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Louisa cast a sidelong glance at her two companions as the repugnant and ferrous smell of blood began to become more discernable over the already unpleasant sensory environment of the sewer. She continued carefully pacing along, as quietly as she could, but the heavy weight of Grendel did not lend itself well to stealth even at the best of times, and she winced at every grinding noise of her plated feet against the concrete.

She opened her comms, speaking quietly to her teammates.

"Okay - Drakos, Fukada... do you think you can sneak up and pounce on this thing? It can't be f--"

She was interrupted by a scream that pierced through the dense, cloying atmosphere. She felt a flood of adrenaline, and tactical considerations of organizing an ambush were replaced by basic instinct. With a heavy leap, she broke into a thundering sprint as she charged along the sewer tunnel in direction of the scream.

"Screw it -- let's go!"

_______________________________________________________________

As Louisa stood on the threshold watching Hoshiko suit up, she realised she had no idea what a sewer was actually like. In video games and books, it was full of monsters and treasure and that kind of thing, but she had an inkling that might not be reflected in reality. Although, on this occassion, the former was unfortunately likely to be present. Either way, a sewer probably involved a lot of waste of... various kinds, which was obviously bad. But... how bad?

One way to find out, I guess.

"Grendel, breach!"

She struck the heavy plate hanging on her chest, and Grendel began to materialize in its usual web of ethereal and ghostly forms that one-by-one condensed into heavy dark plates of armour. She held up her glaive, which shimmered with a deep iridescent green in the daylight, and retracted it into its sword configuration. Probably wasn't a whole lot of use for a polearm in a sewer, after all.

She followed Hoshiko's lead and began to stride towards the darkness.

"So... what's our plan here. You two are built for speed and flight, right? Do you reckon you can pull that off in the sewer? I mean..." she paused and looked at the canal entrance, "it seems pretty big right now, right?".

"What I'm thinking is if we catch a glimpse of this thing, we need to get on it fast before it has a chance to lose us in the maze of tunnels. And... uh... I'm not going to be so useful for that in Grendel. Of course, if this thing runs towards us rather than away from us, I'm your girl."


_______________________________________________________________

Louisa leaned over Hoshiko's shoulder and inspected the map along with Sherry, raising an eyebrow as she followed the blue lines running across the map with her gaze. She nodded slowly as the pattern sunk in and smiled at Seraphima as she made her exultation.

"That's definitely what you would call a clue, yeah. Okay, so... maybe there's something to be said for the virtue of paperwork after all."

She took her hand off Hoshiko's shoulder and folded her arms.

"We can put my plan on the drawing board then. No need to put Hoshiko in danger if we can be more confident about where this thing-- uh... or these things are."

She spoke as she wandered back over to the window.

"Maybe we can suit up and handle this the old fashioned way. It looks like this thing has some aversion to coming out during the day. So, if we get into the sewers before nightfall and cover as much ground as we can, we might have a better chance of both encountering it and cornering it."

She cleared her throat.

"And uh... catching it before it kills again, obviously."

_______________________________________________________________

Louisa sauntered over to the desk as Hoshiko fervently set to work on the paperwork, and paced the room as Seraphima listed off her thoughts. She sensed that all three of them were a little out of their depth with a case of this nature, and unless the piles of paperwork suddenly animated and turned into some kind of stationary demon that they could beat the crap out of, their skills were not well-suited to office work.

She made a distinctly half-hearted effort to leaf through a couple of documents, before shrugging and speaking up.

"You know, as much as I'm all for analyzing these reports... maybe we're overthinking this."

She walked over to where Hoshiko was sitting.

"The monster -- or monsters, like Drakos says -- clearly have a thing for targetting loners walking around the city at night. Most people wouldn't do that, even at the best of times, so the monster doesn't have a massive pool of potential targets. That means for a given person walking around at night on their own, they have a pretty good chance of being the next victim."

"For most people, that would be a distinctly bad thing, but for us, maybe we can use that to our advantage. Do you see where I'm going with this? Why try and go to the monster, when we can make the monster come to us."


She put her hand on Hoshiko's shoulder.

"If - I don't know - the cutest and youngest one here were to take a late night stroll, the monster might throw itself right into our grasp. Right? It comes in expecting an easy... err... dismembering, but instead -- BAM -- it gets dogpiled by three mechframes."

@Mole@VitaVitaAR

_______________________________________________________________

Leaning out of the open window of the provisionary office, Louisa wondered if it was wrong that she felt... good? It was hard not to with the sun shining and the blue expanse of the ocean stretching out before you. It was the closest thing to a beach holiday Louisa had experienced since she was a child. Of course, it would take some serious mental gymnastics to describe what they were doing as anything close to a holiday, and Perth didn't look so great (where did?), but nevertheless it was good to get off the Horizon and get her feet on the ground.

She was wearing her usual get-up of grey fatigues, but had tied her jacket around her waist and was lounging by the window in a t-shirt.

"Alright... well, detective work isn't exactly my strong suit. But then it's not like we're trying to out-maneuver a criminal mastermind here, right? Whatever is doing the killings is just a... smarter-than-average animal. I mean, we know these things can be unnaturally good at staying hidden - that one back in Saitama had some kind of active camoflage, right? - but if this thing prefers to come out at night, maybe that means it doesn't have those kind of powers."

She waved her hand dismissively.

"Either way, it's a stealth predator, so I don't know if just going out and looking for it is going to work. But if we can figure out what's directing its behaviour, maybe we can trap it. I mean, it must have some objective, or else I would guess there'd be a much higher bodycount. It doesn't seem to be going on a killing spree every time the sun goes down. Can we... find anything out about who the victims were that might give us a clue?"

She shrugged.

"What do you guys think, anyway?"

@Mole@VitaVitaAR

_______________________________________________________________

Stepping out of the relatively cramped confines of the VTOL into the dark expanse of the army encampment, Louisa was now roughly 75% certain she hadn't third wheel'd her way into a date between Lang and Elise. Although, either way, she thought, with Hoshiko there, that would make a fourth wheel. Wouldn't that make our social vehicle that much more stable? Maybe that isn't how the analogy is supposed to work. Wait, what am I doing...

Snapping out of it, Louisa realised someone had received them, and turned her attention towards the conversation as Akio began speaking. She smiled faintly as he spoke, feeling slightly overwhelmed and disappointed that her hope of relaxing with an after-work drinking sesh had manifested into... uh... more work. Still, it was interesting to return to something resembling reality, after what felt like far too long pinging between the two extremes that were the gratuitous luxury of the Horizon and the adrenaline-numbed madness of combat. Looking around, she felt strangely nostalgic, as the features of the evacuation camps she had spent most of her post-warped life in were recognisable all around her. The smell, the sounds, the constant juxtaposition people trying to feel at home and remain human in an environment that was by its nature transient and alienating. It had a certain 'soul' to it that was absent abord the Horizon.

On the other hand, the fact that a spartan military encampment on the frontlines reminded her of the evacuation camps - where thousands of civilians and their families spent years living - highlighted just how awful the situation had been for her back then, and how awful it continued to be for most people, and how absurdly fortunate she had been to randomly stumble into the precious security of the chi-mechframe programme.

As Xuan-yu finished speaking, despite feeling somewhat awkward about being associated with his very much no-nonsense introduction, she found herself agreeing - the least they could do for these people was hand out some god-damned fried chicken.

She bowed slightly - that's what you did, right? - and held out her hand to Aiko to shake it.

"I'm Louisa. Pleased to meet you, um, Kougami-san. Is it okay for us to be here?"

_______________________________________________________________

Louisa blinked as Xuan-Yu replied to her question whilst barely breaking stride, marching out of the mess hall with Elise in tow. She was feeling sufficiently exhausted after the days work that passing out in her room seemed appealing, but with a vague malaise still in the background of her mind, she decided the distraction of company was probably better. Whilst the lively conversation of Hoshiko, Pyra and Teodora certainly constituted a distraction, the difference in their ages wasn't negligible, and sometimes she preferred the company of pilots who didn't make her feel... old.

Spinning off her chair, she pulled on her grey combat fatigue jacket and followed after the two. As she walked, she realised that whilst she might be getting in on a cool underground drinking sesh (they had those back in the evacuation camps, or at least she had heard of them), she might also have overlooked some covert ploy by Xuan-Yu and Elise to nonchalantly sneak away on a date. Was that possible? Did they know eachother that well? What was the policy on office romances, anyway?

As she entered the hanger and saw Elise and Xuan-Yu stood by the drone aircraft, her latter suspicion grew, and she felt slightly embarassed about the prospect of becoming a third wheel (or third rotor, in this case).

"Oh--uh... I didn't realise you were going somewhere. Am I interrupting, or...?"

_______________________________________________________________

Louisa reclined in one of the sleek mess hall chairs, her arms folded, rocking it back and forth on its hind legs slowly as she idly pushed away from the wall with one of her feet. She was staring out of one of the observation portholes in the deck, which now revealed nothing but the dusky blackness of the night sky, and the bright reflected lights of the mess hall. She absent mindedly raised a hand to her collarbone, where a long band of dull burning pain extended from shoulder to shoulder, reminding her of the blow she had absorbed from the komainu.

Her body felt cleansed and restored after a shower and a full meal, but her mind was troubled and producing a sort of frustrated physical discomfort along with it that seemed to manifest in her bruised torso. She was thinking about the final engagement in the mission, when she had killed the spent and crippled komainu -- well, that was really attributable to Lang, but that's not what the record's gonna show -- with a parrying stab of her glaive. She had been so pumped on adrenaline that no other thought had crossed her mind than putting down the ferocious monster, but in its weakened state it had seemed almost... pathetic. In close proximity, as she had lunged in to deal the parrying deathblow, there was a moment where the monster's face was near enough to see in detail, and within sunken and heavily calloused eyelids Louisa had seen its eyes.

And there was a quality in those eyes near-death that was far too human for comfort.

How much was the parasite, and how much was the person? This thought made the certain knowledge of the echidna lodged firmly in her own body somewhere - dormant or whatever though it may be - suddenly unbearably uncomfortable, and she was grateful to be snapped out of her reverie by the nearby squealing of Teodora. She took her foot off the wall, her chair falling back onto four legs with a thump, and she swivelled around to see Lang walking out of the kitchen laden with alcohol.

"Are you really about to walk off with all that for yourself?" she called across to the conspicuously male pilot.

_______________________________________________________________

No sooner did Louisa triumphantly announce their victory over comms that she noticed a rising glow out of the corner of her vision, a vibrating tremor in the earth, and a hot breeze of excited air and immolated earth blowing along the trajectory of their ad-hoc tackle-catapult maneuver.

Leaping back from the scrum to get a better view of the battlefield, her fears were confirmed. She may have spoken too soon about the whole komainu situation.

"... Scratch that, looks like we took the dog out of the picture for a lot less than a minute. I-I'm moving to engage."

Gritting her teeth, she barged her way through the clearing she had made and took up a position far enough in advance of the Japanese frontline to somewhat reduce their risk of becoming collateral damage. Knocking encroaching warped away to the left with an armoured fist, and to the right with an extending flick of her glaive, she picked up each of her feet in turn and stomped them firmly into the ground, twisting her heels as she did. She had rooted herself firmly in the path of the suicidal charging komainu, and couched her extended glaive under her right arm, stabilizing it with her gripped left hand. It wasn't exactly sophisticated enough to call it a phalanx, but...

If this thing wants to flatten me, or blow up, or run me over, or whatever, she thought, it'll have to skewer itself first! That at least makes my odds of survival better than the dog's... right?

_______________________________________________________________

Louisa blinked, stunned by the explosive and unexpected tackle that had rendered her and Xuan-yu a snowplough blitzing through the mass of shuffling warped thralls. Suddenly aware that the cushioned surface she was reclining on consisted of the mangled, twisted and twitching remains of whatever aberrations had got in their way, she quickly rose with a violent shake of her body. After retrieving her glaive from the three monstrosities it had idly shish-kebab'd on their retreat from the komainu, she scanned her surroundings for any trace of the now-vacant Deathstalker.

"What the hell did he say... he's going to take a shower?"

That slightly bewildering thought was quickly shunted from her head as the exchange on her comms snapped her back to the situation at hand, and she began striding towards the frontline with heavy footfalls, returning to the besieged but gradually advancing vanguard of the Japanese armed forces. Leaping into a suspiciously active scrum of bestial warped, she bisected a score of dredges with a sweeping arc, and pulled the dismemebered-but-still-clawing torso of a warped away from a terrified and wounded Japanese infantryman.

Hurling the torso into another nearby pack - an ineffectual but irrespectively cool move - she retracted her glaive into a sword, and promptly declined using it altogether, insteading choosing to clobber the head clean off a gibbering humanoid monstrosity with a single weighty punch.

"Ngh! -- a crunch sounded out over comms -- Grendel back at the frontline! Looks like we took the big dog out of the picture for the minute. I'll keep the chaff away from the infantry whilst you guys finish off... whatever the hell those things are!"
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