FANFICTION Heartbreaker

Discussion in 'SHOWCASING' started by Buio, May 8, 2016.

  1. Prologue


    He awoke to pain and the sound of screaming.

    “It’s not working! He’s rejecting it!” rang out a panicked female voice somewhere nearby.

    It took half a moment for him to realize the screaming was coming from his own throat, on account of the pain and all. He could feel it as it burned through his every fibre and yet also felt oddly disconnected from everything going on, as if he was both experiencing and spectating simultaneously.

    “It’s working,” replied an older male in a calm but authoritative tone “He’s just causing us grief as usual. He won’t break from this. Complete the insertion.”

    Another moment of hazy duality and then suddenly everything snapped together. The presence inside and the presence outside reached each other and the pain radiated to the ‘spectator’ part of him with a renewed vigour. The screaming stopped as every muscle in his body seized up in agony, incapable of relaxing and drawing in the breath needed so as to continue yelling. Then, as quickly as it came, the pain stopped and everything returned to the black from which he had been pulled.
     
    #1 Buio, May 8, 2016
    Last edited: May 8, 2016
  2. Chapter One - Hot Child in the City: What kind of stupid name is Bark?


    He woke up groggy, with the sounds of nearby passing cars as the only thing with which to orient himself, and a wet warmth at his cheek to let him know he was alive.

    Coming to, he weakly pushed away the alley mutt that had been licking his face and shook his head lightly to disperse the bleariness still clouding all his senses. Looking around, he could tell he was sitting in a cobblestone alleyway, back propped up against a brick building and several cars seen running down a boulevard several meters down to his left. He could also see some people walking along the sidewalk separating his alleyway from the road, though the street light didn’t spread far enough to fully illuminate him, keeping him hidden from anyone not actively looking for someone in the shadows.

    He pushed himself up with a groan and used the building wall to support himself as he got to his feet. He frowned as greasy bangs of black dipped in red fell and obscured his vision. He tried to brush them to the side or backwards to little effect.


    “Urgh. I need to cut this stupid mop, or at least get a headband or somethin’,” grunted the teenager as he managed to at least sweep the offending locks aside so they didn’t fall past his eyebrows.

    Looking around himself, he at first wondered where exactly he was. Then, came the thoughts of how he’d gotten there. Shortly thereafter, a more prominent question manifested itself in his mind and forced the other two out completely.

    “...Who am I?” asked the teenager dumbly to no one in particular, looking at his own limbs as if seeing them for the first time.

    He looked back in his mind and tried to think harder, tried to dig out the answers to these questions from the darkness that seemed to cling to the insides of his head, hiding behind his eyelids and muddling him on what should have been simple queries. When he tried to push past the darkness, however, he was suddenly gripped by a phantom pain, grunting as he clutched at his chest. Flashes of memory came back to him. The pain, the voices around him, the disconnect from himself... Fragments of answers... Better than nothing at all, though.

    When the moment passed he opened his eyes again to find he’d lost his balance and was using the wall to keep himself from sliding back down to the ground. He looked at his right hand again, one word coming to mind.

    “‘Heartbreaker’… Is that my name?”

    No—even saying it out loud—it didn’t sound quite right. Still, it was something he could remember and that was a start.

    He was suddenly drawn out of his consideration by a slight whimper to his right. The mutt who had woken him up was still standing nearby, looking at him with what he interpreted as a worried cock of its head, tail swinging back and forth slowly.


    He gave a low sigh as he addressed the dog. “Go on mutt. I’m thankful that you woke me up but I don’t have any food for you.”

    Not understanding what was said but perceiving that the human wanted it gone, the dog gave a low whine and lowered its head as it stepped over cautiously. It lightly sniffed at his ankles and then plopped down with its jaw, resting on his sneakers. It looked up at the amnesiac with silently pleading eyes and the teen hesitated for a moment before rolling his eyes and giving a resigned sigh.

    “Dumb thing…” he said, crouching down and scratching the mutt lightly behind his ear. “You’re practically starved and I don’t even know how to help you, why are you sticking around me so stubbornly?”

    The dog leaned its head into the scratches, showing its appreciation as he ran his fingers through its short and thick, curly and gray fur. The teen smiled lightly and continued to show the animal affection for a few seconds. Soon enough, however, he decided that something had to be done to help the poor thing and that he wouldn’t be the one to bring it about in his current state.

    He stood back up and the dog did the same, seemingly worried that the human would leave it behind. The teen gave it a reassuring smile. “Come on boy, maybe one of those nice people on the street can help you.”

    With the human walking away towards all the others, the dog hesitated a short moment before deciding to follow him. This one seemed to be one of the nice humans.The dog’s instincts told it that a nice human would keep it safe from the nasty humans who always barked loudly and threw things it couldn’t eat at it.

    The teen, on his end, waited at the alley’s mouth, examining the people walking by without reaching out to any of them. In spite of what he’d said earlier—amnesia or not—he knew that not all of the people walking by would be ‘nice’ or willing to help. A few of the pedestrians looked at him as they walked by, most of them giving him wary glances until a scowl from him had them quickly turning away and begin keeping their eyes to themselves again.

    He realized, however, that the wariness was somewhat warranted. It didn’t take him long to notice that none of the people walking arround were dressed like him. They were all clothed in modern, typically conservative garments. The biggest oddity around was that clothes coloured primarily in contrasting shades of gray—with only a few accents of bright colour to break up the stone-like style—seemed rather in vogue among a fair few of the residents.

    In contrast, he with his red-tipped, black hair, dark red trench coat—stylized with more buckles than it could ever really need—night blue undershirt, and baggy, slate gray jeans: he looked more like a hoodlum ready to jump someone for their munny purse than he seemed likely to ask for dog food.

    He sighed out in annoyed frustration. “Well, this is just great. Being amnesic can’t ever be easy huh?”

    His only reply was an inquisitive whine from the dog at his side. Taking in a deep breath and hoping for the best, he stepped out in front of a group of four highschoolers who hadn’t taken notice of him, forcing them to stop abruptly if they didn’t want to run right into him.

    “Hey buddy! You lost or something?” growled one of the two boys, a sour looking youth with dirty blond, spiky hair that he kept combed backwards, the boy also sporting a sharp goatee jutting down from his chin.

    “Actually, I am,” replied the lost teen calmly and without hesitation. “I’m new around here and I’ve got no two clues where I am, but that’s—”

    “So!?” cut in the spiky-haired blond, “Do we look like the welcoming committee or something?”

    The amnesiac gave a hard glare accompanied by a low growl that made two of the blond’s friends stake a step back. While the blond himself didn’t move, he did recoil slightly before returning his own scowl. For a moment it seemed as things would escalate until a small yip from the side drew their attentions. The mutt was now nipping at the amnesiac’s heels for attention and the tension was diffused. With a sigh, the amnesic boy tried for an explanation.


    “Like I was saying, I’m not worried about me. My dog hasn’t eaten in a while though. I was wondering if any of you knew where I could go get some food for him.”

    While he was no longer as openly hostile as before, the spiky-haired boy still had a scowl on his face while listening to the other talk. “And like I was saying, we don’t care. Take your sob story somewhere else, creep.”

    “Speak for yourself, Zio.” proclaimed one of the two girls in the group, stepping forward. She had shoulder-length hair that almost looked black in the night-time lighting, but upon closer inspection it was actually revealed to be dyed a dark shade of blue matching the amnesiac’s shirt.

    “Aw geez Ciel, you can’t be serious with this,” protested the blond. The tone of his voice made it apparent, however, that while he was exasperated with her behaviour, her actions clearly weren’t coming across as surprising.

    The cold glare she shot back to silence him made it clear that whatever the dynamic in this group was, he certainly wasn’t in any position to reproach her. Even with one eye hidden behind her bangs, the other boy was quickly looking contrite under her gaze in spite of being a full head taller than her.

    Without bothering to verbally reprimand the blond, the young woman turned her attention back to the newcomer and his pet, her expression noticeably less hard than it was when she looked at Zio.

    “There’s a convenience store nearby. I’ll show you the way.” She glanced down at the mutt and then offered a small smile to the newcomer. “What’s its name?”

    Before the teen could answer that he hadn’t really picked one yet, there was protest from the second boy in the group. “Cee, you don’t even know this guy.”

    This one was shorter than the blond by a few inches, the fact further highlighted by his own buzz cut contrasting with his friend’s spiky hair. However, he was no less imposing due to his considerably thicker and more muscular build, which was visible even from underneath his uniform (after noticing that both boys and both girls were dressed identically save for the colour accents on their clothes, the amnesic had intuited that the gray clothes he’d assumed were in vogue were actually some sort of uniform). So far, this young man had been content to just let the situation develop without interjecting himself, but seemed to become concerned as soon as Ciel made her offer.

    The newcomer stared down the hard emerald eyes hidden behind the circular, purple shades of the brunette. This highschooler was quieter than Zio, but the newcomer could already tell that this guy was the one to look out for if a fight broke out. It proved unnecessary, however, as Ciel found herself handling this one just as well as the last.

    “Does a Tristam student need to know someone to offer them aid? If a newcomer can only expect to be helped by the people who know him then he’ll be wandering around here lost forever. You should know that better than anyone, Cendre,” she replied to the other boy’s statement.

    This caused an audible groan from Zio. “Gimme a break Cee. Can’t you drop the honor student act already? It’s Friday night.”

    Another sharp glare from the girl silenced the boisterous youth before he could say more. “Exactly. It’s friday night,” she snapped coldly, “which means none of us have anywhere we need to be right now. I won’t twist your arm to show some basic decency, but I for one don’t intend to shirk my responsibilities the minute end of class bell rings, especially not when we’re all still in uniform.”

    Before the argument could continue any further, the newcomer cleared his throat. “Uhm, hey, look, I appreciate the effort and all, but there’s really no need to argue about this. Directions’ll be fine, no need for anyone to guide me.”

    “Oh, and what money does a vagabond have?” inquired the blue haired schoolgirl as she turned around, throwing him a suspicious cock of her eyebrow.

    He had a start at this. Right. Money. People usually expected that in exchange for goods and/or services. He hadn’t specifically checked his pockets, and there were more than a few on the outfit, but the lack of jingling when he walked or particular weight to said pockets gave him poor odds of finding a fortune stashed on him somewhere. Taking his silence as confirmation of her suspicions, the girl continued.

    “Even if it’s for your dog, stealing is prohibited,” she chided calmly.

    “What!?” said the newcomer, taken aback by her assumption and immediately jumping to defend himself, “I wasn’t planning to—!”

    “No, of course you weren’t,” she interrupted with her continued matter-of-fact tone. “Which is why you’re going to follow me and let me buy the food. Afterwards we’ll go get you some ID and you can tell me how you’re going to pay me back.”

    With the conversation done as far as she was concerned, the girl turned around and walked in direction of a street crossing that her group had just passed, clearly expecting him to follow after her.

    With a confused expression the newcomer called out to her, “H-hey! What are y—”

    “Can it, creep show. Don’t ask for help if you’re gonna turn it down,” growled Zio before pushing his way past the newcomer. “You’re her ‘quest’ now so just follow the lady and keep quiet. Unless you want your dog to keep going hungry.”

    The newcomer was about to retort when he felt a hand on his shoulder, to the side where Cendre stood. He didn’t speak now but his stoic expression conveyed the message of good luck, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you pretty clearly. This guy’s demeanor agreed with the newcomer better than Zio’s arrogance, so he gave simply a subtle nod of his head in reply.

    “Cendre! Rin!” Zio called over his shoulder, impatient to have his two friends follow along.

    The other boy removed his hand from the newcomer’s shoulder and followed after his friend. The last person in the group, a freckled, pixie of a girl with strawberry blonde hair who’d happily stayed quiet during the entire exchange, gave a small smile that the newcomer didn’t quite know how to interpret before darting off to follow after the two boys.

    Taking a moment to look at the dog beside him, who just cocked his head curiously, the amnesic boy just sighed and shook his head. “Well, no use looking a gift horse in the mouth, eh boy?”

    The dog gave a playful yip which the teen interpreted as confirmative and he nodded in turn, starting now to walk off in the direction of the blue-haired girl who was waiting for him at a cross-walk.

    “Well then, much longer and I’d have left you to catch up by yourself,” reprimanded the girl stoically as he approached.

    “Wouldn’t have made much sense for you to do that since I’m the whole reason you’re going in that direction,” retorted the newcomer matter-of-factly. “Mind, I still appreciate the help. It’s good to see some people around here know how to treat strangers.”

    Ciel made a small sound to acknowledge this, but otherwise didn’t reply. The two waited in silence until the cars all stopped moving and the hanging crystal across the street turned from red to blue, signaling pedestrians over. It was only when they were already over at the other side that she spoke up again.

    “You never answered me, by the way.”

    The boy gave her a confused look, trying to go back mentally over their interactions to figure out what she meant. However, she spared him the trouble and explained herself.

    “Its name,” she motioned at the dog who was following dutifully behind them. “You never told me what it was.”

    “Oh, that,” said the teen, thinking about it for a second before looking down at the dog. “What about it boy? You got a name?”


    The dog gave back a happy bark, not knowing why the two humans were suddenly paying attention to it but happy about it anyway.

    “Huh, there you go, his name’s Bark,” replied the newcomer casually.

    Ciel looked somewhat surprised at the answer for a moment but quickly laughed it off. “I see. It isn’t ‘your’ dog, is it?”

    “Well, it doesn’t have a collar and it’s following me around. S’far as I’m concerned that makes it mine for now,” replied the boy with a shrug.

    “Hmm, I see. You’re not the most organised of people, are you, uhm…?” she said with a light enough tone to make it was clear she was only teasing. However, the way she oddly trailed off in her sentence prompted him to look over to her. When he did he was met with an expectant stare.

    “Uhh, ‘zthere something stuck on my face or…?” he replied, blinking a few times in obvious obliviousness.

    She sighed out at this and shook her head. “Your name. I don’t know what to call you.”

    “Oh.. Oh! Right, my name. Uhm,” his mind raced back to the one word that had come to him when he had tried to remember his past. “Heart, uh, Br...ick. Brick Hart.”


    Judging by the look on Ciel’s face she was far from sold on his performance. “Alright then Mr. Brick ‘awkward pause’ Hart, I don’t suppose you have any ID on you to verify that claim, do you?”

    ID... ID... What the hell was that again? Oh! Right, identification. He tried to quickly think up an excuse for yet another thing he was currently missing but she had already taken his hesitation as confirmation of her suspicions.

    “Don’t worry, you’re not the first drifter to wash up here after the heartless destroyed their home. I’ll help you get properly registered.” She continued calmly, making a sudden right turn down a side road. Either she knew where she was going well enough to able to talk without really thinking over the directions, or she’d had this conversation enough times to get through it without paying much attention.

    ‘Brick’ couldn’t tell what to make of the strange girl. She was certainly helpful, but seemed far from a bleeding heart so he wondered what made her so motivated. She was pushy in her own way, but at the same time didn’t seem to get impatient when he didn’t know how to respond to her. He guessed from the earlier conversation that she was a pretty serious person, but at the same time she spoke to him, a total stranger, as if she were joking around with her friends(?) from earlier.

    Well, whatever, he’d leave figuring out the wunderkind for later. She’d mentioned something interesting just now.


    “Heartless? What are those?” he asked with a more serious expression. What kind of creature could destroy whole worlds? Why did the word sound so familiar?

    “The dark creatures you saw appear out of nowhere before everything went dark,” she explained without looking at him, replying under her continued impression that he had escaped a heartless invasion. “They’re the Darkness inside of hearts—all of your negative emotions—made real. They hunger for hearts more than anything and what attracts them most are the hearts of worlds. When the heartless find that, the entire world falls to darkness and only a lucky few individuals with strong enough willpower or bright enough Light inside them survive. The ones who do so, then, end up in places like this: Transit City.”

    Once she was done she wasn’t particularly surprised that he hadn’t replied right away. They usually didn’t. It was something pretty big to dump on someone all at once, after all. Still, in her experience, it was usually better to lay it all out as best as possible early on and then let them sort through it as they adjust to their new environments. Losing a world was never easy, but there was no favour done in hiding the truth from survivors either. When she looked over to him, though, he had an oddly intense look in his eyes. His unfocused yet hard and distant gaze spoke volumes about the degree to which he was mulling over what she had just said.

    Heartless… Darkness… Hearts… Light… Worlds…

    The terms spun around in his head incessantly, nagging at him with memories that would not come, a familiarity that he could not place. It felt like he had already known everything she just told him, felt like he knew more, but when he prodded his mind for more answers, all he got was an empty, hollow void echoing back. He didn’t dare push harder, remembering the phantom pain in his chest from before, but at the same time, he couldn’t shake the terrible feeling that he was forgetting something important. More important than whatever the hell his name was. If he could just think, if the fleeting memories and shadows could just—

    “Planning on going somewhere else first?”

    He was brought out of his musings by Ciel’s voice behind him. He turned around to realize the girl had stopped nearly a block back without his realization, the dog pacing back and forth hesitantly between the two, not knowing which nice human to keep following. The girl stood in front of some sort of well-lit establishment with large windows in the fro—a store. Right. She was stopped in front of a store, that’s what those were called. This was obviously where they were supposed to get the food and he’d just spaced out.

    With some light embarrassment, the teen redoubled on his course and made his way back to his guide. “Oh. Uh, sorry, I guess i was just—”

    “Digesting; It’s okay,” she said calmly, finishing his sentence for him before leading him into the corner store. “It’s not exactly every day that you find out boogeymen are real and that they also ate your home. You’ll be adjusting for some time.”

    Brick nodded and followed in after her. “Thanks. You’re pretty good at this.”

    “Hmm?” she intoned with split attention, starting to look through the aisles to find which one had the dog food they would need.

    “I mean, your friend said you weren’t the welcoming committee, but the way you’re handling all this is pretty professional if you ask me, especially considering how young you are.”

    “This coming from someone who doesn’t look any older than I do?” she said idly as she found and grabbed a small bag of food, then led him towards the cash register.

    He started at this and looked around. Quickly, he found a mirror hung up in the corner that allowed the store clerk to keep an eye on the entirety of the floor (though, at the moment he was so preoccupied with a video he was watching on some handheld device that he hadn’t even noticed Bark walking in with the two teenagers). In the reflection, Brick got a good look at himself for the first time since waking up. He found himself surprised by the fact that he did indeed look like a teenager, no older (maybe even a year or so younger), than the girl who’d chosen to help him out. He, of course, didn’t know why this was surprising; it’s not like he remembered what he was supposed to look like, nor did he feel like he looked like someone else. He was just surprised at how small he looked in the mirror and, as with everything else tonight, couldn’t quite put his finger on why.

    Ciel was about to snap him out of his thoughts again when the clerk beat her to the punch.

    “Hey! What do you two think you’re trying to pull?”

    He had evidently just now noticed Bark standing next to Brick and the dog food in Ciel’s hands made her a clear accomplice.

    “Can’t you read!?” continued the clerk angrily, pointing accusingly at a sign in the window. “No pets allowed!”

    “Relax buddy, we’re just buying this thing and leaving,” retorted Brick aloofly, though it seemed to do little in easing the clerk’s attitude.

    “You’re not gonna be buying anything with that mutt still in here,” he snapped back with a scowl.

    Brick’s features darkened at the perceived provocation and he brought a hand to his side, suddenly noticing a weightless void where he had reached for.. something. He couldn’t quite place what, but at the moment, he had more pressing thoughts. Weaponless or not, he wasn’t about to be talked to that way by some scrub in a uniform. Suddenly though, his vision was filled by two bright green circles framed by night blue.

    He stepped back in surprise with how close Ciel had gotten to him, her stoic expression largely unreadable but somehow conveying that she knew more than she was expressing about his reaction just now. Before he could shake off the shock of her appearance, she spoke to him coldly.

    “Wait outside with Bark. I’m the one paying for this anyway.”

    Something in her tone had changed, the small but perceptible lightness from earlier had vanished and what he previously would have taken as a prompt suggestion was now conveyed as a very clear order. On some level Brick wanted to argue with her too, but something about how she looked at him told the boy he was better off listening to what she said for now. As she turned around to go pay for the dog food, Brick motioned for Bark to follow him and led the dog out to wait for her.

    It was only a couple minutes before the doors slid open and Ciel stepped out to join them. Brick attempted to bring up what had just gone on inside as soon as she saw the girl walk out.

    “Hey! Listen, about that …” he trailed off when he noticed she was walking right past him.

    Instead of acknowledging his babbling she knelt down next to Bark, who quickly came up to her and began sniffing her affectionately. Brick looked on as she easily tore off a corner of the packaging and poured out some of the kibble into a small pile on the sidewalk. The emaciated young dog eagerly took to the meal and began chowing down. A small, soft smile the likes of which Brick hadn’t yet seen on the girl painted itself across her features. As opposed to the stoic and authoritative guide he’d interacted with so far, she looked almost motherly, smiling down at Bark while he ate.

    The moment was short lived however and when she stood up, Brick was quick to avert his eyes so as to try and hide the fact that he’d been staring. If Ciel had noticed, she chose to not address it.

    “You were about to fight with that man for doing his job.” she said coldly, losing all traces of her previously maternal expression.

    “What?! I wasn’t-!” but again Brick’s protests were silenced by the girl as she stepped in close and locked eyes with him, just like back in the store. Put off by this, the vagabond youth took a step back.

    “Geez! Would you stop doing that!? How the hell do you do that anyways?” he asked in reference to how, in spite of only having just met her, the girl seemed to have a perfect handle on him and how to shut him up when she wanted to.

    Ignoring him, she just continued with what she’d been planning to ask anyway. “What world did you come from?”

    Brick was initially taken aback by her seemingly random question, but soon averted his eyes downwards and to the side. “I don’t know...”

    Ciel’s brows furrowed at his evasiveness. “What do you mean you ‘don’t know’? I’m not asking for a specific name and location. Just tell me about where you came from.”

    “I said I don’t know!” he snapped, loudly. More loudly than he’d intended. She took a step back, with mild shock at his sudden outburst. Brick felt a pang of shame upon seeing her reaction and averted his eyes again.

    There was a tense silence between the two, but soon enough Ciel recomposed herself with a deep breath. When she spoke again it was with a softer tone than prior. “What’s your real name?”

    “...I don’t know...”

    She sighed out deeply and nodded. “I figured as much, your age matches it.”

    He gave her a bitter glower at this. “Yeah, you seem to have everything figured out don’tcha?”

    “Hmm? And what is that supposed to mean exactly?” she replied calmly, challenging his angst.

    He gave a resigned sigh and shook his head. “Nothing. Thanks for the help so far; I’ll find my own way from here.” He turned around and started to walk away, not wanting to bother with any of this anymore.

    “You’re just leaving Bark behind?” demanded Ciel with a scowl.

    “Like you said: wasn’t ever ‘my’ dog to start with.” he called back with a forced tone of indifference, waving his hand nonchalantly. “Find ‘im a good home. You’ll be better at it than I-”

    He was cut off at the sudden feeling of something pulling at his leg. He looked down and saw Bark with his teeth clamped down on the hem of his pants, growling lightly as he pulled him back. It wasn’t like the medium-sized dog (at best) could really hold him back, but somehow Brick hadn’t been expecting the mutt to keep following him now that it had gotten the food it needed.

    “For a dog that ‘isn’t yours’, it’s certainly attached to you,” commented Ciel once she’d closed the distance he’d managed to make between them. Before he could reply, she shoved the bag of food in his chest. “That means you’re not getting rid of me any time soon; you still need to pay me back for that.”

    Brick looked down at the bag of kibble and then frowned up at her, less out of genuine frustration and more out of confusion. “I don’t get you. Who- what are you? Why do you even care?”

    The question gave the girl pause. Whereas just a minute ago she seemed to have an answer for everything, the girl now considered his question or a moment. When she had decided to answer, she did so while lifting her head to look up at the stars.

    “My brother and I are like you. We lost our home to the darkness too. It happened when we were four and six years old respectively. We were too young to do anything about it then, but we were lucky enough to wind up here in Transit City soon after.”

    She lowered her gaze and turned towards one of the city’s landmarks. It was a majestic building that one could see raised up on a large hill some dozen miles down the way, lying in what seemed to be the heart of the city. Even at night, it was well illuminated and the grandiose architecture identified it as a place of great importance.

    “Over there is Tristam Academy. It’s Transit City’s most prestigious place of learning and the place where the City Watch is trained. My brother and I joined that academy so we wouldn’t ever be that small and helpless again. Since then, I’ve tried to do what I can to help anyone I come across who might in a similar situation. Though, I have to admit, it’s my first time meeting someone else who just landed here. Still, it was thanks to the kindness of strangers that we made it through those first few weeks here; I wouldn’t feel right seeing someone else go without it.”

    Brick had stayed quiet while she spoke, understanding that even if she was just replying to his question, she was still revealing something personal about herself. By the end, though, he wasn’t feeling quite as reassured by her confession as he was sure she’d meant for him to be. Her reasons made sense, but something about it left him feeling… unsatisfied somehow.

    “Hmm, I see. Well, thanks, seriously,” he said, finally breaking the silence. “I’ve only been on this world for less than an hour, and I’m sure it would already have been a whole lot rougher if I hadn’t met you.”

    She smiled at this and opened her mouth to reply, but this time it was him who cut her off.

    “But I’m not a five-year-old. I appreciate what you’ve done for me so far and I will pay you back, but I don’t like indebting myself to someone as soon as I set foot somewhere. So I’d rather not get indebted to you any more than I already am at this point.”

    She furrowed her brows at this unexpected reply. “So you’re still planning on going it alone from here on out?”

    Brick chuckled and just crouched down, scratching Bark behind the ears. “Nah, I’ve got Bark here to look after me. With him around, I’ll be sure to keep out of trouble.”

    Ciel smiled lightly at this and let out a resigned sigh. “Well, I can tell there’s no talking you out of this, so at least take a few pieces of advice from me. Firstly, you won’t get far in this town without any money and you won’t get any money without an ID. As soon as you can manage it, get to a government office and get registered. Like I said, Transit City is more or less used to people from destroyed worlds showing up here, so the administration won’t give you too much of a hassle if you just explain yourself. For tonight, head to the Third District and find the Cait Sith Inn. Not the coziest accommodations, but they’ll let you stay on a tab and won’t give you any hassle over keeping a pet with you, provided Bark can get along well enough with the owner and his cats.”

    Brick nodded pensively as he committed the advice to memory. “Get sleep, get ID, get money. Got it. Thanks again for your help.”

    “One more thing,” added Ciel with a sly smirk. “If you’re going to keep Bark around, you should really stop calling her ‘boy’ and ‘him’. She’s a female.”

    Brick blinked in surprise and—with a quick check between the dog’s hind legs—saw her statement was correct.

    “Oh! Sorry about that, girl,” he apologized to the mutt, though she only responded with another happy yap and began licking his cheek. Brick gave a grimace of mixed happiness and disgust at the slobbery show of affection and quickly stood back up, wiping himself off.

    Ciel chuckled at the exchange, but her features smoothed back into a serious expression quickly enough. “Oh and… Brick, I want to give you one last warning. I told you that people who survive having their worlds destroyed by heartless do so with either Light or willpower.” She paused for a moment, considering how to phrase the next part for a second before continuing. “People who survive it because they had enough Light in their hearts don’t suffer from memory loss after. Be careful that some of the Darkness you fought off to get here didn’t seep into you. I wouldn’t want to see it take you after you’d made it this far.”

    While she spoke, the vagabond’s smile fell and when she mentioned Light shielding from memory loss, he looked at the girl with a mildly stunned expression. It wasn’t so much about what she’d said, but more the fact that he felt once more that her words were resonating with something he already knew to be true. Something behind the black…

    After a moment, his smile came back and he gave a light chuckle. “Thanks for the heads up, I’ll be sure to let someone know if I start hearing voices telling me to hurt people.” He laughed lightly at his own joke, but Ciel didn’t join him. He stopped when he noticed her stoicism wasn’t fading from the forced humor and sighed, though quickly affected a small smile. “Would you lighten up? I’ll be fine. Like I said, I’ve got Bark to look out for me. I’m not gonna let any Darkness worm its way into my heart. I survived it for a reason.”

    To this, Ciel sighed lightly managed a small smile. “Heh, well I guess that’s exactly the attitude you should have, honestly. Good luck ‘Brick’.”

    Without adding anything more, the midnight-haired girl turned and started walking her way back towards where she knew her friends would be.

    “Haha, not even a goodbye? Talk about cold, Ciel.” Bark yapped along with the statement as if to agree.

    “I get the feeling I’ll be seeing you around again soon enough,” she called back, mirroring his aloof wave from earlier.

    The teen maintained his confident smile, watching her walk off for a moment before facing his companion. “Alright girl, I think it’s been enough of a first night for you and me. Let’s get to the Third District and find that inn.”


    _________________________________________________________________________


    Getting to the Third took about three hours and by hour one Brick was already cursing having given up Ciel’s help. The city was confusing in just how damn orderly it was. Save for the large gates erected to separate each district from each other, the whole place was practically devoid of landmarks.

    While he did stop to ask for directions on more than one occasion, the whole city just blended into itself to him. Buildings and streets were laid out in such a way that he was constantly finding himself turning onto a street too early or too late, not realizing his mistake until he was halfway down the incorrect path. It would be at this point that he’d have to ask for directions again and carefully backtrack to avoid getting lost in his efforts to no longer be lost.

    Of course, wandering around any completely foreign city at night with no money was likely to cause similar issues, but Brick was already feeling resentful enough over having sent Ciel away that he chose to redirect his anger at the city planners rather than himself. If he took this as a challenge to surmount rather than a failure to deal with, he was less likely to get frustrated and do something rash.

    It didn’t help, however, that as one walked alone, one had few other things to occupy themselves with than their own thoughts. More often than not, when Brick missed a turn it was because he’d unconsciously slipped into considerations on his missing memory and, as a result, tuned out the world around him. Were it not for Bark’s interventions whenever he wandered too far off course, Brick was sure he could have ended up spending all night wandering around the city, trying to figure out exactly where and who he was.

    When he finally made his way to the Cait Sith Inn, there was no consideration spared for the fact that the old wood and plaster building looked distinctly out of place (what with its well crafted but worn wooden door and tiled roof) in a neighborhood otherwise lined with shops and establishments that conformed to the modern and conservative look of the city. All he could think of was how supremely beautiful the ugly, old, black and white neon cat sign hanging above the door looked to him and his tired feet.

    “Look girl! Looks like we finally made our way through this insane urban nightmare!” exclaimed Brick, pointing at the two-story inn. Bark happily yapped along with his excitement and the two quickly took off towards the building, the young dog quickly leaving its new master in the dust.

    Bark climbed up the steps leading to the front door and began repeatedly scratching at it to get it to open, pausing only to quickly look back at Brick as if to ask ‘Why are you so slow?’ before resuming its scratching.

    Brick laughed lightly at this and picked up the pace to catch up with her and reach the place which promised a warm bed for the night. However, a few short meters away from the door he was seized by a pang of vertigo and quickly had braking suddenly and steady himself for fear of toppling over. He crouched down to one knee to attempt and shake off the wave of disorientation; however, instead of dissipating, the drowsiness only became more blinding and a ringing noise started going off in his ears.

    ...kout…

    “Wh-what!?” At this point Brick could barely hear Bark barking loudly at him, trying to bring him to his senses. Not only was the ringing deafening, he could swear he had just heard a voice cut through it.

    ...ind….ou…

    Brick tried looking around for the source but couldn’t make out anyone around him. Still, the ringing grew louder.

    “Who are you!?” he called out in frustration.


    Look out behind you!

    As the voice finally broke through in his mind, the ringing and drowsiness finally cleared away. Simultaneously, however, there was a bubbling sound behind him and Brick turned to see space and time be torn asunder by a cloud of darkness. As quickly as the cloud appeared, it dispersed again after a moment, leaving behind a strange creature dressed in what seemed to be a blue body suit.

    It was clear from a glance that, whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t human. It looked almost cartoonish with it's oversized hands and feet; the former were punctuated by thick, red claws, and its long shoes curled up into spiraled toes. Despite its lack of any other piece of Armour (save for a pair of steel cuffs), an old, medieval knight’s helmet still rested oddly on top of its shoulders. Whatever features may have initially made it look funny or comical were instead made unnerving and unsettling by the fact that nothing could be under its helmet. No face, no neck, no features at all except for two bright, sickly yellow eyes peering out from an infinite darkness.

    Heartless

    This time the mysterious voice didn’t need to speak to him for him to know what this thing was. The knowledge flooded into his mind as soon as his eyes met the creature’s.

    For a moment the two just stared at each other, the heartless soldier twitching its head intermittently as it seemed to emotionlessly size up its prey. After a few tense seconds, it suddenly crouched down, almost on all fours, and launched itself at the human in front of it with its claws raised high. Brick had to quickly throw himself to the side to avoid being turned into mincemeat.


    The creature, having expected an easy kill upon seeing a downed opponent, landed ungracefully and tumbled face forward towards the Inn upon its failed attack.

    Looking back in its direction, Brick now noticed that there had been a sort of barrier erected in front of the Inn, one upon which the heartless’ face was now resting. This had the peculiar effect of making a pane of air shimmer and sparkle around the heartless’ head with a vivid disturbance of iridescent colours.

    On the other side of the barrier was his dog, barking loudly and angrily at the heartless presently occupied with slowly coming to its senses. At least it certainly looked like she was barking loudly. The barrier also seemed to muffle sounds coming through it, so Brick could barely hear her from his side. When the heartless shook off its dizziness, it took notice of the dog on the other side, and seemed to completely forget about the human it had just attacked in the process. It began clawing at the barrier to try and get through, only to be met with painful, magical shocks.

    While there were no signs that the barrier could fall, Brick frowned and growled angrily at the monster’s attempts to get to Bark. He picked himself up and started running towards the single-minded creature.

    “HEY!” he yelled out, angrily. The heartless only turned towards him in time to catch a foot to the underside of its jaw. With a full powered kick, Brick had punted the accursed thing two meters away from where it had been crouching.

    “Keep your claws away from my dog, creep! You’re fighting me!”


    Brick threw his fist into his open palm and cracked his knuckles to punctuate his point. While that kind of kick would have doubtlessly snapped a regular human’s neck, and the harsh landing that followed would have broken a human’s bones, the heartless itself was no mere human. The monster simply got back up, shaking itself off as if it had just stumbled to the ground.

    However, while it had no facial features to read, Brick knew it was angry when they locked eyes again. Rather than recoil, though, Brick just smiled. There had been a lot of things about today that had pissed him off and generally frustrated him. This would be a good way to let off some steam.

    This time, there wasn’t any hesitation on either of their parts. As soon as the teen and the heartless acknowledged each other, the two started running headlong towards one another.

    The heartless was the first to act, bounding up into the air with one clawed hand raised high. Its attack was interrupted by Brick dashing in and knocking the significantly smaller opponent out of the air with a strong punch to the gut, sending it careening backwards.

    Brick laughed as he saw it tumble across the ground and land dumbly on its rear, head spinning slightly.

    “What’s wrong, that all you got? Why don’t you go back to whatever hole you crawled out of then?” taunted the teen confidently. This creature was unsettling and far tougher than it looked, but it was also dumb and easy to read. As long as he steered clear of those claws, beating it into submission would be easy.

    Stupid as it was though, it seemed to have learned its lesson through pain and stood up more cautiously than before. It refrained from charging directly at the teenager just yet, and instead simply hopped around from one foot to the other, measuring up its opponent and looking for an opening to attack.

    Brick only grinned at this. “Scared, are ya? You should be!”

    Since neither opponent was getting anywhere waiting for the other, Brick decided to rush the heartless and bring the fight to it. However, just as he was getting in striking range of the monster, the heartless sprung into action, suddenly hopping to the right and landing a few meters away from Brick. It wound itself up and—before Brick could figure out what the daft thing was doing—launched itself at him, spinning through the air in a flurry of claw swipes and angry kicks.

    “What!?” exclaimed Brick in surprise before hastily crossing his arms in front of him to block some of the attack. Well, so much for ‘easy to read’. Brick received half a dozen searing, red scratches across both arms and a few to his lower abdomen thanks to trying to block.

    On the one hand: hey, turned out heartless didn’t make you bleed, cool. On the other hand: the attack had still left noxious marks across the surface of his skin that pulsated with an evil light and radiated Darkness. The parts that the heartless had damaged felt like they were on fire and Brick had to keep his teeth grit tight to keep himself from crying out in pain.

    The heartless attempted to capitalize on this by following up the whirlwind attack with another jumping claw swipe. Almost subconsciously, Brick snapped to attention and shot his arm out, grabbing the wrist of the heartless and interrupting its attack in mid-air. As soon as he felt his fingers curl around the dark appendage, he used the pain of his wounds to fuel his strength and pulled the heartless out of its trajectory, flipping the small body over his head and smashed it back down against the concrete.

    Before it could restabilize itself, he reached down and grabbed onto its other wrist, holding onto both arms as he began spinning it around himself. He built up momentum with three full revolutions before letting go of his opponent, sending it flying into the barrier that separated the street brawl from the Inn.

    While this action had been executed more out of pain-fueled battle rage than any actual stratagem, he quickly noticed how the same shimmering light show from before appeared all around the heartless when it connected with the barrier. Not only this, but the heartless was then suspended in mid-air by the barrier for a few seconds, twitching violently as if being electrocuted by it, before being dropped back down on the ground. Brick noted there seemed to be steam rising from its limbs.

    However, whatever fun and levity Brick had felt over the fight earlier had completely disappeared as the claw marks continued to burn at him. Breathing harshly, he moved to tower over the heartless currently struggling to raise itself back up to its feet. Once he was over his opponent, Brick picked it up by the bottom flap of its helmet—the closest thing it had to a collar—and held it up off the ground. Looking into the heartless’s eyes, he understood that, in spite of all this, the creature didn’t know true pain or any significant fear towards the human. It might know ‘hurt’, and it knew to avoid ‘hurt’ when possible, but anything deeper than that was swallowed up by the overwhelming hunger still present in the eyes. Everything to this creature—any form of joy or sorrow it could comprehend—all revolved around what it needed to do to devour.

    Finding himself suddenly possessed of a hatred he did not know, Brick held the monster away from him at arm’s length and pulled back his other fist. He struck forward and simultaneously let go of the heartless’ helmet, connecting with the hard metal with a crushing blow. The strike smashed the creature’s head against the barrier and pinned it there with Brick’s weight.

    The barrier’s defenses activated again and the magical shock once more coursed through the heartless’ body. Now, however, it was also flowing into Brick from his contact with the monster. The magical charge renewed the fire in his wounds, undoing the numbing his adrenaline had managed to spread over his body. Brick roared in pain but, instead of letting it take him, he used it to further press the heartless into the barrier whose magic tore away at the Darkness that composed its body.

    “Grrrrr! Just, fucking, DIE ALREADY!” Brick suddenly released his hold on the heartless, leaving it suspended in the barrier shock for a moment as he jumped backwards. Without missing a beat, he dashed back towards the heartless and transferred his momentum into a powerful, turn-around kick to the chest. This was the last effort needed; finally, the heartless' body exploded under the strain and dispersed into wisps of Darkness.

    Exhausted, the boy dropped down to his knees, panting hard and holding his throbbing arms aloft in front of him. While the heartless was gone, the claw marks remained, still pulsating with their unnaturally red glow. The Dark aura around the wounds had dissipated, however, which indicated that either the heartless’s presence had been making them worse or that his body was already starting to heal, if that was even possible.

    “Tch! Shit, I almost wish he’d actually cut me with those claws. These wounds just look weird and burn like hell!” he growled to himself.


    After a moment though, something odd dawned on Brick. He looked over at Bark and, sure enough, she was still yapping away, but the sound was still muffled. The barrier protecting the buildings was still active.

    As if the realization itself triggered the event, the sound of bubbling space was once more heard behind him. Brick turned around just in time to see three clouds of Darkness disperse and leave behind an equal amount of heartless Soldiers, these three already bounding around excitedly in preparation for a fight. It seemed that the destruction of their compatriot had signaled to other heartless that a strong heart was nearby.

    “Oh, you have got to be kidding me!” protested Brick while bringing up his fists in preparation for the coming brawl. As he did so, however, he was suddenly assaulted by yet another wave of vertigo that knocked him down to one knee.

    ...me…

    “Grrr! Not now!” Brick rebelled against the voice in his mind, expecting the heartless to seize the opportunity at any moment.

    The fears were well founded; the central heartless jumped at Brick only a brief moment after he went down, both hands raised. Brick perceived the movement and tried to dodge to the right again, however his disorientation made him stumble and fall to his side. He threw up his hand to protect himself, but cringed and looked away as he braced himself to feel the bite of even more claw swipes.

    Use Me!

    Brick suddenly felt a weight in his outstretched hand but, to his surprise, found that it wasn’t the body of the opponent that had just thrown itself at him. At least not only that. Opening his eyes slowly, he saw that his hand was currently wrapped around the handle of a greatsword of some sort. The heartless that had attacked him was currently impaled halfway down the sword in question. It twitched a few times as unlife drained from the creature, then suddenly dispersed in a burst of Darkness, leaving behind only a floating, crystalline heart.

    The presence of the heart seemed to agitate the two remaining heartless, causing them to begin shaking their heads side to side quickly, helmets rattling loudly. Simultaneously, however, they seemed to be hesitant to actually approach the weapon that had so easily dispatched their comrade.

    Picking himself up off the ground, Brick stared at the new weapon that had materialized itself in his hand with some mild wonder. The sword was over a meter long (making it three-quarters as long as he was tall), with a blade almost 20 centimeters wide. In spite of this, he could handle it easily with only one arm, the weight somehow feeling comparable to a short sword.

    The flat of the blade was black while the edge was a silvery-white color. About two thirds of the way up, the blade's body split into two prongs, with the topmost ends of the sword squared off and sharpened to an edge, making the weapon more suited for chopping than stabbing (though it had already proved able to do the latter well enough). Still more interesting was the fact that the blade seemed to have key’s teeth at the end of each prong. Strangely enough, the teeth were turned inwards rather than outwards and the negative space between them very clearly formed the shape of a heart.

    The last notable feature about the sword was a small chain hanging from the pommel, connecting to his wrist. The metal seemingly merged into the flesh on the underside of his arm, binding the blade to him.

    Brick spent a moment examining the strange new sword.

    “Huh, so I guess you’re the one who’s been talking to me then? I suppose late is better than never.” Though the weapon’s appearance gave him pause, he was nowhere near forgetting the situation he was in, and turned back to face the heartless. He gripped his new weapon tightly in both hands and steeled himself for combat.

    This motion seemed to force the heartless to make up their minds about whether or not to attack and both soldiers pulled back in a tell-tale wind-up that Brick recognized immediately. He waited until they launched forward in a committed trajectory and suddenly dashed to the side of their whirlwind attack, letting them speed past him and unload their torrent of spinning claw swipes and foot strikes at the barrier behind him. Before they had even come out of their attack, Brick turned on them and dashed forward, starting to spin himself. He caught the two heartless in his own cyclone of slashes, cutting them both repeatedly as energy he didn’t know fueled his revolutions. The attack quickly dispatched them both and freed the hearts buried under the Darkness of their beings.

    The young amnesiac looked around warily, expecting more heartless to appear in response to his destruction of the party of three. However, no more of the monsters made themselves known and within a few seconds there was even a shimmer across the surface of every nearby building. The protective barriers erected by the city had come down; the fight was over.

    Brick sighed heavily and the sword that had materialized itself in his hand disappeared in a bright flash of red, gold, and white, accompanied by the tension draining out of him like a physical thing. The light from his dematerialized sword shot into his right arm from the point where the chain had been connected to his wrist. Brick felt it travel along the arm and settle itself as a radiating warmth in his chest.

    Placing his hand over his breast, Brick could feel the warmth as if it were a second heartbeat. He knew, somehow, that if he tried it again, he would be able to summon the blade to his right hand once more. This suddenly reminded him of his amnesia-related predicament and he closed his eyes, trying to focus on his memories and see if he could remember anything else about himself. If nothing else, maybe he’d at least remember his actual name.

    Unfortunately, after a few moments it became evident that simply obtaining this new weapon wouldn’t be the only thing needed to unlock all his hidden memories. Any further consideration on the matter was interrupted by Bark jumping onto Brick’s back and knocking him to the ground.

    The boy turned around on his back quickly and—half expecting the strike to have come from another enemy—almost materialized his weapon again. He was interrupted in doing so, however, by an overjoyed Bark hopping on his chest and licking his face repeatedly.

    “Ack! Ah– I get it girl! Yes, yes, I’m happy you were worried about me too, now get off.”

    In spite of his command, he was gentle in pushing the dog from him, legitimately feeling quite happy to have the companion animals’ affection after such a harrowing experience. Victorious or not, he still had the wounds across his arms and lower abdomen as proof of the fight, and now he wanted that warm bed more than ever.

    He got up to his feet and smiled down at the dog beside him. “Come on girl, let’s go see how the Inns around here treat a local hero.”

    Bark gave an approving bark and followed after her master as he made his way up the steps and into the Inn.

    _________________________________________________________________________

    Atop a nearby roof, a slender, feminine figure looked down as the intriguing young vagabond cleaved through two Soldier heartless with ease. A devilish smile spread itself across her features.

    “Well then, a keybearer of all things,” she chimed sweetly, tone full intrigue, “and you thought it was pointless to keep our eyes on him.”

    Standing only a meter to her side, a male figure looked down at the street with a more stern and studious expression. He kept his eyes trained on the hearts released by the heartless upon their destruction, especially as they floated away after the vagabond dispelled his weapon.

    “I admit, I didn’t expect this kind of development from him, especially not so soon after he appeared here. That weapon of his definitely seems to be a keyblade, capable of truly destroying heartless instead of just dispersing them temporarily... Although…”

    The feminine figure smiled wider, showing teeth now. “I know. This one seems special doesn’t he? It looks like we’re not his only fans either.”

    Curious over the statement, the male figure tore his eyes away from the boy and his dog, swiftly scanning the other rooftops. Sure enough, there was another person on the rooftops across the street, looking down at the same spectacle they’d just witnessed. The figure seemed to be dressed in a white cloak of some sort, but the man was incapable of making out any more details before said figure suddenly disappeared in a thin, vertical beam of light.

    “Hmm…this newcomer could cause us trouble,” the male interloper replied with his same, even tone.

    “Or, he could be just what this place needs to make it more interesting,” replied the feminine figure, dangling her feet idly off the edge of the rooftop as she kept her eyes fixated on the door behind which the keybearer had just disappeared.

    _________________________________________________________________________


    Entering the Inn, Brick immediately understood Ciel’s earlier warning. Just standing in the entrance hall, he could see half a dozen cats either lounging on a surface or strutting about. Moreover, the ‘person’ working the registration desk themselves seemed to be a large, one-eyed cat dressed in a baggy, yellow hoodie.

    Bark was immediately set on edge by the vast amount of felines about but, much like her master, she seemed too tired by the events of the day to really address any of it.

    Brick came up to the counter and sighed. “Hey, uh, kitty. Don’t suppose you can rent me a room?”

    While he’d half expected it—considering the large cat was sitting upright and wearing human clothes—Brick still nearly jumped out of his skin when the creature opened its mouth and started talking in a gruff, masculine voice. “Well, depends ‘humey’, you got any cash on you?”

    “Gah! Uh, no, and sorry, not used to talking animals.”

    “Said the talking ape.” retorted the cat with a smirk. “Well, if you don’t have any money you can open a tab, but you’ll have to show me some ID first.”

    “Uhh, you accept any other letter combinations?” attempted Brick with a nervous joke. “Kinda short on I’s and D’s now.”

    The one-eyed cat gave him a smirk, his twin tails swishing lazily back and forth behind him. “Sure kid, how about F and U? You think i’m running a charity or something here?”

    “Aww, come on man!” whined Brick, “I was told I wouldn’t get any hassle over here. All I want is a bed, dude. Do I look like the kind of guy who’d rip you off?”

    “Heh, want me to answer that honestly?”

    Brick tried to scowl, but in his fatigue it came across more as a pout. “Look, can you just go get your owner? I’m sure they’ll be more reasonable.”

    “Tough break kiddo, I’m the owner,” replied the cat with another small smirk. The cat then shifted his gaze down to the teenager’s arms for a moment. “Those are some impressive wounds. I’m assuming it has to do with the barrier that just went up?”

    He’d almost given up on this place when he’d heard the cat call himself the owner, but Brick heard opportunity in the innkeeper’s following line of questioning. “Uh, yeah, a bunch of heartless ambushed me outside,” he answered with hopeful caution.

    The cat raised the brow over his good eye at this. “Oh? ‘A bunch’ did?”


    “Well, I mean there was just one at first, he was—” he caught himself, he’d almost just revealed that the first heartless was the only one to wound him, but that would mean revealing how he dispatched the other three. A premonition told him to keep that weird blade a secret for now. “...just a distraction. There was another one hiding behind me, came at me like a whirlwind. I barely managed to block and these wounds are mostly from that one attack. They kept getting back up every time I knocked ‘em down, so eventually I had to smash them into the barrier to get rid of ‘em for good.”

    The cat simply chuckled. ”Two opponents is hardly ‘a bunch’.”

    “Hey! I don’t know what kind of insanity you guys are used to around here, but where I’m from having two creatures of absolute darkness attack you in an alleyway counts as getting bunched up on,” protested Brick in only
    a half lie. Even if it had only been two of them, the fact that the first monster was the one to hurt him so much made everything harrowing enough.


    The inn keeper just laughed lightly at his. “Calm down, kid. You seem the honest sort, and pretty tough as well if I’m hearing you right. I think we can work something out. I’ll give you free board for the night and even throw in a meal in the morning. In return, though, you’ve got to do some work for me around the Inn tomorrow until you’ve paid off your tab. Also, I’ll be taking your picture, so if you try to skip out on me at any point I’ll pass it around every inn, bar, and hotel in the city. That sound fair to you, humey?”

    Brick grinned and nodded. “Deal!”

    To be fair, he really had no idea how good he’d be at housework, but at the moment he was too tired to care. Whatever the next day threw at him, at least now he’d face it well-rested and fed.

    The amused cat passed his paw over the register book, making it open by some sort of magic. The pages turned themselves until they reached the one for the day’s registration’s.

    “Alright then kiddo. Sign your and your pet’s names here and we’ll get you into a room.”

    Brick hastily did as instructed and then turned the registration book back to the Inn keeper. The cat looked over the signature with a quick glance before doing a double-take. He pulled the book towards himself to make sure he was reading right and then looked up at the teen with an incredulous and confused look.

    “What kind of stupid name is ‘Bark’?”
     
    #2 Buio, May 8, 2016
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
    • Love Love x 1
  3. Chapter 2: Hot Child in the City Two - Electric Boogaloo

    “Seriously, how is it any different from calling another dog ‘Fang’, or a dalmatian ‘Spot’?”

    It was just under two hours ‘till mid-day now, and Brick had already been up for about five of them. He had been woken up ever-so-gracefully by a stupid, orange cat farting directly in his face. Well, to be accurate, he’d actually been woken up by said cat’s tail batting him across the face. The stupid thing had somehow gotten in his room and elected to make his chest its new bed. Upon him waking up—and spooking the cat as a result—it had seen fit to let a smelly one rip directly in his face before skittering off. Brick wasn’t entirely sure how she had managed to escape the room before Bark woke up and made mincemeat out of her, but he promised himself that if he saw the cat again today he was sure to let his dog turn the blasted thing into his new slippers.

    After getting dressed and heading down the stairs, he’d told the innkeep—Jubei, he learned his name was—that he would be forwarding the bill to him if he got pink eye. This only served to remind the man-cat that his newest tenant had a debt of his own to pay off and he hastily got him to work doing exactly that.

    “Dogs have fangs and spots. They do barking.” retorted the innkeep, watching as the teenaged human carefully placed bags of flour up on a stocking shelf.

    It had turned out that whether or not Brick was talented at housework wasn’t really an issue to begin with. Jubei had a whole list of chores that had been “somewhat neglected” around the inn and all he really needed was the free slave labour with which to tackle it. Slave labour which Brick was now providing.

    The cat-man, in spite of having chosen to supervise the youth's work all day, never actually did anything as esoteric as ‘helping’ or ‘showing him how to do it’ of course. Rather, Jubei would simply give Brick a command and then crack the boy across the lower back with his saya (calling it a ‘scabbard’ earlier had earned Brick a swift correction accompanied by another crack) whenever he was doing something wrong. The ‘whippings’ were only ever enough to get him back to attention and never really hurt, but Brick had quickly gotten aggravated with his overseer’s preferred method of nit-picking.

    The cat—apparently used to dealing with hot-headed youths who didn’t like to be woken up in the morning—had skillfully provided the boy with some distraction in the form of banter while he worked. This let the teen vent his frustrations while simultaneously giving Jubei the opportunity to directly oversee the quality of said work.

    “So? At least it's something dog-related. What’s the sense in calling a dog ‘Fido’, or ‘Pluto’, or ‘Mr. Peanutbutter’? Dogs don’t understand human language…” he paused here, expecting a rebuttal, what with the fact that he was currently having this conversation with a talking cat. However, the innkeep let the comment slide, so Brick just continued. “As long as it’s mono– or bisyllabic and the dog responds to it- Ack!” he was cut off by another whack across his lower back.

    Those are rice bags,” said Jubei in reference to the bag Brick had just absentmindedly put next to the flour. “They go on the second shelf. Pay attention,” chided the cat with veiled schadenfreude.

    Brick rubbed his lower back and shot the cat a scowl, but quickly and dutifully picked up the rice bag he’d left on the top shelf with the flour and moved it down to one of the lower ones, as indicated by the slave-driver. “Like I was saying, if it's a simple word and the dog responds to it, who cares about ‘imagination’ when coming up with a dog’s name?”

    “Normally I’d agree with you. Your human concept of ‘pet names’ gets ridiculous on the best of days. Still, saying things like ‘Bark barks’ just sounds awkward.”

    “So, by that argument, no human should ever be called ‘Dash’, ‘Mary’, ‘Taylor’ or ‘Carrie’? Those are all verbs too, you know,” retorted the teen, putting away the last of the rice and carefully examining the inventory sheet for where the rest of the stock went.

    This gave the old cat pause (no pun intended).”Hmm… fair point.” he conceded.

    “Hah! So you agree that ‘Bark’ isn’t such a stupid name after all,” smirked the teen victoriously, while still knowing better than to stop working during his boasts.

    “Oh, it’s still plenty stupid. Just not any more stupid than any other name you humans can come up with,” retorted the cat coolly.

    “Bah, sore loser,” dismissed Brick, earning a satisfied chuckle from Jubei.

    It was another ten minutes of ultimately pointless back-and-forth between the two until order was restored to the previously disarranged storeroom.

    “Alright, took you a while to get everything sorted, but everything looks acceptable now,” said the cat, hopping off his perch and ignoring the disdainful look his halfhanded compliment earned him. “You’ve got one last job to do for me and then we can consider your debt cleared off.”

    “Another?!” exclaimed the boy. “You said that two chores ago!”

    “Considering how slow you were going, you needed all the motivation you could get.”

    Brick offered an unimpressed scowl at this. “Yanno, you could just say you were lying through your teeth.”

    Jubei chuckled and shrugged as he walked past his aide and out of the storeroom “Fine then, I lied.” he threw back casually.

    “Un-fucking-believable...” Brick shook his head and followed after his warden. “So, what is this ‘last job’ of yours exactly?”

    “Groceries,” replied the cat-man matter-of-factly, though this earned him another disdainful glare from the human beside him.

    “You lazy—! Why do you not have your own groceries done!?” The human was baffled how anyone running an establishment could be so unprepared with their own housekeeping and general management

    “To give slackers like you a way to pay off their debts,” retorted the cat without missing a beat. It seemed he was absolutely unflappable before the teen’s morose and argumentative mood.

    Brick was given enough time to go wash his face and hands from the manual labor that morning before they would head out to the grocers. While he appreciated the small reprieve he didn’t spend any more than the minimum amount of time on cleaning up his appearance. Once he’d washed off the grime of working all morning and given his hair a quick rinse to help keep it out of his eyes, he stepped out of his room’s bathroom and spent the few minutes he had leftover to play with Bark.

    The girl had been on edge today—cooped up in a room, surrounded by the smell of cat—and thus appreciated finally getting attention and affection. She’d bounded up from where she was laying the moment he had walked into the room and then hardly stood still the entire duration he’d spent taking care of his toiletries. If nothing else, going to the groceries would give him a good opportunity to take Bark out on a well-deserved walk.

    Deciding he’d rather not risk the innkeeper's ire by making him wait too long, the teen quickly made his way downstairs after only a few short minutes of play. The gray haired mutt began bounding excitedly around his feet as she put together that they were getting on the move again. Coming down the staircase and turning the corner into the entrance corridor, the pair was met by Jubei already waiting for them by the door. The cat was wearing his usual yellow hoodie, but the saya he’d previously wielded like a whipping cane was now strung across his back, a protruding hilt indicating it was currently holstering its previously vagrant blade. Actually, when Brick got a closer look at it he saw two hilts, one sticking out from the top and another from the bottom. He thought this was strange but didn’t get the chance to inquire about it before Jubei spoke up.

    “Huh, so you’re bringing Bark along, huh? Guess I prefer her being with us rather than possibly coming back here and finding some of the other cats mauled,” asked the cat man with a raised eyebrow, eyeing the dog slightly suspiciously as she rounded the bend.

    “You mean like a particular orange tabby that totally has it coming to her?” retorted the young vagabond with a smirk.

    “Hmm, yes, well ‘has it coming’ or not, I’d still forward you the vet’s bill,” Jubei replied calmly as he opened the door for the two to step out.

    “Hah, I should tell you the same thing about the medical bills incurred by this back of mine that you seem so determined to break,” shot back the teen.

    At this point, banter had more or less become the vagabond and the innkeeper's default method of communication. While he’d never say it out loud, Brick actually found himself enjoying the crotchety old feline’s company by now. Aggravating as the old man could be, he was still entertaining conversation and wasn’t exactly unfair in what he was demanding from Brick. Though, the werecat’s current choice of equipment was mildly concerning.

    “So, do you routinely cut up your own meat at the butcher’s, or...?” inquired Brick, trailing off with a nod of his chin towards the katana handles poking out of the top and bottom of Jubei’s saya.

    “Even a retired samurai wouldn’t leave his swords at home when he steps out; they’re more than simple weapons,” answered Jubei somewhat evasively as he closed the door behind him and then joined Bark and Brick at the bottom of the steps. He proceeded by turning right and leading them down the street, towards the shopping district.

    The mop-headed teen couldn’t help but look around as the party walked through the Third district; what had been a closed-off and deserted battleground for him last night was now a bustling forenoon-time borough for the Transit City residents. People were coming in and out of the boutiques, curiosity shops and specialty stores lining the street while gummi cars hovered speedily by on the paved road. One almost wouldn’t believe that someone had fought for their life here not half a day ago. Almost. Brick, however, was noticing a fair bit more people wearing the Tristam Academy uniforms walking around, more than he’d seen the previous day.

    At first he may have chalked it up to paranoia, but the way the uniformed members of the city watch moved around the streets today seemed a little too purposeful compared to the largely carefree kids he’d seen walking around the previous night. Brick didn’t know if he was the person or thing that they were looking for today, but something told him to keep his eyes forwards when one of the uniformed youths turned his head in his direction. Jubei noticed the teen beside him growing distinctly quiet but chose to leave it alone for now. Far be it for him to pry into the musings or troubles of someone he hadn’t even known for a whole day yet.

    Leaving the area, Brick observed a noticeable drop in the amount of uniforms patrolling around. At first, this made him relieved. However, he quickly realized that this meant their presence around the inn was more than likely related to the incident last night. He only hoped that they were investigating how the heartless got in and not who took them out. Somehow, he got the impression that being able to summon a magical sword chained to his wrist was not going to earn him all that many friends. Not without requesting an extensive explanation that, frankly, he did not have.

    He flexed his hand semi-consciously, resisting the urge that had been nagging at him all day: The itch to summon his blade. So many things about last night had him swimming with questions, and he felt like that blade was the key to unlocking all of the answers.

    Why had that blade responded to the appearance of heartless?
    Did it even respond to
    them or just the fact that he was in danger?
    Would it even respond to his call a second time?


    He’d felt positive of that last one the previous night. However, doubt was now starting to set in and he wanted to test the summoning out one more time to make sure his feelings were right. More than anything, though, he wanted to know one thing: what the hell was that sword?

    Once more, Brick’s mind turned in on itself as soon as he had no external distraction and his body followed Jubei’s lead as if on autopilot. Once more, he became engrossed in the mystery of his identity and tuned out the world around him. As he pondered and pondered, finally, there came an answer from the murk of his thoughts, the first he had ever obtained.

    “Heartbreaker...” he said in muted wonderment, a sudden expression of clarity painting itself across his features.

    Heartbreaker, that was his sword, that was what it was called. That was what that name meant, and the fact that this was the first word he had remembered when he woke up meant—

    “Hmm? Wha'd you say kid?” spoke the deeper masculine voice at his side.

    Brick had to resist the urge to facepalm at his own absent-minded stupidity. He really needed to learn to not think out-loud.

    “Oh! Uhh, nothing, just—” he quickly glanced around him for anything he could use to explain away his sudden exclamation. Thankfully, it was Saturday, and they were downtown in a major metropolis. Thus, the universe quickly provided. “That girl over there! You see the one in that yellow, mini-skirt dress across the street? Must be quite the little heart breaker, that one.” Brick looked around some more and affected a casual smile that he—surprisingly—didn’t have to fake in the least. “Actually, now that I’m paying more attention, there’s more than a few pretty girls around here. Must be nice living in a place of beauty, eh?”

    The werecat only chuckled at the suggestion. “I really wouldn’t know.”

    Brick smirked at this. “Oh? What’s the matter? Cat-man can’t get any pus-”

    “Go ahead and finish that sentence,” interjected Jubei with a cold glare that made Brick swallow his words. The swordscat rolled his eye and shook his head at the boy beside him. “You humans always think you’re so terribly clever with that joke.”

    “Gee, what crawled up your ass and died?” stated Brick with a slight pout, putting his hands behind his head and interlacing his fingers as he kept walking along. Inside, he smiled in satisfaction. The conversation had distracted Jubei about as successfully as he could have hoped for.



    “Eat dirt!”

    Steel met steel as the boy punctuated his mid-air flip with a stylish but powerful axe kick, his entire body weight focused down into the plated heel of his boots that came crushing down on the heartless’ helmet. The Soldier heartless’ head was resultantly sent crashing into the cobblestone beneath it, the force of the impact causing its body to instantly burst into Darkness.

    The youth himself landed expertly on his feet and then swiftly brought up the two golden tonfa in his hands, blocking a volley of fireballs launched from his left. The culprits were a trio of Red Nocturnes that had been hovering around the edge of the battle so far. However, when the harmful fire magic dissipated, the fighter ignored the elementals and kicked off in direction of the single remaining Soldier, intent on quickly dispatching it. However, movement caught in the corner of his eye informed him of his mistake in doing so.

    Coming in on his right was a Large Body heartless, sliding along the ground on its stomach Armour in a berserker charge. Agile as he was, Zio knew he would not have the time to dodge this attack and opted to skid to a halt, putting up his tonfa again and preparing to take the hit.

    Luckily, just before the Large Body collided with him, Cendre’s frame appeared in between the blond and the heartless. The more thickly built boy had two onyx black, metal gauntlets adorning his hands, through which slowly pulsated golden power-lines.

    He caught the charging heartless with both hands, causing the gauntlets’ power to envelop it in a golden aura that completely negated the fat heartless’ momentum. A quick”‘Thanks” was all Cendre got from his rescued friend, who then promptly resumed his attack on the remaining Soldier.

    Rather than respond himself, Cendre decided to hoist the fat mass of Darkness currently in his grip high into the air, tossing the Large Body up about three meters. He drew energy into his left gauntlet and, just as the Large Body was about to begin its fall earthwards, Cendre threw his palm upwards and caused a ball of gold and purple energy to appear next to the heartless. Instead of falling, the Large Body was now orbiting around the magical orb helplessly, flailing its arms and feet around in a fruitless attempt to regain control of its orientation.

    With the heartless caught in the magical trap, Cendre balled his other fist, the power lines now changing to orange-red with magical energy gathering in the gauntlet. By the time the gravity spell timed out and the Large Body began its second descent towards the ground, Cendre had already stepped out of its trajectory. He jumped up to meet his opponent mid-air and smashed his open palm into the fat heartless, releasing the magic and sending the Large Body crashing to the ground in a torrent of flames. The intense heat, coupled with the impact, broke what was left of the heartless’ power and caused it to explode into Darkness.

    Cendre landed on his feet and only had enough time to see that the Nocturne trio had been literally pinned to the ground by three thin, pink senbon needles before he saw them dissolve into Darkness as well.

    “Hehe, well wasn’t that flashy?” came Zio’s teasing voice. Well, at least that meant the Soldiers were all gone now too.

    “Seriously? Coming from you?” shot back Cendre with a smile as he turned to face his friend. “I wouldn’t have to be ‘flashy’ and take them out quickly if you just mastered basic situational awareness.”

    “Or, you know, awareness at all.” chimed in Rin, jumping down from her perch in a nearby tree.

    “Hey, it's easy to be ‘situationally aware’ when you hide in vantage points all fight long,” taunted Zio, turning towards the blonde girl with a smirk. “Why don’t you try coming down and fighting with the big boys once in a while?”

    “Uhh, and ruin my make-up by sweating?” replied the girl with a sarcastic tone that let Zio know exactly how dumb she considered the prospect to be. “Thanks, but no thanks. I fight with you meat-shields for a reason.”

    The group shared a laugh at this as the barriers protecting the buildings around them dropped. However, the laughter was quickly interrupted by a cool voice coming through the three communicators currently wrapped around their ears.

    “Well, I’m happy to see you’re all so lackadaisical about this. I assume you’ve already eliminated the threat?”

    “You know Cee, keep eavesdropping like this and people are gonna start making rumors about you being nosy and overbearing,” said Zio with a sarcastic smile as he touched his finger to the communicator in his ear.

    “Considering the fact that everyone at the academy is still talking about the Peach Blossom Incident, I’m sure I can avoid any rumors being spread about me as long as you’re still in my squad to draw attention,” came the calm reply, though they could all practically hear the mocking smile on the end. It was quickly joined by a couple of good-natured laughs at Zio’s expense from his other two teammates.

    “Seriously! How was I supposed to know it would stain that colour?” protested the bleached blond boy, clearly embarrassed by the memory.

    “Try reading a chemistry textbook once in a while,” replied Cendre with a pat on his friend’s shoulder as he walked past him and towards the district gate leading to the Second, predicting their squad leader’s next orders.

    “Alright everyone, that’s a wrap. Meet me back here in the Second District and we’ll finish up our report.”

    “Great, if the heartless can piss off for a bit, maybe we’ll actually get to enjoy our Saturday.” stated Zio as he dispelled his tonfa and fell in step behind Cendre, Rin joining him quickly.

    “Hmm, I heard that Sakura’s got a new parfait on their menu. I hope they still have some by the time we’re done,” mused the cherry blonde lightly as she considered the group’s plans after their ‘extra curricular activities’ were done.

    Zio chuckled at this. “Yanno Rin, if you keep eating so much sugar you’ll get real fat someday; ‘a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips’ right?”

    Cendre gave an amused snort at this, which made Zio’s grin grow wider. “See? This guy knows what’s up,” continued the spiky-haired blond.

    “Better than you, evidently,” corrected the bespectacled brunette with a half-cocked smile. At the spiky haired blond’s confused expression, Cendre simply pointed upwards. “She hasn’t dispelled her weapon yet.”

    It was at this moment that Zio felt something cold sprinkle down into his hair. Looking up he saw an iceberg twice his size floating a foot above his head.

    “You were saying?” asked Rin with an innocent yet terrifying smile.



    “Great, if the heartless can piss off for a bit maybe we’ll actually get to enjoy our Saturday.”

    Ciel shook her head with a small smile and cut the comm link to her team. Zio was a good fighter, and surprisingly loyal once you became friends with him, but she really wished that he took his duties more seriously. Hopefully, getting to go to other worlds after graduation would do him some good and teach him a little maturity.

    She dispelled her curved blades and, simultaneously, the bodies of three Armoured Knights collapsed around her, dissolving into Darkness.

    The barriers erected around the large mall behind her lowered and gentle tones rang through the district, informing the civilians it was again safe to be outside. People began slowly filling out into the streets again, resuming their routines as if the intrusion of Darkness had never occurred.

    Transit City was no stranger to heartless, of course. In truth, rarely more than a week went by without some section of a district or another being locked down by barriers, all caused by heartless parties managing to worm their way past the world’s defenses. Though, this always resulted in city watchmen being dispatched to banish them quickly thereafter so it wasn’t like the citizens were ever exposed to any real danger.

    Despite this, some of the residents looked more concerned than others. They spoke with hushed voices about what they only hoped was their wild imaginations. However, Ciel knew better, knew their concerns were valid. Two breaches last night alone, one of which was somehow resolved before any watchmen had even arrived on the scene (though this latter fact was not public knowledge for obvious reasons), and then three more incursions today within ten minutes of each other. Nothing they couldn’t handle, and all threats had been dispatched easily, but slaying as many heartless in 24 hours as the Watch would usually face in a month was no good sign.

    Considering it all, Ciel couldn’t help but be reminded of scouting parties. Send in a few weaklings to measure up opposition, verify infiltration points, and give the enemy a skewed impression of the attacking force’s capability.

    Usually, this kind of tactic would have been completely beyond heartless. They were too simple-minded and brutish for something so refined, and thus could normally only appear in Transit City if their ships used brute strength and sheer numbers to make it past the gummi blockade patrolling around the world. Having a constant rotation of gummi ships on the lookout for approaching heartless meant that any would-be invaders were usually shot down before they got anywhere near Transit City, it’s populace, or the hearts they held. This was how the watch kept the amount of intrusions so low in spite of the thousands of hearts occupying the city-world. It was why, when intrusions did occur, it was the junior watchmen still attending the academy who were usually dispatched to deal with them, rather than the graduates. They were usually the ones piloting the ships in the blockade to begin with.

    If so many heartless were appearing all at once, though, it would suggest that a Heartless fleet broke through a section of the blockade and, for whatever reason, higher brass wasn’t informing all the Watch members of this.

    Or, it could mean that there was a Dark Lord somewhere on the world, drawing heartless in directly through Corridors of Darkness and completely disregarding the blockade. Ciel wasn’t sure which scenario would be more potentially disastrous.

    Throughout all this thinking, she couldn’t help but remember the other anomaly of the last 24 hours: The vagabond and his dog from yesterday. The timing of his appearance seemed a little too coincidental, what with everything happening just a few hours after she’d parted ways with him.

    Part of her knew she could be seeing connections where there weren’t any, looking for an explanation that she didn’t have the information to reach on her own yet. After all, he seemed troubled, but not any more than you’d expect any teenager to be after having just lost their world. He certainly didn’t seem to be carrying enough Darkness in him to be considered a Dark Lord with any control over heartless.

    Still, she found herself doubting him. Her suspicions were not quelled by the fact that the second intrusion last night—the one that somehow seemed to resolve itself on its own—occurred in the Third District, where she’d sent him off to. One way or another, that couldn’t be good. If “Brick” really wasn’t related to any of this, then it was entirely possible that the heartless had found him and… well, there was usually only one reason heartless left on their own accord after having invaded a world….

    These circular thoughts had been plaguing her more-or-less since she’d woken up, and only became more pervasive in her mind after the three additional heartless incursions of the day. Between the paranoia of having potentially helped an enemy, the guilt of having potentially failed to protect a newcomer, and the uncertainty over whether any of what she was thinking had any merit to begin with, Ciel had found herself eager to drown herself in work and take her mind off things. She may not have known what became of the vagabond, or of his involvement in the situation yet, but she was still a (junior) member of the City Watch. If heartless were appearing in Transit City then—regardless of their origin—it was her job to guard the innocent from them.

    This was why she’d decided to split her squad up and send Cendre, Zio and Rin to the Fourth District while she mopped up the outbreak in the Second. Under normal circumstances, she prefered fighting with the group, but two simultaneous heartless incursions had given her the opportunity to show the upper brass that her squad could handle itself without her direct oversight, and that she could carry on efficiently even without the added manpower. It had also given her the opportunity to lose herself in her work for a few minutes while she busied herself with fighting alone.

    With the threats gone now, though, the worries crept their way back to the surface of her consciousness. Rejecting the idea of looking nervous by pacing or fidgeting, Ciel elected instead to go and wait for her team by the Central Transit City Bank. She leaned her back onto one of the pillars supporting the archway entrance and crossed her arms. From here, she would be out of the way and largely ignored unless something urgent came up, but she would still be able to keep an eye on the majority of the southern plaza and would have a clear view of her squad coming to meet up with her. Once they got there, they could all go report to brass and hopefully get some actual answers.



    “Uuuuuugh! Why is this taking so long?” groaned the teen, kicking a concrete divider lightly.

    “Heh, want some more cheese with that whine? It’s only been ten minutes, humey,” reprimanded the cat to his left, keeping his gaze fixed on the district gate a dozen meters or so in front of them. More specifically, he was keeping his eye fixated on the barrier that had gone up just as Brick and he were coming up to it. Heartless were detected on the other side and movement in or out of the district plaza would be sealed until they were taken care of and either the Watch or its systems gave the all-clear.

    “Dude, I took out two heartless with my bare freaking hands yesterday.” Brick showed his bandaged-up forearms to further illustrate his point. “This is these guys’ jobs, and it sure doesn’t sound like there’s hellfire and brimstone brewing over there.”

    “Sounds are all but cancelled by the barrier. It's a countermeasure to the different types of heartless who use sounds as part of their attack,” explained Jubei without tearing his eye away from the barrier. “Also, the ones you supposedly took out by yourself yesterday were Soldier types. Second from the weakest of their kind and arguably easier to kill than the actual weaklings that we call Shadows.”

    “Aww piss off with this ‘supposedly’ crap,” protested the youth while making sure to keep his tone low enough to avoid drawing attention. While the majority of the pedestrians were crowded near the gate, waiting to be let in, Brick and Jubei had hung back on the sidewalk by the road. The teen hadn’t needed to be told that it would be best to remain inconspicuous regarding his exploits from the previous night.

    “You dressed my wounds for pete’s sake. You know anything besides a heartless that gives you glowing, red claw marks that don’t bleed?”

    Jubei chuckled lightly at the boy’s complaints. “The fact remains: they might be up against some tougher stuff up there compared to what you fought yesterday, and in bigger numbers. Of course, if it was something really nasty they would order everyone to get indoors. If we’re all allowed to wait here it means there’s no risk of what’s inside getting out, and negligible risks of there being an incursion here. Be patient and the barrier should come down soon enough.”

    Brick sighed and turned around, sitting down on the divider protecting the pedestrians from the gummi cars speeding past. Beside him, Jubei was sitting down on the sidewalk in the lotus position.

    “So, how often do these ‘nasty’ heartless show up?” the teen asked to pass the time. Heartless seemed to be connected to his heartbreaker somehow, and thus connected to his identity. It wouldn’t hurt to learn more about them while he had the chance.

    “Not often,” replied the cat calmly. “Once a year, if that. Heartless can’t help being attracted to this place and all its hearts. Even as dumb as they are, they understand the concept of wanting something very much and the frustration of never being able to get it. Every now and again, a heartless armada shows up on the radar and launches an offensive to try and get through. It’s hard to contain every single ship up in worldspace, so some inevitably punch through our blockade and come worldside. When they do, something big usually takes advantage of the hole in security to slip past along with ‘em.”

    “Geez, you guys fight off huge monsters once a year? Reconstruction must just be a permanent thing for this city, huh?” Brick didn’t know exactly how bad these ‘nasties’ got, but if it took a whole armada to make a hole large enough for one to get through he figured they couldn’t be much of a walk in the park. A single Soldier had almost killed him with one good surprise attack before he got his weapon, and apparently those guys were about as basic as it got when dealing with heartless.

    “You think we would still be here if we didn’t know how to handle it?” retorted the old cat. “Whenever we spot an armada on the horizon, we recall all of our senior watchmen from their world hopping. A couple of those guys is usually all it takes to keep the city safe.”

    “Heh, so you guys leave it to a couple of geezers to protect you whenever the going gets rough? Kinda sad, ain’t it?”

    Jubei gave a low laugh at this that made Brick realize he’d said something funnier than he knew. “Well, some of them certainly aren’t spring chickens anymore, but I think you’d be unwise to call most of our Senior Watchmen ’geezers’. It’s a position earned by merit, not tenure. Most of them aren’t even twice your age.”

    Brick raised an eyebrow at this and affected an intrigued smirk. “Oh really? Any of them hot chicks?”

    Jubei looked decidedly unimpressed with the question as he rolled his eye, and didn’t even spare the vagabond a glance as he replied. “Teenagers…” he shook his head lightly.

    “Yeah, we’re either thinking about kicking ass or getting some,” boasted Brick unapologetically.

    Jubei had nothing to say to this and, thankfully, hadn’t needed to supply any form of retort. Their mutual attention was instead grabbed by the fact that the barrier to the district gate suddenly began shimmering and subsequently let out a low tone. After an additional shimmer, the barrier fell—signalling that it was safe to allow passage between districts once more. Soon afterwards, the district gates themselves slid open and watchmen started administering residents through.

    Jubei unfolded his legs out from underneath him and pushed himself to his feet with a small grunt, using his sheathed swords as a support. “Well, there you go; we can get moving again and you can get that much closer to paying off your debt to me.”

    Brick made an amused sound at the cat’s statement as he pushed himself off the divider. “Oh joy of joys, my indentured servitude resumes.”

    “Do you ever not complain?”

    “Only when there isn’t anyone that’s as fun to annoy as you are around.”

    The werecat shook his head in mild exasperation and the two continued their trip towards the shopping district in relative silence, Bark following along quietly and sticking close.

    With the amount of people who’d been waiting to get in before them it was almost another 5 minutes before they even got into the district plaza.

    Inside, one could hardly tell that there had supposedly been monster-slaying taking place there a few minutes prior. Not only was there no sign of battle anywhere in the large public square, the citizens were going about their business as normally as any other day, cementing the notion that heartless were a truly mundane occurrence here.

    Brick took a look around at the different establishments surrounding the plaza: directly across from them, at the northern end of the square, was a three-story-high mall that seemed to be the main attraction for the different pedestrians milling about the plaza. The surrounding buildings were no less impressive, featuring a large bank hugging the mall’s western flank which was designed with a mixture of greek and modern architecture.

    To the right of the mall, from Brick’s perspective, was something that looked to be a large arcade, the words ‘Moogle Mode’ hanging above the entrance in sharp, unlit blue, green, and yellow neon letters. Lining the rest of the circular public square were a collection of shops, cafés, restaurants and boutiques somewhat similar to the selection found in the Third district. The ones here differed from those mainly in their price ranges, with the higher-ticket items being sold here if the prices displayed in the store windows were anything to go by.

    “See anything you like?” asked the cat man beside him, having noted the interest with which Brick studied all the surrounding buildings.

    “Why, you offering to buy?” replied the teenager with a sardonic smirk, causing the cat man to let out a sharp bark of laughter.

    “Hah! Sure, I could use the help of my ‘indentured servant’ for an extra couple of wee—.”

    Jubei suddenly froze and his paw flew by pure instinct to his top-facing sword hilt. Brick took another step and a half before noticing this and turning around, throwing the cat a bemused look.

    “Dude, what’s got your fur on end like that?”

    The answer to his question came when, without any warning, the barriers suddenly reactivated around the plaza. Before anyone could even process what had happened, the sound of bubbling space permeated the area. Six Soldiers, four Air Soldiers, and a trio each of Red Nocturnes, Yellow Operas, and Blue Rhapsodies suddenly spawned in from clouds of darkness all over the plaza.

    The panic was immediate.

    After all, the idea of Heartless may have been mundane to most of Transit City’s residents, but when they were suddenly presented with the unnatural threat in flesh and in force, the common folk found themselves losing nerve and running whichever way they could for safety. The fact that the barriers had uncharacteristically activated before the populace was evacuated from the area did not help things, as now none of the trapped citizens had anywhere to run to. Chaos spread like wildfire as desperate citizens tried to avoid becoming monster food without any clue of how to actually go about doing so.

    “Dammit! How the hell!?” muttered Jubei under his breath before dashing forwards and drawing one of his swords, revealing it to be a short-bladed kodachi. The swordmaster slashed through a nearby Soldier and dispersed it in one fell swoop. He turned back to Brick, who had frozen in the sudden shock of the moment, and yelled him out of his daze.

    “Kid, get your ass outta here and find somewhere safe!”

    This was, indeed, enough to snap Brick out of it and make him suddenly aware of the yanking sensation on his pants leg. Looking down, he saw that Bark looked just about as panicked as the rest of the people in the plaza, but hadn’t moved from her master’s side for fear of leaving him behind. She had chosen, instead, to press him on by pulling at the hem of his pants with her teeth. Before Brick could follow Jubei’s council, however, he sensed something coming in from his right and turned around just in time to see an Air Soldier swooping down towards him with outstretched claws. He jumped backwards to avoid the attack but found himself bumping into someone behind him, causing the both of them to go crashing to the ground. He didn’t even bother to take note of whom he’d run into as he looked up and locked eyes with the flying heartless still hovering overhead. Once more, he could feel the intense hunger emanating from the yellow orbs dancing behind the heartless’ aviator goggles.

    The Air Soldier rose higher in the air, winding up for another swoop, and Brick knew that, with no time to get to his feet and dodge, he’d soon have to suffer another strike from the noxious, crimson claws. Just as the heartless began its motion towards him, however, a yellow blur appeared before it. In the next instant, the heartless was bisected and burst into Darkness. Jubei dropped to the ground and turned to glare at Brick with his one good eye.

    “Didn’t you hear what I just said!? Move!”

    Brick blinked as he processed what had just happened but then threw a scowl at his saviour. “Move where exactly!? The barriers are up!”

    “Somewhere besides on top of me would be a good start!” came up a feminine voice from underneath him.

    With the adrenaline still pumping through his veins, Brick had actually managed to forget that he’d just tumbled into someone else. He quickly got himself off the soft body beneath him and was surprised to find the same midnight-haired girl from the day before when he turned around.

    “Ciel!?” he exclaimed, his expression speaking volumes of the confusion and surprise he felt as he simultaneously extended a hand to help her up. “What the heck are you doing here?”

    “Coming over to ask you the exact same thing, actually,” she said, gratefully taking his hand and helping herself back to her feet. She turned her attention to the werecat who was holding guard around the two, paws clenched tightly around the swords he returned to his sheath after each swing.

    “Master Jubei, as odd as it is to see you escorting this vagabond, I’m happy that you’re here. My teammates and I could use your aid dispatching these heartless.”

    Her statement caused Brick to suddenly take note of the fact that the heartless were no longer as spread out as they were when they spawned in. The remaining air and ground Soldier types were clustered towards the center of the plaza, where the spiky-haired blond and stocky brunet from yesterday were handing out a beating to anyone getting within striking range. The Red Nocturnes were nowhere in sight, having been dispatched while Brick wasn’t paying attention, and the remaining magic-using heartless were being handled by the cherry blonde from Ciel’s group. She was currently occupied dancing gracefully around the offensive magic that the heartless threw her way: skating, gliding, and twirling gracefully like a figure skater on the ice she created beneath her feet. She retaliated whenever she could find an opening by throwing back pink, crystalline needles. It was impressive to see how they’d sprung into action so quickly, but Brick could tell that, while the junior watchmen were handling themselves well for now, they were outnumbered and constantly had to let up the attack on one heartless and change to another target so as to keep all the monsters aggravated on them. They needed to ensure that none of the creatures decided to start attacking the largely defenceless civilians still all around, and it was clear that that was hindering their chances at finishing off most of their enemies.

    Jubei scowled, noticing how the presence of civilians was stopping the academy warriors from using their stronger attacks and dispatching the heartless quickly. “Keep an eye on the brat for a second,” he replied to Ciel gruffly, grabbing onto both sword handles and drawing them slightly, letting only the first few centimeters of the sparkling white blades shine out above and below the saya’s two mouths.

    Before Brick could protest being called a brat, the cat man had disappeared again and, for an instant, there was no sound save for Jubei’s voice ringing out across the plaza.

    Mitsuyoshi no Yōshiki: Odayaka Kiki Ansatsu

    As quickly as the original Jubei had disappeared, after-images of himself manifested one after the other, appearing next to each heartless in the area in quick succession. The after-images displayed him in a variety of positions, each having just swung one of their swords through one of the enemy heartless. Before Brick could grasp a full understanding of what was going on, the last heartless was paired to its feline after-image and the real Jubei suddenly reappeared in the same spot from which he’d just departed. The cat finished sliding his swords back into their sheath and—as the twin Kii of the handguards meeting the saya’s ends rang out—his doppelgangers were banished and the til-then-frozen heartless all burst into Darkness.

    “Well, that was certainly convenient,” stated Brick bluntly, looking around and noting how everyone was carefully checking their surroundings, assuring themselves that the threat had passed. “Why didn’t you do that from the beginning?”

    Still visibly tense, Jubei ignored the teen’s question, his left paw refusing to move from the top-facing handle protruding from his saya. “What is the Watch doing? Why aren’t the barriers lowering, and where are all these heartless coming from?” he demanded from Ciel abruptly, eye still darting around in case any more heartless showed up.

    Ciel looked consternated as she answered. “I’m not sure, heartless activity has been agitated and irregular for nearly 24 hours, but nothing that should be causing this kind of issue in the system. There haven’t been any reports of the blockade faltering, though.”

    “Uh, guys?” tried Brick, suddenly having noticed something very wrong about their surroundings.

    “So then what, a Dark Lord?” continued Jubei, ignoring the teen again. “Heartless shouldn’t be able to spawn like this without a conduit into the world if the blockade is holding up.”

    Ciel threw a quick, concerned look in Brick’s direction when Jubei mentioned the possibility of a Dark Lord, but didn’t let it linger. “I...I’m not sure. It sounds reasonable enough but, then again, how could they hide from our security systems? What would a Dark Lord even be doing here?”

    “Seriously, guys—!” tried the teenager again, futilely.

    “Well, the heartless have have to be coming from somewhe—”

    “HEY!” Brick finally yelled, sick of being ignored.

    Ciel and Jubei turned to the now very angry looking vagabond, somewhat shocked by the sudden outburst. Getting their attention did nothing to ease his deep scowl though; the expression remained plastered over his features even as he spoke.

    “Where the hell is Bark?”

    The duo paused at this momentarily, each taking time to look around, now noticing the dog’s absence. However, Jubei quickly caught himself and gave an annoyed growl.

    “We have more important things to deal with right now, kiddo. Your dog probably just ran off somewhere.”

    “Without any of us noticing!?” pressed on the boy.

    “Well, between the two of us tumbling to the ground and master Jubei dispatching our attacker…” brought forth Ciel, hoping to calm him down and prevent any rash decisions.

    “Look kid, the barriers haven’t gone down yet. Why that is exactly, I have no idea, but one way or another it means that your dog hasn’t gotten out of this Plaza,” continued Jubei. “She couldn’t have run off very far, so keep your cool and she’s bound to show up again sooner or later.

    “For now, though,” he turned his attention back towards the junior watchwoman, “mind giving me some information as to why exactly these barriers haven’t gone down yet?”

    “I’ll try to find something out,” replied Ciel with a worried look, placing her hand on her communicator and attempting to patch through to central command for an update.

    Brick, on his end, hadn’t been completely reassured by their statements; however, he did hear the logic in them, especially Jubei’s point. He was anxious about Bark’s safety, but he also agreed that it wasn’t like she could have really gone anywhere. One way or another, though, it was pretty clear that neither of these two had any intention of helping him find her. Leaving the girl and cat to discuss public safety by themselves, Brick began wandering about in search of Bark.

    With a deep sigh, Ciel removed her hand from her communicator, lowering the feed volume so she could report to the swordmaster beside her. “The comms are still up but…” she glanced around to ensure no civilians were close enough to overhear her before continuing, “City Watch doesn’t know what’s triggering the barriers anymore. Hell, they seem to be running around like headless chickens just trying to figure out how it is that they didn’t detect this last intrusion until after it happened.”

    “Hmm, this can’t be good,” replied Jubei, glancing out of the corner of his eye to make sure he hadn’t broken line-of-sight with the vagabond youth yet.

    Noticing the stare, Ciel decided to voice her worries to the cat. “Master Jubei…” she started, not entirely sure how to broach her suspicions. “I…Why exactly were you with that boy today?”

    Jubei gave her an unreadable stare for a few moments and then turned his attention back to following the vagabond through the crowds. “He’s paying off a debt to me,” he answered flatly.

    “But Master Jubei!” she continued, put off by his sudden aloofness. “Certainly you—”

    “He’s been working off his debt all day long,” reported the cat flatly again.This time Ciel took the hint.

    “Which means that Master Jubei has been keeping an eye on him all day,” realized Ciel. “He already knows something is off about that boy... But, if he’s not to blame for what is going on, then who is?”

    After a few seconds of consideration she opened her mouth to ask another question. “Mas-”

    “I don’t teach anymore,” cut-in Jubei abruptly, “you really should stop calling me that.”

    Ciel smiled at his correction with a hint of nostalgia before continuing. “Master Jubei… is he dangerous?”

    The cat paused and seemed to consider the question before answering. “Probably.”

    While she did her best to not let it show in her expression, Ciel was gripped by a sudden pang of guilt upon hearing this. She should have known better. She should have followed her gut and kept a closer eye on the vagabond. She’d been sloppy and now it was one of the best swordsmen in academy history cleaning up her—

    “Probably more so to himself than anyone else though,” added Jubei after a moment’s consideration.

    This time, Ciel did let the confusion show on her face. She opened her mouth to vocalize it, but it seemed as if Jubei sensed her thoughts without having to look at her.

    “The boy came to me with heartless claw marks all over his arms and stomach yesterday. He fought and beat a Soldier bare handed. More than one after that by using… something else.”

    “‘Something’?” inquired the midnight haired girl.

    “I don’t know what exactly. He’s been hiding it, rather obviously at that.”

    “And whatever this ‘something’ is could hurt him?”

    “Well…if it makes him stupid enough to try and take on heartless barehanded…”

    Ciel mulled over this information, finding herself tracking the vagabond as well. After a moment of silence, Jubei spoke up again.

    “He isn’t a bad kid. He tries to lie, but he’s too honest to pull it off. He doesn’t seem to trust anyone that talks, but stupidly goes out of his way to help a dog he just met.”

    “So…you’re saying he has nothing to do with all this? That he’s somehow just some unrelated kid with his own share of secrets?” Ciel couldn’t explain how hopeful she felt asking this, but one way or another, made sure to keep the professionalism in her voice and expression.

    “What I’m saying,” replied Jubei with a sigh, “is that he’s not the Dark Lord you’re looking for. He’s too terrible a liar to hide that kind of inner Darkness, at least from me.”

    “...But?” asked Ciel, giving voice to the unspoken sentiment.

    “But…I’d bet one of my tails that that idiot is related to all this, whether he knows it or not.”

    Of course, the young woman agreed entirely. She couldn’t shake the feeling that this ‘Brick’ fellow was important to all that was going on somehow. Rather than voice these thoughts, though, she instead decided to inquire as to Jubei’s reasoning.

    “What makes you say so, Master Jubei?”

    Again the old cat seemed to mull over his thoughts silently before offering a response. “He reminds me too much of someone I used to know.”



    “Bark? Baaark!” yelled out the teenager, making his way through the plaza, bending over to look between the legs of the gathered shoppers trapped in the square with him. After five minutes of seeing neither fur nor tail of the first friend he’d made in this city, Brick’s previous anxiety was mounting again. There was no way that she’d gotten nabbed by a heartless in the confusion; it would have been impossible to miss.

    But then, where was she, and why wasn’t she responding to the sound of his voice?

    “Well, if it ain’t Mister Hobo,” came an especially grating voice. Brick turned around to see the two blonds from Ciel’s group approach him. He remembered the annoying boy’s name—Zio, but couldn’t place the girl. He could only recall the creepy smile she gave him yesterday…and gave him again now when their eyes met. Shrugging off a shudder, he turned his attention to the one who’d spoken to him.

    “What do you want, Thunderbolt Hair? I’m kind of busy to waste time on you right now.”

    “Oh ho ho, just as mannerless as always, huh?” replied Zio with a toothy smirk. “We’re only over here because you’ve been shouting up a storm.”

    “You lose something?” asked the girl beside him with her unsettling smile.

    “Like a bet? Or maybe your mind?” added Zio mockingly. “Why are you going around yelling ‘Bark’ like a lunatic?”

    Brick was tempted to rise to the provocation but only gave a hard glare and turned away. “Like I said, I don’t have time to waste on you.”

    The teen only had time to take a couple of steps before feeling a hand grip his shoulder tightly.

    “You know, brat, we can only chalk your disrespect up to you being new around here so many times,” came Zio’s voice as a low, threatening rumble behind Brick. “Learn to bow your head around your superiors, before someone else forces it down for you.”

    The girl next to Zio gave a small giggle at his choice of words, but Brick paid her little attention. This jackass had been rubbing him the wrong way from the moment they met and, judging from how he was openly antagonizing him right now, the blond clearly felt the same way about him. He wanted to just go look for his dog already, but if Spiky was going to be an obstacle in that then he’d just have to tear the obstacle down. He turned around and shot a hard glare to meet the taller boy’s mocking smirk.

    “So this is what makes your ‘Watch’ so special, huh? You guys talk a big game about protecting the city, but really you’re just thugs throwing around your weight and authority to feel strong.” For all the venom Brick had put in his words, Zio’s smirk was unaffected.

    “Oh, but we ARE protecting the city, brat. You just don’t happen to be a part of it. You’re just some unregistered hobo taking up space. Honestly, you showing up here right around when the barriers start going nuts is pretty damn suspicious, if you ask me.” The golden haired boy flicked out his right wrist and, from the citrine ring on his middle finger, materialized one of his tonfa.

    Brick spared a glance to take note of the weapon that had appeared in his adversary’s hand but quickly brought his glare back up to lock with Zio’s stare. He felt a smirk of his own tugging at the corner of his lips when he replied. “So what, you’re going to throw me in jail now?”

    The spiky haired teen’s grin became outright predatory “Nah, just going to make you learn to bow.”

    Before Brick could react, he felt the reinforced end of the Tonfa smash into his gut as Zio delivered a quick, powerful thrust. Even if he hadn’t been agile enough to block, dodge, or even really perceive the strike coming, Brick had still expected blows to start flying as soon as he’d seen the weapon appear. As such, he had already braced himself for a strike by tightening up the muscles in his body. What he hadn’t been anticipating, however, was the accompanying electric shock that the weapon discharged upon contact.

    Pain raced through his nervous system at the speed of lightning, radiating out from the point of impact. An agonized yell was forced from Brick’s throat through his grit teeth. He clutched his midsection reflexively and sank to his knees when his muscles stopped seizing up all over.

    “There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?” laughed Zio, casually standing over his downed opponent.

    Blinking the spots out of his eyes, Brick now realized that he’d been nearly doubled over clutching his abdomen. In this position, his head was currently bowed down in front of Zio.

    As soon as the realization was processed in his mind, Brick’s head snapped up and he shot Zio his most hate-filled glare. “You bastard!” he spat out while working himself back up to one foot, the numbness of the “small” shock already wearing off.

    “Oh ho ho! Need another lesson, do ya?” laughed Zio, summoning his second tonfa and getting in a combat-ready stance. “Come get some, punk,”

    By this point, a circle had formed around the two—the restless residents being attracted to the sight of a junior watchman apparently getting into a fight with some random boy. The girl who’d approached with Zio had now decided to move back to the ring of spectators. Evidently, she did not intend to do anything about the mounting situation besides watch and keep smiling creepily. That was fine. As long as she didn’t back up Zio or try and stop the fight, then Brick was perfectly happy with the situation. It was time for him to knock Spiky down a peg or three.

    Use me.

    A malicious grin painted itself across Brick’s features as his right hand twitched, palm burning with a power that was dying to be brought forth.

    “Oh, you don’t have to tell me twice,” he whispered.

    “Huh? What are you muttering about over there, freak?” asked Zio, not having caught Brick’s last statement. “You about ready to beg me for forgiveness?”

    Rather than answer, Brick stood up straight and placed his right palm open on his breast, closing his eyes. He felt out for the presence calling to him: his sword. He felt it in his chest, hot and excited, waiting to come out and serve him like it had the previous night. He pulled his mind back to last night, to that one fearful, powerful moment when the blade had materialized in his defense. He tried to remember the sensation, how it had felt leaving his chest and traveling up his arm, how the power had surged forth effortlessly from his hand and twisted itself to form his beautiful, black sword. It took only a moment before he could picture it perfectly. He had it now.

    Brick opened his eyes again and smirked at the now confused-looking Zio. He threw out his right hand and called out to his sword. “Heartbrea-!”

    wwwwWWWWWOOOOOHHHHHHH!!!!!!

    The power gathering up his arm fizzled out as his concentration was broken by the sudden wailing of alarm sirens. He looked up and around for the source of the noise before noticing that Zio wasn’t even paying attention to him anymore. The junior watchman was looking towards the barriers with an expression halfway between panic and disbelief. From her spectator’s spot, the blonde girl had finally stopped smiling.


    Ciel had wanted to question the old swordscat on his exact meaning regarding whom it was that Jubei was reminded of when looking at Brick. Unfortunately for her inquiries, the common residents had been growing tired of being trapped in a shopping square in which no shopping could be done, all by their own city’s defence mechanisms no less. Junior member or not, her fourth-year uniform had singled her out as someone towards whom could be directed questions and/or blame when no other target was available. Resultantly, she’d been quickly swept up in maintaining public relations with the citizenry and alleviating their worries as best as she could. Jubei, ever the social butterfly, had slinked off stealthily at some point to avoid dealing with the quickly forming crowd.

    As was her unfortunate good habit to do so, the young woman became completely engrossed in her work as soon as she had a task set in front of her. As such, she hadn’t noticed any of the interaction between her two subordinates and the vagabond she’d kept an eye on up until that point.

    She was repeating for the seventeenth time that the watch was “experiencing unforeseen technical difficulties with the city protection grid” and that “all available professionals are working on getting everything resolved” when the sirens went off.

    Like her teammates and anyone who knew what the sound meant, Ciel was initially seized by disbelief. However, while most were still trying to process the reality of what was about to come, Ciel’s training brought her sharply to attention and her hand flew to the communicator still wrapped around her right ear, turning the dial away from ‘general broadcast’ to ‘squad-talk’.

    “Everyone, on me! We have a Boss incoming!” She warned with no small degree of urgency in her voice.

    For all of her prompt reaction time, it made little difference to what transpired afterwards. No one in her team had been given enough time to even respond to her orders before a bolt of Darkness came down from the clear blue sky. The dark energy struck the center of the plaza, causing a an explosion of dust, Darkness and cobblestone debris.

    Even before the smoke cleared, Ciel witnessed something that made her heart sink. Four, five…no less than seven hearts were currently floating upwards out of the dust cloud, victims caught in the dark attack before anyone could react. However, she had precious little time to grieve her failures; the mass of darkness that had just invaded the plaza was rising from where it had landed, growing fat on the fear and despair of the mob that had once more been consumed by panic.

    Gradually, the Darkness took shape, adopting a rough humanoid form at first. As the shape became more recognizable, the hearts that had recently been freed ceased their gentle ascent to Kingdom Hearts. They began shaking violently for a short while, as if they were attempting to fight off a power that drew them back towards the ground. However, the struggle was soon over and the hearts were suddenly sucked back toward the forming mass. The humanoid head of the black creature cracked open, as if it were a snake unhinging its jaws, and the freed hearts were absorbed into a dark vortex.

    In just the few moments it took to complete this action, the figure had already taken most of its shape, or rather, shapes. The beast was divided into seven distinct pieces that formed the greater whole. It stood as a three-story-tall parody of a royal knight, longsword in one hand and kite shield in the other. Its limbs and head were disjoined from the abdomen and each limb was completely covered in elegant plate Armour. As the heartless Boss absorbed the final heart, its unhinged jaw snapped closed and plate Armour formed around the head as well.

    With the last of the creature’s segments fully formed, the pure blackness faded away from its features. On the arm and leg Armour, the inky blackness was replaced with a regal purple, streaked in silvery gray. The helmet was somewhat similar to those variants sported by heartless Soldiers. However, it didn’t jut outwards quite as far, nor did it split open in the middle to show the black, heartless “face” underneath. The visor of its helmet was closed, showing only bright yellow behind the thin, angry eye-slits. The spiral usually sported at the top of a Soldier’s helmet was also replaced by a row of centurion-esque spikes lining the helm. Floating behind the heartless, pinned to an invisible set of shoulders, was a smoothly billowing, velvet cape animated by an undetectable breeze.

    Doubtlessly, however, the most prominent aspect of the heartless was its centerpiece. A large chestpiece hung in the middle of the limbs, spinning on itself slowly. It was shaped like an elongated, stylized heart, giving the heartless a somewhat feminine appearance when matched with the other long, slender limbs. One side of the chestpiece was covered in plate mail matching that which adorned the Boss’ limbs. Save, of course, for the fact that the silvery-gray lining was replaced with the heartless symbol, branded in black on the front of the chest.

    More interesting, however, was the opposite side of the chest piece.

    Whereas the front was fully Armoured, the backside (which was regularly exposed through the abdomen’s revolutions) was bare and revealed to be composed of a reddish-mauve crystalline substance. Ciel could make out some figures moving about within the chest and could yet more clearly see the floating lights of the seven hearts that the beast had just consumed. She recognized the monster from description alone and knowledge of the heartless’ type filled her with some hope.

    The hearts themselves were beyond saving now; they could only be returned to Kingdom Hearts from this point on. However, if the monster was holding some live captives in that chest piece, then she still had time to save them.
    She brought her hand to her communicator again, standing determined in the face of what was, without a doubt, the most powerful heartless she’d ever fought. “It’s a Royal Armour! We’ll need to coordinate to bring it down quickly!”


    “I read you,” came Cendre’s voice over the comm. “I have visual contact with you, I’m just west of your position. Heading to you now.”

    Ciel looked to her right and did indeed see him running across the cobblestone as quickly as the crowds would permit, which was followed by Rin’s own “roger” coming through the radiochat. She noticed the absence of the third voice, though, and pressed on her earpiece again.

    “Zio, report in,” she commanded crisply, keeping the worry that he may already be injured out of her voice.

    What came back over the comm was a simultaneously greatly relieving and maddeningly frustrating annoyed gruf. “Rgh! Just get over here and give me some cover!”

    Before the squad commander could offer a rebuttal, she caught a distant flash of yellow and turned her head back towards the heartless Boss. She did so just in time to see the golden-haired warrior jump in the air and aim a lightning-charged strike directly at the enemy’s chestpiece, aiming to hit the crystalline side while it was exposed. Unfortunately, said strike was blocked by the Boss’ kite shield with little difficulty. To the boy’s credit, however, he seemed to have thought farther ahead than his first attack.

    After being initially repelled by the shield, Zio flipped in mid-air and gathered his energy in both weapons before calling out the name of his next technique.

    Lightning Barrage!

    Magic keeping him aloft, he began firing a barrage of lightning bolts from the tip of his tonfa as the thrust them forward in a series of machine-gun punches. This successfully resulted in Zio pinning the boss in a defensive stance for the duration of the attack.

    Ciel frowned; reprimand for his actions would have to wait. Zio had given them an opening and now they needed to act.

    Ciel switched her comm to continuous broadcast and brandished her twin sabres, starting to run towards his position. “Alright team, on Zio! He can’t keep this up forever and we need to get over there—”

    Suddenly, space bubbled and tore all around her and she found both Cendre and herself surrounded by a dozen Armoured Knight heartless. She skidded to a halt and swiftly crossed her swords in front of her defensively as the Knight standing directly before her rushed forward. It thrust it his own blade forward sharply, intent on skewering her. The Watchomwan caught the heartless’ double-edged blade in between her own twin sabers and twisted it to the side, twisting her body own to the left in the same flowing motion to avoid the blow.

    This allowed her to trap the heartless’ weapon and avoid being run-through in the process. She then slid her left-hand blade forward, along the underside of the heartless’ broadsword, and suddenly twisted it upward as it came past the handguard to slice the heartless’ sword hand clean off. The monster reeled back and produced the closest equivalent to a scream of pain it could manage, but it was short-lived. As soon as the hand came off, Ciel pointed her right blade forward and thrust it cleanly between the heartless’ eyes.


    In spite of the girl’s superior skill, however, numbers were not on her side. Even as she quickly dispatched the first enemy to lunge at her, a second to her left flank had jumped forward and was about bring its sword down on her in a large, vertical slash. Simultaneously, one to her right had closed in and was rearing up for a thrust like the first. Ciel was aware of both attacks as soon as she was done with her last strike on the first enemy, but knew she wouldn’t have the speed to dodge or block them simultaneously. Her brain was frantically trying to choose which attack would be most lethal in the few miliseconds she had left to make a decision when a blur passed her by.The circle of heartless was itself circled by a yellow flash and, in the next instant, they all dissipated. Ciel blinked once and Jubei suddenly appeared in front of her. She opened her mouth to thank him but was immediately cut off.

    “There’s no time! That Boss is summoning a bunch of smaller heartless and I’m the only one fast and precise enough to take them all out before they start attacking the civilians! You and your team, keep that Armour busy until reinforcements arrive!”

    With his message delivered, Jubei once more dashed off faster than the eye could track, chasing after each newly spawned heartless. Quickly processing his orders, Ciel turned to check on Cendre’s condition. He had a glowing gash running across his right bicep, earned from taking on the half-dozen heartless that had spawned behind them before Jubei showed up. However, a stony glare from him silently conveyed that he was still fit for combat, and as such, she wasted no more time getting back en-route to the royal Armour. Zio’s lightning barrage was winding down already and the heartless ambush had cost them precious few seconds in coming to their teammate’s aid.

    Thankfully, the civilians had all gathered near the edge of the plaza, huddling up against the barriers (which, of course, would not activate their magical counter-offensive against anything not composed of Darkness). They were still exposed to whatever attacks would be directed toward them, but at least now they weren’t directly in the way and the Watchmen could more properly focus on the Boss.

    Zio’s technique finally ended and the magic that allowed him to defy gravity ran out, pulling him back down to the earth. The Royal Armour wasn’t about to let the attack go unanswered, however. Now that its turn to attack had come, it lowered its shield and thrust forth with its gigantic blade in a single, fluid motion. Were it not for a red streak that flew through the air and collided with Zio, knocking him off course, the boy would doubtlessly have been bisected—split cleanly in half by the giant sword currently sliding gracefully and precisely through the space he had just occupied.

    Ciel followed the streak with her eyes and was astonished to see the figure land only a couple meters in front of her, revealing itself to be Brick. The teen had Zio slung over his left shoulder and a greatsword of some sort in his right hand. Behind them, the Armour was turning its attention toward the duo, curious as to who or what robbed it of another kill. However, a pair of pink and white glyphs appeared beneath it, and suddenly both of its legs were encased in rose-colored ice. This, of course, didn’t actually seal the monster’s movements, as the other pieces were free to hover on their own. Hovering, however, was a far slower method of movement for it, and thus the attack managed to successfully steal the the great heartless’ attention—causing its remaining pieces to try and catch the cherry blonde mage currently skating around the plaza and further antagonizing the Armour by peppering it with streams of sharpened ice shards.

    Brick tossed Zio to the ground, prompting a groan from the recently rescued teen as he fell hard on his rear. “Agh, geez! Be rougher, why don’tcha? I think you left a few ribs uncracked when you tackled me.”

    Brick ignored the ingrate’s protest, but did make a mental note to file away the look Zio had on his face when the blond realized whom exactly had just rescued him; he’d need the laugh once this was all done. However, for now, he looked at Ciel with a dark and stormy expression.

    “Stay out of my way.”

    Without saying any more, he turned back and started running toward the large heartless, eyes locked on the floating centerpiece.

    Ciel really had no idea what exactly was going on anymore but, for the moment, her teammate had been delivered to her injured and that would have to take priority over everything. Kneeling next to Zio, Ciel dispelled her blades and held out her hands toward him, concentrating as she gathered magic for a Cure spell in her palms. As she did so, she turned her head to watch Brick run off. A small, anxious crease formed in the middle of her brow as the only indication of the worry she felt, now that she had gotten a better look at the strange new sword the vagabond had chained to his wrist.

    Mitsuyoshi no Yōshiki: Odayaka Kiki Ansatsu” – One-Eyed Lotus Style: Gentle-Handed Assassination
     
    #3 Buio, May 16, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2016
  4. Chapter Three - Hot Child in the City 3: Royal Pain


    The dark bolt that had crashed down and announced the Boss’s arrival struck no further than four meters from where Brick and Zio were standing. Luckily for them, the pair didn’t get caught in the initial blast that claimed the lives of a group of unfortunate passerby. However, they did have to jump back as the darkness burst forth from its impact point like cold plasma—seeming both gaseous and viscous at the same time as it sprung out and consumed anyone it could latch onto. The form seemed to draw power from the bodies it caught and overwhelmed with Darkness; from the first few that were captured, it already began to rise and to take what would be its ultimate shape.

    Brick didn’t pretend to have grown to care a great deal for the people in Transit City so far. The nicest thing he’d met here was a dog and the “person” he’d spent the most time with was a talking cat with opposable thumbs. Still, he was disturbed by the look of terror that came over the people who were sucked back into the Darkness to give it sustenance. He didn’t know what to do when the thing just kept growing. He’d heard about the “nasties” from Jubei but this was just insane.

    Yesterday, and up until that point, he’d been proud of beating just a few heartless half his size. Now though, he understood how small a feat that really was. Those hadn’t been real heartless, not a true threat. This was a heartless, these were the boogeymen that plagued the dark parts of this city’s collective mind. This was the kind of monster that could consume you and everything you love, that could swallow up an entire world in Darkness and leave nothing behind save for cosmic table scraps and a handful of sad survivors. And it just kept. on. growing.

    Brick would not admit this to himself for a long time, but this was the first time he’d felt fear. Oh sure, he already knew what fear was and a part of him recognized it as such in the moment. But, as an amnesiac, he had no frame of reference for most of his emotions; they were just odd impressions of memories until he experienced them again. This was the first time since waking up as ‘Brick’ that the vagabond had felt fear. Fear over something so much more powerful than him, something so Dark, so hungry.

    He could hear the ringing in his ears, the one he now recognized as his sword trying to talk to him. Unfortunately, it was distant and faint before the silent, suffocating pressure of the growing monster before him. He was frozen in place as it took on its full form.

    Once it had, however, a certain sight quickly brought reality crashing back down on him. The finished product was, or course, both magnificent and terrifying at once, but what really snapped Brick out it was what he saw in the rotating chest. Through the crystalline face, he saw the people who had been consumed by Darkness just a moment ago, still terrified and trying in vain to break their way out of their new prison. Brick would have been inclined to save them, as well as the consumed hearts that swam in the prison with them, if it weren’t for something else occupying his attention altogether.

    Bark was in the heart-shaped prison.

    He had no idea how it happened. He was sure she couldn’t have been around in the crowd that got consumed by the heartless’ appearance (although, trying to avoid being snatched up by tendrils of Darkness had consumed most of his attention at the time), but there she was, terrified and barking to be let out. Though he couldn’t hear her past the crystal wall that separated her prison from the outside world, Brick immediately recognized her and his fear was instantly replaced by cold, focused anger. He swore to himself, these god-damned heartless were going to learn to leave his dog the fuck alone already.

    His hand shot outwards and, without any invocation, the Heartbreaker materialized itself in his grip, the small chain still tying the sword’s pommel to the underside of his wrist. While he hadn’t noticed it as much last night, he could now feel what a difference summoning the greatsword really did. It wasn’t just that the oversized blade itself felt practically weightless in his hand. He felt lighter himself when it was out. He felt strong and determined. The fear was still there deep in his heart, but it was overruled by his will to protect. He took just enough time to note this new feeling mentally before sorting it away for later. Now was the time for action.

    Brandishing his blade, he bolted forward and jumped up towards the chest, aiming to start pounding on the currently exposed crystalline portion so as to free the captives within (or, at least, free Bark). However, he was swatted away by the heartless’ large shield as the Royal Armour brought it up to defend against Zio’s attacks. Brick flipped mid-air and landed back down on his feet just as Thunderhead began his Lightning Barrage.

    The dark-haired teen looked on curiously for a moment, somewhat bemused by the academy student currently telling gravity to ‘just wait a minute’, all so he could literally punch lightning bolts out of his weapons at inhuman speeds. Brick made a mental note to ask someone how the hell that was going on once all of this was over. For now, though, Zio was proving halfway useful (for once) by managing to keep the heartless pinned down. Brick decided to capitalize on the giant monster’s distraction and began looking around for a vantage point he could use. True to the feeling of lightness he felt, Brick had just proven that—with the Heartbreaker summoned—he could jump several times his own height when he tried to take a swipe at the chestpiece. However, even with a full-powered jump, Brick had found himself decreasing in momentum before quite reaching the spinning prison. Even if he hadn’t been batted away by the shield, his jump would have only given him enough time to strike the chest once before gravity would have pulled him back down. Somehow, he got the impression that the monster would need a bit more than that before it relinquished its hold on Bark and the rest of the prisoners.

    Brick knew that he needed a higher vantage point so he could get on the hulking monstrosity and do some actual damage. The unfortunate part to this plan was that—in addition to the enemy being in the middle of the plaza, far away from any other point of notable height—any building that he could have clambered up to give himself some sort of height boost was now protected behind the barrier.

    The Barrier.

    Brick looked at the shimmering wall of light nearest to him, the one protecting the Transit City Mall on the north side of the Plaza. It went high, higher than the buildings and the giant heartless. He looked back at Zio, hovering in the air while he cast his combat magic, then back down to his sword—giving consideration to the idea that just formed in his mind for a moment before giving a quick shrug. Whatever, he’d try it. He didn’t have time to think of anything else so he’d just have to keep his fingers crossed and hope it would be worth the shot. Newly decided, Brick took off in a headlong dash for the northern barrier.

    Huddled against it, like with every other barrier, was a crowd of terrified civilians. Brick was only now noticing that bubbling portals of darkness were consistently appearing in scattered form over, around, and near the cowering humans. Luckily, however, the heartless barely had time to materialize in the world before a yellow blur shot through them and returned them to Darkness.

    “Huh, so that’s where the cat ran off to,” thought the teen before redoubling his speed.

    Whether they were frightened by the large sword in his hand or of him potentially bowling them over (or both) was uncertain. One way or another, though, the crowd parted out of his way upon noticing his arrival, giving him full access to the barrier. When he got to the base of the magic wall, he slowed down just enough to be able to turn his run into a crouched position, from which he then spring upwards fluidly. He jumped high, transferring as much of the momentum from his run into the strength of his kick-off as he could. He flew upwards for nearly two full stories before he felt gravity start pulling him back down, it was time to see if this plan would pay off.

    He placed one foot on the smooth, projected surface of the barrier and felt the magic surge beneath him. It wasn’t like last night, where the barriers had used their offensive magics to fry both himself and the heartless he’d been holding onto at the time. At the moment, no creature of darkness was in direct contact with the northern barrier, and its magics were still geared towards defense. As a result, the power he felt course through him from his contact with the barrier was like a rush of multicolored light racing through his veins. He could practically hear his blade singing in response to the power. The sudden surge was almost too intense and nearly caused Brick to slip and fall. Instead, he just pushed downwards with his foot and was propelled along the wall’s face. The magical energies seemed to be clinging onto the sole of his boots, preventing him from slipping and thus allowing him to run up the sheer vertical face with minimal difficulty.

    Brick mentally patted himself on the back for his quick thinking. It seemed that—provided there were teenagers with summoned weapons and a sufficient amount of magic in play—the ‘laws’ of physics were evidently relegated to simple guidelines.

    He sprinted up the barrier wall while dragging his heartbreaker behind him, the sword’s tip leaving ripples across the magical surface reminiscent of those created by pebbles skipping across a pond. The blade further resonated with joy as it fed on the hearty energies.

    He continued to climb until he was about level with the Royal Armor’s head, and then struck his sword in the barrier for anchorage, not entirely trusting the ‘magnetic’ effect to keep him rooted once he stopped providing momentum. Hanging from the handle, he looked back over to the monster and saw, to his satisfaction, that it had stayed in place while Zio continued to peppering its shield with lightning bolts. This was good; with the giant heartless pinned down, Brick would be able to reach the chest piece with one good—

    Something suddenly dawned on Brick: the heartless’ separate limbs were not connected. This particular fact was, of course, not something he was noticing for the first time; it was an anatomical feature that was kind of hard to miss. However, in this situation, the realization brought up another, very important, question: If all the parts could move freely and independently, why was the rest of the body staying behind the shield arm and waiting out Zio’s attack?

    Paying more attention to the creature’s other limbs now, Brick noticed how the sword arm was positioned: held straight, right behind the shield, pointed right at… Brick gave a deep, resigned sigh.

    And
    of course Zio’s attacks were just now slowing down, which probably meant that his technique was just about done. Dammit, it had been such a good plan, too.


    With a frustrated growl, Brick pulled his blade out of the barrier, spun it into a reverse grip behind his back and jumped off the surface as hard as he could, shooting towards Zio rather than the Armor itself. He was initially surprised with the speed at which he’d taken off, not having taken into account the degree to which soaking up the barrier’s magic would have increased his capabilities. It made little difference, though, since his destination was still the same, and largely in a straight line.

    As Brick had predicted, as soon as Zio ended his attack, the gigantic heartless’ blade began moving forward and the shield swayed to the side in order to give it passage. The young swordsman was suddenly thankful for the unintended speed boost and extended his free arm as he flew through the air. Despite connecting with more force than he’d initially intended,Brick still managed to grab onto Zio all the same when the two collided in mid-air. Thus, he successfully pulled/knocked the blond out of the giant sword thrust’s trajectory.

    The loss of momentum from the collision caused Brick to arc downwards quickly, and he was able to land in front of Ciel and the other boy he’d seen in her group. Well, that was as good a place as any to drop the loudmouth off, so that’s exactly what Brick did.

    Without paying heed to Zio’s protests regarding his rough handling, Brick turned around and took quick stock of the situation. Playing hero had been successful enough so far, his intuition on what his sword could or couldn’t let him do was proving to be fairly reliable. Unfortunately, Bark was still trapped, the monster was still in the plaza, and—by the looks of things—it wasn’t too fond of staying together in one piece now that its legs were frozen solid. That meant that his original plan of using another ‘barrier launch’ to try and clamber onto the beast probably wouldn’t work, not unless someone managed to pin it down again.

    This was getting frustrating. The civilians were still all over the place and, if that thing split itself up anymore than it already was, he’d be too busy trying to keep everyone else safe to actually save Bark. Under different circumstances, Brick would probably have been jumping at the opportunity to find out more about his sword’s capabilities by fighting such a tough opponent. Right now, though, he wasn’t exactly willing to gamble on how many minutes of air Bark might have in that chest prison, especially considering all the humans stuck inside there with her. Their panicking and useless escape attempts were no doubt using up all off the already limited oxygen that the prison had to offer. Whatever happened, this had to end quickly.

    He turned back and gave Ciel a stern look, wasting no time with pleasantries. “Stay out of my way,” he commanded sharply.

    Without any more time left for him to waste, Brick turned on his heels and raced back towards the giant heartless. Its main body had moved towards the eastern end of the plaza now, hunting down the ice manipulator who’d frozen its legs. The blonde-haired girl in question was currently skating and flitting about in every which way possible, trying to hold the boss’ attention while simultaneously doing her best to avoid its slow but deadly retaliation. It was obvious that she was trying to prevent the beast from moving too far from the plaza center, for risk of letting it harm the civilians.

    She was doing a good job of it right now, but Brick wasn’t sure how long the blonde junior watchwoman could last against the angered heartless. While she was definitely agile enough to avoid all of its attacks, it seemed she could no longer cast the spell that had allowed her to lock two of the limbs in place while she was simultaneously moving around. Furthermore, none of her other attacks seemed to be having any effect in even slowing her target down.

    Suddenly, as she was leaping over a wide sweep of the heartless’ blade, Brick noticed that she’d produced a small, blue cube that she now held in her hand. He saw her immediately plant her feet to the ground after dodging the attack, taking advantage of the fact that the giant sword needed to lose the equally massive momentum it had picked up during its swing before it could be directed back at her. She crushed the cube with little effort and was surrounded by a matching blue light for a moment. Already, the Armour was pulling its sword back into a follow-up swing, trying to catch the young mage in another swipe before she could escape. However, the junior watchwoman had no intention to run anymore. She defiantly held her hands up in front of her as a pink magic circle projected itself into the space in front of them. Brick noticed the uncharacteristic, cold fury burning in the girl’s eyes just before she released her magic. Still, as he was approaching, he could swear he’d seen a faint smile at the corner of her lips even while she spoke.

    Blizara!

    As it’s name was called out, the ice spell activated and released a torrent of javelin-sized, rose-colored icicles from the magic circle in front of her. The frozen spears whistled sharply through the air as they homed in on the giant heartless like targeted missiles. The Royal Armour was forced to stumble backwards, breaking off from its prepared swing as the first dozen-or-so icicles collided with it. Rather than shatter on impact, the icicles were instead leaving behind thick splotches of ice across the boss monster’s face, chest, and arms that quickly robbed it of its mobility. For a moment, it looked as if the ice-mage would succeed in pinning down the remainder of the boss’ limbs. Unfortunately, however, the Armour’s cape suddenly moved out from behind its bearer and shielded the rest of the heartless from the magical assault. The icicles didn’t even seem to collide with the ethereal velvet. Instead, they seemed to be swallowed whole, disappearing into the shroud without any visible impact or trace left behind.

    Protected from the frozen assault, the giant heartless flexed its joints and shook its Armour clean of the ice build-up before pulling its sword arm back and preparing another thrust. Thankfully for the girl on the other side of the veil (who couldn’t move as she was still in the midsts of letting her spell finish its casting), this was precisely the time at which Brick had managed to catch up to the action.

    Running up from behind the great beast, he leapt up in the air towards the exposed, vulnerable portion of the chestpiece, and brought his sword down in a two-handed strike across the bottom portion of the crystal face, leaving a large gash across it.

    The heartless boss let out a bone-chilling, high-pitched scream as this vulnerable part of its body was struck, causing it to cancel its thrust though the cape. However, the offending cloth itself still remained in place to absorb the rest of the junior watchwoman’s magical attack as it reached its end.

    Birck, encouraged by the creature’s display of pain, leapt up and swung at the crystal surface again, eager to break Bark out of there. Unfortunately the chest piece quickly flipped around at the last moment and his sword clanged ineffectively against the armoured side of the chestpiece. The boss’ helmet twisted around like an owl’s head and Brick felt the disturbingly yellow eyes settle on him angrily. The arms circled around as well so that the monster could face him properly before raising its shield high. It then slammed the great the shield down, placing it square in between itself and Brick. Before the teen could figure out what it was planning by doing this, the monster began pushing forward, only giving Brick a few seconds to spring into action and sprint to the side before a wall of screaming metal rushed past him. The young swordsman looked up from where he’d thrown himself to the ground and turned back towards the giant heartless, only now realizing that the shield charge hadn’t been meant for him at all.

    After having sped past Brick, the heartless maintained its momentum and smashed its shield into the frozen statues that had become its legs, breaking the ice apart and freeing the trapped limbs. The Royal Armour reassembled itself quickly and turned back on Brick. In the time it had taken for the boss to reassemble itself, however, the blonde junior watchwoman had created a frozen path leading to brick and skated over to his side.

    “Well then Mr. Keybearer, I guess I owe you one for stepping in when you did,” she said with a small giggle as she grabbed him by the shoulder and hoisted him back up to his feet. “Still, you couldn’t you have stopped it from freeing up those legs? I’m not made of ether, you know.”

    Brick would have asked how, exactly, he was supposed to have done that but was cut off by two loud metallic thuds booming through the plaza. The two teenagers looked back towards their foe and noticed that it had dropped it’s sword and shield to the ground and was currently slowly rising in the air. Whatever it was preparing was causing the light in the area to dim as if dusk had suddenly fallen. The limbs separated from the abdomen and linked together in a circle around their centerpiece while the abdomen itself flipped around to show the crystal side glowing brightly, as if it were what was gathering all the surrounding light.

    “Uh, is it me,” started Brick, taking a step backwards by instinct, “or does that not look like a good th-” he stopped mid-sentence when he noticed that the girl was no longer beside him. Instead, she was already several meters away, skating to safety as quick as she could.

    “Don’t just stand there, run!” she threw back over her shoulder.

    Brick stared back at the giant heartless in wide-eyed panic. Evidently, it was more pissed off at him for striking its chest than at the ice girl for freezing its legs because the headpiece floating above the spinning ring had not taken its eyes off him or a second. Brick turned to run in the direction opposite of the ice girl’s, but it didn’t matter, he wasn’t as fast as her and he’d started running too late.

    The heartbreaker screamed a warning in his mind just as the Royal Armour finished its charging procedure, giving him just enough time to skid to a halt and brace himself for what was to come. He placed his sword as the only thing between him and whatever the Royal Armour was preparing.

    With the heart-shaped chestpiece fully charged now, the Heartless boss released the mother of all care bear stares in a concentrated beam of light and death, aimed directly at the one who’d dared to harm it.

    Birck closed his eyes tight and prayed to the disembodied voice that had been guiding him so far to let him survive this.

    In the next instant, he was overcome with the roar of the laser blast slamming into… something else. Something in front of him. Something that was not him, somehow.

    The young amnesiac cautiously cracked an eye open and was both relieved and confused to see that he was currently encased in a shimmering bubble barrier. The massive beam was splitting apart on the rounded surface and creating a mesmerising aurora in front of brick as its magic, heat, and force was deflected away from the teenager within.

    “Who’s in who’s way again?” called out a voice to the left as the beam’s roar died down.

    Brick looked to his side and saw Ciel running over to him, the brown-haired boy from her group following closely behind.

    “Uh, thanks…” replied Brick with a blink once the shield broke apart around him, only now processing the fact that he’d come that close to death. “Guess I owe you one.”

    Two actually, but we can tally up later,” said the girl with a small smile as she caught up to him. “Right now, though, we’re to capitalize on the opening you made.”

    Intrigued by her last statement, Brick looked back towards the giant heartless, now seeing that the spinning ring of connected limbs was currently slowing to a halt. Once immobile, the limbs began shaking as if it had become difficult for them to maintain their current form. A few moments later, the ring suddenly collapsed in an Armoured pile, fallen around the sword and shield. The cape seemed to attempt to drape itself around the pile and protect the spent Armour. However, Zio was already on the scene and dashed through the veil without any effort. He homed in on the limb nearest to him, the shield arm, and started pounding into it with both Tonfa as quickly as he could—not even bothering to mix any lightning into his strikes—just focusing on hitting as hard and fast as possible.


    “Ora!Ora!Ora!Ora!Ora!Ora!Ora!Ora!” he could be heard yelling, as if cheering on his own pummeling of the plate Armour.

    Brick saw that the other academy boy was hot on Zio’s heels, running up to the downed Armour with the power lines on his right bracer glowing bright orange-red and fire dancing in his palm. Once he was almost on the scene, he shouted out to his friend, “Zio, Move!”

    Without even looking back to find out what his teammate was planning, Zio ended his barrage and jumped to the side. Cendre simultaneously jumped in the air and brought his fully charged fist to bear. “Erupt!” He yelled as he came down, releasing all the collected magical energy through a single palm strike into the plate Armour. Or, at least this had been what he’d intended to do.

    Like Zio, Cendre had had no problem passing through the ‘protective’ veil that the cape formed. However, as soon as he had done so, all the magical energy gathered in his gauntlet had been syphoned out. Resultingly, what should have been a powerful magical attack that would have consumed the Armoured member in a column of flames was reduced to a mild, singular, physical strike.

    “Quit bein’ fancy and just beat the shit out of it!” yelled-out Zio as he jumped back on the arm, starting to pummel it with his rapid physical attacks once more.

    Cendre nodded gravely and joined his friend in repeatedly striking the limb with as much power as he could muster without relying on elemental magic.

    Back towards the south-eastern corner of the plaza, Rin had caught up with Ciel and started debriefing her on what she’d found. “Yeah, so, that cape thingie eats magic for breakfast. It totally negated my Blizard.”

    Ciel nodded at the report. Truth be told, she had known of this ability already. Armour-types were a well-known breed of Heartless Boss and she had read reports at school detailing the past struggles of watchmen fighting this particular breed upon their venture into worlds of Darkness. She also knew, however, that this was no time to berate her teammates for slacking off on homework, and instead focused on how to proceed.

    “Indeed, and the cape doesn’t even register physical attacks so there’s no effective way of getting rid of it,” acknowledged the midnight-haired squad leader. “Unfortunately, our elemental magic won’t be much use against this foe.”

    “So, what do you want me to do?” asked Brick, eager to move again. He had wanted to run off with Cendre and join the fight but Ciel had stopped him, saying there’d be no point in him going as well.

    The squad leader turned to the vagabond and paused. She was hesitant to give orders to an unregistered civilian who, by all rights, shouldn’t be anywhere near this monster. However, she valued the innocent lives in the square more than she valued protocol. Brick had already proven himself to be capable with his rescue of Zio. His inquisition could wait until after the monster was defeated.

    “Nothing for now,” she said, making up her mind on how he would feature in her plan of attack. “Unlike my teammates, you don’t have a communicator so I won’t be able to give you commands once you’ve mobilized. Since you seem to have a lot of physical power I’ll be keeping you nearby and saving you as my ace in the hole.”

    Brick didn’t seem to be too happy with that answer, but he understood the reasoning well enough that he didn’t argue with it.

    “Ooookay, so what about me?” questioned Rin. “Without being able to use magic, I’m basically useless against this thing.

    “Then maybe you could relieve me?” cut-in a gruff voice behind her. Rin turned around and the other two teens turned their heads to see Jubei having appeared just behind the cherry blonde. He had no injuries on him, but it was clear by his light painting that he was starting to feel the effects of single-handedly keeping all the lesser heartless at bay. Rin did not seem to take note of this last fact and, instead, inhaled sharply and brought her hands to her face to cover a child-like grin the moment she saw him This was quickly followed by a quiet, high-pitched squeal of excitement. “Kittyyyyyyy!”

    “Rin, don’t,” warned Ciel with a cold and dark tone, already all too familiar with her subordinate’s tendency to obsess over ‘cute’ things even at the most inappropriate of times. Thankfully, the blonde was capable of reigning herself in and satisfied herself by just looking at Jubei with sparkles in her eyes. The cat gave her a somewhat worried look before turning his attention to Ciel.

    “Uh. Right, as I was saying. The blasted thing’s stopped summoning lesser heartless for now, but that won’t last long and I’m starting to run low on steam. I don’t know how much longer I can keep everyone safe on my own.”

    “With all due respect Master Jubei, Rin won’t be able to hold out even as long as you could on her own,” replied Ciel calmly.

    “She won’t have to.” retorted the cat with a light shake of his head. “That Armour’s been alive for too long already. One Mablizard is all I need to give you kids the opening you’ll need to finish it off, especially considering how those two are doing.”

    Jubei finished by nodding towards the fight, and the three teens turned their attention back to the Royal Armour just in time to see Zio and Cendre deliver a combined right and left straight. The attack caused the left arm to finally break apart and burst into darkness, the strain of the beating it had been receiving finally becoming too much for it to bear. It was all in a nick of time too; just as they finished up, the heartless boss’ components began to clatter with life and the two students had to jump back quickly before the 5 remaining Armour pieces were picked up by an invisible whirlwind.

    “Better make up your mind quick, once that thing is put back together it’ll start summoning lesser heartless again,” pressed-on Jubei with some urgency in his voice.

    Ciel let out a quick, frustrated huff. “Master, I’m sorry, but Rin can’t-”

    “I’ll do it!” came the other girls’ excited reply, her grin not having faded in the least since the cat’s appearance. Before Ciel could question her, she turned to her supervisor with a serious expression. “Ether me!” she commanded with surprising force.

    Ciel blinked once in surprised and then sighed, digging in the pouch she had at her right side and pulling out another small blue cube like the one brick had seen Rin use before. “I hope you know what you’re doing… Rin.” After calling out her subordinate’s name she crushed the cube in her hands, causing a blue aura to surround the spellcaster for a short moment.

    With her mana restored, the cherry blonde spun on her heels and suddenly picked Jubei up off the street, holding him up from his armpits as if he were a small child.

    “Wh-what are you do-?” his flustered protests were interrupted by the girl bringing him close and giving him an over exaggerated kiss on the forehead. “Mmmmwah!” She then dropped him down on the ground gracelessly and giggled, “bye bye Mr Kitty!”

    Rin waved lightly before forming an ice path and skating back towards the crowds, looking to prepare her spell without being distracted by the fight itself.


    Jubei just blinked for a moment before feeling a heavy gaze on him. He looked over to Brick and saw how the teen barely tried to conceal the oh-so-amused look on his face.

    “... you’re never letting me live that down, are you?”

    The wide, toothy grin that Brick gave him (accompanied by his barely suppressed snickering) was all the answer Jubei needed. With a heavy sigh, the swordscat turned his attention back to the maelstrom of spinning Armour parts.

    “Alright, enough joking around, that thing’s just about ready to reassemble.”

    True to the swordmaster’s word, the pieces slowed their cyclone motion and put themselves back in their appropriate positions. Yellow light returned to the helmet’s eye slits and the boss reassembled itself back into its original, loose order—minus its shield arm. While the sword that it had previously dropped to the ground floated back up to the boss’s grip, the large shield faded away into wisps of Darkness when it found itself without a hand to which it could return.

    Just as the Armour was made (mostly) whole again, Brick heard a spell being called out behind them.

    Mablizard!

    The black-haired vagabond felt the air around them get significantly colder and—noticing lights from above—looked up to see that three pale-blue magic circles had appeared in the sky, circling around the square slowly. Just as the glyphs had finished materializing, the Boss’s influence over the area caused portals of Darkness to start spawning smaller heartless once more. Like a magical defence grid, the circles activated at the presence of the dark portals and began shooting down all the lesser creatures who appeared with pinpoint accuracy. True to the spell’s name, it produced the same kind of icicles Rin had previously used against Royal Armour. However, unlike the Armour, these lesser heartless did not benefit from nigh magical invulnerability. Resultingly, the plaza quickly became filled with the numerous ice sculptures of so many heartless.

    Knowing that the young watchwoman would not be able to keep up such a spell for long, Jubei leapt into action, running towards the newly recovered giant heartless. He performed a quick dash—disappearing from view as he briefly accelerated beyond the eye’s capability to track objects—only to reappear between the heartless’s legs with both kodachi drawn.

    “Mitsuyoshi no Yōshiki: Samui yoru no kyōfū”

    Flipping his left-hand sword in a reverse grip, Jubei suddenly began spinning like a top, the sheer speed of his revolutions (and also magic, probably, noted Brick) making him slowly rise in the air. A whirlwind had appeared around him, and the sound of his blades striking against the plate Armour of the heartless’ legs rung out across the plaza a dozen times every second. Within five seconds, Jubei had come to the crest of his ascent and suddenly broke the whirlwind surrounding him with a burst of power, simultaneously destroying both leg armaments.

    The helmet’s eyes turned red at the destruction of its legs and Jubei was forced to hastily kick off the Armoured chest plate’s surface to create distance between himself and the Heartless Boss; a second later the monster let out an enraged, blood curdling scream as Darkness poured off its being. The Royal Armour went completely berserk and began to swing it’s blade wildly around itself, having no concern for whom or what it was hitting.

    Meanwhile, Ciel had already used the communicators to mobilize her remaining squadmates in accordance with what she knew about the Armour’s behavioral patterns. She had known the swordmaster would go for the legs and rob the Armour of it’s high mobility. Being forced to only hover for movement, especially after already losing its aegis, would doubtlessly throw the boss into a frenzy during which no one could risk getting close to it—but that just gave them time to get into position.

    After the boss had spent its fury by swinging its sword around wildly for a few moments, it seemed to ‘calm down’ only in the way that blind rage could become focused hatred. Its eyes scanned the crowd and quickly focused back onto the one who had dealt it the most damage. Once it found Jubei, it immediately locked onto the cat and moving towards it without even acknowledging the stockier human boy who had appeared besides its intended adversary. Single-minded in its vengeance, it raised its blade high.


    With his speed, Jubei could have been running laps around the heartless and never been detected to begin with, let alone dodge the incoming attack. However, he was in fact standing perfectly still when the red-eyed heartless found him, and continued to do so as it swung it blade towards him, uncaring of the heartless’ intent to cleave the one who had robbed it of its legs in half. Before the blow could connect, Cendre stepped in front of Jubei and, with both of his gauntlets glowing golden, caught the massive sword between his palms, stopping it dead in its tracks. Even using his gravity element to the maximum of his abilities so as to decrease the gigantic armament’s weight, the boy still nearly buckled under the strain of his feat and pushed back as hard as he could to keep the massive sword from coming down on Jubei and himself. He would not be able to hold the blade for long, but he wouldn’t have to.

    A few feet off to the side, Zio had been crouched down on one knee with his head hung, both tonfa gripped tightly and pressed end-first to the ground. Silently, he had been charging up his mana since the Armour went berserk, and thus was prepared to release it even before Ciel’s order came through on his communicator— simultaneous to Cendre gripping the blade.

    “Zio! Now!”

    The golden-haired teen looked up to the blade that had almost ended him a few minutes earlier with a predatory grin. He suddenly pushed himself up, and as the ends of his tonfa left the ground a thin stream of electricity could momentarily be seen arcing between them and the points on the ground they’d just been connected to. Then, like natural gas meeting a lit match, the mana around him ignited into shining, cerulean electrical energy and Zio roared out the name of his attack.

    Gungnir!!!


    The cape had no time to act. There was a blinding flash and a deafening thunderclap, and in the next instant Zio was gently falling through the air. He’d dashed forward, jumped straight at the giant sword, and became like a living thunderbolt. He smashed through the flat of the blade with all of his power in a single instant, shattering the dark armament into a dozen pieces. Now, he had come out of the attack on the other side of the blade, mid-air due to the slightly upwards, diagonal angle at which he had to aim his strike so it would be lined up with the middle of the longsword. The angle had been shallow though, he wasn’t more than ten feet from the ground, someone like him would be able to land from that drop with no problem. Though, Zio did wonder why it felt like he had falling for a while now…

    ————————————————————————————————————————

    “That idiot!” yelled out Ciel as she saw the spiky haired blonde tumble forward and crumple to a ball gracelessly upon landing, probably breaking or spraining something along the process. It was obvious he’d overexerted himself with Gungnir after having already spent his energy on a Lightning Barrage and subsequently lost consciousness before even hitting the ground.


    She knew she’d have him running laps around the city after this, since he clearly had no concept of his upper limits; for now, though, she bit her tongue on all further comments and turned to the vagabond at her side. Zio had done his part and now it was time for them to do theirs. She held her right hand out towards Brick and cast her own spell.

    Haste!


    A silver glow enveloped Brick and he smiled as felt time around him slow down. Finally, his turn to move had come.

    From Ciel’s perspective, he shot off like an arrow, the distance between himself and the Royal Armour from sprinting as fast as he could while also moving at double time.


    ————————————————————————————————————————

    As soon as Zio had smashed through the blade, Cendre heaved the tip he was holding onto off to the side, letting the large fragment fall to the ground with a deafening thud. He immediately reached into his pouch and retrieved a small item that looked like a golden, metal flame with darker golden stars and crescent moons painted around the tip.


    From the corner of his eye, Cendre caught Zio crumpling to the ground and was tempted for an instant to use the item on him, however he only had the one on him and knew what the plan called for. He quickly crushed the elixir in his hand and felt its pale, golden light restore his magic and stamina nearly instantly.

    The Armour continued to rage as more of it was gradually chipped away. Discarding the broken blade that was already fading away into wisps of darkness, it reared back its fist far behind it and then brought it forward in a megaton punch, aiming to destroy the crumpled academy student that had destroyed its prized weapon.


    This time it was Jubei who apparated to deflect the blow or, more appropriately, counter it. He appeared in front of Zio with his back turned to the incoming arm, both blades sheathed but paws still gripping the handles tightly and a silver glow enveloping the scabbard. As the giant arm came screaming towards them, the swordmaster’s ability triggered and time slowed to a crawl for him, even the hastened Brick. He once more called out the name of his technique, giving form to the magic he was channeling.

    Mitsuyoshi no Yōshiki: Futago Tsubame Gaeshi


    From the rest of the world’s perspective Jubei turned around impossibly fast and drew both blades, swiping them across the incoming fist’s surface in a cross-shaped slash and suddenly robbing the fist of is momentum. In the next instant, the sword arm was destroyed as well,bursting into Darkness.

    The Royal Armour seemed to have one final act of desperation up its sleeve (or rather, collar) as the helmet rose and cape fanned out behind it in a wide arc, once more causing the ambient light to dim as the monster gathered energy. Unfortunately it would be for naught. The spikes atop its head were just beginning to glow black and blue when the headpiece was struck by a golden sphere and trapped in similar colored aura. It began shaking as i fought off a force pulling it downwards. Back on the ground, Cendre was channeling both of his elements simultaneously, having launched a gravity ball with his left gauntlet while he continued to charge a fire spell in his right.

    “Come here!
    Magnet!

    The headpiece could no longer resist the pull and was dragged from its perch atop the chestpiece. Cendre met the helmet as it came rocketing towards him with a right straight, charged with another attack spell.

    Meteor Strike!

    Creating a massive ball of fire to envelop the helmet upon impact, Cendre sent he heartless’s head flying back towards what remained of its body just as Brick caught up to him. The head sill flew faster, however, and hit the floating chestpiece, causing it to spin around and expose the vulnerable crystalline side. This was just in time for the hastened Brick to jump upwards and thrust his blade clean in its center.

    The Armoured, heart-shaped ‘chest’ stood frozen in the air for a moment, Brick dangling from his sword handle now. Then a crack appeared along the surface, and another. Suddenly, there was a rapid cascading of cracks and fissures appearing across the crystal surface until it burst forth and shattered entirely. The head, which had landed a dozen or so meters behind the body, raised in the air one final time as it gave a death cry. It then fell back to the ground as its crimson eyes faded back to yellow, and then to black. What remained of the boss dissolved away into Darkness once more, and those who were captured by it were set free, all falling gently to the ground.


    While falling, Brick quickly scanned those around him for Bark and, once he’d found her, made a beeline for her as soon as he touched ground, his sword dematerializing in the same flash of light as before. Bark was weak from the experience and couldn’t run to meet her master but got to her feet all the same once he got to her and licked his face appreciatively when he pet her coat. Brick laughed with the same half-strained expression as the last time she’d licked him, willing to tolerate the disgusting feeling while he reunited with his furry friend.

    “Haha, I missed you too girl. Don’t run off like that again, okay?”


    The dog nestled her face against his chest as thanks for having been freed and Brick smiled softly as he continued to pet her.

    “Use me.”

    It was fortunate that brick was already kneeling, as he was assaulted by another intense wave of vertigo as he felt his sword talk to him. He gave a grimace and used his free hand to hold onto his head while he looked down at the greatsword with frustrated confusion.


    “What the hell are you on about?” he asked it out loud. “There aren’t any other enemies!”

    “Free them.”

    The ensuing vertigo nearly made him fall flat on his back. Whatever his sword was trying to tell him, it was clearly something that it felt was very pressing.

    By now, Ciel had almost caught up to him, eager as she was to congratulate him and her entire team on the destruction of their foe. As she approached, however, she noticed his pained expression and furrowed her brow, only growing more confused and concerned when he started yelling at his own sword. “Brick?” she called out from behind him as she approached. “What’s wrong?”

    “Use me!”

    Brick barely even heard Ciel over the ringing in his ears. Instead of replying to her he replied to the sword’s continuing insistence. “I don’t know how!”

    Jubei, who so far had been tending to the unconscious Zio, suddenly appeared by Brick’s side, causing Ciel to stop a few steps short of them. While his gaze was fixed upon the sword in the teenager’s hand, he placed a reassuring paw on Brick’s shoulder and leaned in close to speak to him. “Kid, what’s wrong? Who are you talking to”

    “This stupid thing won’t shut up!” replied Brick in frustration, a small amount of fear making its way into his voice. “I don’t know what it wants!”

    The swordsman’s good eye narrowed when he heard this. “Then that’s all I need to know.”

    Faster than the eye could track, Jubei’s left paw flew up to the top-facing hilt in his saya and simultaneously drew the blade and slashed downwards with it. Yet more surprising was how, somehow, Brick managed to bring up his own sword and parry the blow with a swing of his own. His greatsword clashed with Jubei’s kodachi and the cat was made to skid backwards a couple meters by the force behind Brick’s swing.

    Brick looked just as surprised as anyone else, he hadn’t told his arm to move. All he remembered was the heartbreaker screaming an unintelligible warning his mind and, next thing he knew, his arm had moved on its own to protect him. After a few milliseconds, though bark’s angry barking helped his mind piece together what had just happened and he shot an angry glare at Jubei.

    “What the hell, cat?! Why are you attacking me!?”

    While Jubei had initially been stunned by Brick’s sudden display of power and speed, he quickly snapped out of it and gave Brick a hard stare back. “That sword is dangerous, kid. We need to get it away from you.”

    Ciel could do nothing as she watched on between the two. None of what was suddenly happening was making any sense to her and protocol failed her entirely here; Jubei was no longer affiliated with the Watch, so since he’d attacked first she should be defending Brick. But Brick himself was a potentially unstable, armed vagabond going through some sort of psychotic episode. Her gut told her to trust the swordmaster’s judgement even if she didn’t understand it, but her heart told her that attacking the young man couldn’t be the right answer in all this. Before she could say anything or sort out her feelings in any meaningful way, and before Brick could reply anything else to Jubei’s statement, the swordscat disappeared in another burst of speed and reappeared behind the younger swordsman.

    Without warning, he aimed another swing at Brick’s sword arm but was blocked again. This time, by a barrier wall suddenly appearing between him and his target. He threw an accusatory glare in Ciel’s direction, but the confused look on her face quickly told him she wasn’t the culprit here. He had no time to consider the matter further as he quickly had to backstep and avoid a counter-swing from Brick. This one, the boy had intended, and Bark’s angry yelps were now mixed with threatening growls. Weak as she was, she would still protect her master and friend from any stupid cat.

    Brick grabbed his sword handle with both hands and held the greatsword defiantly between himself and Jubei, eyes shimmering with tears of frustration and anger. “You bastard, I trusted you!” he yelled out accusingly. He didn’t know why he was being attacked right now, why Jubei would betray him after he’d just helped everyone take down that giant heartless. It hurt, though. The sudden betrayal stung deeper than anything he had experienced in his short life, anything he could even remember feeling, and his sword had been the one to warn him about it. Obviously, the only things he could trust in this world were things that didn’t literally talk.

    Jubei, on his end, was visibly was on edge. He had sheathed his sword but his paw once again refused to move from the handle. His gaze darted around nervously in an attempt to find who had protected Brick from his swing but, when the answer didn’t readily present itself, Jubei cautiously turned his attention back to Brick to prevent him him from doing anything stupid.

    “Kiddo, you’re going to need to keep trusting me right now and just let me-”

    “Fuck you!” yelled out Brick, taking a step back. “You just tried to gut me, twice!”

    “If I meant to gut you you’d be freaking gutted, kid!” yelled back the swordmaster. “Now get the hell away from that swo-!”

    The argument was suddenly interrupted by a beam of silvery light shooting down between the two sword wielders. From the beam, stepped out a slender, hooded figure cloaked in white. While the person’s face was indistinguishable underneath the hood, their figure made it simple enough to intuit that whomever was hiding in that getup was most likely a woman.

    Without bothering to introduce herself, the new figure swung her left hand in a downwards arc, causing a sphere-shaped, translucent barrier to appear around Bark and Brick, causing the dog to resume her loud yapping in defiance of this new development that she couldn’t understand. As soon as he the bubble shield go up, Jubei sprung into action. He dashed forwards and reappeared in mid-air, just in front of the woman, with both swords already drawn and crossed on either side of him. Without hesitation, he swung them simultaneously in an attempt to scissor her head clean off.

    The woman, however, materialized a pair of blue, double-bladed daggers with which she blocked each sword. The daggers were shaped like handguns (resembling miniature gunblades),with the negative space between the vertical blades looking like the ‘barrel’ of the weapons. The woman had trapped the blades between the prongs of her own weapons and forced Jubei to keep his own swords crossed while she made the significantly shorter opponent fall back to the ground. The swordmaster grit his teeth, not having expected her to have the speed necessary block his assassination technique, and quickly dashed backwards the second his feet touched ground. He knew the foolishness of letting himself get caught in a deadlock with someone who could have pointed her weapons at him while still trapping his own, had she gotten the proper leverage. Especially someone who could move so fast.

    Inside the circular barrier, Brick looked on at the new arrival with tense confusion. He didn’t know who this person was, or what they wanted with him, but he wasn’t about to assume they were his friend just because they were suddenly fighting with Jubei. When the cat broke off the engagement with the mysterious woman, Brick shouted out to get her attention.

    “Hey! I don’t know who you are but you should mind your own business! I don’t need rescuing from the likes of y-!” He was cut off from his rant with another wave of vertigo and deafening ringing in his ear, forcing him to one knee.

    Ok, this magical sword thing was starting to become more of a raw deal than he’d first thought. Superpowers were great and all but it was rendered moot if the damn thing threw a hissy fit and hit him with a psychic flashbang whenever the hell it wanted.

    The figure outside the barrier didn’t bother turning around to face him, but spoke loud enough for him to hear her clearly.

    “... Do you really have time to waste here?” she asked stoically. “Rather than fighting with everyone, there’s something important you should be doing right now, isn’t there?”

    Brick, far from being in the best moods right now, was absolutely not willing to deal with cryptic bulshit at this moment. He was about to chew her out for suggesting he ‘do something else’ after having just trapped him in a barrier until he saw her point her right gunblade in the air. The motion made the sleeve of her cloak fall somewhat, revealing her wrist, and letting brick see that there was a small opal-coloured chain running from the butt of her weapon into her sleeve. Not only this, but the angle at which she was holding the weapon let him see that, near the base of the blades, the negative space between them was cut into key’s teeth that formed a keyhole shape between them. While this revelation alone sent his head spinning with questions as to the woman’s identity and what relation she may have to him, following the direction in which her ‘gun’ was pointed pushed them all back to the recesses of his mind.

    Looking up, he saw the giant heart that had been released by the dying Royal Armour. The coalesced hearts of all its victims, fused together under the pressure of the being’s oppressive inner Darkness.

    “Free them.”

    “... Free…?” asked brick in a daze, eyes fixed on the shimmering heart in floating through the air. So far, yet so close…

    “You!” barked Jubei angrily. “Who the hell are you and what do you think you’re planning!?”

    The woman in the hood turned her attention back to the swordmaster and gave a slight huff. “Assassinate first, ask questions later. You haven’t changed at all, Nekomata Jubei. I see no reason to explain myself to you after already having been attacked.”

    Jubei balked at how the woman was addressing him, caught in a nauseating sense of deja-vu that he couldn’t place. However, he had no time to question her further before another person interjected themselves.

    “Under the authority of the Transit City Watch, I order you to Stop!

    Ciel had shouted this from the side, and the end of the command had been mixed with a time spell so as to freeze the mysterious woman in place. It was clear to the young watchwoman now that it was no longer the time for indecision. Whomever this cloaked person was, she most definitely hadn’t earned the benefit of the doubt that Brick had. If Jubei of all people was attacking her without provocation, then Ciel would trust that—whoever this woman was—she did not have Transit City’s best intention at heart. In fact, was entirely possible that she was the Dark Lord responsible for everything lately.

    However, while Stop should have frozen the intruder in time, the silver magick seemed to disperse harmlessly around the woman as they interacted with an invisible barrier that shielded her. Still, the command itself had at least snapped Ciel’s team at attention. Whereas before they had been observing the exchange between the swordscat and the intruder with baited breath, they now quickly moved to surround the woman (and Brick by extension), offering her no avenue of escape.


    The mysterious figure turned her attention to Ciel now, her stoic tone melting away to something almost arrogant. “Cute. Unfortunately for you, even someone with your affinity is already too late to stop anything.”

    Ciel opened her mouth to retort but stopped short when she saw Brick moving behind the woman, raising his sword high. Inside the barrier, Brick’s eyes had glazed over as he continued to observe the floating heart with dissonant serenity. His motion made Ciel herself finally take notice the fact that the heart had not disappeared yet, seeing as Brick was now pointing his pseudo-keyblade at it. However, true to the mysterious figure’s statement, nothing Ciel could do at that moment would stop what came next.

    “...Free them...”

    Brick spoke the words as something barely above a whisper, but as soon as they’d been uttered it was as if a spell had been cast. A thin beam of silver light shot forth from between the greatsword’s prongs and pierced the massive, floating heart. With no struggle or warning, the giant source of life and power suddenly burst into shards of Light, Darkness, and potent magical energy, which immediately shot towards Brick, phasing right through the barrier surrounding the teen with no resistance. Within a moment, the energies were completely absorbed within the heart-shaped hole between the greatsword’s teeth. For a short while, there was a shimmering orb of Light and Darkness between the prongs that slowly rotated on itself. Soon enough, however, this remnant faded as it-too was absorbed by the blade. With the ritual complete, Brick seemed to finally snap out of his trance and looked at his sword with a bewildered expression.

    “What… what did I just…”

    “WHAT DID YOU JUST DO!?”

    Brick turned to see Ciel with a horrified expression drawn over her features as she looked at him. He had no time to piece what had happened together, let alone provide an answer, before the hooded woman stepped backwards, crossing into her own barrier without breaking it. She turned towards him and, for the first time, Brick could now see that she had a long, pale blue braid resting on the right side of her chest, which protruded from one the opening of her cloak’s hood. Bark growled at her threateningly, but stopped her barking as the woman approached.

    “There is nothing left for you here,” she spoke calmly.

    “What? What do you mean?” replied the teenager, looking up at the older woman, noticing that her hood was somehow keeping her features darkened and hidden even when he was at an angle that should have let him see her. Probably more magic.

    She placed a hand on his shoulder before addressing him again. “The next chapter of your story is about to begin. It's time for you to move on.”

    “I WON’T LET YOU!”

    Ciel was at the barrier now, with both of her silver sabers materialized. Repeatedly she began striking the blades against the barrier, shouting Release! each time, using up all of her magic in an attempt to break through and get to the two inside. Brick was stunned to silence when he looked at her. From what he’d seen of her so far, he would never have been able to imagine that kind of expression on her face. Rage, anger, desperation, and fear mixed into a twisted portrait of maddened determination on her face as she tried fruitlessly to smash through the barrier separating her from Brick and the intruder.

    The mysterious figure was, evidently, unconcerned by this as she turned her head to look at the younger girl and simply mused to herself quietly. “Hm, her Force ability isn’t terrible.”

    A column of silver light faded in around Brick, Bark, and the nameless woman. Seeming to realize what this meant, Ciel’s eyes widened, the fear now overtaking everything else and she hit the barrier with renewed vigor even as she was too magically exhausted to even try and dispel the barrier anymore.

    “No! Give, them, BACK!” she howled as the light became progressively brighter around the party. Brick had to close his eyes to shield them from the intense light, but deep down he wondered if he wasn’t just looking away out of guilt. She was the only person left in Transit City whom he considered anything approaching a friend, and that look on her face suddenly made him feel as if he was the betrayer now.

    He wasn’t given any more time to think about it, as a feeling of weightlessness washed over him and the column of Light began to rapidly shrink in diameter. The last thing anyone outside the barrier heard was the stoic voice of the mysterious woman reverberating around them.

    “Professor Gaius sends his regards.”

    Within a few seconds, the shaft of Light had slimmed down to only a thin line, which itself dissipated shortly after, leaving no trace of the woman, the vagabond, or the dog. The bubble barrier finally came down, and with it Ciel slid to her knees, dispelling her blades. This was it, she had failed.

    Cendre approached her cautiously, knowing better than anyone what she would be feeling right now.

    “Sis.. I…” he tired, conflicted between his desire to provide comfort or reassurance, and his lack of knowledge on how to do so.

    The only response that Ciel gave was to throw her head back and scream in frustration.



    Mitsuyoshi no Yōshiki: Samui yoru no kyōfū” – One-Eyed Lotus Style: Cold night’s Gale

    Mitsuyoshi no Yōshiki: Futago Tsubame Gaeshi” – One-Eyed Lotus Style: Twin Swallow Reversal
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