It took her too long. Longer than it ever should have, and all the while, the talk box kept updating her with all the information she needed to know exactly how much of a difference she wasn’t making. It was amazing what could happen in a few minutes of indecision.
Ayane found rope stored away in a crate, which she used to tie Amanda’s hands to her feet, all behind her back. She tied the knees close for good measure, and then put her inside said crate to further limit any possible movement.
If she wakes up…if she gets out…
Literally shaking with hesitation and self-doubt, Ayane was moved to purpose by another talk box update.
“They’ve broken into workshop major b,” the report said, gravely yet calm. “Eternity to the Magni.”
“Right on track,” the Mad Genius said, gladly yet excited. “I am on my way!”
Ayane started a run and dove into the shadow formed by the balloon. What she saw in the shadow streams, as she navigated them, was very much akin to whenever she worked in a city having any kind of celebration involving fireworks. They kept blinking in and out, as sources of light came and went, and with them, shadows of things.
It was hard to navigate, not to say dangerous, so while she tried to do it as quickly as possible, it still felt far away from being quick enough.
The Shadow had to be part of the real fight, however. She had to.
Seeing silhouettes out of a stable location, around which other streams blinked, she approached and popped her head out for a peek at a certain corridor, finding herself looking at a row of advancing beasts.
They are already this far inside? Blast it, Ayane thought, angry at the red-haired woman, and a bit at herself.
She popped up again at another location to catch sight three mages painting an insignia on the face of a closet that was lying down in front of them, and aimed at the big door that led to their room. Thundering noise was coming from outside so she decided to wait and see what happened.
“Hurry, hurry,” one of the mages said, not the one casting.
“Oh man, here they come,” another said, she was watching the door. “Is it ready?”
“YES!” the caster said.
The door flung open, broken off its hinges, with the beast responsible crashing a claw on the floor.
“Do it!” the woman yelled, frantically.
The two mages that weren’t standing up, but crouching, shoved their hands into the closet.
“Du-frast!” they said together.
The closet glowed as the beast crouched and prepared to leap, but in an instant, before its body launched, the face of the closet summoned solid fiery spikes, which shot out at it at amazing speeds.
To Ayane’s shock, one of the four spikes punctured through the Beast’s hide.
It flinched and whined in reaction, with a voice corrupted by a lack of normal air to vibrate across.
“No way,” one of the crouching mages said, glaring over the closet.
“The Mad Genius was right!” his parent exclaimed. “Call it in, call it in!”
The standing mage brought up a talk box, apparently too excited to see the Beast had recovered from its stagger and was about to leap out again.
“We just pierced one!” she announced into the talk-box. “It worked, we just–”
Ayane dropped from the shadow on the corner of the room and leaped, stepping off the wall for additional distance. She flipped in mid-air and landed right on the fiery spike that was still stuck to the beast.
In its distorted voice, which had a small tiny echo of a clearer sound coming from inside the Beast, it reacted in pain.
It fell backward, back onto the corridor, which was where she landed properly. There, the Shadow found herself surrounded by three other beasts.
The Shadow leaped back into the room, narrowly avoiding swipes of their claws.
She rolled off the ground into a hop over the closet while throwing a flash bomb at the beast lying outside the door, still audibly hurting from the spike.
“Shut your eyes,” the Shadow said.
It exploded, and one of the mages yelped in response.
Ayane frantically looked around for a way out.
“Where is your exit?” she asked.
“We don’t have one,” the standing mage said, she was many years her senior, but the other two weren’t, they were younger than Ayane.
“What do you mean?!” the Shadow asked.
“I mean you must leave, lass,” the woman grasped her shoulder and stood her up. “Leave to give them a proper fight!”
The Shadow looked around at all of them.
“You have come here to die?” Ayane asked
“Magni will live on and defeat the Beasts,” the leader replied.
“Dammit I can’t see, do I cast again?!” one of the young ones asked, waving his head around at a loss.
“Naught you can do here, lass,” the leader pressed on. “Go on and escape into the shadows.”
Hearing that triggered a stark stubbornness in Ayane. She slapped the mage’s hand off of her.
“I find out you died here today, I will hunt you in the afterlife,” the Shadow stated.
She ran to the door, throwing a smoke bomb.
“What’s she doing?!”
“Who? What’s going on!” the blind one said. “I’m starting to see, I’m–”
The Shadow leaped out the door, kicking the pierced beast which was trying to get up and stand properly. She lunged with a dagger, betting it all on the genius of one of the human beings she most distrusted in the world.
The dagger pierced down to its base. The response wasn’t pain, however, but a fright. The beast yelped, and she was so close to the hole she could hear the original voice clearly coming from within.
That will get their attention, she thought.
The Shadow leaped out of its head, avoiding a narrow swing of another beast’s claws, and straight into the shadow that had formed on the wall thanks to the smoke.
Focusing, she created a clone of hers on one side of the hall, a mirror image to herself, who emerged on the opposite side. With the beast, the one who had seen the mages inside the room, incapable of talking to the others quickly enough, she hoped that they would break off and follow her, leaving the mages to attempt an escape.
Ayane didn’t find out if it worked, but at least a few of them leaped on after her, raging bellows chasing after her ahead of them, distorted and monstrous.
The Shadow brought over her arm so she could talk to Falk’s box. She couldn’t believe she was about to do that, but seeing as the situation was what it was. The Beasts were actually weakening–which was a feat beyond anyone’s real expectations—and there was the actual possibility for an even fight, a fight they could maybe win. Seeing as that was all true.
“Falk, where do I go?” the Shadow asked.
The Beasts could not hope to catch her, not when they had not neutralized the shadows. Inside their ship, the Shadow could still hide in them, partly, but never go across since there were no streams. But the House of Magni, yet uncorrupted by their terraforming, provided all the environment she could possibly wish to outmaneuver them.
She escaped the chasing beasts that way as soon as Falk replied. Ayane had to ignore the arrogance in his tone, but then, that was expected by that point. She made her way according to his directions.
Ayane emerged beneath a very large flight of stairs, out of the shadows it created. It belonged to one of the Mansion’s large ballrooms. Immediately, the sound of fighting could be heard.
She ran out from under the stairs and situated herself. The hall was very enormously large and circular. The stairs led to a balcony that circled all around the room and met at another flight of stairs opposite to the one she was standing next to. A few feet away from the stairs, the floor caved in a few inches to provide an established dance floor. Bar counters surrounded the walls to her left and right.
The whole thing was a battlefield at that point. Members of Mist actually seemed to be in the fight, along with mages, against a flooding wave of Beasts. The most remarkable thing about it all, however, were the fallen beasts.
It wasn’t just human bodies which were lying dead on the ground, but also Beasts. It was anti-climactic, of sorts, that the reality of the invasion had changed so much so fast, not to mention that it had happened utterly outside of her view.
“Du-hastman!” someone yelled near her.
Spells were hurled by individuals wearing capes, still managing to keep their hoods on in the midst of the struggle, and her countrymen, while the Mist seemingly worked at keeping the Beasts disoriented by use of things like smoke bombs and by their meager capacity with shadow arts and close combat.
The Shadow held tight to a throwing knife, she was running out, admitting to herself that there was probably nothing she could do with it. It could pierce their hide, but what use did that have in actual fact? It wasn’t long enough to actually reach inside.
It is distracting, she thought.
There was that. She could run in and stab at them, but could she truly avoid them for that long? They were a chaotic blob of rampaging death, lashing out in every direction. She caught one preparing to leap, and seeing the direction, she figured it was aiming for a couple of mages just a few feet away.
Without giving the matter much thought, she ran. She dove and tackled them both with her arms, getting them out of the landing zone. And the beast did land there, violently.
“Auf!” one complained
“Hey!” another yelled.
They looked back at the beast as it waved a claw at them, interrupted in its momentum by a fireball. The wind wrestled against its legs, staggering it, and some part of the ceiling, made pointy, fell hard on it and pierced it all the way through.
“Whoah,” Ayane reacted.
“Take that!” The mages stood up and drew swords.
“Hurry, let’s go!” one said ruthlessly.
“Get it!” the other agreed.
They were already bleeding from their noses, both of them, so they smeared that on their hands, and then on the swords. After glowing in a moment of sustained breath, the two charged at the shuddering beast.
“Kill it!” one yelled, vengefully.
“Kill the damn thing!”
The beast as if reacted with a spasm, making one of its feet shoot out to catch one of the mages on the top of his body, killing him instantly.
“Son of a!” The other yelled.
The second mage swung and cut clean through what could be regarded as a leg, making Ayane yelp in surprise.
“I’ll kill y—”
Ayane pulled him back so its claw wouldn’t kill him.
“Are you mad?!” she asked angry, “be careful!”
“Careful?!” The man pushed her aside, “they’re unending, ya idiot, I’ve no time to be careful!” He threw the sword like a spear. The beast tried to block it with its claw, but it went clean through the hand, stopped only by the hilt. It was enough, however, to keep it from going through its head.
The beast wobbled and tried to move, but it was still pinned down by the piece of ceiling. It was still solidly impaling the beast.
The chaos around them was insane, and the adrenaline was starting to get to Ayane. At the same time, however, looking upon a clearly scared beast, she was again faced with something she thought she would never feel.
Pity. For one of them.
It was at that point that a massive gunshot erupted all around them, executing the beast in front of her. The mighty thing, impaled and broken, shuddered once and then settled, crashing down and out of commission. Dark smog trailed out of both bullet holes the one shot had created.
The Shadow looked back to find him, in all his maddened glory, grinning like he had never grinned before, with the Don’s extremely long-barreled handgun wielded firmly in his mechanical hand. Ayane recognized the gun because, after all, she had been the one to retrieve it.
“Glad of you to join us, Shadow!” he gloated. “Can always use more witnesses to bask upon my ultimate victory!”
There was no stopping him. He would have been gloating for the entire fight if the Darkness had not stopped him.
His monocles whirred as he turned around and headed up the stairs, he had walked halfway down, and he walked as if a gruesome battle wasn’t raging on all around them. Once he was there, he turned towards the entire room and opened his arms.
“WELCOME, BEASTS!” he yelled in delight. “I AM FALK GOLDSCHMIDT!”
The entire room did not pay him any mind, so he casually aimed his handgun at a beast, who was bent, ready to leap at him, and pulled the trigger. She saw as his mechanical arm seemed to spit out a nail, or something, but it held against the weapon’s kick. Judging by how broken the Don’s arms had been when she found him, she could only assume as to the force of the thing. And likewise, to the strength of the robotic arm.
The beast didn’t have to assume, however, as it was pierced clean through the torso, and promptly fell over. Dead.
“TELL ME!” he opened his arms again, and the look on his face was enough to terrify even his allies, or at least make them despise him. He looked so happy over the violence that was taking place.
Ayane almost wished that all his efforts hadn’t worked out, but the reality of it all was that they had. All his enemies had been outmaneuvered and defeated, after a fashion. They were still standing, both the Beasts and the LBA, but they had undoubtedly fallen for every single ambush he had set, all of them converging on that one battle at the House of Magni. As he planned.
“TELL MEEEEE!” he yelled again, calling even more attention to himself, for Falk can never have enough.
The Mad Genius grinned so widely, making so every bit of sweat and smell just exuding arrogance on a level Ayane had never witnessed. He wasn’t happy, as most would be, nor even close to relieved. He had not doubted for one second that he would be in that position. In that victorious position, looking over dead beasts, with dead foes at his back, and an entire army of people who hated him…forced to follow his plans. His every command.
“GO ON AND TELL ME, I SAY!” he demanded with glee.
Some kind of cannon rolled over to his side, wheeled into place by five mages. But it didn’t shoot anything. Instead, its face made of glass shone brightly. A beam of light spread forward and around, enveloping half the room in its luminosity.
“TELL ME EXACTLY…” Falk demanded, trailing off in expectation.
Every single beast shuddered in reaction, before the light, and stepped back in weakness. As if it stung them.
No, Ayane knew, Falk wasn’t happy at all. He was vengeful. Scornful. Vindicated.
He was every bit the person he always said he was. A genius who never forgot a slight.
Falk pulled in breath into his lungs and bellowed his gloating as a demanding statement.
“JUST HOW OBSOLETE I REALLY AM!?”