Soul Calibur MMLXXIV

I

Transcending history and the world, a tale of souls and swords eternally retold…

Long ago in a perilous age of murder and storm, humanity's fate uncertain in war-torn lands across the shifting seas, the sword had been forged.

Its existence began no better than a typical sword, changing hands every so often, carrying out the very will of its handler without question, without conscious. The sword's existence typical, it seemed fate was not content in the least. For being awash in blood and wickedness for countless years, the fates had granted the weapon a soul to carve a path of its own.

A terrible path, it seemed, splattered in blood and paved by men, cast forever into the inferno at swipe of its horrible blade. Conflict after conflict, war after war it could not get enough; it wanted more – more souls…! Throughout history, the blacksmith's terrible work became of legend.

The "Sword of Heroes", the "Sword of Salvation": Soul Edge.

Once, a great hero had stumbled upon the sword. He took it, feeling the abyss resonating violently in his hands yet his strong will gave him the power to wield it expertly. With the help of the sword, he was able to bring forth peace in his land. In sheer thanksgiving of the ensuing calm, the people of the land hailed him as their king.

In the endless cycles of history, there were those who have opposed such greatness.

Jealous of the monarch's power, the king's very flesh and blood unwittingly took the blade as his own. His spirit immature, the sword devoured his soul, his free will lost to violent impulsivity. Reluctantly, the king had fought against his son, shattering the demonic weapon in a single strike. However, the prince, his own son was lost to him… forever.

The evil blade had vanished, its place in the tome of legends immortalized. Yet someday, the king had feared, the accursed sword would reappear to wreak unspeakable carnage upon the world. The devil's sword needed not to make a return; the evil had to be silenced once and for all! The devastation at the loss of his son gone, the monarch enlisted the help of his kingdom's greatest sage.

The sage had cleansed large fragments of the sword. Taking those very fragments, the king's sage and the king's blacksmiths began work on the forging of a new sword, a sword that would eventually shatter the evil blade for eternity.

The Holy Sword: Soul Calibur.

It had been created finally, but only at the cost of the king's very life. Despite the grief in the land, the Holy Sword had to be protected until the day Soul Edge returned. The king's trusted guardians took up the duty, passing the sword on from generation to generation. When the times came where foolhardy warriors laid claim to the Soul Edge, Soul Calibur appeared to prevent more unspeakable bloodshed from occurring.

Stories of the never-ending struggle between the two blades were passed on from generation to generation, birthing countless legends and fairy tales from Kusanagi to Excalibur.

Through the foibles of man and the flow of the ages, the legend of souls and swords will never die….

---

Welcome to the new stage of history…

---

"XJ9 – XJ9…!"

Jennifer's eyes popped open at the sound of her mother's wavy arpeggio. Day was upon Tremorton already; it was as though it had only been ten-o'clock the last night only a few minutes ago. The morning sun glowed through the blinds warmly, birds chirped beyond her bedroom window, positively. A sharp tug pulled at her back, the tympanums picked up a whirr – and before she knew it, her AC cord was wound tautly back in her reel. With a quick executable, the panel slid shut.

Hopping up to her boots, it was going to be another beautiful day in the year 2074… provided opportunistic aliens did not get in the way… again…!

"Up already, I see." Tacky yellow pumps carried her mother inside her sanctum. Small fingers ensured those coke-bottle frames were square at the peak of her rather… lengthy nose. "Quite refreshing, I have to tell you. Usually I have to unplug you and shove you off the bed myself. Do I have to remind you how horrible that is for me and my s-curve?"

Servos buzzed as Jenny's eyes took a lap around her sockets.

"I know, Mom." She sighed. "I thought you'd be grateful I took initiative for a change. Besides, today's a big day for me and the class!"

"Yes, the field trip to the Tremorton Museum of Natural History." That wild quaff of white bobbed erratically. "It must be as exciting for you as it was for me. Come to think of it, it was probably an inspiration for my career path. To think my parents wanted me to be a dentist – HA!"

"I don't think I have to worry too much 'bout a career choice." She smirked. "Over five years old and already I'm saving the world. Though it'd be nice if Vega Prime remains Vega Prime!"

"Funnily enough, I was going to ask you about that." Her mother blinked.

"About what?" she asked.

"Your life, XJ9." Her mother looked shyly at her pumps. "I wanted to ask you about it. Your goals, your dreams – that sort of thing."

"Oh…?" her brow kinked.

"XJ9…" her old woman shook her head, "Jenny, I created you, I raised you. Since piecing together XJ1 to XJ8, I've been there for you. Holding your little claws till I made them into hands, endowing the source codes that you're currently running with protocols and knowledge, I've been there through every struggle even until now. It's really wrong for me to limit you to your model name. You may have been XJ9, but no longer. You practically are – no – are my daughter."

"Okay…?" she blinked.

"Don't be a fatalist, that's all I'm saying." Her mother said. "You were original born as a sentry to halt invasion, but your ghost has matured beyond its original programming. The formed metal and circuitry, I don't really even see it anymore. It's like you've become a real person! And as a person, it should be you – not some Space Patrol flunky, government bureaucrat, or even me – who decides what you should do with the rest of your life."

Mom needs to get out more…

"That's good, I guess." She dismissed tactfully. Mom was swimming a little to close to the deep end, for her tastes. "But… my 'ghost'?"

"'Ghost in the machine', my dear." She raised a stubby digit knowledgably. "Much like Gilbert Ryle's description where mental activity is different than physical action, and that the interactions between the two are unknown. I coined the term to describe the current status of the interactions between your body and your OS and protocols.

"As I said before, your practically are your sisters XJ1 through XJ8 in terms of programming. It started off as a few rudimentary protocols, like basic movement, that matured through each incarnation of the XJ series. Out of necessity, I had to reuse the same source code over and over – but adding new protocols and applications with every new device and new robot. In a sense, you are using an advanced version of the same OS and protocols as the XJ1.

"But since your initial startup – your birth, so to speak – it seems the programming no longer needed my input."

"Why not…?" she folded her arms.

"I didn't need to!" she beamed. "I knew you were special, Jennifer, even when I was developing you. Since Tuck crashed his ball through the window, your programming began to undergo a perpetual change. Human interaction, through calls-for-service or self-initiated activities, has caused the collecting of numerous data – countless amounts! If you were to write them all down, it would probably take the Library of Congress to hold all the information. Since the data is digital, it's preserved indefinitely, never ageing or deteriorating. The countless bytes of data have begun to collaborate with other bytes of data, merging together, formulating basic algorithms, applications, and executables – all on its own! A learning computer doesn't even begin to describe it! It's more like a human brain! Experience and these newly formed programs have helped shape your personality into what it is today.

"You're more than a mere sentry robot, Jennifer!" the old woman jumped. "Not bound by your protocols at all! Your practically human already!"

"So… this ghost-thing's like my soul?" her hand pressed against her chest plates, tympanums picking up her joints' every whir.

"You could say that." The old woman shrugged. "I'm not one for the supernatural or mumbo-jumbo from those New Age hippies. I deal in science – and before you make a rebuttal, young lady, I've been running diagnostics on your programming. Yes, I have documented evidence that this ghost of yours does exist!"

Mom stuck out her tongue childishly. Jennifer could not help but laugh.

"This is too weird." She shook her head. "Strangely enough, I think this ghost talk's going to make my day's a little brighter. Nice to know I'm more than a robot dog. Thanks Mom."

They hugged. Jenny arms surged with restraint.

"You're welcome, Jennifer." The woman drew her hand down a coat arm strongly. "More than a robot dog but just as greasy…. Remind me to stock up on some silicone cloths."

"Ugh…!" she rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mother…."

"So the school is going to the museum today, correct?" Mom drew the other hand down the other arm.

"Well, not the whole school…." She replied. "My class will have first period before boarding the buss. From gossip around the school, we're supposed to have a new student today. So after introductions are given, then we'll be off to the museum. Supposedly, we'll be there for most of the day."

"Excellent!" the woman smiled.

"What?" she blinked. "It's just a stupid field trip."

"Be grateful you're getting out of class at all, Jenny." Mom said. "But that's beside the point. As you know, I'm doing some research on the synthesis of new alloys for armor upgrades. I heard the museum has several metallic fragments on display, the exact composition of which remains a mystery. I was wondering if you could snap me some photos of it, pretty please."

"Sure thing, Mom." She nodded. "Just a blink of the old peepers, and you can have as many copies as you want."

"Great." After her hand's journey down the shiny, yellow arm, those coke bottles stole a glance at the band fastened to her wrist. "Oh – it's time for you to leave! I'm sure Brad's waiting for you outside. Hurry up and grab a can of grease from storage."

"Don't worry, I got it covered."

Her hand shot literally for her bedside drawer – approximately five feet beyond her arm reach. Grasping the handle simply, the drawer slid out far enough for the gooseneck cord to snake her hand inside. It slipped out as soon as it dove inside, reeling back into her arm smoothly with a bottle of Quaker State in tow.

"Told you!" she wrenched off the stubborn cap effortlessly. The strength of a million-seventy brutes certainly had its advantages, though she was lucky the whole bottleneck didn't snap off.

Her mother cutely folded her yellow arms.

"Pf… showoff!"

If it were not for the oil, she would have laughed.

---

Tremorton High's front doors had parted typically for Jennifer and Brad, as they did for every other teen whose parents had been suckered in by the local district. Narrow, tiled halls were just as crammed as the day before, the school knights in letterman armor making shallow conversation with their fair maidens wrapped tightly in the tapestries of the latest fad. Outcasts of the student body were beside themselves, left to waste away in little colonies of their own making till the morning bell had set them free. A few made Jennifer's plating ring as they brushed her by and into homeroom.

"A school day without the school itself." Brad took to his usual desk in a "cool" slouch. "I thought I'd never see these types of days again. A shame we have to spend it at the museum, though. If I wanted to spend a day in a cold place where I couldn't touch anything, I would've gone and seen Grandma! Back in the days where a class trip entailed a go at the theater… man – you don't really know what you've got till it's gone! Right, Jen?"

"I wouldn't know, really." She took to her desk, shrugging. "I've never really been on one before. The closest thing to a field trip was the robot conventions Mom always dragged me to. I thought there'd be bots just like me. Boy, was I wrong…!"

"Nothing to sweat, Jenny." Brad rubbed at his chin. "Just follow the tour guide, don't touch anything, and probably fill out some dumb paper Teach gives us. If the teach does give us a paper, be sure to fill it out as soon as possible. The rest of the trip will be smooth sailing that way."

"I'll keep it in mind." She nodded.

Shoes clicked on the tile; the inane, boisterous chatter of homeroom was a diminuendo instantly as the teacher made his way inside. His coat found itself on the table's edge, draping off raggedly while his briefcase sat squarely before him. Latches squeaked and soon the case's lid was squarely in sight – only to fall back into place no more than a moment later.

"Good morning, class." the olden man greeted.

"Morning… Mr. Watson." The sleepy class replied in a drawl.

"My, aren't we lively this morning…!" he chuckled softly.

Jennifer's back went straight, her boots crossed and swept underneath her seat.

"Well, that makes one of us." The teacher mused. "Moving on, as you know, this class is going on a field trip today. Permission slips have been signed and your other classes have been notified, but you must be sure to meet with the teachers first thing tomorrow to sort out any assignments that you may and will miss. We'll be gone for most of the school day, you know."

A whisper of suppressed jubilation swept through the class. Even Jennifer's posture eased at the proctor's words.

"Yes, I'm glad to be out of here, too." He grinned. "Too much sterility is not good for the nerves, unless you happen to be a robot."

She frowned; a soft growl escaped her speaker. Cute little quips, the man was always guilty of shooting a couple every which way.

"Take easy, Ms. Wakeman!" the teacher held out his palms. "I'm just joshing with you, that's all. Anyway, the bus is currently en-route here from the barn. While we wait for its arrival, I believe some introductions are in order. It just so happens that our new student will be joining our little expedition today. Please give a warm welcome to your new classmate…

"Sol, you can come in now…!"

The door opened promptly, a clean pair of jeans atop tightly laced sneakers carried in their newfound peer. Despite the color of skin, the teen certainly had some cream in his coffee, so to speak. His lighter pigments a gentle contrast to the light brown blazer with rolled-up sleeves, a cream tank top peeking at the class behind the neat lapels. Dangling oddly from his neck was rather large piece of jewelry; a pendant the size of a small tea saucer neatly inscribed with a sideways eight.

Apparently the boy had seen his share of troubles, a thick band wrapping tautly around his shaved head with a large patch pressing firmly against his left socket. A shame truly that it had to happen. Perhaps his firm gaze would not have been so… stony.

"Class," Mr. Watson announced uselessly, the glass half past asleep already, "I would like to introduce you to your new peer, Solomon Al."

"Hello, Solomon…." The class yawned in cadence.

"Ah-salaamu alaykum." The boy's hands shifted comfortably in his pockets.

Jenny grinned, her language disks making the appropriate switch.

"Wa alaykum ah-salaam." She greeted back.

The boy blinked.

"You speak Arabic?" the new kid asked.

"Na'am." Her CD-ROM reverted back quickly. "I just got the Arabic disks about a week ago, Qur'anic, modern-standard, even the regional dialects! With over one billion speakers on the planet, I figured I was long overdue for a language upgrade."

The boy whispered something to Mr. Watson. Certainly her tympanums could have compensated but there was little need for the newcomer to freak out even more. It wasn't everyday that a transfer student could share a class with a fully functional, sociable robot.

"Yes, I believe you just met Global Response Unit XJ9, Sol." Mr. Watson scratched his chin. "Out of common courtesy and the sake of assimilation, everyone prefers to simply call her Jennifer – or Jenny, for short."

"Very well." Solomon nodded. "Jenny, it is. Forgive my shock. It maybe 2074, but my household still has many ways to go before it is able to catch up."

"Understandable." The teacher acknowledged. "Does anyone here have any questions for Sol?"

Silence ensued, a pregnant, hungry silence. The scent of blood fresh in the air, her fellow classmen licked their teeth behind closed lips, gazing intently at their newfound prey. Anything at all, any weakness to exploit, Sol was poised firmly.

"One thing," a lioness made a poke, "from what little action did you get that patch, Cyclops?"

The quick kill denied; the pack instead went for a slower, painful attack. Jenny's arms folded with a clank, her hoarse disgust falling upon deafened ears.

"Horrible talk such as that smells like a mandatory term paper, Ms. Martel." Mr. Watson's case jumped when his hands slammed against his desk. "That goes for the rest of the class! I won't let Sol's first day degenerate into an episode of Jerry Springer. In fact, how that head of formaldehyde is floating around still is beyond me!"

"Mr. Watson." Jenny raised her hand, her tympanums catching a sort of hissing squeal. "I think the bus just pulled up."

"Yes." The man took a glimpse through the nearby window. "I see it on the curb. Very well. Place all stuff on your desks into your backpacks. I will be locking this room, and when we return, you can simply grab your bags and head for home immediately. Now Sol, I know this is your first day, but would you care to join us for our trip?"

"Yes sir." The boy's hands slipped out from his pockets. "I would…."

Her eyes caught a sharp glint from the boy's wrist, almost painful, if she could feel. Wrapped around his wrist was a shinny chain, brilliant links interlocking tightly throughout its length to the toggles, yet it wasn't what caught her eyes. The toggle itself appeared rather odd; her irises could not help but whir gently as the piece grew bigger in her sight. For through a simple metallic loop dangled a rather wicked looking scythe, its faux belly as sharp as its glare.

"Oh – cool…!" her lids parted further. "Now that's what I call a toggle!"

"Huh…?" Brad said quizzically.

"Oh – nothing." Motors whirred furiously as her sight pulled back into normalcy. "I think Sol's got a killer bracelet, though."

"You would say that, too…!" Carbuncle mused.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" she folded her arms in a huff.

"Nothing, Jen." He slipped smoothly away from his seat, shaking his head. "Let's get going. The only one who's going to get the back seat is I!"

"Yeah." She sniggered. "Okay."

---

"Tremorton High's Biology 1 class," their shapely guide announced proudly, "you have just experienced a day in the life of the North American Fall Webworm! I hope that you've found this experience to be most beneficial. Follow me back to your proctor, if you please…!"

Bradley did, following closely to the babe in the button-down shirt as comfortably possible, eager to show the day's idiotic monotony his backside. It was fun for the first five minutes, his eyes catching all the forest motif they wandered across, the hustle and bustle behind the doors lost in nature's music – as arranged by the curators. Yet did he ever so long for his family's set, eager to keep his promise to keep an eye on it as the group neared the exhibit's pupa stage. A half a day spent would please the good teacher, certainly.

If it were not to be, the completed activity sheet crumpled in his grip would surely do the trick.

Jenny, on the other hand, had been beside herself in childlike wonderment the whole time. Drinking gladly in from knowledge's fountain, she did, all with a simple look around. A product of lean-production in sheer awe of the beauty found in the sheer primal; who would have thought it possible?

Guess things are different when the robot actually has consciousness.

"Nature…!" her glossy eyes were wide. "So primal, so simple and yet so very complex! It seems everything is in perfect balance. Everything must play its part. The entire system depends upon even the tiniest creature, or even the simple pleasures outside this building would be lost. Be safe, little webworm, for even you carry the burden of Atlas upon your exoskeleton!"

The class behind dismissed her with a collective huff.

"God, she is a freak!" His ears caught the words of a girl.

"This is the part where she and all the Dyson vacuums take over and enslave us!" came the words of another.

Jenny's head dropped, a sigh of defeat escaping her voice box.

"Forget about them, Jen." He, too, dismissed the crowd behind with a flick of the hand. "They're still back in the year 2068. They wouldn't know a freak even if one bit them where the sun can't shine."

"Indeed…."

The new kid said closely. Brad looked – and there he was right beside, from out of nowhere!

"Whoa!" He nearly jumped. "The heck did you come from?"

"Walk right past me." The boy said simply, his hands in his pockets still. "See right through me and no one even knows I'm here."

"It seems the least we can do is call you 'Mr. Cellophane'." Jenny giggled.

"Huh…?" his brow kinked. "Mr. what…?"

"Oh!" those big eyes blinked. "Right…. Stupid turn-of-the-millennium tracks! I love my mother, but I draw the line when she uses me like her own CD player."

"Talk 'bout freaks of a feather…!" a voice behind chirped in needlessly.

"As your friend said before," Sol said, "pay them no mind. I believe what you said was very beautiful – and intriguing."

"Intriguing?" Jenny asked back.

"Indeed." That shaved head nodded. "You are a robot, forgive my bluntness. The robots I have seen thus far are nothing more than mere automations, robots programmed with the basics of basics. But you are different, very different. Your tangent before was blossoming with sheer wonderment, as though you had just left a tunnel for the very first time. Despite your circuitry and metal, it is like there is a real person deep inside of you."

"Oh – cut it out…!" she giggled. "You'd make me blush if I could."

"That's our Jenny!" the panels at her shoulder chilled his clasping palm refreshingly. "She full of surprises, and we wouldn't have her any other way."

Though winding corridors and crossing catwalks aplenty, Brad's squinting eyes caught sight of the group's destination: a coat dangling raggedly from the crook of its folded arm and a briefcase clutched in a stubby grip. He could just make out the elaborate etching of the vest buttons before his guide's hips ceased their provocative rolling.

"Good afternoon, Class." The teacher greeted warmly.

"Afternoon… Mr. Watson…." Came the group's reply, sleepy and unmotivated as ever.

"I hope you enjoyed the exhibit as much as I did the museum's quaint atrium café." The stocky man chortled sneakily as the guide made her way past, Brad's eyes never to ogle those hips again. "That reminds me! Your sheets please…."

A groan swept the crowd above the crumpling, rustling papers. One by one, each of the victims reluctantly handed in their warrants, the collective GPA doomed certainly. Brad had to be thankful Mr. Watson was kind enough so to grade on the curve.

"Thank you, class." Mr. Watson cracked open his case. The half-crumpled stack shoved in between the leathery jaws troublesomely enough. "I should remind you that these little blow-off sheets are certainly worth a lot of points!"

The crowd moaned painfully.

"I knew I should've stayed home today…!" a lettermen jacket rubbed at his head.

"Well, well…!" the man took a look at the band on his wrist. "It seems that the exhibit let you out early. I hope your grades don't suffer because of it. Either way, y'all are just going to wait till Monday to see the results. Either way, we have ninety minutes before the driver gets back from his break. Knowing this now, I encourage each of you to explore this wonderful sanctuary of knowledge, regardless of its type. But be sure to meet back here in exactly an hour-twenty from now. Now vamoose! I've got a latte to drink."

Like rats, the class behind scattered in all directions. They didn't need to be told twice, apparently. Mr. Watson turned on a little heel, strolling his way back to the café table where a lone cup sat idly.

"And then there were three…!" Jenny shrugged.

"Thank God." He replied. "Hope my grades will be OK when next week comes. It's not like my GPA's set in stone, you know."

"Stone…?" those shiny eyes blinked. "Oh – that reminds me! Hey Brad, you want to come along with me? I've got to take some pictures of some dumb fragments—"

"Fragments!" Sol's shiny head shot up.

"Whoa – no need to freak out!" he took a step back. "Probably a piece of the Titanic or something."

"Actually, no one knows what they are." Jenny said. "Mom is hoping to take a crack at it herself. We won't be there for long. All we need is a few snap shots. I believe the light my internal cameras catch will be enough for some basic spectral analysis."

"Heck, why not?" He shrugged back. "Unless that guide makes a second pass, this isn't my scene. You never know, I might spy a vixen on the way."

"Men and their games…." Jenny shook her head irritably. "Care to tag along, Sol? Not like you have anything else to do, right?"

"Certainly." His only eye blinked. "I would like to see these fragments myself."

"Alright!" Jen's hips clanged when her knuckles met them. "Then we're off… to-find-the-directory-'cause-I-don't-know-where-to-go…!"

Brad could not help but roll his eyes.

---

There they were, angled and uplifted by thin pedestals behind all-encompassing glass. A sickly, bloodshot eye gazed back at him hotly, its sheen brilliant and blinding.

For Phil, it had to be it. A fragment of one of the great legends of history, a never-ending tale of souls and swords retold for all the centuries before. The time had been long, his devotion unwavering in the quest for ultimate knowledge. All that time in the library, those many sleepless nights spent reading in the basement; it was worth it considering destiny – his destiny. The culmination of which, the very turning point of his life was conveniently placed before him.

No one will ever tease me as a newcomer again! My paladin's meager level five will jump a hundred-fold, for sure!

Of Dungeons and Dragons, Phil would become a god! Yet in order for one to usher in his apotheosis, one must not be content with the mere status quo. No, one must begin to think outside the box, to throw oneself completely into his cause, no matter how lost it may seem! To face down the foul darkness of one's blackened heart and even through a pact with the throne of Hell, as so far to become that which he hates, which he fears the most – only then can he achieve deserved godhood!

If only Mr. Gygax could see dearest Philip Watkins now….

Everyone else could, the occasional hapless passerby and those who've come to pay their respects to the fragments, the very key to his ascension. An audience! The time couldn't be riper. Even Tremorton's resident superhero, the physical manifestation of Dr. Wakeman's genius, came to see the spectacle. "She" even winked at him, her dark iris flickering behind her rapidly blinking eyelid—

But the Cyclops "she" was with gazed back at him something foul, a disparaging grimace as though he were wise to the scheme. The boy mouthed something through the glass – which, by some odd reason, he could understand!

I place my curse upon you, you whom know not of which you trifle…

He was of the rival clan come to sabotage the ritual; it had to be! He couldn't put it off any longer, not with the threat of failure hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles. Everything relevant from his studies was fresh in his mind, a late night cram session paid off in full. The books he had read hadn't failed him in the past and there was no reason they would fail him now!

"Now!" his palm flattened against the glass

He had shouted. The people around gazed upon him strangely, typical for such ignorant mortals… ignorant, useless, worthless mortals! Even the robot and "her" two buddies had their brows in a kink.

"Secret art!" he continued unabated. "Soul Absorption—!"

The glossy pupil entrapped within the glass blossomed – Phil knew something went wrong, horribly, terribly wrong!

---

The strange kid across the display pressed his palm against the glass and let out a shout – no sooner did he that he immediately fell behind the display in a writhing heap!

"No…!" the kid's words clawed their way out of his strangled throat. "Why?"

People nearby went for the boy, their helping hands taking the reach – only to be forced away violently. The backsides of some slid to a stop on the marble floor while others were not as fortunate, falling to the floor in broken heaps after they met closely with surrounding fixtures. The glass encasing shattered. Flying shards ringed against her panels before they had the chance to embed inside her friends.

"Everyone okay—?"

From the other side of the display came a noise to which her tympanums had never caught. It was like that of a grizzly bear, its timbre thick with endless reverberations—

Something slammed upon the jarred display, a large, bloody hand that caused the shards to leap. Crimson oozed generously from out the wounds, too many for just the glass to have caused. Jagged, white bone peeked at her from the gashes until she realized the wounds were not of entry or of compound. Instead, those bizarre, jagged, white outcroppings had actually torn through the flesh…

And up the hand's owner followed, his body just as bloody and bony. His clothes had been rendered into red-soaked shreds instantly. Head practically shed of its hair, a few lifeless tresses flapped over an eye. Eyes of color gone, clouded over into a milky film, yet he… it leered at her eagerly, hungrily. It grinned, the twisting mouth like that of a great white, ragged with an uneven coat of red smeared across the jagged enamel.

"What…?" she shook her head, her gyroscopes knocked senseless still. "What are you…?"

In that strange, beastly growl, the thing replied.

"OFFER YOUR SOULS!"