Morning in Glory City arrived to find an Agent with the reputation of being particularly flaky already awake and overlooking a portion of the city from his balcony. Curtis was already dressed in his Robes, and had an oddly serious expression on his face as he recalled the private meeting he had with his father immediately after the Squad Leader’s meeting had concluded. Along with the Archmage practically tearing him a new one, he also tasked Curtis with keeping tabs on Izano Zuko, as well as finding out why he was there, what his connection to the City Lord was, and lastly, what exactly he was. Only a select few people in the entire organisation knew that he was neither Mage nor Knight, and despite them all having their own theories about what exactly he was, nobody could say with absolute certainty. Curtis sighed as he took a sip of his strong, expensive coffee and looked down at the city below.
“Come on, Pop. How am I supposed to get crucial and intimate knowledge about this guy? He doesn’t even talk normally. Even if he was a mute, it would be just as difficult to do this task… why couldn’t he have been a woman? I at least have some talent with them.”
Curtis sighed once more, before downing the rest of his coffee and stepping inside his apartment. It wasn’t much longer before he was done with breakfast and heading out the front door.
“Damn you, City Lord… why aren’t you even here to deal with your own damn guest?” He grumbled as he walked towards the set of elevators on his floor. “I guess I’ll go see him for starters, huh?”
As Curtis stepped into the elevator, elsewhere, Brometheus Bob was seated in a workshop which was situated in one of the underground levels of the Order’s HQ. His corner of the workshop was an absolute mess, with tech that was still being made, stuff that was being repaired, and other stuff that was being stripped for parts strewn all over his section of the shared workbench. He was alone however, as the other Technicians had yet to arrive, due to the fact that the sun had only just begun to peak out from the horizon. He had headphones on, and was watching his computer screen attentively as his contact lenses had recorded quite a bit the previous night. He had been watching the same bit of video over and over, finding it somewhat difficult to understand what exactly was going on. The clip in question was of Zuko’s encounter with the soul of one of the Illegal Mages. He was trying to understand where all the Mana that Zuko produced came from, and how he was able to use that Spell he called the Sight of Tan’Rhaka, without reciting it. The more talented and powerful Mages were able to cast a Spell simply by calling its name, sure, but Zuko came nowhere near saying anything that resembled anything really – because he didn’t speak with his mouth.
“What the fuck, bro? What the fuck is going on, here?” Bob said to nobody in particular as he took a sip of the cheap coffee available to everybody in the workshop. “What fuckin School of Magic is this that allows Spells to be cast without so much as a whisper? There isn’t even any sound from the conversation between them!”
As Bob continued to review last night’s video, he sighed particularly hard when the video of the car ride came on. Throughout the duration of the video, it appeared as though Brometheus Bob was talking to himself the entire time due to the way Zuko spoke, but the conversation itself was still vivid in his mind.
“Was that really a person’s soul, Izano!?”
“Yes, it was.”
“Brometheus can’t fucking believe it… how the hell were you able to not only find it, and hold and talk to it?”
“Tan’Rhaka is the Shepherd of the Dead. None within his domain can hide from him.”
“What? What does that even mean??”
Brometheus Bob looked at Zuko in complete confusion, yet got no answer to allay said confusion, which made him sigh as he looked back at the road.
“Who are we going to report this to?”
“Yeah, report! You discovered some pretty important shit, there!”
“This is my business, and nobody else’s.”
“Buffooneus Bob, what happened tonight remains between us. You are not to tell another soul of this, understood?”
“Seriously? This really does seem important…”
Brometheus Bob only glanced at Zuko, but in that moment, he felt an unyielding gaze and an immense amount of pressure, the likes he had never felt before. It was as if he being told that this matter wasn’t up for discussion or negotiation. It wasn’t a request or a favour, it was an absolute order. In that moment, Bob broke out into a cold sweat and quickly looked ahead.
“…a-alright, Brometheus got the message. This stays between us.”
“That said though… just how long are you going to keep fucking up Brometheus’ name?! You know what, just call me BroBob! I’m sick of this shit!”
It was at that point that BroBob stopped the video and sighed again, shaking his head slightly.
“Brometheus probably has to delete this video… even though Izano doesn’t talk, Brometheus does. That could come back to bite him in the ass.”
BroBob quickly deleted the bits of the recording that featured the soul and the conversation, and as he went for another sip of coffee, he made a face the moment it entered his mouth.
“Ugh, this shit is cold…”
Bob got up and made his way over to the elevator which would lead to the ground floor and the main workshop. Once there, he stepped out and made his way towards the coffee machine, mug in hand and sighed once again.
“More of this cheap shit, huh?”
“Tired of the cheap stuff, are you?” A voice said from behind BroBob. “Why don’t you let me treat you to something better?”
As BroBob turned around to see who it was that was practically asking him out, his eyes baulked just a bit when he saw the Archmage’s son standing there with an overly friendly look on his face.
“Hey there.” He said with a small wave. “Can I have a word with you, Robert?”
“S… sure.” BroBob responded with about as little enthusiasm as one could have.
As the two made their way out of the workshop, up in main bedroom of the City Lord’s suite, Izano Zuko stood before the rags he had been carrying with him when he arrived in the city and at Order HQ. He stared at the bag, as if he was contemplating whether or not to open it and take out whatever it was that was in there. The internal deliberations seemed to go on for longer than Zuko anticipated it would, but it appeared as though whatever was in there was necessary enough for him to consider opening the bag in the first place. Eventually, Zuko knelt down and slid his hand down the opening of the rags, digging around for a few moments, before pulling out what looked to be a small wooden box. He set said box down against a free section of the wall and stepped back. He then closed his eyes, and a second or two later, Mana flowed out from his entire body and into the small wooden box. It reacted immediately to the influx of Mana, and while Zuko’s cloak and robes gently fluttered due to the Mana, the box didn’t really react. However, that didn’t last for all that long, as it was enveloped in a feint golden light, and then gradually started growing in size. The growth suddenly went from gradual, to rapid, and the speed of the growth made the ground shake somewhat violently for an instant. As the growth stopped, so too did the shaking, and the box was revealed not to be a box at all, but rather, a bookshelf. A bookshelf, that was absolutely wrapped in large but rusty old chains, and there appeared to be no lock keeping them together. The cloak and robes slowly stopped fluttering as Zuko sighed slightly.
“I have not even been here for a week, and I am already turning to these…”
He approached the bookshelf, raised his right hand, and after something pulsed out from said hand, the chains around the bookshelf suddenly broke apart and fell to the ground. Zuko’s eyes scanned the spines of the dusty books on the ancient looking bookshelf, before pulling out a number of large tomes and blowing the dust off of them.
“Well… I might as well get started.”
Zuko sat down right there on the spot, and without wasting any time, opened the first tome and got to business. As was usually the case when Zuko became absorbed in something, he paid little to no attention to anything other than the task at hand. He sat there, scanning each and every page in the tomes, only stopping when he had finished with one, and was switching over to another one. Once he was done reading through the first batch, he would get up and get a few more tomes from the shelf, and repeat the process. It seemed that Zuko was making mental notes as he read, because once he was done with third batch of tomes, he stood up, opened a drawer in the bookshelf and pulled out somewhat newer looking book and a pencil. He opened the book, flipping through the pages until he reached an empty one, and then started scribbling frantically in his surprisingly tiny hand writing. As he wrote, the words glowed brightly on the paper, and continued to do so until he concluded writing whatever it was that he was scribbling. The words then ceased shining, and looked as though they had been written in black ink. Zuko let out a deep breath, before examining his handiwork.
The sound of hard banging on the front door of the apartment suddenly caught Zuko’s attention. He looked down at all the tomes he had gone through, and was so reluctant to bring out in the first place. He stood up slowly, mostly due to the fact that his legs had fallen asleep, and started to make his way towards the door, walking with about as much suspicion coursing through his body as one person could muster. It looked as though he was preparing to attack whoever was knocking, until he heard a voice.
“Yo, Izano! Izano Zuko! It’s me, open up!”
“It’s BroBob – open the fuckin door!”
Zuko, who was decidedly less tense and suspicious when he heard the chubby Technician’s voice, opened the door to see BroBob’s slightly flustered face. Before he could say anything, the Technician stormed into the apartment, yet despite being visibly shaken, he still glided in, walking with a deep dip as he did. This prompted Zuko to chuckle unknowingly, before closing the door and looking at BroBob.
“What do you want?” Zuko asked bluntly.
“What does BroBob want? Do you have any idea how annoying the past few days have been for him?”
“Yeah, few days! What the hell have you been doing cooped up in her all this time? BroBob had to answer questions from people he thought he would never speak to as long as he lived.”
“The Archmage’s kid, some weird old dude, other high ranking Mages… questions ranging from ‘where is that burned dude?’ to ‘where did you guys go last night? What did you do? Did he find anything?’ and more. BroBob was coming up with lies left, right and center! He doesn’t know why, but you’re in unnecessarily high demand.”
“Hmph.” Zuko snorted with a nod of approval.
“Don’t give me that, bro. You’re a fuckin Agent! You can’t be disappearing for days at time – that shit can only lead to problems.”
“Days… how long have I been in here?”
“Seriously, bro? It’s been like four days since you were last seen. Since the Archmage’s kid saw you in BroBob’s car that night, the other Mages got the idea that he would know where you were or what you were doing. He has been knocking on your damn door every day.”
“Okay, okay, calm yourself, Buffooneus… follow me.”
“Are you still gonna call BroBob Buffooneus? He even gave you an easy to remember abbreviation!”
BroBob continued to whine as he followed Zuko to the main bedroom, only to quiet down when he saw the bookshelf, broken chains and dusty tomes arranged in a circle around a central point.
“What is all this?” BroBob asked.
“This is what I have been doing – research.”
“Research? On what?”
Izano Zuko looked at BroBob after saying that, who in turn looked back at him. Bob stood there, and felt as though Zuko was staring into his soul, searching for something he couldn’t even begin to guess the identity of. Zuko’s eyes, which seemed to grow bigger and bigger, and then brighter and brighter continued to search for whatever it was they sought within BroBob’s very being. All other scenery was drowned out, and all BroBob could see were Zuko’s eyes, and despite this moment feeling as though it lasted for a significant period of time, it was over in a flash. Zuko suddenly blinked, breaking eye contact and looked down at the pile of books on the floor.
“After what happened that night, I had a… hunch about what it might be that those Mages ate to become what they became.”
“Seriously? What is it?” BroBob asked, his interest piqued.
“Not ‘it’, but ‘they’. Whoever supplied those Mages with that nugget managed to do something incredible if—”
Zuko suddenly felt feint and had something of a wobble, prompting BroBob to reach out and try to hold the bigger man up. It wasn’t necessary however, as Zuko quickly recovered and shook his head to clear whatever cobwebs had manifested.
“Yo, you okay, bro?”
“I am fine. Anyway, as I was saying—”
There was yet another interruption, however this time; it came courtesy of Zuko’s growling stomach. There was an awkward silence as a result of that growl and BroBob just looked at Zuko with slightly baulking eyes.
“…yo, when last did you eat, Izano?”
“I cannot recall.” Zuko stated matter-of-factly. “Anyway, so—”
“No, no, no, stop. We can discuss this after some lunch.”
BroBob will head on down to the cafeteria, get some grub, and be back up here in a minute.”
BroBob then nodded, and made his way out of the apartment before any further discussions could take place. Zuko, who looked down at the pile of books again, and set about placing the tomes back on the shelf. Once that was all done the chain, which was now a mass of broken links, started to shake and make quite the racket. The links then began floating up into the air one by one, and started clacking together, as if rebuilding the chain they had all once been a part of. Within a matter of seconds, the chain was once again whole, and moved like a water snake through the air, before wrapping itself around the bookshelf as it had been prior to Zuko breaking it off. This all concluded just as BroBob returned and knocked on the door once more. Zuko let him in, and BroBob entered, with both hands absolutely full carrying polystyrene parcels.
“BroBob didn’t know what you wanted, so he just got hella food. Let’s sit and eat bro.”
Zuko and BroBob made their way to the dining room, and after BroBob had placed the parcels and plastic cutlery on the table, they both sat. While Bob was putting everything on the table, Zuko removed his cloak and set it down on the back of a chair, revealing his Black Robes to BroBob for the first time. As he sat down, BroBob actually noticed the Robes and gave them a once over.
“What’s up with those Robes, bro? Brometheus doesn’t think that he’s ever seen Black Robes before.”
“Apparently, these are temporary Robes. That Old Bastard told me that they had to make me a fresh set of Robes.”
“That Old Bastard? Surely you don’t mean…”
“Yeah, Curtis’ father.” Zuko said as he reached for a parcel.
BroBob then suddenly remembered that evening when he first came across Zuko, and how Zuko had seemingly been involved in something of a tussle with the VVIPs of the Order. He then let out a sigh as he shook his head just a bit.
“Alright, so your temporary Robes are black? Perhaps they are that colour because they’re temporary. Anyway, let’s eat.”
The two men tucked in to their food, with the meal starting off in silence, however said silence didn’t last all that long.
“So, as I was saying earlier, whoever was responsible for creating these is skilled – extraordinarily so.”
BroBob was unable to say anything meaningful in reply as his mouth was full of food. Just as he was about to shake his head at Zuko speaking with his mouth full, he quickly remembered that he didn’t actually speak with his mouth, so there wasn’t any rude behavior going on.
“In the Alchemy texts that I possess, there are multiple examples of elixirs that produce the same results as whatever those Mages ingested did, however there is one major difference; these elixirs can only do one or the other.”
“One or the other?” BroBob asked just after he swallowed some food.
“Precisely. The nugget allowed the Mages to do two things; consume their Spellbooks, as well as transform into an Elemental of whatever School of Magic said Spellbooks were from.”
“However, doing either of those not only consumes in insane amount of Mana, but would normally leave the Mana reserves of the one did it so drained, that they would not be able to the second one.”
There was a slight lull in the conversation as Zuko gave BroBob time to ask whatever he wanted to. However, no question or response was forthcoming as he was still chewing – albeit as rapidly as possible now – and had yet to swallow. Zuko seemingly grew tired of waiting, as he simply continued speaking.
“So now the questions are as follows; how was the high Mana cost negated to allow the Mages to not only consume their Spellbooks, but become Elementals as well? The answer to the conundrum all lies in the nugget.”
“How so?” BroBob asked having purposely avoided eating anything else since swallowing the last mouthful.
“The Alchemical nugget was able to combine two incredibly powerful recipes and create something that delves into the territory of the forbidden.”
“Yes, because in order to achieve the desired effect of consumption and transformation, you need a more bountiful fuel source.”
“Use your head, Buffooneus…”
“…what was I looking for so hard the other night?”
“Huh? Evidence… uh, so…. No way.”
BroBob’s eyes suddenly grew wider as a smirk appeared on Izano Zuko’s bandage hidden lips.
“Yes, that is correct… Souls.”
BroBob continued to look flabbergasted by this revelation, and looked down at his food in slight disbelief, before looking up at Zuko, who was shoveling food into his mouth.
“Hold up, but… how?”
“I cannot be certain, but a simple assumption would be that Mana takes care of the consuming the Spellbook and converting it to power, and then the soul provides the fuel for the transformation into an Elemental.”
“Alright, but those dudes all blew at the end, didn’t they?”
“That is also correct. Again, the simple assumption is that once their souls reached a certain level of depletion, the remaining energy was used to explode and take out as many people as possible.”
“Holy shit… How did you figure all this out, Izano?”
“The Mage that Curtis and I encountered and that he eventually defeated, if we go by the assumption I made earlier, its explosion was not caused by depletion but rather, due to damage. Curtis’ attack cleaved the Elemental open, it exploded. There was likely still a fair amount of energy in the soul, which was why its flames burned for far longer and much more intensely than the resulting Area Effect explosions from the other incidents.”
“Okay, but BroBob still hasn’t heard anything that helped you figure it out?”
“I am getting there. I… heard the Mage’s soul speak just before, and then after the explosion. As that man’s soul burned proudly into the sky, he kept speaking… kept saying unintelligible things. That was when I first suspected that it was a soul, and not just flames. After hearing that all of them had ingested the thing, and after seriously thinking about it, I decided that I had to see if I could find any evidence of there being other souls at the scenes of the other incidents.”
“…well, you certainly found what you were looking for.” BroBob said with a sigh and an expression of disbelief on his face. “So what’s the plan, now?”
Zuko stood up without saying a word, before returning with the book he had written in just before BroBob arrived. He sat back down and tossed the book in front of BroBob, who just looked at it with a slight look of confusion on his face.
“What’s with this book?”
“That is my personal Alchemy Book. Using the most powerful recipes I could find in all of my Alchemy based tomes, I more or less attempted to create the most powerful versions of both the Consumption and Transformation elixirs that I could. I am nowhere near a skilled enough Alchemist to create either of those, however… using either or both of those recipes as a reference; we shall go from Apothecary to Apothecary. If we can find out who has been buying majority of the reagents and ingredients listed in the recipes, it might give us a clue as to where to go and who to look for.”
“Shit, that makes… wait a minute, what do you mean we?”
“You and I, Buffooneus.” Zuko stated with a grunt.
“No, no, no, no, no! Brometheus already had his adventure with you a few nights ago! That adventure plunged him into a period of difficult questions and butt-cheek clenching tension! BroBob is good! He’s had enough! Why don’t you carry out this investigation with an actual Agent, and one that is from your Division!”
“No, it will be you.”
“Curtis is no good. He is the son of highest ranking Mage in this place, and considering how he even questioned you about me, there is the chance he may have been ordered to investigate me… I cannot trust him completely, yet.”
“And you can trust BroBob?!”
“I can trust you enough to use you, yes.”
“Y-You’re a real bastard, you know that you pork crackling fucker. Was that a compliment or not? Besides, that may be a mistake. Brometheus is low ranking, works in a basement, and is lucky if he gets new materials to work with when building things. Find a Hood that is familiar with Spells and Robes to help with the investigation. That will make it an official investigation, and free up resources. You’ll then be able to—”
“Finish your food, and then get ready. I will shower, and then meet you downstairs. We need to go to Apothecaries in areas in which those of the Magical Races reside.”
Zuko then stood up with a nod and walked off, leaving BroBob sitting there, looking slightly annoyed.
“Listen to other people when they speak, lechon head!”
Zuko had already slipped into the bathroom by the time BroBob responded, after he got the sound of running water as a reply, BroBob sighed ate whatever else he was in the mood for, helped tidy up a bit, and then left the apartment. A few minutes later, Zuko stepped out of the shower, which had pitch black water pooled in it. Minutes later, he was fully dressed, and made his way out of the apartment and towards the elevators, Alchemy Book in hand. When he got to them, he found BroBob waiting, his back one raised Jordan leaned against the wall. When he saw Zuko approach, he hit the button for the elevator they were going to take, and as if through some strange plan, the doors parted allowed Zuko to enter without breaking stride. BroBob followed in after him, and before they could blink, they were already on the ground floor. They then left through a small back door which led to the designated parking area for Hoods and Technicians alike. Unlike official Agents who had Order prescribed vehicles, BroBob and his peers had to use their own vehicles to get around, even if the Order paid for their fuel. They got into the tricked out SUV, and were off in a jiffy.
“Where is the first Apothecary located?”
“BroBob has absolutely no experience in going to places like these, so he just did a quick search for places that sell Alchemical shit, and then punched in the addresses into his ride’s GPS. We’re at the mercy of that list.”
There was a period silence as BroBob drove towards the first destination. There wasn’t as insane a sense of urgency this time as there was the night after the initial incidents, so the drive wasn’t nearly panicked or as rapid. BroBob would occasionally glance over at Zuko, and this eventually on his nerves.
“What is it?”
“Nah, BroBob was just curious about something.”
“How did you know that all this was rooted in Alchemy, and not Magic?”
“Magic is rooted within Mana. A Contract is formed with a Source, the Source then provides as much Mana as the one who made the Contract can hold, and then that Mana is used to cast Spells. Correct?”
“Alchemy requires no Mana in order to work. The cost of using Alchemy can be anything, which means that so long as one is willing to pay the price to use the Alchemical product, it can be used by anybody and everybody.”
“That too, BroBob knows.”
“Lastly, I was confident in what happened being as a result of Alchemy because everything happened after something external was ingested. Magic Spells and Buffs still require the incantation of the Spell. That Mage said nothing. It was Alchemy.”
“Come to think of it, that makes perfect sense. Do you really think we will be able to find whoever purchased the ingredients to make those things?”
“Who can be sure? The Alchemist who created this pill, nugget thing is an absolute genius, however.”
BroBob was keen on continuing the conversation, however the two drove into an area which was significantly different to those Zuko had seen prior. This area seemed to be even further in the bowels of the poorer class, which was mostly made up of the Magical Races. Buildings with faded walls, busted up curbs and sidewalks with grass growing out of them, and so on. There were a bunch of wall paintings with an art style that seemed to hint at which races predominantly lived there love before one had even seen anybody. That said, it didn’t take long for Zuko and BroBob to drive past a number of residents, who seemed to be split rather evenly between Half Orcs and Half Elves. While it was rare to come across the two mixed races hanging out together, they were within close proximity to one other.
“Hmmm… lots of Halves around here.”
“Yeah, well we’re still close enough to the predominantly human areas for there to be quite high in number.”
“What do you mean?” Zuko asked as he looked at BroBob.
“No time to explain, we’re here. Brometheus will explain it to you later.”
BroBob said this as the car pulled in to a parking space close to the store front. Both men exited the vehicle, and made their way towards the front door. As they did, BroBob saw a few things floating in jars from the display window and he shuddered just a bit right before Zuko powered through the front door which had a small bell. BroBob followed in after the big man, and was confronted by sights and smells which had him stop dead in his tracks. There were dried plants hanging from the ceiling, shelves stocked with body parts from various creatures, powders made from dried substances that Brometheus couldn’t even hope to pronounce. There were stick things that were alight, and gently producing smoke that made BroBob want to vomit, and the deeper into the small, dingy and cramped shop they ventured, the more severe the sights became, until BroBob saw a bunch of dried, humanoid husks hanging from the ceiling by their necks.
“EEuuughghhh!” BroBob said as he shuddered once more.
“Welcome to my shop!” A rather chipper sounding voice proclaimed before the two men came into view. “How may I help you… to… day…”
The moment the man saw them, his facial expression and demeanor changed completely. He scowled at them, and even spat onto the floor to his right.
“Fuck off. I don’t speak to your kind.” He spat with insane amounts of animosity.
“Our kind?” Zuko inquired with a tilt of the head.
“Brometheus thinks he means Order Agents, Izano.”
“Ah, I see.” Zuko said as he looked at BroBob. “So, we have something to ask you, and you will answer.” He continued with absolutely no regard for the bold claim of not speaking to those from the Order.
“Huh? Or you deaf or just plain dumb? I said I don’t talk to—”
The store owner suddenly kept quiet as he suddenly felt as if his entire body was being pressed down by some kind of invisible force, and it took virtually everything he had not to collapse under the weight. He looked at Zuko, and immediately realised that he was the cause of this pressure.
“The Elven blood within you tells you that speaking to me like that is a bad idea, does it not? Answer my questions, and we will leave.”
BroBob watched this little scene play out with keen interest – interest that piqued by that statement made about Elven blood. The middle aged looking Half Elf nodded slowly and then spoke.
“W… what would you like to know?”
Zuko stepped right up to the counter, opened and then placed his book onto said counter. He opened the Alchemist Book straight onto the pages with the recipes for the two elixirs he had written earlier. It only took a moment for the store owner to see what was written, and his eyes bulged so much they almost completely popped out of their eye sockets. Zuko just looked at him expectantly, waiting for the man to answer him. The Half Elf looked up at Zuko with absolute disbelief, eyes still golf ball sized.
“Do you have any of these reagents available?”
“Do you even realise what you are asking me?! These things are practically impossible to get for a store like mine! Do you see where we currently are? I doubt that there are houses and apartment buildings that cost about as much as even one of the ingredients, yet here you are asking me if I have any of these things for sale!”
Zuko looked at the store owner for a while, before turning to look at BroBob.
“That was an awfully long winded way of saying no, was it not?”
“Don’t you understand how things work?!” Brometheus Bob boomed. “This dude is telling you that the shit you're asking if he has in stock so out of reach, it even costs more than people’s homes! Simply saying no wouldn’t have been enough for you to get just much he doesn’t have any of this shit available!”
Zuko looked BroBob with the same expression he had while looking at the store owner, and then reached for his book. After closing and picking it up, he turned around and began to walk out of the store.
“Let us go.”
Both BroBob and the store owner just watched Zuko walk off, and the moment he exited the building, the Half Elf seemed to start breathing a lot easier and stood upright. He had unconsciously been standing slightly slouched over, and after spending a moment recovering, looked over at BroBob.
“Why are you still here? Get out, you fucking Canvas bastard.”
Zuko was waiting in front of the car when BroBob emerged, walking with slightly slumped shoulders and a hurt expression on his face.
“What took you so long? We have places to be, Buffooneus.”
“You’re a mean bastard, you know that?”
BroBob drove off and as the two were driving towards the second destination on the GPS list, BroBob started glancing at Izano Zuko once again.
“What?” Zuko asked.
“What did you mean back there in that creepy ass store, bro? When you told that dude his Elven blood was tellin’ him shit?”
“I meant exactly that. Non-Human races are all sensitive to Mana in one way or another. Even if that fool could not see exactly how much he should have respected me from the moment I entered that Apothecary, his blood eventually gave him the hint.”
When BroBob didn’t respond, but continued to look at Zuko, it prompted him to explain that just little bit more.
“It is all about Mana, Buffooneus; volume and quality of Mana.”
BroBob still looked as though he didn’t understand completely, however he chalked that down Zuko being a Mage. Conversation between the two came at a premium during the drive to the various stores, and each visit bore almost identical results to those from the first store. By the time Zuko decided to call and end to the first day of their investigation, the radio suddenly started going crazy with static, causing Zuko to jump just a little.
“This is Blue Crest, First Notched Agent Kodwa, reporting. We are currently under attack by a group of unidentified attackers. There are four of them, and they appear to be a mix of powerful and quick warriors. Including myself, there are currently five Agents engaging with them. More updates as and when things happen.”
Once the field report had been given, Zuko looked over at BroBob who was grinning somewhat sheepishly back at him.
“Heh, so… you must be wondering why Brometheus just received a report meant for other Agents when he is only a Technician, huh?”
Zuko didn’t say a thing as he just stared at BroBob with unblinking eyes. BroBob’s unease steadily became more and more prominent as Zuko just stared at him.
“W-Well, the thing is… Brometheus isn’t exactly high up on the food chain within the organisation, right? So, in order for him to get parts to build new equipment and shit, he has to be quick on the uptake… so, Brometheus is sneakily connected to the Order’s frequency so he can hear about engagements and such. Depending on where something happens and who is on the scene, Brometheus will go there to see what can be had once everything has settled down.”
Izano Zuko just listened to BroBob explain all of this, as if it some major crime. There was a brief silence between the two, before Zuko looked at the road ahead.
“Can you tell which Agents are currently fighting, and where they are?”
“H-Huh? Yeah, Brometheus can.”
“Then what are you waiting for? Take us there.”
“Wait, seriously? You aren’t going to make a big thing of this?”
“We all do what we must to survive, Brometheus. Let us go.”
BroBob looked at Zuko, feeling about as touched as a person possibly could. As he nodded and was about to start looking for Agent groups, his head snapped back to look at Zuko, doing a double take.
“Did you just say… Brometheus?!”
BroBob pressed the button on the wheel that was supposed to answer incoming phone calls; however he ended up speaking instead.
“GPS: Agent Tracking Mode.”
The image on the screen of the in-dash Navigation suddenly changed, becoming more detailed and showing a bunch of different numbers at separate locations on the screen.
“So essentially…” BroBob said as he started explaining without being asked. “… Brometheus is able to track Agents like this because every Order vehicle has a two-way radio, and each radio has an official serial number. So by tracking those numbers that are linked to this frequency, Brometheus is able to pinpoint their locations, and since he has memorised a quite a few of the numbers, he is able to go to where these Agents were and do his thing.”
“Impressive. How did you work around the Access Card issue?”
“…heh, Brometheus has a duplicator. But using it is risky, as the duplicator duplicates actual Access Cards, so…”
“Understood. Well, decide where you wish to go so we can get to it.”
BroBob scanned the screen, identified his preferred Agent team, set a course to their location. Conveniently enough, they weren’t that far from the chosen location, and BroBob drove with a bit more vigour, as if in a rush to get there.
The drive was relatively silent, probably owing to the fact that they had been in the car together for quite a while now, and the sun had already started to set. It was around twenty minutes after the location had been selected that BroBob pulled up slowly alongside a building that was close to the scene. The sounds of battle could be heard clearly from inside the car, and before Brometheus could say anything, Izano Zuko was already stepping out of the car.
“Whoa whoa whoa! Where are you going, bro?”
“To watch.” Zuko responded matter-of-factly as he closed the door.
“Yo, wait!” BroBob called as he flew out of the car. “You and Brometheus are here as scavengers, remember?! We can’t just go—”
“No, YOU are here as a scavenger. I am here as an Agent, who is curious to see how Knight’s fight.”
“Oh… oh yeah.”
Zuko just started walking, his head looking around for an alley of sorts so he could find a vantage point from which to watch. Once he was one such alley, he crouched down a tad, before jumping from one wall to the other, making his way up until grabbed onto the ledge of the roof and flipping over onto the roof rather impressively. He then walked over to the opposite end of the roof, and as he got there, the sight that greeted him was that of an intense looking battlefield. There were two Knights who appeared to be incapacitated and laid up against a building, with another two standing and facing up against three armed warriors. By the looks of things, there were two power fighters and a more agile, speed fighter to contend with for the Agents, who themselves going by their size, were power and speed Knights respectively. The two sides stared at one another for the longest time, and Zuko tried to use that time to find the bodies of any other warriors, yet he could find none. All he could find were wrecked vehicles, busted windows, walls with holes in them, and most alarmingly to one who cares, the corpses of those who were once in the customary crowds that tend to form and cheer on anybody who goes against the Order. Zuko couldn’t immediately tell what had happened to either the slain crowd members, or the two heavily injured Knights, but he figured the next exchange between the two sets of opponents would answer his questions. There was a moment of stillness for a second, before the air suddenly changed and the Agents decided to make the first move. The speed Knight punched the Order Insignia on his chest, and it glowed blue. As he did that, he leapt off from where he was standing, and Zuko saw something he had seen the first day he arrived in Glory City – small leg thrusters much like the ones Cassandra had when she attacked him. They were small, but provided quite the boost in speed, propelling him towards one of the bigger warriors. He lowered both hands to either side of his waist and two metal guardless sword hilts popped out with a mechanical sound, before the Knight grabbed them and pulled out two short blades. The thrusters then delivered more… thrust as he blasted towards the larger fighter, who hadn’t yet gotten a chance to ready himself properly. These fighters were only equipped with crude, rusty weapons hanging from the clothes on their backs, yet showed no signs of fear or apprehension. The fighter the Knight was charging raised his weapon above his head, as if preparing to swing down with all his might.
“These fucking brutes!” The Knight exclaimed as he attacked, swinging his short swords at the Half-Orc warrior.
The blades sunk into the flesh like a hot knife through butter, yet the warrior neither made a noise nor looked like he felt a thing. Instead, he swung his giant Orcish War Axe down with immense force, with the intent to do nothing but cleave the Knight in two. The Knight quickly took evasive action, stabbing the points of both swords into the ground below and increasing thrust once more, maintaining a loose grip around the hilts of his swords. This allowed him to swing around and deliver a ferocious kick to the back of the Half-Orc. Just as that happened, the other Half-Orc joined in, swinging his massive two handed Orcish Great Sword with the intent to kill as well. The Knight released his swords and practically folded himself in half. As the sword whizzed past the back of the Knight’s head and crashed into the tarmac below, a glow could be seen pulsing from the bottom of his boots and he pushed off of the first Half-Orc’s back with the added power provided by his heel thrusters which not only sent his back, but also lifted Half-Orc off of his feet and sent him flying forwards. The Knight grabbed his swords as he did a backflip over the blade of the Great Sword, before landing on his feet, pulling the swords out from the ground and moving as if he was readying himself to launch another attack, but was suddenly confronted by the third fighter, who was a quick, just like him. He had a long sword and a short sword in his respective hands, and had initiated a spinning attack that was akin to a crocodile death roll, only with blades jutting out of its flesh. Just as the spin started, a giant spiked Mace tore through the air and the Half-Elf warrior quickly raised his swords, crisscrossing them to defend against the attack that was coming in from the bigger Knight. Despite successfully defending against the attack, the force of the attack produced a shockwave at the point of impact and sent the quick fighter ripping through the air towards and through buildings behind it. By this time, the quick Knight had recovered and launched a multi strike stabbing attack; his short swords a metallic blur, blood squirting about as if it was intended to decorate a canvas and ironically enough, it mostly landed on the Knights armour.
“Duck!” Came the booming command from the large Knight, and that was all that needed to be said.
The smaller, quick Knight did just that, bending his knees and ducking hard and fast, before watching the Mace absolutely boom over him and crash into the Half-Orc, sending it flying into some buildings of its own. The two Knights got together, regrouping as they both caught their breaths, with the large Knight breathing particularly hard.
“How’s it going, Anthony? You doing okay?”
“Honestly speaking? I’m about one more swing away from having my heart explode in chest. I’ve reached the point where even Downers won’t work on me anymore.”
“Seriously? Shit, you’ve pushed yourself too hard. Just what the fuck are these guys?!”
“Yeah, they’re ridiculous… and just when you think you have them on dire straits, they go crazy and kill everything in sight.”
“If it wasn’t for Rowan and Garrin, far more bystanders would have bit the dust. But was that shit even worth it, Tony?”
“They had no choice, Brad… they’re officers of the law, and even if those we swore to protect hate us and our Order, it’s still our duty to protect them – ingrates or no.”
“Such big talk from one who’s practically on the way out.” Brad said as he took a deep breath. “Those three are probably on the way back, get ready. Just like before, I’ll do the engaging, and if you can manage it, come in with the heavy artillery.”
“Yeah.” Anthony said between heavy breaths. “I’ll try… I wish I had your stamina, man.”
“Once we’re done here, you just have to work on your cardio, you lazy fuck.”
“Heh…” Tony chuckled as the three in question slowly trudged back to where the two Knights were standing.
One of the Half-Orcs approached with two massive, bleeding gashes on his side, as well as a severely burned back – so severely burned that it was still actively bubbling and smoking, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. The other Half-Orc appeared from a literal hole in the wall, his upper torso a complete shambles, with his stomach and chest so wrecked, that his innards were exposed – well, what innards were still there. Entrails were hanging from the chasm that once was his stomach, while his lungs and still beating heart was clear for all to see. The third warrior, the Half-Elf, arrived with both arms so broken that the bones were poking out from the skin. They were all in this condition, yet were still breathing, still holding on to their weapons, and still looking to kill.
“Just like the others, these guys are…” Anthony said with a sigh.
“I fuckin know, Tony.”
The three warriors seemed to let out a steamy breath at the same time, before they all charged the two Knights from three different directions.
“Tony!” Brad boomed.
Anthony stomped down on the ground so hard that his foot actually went through the tar below. He inhaled as much oxygen as he could before holding his breath and swinging as hard as he could. He even spun in place, completing a full revolution in the process. He made contact one of the Half-Orcs, and his Mace blew through one half of its body, sending flesh, bone innards flying towards the other two. Almost immediately after the blow connected, Anthony’s hands let go off his weapon and quickly moved to his chest, clutching at it as he groaned from behind his helmet.
“Focus on them, Brad!” Anthony roared in pain.
Brad let out a roar of his own as he activated all of his thrusters – leg and back. He zipped towards the Half-Orc with its heart exposed and drove one short sword directly into said heart. He turned his body and placed his feet on and used the warrior’s chest as a springboard, leaping off and zipping towards the Half-Orc that was missing a huge chunk of its torso. He swung his short swords down with the intention of cleaving the Half-Orc in two, and he did just that, driving both down from the trapezius muscle down. As the swords sliced into the warrior, they suddenly stopped when they reached a lung.
Brad just about had time to realise what had happened, and then to initiate evasive maneuvers, twisting his wrists to rotate and face the sky, before using the thrusters in his legs to once again flip over like he had before. The Half-Orc he had his swords in had actually used the arm that was on the verge of falling off to hold the swords in place, and just as Brad completed the flip, the Great Sword and twin swords cut into him and completely sliced him to bits – into three separate pieces. Brad pulled his short swords away from the death zone as the body chunks fell to the ground with a wet squelch. The moment his feet touched the ground, Brad was on the move, dashing to his right. He was followed however, and Half-Elf warrior was on him in an instant, swinging for the fences with unbelievable speed. At the same time, the remaining Half Orc was also moving with entirely too much speed, and whilst Brad was busy defending against the Half-Elf, who seemed to be getting even quicker, he suddenly found himself having to dodge the Great Sword. He did that successfully, however he was suddenly caught with a slash that caught him flush on the chest. Brad wore light armour which allowed him to be as mobile as possible, yet still provide some protection. However, said protection was found to be somewhat useless against the monstrous speed and strength of these guys who for all intents and purposes, should have been dead. The blow to Brad’s chest was so severe, it tore through the armour, and the strength behind the blow cracked his sternum. As he flew back, he used his thrusters to slow his momentum and after landing on the ground, he slid to a stop. After letting out a cough, he tried to charge once more, but the thrusters unceremoniously petered out.
“Fuck!” He exclaimed.
He had no time to reach for a Booster as the Half-Elf and Half-Orc were already on him – one in front and the other to his right. A million thoughts flooded his mind as he was trying to figure out which attack was the better one to defend against. As he moved to attempt to deflect the Great Sword, Anthony came flying in, large jet thrusters pulsing with blue flames, and blood flowing out from the helmet. He wasn’t even carrying his weapon; however he had turned himself into a weapon as he shoulder barged the Half-Orc out of the way. Brad immediately took advantage of this, and slid to his left to just barely slip the twin swords, meanwhile Tony had his hands clasped together, swung his arms and clubbed the smaller warrior in the face, sending him flying back. He then immediately took a knee, and started vomiting blood.
“Tony! You fucker!” Brad said both in praise and derision, while kneeling by the Knight’s side.
That was literally all he had time to do, as both warriors were already back on them and airborne, and swinging their respective bladed weapons. Just as the two thought that they were goners, spikes suddenly shot out from the ground, impaling the two men in multiple areas, including their faces and their hearts. Blood sprayed and also flowed down the spikes, while Brad and Anthony just watched on in disbelief. The sound of approaching footsteps caught their attention, and they both turned to see the tall figure of Izano Zuko, his tattered cloak somewhat concealing his Robes beneath.
“You two, can you hear me?” Zuko inquired.
He received no response however, and after a bit of waiting, he turned around and looked at the incoming Brometheus Bob, who was jogging towards him.
“Buffooneus.” Zuko called. “These two cannot hear me, so I need you to speak for me.”
BroBob had just barely reached everybody when Zuko looked at the two men and spoke again.
“You two, I have questions. What happened here?”
“What? You don’t even give Brometheus some context or even a little time to get his bearings? Seriously?”
When all Zuko did was glare momentarily at BroBob, before looking back at the two wounded Agents, Brometheus Bob sighed and got to it once more.
“Greetings, Agents. This is Agent Izano Zuko, and he has some questions for you two. However, he has a peculiar way of speaking because he’s a fuckin’ weirdo, so Brometheus Bob here will speak on this dude’s behalf. Now then, let us beg—”
“Wait a damn minute!” Brad interrupted, sounding lost. “Who the fuck are you two??”
“Oh, forgive Brometheus; he kinda skipped over the introductions. Brometheus Bob, Order Technician and Professional Brogrammer, BRO!” BroBob banged his clenched right fist into his left pectoral, as if to emphasize the point again.
“Izano Zuko.” Zuko said simply, not really committing to this introduction, because it wasn’t like they could hear him.
The two Knights still looked confused, and just as BroBob was about to explain further, Izano Zuko stomped his right foot hard onto the ground; expelling quite the large amount of Mana and sending bits of debris and stones flying all over the place. That got the attention of everybody standing there, and Zuko spoke once more – only with his mouth this time.
“…what… happened…….. here? Answer… me, now.”
The voice was unnatural sounding, and came across as immensely pained, as though he was ripping out his own vocal cords with each word spoken. The look on BroBob’s face said it all, as he had a myriad of emotions written all over his face. He eventually grinned and nodded.
“Yo, you can talk normally?”
“Of course I can. It just is not worth doing in my current state.”
Zuko sounded like he let out a cough, before once more looking at the two Knights with an expectant look in his eyes.
“W-We were on patrol nearby when the clashes started.” Anthony said, breathing heavily every so often as he was clearly struggling. “We were trying to decide—”
“Stop, Tony; I’ll explain everything. You just conserve your strength.” Brad then looked up at the towering figure of Izano Zuko, who seemed to get bigger and taller with each passing second. “While we were trying to decide which direction to go in, and which Red Emblems to help, there was a call for help and backup. We responded and told them to hang tight, got here, saw them struggling with these guys, then decided to provide assistance. There were five initially, and we were able to easily outclass them, at which point they ate something. We initially thought that whatever it was they ate had no effect, because we continued to tear them apart, however they suddenly lost the ability to feel – whether pain, fear, or anything else. They became faster, stronger, and cared very little about their own physical wellbeing. After getting the better of them, two of them suddenly lost it and started attacking indiscriminately absolutely massacring any living thing within their line of sight. That’s when the Red Emblems were taken out while defending the civilians, and then those two fled. We tried to pursue, but they were cut off by the remaining three, and—”
“That’s enough; Agent Zuko knows what happened next. Huh? Okay; he would like to know which direction the two who went on a rampage ran off in.”
“To the West, Agent. Be careful if you intend to pursue them, they—”
Zuko just snorted, before nodding and walking off. Despite simply walking, his gait and stride were long and fast, allowing him to cover a significant amount of ground in no time at all. BroBob, was following behind him, and did a rather good job of keeping up with the Agent, who had yet to say anything. The two Knights who were still licking their wounds finally plucked up the stones to speak, even though Zuko had been gone for quite some time.
“Is that guy really an Agent, Tony?”
“He was walking around with a Technician, so he has to be one, right?”
“But… are Agents supposed to be that… you know.”
“That man is scary, Brad. I don’t think I ever want to hear his voice again.”
“You and I both, man. Shit, anyway, let’s call for some Medics and get those guys over there the help that they need.”
As the two Knights stood up, Zuko was walking with a facial expression so intense, that it made BroBob look at him with more than a hint of apprehension. There was a menace and savagery present in his eyes that would have made the hardest stone cold killer take pause and seriously re-evaluate his life choices. The look in his eyes certainly didn’t last long, however it lasted long enough to have a lasting impression on BroBob. He walked alongside the bigger man, doing his level best to keep up with him.
“What are you planning on doing? Do you even know where those two are?”
“Nope, not a clue.”
“Then what is the plan? Brometheus can’t go back and scavenge for parts at the moment as there isn’t any equipment that has been ripped off for him to salvage.”
“Hmph! I do not know if these guys are linked to the Mages that went on the attack or not, and I certainly do not know if what they ate was made or developed by the same Alchemist, but what I do know is this; another forbidden Alchemical thing has made its debut!”
Just as it seemed as though BroBob was resigned to a night of lyrical waxing and wild goose chases, the sound of a loud bang, coupled by a high pitched, childlike scream and cry for help suddenly grabbed the attention of both men. They looked at each other for an instant, as if to confirm that they had the same thing in mind, and it only took that instant for them both to realise that they did. They immediately nodded and darted off from where they were standing to run towards the source of the scream. The only problem was that Zuko ran off in a completely different direction from BroBob at first, before a call from BroBob had him changing his course and running after him. As the duo ran, Zuko followed BroBob, who displayed surprising amounts of agility and speed for a man his size and build – something that Zuko definitely made a mental note of. It didn’t take long for them to see exactly what they had been looking for, as they were confronted by the sight of a rather large Half-Ogre warrior standing next to a Half-Troll. While smaller than their full blood counterparts, they were still very big compared to humans. Half-Ogres were all rippling muscles and unbelievable amounts of pure, raw power. They were also a smarter than full blood Ogres by quite some distance, despite being significantly less intelligent than the average human. Half-Trolls on the other hand were tall, sickly looking creatures that had particularly long limbs, big hands and feet, yet were down right skeletal in appearance. Large heads adorned these strange bodies, and the main difference between them and their full blooded counterparts was the face; full blood Trolls were catastrophically ugly. From the bumpy texture of their skin, to the exaggerated shape of their chin and nose, the teeth that jutted out from their closed mouths, everything about them was just hideous. Despite not being as ugly as full blood Trolls, Half-Trolls were no slouches in the ugly department.
“Euuughgggghh!” Brometheus Bob exclaimed for the second time that day as he looked at the Half-troll.
The two were dressed in dock worker attire, and stood with bloody weapons in their hands, whilst standing in the middle of a ring of carnage and body parts that only the most macabre of minds could imagine. They stood in front of a little Elven girl, who appeared to be their next target. Just as the Half- Troll raised its long, blood soaked arm and weapon above its head, the gaze and attention of a person who was behind them, caused them both to turn around. The levels of hostility and intent that were being sent their way was insane and they could actually feel it. Their skin tingled, not in a good way, and they felt an immense amount of pressure weighing them down as well. Zuko’s cloak and Robes fluttered gently as he emitted this energy and sent it towards the men. Things took a surprising turn however, as whatever it was that was given to them by Zuko, they returned two fold. They appeared to be doing this on instinct alone, and this caused both Zuko and BroBob to look at each other once more.
“Is it just BroBob, or…”
“No… those two have definitely benefited more from the effects of whatever they all ate than those other guys we saw.”
The standoff between Zuko and the two men was about as intense as it was brief, as the Half-Troll let out a strange screech type hiss and charged Izano, closing the gap so quickly, there was barely any time for Zuko to react, as the bloody and cruel Machetes in both hands quickly got to work. Both gloved hands were raised in the nick of time, and the blades were both stopped just shy of making contact with Zuko’s palms. That said, the sound produced at impact was immense, sounding as though two large, solid objects had been smashed into each other. Zuko’s right hand pulsed just a tad, and his attacker quickly formed a guard with his blades. The attack he had subconsciously defended himself against sent the lanky figure flying backwards through the air, or so Izano Zuko thought. The big one raised one of his massive wooden clubs and the smaller one grabbed hold of it, spun a few times and then hopped down to the ground.
“Buffooneus.” Zuko called.
“Will the day you ever get Brometheus’ name right, man?”
“Do you have a way of recording everything that happens from this point forth?”
“Roger.” BroBob said with a nod. “Record.” He commanded, much like he had that night.
Just then, the Half-Troll was on Zuko, both hovering and towering over him, swinging his dual Troll Mauls down at him with such force that Zuko was unable to use the minimalist defense approach he had been using during his other fights. He slid his feet along the ground and bent his knees somewhat. He then thrust both arms out, perfectly straight and parallel to the ground His fists were clenched, and as he bent said arms and thrust them up to form a guard, he stomped hard into the tarmac with his right foot,. The swollen wooden heads of the Maul’s smashed into Zuko’s forearms, the force of the blow enough for the ground beneath Zuko’s feet to disintegrate like wafer and drive both legs ankle deep into the tarmac. The strike was successfully parried however, although it was by no means achieved with the same level of ease and nonchalance as the previous parries. The Half-Troll was already on the move, twisting and contorting his body, producing such obscene looking movements as it prepared to swing its weapons at Zuko. To his credit, Zuko didn’t seem all too concerned and swatted at the air with the back of his hand, causing that road surface to morph into incredibly pointy spikes. He then forcefully pulled his left foot out from the tar, and stomped on solid ground just next to it, crossing both forearms in front of his chest, before pulling his right foot out of the road below, and the moment in which he stomped on the ground, his right arm was already fully extended, driving his fist directly into the large Half-Troll’s stomach. As the brute doubled over, Zuko was already on the move, stomping his left foot into the ground just as he had his forearms parallel to the ground, one on top of the other although they weren’t touching, and then once his right foot stomped into the ground with such authority that it busted up the tarmac again, he extended and swung both arms as well as his clenched fists. The Half-Troll, who had sliced through the spikes and was already attacking, was suddenly hit in the face by a blow so hard, his face contorted to the point where he almost looked handsome. The hulking Half-Ogre who was still reeling from pain also received a blow just as ferocious to the face at the same time. The sounds of cracking and breaking echoed rather clearly, and both soon disappeared and crashed into nearby buildings; the only evidence of them even having been here was the still airborne blood that had been punched out from their mouths.
“D-Damn…” BroBob exclaimed with his mouth slightly agape.
Zuko stood with his legs bent at the knees, feet firmly planted on the damaged tar, and his arms extended at an angle. The cloak and Robes fluttered violently after the attack, and Zuko exhaled slowly as he held his pose.
“I hope that you are getting this.” Zuko said to BroBob. “We are going to take our time… and find out just what effects these Warrior nuggets have.”
“H-Huh? Brometheus thought we were here to save the little girl.”
BroBob looked over to see if she had run away yet, but the dirty looking Elven street girl just watched on, without even trying to run.
“What the… but shit, just what is this guy? What kind of Mage fights with his bare hands?!”
There was barely any time for BroBob to collect his thoughts, because the sound of footsteps quickly got his attention. There were two sets of footsteps – both heavy, both plodding. It wasn’t long before the duo came into view, their jaws absolutely having been obliterated by Zuko’s punch, that they not only had approximately half of their jaws missing, but blood poured from the missing portions of their faces, and make quite the mess on the ground. Zuko seemed to flex and straighten his arms just a touch in anticipation of some more fighting, however the presence of an incoming interloper changed the atmosphere on the battlefield. Everybody who was present seemed to be on edge, as the one who was incoming started to speak, long before his footsteps could even be heard.
“Evil… deceit… and the cries of pain of the unwilling fill this place with an unavoidable rot that must be cleansed.”
As this person spoke, a strange phenomenon began to take place, as some kind of mist began wafting about, without anybody noticing.
“The reasons for your actions are irrelevant. The events that led you down your path is unimportant. Only one thing matters on this Plane of Existence, and that is… purity.”
There was silence from those who were seemingly being spoken to, and the one who was speaking might have seen this as a sign to continue speaking.
“As one sworn to worship and serve Khanya, the Goddess of Purity and Justice, I must purify you all in her name.”
Before anything else could be said or done, Zuko felt a presence now enter the battlefield.
“Who shall be the first… to be cleansed?”
By this time, the strange mist was completely obscuring everybody’s vision, and made it difficult to see anything that was even a few meters in front of them. Zuko then sensed something, causing him to look in the respective directions that each warrior had been standing in.
“You pitiful warriors, I can see the extent to which your bodies and souls have been tampered with, however… the souls and bodies of those you and your fellows butchered to death are also in pain.”
Something happened as all of a sudden; the faintest sound of something slicing through the air could be heard, immediately followed by the sound flesh being sliced and blood spraying. This was repeated before the first drops of blood dropped the ground below, and within an instant, the two warriors were cut down. The sound of their bodies hitting the ground was an about as confusing as it got, because the sound of multiple wet squelches rang out through the silent battlefield.
“May you and your victims find peace in the arms of Lady Khanya.”
There was a moment of silence and stillness, as if this mystery person was reading last rights. That moment ended quickly as Zuko sensed incoming danger.
All of a sudden, Zuko crouched down just a bit and released Mana into the air, pushing it as far from his body as he could in that instant. His eyes grew large as he stomped both feet in quick succession into the ground and held his arms up after having crossed them, forming a guard. It was just in time as well, as the attack hit the Mana Zuko typically used to defend with force. There was an exchange of raw power, as the one who attacked Zuko and Zuko himself tried to get the upper hand, Mana being emitted from Zuko as if he was trying to give it away. The attacker also appeared to be bolstering his weapon, which seemed to be a long blade, with something that was not Mana. The exchange became more and more intense, however fairly early into it; Zuko suddenly pushed his guard to his right along with the blade that was trying to damage him, before extending his arms, stomping with his right foot, and unleashing a barrage of rising fist strikes. His arms were next to each other, and struck one after the other. The blows were evaded however, and Zuko’s attacker jumped back and created just a bit of distance.
“Was that a fluke?” The attacker asked.
The question seemed to be rhetorical, because he attacked Zuko once again and it ended with the same result. The attack this time came from below and Zuko deflected the blade by punching it. He then returned the favour, stomping his left foot and launching a back hand strike which was in turn parried by a scabbard, and followed by a strike from below. Zuko absolutely smashed the blade down with his left hand, then launched another attack with his right arm fully extended which was evaded. He then brought the left arm that had blown the blade away and began banging down on his opponent with both fists, as if trying break his head open like a watermelon. All four strikes were blocked with the scabbard again, before Zuko’s body tingled with the sensation of incoming danger. His arms moved down just in time as a vicious multi-slash attack absolutely tore into the Mana barrier around Zuko’s arms, prompting him to roar as he bolstered the Mana barrier in an effort to keep it from being broken through. The sound of the slashes clashing with the Mana was incredibly loud, but after weathering the storm, Zuko let out another roar as he stomped on the ground so hard with both feet, it damaged the already torn up tarmac even further, pushed his arms back as far as they could go, before swinging them hard, both fists headed towards the attacker’s head. Both fists were blocked though, by scabbard and blade, however Zuko quickly brought his hands to his sides, fists clenched and arms cocked. He then stomped with his right foot one more time and thrust both arms, extending them from his waist and driving them towards the attacker’s chest. The sound of the impact of fists and weapon echoed loudly, and the resulting shockwave that emanated from the point of impact blew away a large portion of the broken up tar and sent it flying about. Before things died down, Zuko spread his arms wide, hands open, fingers pursed together and pointed towards the sky.
“Enough of this!”
Zuko boomed as he brought his open hands together as if he were about to recite the world’s most violent prayer. He then then let out a roar which came from his own mouth, and after a moment or two, forced his hands apart, extending his arms fully. As he did this, sudden cracks and such appeared on the tarmac, and immediately after, powerful Mana geysers of sorts erupted and blew the strange mist that had covered the battlefield away, revealing the state of things. The corpses of the two warriors were little more than cleanly sliced chunks of flesh, and the two men who had just been involved in that brief, but intense exchange stood staring at and seeing each other for the first time. Due to Zuko’s cloak fluttering quite violently, his Robes were clearly visible. His attacker funnily enough, was in an identical state, as his own cloak was blowing about, revealing his own attire. Black Robes and White Armour, both giving off a sense of power, both bearing the Insignia of the Order on them.
“What is this? The Order’s Insignia?!” The man exclaimed with surprise. “You are a—”
BroBob, having identified the lull as an opportunity to intervene and try to deescalate the situation, quickly came sliding in. He took one look at the attacker and instantly recognised him.
“H-Holy shit, it’s… Zaroku…”
“Za-who?” Zuko asked as things definitely started to calm down.
“Zaroku! The one man Unit… he’s the only person in the Knight Division who doesn’t have a Unit.”
“Who are you?” Zaroku asked.
“Sir, Brometheus Bob, Technician and Professional Brogrammer at your service.”
Zaroku didn’t react to BroBob’s introduction, and he just looked at Zuko, as if waiting for an introduction. Zuko just stared right back at the Agent clad in white, and the tension in the air was thick. BroBob quickly spoke again; fearing things would pop off again if either man felt even the slightest bit offended.
“This is Agent Izano Zuko, Sir. He joined the Order around a week or so ago, and we were on something of a tour for him to familiarise himself with the city.”
“Can you not speak, Izano Zuko?” Zaroku asked, seemingly annoyed by the big man’s silence.
Zuko seemed to glare at Zaroku from behind the hood, however the sight of the glowing emblems on Zuko’s and Zaroku’s Robes stopped things from escalating further.
“All Agents, you are being sent the coordinates of Squads that are currently battling and struggling against the fighters. Those who are able, please send those who can still fight to provide assistance.”
A projected image of a mini-map suddenly appeared from the insignia, and moments later, other Agents began responding, pledging support and claiming to be inbound. Throughout all of the chatter and such, the two men didn’t shift their gazes off of each other. Looking at him, Zaroku looked to be around Curtis’ age, although his clenched jaw and near perpetual scowl hinted at a temperament that was on the opposite end of the spectrum to the Mage’s. His eyes were also closed the entire time, but Zuko could feel that he was being looked at with intensity, so he returned the gaze. BroBob felt like a third wheel, standing there awkwardly, not really knowing what to say or do. Eventually, Zaroku turned around and walked off slowly.
“Agent, Technician.” Zaroku said as he disappeared into a back alley.
After Zuko could no longer feel Zaroku’s presence, he seemed to ease up somewhat, exhaling slowly and unclenching his fists. He then looked at his hands in silence, not saying a word for a while. BroBob looked at Zuko, silent too as he was rather flabbergasted at what had just happened. This guy, wearing Mage Robes, had a physical exchange with somebody as strong as Zaroku and didn’t get absolutely wrecked. It wasn’t long after that the sound of approaching sirens could be heard in the distance. BroBob suddenly felt a little anxious and looked at Zuko, who was still standing there, looking completely unperturbed.
“Yo, listen; Brometheus isn’t even supposed to be here, so he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to be standing here nonchalantly with you. So tell you what, Brometheus will go get the car, and park close by, yeah? Then we can leave.”
Without waiting for a reply, BroBob quickly ran off into a nearby alleyway. Soon enough, the sirens reached the location, and the vehicles they were on looked somewhat different from those that were at the sight of the first incident. They were a different colour, and were much large, with a six wheeled behemoth there as well. The cars all stopped abruptly, and out stepped a bunch of Knights and Technicians, rushing to begin their work. As they did, a Knight dressed in standard armour with a Blue Insignia approached Izano, who looked at him in silence, even as he reached and stood next to him.
“Mage… why are you here?” He asked curtly.
“Who are you to speak to me like that?” Zuko snapped, clearly frustrated.
The Knight just gave Zuko the eyes, waiting for him to respond. When he didn’t, the Knight took one step towards Zuko in anger, prompting Zuko’s head to snap in his direction. Despite being hidden by the hood, Zuko’s eyes grabbed hold of the Knight, and all of a sudden, he couldn’t see anything other than those eyes. Everything else within his consciousness faded, and two large eyes appeared within that darkness, glowing brightly and filling the Knight with absolute dread. Luckily for the Knight however, a hand grabbed his arm, and when it did, the eyes surrounded by darkness burst like a balloon, and he was back in real time, so to speak. The hand around his arm belonged to an upper tier Knight, who was an assistant to one of the Knights in the Leadership group of a Unit. He was strong enough to push back the illusion created by the menace in Zuko’s eyes.
“Agent Zuko.” The Knight said, as he removed his helmet. “I understand you were responsible for saving the lives of four of our Agents, and then pursued those two who appeared to be stronger single handedly. For that, you have my gratitude.”
The Knight bowed his head slightly in appreciation.
“I did not kill those two, Knight.” Zuko said, not really caring if he could be heard or not.
“Yes, that much I am aware of, Agent Zuko. I can tell even after a single glance that those… oh, let’s call them corpses, are the handiwork or Zaroku.” The Knight then sighed as his shoulders slumped and he shook his head. “That person is a complete subversion to the smooth running of a Knight Unit. However, it is not my place to say that, because his Unit Captain is the one who has raised him to be like that.
Zuko looked at the Knight, and seeing as how he could hear Zuko, he made a mental note to remember him in the future.
“Am I needed here?” Zuko asked.
“No, I don’t think so. If anything is required of you, you will probably hear about it at HQ.”
Zuko then nodded, and looked around for a bit. He decided on a direction and began walking. During his walk, he saw something shining in the distance and decided to ignore it. It was practically dark by this point, and the light kept flashing and moving back and forth, as if being waved. Zuko stopped walking and stared intently in the direction of the light. Thinking that there was the chance of it being BroBob, he decided to walk towards it – which turned out to be the right call. BroBob was waiting at the entrance to an alley and beckoned Zuko in with him.
“Dude, Brometheus just knew you were gonna end up going the wrong way! Come on, the car is this side!
The two walked to the car, which had its lights off, and climbed in. They drove off, and during the trip back to HQ, BroBob felt as though something was different about Zuko’s silence. He looked at Zuko, but before he could ask what was up, the big man spoke first.
“Why are you so afraid of being seen at these places?”
“Why? Shit, Brometheus is legit at the bottom of the food chain, bro. Why do you think he has been able to just ferry you about and hang with you? Brometheus has nothing to do, no duties, nothing. If anything, all the shitty Tech work that nobody likes to do gets left to Brometheus. So, think about it – Brometheus barely has the clearance to do leave HQ on anything official, right? What would happen to him if he was caught doing official shit, with a fuckin’ MAGE? He’d be slaughtered.”
Zuko looked at BroBob as he spoke, before looking out at the dark streets from his window.
“But damn bro, you sure are something else. In this short time hanging with you, Brometheus has seen you do some shit, but fighting on par with that monster Zaroku? Damn… and that weird fighting style of yours looks like some awesome dance.”
“It is a dance.”
“The Dance of Gul’Rhaka.”
“The Dance of who, now?”
“The Dance is how one fights alongside Gul’Rhaka.”
“That dance is what allowed you to repel Zaroku?”
“I did not repel him, more than he decided to leave.”
“Huh? Brometheus saw everything that happened, bro. Thanks to his contacts; he saw through that weird mist and witnessed the entire fight. You were hella impressive. Brometheus wonders what would have happened if the fight went on.”
“I would have lost.” Zuko said very candidly. “That man was able to cut through my Mana, and as I am now, if the fight had gone on, I would have been defeated.”
BroBob looked at Zuko for a bit, and again, he got the sense that something was off about Zuko. He thought it best to stay quiet for the rest of the drive back. Things remained that way, right up until Zuko reached the elevators that led to his floor, with BroBob walking him all the way to it.
“Why have you accompanied me up to here?” Zuko asked, finally speaking.
“What, are you shittin’ me? If Brometheus left you to walk here on your own, you would get lost and end up sleeping in some random room or hallway!”
Zuko just looked at BroBob for a bit, before turning around and stepping into the already waiting elevator.
“We shall be continuing the search tomorrow – come up in the morning.”
“…alright, I gotcha.” BroBob said with a slight sigh.
After Zuko had selected the floor and the doors started closing, Brometheus could swear that he saw just a hint of a smile on that bandaged face, but he couldn’t be sure as the doors closed before he could get a closer look and confirm.
“That fuckin’ guy…”
Meanwhile up in his apartment, Zuko was standing in his bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror. He had lowered the hood of the cloak, and stared at his bandaged face for the longest time, before reaching up and pulling the bandages around most of his face down, revealing the fact that burn scars in the form of the pattern were all over his face as well. The moment the bandages came down, Zuko’s cheeks suddenly puffed up and he bent over the sink, vomiting out the black liquid. It hit the sink and spattered quite a bit, yet once he had finished, Zuko merely looked at his face and grinned, baring his teeth as he did.
“It is healing well…” Zuko said as he chuckled just a bit and set about cleaning the sink, and his mouth.