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I'm back, and will try my best to make a new post in the next few days. Please be patient if I don't, @Lugubrious, as I do have multiple other things to catch up on besides The Crucible, and not just in RP Guild.

Other than that, I don't know if it's a relevant question to ask, and I feel like I might have asked it already besides, but I figure it's worth asking anyway: @Lazo, since Erika is technically your character, would you want to write her perspective from now on (outside of battle scenarios), or would you rather I kept her going instead?

I actually don't know. You did a very good job with her, and it might be better for me in terms of time if I didn't have to write for different characters.

Maybe I could give you dialog for her in collabs, or just answer any questions you happen to have about what she might know or do in given situations. Up to you.

EDIT: Her name is Erina, though.
As she made her way through the sandy labyrinth, Pithy could not help throwing the occasional concerned glance over her shoulder. So far, the blades of ice combing the path before her had turned up nothing of note, beyond the occasional bone buried in the dust, and the only sound that reached her was that of her boots sinking in the sand, a sound that seemed to rake at her ears no matter how carefully she stepped forward. Not even the magelight floating ahead had managed to draw the attention of any beasts that might dwell in this darkness.

For all intents and purposes, she was alone in these tunnels, but she still could not keep herself from seeing sudden, fleeting movement in the shadows ahead and behind. Imagining, not seeing, she told herself. That was more likely, but it did little to dispel her concern. If she was forced to retreat down this maze, she was not certain she would be able to retrace her steps.

She almost did not notice when the light of her magelight began to merge with the warm, flickering light of fire, but when she did, she warily drew it back to herself. Because fire often means life. It could not have lit itself.

Pithy paused, listening for any sounds that might clue her in to another’s presence, but only the sound of her own breathing reached back. After a moment, she nodded to herself and, with a steadying breath, allowed the magelight to vanish. The corridor was immediately plunged into darkness, held at bay only by the fire coming from the room ahead, and by the faint light coming from the runes on her rapier. With a thought, the blades of ice ahead of her slid out of the sand and rejoined the weapons that hovered behind her.

Pithy approached the passageway slowly, cursing the awkward footing she had in this sand and the shuffling sound that inevitably rose from her footsteps.

Soon, she found the source of the rotting scent she had followed within the room opposite to the flame. Corpses of… things. Much too large to have made it into the tunnels normally, which meant that whatever had killed them had taken the trouble of reassembling the carcasses once it had brought them there. As for the purpose of that, she could not tell. If they were to be food, keeping them assembled meant little. If they were to be bait for different prey, the stench would be just as powerful if not more were the innards carelessly expose to the air. It was this focused analysis that prevented her from retching at the sheer smell of rot, but she could not get rid of the rancid taste in her mouth.

Having enough of the sight, she inched closer to the passage from which light poured out. She peeked into the room and blinked.

At most, she had expected a bonfire in an otherwise empty room, but what greeted her eye was proper furniture and mounds of scroll and paper. It seemed that she had chanced upon someone’s studio, one that reminded her far more of her own world than the offices of the Citadel.

Just then, her own blue eye met the piercing gaze of the creature sitting within. Pithy froze when she realized the room’s only occupant had noticed her, had likely been aware of her presence long before she became aware of his. Pithy reflexively licked her lips and found them dry.

Rather than show hostility for her intrusion, however, the beast spoke.

“Good evening.”

Politely, at that.

“I mean you no harm, I assure you. I thought I detected a new aroma on the breeze, one far more refined than the malodorous repugnance of those bloated spindlelegs. Welcome to the humble lair of Actaeon. You must be here for the tournament. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Its body reminded her of the werewolves she was familiar more with, but rare among them were those that managed to string together a coherent sentence in their transformed state. This one, however, was quite talkative. It was likely something else entirely.

Thinking it best to play along, she stood at the door’s frame, allowing the creature—Actaeon, it said. Treat it as a mindless beast at your own peril, for it is clearly not one—to get a good look at her. Her blades of ice held still, hovering outside of the room where Actaeon could not see them.

Had she not seen its like among those called by the College? She realized she could not quite recall. The memory felt muddled. Had something happened when she was transported to this strange city? Pithy shook her head. She had held the impression only participants and College staff would be within this city, and as far as she had seen that staff had been entirely composed of humans.

“Are you not a participant?” She answered the question with a question.

Giving no evidence of being offput by his visitor’s standoffishness, the hunter shook his head. “No. I do not know why, but these catacombs and I were whisked here out of the blue some time ago. It felt like a dream—a dream of blood and hunger, and when it faded away, I was here. The spindlelegs were here before me, but I exterminated them. If I had the proper chemicals I could make better trophies of them, but alas, I’ve been more focused on shadowing the personnel of that institute when they’re in the area.” Unprompted, Actaeon treated Pithy to a torrent of information, perhaps seeking to establish himself as personable and—despite his appearance—not a threat.

Pithy grimaced as she sifted through the creature’s words, latching on to the most important part.

Namely, that this tomb had been transported here separately from the Crucible’s contestants. That would account for the sudden shift in the architecture between the Justice Hub’s building and this crypt. Had the Justice Hub itself been brought over from a different world as well, then? Too soon to tell, even if this one speaks true. In that case, he could have learned of the Crucible when stalking the College staff.

Whatever the thought, she knew better than to put words into the mouth of one she hoped to interrogate, so she continued, “How did you come to know of the tournament?”

Actaeon’s gaze did not deviate. “During my frequent trips throughout this citadel and its surroundings, I have encountered people from the institute a handful of times, and they mentioned the tournament often. I expected it would only be a matter of time before others started arriving.”

Word of mouth will sell a battle royale even in a deserted city. Pithy grunted, mildly annoyed by the idea. Still, if the beast spoke true, he could prove valuable as a source of information. The woman took a breath, deciding diplomacy would yield the best results.

“Actaeon, you said?” she began, “As you have deduced, I am a participant in the College’s tournament. That said, I only recently arrived in this city, so I would ask you of your time spent here, and about these tunnels. Will you speak to me, even if I have little to offer in return?”

A moment of silence passed between the two, and the hunter’s expression changed. If a ferocious fanged maw could be said to be smiling, his was, without a doubt. “The company alone is reason enough. I would be happy to talk to you.”

With those words, the dim light faded from her rapier’s runes, and the rustling sound of something sliding into the sand came from outside the room.

“Good,” Pithy said as she moved past the arch.
The first round of Motley Vs Erina is here. @Lazo, if I've misjudged your character's acting, please do say so; I'd like to ensure I get her as accurate as I can for the time I'll be manipulating her actions for.

No worries, it looks good from here.

It's not like I had extremely specific expectations over what people would write for the character either way. It's your show at this point.
This does not belong.

Pithy frowned as sand poured from the steadily enlarging opening, strange, shifting lights dancing from within the generator room. Not a corpse, as she had initially guessed, but something even more out of place.

Soon enough, the door had been opened enough for her to squeeze through. She sent three of her hovering blades first, waiting for movement from the other side of the room, but when none came, she pushed forward, the rest of her blades floating in behind her like a gaggle of bodyguards.

Pithy blinked a few times as she looked at the contents of the room, the kaleidoscopic illumination threatening to make her vision swim.

Sand was not something that happened to be piled at the entrance, but rather covered the entirety of the room’s floor, shifting underfoot as she walked in. She felt sure that the builders of this place had not left this mess, if only because she could not imagine workers needing to use an iron crow on the door whenever they needed to enter the room. Openings on the walls, out of place yet large enough for someone to walk into them, gave her a clue as to where the sand had come from.

Far more attention-grabbing, however, was the source of the dizzying lights. Pithy narrowed her eyes, trying to make heads or tails of what she was seeing, but she could see little beyond the beacon’s porous, outer layer from where she stood.

She took a step forward, approaching the small chasm across which the strange machinery was gathered.

Pithy almost stumbled as something gave under her weight. Stepping back, she looked at the sand at her feet and knelt. A moment of digging turned up a yellowed splinter. She turned it in her hand, finding the shape oddly familiar, yet unable to quite place its origin. She brought a hand to her mouth, biting on her glove’s finger to remove it, and held the shard on her bare hand.

Bone. Worn and brittle. But it could not be because of time, could it? This space is closed and dry… and these markings…

Seeing a mound in the sand nearby, Pithy began digging, quickly finding what she had hoped. The upper half of a human skull greeted her, easily recognizable even with most of the teeth gone and the bite marks on its surface, as though a large dog had been chewing at it.

She let the skull fall on the sand with a muffled thump, barely audible above the machinery’s clatter. She shook her hand, put her glove back on, then spat some of the sand that had fallen on her mouth.

Then again, with worn bones strewn all about, perhaps this was not sand at all. And if so, she might have been right in her initial assessment of what was blocking the door. Just not in a way she expected.

She spat on the ground again for good measure.

For the moment, the state of the room itself was a secondary concern, so she returned to her inspection of the machinery. From there, she could barely see the shape of something vaguely cube-shaped in the center of the beacon.

Her eyes went to the cables that held the apparatus in place snaking up into the ceiling, and she found herself recalling the cables that had connected the box-like apparatuses in the Lieutenant’s office several floors above her. If she recalled correctly, all of those had been connected to the walls as well. So had been the lights, and, she now suspected, the elevators themselves.

In her mind she saw an image of cables spreading throughout the whole Justice Hub, almost like a sewage system. Except that instead of water and waste, it carried what the machines needed to function.

She had been confused when Oren had mentioned a generator room, but as a practitioner of sorcerous arts , the concept of syphoning energy from a source to be used as fuel for a spell, or even a network of enchantments was not a foreign one. The term she was familiar with, for facilities designed to gather this energy from a magic core, was extractor.

In that regard, the object that was at its core seemed much like what she would expect from such an energy source, but the surrounding machinery seemed as alien to it as it seemed to her. While the core seemed completely arcane to her, the devices shackling it still felt bizarrely mundane in comparison.

Was this something the builders found, or is it yet another strange device from the same people, only different in how it appears?

Pithy could not truly give an answer to that. Instead, she marked this location in her mental map as a point of interest, and turned away from it. Perhaps later she could examine the core in greater detail, perhaps even bring it with her for study, but if her hypothesis was correct and the device fueled the Justice Hub’s machinery, removing it could leave her without a way to operate the elevators. She would need to find an alternate route to the surface first.

With that in mind, she made her way to the opening in the wall. As she approached the gaping maw, the stench of rot struck her nose.

She grimaced, recalling the announcer’s words. She was to find a vault after the generator room, but ‘creepy crawlies’ had prevented the College’s staff to go any further.

A magelight formed in her palm and she threw it forward, the will-o-wisp illuminating the tunnel where the core’s colorful light began to fade. The light paused a few feet in front of her, silently hovering in the air.

Unlike the entrance to the tunnel itself, which seemed to have been created by something forcefully tearing the wall open, the way forward was surrounded by stone walls, too shapely to have been created naturally, or even by some huge, burrowing creature. The hand of man was clearly visible here.

But was it the same ‘man’ that built the Justice Hub?

She wondered at that. The generator room seemed to her like a place where the echoes of several worlds had collided at once.

Her lips twitched.

Two of her escorts sunk into the sand in front of her, sinking in the powder until the blades touched the floor. When Pithy began to walk forward, the ice and the magelight followed her pace, the former combing the sand for traps or critters hidden beneath, the latter illuminating the path in front of her.
It did not take long for the elevator doors to part before her, presenting the same empty yet illuminated interior it had shown her when she had summoned it on the rooftop. Haltingly, remembering how the doors had closed on their own the first time she had used it, Pithy leaned her body forward, trying to catch a glimpse of any controlling mechanisms before she locked herself inside.

It did not take long for her to discover the panel besides the elevator doors.


Pithy started and began to pull back as she heard the noise. She heard the mechanism controlling the doors whir into activity, then quickly halt a moment later.

Pithy frowned, studying the open door. It seems these remain open for as long as one stands in the way. Good design. She wondered as to the trick behind it. The devices within the Justice Hub did not have the feel of sorcery to them, but she wondered how one would accomplish such things without the use of magic.

Gaining confidence, Pithy walked into the elevator, studying the buttons adorning the control panel, along with the accompanying sigils. She ignored the buttons at the very bottom of the panel, finding the markings unhelpful in elucidating their usage, but rapidly deduced that the buttons with numbers represented each of the building’s levels. The notation changed when the numbers reached the ground level, but it was simple enough for her to locate the button corresponding to the lowest level and press it.

The doors closed and the metallic cage shivered, making Pithy throw out a hand to the wall as though expecting the floor to crumble beneath her. A moment later, a low murmur and the rising feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that she was descending.

Pithy was forced to wait for the machine to deposit her where it would. The process only took a few seconds, but her hand never abandoned the wall she was using for support, and her eyes kept scanning the walls and ceilings for possible exits until the bell chimed and the doors opened.

Pithy stepped out into the dark hallway warily, holding her rapier at the ready.

As she did, the lights on the ceiling came to life, illuminating her path as they had done in the upper floors. Her stance relaxed when no threats made themselves known.

As promised by Oren, a plaque with words and arrows hanged on a wall, one labeled MAINTENANCE in clear, bold letters. A few other labels stood to attention right under it in smaller font. Pithy’s eyes immediately fixed on the one that read Generator Access.

Marveling (yet slightly perturbed) at the convenience of it all, Pithy began to walk down the corridors.

Barring the lack of windows, the first hallways she walked down reminded her of some of the upper levels. Like above, the few doorknobs she experimentally tugged on refused to budge, but the occasional glass pane revealed offices much like the one she had entered earlier, along with the occasional large table surrounded by chairs that made her think of meeting rooms.

It was only once she discovered and began descending a set of stairs that she began detecting a change in the clean, business-like environment.

Ever so slowly, her surroundings began to look more and more like she had expected a dilapidated ruin to look. Cracks on the walls, open doors, and lights that could no longer tap into whatever mysterious power source allowed the others to remain lit.

It was what she had expected at first, but while part of her mind urged her to feel relieved at the ever so slightly more familiar atmosphere of a ruin, she could not dispel an almost instinctual feeling of apprehension. Abandoned buildings were much like corpses. Rotting ones were not something most would call pleasant.

Still, she had to wonder. These lower floors are not connected to the elevator. Were they added later, or were they purposefully built such that one would not have easy access to this place from upper floors? And this damage… is this how this building looked while it was operational, or has it deteriorated since the place was abandoned? Is it somehow outside of the sphere of influence of whatever keeps the upper facility running smoothly?

Pithy caught herself. The last thought was predicated on the assumption that the place had been abandoned for a meaningful length of time. Her instincts suggested that was the case, but the evidence pointed at a recently abandoned facility.

The maintenance sector, which she knew she had arrived to courtesy of a large sign on the wall, proved to be much less orderly than the administrative sectors of the citadel. Rather than hallways and cleanly arrayed rooms at each side, Pithy was forced to navigate a confusing array of rooms filled to the brim with containers, jugs and bottles of liquids she largely failed to recognize from their labels, and the occasional broom or obvious cleaning instrument that made her suspect as to the purpose of the complex. That said, if probed as to the function of the large boxes with circular glass panes on their front, she could give no satisfactory answer.

She followed the signs through a few more strange rooms, corridors and stairs before she reached the room he sought.

She felt the reverberating drone of machinery before her eyes fell on the closed door. Pithy was deeply aware that, while she knew the word Oren had used to describe her objective, she had no idea as to what the clearly active machinery ahead was generating. There was no telling what she might find. At the very least, something that had managed to scare off the College’s investigators.

Pithy drew some magic into her rapier, shaping a spell. Six blades of ice coalesced behind her, hovering at her flanks like half-spread wings.

With her weapons readied, Pithy tried the door.

The handle turned easily enough, but when she applied force, the door refused to budge. She frowned and shoved her shoulder against it. The door parted ever so slightly at the blow, the latch slipping from its nook.

Not locked. Barred. And by something close to the ground. It immediately crossed her mind that one of the College’s researches may have died pressed against the door, but she was not sure a corpse would account for such a barrier.

She took a step back, considering the obstacle for a moment, before pointing at the door with her rapier.

One of the blades at her side hovered forward and pushed at the uppermost corner of the door until it lodged itself into the crack between it and its frame. At that point, the ice slid down towards the actual block, forcing the slight opening to enlarge as it approached. When it reached the bottom, Pithy made a gesture with her rapier. The crystal suddenly twisted, applying pressure to the center of the barrier as though she was prying the door open with a crowbar.
The floating familiar finally answered her, as though its owner was taking his time coming out of a stupor. The see-through image of the announcer had lost some of its joviality, and what Pithy had taken to be the machine’s eyes were conspicuously angled away from the badger’s carcass.

She felt a swell of irritation at the thought that the young man overseeing these deathmatches could be having a pang of conscience. You who risk nothing and stand to gain everything through the sacrifices of strangers, and yet can’t stand to lay eyes on the price paid. How dare you cheapen this struggle so?

Still she managed to hold her tongue, understanding there was little to gain and much to lose from antagonizing the boy. When she was offered congratulations and an unexpected boon, she accepted them with an impassive gaze.

She gave the image she received a cursory inspection, but her heart skipped a beat when she recognized the larger figures. A slow breath escaped her nostrils, and she put away the small family portrait as though pouring cold water over her apprehension. The people of the Inquisitional College had already proven they knew more about her and the other competitors than they had any right to. Examining the matter could wait.

And so she found herself listening to the wistful words of the young announcer.

“I’ve often found myself wondering: do animals have noble souls? We think of them as so far beneath us, but in my experience, animals can be every bit as noble. It might seem silly to ya, but ya know, for a while I lived in the wild with ‘em. Wolves, ravens, rats…”

Pithy did not know whether to take the boy’s words at face value. She supposed it did not matter. Whether he had been raised by wolves or not was not the crux of the issue.

“If they have souls, some of those souls may be noble,” she admitted. Even then, the distinction meant little to her. Her concerns were ever more practical. “If they do not, I nearly died for nothing.”

The announcer let out a restrained laugh. She was not sure if her matter-of-fact words had roused him or if he had caught himself, but he quickly recovered the irritating persona he had first greeted her with. Pithy sighed, forcing herself to listen through the forced plays on words for whatever useful information the young man saw fit to give her.

Soon enough, the announcer had said his piece, and the image fizzled out, the familiar hovering back and studying her through mechanical eyes.

Pithy promptly spun on her heel and began to walk away from the burning storehouse, heading for the illuminated path.

The announcer had outlined her options. West to the coast. North to the city proper. East to her next enemy. South was out-of-bounds, whatever that meant. Would she find some kind of barrier or wall were she to head that way, or would she be disqualified from this tournament, whatever that entailed? She did not feel eager to see what would happen if she tried. However, not matter what she chose, there was a simple matter the announcer had neglected to consider in his explanation.

Under the cloudy skies of an alien world, Pithy had no immediate way of knowing the direction of the cardinal points.

It was because of this that she was making her way back to the citadel she had first appeared on. She had lost her bearings while chasing her previous opponents, but she had seen the beach from the rooftop of the building and as such could use the structure to orient herself.

Pithy allowed herself to consider her options as she walked.

The announcer had hinted at another ‘gan’-wielder. Whether they were as proficient as the badger had been remained to be seen, but the words of their overseer led her to believe they had the tools to be even more dangerous.

Staying in place and preparing for an assault brought its own difficulties. Even if she had time to prepare within this military facility, how likely was it that her enemy might find ways to turn the battlefield against her, as the badger had done? If the roiling skies above her finally caved and released a downpour, she might be able to take advantage of it. Would the water affect the weapons? It turned the shooters from her world even more unreliable, but she doubted that would apply to the ones the competition wielded. There were also plenty of places to hide from the rain.

Would the open space of a beach make for a better battlefield, then? She found herself recalling the final moments of the fight with the badger. The hastily conjured shield she had brought up had been destroyed by the beast’s shooters. Simply standing in an open space while facing an enemy with this kind of ranged weapon would be the height of stupidity. The sand would also make for treacherous terrain. If she could lead the enemy into such a position, however…

A pang of pain interrupted her thought, and she brought a gloved hand to her head. The cut she had sustained ached, but it was small. A burst of cold like ice numbed the wound.

The citadel was not far away now. She could see it rising over the buildings before her, but she kept walking. She recalled the corridors with words signaling underground access in the citadel’s ground floor.

The announcer had also asked a favor of her. Ordinarily, she might have placed more weight on the idea of being owed by an organization whose work seemed rooted in the study of mysterious machines and magical artefacts, but ordinarily she would also be working under the assumption that she would be able to call on those debts at a later date.

There will be no later if I am killed by whatever is down there. Or by another competitor. Should that not be my priority?

There was, however, no telling what she might find in the Justice Hub’s underground. There very well might be a device capable of aiding her below. Or at best hinder her next opponent, should they find her. She would not be surprised to learn the announcer had already informed her enemy of her position. It was possible that if she chose to explore the underground, she would have to fight her enemy in this area once again.

Her footsteps eventually drew her back to the citadel’s doors, the drone hovering a few paces behind her. She placed her hand on the swinging door, then grunted, the words of an old fable running through her head. If she did not know where she wished to go, it did not matter which way she turned.

“Announcer,” she called, pulling her hand away and turning to the watching familiar. Belatedly, she realized she had no clue as to the young man’s name. Asking had not so much as crossed her mind. She had a good idea as to the reason for that. “Hey. Kid.”

Her words went unacknowledged by the unthinking droid for a few quiet moments. The rumble of distant thunder resounded through the heavens, and a moment after, a nigh-indiscernible beep accompanied the illumination of a tiny green light next to the drone’s main optic. Something that sounded suspiciously like the slurp of a drink reached Pithy through the communicator, and after it came the voice the cryomancer had come to know and hate. “I gotta name, ya know. Don’t wear it out. They ain’t paying me the big bucks to be a living F.A.Q.” He likely realized that she had no clue what he meant, but did not seem too bothered by it. “Oren. Erumel. My old buddies—and yes, I did have buddies—called me the Genie, ‘cause I always tried to help people out. Nothing like the Wishing Machine, though. What’s eating ya?” His image leaned back in its chair, and he clasped his hands behind his head in a position of relaxation.

Oren, then. Whoever had given this one an affectionate nickname had clearly been armed with more patience than her. “I’m thinking of checking underground, but I expect some support if I do. There’s no point to doing work that’s already been done. I want a guide to the ‘generator’ room and help with the machines I’m not familiar with.” Namely, most that she had seen so far, but she felt that should best remain unsaid.

The easygoing smile on Oren’s face broadened. “Neheh, that’s funny. As it happens, I’m not privy to the College’s inner workings. Truth be told, I don’t think they like me. Can ya imagine?”

Oh, I can imagine.

“There should be lots of signs around to guide ya, and I saw ya use the elevator, so help yours-’elf’. I think you’ll be just fine. As for support, you’ve seen everything my drones can do, and they’re not all that great indoors.”

Pithy clicked her tongue. She had not expected armed help, but if the boy had no knowledge of any previous expeditions to the facility, he would be of limited use.

“I imagine your bosses won’t be too enthused by how little you did to convince me to do the College’s work for them,” she prodded nonetheless. There was little meaning to the jab at that point. She was merely fishing for reactions or information.


Gods I hate him.

“It’s all bonus.” Oren evidently took the woman’s reaction as dismissal. “Guess ya don’t want any reward. Favors aside, coulda been anything down there, like more artifacts.”

“Or more turrets. Or more of what spooked the College’s teams. I suppose if I die in that hole the tournament can keep going without a hitch, then. Or are you that confident in the abilities of the freaks you brought here?”

“Are you? I thoughtcha guys were supposed to be strong enough to claim a wish--the best thing there is. Handling a trigger-happy badger wasn’t the best showcase of your abilities, but ya seem tough enough. Tougher ‘n me, that’s for sure.” He shrugged. “Whatever. Means more for us!” The announcer chuckled for a moment, then leaned forward into the camera, his voice growing low. “Speaking of which, since you’re free...if ya ever make your way to the Governmental Hub, where your next opponent is, there’s another little something ya might busy yours-’elf’ with, neheh.”

Pithy rubbed at her temple. “Stars, quit that. I heard you the first time.”

Oren’s eyelid twitched. Had he really already used that one? He needed to pay better attention, lest his humor begin to grow annoying. “A-ah, I see. Well. Better deal than poking around beneath the fort if ya ask me.”

She sighed. Her enemy would have fought their first round somewhere in the Governmental Hub. They would have some knowledge of the terrain and the possibility to prepare ambushes for her if they chose to wait.

“I’ll keep it in mind. Thank you, Oren,” she added to her dismissal, if only to maintain the pretense of civility. The announcer’s face faded out, and the little light by the main lens went with it, leaving Pithy alone with the soulless automaton once again.

The relief she felt at her solitude in an alien military facility was more than a little telling. Still, that had not been as productive as she had hoped. All that talk had earned her was a headache, and the knowledge that there were more opportunities for her to risk her life to the east. Fantastic. Just what I needed.

It did not make choosing a course of action any simpler. Which also meant it was the simplest thing in the world. If she already stood to lose everything, how much meaning was there to hedging her bets? If she was to find a shaved knuckle in the hole, her most immediate bet was what was under the Justice Hub.

With that resolution, she entered the building and headed for the elevator as Oren had suggested. The wait that ensued once she had pressed the button afforded her ample time to reflect on how many ways her plans could go sideways.
Hey, we got Binding of Isaac pick-ups over here.
At the prompting of the taunting gunshots, Pithy rushed out of the ruined barracks in time to see the honey badger that had caused her so much trouble dive into an alleyway behind the stack of boxes it had used as cover only a few minutes prior. Pithy ran to the mouth of the alley, momentarily pausing to glance at the discarded fast shooters.

Empty, she assumed. Still, the sight of them made her hesitate. Had the hatted badger sprinkled the area with similar surprises for her? It was such a thought that prompted her not to dismiss her barrier of ice this time, the object obediently hovering behind her. How did it even get the chance to prepare like this? Was it dropped inside an armory?

Until then, her small enemy had been following an illuminated path that had made its route predictable and made ambushes difficult, but in the darker alleyways, with her night vision ruined by the artificial lights all over the area, Pithy would be forced to follow along the same trail, giving her enemy ample opportunities to surprise her.

It was then that an outraged shriek sounded out from ahead, followed by a crack of thunder.

Pithy instantly set herself on the path at a run, berating herself for wasting time. The frenzied encounters had made her forget, but there had been a cloud of bats trying to get at the badger when she had first come across it. It would likely be too busy fending off the black wings to properly lay in ambush. There was a reason her enemy had avoided the dark spaces between buildings until then. Which means that if it’s using them now, it must have a destination it wishes to reach quickly.

By the time Pithy caught up with her foe, she had been proven right. After a few twists, turns, furious screeches, explosive rapports and winged corpses, the alley opened, letting a building many times larger than most of its surrounding brethren into view. It was largely featureless beyond its size, and had what seemed like large, sealed entrances at its front, where a large space was empty and illuminated. It was along the side of the building that Pithy saw a more familiar door, along with the small, furry figure of the hatted badger running towards it. Pithy wasted no time chasing after it.

The badger reached the door first, shouldering it open—the lock had been destroyed before-hand, Pithy realized—and pausing to make a rude gesture with its paw at her.

“Come get me, honky b—” That was as far as the foul-mouthed critter got before a blast of wind slammed the door inwards and sent the badger flying into the building.

Pithy strode to the door, moving her barrier to her front and summoning a pair of ice blades to flank her. The lights inside the building rapidly came on as she set foot within, revealing rows upon rows of storage racks. However, the woman’s eyes were quickly drawn to the hatted animal staggering to its hind-legs.

Its teeth were bared in an expression Pithy took to be a smile. An aggravating one. “Damn, girl, where you holding out on—” The blades hovering at Pithy’s side shot forward, forcing the badger to shoot at one and duck under the other. The sharpshooter quickly dove through an empty pallet to another corridor, leaving Pithy’s line of sight.

Pithy held a hand back, pressing it against the destroyed lock of the door she had walked in from. Is this why you led me here? Wished to settle in a place with enough cover to hide behind? Fine, but there will be no more running away. A short moment later ice affixed the broken door to its doorframe.

But now the badger was out of sight, though the lack of claws skittering over the stone floor in the silence made her think it had not moved far. Waiting to strike in ambush, perhaps.

Pithy’s rapier glowed as several crystal spheres formed around her. She threw them over the pallets, and with an effort of will, the crystal shattered into a rain of sharpened shards.

Pithy heard a hissed curse and the badger dove out from the end of the racket row Pithy stood on. Guns blared, but Pithy moved in time to intercept the projectiles with her barrier.

A third shot cracked against the metal rack behind Pithy, and a sudden pain on the back of her left shoulder made her stumble, but before her enemy could press the advantage, another half-dozen spheres had formed behind her.

This skirmish with the foul-mouthed badger had dragged on for long enough to irritate Pithy, and as it had always done for the mage, anger threw matters into cold relief. The critter had said so itself, had it not? Not fast enough and not plenty enough. If that was its wish, Pithy would accommodate her. But while Pithy could sustain her assault for as long as her body did not give out, her enemy was limited to the projectiles that fit its weapons.

A few of the spheres, smaller as they were compared to the ones she had used in their first encounter, exploded into mist besides her, others were simply pushed back by what Pithy quickly realized was the bouncing ammunition. The rest shattered into cones of shrapnel directed at the shooter.

The badger dove out of the way, but before it could attempt a counterattack, another crystal ball rolled up to the corner. Pithy heard a curse and the scrabbling of claws on stone just before the crystal exploded. Pithy steadily strode forward, ignoring the shards that clattered against her barrier as she summoned more crystal spheres around her.

At first the sound of gunfire joined the sound of ice breaking like glass, but the rapid, thunderous sound of the badger’s six-shooters soon tapered off as the small beast struggled to juggle destroying the spheres, load new bullets into her weapons as well as jumping into cover to avoid the shrapnel she could not get rid of.

There were no taunts coming from the badger now.

Pithy made sure to toss the occasional exploding crystal ahead of where the badger attempted to flee, corralling it in. At times, she simply left them without detonating them as leftover hazards to activate should the enemy attempt to flee her. If the badger had hidden weapons in this area, she either could not reach them due to Pithy’s persistent assault, or understood that she needed the ability to rapidly shoot the spheres down to make openings for itself. Those that did explode or were destroyed by the badger’s shooters left behind a smattering of mist that soon enough began to cover the area in fine diamond dust. The enemy had chosen this territory for their battle, but with a sustained effort of will, Pithy was turning it into her own.

Here and there she came across droplets of fresh blood, evidence that some of the shards had hit their mark. The continuing struggle made it clear that these were flesh wounds at best, but she knew this could not continue for long.

Perhaps realizing that things would only turn bleaker if she continued to run, Trickshot Jo took that moment to make her move.

The badger jumped out of the way of another rain of shrapnel onto a pallet, hiding behind a crate and aiming along its side with her shooter.

Pithy pulled her shield in front of her as she had done before. She did not fear being struck by another bouncing projectile. She had stopped seeing them once the badger realized they could not break the spheres.

Thunder cracked, but this shot was not aimed at her.

The bullet struck at one of the legs supporting a loaded rack, and the metal dented. Pithy heard more than saw the metal groan and bend as the weight it supported was thrown out of balance.

One crate, large enough to fully fill the pallet it was stored on, slid and began to fell, forcing Pithy to backpedal in order to avoid being crushed. The crate smashed itself on the ground, sending splinters flying. The rack’s own fall was stopped when it crashed onto one of its neighbors, the sudden stop sending its contents sliding down its side.

Pithy continued to back away, forced to lift her barrier to avoid the detritus. Just as she cleared the pallet, she caught sight of the badger again. It was at the top of one of the racks, and had just hoisted a large, tubular object larger than the critter itself over one shoulder. It staggered more than turned to aim it in her direction, and the open hole at the end of the weapon reminded her vividly of a cannon.

The vicious glint in the critters eyes reaffirmed her instinctual thought that a barrier would not be enough to stop that weapon.

So she swept her rapier forward and sent out a hastily formed blast of wind at the badger.

The small animal tipped back under the force of the wind, throwing her aim wide just as it pressed the trigger, and the rocket sailed over Pithy. It crashed against a mound of containers behind her, the explosion sending her to her knees. And then there was another explosion.

Pithy felt the heat on her back and the wave of pressure picking her up for one weightless moment before she was slammed against the collapsed rack.

Her vision went dark.

She could not have been unconscious for more than a few seconds, but when she came to, the relative silence of the facility had been replaced by the ululating sound of a siren. Water was sprinkling down from above even though the last time she had looked, she had been inside a building.

But it is dark, she mused, slowly trying to piece together her thoughts. She recalled the weapon the badger had levelled at her, along with the ensuing explosion. Did that break the lights? Feeling her face, she groggily realized that her hair had been matted down by the water and was covering her good eye. She parted it, hissing as she touched what felt like a warm gash on her scalp, and studied her surroundings. The lights in the immediate vicinity had indeed gone out, but the light coming from the flaming wreckage behind her, along with lights from further within the building were enough to see by.

That explosive must have hit something flammable…

Water streamed down from the ceiling, a system clearly set in place to combat incidents such as this one, but whatever had caught on flames was rapidly catching on to other crates despite the rain. Pithy herself was in a nook between collapsed racks. If a gunshot from the badger had been enough to topple one, she imagined the explosion would have done better.

She counted herself lucky not to have been crushed as she crawled out from the crevice and gathered her feet under her. Her rapier was only a short distance away, and she quickly grabbed it.

From between gaps in the collapsed pallets, she caught sight of the large entrances she had seen before, now open. She set out towards them, knowing that any second spent in the flaming storehouse might meet her with another explosion. She was not eager to learn how many of those containers held something that would gleefully detonate when in contact with fire.

Metal surfaces slid and clicked against each other, bullets falling neatly into place in their chambers. Joanne Schrodinger hunched outside of the building, leaning against a wall as she reloaded her weapons with a practiced paw. The sirens blared from the storehouse she had just left, nurturing her growing headache.

These people’s toys were destructive, if nothing else. Not as elegant or as comfortable as her own revolvers, not by far, but the experience had been something. At least until the honky bitch had turned on the heat on her.

Or whatever the opposite o’that would be.

Blood ran down from several small cuts she had suffered, most concentrated in the limbs she had had to use to cover her vitals as she tried to escape the exploding crystals.

Should’ve killed the bitch quick instead of having her give me the run around, she reflected, but quickly dismissed the thought.

Trickshot Jo was not one for regrets. Better to go out and fix the damn problem than to sit back thinking on it. She intended to do just that. She had managed to find the switch that opened the big sliding doors at the front of the warehouse and stepped out for air. Now, with her guns reloaded, she would go back inside, find the ice woman and pop a cap on her while she wasn’t looking.

She turned around to see the woman only a few meters away. Her rapier was raised and one hand was aglow, another of those stupid shields forming in front of her. This was the end of the contest. Jo had been seen first.

But the trickshot was a quickshot as well. Her guns raised as though of their own volition and the hammers struck down. The bullets slammed against the barrier, sending a spiderweb of cracks running down its surface.

This one’s weak! she crowed in her mind. It did not matter why, as long as she could break through it.

But just as she cocked the hammers back down, blades formed at the woman’s side and launched themselves at Joanne. Acute reflexes honed by life as an acrobat and sharpshooter had her jumping up, letting one blade sail under her even as she fired a bullet into the other one.

Still in the air, she aimed another shot at the shield. This time, the crystal surface shattered, letting her see the woman behind it even as she cocked the hammer on her other revolver. She couldn’t comprehend what she saw.

How can this bitch be this stupid?

The woman had a six-shooter on her hand, the one she had embarrassed herself with earlier, and it was leveled straight at the Trickshot.

This sealed the deal. Victory was hers. The woman might fire, but she would miss. A wasted effort. Unimpeded, Jo’s next bullet would find the ice woman’s head, sealing her defeat and taking care of one of her Captain’s foes.

And yet, in the moment before she pulled the trigger, she saw something unnerving in the woman’s blue bombardier’s eye.

Fire erupted from both weapons.

As all except perhaps she expected, Pithy’s head whipped back, and the woman tumbled to the ground.

The badger landed messily, the six-shooters falling from her paws. As it rolled itself to lay facing up on the pavement, it exposed a large, bleeding hole on her gut, where much of the stomach and intestines would normally be. The revolver, made for big-game hunting, had wrought havoc on the small animal’s body, and it left it facing up on the ground, conscious, but breathing laboriously.

The winged drone hovered closer, almost uncertainly. This was not an ideal outcome, to say the least. If both combatants died together, what would become of the project? All that the College had set in motion could not be undone by a single stroke of rotten luck, could it?

And then, the body of the elf shivered. The drone distanced itself slightly as the woman slowly picked herself up, revolver still in one hand, rapier on the other.

Once she had her feet under her, Pithy slowly walked to the mortally wounded badger, pausing only to look down at it.

The glazing orbs of the shooter’s eyes regained some focus, fixing on her. It coughed painfully in its woman’s voice. “That revolver is too damn big for you… girl. Heh… done in by… fu… done in by beginner’s luck…” it wheezed. “How are you standing? I got you. I saw it get you.”

Silently, Pithy parted her hair, revealing the mask of ice covering the right side of her face. Where her eye would be, there was a crack, with a darker mound sticking out of it. Pithy dug at it with the tip of her sword, letting the smashed bullet fall to the ground. She did not need to hear the crackling of forming ice to know the fracture was repairing itself before the badger’s eyes.

She had been saved by the affliction she wished to remove. The irony was not lost on her.

It did not matter. Pithy had long ago learned that she could not afford to be overly fastidious. As for the stunt with the gun, that, too, had been the best idea she could come up with in the moment, and it had been a gamble. Neither was that something new. Nearly a half-century ago, Pithy had gambled with her life in a much deeper sense. She had done so numerous times since then.

Some might even say that the original wager is still ongoing. What is this in the face of that?

“Heh.” The badger’s gaze dropped to the bullet on the ground. “A freak… with freaky luck.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“I ain’t no freak. Don’t… make me laugh... I’ll cough stuff up.” The badger’s eyelids began to droop, and she looked past Pithy and into the sky. You could not see stars in that sky, hidden as they were by the lights below. Slowly, in the wings of a deep, struggling breath, its paws reached towards its bandoliers. “Nobody tell'im I said so, but it's the least I can do... for my cap'n. All I know is I ain’t waiting for this to take me.”

Pithy stepped back, bringing up her cloak to cover her face as lightning arched from the ammunition in the badger’s body.

The distinct stench of seared meat filled her nostrils a moment later, and she looked down at the corpse of her enemy. Smoke rose from the bandolier, and Pithy could see the projectiles that had been detonated. Its eyes were still open, unseeing, and its expression struck Pithy as one of intense agony. Or it could have been a dark satisfaction. She was too unfamiliar with the creature’s features to tell those apart.

A last ditch effort to take me with it? The blasted animal could not even die properly. Not all the dying had a chance to leave any last words to one who would hear them. So be it. If the beast had chosen to eschew a solemn end for a painful one, that was its prerogative.

Pithy sheathed her weapons and knelt over the badger, snatching the phylactery from its breast. It seemed to be inactive, but Pithy might still be able to learn something of use with it.

Then, she took one of the animal’s revolvers in her hand. It is a good name for these weapons. She spun it around, letting the cylinder containing its ammunition open, and compared them to those held by the one she had found. Pithy frowned. Wrong size.

She stole a glance at the ammunition still intact in the badger’s bandolier, then thought against it. The badger’s weapons could have come in handy, but she was too unfamiliar with the weaponry to make proper use of the animal’s strange ammunition. She left the weapons where she found them.

Instead, she once again turned her examination to the animal’s body and, after a moment’s consideration, took the small shooter also hanging from the beast’s neck.

With that, she tied the chains of both necklaces, the one with the gun and the one with the heart, to her belt.

The woman stood. She was drenched from head to toe. Blood was seeping from her scalp onto her cheek, and she could feel bruises forming under her clothes. This fight had been more exhausting than she had expected, though considering the badger’s skill with its chosen armament, the fact that she had escaped the debacle with only minor wounds was quite the feat in itself.

Still, the idea of enduring similar fights one after the other did not fill her with confidence. She wondered if there was medicine and food to be found in this facility. Would I even recognize it as such?

“How odd of you to wait, announcer,” she called out dryly to the drone still hovering nearby. “The badger is dead. What now?”
Pithy’s chase led her through a small maze in the spaces between each building and facility as she attempted to head off her small enemy. A rapport sounded out occasionally, the sound she had come to associate with the honeybadger’s shooters telling her she was on the right track, but the frequency of the sound was unsettling her.

She had little doubt in her mind that her foe was trying to lead her somewhere, but she was stuck giving pursuit.

Rounding another corner, Pithy finally sighted the hatted honeybadger racing through the streets. Its gaze had not yet found the mouth of the dark alley Pithy stood at, fixed as they were on a group of stacked crates by the street. Pithy’s own position had little cover to speak of, but the light of the poles did not reach her, leaving her shrouded in darkness, and she could see the outline of a side-door to one of the buildings besides her.

She readied her rapier, materializing another host of crystalline blades.

However, before she could launch them at her target, one of the black-winged creatures infesting the Justice Hub let out a screech from above before swooping down at the intruder. One of the blades swept up, immediately silencing it, but the Trickshot’s eyes had already settled on the dark pathway.

The badger began to turn, her paws going to her six-shooters. Pithy saw this and launched her projectiles.

In a surprising display of agility, the badger leapt towards the boxes. Pithy’s first blade swept under the animal. The next few exploded into fine mist against the thunder of the badger’s shooters, and just like that the creature had ducked behind cover. The rest of Pithy’s projectiles either sailed uselessly over the crates or impaled themselves on the boxes.

She swore under her breath, cursing the local wildlife. Her eyes fell on the door next to her, and she reached out just as her enemy’s voice reached her.

“Not good enough, girl! Not fast enough, and not plenty enough! In fact—”

Pithy didn’t bother to check if the door was open. She waved a hand at the handle as she moved and ice sprouted around and within the mechanism with a grinding sound. She slammed her shoulder onto it and the door flew inwards, the ice giving way for her and releasing the destroyed lock.

“—I’ll show you how it’s done.”

She barely had the chance to see the badger step away from the crates, two box-like shooters on its paws, before she was inside the room.

From a pair of large windows at the building’s front, the poles’ light streamed in, illuminating rows of beds with unique personal effects lying atop each.

She could also immediately tell that the room’s walls were much thinner than those of the citadel she had been dropped at.

This she knew because the moment she stepped inside, a hole appeared in it and something whizzed past her. It was followed by multiple others as she threw herself to the floor, hearing the small projectiles whizz overhead.

The windows burst open and sent glass flying everywhere. Bullets crashed against the furniture, chipping the wood and denting the metal, making the contents of the mattresses and pillows explode outwards. As Pithy stayed prone, one hand over her head in what was likely a vain gesture, the room was turned inside-out by the badger’s shooters.

It only lasted for three seconds, but it left the interior in ruins.

When the thunder paused, Pithy glanced upwards, blood thumping against her ears. Part of her marveled at the weapons’ execution. She had to wonder what such a weapon would make of a cavalry charge. It would seem the people of this where have perfected the art of killing other people. These shooters seem uniquely suited for murder, and, without an ounce of magic in them, any might wield them.

However, academic or philosophical concerns were best left aside for the moment. The larger part of her was more concerned about waiting for another barrage.

When seconds passed without pandemonium breaking out again, Pithy realized the badger must have been waiting for signs of movement. That said, there was no telling how long that would last, and it would be best not to be laid out on the floor when that happened.

She glanced at the window, and a thought struck her.

With a practiced ease, she undid the clasp on her robe and removed the article of clothing. She pulled it over her rapier, hiding the glow of the runes as she conjured a hunk of crystal to fill up its contents. Once she was satisfied, she grasped the ice with her magic.

From outside the building, it was immediately visible when a blue-cowled figure stood, clearly illuminated by the pale light of the streets.

The thunder of a six-shooter came almost as immediately, and Pithy let the dummy crumple to the ground. There had been a spark of pale blue when the projectile had struck the robes, but Pithy had no time to investigate.

She quickly got on her knees, leaving the cloak where it was, and hastily crawled deeper into the building. A makeshift barracks, she guessed. Temporary? It doesn’t matter.

She opened the door, but the lack of windows within made it too dark to see its contents. As long as bats did not suddenly screech and come hurtling towards her this, too, did not matter. Once within, she took the chance to summon another thick sheet of ice to use as protection.

She left the door slightly ajar so that she could spy into the other room. There was no doubt in her mind that the badger would be coming into the building soon, looking to confirm Pithy’s death.

She was not disappointed. After a half a minute of waiting the barrack’s side door cracked open, slowly at first, and then fully, admitting the furred shooter into the room. It had its six-shooters in its paws as its eyes scanned its surroundings, checking for the dark corners of the room. As the badger’s gaze swept over the door she was hiding behind, Pithy tensed, expecting the shooting to resume, but the animal’s eyes carried on, fixing instead on a piece of blue and golden fabric peeking from behind a bed. It began to approach.

The badger’s words earlier words crossed her mind, and Pithy found her free hand slowly withdrawing the six-shooter she had found from its sheath. She did not think the creature would be able to shoot down projectiles fired from this machine. She leaned slightly on the door, letting it open slightly to improve her view on her target. The barrel of her weapon peeked out.

The hatted badger rounded the bed, shooters high, but all it saw was Pithy’s cloak over a mound too small and angular to be a body.

Pithy fired.

And instantly realized she had made a mistake.

The projectile went wide, slamming against one of the beds with a muffled thump, and the unexpected kickback tore the weapon from her hand.

The badger turned to look at her at once, aiming one of the six-shooters at the door, and had Pithy not prepared a barrier before-hand, the sudden rapport of the weapon would have been accompanied by a gush of blood from her center.

The badger laughed when she realized what had happened. "Girl you ain't even know howta pop, quit makin' yourself look like a damned dumb bitch!"

Pithy fumed and pushed forward into the room, making a gesture with her now free hand. The hunk of crystal hidden under her cloak rose with it, crashing against the animal’s unprotected side.

The impact sent it tumbling to crash against the leg of a nearby bed.

Pithy couldn’t help but feel some satisfaction at the creature’s pained gasp. “This is not my style, but I’ll bludgeon you to death if I have to,” she said as she made another gesture. The chunk of ice launched itself against the badger once more.

The critter bared its teeth and raised its second shooter. It was not aimed anywhere near Pithy, but when thunder cracked, she felt a sudden swell of pain on her right leg. Surprise robbed her of her control over the projectile, and the badger took the chance to roll to the side, letting the hunk of crystal crash against the leg of the bed hard enough to break it.

“You gettin’ ahead of yourself, sugar,” the badger mocked. Before Pithy could launch another projectile, the creature had jumped on one of the beds and leapt out of the front window. “Show’s not over yet!”

Pithy moved forward into the room with a fearsome scowl, but found herself limping slightly. She glanced down at her leg, and saw some red where her enemy’s projectile had torn the thin fabric and broken skin. Barely, at that, but it felt as though someone had taken a whip to her thigh. There was some relief to the fact that there was not a bloody hole there. Perhaps a trade-off for the feat of reaching her without aiming at her?

She grunted. If it was just pain, she could ignore it. She would, however, have to keep in mind that blocking line of sight would not stop every projectile the badger threw at her.

She picked up her cloak from the floor, dusting off some of the detritus of the room from it and then, after some consideration, found her six-shooter and placed it back in its holster.

Outside, she heard the sound of gunshots, telling her the chase was on again.
Another shot rang out on the coattails of Oren’s announcement, and had the man not had the wherewithal to put the familiar behind cover, Pithy had little doubt the construct would be sporting a large hole in its center. She was almost disappointed that was not the case.

“Butt out, boy! I don’t need you telling me when to start!”

She found herself echoing the ornery badger’s thoughts. She was tempted to break the toy herself if only to keep the loose-tongued young man from hinting at any more of her capabilities. However, there was no denying they were wasting time.

Pithy glanced to the side without breaking from her cover. She could not see her opponent without peeking around the wall, but she could still see plenty of bat corpses on the ground. Was that one corpse per shot?

Damn close if not, she concluded, thinking back to when she had seen the furry creature shooting at the fluttering monsters.

It was possible that whatever wizard had decided to spend so much effort on giving the thing sapience might also have done something to boost its proficiency with the six-shooters. Walking out unprepared would be a good way to have her head split open. Never mind death, she did not think she could live with the shame of being bested by a hat-wearing weasel.

“I’ve got an idea,” the voice of the badger reached around the corner. Was that metallic rasp that reached her ears the sound of the badger loading ammunition into her shooters? Pithy had to force herself not to peek out to see how she could manage the feat with those little paws. “This is supposed to be a tournament, yeah? So why not make it a duel, like those fools in the mainland. They say it’s the ci-vi-lized way to go about killing.” She spoke as though the word was both unfamiliar and worthy of contempt, but Pithy thought she could detect a hint of wry amusement. “You can even pick the weapon of choice, girl. Gun or Sword? Not a bad deal.”

’Gan’? Is that what they call those shooters in her world? With an effort of will, a large sheet of ice, large enough to hide behind, materialized before her, hovering a few inches before her free hand. “A duel, you say?” she answered, playing along with the badger. “And what would you say if I chose the sword?”

“Perfect. Leaves the gun for me.”

Pithy tried to focus her hearing. Two crystalline spheres roughly the size of her head now hovered over the tip of her rapier. Has she moved from her perch? I don’t think she has yet. Pithy hummed loudly as if weighing the clearly ludicrous idea in her mind, taking the chance to steady herself. Finally, after a moment—


The crystalline spheres shot out to the open as though she had lobbed them. The rapport of six-shooters instantly rang out cleanly shattering the crystals into multiple shards of ice. Pithy’s rapier slashed down, and as though hearing an unvoiced command, the sharp ice was suddenly redirected in the direction of the hatted badger.

There was a surprised exclamation and the sound of something falling. “Those ain’t swords, bitch!” And Pithy turned the corner, bringing the large sheet of ice before her like portable cover.

Trickshot Jo’ had fallen from the top of the carriage and was standing on the dashboard behind a sheet of glass with multiple shards of ice embedded in it. She aimed her six-shooters at Pithy and fired twice. One destroyed the glass cover. The other one crashed into Pithy’s barrier .

A lance of ice materialized besides Pithy and shot forward like a missile, aimed straight at the small creature, who fell backwards into the vehicle proper. The icicle struck a red barrel loaded at the back of the carriage, which rapidly began leaking its contents.

Pithy continued to move forwards and to the left, conjuring a set of transparent blades behind her. If she could only get a good view of the small creature, she would be able to settle things quickly.

As she moved, there was a sound like loud purring, and the metallic carriage seemed to tremble. Pithy paused in her approach, only to be suddenly blinded when the two crystals at the front of the vehicle lit up. The purring turned into a roar, and Pithy instinctively threw herself to the side. She heard more than saw the vehicle crash into a pillar behind her, making the spotlights fixed atop it shake and wink in and out.

It was in this confusion that she caught sight of the small, dark-furred creature running towards the street’s corner.

Pithy pointed her rapier to one of the ice blades, which had fallen to the ground when she had jumped out of the vehicle’s way, and it shot out towards the badger.

The creature seemed to have an impeccable sense of danger, for even as Pithy had begun pointing her magical focus at her weapon, the badger was turning towards her, bringing the six-shooters to bear. The first shot crashed against the crystal projectile, throwing it off-course.

Pithy brought her barrier up with her free-hand, expecting another bullet to be shot at her, but instead, Trickshot Jo aimed past her.

The second shot found the barrels loaded at the back of the jeep. A sound like thunder echoed throughout the Justice Hub.

Far as the carriage was behind her, the heat wave from the resulting fireball threw Pithy to her knees. She had enough of her wits about her that she could still hold her barrier in front of her, but could do little beyond looking on, wide-eyed, as the badger rounded the corner shouting something she could barely hear through her ringing ears.

Just then, the light that had been illuminating the streets went out, and the pillar holding it fell against one of the nearby buildings. Pithy spared the flaming, wrecked vehicle that had replaced the spotlight as a source of illumination an appraising look before standing. She did so less steadily than she would have liked, but she was not injured as far as she could tell.

Pithy scowled as the realization came to her that the encounter had not been entirely improvised. Alien as they both were to this realm, her enemy had just enough knowledge of the machines of this place over Pithy to take advantage of them.

She grunted and began to run, the rising adrenaline making short-work of her disorientation. Rather than chasing after her enemy directly and risking being shot as she turned the corner, she ducked into one of the alleys between facilities. As absurd as that thing’s aim had been, it was still a honey badger. Pithy had no doubt that she could head it off if she made haste, particularly if it insisted on that ridiculous two-legged gait.
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