Puzzling Truth

Aeolus
Advanced Pilot
Aeolus
Advanced Pilot
Joined: 6:42 PM - Mar 07, 2009

1:00 AM - Mar 17, 2010 #1

Hello, audience. This is a notice that Dragonwolf and myself like to be gruesome writers, and this arc in particular is nothing short of gruesome. Please take care and remember that the material contained will be of a sensitive and gorny manner. Thank you.

Your resident wyrmness,
Blackie


"Yes. Shackles, like all matter, are defined by resistance."
"Do not tell me," I said to them, "what is defined by resistance."






Welcome.

It is a cumbersome and strenuous tale we have woven, and still this tale has not reached its end. We have written the writhing misfortune of characters most unlucky, characters most pained, beaten, unforgiven. It has proven to be a long and tiring journey for our sad companions.

But they have yet to suffer.

This is only the first few steps to a much grander tale, to a story that will be riddled with agony and pleasure, hell and fire, love and lust. This installment encompasses the virtues of loyalty and trust, and the trials braved to achieve such devil-may-care qualities.

Here are the steps we have already taken, the distances we have already crossed.

We have a lovely gentleman here. His name is Rosen von Dayne. If you peek into his pretty, black soul, you may observe a number of scars that spell nothing to him. The story began with this fine young man paying a visit to a hardware store in the peaceful town of Terrone. Communications at home were amiss, you see, and on top of that he needed materials and advice for overhauling his Zabat.

Speaking of the Zabat, that dreary, confused creature was parked right outside, watching him disappear into the store. It's a rather gentle zoid, and a relatively unhappy one at that. Even with a modified head with an operable jaw, it holds no high regard for itself. This creature has lived with the fear that, should it reveal its capacity for sentience to its beloved pilot, Rosen von Dayne, our blood-craving gentleman would scrap the poor thing. And so, to even this chapter it has done all in its power to restrain itself.

And then there is Wolf. She is our fellow protagonist, a lost soul who hails from Earth and has yet to plant her roots on Zi. She, too, carries the scars of a ravaged past: a fine addition to our unfortunate friends, a rarity among our collection of selfless and self-destructive characters. Spirited away from her home and imbued with foreign blood, she can only look forward to a fate she is unable to read.

In soft, silent Terrone Town, the Zabat awaited the return of her pilot, Rosen von Dayne, as he commenced business within the hardware store. During the wait it was visited by a cheerful Wolf and her companion, an organoid named Zerovex.

Good, faithful Zerovex. Best described as a weredragon, he is tall, powerful, and handsome. He is not Wolf's organoid, no. He belongs to the man who so graciously opened his home to Wolf, Fueur Yajumaru. But Fueur is hardly imperative to the story! No, it is Zerovex who plays an integral role. For you see, without him and without Wolf, our dear Rosen would not have survived the next encounter.

Rosen has the unfortunate honor of being raised by the Serenaders. These are a collection of persons thrown together to form a company of crusaders, although they are better compared to a lineup of disgruntled, traumatized bandit-figures. Seranaid is the leader, the mind behind what noble operations they managed. Avon is her little brother. Pravus, Seranaid's trusted lover and right-hand man, is the conspirator behind most of their schemes, to which wonderful Seranaid is somehow totally oblivious. Their subordinates are as follows, from top of bottom: Six, Nate, Charlie, Ed, Metzger, Silvia. This is important! Study them, you'll need it for the test!

...No, perhaps such expectations are too high.

At any rate, the Serenaders were disbanded quite some time ago, and Rosen is just an ex-Serenader. He would have ranked above Silvia if he were still one. Ah, but here in Terrone they make a comeback! Somebody has pointed the accusing finger at Rosen, and none quailed to follow. As he departed the store, he was unhappily ambushed by Six, Silvia, and Metzger. He would not have slipped away if it were not for Zerovex's intervention and Wolf's assistance.

Now, Rosen is a frightening man, or at least he is in Wolf's eyes. The poor girl was stuck with him in the fleeing Zabat, subject to what rage he was unable to rein in. She must have been most joyous to know the organoid Zerovex was controlling the Zabat: with a mere toss of the hapless zoid's head, our angry gentleman was kept in check. That night they all slipped to their respective homes so that they may mull over their experiences.

Surely, they did not think their troubles were over. The following day, Rosen was arrested as a suspect of murder! Who could possibly contradict the police and say it had been Silvia posing as him? This is where the Zabat fails in its guise: believing the threat to outweigh the consequences, the Zabat takes to the skies right in front of Rosen and flies to find the one person who can help clear his name. How ever did the Serenaders mastermind this?

The Zabat did bring Wolf and Zerovex back. Together, they pursued the police back to their headquarters on the edge of New Helic, but no sooner than their arrival they were met with defensive turrets! The Zabat should have complied with their demands to leave the area. Poor Wolf, poor Zerovex hanging from the wheeling, spiraling zoid! Inside the prison, a most suspicious entity spotted Rosen's entrance as a delectable time to initiate her next scheme. Seranaid merely signaled from the bars and the prison complex was thrust into disorder.

Rosen ran. Oh, he knew not the ordeals that awaited him. He diverged from the crowd of fleeing criminals into the trees, where the Zabat, Wolf, and Zerovex had landed after making a successful getaway. The reunion was most bittersweet. Alas, Rosen knew that he may well be doomed without young Wolf's testimony and assistance, and so accepted her offer of help and proceeded with their mission.

To Six's base, the third-in-command of the Serenaders! Surely he had answers; the six-fingered man had been one of the three who'd attacked Rosen only the previous night in Terrone. He was not a very welcoming host. Curious, zoid-loving Wolf found a friend in the one-and-only Hiou Liger there, and zoid-ignorant Rosen bumped into Six. After a grapple with Six's Storm Sworder FX and a death plummet in the open skies of New Helic City, our treasured heroes fled into the mountains and left Six to the vultures that we know as law enforcement. As they did, another important figure stepped in to thwart Six's lies...

Beaten and battered, our heroes slunk into the forest and proceeded to recuperate. Dear Wolf had been bleeding from the head, and dear Rosen tried to assist his unexpected ally by bandaging it, but it seems he does not react well to blood. Hers in particular seems to spark bouts of nostalgia and haywire senses. How queer! Why ever would her blood induce such reactions as opposed to the blood of any other sweet, gentle, normal person?

Why ever indeed...

After a bit of innocent conversation, our weary Rosen wandered off, leaving Wolf to speak with our still-shy Zabat friend. And what timing, for we have ourselves the arrival of a most curious figure: an organoid who flits on delta-shaped wings and boasts a pelt of fine, metal fur. He discovered one of the Serenaders adrift in the forest and led her straight to Rosen! Silvia, directing a proud, crimson Descat, leaped out at the frightened man and chased him off in a storm of jeers and laughter.

Needless to say, our double-teaming-duo of protagonists was in an uproar! They took their zoids and awaited Silvia's arrival, and much to their fortune, the lowly Serenader was quite inexperienced. Not so much to their fortune, a Spinosapper with optical stealth ambushed them! This man is named Charlie. He was a psychologist before he was, ahem, coerced into becoming a Serenader. The situation turned rather sour for our heroes, but lo and behold, two fine allies stampeded in the save the day: Aeolus Spades, our dear Rosen's one and only friend, and Bloodstone, a most faithful and powerful zoid under the command of Wolf's friend and another inhabitant of Fueur's base, Tobias Shift Diavolo.

Too much? Terribly sorry, truly!

Aeolus stormed the battle through the might of the black Liger Zero Caesar, whose gilded blades immediately frightened Silvia to flee. But she could neither outrun nor outfight the duo, and so her Descat's head was claimed. Rosen and Wolf did not fare so well against Charlie and his Spinosapper! No, the Zabat was split open, and it was only by a stroke of good fortune that Wolf and her Hiou Liger Zero friend cut down the Spinosapper. When Aeolus and Bloodstone returned, it was not for long — a situation of utmost urgency called them away, with our fine young Aeolus promising he would come back.

Thus commenced interrogation, Charlie presumably dead and Silvia at their whim. Wolf did not like Rosen's method of questioning. Oh, no, not one bit. After delivering a solid punch, our battered gentleman staggered away and left Wolf to question Silvia on her own. Silvia? That poor girl, she was shot, and by none other than Charlie. Charlie took Wolf away, and thusly, when Rosen returned, he returned to a dismal, shattered battlefield and only Silvia's bleeding corpse.

He went home with Aeolus, as well as the Zabat, the Hiou Liger, and the Spinosapper. Where was Zerovex in all this time? What of the organoid with the delta-shaped wings, the metal hairs, the eternal smile wrought across his steely maw? Wolf was made to visit one of the Serenaders' homes. It was there she was locked away in a cell crusted with blood, cell S-9, the same cell that Rosen once inhabited during his days as a guinea pig. I do wonder who was the cause of all that blood. Hmm.

Wolf. Poor dear, she had to put up with a half-sane psychologist, the large and intimidating (but in truth friendly) Metzger, the not-so-intimidating and generally happy Ed, an angry ex-barber we call Nate, and the magnificent cherry on top, Pravus! Oh, but dear Charlie died. It was a gory scene, much too much to even think of summarizing. Laden with shards of glass she'd taken from broken lights, Wolf did her utmost to escape, she did. And she failed. But oh! Rosen came to her rescue!

...But he also failed.

And this, all of this, was only in the previous chapter. It doesn't end there! Wolf discovered that her blood produced queer effects in figures such as Rosen and Pravus — zoidians! But were they zoidians? Pravus must have been, but Rosen? Rosen, who could not hear the secret voices of zoids, who did not believe in life within machines? A zoidian? Perhaps, perhaps. The organoid with the metal fur and the eternal grin appeared once more, introducing himself as Rowl. He's quite the friendly fellow, ever so polite! No one really likes him, however. Such a shame. Even the leader of the Serenaders herself made an appearance!

They escaped in the end. Aeolus stormed the base, borrowing Wolf's Hiou Liger Zero friend, and with the police at his back no less! Ed and Metzger disappeared over the cliffs, Nate was felled, and Rowl rescued Pravus and Seranaid from a fate of handcuffs and iron bars. Unfortunately for our heroes, he took it upon himself to take Rosen away as well, a gift to the Serenaders and a surprise to our friends...

Over that time, they had collected another collection of allies: a Cannon Spider that was kept underneath the base where Wolf had been imprisoned, an experiment of Charlie's, who was named Galileo by the bloodied girl after a torturous life of madness induced by sheer boredom; Wolf also found a friend in Jingles, a Geno Saurer who Pravus had claimed after a mysterious catastrophe at the lab Jingles was raised in. Now who could have been behind that?

And this is where we come to our current point in this splendid, riveting tale of tormented humanity. The authorities are scattered and set to pursue the Whale King that carries Rosen, Pravus, and Seranaid. Wolf has been given medical assistance, Aeolus is consoling confused and despairing zoids, and Rosen is left to face the reasons he exists as he does now.









Yes, that was all only a few steps into our story! You must have read it all, surely. Yes? Then you will be in need of refreshment, no? Fresh air?

Fear not. Get up while you still can! Recuperate. Walk away.

Just relax.

There were many details to look through, after all. This was quite the embellished summary. Let it all drain from your mind, your body, before you can proceed with the tale.

Just relax.

Just relax...

Let it all slip away...

Yes, there you go.

Release your strain.

And sleep...


















[color=b4cdcd]"Easy, Zabat."[/color]

The Zabat groaned hopelessly and tossed its head, wings fluttering as though to shake away the sense of defeat that had frozen its circuits since the battle.

"There's a good Zabat. You know, I've never seen you this animated. Was it Rosen getting taken away? Is that it?"

There was nothing to discuss. Even if the zoid knew how to speak, what was there to say? Rosen was gone, abducted by the same people who'd contorted his sense of self, the same people who'd murdered its first pilot and used it as an accomplice to many of their previous schemes. People died because of them. The Zabat wondered for one dim, fleeting moment if zoids had died because of them too. And now Rosen was probably lost to them.

Nothing could save him.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE FOUR WINDS
NEW HELIC CITY
11:29 P.M.
Long after the Zabat returned from repairs, the weight of its failure had mostly dissipated, leaving them with a very tired husk of a zoid. By then the Zabat's hopelessness had bled away to mere droplets of defeat, but rather than dwell on depressing issues of its weakness and Rosen's possible fate, the zoid had convinced itself to begin willing for a sign of good luck. Surely not all was lost. It was only a matter of driving onward until the right opportunity presented itself, until everything was in alignment again.

The Zabat wished it wasn't so exhausted.

Currently the Zabat roosted inside the hangar of HQ, Aeolus's base, Rosen's home. Their home. Faintly, the zoid recollected the unfamiliarity of the dark hangar when they had first been shown in, the cold walls of the vast chamber, the unmoving Shadow Fox who even now stood silent in the corner of the place. The lights flickered even back then and a chill wind often made its way into the hangar. The Zabat remembered a slight sense of awe and a slight sense of unease, and that was a feeling that Rosen shared, something that had been plain on his wary face months ago.

Now he was not here. What the zoid saw now was the same silent Shadow Fox in the corner, Charlie's Spinosapper hovering nervously near the wall, and a grim, solemn Aeolus working away on the bat's joints. The mechanics had only been expected to fix its broken canopy and Mischief's. Aeolus himself would perform the overhauling that Rosen had initially intended to do, the oiling, the correcting. Perhaps the human had picked up on its lethargy and was compelled to do this to help. Maybe all the Zabat needed was a bit of renovation to feel refreshed.

It was sad to see him so silent. Aeolus was always chipper, always in good humor, and he was the one who helped Rosen and the Zabat during desolate times, he who taught Rosen how to chuckle. The struggles, admittedly, had been great between the two: Aeolus's demeanor hadn't quite been compatible with Rosen's tendencies to lash out. And yet somehow, the young man had undone a bit of Rosen's conditioning. Over time Rosen had slackened considerably and even came to play around with Aeolus.

Black and white, who said they were forever mortal opposites, unrelenting enemies? Now, without his opposite, Aeolus seemed to have lost a part of himself. But something burned in his warrior spirit. Even while the young man closely corrected her wing, something told the Zabat that he was determined to look for what he lost and take it back. The zoid, too, wanted to take back what was stolen.

And Wolf —

When is Daddy coming back?

The Zabat raised its head, and so did Aeolus. They had heard the worried voice of a child, a young girl no less, and yet it bore the digital distortion of a zoid's speaker. They glanced toward Charlie's Spinosapper, who fidgeted and pawed at the hangar floor with her foot. The scrape of metal echoed gravely throughout the alloy corridors of HQ.

There was momentary silence. Aeolus seemed to regard the Spinosapper with his holly-hued eyes before he stood tall, his foot on the joint of the Zabat's left wing. The bat inclined its head but could not get a view of him.

"He's not," was the answer. It sounded terrible against the Spinosapper's concerned, frightened voice. So flat, so soulless, and at the same time so apologetic. Aeolus was restless. How was he to explain to a zoid what death meant, especially a zoid that acted like it had the soul of a little girl? How could he explain to the Spinosapper that her daddy was dead? "Remember when I took you home? And he wasn't there?"

The memory made his gut churn with waves of sickness. It was a downpour out there and even now still rained heavily. The droplets were cold and fat, running down the Spinosapper's amber canopy when she lifted it to the sky, crying out when she couldn't find her daddy. Charlie. He only knew it was Charlie because the police had found the man's corpse in a black trash bag back where they'd found Rosen and Wolf. Somehow the image had brought pain to his chest and an ache to his stomach. He was still shocked by how life-like zoids could be, and to see one crying for who she thought was her father was not only eerie, but it was agonizing. Zoids were more than capable of human emotion.

"He can't come back," Aeolus concluded, and he returned to his task. Part of him feared that the Spinosapper would begin bawling at any time like a child. But the Spinosapper only continued to fidget, glancing around at her unfamiliar surroundings, not unlike how Rosen did when he first set foot into this strange place. The truth of the matter was that she simply did not know how to actually cry. Even if she imitated the soul of a lost child, she was at best a shoddy imitation of the daughter Charlie had lost to Pravus years ago.

"It's horrible," Aeolus muttered as he worked. The Zabat presumed he was speaking to it, and so twitched an ear but still could not turn its head enough to see him tightening a bolt. "I got the call from Stephen about the guy they found in that place. He was in bits and pieces and was stuffed into a trash bag in the kitchen. Probably the guy who piloted that Spinosapper, and probably the guy she keeps calling daddy." Exhaustion punctuated his voice. The Zabat wanted to tell him to take a break, but all that came out was a feeble, squeaky drone. He glanced up and rested the wrench for a second. "I remember the Spinosapper from the clearing. It's so hard to believe... This girl was the same one who almost ripped you in half!"

The Zabat whirred dismally and glanced toward the Spinosapper. She seemed so cornered, so afraid...

"Her name's Alma," Aeolus went on, rubbing his shoulder. He was wearing a simple city-camo T-shirt for the night, black-and-white camouflage, with a pair of desert camo jeans that felt rough against the Zabat's metal body. "She has a name and everything..."

The rain grew loud. Both of them glanced outside to the downpour, where the rain spattered against growing pools of cold water and splashed into the entrance of the hangar, reflecting vast stretches of nothing and a few stray, flickering lights. This was such a depressing place. It was no wonder Aeolus only ever lingered here in the daytime. The rain roared in the Zabat's ears, its green optics glowing through the dim lighting, accentuating a gloomy scene of repressed science fiction. Aeolus sat still on the Zabat's wing while the rain's reflection blurred in his crimson and emerald eyes.

"What now?"

The Zabat was not certain. It crooned and watched the weather contemplatively, although nothing came to mind.

Yes, what now?

A blip arrived on the radar. The bat perked, which drew Aeolus's attention, and the zoid strained to see through the rain. The IFF signature read friendly, so it had to be that strange Geno Saurer, Jingles. He had scoped out the cliffside base that had belonged to one of the Serenaders, Nate, who was probably in questioning or in jail now. Questioning could take hours at a time, right? Jingles was also coming back with that girl, presumably. She was supposed to be done with the doctor.

A figure finally loomed through the nighttime rain. Red eyes pierced the dark, and a great shadow thrust itself across the hangar floor while the Geno Saurer boosted into the entrance. Aeolus shivered whether it was from the rush of air or from the sight of the Alpha-class zoid towering over them. The Zabat had to admit it was a bit scary, but this was a friend they were dealing with...

They waited for Wolf to come out, if she was with Jingles. Jingles came to a heavy halt and his weight made the Headquarters of the Four Winds tremble, and his tail thrashed behind him. Aeolus looked on silently, his somberness punctuated by the lack of livelihood in his currently flat hair and the way his lean body seemed to sag. And where the Geno Saurer's body was betrayed by the red glow against his face, the Zabat's form was betrayed by a green light that almost amplified the green in Aeolus's left eye.



o.o.c.; 50k collected upon completion
for beginning the roleplay during
the Site-Wide event.
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<a href="http://z7.invisionfree.com/GZ_RPG_Etern ... opic=11055" title="Where did we go wrong? What did we not see?" alt="Where did we go wrong? What did we not see?" target="_blank">Aeolus Spades</a>
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Renso von Dayne Dr. Blackwood
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Dragonwolf
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Dragonwolf
Advanced Pilot
Joined: 11:03 PM - Jun 22, 2007

1:30 AM - Mar 17, 2010 #2

Unfortunately for the doctor, he was young and male.

"She... She threatened me."

The nurses looked at the new and inexperienced doctor, and started to laugh.

He was not amused. "She gave me a death threat!"

"That's nothing unusual," One smiled. "We get tons of people who hate hospitals, or who are here against their will." She patted him on the shoulder. "It's a bit different in the E.R. than from the children's hospital, isn't it, doctor?"

When he gave her an exasperated look, she dipped her head. "Don't worry. We'll call in Dr. Keijak."

At this, the doctor raised his head. "What? But..."

"But," said she, "females after trauma tend to do better with female doctors. You ought to remember the number one rule of the E.R. when dealing with pateints." The nurse turned away, her little white shoes clacking loudly on the linoleum floors.

The doctor looked at his clipboard, defeated. But the he furrowed his brow and raised his head. "Number one rule?" He called out, and the nurse paused and looked back.

"Don't take it personally."




A curious peering over the edge of the stone wall showed her the depths of the well. It was dark, and the air coming out of it was cold. She could not see the bottom.

Then she was falling, falling, her heart fled into her stomach, a headfirst dive into complete blackness. and though her eyes were open, she still couldn't see the bottom. Then she was engulfed, surrounded, a turn of the head showing her the bright disk of sunlight, now as small as a penny from her distance. Then, even that went out of sight, and suddenly her body was flipping and twirling over and over in the seemingly endless fall, but the girl found that if she shifted her weight, even if she could only barely do it, she would change direction. And after a lot of falling, the girl found she still was not used to the sensation. Time passed and everything changed, and there were others, other people falling around her, but they were only apparitions. Men, women, children. All were falling. She came to not mind them, to not think about why they were there, for she had her own raging question to deal with. There was no bottom in sight, there was no ending, and so all she could think of was the beginning, all she was thinking was one raging, storming question: Did I fall, or was I pushed?



"Hello, Wolf."

She was not quite sure to expect. She never was. As an E.R. doctor, she had seen a lot of things in her career. But nothing prepared her for the moment where her patient raised her head to look at her, and their eyes married contact.

It made her hesitate. Those eyes were burned and blank and the first thing that came to Dr. Keijak's mind was the surface of a lake--you couldn't see what was under the dark, murky depths save for what was close to the surface. Other people's eyes. normal, healthy, happy people's eyes were more like a pool's: shining, sparkling, their emotions clear and visible as the weighted ring on the pool floor. But not this one, not this girl with her lake eyes, where the only thing close to the surface was a sort of unspeakable agony.

The girl said nothing and dropped her head again.

Wolf envisioned the previous doctor, looming in the doorway and for a split second, blocking the light, silhouetting something different. Then he stepped in and approached her, and all she could see was Pravus, reaching for her wrist, going to push her against the wall. Wolf snarled, and her frightened, prey eyes flickered up and saw the name-tag, which only displayed "N. I." And then it was over as quickly as it had begun, and the retreating doctor could never have known how vividly she had just relived her past.

A touch. Wolf flinched but didn't move too much, sensing the new doctor's maternal aura, her gentle caring. She disliked the contact but remained, letting the doctor examine her forehead, her wrist, her everywhere. She had to strip down, which took a bit of patience for Dr. Keijak to convince her to do, but in the following hour, when she had been needled and ointment applied and bandaged, Wolf stood at the back entrance with the doctor next to her, accompaniment until the large Geno Saurer arrived.



"Thank you."

It was the first thing the girl had said since she stepped into the Geno Saurer's cockpit. Their entire journey had been silent, Wolf solemnly staring out of the monitors at the passing scenery, the trees, the towns. It would have seemed so normal once before. Now she stared at it with cautiousness and dislike. How many bad people were strewn amongst them How many horrid things lurked in the spaces where their eyes couldn't manage, where their hearts wouldn't believe?

How many of those happy townsfolk thought nothing bad could ever happen to them?

After all, Wolf had thought, They're leading completely





normal




lives.






She now stepped into the hangar, the noise of Jingles withdrawing the pilot seat back into his chest a gentle whir. Wolf stood and looked around. The Zabat, the Liger, the Shadow Fox, the Cannon Spider, the Spinosapper. Her eyes rested on the Spinosapper and something in her mind twisted, and then she looked back to the Zabat, where a solitary figure rested.

The girl stayed where she was.

"Zabat. Are you okay?"

Her voice was flat, blank, apathetic, and she took note of this. The tightly-wrapped bandages on her forehead made it hard to raise her eyes too much, and so she lifted her head to blink up at the zoid as she walked towards it slowly. The white-haired man from before, Aeolus, was kept in her eyesight at all times. She wasn't worried too terribly about him; there were two zoids here that seemed like they would protect her if needed be.
<center>Home Base</center>

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Aeolus
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Aeolus
Advanced Pilot
Joined: 6:42 PM - Mar 07, 2009

6:07 AM - Mar 19, 2010 #3

The Zabat cast Wolf a look of apology. There was nothing in its power that could make up for everything, that could fix what had been fractured, undo what was done, sever what was committed. In truth, the zoid wanted to say it was not quite all right, but it did not know how to express that. So instead the bat just bobbed its head in a dismissive way. What the zoid had gone through was probably no worse than what Wolf had suffered, after all, what with being human and being the center of attention thus. The Zabat had no complaining rights.

Simple actions said a lot. At the very least, they did to Aeolus, who watched in mute observation. The person or thing you turned to first in a time of crisis revealed a lot about you, never mind that it might be a plush, a game, or in this case a zoid. Admittedly, the young man still had yet to expand his mind enough to completely view zoids as living individuals — a good amount of them were still as lifeless as mere machines. Not the Zabat. To see this strange girl turn to the zoid said many things. It said that, for some reason, either she took comfort in Rosen's zoid or she was simply concerned for the Zabat. Perhaps it wasn't that it was Rosen's zoid either. Perhaps it was the individual.

She had turned to the Zabat, not to him, and so he wisely folded his arms into his lap and watched the rain in silence. A low grumble echoed from the murky skies. Even the thunder sounded hesitant, sounded indecisive. Aeolus listened closely to what the girl would do. Would she speak more? Would she just stand there, lost? Would she wander? The hangar had grown utterly silent: even Alma, the Spinosapper, had ceased her restlessness to watch Wolf with a curious eye. Perhaps she did not recognize Wolf from the clearing.

The lights flickered again. It was beginning to bother him. This dim lighting that shut on and off, keeping them all suspended someplace dreamy, someplace surreal, it bothered him. He may as well just turn the lights off. Even if Aeolus hated the dark, he found the sound of the nearby rain to be soothing. If only nothing was wrong! He would have been in the mood to go out and shoot a few hoops. He always played a bit of basketball in the rain, and that always gave him an excuse to shower and pamper his hair a little more...

Jingles dripped with water, but he did not seem to notice. He scanned the flashing area and glanced over the humans there. The Zabat from before did not appear to have any structural damage, and the Shadow Fox seemed perfectly fine too. Something was off about the Fox. Although the zoid was silent and motionless, Mischief's frequency deviated a bit from the normal frequency of regular stock zoids. The Geno Saurer thought to call to the Fox, and yet the solemnity of the scene kept him silent, halted any sound that meant to leave his scarred throat. He, too, waited for someone to say something, his tail swishing tentatively at his back.

It was around then that Aeolus appeared to snap from his daydreams. He was working on the Zabat, wasn't he? He gave Wolf a somewhat tired glance before he picked up the wrench, readjusted his legs until he was comfortable, and resumed his task of correcting the zoid. The Zabat whirred somewhat in gratitude and somewhat in concern. Still unable to get him in its field of vision, the Zabat settled for looking at Wolf, green optics blinking sadly. The bat opened its jaws and emitted an almost inquisitive chirrup-rup?.

How about you? Are you okay?

Even if he did not pause in his task, Aeolus acknowledged the connection. So they are friends. And Jingles, too, observed this exchange, but as a stranger could think nothing of it. He was in unfamiliar territory. Perhaps dangerous territory. Lightning lit the skies behind him and boomed.



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Dragonwolf
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3:49 AM - Mar 21, 2010 #4

Wolf came to a stop enough before the Zabat's feet that she could still look up at it comfortably. She did not understand the zoid, and thus remained silent, blinking slowly. She turned and looked around the hangar, around the base, gradually realizing that she was no longer in capture, no longer in danger. Her eyes slid around the area, taking in everything, before her gaze connected to the zoid's. Dull brown touched lit emerald, and held it for a brief, suspended moment before the girl collapsed to her knees.

She was safe. She was safe, and no one was able to hurt her anymore. The liberation, after days of agonizing, tortured confinement, had seemed so impossible. She thought she was going to die. And now she was here, all right, and more or less in one piece. Just the sight of the hangar made her soul cry out that she was free, that she was alive. No more hiding out in forests, no more being kept prisoner. She had been kidnapped, and now she was safe. Safe.

Splattered circles darkened the floor beneath her. She was crying. And not silently, not suppressing shame--she cried out and gasped for air and sobbed.

"I'm safe," Wolf moaned, "Oh my god, oh my god..."

Her head was resting on her palms and the tears flowed freely down her cheeks, and onto the cold, steel ground.

She could stay safe. She could stop everything and go home, and be safe forever. Never again would she have to see the Serenaders, never again would she stare down another gun, or try to commit suicide to save herself from worse. She could go back now, and forget everything. Forget Pravus, forget Serenaid, forget...


...Rosen.

Oh, Rosen. Rosen. Wolf bled her agony into her tears, thinking of the poor man's fate. He was supposed to be with them. Instead, he was doomed to whatever destiny the twisted remnants of the Serenaders cooked up, doomed to their punishments until who knew when. Wolf thought of the taser and her throat scratched as she sobbed, because she had the choice to leave Rosen entirely and rid herself of the entire ordeal.

If she wanted, she could end it. Just go home, and let Aeolus and the Zabat deal with it. Oh, the poor Zabat, the one she had done everything for! To come all this way and then leave it!

"I'm sorry, Zabat!" Wolf cried. "I-..." I couldn't do it. "I'm sorry," I couldn't help you. "I couldn't save him."

The girl leaned back and grabbed at her hair. What to do? The hell she had spent with the Serenaders had put her in so much pain, and she just wanted nothing more than to get away from it, to leave it behind. But how could she? How could she abandon Rosen, after he risked everything to save her, to get her out? How could she abandon him? But how could she face the Serenaders once again?

"What do I do?" Wolf howled, "What do I do?..."
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Aeolus
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Aeolus
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6:02 AM - Mar 21, 2010 #5

How...do I describe this?

The anguish was clear before the Zabat. While Jingles and Alma looked on distantly, the Zabat observed almost with horror at the conflicting relief and sorrow that gripped the girl before it. Tears denoted the release of stress. Stress usually denoted pain and suffering. Something was hurting Wolf, and the zoid believed it understood what that was.

"I'm sorry, Zabat!"

Her grief seemed to darken even the most inconspicuous nook and cranny in the hangar, and all was heavy. It was not the same dominating presence that Pravus exuded. This was simply lamentation, a concept that the bat was slowly beginning to understand more and more.

"I couldn't save him."

This, this is...

One word was escaping the bat. It struggled to find the correct term in its database, and when it finally found what it was, the zoid immediately understood why.

Heartbreaking.

Zoids were not known for having hearts. Their origins lay in the essence of warfare, that for which they were designed, created. That was why a good amount of them were only as sentient as their artificial intelligence allowed. While the zoidcore was just as capable of development as the human brain, there was often no need to expand on it, since most efforts were invested in what was on the outside: equipment, weapons, performance. Yet even if the Zabat had somehow surpassed that hindrance, there was practically no point. The strange Geno Saurer had a better chance of helping Rosen.

And Wolf.

Excuse me, the Zabat signaled to Jingles. The Geno Saurer perked his head upon receiving a frequency of some sort, somewhat like a radio signal. Zabat had not the slightest idea of who he was, especially since Jingles had not been with Pravus prior to the disbandment of the Serenaders. Can you speak for me? I don't know how to communicate with Wolf aside from gestures.

The girl's anguish rent at Aeolus's soul. Even while he quietly worked away on the zoid, he listened with impartial judgment and let her agony sink in, and Aeolus turned away from the magnesser wing once he was finished with it. He crawled across Zabat's back to the other wing and proceeded to correct that one.

"What do I do? What do I do?..."

Even the boom of the rain and thunder did not match what emotion her voice bled. He could sense a great malady in her words, festering with a sick mass of regret and guilt and helplessness. Aeolus understood the feeling all too well. As with most men, he knew how to lock it away, and yet this one girl cried out to a former ache in his heart. His own suffering was not nearly so deep, he was sure. There was nothing that suggested he should worry about his own problems more than hers.

Besides, Aeolus never dwelt on himself anyway.

I could, answered the surprised Geno Saurer. But might I ask, who are you? You appear to be of a developed mind, Zabat. That is what you are, correct?

Yes, Geno Saurer. I am the zoid of Rosen von Dayne. Who are you?

I am Jingles. I was excavated and raised in a laboratory. It was destroyed one day, and the man Pravus took me as his own.

"Are you hungry?"

The question jarred both zoids from their silent conversation, but it became clear that Aeolus had directed it at Wolf. He was scrutinizing her now, his right eye obscured by white locks that had shaken loose, her reflection captured in intelligent emerald. His face was terribly solemn compared to its normal cheer. But it was also tired, the question sincere; from a glance he could see that the girl seemed practically famished. He was no expert to determine that she had not been regularly eating, but something about her features suggested a need for sustenance. Aeolus did admit that the question seemed highly irrelevant compared to what she'd been grieving about beforehand. Still, he hoped it was a step in the right direction.





Despite the lapse of time, the delirium had not left him.

Rosen was curled, trembling in the corner of his cell. It was most unlike the cell he used to occupy: there were more lights here and everything around him was alloy, much like HQ. However, the cell was smaller, and it was definitely not crusted with blood. It was so pristine and clean that he could see a distorted image of himself in the walls. It nearly drove Rosen to madness during the first few minutes of his stay.

It was no less cold, really. Perhaps that was why he seemed to accustomed to the cold, although he did tend to move about less. It made him sleepy sometimes. This time, it did no such thing. Rosen kept his face buried in his arms, kept his eyes away from any images of the world that surrounded him, kept his mind cloaked in complete shadow where the only visions were of the past and present and things abstract and undefinable. All was silent aside from the occasional distant bang and thud of some unknown source. During the intervals, he heard not the high-pitched whine of nameless ambiance but a dull roar of something else. His body periodically convulsed, and at times he sprang up and slammed his hands against the walls and threw himself around, antsy, restless, implacable. It was not out of anger, not out of despair. It was simply out of madness, some illusion of something ever crawling in his limbs that made him flail about until it subsided.

Rosen was still and staring fixedly into the darkness of his arms when he heard the cell door slide open. By then most of the blood-induced delirium had subsided, so he did not sense Seranaid's approach before she loomed in the doorway. The man quickly lifted his head and glanced back. For a moment he felt an inexplicable surge of panic at the woman, even though she was much less dangerous than Pravus, and he twisted around and pushed himself onto his feet.

Seranaid regarded him in something like sad silence. Those cherry eyes were unforgettable, eyes that carried a sense of nobility that had been twisted by some strange form of society and shadowed by confused conviction. As kind as the woman was, she had never treated him as an intelligent creature, merely a dangerous pet of some sort. Granted, it was her condescending endearment that conditioned the man to calm at certain factors — particular pats, controlled and authoritative tones of voice. He wondered in that moment if he ought to be grateful.

Still, he found himself more frightened than cool. Perhaps it was because he would soon meet some undesired fate. His capture meant that he had lost, that he had failed in this trial, and would soon be judged accordingly. Or at least that was Seranaid's style. His reason was broken underneath whatever unexplained madness had gripped his reeling mind, and the first thing that occurred to him was to behave in the primal way he was raised with. A mangled blend of a snarl and a loud whine escaped his throat.

The woman was not deterred. In fact, she extended her hand — one of those gestures that typically calmed him the way it beckoned a dog over. He hesitated, glaring at her hand for a moment, then at her face. It was dark from the shadows that the lights behind her thrust across the cell. Seconds ticked on, distancing the two until Rosen's instincts began to believe she was not a threat. Through the dull roar in his ears and the lurch of reality and hallucination in front of him, Rosen was almost desperate to believe that he would be okay. This one gesture of the woman extending her hand said so. He'd be okay.

Tentatively, he crawled forward toward this superior figure, toward this thing that had the power to completely alter his mind and snap his life in half. He didn't understand why, really. It just seemed that way. He crept forward until he put his chin in the palm of her hand, much as how an animal prodded its muzzle in as it sought a treat of some kind. Rosen flinched, awaiting a blow of some sort, but instead received an affectionate ruffle of the head. He instantly relaxed.

"What sort of world is this," muttered Seranaid, "that a man is reduced to a beast by his brethren?"

Her voice joined the dull roar in his ears, eerily discordant and resonating.

"One that loses control of itself and turns against the one holding the leash. Truly the failure of mankind's convictions, and a poor creature left over with nothing to hold on to..."

The woman sighed. She remembered how Rosen had attacked Pravus and taken Wolf, and as much as it perplexed, Seranaid found it easier to take Pravus's side in it all. He was the one who helped her maintain a sense of life and duty. As cruel as he often seemed, Pravus did show signs of kindness, the potential for something beyond the usual limitations of men. Unfortunately for the woman, she had no idea that it had all been a mere act on the zoidian's part.

"We will have to undo this blasphemy," she mused at the wall. "I'm sorry, Rosen. But you'll find release soon. Just wait a little longer, and you can meet Abaddon."

When Seranaid left, Rosen was kneeling at the bars and staring vacantly after her. He'd known well enough what that meant through the distorted reality in his head. He was going to die. Strangely enough, this did not upset him. Either it was the delirium, or he was crazy enough to believe he deserved such an end — and accepted it.

Good-bye Zi. Good-bye Aeolus. Good-bye Wolf.



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Sheryl Winter Vance Cloud
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Renso von Dayne Dr. Blackwood
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Dragonwolf
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7:17 AM - Mar 21, 2010 #6

She cried. She cried until there couldn't possibly be any tears left, and then they still came, and she was still weeping. Her anguish carried her past the difficult decision, past the fate of Rosen and the fate of herself, and back into things that had long since passed. She cried because she missed her parents, because her heart ached at the prospect of never seeing them again. She cried because friends, good friends, friends she loved and cared for were gone forever. She cried because her world was lost to her, and she missed it; she missed getting up every day and having something to do, and having an ultimate purpose to achieve, rather than wake up in Fueur's base and sit around, wondering what she should do.

Wolf cried at the thought of her parents waiting for investigators to find her, waiting and sitting through sleepless nights, and the tears they must be shedding, and her brothers, too, and how she'd become one of those announcements at the school that threw the building into wondering mourning, and how they'd say things, and there'd be a little empty seat where she would never sit again in all her classes.

Wolf cried because she was dead to her old world, and the new one put against her the decision to save her life, or risk it to save someone else's.

Everything that had ever plagued her since her landing weighed down on her on those few minutes. And then, as her weeping quieted to a constant, but low drone, a voice pierced the shadows that had been flung in her heart.

"Are you hungry?"

Slowly, the girl raised her head. The face that met Aeolus's eyes was a mess of wet cheeks and reddish skin, all the results of mourning, and bandages on her forehead. She was a wreck, and she felt the deepest, worst sensation of feeling sorry for herself, until the man's question suddenly distracted her and she actually thought about it.

Food. When had she eaten last? The other day, in the bloodied kitched in the Serenader's base? That had to be a day or two ago. At this point, the girl was almost used to the sensation of hunger, which started to seem like a little creature, gnawing away at her stomach, causing pain until she had eaten, where it would turn it's insatiable fangs to the new food in her stomach. The little creature that dwelled in everyone's bellies, hunger.

She used to hardly know the thing, back when meals were assured every day, and only extended breaks in hours, perhaps class or exercising, would prolong it at all. But on Zi, she had traveled for days without food, at first moaning after a day's passing worth of hunger-pain, and then growing used to it. Her meals were few and far-between--until, of course, Fueur took her in. But then the Serenaders happened, and the days stretched out where she would have nothing to sustain herself. Indeed, the usually average girl had grown skinny and weak as her body rapidly consumed it's own reserves of calories. It had subsided once she ate regularly at the base, but the girl had not yet regained all the healthy fat and general tone. So now her body, protesting at experiencing another such thing, started to fuel that little devil once again, and her stomach hurt.

The girl's gaze wavered, like grief had weakened her too much to even hold that. But slowly, she nodded, and shakily pushed herself to her feet. She stood, practically swaying, before taking small, defeated steps toward the zoid, to where Aeolus was.

"Should..." The voice was still drenched in the high-pitch of crying, and she paused to try to compose herself. "Should I wait here?"
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Aeolus
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8:34 PM - Mar 21, 2010 #7

Ripples of relief seemed to disturb the tension of the hangar. Aeolus sat back when she nodded and asked if she ought to stay, and he rested his arm over his knee, the wrench limp in his grip. He appeared to deliberate for just a moment before he settled on the answer.

"If you want to," said Aeolus, his voice cool and a bit more relaxed than beforehand. He regarded the darkened wall with idle wonder. "It's cold out here, though. And the lights don't flicker in the kitchen." As if on cue, the hangar's lights flickered in the same manner they did before, and he craned his head back a bit to give them his typical look of dislike. They would have fixed those lights long ago if they knew how to. He bowed his head again and shifted his weight, tightening his grip on the wrench. "Just give me a minute. Let me finish this girl here..."

The Zabat cocked its head curiously. It wondered how Aeolus came about assigning genders to zoids, particularly since the Shadow Fox had never shown an inkling of personality around them. The zoid was quiet for a moment before it glanced to Wolf. To see Wolf cooperating with the young man almost surprised it, as the bat knew well enough that Wolf probably had enough of strange persons, particularly strange men. Maybe Aeolus just did not count, as he lacked a certain intimidating aura. But that was fine. The Zabat was have been a little distraught if Wolf and Aeolus started off on the wrong foot.

While the young warrior adjusted its wing, the zoid turned back to Jingles. Pravus? I do not like him.

I have always had a bad feeling about the man. What can you tell me about him or the others? The Serenaders, if I remember correctly.

That is correct. Rosen von Dayne and I once worked beneath them. Long ago their cause was, as they described, righteous, but truthfully Pravus had more control over the company than the leader Seranaid did. I believe more harm than good was done through their operations. We were disbanded long ago, but for some reason they've returned for Rosen.

Jingles thrashed his tail and grumbled. He understood then that it was plausible that Pravus or some Serenader had been the one behind the destruction of his home, the laboratory. The Geno Saurer had just been the incentive or perhaps a prize. Now he knew he did not like with whom he had been associated, knew that he was better off here than with those people, even though more than half of the group had been eliminated in that altercation with the police. He glanced to the strange little man who had led the charge in the Hiou Liger standing off somewhere in the hangar.

"All right!" Aeolus called after hardly half a minute. He hopped down from the Zabat's back and gave the zoid an affectionate pat on the wing, to which the Zabat gladly chirped. "She's all done. Could do with some polish though." He strode to the zoid's head, skimming his fingers along the metal until he paused and gave the side of its jaw another pat. "Don't you worry. When he gets back, I'll make sure Rosen...uh..."

Where was I going with that?

"...something," he finished, glancing down to the floor. His mind tended to drift off like that. Then he glanced up and gave Zabat a playful prod. "Well, it has something to do with your personality."

Aeolus then approached Wolf with the same casual stride he often wore. Normally he would let her follow him into the kitchen if she wanted to, but from the looks of it, she seemed like she could collapse at any moment. He offered his elbow to the girl, whether it was for her to take or hold on to. There were plenty of things he could accompany the gesture with, and yet none of them came out of his mouth. He simply waited to see if she'd move forward without him, stay rooted to the spot, or accept the offer of assistance.



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10:12 PM - Mar 21, 2010 #8

She watched the man with a wary eye, staying rooted to the spot as he deliberated her answer.

"If you want to,"

The voice was almost as surprising as was her realization that she was safe. Unlike all it's predecessors in the last week, this one bore no hint, not a trace a malice, ferocity, predatory origins. It was almost soothing to her tired spirit, her raw hearing used to harsh orders and cold promises.

"It's cold out here, though. And the lights don't flicker in the kitchen."

She had not noticed it. Perhaps it just became a background, another dim accessory to the dreary surroundings. The man gave them a look of distaste, and had she been her usual self, had she been aright, she would have chuckled. But she merely stared at him blankly, simply waiting for the next action, the next step.

"Just give me a minute. Let me finish this girl here..."

She didn't bother to nod, just turned her look to the curious zoid she had befriended so many nights ago. The poor thing. If anything, the miseries of her old life were a joke compared to the lie it had to live. She regarded it somewhat sadly, wanting nothing more than to go up and wrap her arms around a metal talon in an awkward, interspecies hug. But instead she remained planted to the ground, watching the man known as Aeolus cautiously.

He had his back turned to her, and so Wolf took a moment to look over at the Hiou liger who had helped them so much for so very little. The rosy creature was tired from it's battle, and had dimmed her optics in rest. Wolf nodded slowly to herself, mouthing something, a word that the fantastic image of the liger had pulled to her mind.

"All right!"

Wolf's head snapped to Aeolus, her eyes followed him as he descended. She tensed as he was now closer, however, the pat he gave the Zabat (along with her gratuitous chirp) was a major bit of kindling for the trust she was desperately trying to light. The Serenaders had struck a major blow in her ability to feel safe around men, and now she sought to regain that, although the going would be slow and tedious to repair the scars that had formed. Aeolus's every word would mean something now, every sentence pushing him in a different direction in her tinted gaze.

"She's all done. Could do with some polish though."

The almost harsh scrutiny of her gaze lingered.

"Don't you worry. When he gets back, I'll make sure Rosen...uh...something,"

Strange. The man even spoke like her--or like she used to, with her hesitations of her wandering mind, and her frequent glances to other places when she could not pull up a sentence.

"Well, it has something to do with your personality."

It was such a casual action, but it seemed so sudden in her transformed outlook. He was suddenly coming her way, and the girl went rigid, her eyes burning holes into him that smoked with the fear and protest they spewed. Closer and closer he came, and her panic gently bubbled higher and higher, until the man stopped and it simmered there at that level. He was so close, and stronger than her. (Not many people were weaker than her nowadays, but it gave the same effect no matter what.) No doubt he could catch her if he wanted. But no, no, her mind struggled, he was a good person, a kind person. He had rescued her, after all, and tried to rescue Rosen as well. Slowly, Wolf relaxed, slowly. Even so, she couldn't resist a flinch as he outstretched his arm to her, and she hovered on the spot nervously, eying it with the strangest look of ambiguous indecisiveness.

There was a long pause in which she seemed to be frozen. Her hands were shaking as she stared at his arm like it was an alien object, and then at him like he was an alien. And then, finally, the girl outstretched a shaky hand, which stopped right above his arm. Wolf bit her lip, then lowered it, taking a weak hold of Aeolus's arm. And then she started to walk.

Perhaps the man had seen many things, or perhaps she simply looked worse than she thought, for he was accurate with his assumption as the girl's knees buckled slightly. She would have stumbled had she not caught herself by tightening her grip on his arm. But the sudden closeness of the action made her freeze again. Her grip tightened in her mental struggle, and finally, she seemed to be relaxed again, comfortable with holding onto Aeolus's arm, more or less comfortable to be near him.

Small steps. In her soul, too, she had to take small steps, as careful as the ones she took physically.
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12:13 AM - Mar 22, 2010 #9

What did they do to her?

Her every movement, no matter how small, failed to elude him. He could see the immense fear in her flinches, in the glimpses of her dark, secretive eyes he managed to catch. Aeolus stiffened when she fell against him and stood still, and it was only when her grip relaxed that he resumed movement. He slowly walked her to the doorway between the hangar and the room of operations, where a large computer was set up in front of a great marble table. As they gradually advanced he somewhat wondered if his gesture of goodwill had the same tone of politeness as it did whenever he was wearing a suit. It was much less formal, much less humble in his...camo T-shirt and desert-based military pants.

He lifted a thin hand to the number pad that was beside the door and pressed a large key, and the automated door in front of them slid apart with a weary hiss. What met them was a large alloy chamber, the massive computer against the opposite wall with a staircase right beside it, its screen dark and its systems sorely silent. Aeolus turned toward the right where light fell in from the kitchen. He guided the girl through that doorway to a room with a bit more width than the previous one, and he headed first for the little wooden table that seemed dwarfed by it all.

"Here." He pulled a chair back for her to sit in. The chairs did not match the table, being dark metal and with blanched cushions for the seat and back. Then the young man ambled for the nearest sink and turned the faucet on, and he ran his grimy hands underneath the cold water. He used the dish soap to get rid of the grime.

"You're welcome to use the sink," he went on, watching the filth wash away. "If you want to wash your face or something, I mean. Cold water's supposed to be good for crying. Reduces the swelling and all." He ran the water for a few more seconds before he turned it off and reached for the paper towel. There weren't any windows that led to the outside, which made the kitchen seem dreary and depressed, and Aeolus wondered why the devil his father had ever owned such a downhearted place. It certainly wouldn't be healthy atmosphere for his guest.

"I'm afraid we've only got microwave food," he said as he approached the fridge. Aeolus pulled it open and poked his head in to examine the contents. "So unless you mind, we can try to — I mean, I can go out and get something. Or I can throw a sandwich together or something like that." Right, Rosen wasn't here. It would just be him looking after the girl until things were sorted out. Aeolus raised his head and glanced over to Wolf. "What do you think?"



You can come in, you know.

The Zabat had noted how Jingles simply lingered at the doorway, indecisive and perhaps even nervous. It was strange to see any Alpha-class zoid act that way around the bat, particularly one of the infamous Geno Saurer model. Jingles cocked his head with some surprise at the invitation but stepped further into the hangar. The rain had been spattering against his back, or at least against his tail. He craned his head down gratefully to the zoid.

Thank you.

By this time, Alma had grown still in her little secluded spot. Perhaps she had grown bored or tired of the uneventful scene and had allowed herself to nod off. Jingles regarded her with some sadness, knowing that even though Charlie had been one of those who had brought misery to others, he had still been dear to the child-like Spinosapper. His tail swept to the side and Jingles looked down at the Zabat.

Who is the Shadow Fox?

The Zabat hesitated, and then it readjusted its position and stood up. The zoid stumbled in a circle to face said Shadow Fox.

His name is Mischief. We have never spoken, and I do not know if he can. But he belongs to the human who left with Wolf, Aeolus Spades.

After that, the bat tried to turn back around to face Jingles. The Geno Saurer decided to dismiss Mischief and proceeded to ask, And Wolf... Who is she? He recalled the image of Wolf attempting to cut herself open to take her own life, and even transmitted the memory to the Zabat, who analyzed it in grim but apologetic silence. What did she do to get caught up in all of this?

The bat lowered its gaze. We only met recently, and at the wrong time and place. Rosen was ambushed by the Serenaders and Wolf was there with an organoid, Zerovex, and they staved off the ambush. She's only been trying to help him. And when they took her away, Rosen took Mischief and I to attempt to take her back. That is what led up to the events that took place there. As the Omega zoid spoke, it too transmitted images of the scene it described, a picture of silent Terrone and Wolf running toward the Zabat, and then an exchange of flashing knives and a storm of missiles and fire. Jingles recognized the three that were there: Six, Metzger, and Silvia.

The battle. He recalled how Rosen engaged in combat with Nate's King Liger, and then the arrival of the police that scattered them. Then you are all just victims.

Something like that.

Jingles was troubled. He knew not what more he could say, what more he could ask. The Geno Saurer was willing to believe the Zabat. It confirmed his suspicions about Pravus and the others, and yet he knew not what to do. He supposed he had to leave it up to the humans to take care of the girl who had tried to kill herself, the girl who had been pushed into such a corner that she was willing to abandon life entirely just to escape. &#9632;



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Dragonwolf
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4:12 AM - Mar 29, 2010 #10

The girl followed him carefully--careful in her paranoid mistrust, not in the surroundings--her eyes alighting at the back of his head, and, as her vision flickered and wavered, so did the image of his figure distort. Her mouth opened slightly, lips pulling back over her teeth, and her shoulders rose and fell as if she was panting. Yet as they passed through the halls like ghosts, hardly a breath fled her lips. She felt like a spirit freshly departed from it's body, and Aeolus was the reaper, the gentle deity.

She stared at his ivory hair. An angel, she mouthed, an angel. The angel of death.

Perhaps she was already dead.

"Here."

She stared at the chair he offered, and then at him. Not a movement was made until he had turned away. Then, she laid her hands on the edge of the chair back and looked up at him. She was tired, famished, weak, and yet she could not lower herself into the chair. Perhaps her subconscious instincts knew that lowering herself would lower her defenses, and that kept her up, bent over the backing quietly.

Even the sound of the rushing water had an effect of some sort. Just the sheer normality of it made her sway, a sound she had always heard within the home, within a safe place.

"You're welcome to use the sink,"

She turned to look at him, her eyes blank.

"If you want to wash your face or something, I mean. Cold water's supposed to be good for crying. Reduces the swelling and all."

Ah, yes, crying. She had stopped, but the sorrow was still there. So had she really? Was not the emptiness in her gaze a form of mourning? She could not escape from it, from the sadness, the confusion. The pain. She could not get away from it as it chased her in her mind. No matter how hard she tried, she could not manage to be courageous, even determined, to help anybody. To help Rosen.

"I'm afraid we've only got microwave food,"

Food. Sustenance. Energy, life. Perhaps she would be able to sort things out better after she ate.

"So unless you mind, we can try to — I mean, I can go out and get something. Or I can throw a sandwich together or something like that."

She contemplated the words, her gut churning in a mix of hunger and guilt.

"What do you think?"

"Don't leave," The words came out instantly, and Wolf hated how frail her voice sounded. She paused, wavering. "Anything. Anything is fine."

Finally, the girl swallowed some unknown fume in her throat and descended into the chair. Another pause, and then she slumped forward onto the desk, sighing tiredly.
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4:14 AM - Mar 30, 2010 #11

"Don't leave."

Even if he had witnessed many painful sights, those two simple words were enough to shock Aeolus into turning toward her.

"Anything. Anything is fine."

That clinched it. The meaning of her words, coupled with the weariness and what shreds of security she barely clung to, pierced deep into the skin of his heart. There was no doubt they had done something to her. He was fully aware of how they had wronged Rosen, twisted him, and it was going to happen all over again. This was proof. She was proof. Proof that bandits, renegades were a people he could ever scarce forgive, never mind they, too, were human, never mind that they also were capable of celebration and grief. Nothing justified what cold, callous acts followed their designs.

Indignation numbed him from within, but he controlled the fluidity of his movement as he shuffled through the contents of the fridge. He needed to take care of her first. Wolf was at least in reach, so she stuck out to Aeolus as the immediate concern. He was hardly a nutritionist, so Aeolus merely glanced over those details and decided the main focus would be how long something would take versus how filling it was. She said anything was fine and he would stick to it. Aeolus found his hand closing around a box of small deep-dish pizzas, so he pulled that out and tossed it onto the counter. Those typically required a few minutes — didn't Rosen once point out that they were supposed to be frozen? — and he figured he should throw something quick together for her in the meantime.

It was strange to be making so much food at once for another person. Typically it was a simple course. Heating up a small pizza dish and slapping down a sandwich just seemed like a lot to him, and the young man drifted off into idle thoughts about such a feeling while he lined slices of turkey up with the slices of bread. He was about to apply cheese and condiments when it occurred to him that she might have had some sort of intolerance or allergy or something, and as he did not want to force her to talk any more than she had to, he just set the sandwich down beside her on a paper towel. Aeolus was not sure if she was going to push away the wheat bread.

Wow. I'd never worry about little things like that, he realized, and he felt rather ridiculous for it, but another glance at the poor girl reminded him that it was worth the fuss. The microwave was doing its job and hot food would be ready in a few minutes. If she didn't have any appetite left by then, then he'd just eat it.

Until then, Aeolus settled for leaning against the counter and staring at the blank wall. He had almost taken a seat right by her before remembering how she'd reacted to his approach, and the young man did not want to upset her much more than that. So he kept his distance, hoping she would settle, and he made sure not to seem like he was watching her or anything. The blank wall was certainly boring, though. His home back in Terrone at least had a kitchen with a window, and he could spend all night staring at the stars from the sink. Not here. Even so, it was nice to have all this space and freedom when the corridors weren't busy being creepy.

He jerked his head a tad when he heard a familiar and distant boom, boom, boom somewhere amid the headquarters. It was a phenomenon that happened a lot, particularly at night. He was used to it by now. Back then, it made Rosen edgy.

Rosen. He half-expected the older man to slink in like the looming shadow he was and scare them out of their wits just by being there, and yet the longer Aeolus stared at the doorway, the more he understood it was only wishful thinking. It aggravated him to be left in the dark like this. He enjoyed it when he left others bewildered, clueless, lost, but when he was robbed of that position and put on the opposite side, he fidgeted and squirmed with both fear and resentment. What was happening? Was Rosen okay? It couldn't have all been for nothing — pulling him out of that dismal alleyway, giving him a home, giving him a companion, showing him the world —

Undoing Spitze.

He glanced to Wolf to make sure she was eating. How much did she know about Rosen? They had only met a few nights back, if he remembered correctly. She had already witnessed a fraction of what was caged underneath. How much more of that thing had she seen?

Aeolus felt his concern press deep into his bones now. He needed to know what was happening. As of yet there was no information from the police, and he could only count on Stephen to give him any tidbits, and yet that single officer could have been in one of many situations that would render him unable to do so. There were no other sources to really turn to. He needed reassurance that Rosen was okay, or at least an idea of what was going down. He needed to know. Aeolus sucked in his breath and pulled out the slider phone, aware that this could very well avail nothing. But he had to try.

The slider clicked up and a blue light fell upon his face. He blinked at the brightness of the Shadow Fox wallpaper, or at least the red that blazed from its eye, and proceeded to scroll through his contacts. Cripes, he had a lot. Aeolus scrolled until he found Rosen's name and the number to the phone he'd given him.

His movements were slow, deliberate, hesitant. It seemed almost painful, but he slowly managed to click out one, simple text, a message touched by quiet desperation:
"Rosen, if you're there... Please say something."



A few seconds clicked away with him simply staring at the wallpaper. And then he lowered his hand to slip the phone into his pocket, an instinctive motion toward where such a possession would normally be kept safe.

Halfway there, the phone vibrated.

Hope rushed his head and he could have staggered if it was a physical sensation. Aeolus took a moment to register the revelation, and then he tried to push his hopes down in case it was merely someone else. Still, he hoped furiously that it was Rosen when he glanced at the phone screen, and lo and behold, he saw the older man's name. He was okay. Aeolus opened the message, his face written with relief.

He choked.
"Rosen ... is going to die."


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12:31 AM - Apr 26, 2010 #12

She stared at the sandwich for a moment, then reached out to pick it up. She held it without doing anything, her eyes flickering to Aeolus. As soon as his back was turned, she began to quietly eat, her gaze turned towards the table.

As she idly satiated her hunger, her vision seemed to glaze over. The girl didn't even notice the unexplainable booming, the noise becoming a background. Her hearing filled with shouts and roars and cries of battle. There was a trickling sensation out of her ears, and somewhere, in some unknown place, blood poured discreetly from them.

The microwave dinged. She startled back into reality. Looking down, she found she had finished the sandwich. Then, a familiar, soft clicking noise made her blink and turn her head to Aeolus. He was texting.

Wolf didn't ask. It was none of her business anyways. But the look on the man's face was curious. He finished the message and she scrutinized his expression, but Wolf was not particularly skilled at reading such things.

A buzz of vibration. It was a normal, everyday sound, but Aeolus's reaction was certainly not normal and everyday. Something was wrong.

The man read the message, paled, and her eyes narrowed.

The girl was on her feet before she was thinking. Without hesitation, she swiped the phone straight from Aeolus's hand, pulling away before he could stop her to read the message.


She stared at the words.

And stared.


Wolf looked at the sender: 'Rosen.' A nauseating hatred curled in her gut.

Pravus.

There was nothing she could do. Who knew when the act would be carried out? Who knew when the knife would fall? There was no hope! No amount of begging or pleading would sway the man. There was nothing to bargain with. Wolf's mind raced. What did a man like Pravus want? What did a man like Pravus need?

Then it was her turn to pale. Because she knew. She knew exactly what Pravus could, and would, use.

"Find our dear guest some bandages and something to clean her wound with,"

Wolf slowly reached for the 'reply' option.

Her head snapped up. She stared daggers into Aeolus, determined to keep him away from her. And then she turned to the message, and her trembling fingers started to tap out a message.

She knew it could have been Serenaid, but she knew even more that Pravus would find the message regardless. The girl was shaking, hesitating as she wrote. And all the while, her frightened eyes glanced up to make sure Aeolus was back, to make sure he wouldn't take the phone away from her. To make sure he wouldn't stop her.

Wolf knew what she was condemning. She also knew that no matter how much she denied it, she was a factor in whether Rosen would live or die. And Wolf had never killed a man before.

Charlie's bursted corpse. Silvia's crumple on the ground.

No! No! It wasn't her, it wasn't her fault!

They swarmed around her now. The images. Of everything. All the death, all the pain. Rowl. Pravus. Serenaid. Back through the bloody kitchen, back through the battle, back through the maze, back through the capture. Back through Charlie, back through Six's base, back through the plummet. Back through the very first night, when Rosen's nails dug into her shoulders and the Zabat's desperation was a sorrow deeper than she had ever known...

Wolf cried out and slammed the phone on the table.

message sent

She stood, panting, quiet tears carving her cheeks, and then collapsed into the chair. Her fingers grasped her hair in dreadful terror, and she no longer prohibited Aeolus from seeing the message.

Now to wait. Wait and wait and wonder, and Wolf stared at the phone, her breathing as rough as if she had just run a thousand miles, her eyes wide and terrified and staring at the phone, even as Aeolus might pick it up, even as Aeolus might scroll to the outbox and find her message there.

"I know what you want, Pravus. You don't need Rosen. In exchange for him alive, you can have me. And I don't want to see a fucking hair out of place on his head. You understand? I want him safe and unharmed. And in return, you'll get my blood--safe and unharmed. But if I see a scratch--a scratch-- on him, you can forget about ever touching me ever again.

Read second text?

"I don't plan on making this a trap, because I want Rosen back. So give me a time and place to meet you. I'll have someone to take Rosen with me. No one else."
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3:29 AM - Apr 26, 2010 #13

He'd intended to call the man and voice his demands, order the man to give Rosen back, bargain if need be. Aeolus had not in the least anticipated the girl snatching the phone away. He watched her incredulously as she plucked the item out of his surprised hands and began to read, and his protest was emphasized by a rather involuntary yelp. The food forgotten, Aeolus watched the girl from where he stood, frozen and confused.

When she appeared to finish reading, Aeolus tentatively reached forth to take the slider back. He was answered with a sharp look from the girl and flinched back as if bitten.

It became clear that Wolf wanted to respond. She pecked at a text of her own on his phone, and he stared with some disbelief at this action. Aeolus wanted to cross over and peer at the contents of her message, and yet he feared another rebuke from her harsh gaze. She had the demeanor of a cornered animal, that one, and all the danger. Unconsciously, the young man tucked his thumbs into his pockets, starting when she shot him another look. This time Aeolus opted to glance away.

He began to walk about. Aeolus simply milled in a slow, contemplative circle, waiting for her to finish. It flustered him, hung heavy on his shoulders. A storm of emotions raged at his mind, each laden with a different question and a different remark, another look into another place and countless possibilities. He feared for Rosen. He wondered for this girl. He burned for the enemy.

The enemy.

Once more, the words splayed out before his eyes: "Rosen ... is going to die." Each letter brimmed with peril, with death, and it made him bristle and tense. He had faced many enemies before, but each one was on the other side of a battlefield set with rules and regulations. Here, any ground was fair game for a massacre. There were no rules, nothing to prevent death, loss of vitality, loss of life. The shadow of a noose swung in his memories and an old terror and despair played throughout his soul.

The clicking of the text nearly drove him to madness.

Finally, a final slam of the slider against the table marked the end of the message. He whipped around at the sound, shadows fleeing in terror from his gaze, ivory bangs scattered across both eyes. He lifted his gaze to the girl, and he felt himself crumple as he saw how she struggled for breath, how the tears tracked her cheeks like one helpless before the final blow. Aeolus pitied her. Whatever she had been through, he wished little more in that moment to reach across the darkness that distanced them and pull her out.

He could not. By now, the young man had learned that she would refuse such a gesture, even snap at him as an injured dog might. And their jaws tended to hurt. Instead, he forced himself to turn toward the phone, heart drumming in his ribs.

Aeolus reached for the object and glanced to her. Wolf did not appear to mind, and so he scooped up the slider and searched through to where the message lay. He allowed himself to scan over the message, and then in his disbelief analyzed it as thoroughly as possible. The words made no sense to Aeolus. They did not piece together, did not form coherent sentences. He forced himself to focus, to translate them against the wishes of his quailing spirit.

At last, Aeolus too slammed the phone onto the table, but he punctuated it with a sigh instead of a cry. He hung his head, all his lean, deft glory drained in the gloom of the night. The lights sputtered. Stark shadows darted about for just a moment, and then settled into their proper places.

Who was this girl who would sell herself for someone she had hardly known for a few days? Who was this girl, willing to put her fate in the hands of depravity to release that of another?

Rosen...making your first friend behind my back...

He could have smiled if it did not pain him so. He tried to smile. But the corners of his thin lips twitched and faltered, and instead pain gripped him deep within, and tears threatened his composure. Aeolus shoved himself away from the table in a sudden fit of recollection. He remembered the food in the microwave. Silently, Aeolus extracted the pizza and set it out on the table for Wolf. He knew not what to say to her, how to communicate with her. All the words that pushed to tumble from his mouth simply dissipated into nothing, and instead the young man paced restlessly for Pravus's answer. He wondered how he could change this. He wondered how he could bend fate, make it so that Wolf could get away and Rosen to safety, so that everyone would be okay and in their rightful place in the end.

Anything to prove that you could save lives.

"Ra..."

Rosen had spent a good part of his time just staring at the wall. From somewhere outside, he had felt the deep thrum of the Whale King taking hits from some outside source, perhaps police units that had engaged in combat with the carrier. The zoid boomed with the recoil of its own guns, and the entire level shook and trembled, and the walls warbled in a way that entertained him. He could still hear combat beyond the bars and listened with some amusement to the warbling walls.

The man had allowed his thoughts to idle away as he awaited execution. He'd settled into an abnormal calm, holding close to a peace that drove away the melancholy that preceded that final, tragic event. In a matter of minutes, Rosen found everything to laugh about. He would scoot about in his memory and find something funnier than it had ever been, or he would just smile at the awkwardness of his own predicament and the constant irony that had dogged his every step. At some points he merely put his ear to the ground and relaxed in the comforting hum.

This time, Rosen had felt something tug at his mind. He was rooting about in his memories again, particularly incidents of having come into contact with Wolf's blood. He stuck his tongue out as he attempted to extract something unusual that had suddenly become apparent. It was a sound, a name, pleading to be brought forward.

"Raja..."

Rosen stared at his distorted, bleak reflection in the wall. Seranaid had not shown her face for a while, and Pravus had not appeared at all. Avon didn't make a single appearance throughout this whole ordeal. And how long had it lasted? Hardly a few days. Another thing to laugh about!

"Raaaajaaaaiiii..." Curiously, he cocked his head at himself. "...on? ...Raaajaaaiiion. Rajaion."

And thus, Rosen proceeded to amuse himself with his new discovery, taking childish delight in the outlandish name, wondering where it had come from and drawing imaginary figures in the alloy floor.

What have you got to lose?

Jingles slanted his head down toward the Zabat. He stood hardly a few meters away, and yet the little zoid seemed unmoved, even daring enough to stand on its own claws beside him to watch the downpour. He swished his tail in contemplation. After the bat had shared its views, Jingles found himself relatively intrigued by the complexity of emotion, man and zoid alike. He never had to fear from others abandoning him for his intelligence, his ability to speak, to move, to live. It was wrong for anyone to even consider it.

I do not know. I just fear...

Indecision pervaded the Zabat's thought, cutting it off. It was confused. Mystified. Aggravated. Jingles raised his head and appeared to blink, and he issued forth a low groan into the dreary hangar.

Do not fear. Decide.

The rain mirrored in their optics, rushed along the Zabat's silver canopy. The sound thrummed in its ears, constant, soothing, melodious. Another language entirely, another phenomenon unaffected by all mortal things upon this planet. It was a subject of wonder, and so was Rosen. Gradually, the zoid began to recall the times that Rosen huddled under its shadow for protection in times of fear and danger. A sigh hissed from its speaker.

By this time, Aeolus had put his head down on the counter of the sink, hiding his face in his arms with a rather defeated aura. Something was dragging him down. Perhaps it was all the apprehension, the torturous knowledge that his best friend was on death roll and that he was here, safe and sound, never mind that he was trying to nurse a beaten soul back to fit and fighting condition. There was still no justice in it all. He had to be there on that Whale King, or wherever they are, needed to be Rosen's shield. Rosen had no one else.

Except for Wolf...?

His head snapped up. "I just realized," he said blandly, finally breaking the silence, "I know your name and you don't know mine." His own voice surprised him. It sounded weak and had lost the usual crispness to its edge, and he stared above the sink where a window should have been. Aeolus forced himself up and turned to face her, leaning against the counter behind him. His face was clear of hair and his ruby and emerald eyes burned from their perches, glowed with some form of vengeance that simmered deep down. "I'm Aeolus."

It was then that the phone buzzed, a nice little chime startling the shadows. He glanced to the phone, and then to Wolf.

He was waiting for her to take the message.
"No need. We'll come to you. Follow the Whale King when you see it. I will inform you when we have arrived later tonight." &#9632;




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2:38 AM - May 04, 2010 #14

It was happening slowly. The room was drifting in a rhythmic, descending circle, and Wolf was at the bottom of it, gently feeling the nauseating effects of falling. It was all despair, and she did not even bother to watch the reaction of Aeolus, to feel self-conscious worry as he read it. Once, she would have protested at such a thing. Now, she knew that it did not matter. The message was out there, the message was sent. No matter what Aeolus did, Pravus would receive it. Pravus would come to get her--no, Pravus was coming to get her.

Despair. If she felt it once, she felt it a thousand times. A horrible sort of sickness, low and stealthy and rumbling, and at it's other end a whine so high-pitched it made her head hurt and her ears ring. There was no escaping it. She could leave Rosen alone and get the emotional outcome of his death, or she could turn herself into Pravus and, while freeing Rosen, be trapped within the sorcerer's arms forever.

He would take her and perhaps hurt her, perhaps administer punishment so she would not ever resist him again. And then he would train her, possibly, force her to do cruel things, to paint the mask of a criminal in order to become a skilled member of their gang. And then, every now and again, he would cut her, soak his fingers in her blood, and relish the power. Perhaps he'd do it before a confrontation, to cloak himself in it's ancient wonders and make him impervious to many harms. Like it did to Rosen, he would be unstoppable--for however long he drained her of that life essence. But he would not kill her, no, she had to live so her veins kept producing, kept pumping that strange, amazing, awful, terrible curse.

It was a miserable, dreadful, downright terrifying way of life. But that was just it.

She would live.

Rosen would not.

It was almost selfish of her not to turn herself over, to trade a happy, albeit guilt-ridden existence for the life of another, the life of someone who, as she had come to learn, was just truly starting to live. Happiness versus life.

No, no, that was a bit of a polish. She would not be happy. She could not be happy on this planet, away from her home, away from the people who cared about her. Indefinitely. Never to return.

Forever.

It was like death. So she would never truly live either way...

Wolf nodded to herself. So that was the case.

Death was forever. Her despair was infinite. But Rosen... Rosen was born here, and had an apparently happy life before the Serenaders showed up once more. If he was the one to live, he would be able to achieve happiness that which she could not. He would have a life with meaning, a life with someone who cared about him. Maybe more as time passed on. And she would trade that for her pathetic excuse of an existence on this godforsaken planet?

Selfishness.

Gradually, more gradual than gradually, she started to come to acceptance of the fate she was weaving for herself. She would play hero.

I'm not a hero!

She would play hero.

"I just realized,"

A voice. She had almost forgotten it. The girl raised her eyes to look at the man's and they were now flooded with a new kind of emptiness.

"I know your name and you don't know mine."

A slow blink. That was right. She thought she had heard it being uttered but honestly could not pull it to surface. The man leaned back and she made no motion to move, keeping her head on the counter.

"I'm Aeolus."

His irises blazed and hers did the opposite, like a sun and a black hole, expelling, inhaling.

A chiming sound surprised her to lift her head, staring at the phone. She glanced at Aeolus, waiting for him to take it, to read it and pale again and tell her the bad news. When he simply met her gaze with the same look of expectancy, she understood. It was her message sent; it was her reply to read.

With a shaking arm, she picked up the phone. Subsequently, the girl paled inwardly, something that showed up on the outside as the empty voids of her forfeit filling with fresh dismay.

Turning her head to Aeolus, Wolf sputtered and shook as she tried to string the sentence.



"He knows where you live," she choked.



The girl turned the phone around in her palm, displaying the message clearly to the item's original owner. She was quiet for a moment, then raised her voice once more.

"You'll come with me?" No. The words were wrong as soon as she said them. Wolf shook her head and hastily rephrased it. "You have to come with me." The tone was awkward, unfamiliar in the place of attempted authority. Her gaze dropped.

"You have to be there to get Rosen." She hesitated, and looked up at him. "...You... can't stop me. You don't know me and you... you can't order me not to."

She wanted to say he had no right. But she had just learned that no one, anywhere, had any true rights...

...to anything.
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4:43 AM - May 04, 2010 #15

"He knows where you live."

He felt that he ought to have been surprised, and yet Aeolus merely closed his eyes, solemn. The dread that coiled underneath tightened and discomforted him, and yet Aeolus was still. He opened his eyes when the phone's light fell over his face. Cautiously, he stepped toward the item to glance over the message, trying not to encroach on the girl's sense of space or security.

Perhaps the Serenaders had been tracking Rosen for some time. Perhaps Rosen had told one or two of them beforehand. Whatever the case, the enemy knew his home. He took a weary look at the desolate walls. There was no point in lamenting this fact or burning over it, no point in dwelling on how his own sense of safety was now breached, that these renegades could now very well hold sway over what his father had given him. Granted, half of the entire place wasn't even functional. A faint buzz of the lights overhead reminded him of that.

Aeolus still liked this place, never mind how unnerving it could be at times. He did not plan to complain about the enemy's acknowledgment of his headquarters. Immediately, his thoughts clicked and whirred, one wheeling after the other, and he picked details apart as quickly as he could grab them. Wolf was trading herself for Rosen. She would be held by the Serenaders. That black man. The one who hurt Rosen. He masterminded the activities of those self-proclaimed vigilantes, unbeknownst to their flustered leader. Only a few of them remained now. And those few were on their way...

...here...

He did not hear Wolf, perhaps both fortunately and unfortunately. The girl would not know that she had the guarantee of his presence, as well as his impartiality. He would be with her when the time came and would not stop her either.

None of it was vocalized. Aeolus, now fixated entirely on one thing, swung around and glided out of the kitchen, almost bounding his way out. He left Wolf with his phone, left her to the pizza, to her own words. Where Wolf had seen despair, Aeolus must have seen...something else. And he intended to pull her there in the end. For now, he had to deal with the preliminaries.

He strode straight through the main room. Aeolus hardly paid any mind to how grand it truly was, each step resonating through the depths of the headquarters and over a faded emblem scrawled across the floor, his single presence swallowed by a deepening darkness. Only the computer's dim light betrayed his form, casting a faint shadow across the dark alloy.

He went straight for the control panel. Aeolus pecked at the keyboard, enabling the monitor, feeling the thrum of activity through his fingers. What came up immediately was a map of planet Zi, which had been there since Rosen left to rescue Wolf shortly beforehand. He swiped at the touch pad and brought up a panel or two. He tapped through settings, configurations, diagrams. A sound like chatter murmured down the empty corridors, a sensation like cold breath settled on his shoulder, but Aeolus simply tried to wave them off and proceeded. He searched through unfamiliar settings, tried to mess around with things that seemed useful, and too often did an all-too-familiar message appear.
DENIED.

DENIED.

DENIED.
The thing about having an obsolete military base for your home was that it came with a lot of pruned permissions.

He finally decided to stop fooling around and went straight to the headquarters' control panel. Aeolus felt that he needed to get at least this one thing out of the way first: sitting in the dark with only the monitor's light was bad for one's eyes, first of all, and he would simply feel a lot better, have more room to think. Aeolus pecked at the keyboard, confirmed something, and then stood back and awaited the telltale whir of...

...panels clicking open in the ceiling, some hidden contraption over the monitor stretching out, readjusting, realigning, fitting into cogs, cranking, hissing. He glanced over his shoulder and debated whether he ought to activate the panels in the floor as well. Aeolus then decided that extra tables were unnecessary and craned his head back. A familiar sense of awe washed over and eased his muscles when he saw the moving panels reveal skylights, each splashed and trembling with the beating of the rain. Around that time the lights faded on to a gentle brightness and cast white light over the chamber.

Whatever had clicked to life above the monitor turned out to be a grandfather clock of some kind, sunken into the wall, a pendulum quietly swinging from the hooked tail of some draconic depiction which held the actual clock between its claws. The panels of the wings had extended, a speaker embedded in both.

"Much better," he sighed.

Aeolus dove back onto the keyboard and continued to meddle with something else. At least something still worked in this place, and at least he still had a few permissions with the control panel. While Aeolus could not keep track of, say, military-registered zoids or anything like that, he could still keep tabs on his or Rosen's zoids as long as the right configurations were placed.

And he could track others' zoids if he wanted to.

He was not sure how to go about doing it. Were they coming in zoids? Were they coming in a transporter? He slumped on the console and clasped his hands together, leaning on his elbows in contemplation, eyebrows furrowed while he gazed vacantly at the bottom of the screen. Rosen had said they were in possession of a Whale King. There was a chance they still had it, that they might arrive with it. Wolf and he were expected to follow the renegades to some other place once they had arrived, and yet he wondered if he could make it work. Somehow. There had to be some way. If not, well...he had another plan.

Aeolus smiled a small, mischievous smile, showing his teeth to no one.

It was ingenious. The enemy didn't know that, once they set foot there, once he connected communications to theirs or something to that effect, they would be unable to escape wherever they went. He could dog them for days, weeks, unless they abandoned their transporter or their zoids, and if it wasn't any of those then he still had the contingency plan. He could get the police on them — nay — perhaps the entirety of fellow zoid warriors he knew on the Serenaders, the few that remained against a whole wave of experienced fighters, whether it was law enforcement or warriors like himself. Sure, they weren't trained to kill, but that was the beauty of it. They could get everyone out alive.

It was there that he realized something. The glow of triumph faded from his being, and slowly he straightened his back, staring through the monitor. What if it wasn't a matter of days or weeks? What if it was a matter of...well, hours? Minutes?

Seconds?

And in return, you'll get my blood--safe and unharmed.

Despite the rain clouds, shafts of dim, amber moonlight slanted through the skylights as Aeolus suddenly walked into one, casting an almost morbid shadow over his lean form. "Does he plan to kill you?!" he blurted, wide-eyed toward wherever the girl may be. Something quite like desperation burned on his skin, a burning prayer that such was not the case, that things were not so bad as to have become irredeemable. He did not want to leave Rosen to die, but he did not want to send the girl off to her execution either.

Please tell me that isn't the price.

The dragon clock clicked overhead, the pendulum swinging left, right, left, right... &#9632;





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Dragonwolf
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Dragonwolf
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Joined: 11:03 PM - Jun 22, 2007

8:52 PM - May 04, 2010 #16

Aeolus did not answer her. At first she waited nervously for a reply, and upon getting nothing, she turned back to toward the table. The sight and smell of the pizza reminded her that she was still hungry, and Wolf quietly started to eat, not even sparing a glance when the man suddenly darted out of the room.

Solemnity. She had better have gotten used to it. The Serenaders did not count as people. They did not count as company. The imaginary click, click of a clock echoed within the ears of her mind, the seconds counting down to true isolation. She would be alone on that Whale King. How long did Pravus intend to wait before making the journey? If she knew him, he wouldn't wait at all. In fact, she was absolutely sure the Whale King was already making it's way over there. As soon as he received the message, most likely. How fast could a Whale King fly?

Wolf busied her aching mind with redundant calculations. Her father's lessons, echoing Air Force experience, resounded in her mind almost painfully. She tried not to think of him and continued, running her mind through zoid speeds she had known as a simple fan, before landing on Zi... If mach 1 was relatively close, not counting altitude, to 600mph, and the Whale King could go about half of mach 1, then it would fly at 300mph. If they were 50 miles away... 50 was a sixth of 300... 300 went to one hour... A sixth of an hour was 10 minutes... Would it take them ten minutes to get here?

No, that was ridiculous. But fifty miles seemed like a long ways away to the girl. Well, anyway, she knew for a fact that they were not three hundred miles away.

They had less than an hour.

Wolf sighed, finishing the last bite of pizza, and stood. She stared at where Aeolus had ran off for a minute before making her way in that direction. Her footfalls were as loud as the seconds in her head. Sixty seconds to a minute. Sixty minutes to an hour. What was sixty times sixty? She couldn't do it automatically in her head. But the mental math was cut off regardless as Wolf came upon the sight of a large computer room, softly lit by the waning sunlight. Aeolus was sitting before the main screen of one of the largest computers she'd ever seen. His body language made her hesitate. He sat curled over the keyboard obsessively, in sharp, tense angles. A grandfather clock rose a bit above the monitor, and Wolf briefly wondered when the ticking in her head had become reality.

The man jumped to his feet and Wolf pulled back in surprise. His eyes were wild and a queer sort of begging, and the girl didn't know what to make of them.

"Does he plan to kill you?!"

She stared. The worlds slowly revolved in her despairing tornado, and they went around, and around before reaching her consideration. Then she could have smiled, because in some way, she was easing this man's pain, and perhaps a bit of her own.

"No," the girl shook her head. "Otherwise, I don't think he'd bother to make the trade at all. No..."

She looked at the grandfather clock, peering at the metal dragon curled up in it's innards. The swishing tail, clicking at it's left and right extremes, almost matched up to the beating of her own heart. One pumping sound, one pumping blood.

Blood.

"No... He wants my blood. For as long as possible, I think." She raised her head. "When you get Rosen back, ask him about it." Her eyes betrayed something that her heart ached to say and her lips wouldn't allow. They cried, please come back for me. And then Wolf blinked and the look was gone.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. How many seconds had passed? How many minutes? 60 times 60... 10 times 60 was 600, 6 times 600 was... 3600. 3600 seconds. Minus the fact that they had less than an hour. Minus the fact that she lost count for a few minutes. How many now? 2000 seconds? Did it matter, could it matter when every one brought her closer to a despairing loneliness?

"We should... go." The girl pressed her lips in a thin line and started for the hangar.





"Hey."

A gentle touch on her muzzle made the Hiou Liger open her eyes, the optics glowing to life.

"I need you right now."

The liger seemed to nod, and without another word, the cockpit unlatched and opened with a gentle hiss. Wolf shuddered and climbed in, trying not to think of what was going to happen.

The cockpit closed.

The Hiou liger stood quietly, and Wolf turned her head to the Zabat.

"I'm going to save him."

She said nothing more as she guided the liger out of the hangar, and the two stood in the rain, watching the monitors for that tell-tale, flickering red square.

"Whatever happens," Wolf breathed suddenly, "Your name is Aril. If you like it."

The liger purred softly. What is an Aril?

Wolf smiled sadly. "It's the seed of a pomegranate fruit," she petted the console, "And it's prettier on the inside of the fruit. It shines with red and pink hues."

The liger said no more, for her zoidcore seemed to ache, for Wolf was going out to do something dire, and she had just given her the best name the liger could have ever wanted.

...Nice to meet you, Wolf.

The girl looked up in surprise.

My name is Aril.

It was then that the girl started to cry quietly, because the liger desired a proper introduction, and she was going to never see her again.

At least she had saved her. At least she was going to save Rosen...

Why could she only save people by condemning herself? Or was that the way things always were? Did Rosen not condemn himself to save her first?

Yes, yes. This was good. This was right. Wolf closed her eyes and waited, for Aeolus to come up next to her, for the Whale King to appear, for her fate to play out.

And for Rosen.









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Aeolus
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Aeolus
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Joined: 6:42 PM - Mar 07, 2009

1:53 AM - May 05, 2010 #17

It took her a while to formulate a response. In that span of time, Aeolus remembered that she was just a girl who had just returned from possible trauma, who had not yet fully recovered whatever consumed her from the inside-out. Suddenly jumping on the girl would not alleviate things. He recalled those sad, drunken persons, those troubled and angry boys and girls who could break at the slightest touch, people he knew, and Aeolus felt his craze dissipate into the cold air. Immediately, he wanted to apologize for his rashness.

Wolf's answer cut him off.

"No," the girl shook her head. "Otherwise, I don't think he'd bother to make the trade at all. No..."

It was then that the tension fully fled, and Aeolus could had collapsed onto the large, metal table situated in the middle of the room. All this anger, this drama, even he was exhausted by it. Aeolus was sick of the fighting. He was sick of the waiting, of the worrying, sick of going back and forth and wondering whether his best friend or his best friend's ally was dead or wounded, wondering if he himself would be randomly picked off by the Serenaders so that he wouldn't get in the way, he was — just — sick of life or death.

To think it had sprung up from nowhere, and in his hometown of Terrone, no less...

But he was still standing. He still looked her in the eye as she spoke, appraised the emptiness of her gaze and the soft fluctuations of conflicting fear and surrender, and it again hurt him to see such a thing. Aeolus kept his face solid, if not weary, and he nodded. He would ask Rosen when he came back.

Rosen was coming back. The young man hoped fervently for it to be true, that they would not be deceived at the last minute.

He watched her leave for the hangar. Aeolus wanted to follow, and yet his legs would not obey, paralyzed perhaps by a sense of being lost. Never before had he experienced any ordeal quite like this. One fair day he was out with friends, laughing and singing, and he had even managed to coerce Rosen to be with him. He remembered how awkward his partner was amid the others, and yet it had lifted his spirits to see how tame the man was around strange people. That, at least, had been an improvement to the Rosen fresh out of the Serenaders. Prone to sudden outlashes, possessed by an insatiable hunger for flesh and blood, never thinking twice about the consequences of thoughtless murder and shattering families as easily as breaking sticks.

Uncomfortably, Aeolus itched at a faint scar on his neck and turned toward the clock. How many seconds had passed?

"You see that?"

The pendulum swung as tranquil as calm water, swishing back and forth, even as the shadows of rain drops crept along its features and trailed down the melancholy walls. The amber moonlight faded to black and left him with just the headquarters, just the silent, muted buzz of the LED lights.

"Yeah, Dad."

Wicked claws encircled the finely embellished perimeter, a heavy, barbed tail entwined around the clock and grasping the string of the pendulum.

"That's the house guardian. I think this place was shut down to military use because it gave off the wrong message, or something like that. The Republic doesn't really associate itself with dragons."

A low boom erupted from the speakers, escalating into a soft howl that barely rose above the patter of the rain. Ever so slightly, Aeolus craned his head up as thought he meant to howl with it, but no such sound lifted from his throat. He listened to the clock's midnight nocturne. It had a different one for every hour, and this one was quiet and almost mournful in nature, meant to keep its neighbors asleep rather than rouse them. Besides, it was usually too soft to distinguish when he was in his room.

"Help us out, Blackie..."



Headquarters of the Four Winds
12:00 A.M.




The Zabat and Jingles were still watching the weather. Wolf's footfalls had reached the bat's sensitive ears first, and it quietly turned its head and glanced back to the girl who spoke with the Hiou Liger. There was not much of an exchange. Wolf simply climbed into the cockpit and proceeded to move for the entrance.

Both the Zabat and Jingles shuffled out of the way, although the two were concerned by this course of action and debated on whether or not to follow.

"I'm going to save him."

That sounded as though they were meant to stay. Tiredly but anxiously the Zabat settled at the entrance, staring out with flickering optics into the thinning rain, its gaze written with worry. Jingles had difficulty interpreting the situation. He was still a stranger, little more than a guest, and yet he felt that he held some responsibility for it all. He, with nowhere to go, without any idea of how to perceive the Serenaders and his newfound allies, was every bit as lost as the small Omega-class zoid sitting somberly not too far from his side. The Geno Saurer emitted a low grumble at the darkness.

A whir prompted Jingles to glance back, although the Zabat did not even budge in its spot. Aeolus was quietly climbing into the cockpit of the strange, silent Shadow Fox who'd stood stalwart in the corner. The Shadow Fox shut its emerald canopy and strode forward on black claws, walked past the two, strode into the distance where Wolf would await them. Before Mischief could disappear into the mist, the fox turned its head back to the Zabat as though Aeolus meant to speak. Nothing was said and he vanished in a curtain of rain. The Zabat wandered back to its spot beside the Geno Saurer, who stared out with his bewildered, red gaze.

Something's wrong, Jingles rumbled. He engaged his thrusters and started after the Shadow Fox, but his companion extended a magnesser wing and barricaded his way. He quickly cut off his boosters and almost roughly returned to the earth. Jingles glanced to the Zabat and saw how it bowed its head, almost in supplication, almost in denial. He understood then that, perhaps, they were to stay.

Jingles stepped back and anxiously waited.

Alma, the child-like Spinosapper who had feigned sleep, observed the proceedings with utmost curiosity and a sense of being mystified. She wished she knew who these people were and where they were going, and as if she knew who held the answers, she turned her little head toward the nearby Cannon Spider.

Aeolus pulled up beside the Hiou Liger he had piloted not too long ago. It still awed him to know that he had been near such a zoid at all, and that she appeared to be in Wolf's possession no less, but he could not afford to be distracted by trivial things such as that. He knew why he was there. Rain lightly spattered against the monitors, against Mischief's optics, and Aeolus listened to its soothing sound to ease his worries. He still held a key to the situation. He prayed that it was the right one, and he intended to keep it for Wolf and Rosen.

For now, he had to be there for the girl. And when the time came, for his partner and his best friend. Aeolus touched the scar on his neck and waited, and he let himself slip away into the fading midnight storm.



Good.

The Sword Wolf had long disappeared into the distance, leaving the Whale King with one less zoid and one less person. Avon had been more than delighted to take on the task Pravus had assigned him. It had been a while since the boy last saw action, he knew, and he would be glad to see it again.

The Whale King had sustained a few hits from previous gunfire. All police units that had been dispatched to bring down their transporter were gone now, and that left the others without a trail, without any idea of how to pursue him aside from what carnage was left behind. Pravus coolly observed the surroundings, arms folded, back straight, tapping his finger along his arm as he mused over what to do next. Almost the entire company had been taken care of. He could hardly do anything with it now, but it gave him plenty of material to start all over with.

What troubled the man was what he meant to do next. He'd hardly any direction in life before the Serenaders, and even with those simpletons could scarce placate this sense of complete wanderlust. Pravus remembered how he had first set out from his homeland to carry out the mission of another group altogether. There were zoidians who despised the other race which now overran Zi: humans. They carried a dream of purging Zi of that race, and Pravus had been one of those who felt the pull of such a purpose and accepted it as their calling. And then he'd come across Seranaid, and since then he had taken a much simpler view of life.

But what now? Well, now the woman was bound up and haphazardly thrown into some closet, leaving her dear little brother Avon and her beloved Abaddon clueless. All the underlings had been picked off, either by fate or the police or some internal turmoil. Rosen wasn't going to mean anything now that he would have control of something far more precious. Frankly, Pravus had never met a zoidian whose blood could bolster the performance of others, but he'd decided that he liked it. He also decided that he would make it useful. Would he go back to his political mission of eliminating humans?

Maybe. He had nothing else to do. He could try to reorganize the Serenaders, but their purpose was small compared to this. Pravus tapped his chin contemplatively and figured he should see what came of the girl first, and then perhaps he could come to a decision. There was also the matter of Avon —

"Come in, Whale King."

That was fast. How long did that take? Twenty, thirty minutes? Pravus calmly glanced to the radio, and then back to Rosen quietly curled up in the corner with a rope secured around his neck. The man was playing with the leash end like he had never seen it in his entire life. Pravus had not cared to tell him why he was here, so more than likely Rosen thought he was being brought out to die. At the sound of Aeolus's voice, however, Rosen had glanced up with visible surprise.

Pravus turned back to the radio. "Good evening," he purred in answer. "I noticed a nice little clearing in the midst of the forest. We'll make the exchange there." He reached for the controls and gently changed the direction of the transporter. One look at the monitors revealed to him the two far down below, Six's Hiou Liger and the black-and-green Shadow Fox both enlarged on separate panels.

Rosen's eyes were steady on his back, wary, questioning. He had given up for quite a while, and surely, he was now quite confused. Surely, Rosen wanted some answers. But Pravus would not give him the luxury of an answer, instead savoring the tension that writhed behind him, that fiddled and fidgeted and fumbled with the rope around Rosen's neck. He smiled and hummed to himself.



"YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" Aeolus suddenly roared.

His voice easily threw down the silence that had consumed them, broadcasted over the Shadow Fox's speaker and reverberating along the massive, empty field around headquarters. His zoid imitated the agitated toss of his head, and Aeolus growled as he watched the looming shadow of the Whale King high in the atmosphere.

"He better not be talking about my clearing..."



Unfortunately for Aeolus, it was his clearing. As a matter of fact, it was not just an ordinary clearing, but it was a gap in the forest where a large pond was situated, nearly the girth of a lake and almost as deep. Random items were strewn about the grass, mainly the playthings of a bored teenager like zoid models, half-finished whittlings, assorted trinkets picked up from every little spot in New Helic. There were posts, stepping stones, a variety of manmade things meant to turn the clearing into a special spot of some sort, and all of it was overshadowed by the Whale King that had carelessly landed on the opposite edge and flattened trees while it was there.

Aeolus had a feeling that, despite it being past midnight, he would not be able to sleep. He bit down one of many obscenities at the sacrilege and pulled Mischief up a fair distance away from another zoid standing in the area: the cold, silent shape of a Death Raser. Standing far off at the mouth of the Whale King was a form which could easily tower over the rest, backed by spines crackling with electricity.

The rain may have ceased, but the waters of the pond were still disturbed by some inner current and a mist still hung over the area. Aeolus, who had never seen a Bio zoid in his life, regarded the distant shadow with some unease and quietly stepped out of the Shadow Fox. Many paces away lurked the shadows of what must have been Pravus and Rosen. One was hunched almost warily, a rope trailing from its neck to the folded arms of its straight-backed companion.

Silence followed. Aeolus stared at Rosen's figure, knowing that they would not move until Wolf stepped forth. His partner was just within reach. He could reach him in a few bounds, fumble with the man's restraint and release him from his bonds, and yet he forced himself to stand his ground. Almost never was Aeolus made to restrain himself, and he found it to be an exceedingly painful process. He almost willed for Wolf to hurry up so he would not have to suffer the wait.

Rosen was staring through the fog, confused, keeping his distance from the black man and drawn by the glow of white hair through the night. He wondered if he would be released, and he would have inquired Pravus about it if the silence did not weigh upon them so heavily. But Rosen slowly wandered forward until he was at the end of his makeshift leash, craning to see his teammate, and he emitted a quiet whine in his distress.

"It's okay," Aeolus whispered through the fog. His throat tightened and he turned toward Wolf, uncertain of it all. What guarantee was there that things would end well?

"Let the girl step forward first," Pravus called, as though were he bored of it already. "I'll let him go when she comes within his reach."

Bewildered, Rosen swung his head back toward the man.

"Oh, and no hostilities, please. Someone just might get hurt."

His smile almost cut through the fog. Rosen quickly glanced away back to his allies, trying to find words, trying to understand. Girl? Wolf? Was she here? Why was she here? Rosen pulled on the rope around his neck and attempted to slip out of it, and then he considered simply swinging around and attacking Pravus. When he turned, however, he took one glimpse at Pravus's shadow and felt the terrible press of helplessness, the knowledge that his efforts would avail nothing.

"It's okay," Aeolus said almost pleadingly, leaning through the mist. "Rosen, it's okay."



As agonizing as the wait was, zoids had all the time in the world. The Zabat and Jingles had not budged an inch from their spots, occasionally making small talk, occasionally going perfectly still and hibernating for perhaps a minute. The zoids behind them had not done anything of interest. For a good while, it seemed to them that they only thing they could do was stand there and await the humans' return.

Jingles was scanning the environment while the Zabat snoozed. He saw nothing of interest, watching the clouds gradually dissipate into the black sky, watching the moons peer out from cover. All was silent and still, the air heavy with moisture. His tail swished, his jaws stretched, and his optics flickered in the imitation of a yawn. Jingles was bored and he was tired. How ever that was possible, he did not quite consider.

As it turned out, waiting was not the only thing they had to do. A disturbance in the dark prompted him to turn his attention, and Jingles leaned forward and zoomed in on a figure in the distance. His optics flickered with consideration. It appeared to be another zoid, a wolf of some sort. Jingles quickly filed through his database and confirmed it as a generic Sword Wolf.

Why ever it was there, he could hardly fathom. But it appeared to be running toward them. Jingles watched the zoid in silence and thought that perhaps he ought to rouse the Omega zoid beside him, that this might be a case of concern.

It was then Jingles remembered a Sword Wolf among the Serenaders. Suddenly he focused on the zoid's distinguishing scars and features, and it was then that he noted the metal Zi swords mounted on its shoulders.

The reticle went red.

Get back! Jingles thundered, and he dropped his footlocks and slung his form straight, tail erect and throat cannon exposed to the enemy. The Zabat jolted awake at what could either have been a warning or a threat. The bat almost leaped back at the sight of Jingles's Charged Particle Cannon, but when it saw that it was pointed elsewhere, the bat followed the cannon's point to an intruder in the distance.

Perking its ears, the zoid scrambled back. &#9632;





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Sheryl Winter Vance Cloud
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Dragonwolf
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Joined: 11:03 PM - Jun 22, 2007

5:24 AM - Jun 12, 2010 #18

"Come in, Whale King."

Aeolus had opened up a line, and the wait for a reply was brief. Wolf listened numbly as Pravus uttered about a landing location, her mind aligned to one thing: It was time. The air in the cockpit suddenly seemed bitter cold, biting into her skin. Distantly, she noted movement as the liger--Aril--followed the Shadow Fox. Every step was bringing her closer to a fate she could potentially avoid, a turmoil she did not have to go through.

If she let someone die.

The girl tried to close her eyes, but could only stare as they were drowned in trees, and further they went, and her heart seemed to be beating dangerously slow and warningly fast at the same time. Wolf felt like throwing up.

She could see the tree line, where the forest ended. Shock seemed to race through her body like adrenaline, and right then, all she knew was that she did not want to go back. Anything but that.

They stopped. Two zoids lurked in the ominous fog, and even then she felt less danger from them then from what dwell before that Whale King. The girl's eyes drifted around the monitor. Movement close by grabbed her attention. Aeolus had stepped out of his zoid. Now it was her turn. The girl looked forward and could practically make out the blackened form of Pravus. Her time was up. Her period of freedom was over, and now she had to go enslave herself to... to that man. Wolf realized she couldn't move, paralyzed by fear and denial.

Her refusal was his death. Her refusal was his death. She echoed over and over, a sheer, silent battle of heart over mind, morals over instinct. He wouldn't kill her. He wouldn't kill her.

Her shaking hand moved to a control. Aril lowered her head, and Wolf's hand hovered over the hatch release.

Her refusal was his death.

Wolf likened the followed hiss to the air being released from her lungs. But she was not dying, and the cockpit was now open. Before she could stop herself, she pushed her body over the edge, landing as the fog engulfed her.

She could hear her heart beat in the fog. The fog pulsed with it. All the terror she had experienced was going to come back, and it swirled in the clouds around her like her heartbeat. Wolf closed her eyes and then looked to Aeolus.

He was standing there, waiting. So was Pravus. Wolf stood there, shivering. Her muscles wanted to lock up again. But... that was...

Rosen. She could see him now. The long black hair, the red eyes. The face that saved her against impossible odds. His life was in her hands now. And yet.. how was it that she felt so small?

Wolf's gaze traveled to the rope leading from Rosen's neck, to Pravus. Pravus. She tried to block all memory of him, knowing that if she let it get to her head, she would never be able to make that walk.

Moving. Her feet were moving, almost on their own accord. Perhaps it was because she saw Rosen. There was something. She was saving him. He would live.

Because of her.

Wolf stopped next to Aeolus, alarmingly close, her arm touching his. She pressed against him ever so slightly, reaching for some last dregs of comfort in the hell that was about to ensue for her.

"Let the girl step forward first," Pravus called, as though were he bored of it already. "I'll let him go when she comes within his reach."

She was crying, Wolf noticed.

"Oh, and no hostilities, please. Someone just might get hurt."

That feeling again. Pravus's aura, black and cruel, was reaching out, to her, she could feel it...

Move, Wolf. Move. It'll all be over soon.

A single step.

Go on, now. Don't you see Rosen? Can't you see him waiting for you?

Yes, focus on that. You're going to Rosen, not to Pravus. Rosen, not Pravus. Rosen, not Pravus...

Not Pravus...


Not Pravus...

Wolf looked up. She was in front of Rosen, somehow, against the impossible. She breathed him in, his scent, his being. He was the last kind human she would see for a while, and she took him in. Her eyes were completely different from what they once were, weeks ago, on that lonely, Terrone night. Changed. No longer did they hold that shine of enthusiasm, for the deepest despair had overtaken the pools of brown.


"Rosen... I'm sorry..."
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7:06 AM - Jun 18, 2010 #19

Warmth. It should have been a reassuring touch, but it was a weak warmth, a flickering flame in the dark. It was vitality on the verge of death. Aeolus instinctively raised his hand and rested it on the girl's shoulder, a gesture possessed of the need to protect despite the circumstances, a quiet indignation toward their foe that night for his ruthlessness. The warrior's eyes flashed in the mist, never letting go the image of his enemy. Pravus's black visage would forever burn in his unyielding gaze until the man was put to the sword.

Pravus seemed to see this despite their distance and frowned. He did not want any self-righteous fools to hold in their minds the illusion that they could somehow prevail, for that would lead to an unending doggedness to their activities, activities which would prove to be major nuisances — perhaps even obstacles — to the black man. He instead preoccupied himself with the girl's slow, deliberate movement away from her benefactor. There was nothing the little human could do, at any rate, and Pravus could only indulge this with a small smirk, unseen by the ivory-haired boy.

There was a small flutter of panic when Wolf slipped away. Her form fell away from his hand, the touch replaced by empty, cold air where her shoulder should have been. Aeolus was well aware that she was not meant to stay beside him, but he could not help the sudden alarm that came over. He almost forgot not to call her back.

Slowly, she faded into the mist. As fresh as her face was, he could feel the black man lead the memory away, and Aeolus found himself grasping through the fog as though to snatch it back one more time. All he could summon was her dead, defeated stare. He let his hand fall, stunned to silence.

Rosen was more bewildered than dazed. He had absolutely no doubt of who approached now, recognizing her for the frame, the tangles of hair, the stride even though it was ruined by the weight of despair. He could not find it in himself to yank away from Pravus and charge the girl. Why ever he would do such a thing, he was not certain himself, but Rosen could best justify it as an instinct to get her away from danger. Wolf had no reason to be there!

"What..." he sputtered, and even he was surprised by the rasp of his own voice, "...what are you doing here!"

He was shocked. He was angry. He was confused, he was relieved, he was fearful, he was —

He was worried.




The Zabat could not see anything past the flare of Jingles's Charged Particle Cannon. It was a blazing pillar of energy, too bright for the zoid to behold at such close range, and the atmosphere around it sparked with such danger that the Zabat wondered how it was not yet backing away. The little omega zoid tucked its head beneath its magnesser wings and waited for the roar of the cannon to fade.

Gradually, the beam dissipated to nothingness. Light fell away from their nightly surroundings and a queer silence took over, although the Zabat did not find silence to be the appropriate turn. As it hesitantly lowered its wings, the zoid noted something like a buzz in its ears, something like an atmospheric disturbance that lingered even after the Charged Particle Cannon's attack. That alone seemed to be the mark of an alpha zoid's power. If it wasn't the destruction, it was the aftermath. And that compelled the Zabat to tremble in its circuits, daring a glance at the Geno Saurer.

Jingles was slowly easing up from the attack. The recoil was often strenuous and harsh, and heat smoked from the cannon in his scarred throat, suggesting that he had to recover slowly and deliberately. His furious eyes seemed fixed on whatever had been in the distance, paying no heed to his companion.

The boom, the sudden surge of power — it all still echoed across their territory, reverberating off the edges of New Helic. Surely, nearby citizens had glanced out their windows, perhaps even opened them, while the less fortunate looked up from their makeshift beds in the alleyways, and strays and pets alike paused in their everyday (or nightly) activities to consider just exactly what had happened. A blast like that was no longer common except in zoid battles, its light even rarer than a thunderbolt. For simple citizens to even glimpse such a thing — well, it was an extraordinary event.

The air crackled, thrummed. The Zabat had to tear its attention away from the shift in atmosphere to see what Jingles had attacked.

It was a golden heap of...something. The Zabat zoomed in on various features and attempted to identify each individual feature. Swords — metal zi, one mounted on each shoulder. The cockpit — very lupine in shape, an elongated head and heavy muzzle. Boosters — the air around them still sizzled, so perhaps the intruder had attempted to leap out of the way with the boosters. And from the look of its missing legs, evasive maneuvers had failed the Sword Wolf.

Larger than a Command Wolf, the bat idly pondered. Requires a heavier build to use blades with the least consequence. Upgrade of...

Its optics flickered.

...the Whitz Wolf.

In that instant, a flood of information flashed through the Zabat's mind.

Whitz Wolf, Republican model, 8.8 meters in height, 18.9 in depth, 87 tons, basic, beta. Typical features include only its unique booster system, comes equipped with Electron Bite Fangs, Dual Repeater Cannons, Twin Weapon Binder Type 2, 200mm Shock Cannon. May upgrade to Sword Wolf, may fuse with Savinga to form Whitz Tiger, may fuse with Disbelow to form Heavy Arms Whitz Wolf. Highlights are speed and long-range, main purpose is to act as Fuzor material.

Known zoids of this type: golden Whitz Wolf, pilot "Avon".

Pilot "Avon", profile: currently sixteen years, male. No parents on record. Has one older sister: Seranaid. High threat level. Flagged as enemy. Poor temperament, excitable, callous.


And, with that, one seemingly unrelated memory resurfaced:
Eran Kimuura
Registered
DECEASED
MURDERER.

Just like that, the Zabat was beside the fallen Sword Wolf. It had no idea how it had gotten there so quickly, but the bat shrugged it off and set its claw against the decommissioned zoid, its optics burning like green embers in the dark. Jingles had followed the Zabat and was only halfway there when the Wolf's cockpit snapped open.

A panicked boy flopped out, his light blond hair luminous under the Zabat's glare. Fear reflected in his cherry red eyes as he scrambled to get out. When he glanced up, his lanky self seemed even smaller than before, trying in vain to flatten itself as though he could escape danger that way. Avon's eyes grew big at the sight of the zoid's familiar shape.

"Rosen!" he gasped. "Hey, help me out! It's me, remember me? I, I've got a message for — "

But Rosen was with Pravus.




"Move along."

"Rosen, just come here!"

Neither party was willing to allow the two conversation for long, and Rosen wanted to throw a fit for it. He needed room to think, time to think, and both were well restricted in this setting. Rage boiled underneath, set his blood aflame. His imagination burst with vivid images of how to shut the two up so that he may speak to Wolf. As improbable as any of the scenarios were, Rosen simply did not care in that one moment, willing for Pravus and Aeolus to shut the hell up.

Even as he listened almost desperately for the girl's reply, realization sank in. There was really very little Rosen could do in his position. If he knew the two parties well enough, the situation was clearer than daylight: Pravus was not known to bluff, his claims often backed by substantial evidence or action, whereas Aeolus could only play his bluff and pray. If Rosen raised his hand, any one of a thousand things could happen. He could die. Aeolus could die. Both of them could die. Or maybe they'd simply be strung up to cook, humiliated in countless ways yet undiscovered, watch dignity and skin alike slowly drip away.

As much as he wished to speak with Wolf, he needed to cooperate.

Rosen meant to stall for a little more time, perhaps with the intention to address the girl further, but a click from behind made him reconsider. No doubt about it — that had been the click of a gun. It was more than likely Pravus's way of expressing impatience. Rosen grit his teeth and glanced at the girl, fear hot in his heels, hackles high. Whatever she said, he had no time to answer it. He hardly had any time to even think.

The man hurried past, undoing the rope about his neck and thrusting it to the ground.

There goes Innocence. She could have flown home, but no. She flies into the Devil's arms.

"Why are you letting her do this?!" he snapped at Aeolus, who could only stare back in helpless shame.

Fly away, little Wolf. Pretend that you could, and fly.

Aeolus struggled to form words. A part of Rosen reasoned that this was perhaps the least consequential of all choices, and yet for some reason that did not matter. The girl, the damn girl! She was not supposed to be with that man!

Fly, fly, fly.

Pravus smiled a soft smile, cloaked in fog but as plain as his malice. He extended a hand as if to take the girl's. It was hardly a gesture of goodwill, much more inclined towards one claiming his rightful prize — or perhaps even a prize not his, one claimed through petty scandal and thievery. And whether or not she gave him her hand, Pravus saw fit to seize it anyway. He drew Wolf close, scented her hair.

Fly, fly, fly...

Although mere silhouettes in the mist by their distance, Rosen found himself gawking at their indistinct outlines. Never mind the simplicity of the action. Pravus was close, too close to Wolf. Beside Rosen, Aeolus seemed to crumple, although hostility sparked off of his bristling form. Rosen fought with himself, attempting to spit words at Pravus, and every obscenity imaginable burned in his garnet eyes. He wanted to say something. Scream something! And yet all that sputtered forth was a shameful stutter.

Pravus held Wolf close to himself and smiled. He extended his arm toward the two.

"Pleasure doing business with you.
BANG.
Fly, fly, fly...









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4:52 AM - Jul 05, 2010 #20

"What..."

She shut her eyes tightly.

"...what are you doing here!"

Without opening her eyes, Wolf bit down on her lip, and waited for him to pass.

And then, as quickly as she had him, he was gone.

There was no one in front of her now, no one to block her from Pravus. She was completely open to him, and her last sources of safety... of comfort... of humanity... Were far behind her. She willed herself not to turn around. She willed herself to look up and meet the eyes of her tormentor.

Her blistered cheek burned with fresh pain, even behind the bandages the doctor had applied. A shiver racked her body, and she pulled her head up to look into the black irises of a man she thought she'd never have to see again.

He was smiling. Wolf continued to chew, to bite down on her lower lip. She hardly noticed the tenderness that had come there as the skin was worn away, hardly noticed the pain as the smallest trickle of blood reached down her chin.

There was a jolt, a burst of fear coupled with burning adrenaline, and he grabbed her hand and pulled her towards him. Her cells were on fire as her body touched his, every fiber screeching to get away from him. Get away from him.

Tears. Tears of fright, tears of horror. They soaked through her bandage and stung the burn beneath, made it flare and hurt. She wanted to move a hand there, but she found that her free one was currently occupied on Pravus's chest as it tried to push her away from him. Anything to leave.

"Pleasure doing business with you."

An explosion in her eardrums. For a moment, she could hear nothing else but the pounding aftereffect. It was the second time a gun had been fired near her in her life, and Wolf's eyes darted around, half-expecting to see the falling body of Sylvia...

No, wait. Who... who was shot?

"Rosen?!" Wolf cried out, her head whipping left and right, trying to see through the fog, trying to make out what had happened. Who? Who was shot?

Who was shot?!
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10:45 AM - Jul 06, 2010 #21

The first sound to follow the gunshot was Aeolus's scream.

It was a cutting yelp of shock, something of a yipe mingled with a stutter. It was plain that Aeolus was flustered, unable to grasp what that terrible clap was, unable to see past the temporary haze of panic. His shadow convulsed in the mist.

Rosen had been startled into silence. The man's voice failed him, incapable of forming any coherent words (let alone sentences) and he stood back, his nerves numb with adrenaline. His lungs stilled and his ears strained to hear past desperate whimpers, to somehow understand the situation at hand. But all Rosen could hear in his head was the gunshot. Nothing of Wolf or Pravus or talking zoids remained. No, he let his thoughts trace the path of that bullet to his teammate.

"Aeolus," he snapped amid the panic, "are you all right?!"

The younger man quickly examined himself. Nothing occurred to Aeolus, no sting of pain, no ache, no burn. He wondered if the adrenaline had numbed him. And then he realized that he could not find any wounds, whether small or large, clean or disgusting. The throbbing of his heart faded into prominence and he blinked hard, and Aeolus finally understood that he had not been shot.

"I'm fine! I'm fine," he gasped, more dazed than relieved, and he swung toward Rosen. "What about you?"

That caused Rosen to hesitate as well. He took quick note of his own condition, feeling over soft fabric and warm muscle. The scar on his left palm seemed tighter than ever. His fingers trembled, afraid of what they may discover. But Rosen, too, found no wound. He experienced no strike of pain, no involuntary convulsion, and he soon concluded that he was just as unharmed.

"...Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," he breathed.

Pravus was already moving back, pulling the girl along as he wore his sly little smile. He preferred to keep his adversaries paranoid. How long would it be until one of them sustained an actual wound, shot in the back? They did not know. They could not know. And it would eat at them, ravaging their imaginations with each bullet that screamed by their ears. The girl would be floundering in wild thoughts and images (assuming she had a conscience) and become that much more malleable with the threat of her allies' deaths on mind. Pravus still pondered what his plans would be from then on, and yet he was satisfied with the chaos at current.

"Bastard!" Rosen snarled, leaping forward to attack the zoidian. Every fiber of his being sparked with rage and his eyes flickered, blind to reason. The sudden restriction of movement only compounded his rage.

"Rosen, stay down!" Aeolus barked, his arms restraining Rosen's while the man fought to charge Pravus. As much as he wanted to join Rosen's assault, any sense of anger was suppressed by the reasoning of fear—an extension of survival. "Use your eyes and open your ears! Don't you get that he has a gun?!"

"So!?"

Pravus left the two to argue, roughly pulling Wolf along. He nodded toward the two zoids stationed in front of the Whale King. The taller of the two merely turned away and slunk into the transporter, perhaps lost in thought or resentful over something or other. The other silently plodded after its companion. Pravus crossed the distance and into the mouth of the Whale King, sparing not a single glance for the struggling boys, sparing not a glance for Wolf. The hatch slowly shut and closed them away from the outside world.

Rosen's obscene screams were drowned out by the Whale King's engines.





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7:37 AM - Aug 10, 2010 #22

She was calm for the exchange. She had to be, she forced herself to be, so Pravus would not turn himself on anyone. But the moment they were in the hatch of the Whale King, she was allowed to let go. That mouth had closed and the sharp teeth clicked together, like there had to be a physical accompaniment to the spiritual sense of being swallowed. Razor teeth like gates. Pravus had bitten on and she could not escape.

It would only come back to Wolf later, the brief seconds of being dragged up to the Whale King, her scream mentally blocked at her throat. Her arms would not oblige to such antics, and they pushed at the man, not to escape (she had already chosen this fate?) but to distance, to keep her body away from at least that presence.

The light of the day seeped away with the closing of the Whale King's mouth. Slowly, slowly, slowly, it shrunk, until they were encased with the darkness and the dim unlight that lined the walls.

The switch had been flipped. The panic button pressed.

"Let me go!"

The girl screamed and trashed against her captor, beating him with her other arm, indiscriminate to his chest, his face, his arms.

"I want to go back!"

You're doing the right thing.

"I changed my mind!"

You saved a life today.

"I don't want this!"

Why, oh why, in a man's most desperate hour, is he willed to state the obvious?

There were no tears. Tears were for fear. She wasn't afraid.

She was terrified.

Terror ripped her eyelids as far as they would go, pushed her pupils as small as they would contract, tore her lips apart in screams, and burned her cheek wound with fresh, pulsing agony.

Her soul twisted and cried out against Pravus's aura, and everything else was drowned out but the throbbing of her very self, innocence encased in a prison of evil.

think of something elsethink of something else

Rosen. Aeolus? Were they alright? Think of that--it was so hazy, she could only feel the skin of Pravus's hand around her wrist and beneath her own pounding fist--no, she could have sworn she had seen them move after the shot--her throat was raw from screaming--they were uninjured--he was going to punish her for this--Pravus hadn't shot them--she was about to get hurt--

Almost instinctively, she stopped, and her body stiffened, bracing itself for pain.
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8:23 AM - Aug 10, 2010 #23

The screaming. The frantic, furious screaming. It assailed his ears, accused him, put him on trial. He found himself clenching his teeth and the aura about his being thickened.

Shut up.

And then blows fell upon him. Weak as they were, it was still an attack, driving further the point that he had done wrong on unjustified grounds. It took him all his nerve to stand still and take the hits to avoid being knocked down, and his grip on her wrist only tightened, but it seemed to feed her efforts. Anger, hate, they burned in his eyes, black eyes that concealed all until they began to flicker like coals.

"I want to go back!"

"I changed my mind!"

"I don't want this!"


Just shut the hell up!

Wolf's instincts were true: Pravus's arm came sailing at her head to throw her into the ground, possessed only of blind fury fueled by the past. Death and despair, so closely intertwined that they just may be betrothed to one another, they sang in his head and controlled every nerve in his body to continue their legacy. Sorrow and regret had no place in a heart that had long been worn from deceit and surrender.

"You're getting what you deserve!" he snapped, not even thinking about who he was addressing. "You were asking for it and now you're getting it! Should have wished a little more carefully, little girl!"

Pravus couldn't see that the girl before him was not Seranaid.




They were silent. The Shadow Fox was silent as always, and they heard nothing from the Hiou Liger. Aeolus stared at the space where many trees had once stood. His solemn gaze drifted downward to a heap of rock that sat in the foreground: a zoid that had perished long ago.

Indecision, regret, confusion, countless vices writhed underneath Rosen's skin. He tore at them, tore at his skin and his hair, clawing furiously, pacing, growling, whining, gritting his teeth. What was he to do? Why had he done all this? Why had it come down to this? Why did he care? Was it his fault? Was he expected to fix it? How? How long did he have? What was he to do?

A hushed wind brushed over the surface of the pond and the grasses stroked the rocks, the toys, the dead zoid. Or perhaps more than just the one, for any heap of rock could have been a zoid—or part of one. It grasped nervously at Aeolus's hair, at his fingers, like an unnerved child seeking succor—tentatively brushed Rosen's form, unable to calm him as he moved about so restlessly, so angrily. With a sad sigh, it went still.

Aeolus thought he might have been able to stand it. He thought he could stand tall and steady as the Whale King floated away and began to fade into the distance, the echoes of its departure leaving the clearing behind. But his hands tightened to fists and even he clenched his teeth. He bowed his head, unable to face the very air before him, and at last he could take no more of Rosen's silent suffering at his back.

He knew not how to express it. There were so many ways to scream anguish at the world, but he knew not how to put it, how to make the world realize what boiled underneath. Why was he so upset? Frankly, he could not bear the idea of being responsible for human loss, whether it ended in unspeakable trauma or simply death. And it was not any human—it had been Rosen's friend.

His first friend, aside from Aeolus himself.

To fail one's duty as a guardian was a great dishonor. Promises and vows unheeded were a stain on one's spirit, and as he raised his corrupted hands to rake through his hair, he found his words for his enemy, words so guttural and foreign that even Rosen stopped.

"Go-hifreann-leat!!"




He'd grabbed her by the arm, deafened to any further pleading. He'd dragged her across the Whale King, uncertain of where he was going, but failing to find any reason to care. His vision was dark and all he saw was meaningless and forgotten. Without conscious thought, Pravus had dragged Wolf to a great, metal door that seemed to open only from the outside.

He undid the metal bar with a rather unpleasant clang. The lock inside sounded as though it were rolling, and he yanked the door open. Without a second glance, Pravus shoved the girl inside.

She would get an instant to glimpse Seranaid's surprised form before the door shut and closed them in total darkness.

He stormed away, not quite remembering what he was angry about any more. All Pravus knew was that everything had plummeted and the end loomed near, and he was on foreign lands with no purpose but his own. He would abide the girl's presence later. For now, he needed to clear his mind, needed to right himself and start seeing straight. She made for poor company at the moment.

It was well that the Whale King could somewhat direct itself. All it needed was a mental implant from Pravus himself and it knew where to go, but the man found that actually being behind the wheel was calming. So he came up to the control room, forced himself to collapse into the chair, and took the console. Pravus didn't even have a direction in mind. He just swerved away from the clearing and into the distance, and the more the thought on it, the more he wanted to go home.

To Bek.




The journey back was silent.

Trees arched away to clear a path, allowing the two their grim passage home. The forest itself seemed to answer their gloom with a sort of uneasiness, and all parted, reluctant to be in the way when one of them snapped. It had taken Aeolus a moment to figure out who was to take which zoid, but he had eventually designated Rosen to Wolf's Liger. Part of it was just because it had apparently been Wolf's and part of it was that he did not trust the man with Mischief for the night.

Rosen idled his time away reflecting on how strange a walking zoid felt beneath him. Flying zoids were simply more suited for the man. He believed that if he distracted himself enough with such petty thoughts, he might forget the whole fiasco and the storm of emotions would be left behind. Unfortunately, it went full circle; his thoughts on flying zoids lead to the Zabat, which lead to the concept of talking zoids, which lead to Wolf, and that lead back to the situation at hand all over again.

He was glad to find a good diversion, however, once they found their way home. A fallen Sword Wolf lay outside headquarters and the zoids had surrounded a small, cowering figure.

First order of business was the moving zoids.

Second order of business was what Aeolus was meaning to tell him.

Last order of business was Avon.
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12:36 AM - Sep 23, 2010 #24

What is Avon doing?

The plated, metal muzzle tilted, the glowing red orbs flickered. Rowl looked down from his spot in the sky, the delta-shaped wings stretched out and his flight boosters humming. First at the Sword Wolf, then at Jingles.

He was low enough to the ground to see the Geno Saurer straighten it's back in that infamous, rigid line. Rowl almost paused in mid-air, then flapped his wings once and swooped downwards.

"Idiot boy!" He hissed. Did Serenaid know her brother was doing something so foolish? Or was she the one who had ordered it?

It wasn't long before Rowl realized that he wouldn't make it. That Avon, unless he did something, was going to get hit. So the organoid pulled out of his nosedive, arcing upwards, and flew off to hide and watch.






Wolf stumbled inside, and in her weakness, it was enough to make her collapse to the cold, hard floor. The girl turned her head back in time to see Pravus's disappearing silhouette, right before the door closed.

Wolf then turned to where she had seen Serenaid.

Her first reaction was to scramble back blindly. She couldn't really make certain if the woman was foe or not. She was the leader of this group, even if she was being manipulated--but it was obvious that Serenaid was a prisoner now too. Perhaps Pravus had grown tired of the facade.

There was a chilly silence between them, and Wolf closed her eyes for a moment, thinking of how she switched with Rosen, of how he was safe now. Of how he wasn't going to die.

But how would she ever get away from Pravus? How would Rosen and Aeolus catch them, find them? How could they beat a massive Whale King?

Her heart beat loudly, but the fear was draining away. So long as Pravus wasn't near her, she was alright. Even if the halls reeked of his aura. No, Wolf was able to find and redirect her grieving to a different place.

"...This is what you get for being a killer." The girl was breathing harshly, perhaps a result of her pulsing adrenaline, her stress. "Those who lie with dogs wake with fleas. You had this coming, you stupid bitch."

Perhaps she was suicidal. Perhaps she thought she could take Serenaid. Or perhaps Wolf had something else in mind...

Or it could all be madness, and Wolf had simply succumbed.
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Aeolus
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1:48 AM - Sep 23, 2010 #25

Silence.









A circle of zoids. Jailers and prisoner turning their heads. Cockpits clicked open, pilots jumped out. Rosen set his eyes upon Avon.








Regret.

She'd often wondered why she had persisted to press forward with the Serenaders. They'd been reduced to miserable failure long ago, so why had she resumed operations? Because of that man? The one who'd thrown her in a black box and left an angry, tired girl with her as company? Seranaid rubbed over her face for what may have been the fiftieth time that day. To think that she was now the one stuck in a cage. Only hours ago she'd been looking at Rosen from behind bars.

Rosen, she mused. If he's a zoidian, he's certainly looking like a more appealing zoidian than Pravus.

The girl had insulted her. Or, well, her words should have been insulting. But Seranaid didn't see why she should not have. It made perfect sense—a young girl being swept up into nasty business with a ragtag assortment of strange and somewhat disturbed men? It wasn't an appealing notion to Seranaid, either. As much as the words hurt, the woman saw that she could only sink deeper into this dreamy feeling of complete failure—rather than leap up and swing at the girl for her insolence.

William, if you could see me now, she pondered. Would you laugh?

Pravus had betrayed her. Seranaid idly fished around in her mind for the virtues she thought she'd established with such strength, although it did occur to the woman that such a foundation had been little more than a lie. In retrospect, she'd allowed it to erode while Pravus let their actvities grow corrupted and dishonest. Their intentions went from noble to self-serving, and she wondered if she ought to regret ever letting a filthy zoidblood like him in their band those many years ago.

Seranaid honestly thought she'd loved him. Thought he'd loved her.

But after evaluating the course of events?

After acknowledging his treachery and blatant breach to their code?

Well.

If her life had to end here, she wanted to commit at least one final justice.

The woman let them sit in silence. It would seem like hours that they might sit there, but she was not counting the time. Seranaid simply waited until her own turmoil passed, until the girl's frustration dissipated. And there was a fleeting moment when a great despair gripped Seranaid—her mind went as black as the room as she thought on Avon, and she held her abdomen as the sickness rooted itself into her head.

It was only for a moment, though. She could see her little brother when all was done with.

Seranaid supposed the silence had been spent enough.

"When you see him, do whatever you can to garner his favor," she said quietly, her solemn voice echoing in the room. "At least until Rosen comes back. He always does.

"He's a good boy like that."

post#13*
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5:08 AM - Oct 01, 2010 #26

"Hello? It's Fueur. I know you guys are busy, but Zerovex showed up here a few days ago, injured. I don't know what's going on, but as soon as he recovered, he growled something about "duty" and tore off. I think he's headed your way. Look, I've never seen him like that. What happened? Where's Wolf? Please call me back as soon as you get this message. I don't know what's been keeping you from answering, but I've tried calling, like, five times... Okay, call me back soon."

-click-



He had been hit. Just like that, the Sword Wolf he'd piloted lost it's legs, and possibly a part of it's core. The edges of the blast could have even melted the rest away.

Rowl clacked his teeth softly.

What would they do with him? He had to wonder. What would they do with the boy who associated with the man who took their precious Wolf away. What would they do indeed.

So curious.

And yet, there was emotion at the edge of the madness. Emotion that was not his, that was forced upon his subconscious by that whining, desperate, terrified little boy.

Fear scoured the tips of his shadow like the jagged tails of flames, licking the air hungrily.

Rowl wanted it to go away.







Time dripped by. She could see it, crystalline, shiny, careful. An IV in her arm, a solvent of monotony and worry.

"The skin blistered badly, but it'll heal. Just give it time."

Drip, drip, drip.

Who needed saline when time mended all wounds and problems? Why pop antidepressants when time would, eventually, put smiles on faces again?

Drip, drip, drip.

And though it didn't heal what she wanted to, eventually, her anger faltered, rooted on a strand of fear that was slowly breaking apart. It left nothing but it's core: pain Her fear was pain, her anger was pain. Her agony and despair were pain. This, all of this, the Whale King, Serenaid, and Pravus--it was all pain.

Wolf could do nothing but take it.

"When you see him, do whatever you can to garner his favor,"

The girl's head jerked up in surprise, and she took time in digesting Serenaid's words. Instantly, retorts sprang up like brushfire, but Wolf bit them down.

"At least until Rosen comes back. He's always does.

"He's a good boy like that."


She stared.

"...You knew?

"All the experimenting, all of Charlie's tests... The cage in the maze... you knew about it? You knew and you didn't do a thing?!"

All attempts at rage were sparks on wet twigs. She was nothing but deluding wisps of smoke.

"You... you... why would I take any advice from the likes of you? I'm not going to please Pravus, for any reason. Why don't you?" The girl paused, her eyes burning with hate. "He loves you, doesn't he?"

She let the harshness of her words bite, if they did.

"Oh, and you know what? If Rosen shows up, he's not coming back for you."
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6:51 AM - Oct 02, 2010 #27

"...You knew?"

She braced herself.

"All the experimenting, all of Charlie's tests... The cage in the maze... you knew about it? You knew and you didn't do a thing?!"

...Well, what was she to do? It was an age of progression and advancement... Would it have been wise to completely stomp out the idea of conditioning such a volatile being to be even more unstable with a snap of the fingers?

"You... you... why would I take any advice from the likes of you?"

Come to think of it, maybe it would have been better.

"I'm not going to please Pravus, for any reason. Why don't you?"

A warm bed and a lonely night?

"He loves you, doesn't he?"

Seranaid thought about that. She found out that she didn't have to think very hard. "I'm in here, aren't I?" she replied somewhat coolly, somewhat tiredly. She wondered if the girl had heard her remark at all, as the response that followed the temporary silence was:

"Oh, and you know what? If Rosen shows up, he's not coming back for you."

Now the woman bit her lip. You could say that again, she wanted to say, but it was strangely difficult to force that out. Her attachment to her subordinates had grown very thin over the years, so why would she have cared about an experiment picked out of an orphanage? Maybe it had just been pity. Pity for a boy who could not control the man he would grow into, whose future would be stripped away so that they could make an animal of him. It was like pitying a pet, wanting it to love you back for your attention. Seranaid sighed.

She had nothing else to say in the matter.







"...God."

The walls, the floor, the ceiling—for the love of Eve, stop moving!

"Oh, God."

He was reeling. Or maybe his surroundings were reeling. He couldn't tell—no matter where he stumbled, a child's broken corpse and devoured lips awaited his eyes wherever they glanced. The image held steady in his gaze, and the blood and innards and broken bones frightened him. He felt that he needed to empty his stomach somewhere, but there was nothing to regurgitate. He was just sick. Terribly, terribly sick.

Behind him, Rosen stood with the most distant look on his face. He did not bother with the blood dripping down his pale chin. He just swallowed whatever chunk he had eaten off of the child and watched his teammate stumble about, flustered, afraid, ill. Nothing occurred to the man—no impulse to help, no compulsion to defend himself. It was a fact that he had just torn Avon's throat out in the kitchen. It was a fact he'd eaten the boy's lips off and gorged himself on the soft underbelly, that Aeolus had stood in the doorway, frozen and silent. There was nothing to defend.

He was what he was.

"...Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God..."

Aeolus could not find his wits anywhere, no matter where he reached, no matter what he blindly grabbed at. He staggered across the faded emblem on the floor of the main room, sank against the sofa. So sick. So dizzy. A kid...mauled by his teammate. The guy he'd been trying to fix for months. He was doing so well. So well. Aeolus felt that he should reach for the phone, call the police. He'd done that very thing the first time Rosen ate a child in front of his eyes. He'd picked up the phone and called the police on him.

And then what did he do?

He hung up. And when they came to his doorstep, he pointed them away from Rosen.

And now he just couldn't call them at all.

A mess. It was a mangled, bloody mess. Even if he did call the police, he'd already done so several times to assist in the case with the Serenaders. They had enough on their hands—dealing with Rosen was just too much trouble. And, as much as Aeolus wanted to keep his distance from the murderer, he realized he was reluctant to let the man go.

It wasn't an option. He could not give Rosen back to the authorities.

Even if Rosen was Spitze now.

"Fuck," he whispered to himself, his hand over his eyes. Sweat. Cold sweat, clammy hands. Funny. When was the last time he had this feeling? Aeolus lowered his hand and watched the trembling fingers, the outline blurred in his faltering vision. He dared another glance up at Spitze. The man still stood in the doorway to the kitchen, staring with such a vacant gaze that it was as though he had no eyes.

Murder is my ken.

He was in another state of mind, and that state of mind was called Spitze. He was in another world. A place where he was free to roam, to fight, to kill, to eat.

Good-bye, Avon. You were not fit for this world.

Spitze licked his lips and hissed. His face twisted, his teeth showed, and Aeolus cringed away from the sharp canines. He'd always wondered why they were that way. Was it genetics? A few on Zi had been born with pointed ears, so why not pointed teeth? But, when he considered the Seranaders, he had also wondered if it had been artificially done...

Whether it was natural or forced, those teeth could kill him either way.

Probably.

It was dark. Though the rain had stopped, thunder still growled in the distance. The headquarters trembled in the night, shivering and miserable, and Aeolus felt himself flatten into the sofa. His teammate continued to watch him. No hostility. No hunger. He just stood in the darkness of the doorway, barely illuminated by the light of the supercomputer. Blood did not look like blood. It looked more like grape juice.

Aeolus wondered if that was supposed to be funny.

"...I can't find the Whale King."

The younger man had spoken without real thought. Indeed, he had been glancing the computer screen, but he had not consciously considered what was on the screen. He'd been concerned with how to react. How to act at all. But once the words were past his lips, Aeolus realized that he had yet another problem on his hands. He slowly turned to the computer to confirm what he had just said, and it was true—the blip was not where it should have been. It was nowhere on the map at all.

He gawked. If the sickness wasn't enough, a void opened in his gut. His thoughts flew in a frantic blur.

Spitze came back! He's back! He's back! Make him go away! Get Wolf back! Go chase the Whale King! How?! Where's everybody else?! What are the police doing?! Call them! No! There's a dead boy in the kitchen! Oh God, there's a corpse in the kitchen!! Dad's kitchen! No, my kitchen! Oh, God! Spitze is there! He's right there, he's right there, what if he kills you? No, he wouldn't! I took care of him! But what about Wolf? Fuck! Fuck!

It was hard to see straight, hard to stay upright, and he almost jumped out of his skin when he realized that Spitze was right behind him.

There was a tremendous difference between this mindset and the one he defined as Rosen. Rosen was quiet, modest, withdrawn. He was difficult to coerce into activity and had a vague air of analytical innocence. Spitze was something else. He was analytical, but it was for the purpose of where to strike, when to strike. He sparked with suppressed lust, a desire that had not been kindled in ages. There was a time when blood wasn't enough, and something in his enveloping, caressing presence said that now was one of those times.

Spitze licked his teeth as he regarded the screen.

He rested his hands on his partner's shoulders and felt the younger man tense. Spitze inclined his head, smiled. For someone to squirm—he had long missed that thrill. Particularly with a morsel that was fit, one that was strong, or lean, or fast...or maybe just tasty. And he had the perfect package right here. He let Aeolus's soft, white hairs brush his sensitive lips. Flecks of blood smeared along the strands.

"I don't need your technology," he growled, brushing his nail underneath the younger man's chin. Aeolus cringed away from the predatory touch, dragging himself further away on the sofa. Rosen—Spitze—chuckled at the motion. It was just so insolent. So futile. "I know where to go. When to go." He finally wiped the blood off of his chin and lapped it off of his hand, sliding his tongue along the skin.

Iron. Delicious.

"Nobody interferes," he hissed, narrowing his garnet eyes. The computer screen touched them with something sharp, something alien. "I have prey to hunt and a prize I have long been denied. You can help...or you can be a good morsel and stay. But no one interferes."

He drifted around the sofa, his fingers trailing along the fabric until he was on Aeolus's side, kneeling by his partner. Aeolus was backed into the cushion to the best of his ability. Spitze found this curious. Whatever happened to fight over flight? He raised a hand; Aeolus flinched. Spitze grinned and chuckled again, giving him a friendly pat on the head. Aeolus had taken to staring at the blood on Rosen's white tank top, it appeared.

"Pravus is mine."

Aeolus wished he could argue.







The door swung open with a bang. The noise echoed in the dark room and throughout the Whale King, and Pravus stood in the doorway, leering down at Wolf. He did not spare Seranaid even a single glance. She remained huddled in her corner, looking asleep.

"Get out."
post#14*
<a href="http://z7.invisionfree.com/GZ_RPG_Etern ... wforum=402" title="Headquarters of the Four Winds" alt="Headquarters of the Four Winds" target="_blank">Base</a>
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12:39 AM - Nov 22, 2010 #28

Oh.







So that's what they were going to do.







The soft, crimson optics flickered. Rowl flicked his tail from side to side, and, when they moved inside, he started to follow. There was shouting. The organoid walked along quietly, reaching the door leading further inside. All the while, the boy's terror burned at his consciousness, trickling slowly through his systems.

He suddenly stopped. The metal talons clicked against the floor.

He could not go in. He wasn't sure why. There was no barrier, mental or physical. Yet, something, something, was keeping him from progressing.

It was interesting, really. Avon was usually a quiet symbiotic for him, never feeling great thoughts or feelings, except, perhaps, when his dear sister left him to go see to other matters. Then the soft caring reached out to the organoid, gently persuaded him to follow her. Sometimes.

He was a creature of his own free will.

...Right?

It was around this chain of thought that the screams began.

Then the emotion rippled through his mind like stream. Horrors. He could not see them, he was not afraid of them. But they pounded through his head like blood, a cascade of a dying creature.

Dying... Avon?

Do...

The red lights that were his eyes suddenly jerked on the monitor-like panels, color flecked across the black canvas. It lasted just an instant, and a second later, occurred again.

I...

Normal, twitch, and then the color was strewn across his eyes, pixellated, fuzzy. Just for an instant.

Help?

Rowl was glitching.

fzzthelptheboy<span style='font-family:courier'>fzztstop telling me what to do</span>

AAAAUUUGH SOMEBODY HELP ME!

fzztyourresponsibilty<span style='font-family:courier'>fzztI am my own being</span>

IT HURTS!

fzzt<span style='font-family:courier'>fzztGet out of my head!</span>

SERENAID!

AVON!

And then there was silence.










Wolf hoped it hurt her. She watched her face through the darkness of the room and hope it stung. She wanted Serenaid to feel all the torment that Rosen's training had caused. It wasn't a lot compared to the reality, but it was something, and Wolf clung to it childishly.

The woman's sigh ended the conversation.

Wolf closed her eyes. She had no idea how long she would be in here. All she could find solace in was that she was not going to die anytime soon. At least, not by Pravus's hand. No matter how much he may hurt her, he would spare her. And that gave Rosen time...

She hugged her knees. Who was she kidding? Pravus was twisted. Even if she would be alive, who knew what condition she'd be in? What if... what if...

No, Wolf. Don't think about it. Just hold on.

Just hold on.

The following slam made Wolf jump out of her skin. Light spilled into the room, a tilted rectangle, with a ghastly silhouette in the middle. It's shadow fell over her, and it's aura pervaded within her.

And then all that was going through her mind was the pot, the burning pot pressed to her skin, the pain, the heat searing her to the muscle, the flesh practically bubbling.

Wolf seemed to shrink.

"Get out."

There was hesitation, but she would not disobey. Wolf nervously pulled herself up, shaky as a newborn fawn, and made her way to the door. It was painful, just to have to get near him. But he was almost blocking the way. The girl squeezed her eyes shut and stepped past him.








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1:58 AM - Nov 23, 2010 #29

Beep.

"Hello? It's Fueur. I know you guys are busy, but Zerovex showed up here a few days ago..."

Calm. Deep breaths. No sickness. Act like nothing happened aside from what you would expect in a situation like this. Wolf was kidnapped, someone got...got...hurt. Yes. Hurt. That was all. The wounds were just a result of being mauled in a dogfight. Yes. That was all. Kid bled out. That was all. Right. Perfect.

Am I seriously trying to cover up for him in my own head? Aeolus thought, bewildered by his own mind. Am I seriously trying to convince myself that I didn't actually see all that? Why? Just, why? Why would I...? He killed a... He's killed... He's killed children. And I covered up for him.

It was around then Aeolus realized he'd missed the message, so he had to replay Fueur's voice mail.

I know I don't...want to let go of him, but is this really—?

Overthinking. Right. Got to stop. Wrong thing to focus on. It was time to think about Fueur's situation, now. Aeolus shut his eyes and tried to deflect any thoughts of Spitze, that thing he thought he'd put to sleep to long ago, that thing whose absence let Rosen flourish and take a meaning of his own. He'd woken, it seemed, and Aeolus could not go back in time to stop that. So he...he needed to think about more important matters at hand. He listened to Fueur's voice mail once. And then he listened to it again. And then he closed his eyes, and he contemplated it for as long and as hard as he needed to. He was having trouble remembering who Zerovex was. Frankly, he wouldn't have remembered Fueur's name if the man hadn't mentioned it in the message.

Aeolus pressed dial, put the phone to his ear, and waited for Fueur to pick up.



He had a good collection of knives in his room, he did. It scalded him to think that his favorite stiletto was probably still back at Nate's base, where they'd felled the Spinosapper and the King Liger. Speaking of which, he was wondering where the King Liger had disappeared to, since Aeolus had decided to take in that actrocious spinosaurus for some reason. Come to think of it, the entirety of zoids now in their hangar were atrocities. Talking zoids, all around, and even his own Zabat was fluttering around like it'd known how to pretend to be alive its entire life cycle. Stupid machine. Stupid machines, all of them.

Ah, but no time to dwell on spite, he supposed. Spitze had turned to make his way upstairs with the intention of grabbing one or a few of his other knives, maybe light his incense for good luck, when something caught the corner of his eye. His head still swam with the essence of blood, an essence that stank up the entire headquarters to him, even the entire city if he had been on the other side of New Helic—though, admittedly, he wouldn't have noticed it very prominently—and yet this one thing had failed to escape his darting notice.

Spitze turned toward a strange figure and let his eyes adjust to the dark. They'd spent so much time in the dark that it wasn't difficult for him to discern most things by now, and when his eyes focused, he frowned. Not only did he frown, but he also growled deep in his throat, hackles rising. Great. Another abomination of life. Another zoid. It wasn't a towering monster of a creation like the zoids in their hangar, but it still reeked of a twisted matrix of metal and flesh.

"Well, what do we have here?" Spitze said, displeased and wary.



Pravus moved to shut the door behind Wolf, looking more gaunt than ever and with almost a stumble in his step. He wasn't entirely certain as to why, but he'd found himself much more tired since the past hour. He should have felt good to get away once and for all from his troubles, and yet...yet it seemed that, maybe, his troubles weren't quite over. It was this lethargic state and this distracted mindset that gave Seranaid the opportunity she was looking for.

She leapt forth from the black chamber, having been stealthily pressed up near the door and kept cloaked in shadow while Pravus had called Wolf out. With her work of camouflage and Pravus's thoughts elsewhere, Seranaid was successful in her endeavor to escape the confines of that cell and land upon the zoidian she had so learned to loathe. Men were all alike. She would stop to ponder why she had given her heart and body to one at all, especially a disgusting sub-human like Pravus, but she was a little preoccupied with sticking her fingernails into the man's black eyes.

And Pravus was preoccupied with screaming in pain.

The man flung her away with all the force he had, and while that was not much at the moment, it was enough to throw Seranaid to the side and give her a good bruise in the ribs. The woman collapsed, unable to catch herself on her high heels, and she held her chest with a look of pain. Seranaid rolled onto her knees and attempted to rise. Pravus was shouting all sorts of bumbling obscenities while he wiped at his face, trying to rub away the pain and to see what damage had just been done to him. And while his eyes still functioned, they were all sorts of messed up: when he looked around, there were spots in his vision that he feared would never quite leave.

So infuriated with the addition of wounded eyes to the bullet-scar on his cheek was he that Pravus lashed out at the nearest thing: Wolf. He made one move, one swipe simply to knock her down and express his complete wrath, and as soon as she was out of the way, he flew at Seranaid.
post#15*
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3:05 AM - Nov 23, 2010 #30

She didn't pick up on his lethargy. Too far-drowned was she in her anguish to pick up her head or turn and face him. Wolf kept quiet, stayed hunched over, waiting for the door to close, waiting for him to force her along.

It never happened. No click of the door, no giant, rolling, lock.

Wolf did look up, however, at the sound of one body hitting another. And that body was Serenaid, now sticking her long, painted fingernails into Pravus's face.

When she realized the attack was aimed at Pravus's eyes, her own widened in surprise and disgust. She clumsily stumbled back, away from the struggling bodies, away from the screaming. But their scuffle moved further toward her, and she could only watch in her shock.

Then Serenaid was on the ground. Now what? Should she run? Try and find the control room? Figure out how to contact Rosen and Aeolus, all in the few minutes Serenaid would buy her?

Wolf looked at Pravus. There was no way Serenaid would win--

Pravus looked at her.

She was completely unprepared for it. His arm slammed her to the side, bowling her over her feet. The girl didn't yelp. It was a quiet sort of jolt, and the pumping adrenaline was dimming down the pain of the forming bruise. Wolf instantly curled up into a ball, expecting a beating. But when nothing came, she glanced up, and saw the man rushing at Serenaid.

His back to her. Both rogues distracted. This was her chance, likely the only one she'd get. She had to do something. Move!

Wolf pushed herself to her feet quickly, not worried about noise with the two preoccupied. And then she ran, forcing blind eyes to her fear, she ran, and leaped, and jumped onto Pravus's back.

She grabbed his hair and yanked back, hoping to expose his neck.










"Aeolus? Er, Rosen? Oh my god, please, tell me what's going on! Tobias told me all that happened two days ago, witht he surprise attack, and, and--you there?"










fzzzzzzzzzt

Snap.

Full, glowing crimson orbs. Saturated and unwavering, staring, blank.

Inside the mind of a deranged, living machine, was an eerie silence.

...Is this what it's like?

He was scared.

I'm all alone?

Freedom. It was not as he had imagined. Unchained, left to wander the recesses of a thousand years of nothingness.

Left to stare at madness.

No!...

No one to feed him from I.V.s of sanity.

Drip, drip, drip.

Somenody help me!

But Rowl had forgotten something.

He was not a free-floating entity. All his glitching, all his mechanical shudders had jarred the memory from him mind.

He was more like... a magnet.

And his opposite charge?

Click.

Rowl.

The organoid was always one of shadow, a hider, a seeker. Never to be sought--or at least, not found. Even in times of distraction, he could just pick out everything, all the interesting little details! And yet... something happened.


"Well, what do we have here?"


Rowl regarded the tall zoidian from before. Already, a quiet voice was whispering itself into his ear. The organoid lifted his head.

He grinned at the man.







"I am here on an account of unbiased meddling, of continuing a string of proud underhanded triumphs, of assisting and of watching, of thrill-seeking and of exploring. I come to see how the other side is, to relay that which is new, that which is desired. I am here today for service, sir, and boy, do I have the information for you!"
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Aeolus
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Aeolus
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Joined: 6:42 PM - Mar 07, 2009

1:24 AM - Nov 24, 2010 #31

"Aeolus? Er, Rosen? Oh my god, please, tell me what's going on! Tobias told me all that happened two days ago, witht he surprise attack, and, and--you there?"

"...I'm here. Freaked the hell out, let me tell you, man. It's Aeolus, by the way. And—I—(sigh)—it, it's a long story, I don't know what to tell you but it's a mess, and Wolf's in trouble, and man, I don't know what to do—I, I just..."

"Wolf? She's in trouble!?"

"Yeah! I don't know how to explain it, I—okay, well, um, see, what happened was... Shit, no, I can't... She's on a Whale King... I thought I had it but it's not coming up anywhere on radar, I'm freaking out here, but I think R—Rosen—I think Rosen's got plans or an idea of where they're going or something... A-and I'm gonna try and call some kind of help, but it's like one in the morning—"

"Woah, dude, wait. Are you trying to tell me... what the fuck, dude, are you saying she was kidnapped?!"

"Something like that! It was more like she traded herself in so I get could my partner back when I didn't ask her to."

"Fuck, dude, I have NO IDEA what you're talking about! Why is she on a Whale King? I... Why was Zerovex hurt? What the hell happened, Aeolus?!"

"...I..."

"Where is Wolf?"

"Th-that's what we're trying to figure out... Rose—Rosen had—has some enemies, I guess, and I guess she got caught in the crossfire, a-and—she was—pretty much kidnapped...and Zerovex, I don't, I don't know, I didn't see him get hurt—"

"...................."

"I'm...I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

"I've only known her for a short time, but..."
"I told her I'd look after her."
"............."
"What can I do."
"Aeolus."
"What can I do to help?!"


"You—...you could come over, we can try and figure something out... R-Rosen said...he knew something...? He's...really angry, so I wouldn't get in the way, but... He might need someone to help him fight, or take down the Whale King, or...something."

"(heavy breathing) ........ "I'm coming over."

"...Okay."

Click.

He'd never felt so breathless before. There was an ache in his chest and a tremor in his stomach, and Aeolus did all he could to breathe so that he might compose himself. His lungs were constricted with anxiety and it hurt him to draw breath, but he did so anyway, doubled over in the sofa, clutching his cell phone as if it was all he had. He'd just broken terrible news to Fueur. Aeolus wasn't sure of whether to be afraid or to be relieved. So instead, he was sorry. No, not just sorry—he was wracked with regret.

Aeolus wasn't sure why. He hardly knew either of them.To have been apologetic would have made sense, and even a touch of regret would have been okay. But here he was, pitifully bowed over with his hands together, as if in supplication to a higher influence for everything to just...go away. He thought that, perhaps, it was everything finally hitting him at once. Yes, that sounded right. Maybe that was it.

At last, he pried his fingers off of the phone and set it down on the sofa arm. Aeolus was in no condition to try and call anybody else, so he thought that he would do it when his stomach settled down a few minutes later. Without that on his plate, however, he didn't know what to do. He was too afraid to approach Spitze and try to formulate a plan or ask him what he'd had in mind, and he feared that he would throw up if he tried to talk to anyone else.

So Aeolus lay down in the sofa and waited for his queasiness to pass. The image of a boy having his lips and throat eaten off still burned in the back of his eyelids, and he tried his all to deny it, to forget about it so that he could rest. He closed his eyes and waited, struggling at first with the disgusting picture, fighting to find some place in his mind where he could curl up and recuperate from the whole ordeal. Maybe Fueur would be there by the time he was done.

Aeolus did not just rest, however. He began to drift off, and he began to doze, and although he caught himself several times and snapped back awake, he would have trouble with his oncoming slumber.



How...how sickening.

Not even three words in, and Spitze was tired of the organoid. All that mattered to him was that there was a trespasser on his territory, and for such a small mess of metal and flesh, he could tell it had quite the mouth. He hated the noisy ones. Furthermore, he hated whoever came up with these things. But at the moment, he was busy hating Rowl.

Already, the man wanted to raise his hand and say, "Very good, now shut the hell up and leave," and he might have actually done so if the organoid was making any sense. And at first, he made no sense, which effectively lured the man into staying quiet just for a chance at interpreting what the creature was babbling about. By God or Eve or whatever entity one wanted to swear by, this thing sounded just like a used zoids dealer. He was a second from raising his fist when the last few words zipped out of Rowl's metal maw.

"...information for you!"

Ding, ding, ding. There was the passphrase. Spitze stopped whatever movement he had initiated in his arm, his interest piqued by the allure of information. It sounded as if this organoid had been observing them for a time, at least enough to know what it was he was looking for (unless this was some childish prank, for which he had absolutely no patience at the time), and it immediately made the man suspicious, but it also made him intrigued. He did admit that he hadn't the slightest hint as to what their next step would be. He figured he would have just sat down and mulled it over, possibly run off to a potential destination for the Whale King or simply a potential route.

This was, however, a much more promising lead.

Spitze let his arm relax. Filthy mistake of creation as it was, he wanted to hear what the organoid had to say. So, advancing with all due caution, he narrowed his eyes and inquired, "What's the catch?"



Pravus was more than surprised that his head's movement was suddenly restricted, but he knew in an instant why this was so. The yanking on his hair tipped him off enough to inform Pravus that someone was holding his head back, and who other than the other girl who was not restrained? In the split second his head was jerked back, black rage cut across his mind and seized it by the timbers, and his composure shook and trembled at this show of defiance. They'd plotted this against him! He would ensure that this would not happen again.

Through the few precious seconds Wolf had bought, Seranaid was given an opportunity she had missed so many times: she closed her wiry fingers around the zoidian's throat, cutting off his airways. With all the thrashing about he'd done, it could easily have taken a mere ten, twenty seconds for him to pass out. Such just was not their luck, however—Pravus happened to possess more strength than even the both of them, and he swung hard at Seranaid, slugging her in the face.

The woman toppled to the side and Pravus ripped himself out of Wolf's grasp, eyes ablaze and face flushed, and he swung at her as well—this time with an open hand. And if that blow landed, Wolf would be showing a pretty, red mark on the right side of her face for a while. And immediately after that, he crashed to the ground, his legs having been swept from underneath him.

Seranaid scrambled up while the zoidian recovered. She did not think twice. She ground the heel of her high-heel shoe into his crotch, and then she clumsily stumbled away while the man yowled bloody murder.
post#16*
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Dragonwolf
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1:22 AM - Feb 07, 2011 #32

Had he been the Rowl from ten minutes prior, the organoid would have easily perceived Spitze's contempt, and toyed with it. But now, he was far too giddy to care, giggling wildly to himself.

"CATCH," Rowl barked out a laugh like Spitze was insane, "What do I need a catch for?" He broke down into hysteric giggles. "Whether you believe me when I tell you that Six knows where the Whale King's going, whether you believe me that he's locked up in New Helic County Prison or not--"

The zoid was scratching at his face armor, fighting to be able to communicate through the laughter. One red eye stuck out from underneath his arms, and peered at the man in a manner that could only be described as invasive--

"You're going to go anyway."










"Hurry!"

Daum had never run so fast in his life. But his emerald optics flashed desperately, reflecting in them his partner's worried expression.

Hang on, Wolf. Hang on. I'm coming.










Why did she do this? She should have ran.

No, I have to draw out this fight.

But it was terrifying. She had never fought anyone.

Before Wolf could lament her decisions further, her arms were torn from their hold on Pravus, and she fell, stumbling to stay upright. Not a second later, Pravus's hand slammed into the side of her face--the right side, where the burned and tender flesh was. The man's unnatural strength flung her around, where she crashed to the ground, crying out softly at the stinging on her cheek.

There was a thump as a body landed next to her immediately after. Pravus had fallen somehow--she didn't see--and Wolf crawled away quickly, distancing herself from the man. She didn't have to, though: Serenaid was up, and a bloodcurdling scream not all too unfamiliar shrieked through the corridor.

Not a moment to lose, Wolf. Don't forget the plan. You can't stop now!

Right.

She pushed herself to her feet, starting to run as shakily as a newborn fawn, leaping over the man's body and turning around to face Serenaid's back.

Go.

Wolf pushed into a sprint, and like Pravus, she sprung onto Serenaid's back, wrapping an arm around her neck and pulling back. Her heart pounded and her sweat glistened, but she couldn't stop then. She kept her grasp on the woman, waiting for the right moment, waiting for Pravus to rise...
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Aeolus
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Aeolus
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5:33 AM - Feb 16, 2011 #33

"CATCH."

Peals of laughter. Spitze curled his fingers into a fist, ready to launch a flying punch, regardless of whether it would hurt him more than the organoid. The stupid creature was mocking him. He'd show that beast a lesson or two in—

"Whether you believe me when I tell you that Six knows where the Whale King's going..."

He paused.

"...whether you believe me that he's locked up in New Helic County Prison or not--"

The organoid looked at him. He suppressed a growl, but the hairs on the back of his neck stood. Get to the point, freak. Tell me more!

"You're going to go anyway."

Then they were quiet. It was an unsettling quiet, and yet they stood like rocks amid a current, Spitze staring down the flesh-and-metal beast that grinned at him. He thought. He thought, and he thought, and though he despised their kind, he accepted. He accepted that this seemingly unhinged trickster was of some use.

"Show me."



His slider phone lay by itself on the nearby table. Aeolus was comfortably nestled in the sofa, curled into his own warmth, the grisly images gone from the back of his eyelids. He slept silently and soundly, although there was no telling for how long. Aeolus slipped into the welcome grasp of sleep, letting his mind and body relax from the day's ordeals. He let it take him away from the danger around him.

Yes, it was dangerous. But he did not care. Not when it was one in the morning. Not when all he wanted now was to get away from the drama. He could have stayed up and waited faithfully for a sign, for a chance to help Rosen or that strange girl named Wolf, but he could not help a minute of weakness. And that was just fine.

Standing in the hangar, Mischief's optics flickered.

Master was sleeping.

Time to play.



Seranaid toppled. She toppled hard. Surprised by a sudden weight on her back, she went flying off of her heels and fell, taking Wolf with her to the ground. She grunted when she landed on the girl, and she reached up, not knowing who or what was latched on.

Pravus slowly rolled onto his knees. He stood. He turned. It took a rare man to turn black to fire, and he had done it—his eyes burned with hatred.

"Enough." he snarled, his voice low and throaty. "This is pointless. Pointless and stupid. Get on your feet, both of you. I'm going to end this."

He turned swiftly on his heel and bolted away. Seranaid groggily got up, holding her head, and she glanced down at Wolf with a plain scowl on her face. She looked ready to reprimand the girl when she caught sight of exactly where Pravus was headed.

"Oh, no," she muttered. The woman tore after the black man. The zoid hangar was the last place they needed to be.
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Dragonwolf
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4:49 AM - Nov 01, 2011 #34

Anyway, anyway, anyway, Rowl repeated over and over in his head, until the words became so familiar that they were different. Anyway, anyway, any, any, way,

"Show me."

The organoid was still lost in thought for a solid half-minute after Spitze had spoken. When his head snapped up to attention, it was simultaneous with the rising of another unknown denizen in their very vicinity.

Rowl turned his head, not unlike a bird, so one eye was facing Spitze. The other faced the way to the hangar. "Come, come quickly!" Without waiting, he kicked off into the air, making a beeline for the hangar.

Ah, there. He thought he felt something strange. What's strange anymore? Nothing's stranger!

As Rowl landed on the ground before the impressive Shadow Fox, he couldn't stop playing the words "nothing's stranger" repeatedly, until it blended into "nothing, stranger!"

"Nothing, stranger," Rowl whispered to the fox, "Could make me happier to see you up. Rosen! Rowl turned to look at the man, assuming he followed. "Get in your zoid."








The booster fuel had long since run out before Fueur and Daum arrived at the base. Daum screeched to a halt right at the front of it, lowering his head to the ground. Fueur launched himself out as the cockpit opened, wasting no time. He could feel his heart pounding as he grabbed the doorknob and turned it, and practically threw himself inside.

Daum, for once, stayed perfectly still. This was a dire situation to be sure, and he had to be ready if his partner needed to gear up and roll out immediately.

Fueur was quiet as he hurried across room after room, door after door. He had never been inside the base before, and had to guess so where as to find everybody.

"A-Aeo?" He called out softly, hesitant.

Fueur turned a corner, and his breath caught in his throat.

There, all over the floor. Soaking the carpet. Blood.

Lots of blood.

His first instinct was to be sick, but the man bit down on his lip and suppressed the urge. He inched his way forward, peeked around.

He had the scare of his life when he saw him. Aeolus, lying dead still on the couch, his clothes flecked with red.

Oh. Oh, god. He was dead. Fueur couldn't make any noise, stumbling back in horror.

He heard a squelch of his shoe stepping in lord-wanted to know. The boy lost his nerve. He turned tail and dashed out of the house.

Daum. Daumdaum where the hell are you you stupid, brainless--

The front door was still open, and Daum crouched there with his cockpit open--

--wonderful, beautiful, lizard, how could I ever hate you--

Fueur did a running leap into the cockpit.

"D-d-dead," He choked, slamming on the auto-call keys on the console. "Tobias, Tobias, dear gods woman answer your phone for fuck's sake, oh god COME ON!"









"Oof!" The air rushed from her lungs temporarily when Serenaid fell on her. Luckily, she wasn't a very large woman, and Wolf rolled to her feet as soon Serenaid rose.

"Enough." he snarled, his voice low and throaty. "This is pointless. Pointless and stupid. Get on your feet, both of you. I'm going to end this."

Wolf looked up just as Pravus turned. She missed the look in his eyes. The black fire. She was blind to the fact that it had ever happened.

The girl stared at his back as he left, and missed Serenaid's look too. More blindness.

"Oh no,"

She heard that. So he was going somewhere... that worried her?

Didn't take a genius to figure out that one.

Wolf tore after them, eyes set on Pravus.

Blind. Like blind fear. Or maybe... being blind to fear?

Perhaps that was what gave her the courage.

Her run broke into a sprint. She flew past Serenaid, homed in on Pravus--

And the girl shoved her momentum into a strong kick, right into the back of his knee.

Right now, her allegiances were with the woman.

"Run, Serenaid!" Wolf screamed, and stood ready to face the consequences of her blindness.
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Aeolus
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Aeolus
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11:29 PM - Dec 28, 2011 #35

Spitze snarled to himself. He hurried after the organoid, fingers grasping for a knife that wasn't there. It was going to be a very, very long night.

The hangar never seemed bigger, never seemed emptier than it was when they stepped in. The Zabat sat back in the corner, silent, sorrowful, and a bit afraid. None of the lights were working at this time save for a couple, flickering reluctantly, throwing rusted shadows all across the floor. Spitze stepped up to the organoid, awaiting some form of direction.

Nothing happened at first. All he saw was a mistake of creation murmuring to another mistake, but then the Shadow Fox smiled, and Mischief turned his head to the man. Spitze leaped back, possessed by some kind of horror and some kind of hate. He couldn't move for a moment, not even when Rowl told him to do so, and it took Spitze a minute to gather up the nerve to let his muscles loosen up. He stood straight and scoffed at the Shadow Fox as if to belittle him.

Mischief only snickered as the man walked away. The Zabat said nothing, did nothing, whatever to avoid inciting Spitze's wrath. Spitze only climbed on in silence, prepared to follow the organoid—as much as he didn't want to.



SMACK.

It was less of an open-handed slap and more of skin, then nail. Pravus struck Wolf across the face with a clawed hand, face twisted with a fury he had never known before. He rushed in to snatch her up by the throat, but as Seranaid clattered by him, nearly tripping on her heels, he realized that this was perhaps the poorest time to let his anger cloud his judgement. Punching Wolf with his other hand, he let the girl free and tore after Seranaid, closing his eyes to call upon his only real ally.

From inside the hangar, the Death Raser stirred. It gave an awful scream as it felt the will of its master, and the beast stomped forward to meet him.

Seranaid seemed to panic as she heard its mechanical footsteps. "No, no, no," she muttered under her breath, trying to pick up the pace, but that led to the woman going face-down into the ground. Instead, her will had to go on its own, reaching for a very similar ally.

Pravus had no control over Bio Zoids quite as much. They were designed in a way that gave them greater resistance against outside forces on their command systems, but this one was not responding to force. It felt the terror and urgency in its friend's heart, and the Bio Spiner raised its head, extending a claw to barricade the Death Raser beside it.

...You will not pass... TRAI-TORRR.
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