Later that morning, somewhere in the city, Erathell was seated on a penthouse balcony, overlooking one of the shiny residential areas where the city’s rich and famous resided. He was sipping on a cup of coffee made from beans so exotic and expensive, that there were probably people in the Mixed Race and Non-Human Districts who would have to use a year’s worth of savings or even earnings in order to buy a bag of those beans. He had just watched the sun rise, yet despite the early hour he was already dressed in an immaculate suit. As he sat there, he set the cup down on the table in front of him and smiled.
“Catherine.” Erathell said without looking at the approaching woman.
“Good morning, my Lord.”
“What’s the word?”
“I come with news of our efforts in the Enclave. They ended in failure. Candace reported that as her and Momoh were in the process of injecting Lady Di’ithra with energy, a group of Elves appeared with a hooded man, and they not only felled Candace and Momoh, but the hooded man injected vast amounts of Mana into the Lady and woke her up.”
“Wow…” Erathell said as he picked up a small cookie. “Any idea who this hooded man is?”
“She said he told Lady Di’ithra that he belonged to the Order and that his name was…” Catherine sighed slightly as she shook her head. “Isaiah Buko.”
“Isaiah Buko? Is that even a real name, Catherine?”
“I couldn’t tell you, my Lord. In fact, Candace then went on a rant about how easy to goad Momoh was, calling him a ‘stupid warthog’ and an ‘idiot’ for allowing himself to be duped. After she cursed him out, she told me she was going to look for him and ended the call.”
Erathell started to laugh as he munched on the cookie, before washing it down with the coffee.
“This is no laughing matter, my Lord.”
“Of course it is.” He replied with yet another chuckle. “That sister of yours… anyway, I don’t know where she intends to look for him, but Momoh already came back to us and explained what happened. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. This little diversion was little more than a chance for me to see my brother and gauge whether or not he could be a threat to our mission.”
“Surely you could have done that without trying to wake the Lady and secure the Elves.”
“I could have.” Erathell said with a nod. “But he is my brother, after all.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Catherine said with a bow, understanding what he meant all too well.
“This little exercise did actually bear some fruit.”
“How so, my Lord?”
“We now know that the interesting Agent is able to mobilise Elves to act against us. Any idea on who they were?”
“Not at all, my Lord.”
“I see… Anyway, it appears I may have underestimated the Order a tad – or maybe overestimated the mixed filth that have been Buffed to the gills. Either way, I want you tell them to be on standby. Depending on how things go during the next attack, we might have to go to Phase Two of the plan. Or should I call it, Plan G? Which sounds better to you, Catherine?”
“Does it matter which sounds better to me, Lord Erathell?”
“Yes, yes it does. Which sounds better?”
“They both sound the same to me, my Lord.”
“That’s not an answer. Commit to a name!”
As the bickering between those two went on, elsewhere in the city, Zuko was forcefully roused from his slumber by another bickering pair. He had been unconscious since fainting at the temple site, and while things were still dark, they were no longer quiet.
“Oi…” Alex snapped. “Why have you sneaked in here? You’re planning on rubbing that shit on his body aren’t you? I wanna rub shit on his body too.”
“What are you talking about, Alex?” Sam snapped back. “I didn’t sneak anywhere – I just walked in!”
“You’re still gunna try and rub shit on his body all alone. Fuck that. If you rub shit on him, I rub shit on him.”
“What is this?” Sam asked somewhat confused. “Why do you suddenly think that I’m here to rub anything on Munsai in the first place?”
“Because I know that you are! I saw you last night, grinding and mashing shit in that damn thing of yours. ‘Medicinal’ ointment or something. You aren’t gonna hog the rubbing! I have as much right as you do to rub shit on his body!”
“Make your own stuff then! Why do you have as much right as I do, when you haven’t even made Healing Salve?!”
“Nobody is rubbing anything on me.”
After saying that, Zuko’s eyes opened and he sat right up. He looked at both women in silence, his gaze bouncing between them.
“Ah! Munsai!” Sam said; the relief in her voice tangible. “You’re awake… we were worried when you didn’t wake up!”
“Why the fuck are you so heavy?” Alex boomed somewhat grumpily. “That Lee dude had to take his Rock Ogre pills to get strong enough to lift you up.”
“Alex!” Sam scolded.
“How long was I out for?” Zuko asked, ignoring Alex’s statement altogether.
“Not too long, Munsai. Probably six or seven hours.”
“Alright, good.” He said as he stood up off the bed. “I must go back now.”
Both Alex and Sam said this with obvious disappointment, and this caused Zuko to look at them and shrug.
“This was not a social trip after all. I have to get back to the Order and share what I have learnt. Sam, I would appreciate it if we left right now.”
Sam looked at Zuko and bowed immediately.
“As you desire, Munsai.” She said before the started to walk towards the door.
“Hey!” Alex called as she ran after them.
They descended the steps to find the four men sitting and waiting for Zuko and Sam. When they saw him, they stood up immediately, but then quickly knelt down as they had when they first saw Sam the other day.
“Good morning Guildmaster, Munsai.” They said in unison. “Munsai, it honours us to see you up and about.”
“Morning guys.” Sam said with a nod.
“I appreciate it, fellas.” Zuko said.
“Where the fuck is my greeting?” Alex boomed. “I’m a fuckin’ Captain, ya bastards!”
There was no time for banter however as Zuko and Sam walked past the group with a purpose, with Alex right behind them.
“No time.” Sam explained briefly. “Munsai and I are heading back to the city.”
“Seriously?! So soon?” Rick asked.
“I assume Munsai has urgent business in the city, all things considered.”
“Ah, yes.” Lee said with a nod. “That makes sense.”
“How does it make sense?” Alex asked as they all walked outside. “Actually Mumbai, Sam… I’ll take yous to where ya need to go, yeah? Not just to my area.”
“So long as we don’t drive through hostile territory this time!” Sam said with a glare.
“Yeah, yeah, I got it.” Alex said with a smirk and a nod.
As the trio powered towards the designated parking area for large vehicles, the four men followed after them. They eventually caught up, and the seven of them reached the Armadillo rather quickly.
“Where do you guys think you’re going? Alex asked as she prepared to hop in the front seat.
“Nowhere – we just came to see Synae and Munsai off.” Rick replied.
“When did you four start calling him that?”
“If our Mistress calls him that, how can it be that we do not?” Lee said with a nod.
“You just saw how much of a badass he is, and realised it was wrong not to respect him, huh?”
“That too.” Lee admitted.
“I know the feeling.” Alex said with a chuckle before climbing into the vehicle.
As the men lined up on the passenger side of the Armadillo, Zuko looked out the window and nodded at them.
“See you again… somewhere.”
The Armadillo then drove off with speed, disappearing down the road and leaving the four men looking rather astounded. With Alex pushing the nimble Armadillo as hard as she could, despite taking the longer route through friendly areas they were at a point that Sam picked out within an hour and a half. The topic of conversation revolved around Zuko’s abilities and he skillfully avoided giving complete answers. After getting out of the car and saying their goodbyes to Alex who promised to ‘wait’ for Zuko again, Sam and Zuko actually ended walking on foot for a period before she suddenly raised the Skeleton Key without warning. Zuko suddenly found himself walking through an Elven District within the city. Sam popped up behind him and smiled somewhat wickedly.
“Did that shock you, Munsai?”
“It certainly was jarring.” He said before looking around. “Where are we?”
“We are close enough to my store that we can walk. I deliberately chose a different Place of Power to walk through specifically for that reason.”
“How many of the Magic nullifying areas are there?” Zuko asked as he looked at Sam.
“They aren’t that high in number truth be told. But this Skeleton Key is powerful enough that even the smallest Places of Power can be used to fuel it. Anyway, please follow me, Munsai.”
Sam walked off with Zuko closely behind. He watched her as she walked, and she looked a little tired truth be told. Zuko then remembered that she coughed up blood after their temple excursion and walked alongside her.
“So about your injuries from last night.” He said, looking down at her.
“Injuries?” She said looking confused before catching on. “Oh, you those… please do not worry Munsai, that blood was as a result of me overdoing things slightly. Because I cannot hold Mana, all the Buffs I consumed ended up taking their toll on me. Luckily, my makeshift plan ended up working because I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain all of them for long.”
“I slowed that High Elf’s reflexes during the fight, and focused solely on speed so she would think me weak and take me lightly. I guess it all worked out, Munsai.”
“You are very skilled – both with combat and Alchemy. It is just a shame that you had such an important part of you forcefully removed. I certainly hope the one who gave that order lives long enough.”
“Long enough for what, Munsai?”
Zuko didn’t answer her; he only looked ahead with something in his eyes that sent a chill down her spine. She wasn’t lying about them being close to the store however, as they reached it within fifteen minutes of leaving the Enclave. He was still dressed in the Water Priest Armour and had the hood up, so while he got the odd look, nobody recognised him – not that they would have if he was in his Robes because of the cloak he wore over them. They walked into the store, and Sam got in touch with BroBob – informing him that Zuko was back and sought a ride back to the Order. As they waited for BroBob, Sam and Zuko just chatted about the chances of Didi convincing Faelaon to actually hold the meeting that Zuko had demanded on Sam’s behalf. As they discussed this, they were interrupted by the sound of the door to her store opening with urgency and force. As their heads turned to look at the cause of the sudden interruption, they watching as Brometheus Bob walking in as if he was coming around a corner, body leaning to side, shoes squeaking on the floor. His dip was as deep as ever and despite the urgency with which the door flew open; his entrance was slow as hell. Zuko stood up and actually took a few steps towards him. As they reached each other, BroBob turned his body to the right as slid his right fist under his left armpit until it popped out the other side. He looked down at the floor, and stood with one foot raised, bent slightly at the knee and seemed to be waiting for something. Zuko looked at the chubby man, before looking at Sam in total confusion. She sighed and mimicked the action of a ‘fist bump’, before Zuko looked down and noticed the little fist that was barely jutting out from the rather large back. He actually chuckled, and then bumped his gloved fist into BroBob’s.
“Brometheus.” He said with a nod.
“Mah man.” BroBob replied as he suddenly opened his fist and made a ‘pssshhhh’ type sound with his mouth. “It’s been a minute since Brometheus last heard from you, bro. You gave him updates the other time. What happened this time?”
“I simply forgot about you this time.” Zuko said with a shrug. “Anyway, we have to get back – I have some potentially crucial information on the Association.”
“Yo, you forgot about Brometheus? Just like that? You really forgot about him?”
“Would you be quiet? Of course I did not forget you – I just did not have the time to get in touch. Besides, you do not exactly talk back. Anyway, let us be off.”
Zuko didn’t even wait for a response from BroBob as he turned to face Sam. She was already on the floor with her forehead on the back of her fingers.
“Please be safe, Munsai. I will eagerly await the day you bless me with your presence again.”
Zuko let out something of a grunt of acknowledgment, before turning around and powering his way out of the store and towards BroBob’s car. He noticed that there was now a weird logo on each of the doors, but thought nothing of it. They drove out of the parking lot, and BroBob asked Zuko a bunch of questions about the Elven Enclave – to which Zuko stated that any honest answer was predicated by a vow of silence on his part. BroBob then looked at Zuko with absolute shock as he heard about the current state of the Elven people. The things Zuko was saying lasted the duration of the journey back to the Order, and when BroBob parked, Zuko took the opportunity to change out of the Water Priest Armour and back into the Black Robes and cloak.
“Yo bro, where did you get that armour from?”
“Sam bought it for me.” Zuko answered as he stored it in the ring.
“Okay, so how about some lunch before we call Curt and the Archmage?”
“That sounds like a plan.” Zuko said with a nod as the two made their way into the building. They went to the cafeteria where they got quite a bit of food, and Zuko even bumped into Kev and his Squad – giving them a small wave of sorts. When BroBob and Zuko left with their food, instead of heading towards the elevators, BroBob led Zuko down a familiar path towards the storage unit that had been designated as their space. Once they reached it, that same logo he saw on the doors of BroBob’s car was there and this time, he had to pay attention to it. The logo was of a bald eagle; however the shiny cranium bit had markings that looked eerily like the ones on Zuko’s head. The eagle had a pair of shades on, and beneath the curved beak was a beard. Above the eagle was a speech bubble with the word ‘ZuBro ’enthusiastically written in giant letters, and after looking it over, Zuko looked at BroBob with a look of absolute shock.
“…w-what is this?” Zuko asked.
“This is the ZuBro, the Bald Eagle of Justice!” BroBob said passionately as he banged his chest. “ZuBro is also the name of the Division, bro! Watcha think?!”
Zuko said nothing as he tried to piece together what this all meant. BroBob then opened the door and invited Zuko in after he himself had walked in. Unlike the outside, the inside actually looked pretty cool, as there was a high tech lab which seemed to cater towards Mages and Knights alike, there were desks, booths to test things, a designated area to sit and eat, what looked like a mini War Room, and right at the back, a large section that had been partitioned off and simply had a chair in it. BroBob gave Zuko an impromptu tour of their offices as they walked towards the dining area. The impressive interior seemingly washed away the abject shock that Zuko felt when he saw logo and heard the name of their little Division.
“So, watcha think?!” BroBob asked again.
“Why is there an area with only a chair in it?” Zuko asked as he ignored BroBob’s question.
“That’s your space, bro.” BroBob said as he put the food parcels down. “Brometheus didn’t want to fuck around with your personal space in this office.”
“Where is your space?” Zuko asked with something of a suspicious look.
“The workbench is all Brometheus needs, Izano.” He answered with a nod.
“Alright… and the name? Did you really combine ‘Zuko’ and ‘Brometheus’ to create that name?”
“Of course not, bro. It stands for ‘Zuko’s Division, Bro!’, but that shit was too long, you know? So Brometheus decided to condense that shit to ZuBro.”
“What about that strange creature that looks like both you and I?”
“Okay, now ZuBro is supposed to look like us, bro. You and Brometheus are the only members of the squad, so you and Brometheus are the only faces in the logo.”
Zuko sighed ever so slightly as he quickly washed his hands in the basin that in the middle of the weird dining island and then reached for his food. BroBob sent a text to Curtis before eating as well, and after Zuko told him about Alex, Brometheus Bob seemed to get a little grumpy; grumbling about Zuko had women falling into his lap or something. Zuko made his way into his private spot and sat in the chair that was in there. He wasn’t sure how long he sat in there, but he eventually saw the door to the offices swing open and Curtis and William walked in. He then stepped out and watched BroBob and Curtis exchange a weird handshake that didn’t seem to end. Zuko and Archmage William stood and watched in silence as the pair dapped and slapped and clicked and snapped and twisted and locked their hands and fingers in a never ending greeting. Zuko ended up ignoring them and looked towards the Archmage.
“Old Man.” He said with a nod.
“Izano Zuko.” William said as he took his eyes off of his son and BroBob. “So was your trip to the Enclave successful?”
“You could say that. I would have appreciated being told about the barrier around it though.”
“You still managed to get in, didn’t you?” William replied in his trademark snide tone of voice. “Did you manage to find out if the Elder is linked to the Association?”
“I did.” Zuko said, before turning around and looking towards the War Room replica. “Shall we sit and have a proper discussion?”
“Would you two like something to drink?” BroBob asked; the timing of the question pure coincidence. “Brometheus stocked the fridge the other day, so we can offer you something hot or cold to drink.”
“No thank you.” William replied before walking off.
Zuko himself just shook his head and walked into the War Room along with the old man. They sat and waited for Curtis and BroBob to join them, and when they eventually did, Zuko started to speak again. This however was almost immediately interrupted by the main door swinging open, and in strode a procession of Knights. They were all wearing heavy armour, and once they were inside, they formed a guard of honour. The Archmage sighed and shook his head slowly, before shooting Curtis dagger filled glare.
“If you two idiots hadn’t wasted time with all that strange hand shaking, we probably could have concluded the important part of the discussion.” He growled at his son, who just pretended to not hear anything.
Just then, the heavy footsteps of the Captain-Commander shook the floor ever so slightly as he entered the office, and the group watched on as he and Cassandra both approached the War Room. One of the Knights from the entourage walked to the door and opened it, after which point the pair of Knights walked in. Donald glared at William who glared right back, while Cassandra looked at Curtis, who smiled warmly and waved instead, completely ignoring the atmosphere.
“What are you doing here?” William asked with a sneer.
“Why I could ask you the same thing… skulking about in this storage unit with a buffoon and a savage, having secret meetings…”
“What I choose to do with a Mage is none of your concern, Donald.”
“Oh? And what about that trash sitting next to your Mage? Is he not a failure of a Technician?”
“Former Technician, Captain-Commander.” William said with a disinterested sigh. “I ask again, what are you doing here?”
“We have had enough of this nonsense!” Cassandra said, entering the discussion. “Each time something happens to that savage, you all get together, have secret meetings and then all of a sudden, new plans and strategies for all of us to adhere to are devised. Despite being Agents of the Order concerned with maintaining order and safety, we are being shafted and ignored while you Mages poach one of our own and then come up with secret plans. Well, we have had enough!”
As Cassandra boomed all this, Zuko and the other watched on and listened in silence. Cassandra was clearly getting worked up, and Donald ended up putting his hand on her shoulder.
“I told you to keep your temper in check, Cassandra.”
“I’m sorry Captain-Commander, but we are being treated like shit by these Mages.”
“I see…” The Archmage said with closed eyes. “So secret meetings are somehow bad when we are the ones having them, yet when you all meet with Zaroku and Shige to presumably discuss Izano Zuko, it’s suddenly alright to keep said encounters secret?”
As he said this, William’s eyes opened and looked directly into Donald’s. Cassandra had decided to completely ignore Curtis as even his ponytail appeared to be in a good mood. She glared at BroBob, who was just quietly staying out of the whole thing.
“If you wish to join the discussion, then dismiss your followers, close the door and sit down.” Zuko suddenly said as it felt like his gaze bore holes through the back of both Cassandra’s and her father’s heads. “But hear my words and heed them, if you ever refer to Brometheus as trash, or to me as a savage, I will reach down your throats and rip your tongues out so slowly you will remember the pain long after your deaths!”
As Zuko said this, dark and heavy Mana filled with bad intentions burst out from Zuko’s body. It actually sounded as though it was screeching; everybody in the room could literally feel it on their skin. This made Cassandra’s skin crawl and before she knew what she was doing, she pulled both of her swords out from her back and looked as though she was about to leap from where she was standing and attack Zuko. He noticed this and stood up with so much strength, it pushed the chair back and into the reinforced glass wall behind him. He cocked his arms back, seemingly prepared to fight back.
“Okay, okay, okay!” The Archmage said as he clapped three times. “Donald, Cassandra, you two have been invited to join us, so feel free to sit down and do just that. Izano Zuko, you cannot seriously expect to get away with threatening to maim and kill two of the highest ranking Knights within our organisation, can you?”
“I told you people when I first arrived not to call me a savage. Now they come into what has been designated as my domain, and continue to speak to me however they please? I will not stand for that, Old Man.”
“Yes, yes, I know. However we have more pressing issues at hand – namely discussing the results of your brief trip.”
Zuko looked at William, clearly scowling beneath the bandages before taking a deep breath and calming himself down. Curtis took the opportunity to put his chair back in place using Telekinesis, and Zuko sat down without even thinking twice. He then looked at Donald and Cassandra, as if waiting for them to either sit down or leave. Cassandra put her weapons away while the Captain-Commander looked at the entourage of Knights and dismissed them with a single wave of the hand. The door was closed and after a few more tense moments, they sat down. At that table, sat a collection of powerful Mages, Warriors and a tubby man named Brometheus Bob, who was neither. They glared at each other for the longest time, before Zuko broke the silence.
“So I received a tip off that there was a high ranking member of the Association who had strong ties to the Elven Elder Faelaon.”
“That ancient High Elf?” Donald asked.
“The very same.” William responded.
“I went over to the Enclave and found a way in with the intention of asking him directly whether or he had any relatives or close friends who were a part of the Association, however I was unable to gain an audience with him. In fact, I could not even get close to the Tower.”
“Then what did you even go there for?” Cassandra asked.
“Silence.” Zuko responded with a glare. “I might not have been able to see him, but I was able to gather some other information instead.”
“What other information?” Curtis asked, suddenly looking serious.
“Somebody from the Association approached the Elder and attempted to strike a deal of sorts. They promised to help him with a problem he was having, on condition he ordered the Elves of the Enclave to join the Association in attacking the Order together with those Mixed Non-Humans.”
There was something of a collective gasp that went around the table, before Donald spoke.
“Was the striking of the deal successful?”
“No… I managed to ruin those plans at the last second and prevented the Elves from joining their fighting force.”
“Well that is good news, isn’t it?” Curtis asked.
“Not necessarily.” The Archmage responded. “If those people were looking for extra firepower to join their cannon fodder that could mean that they are not satisfied with their effectiveness.”
“Especially when you take into consideration that they have suffered numerous casualties, while we have only suffered injuries.” The Captain-Commander added.
“We should also keep in mind that all of the Mixed Race members they have sent our way have essentially been sent to us to die. I think they were supposed to actually take Agents with them as they blew up or their time expired.” Curtis said.
“There must be a purpose behind that.” Zuko said with a scowl. “There must also be a purpose behind the seeking of more power.”
“Do you have any theories on that, Izano Zuko?” William asked.
“If the Mixed ones were supposed to take us out and thin our ranks, would that not point towards—”
“Towards there being stronger and more capable people in reserve, waiting for the order to join the fight.” Cassandra said with her arms crossed.
“That is correct.” Zuko said with a nod. “Now, let us take this line of thinking even further… if the Association, after three attacks has killed zero Agents, and even sought to bring in others to supplement their cannon fodder, what does that tell us?”
“That they are unsatisfied with the progress the cannon fodder is making.” Curtis answered.
“So if we continue down this road of assumption, let us assume that within the next few days, there is yet another attack. If that happens, would it not be fair to assume that if things do not go the Association’s way, the deployment of those stronger enemies could be fast-tracked?
“It would be very fair.” Curtis said with a nod.
“I agree.” William said.
“As do I.” Donald grunted.
“So what do we do then?” Zuko asked as he looked around. “If we are to formulate a strategy based around these assumptions, what would it be?”
“Apply more pressure.” Donald said with a bullish grunt. “When things turn out like this, aggression is the only answer. If these assumptions are correct, then we are the ones dictating the pace in this situation.”
“We barely know anything about this group, though.” William said as he looked at Donald.
“Even so, if our actions, our strategies and execution of those strategies are forcing these bastards to move faster than they would like, who is in the driving seat here?”
“We are.” Cassandra said with a nod.
“That’s right. So as things stand, we should put even more pressure on them – turn the screw even more and force them to play their hand.”
“Then we can use that to our advantage.” Curtis said with a nod.
“In what way?” William asked.
“These ones we’ve been fighting off until now have all been on that suicide mission, right Pop?”
“I see…” The Archmage said with a nod. “If we force them to send out the stronger ones, we might be able to capture them alive and interrogate them for information.”
“Exactly.” Curtis said with a nod.
“In that case, the turning of the screw must be more than an act to create pressure – it should be used to drive them to reacting.” Zuko said. “This means those Squads that respond to the attacks should be more effective and efficient when they go out there.”
“I agree.” Cassandra said. “The last time, we were kind of on the back foot because the attack was sprung on us before we had even assigned Sweepers and such.”
“We have the time to do so now.” William said.
“Might I suggest that those who are in charge of assigning teams and Squads do so with balance in mind?” Zuko said as he looked at Donald and William. “Pair a weak Mage Squad with a slightly stronger Knight Squad. Relying on Specialists should be something that competent Squads should do. I witnessed that Squad with Captain Nat I believe her name was handle a bunch of cannon fodder with relative ease, despite looking fatigued at the time. If more Squads like those are used to take the offensive to the Association cannon fodder while weaker teams double up to take out as many of them as possible as well, we could end up forcing the Association’s hand during our next engagement.”
“And what of defending the citizens of the city? We have been fighting with the intention of protecting them as we contain the suicide fighters.” Cassandra asked in a snooty tone.
“Do you mean those same citizens that hurl insults at us while we protect them, and cheer for those who are actively trying to kill us and them?”
“Yes, those citizens.”
“Fuck them.” Zuko said with a shrug as he placed his elbow on the table below and propped his chin up with his open hand. “If they find it so amusing when the Agents protecting them suffer at the hands of their would be killers, I say fuck them. Agents should focus on protecting themselves in battle, and if they do so successfully, that will result in the citizens being saved as well.”
The things Zuko said, and the way he said them really did send chills down the spines of the younger people in the room. He spoke like a person who only cared about the result of protecting the Order, and couldn’t care less about how it was saved. This however actually made William and Donald nod their heads in approval just a bit, before Donald in particular stopped himself from doing so.
“Donald.” The Archmage said as he looked at the Knight Captain-Commander. “It’s about that time, is it not?”
“I believe it is.” Donald said as he stood up. “The Archmage and I will sit with and look at deployments and such. If you think of or discover anything new, call a meeting to tell us all what it is. We are one organisation after all – these bastards target all of us, so we should all respond in kind.”
William, who had stood up after Donald started talking, was already on his way out of the office itself.
“Hey!” Donald boomed as he watched the Archmage duck out of the room, before rushing out after him.
This left the four younger ones seated at the table in awkward silence. Zuko looked at BroBob, who had not made a sound during the entire the meeting.
“Why were you so quiet?” He asked the Bro in ZuBro the eagle.
“What was Brometheus supposed to say, bro?” He asked rather dejectedly.
“For one, you could have defended yourself when you were referred to as trash!” He scolded.
“Why would he defend himself when he knows that’s what he is?” Cassandra snorted.
Zuko glared at her so fiercely, she felt his gaze on her skin once more.
“Looking at me won’t change a thing!” She roared back. “Knights have an external power source implanted in us known as a Power Core. Just like every single Mage, whether Agent or Hood, has to be able to cast basic Spells and store Mana, every single Knight, whether Agent or Technician, has to be able to accept a Core within their body, no matter how small or weak. I did some research on him recently, and discovered that his body rejected every single Power Core that was surgically placed within him – even one that had no energy in it!”
Cassandra let what she had just said sink in for a bit, before continuing with her rant.
“To make things worse, this guy can’t even hold Mana or cast any Spells! So what can he do?! He can’t even perform the basic things required to be called an Agent of any kind! So tell me, Izano Zuko, am I wrong to call him trash? I don’t think I am! The façade of people being able to achieve whatever they want with hard work is bullshit! No matter how hard an ant works, it will always be an ant! Those who become the Elite only do so by combining talent with work ethic and dedication… this person is missing the most important thing of all – talent!”
“Is that all?!” Zuko roared as he smashed his hands into the table.
“Is that all it takes for you to call somebody trash?! You will never amount to anything if you believe that garbage. Such trivial things like Power Cores and Mana Centres… they have absolutely nothing to do with potential, or strength! Power can be obtained by those who are willing to do and sacrifice the most to get it. If it is willing to do what others are not, that ant can become a God, you insufferable woman!” Zuko absolutely roared as he drove his fists through the table. “Refer to Brometheus as trash one more time! Go on!”
“Bubble Bubble!” Curtis said, casting a Spell called Suffocating Blob.
As he cast the Spell, to large bubble like globes of water appeared on both Zuko’s and Cassandra’s heads, immediately ending the heated argument.
“Look you two, I understand that you both have contrasting points of view about this shit, but really now… Izano just got back, it’s the first time that you two are hanging out… let’s all just cool down and take a minute to—”
Curtis suddenly found himself being pulled down my Brometheus Bob before two fists flew directly into the space his head had recently vacated. He looked up to see both Zuko and Cassandra looking down at him from within their respective blobs of water.
“Oh shit!” Curtis said, snapping his fingers to dispel the Spell.
The blobs then burst and water poured over their entire bodies, drenching them both. Curtis just looked at the soaking wet Agents, and cast a Teleport Spell before they could do or say anything to him. The remainder of the day was uneventful as everybody ended up splitting up. BroBob wasn’t really in the mood to speak, Zuko felt he had been aggravated enough and Cassandra was also in a bad mood. The next few days passed without much happening. Brometheus Bob would occasionally check in on Zuko to see how he was doing, while Curtis made sure to keep his distance from both Zuko and Cass. Then during the early evening of the third day, there was a knock on the door to Zuko’s apartment. When he opened the door, Curtis was standing there with a bunch of flowers and chocolates in hand.
“What is this?” Zuko asked.
“I don’t know how to apologise to somebody any other way.” Curtis said with a grin. “Please forgive me, baby.”
Zuko shuddered just a touch at being called ‘baby’ by Curtis, and was just about to close the door when Curt slid his foot in to prevent that from happening.
“Look dude, I really am sorry. Let me make up to you by treating you to something to eat, yeah? Anything you want paid for by me.”
“…from the cafeteria?”
“Nah dude, from the place downstairs that I usually eat from.”
It was as if that was enough for Zuko who had been eating cafeteria food for days in a row. He stepped out of the apartment and nodded at Curtis, appearing to have accepted the terms of the apology.
“Awesome, let’s roll.” Curtis said with a smile. “You know, I might invite some women to come hang with us.”
“You know, I met a guy in the Enclave you would really get along with.” Zuko said with something of a chuckle.
“Yeah? You can tell me all about that shit at dinner. But can you do me a small favour, dude?”
“What?” Zuko asked suspiciously.
“Give Cass a break, yeah? Her attitude is the direct result of growing up in the house she did with the father and siblings that she did. Everybody she grew up with in that house was a fucking monster, so—”
“This is none of my business, Curtis. What is my business is sampling the food from that place of yours.”
Curtis just laughed as they went down stairs to the regular bar. They walked in and made their way over to Curtis’ regular booth. They sat down, and after a pair of menus was set on the table, Curtis excused himself to the bathroom. Zuko could have sworn he heard Curtis mumble some kind of apology, but he was already gone by the time Zuko looked up. He looked back down at the menu for a minute or so, and heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He looked up, expecting to see Curtis returning from the bathroom but saw Cassandra instead, her armour gleaming under the bar lights.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“Curtis is treating me to dinner as an apology for getting me wet, I presume.”
“He said the same thing to me.” Cassandra said as she scoffed.
Just then, her phone went off as she received a text.
“It’s from Curt.” She said out loud, not really knowing why. “That bastard says to get started without him and he’ll join us later.”
“Of course he did.” Zuko said with a sigh and shake of the head. “He probably thinks himself some kind of genius for doing this.”
“I know he does.” Cassandra said with a snort.
“I do not know about you, but I intend to sit here, order food and eat as much as I can, all at Curtis’ expense.” Zuko said without looking up.
It took a moment or two for Cass do respond, but she sat down on the chair with a heavy and metallic thud. She grabbed the menu that was Curtis’ and started going through it.
“Is there anything in particular that is good?” Zuko asked. “I have never eaten in an establishment such as this before.”
“What? You’ve never had bar food?”
“Not Human bar food.” Zuko admitted.
“You fucking hick country bumpkin.” Cassandra said with a shake of the head, prompting Zuko to look up for the first time.
“I have lived and traveled all throughout the homelands of the various races of this Plane. I have seen the Hanging Waterfalls of Kan’Shae, the Capital of the Moon Elves. I have seen the tall, thick walls of Ntsizwa, Capital of the Orcs and witnessed the results of their partnership with the stout, every tinkering; ever battle ready Dwarves of the Deep. I have met Water Nymphs, I have met Flame Spirits, and I have walked through the streets of the floating High Elf Capital… I have traveled through the length and breadth of the Plane you call home, yet you, who have more than likely spent your entire life in this city, dare to call me all of those names?”
Cassandra just looked at Zuko in silence as he said all this, and remained quiet for the longest time. As the waiter came to the table to get their orders, Zuko looked like he was about to ask for his opinion when Cassandra spoke.
“Nick, just bring us two of each of the following…”
As she rattled off a list of dishes, Zuko looked at her and snorted as he looked off to the side. Once the ordering was done and Nick had left them alone, silence returned once more to the table. Things between Zuko and Cassandra were awkward and tense – more awkward than tense though. They sat in complete silence as they waited for their food, and to the spy in the darkness who was sitting with a pair of hi-tech binoculars and a fat companion, it looked like things weren’t going to get better.
“What should I do, Bobby??” Curtis said as he looked at Brometheus Bob. “They aren’t fucking talking!!”
“Just give them time.” BroBob said with a shrug of the shoulders. “Maybe they talk, maybe they don’t. Brometheus only knows that this plan could backfire pretty badly.”
Just as BroBob said that, the first wave of dishes arrived and Curtis felt a portion of his soul die as he instinctively patted his wallet in his Robe’s breast pocket.
Back in the bar, the dishes had been set on tabletop and Nick had left the pair alone once more. Cassandra lifted the visor of her helm and looked as though she was about to start tucking in.
“Are you really going to eat with that on?” Zuko enquired as he loosened the bandages around his head.
“I don’t see why I shouldn’t.” Cassandra said bullishly.
Zuko said nothing further as he looked over the food, trying to decide on what to eat first. As he went for small round things Cassandra had called Sliders, she spoke again.
“What is it?”
“How old are you?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Just asking.” Cassandra said with a shrug.
“Thirty-two Human years, just over three Elven Cycles, same number of Orcish Cycles—”
“Okay, I got it… you’re thirty-two.”
“How about you?” Zuko asked.
“Twenty-nine.” Cassandra said as she started eating as well. “How are you so well-traveled when still so young?”
“My father was forced to live on the road, which meant that I was forced to do the same.”
“What was it like?”
“My father was strict and a harsh task master… but also loving and doting. The time spent traveling with him, meeting his friends and enemies, those he loved and those he hated who in turn ended up loving and hating me… it was all like one grand adventure. Sometimes we slept in inns, sometimes in caves, sometimes under the stars. It was great.”
“That sounds amazing.” Cassandra found herself saying out loud. “All of it.”
“It was. Anyway, my father died and the traveling became purpose driven.” Zuko said with a shrug before taking something else to eat.
“I haven’t experienced any of that.” Cassandra claimed.
“What? The traveling? The adventure?”
“Everything you mentioned.” Cassandra sighed. “I haven’t gone beyond the borders of the city and even then, there are places in here I haven’t been to.”
“I told you that you were more of a hick than I was.” Zuko grunted.
“Fuck you.” Cassandra retorted, and the conversation fell into another lull.
They continued to eat in silence, and the second wave of food arrived. As Nick walked off with the empty plates, Cassandra seemed to hit the reset button and started talking again.
“So do you have any siblings?”
“None.” Zuko replied almost immediately. “You?”
“Yeah, brothers and sisters – all very strong.”
“Are they posted elsewhere within the city?” Zuko asked.
“No, all of them are stationed in the Capital of the Empire, Freeman. So outstanding were their abilities that they were snapped up by the High Lord, and they all serve in his personal guard. The Captain-Commander beams every time they are even mentioned in passing.”
Cassandra sounded just a little bitter, and Zuko decided to pry any further. But then he decided to pry.
“Are you all close?”
“They don’t even call me by name, or refer to me as their sister.”
“That is likely because you never remove your armour.”
“It’s because my Power Core is small. That means my armour doesn’t have nearly as many Enhancers as theirs do. Simply put, I can do what they can do, only not as hard or as much.”
“I assume this is a problem.”
“In my family, it is.” Cassandra said with a shrug.
“Well something my father used to say was that even in the darkest and loneliest of places, light persists. If harnessed properly, that flicker of light can grow until the darkness is completely eradicated. All it takes is a little bit of strength Cassandra, to overcome weakness.”
After Zuko said this, he stood up, seemingly having had his fill.
“That is why Brometheus Bob is anything but trash. That fat man does not give up, no matter what. He tries his best to exist here with the rest of you, despite not being able to do the things you all can do. He fights using his own weapons.”
Zuko then made his way towards the door after saying all that, before speaking one last time.
“Remember… those who are willing to accept and pay the price will always obtain the strength they desire.”
Zuko left the bar and disappeared into the night after that.
Two days later, warning alerts went off around midday, signaling the start of the latest attack on patrolling Agents by the Association cannon fodder as they were being referred to now. Due to the gap between attacks, the Order was able to properly group Squads together for maximum effectiveness. In spite of how poorly mixed Squads of Mages and Knights got along, they were more than able to make up for each other’s shortcomings, and this resulted in them being able to deal with as well as intercept other cannon fodder teams and take care of them with relative ease, despite their almost ridiculous numbers. There was a whole host of flourish and excitement at the beginning of the whole thing, however in just under half an hour, the fourth attack had petered out, and was on the verge of dying completely. From the balcony of his penthouse suite, Erathell watched over the city and knew that things weren’t going well. He pulled out a mobile phone and called somebody who was on speed dial.
“It’s me.” Erathell said simply. “Send in the Necromancers.”
Within a matter of minutes, those Agents that were on the ground celebrating found themselves being blown away by Spells, not knowing where the ones who had cast them came from. Those cannon fodder that ended up becoming Elementals were no longer entering the battlefield as regular Illegal Mages, they were taking their nuggets before attacking so as to avoid capture or being killed off easily. A combined Squad of Mages and Knights was busy trying to figure out what was going on when a person dressed in black Mage Robes that were filthy walked towards them. This person was barefoot, had the hood of the Robes up, and eventually stopped as the Agents all stood up and looked at them.
“Hey, you! Were you the one responsible for attacking us with a Spell just now?” A big, tall Knight asked.
He got no reply from the one in black, and this only served to annoy him.
“Hey! I asked you a fucking question!” He boomed as the rest of the Joint Squad flanked him.
The one in the filthy Robes suddenly thrust his arms out to his sides at shoulder height and smiled as he did. His hands which had obscenely long and black fingernails and were caked in so much dry blood, suddenly started twisting and contorting. As they did this, the man before them started chanting, reciting a Spell in a language nobody had heard before. They then watched as the remains of the dead cannon fodder began to split at the joints and come apart, before floating into the air and beginning to spin around, creating a vortex of blood and limbs.
“What are you waiting for?!” A different Knight screamed. “Why are you fucking Mages just standing there? Do something!!”
That Knight was right to panic, as the spinning bloody limbs converged to a single point, coming together in a bloody collision. As blood splatted on the ground and created something of a blood cloud, the sound of something big and heavy hitting the ground suddenly held the attention of the Agents who felt the need to fondle their respective weapons. The sound of a second heavy thing hitting the ground was heard, and then out from the cloud emerged something so jarring and shocking that the Agents were stunned to silence. Standing at well over fifteen feet, bones with still wet flesh hanging of them and a collection of heads to make up its head, a giant zombie type thing stood tall. It was just made up of whatever body parts were on hand which meant that even though its leg was in the shape of a leg, it wasn’t necessarily made exclusively of legs. Arms, legs, torsos, and whatever else could be found were clearly visible within the leg, and as copious amounts of blood poured out from all over the creature’s body, it let out a blood curdling scream. The Agents were forced to snap out of their daze and run as they suddenly heard the voice of the Necromancer.
“Attack, my Golem. Attack the Humans, kill them and then consume them to become stronger!”
The Golem then did just that, obeying the words of its summoner as it attacked the group of Agents as it dispersed. As it raised its foot as if it planned on stomping on the Agents, one of the Mages suddenly bellowed out an instruction.
“I don’t know what this thing is, but don’t worry! Just going by its size, it has to be slow! Just keep your eyes open, focus, and we should be able to take this thing do—”
Before the Mage could finish saying what she was trying to, that raised foot suddenly came down with incredible speed and force, landing on her directly with a sickeningly loud splat. After this happened, a kind of crunching and munching sound could be heard coming from the sole of the Golem’s foot, and afterwards, a bunch of fireballs shot out from the creature’s shin and flew towards the Joint Squad. They managed to block or evade the vast majority of the balls, but one Knight was unable to do so, getting hit flush by the fireball. As he flew back, things became dark as the massive hand of the Golem blotted out the sun and then squished the Knight like some kind of bug, complete with blood spatter and a crunching noise. The chewing sound could be heard again, and after it was done, the hand that was consumed the Knight changed shape into a massive sword, and as one of the Knights got on the radio to explain what was going on, the Golem continued its assault.
Back at the Order, the operators of sorts were swamped with fielding calls and cries of distress. The calls were coming in thick and fast, and they unable to keep up with them all. William and Donald stood on their joint balcony sharing a pipe when they saw multiple hulking behemoths known as Golems sprout all over the city like beanstalks. On another balcony, Erathell stood up and walked right to the edge of the balcony, laughing rather happily as he did.
“Ah, this is great!” He exclaimed while clapping. “This is RICH! Filth is killing scum. Scum is being consumed by filth, in order to help that filth kill more scum! It’s the fucking circle of life! Isn't it grand, Momoh?”
Erathell looked behind him as Momoh emerged from within the apartment. He stood next to his boss and looked at what was happening, before shaking his head.
“That’s fucking disgusting, Boss.”
“You just don’t appreciate life.” Erathell said as he snorted. “By the way, don’t even think of going down there and searching for that mystery Agent who you keep getting into fights with! Your punishment for being an idiot is being grounded, after all.”
“Yeah, yeah, understood Boss.”
While Momoh watched on from way up high, down on the ground, the stronger Squads – the ones that didn’t have to team up – were busy driving around like crazy, trying to get to the Golem’s before they consumed too many Agents and powered up to ridiculous levels. Team gNat was one such team, and they had reached a Golem that was not all that big or powerful yet. They used their incredible cohesion and teamwork to fight against the creature while collecting information with the intention of relaying it to the other Squads to at least try and help them survive long enough for help to arrive.
“Shit, these things are way too quick for their size!” Joe complained as he zipped around.
“Yeah, well size and speed aside, are y’all seeing how many heads that fucking head has? It’s like fucking head-ception up there!” Omar replied as he fired multiple cryo-bullets to try and slow the Golem down
Jon and Nat focused on trying to find weaknesses on the creature, flying about, cutting, sliding and shield bashing their way up and down the regenerating body until one of Omar’s bullets ripped through the Golem’s chest, revealing a nucleus much like Zuko and Curtis had found when fighting the Elemental. This one however was patched together and appeared to be made up by the souls of those who were a part of the creature.
“Omar, again!” Nat screamed as she, Jon and Joe all cleared out of the way and gave Omar a clear shot.
He took the shot, firing more cryo rounds into the chest cavity and causing it to not only freeze up, but for the Golem’s entire body to freeze up as well. There was a moment in which the Squad cheered and fist-pumped the air but that moment was short lived as more Golems broke through buildings and appeared from roads and alleys to confront the group of Knights.
“No rest for the wicked.” Nat sighed before speaking into her Emblem. “This is First Level Blue Emblem Knight, Captain Nathalie Roscoe – I have some news on these fucking things that might help the rest of us out there, so listen up…”
As Nat gave a quick report, the black SUV belonging to BroBob tore through the streets of Glory City. Panic and fear meant that the usually busy roads were completely empty, and where body parts once were, only blood remained. Brometheus Bob was driving unbelievably quickly, and Zuko looked at him with something of an impressed expression.
“I had no idea you could drive like this, Brometheus.” He said with a nod.
“Brometheus may not be able to do much, but he is capable of driving at least.”
“Would you stop saying things like that?” Zuko snapped. “What is the point of me almost getting into potentially dangerous fights to defend your honour if you have such a defeatist attitude?”
“Brometheus is sorry, Izano.” BroBob said as he threw the car into a corner. “It’s just that what Cassandra said the other night… Brometheus didn’t want you finding out about all that shit.”
“Really? Why not?”
“Because BroBob didn’t want you to think less of him – especially after you spoke so highly of him in the recent past.”
“Do you seriously think that something as insignificant as the inability to use a Power Core or store Mana has anything to do with why you are strong or weak?” Zuko asked while shaking his head. “Listen to me, Brometheus… strength has nothing to do with any of those. As weak, frail and as fat as you are, you are still strong and after we are through with this, I will tell and show you why. For now, you just need to forget what Cassandra said and focus on driving us through here in one piece.”
BroBob kept his eyes on the road, but nodded with steely determination as the SUV blasted down the road. The report from Captain Nat was relayed via the car sound system, and once she was done talking, BroBob used his phone as a receiver to respond.
“This is Brometheus Bob of the ZuBro Division. BroBob just wanted to thank you for that Captain – it will be of great help.”
There was silence on the channel for a few moments, before Nat spoke again.
“Brometheus Bob? ZuBro? What?”
“Get off the channel if you aren’t going to say anything useful!” The familiar sounding voice of Cassandra boomed.
“Ugh…” Zuko and BroBob said in unison as they rolled their eyes.
“Appreciate the information though, Captain.” She said as she thanked Nat.
“BroBob, I think we should split up.” Zuko said as he looked out the window.
“Because there are a bunch of those creatures ahead, and I will be able to take care of them better on my own. I suggest you drive around and look for any living Agents. If we pull the live ones off the street, it means they cannot be eaten and provide the Golem things with a power boost.”
“Good point.” BroBob admitted as he brought the car to a screeching halt. He then looked at Zuko who simply nodded after undoing his seatbelt and hopping out of the car. Moments later, he drew out Mana as his eyes glowed, and a large twister appeared at his feet, propelling him up into the air before he shot out the gusts of wind from his hands to propel him forward.
“Well fuck, that’s new.” BroBob admitted with a shake of the head. “Man, that dude just has all the power.”
As Zuko flew towards the gaggle of Golems that were thumping and crashing their way through the streets, he cocked his arms by his wait, flew up high before stopping in midair and fired off the same projectiles at the Golems as he did at Momoh almost a week ago. The projectiles all seemed to bounce off of their backs and do little other than annoy them. Without even wasting any time, Zuko reached inside his Robes and pulled out a small booklet. He tossed it into the air and as it opened, the pages started ripping themselves out one by one.
“Moya’Rha.” Zuko said in a somewhat subdued voice.
As he said this name, Mana manifested itself as wind all around his body – more so than it had before. It also had a colour this time, with the gusts now visible to the naked eye due to the red hue they had to them. The pages formed into a massive two-handed great sword above, although the sword looked more like papier-mâché than a real sword. This mattered not, as Zuko started swishing his hands around as if he was speaking some form of sign language and as soon as he did this, the sword burst forward and began slicing through the Golems – going through their chests from behind. As the chests housed the nucleus, one the giant sword went through them, the Golem’s froze, quickly turned to stone and then crumbled to the ground in giant chunks. Zuko continued using the sign language to control the sword while in the air, and he was actually doing rather well.
The same couldn’t be said for many other Squads as they struggled immensely with fighting off the Golems, which meant they consumed more Agents, which only served to make them stronger and harder to beat. Low level Agents were ripe for the taking, and as seemingly never ending stream of Golems continued to swarm the struggling Agents, they suddenly heard a Spell being chanted.
“Shield of the Armoured Six Shelled Tortoise.”
The tortoise shells materialised around the Golems, boxing them in before the Archmage appeared in front of the distraught Agents, flanked on all sides by those Mages that belonged to his personal Squad. He then pointed his staff in the direction of the Golems and without speaking a single word, they all found themselves freezing from their bloody feet up. Once they were completely frozen, William just tapped the bottom of his staff on the floor, which made the frozen Golems fall over and shatter on the ground.
“Hmph.” The Archmage snorted.
Another gaggle of Golems came running in at speed, trying to take the Archmage out as quickly as possible. William didn’t even attempt to move, and neither did his Squad as there was a flash of light, which was immediately followed by a MASSIVE, ground shaking and breaking explosion that came close to wiping out the very Agents that the group had come to save. As the light from the explosion died down, standing next to the massive ditch in which the Golems were previously running towards the Archmage was the Knight Captain-Commander, who was resting a massive axe on his shoulder. The road as well as buildings around five blocks down had been split in half by Donald’s strike and he looked at the terrified Agents.
“Are you lot okay?” He asked before looking towards William. “These Gods-damned Golems… look at how they scared our people.”
“No, that was all you, Captain-Commander.” William retorted dryly.
“We cannot allow our people to be frightened and decimated any further.”
“Haha! Well said, Greybeard!” A rather jovial sounding fellow.
Both men said as they looked up to the top of a building to see a long haired, bearded, middle aged looking man who was currently dressed in civilian clothes with what looked like a rucksack slung over his shoulder.
“Long time no see, gentlemen. Well, not that long… although it seems that in my absence, things have gotten out of hand!”
“City Lord.” The Archmage said with a scowl.
“Gin…” Donald said with a growl.
“Oh my? It doesn’t seem as if you two are all that happy to see me… well, we can discuss that later once we take care of these undead monstrosities, yes?”
The City Lord, who looked as though he had just come from a hiking expedition in the mountains, jumped up into the air and floated as he looked around.
“Oh, so you’ve got everybody else out as well? Captains and Leaders?”
“Yes, sir.” Donald said.
As he said that, City Lord Gin seemed to find what he was looking for. He then disappeared, moving with such speed that the glass which was still in one piece all simultaneously shattered. He quickly arrived at his destination and confronted a few Golems that were still in transit to another place. He pointed his left hand and pointed his forefinger towards the group.
There was a flash in sky as bolts of lightning that were about as powerful as lightning could get shot out from his finger and incinerated the Golems before they even knew what was going on. He then looked around again, whilst in midair, and found his next target, rushing to the next group. When he reached them, he didn’t even stop as he simply punched the air in front of the Golems, causing them all to disintegrate as the force of the punch seemed to shake the ground to its very core.
As the City Lord and the high ranking Agents from the Order began to quickly turn the tide on the battle, Erathell was on the phone again, watching it all.
“It seems like that man is back from his travels. Have the Necromancers perform their final trick and pull out.
In a matter of minutes, the remaining Golems suddenly started running from the various battles they were engaged in, and the ones that actually managed to get away found one another. As they did, they began running into each other hard and instead of bouncing off, they actually stuck together. The sound of crunching and chewing could be heard again, but this time they were consuming each other. This process was surprisingly quick, and the result was even bigger, faster and stronger two-headed Super Golems. The Necromancers, who had been hiding since summoning the Golems, then disappeared completely as they fled from the active battlefields. While it didn’t matter to those Captains and Leaders like Sweet Peen and the like, the creation of these Super Golems created a problem even for Squads like Nat’s, and they ended up relying quite a bit on top level Captain reinforcements.
Meanwhile, Zuko was standing atop a building, looking for Golems to take out. His sword was covered in blood, but also appeared to be somewhat worse for wear as pages seemed to be hanging off and such.
“As usual, Moya’Rha is a greedy bastard.” Zuko said as he took a deep breath and looked around. “My body cannot quite handle the Mana transfer that he needs as easily as it does Gul’Rhaka’s.”
Zuko summoned the large twister he used for flight once again, and decided to go and look for more Golems. He didn’t have to search particularly long or hard, as he quickly came across a gaggle of at least seven Super Golems.
“What in the Hells?” He asked nobody in particular.
One of the Super Golems smashed the wall of a nearby building and roared. He then heard what sounded like pulsing thrusters, and sure enough, a lone Knight flew past that Super Golem and attempted to break out from the gaggle, however they were decidedly quicker than regular Golems. Zuko quickly zipped down towards the action, using the sign language and sending the giant sword ahead of him to assist the Knight who was now dodging and evading Super Golem attacks for all they were worth. The sliced through the arm and leg of the Super Golem closest to the Knight, and as Zuko got to closer to said Knight; he recognised the flashy gold armour.
“Cassandra?” He called out as hovered above the ground.
“Izano Zuko?!” She bellowed in a tired voice. “What are you—”
She couldn’t finish her question as she was forced to take evasive action, yet again. Her thrusters pulsed hard as she zipped about, dodging sword arms, Spell spewing limbs and other techniques that Knights and Mages used to fight. Zuko’s sword provided assistance, which allowed her to actually create some momentary separation between the Super Golems and her, before she slid next to Zuko, who by now had landed on the ground. She was breathing heavily, and her armour had quite a bit of blood on it.
“Why are you here?” She asked as she looked at Zuko briefly.
“Helping you, I guess.” Zuko said as he glanced at Cassandra. “Are you okay? Where are those two subordinates of yours?”
“When the report about these creatures’ weakness was circulated, we all split up and I ordered them to each go and provide assistance to other Squads.” She replied, taking a deep breath after speaking.
“How long have you been fighting these Golems? Were you unable to pierce their chests?”
“Look at my swords.” Cassandra said as she held them up. “This fresh blood belongs to those things… but no matter how much I stabbed their chests, they didn’t fucking die. My Power Core is about to Overload and fuck me up.”
“If that Overload thing happens, then what?”
“I seize up, my armour stops responding and I probably die.” She said simply.
“Then we have no choice but to take these creatures out simultaneously.” Zuko said as it appeared that the Super Golems were on the verge of attacking. “I need you to draw and hold their attention for a while, and I will—”
“Who do you think you are, giving orders to me?”
“Really?” Zuko asked incredulously. “Are you seriously going to start this shit right now?”
Cassandra held her swords up and let out a roar as her thrusters activated with a loud boom. She flew towards the rapidly advancing gaggle and flew right into them with her swords at the ready.
“Angst of the Duelist.” Cassandra said as she unleashed her attack.
She slid directly into the middle of the gaggle and leapt up into the air. She then unleashed a three stab combination into the stomach of one Super Golem. As another one attacked her, the thrusters on her back propelled her further into the air before she twisted her body and gracefully evaded the attack before returning fire and slicing the arm clean off with both swords. Using the momentum she generated by twisting her body, Cassandra started spinning and extended her swords, becoming a spinning top of death. Despite being visibly exhausted and near her limit, Cassandra was still technique and elegance personified – despite her combative and slightly abrasive manners at times.
Zuko, who was standing and watching from the outside, seemed to be thinking seriously about something.
“I do not have the luxury of time here.” He told himself, as if trying to convince himself of something. “We cannot hold out and wait for help that may not arrive. Gul’Rhaka and Moya’Rha do not have the destructive power we need to take these guys out with the amount of Mana I can draw out. Fuck!”
Zuko boomed as he let out a roar, causing the wind coursing around his body to die down, and the sword to return to the book that had been floating above his head. As the book returned to his hand, he slid it into his Robes and let out another roar.
As Zuko said the name almost reluctantly, his eyes glowed with a mixture of white and black light. This lasted for a second as the Mana Zuko had within his body forced its way out, however it was no longer in the form of raw Mana. Flames burst out from and engulfed his entire body, burning the Robes he was wearing and turning them to ash the instant they made contact with each other. Even the bandages that were wrapped around his body started to burn, and as the Cloak of Gul’Rhaka was set alight as well, it actually changed shape – looking like a pair of smoldering flame wings. Zuko stood with his mouth wide open and the pure white flames poured out from his mouth, nostrils and eye sockets. These flames melted absolutely everything that was in close proximity to Zuko, including tarmac, street signs and walls. After ten seconds or so of this, black flames now started to spread all over Zuko’s body, settling and creating the same intricate patterns of the burn scars on his body, and for the first time since he arrived in Glory City, the entire pattern on Izano Zuko’s was visible to anybody who had eyes, not just his shower. As flames continued to pulse out from every orifice on his face, Zuko looked towards the Super Golems. The flame wings flapped once and quicker than the blink of an eye, he was hovering above the gaggle. At this time, Cassandra was teetering on the precipice of Overload and death. Her chest felt as though it was about to explode, and her vision alternated between darkness and haze. She was also disorientated, but one thing she knew was that if she was going to go out, she was going to do so swinging. Her swords continued to swing, even she wasn’t hitting anything. She then felt something smash her so hard she became airborne, before being smashed into the ground. She bounced on her back, before landing painfully with a dull thud, facing the sky. As her eyes closed and darkness became the predominant feature of her sight, she couldn’t help but see a bright, flickering light that refused to go away.
Zuko watched Cassandra fall and began his descent into the middle of the gaggle. He didn’t touch anything or anybody; however each and every single one of the Super Golems burst into scorching hot masses of burning undead flesh as Zuko wafted past them. He landed next to Cassandra, who was practically unconscious, bent over and picked her up, her body pressed against his flaming chest. He then started walking forwards as the Super Golems all fell one by one to the ground, writhing and squirming before falling still. Moments later Zuko walked out from the flames and after walking far enough from them, he gently set the now flaming Cassandra down. She was momentarily being protected by her armour so Zuko, who had deactivated his own flames while walking with her in his arms, pulled his no longer flaming cloak off and gently draped it over her like a blanket of sorts. This in itself actually doused the flames on her armour; however it exposed Zuko’s body and the extent of the damage that those flames had caused in less than a minute. His skin was burnt far beyond what a person’s skin should be, and the markings and patterns causing by the flames were pulsing and glowing bright red. The black substance was pouring out from his body and rapidly covering the tar underfoot. Zuko, who looked to be in about as much pain as possible, opened his hand and exposed the small pouch in which he kept his books and such. He pulled out a roll of bandages that he just dropped into the pooling substance, and they immediately began to suck up and absorb as much as they could, before snaking out and wrapping themselves around his body. As that happened and the bandages made their way up his body, it took all he had for Zuko not to cry out in immense pain. Once his entire body was more or less covered, the bandages very quickly turned pitch black, and appeared to be wet.
‘Oh my fucking fuck!’ Zuko thought to himself as he looked and felt as though he was going to collapse and die. ‘I need to get out of here, but… Mana.’
Zuko looked around, trying to figure out what to do. He suddenly felt people approaching, and looked at his cloak on the unconscious Cassandra. Feeling confident that he would eventually get the cloak back, Zuko drew out Mana, and with an almighty yell, created Moya’Rha-esque twisters that propelled him into the air painfully. He grunted as he flew through the air, and looked around for the Order Tower. When he saw the direction it was in, he landed painfully on a roof before leaping again. This time the pain was too much for Zuko, and despite his best efforts to ignore it, Zuko found himself losing consciousness in midair.
City Lord Gin, who was sure he had felt the Mana of something he hoped to have never experienced again, saw the flying and unconscious Izano Zuko hurtling through the air and about to begin his descent to the ground.
“ZUKO?!” He called as he instantly used Teleport to appear in front of the bandaged man.
He appeared just in time to catch Zuko, and when he did, he felt just how hot and wet Zuko was. The smell of severely burnt flesh filled his nostrils, and the City Lord looked absolutely distraught.
“Zuko! Zuko?! Fuck!” He cried out. “Fiam’Rhaka, you sack of shit!”
Gin then closed his eyes as he used a Spell for Telepathic Communication.
“William, Donald, this is Gin. I am heading back to HQ – you two see to taking care of the rest of the Golems and everything else. I want you two to personally see to it.”
Gin didn’t even wait for confirmation as he Teleported back to the Order. It wasn’t until late that night that things calmed down. The crime scenes were set up, the number dead Agents was recorded, and those who were injured flocked to the infirmary. As the Healing Mages took care of those in the infirmary, in Zuko’s apartment, City Lord Gin was doing his best to tend to the Zuko.
“He’s losing so much blood.” He remarked to himself as he used Spells to tend to the burns and such.
Treatment ended up lasting most of the night and when morning came; the City Lord placed a seal on the door and went out to meet with the joint heads of the Order. He had actually cleaned up and showered before dozing off on the couch, and while he wasn’t dressed in his official attire, he no longer looked as scruffy as he did when he arrived. He received a quick briefing on the current situation and Zuko’s exploits, and then revealed that Zuko was severely injured, although he had no idea what happened. Curtis, who was sitting beside the unconscious Cassandra’s bedside, was alerted of Zuko’s physical condition by his father, who then alerted BroBob who was standing outside Zuko’s door, but was confused as to why nobody was answering and he couldn’t even open the door. When Curtis informed BroBob, Cassandra suddenly sat up and looked at Curtis while looking rather frustrated.
A little later on, the City Lord and Archmage were walking down the hall to Zuko’s apartment when Curtis, BroBob and a woman with long hair and casual clothing were standing outside the door. When they saw the pair of older men, they all bowed at the sight of the City Lord.
“What are you all doing here?” Gin asked as he looked at them.
“We heard about Izano, City Lord! We’ve come to see him, but…”
“The door is sealed.” Gin said with a nod. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to go see him right now.”
“Please!” BroBob requested. “Just to see that he’s alive and still in one piece, that’s all Brometheus needs, oh great and powerful City Lord!”
BroBob had never addressed Gin before, so he had no idea how he liked to be spoken to. This actually made the City Lord chuckle a bit, before looking at and recognising the young woman.
“Cassandra?!” He boomed. “Oh my! Where is your armour?!”
“My Power Core hasn’t recovered enough for me to be able to use it properly, City Lord.” She said.
Cassandra’s long auburn hair was covering most of her face, but could not hide her green eyes. Her skin was rather pale, but Curtis was ready to tell anybody who asked why she was so pale that the cause was her insistence on wearing her armour almost all the time. She was also holding Zuko’s folded cloak in both her hands. The City Lord shrugged and undid the seal on the door, before unlocking it and opening it. Immediately, everybody was hit with the smell of burnt flesh and this caused the younger ones to cover their noses. Gin and William both walked into the apartment, and Gin led everybody to the bedroom, where the unconscious and bandaged Zuko lay. He was in the middle of the bed, sleeping perfectly straight like a log of sorts.
“Holy shit…” Curtis remarked.
“That smell…” BroBob said as he fought off the urge to retch. “What happened? Why is Izano so fuckin’ burnt??”
“Did this happen when we were fighting those Super Golems?” Cassandra asked in complete shock.
Before Gin was forced to answer questions he didn’t even begin to want to answer, Zuko suddenly stirred and his eyes slowly opened. They looked around the bedroom as he was wondering to himself how he got there. As he glanced towards the people within the bedroom, and upon seeing the City Lord, he immediately understood the gist of the situation. Seeing the concerned looks on BroBob’s and Curtis’ faces was somewhat amusing, and then he saw an unknown woman – assuming that Curtis had found himself a bimbo. When he saw that she was holding the Cloak of Gul’Rhaka, his eyes slowly and painfully widened as it dawned on him who she was.
“Cassandra? Is that Cassandra?” He asked, using his Telepathic communication once more.
“That’s the first thing you say?” Gin said as he looked miffed. “Seriously dude?”
“You placed me in the middle of the bed like a mummy again.” Zuko said as he looked at Gin. “I told you to stop doing that when I was a kid, yet you do not listen.”
“What kind of greeting is that, Izano Zuko? We haven’t seen each other in well over a decade!” Gin protested.
“Hmph.” Zuko said as he looked towards Curtis and BroBob. “Glad to see you two made it out in one piece.”
“Is that really something to be saying when you look like you were burned worse than you were when you first arrived?” William said with a snort.
“Ah, Old Man... I did not mention it before, but that Association member who is related to—”
“No, that is not happening.” Gin said with a shake of the head. “You legitimately just woke up, have practically greeted everybody but me and now want to talk Order business? Hells no. Listen, everybody leave. Zuko and I have to catch up, and I refuse to go to the official report before I’ve gotten the chance to scold him for being so reckless.”
“I am a grown man, you know.”
Gin just glared at Zuko, who sighed painfully.
“Sorry guys, you heard Uncle. You have to go. We will catch up later.” Zuko said as he looked at them all.
As the Agents all began to begrudgingly leave, Cassandra placed the cloak on the bed next to Zuko, looking as though she had something to say.
“Cassandra.” Zuko said as he looked her in the eyes. “In darkness…”
Cassandra looked at Zuko for a second, before realising what it was he was talking about. She clenched her fists and nodded ever so slightly.
She then turned around and left the room and then the apartment with everybody else. Before the front door had even been closed, Gin was on the floor, prostrating himself before the bed. His hands were on either side of his head, and his forehead was pressed firmly on the floor as tears flowed profusely from his eyes.
“Please forgive the delay…” Gin said as he sniffed. “…but this one humbly and respectfully greets the Conqueror.” Gin stammered between sobs.
Zuko remained silent and just closed his eyes as he faced the ceiling, prompting Gin to repeat himself.
“This one greets the Conqueror.”