The young woman caught the four not quite parallel blades on her reinforced left sleeve. Though they appeared tarnished and dull, the short knives cut like freshly sharpened scalpels. She grimaced as they sliced through the heavy cyan fabric, lightly scoring her forearm. She threw her right leg up diagonally at his chest, but the sinewy killer danced back out of range.
"Is this the best the DWMA has to send after me?" the scarred horror hissed mockingly.
"Keep talking Kishin Egg," the teen shot back darkly, "You get two more moves, and then I become your nightmare."
The murder barked a laugh, and then hopped forward. He stabbed his right hand at her emaciated chest, aiming for her heart. She swept his arm away with a simple crescent kick. As she expected, he continued forward, reaching for her neck with his left hand.
'He is stronger than he looks, but not as strong as he thinks he is,' she appraised silently, 'His biggest advantages are his speed and flexibility. But he is not a trained fighter.'
She dropped under his attempted choke, then launched herself upwards. Her right arm burrowed into the left side of his torso, cracking his bottom rib. But the physical contact was only the vessel for her real attack.
"Soul Frost," she growled, forcing energy into his body. The air was forced from his lungs, and as it left his body, his breath was visible. She stepped back, as his movement slowed. His flesh and clothing began to take on a blue tint. He glared at her in surprise, as he finished freezing. She glared at him triumphantly for moment, but she was also waiting to make sure he was fully and truly frozen. Then she lifted her leg almost casually and thrust her foot sideways into his stomach.
The would-be demon shattered, fragmenting far more than he should have. It was as if now that he was dead, his body would no longer support his malevolence, and it scattered in countless tiny shards. Left behind, slowly descending, was the crimson orb that had been his soul. The Kishin Egg was fragmented, covered with chaotic assortment of lizard, snake, and fish scales, and appeared to be exuding a noxious slime. The girl took out a specially woven bag and threw it over the soul, unwilling to touch it herself. She tightened both straps, and tied one of them to her belt.
"Mission complete," she noted to no-one in particular. Then she looked around, trying to determine where the fight had dragged her, and how to get back to the bus station.
The young woman walked under the final guillotine into the large room that resembled nothing so much as an ancient altar in the midst of an oddly cheery and brightly lit graveyard. The three beings seated around the low table on the platform studied her as she drew closer.
Charlene Chapel was tall for her not quite fourteen years of age, measuring in at five feet seven inches. She was skinny, but her skin had a healthy glow that indicated her lack of feminine curves was due to exercise rather than malnutrition. Charlie had the tight, wiry build of a gymnast or martial artist, the latter being indicated by her choice of apparel.
The girl wore a sky blue gi, and the ends of the sleeves and pant legs were ragged from frequent use. The right sleeve was cut above her elbow, but her left sleeve reached all the way to her wrist. The damage to said sleeve had been expertly repaired en route, leaving almost no indication of the quartet of blades that had cut her clothing and flesh. The uniform was cinched around her waist with the traditional black belt, which she was more than qualified to wear. Her feet were uncovered below where her leggings ended at her ankle. As she stepped, the top of her gi parted slightly, revealing a black sports bra worn more for modesty than for support.
Charlie's forest green hair was cut short and somewhat ragged, as if she could not be bothered to deal with it as most girls her age would. Her slender chin and long, straight nose gave her a sharp if not unattractive appearance, and both point were only reinforced by her lovely, angry, hazel eyes.
Chapel looked over the trio of adults in turn. She had only been expecting the one in the middle, a vaguely humanoid figure that appeared to be a living black cloak with a goofy, stylized skull mask for a face, and Disney-character style oversized white gloves as hands.
On his right was an actual Human, though the second man looked even more bizarre for his mortality. He was tall, as tall as the specter, with stark white hair and a pair of thin oval glasses. He was thickly muscled, but dressed like a doctor rather than an athlete. What made him so odd was the strange stitching all over his clothing and even across his left cheek, and the large screw sticking out of the left side of his head. A cigarette hung, unlit, out of the right corner of his mouth.
The last man was the most normal in appearance, yet the dull, constant anger in Charlie's eyes and jaw flared when she turned her attention to him. He had shoulder length red hair, and deep blue eyes. He wore a black suit, with a medium grey dress shirt and a black, cross-shaped tie. He was the shortest of the three, and less muscular than the other Human, but was still taller than the young woman.
The Meister student was mildly surprised that the school's founder was not alone, and wondered if she had interrupted something. She had not been denied entrance to Death's sanctum, so she continued as she normally would have.
"Lord Death, Mr. Stein," she greeted them cordially, and then with more than a hint of venom she choked out, "Death Scythe Albarn."
"Welcome back, Charlie," the god greeted her personably, "How did your mission go?"
"The people of Milwaukee can sleep more securely," she answered, untying the bag on her belt. She stepped up to the table and offered it to him. Death took the sack, and looked at the diseased soul inside. He reached under the table, and took out a glass jar, larger than should have fit underneath. Inside were at least twenty other Kishin Eggs, and the specter added the new one to the collection. He returned the bag to the teen, and slid the other receptacle back to whence it came.
"Is there anything else, Lord Death? Charlie prompted after the nearly ritualized exchange.
"Oh yes," the incarnation squeaked, "If you would indulge me and roll up your left sleeve?"
Frowning, but without valid reason to refuse, the student dutifully complied. Four strips of bandage were clumsily wrapped around her forearm, soaked through with brown, clotted blood. Where they did not cover, numerous small scars were visible up and down the back of Charlie's arm.
"Go to the infirmary and have those cuts treated properly," Death instructed sternly.
"Is that th... Nurse Nygus still there?" she countered sharply.
"She is," Death's voice suddenly shot up higher than normal, and both of the other men knew he was trying hard to humor the teen, "Is that a problem? Do you find her work unsatisfactory?"
"No, of course not," Charlie answered sullenly, "I just... It's nothing Lord Death."
"Good," he said happily, "Go get that arm looked at."
She nodded sharply, and then turned and marched out, her posture and stride indicating her displeasure.
"So, what do you think?" Death asked his subordinates, once the girl was gone.
"There's a lot of potential there," Spirit answered thoughtfully, "She's a bit too serious, and too thin. But if she lightens up, and starts eating better so she develops some decent curves, she could develop into a real beauty..."
"Death Chop!" The squarish hand of specter descended sharply on the Weapon's head, indenting his skull and driving his chin into the table. Spirit slumped sideways onto the floor, bleeding out of both eyes and his mouth.
"She carries herself well," Stein answered, "I could only find a few openings. She was definitely on the defensive the moment she saw senpai."
Death nodded sagely, but said nothing, so the Meister continued.
"Her soul is strong, and she controls it as well as she controls her movements," the scientist continued, "Is she really only a freshman?"
"Yup," Death answered simply.
"What were all of those Kishin Eggs?" Stein prompted, not sure where the god was trying to lead him, "And where was the girl's partner?"
"She doesn't have a partner," Death explained, "And those souls are the ones she has collected. For the time being, I am holding them for her."
"She has fought that many Kishin Eggs on her own?" Spirit was suddenly upright again, sipping his tea, looking none the worse for wear.
"My lord, who is that girl?" Stein said directly, "Who is 'Charlie'?"
"Her full name is Charlene Chapel," Death stated with a hint of sadness, "Age thirteen, freshman Especially Advanced Target class B."
"Chapel? George's daughter?" Spirit queried regretfully. Death's mask bobbed once.
"That explains her blatant disdain for Weapons..." Stein noted thoughtfully.
Maka Albarn strolled leisurely along the bluff overlooking the campus's soccer field. The third year EAT class had let out early, and Soul and Black Star had hurried off to get into some kind of trouble. The studious girl did not know or care what they were up to, and she decided to stay on campus so she was safely out of the way when the sky fell on their heads. She saw one of the sophomore classes gathered below, dividing up to play a game.
"I wonder what they are playing?" she pondered aloud.
"That's Soul Ball," a deep voice rumbled over her shoulder. She jumped slightly, then looked back at Sid, her undead homeroom teacher.
"It's not used at the EAT level, but the NOT classes play that to work on their resonances," he continued, "They are not allowed to team up with their normal partners, so they can learn to be more flexible. The game itself is like a combination of soccer and basketball. Ms. Jones will put a bit of her Soul Energy into the ball, so that the student can repel it with their own souls. But they have to use Soul Injection to keep to ball up. If any player touches the ball physically, that's one point for the other team. Let the ball hit the ground, and that's three points for the other team. And a goal is worth fifteen points. And no rough contact is allowed."
Maka nodded, already thinking about potential strategies. Then the instructor on the field spoke up loudly, and the older student turned her attention back to her juniors.
"Alright, that's the Meisters," the unfamiliar orange-haired woman announced, "Now time to pick Weapons. Red team call it."
"Heads," the tallest boy in the red pull-on jerseys shouted, as the instructor tossed a coin skywards.
"Heads," the teacher confirmed, and the red team shouted in triumph even as the blue team groaned.
"Gus," the crimson clad captain shouted as if it were a forgone conclusion.
Maka watched as a short young man detached himself from the group of awaiting Weapons with a resigned sigh. The junior Meister knew she should not judge the Weapon based on his appearance, but she could not help but think that he would not have been her first choice for a physical contest. He was at most five feet tall, and only if she counted the tallest point of his hair. His brown locks rose and fell in peaks and waves around his head. Behind narrow glasses, his sky blue eyes darted between his newly appointed teammates with a combination of frank appraisal and defeated acceptance. He wore a dark, grey, button-down shirt, dress black short, and chocolate leather dress shoes. His shirt was slightly rumpled, like his hair, giving him the air of either an academic or a rebel. Maka guessed it was the former.
"He seems upset," the slender young woman noted.
"Soul Ball is the only time Aegis gets picked first," the stealthy Meister answered, "And I imagine he resents it somewhat."
"What do you mean, Mr. Sid?" she prompted him uncertainly.
"Aegis is the only one in his class who does not have a regular partner. Even though there are more Meisters than Weapons in his class. And he wants to be in the EAT class, rather than the NOT class."
"Why doesn't he have a partner?" Maka asked curiously, "His soul looks fairly strong. Is his weapon form the problem? Is he like a giant sword that's too heavy to use, or a tiny knife that has no reach? But then why does he get picked first for this game?"
"See for yourself,"
The Weapons began to transform. Maka vaguely recognized the Japanese girl who shifted into a long poleaxe. She searched for the boy named Gus, and caught a glimpse of him before the red team's goal, just before his Human mode vanished.
Attached to the arm of the goalkeeper Meister was a huge, oval shield. The Weapon was at least five and a half feet long, a good six inched taller than his Human form. The smaller axis of the elliptical guard was still a good three feet across, and the convex curve of the shield was eight inches deep. The major portion of Gus's Weapon form was a shining silver metal, but he was embossed with a deep, blue double cross emblem.
"That's why Aegis hasn't been able to secure a partner," Sid elaborated, "As far as Weapons go, a shield isn't very high on any Meister's list."
"But he's really big," the blonde girl protested, "You could slam him into someone."
"Despite his size, he's really light," the educator countered, "And his surface looks hard, but it actually a bit springy. It makes him easy to block with, and stops the force from being transferred to the Meister. And Aegis can take a hit better than any Death Scythe I've seen, except maybe Miss Mjolnir. But in terms of offensive ability, he's just about zero."
"And we've tried pairing him with Meisters who have a one handed partner," he continued, "But all of them complained about not being able to switch hands, double hand attack, or simply said that Aegis's size gets in the way."
"One inch higher, and five degrees down," she heard a soft yet deep voice emerge from the shield. The goalkeeper complied, and a burst of soul energy sent the ball crashing into a member of the blue team.
"It's almost not fair to let him play," the undead teacher commented to his student, "No-one has ever been able to score on Aegis. He covers half the goal. And he's good at calculating how to deflect the ball into other players. That's the kind of student he is."
"His soul is very strong," she confirmed and expanded on her previous observation, her extended senses showing her the large sphere of grey energy around Gus, melding seamlessly with the smaller green sphere around his temporary Meister.
"With the right partner, he could do some amazing things," Sid agreed, "But the problem is finding him a Meister who is a good fit."
Charlie looked at the shorter boy dubiously. She did not recognize him, which meant he was probably one of the NOTs, though she thought he could also have been from a lower grade. She had been asked to spar with or tutor NOTs or talented middle schoolers from time to time, but she did not think the small, slender, studious looking teen was the fist-fighting type. She was beginning to wonder if it was a mistake or an oversight that they were waiting together to see Death.
"Hello," he said openly, studying her face, "I'm Aegis Smithson, second year, NOT class A. But you can call me Gus, everyone does. Well, except for Mr. Sid."
After a moment of surprise at finding out he was a year above her, she took his extended hand seriously, and shook it once. Charlie nursed a growing suspicion, but decided she should be fair and give her schoolmate the benefit of the doubt.
"I'm Charlene Chapel, or Charlie," she offered, then continued after an uncertain pause, "first year, EAT class B."
"Oh, I knew it," Gus nodded, his deep voice rising slightly in excitement, "I thought it was you."
"Have we met?"
"No," Gus answered quickly, "But you're kinda famous around here. The only first year in the EAT class without a Weapon partner. Top ten for academics, and a skilled fighter who can go toe to toe with most the second years and even some third years. And if the rumors are right, Lord Death is considering making you a two-star Meister, which only a handful of first years have ever done, the last two being Death's own son, and Maka Albarn. It's a real honor to meet you"
"Do you always talk this much, Gus?" she prompted, torn between amusement and annoyance.
"No, not usually," he confirmed without a moment's hesitation, "Only if I'm excited, or nervous, or both. Not that you make me nervous Charlie. But Lord Death kinda does..."
As if the god heard his name being spoken, the doors finally opened.
"Come in, come in," Death's voice echoed out kindly. Charlie walked forward confidently, and Gus struggled to keep up with her longer strides. The normal hallway suddenly shifted into the odd and deadly path that led them into Death's domain.
"Charlie, Gus, how nice to see you both," the specter greeted them cordially.
"Yes, thank you," Gus sputtered, "Hello, Lord Death."
Charlie merely inclined her head slightly, trying not to look too suspicious of their leader. She must have failed, because Death 'frowned' slightly, and his tones grew more serious.
"You two must both be wondering why I asked you to come here," the god said evenly, "I have a new mission for both of you."
"Charlene Chapel, Aegis Smithson, I am hereby appointing you two as partners. Your primary task will be to get Gus to the level of Death Scythe."
Gus's face split in a huge grin, and Charlie scowled deeply at both of the men.
Author's Note: I am posting three new projects today, and after two weeks, whichever one proves the most popular, I will continue.