I bent over backwards as my momentum carried me into a slide, twisting as the pallet soared over me, then pushed my legs out from under me and flipped in midair to land on the balls of my feet.
My heels had barely touched back down before I was attacked by a gargoyle, of all things, a hulking brute of a beast with grey, pebbly scales for skin and long, wicked looking talons at the end of each of its limbs. It swiped at me, but it seemed so slow, so half-hearted, and I thrust myself back far enough to draw my bow as it appeared in my hands like magic.
It was almost frightening, how familiar and comfortable it felt as I pulled back on the bowstring and formed an arrow from my own power. Easy. Like second nature. It was the same as that first night those weeks ago, when I had faced a man turned dragon, and with Siegfried's strength and skill, effortlessly cut him apart.
And just as effortlessly as I had hacked off Lung's limbs, I pinned the gargoyle's foot to the ground.
That should hold it. Even something like that gargoyle would —
Except it didn't. The gargoyle didn't seem to care at all about its foot and just tore itself free, mangling it in the process such that it was more like strips of flesh hanging from its ankle.
Warily, I retreated — and dodged a piece of gravel that whizzed past my head like a bullet, when I caught sight of it out of the corner of my eye — and considered my opponent. It was hard to judge, with a face like that, but there was no apparent pain and it didn't treat the injury gingerly, and — my eyes flickered over to my arrow, embedded in the ground — no blood, either.
No blood? Even a Brute-Changer like Lung had…
Ah. No, that made sense, didn't it?
I backed even further away as it came after me again, just to give myself enough breathing room, then drew my bowstring back, notched an arrow, and blew its head off in a shower of blocky chunks. The body kept going and tumbled, sliding to a halt at my feet, and then, before my eyes, started to dissolve a moment later, like whatever mold or shell had been holding it together had been broken.
A projection. As I'd thought. Something that had no blood and didn't feel pain, that wasn't worried about destroying parts of its body? That was all it could have been. Only high class regenerators like Lung could and would continue to fight, unimpeded even by serious injury, without care.
No one wanted to be crippled, after all.
The gargoyle had barely vanished before my other assailant started attacking in earnest, suddenly bombarding me with bits of gravel on rapidfire. They came at me as though from an automatic rifle, one after another after another, forcing me to dodge each as I tracked them with Atalanta's superhuman eyesight.
That first shot, it seemed, had been made with care so as not to hit his ally. Now that there wasn't any chance of that, he could unload on me as much as he liked and keep going as long as he had gravel to launch.
I clicked my tongue, frustrated and annoyed. Another distraction keeping me from Noelle. Another cape getting in the way of my hunt.
A Blaster, maybe? Whose power was shooting bits of gravel? That seemed kind of stupid, though. No, there'd been that pallet that had been shot at my head, too, hadn't there? So a Blaster whose power was to accelerate objects to high speeds. Limitations? Did he need to touch them, or was it line-of-sight based? For that matter, did he have any sensory enhancements that made aiming easier?
Frustratingly, I didn't have the answers, and what made it worse was that I was fairly sure Lisa could have given them to me, if I'd had her there.
Fine. I grunted, and a bare moment later, the barrage came to a stop — he was out of ammo. I traced the path of the last bit of gravel back to its source, just in time to see a hulking brute of a man dressed in angular red and black body armor sandwiched between two train cars reaching down to grab more gravel.
You're in my way.
I lifted Tauropolos, my bow. I wasn't going to give him the chance to keep shooting at me.
The world seemed to slow down as I pulled back upon the bowstring and an arrow formed from a flash of blue light. A breath. A heartbeat. I zeroed in on my target, eyes narrowing as my vision seemed to sharpen and the world condensed itself into that single moment. For those few seconds of forever, that instant of eternity, nothing else existed except me, my bow, and my target.
Another breath, let out slow, another heartbeat. My hand steadied, my mind centered, and my fingers began to let go — and, with a horrified jolt, I barely managed to tighten them back around the bowstring as I realized what I'd just been about to do.
A killshot. I'd been about to shoot him through the heart with an arrow at full power. There was enough strength behind this bow that it would have obliterated him.
It had been so long since Lung, I'd forgotten what it was like to use an Install in battle. How the hero's instincts and reflexes could affect my actions, how her mindset and thought patterns could influence my own. How she could overwhelm me and almost take me over, if I let her.
I eased back on Tauropolos' draw, back down to something that wouldn't be instantly lethal, and adjusted my aim, then let my arrow fly.
It was fast. Faster than fast. If I'd been in my normal state, I probably wouldn't have even seen it move, that was how fast the arrow flew. It crossed the distance in less than a second —
— and slammed home so hard that it actually knocked my target off his feet.
His shoulder should be all but destroyed, now. I hadn't aimed for anything vital, but the damage to the muscles and bones should be enough that he wasn't able to use that arm, anymore. In fact, without a healer to fix it, it would likely be permanent. Maybe if he'd been an innocent bystander, it might've meant more to me, but someone who was attacking me?
Amy or I could handle it once this was all over.
"YOU FUCKING BITCH!" he screamed as I walked over towards him. "YOU FUCKING SHOT ME, YOU BITCH!"
He was cradling his ruined shoulder, although the arrow kept it from bleeding too much, and up close, he seemed all that much bigger. He was covered head to toe, so there was no indication of how old he was, but he sounded closer to my age than my dad's, and while the armor likely added to his bulk, he was tall and broad and muscular. Like a football player.
He tried to get up as I came upon him, but my foot pinning his wrist to the ground sent him falling back into the gravel with another pained cry.
"Stay down," I told him shortly. The words felt like they came from Atalanta as much as me.
"F-fuck you," he ground out.
I frowned down at him, and for a moment, I considered notching another arrow and pinning his hand to the ground, just to be sure he was out of the fight. That was definitely Atalanta, though, and far more violent than necessary, besides. Scaring him should work just as well.
Quick as lightning, I notched another arrow and drew the bowstring back, then sent it straight down into the ground a couple inches above his injured shoulder. CRACK was the sound of the impact, and bits of gravel and dirt went flying as he flinched away from the noise. When he looked back around, there was a crater, almost six inches across, where my arrow had hit.
I couldn't see his face, but Atalanta's sensitive nose could smell the nervous sweat that broke out across his body. Privately, I thanked whoever was listening that he hadn't wet himself.
"Stay down," I repeated frigidly. "Or next time, I'll aim for your hands."
I couldn't see his face, but I liked to imagine he went very, very pale, because he also went very, very still. I wasn't sure he hadn't stopped breathing.
I gave it another few seconds to sink in, then lifted my foot off of his arm and stepped past him and through the railcars, out into… The only way I could think to describe it was to call in an arena. A wide, open expanse, boxed in on all sides by more railcars. In the distance, I could see shipping containers stacked atop each other like Jenga blocks and a few warehouses, likely abandoned or at least almost empty.
No sign of Noelle. In the eerie quiet, the only one there with me, aside the man I'd just left behind, was a single, solitary girl, standing in the middle of the arena. She had blonde hair, colored almost white in this light, and looked completely and utterly human, and though she was dressed in rags rather than her costume or the designer clothes she preferred, there was no mistaking that grin.
Or a clone of her, at least.
My lips thinned into a line and I walked towards her, watching cautiously for the sneak attack. My eyes flitted about, searching every possible hiding spot, every nook and cranny where Noelle might try and hide.
But as I stopped ten feet away from Not-Lisa, no ambush had manifested. No enemy had struck at me. Despite ample opportunity, I had been left alone.
"…Lisa," I said at length.
"Taylor," Not-Lisa mimicked me mockingly.
"Where's Noelle?" I asked.
Not-Lisa's grin grew wider. "She's here. Or there. Or somewhere. Who's to say, really?"
Don't play with me!
"No games!" I snapped.
She laughed, a cruel, condescending sound that I had never heard from Lisa's lips before. It was equal parts irritating and off-putting, and it simultaneously made me want to deck her and pretend I'd never heard it at all.
"That's funny, coming from you, because you've been playing games since you got your powers, haven't you?"
My brain stalled.
"Don't play dumb, now," she mocked. "I mean really, using binding magical oaths to enforce behavior you like and discourage behavior you don't? Setting lethal traps in your front yard for any idiot burglar to stumble onto and get himself killed? Taking your friends along to sneak into the base of a megalomaniac with no more protection than what amounts to a particularly effective bulletproof vest?"
"That's not —"
"Did you think that Lisa — that I hadn't noticed?" she cut across me.
"I was —"
"Your powers should make you a lion," she went on as though I hadn't spoken. "Instead, you're a kitten, huddling in the corner, so afraid of what you can do and what you might do that you've crippled yourself. You're so afraid of what'll happen that you can't even trust yourself."
"Shut up," I snapped.
But she kept going, her grin stretching further and further with each word. A hint of…something hid in the corners of it, something familiar that I didn't recognize. "Speaking of trust, you have a lot of trouble with that, don't you? You're so paranoid about being betrayed that you enforce it with magical oaths that can kill you if you break them. And you're so afraid to trust people that you put one on your own father, just to make sure he wears that amulet, rather than trying explaining why it's necessary — you know, like a healthy, well-adjusted person does."
"Shut up!" I snarled, taking a threatening step forward.
"The ironic thing is, you're so afraid of breaking other people's trust and risking their friendship that you do things like let them follow you into a secret supervillain base, even though you could've done the entire thing by yourself. It's actually kind of sad that you're so insecure, really. There's so many of your problems that would be solved if you just stopped running away from them."
"SHUT UP!" I roared and threw myself at her. The distance closed almost in an instant, and I was upon her like a rocket. I didn't know what I was going to do to her, what would happen when I reached her. I just wanted to shut her up.
But there was no surprise on her face as I got near. No shock. No recoil away from my fists. Only a grimly satisfied smile.
"And there's your biggest problem," she mumbled. "You can't stop lying to yourself."
BOOM — it echoed through the makeshift arena, and I stumbled as the local air pressure suddenly dropped. It accompanied a flicker, a brief flash of light so swift and so sudden that I wasn't sure I hadn't imagined it, and suddenly —
Not-Lisa was gone. And in her place —
She'd planned it, I realized as I tried to regain my bearings and backpedal. That was the entire reason why Not-Lisa had been there, waiting for me. She'd planned to get me to drop my guard by needling me with the things I hadn't wanted to think about, that this was all my fault because I hadn't just taken care of everything myself. That I was so wrapped up in myself and my own insecurities that I hadn't even considered objecting to bringing Lisa and Amy along on this fucked up adventure.
I couldn't get my bearings fast enough. Before I could get my feet back under me properly, one of Noelle's tentacles lashed out at me and took hold of my arm, taking advantage of my unbalanced footing to try and yank me into the mass of mottled meat.
No. I'm not going to let you stop me from rescuing my friends!
Because even if this was my fault, I wasn't about to just lie down and let her take me.
I snarled and smashed my foot into the ground in front of me, throwing up a spray of gravel, and although the tentacle was strong, it was not as strong as me, as Atalanta. No matter how hard it tried, it couldn't pull me in any further.
"Let go of me!"
I let my trapped arm go slack, then yanked it back as hard as I could as far as I could, and the tentacle was ripped free with a spray of brackish, foul-smelling bile that splattered all over me.
I leapt back and away, holding my nose closed with my other hand, as the limp tentacle flopped to the ground, still wriggling. It really was much worse with Atalanta's enhanced senses, and it had been pretty terrible beforehand. Unfortunately, I couldn't fight like that, so I grimaced and let go, trying not to focus on the stench that clung to me, now.
I didn't have a moment to breathe. The bulging mass that was Noelle was upon me almost immediately, rushing towards me at that still ridiculous speed.
Even if she was surprisingly fast for her size, however, Noelle still wasn't as fast as me, and especially, she wasn't as nimble. Something that size couldn't just stop and start and change directions on a dime, because she still had to obey the limitation called 'physics.'
I was thankful, in a strange way, as I leapt away from her, though. In a fight, with Atalanta there in my head, there was no room for thinking about what Not-Lisa had said. I had to focus entirely on the enemy in front of me.
Midair, I pulled back on Tauropolos' string, forming an arrow, and let it go at full draw. Noelle let out a cry as it hit, carving away one of her tentacles and gouging out a huge section of flesh as it hit like an exploding rocket.
I landed as she staggered, but whether or not it hurt, it didn't stop her for long. She snarled and kept coming, building up speed, again.
You think you can catch me?
I didn't give her the chance to come close. My mistake with Not-Lisa had given her that first chance, but I wasn't going to be repeating it, now. I leapt back again, notched the bowstring, and let three more arrows loose into her bulging lower body, carving away more and more flesh with each hit.
The distance increased to thirty meters. I landed, then leapt back and away again, high into the sky — ten, fifteen, thirty feet, higher than any ordinary human could possibly manage. From up there, with a bird's eye view of the battlefield, I looked down on Noelle, who had stumbled to a stop and turned to look up at me, and readied my bow again.
One arrow, at full draw, rocketed down towards her at thrice the speed of sound. It scythed through her outer flank, and a large swathe of the mottled meat simply disappeared as though scooped away by the hand of God, spilling that brackish bile across the gravel.
A second arrow, at full draw, gouged away even more on the opposite flank. Noelle let out a scream, although whether or not she actually felt any pain, I had no idea. At that moment, it didn't matter to me, anyway.
A third arrow slammed into the center of that mass, exploding from the force of the impact and sending yet more of that bile over the ground in front of her.
A fourth arrow was drawn back along the bow, but I kept tight hold of it as I landed — with all the grace of a cat — along the roof of one of the railcars that formed the boundary of our arena. My lips pulled tight, and I stared down the shaft towards my target.
I couldn't say it wasn't tempting. Especially since I was strangely sure her human half would simply regenerate, it wasn't like I would actually be doing anything I couldn't take back. In fact, it would probably buy me a few seconds to consider a stronger plan of attack while she did regenerate.
But the off chance I might be wrong stopped me.
I shifted my aim and let that fourth arrow fly.
And it crashed right next to where the last one had, popping one of the monstrous heads like an inflamed boil.
And then retreated, moving back towards the line of railcars at the other end of the arena.
I scowled and drew back another arrow. If I had to carve away at her a handful at a time until I found my friends, then that was just what I'd have to do.
"That's just like you, isn't it?" Lisa's voice whispered in my ear. I ignored her and took aim. "Did you never consider the possibility?"
"Shut up," I mumbled.
But just as I was about to fire, the doors to all of the railcars were suddenly thrown wide open, and from inside of them came pouring out what had to be several dozen misshapen, barely human creatures, looking more like the Fingerpainter than the Not-Lisa who had been waiting here for me.
Behind me, there were whoops and growls as more clones started to pull themselves up and onto the roof of my railcar.
"That there were more people inside of her than just your friends?"
No. I hadn't. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind that she might start absorbing…what, the homeless people who called the Trainyard home? That was the only people these clones could have been made from, and I hadn't considered for even a moment that she might try and use them against me. Why would I? They had no powers and none of the emotional connection that Lisa and Amy did.
But she had Lisa, and with that, obviously, Lisa's knowledge. And if she had that, then she would obviously also know that I wouldn't, that I couldn't risk their lives, too.
I whirled around and leapt off of my perch, high into the air. As quickly as I could, I notched more arrows and took aim, pinning as many feet to the roof of the railcar as I could. I tried to convince myself that the screams, the obvious pain, didn't get to me. That I felt nothing at all from seeing them suffer.
But I was just lying to myself. Atalanta was just what made it easier to believe.
I landed in the middle of the yard again, and leapt back off almost immediately as the clones tried to swarm me. I pinned a few more feet to the ground as the wind whistled past my ears, but even before my eyes, the clones were yanking the arrows free and continuing on, limping and injured but undaunted.
I came back down again on the roof of another railcar, much closer now to Noelle, who spun around and started towards me again, now that I was in range. I lifted Tauropolos and notched another arrow, and I hesitated, glancing for a short moment at the army of clones that had turned to come my way, too.
Damnit. There was no way, was there? Atalanta didn't have the hand to hand skills needed. Her non-lethal options were limited entirely to hitting spots that wouldn't be immediately fatal. If I wanted to face this entire group with her, it was almost inevitable that I would have to resort to killing blows, and even if I managed somehow to avoid that, it was also entirely possible that I might make a mistake or miscalculate and kill someone with one of my shots anyway.
I had to switch. I'd been holding onto my next Install for the moment when I needed Medea, just so I could be sure I had enough energy left to pull it off, but…
Damnit. Who could I use? If I tried Medea…but no, a niggling something in the back of my head told me trying to put Noelle and the clones to sleep would be a bad idea, even if it would take care of her current army. I needed someone with lots of hand to hand skill, who could fight and —
No, that was perfect, wasn't it?
I leapt back up into the air as high as Atalanta's legs would carry me, and then I let her go.
And before I reached the apex of my jump, I reached into and through myself and grabbed the hero I needed.
I hit the ground much less gracefully than I had as Atalanta, but Aífe's legs took the impact just as well. Immediately, I was beset by clones, but I danced around them and severed one's tendons at the back of the knees, sending it crashing into the gravel. A flick threw red blood from the tip of the crimson spear in my hand.
If I couldn't carve away at Noelle until I found Lisa and Amy, then I'd just have to force her to let them go.
A simple enough task.
Another came and I ducked under its blow, turning to quickly carve a single rune on its bare chest with my raw power.
Nauthiz glowed, and immediately, the clone went limp and fell to the ground.
One of the runes that went into the binding that had held Bakuda. A simple spell that restrained freedom, rendering the target incapable of movement. Like this, with Aífe, trying for something more complex without more time and effort was out of the question, but it would do.
I made my way slowly through the crowd of clones, trapping each one that came close with Nauthiz, sometimes drawn on the chest and sometimes drawn on the back. One by one, they fell, limp and lifeless, to the ground. It was almost frightening, how easy it was to do it. How quickly and efficiently I was making my way through them. Almost before I knew it, half of them were lying around and behind me, utterly defeated.
Noelle, however, didn't seem like she was going to wait until I'd gotten all of them.
She rushed me, and I met her in kind, rushing towards her across the open ground. The moment I got close, I leapt up and over her head, coming close enough that our eyes met for a single instant. Before my feet even touched the gravel again, she was spinning around, grotesque limbs lashing out and trying to capture me, to draw me into her.
But I leapt out of the way, towards the side, then up again and over her head. She growled, shouted at me to stand still, but Aífe was too nimble, too fast. I was always gone, always moving again before any of her monstrous parts could grab hold of me.
And each time I landed, I dropped down to one knee and dragged my fingers through the gravel.
It took no less than eighteen such jumps, adding to my pattern with every single one, to finish the design I needed. I taunted her each time, subtly, making sure to be just barely out of reach, to keep her from retreating or moving on.
And when at last it was ready, I backed away out of range of her grasp and knelt down to activate the array I'd just drawn around her.
When it came to raw proficiency, Aífe could be said to be of the same level as her sister. Both had received the same instruction, after all, and both had remarkable talent. Rather than the difference being what Aífe could do compared to Scáthach, it was a matter of how quickly, how efficiently, and how creatively she could do it. Quality, rather than capacity.
What Scáthach could do swiftly and easily mid-battle, Aífe required time, effort, and concentration to accomplish.
That was why she preferred her sword, her spear, her own fists to magic. Swinging her sword, throwing her spear, punching her enemies in the face — none of those required her to stop, to interrupt the flow of her fighting and change the direction of her thoughts and her focus. All she needed was her brutal strength and her sublime martial skill. All she needed was to be stronger, faster, better than her enemy.
But simply because she preferred one way didn't mean she couldn't do the other.
Ribbons of pale pink light shot up from the ground. They soared, they lashed, and they wrapped tightly around the body of the monster. Snagging, squeezing, they latched onto whatever part they could reach — her arms, her torso, the bulging mass of meat, the myriad of grotesque limbs that jutted from it at random. They latched and they wound and they pulled taut from all angles, yanking her from all directions until she could no longer move.
Gleipnir: Six Fetters of Fenrir. A seal of bondage that did not do such things as grow stronger the more divine its target was or increase its strength the harder the target tried to escape, but rather, one which sealed a portion of its target's power, preventing them from escaping. In the Norse myths, it was used, as the name suggested, to bind the great beast, Fenrir, until the end of the world, Ragnarök.
This was not those chains. This was simply a spell that borrowed the concept of Gleipnir, a spell which was built upon the idea of it. It would not be as powerful or as complete as the original, but it should do the job just fine.
Noelle struggled, screaming, shouting. "You bitch!" she yelled at me. The myriad of mutated limbs lashed at her bonds, trying to sever them. They pulled, flexed, trying to tear them. The glowing ribbons strained.
But they didn't break.
How long would they hold? I didn't know. I hadn't been concerned about the spell's longevity when I cast it. I didn't need it to last a thousand years, I just needed it to last long enough.
Quickly, while she struggled, I knelt down and drew more symbols into the gravel.
The runic pattern etched beneath my palm burned, and my curse took hold.
The idea had actually come to me based upon something out of the Ulster myths. As the legend had it, all the men born of Ulster had been cursed to suffer the pains of a woman's labor during their time of greatest need, and Cúchulainn, who wasn't an Ulsterman by birth, had been the only one unaffected. He'd held off an invading army singlehandedly for months.
The curse that had been cast on Ulster was Ces Noínden, which Macha had cast after she'd been humiliated by being forced to run a footrace while pregnant. However, not only was I — was Aífe — not a goddess, it was also not what I needed. Debilitating pain wasn't the point and wouldn't solve anything.
No, what I needed was a curse that could force Noelle to expel the people she'd absorbed, something that would induce vomiting in an ordinary human. Enter Ces Grán Brén, the Debility of Rotten Grain, a curse that made someone violently ill, as though they had ingested oats or wheat that had rotted — hence the name.
In other words, I had just given Noelle the world's worst case of food poisoning.
Even then, I'd held back a little. I hadn't put as much power behind it as I could have, because I wasn't sure how it might affect the people inside her. "Puking your guts out" was even less fun when you were literally puking out your guts, so I hadn't wanted to risk her victims suffering even more.
And beyond that, I didn't know if it would even work. It was a curse meant for humans, and at this point, I wasn't sure how Noelle's lower body might change that.
But, in spite of my worries, before my very eyes, Noelle's lower body started to writhe and bulge, even as the girl situated atop the mass bent over, pawing at her stomach as much as she was able and groaning miserably. The tentacles and monster heads wriggled and waved, and the flesh itself seemed to heave as it fought the nausea.
Then, looking as though it was fighting with every bit of whatever will it might have the entire way, it contorted, and from the mouth of one of the monstrous heads, excreted a body, a man clothed in rags and castaways, and the sludge-like bile that counted as blood. I waited a few breathless moments, hoping, praying, as a balloon seemed to swell inside my chest, and the body moaned and turned over on the ground.
And even as I celebrated, the mass contorted again and slowly spat out another body and more bile. It was another homeless person, a woman, this time, who flopped on the ground next to the first man, groaning just as pitifully.
I took several steps back, preparing Medea. I needed to be ready, both to fix Noelle and in case any of the people she spat out were injured from the fighting.
In an instant, I was back into my Breaker form, and I was hit, suddenly, with fatigue. I stumbled on nothing, feeling like I'd just done my morning run — three times. Every part of me wanted nothing but sleep.
It wasn't as bad as that first night, at least, where I'd collapsed into Armsmaster's arms. I was tired, I ached with the exhaustion, but I was still standing and I had enough energy left, I thought, that I could handle Medea and fixing Noelle.
That was when something went wrong.
With a thundering CRACK, she disappeared from Gleipnir, and a railcar took her place. Instantly, she was to my right and completely free, and she was barreling straight for me, again.
I scrambled back, my thoughts awhirl and disorganized, trying to reach for the first hero I could think of but no one was coming to mind —
And a blast of dazzling light streaked overhead and slammed into Noelle like a freight train.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Okay, so it's not quite as action-packed as the fight against Lung was. I don't think we'll get something like that, that takes over the arc and lasts several chapters with Taylor at the center of the action, until Leviathan. But hopefully it helped scratch a little of that itch.
There were a couple of things I had to kind of eyeball, here. Gleipnir, for example. It's shown up all of maybe two times in Nasu, once as a spell used in Prisma that does basically what it did here, and once as Fenrir's actual chains. Since in the second case, Fenrir gets more powerful the more of the chains are broken, I decided to interpret the restraints as "seals" that block access to a portion of the target's powers - a rank-down of all abilities, in other words - with a side of "being really difficult to break." It was tempting to have Noelle just bust out of them, but aside breaking through that vault door, she...doesn't really have many feats for her physical abilities. She's got CON out the wazoo, a pretty high STR stat, and like Herc, surprisingly good AGI for her size. But I don't know if I could actually put a ranking on them.
I might go back and edit it so that she does just bust out of them. But I'd like to hear your thoughts, first. Do you think Noelle has high enough STR to match Herc's feat of breaking Gleipnir outright?
In any case, now that we're getting to the meat of this arc, I hope you're finding things more enjoyable. If you want to support me as a writer so I can pay my bills, I hav treon (p a treon . com (slash) James_D_Fawkes), and if P a treon is too long term, you could buy me a ko-fi (ko-fi . com (slash) jamesdfawkes).
As always, read, review, and enjoy.