Fail to the King!

Chapter 24 – Crashing of Light and Fire

"Braveheart, braveheart," Jericho chanted under his breath, racing through Holt towards the dimension gate. "Speed boost, shield, lock-on, oh bloody hell braveheart!"

Jericho dived into the dimension gate. Being a dab hand at them himself, he set the location on the fly before the attendant could stop him and emerged in a fiery landscape, where a mountain of coiled magma and death awaited him.

His heart seized in his chest, and he patted a healing spell into it to calm it down. His wound from Phoenix ached and burned, but he set it aside, refusing to acknowledge his weakness. This battle, it was about his strength, about how far he had come since facing this beast since it had burned him so long ago and, most of all... it was about fulfilling a contract.

And so, instead of turning tail and fleeing, or sulking in the distance, waiting for an opening that would never come, he stood before the gargantuan serpent of flames, the ringing of his sword drawing from its sheath capturing its attention. No turning back.

"Do you remember me?" Jericho taunted the wyrm. "Once, during a raid, I faced you in battle! You failed to kill me then! That was a mistake!"

The serpent rose high above the demon, its head cocked to regard him with a molten stone eye. Its maw opened, shucking layers of dried magma like spittle. Jericho tensed, forcing the pain from his wound into a tiny corner of his mind, ready for anything. But to his shock, instead of fire the dragon spoke.

"Remember?" Lee Shang-Long asked in a voice like grinding stone, sounding mildly amused. "What is there to remember? Do you remember every grain of rice that falls from your bowl? Every insect you swat casually from your face? Do not presume you are significant enough to warrant my attention... " It brought its head closer to tower over the samurai, and chuckled. "Kukuku... my flames, however, are not nearly so discriminate..."

"Yeah, I'll bet," Jericho scoffed lightly, refusing to allow himself to be intimidated, beast of his nightmares or no. "Alright then, I'll have another taste. Give me as much as you've got, but don't go thinking you'll reach that village. As long as I'm standing here, you shall not pass."

"Ku..." the wyrm paused and regarded him slowly. "Now, samurai... now you have my attention. Why do you persist, in the face of perdition?"

"Friendship!" he yelled instantly.

The serpent bobbed its massive stone head in understanding. "Is that so? I should have known..."

"What? Seriously?" Jericho asked incredulously. "No! Are you kidding? Hell no! I persist because of booze!"

"Alcohol?" the wyrm boomed, amused. "Kukuku... Generally people become foolish after consumption, not before. Is that truly the reason?"

"Yeah, somebody owes me a drink, and I won't get it if you burn down the village," he replied. "Do you get it yet? I've been hired to protect that village, and that doesn't change even in the face of your precious 'perdition'." He readied his katana, dropped into his fighting stance and glared fiercely. "Why even bother asking a samurai what he stands for? We never stray from our jobs, and this. Is. My. Job."

Jericho's form blurred. The dragon barely seemed to be surprised, instantly spitting a tongue of flame at him, but the samurai was already gone. He reappeared to the left, several strides close, and again vanished before the retaliatory blast of flame could reach. Lee Shang-Long's molten eyes narrowed, trying to guess the samurai's movements.

"Over here," Jericho called out, and vanished as a tail of molten rock crashed down like a lava flow where he had been. He appeared behind the dragon once more, distance closing even tighter. "I didn't spend all those centuries as a ninja for the bandanna, you know," he laughed, blurring again as Lee Shang-Long's snout crashed into his position. Snarling, the dragon rose and whipped its head around, ready to douse the land in fire the instant the samurai tried to appear behind it.

There was the sound of crunching gravel that Lee Shang-Long realised, too late, wasn't due to its own bulk. The pulse of mana served as it's only other warning as Jericho leapt through the air, sword buzzing with power.

He hadn't moved at all. When the dragon crashed down on him, he had stepped behind the pile of rubble he had been aiming for the whole time. And now that the dragon had turned its back in anticipation for another strike, his counter attack could begin.

He charged, his sword low, and channelled his mana – it was time for his trump card.

There was a reason he had spent lifetimes reincarnating into different races and classes of demons – to master the sword. And to master a weapon he needed to master every aspect of himself that lent itself to that weapon. Transmigrative Compulsive Disorder wasn't a bad thing when used correctly.

"Fire boost," he growled, and the heat around him suddenly abated, unable to pierce his new resilience to flame.

Life as a Ninja taught him sneak attacks and how to move with grace and speed. Life as a Warrior taught him how to best apply brute power and to cripple opponents. Heavy Knight lifetimes taught him a myriad of defensive manoeuvres, Berserker lives had helped him harness his innate demonic rage, Ranger and Gunner years taught him to keep a cool head and a sharp eye under pressure.

But he had known there was more to the way of the sword than that, so he had pushed deeper. Geomancy taught him to sense mana and to utilise and manipulate the environment to suit him, whereas time as a Mage had opened the world of magic to him.

"Ice boost." A cloak of freezing mana washed over him.

That had brought him to his two most important lifetimes. His many lives as Samurai, where his inherent discipline had helped him apply what he had learned - and his life as a Magic Knight, who stood as the crux of swordplay and magic.

The lazy, unfocused demons populating the academy would laugh and call it an indulgence. Jericho was, largely, above such things. To master the sword as was his chosen goal, one needed to let go of preconceptions and understand the truths of the sword. Magic knights were legendary, a women-only race of demons who use the sword as lenses for their powers, call the sword's truths into question. To understand their path... Well, there was only one way, wasn't there?

But Jericho wasn't thinking of that now. All he knew was that thanks to his past transmigrations he stood a chance of avoiding incineration from even standing in the beast's presence, which meant he could attack it... Which meant, this time, there was a chance he could kill it.

"Fire boost." The fires grew dimmer to his sight as he found himself able to perceive their shapes and intensity. He was ready.

"Ice Weapon," he hissed, and his sword burst into a frigid aura, sheathed in a jagged blade of ice. He was moving faster than the dragon could respond, and so he poured all his power into this one blow. His stab wound was screaming at him, and he knew that one way or another that this would be the deciding factor.

"Rune Blade style - Dark Cross Slash, Ice pattern!"

Twisting, he cleaved though the blazing aura of heat that protected the wyrm with one slice and crashed into its side. Mana snapped around them both like a lead curtain, chaining the dragon in place but urging Jericho onwards.

The ice blade ploughed through the dragon's rocky skin like butter, leaving a deep black gouge. Ripping it away, Jericho let his mana drag him back up in the air as he angled another blow, ploughing back down with a second swing, bisecting the first to leave a blackened, frozen trench of rock in his wake.

Lee Shang long bellowed in pain as the wicked cross continued to freeze his molten body. Jericho barked a harsh laugh and landed on the wyrm's body, sinking his frozen blade up to the hilt in the magma and charging towards the dragon's head, leaving a wicked gouge in his wake.

Frost swept over the dragon, its body went cold, and Jericho leaped from his perch as the final pulse of his energy set off the attack's finale. Mana burst into explosive clouds that robbed heat from Lee Shang-Long's frame and with a shudder, the dragon toppled over, eyes dulled.

Jericho laughed as he fell, but the second his feet touched the rocky ground they crumpled under him. He tumbled over; sword scattered to the side, and heaved air into his aching lungs. His wound burned, worse than the heat of the dragon, and it was sure to have reopened, but that couldn't stop him from continuing to laugh. "How do you like that?" he scoffed, craning his head over to catch sight of Lee Shang-Long's corpse.

Suddenly the ground rumbled, and to the samurai's horror, the wyrm rose to stare down Jericho once again. Its wounds were as deep and grievous as before, and it seemed to be moving slower, but that fact did not comfort Jericho, paralyzed from his wound. "Ku... good..." the dragon said appraisingly. "Good effort... you are worthy prey... now, you die."

"Heh... I didn't spend all those years... all those years training in the art of Rune Blade... just for the magic sword attacks..." Jericho panted, forcing himself onto one knee. His boast was a plea for time, to distract the beast, because he could feel the lines of mana beginning to intersect in the wake of his attack.

But it was so rare it was almost a random phenomenon, something he knew he couldn't rely on –

There it was!

"Don't underestimate demons of the Evil Academy," the samurai barked, lashing forward with the last of his strength to snatch up the trace echoes of mana his attack had left hanging in the air – and twist them as only a Rune Blade master could. "Rune Path – Echo!"

And in the air, came the echoing voice of Jericho – "Rune Blade style - Dark Cross Slash, Ice pattern!"

A faded silhouette of Jericho materialised in the air, like an old video recording of his last attack. Lee Shang-Long found himself paralysed, just as before, and saw the blade descend, just as before. And there wasn't a single thing the wyrm could do other than relive the onslaught, icy trenches being gouged anew and the final frigid explosion washing over it in an exact repeat of Jericho's first devastating attack. A wave of mist and smoke washed over the injured samurai as he saw the wyrm collapse once again.

This time it didn't play dead. It thrashed and roared and shrieked in pain, waves of heat emitting from its body as it tried to stave off the cold. Jericho knew better than to hope it was death throes – he had come close, so close, to killing the beast, but now his part was through. His body was seizing up from Phoenix's wound, and Lee Shang-Long began to still its thrashing and rise once more. The dragon's head craned to catch sight of the samurai with a colossal yellow eye, and it gave a pained snort. "It seems... even insects can rally against the snake..." it said, before letting out a hissing sneer. "Yet in the end, they remain insects."

"And don't you forget it," the samurai wheezed, giving the beast a defiant smirk. "You should pay attention to us insects... you never know if that buzz you try to swat is a wasp."

"I shall note that," Lee Shang-Long rumbled, and opened its maw wide, an ominous glow beginning to emerge.

"Damn..." Jericho sighed, watching helplessly as the fire spilled from the dragon's gullet, crashing down onto him in a red wave of heat. "And I was looking forward to that drink too..."

Celestia echoed with the scream of a goddess.

Lamington and Vyers rose quickly, rushing forward with concern for the woman, standing stock still with a pained and horrified expression on her face. Aurum stared, stunned, before frowning as he realised the sensation he had felt might have been related. But what was it?

He saw the frozen god's hands twitch on her harp, a movement so tiny and insignificant it was only Aurum's paranoia that had let him catch the movement. Ever since he had confronted Almaz and been, impossibly, spared, he had been unable to expect what events would be around each corner, and having spent the better part of two centuries plotting and planning the movements of each and every person in Mao's social web, this sudden dearth of knowledge was unsettling.

Since arriving at Celestia he had been confronted by a demon and welcomed like an old friend, and despite himself, despite their kindness and selflessness and generosity, Aurum had been searching for the catch, the plotting behind the facade. And then meeting with the goddess who radiated power and kindness but was as meek as a kitten... he had felt something had to be off.

Forget jumping at shadows. He was jumping at sparks of light, and that was the only thing that saved them in that moment.

Because, when the goddess of bows twitched her hands so that they met the strings of the harp, he instantly realised what was about to occur.

"GET DOWN!" he roared, surging forward and, with firm shove, brought all three of them onto the ground, avoiding by a hair's breadth a volley of searing light.

Aurum looked up to see a terrible sight.

Ariel was convulsing as if she was suffering a fit, her eyes filled with panic and fear as something flashed before her eyes. Memories, feelings, the presence of a being she had once set aside. The strings of her bow in hand sung, being plucked by invisible hands, weaving a song complex, desolate and mad.

And as suddenly as it began, the song ended, and Ariel fell to her knees, clutching her bow like a lifeline. Tears poured from her eyes as her face wore an expression of abject despair. Lamington quickly moved to comfort her.

"Everywhere..." she said, in a voice that was a twisted echo of her former soft tone. "Everywhere, fools like you imitate a kind world... but even here, darkness festers... turns to hate... beckons corruption... no... I will wipe away the stain... I will make this world radiant!"

Four wings erupted from Ariel's back – white, unnatural wings with long, thin spikes of metal in place of feathers. 'No... not wings... quivers!' Aurum realised. 'She's going to-!'

The wings struck the bow, and Ariel's fingers whispered over the strings.

The storm of light that swept over Aurum was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He dove into the dirt, and could only stare in wonder as the temple around him was torn to shreds by the goddess' arrows. After only a moment the arrows ceased, and the fallen hero looked up to see Ariel had vanished.

"No!" Lamington exclaimed, and took off like a bullet into the distance.

"Oh dear, this is..." Vyers trailed off, searching for the right word.

"Disastrous?" Aurum asked. "Impossible? Bizarre?"

"Nostalgic!" Vyers said happily, snapping his fingers. "That's the word I was looking for. Believe it or not, Lamington and I were not always on good terms with the fair Ariel." His eyes narrowed as he searched the surroundings for the goddess. "Something must have happened to her. She's having a flashback or somesuch to the old days."

"This is how she used to be?" Aurum asked, incredulous. "How is that even possible? She's nothing like before!"

"All things change, my friend," Vyers said, echoing Ariel's words. "Time and the trials it brings can turn even the most naive, pure-hearted fool into a bitter cynic, or the most zealous god into a shy saint. You, Aurum, are no exception... and neither is she."

Aurum frowned. "But for the change to be so severe... look out!" A magic circle had appeared at their feet, and the human had just barely spotted it in time for him to snatch Vyers by the scruff of his coat and dive out of the way. A pillar of arrows shot up from the circle and disappeared into another circle higher up in the sky. Aurum swore as he spotted another circle appear in the corner of his eye, and dived again, dodging the pillar once more.

"I have legs, you know!" Vyers exclaimed, indignant at his ragdoll treatment.

"Anytime you'd like to use them, feel free!" Aurum snarled back, dropping the demon and drawing his sword. The circle opened up before him, and he was ready. Arrows, bright shards of light like glowing crystals, burst forward. His sword became a whirlwind, striking down swathes of the missiles, creating an invisible barrier around him. He knew he couldn't block them all, but that wasn't what he was trying to do. Arrows screamed through his guard as he focused only on the ones poised to strike him, suffering nothing but the most insignificant of scratches. It was like cutting the rain of a storm and remaining dry.

Still, those scratches burned, and dredged up surges of shame and revulsion. Aurum frowned harder as he redoubled his efforts. Were the arrows enchanted? Or was it the goddess' power, psychological and emotional warfare in the most physical of ways possible?

"How dare you be so arrogant as to stand against the light!?" Ariel shrieked in a voice totally alien to the sweet woman she had been before. "Your kind only begets evil's stain! Perish, so that the world may shine all the brighter!"

In the distance, he saw the sky become streaked with stark white light. "Arrows enough to blot out the sun, only to replace it?" Aurum mused, chuckling. All around him, magic circles began to appear. Every last arrow in the sky, he knew, was focused keenly on him. "So be it." Aurum snarled, and a gout of darkness burst around him as he enveloped himself fully in the power of the Evil God. "If I am denied the right to fight in the shade, I shall become it!"

"Well said," four identical voices praised him, and in his peripheral vision he saw four identical, flamboyant clones of Vyers. "Allow me to bask in that darkness of yours, the darkness that rejects the light of a goddess!"

"If you can keep up," scoffed Aurum, feeing the mana in his blood hum with anticipation as the circles began to glow.

"Ha! I didn't train with hundred-tonne boxers for nothing, I'll have you know!" Vyers laughed.

Aurum almost let his guard down. "What."

Then the arrows fell, and there was no room for words. Vyers' clones danced through the storm, swatting arrows from the sky and snapping them in mid-air with smooth kicks and palm-thrusts. Graceful and elegant, one could have been forgiven for forgetting that he was in a battle to the death.

In contrast, Aurum was the more demonic of the two. His massive sabre of darkness swept through the rain of arrows, knocking them from their paths and burning them up with a sinister aura before they could even reach him. At his back, his twisted scabbard lashed out with tendrils of darkness, snatching missiles from the air that were aimed at Aurum and Vyers' blind spots. But the arrow storm only grew stronger, and quickly he was forced to draw his trump card. Letting out a roar and a burst of mana, he scattered the arrows and gained an instant of respite. The dark aura surged and from the corrupt vessel at his back, his greatest weapon emerged, the unlocked might of the Demon Slayer.

"Ready yourself, Vyers," he barked, and swung the blade. Destruction followed in its wake, a wide blast of dark mana that smothered the arrows of light, and Aurum followed through in the swing, bringing it arcing into the sky and shattering the magic circles.

But the storm never abated, and now he was worn out. He dropped the broadsword with a clatter and focused his power into his aura sabre, swathing through the rain of light just as the Vyers' clones continued to whirl through the air, doing his best to cover the hero. The twisted scabbard, ever bizarrely loyal, twitched and moved as much as it was able, deflecting arrows where it could and shielding Aurum where it couldn't, becoming riddled as a dartboard with the shards of light.

And suddenly, it was over, and Aurum collapsed to one knee, panting in exhaustion. The Vyers clones snapped back into one body and appeared similarly worn, but stood alert for the next volley.

"All things strive... even the taint, I know this well. What do you do, tainted ones?" Ariel's voice called, bitter but curious. "What do you do, when the light burns and reveals your sins?"

The tone in her voice was off. And something was missing. Aurum knew he couldn't defeat her, not with her so far away – but he realised that it wasn't up to him to defeat her – he needed to distract her. "We pray!" he declared. "We fall to our knees, and pray to the heavens, to wherever a merciful god may rest!"

"There is no mercy for you here!" the goddess yelled, her voice carrying a definite waver. She was reaching a breaking point. Disoriented, confused, and distracted – just as Aurum thought would happen.

"Then we can only hope to be delivered unto salvation..." he roared into the sky, setting the trap. "And pray that an angel is there to hear us."

Far in the distance, perched atop a temple peak, Ariel frowned, hesitating. And that moment of distraction cost her. "An angel to hear you? Can the angels even hear your wretched sobs?"

"One can," Lamington said, cutting through the pandemonium as he descended on the zealous Ariel.

She shrieked in outrage, levelling her bow at him and unleashing the storm. "Lamington! You think yourself a messiah?" she cried. She vanished in a blink of light, but there was no place in Celestia she could hide from Lamington now that he had he in his sights. She was a goddess, but Celestia was Lamington's domain. He materialised beside her in the sky, closer than before, weaving through the arrows soaring for him with ease. "You think yourself an envoy of the dawn? I can see the shame polluting your heart, pigeon!" she shrieked again, vanishing and reappearing in the amphitheatre she called home where Aurum and Vyers waited. A wave of power sent the demon and human both crashing into the stone walls, the goddess never so much as sparing them a glance. "Look at this field of flowers!" she snarled at Lamington, the bow in her hands singing a dark melody. "Sinners, one and all, but you spare them! You can never justify your hesitation in my eyes, you lack perspective!"

"Perspective?" Lamington whispered harshly, diving forward, spinning through the flashes of light screaming for his soul. Eyes locked onto the goddess with alien fierceness, he snatched one bolt from the air that was aimed between his eyes. The ground shook as he landed hard before the maddened Ariel. "Let me educate you about perspective," he hissed, and stabbed her through with her own bolt of light.

The ornate bow fell from her grasp at once, clattering to the ground as her eyes went wide in disbelief. Hands shuddering, she clawed at her wound now pouring silvery wisps of haze into the air, and clarity returned to her face. "L-Lamington, I... I don't..." she stammered, staring at the Seraph mournfully. The mist flowing from her heart swelled over her, devouring her from sight before anyone could say another word.

In her place, the vanishing fog revealed a delicate metal lotus, with petals of polished gold and intricate silver leaves.

"Ariel..." Lamington whispered mournfully, falling to his knees.

Tearing his eyes from the scene, Vyers turned his attention to the wheezing human on the ground. "Are you alright?" he asked, helping Aurum rise.

"I..." groaned Aurum, pushing himself up, his limbs as weak as twigs. He winced as he sucked in a breath, grasping at his chest where he surely had cracked a rib at least - when he froze in horror as he felt his wound. Slowly looking downwards, he saw a white bolt impaled directly over his heart. His head whipped up to stare at Lamington and Vyers with a stricken expression.

"Aurum, listen to me," the Seraph said urgently, striding forward quickly. "You'll be..."

But before he could form another word, the mist flowed over Aurum, and he vanished from Celestia, leaving only a tan snapdragon to remember him by.

'Today has been interesting,' the Arsenal of the Artisan decided. She got a visit from the king and met some new people, a nice distraction from sleeping and painting she normally wasted her time on. Best of all, she spotted a pale blur of white and blue dart into the room about ten minutes after the king arrived. She had promptly declared "Bored now!" and kicked the king and his buddies out of her cell.

Pandora smirked to herself after the king and the two officers left the chamber, stretching out like a cat in the sun. Once the sound of their footsteps faded away, she tilted her head to the side. "You can come out now, princess," she said airily.

A head of pale blonde hair poked out from behind a column to check if the coast was clear, before striding out into the open. "How did you...?" Pandora gave her a flat, amused look, and the princess smiled sheepishly. "Right. Well. Thank you, Miss Invincible," Sapphire began. "Um, Miss Arsenal of the Artisan, I am here to request-"

Pandora simply laughed, waving her off. "Forget formalities here, I'm a prisoner, remember? And I sure as hell am not part of the chain of command. I'm just a simple artist."

"Oh, so the Artisan lives up to her title?" Sapphire asked, curious.

"Of course," she said, gliding past him and hopping onto the steel pedestal in the centre of the room, sitting beside her Box. "Well, I'm a lot of things, but it all boils down to art," she said in a musical tone. She spread her arms out, beckoning Sapphire to look around.

She did so, and her blood froze in her heart. She could see, through the tower windows, an image of destruction. The city was gone, obliterated into a scorched wasteland that stretched to the horizon. Disbelievingly, she stepped forward, when she saw another window, this one giving a view of green, rolling fields untouched by man or industry, serene and peaceful. Confused, she looked to another window and saw a sunset over a crystal blue ocean... 'But the capital is a river city...' she thought, confused, before she realised something else. 'The High Tower... isn't it supposed to be windowless?'

"I'm guessing you're impressed by my art?" the pale woman asked playfully, and that's when it clicked in Sapphire's mind. These scenes, despite being practically photographic, were paintings.

"They're beautiful..." the princess admitted, surprised at herself for not realising sooner. "How..."

"Oh, well, I've had a lot of time on my hands over the past two hundred years," Pandora grinned, standing up and again bowing dramatically, a wide smirk on her face. "Now, what business does the Princess of Rhodonite have with a lowly inmate like me?"

Sapphire tore her eyes off the paintings and returned them to the goddess smiling playfully at her. "Miss Pandora..." the princess, then paused for a second to straighten her thoughts. "When I learned of you in my history books and lessons, you were described as a weapon that could shake the earth and rain down from the stars. But from what my father has told me about Pandora, the person... I feel I know you a little bit already. I feel that you can help me."

"Hmm? Ding's daughter wants my help?" Pandora mused aloud, tapping the side of her cheek as she smiled her Cheshire smile. "Alright, I'm interested. What is it that I can do for you?"

Sapphire knew this whole thing had to be a bad idea... but if there was even the slightest chance... "The boundaries of space and time hold no real meaning to you," she said, resolute. "Please, take me to Veldime."

It wasn't the first thing the goddess had expected to hear, but she took immediate interest. "Veldime, you say?" Pandora regarded Sapphire with a slight grin on her face.

Sapphire nodded. "That is correct."

"Hmm... nope!" Pan giggled.

The princess balked. "Why not? Aren't you able to?"

"Theoretically..." Pandora nodded her head. "But I'm not spending all of my time in this tower for fun, you know. I'm in prison, I can't just waltz out."

"Couldn't you just blow the roof off?" Sapphire frowned. It was what she would have done.

Pandora laughed. "Hey, I'm a goddess. Yeah, I could, but that'd be breaking the rules, not to mention I gave my word not to wreck the place. I'm trying to be on my best behaviour, so I'm not going to lift a finger to escape so long as this room survives."

"So you really can't help me then," Sapphire sighed.

"Hey now, nobody said tha~at..." Pandora teased, beckoning the princess with a finger. "Come here, let me show you something cool."

Sapphire approached the stone table Pandora was sitting on as the goddess pushed a gunmetal briefcase towards her. "Here's a little secret, just between us two girls," she said, dropping her voice to a teasing, conspiring whisper."I am the Arsenal of the Artisan, and my power is governed by 'creativity'. Unlike some of my more boring brothers and sisters of, aha, 'arms'," Here, she paused to laugh at her own joke, "I'm not limited to one or two forms of weaponry. Off hand, I have access to six-hundred and sixty-six forms and styles of guns, projectiles and firearms. You have to be a million-to-one hotshot to wield me to my fullest."

"Wow... I don't think I need that many guns," admitted Sapphire, her mind boggling at the possibilities of possessing that much ammunition. "Well, for now," she amended.

"My point exactly, Saff. Can I call you Saff?" Pandora continued speaking before Sapphire could reply. "Besides, so many dangerous weapons, with only one person to take care of them?" She shook her head ruefully. "No way, too dangerous."

"Couldn't you just-" Sapphire began before Pandora cut her off.

"Saff, hon, I'm a gun," she stressed. "Even as a goddess, I'm a gun. Guns shouldn't pull their own triggers, it stands to reason. But at the same time, I can't go playing favourites if someone you don't like gets his hands on my power. I mean," the goddess reached over into Sapphire's hair, touching the chainsaw she had hidden inside. "Would you hold it against your chainsaw here if it was turned against you?"

"Yes," the princess nodded immediately. "I'd punch it in the throttle and switch from premium to regular oil."

Pandora stared at her for a moment, before bursting into giggles. "Is that right, Saff?" she laughed, her eyes beginning to tear up. "Regular oil? Oh my, I'd certainly think twice about messing with you, that's for sure." She sighed contently, before composing herself. "Regardless, your father would throw a fit if he found out you had run off to another planet with six-hundred guns stolen from his top-security vault, no matter the reasoning."

"But you don't understand!" Sapphire demanded. "I need to reach Veldime. This may literally be a matter of life and death!"

"But you don't need all my power to do it," replied Pandora. Before Sapphire could respond, the clasps of the gunmetal case snapped open loudly and light spilled from its opening mouth. Pandora grinned knowingly as the light faded to reveal two handguns resting within, one a polished black, the other a gleaming silver. Sapphire stared in wonder at the instruments of death, so enraptured that she didn't notice Pandora's expression stretch from a Cheshire grin to something far darker and sharper. "A fraction is all it'll take..."

Chapter 24 – end –

Varanotes: Hope you enjoyed the chapter. Updates are going to continue to be somewhat slow, since I've started college again and I've got another project in the works, one I may post over here once it's done. Don't be afraid of me quitting though, as I said from the very beginning this story is an experiment in storytelling for me. Updates may be slow now and then by the story is always at the back of my mind!

I hope it's clear by now what Ariel's glade of flowers in Celestia actually is...

If anyone is wondering how Jericho can use Magic Knight spells even though he's not one himself, my reasoning is simple: Jericho spent over a hundred years diligently practicing the way of the Magic Knight with the intention of incorporating it into his fighting style. In-game, there's only about a month to train. Mana levels can shoot high up, but it's not enough time to engrave a technique into your soul, so you forget any specialist techniques when you transmigrate.

The actual narrative reason I did it for was to show that even though the likes of Almaz and Aria got ridiculously powerful in a short span of time, there's just some things that can never be reached without hard work and practice. All this talk of mana levels leaves a serious risk for the story to devolve into DBZ or Bleach style power level imbalances, so I'm taking steps to avoid it.

Rule number one of FttK! Never count someone out of a fight before it's even begun!

I have to be quick, so let me just say thanks to all my reviewers – S.E, Mereo Flere, parody 'r' us, Faaairyfairy, The Ansem Man, Macavity Omega, Darth Artemis, GeneralGeneric, Moonlit Wave, axeloftheflame, OverlordMao, Fabricated-Sky, The Genius Mage Divine Wolfe, mikishi sensei, Uber Prinny Lord, The Last Z Fighter, Nanya, Faroush and malonromani!

I'm so freaking thrilled I've hit 200+ reviews, I never thought that'd happen! Leave a review and tell me what you thought!

Until next time,