Alright, I've finally got something after two damn months.
Sorry for the wait. I'm not giving up on this story.
Anyway, just a little foreshadowing, there's probably five or (fingers crossed) less chapters left until this is over.
The town's outskirts. Our surroundings couldn't look any more uninspired and empty. We're at an old gas station. By the sight of it, it looks like it's gone bankrupt or its staff have moved on to something…actually useful. The five of us are minding our own business, not bothering each other. It's one of those times when you just need some room to think. To hold on to the thread you cling to so dearly, even though you know it's about to break.
Kitsune's leaning on one of the pumps. The one that's been battered into obsolescence. She has her arms folded, her head tilted to the ground. Staring aimlessly and pensively at the dirt. She must be thinking of Lupin. She has to be. I've told everyone about my encounter with Makai, how I barely escaped his dark realm. Already she's worrying. Imagining the potential, horrible things that bastard could do to Lupin. Even her faith in him has its limits, and it's painfully obvious that she's about to reach them.
At my right, the Mediator and the Governor are conversing. Based on their relationship as brother and sister, they might be arguing. Like how Yin and I do. They're arguing about what justice really means, whether or not I and Lupin should pay for our sins, our wrongdoings, with our lives. She wants him to see the bigger picture, the grander scale. To see things from her perspective, and vice versa. Polar opposites, also like how Yin and I are.
Noah… What can I really say about the guy? He's lying on the ground and resting his head on his wing, letting his cardigan collect the numerous specks of dirt. Besides already gathering those blown by the wind. Of everyone in our party, I can't decipher him. He's thinking of something. That's all I can say. No. What I can also say is that his humorous personality is but a guise, or at least he uses it as such. The kind of person that doesn't let anyone in and puts up an appearance to deceive those around him. To conceal what he feels should stay confidential. He only expresses what he feels comfortable saying, not what those around him want to know and have a right to know. Not that I disagree with that decision. Not that I don't empathize with it, but it must be hard for Kit and Lupin to deal with someone who hides behind a mask. Figuratively speaking, of course.
I am under the blistering sun instead of the gas station roof, practicing my Woo Foo. Everyone kept pestering me, suggesting that I not needlessly tire myself. I keep telling them not to worry, that I'm more than able. They took my word. Yet, I can still feel someone's eyes peering at me. The Governor's eyes. That desire to wedge his sword into my body and make me repent for bringing the Infernal Beast back to life was apparent…and uncomfortable.
"Could you please not waste your entire afternoon staring at me?" I implore him, infuriated. "It's like being watched by some creep while taking a shower."
My own words actually scar me, planting that exact scene into my head. Why is my choice of words so poorly thought out and timed?
"I am not staring at you, Woo Foo Knight Yang," he answers in a muffled deadpan voice. "I am merely admiring your…regimen. Completely different."
"Sure. I'll buy that," I snark at him, resuming my training.
My surroundings disappear as I concentrate. Paying attention to everything, to what I issue my body to do. The sound of the whipping wind, the dust glittering on the ground, the distant chatter in the town, all vanishing.
Fist strikes, palm thrust, high and roundhouse kicks, a balanced posture, acute senses… My body slashes the air with every attack it initiates. The perspiration seeps out of my pores, falling unavoidably to the ground. I reach an epiphany. There is always room for improvement. Perfect feels unattainable. It is unattainable. I convince myself that I am always off with my movement, my strikes. No matter how ´perfect' I or anyone else see my Woo Foo, I can exert more. I can do more. Go beyond my body's limitations.
I will always have faults, I will always fall short. But I won't have it any other way. They give me an incentive to press on. A motivation. Just as my master and father, Yo, said to us. It makes everything all the more…interesting.
The realization circles in me along with images of the panda. Old fart's not that senile. Guess I really misjudged the guy.
I then proceed to the next phase of my training: my magic spells. One at a time, blasts of different magic shoot out of my hands.
The elemental spells are a unique case, though. Streams of electricity and jets of fire, both amplified by the Woo Foo Crystals of Fire and Lightning. The artifacts that I…borrowed from the armory. Yes, I stole them. But I had good intentions, and that has to account for something, doesn't it?
But there is another Crystal I took – the Crystal of Darkness. For whatever reason, it refuses to work for me. In spite of my beseeching, my invoking of its power, the blasted thing would not lend it to me. Not during the most critical of instances, such as our clashes with Makai and his cronies. Instead, I feel a painful chill in my arm, where the Crystal is lodged. A chill that runs through my veins and finds its way into my chest. I can't explain it. The Mediator, the one who created these Crystals, isn't of much help either. She's so cryptic.
She's left me with one clue. The sun sheds not darkness, but light. Another conundrum. As if I didn't have enough.
There is one conundrum that's eating away at me.
I left for this search for power to be a better person, to make everyone proud. To protect them. Where has this led me? Harming my friends and family. Destroying whatever stood in my path. How ironic. Yet there's no hilarity. I've made a mess of things. Blinded by the power I've sought for, I nearly killed those close to me. They paid the price. My friends, my dad, my sister… I almost ended their lives. And in turn, in my blind pursuit, I resurrected the Infernal Beast. A double whammy.
That's why the Governor wants to put me out of my misery. I can't blame him, but I can't let him.
What could they be thinking of me at the moment? Have they forgiven me? Or not? Would they?
I can't cope with all this thinking. If only it'd all go away. If only I didn't have so much responsibility, so much problems, to confront. I sometimes wish that the Governor would just end me, right then and there. And it's tearing me. Splitting me in half. I want to earn everyone's forgiveness. But the other part of me just wants it all to end. To rise to that higher place where everything is meaningless, where duties are a distant memory.
Damn it, this is annoying. If only I had someone to own up to. Someone whom I can REALLY own up to, like a friend I've known for so long. Like a certain person I can safely call both friend and family…
Like my sister. My half, my other… She's annoying, she's unbearable, we fight a lot, I'll admit. But she listens to me and takes me seriously, always knowing what to do. I'm the older twin, so it's natural for her to look up to me. But I'm the one who turns to her for answers. If only I could speak to her. Ask her to forgive me as well.
At least if I die sometime soon, I'll die knowing that I'm back in someone's good graces. That there'll be someone who will miss me.
I gag a little at the cheesiness of it all, breaking up my practice routine. Regaining my composure with a swift shake of my head. Corny as it may be, I need her. I really do.
Just there, I can hear her calling out to me. Uttering my name.
"Yang?" Speak of the devil…and she shall appear.
She called out from the horizon, waving her hand up high. Running up to us. There was someone with her. Probably one of our friends. And before I knew it, she was in front of me, panting. Catching her breath.
Behind her was not who I expected to tag along. It was Yuck, still deformed and eldritchly in appearance. A big mass of green slime. He hasn't found a cure to his condition. To his ignorance, his stupidity.
"I…finally caught up to you," she wheezed, dropping her sword to the ground. Not even realizing that she may have defaced a sacred Woo Foo tool. And I thought I was clumsy and indifferent. Go figure.
I answered her, drawing an amused grin with a light chuckle. "Yeah, you did. You caught up. Now what? What. Are. You gonna do now? Take me back home or something?"
She shook her head, standing back up to look me in the eye. Picking her sword up, her ears falling down her face. What a haggard mess she was.
"I'm not going back, sis. Not yet. I still have much to do," I persuade her, also convincing myself. Telling myself to keep going, to finish what I've started. Even if I don't know if it's worth it anymore. Swallowing, I add, bracing myself for her response. "You'll have to take me back the hard way."
"Knew it!" Yuck states and takes the initiative to form a pair of enormous fists from that blobby mass, pounding them together. I did expected him to jump to a conclusion. "I knew he wasn't going to cooperate. You want to do this the hard way? Fine. Come on, put 'em up."
"Yuck, wait!" Yin said, stopping him in his tracks. It was surprising. "Cool your heels. We're not fighting anyone, and we're not taking anyone anywhere against their will." She approached me, losing herself into my eyes. "I want to talk. I've got something that I think you'll want to hear."
"Alright, then." Wasting little time, I led her over beneath the old station, near one of the broken-down pumps. I told her along the way, "While you're here, you might as well break the ice and introduce yourselves with these guys. They won't bite."
What surprised me even more was that I believed her. There's no doubt. No doubt at all. I just…took her word, and she followed through on it.
Everyone got to really know each other. It was awkward. It was hard to believe everyone's ends of the story. Kit's and Noah's de-aged bodies and their history with Lupin, the Mediator and the Governor escaping from the pit and the promise they made to Dad, all of it. But eventually, Yin and Yuck eased up on them. There was a firm look on Yin's face. She knew how significant the situation was. Understood exactly why I could not go back yet. Not until we found Lupin and saw this through to the end.
"So you're all caught up in this…because of one guy," Yuck comments skeptically, stroking his chin with his gooey hand.
"We know it's farfetched," Kit justifies. "Stupid, actually. But Lupin's our friend. And I know he's made some bonehead mistakes." She turns to the Governor and continues. "But I believe in second chances." Those words possessed a sort of influential power.
The gaze in her eyes is an amber mirror that told so much. Behind them is a resolute soul, an unyielding spirit that will never again lose her beloved. She knows where her heart is. She will fight the world if she must.
As usual, the Governor answers with silence. That helmet makes it hard to understand his intentions, but I can see the hesitation hindering his body, preventing it from acting at all. Whether Kit has managed to sway him, whether she has somehow made him think his course of action through, I don't know.
This situation overwhelms me. It's all coming at once, with no breathing room for me to leap towards. I glance at my sister and formulate an excuse in hopes of dealing with all this at a manageable pace.
"Could you guys excuse us for a minute?" I voice and gain their approval, taking Yin with me to the sidelines, over to the farthest gasoline pump. I have to get this out of the way first. "So, we're by ourselves now. You said you got something to tell me, sis."
"Huh?" Yin asks absent-mindedly, until a spark of realization sets off in her. "Oh! That's right. I found something that might be useful. You know those diaries that Dad has in his nightstand? You'll never believe what it says in one of them."
The journals in Dad's nightstand. Those diaries that drives Yin to snooping, poking her nose into where it's not meant to be. Whatever information she has was sure to be vital.
Perhaps more vital than I thought it would be…
She told me everything she discovered. About the Four Pioneers of Woo Foo: Dad, Mom, Maria and Miriam. The Woo Foo Grimoire and Maria's research on Fog; I was repulsed by the fact that I was nothing more but a guinea pig for a century-old failed project. How Dad and Maria married and had their first and only child, Lupin; by far, this startled me the most. It was all before he married our full-blooded mother.
It all makes sense. Everything ties together perfectly…and uncannily. Our family is much larger than we thought. My surrogate mentor, my master, is related to me and Yin in some way. Lupin…my teacher, is a half-sibling to me and Yin. His mother, Maria, is a stepparent to us. I want to be happy for this, but all I feel is disbelief. And not the particularly good kind.
"So Lupin is…" I reiterate the incredulous news, the disbelief taking over.
"Yes. He and Maria were Dad's entire world. He really loved them," Yin confirms, looking away from me. The guilt in her voice stands out. She just told me about her…sin.
"And he doesn't remember any of this?"
"Yeah… And I yelled at him because I thought he knew. I thought he was hiding something all along." Her head turns to the side, still enduring the guilt. "I hope I didn't hurt him too badly. You think he'll forgive me?"
"Knowing him, he will. He's probably as surprised as we are now."
Now I know I can't go back yet. I know how dire this situation is. How significant everything has turned out to be. To lose Lupin would be losing a lot. A close friend. A lover. A son. A half-brother…
My right hand clenches into a burning fist. This is exactly how Kitsune feels. Her devotion, her compassion towards Lupin. To care. To really care for something, for someone. I know what I must do. Not just for redeeming myself, not just to earn the forgiveness of those that I have wronged. It may be foolish for me to take on the Infernal Beast… It may be a folly, a losing battle, but I will not raise the flag in defeat too soon. I'll fight the world, if I must. I'll die fighting, if I must.
In a blazing flash of light, Iron Maiden materializes in my grasp. The Crystals in my possession shine brighter than before. But there's still a slight graze on my left arm. A scrape on where the Crystal of Darkness is.
"Yang, I know you can't come back home yet. I know that you still have something to do," Yin says, clinging on to my arm. There's a warmth in her touch. That could only mean… "That's why I'm coming with you. Me and Yuck. I'm not letting you go this by yourself." She unsheathes the ice blade, Yuki no Hana, Snow Flower, brandishing it with refinement. She's more sure of this than she's ever been sure of anything.
"You both know the big risks with this, right? And I mean BIG risks. Makai's nothing like the Night Master or Eradicus. You two need to know what you're about to get yourselves into."
"That's exactly why we're here. You need us, Yang. All of us." She points to herself and the rest of the group. "You know it."
She's being overly perceptive again. She sees right through me. The fact that I'm trying to take up all the load here, that I'm willing to take matters into my own hands. By the look in my eyes, by the discomfort that this is all causing me, she can see my intentions. She is my twin, so I suppose that it makes some kind of sense.
But I'm glad, nonetheless. Glad…and relieved. Relieved that she's so willing to forgive me, let bygones be bygones. That she sees me through and is there to pull me up.
A smile surfaces steadily on my face, showing everything I'm feeling.
I fold my arms and close my eyes, hoping not to lose face. Underneath my shirt, I feel something round…and lumpy. Tied around my neck. Right next to the magatama necklace.
It's the birthday present I got for Yin the other day. That jade pendant. How could it just slip by me? How could I forget what today was?
"Oh!" I say in a startling fashion.
"Yang, what is it?" Yin asks urgently, rushing to my side.
"I almost forgot." Correction: I completely forgot. In a frenzy, I reach inside my shirt to grab the pendant, pulling it out at the risk of breaking it. "I got this the other day. It isn't much, to be honest. But here." The chain unclips, and I put it around my sister's neck. It looked perfect on her. "Happy thirteenth birthday, sis."
"Thirteenth bir—Oh! That's right! Today's our birthday! I forgot about that!" She's as clueless as I am. It's almost hilarious. She turns from ditzy to endearing at the sight of her birthday gift. "Oh, Yang. I love it. This is absolutely gorgeous." Without any forewarning, she leaps at me for a hug. "Happy birthday to you too, big brother. And thanks."
My cheeks flush deeply. I cross my fingers, wishing that the others aren't looking at our direction. But I can't deny how nice it feels, at the same time.
Her embrace has always been my abode. My source of strength. Being wrapped in her arms puts me at an ease nothing else can give. I dwell and moan too much on how unlucky I am to have a sister that I often forget how fortunate I am to do so in the first place.
She releases me. That guilty look reemerges in her eyes. "But…I didn't get you anything. You're not mad, are you? Oh, please don't be, Yang."
Her weariness draws a chuckle out of me. "Of course I'm not mad. You really are such a worrywart, sis."
"It's not funny." She remarks jokingly, backhanding my arm out of annoyance.
Not a second sooner, I see a faint white glow on Yin's right arm. Going on and off, causing her a slight bit of harm. She's wincing, gasping for small bursts of air.
"You alright?" I ask, approaching her.
"I-it's nothing," she says, fighting the sensation off. Groping her arm. "Just getting used to a few Woo Foo Crystals. They're rough on you the first time you use them, just like those old scrolls said."
Just like how my arm kept hurting from the Crystals I use.
Five or so seconds later, and the hurt on Yin's arm subsides. The others approach us at that precise moment.
"So what's the plan?" I ask.
"Plan A," says Noah, trying to be cryptic. With bad timing, to boot. "We take the fight to the Infernal Beast himself. Then we can find Lupin."
"Only Makai can pave the way to his sanctuary. Try as we might, we will have to wait until he sets foot here again, and then we strike," the Mediator elaborates. She's talking about Makai's realm, specifically the enormous building floating in it.
We've tried reaching it and fail pathetically. Nothing could conjure up a gateway to that dark realm. Not the Grimoire, not even the powers of both the Mediator and the Governor combined, nothing. Meaning we're stuck with the option the Mediator just said. We wait patiently and we strike.
We need to take action. I'm tired of waiting, honestly. I'm sick of helplessly standing by, unable to do anything at all. But if it means reaching our mark, then I have no other alternative.
Kit's ears start moving in swift twitches. She feels something nearby. Something important, hopefully. She closes her eyes to pinpoint what it is exactly.
"Kit, what is it?" I ask her. The grip on Iron Maiden tightens, its strings leaving marks on my palm. "What are you getting?"
"There's something going on in the town."
The ground vibrates beneath us. It confirms her suspicions. A sure sign that another chaotic event is unraveling close by.
Her eyes widen in horror. Her actue senses have already deduced this happening.
"Let's go," she says with a ghostly expression. Her low voice showing her hardened will and a critical feeling. The mighty bow, Artemis, appears in a glow at the sound of her snapping fingers. She restates in a much louder voice, rushing towards the town entrance. "Come on! Let's go‼"
We follow right behind her, the tremors under our feet growing stronger. Resonating in our ears.
It's late in the afternoon, and the sun makes yet another descent. The street lights across the sidewalk turn on in a flicker. I sit on a bus stop bench underneath the shine of one of these lights, waiting.
There was no class for this week at the Academy, which meant a day at the mall with my friends. Tinkering away at the machines in the local arcade, using whatever pocket money was left to buy some lunch. Answering the mall cops who questioned why we were 'left unattended'.
My big brother's shift at the music store behind me is soon to end. I'm patiently waiting for him to take me home. Curiously twiddling my ten fingers as time passes. It does nothing to kill the boredom, or at least make it manageable.
In my backpack, I search for my mp3 player. The one that Nana got me for my seventh birthday. I feel the foam padding of my headphones on my fingertips, yanking the thing out of the bag at a moment's notice. Carefully I catch the music player as it comes flying out through the zipper.
Just the sight of the darned thing makes me think about her. As if her face is reflected through the screen and mouthing sentences incoherently as if I'm really going to hear them.
I'm scrolling through my list of songs until I reach the name of the artist I'm thinking of. Kelly Clarkson. Her songs can soothe spirits as well as break them or breathe life into them.
One of her songs start playing at the push of a button. My brain soaks up the lyrics.
You're going crazy, running on empty
You can't make up your mind
You try to hide it but you had to say it
Restless all this time
So completely drained on
Everything that's in your life
It's so wrong but you had to scream
Every thought you kept inside
One minute you laugh
The next minute you're slowly
Sinking into something black
I get the feeling that lately
Nothing ever really last
I keep trying to get up
But I keep falling back
And you love and you hate and you wait
'Cause one minute goes fast
You just can't escape it, you're losing patience
You wonder what went wrong
Everything changes, happy then jaded
Always a different song
Playing in your head
Just when you think you've got it down
Out of nowhere you realize
It's different music playing now…
"Weiss!" Someone calls. It sounds like Nana.
The voice startles me, almost knocking me out of my seat. I pull the headphones out of my ears in annoyance.
Thoughts about my great grandmother are still ingrained in my head. It's been that way since she took off. Could it be that the stress of watching over this family's gotten the better of her?
Again, I reach into my pack. This time, to search for a note that Nana left for all of us. I put my hand into the pocket and feel the piece of paper in my hand, taking it out. I recognize the cursive handwriting on the thing so well.
Off to go looking for…something very important. Don't know when I'll be back, but I will. Until then…stay strong, my great grandchildren.
Tch. Nana can be so secretive sometimes. That's one of the few things about her that I'm not very fond of. We turn to her when we need help, but she doesn't turn to us whenever she's the one in need of help.
What could possibly be so important to her that she can't tell us? Why does she not want me…us, to at least try to understand her?
This family of mine is such a mess. My mom's fallen into a purgatory of depression and sickness. My big brother's overworking himself and carrying the load of being the one in charge. Alright, technically Mom's still in charge. Mostly. But he's taking the reins after Dad left us in that unfortunate accident. And my great grandmother, the one I often turn to as my abode, is quite mysterious at times. Now she's gone off to look for whatever it is that's important to her. Her 'holy grail', per se. I'm not trying to sound selfish or mean, and I can sort of see why she feels bothered lately, but she could've at least told us in person instead of letting a small note do the talking for her.
Although…knowing her, she never goes back on her word. When she makes a commitment, she follows through on it. So I'm not worried in that regard.
Nana always told me to look for that faint ray of light that pierces the darkness. To hold on to that glimmer of hope, the faith that everything that happens will eventually turn out for the better. I never forget to do that. Times're hard for us. For me, my big brother, my mom and Nana. Yet somehow, I find comfort and strength in everything Nana's taught me.
I know it's a tired cliché, but it's true, nonetheless.
And things have started getting better. The gaping wounds are healing. The scars will remain, though. Mom's been…bizarrely and welcomingly nicer to us. She's come clean about her dirty little secret. Her hidden stash of painkillers, in addition to the smokes that're killing her slowly. She doesn't stress out my brother as much, and she's taken me and Tyler out for afternoons of family bonding. Her way of showing us that we mean the world to her, and that she wouldn't want to lose us the same way we lost Dad.
My mind wrings at the thought. I shake my head to dispose of it immediately before it takes greater effect on me. I've been dwelling on things too much anyway.
The sky dims gradually, making the street lights brighter and more apparent. Slowly, the night stars glow into place up there, joining the beautiful full moon. My mouth hums out a makeshift tune as I stay put on the bench and stare at the pavement. As well as my legs which swing back and forth aimlessly.
Time unwinds even further, and past the shine of the street light above me is a silhouette standing several paces away from where I am. That of a dog-like person, standing on two feet. Fingers flexing, eyes darted towards my direction. He must be looking at me.
It could be that wolf guy I met a few months ago. That Lupin person. That person from Nana's past. Although this figure's posture looks a little too menacing, and he gives off a rather…unpleasant vibe.
Come to think of it, maybe Nana's searching for him. Or at least something to remind her of him. A memento that keeps the memories of him fresh in her, ready for her to look back to when the need arises.
Ugh! My thoughts are scattered all over the place again. I file them neatly and prioritize on knowing who this person is.
Each step I take sends a quiver down my back. This isn't that same inviting feeling the first time we've met. It might or might not be Lupin, but I need to make sure.
"Mister Lupin?" I utter, getting more and more nervous. "Mister Lupin? Is that you?"
He doesn't answer. He steps forward instead, moving beneath one of the street lights. Revealing who he really is. His terrible appearance.
"Not exactly. But good guess anyway, kid," says Makai with a fang-bearing grin.
"You!" I exclaim. "You're—"
He interrupts me, preferring to skip any formalities. "Yeah, yeah. It's me, Makai. The Heart of the Infernal Beast. Blah blah blah. We both know who I am at this point, so let's just get down to it."
I hold my ground, wearing an intense look to avoid showing him any fear.
"What did you do to Mister Lupin?" I demand, both my hands set aglow with Woo Foo Magic.
He chuckles at my question, finding amusement in it. "He's a little preoccupied with my posse. Everything's panning out quite well, if you ask me. I've got him right where I want him." He has Lupin held hostage? That's bad news, there. "But I'm not here to talk about good ol' Louie. I'm here to talk. About. You."
What could he possibly want with me?
"Right. Or rather, your…lineage. Y'know, your family. That whole kinda deal. Guess the apples don't fall too far from the tree." He's babbling nonsense. Just when I thought that he couldn't be any further off his rocker.
"What are you talking about?" I can't tell whether to be scared or confused.
"Why, you come from a line of great Woo Foo warriors, dear. Where do you think you got the inspiration to learn that stupid martial art? It runs in your family." He has the nerve to insult Woo Foo. He doesn't understand that it's not only a martial art, but a culture as well. "Think about it. You're an aspiring warrior, and your great grandmother was too before you."
Makai's mention of Nana proves how omniscient and aware he is. He knows about me, from head to toe. My heritage. The look in his eyes, a sadistically fascinated one. As if I'm an open book and he's reading me. Taking pleasure in the unease it's causing me.
I shake my head defiantly, preventing his mind games from working.
"So? What's it to you?"
Another chuckle leaves Makai's mouth. He's enjoying torturing me. "Had a feeling you were gonna ask that. Which brings me to my next point. It goes way back to your ancestor. Your great grandmother's mother, Miriam. She and her three friends – the Four Pioneers, all really fricking strong warriors, by the way – had the audacity to dispose of me in a fight of epic proportions. You didn't know this, did you? Your 'Nana' hasn't told you any of this, has she?"
No, she didn't. She did tell me stories about the Four Woo Foo Pioneers. But she left out that little detail. That she is the daughter of one of them, and that I am a descendant.
I recall my very first day at the Woo Foo Academy. The day before, specifically. Nana tried to talk me out of attending. I persisted. I was so eager to learn. She was reluctant in giving me her blessing. I never knew why…until now.
She's experienced the dangers of being a Woo Foo warrior, and learning the news that I was going to become one inspired her worst of fears. Nana was just trying to protect me.
We're both at fault. Nana is at fault for trying to keep me from my pursuit, for hiding the truth of our family. I'm at fault for not realizing Nana's good intentions.
But that still leaves me one question. Why is Makai concerned with this?
Then…as though he's read my mind, he speaks.
"At any rate, I've put two and two together and come to a painful conclusion. Well, painful for you, anyway. I can't have a descendant of one of the Pioneers running around now, can I? If I leave you be, there's a fair chance that you'll ruin everything for me. You might ruin my plans to become whole again. To get my glorious, monstrous and rather sexy true form. Which is why you're going to have to die now, kid. Come on out, boys!"
He snaps his fingers, summoning an army of his lackeys to enter through a black rip in the air. Their bodies surrounded by a dark mist-like aura, iris-less eyes peering at me. Mouths frothing, like savage animals. Their thoughts and actions are not their own.
They're all wearing the same outfit: an orange prison jumpsuit. The escapees from that prison break. They're prowling towards me, covering all directions. Growling, hissing, making other sickening noises. I stumble to the ground in an attempt to get away. I can't handle them by myself. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Am I really going to die here?
"Weiss, my shift's done. Let's get the heck outta here," says my brother, the music store's doorbell chiming to signal his exit. "Weiss? Weiss!"
Big brother! Big brother, over here! I yell out, but the words don't come out. My body's frozen, paralyzed from the overwhelming fear.
"Weiss! Don't touch her, damn you!" His instincts kicking in, Tyler sees me and runs my way, fending off the gang of criminals. Throwing straight fists, elbows and kicks. Using anything and everything in his vicinity to deal with them. Avoiding any oncoming attack on him, at the same time. He takes out legions of them one by one, running up to me. About to pick me up… "Hold on tight, Weiss. We're getting out of here."
…only to be stopped cold.
Makai's laughter echoes nearby. He appears in front of us, arms folded. Grinning.
"It's so hard to find good help, I swear," he says, shaking his head out of disapproval. "I swear, I have to do most, if not all of the work here. So you must be this kid's older brother, huh? I've hit the jackpot. Now I can get rid of both of you right here, right now instead of wasting time chasing the other one up."
He creeps closer to us in a menacing stride. His subordinates have gotten back up and joined him. Tyler's efforts were for naught.
I feel my brother's arms wrapping around me to protect me. Trembling, I close in on him. My frightened cries contained, both my eyes closed in fervent wishing. Hoping that we'll survive this. Somehow.
Then, from out of the blue, an arrow emitting a crimson glow is shot in the middle of them. Without warning, the arrow sends forth a forceful, fiery blast, repelling the gang away from us. Leaving Makai the last person standing, shielding his eyes from the smoke.
"Who the hell?" asks Makai angrily.
"You get away from them‼" Someone shouts.
We're approached by a unique bunch. A group of seven individuals… I recognize most of them, but the rest are unknown to me. Two of them stand out the most.
"Miss Yin? Mister Yang?" I ask, seeing them brandish their weapons. Pointing them towards Makai.
"You okay, Weiss?" Mister Yang asks back, to which I give a nervous nod.
Behind me are two more familiar figures. Knights in armors of red and blue. I've heard of them before, during my lessons at the Academy. The Mediator and the Governor.
Right beside them, a green mass of goo with a rabbit's head on top. A scimitar on one side and a shotgun on another both acting as his arms. He calls himself Yuck… And aptly so.
The last two, however, I have not a clue about who they are. A fox, just like me, and a raven or crow.
"Did he hurt you? He didn't lay a finger on you, did he?" The fox asks, crouching in front of us.
"No. No, he didn't. We're both okay," my shaking voice utters, and I try to get a hold of it. "T-thanks for saving us."
There's something about this fox that feels familiar, though. I think I've seen her somewhere before. Her handling of that bow in her possession, that determination, that spirit. Even those two amber eyes. I recognize all this.
I gaze at her one more time. Who are you?
"I'm just glad you and your brother are fine." Did she just say what I think she just said? How does she know that me and Tyler are siblings?
"How do you know that we're brother and sister?" Tyler asks, also bewildered. "Who the hell are you?" She looks insulted at the use of profanity towards her. In complete disbelief that someone would have the nerve to talk to her in such a manner.
A deeper look into those amber globes, and I make out this fox's identity. The fact startles me, drawing a gasp of shock out of my mouth.
"Nana?!" The question comes out, leaving a stunned expression on her face. This young fox is my great grandmother. I can't deny it. The look in those eyes, the affection mirrored in them, are exactly like my Nana's. What happened to her? She looks so…young.
"Nana?!" Everyone parrots with equal shock and awe. Among them, Tyler continues on to clear the fog. "Weiss, what are you talking about? How could you tell that this person is Nana?"
"Because I am, Ty," she responds, clarifying her identity with her use of my brother's nickname. "I am your Nana. I'm your great grandmother."
The whole gang starts speaking, causing even more confusion. At the worst, most inappropriate of times, too.
"So these are your great grandkids, Kit? Heh. I can see the resemblance."
"Wait. You guys are related?"
"You're the Nana that Weiss has been talking about all this time, Kitsune?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait a minute, wait a minute! Hold up," Tyler demands, raising his voice. Quieting everyone down. Our adversaries are just standing there, all speechless and stupid. "If these guys say that you really are Kitsune, our Nana, then prove it to us. And no, just because you know my name and said it doesn't prove anything."
Nana sighs, annoyed by Tyler's uncharacteristic lack of respect.
She goes on to list many points to prove who she is. A lot of these points are kind of embarrassing to hear. She runs through them.
The age difference between Tyler and I: we're roughly fifteen years apart.
How Tyler used to be a claustrophobe and Nana helped him overcome that fear.
How they both took turns in putting me to sleep at night by singing me lullabies that they knew.
My collection of two-nicorn related paraphernalia.
And the instances when Tyler would have his tail caught by a door after entering and closing it, causing him to fall hilariously on the ground. Everyone's giggling at this last point, including the Mediator herself.
At that point, he's heard enough…
"Okay, I think they get. I know I do," says Tyler, irritated. Cheeks flushing out of humiliation. His frustration soon turns to guilt once he finds out the poor choice of words and tone he used on Nana. "I'm sorry, Nana."
"That's fine, dear. Make sure you watch yourself next time." Nana smiles and nods at us. She immediately remembers the presence of her bird friend beside her and introduces him to us. "Oh before I forget, Weiss, Tyler, this is Noah. An old friend of mine."
"Yeah, hey there, kids."
The introduction's cut short, though.
"Um, you guys might want to worry about making acquaintances later. When we get the hell out of here alive," Yang forewarns, his attention directed at Makai, who's holding a pair of chained sickles he must have pulled from out of nowhere.
"The wittle wabbit's right, people. It's a big mistake and plain insulting to ignore me, y'know," he jests, swinging one end of the chain wildly in his hand. His teasing voice then switches to a deeper and far more intimidating one. "Now you're gonna know why they call me the Infernal Beast."
Like stubborn children, the prisoners rise back on their feet again. Hunched forward, voices seething. Their mouths foaming even more.
"Tyler, stay here and watch your sister. This shouldn't take too long," says Nana, to which my brother nods firmly.
Both sides lunge at each other, announced with blood-churning cries to the sky.
The skirmish looks like it's in our favor. Everyone's using their tools and their skills as best as they can.
Miss Yin using the power of the Snow Flower sword to command both water and ice.
Mister Yang beckoning the Iron Maiden guitar to blast his foes away with fierce shots of thunder and massive arc flashes.
Yuck's conjuring of a large assortment of weapons, from crossbows to daggers to brass knuckles.
On the other hand, both the Mediator and Governor are cooperating to strike down wave after wave of enemies with their mastery over their respective schools of Woo Foo.
Nana and Noah are also working together, the former making use of her bow and arrow. Displaying nigh-unmatched bowmanship. Her arrows leaving deadly, lingering aftereffects. And the latter, using techniques and moves I've not seen before. Most of which are either self-taught or from other styles.
We're winning. At least, that's what it looks like. The mob hasn't a chance against us.
Still, the fear in me stays. My concern for their safety, flashing in my eyes. My brother's tightening hold on me tells me that he's just as concerned. I can even hear him mumbling beneath his breath. "Come on… Win, Nana. Win. You gotta win this."
I feel so helpless. So unable. I want to help them. But I'm just going to get in the way. I'll be a liability. Anxiously, I close my hand into a fist, shaking it in frustration. Frustration towards my inability to contribute.
Shutting my eyes, I recall the last time I 'helped out'. A few months ago, when Mister Yang had gone rogue. When the darkness in his heart swallowed him whole and drove him to his indiscriminate actions. His thirst for power. A small army of Woo Foo warriors rallied up to face him, with me foolishly thrusting myself into the mix. I did nothing but stand idly. Watch the fight ensue, look on as a spectator. The only thing that made bringing me somewhat worthwhile, the pollens of an Azure Flower. I was…just excess.
I don't want to be the one who holds others back. I don't want to be a liability. The hindrance, the nuisance. I can help. I know I can. But I don't know how. I want to know how.
"They need me," the phrase leaves me in a whisper.
"Huh?" Tyler asks.
The stubborn side of me, that half of me I never thought would emerge or even be there, speaks out. "They need me out there. I gotta help them. Lemme go, big brother! Let. Me. Go! I want to fight!"
"No you don't!" He restrains me. I restlessly fight him off, knowing that he'd do the same if he were in my position. Or would he? "You're not doing something this stupid. Not on my watch!"
"But Ty, I'm Woo Foo, too. I can take them!"
"Are you sure? Do you want to get yourself killed? You're my responsibility, sis. I know you want to help, and so do I. But we just gotta trust Nana and her friends."
The epiphany sticks to my mind, and I cool myself down. I'm in no position to be doubtful. To question the authority of my elders. My brother's right…
But so am I! I want to be of some use to them. Watching them get hurt over my safety is hard to take in.
My whole body, and Tyler's, stills…and stays that way. Frozen in place. Petrified. Immobilized, as Makai leaps towards us. Glaring down at us with a murderous green stare. Hands clamping the chained sickles. His cronies are buying him time. Just enough for him to get his grubby paws on us.
"Really?" asks Makai, smirking. "Think you can trust that she'll save your asses in time before I off you?" At the sight of his readied weapon, we cringe. Bracing ourselves for the blow.
As a swift response, Nana appears next to him. Arrow pointed at his head. Her feral mask belying and revealing her instincts. Her protectiveness.
"Do you trust that I won't let go of this string?" she asks in a threat.
He doesn't flinch, nor does he quake. He simply keeps that grin plastered on, amused. Letting out a chuckle that rises in volume. "Oh I know you won't. Wanna know why?"
Snap goes his fingers, and an additional group of mooks emerge from thin air. Their numbers too great compared to ours. All of them, circling us. Twitching. Their thoughts, not their own.
Our forces back up against one another, giving each other cover. Estimating the numbers, in search for a solution.
"Damn it," Yang comments. "Surrounded by too much ugly." Even in peril, he manages to crack a wise one.
"Really? Is it too much to ask for a bit of personal space? I can feel you guys breathing down my neck. And it ain't a pleasant smell, either." Even Noah can find it in himself to make light out of a dire situation.
Sarcastically, Makai retorts. "Very funny. I hope the afterlife's got a stand-up comedy joint, because that's where you're headed to…right now."
Before he makes the swing, an apparition leaps into the crux. Its face shrouded by a wooden mask, donning a garb as loose as a set of pajamas. Fastened by a black belt around the waist. Another foe? Or another ally?
Silence blankets the scene. The grains of time begin to slow in their descent. A rising tension, roused by the anticipation. Everyone's awaiting this figure's next move.
A full minute passes. The enigma sprints forth, striking the entire army down in one sleight of hand. Returning to the initial position, finishing with a motionless, focused posture. Nana picks us up, dusting the dirt off of our clothes. Dismissing her bow.
Makai is infuriated. "You enjoy pissing me off, do you?" The way he said that has got me thinking. He must know who this person is. They must have had a previous encounter.
He lunges at us. As a response, the masked entity strokes out a Kanji letter with magic-filled fingers. The sign explodes in a brilliant white, leaving Makai dazed. Blinded. Giving us enough room to escape.
We're teleported somewhere. To one of the building's rooftops. A clear view of the aftermath presents itself below us. Makai is standing in the middle, shielding his eyes. Swinging his other arm wildly to search for something. Blurting out sentences loudly, hysterically.
"The HELL?!" he roars. "Wait 'til I get my hands on you‼ When I get out of this, when I find you, I'm gonna grope your little neck and shake it like a lunatic until you can't breathe no more! Then, when I'm done with that, I'm gonna take this sickle, plunge it into your chest and work my way down! I'll find you. I know it! I'll find you, and END YOU‼"
Like watching some kind of black comedy skit. The Infernal Beast makes a complete imbecile out of himself. It brings a smile on my face…and a giggle out of my mouth.
The mystery person looks down as well, ensuring that we've gotten as far enough, away from him.
"That'll keep him at bay for now. Hold tight, everyone," she advises, raising her hand up high afterwards. Casting a spell, teleporting us to a different place.
A place farther outside of town…
Taken into an indoor area, which looks like some kind of living room. A shelf of fine china on one side, adjacent to a door that probably leads to a room or outside. Simple yet fine furniture resting in a circle. The sweet aroma of scented candles hovering around. Windows concealed by bamboo blinds.
No electronics around here. Nothing. Maybe except for a few appliances in the kitchen, wherever that is. Just a simple, not-so-convoluted and refreshing environment that makes the most common city folk go mad.
We all wander around, our fascination running away with us. Commenting one at a time.
"What is this place?"
"Where the heck are we?"
"Tell me about it. No television, no radio, no phone."
"Oh please don't say 'no toilet'. I can't stand the thought of that."
"At least we're all safe," says Nana, seeing the brighter side of this. She turns to the masked person and continues warmly. "Thanks to you."
This is killing me. Why won't this guy or girl take that mask off?
"Yeah. Thanks for the help and all, and no disrespect but…who are you?" I ask as politely as I can.
The figure removes the mask slowly, undoing the strap or whatever keeps it fastened. Beneath it, the face of an old female fox. Much older than Nana.
"Woo Foo Pioneer…!" says the Mediator, astounded.
"Miriam," the Governor adds in a similar tone.
Nana also adds, her astonishment outdoing theirs. "Mother…?!"
I really want to explore the Pioneers a bit more, and everyone else's subplots. And no, Lupin, Kitsune and Noah are NOT the Pioneers, just in case it doesn't seem obvious. Hahahaha