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I couldn't at all tell if my team leader was serious. The thing about Jericho was that he was both a natural at acting thanks to years of undercover mission training and a semblance that necessitated such, but also hopped up on so much Atlesian propaganda that he might think certain breakfast foods were a foreign concept to anyone south of the Arctic Circle. Little did he know, Mom loved her waffle iron back at home, even when she tended towards feeding me bowls of oats and plates of eggs to start my day off.

"Yeah, I'm down for waffles. International House of Bagels is a bit more popular down here though, so you might have to substi--"

Wait, hold on. Pause. Back all the way up.

Didn't you just say something super sketchy, Jericho?

Like, super-duper sketchy with a runny red nose and the jitters?!

"Why do you know if there's a discount for looking like you're on ecstasy." I asked in a voice so carefully level I may as well have used a protractor.

I received an enigmatic smirk in return. Not a smile, definitely a smirk.

Screwing with me. I would roll with this as him screwing with me and not contemplate the possibility of a drugged out whackjob with access to that many guns, that many knives, and this many of my peers.

...

No, he was definitely screwing with me, if we were being real. Jer was too professional.

...

I looked again at his shirt, so different from the white tank that I was currently shrugging another layer over.

I read the text carefully, very surely parsing it as intended.

Perhaps I spoke too soon?

...

No, he doesn't—— oh thank god bianca's back

"Oh, good. Guess that means we're ready to roll?" I asked, raising a hand to greet our returning bird and fox, thankful for a way out of the previous conundrum. As usual, my choices in fashion for combat were the ever-serviceable, ever-understated "hoodie and jeans". Simple and timeless, despite Bianca's insistence on needing to dress more thoughtfully. But really, denim and a nice, neutral grey were as inoffensive as it got. Our clothing queen may hate hearing it, but as long as it isn't actively bad, I'm fine.

I rose, plucking Crow's Beak from the wall adjacent and resting it against my shoulder as the two filed in for any last-second instances of grabbery.




The third bed in the dorm was occupied, yes, but it was not being slept within. Three in the morning was an unreasonable hour by any metric, but by no metric was I a reasonable man, nor was I a pursuing a reasonable goal. As a prospective Huntsman, part of my life was going to involve such unreasonable hours of wakefulness and alertness as now. Fortunately for me, I had a certain knack for 3:00 AM, hand had that knack for years now.

I opened one eye to peer upon the laptop that sat at my desk, shut and charging up from eighteen percent battery.

I want the Crossbow back. Get rid of that terrible, unreliable, objectively useless thing you have the audacity to model as a FAMAS, Epic Games. And fix your netcode!

................

I never said that this experience and facility were sourced from good habits, but they would serve all the same.

I closed my eye again, and breathed deeply as Jericho returned to the room and rummaged through his stash in the floor.

"What are we in for?" I asked idly, adopting a lotus position rather than seiza. To begin with, actually sitting felt much more natural on the springy mattress surface than the knees did— and though you could make the parallel of a samurai contemplating the battle ahead...

"Heavy." came the absent, distracted grunt from our newly settled in captain, who could have only been digging up Atlesian armaments that suited that word to the utmost. While I wasn't ready to admit their TVs were worth overlooking those in Shiroyama just yet, I had to acknowledge that he'd have easily the heaviest firepower of the team.

Though those ancestral parallels were far from lost on me, I was first trying a different, more relaxed method. I was certainly heading into a tense situation, and almost definitely combat— this being a drug bust and all— and ruminating on it in such a way that increased tension could fray my nerves more than a late night ever would. That was the issue last time out, during the longest night of my life. If I acted as though I was set to go into hell, into a chaotic battlefield against a foe that stood upon their own turf, I was sure to get sucked into a spiral that only spikes of adrenaline had pulled me out of.

That being the case, I needed to learn from the experience rather than talk about it.
So.
Let's take a second and cross-examine.

Two men throw a punch at the same time. One throws with every muscle in his arm taut and tense, the other loose until the very end, at the point of impact. The first man will, every time, be the one spitting out teeth. Why is that?

Because relaxation doesn't set energy systems against eachother. The upper arm is governed by two major muscle groups, biceps and triceps. These are placed in direct opposition to one another, and the same can be said of their functions. One extends and the other contracts every time you move your elbow joint. Attempting to punch with both tensed up means both systems are at war with eachother, stiffening your arm up.

It slows you down. It exhausts you quicker. It speaks to trying to get by on muscle rather than skill, because it inherently breaks down form and uses energy that is better spent upstairs. A breakdown of training, an inability or refusal to rely upon it.

It's the first lesson anyone striking learns.

And it's applicable to a lot more than simple pugilistic form. Last week I was the metaphorical tensed punch until those instances of combat, where my mind took a back seat to the moment. Those states of flow where concerns, cowardice, and conscious thought faded to reveal simple action and reaction. Understanding of situations and flowing to fit them. Adaptation before an unending spiral of consideration.

Trust in what I could do. Understanding that I had a set of skills that could bring me to that stage with enough of a chance of survival that it was worth the risk inherent within. Trusting those skills to be enough to keep me safe. Was it possible they weren't? Yes, but that is an understood risk that I signed up for, and my own inaction would have risked everyone.

So even if I did come up short on the gamble, it would be better me than they.

This must have been a hurdle Dad had to cross, too. And unlike my blessed array of safety nets like Aura, my regenerative Semblance, and seven other similarly powerful people at my side, he only had a gun and a vest.

He trusted his training to handle whatever his wits simply couldn't in reasonable time.

And now it was my time to see if I could do the same in a live situation. Just like the ones he'd been spending 20 years walking into.

"Heavy, huh?"

Though I had to say, after four thousand characters of talk about reaching a flow state or zen where I allowed skill and hard-ingrained training to dominate split second action sequences, I was definitely going into this with a new one.

Crow's Beak. Half warhammer, half shotgun, and all told a polearm whose weight and balance I was only beginning to piece together. I'd had some experience in the past with the Bo Staff, Yari, and Naginata, so I wasn't entirely clueless, but no matter how much stock I placed in the theory of convergent evolution within fighting styles, the weighty head of this literal Bec de Corbin hadn't entirely been demystified. I was using the Thursday combat class as something of a testing ground, and it was hard lesson after hard lesson about what I could and couldn't quite yet pull off. I felt like I was starting to get there by the end, but if not...

Well.

I guessed if I got in trouble because of it, I'd really be eating crow.
@Guess Who@Crimmy@NaraK

Sterling Johnson

"Heard about that one, actually."
Up strode the one-armed wonder of the crew in all of his rugged, smirking glory, doubtlessly mirthful eyes hidden behind his weather-and-locale-appropriate aviators. His arm was freshly polished and coated to resist any potential wear-and-tear from sea spray or underwater combat (basically paranoia, but it never hurt to be doubly sure about these things), and his blue bomber jacket was casually slung over a shoulder to reveal black tank and bronzing muscle beneath.

"Apparently there's a rumor the midshipmen spread around that she's memorized the contents of every MRE they serve here. Wild shit if it's true. How's the drink looking down there?" he asked, before those brown shades were turned to gaze upon a smoldering ponytail of orange.

"And what's Boss Hottie's issue?"

Archer


@Krayzikk


In kneeling to calm Maxie, Archer had subsequently let go of Dave's grip quite willingly— something that his Master had begun to attempt to force him to do through use of some form of Mystic Code. Archer had felt the watch on his wrist roar to life for a moment before he had made his own intentions clear, had felt magic begin influence the world and then cease just as quickly. He would need to understand that thing soon, once he made amends here.

Measuring both his and Dave's faces for a moment, Maxwell dutifully placed his paw within Archer's palm, as if mimicking the shake of hands that had sealed the cooperation between Master and Servant. The pup gazed into Archer's eyes with a solemn... expectation.

The Heroic Spirit of the Bow's thick black brows rose for a moment, heralding a hearty chuckle that rose from his belly as understanding dawned upon him.

"I hope you'll treat me well then, Maxie!" he replied, reaching forward to pat the Shepard on the back in much the same manner as he had Dave, before scratching him between his ears. "Forgive my subterfuge from before, but it seems our Master has either not deigned to or is unable to set up protection from potentially interested eyes."

With that Archer rose back up to his full height, folding his arms and returning his attention to the blonde in the room, humor somewhat fading.

"Truthfully, that would be my next question, Master," he continued, "If I am to win you this War as I intend to, I need to know what you are and are not capable of."
Archer


@Krayzikk


Archer watched with intrigue as the alert and agitated hound, with only a word and a touch upon the head, obediently sat upon his haunches in spite of his understandable misgivings.

Loyal and well-trained. That one, "Maxie", could be useful in this war if his training extended beyond simple politeness. But moreover, this spoke well of his Master's character and ability. Looking past his distinctly casual manner, one that verified his claim of not quite being a standard magus, Archer could see that this "Dave Rogerson" had a good head on his shoulders. He knew that defusing tension was smart, and he had a solid handle on his subordinate— he knew how to cool him off and had made him obey the order with neither question nor need of force.

He had built trust with that dog. He had shown decisiveness in reworking the situation to something with a more agreeable atmosphere. He had established first and foremost that he wanted this to be a truly collaborative affair— Technically a formality, but there was more than simple decorum behind it. Masters and Servants establishing commonality and a mutually desired alliance could be the difference between life and death.

And finally, despite his undeniable nerves at having a familiar of such immense power before him, Dave had steeled himself and walked forward in spite of his previous potential faux pas.

Well, far be it from him to pretend at being unused to the banter of young men. His years had been shaped by them.

"Of course, such would only be natural, Master."

The man smirked, stepping forward and grabbing young Dave's hand in a grip akin to being gently encased in stone——

——And suddenly yanked him close enough to speak directly into his ear.

"I am——"

Startled by the sudden motion of this unfamiliar man, Maxie barked again, concealing the whisper from any would-be listeners as the Servant clapped the Aussie on the back in a manner almost brotherly. Well, that was to be expected from Maxie. Mimicking Dave's tone from before, Archer bent down onto one knee and held out one hand with an open palm, the same as he would a spooked horse.

"Easy, friend. Just being safe."
Archer


@Krayzikk


Ah.

So, it was his turn for the ritual.

Within the Throne of Heroes, an inescapable pull was felt. It tugged upon his being, calling for his legend, his deeds, his impacts— the essence of his remembrance. The marks he had left upon the world and the stories told of him were to be born again by a miracle. Not quite incarnate, but tangible. An embodiment of that myth who had died so long ago— or perhaps not such. It was wise to remember that his existence was that of one who stood adjacent to time, not within its flow. As were those of his peers— or perhaps his foes. The nature of this pull was doubtlessly a summons, and he was being called as a heroic spirit, but he knew not yet the context of this beckoning. There were few reasons the echoes of a legendary figure could be brought into the world————

Oh?

Rather than resist, for he knew such an action to be futile, he rode the wave of power that brought him forth, flowing with the magic that beckoned him. It bent his essence, twisted it, and he felt himself split and reform, split and reform, before he was cast into a vessel and awash with mana, filling it and filling it and...

Filling him with knowledge. Knowledge of import, such that would serve him for what was to come.

For instance, that his was the vessel of "Archer". So it was this type of summoning. Well then, things were about to get very interesting for the next week or two in the waking world. In Rome, at the start of a new millennium, in fact. In life, the language alone would have fascinated him, to say nothing of the armaments that the warriors of this age, weakened and astray though they may have been, wielded.

One, two, three bindings upon him were placed with his acceptance. Command Spells. Ones he hoped would be used without overmuch fervor. They were, after all his lifeline, his tether to this state of being. Perhaps he might, in a twisted quirk of fate, have a chance to see his son.

No. It was best to not hope for what was not likely at the best, and such was not his duty. For now, he was charged with ensuring, above all else, one person's safety and victory.




The circle, aglow with crimson power and guided by the catalyst, began to crackle with lightning as a torrent of mana, the Grail's assistance, was channeled through it and the catalyst within. It swelled in intensity, whipping the air into a dervish. Dave, though a mere neophyte, could feel the room steeping with otherworldly power that was carried upon the winds. Maxie, though a mere well-trained dog, could feel the same, and a low growl rose from his throat as he edged himself closer to his master, his friend, his packmate, and his protectorate from whatever force was coalescing there.

No, whatever presence.

It gathered together, became a single point——

————And flashed.

The tumultuous room stilled. There was a burning, a tingling upon the back of Dave's hand— One that a look would reveal a red pattern, of three distinct parts, that had been carved into his nerves by the Grail.

Command Spells, an undeniable badge of success.

He'd done it.

And in the center of his humble, thankfully cheap hotel room, the fruits of his labor stood tall and made himself known.

"Servant, Archer." rumbled a weathered voice, as piercing, sagacious eyes like old battleground soil studied the Australian and his pet. No, his partner. "I have responded to the summons of they who would seek the Grail."

The Hero's build was strong, and his skin darkened well by the sun of days at war. Through his black beard, he spoke with firmness and clarity. Perhaps too much, given that his welcome was at present coming in the form of a tense rumble from deep within the hound's throat, promising him hell should he make a false move upon the young man, no matter how much he was outranked in ability. Such loyalty. He had to admire it.

A gesture towards the dog earned him a bark of warning, but revealed more of the silvered armor he wore, with a hint of orange robe beneath. The movement was assured and purposeful, with the casual economy of motion that only a lifetime of training and fine understanding of the human capability could grant.

"I assume it wasn't him." he said, with a dry and somewhat amused tone. "So I shall ask you instead, boy: Are you my Master?"
You may or may not be able to figure out Archer.
Let's get crackalackin'.
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