Chapter Nine: Endgame

[Bang! Bang! Click!] "No, no, NOOOO- GACK" Black Dahlia's screams were cut short by a hand reaching around her neck. The sickening crack that followed echoed throughout the Tower. "Pathetic. I expected more from the infamous Medici Mafia." Stranghoul said in disgust as she dropped Black Dahlia's body. She turned to face Zach, who was glaring at her from the back of the elevator, "Come on Zach, aren't you going to at least commend me for killing your mother's murderer?" Zach said nothing, nor had he for the past week. He hadn't slept in days and his eyes now had black circles around them. He had kept his eyes open and watched her murder every single person in the Mafia, including Cerebella. She wasn't doing this out of revenge or as a favor to him, she did it to show her power.

He was deceived right from the beginning, all for the selfish desires of another. People were going to die because of him. He couldn't bear to sleep knowing he inadvertently caused all of this, and even now, he wondered what his friends would think of him. Pathetic. Traitor. Evil. As these thoughts rushed through his head, Stranghoul stepped up beside him and forcibly turned his head to face her own. "What's the matter, Zach? Feeling lonely?" she said, mocking him by doing an impression of his mother. He said nothing in reply.

"If you want, I can fix that." She said as she moved her fingers in a tip-toe motion across his shoulders before Zach knocked her arm off of them. "Hmph, if you're not going to say anything, then I'll decide for you!" Stranghoul exclaimed as she hoisted Zach up onto her back, surprising him, "We're going to pay a little visit to your 'friends', won't that be fun?" Zach froze and his eyes widened, but again he said nothing. She leapt out of the nearby window, not even bothering to shield herself from the glass, and landed in the street below. The shock of the fall startled Zach, but eliciting no real response from him.

The Maplecrest Park was the old meeting place for Zach and his friends. Now, it was where Filia went to look for a hiding spot from the Skullgirl. At least it would be, if she wasn't about to start a fight with Matthew. Matt was trying to convince Filia to leave the area while she remained skeptical about him. "Filia, you have to trust me, just this once, it's not safe here!" "Why should I trust you?" "BECAUSE I TRUST HIM." She looked to her left and saw Carol, "Carol?" "THE SKULLGIRL IS-" [Slam!] Matthew, Filia, and Carol turned to see Stranghoul landing several feet away from them. "Right here." Stranghoul said with a smirk.

Letting Zach down from her back, Stranghoul reveled in the shocked looks from his friends. He could tell exactly what they were thinking, and he didn't like it. Grinning widely, Stranghoul said, "While I've done my fair share of killing for the day, what's three more added to the body count?" Samson, having stayed quiet for most of the earlier argument, was having none of this and popped his face out, "If you're trying to kill her, you're going to have to go through me!" Stranghoul just laughed, "I'll take that as advice!" Matthew wasn't going to go down quietly, "Why are you doing this?!" Stranghoul grinned again,
"If this is the power the Skullgirl has, what's the point in letting it go to waste? Now that that little introduction is out of the way, I'm going to- OOF!" She had been struck in the back of the head by something hard. The rock hit the ground and she turned to see Zach standing with an intense glare on his face. "Leave. My. Friends. Alone." These words were spoken with more anger than he had ever expressed before.

"Why you impudent little..." Stranghoul said as she prepared to grab Zach. Dodging under her legs, Zach punched her in the back. As she turned around, he leapt over her and kicked her, knocking her onto the ground. "Get up, I'm not done hurting you." he taunted. Rising up immediately in response, she tried to grab him by the neck, only for him to duck and uppercut her square in the jaw. "How?" She asked; she had unlimited power and yet she was getting her ass handed to her by the very same boy who had let her get those powers. "I've been studying you for the past week, watching your moves. You've been haphazardly throwing yourself in front of attacks because you know you can take it, but now your body is weak and you have so little experience using this power. And now I'm going to end this once and for-GKK!" Zach's explanation was cut short as he suddenly found Stranghoul's hands grasping his neck.

"I may not be able to control this power, but I do know one thing, and that's how to kill an annoying little brat!" As her grip tightened, Zach felt the air being cut off from his lungs. He had failed again. Why had it been so hard for him to succeed, even once? Stranghoul's smile stretched across her entire face as she choked the last living ounce of strength out of him.

Stranghoul felt a sharp object in her back. Howling in pain, she dropped Zach and saw Carol stabbing her with a massive spike from her wrist. Samson was helping too by tearing into the freshly made wound with his teeth. After Samson spit out the unappetizing piece of flesh, Filia and Carol then moved out of the way to make way for Matthew's fireball. The fireball hit right inside of the rip in Stranghoul's skin and hit the spot right where the Skull Heart was at. She screamed in agony as her tissue tore away, leaving behind the burnt husk of a skeleton, and that too turned to dust. All that was left was the Skull Heart.

They stared in awe of the Skull Heart, although Filia finally had her chance at a wish. "Now's your chance, kid! Make a wish!" Samson yelled. Without missing a beat, Filia said, "Skull Heart, I wish-" "NO!" she was cut off by Zach grabbing the Skull Heart by one hand. "The only thing the Skull Heart has given consistently is death and destruction! I'm ending this right now!" Zach smashed it with both hands, causing a explosion of blue energy. "You fool! All you've done is cause a minor setback! Your interference means nothing!" it screamed. "Goodbye, and good riddance." Zach said, making no effort to disguise his relief. The others stared in shock of what he had just done.

"Egrets, assemble!" cried the voice of an older woman. It was Lady Parasoul, the current ruler of the Kingdom and leader of the Black Egrets. "Hold on," she said, halting the advance of her men, "where's the Skullgirl?" Zach stepped up, "I destroyed her and the Skull Heart." She raised her eyebrow disbelievingly, "Pardon?" Zach spoke up louder, "My name is Zachary Oleander Gallows, and my father is Weapons Specialist Gideon Gallows. My mother, Agatha Gallows, was found murdered in my apartment home in the Winterbrook district." He paused to let Parasoul soak in the details, then continued, "After my initial grief, a spirit posing as my mother swayed me to find the Skull Heart. After defeating the now late Skullgirl, she revealed her true colors and used the power to become the new Skullgirl, which she then used to utterly decimate all of the Medici Mafia. She then tried attacking my friends here, at which point I stuck. After the initial blows were made, she nearly strangled me to death, but the timely intervention of my friends save my life and ended her's. When Filia attempted to wish upon it, I destroyed it before any damage could be done. And that is everything you need to know, Lady Parasoul." He took a bow.

"Zach, is that really you?" One of the Egrets said as he made his way to the front of the formation. He took a closer look at Zach. After confirming his suspicion, he took off his helmet revealing a man who looked suspiciously like an older version of Zach: his hair was cut identically, his eyes were the same color, and even his facial structure was similar. "Zach it is you!" It was Gideon Gallows in the flesh. "Dad? Dad!" Zach started to run towards his father, but he soon started to stagger and fell onto his knees. The last thing he saw before blacking out was his dad trying to catch him before he hit the ground.