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This wasn't real. How could it be? Everything about the situation was impossible from the soupy fog to the off colored sky to the hulking creature standing in front of her. The Mothman made no noise, didn't breath or flap its wings or give off any sign of being alive. But Fiddle could feel the weight of its gaze hanging heavy over her head. As much as she wanted marvel at it the risk of angering it in someway was just too great. She opted for the safe(ish) bet of staring at its clawed feet.

God those talons looked like they could tear a bear to pieces! Fidelity shivered at the thought of them cutting through her belly and moved to scramble away. The creature made no move to stop her, Fiddle managing to plant both her good foot and cane on the ground to begin the process of lifting her weight. The simple action of standing up felt even harder than it usually was for someone in her position, like the wrong nerves were firing off signals to the wrong location. The Mothman was messing with her body's ability to regulate itself, the aura of unease it gave off picking at the edges of her mind as if trying to cut loose threads from a blanket.

Whether this was somehow drug induced or her brain just being weird again, this hallucination was fucked up.

She was maybe a few inches off the ground when the hand grabbed onto her shoulder, Fiddle letting loose a shriek of terror as she flailed in surprise. The disturbance was enough to upset the Mothman, night-black cryptid flapping its wings and turning its gaze upon the intruder. A muscle bound arm reached forward as if to wring the stranger's neck and Fidelity panicked.

"Wait wait wait!" A desperate cry born of pure instinct but somehow it worked. The creature dropped its hand and went back to standing still, although its attention was on the stranger. His question went unanswered as Fidelity struggled over how to ask if she was just insane.

"That thing...can you see it?"

Simple and to the point, short words that she could just manage to force past her lips. And then someone else showed up. This boy at least seemed to be able to see the apparition, Fiddle giving the pale boy a startled glance. "It's Mothman." What more was there to say? She had no more information to give, unable to explain what it was doing or why a creature from West Virginia decided to fly all the way over to London or wherever the hell they were now.

A third person had joined the little circle now, a girl this time, and like the first stranger she seemed to not notice or not care about the massive monster a few inches away. "You don't see it?"The question was equal parts incredulous and concerned, Fiddle's already tenuous belief in her own mental health slipping right through her fingers.

@Bee @Not Fungus @AdmrlStalfos19
Four years ago

Usually no one managed to follow her when she decided it was time to move on. The way she could be in one place one hour and thousands of miles away the next made conventional tracking impossible, the ability to change everything from the shape of her eyes to her gender usually a death sentence for any would be hunter’s mission. The only times someone had managed to find her again was when she left behind clues so that someone could seek out advice from the wise sage or kill the warlord who had slaughtered their family or what have you. If it fit the character she was portraying she didn’t mind a human or two running into her.

But this was off-script. Everyone that had even the slightest chance of tracking Liberty, the Hermanreich based insurgent to Lynx the Iliad based mechanic and tinkerer, had been left burning, bleeding or straight up melting on the floor of a safehouse four years ago. So how the fuck had they found her?

Leaks. There was a spy embedded in the cops somewhere, someone that had snitched on the refugee who had been forced to disclose her past as a rebel in the Reich. That was the most likely answer and it was better than the alternative. The rank and file Reichfolk looking for her would be one thing but their Custodian masters were of an entirely different magnitude.

This assassin at the very least was human. Lynx knew he was slinking around in the trees behind her, the scent of sweat not entirely masked by the plain antiperspirant he wore. Lynx kept her eyes straight ahead, looking gormlessly out at the little hamlet below the hilltop as she waited for him to make his move. The faster they got this done the better. Each second spent waiting was a thousand times more agonizing than whatever damage he could possibly have inflicted, the woman out of time forcing herself to stand still and wait.

The sound of air being displaced was just as tortuously slow as the sound of the branch snapping, Custodian carefully counting the moments before impact. Judging by how far back he had been she had about three assuming he was jumping directly at her. Maybe he’d hit the ground first and tuck into some fancy roll, come up swinging his knife into her kidney or wrap a garrote around her throat and drag her down. The spec ops ninja types sometimes got too into their own mythos for their own good.

Two seconds now and it was still 50/50 which route he’d take. Lynx didn’t particularly care either way. Either he’d break his teeth slamming into the unbreakable mass of alien biology or he’d touch down on the grass and find his blood staining it. He’d been taken apart like a chicken on the chopping block, body dismantled the professional precision of a stone cold killer.

One second left. It was a shame how boring fights were. Once upon a time when mankind had been nothing but primordial sludge on a backwater rock she had been weaving between asteroids and hurling her opponents into active stars. Custodians were essentially minor gods and fought like it, wielding incredible powers and wondrous technology that could have destroyed the universe if wielded incorrectly. Now she waited for two-bit thugs to get within arms reach so she could shatter their skulls.

Zero seconds. The spectral blade her attacker was summoning, cold as death and smelling just as foul, swung right over her head and was followed by his body as Lynx ducked the attack. To his credit the assassin managed to land on his feet and resume the offensive, lashing out with truly incredible speed.

Incredible for a human that was. For Lynx he may as well have been a slightly speedier snail, his being caught and tugged so that he was sent flailing back over her shoulder. The game was on now and Lynx felt no need to conceal her speed. She rotated her back to watch him tumble, flexible spine allow her hips to stay in place as she got a good look at the black-clad murderer. She could see the dim surprise giving way to shock and then pain as his body collided with tightly packed earth, watching the drops of blood spray from his mouth as the impact made him cut his tongue on his own teeth.

One of those miniscule flecks was on a collision course with her duster until she intervened, the shock wave generated by a 500 mile per hour clap enough to dissipate it totally. A life spent cruising just below Mach 1 was mostly somewhere between “very unpleasant” and “outright unbearable” but it also had its uses.

His sleeve was sliding as he bounced, Lynx getting a good look at the black bird tattooed on his wrist as he staggered upright. A cowardly man would have ran, as would a smart one. This guy was neither apparently, slashing at Lynx’s face with his magic dagger in an attempt to earn his paycheck.

She pulled her punch by a factor of maybe ninety percent, the jab putting a nasty gash on his forehead instead of turning it into mulch. It wasn’t sporting to just go all out. Humans were fragile and ungainly, prone to collapsing with hardly any pressure applied. Even when they were trying to kill her Lynx still felt bad for them and so gave them as much of a fair chance as she could.

His accuracy wasn’t improved by the heavy blow he had just taken, wild slice hitting nothing but empty air as she shifted slightly to her left.. He had tried and failed, letting him struggle any more would just be cruel. The Custodian flattened her fingers into a knifehand, twisting her heels and hip in a spin. For a fraction of a second she was moving at her full speed and it was glorious, body moving as fast as her mind could process. Her hand came round past his neck, nails slicing through skin and muscle as easily as an obsidian blade through paper.

There was no blood. Just a desperate gurgle of a man trying to breathe and finding his air being sucked out through the neat slice in his windpipe. He stood and staggered helplessly as she dug her phone out of a pocket, number already dialed before his brain realized he was dead. His knees buckled before the call had gone out, lifeless eyes staring up at the sky when the operator picked up.

“Hey, I’m gonna need the police and a coroner here. I was attacked and it didn’t turn out too well for them.”

Thankfully the police interview wasn’t as long as it could have been. They asked her side of the story and cross checked with their records, the detective on scene agreeing with her assessment that her past was trying to catch up with her. There wasn’t much else to do besides haul the body off to the meat locker and let her go.

This wasn’t going to be the last time she would have to handle an attack. If Hermanreich knew she was here then they weren't going to stop just because one hired blade got himself killed. They would try and try again, practicing the definition of insanity until they ran out of bodies or she suffocated under their weight.

The next attempt was at least a little less wildly unbalanced. Instead of sending one woefully unprepared man they had sent six. Lynx could hear their footsteps while she napped in the tree she had claimed as her own, cat’s eye opening as they got closer. They were too in sync to be simple hikers, too much purpose in their steps for them to not be on a mission.

They broke apart as if they could hear her thoughts, the six spreading out to comb the area for their prey. Lynx was already creeping through the treetops with bow in hand, the natural stealth of her namesake coming easily to her. It was like stalking the loyalists of her homeworld or the wolves she had killed to prove her strength after first touching down on Historia: keep moving and keep quiet.

These were no wolves. The Reich had sent six deer to try and kill a wildcat and if she wanted to she could have all their necks broken in just under two seconds. But she was feeling vindictive after having both her nap and her hunting trip interrupted. They weren’t scared yet and she was going to change that. But patience was required. As against her nature as it was she would have to wait for the short lived and slow moving creatures to fan out a bit more if she wanted to do this properly. It would be no fair to just sprint through and kill them all in an instant.

The first one to go down was the rival archer, an arrow punching through the base of his skull so that he was sent slumping to the forest floor. One of his friends would stumble onto him sooner or later.

Bare feet dropped from branch to ground, the two seconds of travel more than enough to fire again. This time the wound wasn’t immediately lethal, a shriek echoing through the forest from the wretch with the punctured leg. If he was smart he’d leave the arrow in and if he wasn’t he’d bleed out in minutes.

Each ragged scream stretched on for an eternity, drawing attention that would allow her to creep round and round. The remaining four had definitely heard, twigs crunching underfoot as they rushed back towards their comrade. Number three went down with a dagger to the heart, number was strangled from behind with her bow. By the time the fifth made it his final ally had already expired, a hand clutching the bloody barb he had tugged out of himself.

Lynx couldn’t hear what the last man standing was saying if anything, her whole body submerged in the river a few feet behind him. But she could watch him stumble backwards in horror, body coiling like a spring and launching upwards. She broke the surface in a spray of water, teeth latching onto his arm before he could scream.

Kicking his legs out and dragging him back into the river was child’s play and executing the death roll almost more so, limb torn from its socket by the sudden violence. After that it was a simple matter of sitting on her victim until he drowned before clambering onto dry land and digging a phone out of a hunter’s pocket.

The second interview went pretty much the same as the first with the addition of an offer of protection. As kind as it was Lynx turned it down, valuing her privacy more than she did her safety. That might have been a mistake.

Technically she wasn’t supposed to be poking around the factory but it wasn’t like anyone was going to stop her. Judging by the state of the place it had been abandoned for decades, the great forges had long gone dormant and all its melted slag shipped out or left to rust. No guards to dodge, no cameras to fiddle with and hopefully a bit of circuitry or valuable metal to strip away for use in some side project or repair.

The plan fell by the wayside in under a minute. Only a few stolen cogs had been piled into her toolbox when she got bored, hands slipping to the revolvers at her sides. With hardly any conscious thought they were pulled free of their holsters. Wife and Mother were comforting just to hold, Lynx feeling every curve and bump of their molded grips through thick hide gloves.

Two cylinders containing six blasts of pure plasma, the ultra hot essence of the universe weaponized and contained by a pound each of ultralight metal forged in the stars and designed to withstand anything anyone could throw at it. Each time they fired it spat out forty thousand degrees worth of destruction and were always ready to do it again save for the occasional few seconds needed to cool off.

They were works of art as much as they were weapons, products of engineering and science that put to shame anything in Iliad and likely the rest of Historia. And this was their damaged state!

Wife’s hammer was half-cocked, the click of its rotating cylinder a simple pleasure that Lynx would never get tired of. Her thumb backed off so that it could spin back to its usual place, cylinder turning one way while the rest of it went the other. The twins each twirled around a trigger finger backwards and then forwards, stuck in states of reversal and counter-reversal as their owner amused herself. Mother was tossed up and out of her hand, Lynx watching enthralled as the solid circle slowed to a crawl. For each rotation it made Wife completed ten, Lynx watching each circle move at its own.

The sound of engines and the accompanying smells of hot rubber and old coolant leaked in through broken windows just as her guns switched hands. The Custodian took count without missing a beat, watching her rotations as she sized up the newcomers. Two cars disgorging fifteen people in total, the heavy thuds of their boots and the way that the loose gravel under them was turned to dust telling her that they came loaded to bear.

Yep, she could really smell it now. Gunpowder and small amounts of TNT, standard stuff for an assault team. They had magic of course but for the moment she couldn’t pick up any specifics, just aware of its presence due to the chlorine-like scent.

Voices now, droning whispers that she couldn’t have missed if she tried. They were stacking up against the bay doors in preparation to storm the place under the assumption that she would be caught off guard and thus easy to kill. Their assumption was of course based on the idea that she was human and that ‘s where it fell apart.

This was the third attempt on her life in about as many months and Lynx was getting tired of it. Each time they tried she had played nice, giving the assassins a fighting chance and how did they repay her? They sent more into the meat grinder. Neither side really won, she was still bored and they just ended up dead. The well of charitability had just about run dry and Lynx was done trying to dredge up the last drops.

The sound of the doors being blown open synched up with Mother’s final toss upward, Lynx turning around with Wife lodged in its holster to watch the individual shards of burning wood float lazily towards her face. The fifteen casualties streamed in guns blazing, the first blast of buckshot ricocheting off her skull the instant before some high powered rifle round deformed against the seemingly solid jelly of her eye.

The only reaction the slow motion shower of lead got was her drawing her own weapon. Wife was pulled right back out faster than any of the goons could have realized, two shots of pure plasma connecting with two chests. Lynx could track the balls of pale green power, watch as they turned skin and bone to sludge and sent sprays of rapidly evaporating blood outwards.

The hammer was fanned and four more targets were turned partly to paste before Wife needed a break. Too overheated to fire but still ready to dish out more damaged Lynx lightly tossed it at gunman number seven’s throat. One pound of metal moving at an easy ninety miles an hour resulted in a satisfying crack and both the corpse and the gun bounced when they hit the ground.

The remaining eight were just now catching up to how outmatched they were, their expressions changing from grim determination to varying degrees of shock and confusion. Lynx let them keep wasting their ammo and energy trying to lay suppressing fire or dive for cover. She had planned on getting her clothes ruined today anyway, it didn't matter to her whether it was due to oil stains or bullet holes.

Mother had just hit the floor judging by the echo from behind her, Custodian waiting for it to bounce before kicking her heel up. Sure enough her gun was sent back up over her head, coming down into ready hands. Another cylinder’s worth of energy emptied in a second flat, another six brought down. That left her with two.

The right neurons finally fired in the right sequences to trigger their realization that whatever guns they had had brought would not be enough. One was pulling the pin on a grenade to blow her to bits while the other was tapping into their well of mana to shred her with spells.

Well, points for trying anyway.

The grenade was slapped out of the air to explode somewhere off to the left, its thrower turning to run. He was on his first and a half step before when his comrade tried to succeed where he failed, Lynx catching the foot long ice spike and lobbing it back in a one handed hammer toss. The runner was two steps away when the mage’s skull cracked and three when Lynx looked back at him.

And that was as far as he made it before she got to him, close fist being rammed up through his back and into his heart at six hundred miles per hour. She could hear bone shattering and flesh being ripped apart with slow squelches, felt the blood pumping muscle compact and then shred under her knuckles.

Her arm tugged itself free of the wound and Lynx let the body slump to the ground in a heap. The other was still alive for the time being, trying to drag himself away before she could get to him. There was not a chance of that happening. Her lightest jog outpaced his desperate crawling, bloody hand entangling itself in his hair. “Just let me go, I’ll tell them you died! I’ll do anything, please just don’t hurt me!”

Desperate blubbering didn’t do anything to affect her now. If she wanted someone dead then no amount of begging was going to change that and this poor wreck had really pissed her off. So she just let him whimper and whine all he liked while she got a good grip, free hand pressing under his chin. A sudden twist and he was silenced, neck broken at the speed of sound.

This time she had to sit through a warning when the police brought her to the station, she had been trespassing after all. But a few dollars in fines wasn’t that bad of a punishment under the circumstances. She was still a free citizen with all the rights and protections that entailed.

Not much apparently. It was hardly three days after the factory fiasco when she came home to find her flat broken into and her charge kidnapped. Lilith had at least put up a fight if the puddle of cooking oil and the smell of boiled human flesh was anything to go by.

On the adjacent wall to the puddle written in black paint that still seemed fresh were a series of coordinates. It was easy for Lynx to make sense of the series of numbers, and follow them to their source. She traveled for an hour through the city before she could use her speed, the assassins no doubt had a flair for the dramatic making her go out of her way like this. She skidded to a stop when she neared her destination, slowing back down to the tortuous pace the rest of the world moved in the name of keeping some secrets at least. Whoever this was knew where she lived, and who she cared about (in theory) while she knew nothing about them. If they forced her hand they’d be getting a good look at her speed but until then it was going to be kept under wraps.

she found herself walking up to a cliffside overlooking the ocean. She would have expected more men, but instead there was one. He stood toward the end of the cliff in what seemed to be his Sunday's best. He wore a finely tailored black suit that seemed recently pressed, black gloves covering his hands, and an intricate looking ravens mask covering his face.What to do about him? Under normal circumstances she would have simply drilled a hole straight through his skull,but something was off here. The sheer amount of magic emanating off him almost made her gag, his form practically reeking his peculiarly rancid brand of it. And where are his vitals? She smelled no sweat on his brow and heard no beat of his pulse, her eyes narrowed as she sized up the hostage taker.

On her knees in front of him was Lilith, her hands bound and her mouth gagged. She was alive for the time, one eye bruised black and the other unable to see anything through the curtain of blood that dripped down from the cuts on her forehead. Lynx could smell her fear and hear the rapid pounding of her heart, but was mildly impressed that the kid was able to hide all that behind a mask of hatred. Even now she was staring daggers at the birdbrain with his hand on her neck.

“You’re the one who’s caused me all this trouble… I know right about now you might be thinking of making a move, I'd advise against it. If you care about the girl.” His grip on Lilith’s neck tightened as he mentioned her.

“What are you Liberty? No normal person could survive one Blackbird... Let alone twenty two.”

“I’m pissed, that’s what I am.” Her voice hung on the edge between open rage and cold calmness, an act to hide her true feelings of apathy and annoyance. “Maybe your “Blackbirds” just aren’t as good as you thought.”

“Oh I disagree, Some of the men I sent have been training since childhood, my best of the best, not easily replaced.” The man said, no hint of emotion in his voice as he regarded the woman, he seemed to chew on her words for a while before continuing.

“I’m quite.. “Pissed” as well Liberty. Seems the Reich has played us both for easy marks, and now we’re both in.. precarious situations.We could keep this dance we’re doing going forever…”

He paused for a moment before continuing.

“My attacks will get more aggressive, and sure you’ll kill more of my men, but I’ll blow up your home.. Kill the kid, make you a nuisance to the government here on iliad. If for no other reason than.. Death seems to follow your every step… That’s costly, a war between you and I. And one I don’t think I'd win… Even if I could run you out of the city. It’d destroy my organization as well.”

He paused for a long moment.. Letting her chew on what he was saying.

“Sorry about that. Chalk it up to luck or just natural skill.” In truth it was hard to tell the difference between a novice conscript and an elite assassin. Humans just moved too slow for her to care. Whether it was a rival warband, a Hermanreich patrol, or a dozen trained hitmen she would tear them apart without a scratch. The Crow was obviously unaware of this, still acting like they were on the same plane. Whatever criminal organization he was running she had built and toppled bigger dozens of times.

“Blow up my house and I’ll find every stockpile of weapons, every safehouse and hiding spot for your dirty money, and torch them. If you make me a nuisance for the government you’re just going to bring the hammer down on yourself. And if you kill the kid? I’m going to find you, the real you mind, not this body double or hologram or whatever it is, and I’m going to gut you.”

Her face was totally deadpan, devoid of any bluster or bullshitting. “It’s going to be slow and you’re definitely going to be resuscitated a few times but by the end of it you’ll learn why the Reich doesn’t waste its own agents sending them after me. You don’t have enough bodies to run me out, no one does.”

Her position on the matter was made clear, Lynx retrieving a cigar from a pocket. Lilith was looking at her, the hitch in her breathing making clear her shock. The girl knew that her mentor had a checkered past but they had never gone into specifics. This was a side she had never witnessed before. Ah well, there was time for therapy later.

Her knife was retrieved from its belt sheath, butt end of the cigar sliced open and lit with a match struck on her boot heel. “Counteroffer: You let go of the girl and head home to your kids or your mistress or whatever and next time someone comes to you with a contract for Liberty or Lynx you tell them where to stick it.” She paused to look over the besuited specter, a long drag pulling smoke into her mouth before ejecting it through her nose.

“In return you won’t have to wonder if I’m looking at you through a sniper scope or currently rigging a bomb in your basement. Because believe me, you turn this deal down and I’m going to be on the warpath.”

The man paused for a long moment, saying nothing, only looking at the woman smoking a cigar nonchalantly in front of him. Before long, he betrayed his emotionless candor by chuckling despite himself.

“It seems.. You and I are of one mind. Twenty two bodies are quite enough. And the person who put the contract on Liberty? I’m going to be paying them a visit, to.. Thank them for their patronage.. And for thinking that Blackbird can be their cannon fodder. How did you put it? ‘It’s going to be slow.’ and any future contracts? I’ll give them the same treatment. Call it.. Professional courtesy.”

He continued to chuckle, as he grabbed Lilith by the arm and pulled her to her feet, he’d pat the girl on the head and adjust her hair before cutting her loose with a spectral knife that seemed to manifest directly from his palm. With one light pat forward he’d send the girl, still gagged toward Lynx.

“As far as i’m concerned we’re square. I'd really rather never see your face again, so your deal suits me just fine.”

He paused for another long moment as Lilith ran toward the woman.

“You should try and check that ego of yours Lynx.. One day you’re going to meet someone you can’t defeat.. Pride goes before the fall.. Our business is concluded. Be seeing you.”

As quick as he said the words, the man who was once dressed in a fine suit turned into a black blob, living shadow. The only thing that retained its shape being his Ravens mask. In another moment he was gone, the only thing left behind being the mask.

Lynx wrapped her arms around Lilith in a tight hug, rocking with the poor girl as she sniffled. “I thought they were going to kill me.” She whispered, voice hollow and dry. What had been pretty much mundane to her guardian had been terrifying for her. She had been through a truly awful experience and Lynx wasn’t cruel enough to show her true feelings on the matter.

“I know, I know. They’re not coming back, I promise. Let’s get you something to eat.”

Walking at Lilith’s pace meant the trip back into town took a few hours, Lynx spending a good part of that time turning the mask she had picked up in her hands. Time would tell if the Crow would keep up his end of the deal but she couldn’t worry about that right now. Lilith was tugging at her arm, looking at her through the eye she had managed to clear of its dried blood.

“Lynx, can we stop for ice cream?”

A reasonable request under the circumstances. “Yeah kid, I got you covered.”

Already she was trying to get back into the swing of things, abusing her status as a wounded hero to try and wring treats of Lynx’s wallet. Humans were physically delicate but some of them were emotional tanks.

It was always interesting to see who rose up and who backed down when presented with danger.

The first day of class had been about as productive as expected: not in the slightest. A few hours of Fiddle's finite life wasted on listening to names she was going to forget by tomorrow and exchanging numbers with study partners she'd text maybe three times throughout the semester before never speaking to them again. For someone like her who seemed hardwired to crave excitement and action it would have been afternoon of Hell, save for three things: Turner, Basker and the bottle of Ambien hidden in her backpack. It had been child's play to slip a couple pills in her mouth while she reached for a pencil and nearly as easy to disguise the fact that she was anything but perfectly lucid. Practice made perfect in all things and Fidelity was by now an old pro at hiding her drug abuse.

Who'd suspect the intelligent, wealthy heiress with near perfect grades of carrying around a private pharmacy? Her identity in the halls of university was quiet, intelligent, well-adjusted while the one she slipped into during the ragers she organized was loud, wild and absolutely unhinged. The two were kept apart out of equal parts convenience and necessity, two masks custom made to hide their wearer's insecurities. It was healthier for her that way.

So Fiddle juggled the two of them throughout the day, taking what little notes were actually required while she buzzed along in private euphoria. Her dogs were the only ones who know something was off, staring up at her with those accusing eyes as they rested their snouts on her legs. If they could speak they would have been hissing at her for her stupidity no doubt. Or was she just hallucinating? It happened sometimes, little things appearing in the corner of her eye or subtle changes that only she noticed. Whatever. Whether or not her precious pups knew or cared didn't matter if they couldn't snitch on her.

Class was dismissed before she knew it, Fiddle waiting patiently for everyone to leave so she wouldn't hold up the queue. With her dogs forming a protective barrier and her cane making up for her injured leg the cripple managed a relatively brisk pace towards the exit, tap-tapping her way out her gate and towards the nearest convenience store. If she didn't at least pick up a few microwave dinners or a bag of chips or something she'd end up eating more cold cold pizza with a mug of stale beer and there was only so much of that the human body could take.

The mist had gone ignored at first, Fiddle having reluctantly made peace with London's horrid weather long ago. The slight stagger in her step was chalked up to the drug's affect on her already impaired motor control. But the changing of the sky? The way her guardians were swallowed by the fog and how each breath seemed to hurt her lungs? Those were much harder to explain.

You've finally lost it Fiddle.

It had to happen sometime. Really she was only surprised it had taken this long. At a complete loss as to what the hell she was supposed to do the American looked about helplessly, seizing on the sound of a voice. "I'm here! Hold on, I'll come to you." If she really had snapped she'd rather experience her psychosis with someone else, imaginary or otherwise. She raised her cane and took an experimental swipe at the wall of fog, noticing the wooden charms now tied to its handle. A pair of dogs, perfect matches for the ones that she had just lost. Sure, that made sense.

The fog began to clear, the cane stretching and distorting it like a stick through a cobweb. A few more swipes and there was almost a path, the final one revealing-

"Holy fucking shit."

Her last swing had been stopped short by a solid object, a creature that she had only ever seen in her dreams and drawings. Stand at eight or nine feet tall with huge wings folded over its musclebound arms the Mothman stared straight down at her with those huge red eyes. She was frozen in place, unable to even breath as the thing looked past her face and into her soul.

"Holy fucking shit." The words were breathless, Fiddle's head swimming as she tried to make sense of the thing that should not be. She collapsed barely managing to support herself on her one good knee as she got a good look at the talons on its feet. A single kick from those six inch skin-slicers and she would have been reduced to scraps of meat.

Against all reason, all sanity she reached out, daring to tap a trunk-like leg with her knuckles. Hard muscle was hidden by downy black fuzz, the Mothman apparently not minding her touch in the least. All it did was give those wings a flap, their sheer mass displacing tainted air and soupy fog alike.

Fiddle laughed. It was a high pitched and frantic sound, pulling what little air she had left from her lungs and expelling it in a wheezing cry. The tears in her eyes burned almost as bad as her lungs, vision going blurry as her mind temporarily shut down. The creature was nothing more than a black blob with crimson light emanating from it, the figure swaying as she struggled to keep from passing out on the spot.

What the actual fuck.

She had always known cryptids were out there. Just didn't expect to ever see one so close.

@Not Fungus

An increase in rank hadn't meant the end of Ingran's normal duties, it had simply piled more on. The Tempestor Prime commanded some of the deadliest men and women the Imperium had to offer on missions too dangerous or high stakes for anyone else to handle but that didn't mean she had someone to take care of her gear for her. Each Scion was responsible for every item issued to them, the proper upkeep of which was as sacred a duty as any other. Everything from the Omnishield helms that allowed them to see in the dark and while floating in the vacuum of space to the Slate Monitrons displaying how close to death they were had required hours of training to use and maintain. She had earned the brands on her chest that gave her the right to wield them and to dishonor her efforts by passing the work off to an underling wouldn't have sat well with her or her troops.

So Isadora did what every Scion had to: disassemble and reassemble every bit of gear she had to make sure all was in working order. Her monoscope was the first to be inspected, its lenses carefully cleaned and the bulb inside checked for any dim spots. The Slate was up next, re-calibrated to sync up with her body's lifesigns so anyone could see her state of health. The Prime worked slowly, deliberately, the same way any good craftsman treated their tools. Her trade was in death and her instruments were designed to help her deal it but the same basic principles applied. Her equipment was kept clean because she respected it and she respected it because it allowed her to do her job.

The servitor's beep came just as she had ejected the hydrogen flask from her Plasma Pistol, Ingran ignoring it for the moment required to whisper the rites of handling. Any deviation from the litany would spell disaster, a second's impatience enough of an offense for the fuel to explode with the power of a sun. Only when the volatile fuel was set to rest did she turn towards the hologram of Hera, bowing her head in greeting.

The first objective was standard enough. Get boots on the ground and capture an enemy fortification for their own use and ensure that no one in the area was left alive in order to take it back. The same sort of mission she had taken part in and led dozens of times now. Isadora studied the map as her fellows were given their instructions, calculating the fastest routes to and from the estates and all the back alleys and choke points branching off of them. Hive cities were interesting, much more tightly compacted than some of the flat agri and feudal worlds she had been deployed to. Plenty of spots for ambushes and and counter-ambushes, windows for snipers to pop out of and sewers where scum could scurry about in safety.

So the Arbites, Assassins and Guard would be handling the estates? An interesting combination, one that would no doubt prove to be effective. Her fellow Progenium graduates were damn good at kicking in doors and what little she knew of the throat-slitters was enough for her to be confident in their abilities. The rank-and-file Militarum were valuable if only for sheer numbers, every lasgun fired at the enemy a hammer blow from all of humanity.

The Scion officer sent silent thanks to the Emperor that the Melta torpedoes were under someone else's jurisdiction. The digi-weapon version hidden in her metal middle finger was destructive enough for her to want to avoid being nearby when a stray shot set off something larger. Let the Mechanicus handle those, dangerous technology was their domain. She was much more comfortable with the work assigned to her and the Soritas, the eradication of the local lowlifes. "As you command Inquisitor so it will be done."

There was nothing else to say. The orders of the Inquisition required no explanation and allowed no questioning save that of clarification and Ingran wouldn't have thought to do so anyway, not when she still had maintenance to do. The sun gun was carefully pieced back together and its machine-spirit placated with prayers of function before she stepped out to relay the orders to her troops. There was no discussion as Strike Force Lambda filed into the Devourer that would ferry them to the surface of Yunnalin V, no sound except that of armaplas rubbing against ceramite and power packs being fitted into weaponry.

Fifteen of the Imperium's best being sent to deal with a bunch of slum-dwelling thugs? The gangers should have felt honored.

At no point in her life had Dahlia ever expressed interest in music as a career. She had enjoyed plonking out little melodies on the grand piano in the hall and singing along as she did so but playing as a job? That would just make it work. But she had shown aptitude in it and in the Sangrey family that meant she had locked herself in. Around the same time her skin had turned blue and her feet morphed into hooves had started to grow from her scalp the little pseudo-demon was surrounded by the best instructors money could buy. Hours upon hours spent with vocalists, violinists, pianists, past and present professionals being paid hundreds of dollars per hour to turn Dahlia's hobby into her new way of life. Time not spent in school or other lessons was dedicated to practicing scales and studying music theory, writing and rewriting compositions that would never see the light of day.

Dozens of hours had blurred into hundreds and then thousands, Dahlia being molded into a master without her asking or consenting to process. There was no point in complaining about it. Her elders were as eldritch and immovable as the scarcely understood power that had marked her with golden eyes and heavy horns, she may as well have asked the rivers to unflood or a volcano to revert its eruption. It was better to accept it and move on as best she could, performing in concert halls and at events across Iliad. She sang with a smile, another crown jewel in the Sangrey's collection of cultured, intelligent future leaders.

So the Games were hardly even a change in schedule. Nergal had more or less demanded she be part of the team and so she was, armed with her bow and the ability to warp probability as needed. "Oh yes, very exciting. The same way jamming my tail in a socket would be." The spade tipped appendage had curled itself around leg, Dahlia's dry snark hiding the tension she always felt when her family's pride was on the line. "I should have asked you about outfits Helena, you're more familiar with this kind of show."

She had worn what she usually did performing. A cloak the same dark cobalt as her skin with a black dress covering to just above the hooves nervously kicking at the stage and arm length gloves, a veil with her horns poking through hiding all of her face from the audience. Save for her eyes of course. The gold was just bright enough to be seen through the material, dim lighthouse bulbs almost hidden by heavy fog. It was dramatic in the extreme but by design, playing up the inherent exotic mysteriousness of her "condition" and hiding the injuries and changes that would result from using her more powerful abilities for too long.

"If that's really how you think we should play it then I guess we have no choice."

A lie of course, lip service to an order she'd ignored at the first sign of trouble. If the amateurs across from them did better than expected there wasn't a chance Dahlia wouldn't cheat. A cruel though combined with a note or two from her violin could cause strings to snap and voices to crack awkwardly, instruments becoming untuned in a heartbeat. There was more riding on this than a couple of pages. She had family in the crowd who would be displeased in the extreme if she embarrassed them in front of the horde watching.

Despite Helena's naive adherence to the art it was nice to have another professional on her side. One of them really should have been handling vocals as well, hopefully the bundle of spikes and studs masquerading as a student knew what she was doing. "If you end up needing a break Vell give me a signal and I can sub in for you." The offer was out there for her to take up or reject as she saw fit. All Dahlia could now was wait for the start.

@Nyxira @The Jest

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