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Bak Tsarevna

Bak lowered her guard as Vittorio suggested, and that was lucky because she very nearly swallowed her own tongue when the friendly ninja that had come to her aide three times in the apartment popped his head in through the hole she had blown. "Oh no, no no nonono, it was my fault." She said in response to his question, shaking her head from side to side. "That was not punishment missile, that was rescue-,"

"It's just a exhibition match, Bak," she heard a familiar voice say from behind the mask of the mysterious attacker. Celestine, the beautiful doctor lady that took care of Vittorio and patched up everyone when they got hurt. Bak very nearly physically shrank as the shame of nearly blowing up three friends, none of whom as far as she knew had done anything to warrant it, in about as many milliseconds sank into her. She didn't even see the gym teacher approaching, eyes cast to the ground, until the woman laid a hand on Bak's head. It had its usual, instantaneous effect. Every other thought flooded out of her mind as she leaned into her hand like an eager cat, feeling for all the world as though she might lift right off the ground and sail away into the sky like a lost balloon at any moment. When Miss Maskono offered her a hard candy she took it robotically, without even thinking about it, only coming back down to earth once the woman had removed her hand from Bak's head and stepped away.

She hadn't heard anything during that time but she could guess that this was legitimate if Celestine was involved with it. The reality of the situation only became more apparent as guys who had been hanging out in the parking lot, no doubt drawn by the explosion, let curiosity lead them through the newly blown entrance to take in the fight that was happening between Between Celestine and the guy that had tried to get her to shoot the doctor. They sat on the walls and unused sports equipment, the occasional wolf whistle being directed Celestine's way. Bak made a mental note of the offenders, then nodded and raised her arm in the air.

"Then I, Bak Tsarevna, in the name of the Student Council officially sanction this training club!" She shouted, bringing her hand down in the direction of the two fighters squaring off. "Begin!"

She started at the candy in her outstretched hand for a moment. It was lemon. Her favorite. She turned back to Yuuto and held it out to him, smiling apologetically. "I am sorry for almost hitting you with missile you did not deserve."

Whether he too it or not, she next turned her attention to Vittorio. "This is pleasant surprise though. Did you too get hit in the face with flying flier? You do not seem interested in clubs, usually." It was really nice seeing him out here, taking an interest in something other than revenge and spinning pretty words together. Though she supposed this could be considered a revenge adjacent activity.

Bak Tsarevna

A masked figure assaulting both students and teachers! This was a serious issue. "I understand. Stand back, student. SUPPRESSING FI-!

In that moment Bak felt a hand lay on her shoulder. Whipping around, thinking it to be some kind of ambush, the missile that she had been in the middle of firing were thrown wildly off target. They flew past Vittorio, because it turned out to be him standing there, and blew a giant ragged hole in the wall separating the campus from the parking lot.

Bak was for one moment mortified, then relaxed a little upon seeing that she hadn't actually accidentally blown him up. "I am so sorry Vittorio," she said, "but you should know not to surprise me in the middle of suppressing fire. Wait, I was in the middle of suppressing fire! We can speak later, right now we must save our teacher from mystery attacker!"

*How did I do this a second time!?!*
Good Morning, Tsarevna

It was dark in the room, but that was to be expected even in the middle of the day in Bak's basement room. This place had been retrofitted for human habitation, because it was obvious from the lingering smell of old rubber and stale sweat that the only things that had ever lived in this space were unused sports supplies. There were no windows and only one big double door that locked only from the outside, but the space was big enough for Bak to move around in and offered her almost complete privacy.

Bak sat in the far comer on a massive pile of cushions, gently snoring with her head lolled back on a pillow that had been shoved between it and the hand metal of her backpack. Bak didn't like mattresses, her talons had a habit of clawing them apart whenever she had a bad dream and besides that she didn't like laying down anyway. Laying on her side was awkward, on her back was completely out of the question, and facedown just resulted in an uncomfortable crushing feeling that kept her awake all night. So she slept like someone relaxing in a chair. It would probably lead to back problems in the long run but as far as she was concerned no back problem trumped the one where you had a missile launching tumor growing out of it.


Bak stirred.


Bak opened up her eyes.


Bak reached up to her nightstand and booped the novelty fluffy sheep alarm clock she had ordered from the internet right on the snoot. In the process of the boop, though, there was a bump as she knocked her arm into the corner of the nightstand and a lightning bolt of pain shot up it and buried itself in the very center of her brain. She let out a hiss and held the arm up to the sky while searching out the pull switch for the lights with her other hand. With a click the room was illuminated and she looked up at her arm as throbs of pain shot down it into the rest of her body.

It was all bandaged up clean and white, covered with a padding that Miss Celestine had been kind enough to apply for her. The old minigun that had served her well, along with the ruined slab of armor that the demoness had crushed, were both gone and a conspicuous bulge was visible underneath the padding. It had been growing for about a week now, ever since they got back. There hasn't been any point in delaying purging the gun, it wasn't as though the pain was going to be more tolerable in a week or two. So she'd gone into her basement and pulled it like you would a busted tooth. It still lay over on the other side of the room, next to her sewing table, the thick metallic tendrils as long as her arm that acted as the pseudo-nerves necessarily to control it splayed out over the side and coiling on the floor underneath. Now something new was growing where it had been, her choice based on the suggestions of her friends on the GUNZ-GUNZ-GUNZ 2 official forums.

She waited while the pain began to fade. If purging equipment was like pulling rotten teeth than growing new pieces could be compared to growing a shiny new tooth, nerves and all. Unfortunately, that meant that the nerves had to grow first before being encased by the armored protection of the newly grown tooth. It left whatever new part she was growing in a very tender state. She figured she had one more week of being careful before the shell was sufficiently thick enough to prevent teeth grinding pain whenever it received so much as a love tap.

She took the tow cable hanging under her cannons in her good arm and chucked it up over a steel bar that had been set into the ceiling and stretched the length of the room. She willed the gears to turn and they did so, pulling Bak up to her feet off the pile of cushions and spilling a variety of sheep themed stuffed animals she had been using as a blanket onto the floor around her. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes Bak made her way across the room, passed her sewing table, her computer, the massive poster of Celestine's mother she had managed to get from her, and gathered her uniform and bathroom supplies from a metal storage cabinet beside her door. Then, making sure that the back of her nightgown was properly tied closed, she turned the nob and made her way out as quietly as she was able.

Bak was an early riser. She got up before the sun was even thinking about peeking over the horizon, a holdover from her sheepdog days that had served her well in her new life. Not many people were around at this ungodly hour, and that suited Bak fine because it meant no one would see her before she was ready. In fact, the only person here that had probably ever seen morning Bak was the one that shared this basement with her and even then she'd never intended to wake him up. It was just difficult for her to walk quietly. Maybe he even just stayed up some nights, thinking deep thoughts about the night and death and stuff like that.

She trod carefully across the darkened room, trying to make only to most muffled of clanks so as not to disturb him. She caught a ghostly flicker of movement out of the corner of her eyes? Had that been him? Had she been to loud? She looked around the dark room slowly. She wasn't afraid of the dark, or Vittorio, or Vittorio in the dark, or anything like that. But it did spook her a little if she ever saw him floating around out here in the whee hours of the morning. "Good morning Vittorio." She said in a loud stage whisper, and waited for a response. When nothing came she decided to just quickly move on. Her destination was the girls showers in the gym. By Rhean law a public school with an athletics program had to have wheelchair accessible shower facilities. Fortunately for Bak Mephisto had cheaped out when renovating the school so that "shower" was a large concrete square, a drain hole, and a hose they ran in through the back door. It suited her much better to avoid getting all her equipment needlessly wet.

After toweling off and fixing her hair the way she liked it in the mirror she slipped her shirt around her neck and shoulders before started to tie it on. First the undersides of the sleeves using the little ties she'd sewn there, deftly manipulating the ties with one hand like she'd done plenty of times before. Then she tied the two sides together using the side ties. Then she made sure to get the back, difficult as it was to reach back there and tie it snugly so the fabric framed her backpack. She'd modified all her clothes like this to fit around her unique body frame, and had gotten pretty good at it over the years. With a snap, a button, a clasp, and a zip Bak put herself together piece by piece until she was ready for work!

After finishing up by oiling the joints in her legs she set out on her 5:45 patrol of the school to clear out any delinquents, nere-do-wells, or feral cats that had taken up residence in the night. Since Bak had started attending class here feral cat related injuries had gone down 80%. She'd timed it so that, barring interruption, she'd always finish on the roof just in time to watch the sun rise over the city. She waved down at any of the teachers she saw starting to file in for the day. Most of them tried their best not to make eye contact.

Waiting for the students that arrived was a significantly less friendly Bak. Anyone who went to this school knew that you would get hurried along to class at the end of a gun if you lingered in the hallway past the bell, and that was if she wasn't annoyed by something already. If she was already annoyed you generally got one verbal warning that, if you chose to ignore, would be followed by full volley devastation. Only five student had the reputation of being immune to this sort of coercion. Thobias were too tricky to hit, Gabriel Brekke was just too strong, Rurik had gotten it so often he could get away as causally as breathing, and Christine she refrained from shooting seemingly in order to spite the entire male student body. As for Clara...Clara was Clara. Enough said. The students had to wonder how Bak found the time to attend classes herself while waging this one woman war on juvenile delinquency. These students didn't know about Clara's invisible little friends, or how Bak had been allotted three of them in order to help with her duties as "Disciplinary Committee" head.

That would be a normal day, though. Today it was a well known fact that Bak was on the mend. She had been lax in her duties for the past week, merely noting the names and faces of those that were cocky enough to break the rues to her face. She'd let them off for now, then there would come a reckoning. Oh, there would absolutely come a reckoning! Really! There would! There was no way she was using her arms condition as an excuse to avoid confronting Rurik about anything. He deserved a week off anyway, for all the hard work he'd put in on the mission. She was just biding her time, that's all.

Bak walked around the school as class let out and club activities started to begin. She wasn't in a club. Most people here went home after the day ended, or went somewhere, and the ones that were liable to hang out after hours were a combination of the most brazen and the most skittish. Early on she'd applied to join the sewing club only to find the next day that they'd all apparently come down with late stage fingernail cancer and had to regretfully disband. Bak had gotten the message after that. So she patrolled the grounds doing the same thing she did in the morning; make sure there were no delinquents, ne're-do-wells, or feral cats hanging around after school hours.

Today, though, a flyer fluttered out of the sky and slammed directly into her face. Grumbling she pulled it off to get a good look at it.

Tired of being the underdog?
Mephisto's School for the Wickedly Inclined
Lessons for training being offered.
See Miss Maskono, P.E. for details.

Had the student council approved this? Bak didn't know, they hadn't been called together for a meeting in the past week. For all she knew this could be a fight club, or a revolution, or maybe even a trap to lure in the Mephisto's fighters! Maybe from that clever man the boy Galbrek had talked about on the television. It was her duty to investigate things like this. As she stomped off to figure this out a few more students that were otherwise members of the go home club curiously picked up the flyers behind her.

As Bak reached the area of the gym her ears perked up at the sound of battle and she doubled her pace until she rounded the corner and found the gym teacher locked in mortal combat with some masked girl! This was bad, that girl was really good to go toe to toe with Miss Maskono. If she got up close to Bak and targeted her arm she could probably put Bak out in seconds. But she could not abandon another of Mt. Mephisto's hard workers! "Miss Maskono, do you require fire support?" She yelled.

Epilogue - Bak Tsarevna

Bak saw everyone off at the school gate, merrily waving goodbye as each one left in turn until she was all that was left. It was only then that she let her smile dip. Standing there alone, the chill breeze ruffling her skirt and biting into her where metal met flesh, she couldn't help but be reminded of her life before. Before Mephisto, before the city, before...friends.

She brought up her hand, the one Rurik had held in his for just a short time, and stared at it anxiously. She remembered, back in the Old Country, how someone else had once held her hand in the same way. It was back when she was young, back before the news of Bak Tsarevna coming to town was enough reason to close all business for the day and huddle with you family in a darkened cottage. Her parents never enjoyed bringing her to the village they lived just outside of, but they were practical people if nothing else. Their daughter, despite her deformities, was very strong. If a particularly heavy load had to be toted from the general store to their small sheep farm her mother, Bak Anya, would lead her into town by the hand, taking great pain to make sure her daughter stayed very close. Bak knew there must have been the typical looks, the muttered words, the signs of the gods people made at her approach, but back then she'd been to enthralled to notice. The village was so big to her then, as big then as the wonderful city that stretched out before her now was, and her mother held her hand the whole way. If she was a good girl and didn't end up firing at anything on their outing her mother would even take a little money she had set aside and buy her a sweet as a reward. Those were the good days, the finest days of her life. At least until one night.

It had been one of the good days, Bak being guided into the village to carry up a new stove for the kitchen. She should have been asleep, but she'd had the bright idea to divide up the sweet her mother had bought that day and ration them out over the course of the day. The sweet lemony taste in her mouth still hadn't faded, and as she lay wrapped in a blanket on the pile of cushions that made up her bed she was still giddy with pride over what a good idea she's had. That was when she'd heard a soft sound coming from another room. She'd wondered what it was, and slowly so as not to wake her mother and father crawled on her belly toward the the crack in her door. She didn't need to worry about that though. They were already awake.

Bak's mother was sitting at the kitchen table, lit only by the light of the new stove, face in her hands. Standing behind her was the shadow of what could only be her father, Bak Tsar, his hands resting gently on her shoulders. He was murmuring quietly to her, clam words of what could only be love from the tone. Her mothers shoulders quaked slightly under those hands and the soft sound coming from her came out in rhythm with the shaking. It was a strange sight, Bak had always known her parents to be stoic and solid as the mountains, and for a moment Bak felt incredible fear creep into. She was about to call out to them, ask what was wrong, when her mother lifted her face and the sight of the light reflecting off her tears silenced Bak before she could speak. She turned to her husband and said in a forceful, sorrowful whisper that he didn't understand what it was like. He never had to touch her. Bak's father, the stern but loving husband, leaned in and implored her to help him understand. Unconsciously Bak had learned in too. On some level, she known what was going to coming next. That she should have plugged her ears and pretended she'd never heard anything. That the pain of what was coming would only be surpassed by the sheer agony of burning alive. She listened anyway, though. She listened as her mother described exactly how it felt to hold Bak's hand.

It was cold, she said, and dry. So dry, ever since the flamethrower incident. Like a piece of dried meat that someone had driven nails through. But there was something deeper than that. The meat was rotten, somehow. It didn't ooze and it wasn't soft but there was rot. Something wrong lurked under that, festering and growing just out of sight. It was like holding hands with her own daughter corpse, and always being afraid that the thing puppeting it around was going to spring to attention and drag you, giggling, under the Earth. Just as it had done in her nightmares.

There was no way anything that felt like that could be a human, could it?

Bak's father never got to give his answer, at least in a way for her to overhear. At the moment Bak's head had fallen forward onto the door frame, letting out just enough of a thump to spook them. They stared the door to her room for a long time, just like the sheep did when they weren't certain whether a predator was lurking in the treeline. Bak had never understood why her father had taken the time and money to extend the house once she had started getting older, but now she could guess. Slowly, once he was sure it was safe, the man put his arm around his wife and led her from the room. Bak continued to lay there alone in the dark for who knows how long, too hurt even to cry, before crawling her way back over to her bed and wrapping herself up again against the nights chill.

The next morning no one said anything about what had happened, but that wasn't unusual in their household. Then next time it as time to go to town Bak insisted she was big enough that no one had to hod her hand. Instead of a sweet, Bak asked if her mother could save her money to buy a pair of thick gloves for her. She told them they were to make handling the sheep easier. If either ever connected this odd request with that bump in the night they never gave any indication that they did. That wasn't unusual in their household either. At least, in the parts that Bak was allowed to see.

So now here she was, staring down at her hand. She wasn't worried about Thobias. He had had hands all over him when she'ed touched him, and it was only for a few seconds on one of the least sensitive parts of his body. But Rurik, he'd held on. And she's stupidly held back without even considering how it must feel. Had he felt the same thing her mother did back then? Would it be better if he hadn't? What if he brought it up? What if he didn't bring it up?

These were the worries that ate away at her as she trudged back to the school building, down into the basement where monsters were suppose to live. Monsters were lucky things. They didn't feel things like pain and fear, and they never cared about being alone. Baba Yaga would kill or aid anyone that came to her at her own whim, and never thought of them again after they were gone. She didn't have any wants or desires like a human. Bak wished she were really a monster like that. She wished she didn't have to pretend.

Epilogue - Gilliam DeWitt

Gilliam had a fantastically efficient metabolism. His ability to digest and transform things into energy was, in his person experience, second to none. That why where most of his cohorts presumably walked laboriously to their homes Gilliam was able to do so with a proud stride. Even in Rhea a man walking home in the dead of night wearing a finely tailored suit might be considered odd, but Gilliam wouldn't dream of transforming it into something more casual. Be elegant. That is what his handlers had taught him. Be elegant in all things when you can. Confine the ravenous monster within with a straight jacket made of proper etiquette and class. Walk gallantly, even if you aren't feeling all that gallant at the moment. That was his way.

He was not, in fact, feeling particularly gallant at the moment. His first official mission as a member of Mephisto's School for the Wickedly Inclined had not gone well at all. He had gotten lost, gotten distracted by Alto, been prevented from preventing the reinforcements from headed upstairs, and had been unfathomably late to attend the battle at the top of the building. On top of all that he had been humiliated by a bird. All in all, as far as debuts go, it could have gone better. Being the man in the light was much harder, it seemed, than being the monster in the shadows. He envied Yuuto for that position. What he wouldn't give to be carrying out Mistress Clara's orders right now, slitting throats and disposing of evidence. That's what he was good at! But his masters had said no, Gilliam time was now. He supposed it was inevitable. What was the point of training him into a semi-functional human being if he wasn't going to be thrust into the spotlight eventually?

As Gilliam rounded the corner his eyes fell upon the welcome sight of Flo's Funeral Parlor and Mortuary Services. Under the large picket sign declaring its name was the motto "When you have to go, go with The Flo." They were mistaken for a plumbing service roughly twelve times a month. Which wouldn't be a problem if the old woman didn't insist of strapping on a toolbelt and heading out every time, insisting that she could do the work and that money was money.

As he made his way up the cobblestone pathway to the main building he noticed that the lights were off. That was good. He didn't want the old woman to be worried about how late he had come home tonight. He reached out and carefully took the doorknob, turning it and opening the door slowly so as not to wake the sharp eared Flo.


Gilliam laid splayed out on the pathway on his back, fuzzy on what had happened to put him their, until he heard a voice like a screeching bird.


Gilliam lifted his head just enough to see a grinning, wild eyed old woman standing in the doorway cradling a shotgun. The lights had been flipped on, and the chair sitting directly behind her told him that she had been waiting in front of the door in the dark just waiting to blow away anyone unfortunate enough to walk in. His unique ability to taste with his entire body detected the distinctive taste of rock salt sprayed out in a pattern on his chest.

"Grandmother?" He asked, confused but otherwise unhurt.

"Gil?" She relied, opening one eye much wider than the other to get a better look at him. She was surprised, then she resumed being mad. "What'in sam hell ya' doin' out so late, boy?" She said, dropping the spent shotgun to clatter on the ground and making her way down the steps to help him up.

He raised his hand at her offered one and pulled himself to his feet, the salt already absorbing into his body through his stitching shut suit. "Miss Clara requir-"

"Uh-uh, uh-uh, say no more." She replied, turning away and walking back toward the door like she expected him to keep up. "I see, I see, leavin' your poor grandma alone at the mercy a' these necremancers ta' go canoodlin' with ya girlfreind. Can't spare a thought for you're dear old Flo."

Gilliam obediently followed after his "grandmother". She wasn't actually his grandmother. Gilliam wasn't sure he'd ever had a grandmother. Flo had been good to him though. He was initially pointed to her by Clara, who'd told him the old woman had a habit of taking in strays without asking questions so long as they were agreeably to some work. Indeed, when he'd first arrived there had been other children living here. Others had come and gone since. No one managed to last as long as Gilliam had. Flo was demanding, and had her eccentricities, and most had other places they could go now that they though about it.

She was a mean cook, though. And she made big portions.

Gilliam looked around the parlor that made up the first floor of their home, done up in red velvet and filled with fine caskets on display. "Far be it from me to suggest that there are no Necromancers grandmother," he said, actually filching when Flo turned on him with a gaze that could chisel through icebergs. He continued, resolutely, "But how would you know one had been in here? Did they steal something?"

"Hah!" She coughed, then dropped down to the floor on all fours in the doorway. She waved him down to her level and pointed to something laying on the floor. It was a single strand of her old, gray hair. "I put it in this here door, so's I could know if someone snuck in in the night. Got up fer a midnight snack and felt something off in my water. Came down here, spotted the thing, set myself up to wait an' see what happened."

She stood up and looked around the room. "Lucky sum'bitch too. Managed to avoid all the booby traps." She kicked one of the coffins on display and it jumped forward on a spring mechanism, flying open to reveal the interior completely full of bear traps which it threw all over the room in the opposite direction from them.

Gilliam waited for the mechanical clatter to cease, before asking, "And how do you know it was a necromancer?

"Don't be dumb, boy! Who else is gonna try and rob from me? Think!" She reached up and poked the side of his head for emphasis before crossing her arms and giving him a dirty look. "If ya'd been here when you shoul'da..."

"I wasn't." Gilliam said, bowing in supplication. "And I apologize. Just one more in a long string of failures tonight, I'm afraid. It will not happen again."

"Well see that it don't." The old woman said, then her eyes softened. "I suppose ya already ate?"

"I'm always hungry." Gilliam replied.

The old woman grinned again. "I'll go heat up supper then. Made casserole and beans. Sakes alive boy, yer gonna kill me with all these late nights." With that the woman climbed back upstairs to their living quarters, peace of mind apparently restored now that Gilliam was home.

Gilliam smiled as he watched her go, then turned seriously back to the room. The old lady was eccentric and paranoid but that didn't mean that someone wasn't really after you, and he couldn't imagine the fear the old woman must have experienced waiting in the dark unsure of who was and was not in the house. If there was someone who had caused that fear then he wanted to know. His face shifted, regrowing the trunk that he had displayed in the apartment, and he dropped the all fours. He crept along the ground like a spider, slowly picking his way through the bear traps and running his truck over the open ground. Finally, he hit upon a smell. A familiar smell. And unbelievably familiar smell. Like dank carpet, ectoplasm, and brimstone.

It was unbelievable. It was impossible. He extended his nose far from his own body to make sure it wasn't him but it still registered the same. He knew this exact smell.

Someone from the apartment tonight had been in his house.

Epilogue - Naseraph Sana

Naseraph trudged like a wet crow to his room in the churches steeple and plopped down onto his mattress. He was exhausted. Not physically. He wished he was physically exhausted, that would have been a salvation. Physical exhaustion would mean he'd have at least gotten some of this frustration out. No, he was simply exhausted by nothing going right today. Gods, he had almost lost his temper! He had almost let the mask slip. That would have been unacceptable. Not before the proper time. Not before he struck and claimed the number one spot, and with it all the pleasures of the city, as his own.

The phone on his nightstand began to ring. He glanced over, having forgotten to carry it earlier that day. That was exactly the sort of thing he was talking about when he thought of pleasures. The ability to talk like this, over long distances, was a miracle that had been forbidden him on the mountain! But as he reached out and took it in his hand to see who was calling his face fell. With every miracle, he supposed, there should come and equivalent curse. He considered just letting it ring, but, no, he couldn't take that risk. The person on the other end was fickle and could bring him down with just a few words. It was better to answer her, as much as he despised the thought.

He answered the phone and didn't even get a word out before a slightly bored voice said "I know you were at the midnight tournament tonight, so tell me what happened. If someone actually died I win a bet."

"Unfortunately," Naseraph replied through teeth. "I was delayed and unable to grace the tournament with my presence."

There was a pause on the other end, before, "What was more important?"

"If you must know," he continued, "I was helping to clear a haunted building tonight."

"Oh, King's thing." The voice said, registering mild interest. "Yeah, he told me about that this afternoon. Decided not to go. Ghosts annoy me. Report that then. I don't want to have called you for nothing."

Naseraph gritted his teeth but recounted the entire experience as he had lived it, from the confrontation with the mechanical monstrosity in the hallway all the way to what he saw of the battle on the roof. He heard the girl on the other end click her teeth in annoyance.

"That's about what I'd expect from this school. They have to be the big shining star on the Christmas tree, doesn't matter how many people get hurt in the process. I'm gonna have t see if I can get these kids to talk before the inevitable gag orders. Just one of them opening their big mouth would really embarrass some powerful people."

"What about the ghost I told you about? Why does he hate Alto?" Nasearph asked.

"That guy? Just one more thing swept under the rug."

"He could be a powerful ally to me."

The voice on the other end didn't reply for a long time. Then, she sighed. "I'm going to stop you right there, birdbrain. Even if he would work with you you wouldn't be able to get him too. You'd have to take off the mask, which you would never do. You're just like St. Laural's: committed to the role."

"I am-" Naseraph started, standing up, but the voice cut him off.

"Did I say I was finished? No. So sit back down and open your ears. Do you know that the more we use certain pathways in our brains the stronger those pathways become? So when we think it's more likely for our thoughts to take those stronger pathways?"

"What does this have to do with anything?"

"You had a chance to fight any of them tonight." The voice accused. "Any one of your choosing. You had it and you didn't. Think about it, what better way is there to learn how someone fights than, oh, I don't know, how about fucking fighting them? You could have, but because you've been using your bitch paths so long they're starting to become the real you. You're killing yourself and you don't even know it, how sad is that?"

"It was not the proper time!"

"Oh I'm sorry, is that bitch Nasearph speaking? Could you put the real one on the line please?"

He just about popped a vein, but then a sudden tranquility washed over his face. His breathing steadied. He went from screaming manic to placid lake in two seconds flat, seemingly breathing the anger out. Seemingly breathing everything out, leaving only...nothing. Then, in this placid state, he whispered into the phone. "I have killed before. For less than this grief."

There was another pause. Then, a satisfied "There he is. Well, I sincerely hope you take a run at me. It'll be the first genuine thing you've done since you tried to wring my neck. Thanks for the info Birdbrain. I'll see you tomorrow."

The line went dead and Naseraph calmly placed the phone back on the nightstand. It sat there, alone, one of the only items he owned. There were no trinkets in the nightstand, no adornment on the walls. The trunk the foot of his rickety bed contained only a few changes of clothes. If someone were to look at this room they would be able to tell that someone stayed here, but there was no indication that someone lived here.

Naseraph sat back down on the bed, as calm as the eye of a hurricane and equally foreboding.

Ria Köhler laid back in her own bed, idly looking at her phone and scratching the head of one of the cats she'd searched out today in lieu of dealing with Kings ghosts and goblins. There was a strict no pets allowed rule for the St. Laural's dorm rooms, but she didn't really care. This school could bite her. This whole fake city could bite her.

The problem with Nasearph was really a problem with Rhea as a whole. Maybe the whole world. There were too many people trying to play a role, pretending to be something that they weren't and strangling themselves with other peoples opinions. She probably wouldn't mind, she'd probably be one of them, if the gods hadn't seen fit to bless her with the ability to see through anyone. The subtle gestures, the facial tics, the slight muscle contractions that told her all she needed to know; that the person standing in front of her was a fake, and they were unhappy with it.

She hated people like that. Unfortunately, most people were like that. Everyone would be so much happier if they just stripped off the masks and acted as they wished. Like cats.

She sat up and lifted a pair of cats out of the five she hadn't found homes for that day. Placing them on either said and cradling them in her arms, they struggled and clawed and eventually tore themselves out of her grip and sprinted across the room to hide under her dresser. She looked down at one of the freshly bleeding wounds on her arm, then back to the eyes watching her menacingly from under the dresser, and smiled.

Good for them.
Anyone involved in that whole public fiasco feel free to have any rumors swirling around that you desire. @Hammerman, I didn't know whether you wanted to leave with the rest of Mephisto's or hang around with Katherine, maybe accompany her home, so I left that open.
End of a Long Night

@6slyboy6@Dezuel@Scarifar@Ebil Bunny@Hammerman@Crowvette@Letter Bee@Bartimaeus@rawkhawk64@AtomicNut

And so it was that the long night, and all of the mysterious events that had come with it. The Mephisto's students, with the possible exception Christine, went downstairs and vanished just as mysteriously as they had first appeared with the help of Clara's powers. The St. Laurals, none the wiser to whatever lurking horror Clara had hidden withing the students they had rescued, rode home in style it Alto's limousine. The Vigilantes filtered out, perhaps going their own ways. Perhaps walking together back to their church hideout. The lives that they'd helped saved and the evil they'd helped quell both worthy stars beside their name. The world spun on, largely unaware of what had transpired that night in the abandoned apartments. Strange lights and sounds were reported that night flashing from the top of the building but strange sounds and lights were not an uncommon occurrence in Rhea, and even that mystery was settled when the Vigilantes reported that they had destroyed a demon nest that night in that area. The missing students were returned with no one the wiser, and St. Laural's used its considerable influence to stop anyone from asking any uncomfortable questions.

Lise did receive a short call from the police to inform her that a limousine with plates matching her families had been found smashed and burned out in a bad part of town. Other than that, everything was successfully swept under the rug.

Of course, why would anyone be talking about anything that had gone on in the apartment when they could be talking about what had gone on at the Midnight Tournament that same nigh? What would have been news with a less law abiding set of teenagers had quickly blossomed into
the talking point due to the strange way the Tournament had concluded. People who had been in front filled in the detail for people who had been in the back. The people from the back told people that hadn't been there. The people that hadn't been there told people they assured that they had been there. The rumor mill spun and spun, until it broke an axle and the wheel flew right off. I heard it killed someone.

"He didn't kill anyone, that dude wasn't human."
"No, he totally killed that guy. His power was to dissolve things."
"He saw his match, he was just an armor guy. Besides, that dude was a demon. They all were."

"Did you hear there was a demon at the midnight tournament?"
"I know, right? Suuuper scary. I heard it ripped up the back of a car and ate the driver, and it only got taken in because its master showed up."
"You're both full of it. Demons that strong don't show up in Rhea."

"She could do anything. I swear, she pulled monsters out of nowhere."
"Demon lady of despair, huh? You think she's single?"
"Doubt it. She's what they were fighting over. The armor guy and that weird vampire. I think she's the vampires ex."
"But you said you didn't see the vampire fight?"
"No, no, 'course not, he's a vampire. He's got minions for that..."

"...21 monsters, all the size of a car, and a big ol' demon dog, an they're coming at him, right, but he keeps pulling this Devil May Cry shit..."

"What I wouldn't give for the number of that girl that beat up Wolf. Who is she? I don't know. Nobody knows. That's the biggest mystery. She's probably working for that Galbrek guy."

"...Mephisto's. You know that Clara girl is into the occult. The monsters could only have come from her..."

"'s just falling out of the trees, throwing hurricanes everywhere, running through the grass, hey? Where are you going? Come back here! You have the believe me! There are ninja's in this city!!!"

"I personally fought this "wolf demon" you all are going on about and she is nothing of the sort. I wouldn't normally waste time on a mongrel like you, but continue to insult her as such and I will get up and twist you into a pretzel. Do I make myself clear?"

"The wolf girl was fighting with the wolf demon."
"No, the wolf girl was fighting with the wolf demon."
"That's what I said, the wolf girl was fighting with the wolf demon!"

Such is life in the city of Rhea that these rumors, and many more, could never be dismissed out of hand. That is the magic of life in the big city. And on and on it goes, this strange life led by these strange and wonderful people.

Bak and Gilliam and Naseraph

She was in there? Clara had been in the ball!? Bak felt some sort of screeching, meal on metal groan echo through her entire body as she stiffened up in sheer mortification. How had she not put that together?

Gilliam, for his part, felt his teeth involuntarily start to snap together as Alto fell from the orb and gracefully caught the floating student in his arms like a knight in shining armor. Tak Tak Tak Tak Tak went his pearly whites, loud enough for even Bak to hear. She turned and looked at him as he slapped a hand over his mouth to try and contain himself. He reached down quickly and helped pull Bak to her feet with his free hand.

Still, this was a perfect opportunity. Clara and Bak were here and, while not in the best shape, could still fight from the looks of it. St. Laural's best fighter was down, Alto had a hostage to worry about, and while he couldn't expect Rurik to lend his aid perhaps Christine, Yuuto, and even Thobias would get involved. King was here, yes, but there was no guarantee he would interfe-

"King." Came an annoyingly familiar shout from somewhere above. Indistinc, now lit only by the moonlight, three shadows stood on what remained of the roof looking down on the scene below. The one that was talking sounded like poultry.

"How do you suppose we report this?" Naseraph continued. "There's no proof we killed a greater demon here tonight. I would hate to think that we aren't going to get paid for the trouble we went through."

Like that the opportunity to take out Alto was ruined. If those three were going to be here they'd back Alto up and the math was suddenly much more even. He was about to walk away when Bak spoke up.

"You did not kill greater demon!" shouted Bak. "We killed greater demon! We got beat up! It was us mostly!"

"You didn't even want people to know you were here, how are you ever going to get the money?" Naserph replied.

"You will give us money! We already got you much money tonight, you will give us the demon money!"

"There is no money yet you mistake of creation! I am trying to establish the existence of money. Be! Silent!"

Naserph was completely done. Nothing had gone his way tonight. He drawn into battles he had no interest in. He had missed the midnight tournament. He hadn't been able to talk to the ghost boy. He hadn't even seen anything out of the big three that he couldn't see on the recordings of prior tournaments. He just wanted something, anything, to show that tonight wasn't a complete waste of his time. If that came down to money, then so be it!

He couldn't hear the click of Bak's missile pod opening up and had no idea how easy it was for her to line up a shot on him using her thermal vision. Luckily for him Gilliam had heard that and, while he did consider letting her blow that annoying vulture out of the sky, placed his arm over the ports before she could fire. He didn't know what they were talking about or how Bak had come to know these people, but starting another fight was not to their advantage. "What tak tak tak are they tak tak tak talking about?"

Bar was about to reply when Rurik found the door. That was right, she couldn't tell Gilliam here. Alto was here. He might hear the whole plan. "I will tell you later. Was good plan, I am proud of it." She said, casting one last dark look at Naseraph's hot red outline before making her way unsteady across the rubble.

Gilliam watched her go, then made his way over to Clara and bowed deeply. "My Mistress, my sincerest apologies for my performance on this mission. My long absence, while not entirely my choice, is in itself inexcusable. Please, to make up for it, allow me to escort you away from, at the very least, prying eyes. We could speak of some interesting matters I discovered concerning Master Vittorio. Did you know he was wanted by the police?"

Bak, meanwhile, stood on the precipices of a great undertaking. She considered the stairs. She thought about how long she would roll if she too a tumble from the tenth floor. She thought about the possibility of rolling over someone. Then, taking a page out of Rurik's book, she raised her voice. "Thobias!" she called out. "Escalator please."

Gilliam Dewitt

No sooner had Bak started to push herself gingerly to her feet than a hand snaked down from the wall to gently hold her down. "You will do nothing of the sort, Mistress Bak." Said Gilliam as he climbed on four spider like appendages down the wall, his arm reeling in like fishing twine as he descended. As he stepped off the wall and surveyed the extensive damage that surrounded them he scowled, an expression that only deepened as he approached and saw the dreadful state Rurik and Bak had been left in. He had not only arrived to late to take part in what was obviously a grand battle, but his masters had appeared as though they had taken the brunt of the damage. He bent to examine Rurik's arm more thoroughly. For as much distaste he had of the man the nursemaid would be a windfall to have around right now, though Gilliam couldn't help but but be amused at the thought of him dealing with a post defeat Vittorio right now.

He looked over his shoulder at the other gathering of people on this newly exposed floor, surrounding the girl that had...devoured the demon in the end. Devoured? Yes, Gilliam couldn't think of any other term for it. He almost got distracted by the thought of what she must have tasted like, all thoroughly tenderized and burnt as she was, but pulled himself back due to the seriousness of the situation. He saw Christine over with them, so they obviously weren't fighting one another. Still, it never hurt to be on guard.

He stood up and bowed to Bak and Rurik. "My deepest and most sincere apologies for my belated arrival. I'm afraid I was held up aiding Master Twinveil on the first floo-"

"You found Vittorio? Is he alright?" Bak asked excitedly.

"He has already departed from this place. I can assure you, he is of sound a body as ever and is presumably expecting our arrival at any moment in the club room."

Bak let out a deep breath, a little of the worry leaving her body.

"Don't bother expending what's left of your energy. Allow me to make up for my lackluster performance on this mission by handling things from here on out. Now, if you could direct me to Clara..."

Bak felt the worry flow right back in. She hadn't really seen what had happened to Clara in between sessions of becoming the worlds heaviest pinball. She'd just assumed that Clara was around somewhere, but her own look around the roof that proved not to be the case.

Where was Clara?

Also, @6slyboy6, if you consume that demon hold off on describing what the effects are. I want to run a temptation by you.
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