His laughter was almost louder than the beast’s whining, and there was a considerable amount of that. Perhaps that was why it was so contagious.
The mage she had saved laughed and jumped out into the fray, casting a spell that went on to carbonize a patch of a beast’s torso before she herself got mauled down. The claw, however, came off as if due to a very fast decomposing. Ayane noticed then how the beast’s skin was exuding steam. The light was shaving off the solidity of the the beast’s hide, at an increasingly faster rate.
Ayane found herself gaping, unable to act as the fight grew ever more violent, with more and more of the Beasts coming up through the entrances they created by crashing through the wall.
The Shadow glanced up at the Mad Genius, who was still in the middle of a very long-winded maddened laugher. He was walking down the stairs, leaving his machine turned on.
What has he done to cause this to them? Ayane wondered in her thoughts.
A beast crossed her sight, leaping towards the stairs, probably trying to make it to the machine. It fell short of the stair’s beginning, but with another leap, it would reach the top. Alas, the feet crumbled when they hit the floor. It clawed at the ground to drag itself but it was stopped from that by a violent encounter with Falk’s mechanical foot.
He stomped down on it, breaking through the beast arm.
“Time to confirm my theory,” Falk said, hungrily.
Still laughing, and holding the massive handgun in the hand that could not use it, Falk smacked away the second claw as it tried to grab him. He did this effortlessly using his mechanical arm.
This was one of the invincible Beasts. They had killed the vast majority of humanity. They had taken over the vast majority of all their territories and put an end to all nations but one, and the Mad Genius had just smacked it away like a bug.
And he didn’t stop there. He unceremoniously used his mechanical arm to thrust through its head, open handed, and grabbed. Falk pulled, opening the head like a lid of tin.
“I knew it,” Falk said, chuckling.
Laughing maniacally, he shred the beast’s hide apart, making a big breach, and then reached inside…and pulled out someone.
“Nothing but machines!” the Mad Genius announced.
What he pulled out was very much the shape of the people she had seen…an eternity ago. Back when it all started. The man helplessly being held looked much like the man the Mad Genius had shot, the supposed leader.
It was the size of a common man and possessed a humanoid face which grew hair all around it, not just to surround the mouth, and its skin looked rougher, almost scaled like that of a reptile. The feet were hooked and culminated into two large thumbs. The eyes were pitch black, much like the ones on the machines. Looking at him, it was obvious the machines had apparently been built to resemble them. The hands, however, were nothing like the claws. They were very normal.
The Mad Genius threw him at the ground besides him.
“Speak!” he demanded. “I know you can, several of you talked to the Don. Do you know who I am?!”
How could he, Ayane thought, you have only shouted it a dozen times.
The man, if it was a man, nodded his hairy face. It was clearly afraid.
The Shadow, without noticing, had been walking towards the stairs since the beam of supernatural light had come on. She was now very near them, and as such, noticed what she was doing.
“Do you know why you are being destroyed?” Falk asked.
He shook his head.
“I don’t mean to ask if you understand the technology, or the tactics I have executed to lead you to your doom,” Falk spoke, oblivious to the carnage going on mere feet away from them. Ayane was doing her best to ignore it as well as she felt the exchange was important. “I meant to ask if you know what part you took. Because you see, in a way, you are merely experiencing self-destruction.”
The beast pilot was confused. Ayane, however, had heard more than enough, countless times, to know where Falk was going with that, but part of her still couldn’t believe he was about to gloat some more to some random soldier of the Beasts. A nobody.
“You scorned my assistance,” Falk said, meeting Ayane’s expectations. “You stated, without doubt or hesitation, that it was because I was obsolete.”
Unbelievable, Ayane thought.
Falk placed his mechanical hand on top of the enemy’s head. She witnessed as the hand squished his face against the ground, as the beast pilot cried.
“Oh, I will make sure that all of you know exactly how badly you have erred,” the Mad Genius promised.
Falk squeezed his grip and Ayane flinched.
“By the time I’m done, you will know better than even I, just how much you have erred,” he added.
“Stop,” Ayane whispered, in a tone of voice that came off silent in the midst of all that was happening.
“And I, my friend, know it…very…” Falk said, enjoying himself, showing a murderous grin, provoking the head to emit worrying noises “well—”
The Shadow punched the Mad Genius in his smug insane face. It sent him clumsily tumbling away. She did her best not to say anything as Falk came around to stand, mega-pistol aimed now held in his mechanical arm and well pointed at her.
“YOU!” The Mad Genius screamed.
“He—“ The Shadow tried.
“STUPID LITTLE GIRL!” Falk screamed, making everyone near to them shudder and distracted. “YOU KICK ME?!”
“We might need him alive,” The Shadow told him, words she didn’t think of, with a tone of voice that many parts of her were not okay with.
“He has slaughtered millions of us!” Falk said, very fairly.
The mages on the stairs, in the nearest vicinity, had completely stopped. They were watching.
“But it is right for us to do it?” Ayane asked.
The Mad Genius’s head shuddered as if a head ache hit him. His face contorted in absolute perplexing confusion.
“DO. YOU. JEST??!” Falk screamed again, taking the gun away in the midst of gesturing wildly, not to say madly. “MORALITY?! YOU MAKE USE OF VAIN, VACANT, VENEREAL MORALITY?!?!”
The Mad Genius was incredibly angry but she stood in-between him and the fallen foe, who was groaning in pain and fear, conscience that every ounce of willingness within her wanted to fight him.
You can argue with results, Ayane thought.
In an attempt to rationalize what she was doing, she came up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for her actions.
“We might need him alive,” She said.
First off, that was true. Might be true. Possibly.
But mostly, it was a good enough time for her to exert independence. To let Falk know he couldn’t boss everyone around. To let him know she had a will of her own, and a way of doing things, and that if she followed a command, it was because she agreed with it.
The talk boxes woke up with reports.
“Doctor Goldschmidt! Your ground needle thing is at the number you warned about.”
Falk didn’t seem to switch emotional contexts very well.
“IT’S A TECTONIC MOOD ANALYZER, YOU SORE EXCUSE FOR A BRAIN RECEPTACLE!”
Falk then groaned and roared, almost comically, and then took a heavy and impatient breath, forcing himself to settle down. Ayane could tell by how his shoulders relaxed, and how his gun was left hanging, aimed down.
“That means we need to move,” Falk said, suddenly sounding very detached. He was no longer smiling, and definitely many moods away from laughing victoriously.
The Mad Genius looked at the Shadow not hiding any of his disdain. Even through the monocles, it all came through clear as water.
“Grab your pet,” Falk said, spitefully, “it’s your responsibility now.”
He turned towards the stairs.
“Everyone able to escape, head to the hangar,” Falk said. “We’re moving on.”
“This is the Warlock,” a voice came, amidst a yet raging battle, “I will stay and take as many as I can.”
“That will not upset my plans,” Falk said casually, not having a problem with that.
“We cannot just leave him,” the Shadow commented.
“We don’t need him,” Falk said, without looking back or breaking stride. “And he wants to stay.”
“That is not the point,” Ayane said.
The Mad Genius breathed out, exasperated, while turning the light cannon off. He reached in and pulled out the white stone that the Hunter had retrieved, Jakaraiah’s amulet.
Looking up at him, not leaving the beast pilot’s side in case some mage decided to strike, she spoke. “The point is he should not. We should convince him”
The Mad Genius looked down at her with a very forced lack of interest.
“I am not wasting time on him and I’m not wasting time on that thing,” he said, pointing at their new prisoner, “and I’m certainly not wasting time on you.”
Having said that, he waved at her dismissively and walked away, adding “do what you will.”
Ayane frowned, a bit at a loss.
What could she do? She looked around for someone she could trust to keep the prisoner alive and found no one. Desperately, she grabbed the talk box.
“Hunter. Where are you?” Ayane asked into the thing.
“Balcony,” the reply came.
She looked up and around, squinting her eyes, trying to see through the struggle of their retreat, and found the Hunter using a detached claw as a two-handed weapon with which to smash against her foes.
Good, Ayane thought.
It took longer than she wanted to, again, but Ayane managed to convince Zaniyah to take the prisoner to safety. The Hunter did not approve at all of what Ayane was doing but then what else was new? Only idiots would think trying to save the Warlock in the middle of the final retreat was a good idea, and all the heroes were long past dead.
Even the Shadow was against it but there she was, running to save his life.
If the old man was willing to die fighting, there was only one place he would choose to die on. In a way, it was the same thought process the Don had gone through.
The Shadow navigated the shadow streams to get to the hall of history.
She emerged to find it mostly still intact. One of the paintings there had been scratched, and a pillar had been busted, but it still looked like she remembered it from when she first saw it, a few days before.
It was a big long hall featuring a collection of paintings, scrolls and busts, and very few full-body sculptures, depicting the history of the House of Magni.
Kagekawa had something similar but it was more of a small library than a small art museum since they mostly wrote things down. Calligraphy was highest regarded form of art, after all.
The Warlock was near the entrance, with a beast’s carcass lying dead behind him, squished into the ground. Ayane knew the pilot was in there somewhere, crushed inside it.
The red cape covered most of his body but his arms were sizeable enough that she could tell his black attire was sleeveless, on top of not being a robe. The cape had a hood, it seemed that that still mattered, but she knew that under it, he only wore a black vest and some baggy shorts which reached only a few inches past his knees.
He was not like the average mage, the Warlock, and he was even older than Eliza, although, due to his physical fitness, he didn’t look like it.
“What’re ya doin’ here, girl?” he said, not welcoming at all.
“Dying here is foolish,” Ayane said, not managing to keep caution out of her tone of voice. He looked back at her, insulted. He studied her for two seconds and then looked forward again.
“Get out of my sight before I make you,” he threatened.
“You can still be useful,” Ayane pressed, “we might need you.”
“Are ye havin’ a laugh? You’ve learned how to crumble them, you better not need me,” the Warlock said, angrily.
“One never knows,” the Shadow said. “And do you not wish to see what happens to Magni? With your own eyes?”
“That’s why I’m here, Shadow. I will definitely see,” the Warlock assured.
“…I did not realize the Magni was a building,” the Shadow said.
He shrugged the comment away, crossing his arms.
“I just can’t believe Eliza would abandon the House,” the Warlock said passively, “to make her last stand in Neyrk?” He spat to the side. “Rubbish.”
“She is the Matriarch. I am certain she did not order you to die,” Ayane said.
“Well that’s rubbish, too. ‘S like you becoming the head o’ your clan. ‘S rubbish to start, all rubbish. I saw her getting the cowl, ye know? N’ I know all about her snogging with that tosser.”
Yes, you have your own vocabulary, we get it, Ayane thought, rolling her eyes in her mind, very impressive.
Ayane wasn’t sure how graphic or explicit a reference “snogging” was, but it was still understandable knowing what she knew. It was, however, entirely irrelevant. What could she say to this century old, all-powerful seasoned war veteran?
Ayane thought relatively to herself. To the Kagekawa and what bonded the clan to her, and vice-versa. She pretended she was trying to convince the Darkness, and arrived at one conclusion. It would indeed be supremely odd for Ayane to take such a position in the hierarchy of the clan so it would only happen for a very good reason.
“Why was she made the Matriarch?” Ayane asked.
The silence she got back, especially from such a man as he, was very telling. It certainly let her know she had chosen the right path of interrogation.
“She talked a lot,” the Warlock grunted. “‘S not like me n’ Francis, we’d be at all the same meetings, but she’d give input. Underlings looked up to her and asked for her advice, the prats, she became the unofficial sort of leader to more and more people. And her advice, in those meetings, they turned out alright.”
“So the reason was good? She did not steal the role?” the Shadow asked.
“She’s my junior, lass,” the Warlock said, finally turning towards her, to trade words properly. It emboldened Ayane.
“You cannot respect her because of her age?” she asked.
“You can’t just follow someone that studied under you, can you? Not like that. To the others, she’s the Matriarch, the powerful and wisest, the mother of mothers, right?” the Warlock told her, pausing to scoff. “But I was there for all the prattin’ mistakes she made. I almost remember her learning how to walk. I just don’t see her that way, I know she can make mistakes.”
He did not look like the type to talk a lot, which made Ayane feel like he really wanted to be convinced. He wanted to find a good reason not to stay there and die for the sake of his honor and warrior spirit.
“Where the previous matriarchs flawless?” the Shadow asked, eagerly.
“Course not, that’s not the point,” he said, uncrossing his arms.
“What is the point?” Ayane asked.
“Look around you,” he said, still sort of angry, gesturing around the room. “Look at what she left behind. This is our history, this is what we are, and we’re abandoning it all.”
“You can make more paintings,” the Shadow argued carefully.
“That’s not the point!” the Warlock exclaimed, throwing his arm in a tantrum that caused the floor to crack before his jerking movement. “I will not abandon the House!”
Ayane took a deep breath, proud of herself for not reacting to his display of power.
“That is what you are doing,” she stated harshly.
The old man’s face gave her the deepest scowl she had ever witnessed. In an instant, he slapped the air, and by extension, her. An invisible force blew her off her feet and sent her crashing against a bust and then the wall standing behind it.
The Shadow bounced off and landed, as composed as she could, onto a crouch. She reflexively checked her denture, finding relief in all teeth being present but the usual one.
Ugh…what is it with old men knowing they are wrong? She thought to herself, annoyed.
“You presume to preach?!” the Warlock went on. “What do you know of the Magni? What’d you know of loyalty to a dynasty older than religion?”
The Shadow coughed and stood up.
“First off, it is not that old,” she said, speaking frankly, to show him she was not intimidated. “I know that because it is as old as Kagekawa.”
He hesitated at that.
“And that is how I know,” Ayane said, pulling the mask a bit down so she could scrape a bit of the blood from her now busted lip. “I have not had years to grow powerful and notorious, and jaded.”
The Warlock hesitated further, his mighty hand shivering as the willingness to strike again was held back by something. By that small hope that maybe she had the argument to convince him.
“I watched Kagekawa fall, only to be contacted by them later. Only to know they still lived, because Kagekawa…the clan, is not the building. We can build it anew. It was not our writings either, our art, we will create it all again. It is the people.” She paused for effect to pull the mask up over her mouth and then looked at him with every inch of certainty that she could muster.
“Will you deny yourself to your people?” Ayane asked, gravely. “Will you force Eliza, your Matriarch, to rebuild the House of Magni all on her own? Without the Warlock?”
His hand stopped shaking and his face lit up in surprise realization. The Warlock as if suddenly rebelled against his own stubbornness with that characteristic level of brusqueness.
“Bugger me,” the Warlock said, in realization.
He looked at her, from down to top, sizing her up as if looking at her for the first time. He scoffed, cursed, spat again to the side.
Then the Warlock looked at her again.
“I knew Katsuo well enough, ye know?” the Warlock told her, “’m pretty sure he’d like you.”