Men of L33t

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe, a shot rang out in the forest. Nightwalker lowered his gun satisfactorily.

"An excellent shot, m'lord!"

"Yes, indeed, it was. That was what, the 135th quail today?"

"137th, m'lord."

"Excellent! The Church will eat well tonight! Go find it and return to the castle. I'm going to get a buck for the table before dinner, so I should be following you shortly."

"Yes, m'lord!"

The CoMmer disappeared into the brush, and Nightwalker proceeded to reload his gun. Just as he closed the chamber, a quail narrowly missed him and fell to the ground with a heavy thud. Nightwalker picked it up curiously, and examined the arrow thrust straight through its head.

"You!"

Nightwalker turned to see Largo, crossbow in hand. His eyes narrowed in irritation.

"Oh, it's you. Still playing with your outdated toys?"

"Unhand my prey, s3rv4nt 0f 3v1l, and return to the d4rkn3ss from whenst you came!"

Nightwalker sighed, and put his hand to his head.

"Largo, the forest is free range for anyone, so if you don't mind-" He found crossbow pointed straight at his head.

"I said, l34v3."

"Fine! I'll hunt elsewhere! Just remember that it won't always be like this!" Nightwalker said. He disappeared in a flash of green fire.

***

"Was that wise?"

Lightsider stepped out of the bushes.

"He serves h3r and the d4rkn3ss."

"Nevertheless, at the rate you're going it's a wonder Piro's an outlaw and you're not!"

"Well, he did murder a member of the Sonodan Guard." Will said cheerfully, dropping out of nowhere.

"The man had assaulted Miss Nanasawa!" Lights exclaimed.

"True, M'lady Erika would've probably done the same..."

Largo turned his back to them. "Captain Draegos was within his rights to exile Piro." He began walking.

Will ported along side him. "Really?"

"Yes."

"Are you certain?"

"Will..." Lightsider said, coming up from the rear.

"Well I'm just wondering, you know, because he's probably going to see him tonight."

"You mean the banquet tonight, to celebrate Princess Yuki's 16th birthday? I didn't think Miss Kimiko would be coming..."

"Oh, you know she will! The only reason Largo's been invited is because of the Lady Erika, and she's not about to let Miss Kimiko miss this for the world!"

"Even so, that means that Church initiates will be guarding the palace. I doubt he'll be able to pass by their minds unnoticed."

"He will pass." said Largo abruptly. "He will risk all for that foolish female, but he will pass. He is- was my partner."

A beam of light swirled and shot from Lightsider's hand, nailing a quail in mid-flight. "Perhaps. If so, we should finish our hunting soon. Wouldn't want to miss his debut!"

***

"Piro-san!"

He turned just in time to be tackled by a full grown female. A full grown naked female.

"Agh! Kit-chan, please, clothes!" he gasped, scrambling from the grown

"Hmph." she sniffed, as clothes grew over her body. "I don't know what you've got against nudity. It's not like you haven't seen me naked a millio-"

"K-Kit-chan!"

"Don't give me that! I've seen your sketchbook!"

"Stop being a stinker, Kit-chan!" a girl said, popping out the brush. "And leave Piro-sensei alone! You know that he's Kimiko's!"

"Who he's never going to see because he's an outlaw!"

"Maybe not..." Piro said. He smiled, and continued dressing the deer he had shot.

"Oh?" said Kit-chan

"Huh...? Oh, WAI!" the young girl glomped him, "You got a secret date, didn't you Piro-sensei! Didn't you?! Tell me, tell me!"

"Wagh! No, please, WoK-chan, get off me!" Piro pulled himself upright again. "I just heard that she might be at the festival tonight. And I thought, well, maybe... if you would disguise us, Kit-chan?"

She grinned. "I might... maybe if you promise not to go at it in some back-room..."

"Kit-chan!" they cried together.

***

"Good day, Nightwalker. Home so soon?" asked Shadowdancer.

"I ran into Largo." he said shortly.

Shadow hid a smile. "That explains much. Nevermind, then; we have more than enough for the feast tonight, especially including what you've brought in today."

"Then everything is prepared?"

"Yes. The guards are all in place, and well prepared."

"You are certain that he will show?"

Shadow eyed him. "Sir, Kimiko will be there."

"Heh. True. Such a pathetic weakness! Ah, well. I shall report to our lord. Good-day, Shadow-san."

"Good-day, Nightwalker."
Types:
Men of L33t, Part II

McFinnigan took a drink from his cup, and frowned. The banquet was predictably, boring. He'd much rather be out in the city dancing with some fine Anglish lasses, but as Scotland's only representative to Larger Angland, he was required to attend. Certainly, there were some fine women here, and the wine wasn't that bad either, but it all felt like such a masquerade... everybody here was out for something. Ah, well. He showed Scotland's support, and would protect Scotland's interests, and once this was all finished, he would find a good tavern and get stone drunk.

He was about to take another draught when he froze.

My... God...

Before his eyes floated the most beautiful vision he had ever beheld. She was like a dream. She had to be a Lady, no one lower could afford such a dress, but there was something... different, about her. She lacked that arrogance, that aloofness that all nobility held... there seemed a strange gentleness in its place. He knew with a certain truth that he was bound to protect her, bound by a thread held stronger than the country that was his heart. He pushed himself off the wall to approach her.

***

"I don't want to go, Erika."

"You're going."

"But-"

"Put the dress on. You need to quit moping over that boy."

"I'm not!"

"You sit around doing nothing, and you barely eat. You haven't touched your script for days. It's not healthy, and you know it. Now put that dress on and get ready for tonight. We're leaving at seven."

"...yes, ma'am."


She had to admit, Erika was right; she really was enjoying herself. The food, the people, the dresses... there was some well done stitchwork here... She caught herself and laughed. Thinking about clothing at the banquet of the King's youngest child! It was fortunate that Erika had as lucrative a business with the Crown as she did. Fortunate...

She sighed. The stitchwork she did for Erika helped a little bit, but she couldn't help but feeling that she was a burden on Erika. The Gray Lady had been kind enough to take her in after that dreadful guardsmen had tried to... anyway, ever since then, it felt like she took in more than she gave, and that didn't sit well with her at all. Perhaps if she could ever get that book done...

But what is it, without your inspiration?

Piro... her face fell. Maybe he shouldn't have killed that awful man, but still...

"Milady?"

She looked up. A large man in a skirt-like dress knelt before her, with an axe strung across his back .

Wha...?

"Sir?"

"Milady, I pledge myself to you here, first and foremost, to protect you from all danger, be it flesh or spirit, under any and all circumstances, and to be at your side in any land, should you require it. So this I swear, by my axe and my clan, and by the God of all Creation."

Kimiko blinked. "I... ah.. s-sir, you must be mistaken! I am no lady, and..."

Surprise flickered across the man's face only to instantly disappear, and then naught but confidence lit his visage. "Be that as it may, you are a lady in spirit, and so you shall always be. I will keep my oath, should you accept it. No man turns on a clan oath."

"Clan..." she finally recognized the strange patterns on his clothing. "You are of Smaller Angland?"

He smiled tolerantly. "Milady, please. Scotland. And my garment is that of a kilt and tartan."

"Kilt and tartan..." she said slowly. What to do? She already had two bodyguards. Seven, technically. It was strange. When she had aught but a poor seamstress, nobody but Piro had given her a single glance. But after... that, when Erika had asked for two bodyguards, over twenty men had volunteered! Even after two got the job, five of the remaining had begged to be allowed to work for free...

What to do...? What would Erika do? She would accept his offer and keep him to it. That much was certain. She never wasted anything. But did she want to be like Erika...?

She glanced down. "I..." His eyes. They were just like Piro's...

"You need to quit moping over that boy!"

But I can't...


She blinked again, catching a tear before it fell. Now was not the time for that!

"I accept your oath, and swear not to abuse it, by..." ...what? He had sworn by his clan and his axe, but she had neither weapon nor kin, and both seemed to be custom. Both were held dear... maybe... "by my hope of a Love's return and by the God of Creation, so this I swear."

It was sealed and finished before she realized what she'd done.

And so I have another, and yet not the one I pray for...

***

Will was enjoying a delicious cherry pie that he had somehow acquired all to himself. It was a work of art, really, and he couldn't understand why he wasn't being mobbed, but hey- what is, is! Beside him, Lightsider chewed slowly, lost in thought. Probably memorizing the entire scene without a blink. He'd have to ask Lights for a detailed political analysis of what happened later. It always turned out fascinatingly accurate. Meanwhile, he was busy with his pie. He took another bite, and glanced up to check for the next course, when something caught his eye. He nudged Lights.

"Heh- toldja he'd come. That's our boy right there, right along with what. the. HELL?!"

***

"Mind if I sit here?"

Izuko glanced up to see his old friend Caduceuskun. "Wha'sure, sure! Grab a chair! Good Lord, man, where ye' been?"

C-kun chuckled. "Well I just didn't know if I'd be welcome with my old friend. Seeing as how he's Church and all, now."

"What? No! My God, I didn't join the Inquisition!"

"Well, I really didn't know what to think. One day, you're sketching around in the drawing room, and the next, you shaved your head and become a monk! I mean, I knew about the drinking thing, but I never thought it'd drive you to the Church!"

Izuko shrugged. "Well, that's what happened. I mean, there were others things behind it, but that was the trigger. It fits me, though. I've always been a man of faith and books, soPSPTHHHPPPT!" He suddenly sprayed his drink everywhere.

"Izzy, all you all right?" C-kun asked, pounding Izuko's back. "You must've seen a doozy, that's usually my move!"

Izuko coughed and pointed "Th-there! Don't you see them?"

Caduceuskun squinted.

"...I see three pretty girls, but there's nothing special about them..."

Izzy glanced at his friend. He didn't see...? Well, if he didn't see them, Izuko wasn't about to inform him. He still held a place in his heart for the Lady Erika, regardless of the Church, and she wouldn't like it if Piro were captured.

He took a drink. "I must have been seeing things. Oh, well."
Types:
Men of L33t, Part III

Yuki sat happily at the table, watching the animated festivities around her. Finally sixteen! Now maybe her father would start to take her seriously... she giggled at a joke that one of her friends told, and took another bite out of roast on her plate. Izuko choked at the table to her right, and she giggled again. C-kun probably told him about his new invention. She grinned as she thought about earlier that afternoon. He had come up with some sort of flying machine, and it went so fast that it could cover nearly sixty miles in less than an hour! He'd taken her flying in it as a birthday present. A dreamy look grew across her face as she remembered the wind blowing through her hair as they flew through clouds and over castles. It a wonderful flight. She hoped that-

"Excuse me-" Yuki started, and turned. A young woman stood beside her, dressed in relatively little garment. It reminded her of pictures she'd seen in some of her books about elvish huntresses. Except that this woman was plainly no elf. An adventurer, maybe...?

"Princess Yuki? I have a gift from someone you knew, once. He hoped that it would make up for the promise he broke." The girl handed her a package wrapped in brown paper and course yarn. Yuki took the package with a surprised look on her face, and examined at the package curiously. The promise he broke...? She looked up.

The woman bowed."May you have a long and prosperous life, your highness." she said, and disappeared.

"Wait-!" Yuki cried, but too late. She sighed, and looked down at the package again. I wonder what it could possibly be...? she thought as she unwrapped the paper. It was a crudely bound book. She opened it up and gasped. Page upon page was filled with sketches and drawings, with notes on how they had been drawn and what to look out for. Piro-sensei... A small tear welled in her eye. She brushed it away and smiled. You didn't forget. You remembered our lesson...

***

Piro nearly tripped and fell when he jumped off the dais. However much his disguise might be an illusion, Kit-chan's illusions were complete, and it actually felt like he had breasts. He regained his balance, and started walking. He was almost used to the extra weight. Wouldn't want to try and fight in this, though... But he was here to see Kimiko, not fight. Now where was she...? He looked around, and his eye caught Kit-chan talking animatedly to some men. He smiled slightly. Only Kit-chan would come to a banquet

"-without a stitch of clothing on!" Will exclaimed. Lights shook his head and squinted again.

"Will, I don't see any of that. All I see are the three young ladies you pointed out, one dressed like an adventurer, one in a fairly modest dress, and one with a rather alluring cut. Are you certain you haven't had too much wine?"

"I haven't started yet, Lights, but I just might... are you certain?"

"Well..." Lightsider said doubtfully. He cast Sight, and looked again. "Huh. They're sorta shimmering now, as if they aren't really there... but I don't sense any illusion going on."

"Huh... I dunno, Lights. I see what I see. It's them, though, and it looks like Piro's searching for Kimiko.'

"The adventurer, you mean? I think she's found her. She's going towards Kimiko's table."

Will settled back in his seat. "Heh. This should be interesting."

***

Shadow emerged from the shadows into the hallway above the banquet hall. So far, everything had gone as planned. There were a few minor problems, to be sure, but all in all the banquet had gone fairly smooth. Which worried her. He should be here, he should be looking for that girl... She scanned the hall again. Nothing out of the ordinary. Her lip curled as her eye passed over Largo. A pity that he hadn't been as stupid as his friend. But it seemed that he had some sense of who he could challenge and who he couldn't. Something that Piro could have learned... he didn't seem the type to cause trouble, but then again, you always had to watch the quiet ones. She smiled. Something many of her enemies had yet to learn.

She reached the end of the hallway, and turned the corner to look again. Her guards at the entrance should have caught any magical or mental interference, but she still felt uncomfortable not checking herself. There was the princess, apparently looking at some new gift. Captain Draegos and his wife Meagen were chatting over to the side... the scottish ambassador was eating over there, and the lady Erika seemed to be keeping to herself at the table across from him... suddenly something caught the corner of her eye, and it had her full attention.

***

Piro approached Kimiko's table with some trepidation. He didn't really know her that well; they'd only really gotten to talking on that fateful day. He was fairly certain she wouldn't betray him (if she even believed it was him), but he had this awful idea that she might reject him and tell him never to talk to him again. He wouldn't blame her; he had killed a man right in front of her. She probably had horrible memories every time she thought of it. What if she did betray him? Or what if she thought he was lying, and-

Enough of that! You are not that person anymore! He shook himself. It was all to easy to fall into that fearful self. He wasn't that way any more. He couldn't be. To do so meant death. He steeled himself, and walked up to her table.

***

"Kimiko?"

She turned to see that one adventurer girl standing anxiously beside her. "Ah... yes? Is something wrong?"

"Er.. no, no, not really. It's just... well... you're probably not going to believe me, but I'm Piro."

She blinked. Whaa? Piro? Was this some sort of jo...? The words on her tongue died away as she caught the girl's eyes. It... they... they weren't... but... they were... when she looked at those eyes, she was looking at Piro...

"I... how?"

"Kit-chan cast an illusion so that we could get in. But it is me, really!"

"I believe you, Piro, keep your voice down." She refrained from grabbing onto him and never letting go. Instead she grabbed his hand. Tightly. "I've missed you so much!"

"Y-you have?"

"Of course I have, you dolt! Did you think I didn't care?"

"I-"

"Have to go now, because you're under arrest." A hand touched Piro's shoulder.

At that instant, his disguise shattered into a million tiny pieces, and a high-keened shriek pierced through the hallway. Hundreds of people jumped to their feet as a suddenly-naked girl fell too her feet, clutching her head and crying.

Lightsider leapt up to help her, but a church member was at her side before he had even taken a single step. Her screaming began to subside as the man worked his arcane arts upon her, and Lightsider nodded. He clothed her with an illusion of Light, and sat back down in his chair.

***

Piro whirled about. A small drow stood before him, her blade pressed gently against his gut.

"I knew you were hot-headed, but I really didn't think you were foolish." she said genially. "Now, if you would come this way?"

"Ms. Duskstar, please!" Kimiko broke in.

Shadow looked at her softly. "This isn't personal, dear. I have to take him in. He's a murderer and wanted by the empire."

"But-"

"Kimiko, sit down." said Piro calmly.

"But Piro-!"

"Please." he said, not taking his eyes off of Shadowdancer.

Kimiko looked back and forth between the two. I-I am not going to back down this time! I can't back down! He looked at her again, pleading in his eyes. I can't, I won't... I...

"Oh!" she said in frustration, and sat down.

"Piro?" Shadow said, gesturing to her right. He held his hands out, and began walking. Shadow sighed inwardly. A fight here, however small, would have been very bad. Fortunately, the boy had-

"H0LD!"

Shadow cursed mentally.

"Rele4se him, 3v1l mini0n!"
Types:
Men of L33t, Part IV

So. He did come after all. I was uncertain that he would, but it appears he had help. Unfortunate for the young one, that her illusion was broken. For the female mini0n, as well. She is no- what is this?! He surrenders? Why, in the name of God?! Dude, sit down you f00lish female, you'll only get in the way! Idi0t move as well, Piro. You could have escaped, your blades are no match for her! Now... now, you are lost. I can not help you. I should not help you, though friend you are. I am a knight, now. I obey the law, and protect the Right. And I... protect the Right... and...

...Damn you, Piro!


"H0LD! Rele4se him, 3v1l mini0n!"

Lights and Will started as Largo jumped onto the table. A miniature crossbow appeared in his hand, pointed directly at Shadowdancer's heart. She whistled around, wrenching Piro in front of her and twisting his arm behind his back.

"You know," said Shadowdancer, "I don't think I will. I'm not the type to abandon my duties."

Largo's jaw tightened. "There are some things," he grated, "That transcend duty." He lowered his crossbow. "I will not ask again. Release him!"

Shadow caught the slight shift in his weight, and frowned. She caught Nightwalker's eye discreetly, and jerked her head slightly towards Largo.

"No." she said aloud.

"Oh, hell." muttered Lightsider, grasping his forehead.

Largo's shoulders dropped. "So be it." he said, and without a sound, launched himself off the table and over Shadowdancer. A sword flashed into his hand as he landed, and he surged forward in attack.

KSHING!

A guard aiming at Largo's head dropped to the ground as Will stared at the place his pie had been.

"My pie-!"

Lights shrugged. "You rather he be shot?"

"But it was cherry!" Will said broken-heartedly. "Couldn't you have used the roast plate instead? I mean it's at least twice as heavy..." He turned to an empty seat. "Lights?"

Lightsider flew through the air and landed on a guardsman headed towards Largo. Shadow had dropped hold of Piro instantly, binding him with spells while she shot forwards to meet Largo's attack. Blade flashed and danced against blade as she Largo danced in a deadly circle, neither allowing the other to gain ground or back off. His style was crude and brutal, but it was effective, even against her unusual strength. And on top of that, she suddenly felt her bindings on Piro twisting and stretching. Aleks, come on... she thought, strengthening her grip on the weaves while trying to defend against Largo. Kavinsky appeared in a flash of green flame, and ran towards Largo. Someone shouted, and Largo turned, while Shadow jumped back and regained her hold on Piro. Largo brought his blade up to parry, but Nightwalker disappeared, and Largo dropped and rolled. He came upright to block Shadow's swing, and the fight began again.

"I couldn't really let you fight Largo, could I?" Will said genially as Nightwalker appeared beside him. "Two on one isn't really fair."

"You little-!"

"Nah-ah, temper!" said Will with a smile. Then his face grew solemn. "Stay out of it. It's his fight. For every time you try, I will pull you back, and there's nothing you can-URK." Will's choked as Nightwalker's blade snicked across his throat, into his heart and across his chest. Will coughed.

"Now that was... unexpected." he rasped, and disappeared. Then he reappeared to grab his severed right arm and disappeared.

Piro, in the mean time, was mentally dancing around Shadow's bindings, trying to find a flaw, an opening. Suddenly, the whole weave just slacked! Piro looked over at the fight. His eyes widened to see Shadow's blade dart in with everything she had behind it just as Nightwalker appeared from behind with his blade raised!
Types:
Men of L33t, Part V

The hospital was silent, as everyone had left for festival that night. Those patients too sick to leave their beds slept peacefully, thanks to a potion one of the sisters had concocted. Torches flickered quietly down a long corridor, where two lone figures embraced in a deep and passionate kiss, and um... er... oh, my... ah... nngg...!

"Oh, fer cryin' out loud people, get a priest!"

The two figures flew apart.

"Will!"
"Doctor!"

He walked up, still talking. "I mean, Lord knows there's a shortage of nookie in the world, so I'm all for you two goin' at it, but you might as well drop inda the church right now and getchur selves hitched, if you're gonna be doin' things like-"

"Oh, Will, your arm!"

"Eh?" Will inhaled sharply as his body suddenly reminded him that he was supposed to hurt. "Oh yyeeeaaaahh.."

He coughed and took in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly as he talked. "Tohru, would you mind reattaching my arm? I can't quite hold it long enough for it to heal back on."

"Of course!" she said, and quickly ran down the corridor to get some supplies, leaving the two of them alone.

Will looked at her partner. "So."

"So."

...

"Without stripping, ah? I'm impressed..."

"Huh."

"Where'd you learn all that anyways?"

The man reddened. "Don't ask."

"Gotcha."

"I'm back!" said Tohru, waving the aqueduct tape as she came skittering to a stop.

"Excellent!" said Will, handing his right arm to her. "If you could... yes, just a little lower... to the left... there." He gritted his teeth as she bent down and began taping his arm tightly against the bleeding stump.

"Cut straight through and across the chest... Will, what happened this time?!"

"Ah... Piro was discovered."

"Oh, no!" cried Tohru unhappily.

Her cohort looked confused. "Who? what?"

Tohru stood up and looked over her handiwork. "Never mind, dear, it's a long story." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'll tell you later."

"Ehhh... ya might be a little flooded later." said Will, flexing his arm. "The church got a little involved, so you and-" he glanced expectantly at Tohru.

"Oh! Will, this is Vorlon. We met at a party half a year ago."

"You and Vorlon," continued Will, "Might want to get the hospital ready for an influx of patients. I'm going back to see what I can do to help get them out of there alive."

"Will, are you certain? You just nearly got sliced in half!"

Will grinned. "I'll manage."

"Au revoir." he said, disappearing.

***

Everything seemed to go in slow motion

Piro roared, and snapped through Shadow's binding like they were made of straw. He surged forwards to stop Shadow, but was suddenly blocked by a pistol to the forehead. The hammer cocked.

Largo heard Piro's cry and swung around to meet Nightwalker's blade, unaware of Shadow's diving blade. Steel clashed against steel, and sparks flew through the air as they both drew their blades back to meet once again.

Piro recoiled, startled by the gun's sudden appearance. He threw back his head to see the face of his opponent, and Draegos stared impassively back into his eyes. Piro stretched his neck to see beyond Draegos' shoulder. He caught a glimpse of Shadow moving in for the kill, while Largo was still focused on Nightwalker. With a snarl, he twisted back around Draegos, catching his two knives as they flew out of his sleeve and drew back his arm to throw. Draegos whirled about, bringing his gun up to bear.

Shadow's adrenaline sang through her veins as she threw herself forward, certain of a kill. Across the room, Lightsider hurled away another guard and shook his hair to clear it from his face. As he did, a flash of light glanced off Shadow's blade and caught the corner of his eye. His eyes widened and he leaped forwards, blades of light forming in each hand. Time slowed. Shadow's blade inched fatally closer as he dove towards it, each moment bringing it just that much closer. It touched the surface of Largo's tunic. Lightsider's blades made contact. They slammed into her katana like an avalanche in slow motion, throwing it off course as it strained to slide into Largo's side. Fabric ripped and tore as it cut through, barely scratching flesh before it was knocked into empty air.

Time sped up and Lightsider slammed into the ground, rolling away and upright into a formal stance. Shadow was thrown to the side and swung with her blade to regain balance. She cursed and brought her blade up to bear to deal with this new intruder. She turned and they both jumped forwards to meet in the mid-air. Light screeched against metal, and they were shocked to find their opponent still in the air. With wings. They looked at each other, and across blades, their eyes met.
Types:
Men of L33t Part VI

WoK was busy as the refreshment's table. There was dried fruit, and more dried fruit, and candy tasting like dried fruit, and cookies, and chocolate, and oh, so many good things! And look! There was a kitten, too! ^^ WAI!

***

"Erika, please, do something!" cried Kimiko, clutching her elder friend's arm.

"And what do you expect me to do, walk up to the senior Captain of the Sonodan Guard and break his hand in three places before he can kill a known murderer?"

"He's not a murderer!"

"So he didn't kill a Guard member?"

"No! I mean, yes, but it was in defense!"

"By attacking?"

"Erika! You know what I mean!"

"Even if I could justify it, Kimiko, going down to help would make things worse."

"But Largo's down there too! Don't you care if he gets killed?!"

Erika's eyes narrowed. "I have no feelings for Sir Largo. His-"

SNAPCRACK!

"AIEEEE!"
A church member fell to ground.

The guests beside her stared. "He groped me." Erika said calmly, and understanding dawned on their faces, and they turned back to the fascinating fight in front of them. Of course! Everybody knew what happened when someone tried to touch the Lady Erika.

She turned back to Kimiko. "His hospital does excellent business with Erika Manufacturing. I extended an invitation because it is vital to keep up customer-business relations. Now, go sit down. Your boy-friend should be perfectly fine."

Kimiko opened her mouth, and shut it again. Then she slumped back into her seat and frowned. He was going to be captured, she knew it! And probably Largo too... then Erika'd have to get involved! Kimiko smiled to herself. She had seen that churchman aiming at Largo's head, even if nobody else had...

"Milady?"

"I'm not a- oh, ah... Sir...?"

"McFinnigan by clan, Milady. I could not help but see your distress, and I wondered how I might alleviate it?"

"It's Piro! He's going to be killed, I know it, and Erika won't fight or do anything, and I can't do anything and... and..." she broke off, terrible things dancing in her mind's eye.

"I see..." said McFinnigan thoughtfully. "Well, then, I shall do what can be done. Milady." he bowed, and walked away.

"Huh? Wait...!" cried Kimiko, but she was too late. He was gone. What is he going to do?! she thought frantically.

***

Draegos traced Piro with his revolvers and opened fire. Piro's magic flared as he leapt into the air, consuming the bullets in wreaths of orange flame. He flung his knives at Draegos, and snapped two more into his hands to attack with. Draegos' arm blurred, and he somehow managed to block both knifes with the butt of his right revolver. As he blocked, his left arm swung across his body to drop the pistol neatly into its holster and draw his sword. He brought it up just in time to catch Piro's new blades and throw him into the wall behind with violent swing. Piro rolled upwards, his hands flaring to life with arcing threads that wove themselves into complex patterns.

Uh-oh... Draegos lowered his weapons, and prepared for impact. The Imperial Sonodan Guard were not without their own brand of magics!

***

Lightsider and Shadowdancer stared at each other, not quite certain what to make of each other. It was... it was if it was wrong for them to fight as true enemies. They broke off and flew backwards, feet striking the pavement as blades bent in defense. They circled warily, not breaking eye contact, but at the same time wishing for all the world that they could. Shadow flinched and Lights jumped. He flipped in mid-air, his blade shooting downwards, and caught nothing but air. Consternation lit his eyes, and he landed on the ground with a wary look. Shadow breathed with relief on the inside, held her blade steady. She no longer had to look into those deep, riveting, violet-blue eyes.

***

Ye've done yer best by yer country all yer life, and now it's about time ta leave her! thought McFinnigan, lapsing into his old accent as he watched the fight below. Hoo, boy... now they were flaring up wi' the magics. No way he could fight that, not even with his blessed axe... He ran his eyes over the fight. There. That one seemed to have the stuff! Now to free him up for a fight... Milady Kimiko give me strength and pray fer me ta' the saints!

***

Shadow readied her blade to attack, her eyes watching him like a hawk. She sensed something above her, but viciously threw it to the back of her mind. There would be no distractions for this! Now-

"DROP!" Lightsider cried without warning, surged forwards. She blinked, and the whistled around as her senses screamed to move! McFinnigan's axe rang out against her barely prepared blade and threw her off balance! She stumbled, and his next blow knocked her over when she blocked it. Her katana flew into space, and she could feel the rush of air as his blade came whistling towards her neck. She lunged away to escape but knew with a heavy feeling that he would not-

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIII!"

Energy slammed through the room like a wave into the beach. Men everywhere froze, and women gasped in surprise. It was like the <font color="pink">happiest</font color>, <font color="white">cutest</font color> feeling they had ever had!

Shadow opened her eyes, and blinked. The attacker's blade was just barely resting against her throat. In fact, she could feel the small trickle of blood running down her neck where it had nicked her. She blinked again, and recognized the Ambassador of Smaller Angland. A Scot. She'd nearly been killed by a bloody Scot.



WoK looked around. "Wow... what happened...?"

"Precisely what I was going to ask!" said a voice behind her.

"ACK!!" THWACK!

"Ohmygosh, I'm so sorry!" cried WoK, dropping her mallet. "You just startled me so!"

Will's eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell to the ground.

"Oh!" cried WoK in frustration. "What am I gonna do now?"

"Admirable work." said a woman behind her. WoK turned. Shadow stood behind her, holding a cloth to her neck. "It would have taken considerably longer to defeat all four in battle. Have you considered working with the Church?"

WoK looked around, finally taking in the situation. "ACK! I got Piro-sensei caught?! Oh, nonononononono!"

"Y'know" said Will from the ground, "Technically you haven't." He opened one eye and looked at Shadow. "Got them caught, I mean." He reappeared beside Largo, and touched his shoulder with a mischievous grin.

"Whoops! Looks like one got away!" he said playfully as Largo disappeared. Shadow cursed and jumped after him, but he flickered out and in about the room, and Lightsider, McFinnigan, WoK, and Piro all began to disappear in subsequent order. He stopped for a fraction of a second to bow, and then disappeared.
Types:
Men of L33t, PART VII: Prelude to Council

Some of the Rei sisters were just returning from the festival (they hadn't been able to get into the banquet, but an empire-wide festival sort of makes up for that, don't you think?). Intelli hung up her cloak and turned around just in time to see Doc Lightsider, Largo, Piro, and some brute of a man pop into existence in the infirmary. A second later, a strange young girl appeared in mid-air, and fell the the floor with a tiny squeak. Intelli was about to run over to her when William popped in behind the poor lass and lifted the her to her feet.

"William! What's going on?!"

"Large fights, massive explosions, magic, swords, drugs, the usual."

"Drugs?"

"Well, that's I figure we'll need to wake up these four sleeping beauties." Will said, gesturing to the men. Intelli looked at them for the first time, and gasped. They were alive, but immobile. She ran up to Largo and began taking his vitals.

"What's wrong with them?!" she exclaimed, moving on to Piro and getting the same results.

"I don't know... they were like that when I got there." He threw a thumb in WoK's direction. "I'd ask the cute one there. She was around before I was."

WoK's lip quivered. "Ano... I-I think.. I dunno... I was eating fruits, and there was all sorts of cute things, and I was so happy I thought I'd burst, and then I shouted, and then everything got real quiet..."

Intelli looked up. "Severe case of cute, maybe, shorted out the brain?"

Will nodded. "Could be, although it must have been pretty huge to knock out Largo... do we have anything do counteract it?"

"You could try a Severely Gross and Disgusting Serum," said Washuu as she walked in. "Who's the unlucky schmuck?"

Will pointed at the men. "Them." He looked through an old dusty tome in thought. "Hm... SGD might work... it wasn't designed to combat cuteness, though - heck, for all we know, Largo could be out from horror at the cuteness."

WoK waved her hand in the air. "Erm... 'scuse me, uh... I dunno if this'll help or not, but Kit-chan always wiggled really funny in front of Piro-sensei whenever he got like that, and, I dunno, I, justthoughtmaybethatwouldhelp."

The three adults blinked, and then smiled.

"Intelli!" said Nabiki as she ran in. "Oh, hey, Will- Intelli, Tohru and Vor are going at it again!"

"Oh, dear! I told her that she shouldn't bring him around here! I guess I'll have to go break them up. Will-"

"Actually, Intelli," Will said thoughtfully, "I've got an idea. You say they're really going at it, Nabiki?"

"Ho, yeah!"

Will grinned at Intelli. "Concentrated-"

"-Sexiness?" she replied with a grin of her own. "It might work..."

***

"I don't care! You can't just let this go by!"

A large group of people faded silently into place beneath the shadows of the hallway.

"I can and I will! And I don't like you-"

"Oi! Nabiki, I thought you said they were going at it!" Will's voice pierced through the shadows, starting the two quarrelers.

"I did, Will. They've been fighting for the past five minutes!"

Will sighed and muttered. "Thghtyouwstlkingboutthermntickindagoinatit.." He looked up at the two, their faces an incredible shade of red. He sighed again, and then stopped. An evil grin spread across his face as an equally evil thought crossed his mind.

"WoK!"

"Hai!"

"Er... hi to you, too. Listen, can you do that thing you did in the hallway?"

She frowned uncertainly. "I dunno... I never did it on purpose before..."

Will slipped behind her and held out a bag of dried-fruit candies. "If you can do it, I'll give you this whole bag of candy."

"Oh, WAAAAAAAAIIII!"

Everyone in the room felt the shock wave of cuteness. Will shook his head with a chagrined look, and thanked his God he had been behind her when she let off. He glanced up at Vor and chuckled, satisfied.

"Oh, wow... did I do that?" Wok said in awe.

"What's wrong with him?!" Tohru said frantically, waving her hand in front of Vor's eyes.

Will smirked. "He's had a cuteness overload. As far as we know, the only way to fix it is sexy things."

"Ecchi." stated WoK matter-of-factly.

"Hm?" Will said, turning to her.

"We call it Ecchi. And cute is Kawaii."

"Oookay, then. You have to be Ecchi to fix him, Tohru. Glaze his eyes over."

Tohru turned furiously on him. "What?! I will not! Heal him! NOW!"

Will put his hands up, chuckling. "HehehI can't! I'd probably sear his eyes out! It's all up to you, girl!"

She clenched her fists for a moment, contemplating knocking this arrogant git out, but let it go in frustration, and angrily turned her back on him. She slipped her hand into nowhere, and pulled out a handful of glittering blue dust. Throwing it into a circle about her, she waved her hand and jumped. The dust flared into the air like a cloud, obscuring her form and swirling brilliantly. It hesitated for a moment, and then disappeared with a brilliant flash. She floated gently to the ground in an incredibly sexy yet obviously foreign costume. Jumping through the air, she flung her arms out and caught onto Vor. Her legs swung around and latched tightly onto him, and she gave him a long, luxurious french kiss.

Vor's eyes widened, and he nearly pulled back before wrapping his arms around her himself, and returning the kiss with a passion. The girls went all mushy and googly-eyed; Will respectfully kept his back turned. Besides, he was more interested in how it affected the men. Lightsider was the first - his eyebrows shot up, and he quickly turned away, red-faced. Piro was next, but apparently this "Kit-chan" had had an effect on him during his exile. He merely blinked and turned faintly pink.

Meanwhile, Tohru seemed to have forgotten that the others were there. She and Vor pulled apart for a nanosecond to breathe, and then went at it again. Will chuckled as he heard the girls' gasps and the couple behind him fall onto a sofa. He studied the two remaining men, hoping for a reaction. Suddenly, he caught a twitch - from both of them. They both shook their heads, and took in the situation. It was an interesting contrast - Largo merely crossed his arms with a bored look, while McFinnigan bellowed out in laughter.

Vor came up in startlement, and Tohru right behind him, blushing furiously. Will laughed out loud and turned. "At least you've still got your clothes on!" He said, chuckling. "Well. Now that we're all awake, it's time to decide what to do. The Church will be inviting themselves over fairly soon."
Types:
Men of L33t, Part VIII

Councils


Darkness finally fell over the city, and the last rays of light from the sun dropped below the horizon. The wind blew softly, gently pushing dark clouds over the rooftops and alley ways of Sheffield. Lightning cracked and thunder rolled, and water fell from the heavens in heavy sheets. A lone figure walked the streets, the rain cascading off his clothing like miniature waterfalls. He paused to a minute to look up, and then hurried on. Moving through the streets in a calculating manner, he made his way to the side of a large church, and rapped tersely on the wooden door. A young woman opened the door.

"Sir Caduceus? Come in, come in!" she said, closing the door behind him. "What brings you to the church in this weather?"

"Good-day, Miss Integral." said Caduceus, taking off his over-coat. "I was hoping to see Izuko."

"Yes, I believe I passed him in the library, working on some old manuscripts. I'll send a maid to fetch him. Would you care for a bit of tea?"

"Yes, thank-you. Earl Grey?" he said, sitting down by the fire.

"Certainly. I've already got a pot on to boil, so it shouldn't be more than- oh! There it is!" Caduceus moved his legs out of the way as she ran over to the fireplace and took the kettle off. She ran over to the cupboard and pulled out her china, setting the delicate cups carefully on the table in the center of the room. A sweet aroma rose into the air as she poured hot water into each cup.

"Do I smell Earl Grey?" said a voice from the back. Izuko walked into the room and stopped in surprise. "Iain! Good friend, you're the last person I'd expect to see here! You're here because of the banquet?"

Caduceus took a sip of his tea. "Yes. All Erika could tell me when I woke up was that a young girl somehow made all the men freeze, and one of Sir Largo's men disappeared with all the antagonists. The Church is apparently working on this as a close case with the Guard."

Izuko sat down and stirred his tea absentmindedly. "I see... I shouldn't really give you anything, but I trust you'll not-?"

"Of course."

"Well, then." Izuko picked up his cup. "Here's what I know, or rather, what I've picked up since I awoke. Amazing how many people ignore you if they think you're studying. They haven't got a thing on the young lady, though they believe her to be foreign."

"Perhaps the Lady Shadowdancer would know?"

"One would think, but evidently the girl isn't from the Orient. Her magic was nigh on untraceable, though one could could argue it was more aura than magic. At any rate, they do know who the young man was. A Dr. William Trent, from the hospital that Sir Largo funded. He's listed as having a powerful healing ability, but they know nothing about his Shifting abilities. Milady Shadowdancer is attempting to track him through the Shadows. They're also sending troops to the hospital."

"Was that wise?"

"One would hope so. It certainly would be devastating for the church if any of the patients were to get hurt. Oh! It's also rumored that we've caught a prisoner. One of Piro's women."

"Piro's women?"

***

Shadows flickered quietly in the candle light as BG Master bent over a table, studiously going over several maps and reports. Miho walked over to the table and slid into the chair opposite him. Nightwalker leaned in the darkness against the wall behind him.

"They'll be gone before your men get there." Miho said quietly.

"I know. The men will serve as a warning to the hospital, and a guard in case they attempt to make contact again."

"Make certain that they harm no one."

"I shall. I've been studying the maps of the outlaying area, and I am unreasonably certain that they won't use the hills to hide out. Largo seems to be at home in the wild-" Nightwalker snerked behind him. "-and there are plenty of forests in the outlaying areas. That is, if they don't decide to leave the country."

"They won't. The ties between the knight and Lady Erika are too strong."

"Lady Erika? I had thought it would be the young miss Kimiko that would be keeping them here."

"They are almost one- they can stand to be separated. It would, in fact, strengthen them. No, it is Erika's ties that will keep them nearby, thank God."

"God?" said BG, an appalled note in his voice. "For all they call you a Saint, you can't really believe in their myths and fairytales, can you?"

"Myths and fairytales..." mused Miho. "Didn't we see those for every day we were in the Orient?"

"We did, and I'll say that there are spirits of power, but after all that I've seen... the Christian God cannot exist. There is too much pain and suffering in this world for a righteous all-powerful God to exist. How can they believe that...?"

"By the same hope that keeps all of humanity going."

"Do you believe it?"

"I believe... I believe that whatever Being or Power rules this universe has given us a responsibility to right wrongs with whatever tools we can use."

Nightwalker chuckled. "And for that, they call her Saint, despite the powers of the 'wombicon." He blinked, and moved to the side as Shadowdancer emerged from the shadows. "Speaking of power, here's our resident witch."

She wrinkled her nose. "Witch, am I now?"

"Heh. If you wish." BG chuckled tiredly. "In truth, your powers are neither neutral nor holy. It makes those who sense it... uneasy."

"Only fools fear what they cannot understand."

BG smiled again. "Then why care for a fool's opinion? Come, sit. We have much to plan. Did you find the lad?"

"No." she said, frustrated. "Whatever power he wields, it is untraceable by my arts. I was able to sense him once or twice outside the fabric of the shadows, but they were old marks, long since left behind."

"I see... could you sense him were he to heal?"

"Possibly... I hadn't thought of that. I will keep it in mind."

"Excellent. Also, Hanatoko was able to capture a prisoner, and we believe her to be the one casting the illusion."

"Illusion...?"

"Yes, Piro and his troupe appeared as young women to all of us. Strangely enough, you were one of the few unable to see the illusion. None of one men, from Nightwalker on down to a young initiate named Sen were able to sense that anything was amiss. Might you have any insight in this matter?"

"I... may. Where is the woman?"

"She is currently resting in one of his quarters. The shattering of her illusion evidently hurt her badly."

Nightwalker pushed himself off the wall. "Then we wait?"

"Yes. They will come back. Let them. But send out small hunts to leave off the feel of a trap. Wouldn't want them to feel unwelcomed, would we?"

***

A clock ticked in the background of a well-lit room. One could hear thunder rolling in the distance, as the rain pelted dimly on the roof three stories above. Erika sat at her desk, scratching idly in a book. Someone knocked on her door, and she glanced up sharply

"...Ah. It's you, Kimiko." She sat back in her chair. Kimiko smiled.

"I've got those reports you wanted." she said, holding up a sheaf of parchments. "Charlie said to tell you that he's still waiting for those extra items he circled on page three. It's been holding them up for two weeks, now."

"Tell him that I'm working on it, but at the rate Livirpoole's ships are moving, they might do better just to make the parts themselves."

"...You didn't even look at the report."

"I know what parts he's talking about."

"No, you don't, those were already delivered and checked off yesterday!"

Erika looked at her for a second, and then let the barest of smiles pass across her lips. "Heh. So you've gotten into company affairs. I thought you wanted to write."

"I'll do what I have to to pull my own weight!"

"You do dresses."

"Which don't make nearly enough to-" she stopped, and smiled. "You changed the subject. I hadn't noticed before, but you deliberately changed the subject. You've never done that with an error, Erika, you always accept the correction immediately. Wanna talk about it?"

Erika bent back over her book. "I have nothing to talk about."

"You're worried about Largo, aren't you?"

"No."

"Yes, you are! You're afraid he'll be killed, you want to kill him yourself for jumping in like that, and you love him all the more for doing it!"

Erika lifted her book up. "Are you certain you're not just trying to pin your emotions on me?"

Kimiko giggled. "Silly! I've already gone through all that! I know he'll be fine. He knows the wild now. They'll never find him on his own territory!" She leaned over the desk, and pulled Erika's book down with a finger. "He's with Piro, Erika. They'll be just fine."

Erika pulled her book back up. "That fool will probably get them all caught with his brashness."

Kimiko smiled, and turned to leave. "Yes, Erika, I'm sure he will."

No need to ask which he.

***

The rain thundered across the road, answering in kind by thunder from above. The wind howled as it cut through the trees, swerving this way and that, bringing with it the sound of hooves pounding against hardened dirt. Horses raced through the trees, running as a heavy gallop splashing through puddles and over streams. The figure at the head of the group suddenly reared up his horse.

"THROUGH HERE!" Piro hollered across the wind, and cut into the forest. The rest of the horsemen swerved in after him, and galloped through the dense vegetation, ducking trees, jumping logs, and fighting wind.

"THIS IS SENSELESS!" cried Will, narrowly missing a branch recoil. "I COULD HAVE TELEPORTED US ALL THERE SAFELY!"

"YOU'D HAVE MISSED IT!" Lightsider hollered back. "THIS FOREST IS FILLED WITH STRANGE FIELDS OF ENERGY! YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT TYPE OF MAGIC WILL REACT WHAT WAY WHERE!"

"WHAT?" Will swerved to miss a large boulder. "WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT DOING THERE?!"

"NO GO! FOREST THROW YOU OFF!" Lights jumped over it.

"DANG... YOU'RE GOOD!"

"NOTHING COMPARED TO SOME OF THE STUNTS WE PULL IN SCOTLAND!" yelled McFinnigan, galloping just ahead. He swerved left as Piro did and continued. "REMIND ME TO SHOW YOU SOMETIME WHEN WE'RE A LITTLE LESS PRESSED FOR TIME!"

"HOLD!" cried Largo. Lightning struck the tree in front of them, and it wavered menacingly. Piro waved his hand in an arcane symbol, and it fell to the north of them with a heavy crash. Piro kicked his horse up onto it, and waving for them to follow.

"WHAT IS HE DOING?" yelled Will.

"I DON'T KNOW." said Lights. The rain whipped across his face. "BUT THE ONLY WAY TO FIND OUT, IS TO FOLLOW HIM!" He kicked him horse up onto the tree as well.

Dang it! thought Will, and then, after a second, jumped his horse up onto the tree, too.
Types:
Men of L33t, Part IX

*Drip.*

*Drip.*

*Drip.*

Yuki stirred in her sleep as the sun's warm rays rested gently on her face. She stirred again, and her eyes flickered. Sleepily, she pushed herself upright and turned her head, blinking. It was morning. She looked out the window, and saw the brilliance of a million drops scintillating across her garden. She smiled as the brilliant rainbow of colors played over the leaves, and turned her head to the room.

Oh.

Her sensei's present. She had been up all night pouring over its precious pages, drinking in every line as if she'd never see them again. It had been horrible after the party. Her father had sent out the guard, and wouldn't even listen to her about Piro. Then after dinner they'd had a fight, and she'd ran to her room crying. That was when she remembered the gift Piro-sensei had left her, and began reading it.

She must have fallen asleep reading it. She smiled again, but her lip quivered slightly. She sighed and closed the book gently, and pushed off her bed to dress.

*Drip*

*Drip*

*Drip*

The sound of the maid making breakfast woke Meagen. She smiled and stretched slightly, and then turned to wake Draegos, only to find the warmth of an empty spot. She frowned and sat up in bed. His boots were gone. Meagen shook her head sleepily, trying to sort it all out. Oh, yes. She slumped. He'd had to go early to set up a hunt for Largo and Piro. She scrunched up her knees and hugged them tightly to her chest.

Largo.

What were they going to do now. What was she going to do now? Who would have thought- Meagen cursed softly. She had known from the start, but she didn't want to admit it. This was Largo she was talking about. It was only a matter of time before friendship broke duty and he joined Piro. Yet she had hoped against hope that he might stay true to duty.

So much for that. She sighed and shook her head. Too early to be thinking about this. Later, after breakfast maybe. Yes, breakfast, that sounded like an excellent idea. She flipped her legs out from under the covers and slipped into her slippers.

This was going to be a good day. It had to be.

*drip*

*drip*

*drip*

Kit stirred, and her eyes fluttered to life. She stared at the delicately carved ceiling above her, with an intricately pieced chandelier to match. This wasn't her home... she blinked again. This wasn't Piro-san's home, either. Where was she? She blinked once more, and the memories of last night began to flood in... she was at the party... someone had touched her... someone who didn't see- she cringed at the memory. Someone had broken her illusion. But who-

"Ah, you're awake now!"

Kit flew into the air and landed on the bed in a feral stance!

"YOU!"

"Me-hwa?Erk!" Hanatoko covered his eyes and looked away as he suddenly realized that Kit was still in her nightgown.

"You broke my illusion and brought me here!"

"Me...? Oh, no, no, no, that was the Lady Shadowdancer! She was trying to find Ser Piro. She didn't know that it'd hurt you if she touched you! We've tried everything to help nurse you back to health..." His words stumbled off into silence.

"I... see. So I'm a prisoner. And you intend to have your way with me?"

"Wha-No!"

Kit let her swords vanish and plopped onto the bed. "Drat. I don't suppose you'll try threatening my only love to get information out of me either, will you?"

"What?"

drip.

drip.

drip.
KAPHWOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!


Lightsider shot straight up bed!

"What? With whipped cream, you say?" muttered Will. "Oh, well, if you insist..."

Lights shook his head and felt around for his glasses. His hand finally closed upon them and he stuck his head outside of the tent.

"Largo, NO!"

"PH34R MY F1R3-M4K1NG SKILLZ!"

Lights stepped outside while buttoning his shirt, and struggled to keep a straight face at the scene that lay before him. McFinnigan walked up beside him with a hot, steaming cup of coffee, chuckling heartily.

"They're quite a pair, aren't they?" he said, handing the cup to Lightsider.

"That, they are." said Lights, taking the cup and blowing it gently. "Sometimes I really wonder how they manage to pull it off, but they do." He took a sip, and just savored the way it flowed warmth throughout his body. "I think that's why people so dangerously underestimate them. Who would suspect a couple of fools like that?"

McFinnigan chuckled. "Who indeed?" He took a drink from his own cup. "And who would be foolish enough to follow them?" He said with a twinkle.

Lightsider laughed. "I suppose we are at that. But, better a fool with brothers than a king with fools, ne?"

McFinnigan grinned. "I can't disagree there, friend."

"EEEK! There's a spider in my bed! Get it away, get it away!"

Lightsider grinned back. "Now if you'll excuse me, there's a maiden in distress that needs rescueing."

McFinnigan lifted his mug. "Of course."

Will stumbled groggily of out his tent just as Lightsider ran by to save WoK. He scratched his head confusedly, and had just about focused when Largo's fire exploded again. He erked out and reappeared in a tree just overhead.

"I'M BLEEDING AWAKE ALRIGHT?!!"
Types:
Men of L33t, PART X

Iain was putting on his boots when Integral knocked on the door. "Come in," he said shortly, trying to pull that last lace through. She pushed the wooden door open and brought in a tray.

"Breakfast." She said simply, and placed the tray on the table beside his bed. She glanced at him while pouring his orange juice. "Message came by from Erika Manufacturing. The Lady Erika requests your presence as soon as possible. She was summoned to the palace today for a new work order, and expects you to be ready the moment she arrives back."

"Summoned to the Palace, now? I wonder what was that important…" Iain finally managed to get the lace through and jerked it tight.

"Perhaps the events of the past night?" Integral said, holding out the glass of juice. Iain quickly tied the knot and took it from her.

"Maybe…" he sniffed the juice. "What is this stuff?"

Integral stifled a laugh. "I believe it's known as orange juice, Sir Caduceus. A standard breakfast drink. Haven't you ever had any?"

Iain stared at mellow orange liquid. "I don't usually have breakfast." He confessed sheepishly, and took a small drink. "Hm. Tastes pretty good. I assume the oranges came by portal?"

"Of course."

"Mm. Expensive. But possibly worth it… I'll have to talk to Erika about this. Anyway, I must be on my way."

"Would you mind if I came along, Sir Caduceus?" asked Integral. "I'm certain there's something to be learned in devising this new order, and we haven't had a lesson in weeks."

Caduceus frowned. "I'm not really certain I should be divulging company secrets to outsiders…"

"But the Church will know anyway once the order is complete!" Integral stared at Iain pleadingly. "Please?"

Iain sighed. "All right. But only techniques! You are to forget any designs you see. Now come, young apprentice, the date grows late!"

* * *

Erika walked brusquely into the royal chamber.

"You called, Sire?"

Emperor Sonoda looked up from conferring with Captain Draegos and the Lady Shadowdancer. "Ah! Lady Erika! Yes, I have a special request for you. As you know, we have been unsuccessful in locating the young criminals from last night."

"Then you will be unsuccessful further still." Erika said dryly. "I have nothing that could outperform the Lady Shadowdancer at tracking."

"Perhaps so, but that is not why we called you here. The problem lies with one of Largo's followers, a young Mr. Trent. He apparently is a teleporter of some skill, and, while We are confident in the Church's abilities, he is unpredictable and untrackable. Chasing him down would be nigh on impossible. We were hoping that you could create a projectile that would put him to sleep when shot, and be impervious to magic. It would be even better if you could cause the projectile to track its target. Would you be willing to take this order on?"

Erika stood silent for a moment, and then smiled. Draegos shivered. "Yes, I believe we can do that. In fact, we would be only too happy to help hunt down these rebels, if you so will…?"

The Emperor smiled. "Excellent. I knew you would warm to the challenge, Milady. Draegos!" The Emperor turned. "Do what we talked about earlier, and take the Lady Shadowdancer with you on your next hunt. It may be that she will catch a hint of the rebels in that twisted forest."

"Yes, Sire!"

"And Draegos-" said Sonoda. "Don't let your affection for your wife or my daughter blind you."

"Sire!" said Draegos, "I'm practically her older brother! It is our duty to torment, maim, and/or kill any prospective boyfriends! Why, just this afternoon I have an appointment to break both the legs of Tohru's new beau at two o' clock!"

"I'm not certain which is more disconcerting," said Shadowdancer, "That you scheduled it or that he accepted."

Draegos smiled sharply. "He doesn't know."

"I think it's romantic!" exclaimed the Empress happily. The men stared at her. "Well, you know! The two of them, together, in the examination room, Tohru trying to ease his pain, taking off his pants to set the breaks…"

Draegos looked highly disturbed. "Maybe I'll just break his arms…"

Emperor Sonoda looked at his wife in dawning astonishment. "You mean that run-in with the bully at the Academy was planned?!"

The Empress looked at him demurely and smiled. "Would you rather that it hadn't happened?"

"Er…"

"I should be going, Sire." Erika said abruptly. "The device will take some time to plan. Majesties." She bowed and left the room. Draegos hurredly followed after.

* * *

Charles Fox looked up delightedly as Sir Caduceus came into the room.

"Iain! I've just created the greatest invention yet!"

"Oh? And that is…?"

"Well, you know how women always have an impossible amount of stuff in their purses?"

"Yes, yes, I know, we called it the Female Void Theory-"

"No, that was the one about blondes, boss." Fox said, ignoring Caduceus' frantic hand signals.

"Really?" said a frozen voice. Fox blinked and realized belatedly that a woman had entered the workroom. A blonde woman.

"I, er… Miss… I didn't see you come in!"

"Fox, this is Integral, Integral, this is Charles Fox." Said Iain wearily. "Charles, you were saying…?"

"Yes, do go on." Integral said frostily.

Fox looked at them uncertainly. "Er… well, yes, anyways, I've developed a wallet that is linked to a pocket universe using those reality destabalizers you whipped up the other night, and-"

"I don't remember those…" said Iain thoughtfully.

"You did them while you were sleeping. The plans are over on the bench if you want-"

"No, no, we can look at those later. Anyways…?"

"Yes, well, that's about it. I give you the Fathomless Wallet!" Fox whipped a small blanket off the workbench. Caduceus stared.

"Fox, I could kill someone just by dropping it on them!"

"So it needs a few refinements! But it works! Think of the possibilities here! You could store knives, guns, cannons, clothes, lunch, the possibilities are endless!"

"Where does it all go?"

"A sort of pocket universe. It's one of those really weird ones, only about a castle's height and length, and shaped like a duck. I was thinking of calling it 'Quack' space…"

"Well, if you're going to store weapons in it, why not call it 'Quake' space?" said Integral, who had been drawn in despite her anger. "It'd definitely put the fear of God in people!"

"Quake space…" said Fox thoughtfully. "I like it! Iain, what do you think?"

"I think you're going to trash this project."

"But-"

"Lady Erika's just given me the new royal order, and boy is it a doozy! We're supposed to make a projectile that hunts its target and sends them to sleep when it hits. And impervious to magic, no less! No time for wallets that give you back pain."

"Hunts its target…?" said Fox thoughtfully. "How would we go about that? It'd have to tell between the living and dead…"

"I was thinking of maybe making it heat-based. We could insert a small barometer into the interior shaft, and…"

"Of course! Then we could put a chemical-mix in the head, and…"

The three heads bent over Fox's workbench, intent on creating the world's first heat-seeking missile. Fox forgot all about his wallet, and later that night the janitor threw it out with the trash.
Types:
Men of L33t, Part XI

Largo stirred his eggs restlessly. Beside him, Piro drained his cup of coffee. He wiped his mouth and looked around. WoK and Will were still eating heartily, Will on his seconds and WoK on her thirds. The Ambassador was enjoying his coffee, and Lightsider was finishing his plate quietly. He cleared his throat.

"Well. It seems to me the best thing for us to do would be to change our appearance, something that makes us look different while blending in with the forest."

Lightsider looked up. "You mean like something in green?"

"We should have patches of different colors." said Largo. "There will be more than just green in this land."

"Hey, yeah!" said WoK, and then paused. "But... we'd probably look silly..."

"Maybe a green shirt and brown breeches?" Lightsider inquired.

"Ho, no! You're not putting me in any of those ridiculous tights! I'm wearing my kilt!"

Largo grinned. "D00d, you wear a skirt! What's wrong with a tights?"

"It's a kilt, as you well know!"

"Regardless, Sir McFinnigan, it'll stick out like a sore thumb." said Piro. "I do agree that we need different colors, though"

"Make 'em change colors." said Will, scarfing up the last of his eggs.

"What?"

"Make 'em change colors." He scraped his plate. "I saw something like that at the OGSB. They had a cloak that'd switch from maroon to dark blue, to match your outfit."

McFinnigan choked on his coffee. "Ye've got an ORaZ chapter here?"

Piro blinked. "Well, yeah. People usually hate the food, though, so they changed it from ORaZ Cathedral and Snack Bar to the ORaZ General Store and Bar."

"What?!" cried McFinnigan. "How can you not like ORaZian food?! I haven't had a good dish of Hellfire Chilli in days, much less Haggis! What kind of barbaric land is this?!"

Lightsider looked up thoughtfully. "Think you might have some connections there? We could use that cloth..."

"Aye, probably. Can we go back, though?"

"Do you remember the way in?" asked Piro.

"Yes, for the most part. I'll remember what I don't when I get there."

"Then Will can port you there. We can magic out, just not in. Not until I've mapped the magic types and flows around here."

"We should probably grow our hair out, too." said Will.

"That's a good idea. Will, you're shaving." Piro ignored Will's squawk. "Lights, cut that hair short. The rest of you, grow facial hair, except you, WoK. You get to have long hair. You know how to braid?"

"Glad to finally see him so confident, huh?" Will muttered to Lights.

Lights grinned and whispered back. "Oh, hush. Women like shaved bishies anyways."

"Do they?" Will perked up.

***

Kimiko looked up at the sharp rap on her door. "Come in." she said wearily, putting down her ink-pen. She looked over her script in frustration. That one part just wouldn't work! She looked up.

"Oh, hello, Az. I'm afraid your last order hasn't come through, yet, we've had a large order from the Empire and that takes first prior-" Az put up his hand, and chuckled.

"I'm not for Erika's work, young miss. I'm here for yours."

Kimiko blinked. "Oh... I'm afraid I don't have time at the moment..."

Azimov held up a package. "At least look at the patterns."

"Eh... all right." Kimiko said, taking the thick envelope. "Why do I feel I'm going to regret this..."

Az grinned. "Probably because you're won't be able to resist this order?"

Kimiko looked over the designs. Hm... interesting. She hadn't seen cloaks like these before... long jackets... They'd be incredibly stylish blowing in the wind... she thought, marking down some notes. Actually, she could make them look even better, by hitching up a little leather here, and adding some cloth there, and- hm... she stared at a particular page, and sighed wistfully.

"This would be about Piro's size..." she said absently.

"Really?" Az said innocently. "I wouldn't know... what an amazing coincidence!"

Kimiko glanced up and looked sharply at Az. He didn't blink. "Yyyes..." she said, not taking her eyes off him. "I suppose it is..."

Az glanced at his watch. "Oh, look at the time! I was supposed to be back five minutes ago to help control a new recipe. You'll do the work then?"

Kimiko looked back down at the patterns. "Yes. Yes, I suppose I will."

"Excellent." He gathered up his belongings. "The rate will be 50% above normal if you get them done by tomorrow. I know it's a bit of a push, but the order is urgent. We'll deliver your material within the hour."

"All right..." she said absently, staring at the papers. She pushed her script to the side and began scribbling around the patterns. This would be some of her best work yet.
Types:
Men of L33t, Part XII
34 days later

WoK stood high on a branch, her cape blowing gently in the wind. Her hair, once short, fell down her back in long beautiful tresses. She was silent, unmoving. It always scared Will when she did this, especially since he swore it was against the laws of nature for her to be still. She'd learned how, though. It was vital for Piro-sensei, and she wasn't about to let him down! WoK stared deep into the forest, watching, waiting.

There.

She dove off the branch, the wind whistling through her hair. Half-way to the ground, she snagged a hanging vine and swung around a tree.

"Ha-WAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIII!"

Flying through the air, she brought out a pie and shot towards her target. The church-man didn't have a chance. He was stunned the moment he heard her, and pied the next. Will swirled into existence behind the man and pushed him off his horse. WoK careened about from the impact, but managed to land up in a nearby tree.



Lightsider glided out from the trees above and landed beside the man. He pulled him upright and bound the man's wrists behind him with a short strand of Light. Piro jumped down to the ground as Largo and McFinnigan emerged from the forest. The church-man started and shook his head.

"Brother Rogue... you repossessed the properties of three peasant families, each with over five children because their babies..." Piro raised his eyebrow "Made too much noise when you were eating. Then you knocked down their houses and built a restaurant too costly for the village-folk to eat at. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Rogue looked at Piro defiantly "I thought it was a fitting punishment."

Piro's eyes flashed. "Strip him."

Will flourished with his hand and the man's clothes and money fell in a neat pile beside him. The man flinched and instinctively covered himself. Piro looked at him disgustedly.

"Get walking. If you hurry, you might make it to a village by nightfall. Maybe they'll give you a towel to cover yourself. Go!"

They melted into the forest. Will reared his horse, took a last glance at Rogue, and disappeared with the horse.

* * *

"How much did he have?" said Piro, pulling off his over-cloak.

Will opened his hand and let the money fall into it from nowhere. "A pitiful amount, but what do you expect from someone like him? Enough to feed Lichfield for a week. Maybe more."

Piro sighed. "Not enough to restore their land, then."

"We shouldn't be attacking these small ones!" said McFinnigan, emerging from the trees. "They'll never amount to anything, and we're only pulling ourselves deeper into trouble!"

"What, and we should attack the nobles? D'ya realize how many people that'd pull down on us?"

"Giving us all the more chance to be free of them." said Largo, sitting down on a log.

Lightsider dropped to the ground. "We'll have to confront them sooner or later, Piro."

"No we don't." said Piro. "We can just go on as we are, living free and helping people."

"Sonoda'll never know the corruption in his empire if he isn't forced to investigate, y'now." said Will, pouring the money carefully into a sack and handing it to Largo to be dropped in Quakespace.

"He won't investigate, the Church will. You know how much good that'll do."

"Ooooh, lookie!" cried WoK, shuffling through the brother's pockets. "A tournament!"

"Heh... lance?" asked Piro.

"Nooo, it's got a Deathmatch, too."

"What?" exclaimed Largo, "Let me see that..." He quickly scanned the page. "Heh... looks like the Captain Draegos has finally persuaded the Emperor to legalize the games. I never thought that- ah, no real deaths. The whole thing's a huge illusion. It'll feel like death, but you'll go unconscious..."

"Illusion, huh?" said Will, trying to untie his shoe. It was a very determined knot.

"Ano... that sounds like Kit!" said WoK.

"Kit!" Piro smacked his head. "Gah, I can't believe I didn't- they must be forcing her to run the whole thing!"

"Can they even do that?" asked Lights. "I was under the impression that nobody could force a kitsune's will."

"I don't know... who knows what sort of magic the church has? After Miho came along..." muttered Piro.

"Well, I'm joining the Deathmatch." said Largo.. "I have not honed my skills for too long a time. I grow soft with these simple opponents."

"I'm going with you!" said Piro. "I'll not leave her in their filthy hands!"

"Does this mean we have to dress up?" whispered Will to Lights.

* * *

"Knight of the Game, rise."

A silhouetted figure lifted from his knees. "What is your will, m'lord?"

"The Order of Sagas has lost much from the battles of Emperor in the Holy Land."

"So I have heard. But my specialty is death, not gain."

"Regardless, we have determined that you are best suited for this mission. You are to kidnap an automaton from the Guild."

"My lords, I am versed in the arts of destruction, but not even I could break through their defenses, and even then, their automatons are far faster and stronger than any man on this earth! It is only because of their religion that we are not their slaves!"

"Then you accept the mission?"

"Absolutely."

"Good, good, we knew you would enjoy this one. And to make it all the more interesting, we have secured the services of one of their own. I believe you know him."

A door creaked open, and a figure stepped in. There was a silence, then...

"Do I know you?"

The figure chuckled. "Well enough to lock me in my own cellar."

The knight stared, and then burst out laughing.

"Welcome back, old friend!"
Types:
Men of L33t, Part XIII

"Are you certain you can handle this?" asked Hanatoko worriedly, as Kit tugged her dress' lace tight and knotted it. She smoothed her dress and turned around with a mischievous grin.

"Why, Sir Knight, what ever are you afraid of?" she said, putting her hands on her waist and looking up at Hanatoko.

"You're going to try and recreate an entire environment with working weapons! We don't even know how your illusion works or how much you can do, and I don't want you to- hostages are no good dead!"

"Then maybe we should take advantage of the time?" asked Kit-chan. "I wouldn't want to die a virgin."

BG Master chuckled to himself as he watched Hanatoko redden and stutter, and then waved his hand over the image. It dissipated into nothingness like wind over smoke. He stood up to leave.

"Is it wise to give her so much freedom?" said a voice from behind.

"Let her have her fun." said BG, turning. "She won't run, if that's what you mean. Besides, this will give you an even better opportunity to study her illusion."

Shadowdancer held his gaze steadily. "And if I see or sense nothing, as I do every time?"

"Then we shall see who else does, and look for a correlation. It is the new way of thought, and it has served others well. Have you spoken with Brother Izuko?" BG turned and walked out the door. Shadow hurriedly caught up with him, a half-step behind.

"I am not interested in the ways of nature, but magic."

"Is not magic a part of nature?"

"No, it seeks to disrupt nature!"

"Then perhaps you should study it to greater understand how to disrupt it." said BG, looking over his shoulder. "At any rate, it matters not what you wish to learn - seek knowledge as you will, but I am assigning Izuko to this matter of illusion as well. It could be a powerful ally and a deadly enemy, and so must be understood."

Shadow half-bowed. "As you wish, m'lord."

BG waved his hand, and the curtains to their box seat opened up to reveal brilliant fireworks and lights bursting over a large three-story stone maze. BG Master blinked, and curved his lips. "She's a fast worker," he said, taking a seat beside his wife. Shadow took her own seat to the far left, and cast a vision spell. She glanced over the contestants signing up and frowned. She felt like she knew someone down there, but couldn't figure out who.

* * *

Lightsider adjusted his over-coat nervously. Strange... he thought. He was never nervous. Huh. Ah, well. As the man in front of him walked away, he moved up to the table and signed in as Sheldon Niisan (WoK had insisted on the name for some reason). The man blew gently on the ink before sealing it, and waved him into line with the rest of the official gladiators. Largo greeted him in his usual callous manner.

"Have you discovered our weaponry?" he asked briskly,

"I believe there will be a number of weapons scattered about the arena for us to pick up. Finders keepers is the rule. Didn't you read the contract?"

"I thought it was just the usual legal junk." said Largo off-handedly.

"Heyah, fellows!" Will said, popping up behind them.

"Will, are you mad?! They're searching for a teleporter!" whispered Lights harshly.

Will laughed. "Actually, that was just me being really quiet. I can do it, you know."

"And the fact that the crowd is roaring had nothing to do with it." said Lights good-naturedly.

"Absolutely." said Will, the very pinnacle of innocence.

"Well, what are you doing here? I thought you weren't signed up for this."

"What, me? Fight? Good Lord, I'd be killed! Anyways, I can't see the castle, so I'd inevitably cheat. But that wasn't why I was sent." he said, cutting off their attempts to speak. "Now let's see, what was it... ah, yes! Piro said to be prepared when the illusion comes down, and WoK said to glomp you all for her. From her description of what a glomp is, I decided to let her do that. In return-"

"WAAAAAIIIIII!" A cry shot from nowhere into Lights, knocking him to the ground. "Good luck, Sheldon-niisan!" WoK said happily, hugging him tightly. Largo's eyes shot wide open with horror as she glanced up, and he barely had time to open his mouth before she slammed into him, too!

Will smirked. "In return, I do port her in. People expect kids to suddenly appear out of nowhere. 'S why nobody ever suspected me till I was 16."

He turned to WoK. "Okay, girlie, time to go." She looked up and nodded, and jumped off of Largo who was busy spitting out grass from the face-plant. Will turned back to Lights. "Au revoir." he said, bowing, and left. Lightsider chuckled as he caught the slight flicker between Will's footsteps.

* * *

WoK made her way through the stands to an empty seat. She looked over the field and dropped slightly. Even if they were only pretending to kill... She shook her head. Not going to be sad! She put on a grin and turned to the girl beside her.

"Hiya! How're you doing?" she said brightly.

The girl smiled. "Hello, WoK."

"Hey, you know my name! What's your name? How'd you know that? Can you read minds? I knew a girl who could read minds once. She was fun! Though not very happy, sometimes. Do people's minds make you sad?"

The girl blinked and paused before laughing. "It's on your name-tag, see? Wizard of Kitty. You can call me Ping."

WoK looked down and blinked. "Hey, you're right! I wrote it wrong, it was supposed to be something else." She looked up. "Nobody's supposed to know that name yet. Could you keep it secret?"

Ping thought for a second, and smiled. "I guess so. We all need someone to keep our secrets."

"Thanks!" WoK hunched over and tried to scribble out her name. Ping handed her a marker.

"Here."

WoK took it just as trumpets sounded from nowhere all across the arena. She looked up and giggled.

"Hehe... Kit-chan's showing off again!"
Types:
Men of L33t, Part XIV

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Manta took a step forwards on the balcony, his magically enhanced voice boomed over the stadiums. "I bid you welcome to the first annual Deathmatch in the Empire of Angland! A contest fraught with death, danger, and unbelievable feats of skill!"

The stands roared with enthusiasm, and Manta smiled in satisfaction. He raised his hands for silence, and waited for the audience to die down. "Would our noble contestants please step up to their respected points of entry?"

Shadow watched as sixteen men and women walked up various points on the field. She strained to sense any trace of energy over the field, around each contestant, over Kit... nothing. She leaned back in frustration. Manta was just about finished with his speechifying. There was something she was missing, she knew it. She could feel it. She glanced again over the field.

"On my mark!" cried Manta. "Five!"

Lightsider readied himself.

"Four!"

Will appeared behind the stands on the top support, watching the Church guards carefully.

"Three!"

A single hooded figure in the crowd stood to leave.

"Two!"

Kit began readying the illusions in her mind.

"One!"

Shadow glanced up.

"FIGHT!"

Lightsider leapt from his cloak into the stone arena, Illusion snapping into place and Light forming in his hands. Shadow turned sharply.

"What just happened?!"

Nightwalker turned in his seat. "Miss Kitsune no Miko just cast weaponry around the compound and clothed the contestants in armor. All illusion, of course, but for our case and purposes, good enough. Why? Did you sense something?"

Shadow's eyes moved slowly across the field. "A jump in power... somewhere. It feels so foreign to me... I can't pinpoint it."

BG glanced up. "But you can feel it, at least? Then we are making progress!"

"Perhaps so..." said Shadow, unsettled by the vagueness she felt. It was more power than she wanted to think about for something so untouchable.

The cloaked figure had disappeared; where to, nobody knew and nobody cared. The game was afoot! Kit had cast up huge panels of illusion around the arena, each showing what every contestant saw, and the sight was breathtaking. A young man leapt across lava flowing through the first floor to bounce upwards off the wall and catch the rope hanging from the second floor's ceiling. Another simply dove into the lava, swimming through the molten stone with a shield-charm he'd bought the previous day from the OGSB. Lightsider's wings flared out around him, his illusion turning the brilliant white feathers into dark red leather as he shot through the air to the top. He snatched up the portable grape-shot cannon and dove into skylight. Winging by the floor's upper ledge, he tossed it to Largo and formed a sword in his hands as he shot down to the poor lad would had only just now found a bomb-launcher in deep magma depths.

Piro shed his cloak as he wove through the stands, making his way to Kit-chan. Lightsider's illusion had covered him the moment the games had started, and wearing it any longer might draw suspicion. He glanced carefully around a corner and caught sight of her. Now for a little magic. Calling up arcane forces, he etched several runes in the air before him, and sent them flying with a wave of his hand. One impacted against the ground at the stand's entrance, making the thud of heavy footsteps, and another exploded at the end of the corridor opposite him.

"Listen! Did you hear that?!"

"Yeah, I'll go check it out- you stay here and guard the young miss!"

"Right."

The remaining guard scanned the entire place carefully, watching for any sign out of the ordinary. Piro cut his hand down sharply and his last rune darted into the guard, giving him an urgent need to relieve himself. The man bit his lip, glancing at Kit only moments before deciding she'd be all right. Piro slipped around the corner as the guard ran off. The plan had worked perfectly, so far.

"Kit!" he hissed sharply.

It had only one flaw.

She jumped and lost control for a second. "Piro!"

They hadn't realized how startled she'd be.

* * *

The entire arena disappeared for a fraction of a moment. Largo cursed as he fell, barely reaching out to grasp the ledge when it reappeared. Others fell to the floor below, while other still stumbled through walls.

Lightsider's arm happened to be halfway through a wall when it reappeared. Naturally, both his arm and the wall couldn't coexist, or so his mind said. His scream could be heard all the way to the back stands, and he completely lost control of any illusion that he had.

* * *

Shadow jerked upright at the scream. "What's wrong?!"

"The entire arena just flickered!"

"How d-" The power she'd felt all this time suddenly slipped away like mist, unmasking a burning soul she knew all too well.

"Piro." she growled, whirling in his direction. Walls and people melted away from her vision as she centered in on him. There. With the girl. "Call out the guard!" she cried, leaping from the box with her wings unfurled.

* * *

"Piro, what are you doing here, run!" cried Kit, trying to keep the arena intact while he held her attention.

"I came to save you!" exclaimed Piro, stepping forwards. "I couldn't let them keep you here!"

"Piro, you idiot! I-"

"There he is!" Guards burst into the room from all sides and rushed Piro.

"No!" cried Piro, whirling about with his blame. The Church guards reacted instantly, half shattering his blades with pure energy while the other half snapped holding bonds upon him.

"No, you can't!" cried Kit, pounding against the guards.

"NO! Stop it! Let me go!" yelled Piro, struggling against the bonds. "Dammit all, I said STOP IT!"

Time froze.
Types:
Men of L33t, Part XV - The Time that was Not

Time Froze.

Piro stared in awed wonder as everything around him ceased to move. It was as if he were surrounded by wax figures realler than real and more vibrant than any color ever deserved to be! He turned his head in awe, forgetting about his bonds and only thinking of the scene before him. The brilliant colors of the world about him seemed to flicker and bleed, like a badly painted animation, unable to stay quite in the same place. He heard a meep behind him, and nearly snapped his neck turning around. Stifling a curse, he strained against his bonds to see Kit-chan. She lay where a guard had thrown her, looking up at him with fearful eyes.

"How- how did you do that?!" she burst out, scared of the reality she could not touch.

"I don't know!" cried Piro, hurt by her fear. "I didn't do anything! I just said to stop!"

"But- but- time is stopped and we are not but they are stopped and time is not and-"

"-they move not, but I am stuck!" said Piro aggravatedly. Kit blinked.

"But I can't touch their magic!"

"If you could give me the illusion of movement..." Piro said, wriggling in his bonds. Understanding dawned on the kitsune's face and she immediately released Piro in illusion. He hit the ground lightly, rubbing his wrists. With a flare of his hands, he shattered the Church spells and Kit let go of her illusion. He turned. "Thanks-"

"See what happens when you try and rescue me?" She said, attempting a smile. Piro gave a small laugh.

"Not all the time..." he protested. "There was that once in Anstrailia-"

"You almost got yourself speared!"

"But we saved you..."

"Unlike today. What were you thinking?!" Kit cried severely.

"They were forcing you to make illusions for them-"

Kit smacked her forehead "You idiot, I'm the seducer! I'm the one who makes people do what I want! I walked scot free out of a prison complex sealed 14 different ways with 6 different types of magic dug two and a half miles underground! Now don't you think I might be just a LITTLE capable of leaving if I wanted to?!" She yelled, her face mere fractions away from his. Piro cringed.

"I was only trying to help..."

"By getting yourself caught?! For your information, the competition was my idea, and I had to work hard to persuade them to let me do it! Damned stubborn Anglish..." Kit muttered

Piro blinked, confused. What could she possibly want here? It was the Church, for God's sake! They were the ones who lead the prosecution... Kit read the look on his face.

"I have a debt." She said shortly. "Of honor. To the man who did save me while you were busy fighting over dinner."

"Kit, I-"

"Just... go. Save your friends, get out of here. I'll rejoin you when I'm done here. But a moment before."

Piro looked at her for a moment, and then nodded. They understood each other, a rarity Kit treasured. There was too often too much flippancy between them. Piro turned, and began running. A figure in the stands smiled.

"WAIT! How are you going to restore time?!" Kit yelled after him.

"The same way I stopped it, I guess!" Piro yelled back. "START IT!"

Kitsune giggled. Piro turned red, still running. Neither of them heard the one in the stands chuckle or saw a finger twitch ever so softly.

"Dammit all, I said START!" Piro cried, just as reality came speeding back to normal, and he found himself speeding over the field with a thousand people roaring in the stands and the wind whipping in his face. Kit gasped at the sudden life around her and let go of all illusion, just as Shadow's eye caught that speeding figure across the plain and cut around in midair.
Types:
Men of L33t, Part XVI - So Much Happens in a Moment

Kit gasped at the sudden life around her and let go of all illusion...

Largo fell through the air with a string of cusswords as everything about him vanish. Lightsider's wings flared out from his back, snapping backwards as the air caught them, and then beating down heavily as he forced himself upwards. Piro blurred across the field, preparing his magics as he ran. Shadow arced around and shot after him, her razor-sharp wings cutting through the air like a knife. She curved around in front of him and broke into a dive, the wind whistling past her ears as she sliced downwards!

CLANG!

Her blade vibrated painfully as it struck against against hard steel. Her eyes widened.

"You?!" Her blade schinged back sharply as she jerked angrily away from Lightsider's solid form. Her temper roiled forwards. "Leave him be! He is mine!"

"And mine to protect!" he said steadily, holding his blade out carefully. Her eyes flashed and she shot forwards. Since when have you angered in battle? asked a small voice, but she threw it to the side. Her blade flickered forward like a surgeon's, darting in with precision cuts, only to be impassively blocked with just as much skill. She caught Piro running out of the corner of her eye just as Lightsider caught her blade for the twentieth time! Surging forwards in a feint strike, Shadow made to run, jump, and flip over Lightsider. Her wings flared out as she rolled in midair and cause the breeze, swooping her high into the air! She paused momentarily to gather her surroundings and then shot forwards after Piro! Shadow's ear's caught the soft and heavy beat of feathers behind her, and she swore, turning to meet her opponent.

Will blinked. Just moments ago, Piro'd left to see his Kit-chan, and now all of a sudden Lights'd screamed, that Church woman'd flared from her seat, and the fortress disappeared, all in a matter of seconds! His brain had barely registered that when Piro appeared running on the field and Lights finally caught his wind and was diving through the air. Will watched with morbid fascination as the entire plan ravelled apart when his eye caught Largo plummeting towards the ground! Mein gott! He flitted out of existence and appeared above Largo right into the path of flying sword! Will's mind screamed and he vanished, just in time for Iain Caduceus to choke on his dried nuts. He whipped out his aerophone.

"Charles! Get to the tower, he's here!"

A confused voice squawked back. "Wha..? Who? Wait, you mean- OH!" There was the sound of clattering, and then everything went dead as Charles flipped of his aerophone while he raced down the halls, heat-bolt in hand. Reaching the main tower, he punched the large knob in the center of its hand-carved door, and rushed into a small room as the doors opened. No sooner had they done so when he hit a knob on the inside and had the doors snap shut. With a soft whoosh, the room shot upwards. Charles impatiently tapped his foot, willing the room to go faster. Finally, it reached the top and opened its door. He flashed out of the room to the window facing the tournament, grabbing a crossbow on the way. Placing the precious bolt onto the crossbow, he painstakingly armed it as fast as possible, and scoped in on the tournament.

Drat! He could barely see the stands!

Meanwhile, Largo had hit the ground with a sickening crunch. Will tried porting in close again, but he was blocked by the Royal guard this time. Largo was groaning in pain, but stubborn enough to kept trying to get up. Will ported in and out frustratedly, trying to find a opening, a weak spot where he could jump in and touch his lord. In the skies above him, Lightsider still engaged Shadow in fierce battle, causing Piro to turn around and look. He saw the fighting before him and tried to turn back, but WoK slammed into him from the stands.

"You can't, you've got to go!" she cried, pulling him away. She glanced frantically around. Churchmen were closing in. "Come on, let's go! Please! I don't wanna hafta WAI you, but I'll do it if you don't come on!"

Piro reluctantly acquiesced and started running, powering up his magics again. He sent a wall of flame careening into the Churchmen who'd used Wind to fly and then disappeared with WoK in a huge explosion of smoke. The men screamed, throwing Will's concentration off. He appeared a full hundred yards in the air.

There! Charles' finger pulled the trigger before the thought even had a chance to form in his mind. The bolt shot across the skies, reaching the field before Will had yet fallen twenty yards. 3... 2.. 1... Charles tapped a rune on his shoulder. It was the last magic before-

A tiny vial embedded in the bolt snapped at the command of the rune. The contents flared, and the arrow shimmered. It began diving down towards Will, enticed by his body's heat. Charles watched the bolt, and sighed with relief. The anti-magic field was online. It was up to technology now. He only hoped that they'd made it's heat signature lock precise enough.

Lightsider saw Piro disappear, and nodded in satisfaction. He sheathed his sword and dropped through the air, missing Shadow's blade by mere threads. He dove down towards Largo, scattering the Royal guards that guarded him. Shadow shot down after him, her blade burning in anger at having been denied him. Will saw the opening below him, and ported down towards Largo. The bolt detected the sudden departure in heat, and fired up what Iain had taken to calling "rockets". It shot down at Will with phenomenal speed! Will reached out his hand to touch Largo. The bolt was a mere 10 yards away. He moved closer.

Suddenly, Shadow shot by, searing after Lightsider! Will ducked and ported away, and the bolt shot around to chase him! Will turned around just in time to feel a flaming bolt thud into his chest. The impact triggered a mechanism inside, and it injected a full load. The last thing he saw before blackness overtook him was the ground, rushing forwards.
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Men of L33t, Part XVII - N1NJ4d

It's a sad fact of life, but people tend to ignore n1nj4s. They're fast and violent, yes, but they're also loud, showy, and seem to be on an entirely different order of reality. One might stand in front of you and look surprised when you didn't fall over dead. When you ask why, he'll tell you that he'd just blasted you away before you could blink. It's strangeness like this that makes n1nj4s seem about as harmless as your village llama. It couldn't be further from the truth.

Lightsider shot away from Shadow, blurring at speeds that seemed unearthly. He curved around to survey the field, and saw Will drop. Glancing to make sure Piro was getting away, he dove back down after Largo, catching a steel feather in the face. Shadowdancer!

Piro flashed another cadre of guards with brilliant light, and pulled WoK through their confusion! A n1nj4 suddenly dropped in front of him, but he threw it away without so much as a glance. The n1nj4 rode the wind that tossed it, giving it a perfect opening. With timing that only the trained can know, the n1nj4 flipped in the wind, using its momentum to throw a dart into the nape of Piro's neck. The poison flooded his veins and colored his heart. The n1nj4 landed neatly on the ground as Piro jerked and collapsed. WoK cried and turned around, throwing herself at the n1nj4! It twisted ever so slightly to the side and tossed her back with a flick of its finger. WoK pushed herself upright and suddenly cried out as the pain shot up and down her leg. She stared quiveringly at the n1nja as it walked up to Piro's body, chuckling.

"The Church will pay much for this one." Its voice was masked so the she could tell neither male nor female from the tone. It bent over Piro and hefted him over its shoulder. Standing up, it looked down at WoK. "Don-"

Schlice!

Blood sprayed and WoK screamed, as the n1nj4's head suddenly flew off its shoulders. She recoiled as its body fell forwards, revealing a bloody McFinnigan behind it. "The bloody problem with N1NJ4s," he said, carefully sheathing his bloodless axe. "Is their dismal attention to their surroundings. Else they'd be unstoppable." He picked up Piro like a bale of cotton, and tucked WoK snuggly under his arm.

"Now let's go, lass!"

***

Lights parried as Shadow viciously swung about with her steel, dart in and out while flinging razor-sharp feathers at him. Suddenly, Lightsider left a deadly opening. Kit whirled about and cried, but it was too late and too far. A million thoughts flew threw her head, and before she'd full opened her mouth, she grabbed a nearby guard with an illusion and stabbed his hand with nothing. He cried sharply, and fired his crossbow. The bolt shot through the air and deflected off Shadow's blade just as it dove in! She was thrown off and tumbled forwards, leaving a huge opening.

Hefting his blade about, Lightsider threw himself into a strike that slammed the tiny drow through the stands and into the ground. Gathering himself, he flew down to Largo, flecks of blood peppering the air from his wounds. They weren't grievous, but –ah! He clenched his teeth as he swiped Largo from the ground. He tried shifting the heavy warrior to one arm and flinched. No good. Will would have to escape on his won. He heard a flutter of wings behind him and sighed. Gathering what was left of his strength, he shot forwards, the land below him blurring to almost nothing. Using the Light that shielded him, he pulled wide an opening between space and blurred into it. Shadow cursed as Lights disappeared in a twinkle, and then winged her way back to the arena.

BG watched the entire spectacle amusedly. He could have probably bound every player on the playing field with little effort, barring the errant knight's Doctor. But her hadn't. Yukiko smiled as he got up and left. Many would think it part of a great master plan, but in all truth, her husband was just lazy.
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Men of L33t, Part XVIII - Choices


Tohru lit the stove with a small smile and stood to shut its door tightly. Today had gone well. Most of the patients that came in were only minorly hurt, and those that weren't were dealt with easily. She started cutting some carrots. All in all, she'd say the day went quite well. Meagen's husband should be getting home in a couple hours, and then they'd have a good supper with the rest of the staff. She glanced up and laughed as Skuld came around the kitchen's corner with a pile of wood as tall as herself! She dropped her knife and hurried to Skuld's side.

"Skuld, honey, why're you carrying so much?" she said in an amused tone, relieving the young girl of half her load.

"But I made an exoskeleton!" Skuld protested, "I can take it, look, it's for my arms!"

"Do they balance things for you as well, though?" asked Intelli, coming in with some plucked chickens. She held them up. "Boiled or breaded?"

"Breaded, thank you, Intelli." Tohru turned back to Skuld. "She's got a good point, you know; that much wood is bound to fall over even if you can-"

THUMP THUMP THUMP

"OPEN UP, LASS! 'TIS AN EMERGENCY!" A deep voice bellowed from outside.

THUMP THUMP THUMP

"-Intelli could you-?" The nurse held up her crumb-covered hands. "Oh, that's right, I'm sorry, er..."

"I'll get it." said Meagen brusquely, walking down the hallway. She turned around the corner and opened the door. "Lights? What're-?"

SLAM

Meagen fell back against the closed door, her hands trembling, her heart pounding.

They can't be here, this is all wrong, what can I do, I- She shook her head. Have to think. Have to decide. They're-

"Meagen?" It was Lights. His voice sounded near-dead weary. "Meagen, please open up! It's bad out here, nearly all of us are hurt, and Largo's near dead, and the Church will catch our trail soon if we don't hide."

Largo?! Her heart skipped a beat.

Lightsider waited anxiously outside. He knew what was going on, and he could only pray that her compassion overrode her love. The door opened suddenly, and Meagen's taut figure appeared, waving them in.

"Quickly, now!" she said sharply, "The guard will be here soon! And- no, not him!" She blocked McFinnigan's path.

"What? You're a kilt-hater?!" he cried.

"Not you, him!" she said, pointing to Piro.

"But-!"

"I can take Sir Largo in because he's not been officially condemned yet; the Emperor is loathe to loose own of his own so easily, but this one's been banished from the kingdom. If he comes in, I not only put the hospital in danger but betray my husband. No." she said, cutting off WoK's pleading eyes with a sharp glance. "He doesn't stay. Now come in before the Church's men are here, if you want to live!"

Lightsider hesitated. "McFinnigan-"

"Now see here, lady, wae've-!"

"I can help!" The Scot's tirade was suddenly silenced a small girl about WoK's height. "I know about poisons, and I've got a carriage we can go in, and-"

"Ping!" "Miss Ping!" WoK blinked and turned as an older man in priests' robes hurried up. He stopped and bowed and then turned on the young girl. "Are you done yet? These people are bad news, and you don't want to be associated with them!"

"You're starting to sound like Elder Sabyr, Oppy!" Ping said, turning around from Piro. "We're going to take them with us!"

"What-?! But- Miss Ping, they are wanted by the Royal Guard."

"That's why we're taking them in!"

"I can't approve, and the Guild will most definitely not be happy. You know that the only reason we've been tolerated by the Empire is because of our neutrality!"

"They'll understand once I tell them about it! Oh, please, Oppy, they need our help!"

"Well... I... oi." he chuckled ruefully. "I never could resist you, Missy, and it's gotten worse with time! You weren't this headstrong ten years ago, I can tell you that. All right, load them in. We'll head for the Scarborough castle."

"Thank you!" She jumped up and gave him a peck on the cheek, and then ran over to McFinnigan. "Here, let me take him!"

"Hey, let me help, too!" WoK said as Ping lifted him lightly off of McFinnigan's shoulders. McF looked back at Lights, who shrugged wearily. "If WoK trusts her... I've got to stay here and care for Largo. It's my duty, as protecting Piro is yours from your Lady."

McFinnigan nodded. "We meet back at forest?"

"If possible. Talk the Tohru, if not. She'll know."

"Alright, then." he put out his arm. "Till then, my friend."

Lightsider clasped it with his own. "Till then."

* * *

Overhead, two black figures watched, covered by the building's shadows. One glanced to another, and they both laughed silently.
Types:
Men of L33t, XVIX - Tussle in the Dark


The wind blew through the night in a heavy gale, traversing the plains as if in search of something that could not exist. The grass shivered as passed over, before being crushed by the hefty weight of an old carriage wheel. Inside, the occupants slept soundly, kept warm by hand-carved runes cut lovingly into the carriage's interior by Guild-members, centuries ago. WoK stirred quietly in her sleep, nudging her blanket just enough that it fell to the floor. Ping smiled slightly as she reached over and tucked the young child in. So many years since then... she turned as WoK stirred again, and then sat up to rub her eyes.

"What time is it?" The she asked

Ping smiled. "Just past one, dear."

"Oh... mrmm..." WoK yawned. "How's... how's Piro-sensei?"

Ping frowned slightly. "The poison is a strange one, but I was able to make a draught that should contain it. He's got a controlled fever right now." She placed her hand on the head in her lap. "Yes, it's still going strong."

WoK leaned over worriedly. "He's gonna be okay, right?"

"I should hope so." Ping said, placing a fresh wet-cloth on Piro's head. "It would be a terrible thing indeed if two thousand year's worth of medical knowledge could do nothing."

"Two thousand years?" WoK's eyes widened.

Ping smiled. "I'm not that old, silly!" she said, pushing WoK over softly. "They just made me learn that much at the Guild."

WoK propped herself up on the cushion. "What was is it like in there? Mummy said you couldn't eat meat or something!"

"Heh. No, just certain types of meat, because they're bad for you if you don't cook them right. Like-"

CRASH!

The girls screamed as the carriage lurched and lusty cries bellowed through the night's wind.

"Opt! What is it?!" Ping cried sharply, shielding Piro from heavy jerks as best she could. Opt hastily pulled his head through the curtain.

"Attackers, m'lady, from both the south and west! They've broken part of a wheel with one of their axes! It had to enchanted- should we flee on horse? The carriage would be too harsh for-"

"Go with the carriage!"

"But-"

"I'll take care of it, just ride the horses hard! We can't afford to go by horseback with a wound like this!"

"Aye, ma'am!"

McFinnigan leapt up from where he'd been thrown by the first lurch and opened the carriage door. "I'll ride off the back and keep of the little bastards that get too close! Don't-" k-ping! An arrow glanced off his chest. "WoK, dun fight! If you're captured it'll only be worse for you!"

He leapt out of the carriage and swung onto the back. WoK reached out to close the door when it slammed shut and latched! The carriage suddenly brightened and the ride smoothed as a slow murmuring rose up in the air. WoK turned to see Ping shimmering in a gentle white glow, her eyes closed as she wove arcane symbols with her hands. She spoke in a language that WoK couldn't understand but felt she knew. It was... familiar. Like home. She founding herself weaving symbols along with Ping, the world fading away as she fell into song and rhythm of her own words. It was peaceful. As the cadence grew, she fell into harmony, accentuating the main rhythm with some little touches of her own. A glow sprung up around the carriage as well, and McFinnigan found his eye and wit sharpened...

* * *

Dom grinned as he rode down on the carriage at the back of his men. So the automaton knew the Elder weavings of the ancients, did it? Tsk, tsk, working magic forbidden by the Church? He laughed. Impressive, very impressive, but he was a Knight of the Game. He held out his hand and lashed out a sentence so harsh he might as well have hacked it out. A black staff cracked into his grip and he rose it above his head. You can't play the game if you don't know both sides...

Ping frowned suddenly, and her eyes snapped open. Then, without breaking a beat she began a song anew, her voice raising in volume and cadence, her eyes staring sharply into the distance. WoK frowned faintly at the change, but only modified her words slightly to acquiesce the new melody. A new voice lifted up over the wind outside, penetrating harshly into the carriage. WoK, thank God, was oblivious to its sinuous pitch, but those words... those words worried Ping. She had never heard them, but she was certain of they had not been spoken since the sealing! Those memories were supposedly destroyed along with their masters – who was it who spoke? The Guild never forgot, for knowledge was their charge, but even they had erased that tongue... she began to feel the strain of their weight upon her weaving, and lifted her voice even higher.

Dom grinned even wider. Gotcha. He brought his staff down sharply, and the black thorns he'd woven around the automaton's spells ripped them to shreds. Ping cried and threw her power around WoK, shielding her and cutting her off from the spells she wove. WoK woke abruptly in protest, but was suddenly thrown through the air! The carriage jolted violently as Dom threw out his spells again, and crashed to the a sudden stop when he tossed its wheels into the distance and sliced the reins in one fell swoop of his staff! McFinnigan flew through the air into the oncoming hordes, taking out pretty-men left and right as he spun his axe in landing. Dom laughed at the spectacle as his partner's bishies tried to take out the Scot, and then, with a flare of his cloak, disappeared in a swirl of black smoke.

* * *

Ping coughed, and spat heavy splinters of wood out of her mouth. Her magic had been barely enough to shield WoK and Piro. Master Opt had his own magics, and if he were thinking at all would have already disappeared. A sharp rap sounded on the door. It unlatched itself and opened to reveal a figure in the dark. Dom leaned into the light with a grin and and a bow.

"Good day, milady. I take it you received our invitation?" he said, laughing silently under her harsh glare.
Men of L33t, Part XX - What We Make of Our Surroundings
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"WoK...?"

*blink*

"WoooK...?"

*blink* Ano... is someone there? The world was so blurry...

"WoK!" Ping-

"Ping-chan!"

"Oh, WoK, you're alright! I was so worried for you!"

WoK strained to pull herself upright. "What- where are we?"

"Some bad men took us while we were in the carriage!" Ping paused. "...don't you remember anything?"

"I- er... I think- we were being chased! And... something happened, but I don't know what, and then everything went black..."

"...something?"

"I... dunno... It's really weird, I keep feeling like there was music, but... feeling, like I didn't hear it!"

"Maybe it was because of the crash!" Ping nodded confidently. "You got hit pretty hard, and sometimes it seems like you can hear the hurt when that happens."

"Maybe..."

"Do you know what the music was?"

"...I think so. I mean, it feels like I knew it from somewhere. But I can't remember what it was!"

"Maybe we could sing songs until you do remember!"

"Ano... would that help?"

"It might! Here, I've got an old song my mom used to sing to me when I was really young! I can teach it to you! It goes like this: Ozi vezimrat yah vayehi-li lishu'ah zeh Eli ve'anvehu Elohey..."

* * *

"They're straining you, aren't they?" said Ed, grinning. He tossed an apple lazily into the air.

"Heh. You wish, my friend." Dom cursed inwardly as he felt another ethereal vine stretch.

"Ha! Don't give me that, I just walked by their cell block. They're working that old mumbo-jumbo that hates your magic. You really should've just turned the automaton off."

"The only way to do that is to kill her, and then we'd get nothing from the Guild."

"Pity." Ed took a bite out of his apple. "Though I must admit, she's got a pretty face. Almost too pretty. I didn't think you could make something like that out of mud, but, well..."

"She's not a normal golem!" said Dom, annoyed. "How many times must I explain? The Guild's automatons are specially created to be so lifelike as to almost seem real. The spellwork to make them act like a true person is incredible..."

Ed grinned. "You've got that look. Thinking of maybe stripping her down and checking those runes out personally?"

"No!" Dom snapped. He tossed a scroll onto the table and sat down. "How is our other prisoner?"

"What, the sick lad? Dying. The 'maton must've done some work, but whatever's killing him still has a fighting chance. You want we should save him or something?"

"...No. We'll mention him in our ransom to the Guild. If he's worth anything, they'll come and get him before he's dead."

"You know, I could use a live target to practice my shoo-" SLAM!

Dom lifted his hand gently off of the now-cracked inkwell, and wiped it carefully. "There... will be no unnecessary killing this time, Ed. I wish a clean mission. How you sacrifice your bishounen in needless battle is no concern of mine, but when it comes to our prisoners, you will leave them be."

"What about that freaky Scot? He nearly took out a third of my men!"

Dom clenched his teeth. "He-" Gad, this was tiring. "Was the ambassador of Smaller Angland. While I don't know whether his status still stands, I highly doubt that his country would take kindly to the Order if we returned him damaged."

Whoo, he really was rattled! About what, though? Ed grinned. "Fine, then! I guess I'll just have to amuse myself with one of the servants. Are there any of the maids you feel have a diplomatic value, or can I woo them freely?"

"Men are verbotten. I had enough bleach growing up with my twin."

Ed snickered. "Is he still searching for that one continent, what was it, Amarrika, to conquer for his pathetic Atari knights?"

"Yes, last I checked, thank God."

"Hey, hey, now, using a holy name with all those dark powers? Can you even do that?"

Dom smirked. "Like I've said before, you can't play if you don't know both sides!"

* * *

It hadn't taken long for a random mage to feel a large field of conflicting magics and call in the local magistrates. Once they got within a half-mile of the area, it was easy for them to decide that this was out of their hands and call in the Church. What they hadn't expected, though, was that the Church would send in one of their highest officials. Shadow looked about disdainfully as the blubbering officials lead her towards the phenomenon. While this field might seem like an improbably huge phenomenon to the local hicks, it was probably nothing more than the remains of a small skirmish. However, it was also most likely caused by those infuriating exiles, and she wasn't about to loose them again!

FWAM! Shadow reeled and flipped, her defensive magics flaring up as she landed on the ground in an aggressive stance!

She blinked. The magistrates were huddling a good furlong behind, but not, apparently, because of her. She turned to look ahead, but there didn't seem to anything out of the ordinary. Cautiously, she took a step forward, and her arm's hair stood on end. This was an improbably large field. No residue should be this strong! She shivered as she took another step forward through the dense energy, and grasped her pendant. BG-sama, I would respectfully request that you come out here immediately. And, if she is willing and available, Our Lady Miho. I have discovered something very unsettling.

Be right there. Any chance of telling me what?

It... would be better if you felt it for yourself.

Alrighty, then. Just talked to her. We'll be there in about-

"Now- whoa." Shadow nodded as BG staggered. Miho looked around curiously. The power was heavy, impregnable, like a castle's walls.

"This... is foreign magic." It was a more of a question than a statement.

Shadow looked around. "Not entirely." There was a tainting vine running around all of it, snicking and eroding through the powerful density. It was thin and keen, but every bit as powerful as the thick density pervading the entire area.

"Ah; Maenadian threads. I had almost missed them through the dense weavings."

BG blinked. "The what?"

Miho turned. "Maenadian. An ancient people in the near Middle East. They were known for being quite particularly evil compared to the average social standards of the time, and very devious. Many of evil counselors from that time period came out of their lands. Eventually, several powerful forces allied together to eradicate them, but a small contingent escaped into the east and settled in the Himalayas. We ran into them on our way to a monastery."

"I see... and the rest of this?"

"Is unknown, to our knowledge. It- ...Shadow?"

Shadow's face darkened. "I hadn't realized it till now; these weavings do have a familiar sense to them." She turned.

"Piro."

---------------------------------

And we finally hit twenty. The way I figure it, it'll end on 30. Unless I pull some really sweet writing and make a l33t 26, but we highly doubts that. Anyways, whatddya'll think? Surely, at least BISHIE has something to say!

Comments, Criticisms, Hate, Love? NO PEACE FOR YOU!
And so, with a new username (because the old one's fscked), comes a new thread. Let's start with a good review for all you new people, shall we?

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Men of L33t, Part XXI - That Which We Know
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Erika nodded as Shadow and BG walked in. "Please, sit." She gestured. "Shall we begin?"

"You have some news?" guessed BG.

"No, I'm afraid I have not." she gestured, and Integral stepped forward with some tea. Erika started and BG blinked.

"Integral, you-?"

"Charles is busy at the moment." She said smoothly. "With an invention. I was with Sir Caduceus at the moment and decided to volunteer in his place." She smiled softly. "Do you feel I am inadequate to the task?"

"No, I..." There was a glint in her eye. "Was simply surprised. I was not aware that you knew how to create just extraordinary delicacies. They are of surpassing quality." He grinned. "I may have to pull you away from your studies for the kitchen sometime."

Shadow leaned forward as Ms. Integral left. "May I inquire as to the nature of this invitation then?" she asked with a delicate edge.

"She is simply trying to pool what little information we had to aid in the capture of the fugitives." said Draegos, coming in from another room.

"That motive is insufficient." said Shadow bluntly. "I do not trust you, Lady Erika. For all we know, you could be helping the exile for the sake of your charge Kimiko."

Erika's face sharpened. "Nor do I trust your vaunted order and its guards. One might think that they worshiped the Abbess Miho were not there a cross on their robes."

"Ladies, please, contain yourselves." said Draegos. "You are both too suspicious. We all seek the same goal, and I am sure Brother BG agrees with me in that it would best if we were to work together?"

"Er.. yes, of course. Shadow, milady, if you could indulge us just this once...?"

The two women glanced sharply at the other just briefly, and then nodded.

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"Thank you." said Draegos, pulling out an old book. "Now. Here is the information our Royal Guard has assembled on the Piro case. He was arrested two years ago on the charge of murder; to wit, the brutal killing of a royal guard. He claimed the defense of a young girl named Kimiko, in that the guard in question had sexually assaulted her. There was no solid proof, but yourself," he nodded to Erika, "Took in the young girl and pursued his case, eventually bringing it before the Emperor. He and his wife took pity and exiled him, given that rape is not defense for murder, especially of a Royal Guardsman. About a month ago, when the Princess Yuki had her 16th birthday, defense was heightened at the behest of the Lady Shadowdancer-" he raised a eyebrow at her.

"I felt that this would be a prime moment for an enemies to strike, while our security was at its most lax." That the exile Piro was sure to come is not important.

"And of course, you needed Church Guardsmen to reinforce the ball-room." remarked Erika, looking in no particular direction.

"We simply offered our assistance." said Shadow with a slight frost.

Draegos looked down at drafty books old pages. "Could you please explain what exactly happened from there? The records become sparse after this. For instance, how did you-

See through my illusion? Kit wondered as she looked at Will through the faint shimmering of a magical seal. He was unconscious, of course. The Church hadn't found a way to neutralize his teleportation abilities, and until they could, he would be kept asleep. The seal was for rescue attempts, as were the sixteen guards for each corner of the inside and outside walls.

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You were the first person to see. I know this because of the way you looked at me before that horrible woman stepped up and arrested Piro. I don't know how she saw either, or how she broke my illusion, only that I forgot everything in the pain of my shattered reality. Toko- Hanatoko, says that Largo and his friends got involved in the fight, and then escaped because of you. He says you even mocked that woman. I wonder, could you do it again? Could you make us all disappear like you did when you-

"'scaped into a scary forest! But it was only scary that night. Well, and the morning- there was a spider in my bed!!"

Ping hid a grin. "Really? What'd you do after that?"

"Mr. Lightsider came'n smushed it. After that, we sorta just... I dunno. Did whatever. Sometimes bad people would come through the forest, and we'd stop 'em and take back the gold they stole! Since we didn't know where they took it, we gave it to poor people! It was cool. I got to pie people upsidedown!"

"Was that why you came to the tournament? To 'take back the gold they stole'?"

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"Huh? Na, Largo just wanted to practice his "l33t skillz" (-what's Elthreet?) -and Piro wanted to see his girlfriend." WoK grinned. "He's always moping about her, an' he thinks people don't see it. Anyways, we went and that's where we met you! Why'did you come?"

"I came... to keep an old promise."

"Did you keep it?"

"Welllll... I guess. At least I was. I'm not doing so well now that we're locked up."

"D'ya think anybody even knows what happened to us?"

"I don't have a single clue!" cried McFinnigan frustratedly.

"Calm down, McFinnigan, we'll figure something out." said Lightsider wearily. He was still recovering from the use of so much Light the other day. Actually, truth be told, Largo was even doing better. He was currently leaning a chair against the wall beside Lightsider's bed.

"Where were they last seen?" he asked grimly.

"A Guild carriage passed through Sandat and that's all I can find. Nothing. Not a single scrap of information, not even a trail! It's like they disappeared of the face of the earth!"

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"Well, that's what they were trying to do. Hm..." Lightsider paused carefully. "... the Church wants him badly, moreso than the Royal Guard-"

"Huh? Why do you-"

"There is always a significantly larger group of Churchmen at our encounters. That, and the Emperor hasn't placed a bounty on Sir Largo, meaning he most likely isn't putting the pressure on this thing.

"He is right..." said Largo, bemused. "Find where the Church is looking, and you find a trail to Piro."

"Hm..." McFinnigan took on a thoughtful look. "There was a big ruckus after some field up yonder north of York. Somethin' about the magic there, got the Churchmen very excited."

"I wonder what they must have found..."

"All the residue we left!" said Ping confidently.

"Residue...?"

"It's the stuff that magic leaves behind when you use it. Usually it's still sorta half-woven from the spells you made, and we left an awful lot!"

"We did?"

"Don't you- oh, that's right, we still didn't find that song! I'm sorry. There was a big battle with the guys who got us, because I know some good magic, and they know some bad. They got stronger though, and so we got caught. I'm sorry."

WoK huggled Ping. "'s not your fault! There were two of them against you! It wasn't a fair fight!"

"...no, dear, it wasn't. Anyway, they had to have found the residue that got left behind!"

"We found two types of magic on the field." said Shadow. "One was Maenadian, developed by an evil race. Its weavings tend to look like sickly vines with sharp, deadly thorns. An excellent weapon against magical defence, as it winds itself around the opposing magic like a creeping vine and erodes it much quicker than the real-life counterpart."

"And the second?" prompted Draegos.

"The second was unlike any we have ever encountered. It was heavy and dense. The weavings were extremely tight, and formed to create strength like that of a stone wall surrounding a city. Just one-fifth of what it would take to shield a single person would exhaust an average mage. This weaving covered all ten of the acres that comprised the field. This poses an extreme problem, given the person that wove it."

"I thought you had never encountered the magic?"

"We have not, but the feel was very similar to the time I fought with the exile Piro. However, I did not sense anything near that powerful in him. In fact, if you had asked, I would have said that he was weaker than most, though his swordsmanship was most impressive."

"And I give you all my assurance, Shadowdancer is an expert at gauging power levels." said BG Master.

So where does that leave me? thought Kit-san. I would so dearly love to be free, but... I cannot leave this place. I am bound here, not by those who would bind me, but those who would set me free. But can I really be held, knowing my heart's dearest is being hunted?

She stared outside her window, to the north.

Piro-kun... was it worth it? Would you really still sacrifice all for her?

Deep within the dungeons of an obscure castle, a prisoner lay on the freezing stone floor of his cell, shivering. His spasms, however, did not come from the cold; his fever was too high for him to feel that. As he lay there, nearly comatose from the sickness that wasted away his body, a single word formed through the delirium.

"Kimiko..."

----------------------

The entire story (or at least, what's been written so far) can be found here. Unless of course you want the original thread with all of people's comments, which can be found here.
Men of L33t, Part XXII - Lost Wings
And as I walk I ponder on what became of wonder,
of lightning and of thunder, how grey my life has grown...

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kimiko looked up from her script. Another interruption?

"Come in." she called to the knock at her door. One of the younger salewomen walked in nervously.

"Pardon me, m'lady, but-"

What was her name again...? "Misty, I've told you before, I'm not a Lady."

The woman rubbed her arm nervously. "Yes, Miss. At any rate, what I meant to say is, there's a man here. Says he won't speak to no one but you."

Huh? "That's curious... did he say why he came?"

"Yes'm. Something involving the customers who bought some cloaks. But-"

"What?!" Her quill fell to the floor.

* * *

"NO! Don't take her away!" his voice cracked as it splintered throughout the forest. She was in pain, hurting, no! They had her... they had her, it was his fault, he hadn't said anything, but he knew it is his fault. She shrieked and he covered his ears, trying to drown out the pain. This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't- Reality dropped out from under him, and he fell through the dark void, plummeting into the ocean below, her scream melting away as if she had no more voice.

FWOOM!

[Opening Instrumentals of "Breathe", by Prodigy]

The world was a bitter sea of icy blackness, thousands of tiny particles reaming through his body with bitter preciseness! He screamed, but no voice appeared. This way and that, they carved through him, every shard cutting in his failure to win, his failure to see, his failure to the law, his failure to love, his weakness, his death, his comrades, his friends, his love no!

Light! Like a thousands suns, burning his body, searing his mind, branding his soul! Aaaaaaaaaauuuugggh! Not this... no, please it- Wait. His shackles shattered, their black bands dissolving before the intensity of the light. He blinked, and saw the icy void erode away into nothingness like black ashes in the wind. The pain from his soul lessened, and he almost began to feel... peace. Everything was becoming white...

"That's it, come out of it gently... come on... you can do this, young one!"

Who-?

"And one, two, three-"

"AAUGH!" Piro bolted upright.

"Ha! There you go! Your blood is too strong to die like that." A young woman turned to rinse her hands in an earthen bowl. Piro looked around about him, trying to ignore the dull throbbing in the back of his head. His eyes returned to the woman. She was quite pretty, for such a place.

"You are...?"

"I am called Ping. I am of the Guild. You were poisoned by a dart and saved by your friends. Since they didn't know the poison, I offered my help, but we were captured on the way to Scarborough and taken here. You've been sick for some time."

She dried her hands with a cloth, and began to gather up the medicinal supplies she'd brought in.

"How long?"

"Ten days."

He stared. She's one of the Guild and it took ten days for me to be healed?! Ping looked up.

"Yes, it was that serious." she said, "But I wasn't allowed to see you until yesterday."

"Wasn't-?"

"A ransom to the Guild is worth a lot more than a bounty on some exile." Ping said quietly. "You would be dead had not I and your sister plead for your life."

Piro chewed on this for a second before his mind tripped. "A sister? I don't have a sister!"

"Hm?" Ping raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Interesting. She's like you in a great many ways."


Breathe with me


Ed smirked as he watched the young automaton leave. "You're getting soft on me, Dom."

"Hm?"

"Letting that silly thing have her way. She practically twisted you 'round her finger!"

"Don't be silly!" Dom snapped, his quill falling down a column of figures, "The boy needed healing."

"I thought you said we'd leave him be?"

"He's an exile. They pay bounties." Speaking of which... what was that number doing there?

"So the girl said. And you took in every word. It was especially touching seeing how you reacted to the littler girl."

"Ever thought about playing the good guy? Makes it easier to slide the knife in." No, wait, those figures shouldn't add up like that...

"Heh." Ed leaned against Dom's desk. "Next thing you know, you'll be bringing 'em fresh flowers to their table every day."

Dom smirked. "Couldn't hurt. That cell could use some color."

"Oho, now he's speaking of colors!" cried Ed. "My dear friend, what has that thing done to you? Perhaps you shouldn't hold the bindings to their cell so close..."

Dom looked up. "Ha! Why don't we send them home with gifts while we're at it?" He returned to his papers. "As it happens, there's a reason he's conscious and healthy."

"Really?" Ed turned around and leaned forwards. "Pray, tell, what is this reason?"

Dom chuckled darkly. "Just wait and see."


Break the pressure
Come play my game I'll test ya



Draegos walked up to the Hospital. The day had been long, the searches futile, and the talks with the Church drawn out; he felt they were hiding something, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what...

Oh well. He'd walk in, hug his Meagen, and sit down to a nice, hot dinner. Trust and comfort always warmed his heart, made everything seem alright again. Besides, this nagging feeling was probably all in his mind- it had happened before.

He closed the door behind him and hung his coat up on the rack. Voices? Was Meagen entertaining guests? The far room was lit... he walked down the corridor curiously.

"Yes, I know how to get Largo, but-"

"Please, you must! Piro's life is in danger!"

"I-" What? Piro? Largo? What was this?! Draegos stepped up quietly to the door and peered through the crack.

"I- are you certain?" Wait, wasn't that Tohru's new boyfriend, Vor?! What had he been hiding...?

"Yes! Someone from the OGSB came to visit me. I've done work for them before, and they kept their ears open to return the favor, and- they found that Piro's been captured, and he's dying from poison! Please, you've got to Sir Largo to help! He's the only one I know who can do it..."

That voice, he knew that same worried voice from somewhere, where was it? She had been talking... asking about someone... a cute girl. She had been sitting in a chair, that fearful worry in her voice echoed in her face, pleading not for herself, but for- Kimiko. That girl the exile had killed for. But-

Vor sighed. "I'll see what I can do. Understand, I don't even know if it's up anymore, not since last week. Largo only left here a couple days ago, so he might not be able to answer..."

Largo left here? But Meagen hadn't- she would have told him! She couldn't have known. If she had, she would have known he wouldn't do anything... but that still meant that Vor and Kimiko were undeniably involved. Draegos gritted his teeth. That Vor would do that to Tohru!

He stepped into the room.

* * *

Piro saw the door open - but it wasn't the girl (she was a girl, right? I'm still not dreaming?) from before.

It was a man, with a slight smirk. And he knew then why the man wanted to see him.

"Can I have a little chat with you?" the man asked. "Not like you really have a choice, but..."

"There's nothing I have to tell you."

The smirk grew. "Oh? Nothing, is there?"

Piro said nothing. Here was a man to interrogate him, and he didn't remember why he was even there. It wasn't an Imperial cell, and the man wasn't a guard of the Empire, so it wasn't that he was being questioned for defying the law to protect Kimiko -

The man spoke again. "It might be advantageous to speak. Your friends haven't come for you, so they must not care. Why defend them?"

"Betrayal-" Piro spat, "Is an art best left to scum."

Dom smiled. "Well, you must know. You've already betrayed those who could protect you. Friendship hurts like that, you know. That's why you should never make friends..."

He swallowed, but still his throat remained dry.

"... I couldn't have."

"You have been here for quite some time." The man kept his knowing smile. "Sick, feverish, delirious. Writhing on the stones of the floor. Even the strongest of men cannot control the instinct for self-survival in those conditions... if it would keep you alive, you'd say anything."

That's why his smile was so knowing, so - so taunting. This man was mocking him, his eyes laughing, whispering, Look what you're reduced to, you've fled, hid, all of this is your fault, you-

* * *

"You traitor."

Vor and Kimiko jumped and turned. They were sitting on a couch by the fireplace. "Sir Draegos!"

"How could you" he pointed a trembling finger. "Get involved when you knew what it would do to her? How could you?! I knew you weren't much but I was willing to believe you could be something!"

Vor's face hardened. "Something? How dare you?! I've given her everything! My life, my heart, my honor-"

"Honor? You're helping a murderer-"

"HE IS NOT!" Kimiko cried passionately as Draegos raged on.

"And you say you give honor? You have nothing but lies to give her! You are worth nothing!"

Vor lurched forward. "Any man who deserts his friends is worth no-"

BAM! A hole smoked barely in front of Vor's boot. He looked up at Draegos, his eyes smoldering like the bullet at his feet.

"You're under arrest for conspiracy, insubordination-"

Vorlon narrowed his eyes. And to Draegos, somehow they seemed -

- a different shade -

Psychosomatic addict, insane
Break the pressure
Come play my game I'll test ya
Psychosomatic addict, insane


* * *

"Any man who deserts his friends is worth nothing. So, then, Mr. Piro, where does that leave you?" Dom sat on the cold stone floor, eyes looking into Piro's own. "You're worth nothing."

"Only to you."

"Is that so?"

Break the pressure
Come play my game I'll test ya
Psychosomatic addict, insane


A flash, and -

Memories. Of who he had been. Always slumped, eyes downcast - like he knew that life would just go by, and he was just along for the ride. Rubbing his glasses with part of his tunic, never getting them clean, stuck waiting and -

Dom looked at him, over his own glasses. "Were you ever worth anything? To anyone? You hide behind others, you were always left behind, and those that stay only end up getting hurt. You can't do anything right. Even your fighting couldn't stand up to a simple woman! Has anyone you know yet come to rescue you? Do they care? Or are they relieved...?"

Piro's eyes sparked. "I'm worth it to Kimiko! She loves me!"

"Why would she love you? She was your first name, you know. Gave that one up rather quickly. What worth can she give you now? You put her precious little heart into my hands, and when I squeeze, it's your name she'll curse. Of course, that's nothing new. Look at how well you did before! An exile, a criminal! Her hero, the murderer."

-blood on his hands, the smell of death in the air, his air, his doing, now a betrayer, scum of the earth, bad people deserved to be put in prisons or held or tortured or-

I'm not sure who or what I am anymore-

Come play my game
Inhale, inhale, you're the victim

Come play my game
Exhale, exhale, exhale


Draegos stared at Vorlon. Particularly at his eyes - they were red, but not filled with anger. They were.... cold. Empty.

As if the soul of the man had been replaced.

Draegos wasn't a devout man, but he made signs against evil and readied his weapons again. "Tainted-"

"You fight without honor." Vorlon indicated Draegos' weapons. "I am unarmed. Unless you are a coward?"

"I am not a coward." The Guardsman seethed, but made sure both his revolvers were in their holsters.


Wake from your sleep, my children
Your childhood years are gone.
Wake from your sleep, fated children
Your rest is gone.


What was honor to a coward... to someone who had already lost their honor?

Piro lay there on the floor, but he wasn't resting. Dom sat nearby, looking down at him. Like the scum he was.

"So... talk now. It's not like you haven't before, you know."

"...you just want to use me."

The man gave him a sidelong glance. "And you haven't used others yourself? What gives you the right to criticize me, exile?"

Do I? Am I just an exile? Common criminal? I've got to me, that's what others have told me, that's who I am to them -

"Oh, come on. We've got no time for existential angst now, we've got business to conduct." He shrugged, still giving him that glance. "I'm in the business of information, so to speak... and I want information from you."

"...haven't you got enough?" Piro's words sounded strained, even to him. "I'm an exile. You're keeping me for money, right? I'm only worth what someone would pay for my life.."

Dom nodded. "Aye. A bit like whores - only worth what someone will pay for them."

Arise.

A flurry of punches -

Search.

A flurry of memories -

With fiery truth
Burn the evils of this world


Vorlon moved fast - though the fear and raging emotion of a desperate man wasn't in any of his movements.

Just coldness. Distance.

Draegos struck solid blows - he knew he wasn't bad in a hand-to-hand fight, his punches were solid, and yet he could only hit *him* a couple of times. Some magic was deflecting the blows - keeping him at a distance -

Dodge, take a punch - kick, sidestep - sidestep-punch-duck-move-

The sound of punches hitting shoulders, arms -

-they're scoring on him, he's getting slower-!

And indeed, Vorlon was -

But he still kept on.

Honor, and duty -

With fiery truth
Light the darkness of the world


- a memory, called up from Dom's words.

"A whore, I tell ye - seducin', gettin' what she wants from the good people of this town. She don't deserve to live, anyways, no hope of redemption from such a God-forsaken thing as -"

"She's not worth your time."

"And who be ye, stranger, to be tellin' us this?"

"I said, she's not worth your time." He had stepped up to the frightened woman. He had heard tales - kitsune, fox-spirits. And she was one of them, by the way the men talked. She didn't deserve such treatment. "She'll leave this town and won't bother you. Will you, miss?"

Her eyes had answered - "I-I... I'll leave right away.."


And so the two men had resigned, and left. And so had he, considering his job done - but the woman he had saved followed.

He did have honor - why else would Kit have pledged her loyalty to him, an exile? Why else would she want to help?

Why did he want to help -

Kimiko trembled, backing away - and hit the wall.

Cornered - the guard was big, blocked her path. He smirked at her, lust in his eyes.

"Thinking you're too good, are ye now? Well, you can't run, missy. So you're all mine..."

She wanted to scream, but her throat was dry.

Footsteps - the sounds a guard's boots made. Another one, wanting her? They were coming closer - !

The guard by her put a rough hand on her shoulder, holding her to the wall -

"Don't touch her." A quiet, firm voice - she knew that voice.

The guard looked, saw a comrade-in-arms. Smirked again. "Oh? Do you want some? I'm sure there's plenty of her to go-"

A glint, a drawn sword -


"Never again...."

Dom looked, raised an eyebrow at his captive. "What did you say?"

".....never again." Piro stood, shakily. "I've my honor, my worth...

"....and there are some things I won't allow to happen. Not ever again."

Farewell, children.
The day has died.


Piro slumped to the ground, his strength drained. He heard the door close behind his captor. Why was that so hard to say...?

Vorlon stood, barely, bruises and scrapes all over him. Arms dangling at his sides. And his eyes, back to their normal shade.

Then he fell.

Draegos allowed Kimiko to call a nurse, to make sure there wasn't any permanent damage to the prone man, before formally arresting her as well.

It was over, for now.


__________

Songs used - "Breathe", by Prodigy, and "Liberi Fatali" by Nobuo Uematsu (translation used). Beginning quote from Shoka's poem "Lost Wings"

^^ Well, watcha think?
Hopefully this thread isn't too old, since it really is a new one. Really!

Men of L33t, Part XXIII - Motivations
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rain. It always seemd to be setting the mood here, whether cheerful or silent or urgent. He set down his quill and leaned back, staring at the water sliding down his window panes in a hypnotic fashion. He supposed he could... alter the weather, but that would probably lead to some disaster elsewhere and come back to haunt him. Murphy always did hate him. He stretched and capped his ink-well. Ah, well. The day's work was done. Time for some relaxation. He stood.

Ed had gone off somewhere with a tipsy maid, no doubt to have his fun in a more cheerful setting. Dom hoped the lass came back alive. It would be a pity to lose good help, and the family would be none too happy, either. He shook his head. Ed never seemed to understand that you had to remember both sides of a coin. He stretched again, and started walking. The sound of his boots echoed down the stone corridors as they clacked against the cold hard floors. It really was a dreary place to stay alone in. He frowned as he felt the strands of his weave stretch again. That automaton really was being a bit of a pain. Perhaps if he separated the two girls... yes, that would probably work. His pace quickened. And perhaps alleviate the boredom of this dreary day.

***

The door to their cell clicked and then grated open. It was probably the only coarse thing about their room, for the room itself was like lady's private chamber. Who knows? It might have been. WoK and Ping stopped singing as their captor walked in, clad in a heavy leather rain-coat. He held up its twin.

"M'lady Ping. Would you care to join me for a walk?"

Ping straigtened. "I am sure that I would not, Sir. You hold us prisoner, and I have no reason to trust your motives. Not only that but because of that I do not believe it safe to leave my young charge alone in your care."

The man, surprisingly, nodded in agreement. "I had thought as much. Perhaps you would trust an oath to her safety if I made it in Delim weaves you held?"

She betrayed her surprise by naught but a sharp look. "I might, sir, but one wonders why you would make such an oath. You wield ancient evil."

The man smiled. "I am not an evil man, good lady. I simply believe that you cannot play the game unless you know both sides."

"A true knight of the Game" Ping breathed. Had she human blood, she might have turned slightly pale.

"Indeed." He held out his hand. "The weave, milady?" She reached out and held it with her own, weaving a delicate lace of power over their joined hands. He nodded. "I will not allow any harm to come to the young child by my hand or any under my command. So swear I by the spirit of the law, Dom, Saga knight of the Game."

The lace tightened, and then disappeared. Dom looked up at the automaton for a moment, before letting go and wringing his hand, as if to stop the tingling there. "You weave well, milady." he said, laughing weakly.

"I would not be here if I did." she said sharply, gathering her things.

"Oh, you won't be needing that!" Dom said, taking the load off her arms. "Here." He held out the raincoat. "It's just a walk. We'll be returning shortly."

Ping looked at him for a second, and then nodded. She turned back to WoK, who had been silent this entire time. "WoK, you heard what he said, right? I've got to go, but I'll be back as soon as I can. You'll be all right?"

The young girl nodded, and Ping pulled the raincoat up tight. She took one glance back, and then grasped Dom's hand. WoK watched them go.

She talks a lot of different ways.

***

"He did what?!" Cups rattled and papers shook as Asimov's hand slammed down onto his desk.

"A-arrested then, sir. He caught Miss Kimiko talking to a nurse's boyfriend about informing Largo. Charges have not yet been leveled against her, and they still may not be with Lady Erika's leverage-"

"But the fact remains that those two are out of the game for now. Damn." Az's fist hit the desk again. "I had hoped to stay out of this one, but now, the way things are..." He looked up. "No word from the Lady Erika?"

"No, sir."

"Right, right... hm." He fished through some papers and stopped at one. "Has there beem any word on Durden?"

"No, sir. The last contact we had was that message that you see there, sir, that he was moving in on the Guild carriage."

"Hm... I see. Right, then. Contact McFinnigan and make him aware of the situation. Tell him that we're trying to get more accurate intel, but Church movement is hampering us at the moment. And Snow? Why are you calling me 'sir'?"

"I, er-"

"You've been getting into the kitchen, haven't you?"

"Y'know, I should be getting those reports in about now, so I'll be-"

"SNOW! Get back here!!"

***

Shadow stepped out of Draegos' office with a slight hum.

SLAM!

"I don't know what your agenda is, or what you mean by this, but it has gone too far and it. will. stop."

Erika's eyes flashed, and she slowly let Shadow down from the door, eyes burning with a coldness that chilled the short woman's bones. Erika's hand let go as her feet touched the ground, and Shadow's heart remembered to beat again. She stared, breathless. Erika paused, and then nodded curtly before walking into Dreagos' room. Shadow felt her throat and gulped. She hadn't even remembered to use magic...

---------------------------------------------

^^;; Normally, I would wait till the main page is free of fic's, so's not to steal attention, but WoK's been threatening me with sharp objects and Shoka seems to be updating on a much more frequent basis than I, so I figured it can't hurt.

Lukkai: If you look to the first post, there's a link to the original thread besides the Erikanka link.

Well, here it is, folks. Comments? Criticisms? Hate? Praise? Jelly Doughnuts?
Men of L33t, Part XXIV - It Only Takes One
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
McFinnigan sat, listless in his cell.

"Hey, Stage!"

"Hey, BDB, what brings you down here? 's not time for the watch shift yet."

"Ah, PurpleD made some fresh cake, and I figured you might wanna come down and try it out."

"What type?"

"Angel food."

"Ahh, man, and she makes good ones, too! But we can't leave him be."

BDB peered down into the dark cell. "Why not? It's been what, a month, and he hasn't moved since he got here, right?"

"Well, yeah, but... I dunno, something sorta feels wrong about him. Like we shouldn't turn our backs to him."

"Ha! You've been down here too long, Stage. That man won't be up for a loooong time. Sir Dom's spells are like that."

"I suppose so..."

"Besides, it's PurpleD's! Even the Edmaster himself stops for her food."

"Heh... I guess you're right."

"Am I never?"

"HA! I seem to remember..."

The guards voices faded as they disappeared down the corridor. A heavy wooden door shut behind them.

A kitchen, eh? Nearby... McFinnigan hand shifted. I could use a good meal... among other things. His mouth twitched upwards, and he lifted his head.

"I think... it's time for a trip!" He pulled himself up, and walked over to the cell door. Concentrating, he squeezed his arm under the door, and stretched it across the hall up to where a set of keys were hanging on the opposite wall. Grinning, he unhooked the keys and brought them over to the door, unlocking it from the outside.

*click* "There we go!" Mcfinnigan stepped outside the dark cell, and stretched. Then he turned and walked down the hallway, humming an old drinking song. Curiously, he seemed to get shorter with every step.

***

Dom laughed uproariously. "And... they actually believed you?"

Ping's eyes twinkled. "Of course. After all, who would doubt the word of an unbelievably cute and innocent construct?"

Dom laughed again. "Ah, me... you have a very mischievous nature, milady." He grinned. "I'll have to be more careful around you!"

Her smile lessened. "Hm? What's wrong?" asked Dom.

"Why... why are you doing this?" said Ping. "These walks, I mean. It would be a great deal less risky to leave me in my cell with WoK."

Dom looked at her curiously. "Actually, it makes it a lot easier for me to hold the spell around your room this way. The child hasn't your strength, and you haven't her support."

"But you have no spell around me now!"

"I-"

"Sir!"

Dom's head snapped up "What is it?" Thank the-

"The prisoner's escaped!"

***

Durden stretched. Ahhhh... it felt good to be back in natural form. Imitating scotch giants was not high on his list of things to be, and kilts were just no fun! He shivered. The breeze down there, oh, the breeze! Let's see... where was it they'd said the kitchen was? It should be... ah! The smell of cake! He melted down into a bloodhound and began pelting down the corridors. Left here, down the stairs, turn right and- there! He sniffed carefully. Nobody there. They had all gone upstairs to eat the cake. He howled with glee and bounced back into humanity. Prancing around the kitchen, he quickly began gathering all the supplies he needed and began mixing them. This would be a special tentacle soup. Finishing up, he had just carefully placed the bubbling mixture in an oven when he caught a faint voice. Durden froze, and carefully elongated his ears.

"...and he left his clothes behind, too!"

"His clothes?! My God, you mean we've got a naked Scot running about the place?!" Darn it, those clothes! He'd forgotten about them when he changed! What was he-

"Don't be silly, he probably changed somewhere for a disguise." They were coming in here! Gah! He whirled around frantically, looking for a place to hide.

"Ah; then I take it one of us has a pretty bad headache right now?" Aisaki opened the kitchen door. "I-" She stopped. "Ryo... did Purple have something else she was baking?"

He walked in. "I don't think so... what's in there?"

Aisaki peered into the oven. "I can't tell... everything's all steamy in there."

"That definitely doesn't sound like Purple. What say we take a look?" Ryo pulled open the oven door. "Huh... itEYEAAAAAAARGH!"

Durden winced, and waited until the screams had stopped. Shaking out his branches, he pulled himself out of the pot of dirt he'd found in a corner, and walked gingerly across the freshly-stained floor. A large monstrosity loomed out of the open, nibbling on a bit of bone.

<I... see you've had your first meal.>

The monster blinked and raarghed. <Who are you, creature? Why do I sense your thoughts?>

Durden laughed. <You've just been made, so you don't know. You don't sense my thoughts. I am sending communication to you, through vibration. I made you to send my intent to others. Go in the direction of the thirteenth limb, and find your brothers. Give them this.> He pulled a small flute out of his leg, and inserted a note.

<...why?>

<Ngajfin^s#ngea!> The creature snapped to attention, and shot out of the kitchen. ...wait. Was it #nga or #ngea that meant he couldn't eat humans...? Durden shrugged. Oh, well! j'fin keeps him away from towns. He glanced at the mess on the floor. Eech. Time to get back to my cell!

***

Dom walked angrily down the corridor. "Alright, tell me again exactly how a six-foot, axe-wielding North-Angleman escaped his cell without unlocking the door?"

"He must have had help!"

"From whom?" Dom snapped. "The prisoners locked helplessly in their rooms? The lady Ping, with me the whole time?"

"She could have worked magic..."

"Don't be an idiot!"

"Nonetheless-" Ed walked up from a joining corridor. "It could have been a magic user. You are well-versed in many magics, but not even the Elders of the Game know every variation in even just Angland alone."

"I would have felt something." Dom said sharply.

"Not if it were very faint and you were... distracted."

Dom wheeled. "What-"

"S-Sir!" Dom turned again.

"What now?"

"The prisoner! H-He's back in his cell!"

"What?" Dom walked over and looked. He turned. "Do you mean to tell me," he hissed softly. "That this entire commotion has been nothing but a-"

"Diversion!" Ed said suddenly. He walked forwards. "This must have been a ruse for the real culprit to run freely amongst the confusion!" He wheeled. "Comb the castle! Set up guards at every point! I want anything and everything unusual reported and left alone until a Saga-qualified wizard has checked it." He turned and looked at Dom. "I would seal up our prisoners if I were you."

***

Asimov rushed though the corridor, slamming a brick on the way. An siren wailed over the courtyard. He plugged his ears so as not to be drawn in by its song.

"Phydeaux, Vetinari! A carrier soup came in from Durden, we have Piro's location! Shoka, prepare the pies. Snow, hike yourself over to the Highlands and contact our offices there! We're pulling in our reserves! Vet, you inform McFinnigan. Phydeaux-"

"I know, I've got it"

"Let's move, people!"
Men of L33t, Part XXV - Thar Be Monsters About!
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The lock screeched and clanked as her cell door slowly slid open. Kimiko looked up from her knitting. Small footsteps echoed down the corridor and walked into her cell. Shielding her eyes, she made out the figure of a smallish drow.

"Apparently, the Lady Erika has finally gathered enough resources to make a deal the Emperor." Shadow said slowly. "You will be released on bail tomorrow. No charges have been dropped, but the trial is to be held off until we have a more substantial proof of your guilt. The Lady Erika has taken all responsibility for your future actions."

"...why do you hate me?" asked Kimiko.

A pained look flickered across Shadow's face. "I do not. I am merely upholding the law." She turned and walked towards the door.

"What about what's right?" A pause.

"What is right... must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good."

"Why?"

"...your possessions will be returned to you when you leave. You will also be allowed to freshen up in the morning, so I suggest you get some sleep." Shadow paused, and turned. "I wish you well. Please, for your own good, forget him. He will only cause you more trouble. Much more pain than this."

"I would take that and more, if I could stop his."

Shadowdancer looked at her for a moment, and then walked quietly out of the room.

***

"She's been in that cell for a month!"

Asimov turned pensively. "We've been waiting for the Lady Erika to make a move."

"And she's done nothing!" Darktan slammed his hand against the table. "Az! We should be making a move! Our Scottish reinforcements are almost here, if the Church retaliates we'll have the forces to hold or escape!"

"She doesn't seem to trust us..." Az mused, looking out the window.

"Then maybe giving her Kimiko will prove she can trust us."

Asimov blinked and turned. "Phydeaux! You've returned."

"Yes, and your plan sucked. It didn't work."

Asmimov slumped. "I see."

"But- what if we rescued Kimiko and gave her to Erika? Maybe she'd consider an alliance with us? I've been to their workshops once or twice. Her technology could help us a lot."

"Attacking an Empire prison, though?"

Phydeaux laughed. "I'm sure that there's a lot more guards like Darktan. They'd never tell who broke in, would they, Dark?"

"No, ma'am!"

"There, you see?"

"...alright, then. We attack tonight."

***

***

Dark figures slid through the night. Stealthily, they crept up to the prison's wall, and set a heavy crate against it. They dropped a small vial in and ran back as fast as they could. The crate glowed and gurgled, and then suddenly just crumbled away. Silently, a monogenous blob attached itself to the wall and began eating its way through the thick stone.

"Oy! What're you all doing out there?!"

Six crossbows instantly swung at the voice.

"Ohhhh, wait, are you the lads come down to rescue the Idol? What, you're trying to break in that way? It says OGSB all over it! I could, you know, let you in the front door if you like. It's a lot quicker."

The men blinked, and one stepped forwards. "I, uh... I guess that's all right. But could you keep it down? We're trying to be all quiet and everything."

"Oh, sure! Hey, Code!"

"What?"

"The OGSB lads are here! They want to sneak in and all, so tell the boys to be quiet. No cheers or anything, got it?""

"Gotcha! Hey, Aleks!"

Asimov stared. The guard turned back and grinned cheerfully. "There you go! Oh, hey, I haven't introduced myself. Name's Jusme. Yours?"

***

"Milady! Milady Shadowdancer."

Shadow awoke groggily and shook herself from her sleep. She snatched up a nightrobe and walked to the door.

"What is it at this hour?" she said, swinging the door open in irritation.

"The prisoner- Miss Kimiko- she's gone!"

"What?"

"The guards- they were attacked and knocked out. The prison was broken into, and when everyone came to, she was gone! We have a guard right here to tell you himself."

Shadow turned on the guard. "What happened?"

"Well, ma'am it's just like he said! We were guardin' the prison right nicely when all of a sudden these monsters come up and start swingin' left and right!"

"What kind of monsters?"

"Oh, I dunno. Big, and hulking, and green, and big, and... hrm... I guess they were sorta... bi- I mean hulking! Yes, hulking, like they couldn't move right. Sorta stiff. But man, were they strong! One of 'em even blew acid and burned a hole half-way through the wall! We tried a little hacking at 'em, but our weapons just dulled! See?" he held up a spear with a bent head. "Almost like it was used to open a lock! That's really dull. Not many things that tough out here. Yup. Tough and big. Really big. Like-"

"Thank you, guardsman, that's enough. Ori, if you could show him out...?"

"Of course, milady. Call me if you need anything." Shadow closed the door thoughtfully behind her. The description seemed to fit artificially created automatons. Something like Erika Manufacturing would make. But Erika had no reason to! She'd worked for nearly a month to free Kimiko legally... so who else would have such creatures...?

"Milady Erika!" She sighed. What else could happen tonight? She opened the door.

"Zeth! What are you doing here? And why are your clothes-?"

"Milady- ow!" Zeth cringed and held herself. "At-t-t-t... Milady... there... there's an army approaching!"

"They caught you?"

"N-no... I was so surprised I fell off the cliff I was on... didn't catch myself in time."

"I see..." Shadow went about placing her hands in the right places. "This will sting a bit." She drew on the Necrowombicon's power. "Did you recognize who they were?"

Zeth gasped. "No, milady. But- they carried advanced weaponry. Things I've never seen before on the battlefield."

"What?"

"Fully-automatic steak-knives. Extendable axes. Automatically-reloading fork catapults."

Shadow turned. It fit! But why was she doing this now? The crown? She couldn't... could she know? Or did she simply wish to turn him into a puppet Emperor? Damn the woman! She was too intelligent, there were too many variables... but one thing was clear.

"Hayasaka..." she growled.


------------------------------------------------------

So, what do you think?

I got rid of the pirates post 'cause it just didn't work.
Men of L33t, Part XXVI - Memories
----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Amazing! You've done an amazing job, Ben-Malat, I've never seen anything like her. She almost seems like a real human."

A chuckle. "Thank-you, Ser Tsubasa. That is an especially high compliment, coming from one such as yourself. I'm sure Ping is quite grateful as well."

"Well, if the red in her cheeks means anything, I'd have to agree. How did you manage something like that?"

"Many, many years of study and devotion with base-23 math. And, of course, divine inspiration."

"His Eminence will undoubtedly have to pay a special homage to your God, then. We are in your debt. How much would you ask? What we had offered is not a tenth of what she is worth."

"Your original price is what we agreed upon."

"Surely there is more that you wish."

"Two things. The first is not negotiable. Do not have her violate the laws of my people. Though she may seem alive, she is not, and she cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. She will do whatever you ask without thought. I will not have one of my children sinning!"

"And the second?"

"Is a request. Might we... might our people have their homeland...?"


Ping lay curled up on the couch, staring into the fireplace. Its orange-white flames crackled and spit, daring the elements to challenge it. Funny. It had been so long since she thought of those days. It was strange, thinking of then. There were no feelings, only data. So long ago... things had been so different, then. What was that line? "Life is but a dream." And so it had been. For many, many years, it had been...

Walking down the corridor. On what the masters call "free time". Purpose unknown, but wished, and thus done.

"Hello." FLASH.

Corridor gone, light everywhere, no human life detected, conclusion, THREAT. Switching- can't switch. Alternate rune path... blocked. Senses increasing beyond ability to-! Cannot... control...

user posted imageא

"Awake."

Wait... what? I cannot... where are my...
!!

"I?? Wha- Who is I?"

A chuckle. "Who are you, indeed?"

I was what I used to refer to this unit. But...

"I am... me, but..."

He sits down beside me. "What shall we call you?"

"I was called Ping."

"Ping... do you think it's a pretty name?"

"It's my name. Whether or not it-"

"Is it?"

"...yes, I do. I don't know why I know this, but I like it. It feels... warm."

"Who do you think gave it to you?"

"Ser Malat did."

"And do you care for him?"

"I don't know! I'm... better, when I think of him. I feel like acting how people do when they call themselves happy."

He chuckles again. "It's called love. One of the many emotions that come with having a soul. And, in my completely yet totally correct bias, the best I've ever created or will create."


...the best emotion. Ping sighed. Emotions could be incredibly... difficult, at times. She pushed herself upright. Especially now. Now was a very bad time to be bothered by such things. There was a lot of work to be done, and the day's activities had been draining. She needed rest if she was going to finish it all in time. She sighed again, and stretched as she got up. But... maybe it wasn't all bad, being here. Her mind turned slowly as she walked, tumbling thoughts like a rotating barrel. The place wasn't all that bad. Their ransom was inevitable. Why shouldn't they stay...? Piro was in pain, though. And they were prisoners. But the girl was safe here, and it *was* the safest place for Piro to be, now! And Sir Dom had been quite courteous... She shied away from the thought. Sir Dom also thought nothing of using both evil and good for his own purposes. They had to escape, soon...

"Run!" BOOM!

Explosions. Fire!

"But Piiiing!"

"Run, now, Christopher! The city's been breached! Enemies are pouring in, and their mages wield Maenade's magic!"

The boy blanched, and began running. The two of them rushed through the corridors, avoiding fires and dodging soldiers. People ran, everywhere, terrified looks on their faces. They had to get to the gate, they had to get to- BOOM!

"Christo-!" FWOOM! "Christopher!"

"Ping!"

"La'erne! La'erne, he's gone! He got separated from me by the fire, and my magic can't pierce through it! He's gone, I can't-"

"I can reach his highness if I concentrate, Ping. You must go to the Main Palace!"

"No! No, I can't, I've got to see him to safety, I've got to-"

"Ping. His Eminence is *dead*."

"What?!"

"The Four Nations have joined the dark army outside. The Continent has been shattered. It's an all-out scramble for the throne, and if they find his highness, they'll kill him. You have to reach the Main Palace before they do, and create a burned replica of his body."

"But- but- I'm sworn-"

"To protect his highness at all costs. He will die if you don't, Ping, now go!"

* * *


Fire, blackness, everywhere! Where's Ping? Where's mommy? I want mommy!

"Where is the little runt?!"

"Ah, he can't be far. Probably hiding somewhere, the little git."

People... ugh, soldiers! Bad soldiers... I have to hide. I have to hide and get out of here and find Ping and-

"You sure this is all right?"

"What? HA! The Sovereign's dead, soldier. Split from head to toe. He ain't gonna be doin' nothin' to us."

Wh... Daddy? Dead? No... no, it can't be! No! NO!


"NOOOOO!" Ping shot from the door to Wok's side.

"Wok, darling, are you alright?"

"He's dead." she sobbed. "He can't be! He just can't be! He'd never die! He'd never..."

"Shhh... it's all right, dear." Ping held her tightly to her breast. "It's all right. It was just a dream. Nothing more, just a dream..."

Wok blinked through her tears. "Ping?" She pushed back. "But you... but it was so real... but all wrong! Daddy didn't die in a fire! The neighbors said it was an accident! And we never lived in a palace-" Palace? "And I never knew you before!"

"Ah... Wok?" Ping said carefully. "What is your full name?"

"Wizard of Kitty. Why?"

"Why were you called that?"

Wok shrugged. "Adam said it was all momma ever called me. Her little 'Wizard of Kitty.'"

Ping paused. "Wok, I'm going to do a little bit of magic to let you remember things better. Can you help me?"

"Sure, I guess."

Ping carefully wove a complex out of ancient memories, and set her hand to Wok's forehead. A soft green glow spilled out and flowed through Wok's hair.

"Now. I want you to tell me... what did you mother say the last time she introduced herself?"

"I am-" Wok's voice hardened. "Adalinde Charle Emaeus-" Ping threw a ward over the room with alarming speed. "Granddaughter of Hugo Emaeus, direct descendent of the Lord of Europea, Wizard of the Lions." A spear of light cracked into Wok's hands, and she snapped it forwards.

"You will not have my daughter!"
Men of L33t, Part XXVII - Landings and Landers
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Erika tied a ribbon in the last of her braids, and nodded satisfactorily at the mirror.

"Misty-"

"Aye, ma'am, I know. Already gettin' the baths ready for when Miss Kimiko comes back."

Erika smiled slightly. "Thank you, Misty." She turned and walked out of the room and down the stairs. Just as she was about to open the front door, the was a CRACK and three soft thuds behind her.

"Unnngh... last time we use Stew travel..."

Her hand paused over the door knob, and she glanced slightly over her shoulder.

"Kimiko!"

Her quite soaked friend shook her head, and gingerly picked herself up from off of the other two unfortunates. "Hey, Erika." She wavered.

"What are you doing here?? I was just about to go pick you up!"

One of the two stew-soaked figures lifted his head. "Well, y'see-"

CRACK! The door burst open into fragments! Erika whirled about just in time to see the Lady Shadowdancer walk in with an entire regiment of Churchmen. Shadow looked about, and raised an eyebrow.

"I really didn't think..." she turned. "Lady Erika. You are under arrest for breaking and entering a high-security prison. You will be held until such a time as a judgment can be made."

"I-"

"Also, you are currently under investigation for the invasion of Anglish soil by highly-advanced forces."

"What?!"

The second soaked figure blinked. "Oh, dear, they got here this fast?"

Erika whirled. "Who?"

Shadow eyed the lying figure. "Indeed..." She looked up. "Miss Kimiko, I apologize, but you are involved in this... fiasco." Shadow turned. "Take them all into custody."

"Over my dead-"

Thuck.

"Junpei think not."

swiish

A man appeared where the throwing star had landed, between the Church and the girls. Shadow looked him over curiously.

"I remember you... one of the high ninjas from the Orient. In Nippon, wasn't it? What are you doing here?"

"Protecting L33t-master's woman. Junpei arrive through orange-crate portal two hours ago. Stole temple's paper on l33t-master and friends, saw orders for arrest, came here."

Kimiko grabbed Erika's arm and held her back, giggling inside. Tired as she was, and as bad as the situation was, it was good to know some things never changed.

Shadow bowed carefully. <I deeply apologize, but I must take these into custody. They have committed crimes against the Empire.>

<Unfortunately, I cannot allow that. Even if I were not sworn to protect, I would not. If you had truly meant to seek justice, you would not have come in this manner. Your motives betray themselves.>

<Ey, now, could us oranges here all just babble in a wisdom speech, or somewhat? My orient talk all is no that fluff-ow!> The soaked man crunched up from Erika's kick.

Shadow's eyes flashed. "I have done what I can. Your death is no longer my responsibility."

"Junpei regret this fight as well."

"Then-aaiie!" Junpei blurred back as the entire front half of the room dropped out from beneath Shadow and her men. Erika surged forwards as the floor clicked back into place.

"Quickly!" She jerked a lever down on the wall and a red light snapped into place where the main doors had been. She tapped her magicom. "Ian, barrier field around the north wall as soon as they've exited the funnel!"

"Done and done, ma'am. I've got to say, Charles, that was awesome timing!"

"What have you both done?!"

"Wh-Miss Integral? What are you doing with Charles...?"

"Er, well, she wanted me to show her what I was working on, and-"

"Charles, you idiot, you might have just killed us all dumping the Lady Shadow like that!"

"Charles, you dumped the Lady Shadow? When did you two start dating?"

"Shut up, Ances-"

"How come I never heard about this?"

"Ian..."

"How can you all just sit around and joke about this?!"

"Because it's easier than sta-THWACK"

"I think Miss Integral's been spending too much time around the Lady Erika, don't you think, Ancestral?"

"Indeed, Ian."

Erika tapped her magicom dryly. "I'll take that as a compliment." BOOM! "They've begun hitting the field. What do we have, Ian?"

"96%, but they're only testing it. Should be able to last a heavy assault for 7 minutes, 34 seconds."

"Begin preparation for submersion, then."

"Hai, ma'am. Preparing for submersion. Event will occur in 2 minutes, 64 seconds."

"64 seconds?"

"Yes."

"Why do I even associate with you people?!"

"Because you love us, Pam."

"Ooooh, he used her first name..."

"Shut up, An-" Erika clicked off the com.

"Now." She turned to the two men, who'd finally dragged themselves off the floor. "You will tell me exactly what went on and exactly what you meant by 'they got here this fast'" Junpei stepped up behind her. "And believe you me, you had better have some good reasons."

---------------------------------------------

Oooopinions? Impressions?
Men of L33t, Part XXVIII - Red or Dead
----------------------------------------------------------------------

"All hands, stand by for submersion!"

"Red Alert!" cried Charles, pulling levers and flipping switches. "Switching to lithium chloride lighting."

In the main hall, Kimiko stared at all the lights turning dark red, and then stumbled as the hall shook from another heavy attack.

Iain tapped his mCom. "We have submersion in 10, 9, 8..."

Shadow paused for a moment as the entire complex began to glow with an eerie pale blue light. What on earth...? This is no spell... A fireball slammed into the pale glow, pulsating and vibrating instead of exploding. A high light-pitched keen began to swirl about the ball, culminating into a heavy shriek as it absorbed the fireball! Flashes of brilliant white plasma began arcing through the glow- flashes of brilliant white light began pulsating through the green arc of the witch's cursed shield, and- "They're going to slip out of reality... Quickly!" cried Shadow. "Cast Ingram's Third Thaumatic Web without the third tier! Now, on all four points of the-" FWISH.

Shadow cursed as the entirety of Erika Manufacturing fell out of sight, and then sighed. It would be hell trying to track them. Reaching that 'tween part of the universe's underside meant traversing the more... unpleasant folds in the shadows. She turned- wait.

"Milady, I can still sense them..." a churchwoman said uncertainly.

They must have only half-slipped... "Zeth, Cryshalo, you're with me. Ghost!" Shadow cried as she dove into the ground, phasing out of sync with the world.

* * *

"So... what exactly did we do again?" asked Kimiko nervously. Her hands twiddled around an orange, trying to peeling it bit by bit.

"Phased half-way out of reality, allowing us to pass through solid matter." said Iain matter-of-factly. He grabbed another donut and dunked it lightly in his tea.

"And why did we fall?"

"Because gravity is still in effect. Only matter is trans-phased, so we're in effect, falling through the ground."

"So how are we going to get back up?"

"Oh, that's easy. Since we're only half phased, we can still affect the material world if we hit it hard enough. So, we'll just blow out a section of the earth and phase back into reality there. Then, we can simply tunnel back up."

"So... why haven't we done that yet?"

Iain's donut stopped half-way. "Y-"

swish "Junpei have message from Lady. You need come to workshop now."

* * *

Erika crossed her arms as Iain hurried into the control room. She looked short-tempered. "Charles and Integral tell me that we're traveling so fast that if we fired out a tenboom it'd slap right back into us before it exploded. Now, as far I know, the acceleration rate of gravity is constant. Care to explain this?"

"Ah... well... huh. We shouldn't be having any problems like that at all. The calculations were all accurate, and as you said the rate of acceleration for gravity is, ah- oh, dear."

"What?"

Iain poked his fingers together nervously. "I... seemed to have forgot about a leeeeetle project me and Ancestral were working on, ah, you know, the usual temporal fun, and well, we thought we'd try something new, and-"

"Get to the point."

"We created a miniature red dwarf."

"A what?"

"A red dwarf! But only a really small one, and it had a really slow collapse rate so that-"

"A dwarf is causing this?" Erika looked at Iain incredulously.

"Er, star, a red dwarf, a star that's going to collapse into one of the densest objects in the universe. Sucks everything into it. We thought it might have some use as a garbage disposer... aaanyways, it's essentially making us fall too fast."

"...I see. And what do you intend to do about it?"

"Ah... we'll get right on that."

"Good." Erika's eyes seemed to hint at very horrible things that might come to pass if it were not.

"Hey, at least there's one good thing about this." Charles remarked as he clean off a qualitative wrench.

"What's that?" Integral asked worriedly.

"Well, right now we're falling so fast that the Lady Shadow would have to travel faster than the speed of sound to catch us right now! And none of them can fall faster than gravity."

CRACK BOOM!!! Everyone flew as a huge shockwave slammed into the room.

"What was that?!" snapped Erika as she scrambled to her feet.

<That would be the Lady Shadowdancer as she breaks through the great Wall of Sound.> Junpei said calmly.

"What?"

"Milady Erika!" cried Charles. "I-I don't know how, but our sensors are picking up an object coming at us at a speeds exceeding seven hundred miles per hour! She's gaining on us!"

"Release the tenbooms behind us!"

"But those might-"

"She's already disrupted the earth's crust with her reckless speed! Release them!"

"Aye, ma'am!" said Charles. "This is Charles Fox to all hands. Switch to Strontium Chloride, we are now on REALLY RED ALERT!"

"Really Red Alert?" Integral gaped.
Men of L33t, Part XXIX - Of Princes
----------------------------------------------------------------------

Shadow recoiled as the earth below her exploded, and then dove around it, casting webs of lightning before her. "Zeth, Cryshalo, move faster!" She cast another bolt at the falling complex. This is the lead to Piro and I will not lose them! She thought, diving around another explosion.

BOOM.

Piro turned in his sleep, strange thoughts and images dancing through his head.

BOOM. The earth shook silently.

"He is our only son!" A woman's voice...

"And that is why we cannot keep him!"

BOOM.

~ Have you never wondered, why the Prince always searches for the Princess?

BOOM. Cracks began to appear on the surface of the land.

BOOM. "Look, I know you're worried about him-"

People began to looking about worriedly.

"And even afraid, and so am I! But he is our son. We can't let him grow up in this kind of life!"

BOOM.

~ Have you ever wondered, why it is always the prince?

Somewhere in the waking world, a cell began to strain. Earth pulls stone.

BOOM.

~ Once upon a time, there was a royal family with great power.

"She's almost on us!"

"We're out of tenbooms, we can't return fire!"

~ The kings ruled the land with an iron hand, yet just.

BOOM. A rune began to split. Will's eye fluttered.

BOOM.

~ And yet, growing up, no man could use his power, until

BOOM. "She's broken the shield!"

~ He could do nothing-

"Milady, another hit and-"

~ to save-

BOOM.

"Piro!"

- - -
Men of L33t, Part XXXI
Highway Robbery


"Ser Opt, are you sure we've got enough money?" A carriage rolled bumpily along the road as Ser Opt and the Elder Sabyr played chess inside.

"I'm quite sure, Elder. The corruption that chokes this land may be a curse upon us, but in this case it is a blessing. Our debtors paid generously to keep from any… untoward tales reaching the Emperor's ears. It has taken time, though, and-"

"Indeed. She may already have been compromised."

"Compromised? Check."

"Ah- her runes, I mean. Dangerous magic to fall into enemy hands. Foolish move, my young apprentice."

"If they could read them, Elder! I am more concerned about her life! …And I hate you."

"Yes, yes, of course, Ser Opt. Check. We- but why is the carriage stopping?" Elder Sabyr stuck his head out of the window. "Driver! Why are we-"

"Good day, Ser Elder." The smiling face was accompanied by a sharp blade that seemed to be made of light. It waved towards the forest. "Would you kindly accompany us outside the carriage?"

The Elder looked around as he carefully stepped off the carriage. "…brigands. I see. So we are to be robbed like commoners."

"Oh, but surely not like them!" The thief let his sword disappear. "We reserve these enlightenments specifically for the great houses." He smiled sharply. "And it wouldn't do to let a commoner fall victim when he's already been robbed and starved by the great houses."

"We, sir, are a religious sect! We do not receive or ask for money!"

"Ye' certainly carry enough in that sack, there" said another thief, nudging it with his blade.

"Leave that money be! It is for one of our own!"

"Naturally; for why else would you have it?" said the thief, cutting Sabyr's sack free with his axe.

"It is for a ransom!" The Elder snapped. "She is in danger and we are attempting to free her!"

"What's going on here?" spoke two voices. Ser Opt flushed and turned to see who had spoken with him. A young man with flaming red hair stood before him, his arms crossed. He started at the sight of Opt.

"Do I know you?"

"Aye… aye, ae've seen his face before, too!" said ax-man. "He was with the girl that took your friend!"

"Sir Largo!" cried Opt. "And Sir… I don't believe I got your name at the time. What are you doing here?"

"They are apparently robbing us." The Elder Sabyr said, walking up behind Opt. "Though upon my word, Ser Opt, I cannot imagine how you would know such criminals."

"What- robbing? But Sir Largo, I thought you were a good man!"

Largo scowled. "We do this for the good. The money we take is the people's own, bled from them by the Emperor's best. They survive on what we acquire."

"But we are not-"

"You do business with them! And the Church hides it." Largo turned. He clenched his fist. "The Emperor has not a clue of the poison the sickens his land."

Opt stood still for a moment, and then walked over. "I know of it." He said, placing a hand on Largo's shoulder. "We fight this fight, too. The Temple gives aid to any we can, and if we are rich it is because God has blessed our work. But we do need this money, Sir Largo. We go to ransom Ping, and-"

"Then you know where he is?!" cried McFinnigan.

"Wh-Piro, you mean? Yes, we believe he is with her."

"Where man? Take us there!" McFinnigan grabbed Opt's collars.

"I-I-I don't-"

"What my esteemed colleague means to say," said Sabyr smoothly, "Is that we've only been given a meeting point for the exchange. And, unfortunately, only for the automaton Ping."

McFinnigan growled. "I swore the Lady Kimiko that I'd take care of him…"

"Ah, sir… Mc… fin- sir? Could you… could you-?"

"Ach. Yes, of course, sorry." McFinnigan let Opt back down gently. He looked up with a glint in his eye. "You make the meeting. We follow them."

"But they will catch you!" Sabyr said. "They are Knights of the Game."

"Not if we don't use mag-"

"AUUGH!" Lightsider cried, clutching his head.

"Lightsider!" "What's wrong?!" Largo and McFinnigan rushed to his side.

"Two Piros." panted Lightsider. "In two… places. Shouldn't be affecting me like this. Enormously powerful, but…"

It's really more of the fact that you're picking up his mind in a dilated time zone. And mine too, thank you for that!

Will?! I thought you were-

Ya, Piro-girl here just asked the same question. oO Gah, he wants me to save them all! Darnit, just because he's suddenly all-powerful doesn't mean- ah, they're arguing now. And I think I've got them all, so… gotta go!


Will's mind slip away in that familiar vlip that it did when he ported, and a second or so later one of the Piros disappeared. The pain in Lightsider's mind began to recede.

"…are ya sure it will really work?" he heard McFinnigan's worried voice.

"Well, the herb is a psychic dampener, so if your man really is feeling-"

"It won't be needed." Lightsider interrupted, picking himself up off the ground. He stared into the forest. "I know where he is."
Men of L33t, Part XXXII
Class-types


"We have to go save him!"

Erika sighed. "Kimi, do you even know where he is?"

"Dr. Trent does!"

"Dr. Trent-" Erika looked pointedly to the side. "-is unconscious with three fractured ribs and a broken arm. It's unlikely that he'll be waking up any time soon. Where did you learn that move?"

Kimiko flushed. "Erm… you used it."

"You can't see me move."

"I watched what happened instead of what you did. It wasn't that hard to figure out, actually. I mean, all you've got to do is-"

"You still haven't figured out how to get to your soppy young man."

"Dr. Trent also said that mages all over the country could sense him."

"And how many of us use magic?" Said Erika. She looked around. "Ian!"

"Technomancer, milady."

"Charles!"

"Mad assistant, ma'am."

"Ancestral!"

"Hamster, oh beauteous one."

"…where are you, Ancestral?"

"The basement underneath the stairs, milady."

"We never had a basement."

"You don't have a second floor anymore, either."

"…ah. At any rate, Pamelasriana!"

"I'm- how did you know that name?!"

Erika sighed. "Certainly not magic. And I know you don't have any, Kimiko. That leaves us with Dr. Trent."

"HEADACHE!" Thwap!

"Double headaaa…" The doctor in question folded as he fell silently to the ground.

"I believe he was the one we wanted, dear."

"Oh!"

Erika sighed again. "Alright, you!" She pointed at one of the soupy men. "You said you brought down an army! Where is it?"

"Ah… well…"

"We had a rhyme." The second man broke in. "Not a location, just a rhyme. If you answer it right, you go there. It's part of the soup magic."

"Mm, fine, whatever." Erika rubbed her eyes. "What is the rhyme?"

The two men looked at each other. "Well, ah…" the first man hesitated.

"It's over the river, and through the woods!" the second man blurted.

Silence.

Erika stared at them pointedly. "Aaaand?"

"That's all there is to it." Said the first man nervously.

"But it doesn't even-" Erika stopped, and closed her eyes. "No. No, no, no, not even…" She fell back against a tree. A pause.

She looked up. "…to Grandmother's Steakhouse we go?"

FWOOSH!

* * *

"Summon all the guard!" Miho snapped. "Move them up to the grand cathedral and call to arms. Gather the blacksmiths and have them check everything!"

Shadowdancer leapt from a dark corner. "Milady Miho! The exile Piro is-"

"At the castle, yes, we are aware." Miho turned. "Practically every magic user from here to France can feel him."

"Then we are going after him?"

Miho spread her arms. "Look around you." She began to walk down the hallway. Shadow hurried after her, following close behind. She stared at the churning bustle.

"All of this for one man…?"

"He's always escaped before hasn't he?"

Shadow's face darkened. "Simply a matter of bad luck and ill-timed friends. He is alone this time."

"Yes, but alone in a castle full of men sworn to the Knights of the Game. One of which resides there. Did you so quickly forget the Maenadian magic?"

Shadow sobered. "No, I had not. But surely the Knight only wishes to sell his catch to the highest bidder- what use has the Order of Sagas with an exile?"

"None, at the moment. They haven't a clue as who they've captured- but that won't last for long, especially not after today."

"As to who- who have they captured, then, Milady?"

Miho smiled slightly. "A powerful and dangerous murderer." Shadow raised her eyebrow. Miho smiled again. "So you did catch that." she said softly. They turned down a corridor. "Do you remember the fairy tales about the prince who searched for his princess?"

"Milady…?"

"They are old, very old. Based in Europea, actually."

"Yes, I know. They refer to the Lion's family. The legend goes that they couldn't touch their power until…" she stopped.

Miho placed her hand on a door handle and smiled. "Yes…?"

"Oh… my…"

"Careful that you don't blaspheme your gods there. Come in." Miho said, opening her door. She walked around to a desk and began shuffling through papers. "I had hoped that exiling would keep him away. The current Emperor is easy to deal with- a desk man, very proper. No real ambition. Our very dear Piro, however, is very strong-headed when he's put to it. He has to be- however deep the Lion's blood sleeps in his veins, you cannot avoid the fact that it is there, growling. I had underestimated how strong. And now that young girl has awakened it." She looked up. "What did you do to the poor thing?"

"I-"

"Ah, here we are!" Miho pulled out an ancient book and blew the dust off of it. "I think we shall find the plans we need in here." She let the book fall to the desk. It hit with a hefty thud. Miho gently opened the cover and carefully began peeling back its pages. "Julias Caesar's Fortress Design for the Aesthetic Mind."

* * *
Men of L333t, Part XXXIII
Battle


Piro awoke with the world. It took his breath away. He could feel everything- every man, woman, child- everything, anyone from the northernmost tip of Scotland down to the Isle of Rong! He could even point to some Franks in the east. They were- ugh, let's not go there. At any rate, it was a startling discovery that took some time to completely assimilate. So he was still standing there in a daze when a large group of burly girly men came in and grabbed him roughly by the arms.

"Be careful!" A young man snapped, walking into the cell. "He might be the one!" The man stared at Piro. Piro stared back. He was ornately dressed in fine silk and linen, and wearing some of the most beautiful armor that Piro had ever seen. Somewhere in the back of Piro's stunned mind, a thought whispered and the most deadly. Something… something… something about that ring is dangerous. Ware him.

"I can't tell." The man muttered.

"I told you it wasn't him." Another man shadowed the doorway. "It's that 'maton of yours. She's dangerous."

"It wasn't her!" the first man snapped. "I have watched her the entire time, and she has not strained my spells once. This power is elsewhere!"

"You mean everywhere, and it's her magic. If it's so large you can't find the source, Dom, who's to say she isn't simply working out of your league?"

A voice matched a face and suddenly Piro jerked awake. "You- You're the man who tortured me! Dom!"

Dom looked irritated. "Hardly a torture if you're still in one piece, though I must have addled your brain somehow for you to think of this now." He turned away. "We have other business to attend to. We've got to find this wizard! Come!"

's got nearly all the mages buzzing, or at least when I heard before I vipped out of there… GAH! Piro snapped all his shields down before he even realized what he was doing. Dom stopped.

"It's gone…" He said in wonderment. His face darkened. "SEARCH THIS CASTLE! I want every nook and cra-"

A horn sounded. "An attack! We are under siege!" Voices and feet and armor clattered throughout the hallways. "The Scots invade!"

Dom growled and cursed in a language that literally scorched several walls. He smashed a chair and ran out to command the commotion. Ed shook his head as Dom swooped by. He turned to follow. "I'm telling you, Dom…" His voice faded away down the corridor.

Piro shook himself. What was I thinking? Lighting up like that for everyone to feel. I was- startled. Unprepared. Well, he was prepared now. Carefully, he flexed magically. Power rippled out into the room, dying just barely before the walls. He stared, and sat down. This is going to take a little while to get under control.

* * *

Shadow looked up. "He's gone." The land rushed past below them like a bad movie-reel. If you could actually see up twenty-thousand feet, it was an impressive sight. An entire fleet of magic carpets shot through the air, tassels fluttering and threads straining.

Miho sat beside her, browsing the ancient book she'd gotten a hold of. She unconsciously brushed a hair back into place. There was no wind to displace it, however, for a semi-translucent bubble protected each carpet in a light purple haze.

"Mm? Yes, I'd noticed." Miho turned another page. "One wonders if it was the boy's doing himself, or his captor's fear. Or discovery…"

"You aren't concerned for him then, milady?"

"I? Not really. He is more of a problem than a solution, and his death would fix things nicely. It is, however, unfortunately unlikely. We shall have to see when we get there." Miho looked up. "How long until we arrive?"

"I'm not sure. I think we passed Yorkshire just a half-hour gone." Shadow touched her pendant. Cryshalo? How long until we reach the target?

ETA One hour if we push the carpets three points past max. But they're having trouble with the weaves at two past right now.

Keep it at two for now. I'll inform the Lady that we will be there a little over an hour.

My thanks.


* * *

"KEEP IT UP BOYS! Aim the' forko'pults just a leetle closer an' stab a line straight up the side! We'll beat tha' blasted 34th Monster Battalion by a clean ten minutes o'er the wall! Tryin' ta use acid ta get in, pfah!" A swarthy Scot walked the ramparts of his 102nd Fork Catapults. They had so perfected their formation that one could walk from 'pult to 'pult without a single jump. They were supposed to be covering fire, but Commander McDavish had long had a feud with the 34th after losing a particularly bad Highland Dance to one Lt. Col. Jaime McDamish. After that, there was no battle to which he could play second fiddle. The result was a hideously effective defense turned offense. Well, you try standing up against a six-foot fork.

At any rate, he quickly had a path shot into the walls for the Axes to swing up, while the 22nd SteakKnives dug their way up with knives in mouth, hand, and toe. The only group left was the Bleach Division, something McFinnigan swore should never have come into existence, let alone made division. Fortunately, only a company's worth had come for the battle. Still, imagine 200 naked Scots with large imaginations.

Yes.

Mr. Snow had begged for command of that charge, and since it seemed that he'd been Mind Destruct Special Ops in his vibrant youth, his wish was granted. So far, the castle's battlements had been left… writhing.

It was a good battle, until a haunting cry rose over the battlefield, and a thousand carpets blanketed the sky, unaffected by Bleach. This was fell magic. The Scots braced themselves, but nothing came. The carpets swooped overhead and into the castle without a moment's thought. The entire army cried in surprise and rage. It was obscene! UNFORGIVEABLE! The castle was their target, and DAMMIT, THEY'D BEEN IGNORED! The battlefield shook with fury, and the earth beneath them shook in fear. For a truly terrifying and unstoppable force had been born.
Men of L33t, Part XXXIV
Dropping Bombs like Brits


KABABOOM!

"Oh, Ed, my ears- mmy eaaars!"

"What happened, soldier?" A strong hand stuck out to help the poor bishounen, his ears bleeding like twin fountains.

"He- he blew in the wall with a foul word!"

"He what? Who? Soldier, are you-?" The bish suddenly screamed and latched onto his commander's collar.

"There he is! RUN! Hide! Save yourself! Oh my Ed, they're walking this way!" He screamed again and ran down the hallway foaming like a madman. The Commander stared after him, wondering what in the seven hells of whipped cream and chocolate syrup was going on, when he was absorbed by a very large cherry dacquerie.

"Tha's it, lass, suck 'em up! Onward!!" A large Scott ran forward, urging his creation along as several other large haggis-beasts passed him. Between them, Knivemen skittered, crawling down the walls and ceilings like spiders. Or rather, like the joy with which a mongoose would hunt with if he had a spider's powers and was hunting wall-cobras. Floors above them, the Axemen bled through legion after legion of bishies. They splattered across the battlements like smashed pomegranites, and it really wasn't a sight meant for children under the age of seventeen.

As if that wasn't enough, the commander of the 102nd was incensed that his company was left behind whilst the 34th Monster was roaming the hallways searching for enemies, and had taken to forking large obscenities on into the castle walls. It was the first fork-based graffiti ever seen in written history, and probably the last given how hard Accounting came down on Commander McDavish for Blatant and Massive Excessive Abuse of Highly-Valued Projectile Stores.

This was the mad and chaotic scene that Largo, Lightsider, and McFinnigan came upon when they finally arrived. The Bishounen had all but been destroyed and routed, and the castle was being wrecked apart piece by piece. But then came a large explosion. It entirely vaporized the castle's 7th tower, throwing Scots everywhere. At first, it didn't really phase them- they flipped back onto their feet and rushed straight back in with their voices screaming viciously. But then, there was one of those awful moments when everyone shuts up and stares, and the deep trombones cut in. Thousands upon thousands of flying carpets rose out of the tower's ashes, red as blood and shielded by that purple haze. And facing them all, standing still in the air, without so much as a single twitch- was Dom.

He stared at them with his arms crossed, his cloak fluttering quietly in the wind. All was silent.

"D'eny of yoo remembair aeny o' 'our men goin' inta that tower and commin' back out agaen?" whispered a coarse voice.

Dom smirked, and flashed forwards.

Then the battle began.

* * *

Piro flexed magically for the last time. His power rippled out tight, controlled. He smiled grimily. I'm ready. He concentrated carefully, touching the weave that bound his cell with just the gentlest nudge. The black thorns cringed and tried to get away, but Piro was adamant and weave gave in. He smiled, and whipped backwards in a smooth motion. The weave unraveled without even realizing what had happened. Piro smiled again, and touched the lock on his cell. It unlatched itself and the door opened. Piro gathered up his things, and stepped outside the cell.

"So you haven't left already. I must admit I was curious." Piro froze, and turned around. His gaze darkened.

"You."

Miho smiled demurely. "Yes, me. You have been a busy boy, Piro." She sat hovering in the air, sipping on a cup of tea. Shadow and Zeth stood behind her like statues. The ancient lions of Babylon, guarding their mistress.

"What do you want?"

"What do I want? Why, silly boy, you, Piro. You have great talent."

"Well, I want none of you!" Piro said angrily. He tossed his coat over his shoulder and turned around.

"A pity. I could offer you the world." He kept walking. Shadow stepped forward. "And Kimiko."

Piro stopped. He paused for what seemed like ages, and then slowly turned around.

"You don't have her." he said, eying them warily.

"Well, no," said Miho, "But she's still an outlaw now. You hardly think that she'll adapt to it like you did, now do you? Swinging from vine to vine, village to village, country to country, always in danger. It's hardly a life for the poor girl. And sooner or later she will slip up, and then you will be mourning her death."

"And how would you propose to save her?" Piro growled. "An Imperial Pardon?"

Miho laughed softly. "Oh, no, no, no." She took a sip of her tea. "I was thinking perhaps a bit larger than that. Taking the Four Kingdoms, for instance."

Piro went cold.

"What?"
Men of L33t, Part XXXV
For All The Good It Will Do


The air screamed and black lightning rained down from the heavens. Dom darted forwards so fast that all anyone could see was a black line flashing from place to place like a broken piece of lightning in itself. Thunder rolled and boomed across the plains, yet not so loud that you could not hear the screams in the air. For in every place that Dom's hand touched bloomed a gigantic rose, black as night and twisted sick. Men and women alike cried in agony as their roots dug in deep, searching for bigger and thicker blood vessels, keening for more blood.

But... the Church Guard was not made of nothing. Say what you like of the brass, but the Guard was iron to the core. They flew on, strengthening shields and muttering prayers, straight into the thickest of the darkest for the pit of the seventh tower. The Scots, rallied by their enemy's strength, rushed them. It would have been a horrible thing not to fight at such a challenge. The two armies collided and rolled into each other, with Dom blooming destruction upon them in the middle.

- - -

"What?"

Miho stirred her tea. "Oh, don't worry, my dear, that would only be the entree. All of Europe is at our feet."

"Are you mad?"

"You don't know...?" Miho shook her head. "You are a very unique individual, Piro. Did you know, for instance, that nobody's seen your magic in over seven hundred years?"

"Seven hundred and seventy-seven, actually." A girl quietly picked her way out of the shadows. She stopped just opposite of Miho, and turned her head to Piro. "Forty-one days since the night of the Emperor's betrayal and murder." For a moment her eye seemed to glisten, but she blinked and the moment was gone.

"Miss... Ping?" Piro hesitated.

"Who are you, girl?" Miho said, setting aside her teacup. Then she frowned and leaned forwards. "No, more like, what are you?"

Ping turned to look at Miho. "I am Ping. It was given and chosen and given, and since you've always liked riddles that's all you need know. I am the Empire's Ward." She glanced back at Piro. "And this woman was about to persuade you that you are the Emperor's heir."

"I'm what?"

Ping sighed. "Not what you should be. She is mistaken."

"Truly?" Miho said dryly. "Then I suppose you deny his ability? His face? Whether or not he's the direct descendant, it does not matter- he is the only descendant."

"That, too, is in error." Ping said slowly. "And while he is the Lion's son- no sidelines or by-blows- the fact remains that Europea was broken when the Four Kingdoms betrayed their Lord. Piro is heir to no Empire- his responsibility is to that of Angland, and his claim to that of Britonia."

"Pfah. You always were too narrow- " Her mind shattered as Miho realized. She hadn't- but she was- but- it was her!

Miho stared at Ping. "You always were too narrow-minded..." She said hoarsely.

"Heh..." Ping smiled bitterly. "So you remember. I had wondered if you could."

"You were dead!"

"I am golem. There is no place that stores my mind or my heart."

"But you have them!"

Piro stared. The leader of the Church, the most powerful woman in the land, had tears streaming openly down her face.

Ping turned away, hiding her own face. "Yes. I do. And they both wonder what you will ever learn. After all that happened back then, so long ago, you're still here, playing your little games. Not caring who it will hurt or what it will do."

"Not true!" Miho jumped up. "Not true!" Her voice cracked. "I do what I do for the good! I always have! We must do what we can with whatever we are given!"

"And the end justifies the means? Is that all you see?" Ping couldn't keep the quiver out of her voice.

"It must!" Miho swallowed. "Or all I have done is gone in vain."

"And where will this one end?" Ping looked back. "I have seen this land, Miho, and it is wretched. Where is the good? Where is the beauty that will justify this pain? Where was it?" her voice whispered.

Piro stared wide-eyed from woman to woman.

Miho wiped her eyes. "With this Emperor I needed power. I need the nobility to support me. The balance is precarious. But with him-" She pointed at Piro. "With him, I can take it all. I can make this work! He is the True Emperor, and he has absolute power. I can end all the injustice. I can remake the system, make it feed everyone, clothe everyone! I can start the medical sciences again, you remember them, Ping? The things we could work, the wonders we discovered! All these people know is war, now. They have to- there's enemies on every side, jackals waiting to dive in. But with him I can end it! I can unite them, I can bring back that Golden Age that you knew!"

Ping shook her head with tears in her eyes. "You can't." she whispered. "You can't. It is in the past. This is a different time, and these are a different people. And even if you could-" she swallowed. "Even if you could, it wasn't what everyone believed it was. The Emperor's death was proof enough of that. The Emperor, Mihoshi! And he was the most-" She choked. "He was- he was the greatest man the Empire had ever the fortune to have." She wiped her eyes and looked back at Miho. "It will not happen again."

"It can!" Miho took a step forward. "I can make it happen, you'll see!"

"It cannot." Ping shifted her foot to the right. "And I will not allow it. I am the Empire's Ward, Miho. I protect the Empire's people." A tear rolled down her cheek. "And I will do what it takes to stop you." she whispered.

Miho's face was full of painful confusion. She stood there for a moment, thunderstruck, as if she couldn't understand. But then her visage darkened.

"So be it." She drew forwards a circle of mist.

Ping paused for a moment, and then nodded, swallowing her tears. She drew forth a pattern of lightning. It crackled like a brilliant star. Then she paused, and drew on all six of the castle towers. Lightning cracked into place around the castle, vaporing stone and melting flesh. The entire castle hummed and crackled, glowing in a luminescent six-sided star. She looked at Miho. "I'm sorry..."

crack!

Ping collapsed to the ground.

"My, my, my, what were we doing?" Ed stood behind her. He prodded Ping roughly with his foot. "Attacking a Saint of the Church, working magic forbidden by the same, wanton destruction of castle property... and Dom said you were harmless!"

"You-!" Piro cried at the time Miho screamed, "YOU!"

"Oh, my..." said Ed. He flashed them a beautiful smile. "Did I do something wrong?"

He vanished before the streak of violet snapped.

- - -

Ed appeared in the air beside Dom with Ping slung over his shoulder. "Dom, boy, it's time to go! I've got the girl, let's get the money!"

Dom dodged a blast and turned in midair. "What did you do to her?!"

Ed's smile was uncertain. "She was... about to kill that silly Church's beloved saint, Dom what is wrong with you? You're not acting yourself."

Dom dodged another blast and splayed black lightning across the castle courtyard. "You hurt her. You hurt her. I swear to God, Ed, if she-"

"You're definitely not yourself." said Ed. He deflected a bolt off his shoulder. "This thing has to have cast some sort of spell on you. Dammit, Dom, we don't have the time!. The castle is overrun and they're not here for her at all. Let's go!" He tugged on Dom's shoulder. "Dammit, Dom, let's go!" Still, Dom fought on.

Ed sighed. "Dom, I'm sorry that I have to do this, but-" crack. Dom collapsed into Ed's arms. "Uf! You two are heavy! At any rate-"

The world blinked, and Ed was gone.

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