2.1: Helmet

Tameri dances through the rain on her tiptoes. The wet ground and drops of rain extend and expand the variety of Liamria’s attacks. Tameri only keeps the bottom of her toes solid to avoid Liamria’s ground strikes. The fists Liamria forms from the raindrops sail harmlessly through Tameri’s person. Without batting an eye, she closes in on Liamria and Victa while dispatching the clones of the latter.

     The Phantom Slayer takes a moment to breathe and the vacuum in her chest pulses; the barrier she’s placed around it cracks. She hastily calms the vacuum and draws strength from it to repair the crack. With her emotions back in check, she resumes the chase.

     Liamria and Victa split apart but Tameri sees through their effort to exacerbate her by forcing her to prioritize one over the other. The choice comes easy to her. In the rain, Liamria’s threat is greater and must be eliminated. Tameri pursues her, disregarding the fists in the air and the liquid spikes rising from the puddles. She coats her spadroon with the buzzing cobalt light as she targets the madwoman.

     She sees Victa lunging for her in the reflection along her blade. She halts and cancels the cobalt light, activating intangibility in its place. Victa falls through her and crashes into Liamria, his one punch rupturing her whole abdomen.

     The Phantom Slayer pounces to skewer both with her spadroon again dressed in cobalt light. Her blade is on target until it crashes into a glowing liquid shield in midair. Try as she might to pierce the shield quickly, Liamria and Victa retreat safely, though both are short of breath. Tameri advances on them, still in peak physical condition. Her intense upbringing and subsequent goals combined to forge a warrior of rare skill. She sees that her adversaries have not been as cursed as she.

     “No professor should be this strong!” Liamria whines. “Where the hell did you come from?”

     “I’m not a professor today,” Tameri replies tonelessly.

     “It would seem we’re dealing with a singularity,” Victa says with a venom-laced grin.

     Tameri’s vacuum rumbles as she deigns to identify his meaning. She wrestles to keep it in check but a nagging concern rears its ugly head despite her best efforts. She spares an icy glance toward her colleagues. None are fatally wounded but all are in worse shape than Liamria and Victa. The worst of them is Professor Lynald, on his knees, his breathing laborious.

     “Unlike yourself, your colleagues do not possess the tools to treat Lia’s and my attacks like nothing. You knew that yet you failed to spare any efforts to assist them this entire time,” Victa says, injecting more venom into Tameri’s vacuum.

     “Nor my daughter’s would-be lover,” Liamria adds.

     The Phantom Slayer gazes at the courtyard fountain. Roark’s body still floats amidst his bloody pool. Tameri’s connection to the vacuum is obstructed as spiderweb fractures crack the barrier’s façade. Her emotionless state lessens by large degrees.

     In her liminal daze, Liamria races past her and toward her peers, garnering a massive head start. Tameri’s pursuit is hampered by an onslaught of Victa’s clones. Even as easy as she dispatches them, the gap that forms between her and Liamria makes it impossible to stop her next attack. As the madwoman’s arms morph into glowing water, the attack will be immense.

     Zathony, Marmagar, Cwen, and her astral creation, Marsh, stand together to fend her off. Tameri’s vacuum rattles violently as she regrets not being there with them.

     Lynald sidles in front of them all, his arms forming grey smoke from his elbows down. “Use my smoke to hide and launch sneak attacks behind me.” He rockets away from them and their protests by propelling himself with his smoke, barreling directly toward Liamria.

     “Lynald, retreat!” Tameri shouts.

     He disobeys.

     Liamria halts suddenly and punches the air; fists that form from the rain mirror her patterns and knock Lynald onto the ground with such force that he grinds on his face. Liamria kicks him onto his back and mounts him. She raises her arms and transfers the glow from her arms to a liquid sphere above her head. She locks eyes with Tameri as she places the sphere on Lynald’s chest.

     “You’re still a fool of a woman,” Liamria taunts.

     She expands the sphere and it presses against Lynald with enough force to form a crater in the ground, a bowl that’s seven feet in diameter. She jumps away from the crater on discs she makes by consolidating raindrops. Liamria passes over Tameri but the Phantom Slayer pays no heed to her retreat.

     Tameri slows her approach as she gazes upon and gauges the severity of Lynald’s bloody face. His broken nose and fractured cheeks will make his breathing near impossible. And then there’re the innumerable fractures and breaks to the bones in his chest. His survival is practically forfeit.

     That doesn’t stop Cwen from bending over him to perform CPR. Despite her bruised arms, Cwen pumps his chest fiercely between donations of air. Zathony and Marmagar stand by with undivided attention on their junior professor, their cuts and contusions no matter.

     And I prioritized my pain over their well-being.

     The barrier around her vacuum doesn’t shatter but melts, causing the hole in her chest to throb painfully.

     Lynald coughs up a mix of water, blood, and bile.

     The throbbing slows but remains painful. Cwen repositions Lynald to make him more comfortable, making his breathing less of an ordeal. Tameri takes a long breath.

     “Cwen,” Tameri says ruefully.

     “He’s alive,” Cwen replies with relief, wiping tears from behind her glasses, the right lens cracked. “By the grace.”

     “Cwen, I need you to recover Roark’s body. Your job will be to guard both with Marsh,” Tameri orders. “I know I have to apologize and I will, but their lives come first.”

     “Very well,” Cwen says sourly.

     Tameri nods and turns. “Zathony, Marmagar, you’re with me.”

     “Of course,” Zathony says without hesitation.

     Marmagar steps away from the crater, swinging his hammer like a wand by the leather handle at the bottom.

     “And now, we’ll show them a true Four Hearts united front!”


     Lauron peeks around the bookshelf only to immediately jump back to avoid an arrow to the face. She grimaces as it casually floats back into the middle aisle.

     “Okay, who–”

     Banging against a nearby door interrupts and aggravates Lauron.

     “Who thought it was a good idea for Ohaida t bond with the bow and the arrows it comes with?” she finishes her rant. “That’s not fair!”

     “It shouldn’t be a problem for someone with nine K.O.s to her name!” Koren shouts from between bookshelves right across from her.

     “Thirteen, furball! I took out a few on the way here!” she boasts.

     “Exactly why we’re in this situation!” Roy hollers, standing guard at the barricade to their section of the library w/ an exhausted Sutar propped up on Donovan and Wallace’s shoulders. The barricade is a weave of interlocking vines holding down a mountain of chairs and tables. The ceaseless banging doesn’t even make the barricade rattle.

     Tyra observes it all from atop a bookshelf out of sight of the rear windows. She keeps her eyes glued on the arrow floating in space between the windows and stacked shelves.

     Most bows come with standard quivers outfitted with twenty arrows. That means this sniper has at nineteen other arrows aimed elsewhere. Someone with that level of concentration is dangerous. I’ll have

     “It was Aven’s dumbass idea to come here in the first place!” Lauron argues, jarring Tyra’s thoughts.

     “I didn’t see you come up with a better one!” Roy counters.


     “Shut up!” Tyra’s voice thunders.

     The bickering stops instantly.

     “Aven’s plan was sound. If we didn’t find somewhere to control the fight and kept wandering around, they’d have picked us off. That barricade is the only thing saving us right now. But now we have to adjust. We came here assuming Pan would be covering us. The fact she isn’t can only mean two things: she ran into someone or something that stopped her from reaching the tower, or she did make it.”

     Lauron catches onto the grim meaning swiftly. “Meaning- I’ll tear his head off!” Her charge into the aisle is stopped by Evic beside her. The arrow narrowly misses a direct hit, leaving a cut across her right temple.

    “And that’s why you don’t make the calls,” Tyra says. “You’re too hotheaded and lack foresight.”

     A lesson I hope you learn with less pain than I did.

     “Our next move requires us to split up. The objectives- find Pan and get rid of the sniper. But to do so requires a decoy.” She nods toward the barricade as it suffers from repeated ramming. “And the decoy will be me.” She floats over and lands. Multiple rings of alabaster runes shine on her forearms. “When I–”

     “We!” Lauron shouts as she dives into the aisle and holds her broadsword straight up, the lime energy coating slicing the arrow in half when it comes for her. Evic and Koren retreat behind her and she follows right behind, a second arrow piercing the floor just behind her feet. She goes and stands next to Tyra. “We’re going with you. Nobody goes anywhere alone anymore.”

     Tyra nods. “Then we need to add a third objective- find Aven. We need the knowledge of Neth’s whereabouts for that, which means going to the courtyard where Liamria is. Lauron, you and I will go there.”

     “Roger that.”

     “I’m coming, too,” Evic says.

     “That’s fine because Koren and Roy can find Pan. When Lauron, Evic, and I breach, all of you must abandon this location and go around through the cafeteria to reach the security tower. Be careful not to stand out. That sniper is well-trained.” Once they affirm understanding- each of them getting ready to run- she nods to the door.

     “Take it down.”


     Aven knocks down the admin building’s front doors, partly because they’re hanging off the hinges and partly to draw the attention of any Pure agents in the area to him. The wanton destruction of the foyer includes the cracked ceiling lights, busted stair banisters, torn and ripped wallpaper, etc. He keeps his cool when he sees none of the vandalism in the direction of the archives, as well as the fact there’s not one drop of blood anywhere.

     If they came for Neth, they didn’t look too hard.

     Aven turns around to survey the hallway after opening the door to the archive stairwell. He notices a shadow at one of the corners merge with the one on the floor. He stares and waits, listening for the slightest breath or creak of the wood. Nothing comes after a whole minute. He sighs gustily and closes the door behind him.

     This is not the time to be paranoid and jumpy. Gotta stay sharper than my scythe.

     Aven marches down the steps and into the archives. Four aisles to his right is an aisle narrower than the others. He uncovers a portion of the carpet disguising a hatch after toeing around blindly for a moment. When he asked Tameri if she needed help, he pressed upon her that Neth would be a target, whether Liamria came for him or not. Knowing Liamria would be dumb to ignore Tameri, he asked where Neth was to protect him if necessary. He won her over when he said that The Pure isn’t above hunting the helpless. The directions she gave weren’t exact, he suspects, because she was aware someone else could be listening.

     Aven carefully shuts the hatch as he climbs into a large room with sterile white walls and floor. A nurse stands between him and Neth’s bed, holding a scalpel with shaky hands.

     “Relax,” Aven says. “I’m one of Tameri’s students. I’m here to protect Neth.” He steps closer and the nurse extends the scalpel. Aven sighs and drops his scythe to the floor. “I mean it, I’m only here to–”

     The hatch above is broken and crushed beneath a pair of feet with long, sharp claws. Those clawed feet boost Lato forward. He shoves Aven aside and targets the nurse. He snatches the scalpel from her and slices it across her throat. He drops her body to the floor and jams the scalpel into her back. The veins in Aven’s eyes explode with hate as he watches the life drain from her eyes, her arm stretched to him as a desperate plea for help.

     Lato rises and turns to Aven. “Thanks, kid. I never would’ve found this place without you.”

     “You’ll wish you hadn’t!” Aven grabs his scythe and levels it at the assassin.

     “I wasn’t paid to kill any kids so I’ll give you one chance to leave with your life.”

     “You might as well count us even because your last chance went the second you killed her!”

     Lato huffs. “I’m glad I gave my cub away now.” The size of his head and arms increase to accommodate his partial transformation. Short, beige fur grows over his arms as his hands grow claws to match his feet. His auburn hair extends into a mane as his maw molds into a square shape to fit larger canines. “The hassle is nothing but an inconvenience.”

“It won’t matter for long!” Aven charges the lion-man.

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