Everything fell apart before they had fully materialized, two bodies tumbling and striking the smoking, sizzling floor the instant the effects of teleportation had worn off. Underprepared. Always underprepared. Like toy soldiers they tumbled down, bouncing against objects, flashes of pain sprouting as arms instinctively raised, head naturally tucking inwards until the backbone struck the corner of the table. Sunburst and starburst, agony that numbed too quickly like a firework that disappeared, scorching a thoughtless afterimage as cowardly words drowned themselves in the echoing aftermath. And then the boom-boom of his heart, drowning out the numbing rain splattering against his helmet. Waterproof. Goggles were waterproof and floated too. A miniature Ark when God drowned out the world, unleashing the reservoirs of the deep. Gotta prepare. A pair. No, just George. He envisioned moving, abdominal muscles pulling himself upwards, fresh numbness like too much aesthetic causing him no pain and only regrets. Wisdom teeth were still there, digging into the baby molars torn out. He wanted to taste them. No. His legs had to go first. Focus. The big toe. Twitch the big toe. But it was more sandy numbness, nothing working like it was supposed to. Should have prepared better. Shouldn’t have wasted his time. Not with relationships. Requests forms. He kept forgetting, kept putting it off, but if they could move things from DC to Balled Island, then they could do it with the USA of East. Brent rolled his eyes. More regrets, piling up like a town of twitching corpses. This was better than that. He still had his upper body. Could crawl? But would crawling let him dodge? Just crawl anyways. Worms and humans alike crawled. People who didn’t prepare for everything ahead of time, who didn’t even come to a dangerous place armed to the teeth, could just crawl. Silver lightning ran down his legs, sparking uselessly when he lost focus an instant later. Invertebrate. That’s what he was. That’s what you’ll always be. Pushing shit in and pushing shit out at the same steady rate, the slightest tinge of moistness dying his lower torso as a wonderfully personal stench erupted. He was losing control. He never had control. Just impulses that he followed without meeting the proper criteria. DPS check? Not high enough. Rarity check? Not high enough. Heal check? Not high enough. All that versatility meant nothing if he didn’t have plans upon plans, if it was ruined just with an injury like this. All those skills, wasted with a singular, shitty suggestion. Ah, good time to give up, right? Suicide missions all around, and Marco and Emerson and Chloe and Danielle and Maria and Jesse and Eun and and and. Disconnected and discovered and this illusion. He laughed and he got sent seven feet down the smooth hallway like an amusement park ride he didn’t know he signed up for and everything span and spun and spoon while hiccups hiccupped his cup. Dishes were still there. Clean the sink as well. Sink? No, ink everywhere, a soggy mess jammed down his throat as colors span and chest compressed. Depressed. Unpressed? Not a word. Not a privilege. Right. It was not a right. Everything was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong crosses and xes and red marks everywhere, bludgeoning him with imperfections as it continued to decay, stale cookies mixing into a slurry of milk and crumbs. Something had to be done and he could do nothing. Only chatterboxes infected with opinions and memes, regurgitating the virus and swallowing the infection. He was there to save someone. But that someone didn’t matter. He was there to kill someone. But that someone didn’t matter. So if it wasn’t save, and it wasn’t kill, then what was it? It was… Sour drops for rewards, cyanide drops for punishments, when they masticated both and spat out both because they didn’t want either, since the elusive third was universally better and molecularly worse and yet they never got it at all when spirits flew at the speed of light but clouds were standstill guardians that consumed it all with vaporous stomachs that only grew and grew until they spewed everything out in transparent music notes over broken ceilings so they could shower.
The unkind delusion was still missing pieces, a feverish morning daze in light that was still more like night, amethyst eyes boring intensely upon fleshy appendages that were better off amputated.
It was supposed to be an ordinary morning. Just wake up, get dressed, and leave for the gym. But when that red flare shot upwards, lighting up the night sky, accompanied by a panicked maid’s screaming off in the distance, it was all too easy for Brent to change that routine. They had a pleasant enough of a break. He blew off steam with Siena, discovered the fluffiest cutiepie with Marcus and Ernie, finally got around to chilling with Grant, and even made some pretty sweet corndog recipes. Not to mention that super fun beach party that Emma organized.
It had been a fulfilling, relaxing experience, and it never was going to last.
It was easy enough to change his routine. A proper belt, threaded through the loops of cargo pants. A tough coat to accommodate for the weather. Steel-toed boots, just like the ones that Ernie lent him during that friendly game of Flag and Seek eons ago. Combat helmet, his machete, and a canister of pepper spray, all remnants from Wisford. And, most importantly, most gloriously, his night vision goggles and his gas mask. Clipping the goggles to the rim of his helmet, the overdressed, underprepared arbiter was just about finished when a maid kicked open the door, waving at him to get out.
Gas mask went into his backpack then. Another smart trick learned from Ernie. As sirens blared, familiar and unfamiliar faces merged into a disorderly line, Brent’s eyes flickered about, confirming as many people as he could. Lisa was there. Ernie. Marcus. Over there, Emma. Allison without Angelic handholding her? Weird. Siena of course. Oh, Callan came out of hibernation.
His own headcount continued as they were ushered down the steps and his own headcount was just as grim as theirs. Brent didn’t know an Elvia, but Gregory and Angelic? In the darkness of the storage room, the arbiter pulled out his combat phone, bringing up the GPS once more.
A sharp intake of breath.
Gregory was outside, moving. Alive.
Amethyst eyes turned towards Allison.
Brent slipped the sturdy phone back into his pocket. Hostiles. Amigos. Dangerous. Attacking USARILN property? No, Zhang’s property. No monsters in the basement here. Just kids with enough power to drive them mad. Ernie was scared. Past experience? Chris wanted to stay. To fight. A martyr. Kusari was cocky. Confident. Hah. Hazel and Sander were already gone, taking most of the Unit’s destructive power with them.
Take it in.
That butler, Aldrich, was going to die for them. That maid, Elvia, may have already going to die for them. Zoe and Lawrence duelled with words, the latter somehow managing to convince that firecracker to leave, to make sure everyone else left. Brent noted the glow. Funny, how the first time that blond’s power was used was on an ally. Leave two to their fates so that a larger group could make it out. Compromise and sacrifice.
Take it in.
It seeped into him, an eternal expanse of ethereal blankness. No longer an ocean, but an endlessly, dazzlingly, painfully bright space. No turmoil, merely tranquility. No light, just white. Every color and no color at all.
Birds of a feather flocked together.
The blankness fused with his body, caressing his bones, blotting out his veins. Burying and burying and burying him in the pointlessness of it all, until he was but a skeleton fused with the canvas.
And yet, that skeleton stayed distinct, pushing and pushing and pushing against the pointlessness of it all, the whiteness that consumed his skin, hair, flesh, and organs unable to bridge that final gap. There was something there in that blank garden, a faintly yellow tinge.
Overhead, another star, another gift, another fruit ripe for the picking was swallowed by the Other within that garden.
But the skeleton didn’t even notice.
Bury. Push. Bury. Push. Bury. Push.
-eaded towards Siena. She had her e-reader. She had unlimited power.
But she was still so frail. Like tinder. Burning bright and burning easily, but burning out so soon.
“'ena,” the arbiter said, standing beside her, “Teleportation range?”
Brent walked along the forest trail, humming a peppy little tune after another pretty decent lunch. It felt like the recipes for his gourmet corndogs were really working out, even if the fried ice cream was still hard to figure out. Execution was simple, of course, and it wasn't too hard to freeze the ice cream solid, but unlike his other works, it seemed to simply...lack something.
Well, whatever. For now, the youth picked up his pace and began lightly jogging, heading off towards the beach.
"Oi Brent" Chris approached his fellow subnatural on the way to the beach, his hands had been in the pockets of his jeans. "Mind if we talk for a sec?" He tried to sound polite, but his typical unethused glare didn't help make his expression seem anymore friendly.
Well, this sounded familiar. Arcing a brow, Brent slowed down. "What's up?"
There was a pause before he walked beside him. "I don't expect us to get along or anything, at the end of the day though we do have to try and look out for each other as we are both subnaturals, that should be obvious...." A sigh escaped him. "With that said, I'm here to tell you I confessed to Siena, though I don't think she feels the same way. She was vague about it, maybe she was uncertain, but for now anyway I'll take it as a rejection...That doesn't mean I don't love her anymore, but I won't be cross if you take her hand instead..." Another pause as he looked ahead toward the water. "In fact I'd be grateful so long as you can make her happy...You probably already noticed but she isn't...well...in the best of moods. I think its something beyond what happened in D.C., so..." Another pause before he shook his head. "I trust you will help her and all that, be it staying as friends or something more...I haven't entirely given up on her yet, but like I said, I won't get in your way."
"Glad you haven't given up," the arbiter said, nodding once, "And alright, I'll keep that in mind. Is that all?"
"About it really.." He was a bit surprised to see Brent not start anything. Having overheard some of that gossip made Chris feel a bit more bitter towards him, but after his response that bitterness was numbed into some form of respect; at least. He wasn't shallow enough to jeopardize what intentions he had given, perhaps he too really did understand the weight of their situations.
"Cool. Stay safe, dude," Brent jogged, before stopping, "And sorry about the miscalculation in regards to the ice woman. Guess whatever they weakened her with didn't last."
"Shit happens." Chris dismissed. "Aint your fault, you can't always predict what those damned demons can do." His hands lowered to his side as he began to be a bit more casual in tone. "Most of us made it out OK at least."
Brent | Sander
Tired but not really, Brent found himself in the kitchen once again, Lisa peeling potatoes in the corner while Ernie was mysteriously absent. Well, no, not all mysterious, considering who else was looking for edibles. Sander, the vampire aberration, was inside at the moment. The breakfast 'buffet' was available now, after all, so it did make sense for him to be around.
Real weird, what waking up at 5AM did to one's perception of 'normal' meal times.
"Hey, Sander," Brent said, pocketing his phone, "How ya doing?"
"Hello." -Sander looked up, surprise lining his features -"I'm well. You?"
"Not bad," Brent replied, rubbing the side of his jaw, "Haven't seen you around lately. Been camping or something?"
"I beg your pardon?" -Sander raised an eyebrow, thoroughly confused -"Can I help you with anything?"
"Ah, nevermind. Just here to apologize for flipping out on you in DC. The whole Ernie debacle and all, yah?" Brent shrugged. "Thought you were planning on using him as a mace or something, not...whatever you actually did."
"I was not going to...use Ernie as a mace." -Sander narrowed his eyes, but a slight smile did make its way across his expression -"What makes you think that?"
"What else could you use him for?" Brent managed a grin at Ernie's expense as well. "Dude could laugh off falling off the Hyatt Regency, so as far as maces go, he'd be pretty tough."
"Is that so?" -Sander quirked an eyebrow at the new morsel of information -"I had to keep an eye on him back there. I didn't want to him...near Christmas."
"Hm, but Christmas and him should have been heading in different directions?" It was Brent's turn to be quirking eyebrows now.
"Then why move him to the ice giant's arena?" No, that could be answered easily enough. "Why did you want to keep an eye on him, but then leave him immediately afterwards to swim in slime?"
Sander frowned then, recalling the heated moments of the battle -"I did...what I had to." -He offered up the simplified answer, hoping that it would be enough -"I couldn't take him anywhere else."
A blink. A nod. Alright, that was fair. "Can you tell me why you want him away from Christmas?"
"You don't know?"
"Heard he hurt him, you know, during that one night," Brent said, "But Chris punched Marcus a couple of times, too, so...what's the story here?"
"He hurt Christmas." -Sander didn't know the details himself, but unlike Chris and Marcus, Christmas was someone important to him -"I had to make sure it wouldn't happen again."
"It won't." -He concluded after a short pause.
Stigma? Or just a natural aggression? Should he ask Ernie some time?
No. Unless it becomes a bigger problem than it already is, he won't. Ernie was weirdly tough, but Sander was enough of a juggernaut that he could more or less rip apart anything, so...
"I'll help then," Brent said, eyes finally catching onto Sander's. "Don't really know Christmas, but Ernie's my friend and Christmas is a super-healer, and I don't need either of them to get screwed over. Next time, I'll keep an eye on him for you, if that's aight, Sander. So you can focus on doing whatever you do best."
“Focus on killing, is that it?” -Sander’s expression suddenly fell flat, though he still kept the smile. Despite the very obvious differences, he still couldn’t shake the urge to compare Brent’s and Kusari’s offer –“That’s alright. Christmas…I can protect him. I prefer to be near him.”
"Dude, that's the thing," Brent said flatly, "If you prefer to be near Christmas, but require Ernie to also be in eyesight so you can watch him, isn't that just gonna be uncomfortable for Christmas too?"
He was being a little manipulative here, wasn't he? Just a little bit.
"As far as DC went, all you did was cart vital people back to the proper evacuation point before...what, swimming in slime and showing your flat ass to the media? Like, yeah, you were badass in Wisford, but with everyone else getting stronger too..." Another shrug. Calculated indifference? He wasn't sure. "Do whatever you do best. If that's protecting your bud, that's no skin off my back."
“What do you mean?” -Sander was getting thoroughly confused at Brent’s reiteration of events in DC –“Are you saying…I didn’t kill enough? That I should have killed more?”
"No, I'm saying that you can choose, Sander," Brent said. Was this guy just really, really slow on the uptake? "The fact that you're both invincible and incredibly strong means that you can choose what you want to do, and that can be what you do best. If you want to protect Christmas, then focus on that, and leave watching Ernie to me."
Hell, he'd even be good as evacuation, what with his ability to lift up buildings and speed people to a safe zone in breakneck speeds.
"I can choose?" -Sander mumbled, mostly to himself. But that was wrong. He couldn't choose, because he knew what his power was and what it could do. He knew where he belonged, and he could try to fight it, to beg them, but he knew where he would always end up -"But I can't. Not really." -Sander shrugged, breaking eye contact -"You just want me to stop taking Ernie with me? Is that it?"
"Not kidnapping Ernie would do wonders, yeah," Brent admitted, "But that's not it. Don't know how much value my trust is, but you've proven yourself to be someone who at least tries to control themself. Have some faith in yourself, Sander. Your attempts aren't meaningless, and if our wallflower of a healer's is chill with you..."
He smiled reflexively.
"...well, you're probably not as crazy of a bastard as you look sometimes."
“I can’t promise that.” -Sander sighed, crossing his arms. He might have forgiven Ernie, but he did not forget. A black mark was a black mark. Nothing could change that –“You don’t really know me, Brent.”
"Could try to keep the promise," Brent replied. He didn't understand him, not really, but stigmas kept things grounded, one way or the other. "Better than not trying to begin with."
"I can't try to promise that, either."
"So all you can do is kill?"
"I won't kill Ernie."
"And you'll protect Christmas?"
A part of him really wanted to slap Sander on the head right then and there, before throttling him with a frying pan and pointing out that, hey, that's totally what making a choice was...but whatever. This redundant confirmation was good enough. Sander didn't seem like the type to habitually lie. If his plan wasn't to get Ernie killed, and he's more or less focused on not getting Christmas killed, that was afequate.
He was stupid and had no problems will tearing apart enemies, but those points could be overlooked.
"Cool," Brent nodded. "Basically all I had to confirm, I guess."
"Why do you care?" -Sander raised an eyebrow -"Ernie is a black X. He takes care of himself."
Brent tilted his head to the side. Did Sander not even understand this? "Cause he's a friend?"
"Is he important to you?"
"Yeah, for better or worse, he's pretty high up there."
Sander was quiet for a few moments, before he finally decided -"Okay. I understand. Then I can promise that. I would never hurt Ernie, too."
"Thanks, man. Appreciate it."
"By the way, wanna try a corndog?"
"No, but thank you." -Sander shook his head, gathered a few sandwiches that was left on the counter for him -"I'm having lunch with Christmas."
With that said, the blood mage gave a polite nod then left.
Two Guys, No Fish
Brent | Grant
Today was the day. Today was definitely the goddamn day. Christ, it's been a hell of a long time, but after all this, Brent had decided.
It had been far too long since he hung out with his roommate, even if they haven't roomed together since forever. Standing in front of the door labelled 'Grant', the arbiter was already armed and ready with fishing gear, all scrounged up with the assistance of the dandy butler. Two poles, lures, and an icebox that currently carried soda. To counter the arrival of sharks or bears or sharkbears, Brent also had a handgun holstered on his belt, and, standing there, he took a deep breath, steeled his resolve, and rapped thrice on the door.
"Yo, Grant, yah busy?"
With the sound of knocking, Grant's peaceful slumber was interrupted. He laid there on his bed, the comfortable grogginess fleeting and his mind working to process the question that came through the door. Fitting the voice to a face was difficult and he wasn't in such a good mood altogether from the rude awakening. After about a minute, he sat up, moving off the bed and to the door not bothering to straighten his comfort clothing of plain grey pajama pants and a white t-shirt, simple as always.
The door opened in front of Brent only to behold the tired disaster that Grant was. He stared at him, scanning him up and down, and barely, the name 'Brent' popped into his mind. After another moment of silence, he proceeded to answer the obvious question.
"No, not at the time."
He could smell it at this distance, really, the intense body odor of someone so enamored with sleeping that they never bothered showering for a goddamn eternity. The heavy musk of someone who cared nothing for personal hygiene. Did Grant forget that it was possible to sweat in his sleep as well? Or did he simply not give a shit? Regardless, at this point, Grant was like dusty blankets that definitely needed to get aired out.
It had been a hell of a long time, after all.
"Yo, let's go fishing then," Brent said, gesturing to the folded poles slung on his shoulder, "You look like you need a change of pace anyways, Grant. Have you even ate lunch yet?"
Grant took note of the fishing poles that Brent had taken the liberty of bringing over to propose going out and fishing. He blinked, staring at him. In his mind, he wondered why he would want to fish in the first place. His mind shifted again when lunch was mentioned, and he gave a shake of his head.
"Not yet today." the sleepy eyed boy answered, and he was famished as well. He took a moment to think about the first question and request, before finally he nodded. "Okay. Why not. I'll have to change and bathe first." He answered. He figured there was no harm in going along with the activity, though it was somewhat annoying from how sudden it was.
"Go ahead," Brent waved, grinning, "Meet you by the main entrance, yeah?"
A nod was given, along with a, "Yes, by the entrance," before closing the door to get ready for the fishing trip. It wouldn't take too long for him to clean himself up with a bath after a while of sleeping, and he'd gather up his sunny outting clothes of simple cargo shorts and a light blue t-shirt. After not too long, he'd be meeting Brent down at the entrance.
Once Grant arrived, Brent gestured him to follow, before heading off down the pier that they had docked off to. Remote compared to the 'usual' one that was connected to the town, it looked to be fairly ideal for idly fishing, and the large pack that rattled with each of Brent's steps indicated that he was definitely packing more than just fishing gear. With a half hour's walk through the forest under pleasantly cool conditions, the duo soon found themselves facing a choppy ocean and a clear sky.
Unloading his pack with a grunt, Brent massaged his shoulders before turning towards his raven-haired companion. "So, here we are," he said anti-climatically, "Tried fishing before?"
During the short walk to the fishing spot that Brent had apparently picked out, Grant was busy gazing around, taking in his immediate surroundings. His attention was only turned toward his classmate when his voice raised a question. A shake of the head was the answer.
"No, not from memory. But it's simple, isn't it? Cast the line out with bait, wait for a bite, and then reel it in." He said, sliding his hands into his pockets to give a glance toward the water.
"Pretty much," Brent replied as he assembled some foldable chairs. Setting them at the edge of the pier, he began to put together the fishing rods next, while sliding a set of hooks and can of worms towards Grant. "Mind hooking 'em in?"
Grant looked to the equipment and can that was slid toward him. Obviously, the contents of the can wasn’t a pleasant sight. Hesitant for a few moments, Grant gave way to a quiet sigh before nodding.
”Okay.” he said, stepping closer to the equipment before sitting down beside it, taking the first hook, but staring at the can of worms for another few moments. Eventually, he reached out his hand and slid his hand into the can. Disgusting. Keeping in the disgust, he pulled a worm from the can and began to hook the worm, stabbing it through and moving it up a bit before stabbing it once more through. He continued this process until it was complete, setting it aside and picking up the next hook to hook the worm onto it.
Oh. As expected of Gleipnir, the Unmovable, Impassive Chains. Wasn't even bothered that much at the sight of the writhing worms. Brent nodded with some approval at Grant's work with the worms, before taking the hooks and tying them to the lines. Looked like things worked out, anyways. Setting the ice box of drinks and future-fish between the two chairs, Brent gestured towards the ocean.
"Welp, should work out now," the arbiter said, "Let's see that legendary cast, Grant."
After Grant was done hooking the worms into the hooks, he stared down at his hand, the slime and wetness left on his fingers. Pressing the slimy tips together and watching it pull apart. A not very amused look spread across Grant’s already impassive features. Once again, disgusting. From Brent’s words, it seems he’d like him to go first. He stared at the fishing rods, thankfully not completely oblivious of how to cast a line.
Ignoring the worm residue on his fingers, Grant picked up a fishing rod in his left hand, weighing it and getting comfortable with its weight. He let out a breath and hooked the line with his finger and grabbed the rod with his right hand under his left, pointing toward the waters. Counting to three in his head, he brought the rod up and over his shoulder, shifting his feet a little before casting the line out. But as to be expected of the not-so-fit boy, it didn’t go very far before it hit the water.
That's how it's done? Though the line itself didn't get all that far, Brent nodded anyways, flicking his own pole back. It was weirdly balanced, and almost a bit too floppy, but after a few small flicks, he had a basic understanding of the balance of it. Bring it back against his shoulder, the arbiter swung out and sent the hook flying, an indiscernable ripple in the waters indicating that it had landed. Far enough? Well, farther than Grant's at least. Sitting down on the chair, Brent rummaged through the bag once more, before pulling out a towel pilfered from the estate's bathrooms.
"For your hands," he offered, "Want somthing to drink as well?"
Grant remained standing, squinting a bit to see where his hook had landed. When Brent had cast, he noticed that his went well farther. Must not have casted well enough. Either way, he finally took a seat, turning his head over to his... acquaintance.
”Thank you,” he said, accepting the towel gratefully before wiping the worm residue away from his hands. “Yes. What do you have?” He asked after setting the towel on the armrest of the chair.
"Fruit juices, Coke, Sprite, and milk," Brent said, pulling the icebox open. It had been a bit nostalgic, opening up the fridge to find actual glass bottles of milk within. Someone really did have old-fashioned tastes, if they were in the business of making their own juice and bottles of milk. "Take your pick."
Grant gave a peek into the icebox that Brent opened, blinking as he examined the contents. An assortment of beverages to be found, though what caught his eye were the milk bottles. As not too big a fan of soda, he opted to grab one of the bottles of milk. “I’ll be taking this, then.”
"Nice choice," Brent nodded, before taking a bottle himself. Shutting the box closed, he reclined once more, content with just nursing the cold bottle in his lap as he watched the sea.
"How have you been feeling lately? Don't see you around at all these days."
Popping open the bottle and taking a gulp of the milk sent the nice cold of the liquid down his throat. It felt nice in contrast to the warmth of the sun above. Grant held the bottle to his side, letting his arm rest on the arm rest, watching the line before Brent eventually asked a question.
"I've been in my room for most of the time. There've been no problems, really," Grant said without missing a beat, taking a sip. He hasn't felt the need to go out or socialize, not like he'd have the want to before Brent came along his room. "Has anything important happen recently?"
"Angelic and Allison are together now, Marcus and Emma are going strong, I haven't seen either Christ or Sander for some time now..." Brent paused, thinking a bit more. Didn't need to bring any real drama into this, did he? Nah, he didn't. "Nothing super important though. There's a giant rabbit in the forest too. Name's Marsha. Pretty cute if you ignore her ability to jump three stories up."
Grant stared as Brent went over the recent relationships of their fellow students, though he hadn't displayed any real interest. Though he did tilt his head silghtly at the mention of a rabbit in the forest. "A rabbit? Who managed to find a rabbit here?" Grant asked with noticable interest, taking another sip from his milk bottle.
"Team SAP, man. Always getting shit done."
Another stare and blink, head tilting more. "Team SAP?"
"Team Splattered Against the Pavement. Or was it Across?" Brent shrugged, twisting open his own bottle for a swig of wholesome dairy goodness, "Marcus, Ernie, and myself. We went hiking and came across her. Ran away afterwards, and the butler did his whole explanation thing. Turned out she was the pet of someone from Unit A, but..."
"...well, they never came back."
Through Brent's explanation of Marsha the rabbit and how Team 'Splattered Against/Across the Pavement' came across her, Grant was mostly trying to figure out the tie between the team name and the three mentioned in his explanation. He was still listening though.
"Sad. I wonder what became of the owner. Probably death."
"Waow," Brent replied, even though he had similar theories, "That's pretty dark."
Grant gave a shrug before sipping from the cool bottle. "No sense in glossing over the most likely event. Though it is sad and 'dark', I don't see a possibility in any other."
"Easier conclusion would be that Unit A never fucked up hard enough again to get sent to Zhang's private estate," the amethyst-eyed youth replied, "But yeah, death and despair are also reasonable options. You're the realist type, Grant?"
Grant took a moment to think at the question before eventually giving a nod. "I'd much prefer to think of real possibilities than looking at the bright or dark side and being wrong in the process. Thinking realistically will help us survive."
"As expected of the master tactician," Brent replied, gazing out to the waters, "You consider yourself a utilitarian though, Grant?"
"A utilitarian." He repeated, taking time to think of the phrase, and how Brent mentioned him being the 'master tactician'. He only did what was best to survive and make sure everyone gets through. Ever since... Her. "I suppose so. My power is designed to support in a way, and it is very useful to our survival." He paused before glancing to him. "Do people call me the 'master tactician'?"
"I do," Brent replied, "And I'm sure others think of you positively as well. Pulled off some amazing stuff during Flag and Seek, after all, and though there was teamwork miscommunication during Wisford...at least you didn't disperse anyone's minions."
The arbiter nodded to himself.
"What's the range on your chains anyways?"
Think well of him. He has barely even made any communication with most of the other classmates. He didn't think that his efforts to survive would catch the attention of them. At the mention of his chains, he thought for a moment.
"I haven't bothered to check. So far, it has done well enough." He summoned one of his chains, arising from an unknown origin at his back and rose up. He sent it out ahead, over the water as far it could go, spanning a whole ten meters ahead.
Ten meters or so? Not that bad then, but still lacking as a midrange ability. Still required Grant to be in the fray of combat. Still not enough space to offer him a good enough view of the battlefield to really 'command'. If it was double, no triple the current distance, Gleipnir's options would be way better, huh?
"And you got three of them too, huh?" Brent whistled, "Ever considered taking a more active role during operations? Feels like everyone loses their head these days."
The chain was quickly reeled back in and vanished before Grant took a sip, already halfway through his milk bottle. "An active role..." He repeated once more, thinking. "It is very obvious that most people are panicking and acting rashly during our fights," the massacre came to mind when he said that, "but considering my position, how much more active a role can I take?"
"You said so yourself, right?" Brent turned. "Your ability works well supportively as well, with terraforming and all that. A ten meter radius isn't going to make you a sniper like me, but if you took a step back and focused mainly on getting others out of the way...could afford to then command the group you're in, at least."
The lure bobbed in the waters. Still no bites.
"I get the feeling you're quiet, not shy. So here's the question: is your focus on 'survival' only on yourself? Or do you believe that our classmates deserve to survive as well?"
At the current question at hand, Grant was silent. It was almost as if Brent could read him like he was an open book. But no matter how many times he told himself everything is for his own survival, it was nothing but false. Not for a second had his plans only center around his survival.
"From my mistakes of the first battle, I believe that all of us must survive. I cannot let anyone else die because of me or my inaction. So I must act."
"But actions alone aren't enough, not if others are blindly jumping into the pyre," Brent replied, "Tell me, do you know what your classmates can do?"
"...Only the gist of the few I have seen." Grant rummaged through his memory, searching for the names and sticking their powers to them. "Angel obviously displays voice manipulation. Siena's power comes from her books and literature." He thought for a moment before continuing, "Though I haven't much gotten acquainted enough with people to know their extent. I don't believe I have seen your power in action with my own eyes, so I fear I don't even know yours."
"Yeah...well, here's the point I'm making," the arbiter said, smiling, "Your power is versatile, but it's not omnipotent. If you can give other people direction, if you got to know them and had their trust in terms of following your decisions...the amount of paths you can take can only multiply, right?"
A pause. Well, this was what he was good at, after all.
"Going by your party in Wisford alone, here's the rundown. Siena's powers can be anything at all, as long as you give her time to pick her person. She can even be a power-buffer or a teleporter or just wipe out an entire building in one blast. Angelic is a screamer, yes, but she recently picked up the ability to project her voice and speak to people directly, which is invaluable in getting people to actually listen to her. Emma's own powers are similarly insane, in that she has unlimited range in which to command her minions, as long as they can hear her. With cellphones, you see how great that can be? And you must have seen Hazel's power up close, right? Complete inorganic matter destruction that can be used as a nigh-unbreakable shield against any sort of physical attack or shred through golems like paper.."
He sucked in his breath, finished off his own bottle of milk, and let out a satisfied sigh.
"Their main problem is that none of them can lead. Angelic gets emotional too quickly, Emma has self-esteem problems, Siena simply has too many options, and Hazel's a robot. It worked out because of their sheer power, but...did you see how Unit A was doing? A barrier and coordinated long range and close range attacks to ensure that none of them were injured at all, even after prolonged combat?"
He still remembered it, how crisp their teamwork was even if they didn't have a massive powerhouse.
"I think that's what you can do if the others knew you were willing to take charge. DC was a mess specifically because no one kept their heads."
From the start of Brent's massive explanation, Grant turned his head to look at him, occasionally sipping down the refreshing milk from the bottle. He matched the description of power to the names and made sure to remember who they were in the first place. The main problem was revealed, and of course out of everyone at DC and especially during the massacre, Grant had mostly kept his head.
"Take charge and lead..." He murmured, drinking down the rest of the milk before setting it down to the ground with a short clink. The chances of everyone's survival would be greatly increased if someone were to direct and coordinate. But him? "I can see your point. To further ensure everyone's survival, I must do more to coordinate them." A pause, and he stared off at the water, watching the ripples originating around the hook that he had sent out. Silence further ensued before finally, he spoke.
"I will... think about it."
"Don't just think about it, man," Brent said, "Get to know them more. Go outside and have a chat or two. Eat dinner in a group. Try and socialize. And if you need help with any of that, give me a call, yeah?"
Did he get a bite? Or was that just a rough undercurrent?
"Teamwork doesn't work if you don't know your team, after all."
Knowing them. He knew it was the right way to go about things. Socializing. But if he lets himself get close... there never is guarantee if they will survive. To lose someone remotely close again. Grant gave way to a sigh, staring ahead at the water. Emotion absent, but conflict streaking through his mind.
He knew it would only hurt to get close. But to help all their survival. Finally, Grant gave a nod.
”Okay. I will try, then. I cannot guarantee results immediately,” he looked over to his comrade, “but I will try.”
"There's a beach party in two days," Brent offered, "May as well make your summer debut now, eh?"
"A beach party." A repeat to process. Stick in mind, and tie the date to it. "Perhaps." Grant would answer with a nod.
"Better not sleep-in that day, man."
"I will try. But I don't wake easily on my own," he stated the obvious, "Whenever I awake, I will try to come."
"Alarm clocks don't work?"
"I don't usually pack or use alarm clocks."
"I'll toss a bucket of water your way then."
"That is unnecessary."
A toothy grin. "Sounds fun though."
Unamused eyes. "To you, it might."
"Alarm clock sounds like a good idea then, eh?"
With a sigh, he gave a nod. "Yes, in comparison to your second suggestion, it does."
"Aight man," Brent said, pulling out two more bottles of milk, "Let's fish some good fish for the party then!"
Grant blinked when Brent exclaimed that, before nodding. "Yes, let's," he said simply, taking a bottle and clinking it against the other.
Too many fumbles. Too many unexpected occurrences. Too much strength expended on weapons that were too great for them to handle. After being dragged backwards by that pillar like a dog on a chain, Aiv had no recourse but to return to the writhing sin-weapon while the combined might of the anchorman and Ihosha pulverized the beast into oblivion. Hefting the pillar over his shoulders, he approached the corpse of handcannon-wielder, pillaging what he could from the monster. They were all too weak, their weapons demanding more out of them than they had. The unnamed one had the right idea, really, and now, they had another weapon that helped them out. It was weighty in his palm, but not nearly as much of a burden as his pillar. Turning it around in his palm, Aiv was about to test it out in the moment of silence they had when the staircase exploded once more, fiery rounds causing him to drop low, using his pillar as a shield against the oncoming threat.
There was no threat, not immediately. Only an Ezain that had no hope of living when they had no certain access to medical supplies. Even Solomon had been gored by a foe, and it was increasingly clear to the white-haired warrior that though Nera had wished them to slay her corrupted worshippers, she had, cut off from reality, not realized just how perilous and difficult such a task was.
Or perhaps she did, and cared only for the ones that survived such an ordeal, not those who perished in the face of it.
Nevertheless, with others retreating down the Eastern passage, Aiv had no choice but to follow, pulling up the rear as Solomon plunged into the darkness. With one hand occupied by the hand cannon and various other trinkets pillaged from that corpse, and another hand holding the pillar that almost seemed to be thrashing now, Aiv pressed it against the wall to serve as some sort of guide through the dimness. His bare feet hammered against the stone floor, his side and back both throbbed from the pain of various minor injuries, but he had to press on regardless.