she was onto something. At that point, his own desire for information and revenge was so strong that there was no way he was going to tell her that what she was digging into would probably just lead to suffering. That hunting entities and kicking rocks over looking for ghosts involved with the Stygian Snake was just a bad fucking idea. How could he be a hypocrite to her? So he praised her. And now he had the chance to consider something. The idea that she had opened the door for something that never should've come, and that they were all in danger because of her actions.

Ken tried to tell himself that it could've been anything, and that there was only so much time before someone or something came for revenge themselves. Their own sick revenge for a twisted monster who deserved what it got... But they were the same kind of monsters to some other dimension. These things weren't able to be reconciled, and it was a pointless exercise to try. All it did was make him empathize with her more.
"P-pl-e-ase... Come back... Come back! I can't... I don't-want-to... Be..."

Alone. Nobody was in the graveyard at five in the morning. Nobody but Kenshiro Murakin and his regrets.

The break of day came with the sunshine and voices. There was no way Auri was going to be the first one to the trough when it came to Kari, but he didn't want to rain on her parade either. He was tucked up on the roof, hearing her approach a little while ago before more began to trickle in.

He was going to interrupt when Drake called Kari "some dead chick." He found it disrespectful, but that's a part of who Drake was. Hot-headed, callous on occasion. Definitely quick to respond with instinct. They weren't so different, he and Drake. But, Ken had been trained to be patient for other things, and had found that it was applicable training to his normal daily life. So he waited further, until Auri dropped that Lyss Burns had been killed under their noses. It was that same feeling all over again, except now it was starting to get old. He wasn't sad, now he was pissed.

He let his body roll off the roof, fingers twisted into the soma for Enlighten, and he hit the ground with an unnatural lightness that masked almost all the sound of it. He was dressed in full kit: a black gi and matching trousers, the old wrapped up socks and the sandals, a vest that had a thousand different pockets and a belt with a similar setup. He had a headband, his channeler, with the stains of his companion's blood still changing its purple fabric into a deep brownish black, as well as a scarf. He jingled with chainmail padding beneath his gi.

“I’ll still help you look, I just want clarification."
"Hey now, be respectful of her things. And Drake, she wasn't just some chick... She did a lot for us."
Ken's eyes scanned the gathered, and fell on Britney and the Noble Vow. Quite the piece of hardware. His family's own sword, the direct family's sword, not the super important clan sword they failed to defend, was strapped to his back. It was massive, just as tall as him; a Nodachi field sword. There were two others of varying sizes tucked into and tied in his belt. He was clearly ready for violence if it were to come.
"Otherwise, yeah... Just looking for any sort of hint or clue that'll put us on the right track."
His head turned to Auri.

"Do you want me to get the key?" he asked, thinking about the last place he remembered her keeping the spare.
Sycamore VS 8th Street

Mentions: In Collaboration with @Punished GN & @Atrophy | Direct Dialogue: Leon Richoux, Kenshiro Murakin, Drake Blackmore, Vashti Nour, Emily G. Reed, and Guest Starring: The PRA | Location: Festival Grounds, Cracker Island Historic District

"You know what? Fuck the Chalice. Fuck those sluts, and fuck you! I've had it to here with you motherfuckers!" Emily hissed, slamming a foot on the ground. "You won't be lonely in hell..."

Typical Emily G. Reed. Won't back down.
The effect of Enlighten was still applied, and as Babylon's flames hurtled toward Ken, his hands rose and folded themselves into a casting position. The flames licked the cape of his costume, but before he could flinch, he saw a target and took it.

The spell was instantaneous, and quiet as a gust of air. In the blink of an eye, the place where Ken had been standing was empty. In his place, a jack-o-lantern from the nearby pumpkin carving stall fell from chest height. It was consumed by the flames before it even hit the ground.

Now Ken was standing on top of a plastic table, his near weightless body having adjusted to meet the pumpkin's hollow heft. In that moment, he saw a shadowy figure bolt through the conflict to snatch the chalice away.
He had to trust that they were friends of his, and not friends of hers…

But of course, the Murasaki Gang never ceased to disappoint. Jack Hawthorne was on the case, giving Ken the confidence to stay in the fight while he knew that good, responsible hands were taking care of the business…
His only concern was for what was on the other side of the conflict: If Jack would be able to handle whatever was on the other end of this.

No time, she's coming again…

Emily teleported behind Kenshiro in a burst of fire, and she had a smile on her face. Both of Emily’s hands went up towards Kenshiro, as two spiraling infernos of screaming faces came out of both of her hands as he would likely only have moments to react. The environment was lit up with hellfire and the faces and screams of the condemned.

Ken took the last deep breath he was going to have time to, he assumed, for at least a few seconds. His hands swept toward his chest, and in an instant he was engulfed in the Hellfire before a vibration noise echoed from inside the inferno.
All at once, the fire and Emily were pushed away from Ken, revealing a rapidly expanding bubble of Purple-Lux filled air. Telekinetics were only complicated if you didn’t know what you were manipulating, but the simple practice of creating solid surfaces from thin air meant you learned how to focus on the molecules. It was, after a point, like scooping water from a river with your arm.

The bubble of force dissipated into a fine mist, wind pulling itself back toward him as it rushed to fill the void. He’d learned to form such a thin layer of air against himself that it was like being trapped in a latex suit, even woven beneath his clothing. As the air hit the frozen cloth again after being trapped in such a void, it instantly condensed into icy moisture that made him and the area around him shimmer like a rainbow.
His fists were drawn outward, back hunched as if he were ready to charge whatever was ahead of him: The Ten Ton Endless Defense

His leg pivoted, spinning him around like a top to face Emily again without his posture changing even slightly. He said no words; only screamed the Gama battlecry as his hands formed somatic runes in perfect unison. Tucked tightly in his hand was the bark that he’d gotten from Auri’s store. Gold Lux arched through the air: War drums resounded in a chaotic breakdown as holes opened in reality. Ten brightly colored tree frogs acrobatically lept from their holes, robed in clan garb with the Tenno clan’s symbol emblazoned on their headbands.
”Tenno Scout Assassins, get her ass!”

“This is the best you got…?” Emily tilted her head. She simply snapped her finger, before a wall of burning hellfire appeared in front of her. Incinerating the frogs like they were nothing, she put a hand on her hip as she said, “You were talking sooooooo big just a minu-”

However, she missed one of the frogs, and they leaped at her… hopping directly at her stomach as she attempted to create fire. It exploded directly into her torso, and she let out a wretched heave of air as she was launched backward. She went directly into a stall and gritted her teeth as she slammed her fist onto the ground.

”Friends who are willing to give themselves for a greater cause!”
Kenshiro’s fingers were a constant flicker of movement, and he swapped places with a piece of the stall that she’d been knocked into. His hand lashed out, grabbing her by her shirt and hoisting her up so he could get a good angle to drive his fist into her gut. At the same time, his forehead was rapidly approaching her face to smash against it.

Leon had to take a moment to remember who was talking to him. The makeup and the hair threw him off the otherwise waifish figure of Aislin Rose. She looked fantastic in the goth aesthetic costume she’d decided upon, and if he wasn’t so fixated on what had just happened, he probably would’ve stuck around to chat her up. But there was something screaming in his head. He gave her a brief wave, a cursory We’ll catch up soon. and flitted off.

As the Conga-Toga began to dissipate with the absence of the Chalice, Leon Richoux had something altogether different on his mind. He knew getting into it with one of Emily Reed's main squeezes was the last thing they needed as a Coven. They needed to be united in solidarity: a group like they had been before.

But his mind was not the same as it once was. Leon had become a far less measured and repressed individual when Lelou had come into his life. In a perfect example, as he stumbled away with his toga still clinging to his naked body, he was in pursuit of a fruit so forbidden that God would probably cause another great flood if Leon found himself successful.

Lelou obviously knew from the second Vashti Nour's pheromones entered her host's nasal passage that The Leviathan was lurking. It put every single sense in Leon's body on a razor's edge. She was screaming at him to follow Vashti, to take what he deserved and feast upon the remains.
She was, if anything, a simple spirit. Lady Lelou didn't want for much in her fleshy prison, and so long as Leon was fucking, fighting or feasting, she was generally amicable.

But moments like this, where he was fighting her desires and losing, were like watching his parents fight as a child all over again. Leon wanted to hide, to run, to not do what was about to happen next. He didn't want to fight for what he wanted if it was stupid like this…

And just where the fuck is she even going!?

“Vashti! Vashti, c'mon girl wait! Why rain check it, we can go back to my place right now! Emily doesn't have to know!” He called to her, desperation in his voice as he felt the seals to Lelou's magic vibrate with ominous sensation.

Vashti had taken after Emily like a heat-seeking missile. She swung her arms with so much gusto as she marched forward it was as if she was in a fist fight with the rain, which nimbly and uncannily dodged and ducked round each blow, not a droplet getting on her skin or her toga as the drizzle amplified itself into a proper shower. Her mind was a bloody blender of the things she dreamed of doing to her so-called bestie that once again had jumped up and spiked the basketball away from the net when Vashti was about to score. Her blitz forward came to a sudden screeching stop as Leon called out to her, her head snapping back to look at him with so much speed it was a wonder she didn’t break her own neck from whiplash.

“E-E-Emily doesn’t have to know!” said Vashti. Her voice was sniveling and frantic, mocking Leon as she squeezed herself together and posed like the centerfold model in a cheap, dirty magazine. She began drawing the toga up her thigh as she breathed heavily and gyrated, her other hand toying at the cloth over her chest. “Wow. I didn’t even consider that, bro. What a big, strong point from such a big, strong man. Well, if Emily doesn’t know then…”

Of course he begged her for it. It was only natural. Everywhere she went everyone was always begging to her. Please please, don’t stop, you’re wonderful. Please please, stop it, you’re hurting me. Please please, I’ll give you what you want. Please please, just take what you want, oh god, please. Please please, my life is nothing without you. Please please, I just want to live, oh no, please, jesus, fuck, oh no, please, please, pleeee— Frankly it was all so fucking annoying. She did what she wanted. Emily didn’t control her. It was just by happenstance that what she wanted aligned with what Emily thought she was allowing Vashti to do. It was a good relationship. It worked for the past ten years for a reason.

Vashti continued the champagne room theatrics as she approached, staring Leon down through hooded eyes, her tongue tracing the sharp edges of her teeth. There was still something about his pathetic desperation that she found enticing. Part of her wanted to just take him up on his offer. Another part of her wanted to toy with him like the stupid mutt he was and pretend to throw a tennis ball just to watch him chase after nothing. But ultimately, as a flash of distant hellfire sparked up in her peripheries, she decided to for once adhere to the rules and follow the law of chicks before dicks. Emily was in trouble and if something bad happened to her then Vashti wouldn’t be able to fucking murder her later.

“Tell me, Leon,” said Vashti with a practiced moan as she got up next to him. Her right fist tightened as she moved to place her left hand on his chest to misdirect. Thunder rumbled above them. He could probably take one punch, right? And if it killed him, well, there was always that loser with a dead wife. She looked up at Leon and batted her wide, dark eyes where something sinister lurked just beneath the surface, her hand readied to strike.
“How bad do you want it?”

It’s going to hurt us.
And we both want to feel the claws gripping and ripping…
No, I mean pursuing this will really get us hurt.
Your arguments are not persuasive. I wish to feel the pleasure of your flesh: Do not defy my desire!

Lelou couldn’t help but be aware of Leon’s own desires. The impacts. Crater-making love taps. But the ancient spirit of power and domination didn’t much care about origin… She only thought about the violence. Extreme violence.

Leon’s body reactively unsealed Lelou just a bit more, edging closer and closer toward something bad happening. He couldn’t tell if it was his own reaction, or if it was instinct. Things slowed down. He could hear Vashti’s muscles tensing, smell the anger mixing with the ozone as the storm began to pump thunder from its clouds. She didn’t want him around. He got that. But, now he almost felt like…

The fist hurtled toward his gut with almost no lag time or startup. He’d never fought a boxer with that kind of speed and power, but if he had he’d have assumed they were magic. Mankind could not produce that strength with anything short of machine enhancement, and he knew that didn’t exist yet.
But Leon Richoux was still a champion boxer. Despite what others said, the Richoux were not cheaters: Skill came naturally, and they simply augmented such when the times were necessary. The natural inclination to be able to feel the violent urge in a particular area and remove one’s vitals from it… It was a warrior’s instinct.

Leon’s torso, and the thin cloth he wore, narrowly avoided a near fatal blow at clench range. He did the only thing he knew he could do as a student of Soviet Boxing: He clenched her. His massive arms wrapped around her frame and clung for dear life.
”No the fuck you don’t!” he yelled.
In the split second after, Leon accepted what was happening. They were in a fight now, and Lelou would have what she wanted no matter what it seemed.

Still in the clench, Vashti met his strength with a surprising move: He was holding her so tightly, he almost didn’t have the time to let go as she bridged her back and tried to drive his head into the ground like a tent peg. By the grace of God, he did let go. And rather than be turned into a new ceremonial light post on Cracker Island, he was flung like a man-sized rocket through several stalls. He almost certainly hit people, but he couldn’t help being surprised about how little they were doing to break his momentum.

A flash of lightning streaked across the sky as the storm expanded, the smile on Vashti’s face stretching wide as shouts of panic or pain erupted like a heavenly chorus from the unfortunate bystanders that Leon had been sent through. Crouched low, she bounced excitedly on her haunches at the bodies of unfortunate festival goers struggling to stand. Her eyes shined as she hungrily looked upon the hapless victims. They didn’t look like people. Rather they were simply appetizers in a buffet line of carnage she could sample on her way to the main course that was crumpled beneath a mess of canopy and broken wood. The urge was overwhelming. Go on. Give the revelers of the Halloween Festival the scare they had all mistakenly thought they wanted. Everybody loved a little massacre.

Unfortunately, she would have to disappoint.

Vashti spun on her heels, chunking little splinters of asphalt and gravel as she pulverized the ground with a punch. It would have to do as a makeshift surrogate for her want of destruction and the things she envisioned doing to Leon’s body. He had pleasantly surprised her in the way he had evaded her, and in how for the slightest of seconds she felt a sensation of delightful lightheadedness as he squeezed the air out of her chest. She imagined he could even pop her head off if he hadn’t been holding back. The idea sent shivers down her spine as her fist hit the ground three more times in rapid succession before she sprung forward and darted towards where she had last seen Emily.

”Friends who are willing to give themselves for a greater cause!” yelled Batman as he hoisted Emily up by her dragon onesie that was scorched and steaming with hellfire..

Ken was about to be reunited with a friend of Emily’s who always did just that.

”You stupid fucking cunt!” shrieked Vashti, thunder clapping with her outburst, as she grabbed Emily. The next time Emily told Vashti that she couldn’t steal something she was going to tear Emily’s voice box out of her throat. She violently yanked Emily free of Ken’s grasp, tearing some of the fabric on Emily’s stupid costume as she roughly shoved her to the ground. She paid Ken no mind, her wild eyes glaring at Emily with a murderous intent that her friend had become quite familiar with throughout the years. Vashti was a rabid dog when it came to anyone else, but with Emily she was never anything more than the occasional nasty bark. Even in her anger, she was protecting her bestie—if anyone was ever going to harm a single hair on Emily’s head, cut off her nose, pluck out her eyes, crush her stupid fucking skull into powder and pulp then it was going to be Vashti. Nobody else.

What else were best friends for?

The blows meant for Emily landed on Vashti instead. It was like striking iron. Due to her not being hoisted, Ken’s gut punch hit a little higher and harmlessly hit Vashti right in her chest. His forehead cracked hard against her own. It made her blink, nothing more. Her eyes finally focused on Ken as he stumbled back from the recoil of the strike, her rage blinding her and preventing immediate recognition. Seething with anger, she looked down at where Ken had struck her and then slowly looked back up at Ken, her pupils becoming narrow slits.

“You punched my boob?” said Vashti, almost as if she was unsure it had actually happened. Her breathing leveled out, the swelling storm calming and becoming an almost pleasant ambience. She shook her head, blinking rapidly. For a moment her eyes returned to normal. “Ken, you punched my boob!” She turned to Emily, throwing her hands out to the side. She began to giggle immaturely. “Did you see that, bro? Dude’s a fucking pervert!”

Emily had teleported right next to Vashti with her hands on her hips. She grinned like the devious monster she was as she glanced at Vashti - keeping one eye on Ken. “... I think his journey through the All-Verse made him just a little desperate.” She chuckled before she stuck her hands out and flipped her palms upwards, creating a flaming torch in each hand “Don’t worry, I’ll burn his hands off so he’ll never touch another woman again! And then everything else afterward, so now that you’re here, Ken...”

“...a bit drastic, Em…”

Emily glanced at Ken and asked “... How many ways do you want to die?”

Ken gave the two women a wide mouthed grin, his body twisting into full defense in a gentle and purposeful stance. His hands swept in front of him in a slow arch, air circulating through the thin walls of Purple Lux as he breathed in and out with great purpose and intention. His mouth moved behind the barrier, but the noise was halted in the tremendous pressure until it burst from behind the veil.

”A billion, and a billion more! Break beneath a Ten Ton Hand!”

His hands were underneath so much weight and pressure that they began to blur light around them, the magic channeling through his taijutsu gathering in strength as they caused more and more of a rattling racket. They drew up, trying to keep Vashti’s focus.
Emily very quickly became a secondary problem: Emily would kill him, but Vashti Nour would probably play with his body, and Ken wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
Avoid, if possible.

A foot and a half in the ground, forty or so yards away from the current conflict, a body was stirring. He was covered in blood, people were screaming: Nothing he could do now. He had to stop whatever the fuck was happening. He could hear someone. He knew he could hear it. It was Kenny… Kenshiro, the Vengeful Toad. And… Emily? Vashti…
Leon could hear every bit of it as the seals in his body loosened. The toga was gone, just like his dignity as he rose up to see the chaotic scene in front of him. His hair had already grown pale white, ghastly in its silhouette, and his muscles bulged from his frame with unnatural size and thick black veins.

His eyes were stark black. He could feel the transformation coming.
Just don’t hurt him.
The Toadman!? Disgusting magic resides! I will taste Babylon!
No, no! Leviathan!
It’s old news!
Please… Please, my Love…

Leon’s bones began to grow, splitting and reforming and splitting and reforming until it halted partway through… Leon’s mutated form had grown another foot, and he was a solid juggernaut of muscle now balanced on the tip of full transformation. His body was under great strain, but Lelou was cooperative for the moment.
He’d be able to hold it…

Leon’s half-conscious body turned its head to the broken Blinds in its wake, licking its cracked and bursted lips with great hunger, a carnal moan escaping its throat with a guttural growl.

”Lucky morsels…”
He’d landed in a food stall, and the body dipped its hand into a hot fryer to shovel the basket of steaming french fries into its gullet. It didn’t even chew; the fries didn’t last more than a moment in the stomach.
It was still holding the fryer basket, its head cocking and turning to where the fight was. It threw the fryer basket faster than something like that was ever meant to be thrown, dipping into a sprint to chase just behind it.

“Ken, the hand thing isn’t helping, bro. Ken. Ken!” Vashti blew a swathe of curly hair out of her face. She didn’t want to have to kill Ken, but the performance piece was starting to get on her nerves. Could he not hear her? Sighing deeply, she pointed at Ken with one finger, then her eyes with two, before (with a look of uncertainty and a cock of her head) holding her fist up towards Ken with her palm facing him, then finally taking her fist and jerking it back and forth through the air. She began to mouth something, the words cut off as her head turned to the side and her eyes widened.

The basket crashed through another tent, caving itself into a pancake against Vashti’s face as her head snapped back, the momentum of the hit flipping her off of her feet and knocking her to the ground. The Beast was right behind it, mid-air and feet first like a spear thrown by God toward Emily’s chest. However, Emily raised a hand in the air and created a searing wall of fire that was imbued with the burning, wailing, faces of Babylon’s victims, with Vashti’s screams from the fry oil that had splashed in her eyes providing the overdub. She quickly teleported some distance away, hoping that the bastard takes the hint.

Vashti was quickly back on her feet, her screaming muffled by hands that so aggressively tried to rub the oil out of her eyes it looked as if she were gouging them out, her body jerking back and forth. The screaming morphed into guttural snarls as she raked her claws across her upper arm, four thin lines of blood appearing as she focused on the newer, lesser sensation of pain. She opened her eyes, the whites now red and bloodied, the pupils once again razor thin slits, a strange kind of viscous black liquid dripping from her tear ducts. She wasn’t quite blind, but she had been robbed of the pleasure of viewing Leon in all of his glory. The world was a blur of rain, smoke, swirling reds, and shimmering silhouettes.

She raged. It didn’t matter who against—Leon, Ken, Emily, a nearby asshole stupid enough to pull out a phone, anyone. She would make spooky, scary, skeleton sashimi out of the entire Halloween festival if she could. She just wanted to rip and tear. Vashti turned to the nearest shadow in the rain and began a relentless onslaught. Her claws flashed through the air as she swung in a wild frenzy with one hand, the other hand returning to her eyes to continue to vigorously rub them in a desperate attempt to regain all of her vision. The inky sludge smeared across her face like warpaint, her teeth gritted tight like a vise, a call from the depths to kill-kill-kill overriding any other instincts. She swung, and swung, and swung, and swung.

Someone, or something, dove in the way… piercing through the thick fog was some blue-white light as Vashti’s strikes began hitting against something solid enough to tank the hits. However, out came an explosive force that would have knocked Vashti off her feet… and stepping through the fog, holding his Thunderguard Shield in one hand and a beer in the other, was none other than Drake Blackmore, reeking of alcohol. He downed that bottle of beer, threw it on the floor, and then raised his hand in the air, and a bolt of lightning fell from the sky and hit him in the hand—taking the shape of a javelin as Drake shouted.


Then he turned to Kenshiro, giving him a shit-eating grin.

”... I GOT THIS!”

The Beast’s entrance had been dodged by Emily, touching off flames that sputtered against Leon’s body and caused an automatic fear response that saw the brutal thing dive in frantic panic. A freakish scream of panic and pain echoed across Cracker Island with fierce abandon, heralding the arrival of Drake Blackmore.
Kenshiro watched it all take place: Leon’s fear response, Vashti’s pain response. The two were on a collision course that he frankly wanted to happen: It was the only way he was going to be able to focus on Emily without Vashti being an ever-present wall. He knew in his heart that he couldn’t fault her; that he’d do the exact same thing for someone like Auri.

Except Auri Auclair wasn’t a raving cunt.

But as the two blind monstrosities were poised to begin flailing at one another with rage and malice, the heraldry crashed from the sky to reveal the Lord of Lightning himself. Both beasts were flung hard from the impact, with Leon tumbling back into the dark of the very quickly clearing festival grounds. Ken couldn’t drop his guard with Emily still around, but he sure was thankful that the Murasaki Gang was in full force tonight… Even if he could smell the booze on Drake’s breath from here.
It explained Leon getting involved too; the group of them were always close: Drake, Leon, Sully and Stormy… Stormy hadn’t been there? He wasn’t here now to help with these Abberants that were running amok?

He tried to remember where he saw him…
With Luca! Fuck!
”Blackmore! Behind you!”

“Seriously, look out!” screamed Vashti, holding her right shoulder that had become dislocated from how hard she’d striked at the Thunderguard Shield. She jerked back on her shoulder with a sudden twist as itsnapped it back into place with a loud pop, her bloodied eyes rolling into the back of her head in ecstasy as she let out a satisfied groan. Her eyes leveled back on Drake, focused like a predator ready to pounce. She smiled, “It’s your fucking bitch wife! She’s getting railed by Father Wolf again!”

”... I’m going to make you regret being born,” Drake hissed, as he prepped to toss the Lightning Javelin at Vashti…

There were no words from the mouth of the Beast wearing the remnants of Leon’s skin. Only howling. Only snarling. It kicked its massive distended foot through the ground in a single minded attempt to clash with its primary target again.
No, no! It’s Drake! Don’t!
No? Don’t? You saidLeviathan! Too late now!

The two minds were not united: The original input fell through.
I miss my collar…

… Before Drake had a chance to smite Vashti like the Thunder God he was, Leon came charging and knocked him over. Slamming him to the ground as he got the wind knocked out of him. The lightning javelin disappeared….

“... Don’t think I forgot about you, Kenshiro,” Emily said, as her body ignited like a torch through the raging storm… She could be seen from every direction, as she approached him, before she stuck her hand out, “And I’m going to make sure there’s nothing left for them to remember about you!

Out of her hand came a massive explosion of hellfire in which the goal was to throw Kenshiro off his game. Make him teleport to dodge… then she would be right on top of him.

Ken didn’t hear Emily anymore. He watched Beast Leo-Lu drop Drake to the side. He needed help, and Ken had to think fast. There was no way he’d be able to do it and get out of the way: Feet planted, he released the force in his arms as a powerful telekinetic burst that whipped up a small whirlwind around him. The flames began to fill it, setting the tents and other loose bits of rubble caught within ablaze.
No pots, no scrolls, no hourglasses, no-

It was too late. The flames were on top of him, and he had no other choice. The gesture for Send and Receive, and the sensation of feeling behind it, were burned so deeply in the fabric of his mind that he sometimes found himself waking up with his fingers entwined in it.

Enlighten was in its last few moments. He was the weight of a pumpkin. There was nothing around.
There was nothing around.
Kenshiro tried to imagine what ten pounds of air looked like… And just like that, he vanished from the center of the flame. He was now falling from midair at a height of just over fifty feet. At least nothing was attacking him anymore…

The same could not be said for Drake. After he was bowled over by Leon, Vashti slid by the charging Wolfman and pinned Drake to the ground by sitting on his chest. The flickering flames of burning tents cast shadows across her face as her grin widened to the point where it was threatening to tear. She placed her hands over Drake's nose and mouth, slowly applying pressure as she rocked his head back and forth.

“What was that bitch’s name, bro?” hissed Vashti as she began grinding Drake's skull against the concrete. “Come on, speak up. Or am I already making you forget her?”

Drake let out a few very angry muffled words. Then electricity surged through Drake’s body as he activated the electric-aura. He managed to throw Vashti off of him as he laughed.

”... You forgot I could do that dumbass!” He laughed.
He stuck his hand out as he attempted to create an electric-blade, only for the attempt to shake rapidly as it eventually fell apart.

”I forgot about-”

Emily G. Reed came from behind, firing a blast of fire that hit Drake in the back. Sending him back to the ground. She grinned as she walked over to Vashti, offering a hand.

“I’m still mad. You suck as a wingwoman, Em,” said Vashti with an exaggerated pout as she pulled herself up with Emily’s help.

The storm surged and the wind began to howl, whipping up the flames that surrounded the scene of destruction. Vashti’s eyes narrowed as she turned her attention back to Drake. The night hadn’t gone the way she had wanted—she couldn’t have imagined how wonderful the evening would truly turn out to be. Vashti cracked her knuckles over her head while stretching out her back as if she was just warming up for a gym session as she readied herself up for round two. Blackmore was about to find out that she could go all night.

“Come on, bro,” said Vashti to Emily, giving her a wink. “Let’s fuck him.”

Emily immediately projectile-vomited.

Please… Please, My Darkness… We don't have a lot of time…

Lelou didn't argue. As much as she enjoyed the senseless back and forth that the group was participating in, she knew desperation. She loved desperation; hearing the strong man beg for control… She would let him have it, knowing that she could send them back into chaotic non-focus at any time.

Beast Leo-Lu was mid trot on all fours like a half mutated wolfman when the body locked up. Leon came into consciousness over the scent of fire and flames, and his heart began to race as he hunted for them.
He couldn't deal with Emily. Not the fire. He released a great beastial howl that echoed across the island, seals in his body adjusting and focusing power, concentrating him as his body shrunk and grew into a more comfortable, less freakishly proportioned form.

Ken knew that howl. He'd heard it a dozen times participating in the Blood Nights, helping the Temple wrangle Leon during his full moon tirades. He'd assumed control, and was functioning on his own willpower for now. That was big for them.

Still tumbling from the sky, Ken's fingers came together for another spell. Gold Lux shimmered across his body.
”Hazy Doppelganger!”
Instantly there were half a dozen Kens, the result of the spell shunting him to the right as the doppelgangers formed on his left.

They were entirely optical illusions meant to throw Emily off the trail of which was real. They all rotated their hands slightly.
It was only to bleed momentum. They caught wind like a bunch of airborne papers fluttering in the breeze, their falling momentum stopped instantly. Emily stuck her hands out, sending out a wave of fire at the illusions… and once the fire faded, it turned out that she was attacking nothing but an illusion. She hissed out of anger.

The distraction was enough to give Leon time to adjust himself and make a motion. His body moved so quickly it formed some kind of afterimage as Leon wrenched a piece of concrete from the ground when he stepped off.
He knew Vashti would react and respond… He just needed to fight her. They needed to exhaust one another. He needed to release himself.

Seven foot tall boxers didn't make it long. They were always too slow, too weak. Gigantism wasn't a good trait for a combat athlete, it left your heart overstressed and hypertrophic, your bones desperate for nutrients and weaker than the norm.
Leon didn't have those problems. He'd learned the importance of deadly accuracy, and of shutting things down with overwhelming force.
As his form skipped across the ground, it left little holes where his feet had impacted to press off again. In an incredibly erratic pattern, Leon found an angle.

He grabbed Vashti's hair, yarding her up and off of Drake to hang in mid-air for a moment before trying to juggle her with his fists like it was a video game. Vashti twisted like an aerialist performing in a big top as she was tossed into the air, swinging her claws down to catch Leon with a diving slash. Her blurred vision had begun to clear and her eyes widened with a mix of surprise and intrigue as she finally witnessed Leon in his full glory. Her mouth, formed in an “o”, began moving to yet again curse Emily’s name, the slurs cut short as she was fed Leon’s fist by his outstanding reach. Her head cracked back with a horrifying snap as another fist caught her in the gut and propelled her back up. Shouts from Vashti for Leon to stop became sharp, sudden, and staccato cries of pain that sounded like a sledgehammer playing an out of tune piano.

The combo was only broken when Vashti was caught off-center by one of Leon’s ferocious lefts and by happenstance, as she was corkscrewed through the air to the sound of the wind howling “KO!”, avoided one of his hammering rights. She landed at his feet on her side and rolled onto her back, her finger dragging across her forehead as her arms splayed out, the slow rise and fall of her chest the only sign of life. Suddenly, her breathing stilled as a stream of dark blood began to drip from her head and pool on the ground. The storm rumbled as the rain continued to pour down its eulogy, the runoff of the rain parting its way around Vashti’s body as a sign of respect, keeping her blood unsullied by the rainwater. She looked dead.

She was merely playing the part. Her eyes, still and lifeless, watched and waited for Leon to move closer. The pain that coursed through her body was pure heroin, elevating her into a state of nirvana. Maybe Leon could actually kill her. The thought was so exciting. Shit like this was what she lived for; nothing else compared. Was Leon a kindred spirit? There was only one way to find out.

She saw movement and striked with sudden swiftness as she returned from the dead with a jerky, convulsing motion as if she had just been smacked with a pair of defibrillators. She scrambled quickly on all fours, her black hair hanging over her face, the blood still dripping from where she had sliced her own forehead to look like she was more injured than she actually was, and lunged at Leon.

Her claws looked to snake behind, slash through his Achilles tendon, and bring Leon down to the ground. Only then could she find out if he could handle being on her level. However, Emily was aiming another hand at Kenshiro to unleash a blast of hellfire, she grinned… But, she was hit in the back with an arrow made out of lightning. She violently convulsed as she fell to the ground, then turned around and faced Drake Blackmore standing on top of a stand, holding a bow made of lightning. He grinned.

Ken matched Drake’s smirk, all five copies of himself hitting the ground.
”No chance you have those things up that naked ass? No matter: We need to do something to bring them all down! Come on, let’s put our heads together, Brother!”
There had been infrequent moments where Ken was successful in compiling some semblance of a spell outside of his studies. Typically, they were collaborative efforts that attempted to bind together the skill and power of two Adepts at the same time.

He’d played around with a lot of titles: Combo, Fusion, Finisher… Nothing ever stuck, so he was left simply to name the combinations one by one. Drake was just as flashy as he was about these things, so the name for their particular ability didn’t disappoint.

”Lux Union: Doomsday!”

Before the two, Emily G. Reed seemed to be moving back in for them. However, Leon and Vashti were on the ground. Ken didn’t like that. He knew how Leon fought these days, and he knew how Lelou the Apparition fought. Whenever he ended up at some kind of great disadvantage or in a situation he felt he wasn’t suited for, Leon almost always resorted to letting himself go.
Zero self control? Or zero sense of self preservation? Ken never quite knew, but he did know what was going to happen regardless. He knew that Leon wasn’t an ally for much longer.

The Wolfman’s back hit the ground as Vashti hooked into his Achilles tendon. All at once he felt the burst of ligaments tear from the flesh of his bare naked leg and rip up the back of his thigh like the worst hangnail he’d ever had. No matter how quickly Lelou’s energy replaced the cells, no matter how dull and numb his nerves were, one didn’t get out of feeling something like that. Vashti didn’t relent as she locked up with the future corpse, her claws poised to pick his flesh clean from the bone.

In the short time that the body took to collapse the wound and regrow the components, it experienced its own full collapse. Close to eight feet of wolf and man came crashing to the ground with a yelp, and its eyes rolled back into its head so hard that the retinas tore and began to bleed from the sockets.
Sweet Pup… You’ve gone and done it again, and now we’re almost out of time. Only one way to fix it… Hand it over.

The body’s flesh boiled and burbled until it split and ruptured in a mass of mutating muscle and fur. The arms and the head first, lashing out and grabbing at Vashti with quickly growing claws of its own before the woman could even finish uttering an, “Oh, f—”. It was animalistic, dragging her and snapping with its wolf-like maw. Twin tongues curled upward as it snarled and the lower body carried on with the rapid endgame transformation.

The seals were quaking. Leon couldn’t mentally sustain his control through the immense pain. Only she was used to it; only Lelou Faim. Only the Ravenous Queen. Even Vashti had begun to test her line. Her vision fizzled and popped like old film coming off the reel, shots of visceral red carnage spliced with blank screens of white hot pain. The only thing holding the scream in her throat was the blood running down it as her teeth sliced open the inside of her mouth as they pinned down her tongue.

Vashti’s vicious strikes became a series of mistimed parries and counters as Lelou savaged her. Even without the rain touching her, what remained of Vashti’s toga was absolutely soaked, the thin white linen hanging heavy with a mix of Leon’s and her own blood. The only thing stopping Lelou’s hungry jaws from tearing out her throat was Vashti using her own left arm as a chew toy, her skin flayed raw. She wasn’t going to survive going blow-for-blow fighting one handed. She gritted her teeth as Vashti delivered a series of hard, seemingly ineffective knees to the Wolfman that would’ve caved in the chest of anyone else.

In an act of desperation, she stopped defending herself from the slashes, eyes rolling as she felt his claws slice across her stomach. She jammed her right hand underneath her left arm that was trapped in the jaw of Lelou, breathing in sharply as her palm sliced its fangs. Her muscles bulged, crimson rapidly cascaded out of her forearm like a creaking dam moments away from wiping out a quaint, riverside town. Vashti managed to roll herself and Lelou in a way to find some leverage with her feet. A low, guttural sound was dampened by explosions in the thundering sky overhead before becoming a scream that drowned out the storm.

Bad boy, Leon! Bad boy! Vashti began to push her forearm up into Lelou’s jaw, sinking the teeth in further as she grunted. There was no fear in Vashti’s eyes as they widened and bulged—only the thrill. She latched the fingers of her right hand behind the bottom row of Lelou’s teeth. Vashti gave the creature that was once Leon a ruby red smile as she leaned in and whispered in its ear, her voice warm and inviting.

“Howl for me.”

Lightning flashed as Vashti twisted her right arm and jerked down with all of her might, looking to completely tear Lelou’s lower jaw clean off.

Meanwhile, Emily flicked her hand, and it ignited like a torch as she stared at the two… she could only grin. “Doomsday? How fucking corny could you two get?!” She seethed as the fire grew brighter and brighter. “Hit me with the best you fucking got! It still will be nothing-

A massive figure falling from the sky and crashing in the distance between Emily, Kenshiro, and Drake interrupted Emily. The ground shook, creating a massive splash of water and disturbing dust and dirt. A silhouette could be seen through the chaos, a tall, broad-shouldered figure that turned towards Emily… When the smoke cleared, it was none other than Maximilian Cornell. Except dressed as the Blue Ranger.

“A-mazing!” Meifeng Liao walked up, holding her PRA badge in the air with Cindy Keagan at her side…. She probably looked ridiculous wearing a Maid’s outfit. “I turn my head for two minutes, and you get into another fight Ms. Reed.”

The fire faded out of Emily’s hand as she pointed an accusatory finger at Kenshiro and Drake, shouting, “They attacked me!”

“Sure they did...” Meifeng rolled her eyes, before turning to Vashti duking it out with Leon. “... Is Ms. Nour fighting a goddamn werewolf?” She tilted her head.

“Maximilian,” Cindy said.

“On it,” Maximilian flew between the two and effortlessly pushed them apart by sticking both of his palms out. Pushed away from its prey so easily, The Beast had managed a total physical reformation. It came to a skidding halt, falling backward into a still burning tent set ablaze by Emily. There was a moment of panic as fur caught alight: Still covered in fryer grease mixed with rainwater, the slick undercoating went up in a blaze of glory.

It began to howl, jump around, flail and panic and scream. Ken watched it all happen as he stood with mouth agape, but he couldn’t stop. He’d promised Lady Lynette that whenever he was around, he’d be there to help them with Leon’s condition. He’d come to learn and appreciate the Beast’s quirks, and knew of particular techniques to put it down.

But he didn’t waste the opportunity to point an accusatory finger at Emily G. Reed.
[color=7B81B3]”I don’t know you! If you’re not here to put that thieving cock-goblin to justice, then butt out of Coven business!”[/color

With lightning speed, his fingers flicked together, and he was replaced in his spot by a puff of flames and burning fur as he replaced a section of air with himself. He hung in the air above Leon, and all at once a massive static bubble formed around its flailing mass.

This technique only worked if it was distracted like this. Usually bullets, or magical fires similar to this, were used. And then, it was a matter of following the Beast. Ken could tell it was already tired, so when the last bit of oxygen left the bubble and the flames snuffed out, it only struggled for a moment.

In its typical grotesque nature, the body melted away to reveal the host beneath a mound of oily flesh. Face down, ass up in the dirt with perfectly unblemished skin, Leon struggled for oxygen as he woke up once again in the middle of a vacuous bubble devoid of air and pressure. With his last bit of consciousness, he spun and looked up to see Ken, the source, and threw up the double peace sign.

He was in control, and Ken couldn’t help staring down at the dong. He looked back at Drake; also in a toga. The bubble disappeared, and Ken smiled, turning his head again to look at Leon as he panted and regained his breath. Ken ripped his cape off his back and threw it down to his fellow Coven Member, covering him up.
”Now, maybe I’ve been gone too long, but you’re cops? Another group of pretend heroes come to St. Portwell to ’Liberate us from danger’? If you’re not here to arrest a thief, just pack up now.” he called out to Meifeng and her badge.

“I’m so happy to see you, bros! Those men were assaulting us! I'm terrified to think of what they would’ve done to us if you hadn't intervened,” said Vashti to Meifeng through crocodile tears. She put a still bleeding hand to her forehead and stumbled closer to the bulky blue ranger that had absolutely manhandled her and Leon. “Oh! I feel faint! Somebody help…”

She closed her eyes, twisted, and fell backwards against Maximilian in a trust fall, essentially forcing him to catch her. She cracked one eye open, mouthed a ‘sup’ at special agent hunk, and went limp. Obviously, protocol would call for immediate mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

”Oh, I would not be getting either of your heads near that mouth my friend! As the Frog learned the Scorpion’s nature, so too will you recognize the nature of a Crocodile.” Ken scoffed as he saw his rival’s blatant display of manipulative behavior. He simply didn’t approve.

“I can handle her!” Maximilian said as he caught Vashti and gently placed her on the ground.

“Thieving!?” Emily put both of her hands on her chest as she loudly gasped. “What the fuck did I[ steal?! You two assholes came and jumped me.” Then pointed at Kenshiro and Drake.

Drake put his fists on his hips in a heroic pose as he said, ”... I honestly have no clue what’s going on.” He shrugged, ”I just saw my bro getting jumped and couldn’t sit by while that happened. Bro-code. You wouldn’t understand.”

“‘Pretend cops’?” Meifeng scoffed as she cracked a grin. “Unfortunately, ‘Coven business’ is superseded by ‘PRA business’, so I don’t know what’s going on here, nor do I know why it’s going on. And I don’t care.”

She crossed her arms as she put the badge away, “The fact is, you five are causing a huge scene with magic. And it’s my business to keep magic a secret. I don’t care what Emily G. Reed did. I don’t care what you did. The Sycamore Tree and 8th Street Covens have consistently been a pain in my ass since I was stationed here - but let me stop here.”

She cracked a wry grin as she said, “So, in the interest of my day off remaining just that, I’m asking you all to cut it out.”

An exasperated sigh came from the ground where Vashti laid, waving her hand dismissively. “Yessssss, mooooom. We promise to never defend ourselves ever again, mooooom…”

”Typical law and order types, wouldn't bust a ball to actually enforce a thing besides the status quo. You're no better than the Clan authorities who aba-”

Kenshiro was interrupted. Leon's voice simply cut louder.
”Save it for people who care, Kenny. They're federal agents.”
Ken furrowed his brow.
”Boogeymen? While our people die by the half dozen and nothing’s been done about it!? Well, thanks to Emily G. Reed, our friend's magic c-”
”Kenshiro, please stop talking to them!”
”Emily G. Reed deserves to be trapped in the core of our planet, but the authorities here just consider all of our problems pesky? Then they're choosing laws to enforce, and they're no better than spineless roadmen.”

”No, Leon!” Drake raised a hand, as he softly said, ”Let him cook…”

“And no one has made any attempt to explain to me what in the world was going on here…” Meifeng pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head… before she raised her head and faced Kenshiro, narrowing her eyes, “If you want to talk about ‘choosing laws to enforce’-” She finger quoted. “-then I should be hauling all of you to jail for causing such a destructive fight.”

She let her words hang in the air, “But, I’m not, but booooy are you making it tempting…”

Emily took a step forward, pointing at Kenshiro, but facing Meifeng,

“What happened was… I was in that stupid toga line, they handed me that stupid trophy cup, and I decided to go to the bathroom; then this asshole pops out of nowhere and demands I give up the cup as if I stole it! So I did since it was an honest mistake! But then he started getting aggressive, and I had no choice but to defend myself! His friends hopped in, but then my friend Vashti…”

She glanced at Vashti on the ground, before facing Meifeng again… then tears started running down her eyes.

“... Came to my defense! You see, Agent Liao! You saw how that psychotic-bitch Lila attacked me! These bastards have always harassed me! Ever since I was a little girl, they have shown me no peace! All because I had a problem with how they operated back in the day!” She wiped the tears off her face… however, she was still soaked from the rainwater.

”I refuse to sit here and be lectured by some Slag with a badge. If you won’t arrest a criminal, I won't recognize your supposed position of authority. Fuck off and have a terrible night, I hope Father Wolf shits on your lawn.”
Ken looked at Leon, then over at Drake.
”I'll see both of you Brothers soon.”

Ken had places to be, and at this point finding the Chalice was a job for Jack. He was on the case, and Ken trusted him to get it done. He bent at the knees, and in a surge of energy, he launched himself once more into the air like a mortar out of the tube, headed for what he knew to be Luca's last known residence.

“Hmph,” Meifeng shrugged. “Well, have a nice night, you.”

“I’m leaving! I can’t take this anymore!” Emily bawled… before she turned towards Drake and Leon and wiped the tears from her face as she grinned ear-to-ear. “See you and your little Coven soon. Real soon. Tell Lila to have her affairs in order because who knows what’ll happen.”

That was when she walked over to Vashti, knelt, and grabbed her by the arm, trying to pull her up, “Enough with the theatrics; let’s go! I’ve had enough of these retards.” She spoke to Vashti in a hushed tone.

Vashti jumped to her feet, trying not to giggle, “Bro, don't say that!”

It left Leon and Drake to deal with the aftermath. Leon's equal skepticism in the federal authorities was only bolstered after they managed to shoot him in the head with a teargas grenade. He gave a look at Drake.
”We'll leave. I'm fairly certain all we really care about is The Chalice's recovery, and if Emily doesn't have it, then Emily doesn't have it. Can't arrest her with no real evidence…”

Meifeng stared at Leon for a few moments before she said,

“... Thank you.”

“Yeeeeah, thank you Leon!” shouted Vashti, suddenly ambushing him from the side. She striked suddenly, booping him playfully on the nose and retreating back to Emily's side. She wiggled her fingers at him as they departed. “We’ve got some unfinished business. I'll see you soon.”
Another wonderful collab. Sorry for my absolute SLUGGISHNESS.
The House VS The Temple

Mentions: In Collaboration with @Estylwen | Direct Dialogue: Elise Richoux, Andrade Salamente, Bahlaas Rill | Location: Festival Grounds, Cracker Island Historic District

Mia had been allowed to wander off with Elise staying behind to wrap things up and get everything cleaned and prepped for transportation the next morning. Lynette had returned at one point to collect the proceeds for the day, and to be her usual love-bombing self whenever wads of cash were involved.

Furio too had absconded, probably to go and help with the merch booth that was most likely in need of his strength. Andrade was toiling away, washing dishes and packaging pans up to be brought back to the Temple’s kitchen. The pair weren’t often in the same place at the same time, but didn’t lack for things to talk about.

The topic was sustainable farming. Not in the traditional sense, but farming of Apparitions. The discussion of enhancing the Cult’s intake of Andrade’s unique productions was always one of Lynette’s big talking points in any meeting, and so efforts were always being made to expand things.
So when they were rudely interrupted by the snarling beast that leapt upon Andrade, panic was the first thing that went through Elise’s head.

Andrade, however, wasn’t worried. He came from the old days; the times when a Hellhound or two could be found roaming the Temple’s property. You may have to deal with a bite or two now and again.
He didn’t panic. He didn’t scream. He clenched his jaw and grunted in pain as the teeth sunk into his arm, but he knew that laying into it was a useless waste of energy. He had to wait for Elise to manage it herself.

Elise backpedaled slightly, but finding herself unassailed shifted her focus. She had to help, and it had to be done now. She channeled every bit of Orange Lux she had to activate her Channeler’s enchantment.
One sister’s gift to another was a best friend: One who would comfort and listen to her wherever she was. Mia had enchanted all their childhood toys and animals; but this one became her Channeler. An artifact all its own.

"Enchanted Forest Friends: Mondo!"

The bear came alive face first, its magically enchanted form lurching forward and grabbing ahold of the hellhound by the neck. The bite was loud, crunching bone popping as Mondo came to full size; a typical female blackbear, assembled of patchwork fur that came from multiple repairs over the years.
It growled out at the death of the Hound, stomping its paw and roaring. Andrade forced himself up, quickly going for a cloth to wrap the wound.
"Alright, what the fuck is up? Did I give someone a bad kebab?”

Elise held her ground, deep breathing having cleared her mind and steadied her hand.
"I… I don’t know. All I know is that I must’ve missed something… Get behind us, Andrade."
He was holding pressure on the wound in his arm and didn’t have many other options. He found himself grateful to his young defender.
"Just keep breathing, ‘Lise. Get us to the Merch booth… ”

As the hellhound fell limp, it disappeared in a puff of smoke. There was a distant howl, a roar of indignity, of rage as the bear claimed its first strike.

The shadows shifted around the Temple's booth as something made its way for the next strike. The wind stirred, tension hot.

Then, a flash of red eyes as three hellhounds leapt through the darkness and over the table. One sank its teeth into the neck of the bear, ripping wildly. One aimed its barred maw at Elise, attacking her leg. The last again aimed its attack towards Mr. Salamente, teeth primed to sink into his other arm.

A three-pronged attack. Yet something felt as though the hellhounds were holding back.


Mondo roared despite having no pain receptors to feel the bite with. It wasn’t pain: It was panic. The false musculature of the enchanted beast reeled back with utter disregard for its own safety, sending the one latched onto it flying away in a puff of torn cloth and bloody cotton that jettisoned from the open wound. Its massive paw, crystalline claws fully extended, drove into the side of the dog attacking Elise.
The thing disappeared in an instant huff of smoke, the claws having ripped its caved in chest apart.

Elise was bleeding now. It wasn’t a light bleed either. She wasn’t sure if the thing hit an artery, but she could feel globs of the warm red lifeblood surge out from the bite wound with every rapid heartbeat.
Mondo felt the weakness of its Mistress, sluggishly batting the dog on Andrade with a similar result. The third was still alive, and rather than go in for another attack, it began to circle the ruined tent in anticipation.

Neither Temple Members hesitated. Mondo lurched forward, shoving a table out of the way as Andrade used its sturdy but fluffy body to stand back up. Without both of his arms, it was all he could do to run for safety. He did, and didn’t think about Elise Richoux or what sort of trouble she was going to get into. He knew he didn’t need to.
Elise Richoux was, after all, right behind him as Mondo slowly began to pass him up. She was clinging to the bear’s back, moaning in pain with each lurch as the wound in her leg ripped little by little. She knew it’d be too much weight for Mondo if they both got on, so as they came side by side, Elise reached her hand out and grabbed Andrade’s jacket.

In one smooth motion, she slipped off the bear, the momentum flipping Andrade onto the things back.
"Go! Go get help!” Elise shouted, hitting the ground and failing to stand again because of her leg.

“Not so fast!”

From the shadows emerged what appeared to be a woman in a flowing brown trench coat, barbed wire circling her hat. A menacing, glowing red smile stretched from ear to ear as the thing appeared to stare hard at Mr. Salamente. Growling from the shadows emerged five more hellhounds, surrounding the bear, its charge, and the girl from all sides.

By now the crowd had noticed what all the ruckus was. Some were watching with mouths hanging open. Others were screaming. Some turned tail and ran. The woman paid them no mind, instead focusing its attention solely on Mr. Salamente and the girl. She stood confidently behind her hellhounds, drinking up the suffering she could see painted in their faces.

“You're not going anywhere until you give me what I want!”

With a whistle, the hellhounds lurched forward, ignoring the girl and focusing their attack wholly on Mr. Salamente and the bear. Two snapped at Mr. Salamente's ankles, trying to pull him off. The three others, plus the one from the previous attack, snapped at the soft fluff of the bear's neck, shoulders and arms, shaking with their teeth vigorously to let loose some chunks.

Mondo wasn’t a match for all of them. However, it had been taught well. Its master understood priority action, and the beast followed suit. As the dogs snapped and ripped at Andrade, who simply grunted and did his best to punch and kick the dogs away, Mondo dipped to the side and forced its legs upward, tossing Andrade a few feet into the air. The bear rolled, crushing one of the dogs under force and mass, and caught Andrade in the crook of its belly.
A second roll pinned Andrade underneath it, the girth now blocking most of his vital organs and the head. Feet and hands were still exposed, and of course the assailing dogs tried ripping him out from under the guardian by those exposed limbs.

Andrade could feel his fingers being torn away at the bone… But he wouldn’t yield anything. He’d die in the light of Paradise. Elise, however, was not so content to let this happen. With Mondo active, there was a short distance where she could continue to cast her spells through it: The acrylic nails hanging from the tips of her fingers… They weren’t organic, they were objects, she knew she could affect them, it just meant… It meant getting into harm’s way herself. Her neck for Andrades. She tried to wonder what her Mother would say; if that would be a worthy sacrifice for the light of Paradise.

"Begone! Begone and die!”
A classic combat enchantment rocked across Elise’s nails, hardening them into sharp steel claws that gripped tight to her fingers. The magical aura cascaded from them in ribbons of orange while white fog began to coalesce around the woman. She was attempting to gauge the entity’s strength through aura reading White magic, but wasted no time surging forward to catch one of the dogs off guard.

What Elise would have picked up was a huge source of power in the bulge of the smiling woman's shoulder, threatening to burst. She would have also picked up eyes. Eyes everywhere that could see.

The blade-like nails pushed through the dog's ethereal body easily, causing it to go up in a cloud of smoke. Mondo took the opportunity to spin, catching another dog off guard with its battering ram paws that crushed it into banishment.

The remaining dogs simply stared for a long moment, along with the woman. Staring in disbelief.

Disbelief that quickly turned to palatable intel. The woman snapped her fingers, and the remaining dogs slunk back, never breaking eye contact with the bear.

She eyed Mr. Salamente under the bear, and her wicked smile widened. “You don't have it. Shame…”

She took a step back, waving with smug satisfaction. “Be seeing you.”

And, one by one, the dogs vanished into smoke, followed closely by the woman. Elise, Mondo, and Mr. Salamente were left alone in a half-torn up Temple Booth, at the shock of onlookers.

Not a single blind attempted to help: The two looked like they were playing make-believe or taking drugs or… Whatever it was, to a Blind it was pure crazy. Like nothing had happened despite the destruction of the tent. Elise was embarrassed, but even worse she was in fear. Andrade was bleeding profusely. She had to make sure he was safe, but she had to get him help.

And there was never a Doctor when you needed one.
Awesome post. I finally added again to our collab; sorry for the long wait!
Three new Temple NPCs!

Do you want to collab this fight? Or just see how it goes bouncing back and forth?
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