Zilos Chronicles Volume two prototype: Incursion of the Maelstrom of Wills

The world of Marvados is a planet with a legacy of conflict. Even after humans united to defeat the dragons and their vicious leader Xorgoth, with the dragons gone humans soon turned their hate to each other.

The cycle of hate continued over the years. Even when the discovery of the Kaisonite energy that came from the Karacos Meteor allowed humans to harness levels of energy previously thought to be impossible to reach and let them create weapons powerful enough to devastate the planet, forcing the nations of the world in to a uneasy peace agreement, human beings still are consumed with hostile feelings for one another.

The current three great nations of Marvados that control most of the power of the world, the Aurino Republic, the Rakthia Empire, and the Jiodisa Union, constantly try to undermine their rivals in a bid for supremacy. Many are swept underneath the waves of those ambitions. This adventure is about those who try and rebel against the nature of man, no matter how unrealistic it may be to some to try.

The third prince of the Aurino Kingdom, Richard Zilos, after witnessing the Magna Centurions, the elite group of warriors he has worshipped and revered his whole life act in his eyes in corrupt ways in the name of securing profit, turns his back on the organization and his kingdom and nearly pays for it with his life.

In the chaos that makes the world think he perished, he ends up awakening an ancient beast, Greymont, possibly the last dragon, and forms an unlikely partnership as they flee to corrupt and crime-ridden city of Los Midas and seek refuge with his childhood friend and "playboy", Voltaire Joachim.

When he suspects that his father the king is being manipulated by the designs of a lobbyist named Alec Steel with shady motivations, he enlists the help of various misfits and petty criminals around Los Midas such as former gang leader Dan Nicholson and experiment/mental patient Claire Da Lune, as well as the political know-how and savvy of his Uncle and advisor to the king, Nathan Zilos, and forms a vigilante force known as the Crimson Ravens designed to root out corruption and evil wherever it resides in society.

Under the alter ego "Requiem", Richard's group successfully shuts down a corrupt mental ward, foils gang activities in Los Midas, and even take the "fight" overseas when a gang of shadowy assassins and warriors named the Ibis Corps begins to set its sights on strange objects known as Dragon Helix Emeralds, as well as in disrupting the world politics to drive the nations to war.

In the course of many battles and near-death experiences, Richard discovers that Steel is the leader of the organization, a powerful wizard named Ares, who, offend by the appearance of the Crimson Ravens, uses a powerful member of his former order named Bolton Steiner, who nearly killed Richard at the start of these events, to orchestrate a terrorist attack on Los Midas, blame the Ravens for the fact, and use it as an excuse to "flex his power" by laying most of the city waste with a powerful new aerial fortress.

Requiem and his group manage to foil the plan and save the city, and Richard avenges himself when Greymont reveals some of his true power to obliterate Steiner. With the Crimson Ravens now having revealed their power to the world, the story ends with numerous factions pondering what will happen from here, and Richard, his thirst for vengeance fulfilled, to concentrate on keeping the momentum his order has gained.

Chapter One: Ripples of Justice

As much as we would like to believe otherwise there are times when in the eyes of the public a hero can be more loathed then a villain. After all, to many a villain is just like a horrible storm, an event that while painful fades soon enough.

However to some a hero is even more of a source of loathing, a reminder of what they themselves lack, a existence that is trying to make them change, an action that is more unforgivable to them then the act of villains.

That's because as much as we try to deny it, much of humanity is composed of those who loath anyone that makes them feel inferior, and see anyone that tries to tell them to do something they don't want to do as a obstacle to be removed.

-Exert from the memoirs of King Charlemagne Auro, made in the tenth anniversary of the Aurino Republic

The City of Los Midas was usually full of various kinds of daily excitement. This kind of excitement was usually mass-produced, overly tacky, resold for more than it was worth, and eventually was treated as a loud and gaudy irritant by the local populace and reserved solely for tourists.

Nevertheless, local festivals, like the traditional Jiodisa Heritage Festival conceived by Jiodisan immigrants and, more importantly, those who had years earlier suddenly found themselves inadvertent Aurino citizens overnight by the stroke of a pen, remained one of the sole sources of connection to their native culture persisting in this strange and electric foreign land.

Even the celebration was a luxury for many of the natives in modern times. The blocks hung with ribbons and electric lights depicting only the most stereotypical and globally recognized aspects of Jiodisan culture, the vendors selling food made from imported goods and accurate right down to their traditional caps and aprons, and the street performers using the traditional man-sized kites and puppets offered quite the elegant and authentic viewpoint of Jiodisan society and, as such, charged the same price one would expect to have one imported overseas themselves.

Even a man living from alley to alley and in and out of liquor bottles would, for one time a year, laugh and dance in the streets to the tune of sparkling lights, dancing beasts, and loud drums. Such was the anticipation and fervor the residents had for this time of year.

However, as exciting as the festival has been, for many this year's festival would be the most intense yet.

The cries coming from the crowd this year were not of jubilation or revelry but rather fear and panic as they turned and ran. People nearly jumped out of the streets as the parades were supplanted by a team of hover cars racing erratically down the main thoroughfare, banking a sharp right to get to the port road that ran alongside the city piers.

Towering over them and among them, casting a shadow over them and the crowds about it, was what seemed to be a large wooden boat with a stylized thin dragon statue imprinted on the front in gleaming pyrite. Naturally, it wasn't a true boat, if for no other reason than no boat could sail on a bare road. Yet the zero-gravity repulsors on the back allowed the ship, so carefully crafted to resemble a wooden relic of ages past, to effortlessly sail a single foot above the ground at a swifter cruising rate than its wind-powered forebears.

And it continued to move among the rest of the hover-cars, heedless of the crowd about them. At one point, a taller man standing head and shoulders above most of the crowd stumbled and fell behind from the fleeing masses. At once, the hovering ship changed its course, aiming the prow right for him faster than he could recover. By the moment he rose, all those around heard a crunching noise not of wood or stone but of flesh and bone. The screams redoubled.

The boat did not pause in the slightest after causing the bone crushing injury, but the screams were soon drowned out by the sounds of police sirens rapidly gathering in volume. It wasn't long before the space behind them began to fill with the familiar lights and claxions of the Los Midas Police Force in pursuit. Yet unlike their quarry, they had a care for the fleeing crowds and were unable to get any nearer as people continued to spill both behind the perpetrators as well as in front.

The right window of one of the speeding hovercrafts opened. A moment later, a man with a green bandana pulled himself out, but what truly caught the attention of the crowds a moment later was when he pulled out a DZ plasma bobby machine gun.

To the horror of the crowd seconds later, he unleashed a wild yell before firing a burst of green energy into the masses. Whatever of the celebrants who suspected this might be some odd form of staged show or unusual festivities until now had all doubts removed. All but the most intoxicated partiers now joined into the panic.

With all the crowds desperate to hide or flee, it seemed even more inconceivable a moment later when a pair of individuals, a red-headed mustached male in the lead, fought viciously against the crowd to go toward the danger; venting all the furious determination of a salmon in spawning season. As he fought hard, he forced one hand into his pocket and emerged with a small palm-held microphone. The one behind him struggled not to be clothes-lined by a couple going the opposite way as, with tremendous effort, he threw out a pair of ball-sized camera orbs in the first's direction.

He had scarcely managed to reach the perimeter of the fleeing crowd as the orbs positioned themselves in the air around him. He nearly went to the ground a moment later when an explosion went off nearby with enough heat and force to almost singe his eyebrows, but he forced himself to rise, adjust his necktie, and plaster on the calmest smile he could muster before looking forward.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Eddie Costello from the NES network giving you breaking news from the Los Midas Jiodisa Heritage Festival!" He shouted as loud as he could into the microphone. "We're interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to bring you the latest news on the shocking situation that has erupted here! As wild as previous Heritage Festivals have been, this one will go down in the history books!

"An escapee from Rycroft Asylum, the serial killer Lucero Gausau, has been confirmed to be the man leading what the police are calling a 'hostage situation'! Gausau was serving a life sentence for thirty seven confirmed grisly murders before the vigilante Requiem attacked Rycroft and triggered the mass breakout, and has been missing ever since! Yet police have now identified and confirmed that he and several other armed men with him are indeed responsible for tonight's chaos! They have taken several hostages and are currently trying to escape the city and, from this viewpoint, it seems as if they're not waiting for the crowds to clear as they try to force their way out!

"Now while details are not clear, it's been relayed to us that the hostages are likely several higher-income patrons of tonight's festival and were targeted for their bank codes, which would give Lucero access to a sizeable fortune if he managed to use them! Lucero is demanding the cops back off while he escapes and that he will kill any hostage that they identify!

We can see from here that law enforcement is right on his tail, but it looks as if they're staying as close as they can to civilians to prevent any officers for opening fire! It seems as if there is also a large amount of fog rolling in through the bay and combined with the local pyrotechnics it won't be long before this area is obscured, increasing the risk to local civilians and Lucero's chances of escape! However, this report has guarantees that-WHOA!"

Eddie's broadcast was cut off by a scream of his own making as his camera man abruptly dove forward and tackled the reporter to the ground. A good thing too, for moments later a plasma bolt from one of the assaulting vehicles narrowly missed tagging him in the back; instead striking an abandoned wrap stand and vaporizing the entire structure in an instant.

The gunslinger cut off after one last burst and looked behind him. The police vehicles had not only not broken off in spite of the threat, but now that the crowds were thinning a little they were actually closing ground. The thug ground his teeth.

"Damn coppers just don't get the message, eh?!" He yelled wildly. He yanked on the discharge lever to pop in a fresh plasma coil from the core to the chamber. "How many heads we gonna have to roll to get you to take us seriously, eh?!" Raising the weapon up to his sights, he swiveled it out to the seaside edge of the road, where some people were desperate enough to actually jump into the water to try and avoid his mad rampage. This time he actually took aim. He wanted to make sure he got enough bystanders to make the police fear following them any longer…

For a split second, he saw something odd among the fleeing individuals. One part of the water was bubbling, but no one had actually leapt in. His sight actually lowered as he wondered what that was, but got his answer an instant later when the water erupted and a man clad in a black bodysuit with a raven-like decorated mask burst forth like steam from a geyser.

The gunslinger recoiled in shock, watching as the man continued to shoot into the air, above the pier, above the crowd, and sailing in an arc right over him and his fleeing vehicle. He caught just enough to notice that one of the arms of the figure shimmered with a metallic luster, and, through what he thought was a trick of the dim lighting, looked like a piston rather than an appendage. He was so stunned by both the appearance as well as the agility that by the time the figure had sailed over his head, come down, and landed right on top of the vehicle.

Only then did he snap out of it to begin to fire a burst at point-blank range, for all the good it did him. All the figure had to do was rapidly shift to one side to let the man's burst tear up nothing but masonry on the opposite side of the street.

A snicker went out from under the mask. "My turn, punk! Turbo Knuckle!" A hand went up and quickly made a hand sign. In response, the gunslinger spotted a gem on his belt starting to glow with yellow light; the tell-tale sign of a concealed Wise Atom Neutron Deviser, better known as a "wand", coming to life. The same light began to glow about his non-metallic arm, condensing from being mere glowing bits into concentrated mana particles, and quickly seeped into the flesh.

An instant later, the sounds of flesh stretching and bones twisting gave way to metal condensing as his other limb rapidly enlarged and reshaped to form a piston-like shape identical to the first.

The gunslinger attempted another burst even as the masked man charged forward. He barely had time to realize his shots did nothing other than fizzle out into nothingness against the metal limbs before the man drove one of his metal piston-like fists into his chest. The massive piston gave a burst of steam as it slammed forward just as the appendage made contact.

The thug would likely never know just how lucky he was that his assailant hadn't been using anywhere near his full power in that move; not the least because it still had more than enough power to crack a good part of his rib cage and knocked him out and off of the vehicle like a ball hit by a bat, through a second food stand, and finally against a brickwork shack on the pier.

The raven-masked man went ahead and kept his eye on him for a moment longer just to confirm he didn't rise again when the inertia freed him enough to fall to the ground.

"Not so easy when someone hits back, eh hot shot? Don't matter if your slippery enough to evade the cops punk, you still can't evade our fangs!"

"Yo Gus!"

The assailant turned his head back to the vehicle. He watched as the second window of the vehicle rolled down and another man poked his head outside of it.

"What the hell is that noi…"

He trailed off as he saw 'Gus' was no longer available; replaced by a black-suited man with arms hissing like they were bits of an enormous engine and staring right at him.

"Goddamnit!" He spat out before he quickly ducked his head back in. A moment later, the hover-jets gave louder roars as the vehicle rapidly accelerated, caring even less for the crowd or any obstructions now. The man on the roof nearly advanced toward him when the door behind the driver popped open. A second gunman, this one with a sidearm rather than an automatic, popped out and quickly took aim and opened fire.

Showing off his reaction time again, he swerved his body to cleanly dodge the plasma bolt. Yet he soon found himself thrown back into the line of fire when the driver began to swerve the wheel wildly, obviously trying to throw him off.

As a result, his left piston itself seemed to move slightly, as if the man was making another gesture, and the wand on his belt glowed again before the light once again condensed around one of his limbs, this time transforming it from a piston to a broad, flat, shield-like extension large enough to cover his entire upper body.

The next two shots hit as harmlessly as the initial burst of gunfire, and the shooter risked leaning up a bit more to try and go for the man's exposed feet. Yet he snapped back into the vehicle a second later when the entire hover-car gave a violently lurch, the result of a red beam of energy snapping through the air and colliding with the right side of the vehicle's engine.

As sparks flew out in front of the windshield, the driver let out a cry and desperately struggled to keep control of the vehicle as it rapidly began to grind and sputter, leaning toward the same side as the initial shot and drifting off road. Yet it never got a chance to die of its own accord, for a moment later another blast streaked and hit it again; this time dead center and annihilating the power core.

What system were still functioning went out of control for a brief second before dying all together, and both the driver and remaining gunman were helpless to do anything other than brace for inevitable impact as the hovercraft finished its descent, ground into the street, and scraped right toward a mounted dumpster.

The masked man took his chance to exit and promptly jumped off seconds before collision; the force snapping both men violently enough to simultaneously smack both of their heads against the interior of their own vehicle.

The masked man quickly ran along to put some distance between him and the hover-car, and especially some of police vehicles that broke off their pursuit to surround it. The two thugs still inside hadn't even regained enough wits to know what had happened before they were already surrounded. He cast a glance behind him at this, chuckling beneath his mask, before looking forward and up to the surrounding skyline.

"A dumpster. Perfect place to deposit a pair of scumbags. Nice shooting, Tony. Bastards nearly plowed into the crowd."

The small Codec transmitter device on his ear gave a slight click, indicating the reception of his message, just as his eyes managed to faintly catch a distant outline on one drydock building dressed identically to him yet sporting the shape of a sniper rifle. A chuckle soon joined the static.

"Hey man, Jade Hawk ain't the only one that can pull off some hardcore shots. Still, props for lining him up for me."

"Ah, no problem." The masked man answered with a neck crack. "Don't need any invites to pound a punk. Anyway…don't mean to be as big a killjoy as the boss man but there's tons of fuzz around, so stick to the code names. Got ourselves some killer momentum but it's not over yet."

"Heh, you sure about that?"

The masked man looked forward. Like many of the other members of the surrounding crowd, they noticed that a rather startling change had suddenly taken place. From out of the pier, the alley shadows, under carts, or wherever else they could hide, a force of more men dressed in black with raven masks had seemingly emerged from nowhere and pounced on the hover-cars before they knew what was coming. Most of them didn't act with the same finesse and grandiose moves as he had, but it made little difference.

Any of the cars that were stalled were immediately assaulted on all sides by the new opponents. Those that were moving too fast were struck by shots from the dark, whether of conventional weapons or magical attacks, blowing out the hover-jets or the engines. Criminals poked their heads out of windows and doors only to be surprised. Two were immediately shot by attackers in the shadows.

Another immediately got crushed by his own door as a masked figure jumped out from behind an advertisement kiosk and slammed it down on him. Yet another cried as a fist shot up from under his own vehicle, seized him by the lapel, and yanked him out. It wasn't long before the arriving police found themselves glutted with freshly-stopped hover-cars and knocked-out assailants to quickly put into restraints and haul away.

As the strike went on, Eddie managed to get himself back on his feet and struggle to position himself in the best shot available to get a look at the action. He eventually settled on a pair of crashed vehicles and the crowd, moments ago fleeing in panic, now cheering and shouting as their black-clad saviors vanished again. As soon as the camera orbs were positioned again, he paused long enough to clear his throat before booming again.

"And yet another breaking development folks! We are right in the middle of yet another one of the interventions of the Crimson Tengu Ravens; their ninth since their leader Requiem's public announcement a month ago! There's no sign of the masked vigilante from here, but it looks as if his men are quickly shutting down the crisis here… Wait…what's that?"

By now, the last of the hovercars was being intercepted, and most of the Ravens that had emerged had already disappeared once again. It seemed, however, that those who were driving the boat-shaped vehicle had taken the hint. Rather than continuing down the road to try and make a break for the fog bank moving in three blocks from there, it suddenly turned again, ignoring both the crowd and the roads and headed straight for the pier. Once there it didn't stop at the docks but broke straight for the edge, moving out onto the ocean beyond.

"It looks as if he's breaking for the city's boundary by going straight out to sea!" The reporter shouted, before quickly lowering the mic and turning to his camera operator. "Come on, come on! Let's get a shot of that! Maybe we can catch Requiem showing up!"

"Are you nuts? The guys on that one are more gun-happy than the one who almost got you in the back!"

"Damnit, Wally! Do not wimp out on me! This is live!"

As soon as the hover boat hit the water, it immediately began to pick up speed. Not surprising as it no longer had to worry about anything blocking the way. By now, the first of the masked men who had struck had reverted his arms back into their original flesh and bone forms. Yet on seeing how the final vehicle was quickly clearing the area, he adjusted his own path and began to charge out after it. While it was only a long shot at this point, there was a chance that he could make it jumping off one of the longer piers, although at this rate it would likely be further out to sea before he could get it.

Realizing that, he grasped his fist tightly, reactivating the Codec, and broke into a sprint. "Heads up, boys! The last one's making a break for it and he's the last guy we want crashing another party! Get to the dock!"

He only got another step before a blip of static signaled a response.

"Hold your position, Red Raven. I'm moving to intercept Lucero so just stand by."

Unlike his own more passionate and enthusiastic tone, this one was far more calm and collected, if not in a much lower tone; not only compared to Red Raven but to all the others in the group. In spite of his speed, he froze in his tracks. His mask went about, the eyes beneath it darting around as if expecting to see the voice who had spoken suddenly before him.

"You're on the move, Requiem?" Pause. "Well, I've got bad news for you. He looks about to bail in about ten seconds so if you're going to pull something now's a great time."

"I have everything set up. Just be on guard for any change in the situation. No matter what, Lucero's murderous campaign ends here and now."

The hijacked yacht was considerably bigger than the vehicles its assailants had commandeered. It was large enough to have more than one deck: one that actually had its own engine room and more service-related features, and the main one that was made far more luxurious and comfortable. Even more so now that it was arranged for the festival and patrons.

But at the moment, all of those decks were clear save for a single room. All of the various men and women who had taken a tour on the festive boat for the evening were currently gathered there, lined up, arms bound in restrains, and pressing themselves as hard as they could against the surrounding walls. Only two individuals stood out from the others. One was a young woman in a green exotic dance outfit whose intent to have a good time at the evening's festival had long since been forgotten.

Now her eyes were wide with panic, her body rigid, and her mascara running from tears streaking her cheeks as she was held tight against a gaunt, lanky, and bald man. His teeth were practically jagged and his face was so drawn and sharp he looked rather like an eel, and just like one he didn't blink as his eyes slowly scanned the area. He wore no shirt, so one could see not only his torso mottled with new sweat but also rows of scars and piercing that extended all over his body, up his neck, and across his face.

One arm held the girl so tightly it had to be hard to breathe, yet she didn't dare struggle for his other hand was pressing a knife hard to her throat with an edge of it positioned dangerously over the carotid, and it was already pressing in so hard that droplets of blood were starting to gather on the edge.

He was but one man and, even cuffed, he was vastly outnumbered by the residents in the room. Yet none dared move an inch. A pair of military-grade, mobile installation auto guns were mounted on the ceiling with scanning lasers constantly tracing the room, threatening to tear apart anyone else who moved into the room or away from the wall.

The situation became to much for the girl. She gave a violent shudder and finally exclaimed a panicked cry.

"Quit your yapping!" The man snapped. "I've can always use another hostage if you keep pushing me!"

The girl stifled herself though she breathed rapidly, and the man looked up again. His eyes were still wild and unhinged. After all, much of his plan had already fallen apart. His associates that he counted on for protection as well as distractions were left behind for the police to pick off, and he alone was left and had been forced to try and cut across the bay sooner than he wished.

Nevertheless, he told himself that he had to have shaken off the police and reminded himself that they weren't far from the contact point now. It served to calm him slightly, though not nearly enough to make him lose his wildness.

The girl's rapid breaths picked up. "I don't wanna die… I don't wanna die…" She began to mumble in choked sobs. As he kept doing so, the eel-faced man inclined his head slightly as if listening. Her eyes closed as tears started to come out again. "I didn't do anything to anyone…"

On mumbling this, though, an odd smirk appeared on the man's face. Remarkably enough, he actually seemed to calm slightly. His eyes stared out as his pupils dilated. As she kept mumbling, a small chuckle sounded in his throat. His smirk expanded into a grin.

"You…think this is punishment?" He asked in a much quieter voice. The girl said no more but continued to breathe hard and cry. He continued regardless. "No, no…this…this is a reward. Even if a…a certain…" The knife left her throat, but only so that the hand holding it could extend a few fingers off the hilt and run them up through her hair. She shuddered violently. The way he moved it through her scalp looked as if he was growing aroused by the action.

"Certain…small minds can't comprehend it." He went on. "I'm liberating you from your shallow, worthless life…"

The hand went around and cupped the girl by the chin. She forced her mouth closed and shut her eyes, terrified of what might happen to her next.

"Today is a festival, after all. What better way to celebrate then…then by…" The thumb went out and rubbed her chin. "Giving a 'special someone' the best gift possible? Do you…" He leaned his head in closer to hers, bringing his lips nearer to her ears as his voice dropped. "Do you think I'll let any of those…those scavengers keep me from turning you into the ordainment you're most fit for…?" His head raised. "No…no, I have them by the balls on this one…"

The girl didn't dare answer, but the eel-like man shifted his gaze to the door. He again tried to reassure himself of his standing. The automatic guns he had placed were higher quality. Even with only two, they could turn and fire at anyone entering the door in a third of a second.

And even if they couldn't, he was in too good of a position. No one could hit him before he cut the girl's throat, and they wouldn't risk that. And while he was taking a less direct route, it wouldn't be long before he'd be clear. There was no time to deploy the coastal guard. Just a little more…

His eyes spotted something that turned him away from the door. A light on the floor. He turned his eyes down, and he widened on seeing that it had abruptly begun to glow red. Yet before he could comprehend any more, a blue flash of light erupted right in the middle of the room. The force was strong enough to blast the floor clean open and send pieces of it smashing to the ceiling, while the rest of the force from the blast shook the entire transport hard enough to knock everyone to the floor.

For a brief moment, the bald man's hostage was loosened enough to where she might have been able to break free, but by now she was so petrified with fear that she didn't move before her captor landed on her and tightened his grip again.

Cursing in frustration, he struggled to get his balance underneath him as the auto guns swiveled around to the source of the blast. Their scanning lasers pierced the area, only to be greeted by a blast of thick mist the burst from the hole and filled the room so quickly one could swear the fog moved of its own will. Yet before it filled the chamber completely, a shadow emerged from the new opening and into the chamber.

The guns seemed to manage to get a lock, for both swiveled to the shadow's last position and immediately opened fire. Only some of the hostages were able to see a black form pierce the smoke and slam into the wall above them while the automatic weapons discharged their bursts at nothing but air. The sound of a brandish from the figure's back was scarcely audible before the form launched itself back off the wall and into the mist.

A flash of light pierced the gloom as a swipe of a blade cleaved one of the ceiling-mounted guns in two, and the thunder of the gunfire was instantly reduced by half. Yet before the pieces even hit the ground, the shadow launched itself to a new angle.

By the time the remaining weapon began to swivel around, those nearest the figure saw an arm raise and instantly twist itself into a metal spike; which telescopically extended to the remaining gun like a lance. It lodged in the barrel moments before firing, and with a burst of feedback and a red glow signifying overheating, the energy backfired and blew the second gun apart.

The mist began to fade almost as rapidly as it came, so that when the shadowy figure landed on the ground at last all could now make out his outline. It rapidly sharpened to reveal he was clad in interconnected black-and-silver plating. His shoulder were spiked and he wore an encompassing helmet bearing the same standards. His nose and mouth were covered with a face plate, and the only part of him that was "exposed", namely the eyes, were glowing a hellish, burning red. For a weapon, he held in one hand a rather large sword almost totally wrapped in matching dark cloth.

The hostages didn't move, but stared at this new arrival silently and expectantly at what would happen next. Some of them even formed hopeful expressions. Only the eel-like man and his hostage were different; the former forcing himself to his feet and quickly returning the latter to her former position.

"You just had to keep hounding me, eh, 'Requiem'? You seem to really love dressing yourself up and playing like a hero."

His face blanched for a moment later when the sword was instantly up and aimed at him, in particular his own neck.

"I am not playing anything, scum." A somewhat metallic and dangerously deep voice echoed from the helmet. It sounded like a judge passing a sentence of doom. "Lucero Gausau-a serial killer sentenced to life imprisonment in Rycroft Asylum. You were able to escape and you might have eluded both me and the police, but in the end you couldn't escape your own desire. Your obsession…fanaticism…to commit murder in relation to holidays. Your own twisted and savage 'festival celebration'. You're a monster and a blight on this city."

The voice lowered to the tone of a low rumble of thunder.

"Surrender now, or prepare for your requiem."

The momentary wildness that had ebbed in Gausau's eyes quickly redoubled. It became nearly feral as he held more tightly then before, nearly choking the girl. "You're not going to stop the festival, Requiem!" He snarled in a nearly wild cry. "One more stop and this girl's blood will paint the room, you hear me?"

The red eyes contracted. The armored man didn't move. "Far more powerful people then you have tried to stop me Lucero. And failed."

"I'm not crazy enough to think I'm as strong as a Magna Centurion or a global terrorist," The Rycroft escapee half-stammered as he began to back himself and his hostage to the edge of the room. "But I'd like to think I'm damn good at killing, and I'll be happy to demonstrate if you don't put that sword down now and your hands on the floor. If I see you move even an inch or hear the whisper of a spell, her throat will already be cut before you hit me with anything! Go on and try me!"

A moment of silence passed. The red eyes flickered, looking about the room. While the other hostages watched with baited breath, their looks clearly expressed anxiety and fear. The eyes went to the hostage in Gausau's grasp. She was white as a sheet and struggling not to tremble just to not run her neck on the knife any more.

A deep breath went from beneath the helmet, and the gauntlet opened up. A clatter rang through the silent room a moment later as his sword dropped to the floor. Soon after, he very slowly began to lower himself, dropping to his knees to extend his hands toward the floor.

"You've made your last mistake, Lucero." He uttered, his voice not having changed in the least.

His eyes only looked wilder as he reached the back wall of the room. For a moment, he released the middle of his hostage, giving her just enough time to gasp for air but not daring to move with the knife still on her throat, as he reached over and smashed his hand over one a mounted control panel. A fissure broke in the wall behind him a moment later, revealing a concealed second entrance.

"You're not stopping the festival! No matter how many you've taken down! No one is!" He shouted more wildly as he tried to move back. "It's an act of nature! A pure act! Surrounded by empty dolls! Running around…no purpose in their lives! No meaning! No existence! Since the dawn of-"

The ship suddenly gave a wild turn. That in and of itself didn't stun the man, who had intended for some bumps and shaking on way, but the jostling caused the damaged floor to emit some bright sparks from severed electronics. His rant was cut off and he blinked, his hand instinctively raising for his eyes for a fraction of a second.

Too long.

"Metal Morph."

In the instant Gausau was distracted, the leader of the Crimson Tengu Ravens shifted his fingers and spoke the word. The wall behind the blade-wielding man rippled momentarily as if it was water into which a dime had been thrown. The metallic walls suddenly morphed into several metal spikes, and with a metallic ring they erupted forth and impaled him three times apiece in each one of his arms and legs.

The killer roared in pain. Even if he had intended to drive his knife forward with his last act of defiance, it was hopeless. The spikes in his appendages kept him pinned like a grotesque mounted butterfly. Fortunately, the brutality of the act was enough to shake the woman in his grasp out of her own fear, and she quickly twisted herself out and broke.

The moment she was clear, Requiem slowly drew himself up, keeping the hand that had cast the spell forward. It began to glow as he slowly moved his fingers, and as a result the metal spikes holding Gausau grew thicker and longer yet, increasing his screams.

Not only that, but they twisted out, and slowly the man was forced out of his former position, manipulated like a giant puppet, and drawn back to the wall. By the time Requiem was standing, he was mounted in a cross shape against it.

A stream of agonized babble and curses blubbered from Gausau's lips, before he finally bit back enough pain to form words. "Damnit, you cheating bastard! I'll kill you!"

The man calmly picked his sword back up. "I find that outcome highly unlikely. I learned you're fond of placing those scars on your body. I've just carved the last you'll ever received."

In spite of being literally nailed to the wall, Gausau tensed. Gritting his teeth and nearly spitting and foaming like a mad dog, he yanked himself against his own restraints. Blood began to ooze more freely around his limbs, but it didn't stop him. He continued to pull even though he wasn't getting any farther, his pupils shrinking and his body stretching.

"No…there's too much to do…!" He hissed, his tone turning twisted from the strain. "Too many more of the empty to reap..! I have to finish the festival…I need to finish it…no matter what! Electro Burst!"

Requiem began to raise his weapon again, but stopped on seeing Gausau; not the man himself, but rather a yellow glow arising from his right ear piercing. He stalled, realizing the tell-tale sign of a wand. And while he hesitated, the restrained man rose in volume and belted out a spell incantation. The moment he did, visible electrostatic sparked around his eyes, as if both had turned into electrodes.

Yet it didn't stop there. The numerous piercings around his body began to snake out smaller bolts all over him, and soon after electricity began to issue forth from his regular muscles as well. Gausau face's twisted and distorted more; framed by the electric light as he turned nearly feral. The electricity coursed through him, seeming to make all of his muscles rigid and tight together as he pulled harder.

As the tendons and ligaments began to protrude, he yelled like a mad dog and flexed his entire body. He didn't pull himself off of the spikes in doing so; he snapped each one off at the base.

The spikes were still embedded in his limbs and blood continued to ooze from each one, but that didn't even slow the man as he charged at Requiem. As he was still covered with electricity and moving faster in spite of his wounds, the masked man didn't risk taking a hit and leapt back cautiously.

A good move, as he saw a claw form itself out of pure lightning from the end of Gausau's hand and lash across the room. The hostages were clear of the area, but the lightning still pierced a drink dispenser behind him. Soda and liquor burst from all spigots a moment later from the short circuit.

Another punch quickly followed, this one arcing with lightning, and Requiem answered by jumping back even more powerfully. This time, he launched himself as far away as he could afford, swinging his body around in midair and landing against the back wall in a crouch, sticking like a fly. "So that's why so many of your victims were declared dead via electrocution…"

Gausau's euphoric face had returned at this point. Grinning wildly at Requiem, he reached down and snacked up his discarded knife, making it spark as well. "I'm going to save marking you on my flesh, Requiem… I will kill you… The festival will not be denied!"

The only answer was the red eyes narrowing again.

"I really don't feel like humoring you."

The madman hesitated only a fraction of a second, his wild eyes pondering what that response meant, but then he yelled again and charged once again. Yet he didn't make it all the way to the wall. Using the fact the room had an elevated ceiling, he instead leapt into the air. Still bellowing, the electricity gathered around his body more strongly and brightly before condensing around one of his fists, which he hurled down at him. A true bolt of lightning peeled off of his limb and hurled at the masked man.

He never moved. Responding just as quickly, he held out his free hand and chanted a spell of his own. Again, metal twisted, warped, and reshaped, but this time on his appendage. What was left was not a spike or a hook, but what looked like a personal battering ram with a mounted iron ball on the end: a lightning rod. As the beam neared him, he swung it up and out and met the attack with his limb.

Gausau was too blind with rage to register surprise as the lightning didn't cascade into the metal armor but rather collected and coursed around the end of this new weapon, conducting and holding itself there. Nor was he able to stop himself in mid-lunge a moment later when Requiem lunged right back at him and slammed that same rod with his same power right back into him.

His spell had prevented him from feeling the effects of the countered current coursing through his body, but the gamble that the armored man had made paid off. The feedback current caused bolts of lightning to burst out of areas of his body so savagely the skin was ruptured, and the sheer power of the iron weapon smashing into him alone was enough to snap rips and rupture his innards.

His body went flying back the way it came, but while it was still airborne Requiem touched down first. Looking at him with a cold glare, showing not the slightest hint of mercy, he cast the spell a third time. It not only returned his arm to its previous shape, but it also made the ground in Gausau's path begin to ripple…

The madman never touched down on the ground. He was halted in midair as a new spike burst out of it; this one impaling him straight through the spine.

Screams of shock and panic echoed around the room, but it quickly went deadly silent afterward. The former hostages now quivered and stared. The electricity faded out, and soon the only noise in the room was a slow dripping of Gausau's blood down the spike he was mounted on. The lower half of his body had gone lifeless, but the upper half flinched and spasmed.

After a time, a slow exhale came from Requiem's helmet, and he rose and slowly approached. As he neared, he saw even in his crippled state the rage and madness in the man's eyes hadn't diminished in the slightest. That served to solidify the man's own resolve and movements. If it hadn't been clear during his murderous career before, it was certain now following his escape from Rycroft: Lucero Gausau was not going to be "reformed". He was a savage who mounted corpses of innocent people like grotesque art, and he'd do it again if he ever got free.

The vigilante halted next to his suspended body. All he could do now was gurgle in pain, blood oozing around his lips. Requiem looked directly into his eyes without pity.

"You're no threat to anyone now, and you'll never escape again. That is the only reason I won't kill you."

Even if he had a bold or defiant remark to give, Gausau was in too much pain to deliver it. He was moments from passing out from trauma. Giving him no further mind, the masked man readily looked to his pockets. His hand reached out, tore the fabric right open, and began to look around. The left pocket had nothing, but on moving his hand to his other side and tearing open that one, he found a mini-computer.

As he took it out and held it closer, he glanced to one side. Instinctively, some of the cringing hostages backed up in fear, although others merely stared and swallowed. Even if they were grateful to be alive, after all, Requiem cast quite the intimidating and dark persona.

"Everyone remain calm." He told them, more calmly but still in his dark and distorted voice. "I'll take out any remaining criminals on this yacht. You'll all be back to shore soon."

Only one or two managed a shaky gulp and nod, but the others just calmly sat there. Requiem noticed one was missing; namely the hostage from earlier. He turned his head and spotted her soon after, not far from where Gausau had initially been pinned. She was white as a sheet, staring at him in a cold sweat and not moving.

He took a step forward. "Miss-"

He was cut off a second later by a terrified screech. The girl pulled back as if she wanted to press herself into the wall to get away. At once, the swordsman moved no more. His red eyes flickered down. Aside from the bloody, grisly, mangled mess that was Gausau's body, his own armor was splashed with a bit of his blood. He hesitated a moment before looking back up. While his eyes remained burning and red, they seemed to glow dimmer.

He began to hold his hands up in a more calming and open motion. "I promise you this will be the last blood you see today, miss. Please remain cal-"

A loud smack was heard behind him; the sound of the door to the room being smashed open. In an instant, Requiem's helmet spun around. He saw the entrance swing wildly to one side for a moment before a man in a purple bandana burst in with a gun already drawn.

"Die you preaching motherfu-"

The noise was swallowed up as the end of the weapon burst into plasma fire. There was no time for any other reaction. Requiem quickly snapped his body to one side, putting himself as a human shield between the girl and the gunman, before plasma bolts erupted through the room.

The shots were wild and spraying, mostly hitting wall and floor, but two of them still impacted him straight in the chest. A metallic, pained grunt issued from the man, and sizzling marks arose from the impacts, but otherwise nothing. Some of the hostages gasped slightly on seeing his legendary durability. One of those plasma shots could have pierced right through a police vehicle.

The previously-dimming blaze in the swordsman's eyes reignited into a death glare. Snapping out his sword, he let out a new incantation: this one for the Aura Edge enhancement type spell. In response, his bandaged weapon ignited in a bright blue light, before fresh electrical energy of his own making began to snake and sizzle off of it.

Heedless of the firing, he jumped straight forward at the man. The blade swiveled around once and caught one of the plasma shots aimed for his leg. In response, the magical aura repelled it completely; sending it right back into the thug's own right leg.

The feeling of burning plasma cooking the very blood in the surrounding veins caused Requiem's enemy to howl in pain and drop his weapon, leaving him wide open for the swordman to finish the lunge, raise a leg, and smash his heavy metal boot across his face.

To the sound of a fracturing jawline, he was sent careening into the nearest wall and bounced off of it; knocking him out and sending him to the ground like a sack of garbage.

The armored man lowered his leg, but no sooner had he done so than an echo traveled through the now-open doorway. The sound of more screaming from the back of the ship.

A mild sigh of exasperation came from the helmet. It swiveled around, looking back to the hostages, including the girl.

"I'm going to clear this ship of threats. Stay here until the police arrive."

While she was still fearful, her previous fear had diminished somewhat. In spite of herself, she managed a weak nod.

Glancing once more to make sure the hostages were safe, the swordsman dashed out the door.

Realizing that anyone who was left had to be in the engine room, making sure no one tried to manually disrupt the auto-route settings, Requiem instantly made a beeline for that direction. Sure enough, it didn't take long for him to hear the sound of echoing footsteps through the narrow halls rapidly closing.

His fist tightened to activate his helmet-mounted Codec. "Jade Hawk, Lucero isn't going to be a threat to anyone tonight or ever again. His men don't seem to be willing to stand down though. I'm moving in to finish here."

"Nice timing, old bean. I guess you can say this about rampaging lunatics—they can only plan for so much of a crisis. Knew we'd be ok if we played it cool. The others took out the rest of his peanut gallery and Brown Raven is in position, so things are back to normal. A bit too normal, 'cause it looks like the cops are all stocked up on henchmen and are ready to move on to us."

"Tell everyone to prepare for departure."

Requiem released the Codec just as the first of Gausau's men charged into the main hallway. They didn't bother to hesitate or identify the target, simply snapped around with weapons drawn and opened fire at the first moving object they saw. Requiem responded by darting forward even more quickly.

His armor alone would have taken care of whatever shots were aimed well enough to strike him, but he brandished his still-enchanted blade forward and swept it about in a semi-arc, deflecting several of the shots back into the attackers.

They either cringed or cried out in pain from the counter-assault, leaving them wide open when he reached them soon after and swung out his blade for actual targets. Limbs flew off into the air as cries of pain rang out, and the men faltered and melted before him as he charged on past them.

He didn't head for the engine room, for there was no longer any point to that. There could only be one target left now—whoever was in the control room ensuring the auto-route didn't get reset. Sure enough, he encountered no further resistance all along the hallway until he finally turned the corner to approach the control room ahead. Two final men were stationed there and fired wildly as well as soon as he came into view, but they offered no more resistance than the last group. The swordsman neither slowed nor stopped until he was leveling his shoulder into the control room doors and, despite being metal reinforced, smashed them right open.

He spilled into the chamber but quickly planted his feet and halted, looking inside. Aside from the various consoles of controls and a projection screen simulating a 360 degree window of the exterior of the craft, there was only a single panicked thug with a pony tail quivering and shaking as he grasped the ship's controls purely out of white-knuckle fear. He slowly turned his head around as he heard the door open, looking over his shoulder. The moment his eyes hit the swordsman and his red, cold stare, he only shook the harder.

Slowly, he began to step forward.

He only got about three steps before the thug swallowed, and suddenly drove his hands down harder on the controls; actually picking up the throttle. "Hold it!"

Requiem paused. As the engines picked up around him, he noticed something on the projector screen. While the ocean stretched ahead of them, they weren't out of the harbor area yet. A large rough rock arose from the waters, and it was dead ahead of them. As big as the craft was, smashing into it at full speed would to more than just wreck the front of ship.

Requiem saw how unstable his target looked, looking more and more like a mouse running in to a cat, and approached the thug slowly."Are you going to see things clearly or do I have to illuminate the situation with force first?"

Lucero 's henchmen seemed to breakdown from a surge of fear and unleashed a defiant yell before he pulled the controls for the ship's thrusters at full speed."Haha, if I am going down your all going down with me yah bastard!"

Requiem quickly realizes that the criminal has a emergency vest on, and that he smashed the ship's controls so hard they broke, and that the ship was quickly heading to a giant rock.

As the masked man swiftly figured ways out of the dilemma a solution presented itself as a tall man in the same outfit Dan and his comrades have on jumped out of the water and got right in the ships way.

As the thug continued to stare at him with his panicked glare, he didn't notice as a new shape dressed in black with a raven's mask burst out of the harbor and leapt onto the same incoming rock.

The new arrival just cracked his neck and grinded out a bullish,"You punks think you can try and run away without getting the whopping you have coming to yah? Like hell yah are, you damn rat! If you think you're hardcore enough to pull a fast one on us, I reckon its high time to show you what happens when you try and taunt a Juggernaut! Titan Force!"

The bulky male was mostly talking to himself as he appeared in front of the yacht. And yet, as he cast his body modification magic on himself the crazed criminal quickly took notice of the new arrival.

By now, the crazed criminal's expression faltered, realizing Requiem wasn't even looking at him. He turned his head, forgetting himself in his panic, and went open-mouthed. The figure he was rapidly nearing was now completely covered in the aura, which seemed to light him on fire rather than surround him like the normal magical clouds. Not only that, it looked like it was heating him up as if he was nothing more than a piece of iron in a flame. More heat seemed to pour off of him as a result, causing his inner body to swell and his skin to become stretched and tight around his body; as if it would rip it off.

An echo resounded through the ship, and the thug began to give out a panicked whine as he realized, to his horror, the sound wasn't anything structural but was from a grunt so loud and deep issuing from the man that it was echoing into the ship. It sounded more primal, like a beast rather than a man.

Yet that was nothing compared to a moment later when he grunted once loudly. As if air had suddenly been pumped into his body, each of his muscles suddenly doubled in size and his height increased by a full foot.

The man couldn't help it. He screamed, and in his blind panic shoved the controls all the way forward and broke them; inadvertently fulfilling his threat as all reason left him. Undeterred, the muscular man arched his body forward and charged right back at the speeding yacht, and a moment later reached out to intercept it. A moment later, the two made impact.

The entire ship gave a mighty roar as the prow was snapped and crumpled in on itself. The projector screens shattered as the walls crumbled in on them so rough and violently that the hull was pierced, exposing the night sky. Everything not nailed down was flung violently, including the last thug as he was flung over the console he was stationed at like a paper doll.

Even with his own strength and his boots immediately adhering to the ground, Requiem had to crouch and exert all his balance to keep from being flung about as well. What few consoles were still functioning after that impact began to blare out warnings, and far behind him the engines whined and groaned loudly. Malfunctioning alarms blared everywhere to join the chaos and red lights burst to life and spun about. Yet for all the noise and cacophony, the crumpling ship was rapidly slowing…

A pair of explosions went off in the back of the ship, and the sounds of the former hostages screaming echoed up the passageway as both engines broke down at once. The entire ship gave one more violently shudder as the frame was rocked nearly into snapping apart. A metallic resounding clang rang through the air, reverberating through the hull. The flaming red eyes of Requiem closed as he tried to tough through it…

Yet after a few moments more, it finally stopped. The entire ship was pushed up against an angle, but it moved no more. Only a few sputterings from the back and the sounds of loose debris falling off of the wrecked vessel rang out. Requiem slowly loosened his muscles and opened his eyes, looking forward again.

Aside from emergency lighting, the entire control room was in the dark now. The last remaining thug had slid up against the forward console before him and was now sprawled and splayed out in a sore heap.

And through the hull breach directly in front of him, framed against a screen of water still dripping from the prow, stood the hulking man, still holding onto the ship.

An eager, beastly laugh issued from under the mask. Suddenly, he lurched forward…and the entire ship did so as well as it moved off of its angle and grew level again. It had not been crooked due to running against the rock, but rather due to the transformed man who had caught it. Requiem gave a mild jolt of his own as the ship landed back in the water, sounding out a crash of foam and rocking a bit as it settled.

The one who had been at the controls, however, got the worst of it. He had scarcely begun to regain his senses and look up, when he found the impact of landing the ship on the water shook him away from the console and jostled him to slide more on the broken deck toward the giant on the other side of it.

Requiem paid him no mind at first. He looked about and behind him. The last two armed men he had neutralized had been shaken and battered around by the impact, but they were both still groaning and writhing on the floor. If they had withstood that impact, it was safe to say the hostages had as well. And with no more sounds of gunfire or desperate attempts to escape sounding out, it looked as if all had been neutralized.

Taking a deep breath, the masked man's fist clenched again. "Seems this mission is complete. Thanks for the timely arrival, Brown Raven."

There was no answer through the Codec. Rather, another loud noise rang out the front of the ship was ripped aside as if it was tissue paper. In a moment, the metal was thrown aside and the thug now found nothing between him and the burly figure.

"So, thought you'd take yourself out squishing me like you were some big shot?" His voice boomed as he stepped forward and into the ship, making it creak. "Look what that got you, eh loser?"

The frenzied criminal stiffened, but before he could make a move one of his large arms lashed out and seized him by the right limb. He let out a cry as he was yanked back toward the man, suddenly pulled into midair and dangling in front of him by his arm.

"You runts always get on my nerves." He spoke in a lower growl. His tone grew slower, showing a hint of real anger. "Always thinking you can just diss us and get away with it… Bet you're thinking of talkin' trash about it later, ain't you? Sit all nice in a cell without a scratch on you goin' off about how you were 'man enough' to try and hit me with a damn boat?"

A low chuckle rang out from the mask.


His fist holding his arm clenched. A cracking rang out. The thug's eyes went wide as saucers before he opened his mouth and screamed.

The red, glowing eyes of Requiem betrayed nothing…certainly not the look of alarm on the face beneath the plate. "Enough." The voice maintained its calm evenness. "He's no longer a threat to anyone."

The bulky man's answer was to tighten his fist again. Another crack sounded, and the screaming redoubled. "Oh, you got that right. A punk like this was never a threat to anyone. I'm just making sure he knows that as well as anyone who looks at him…" The head turned slightly to Requiem. "'Sides, this is all about 'sending a message', right?"

For a moment, Requiem could see the eyes beneath the mask. They may not have been glowing red like his own, but there was still a light in them. A hungry one.

One that brought up a bad memory.

With more effort than before, the voice remained even. "You seem rather worked up, so maybe you're forgetting our creed. No wanton killing. Only when necessary to see justice realized. Our task is done and the police are coming."

The muscles tightened and the opposite hand made a fist. A sharp exhale echoed from Brown Raven's mask before his volume rose. "Damnit, I got myself all worked up, and now that I finally got a warm up we're cutting out?!"

"There's no one left to fight!" Requiem found himself beginning to shout back. His own hands were making fists now. "Save it for another time! That's an order!"

For a brief split-second, Brown Raven began to inhale and tighten his fist further. Yet before any more happened, the Codec in both earpieces let out a burst of static.

"Chill man. He's got a point. Killing a guy that's no threat isn't exactly good PR when we're trying to make a better impression. Besides, we need him alive to spread the word of how hardcore we are, eh?"

The large man didn't move, but neither did he grow any angrier or change his body language. His head turned back to the man in his hand. He had stopped screaming at this point, although he was whimpering so badly he sounded rather like a child who had fallen off a bike. He studied him a moment before glancing back to Requiem.

Giving a snarl, for he seemed unable to spit in his current mask, he not only let go of the man but practically threw him to the ground like a piece of trash.

"Got a point, Nicholson. Ain't gonna make things more of a pain over some nobody."

The swordsman slowly exhaled, making sure to do it slowly so that his sigh of relief couldn't be heard. His muscles slowly unknotted. Only once he saw Brown Raven turn away from his would-be victim did he glance around one more time. Still no more noises or signs of other criminals. This really had been the last, it seemed. Only once that was clear did he move to return his sword to its sheath.

"Red Raven, are there any hostiles still standing or citizens in danger?"

"Nah man. Nothing that the coppers can't handle at least."

The swordsman stepped forward and looked out of one side of the now-fractured prow of the ornamental ship. In spite of being rather far from the city now, flashing lights were beginning to paint the area: the familiar reds and blues of the police. He looked out a bit further, and saw along the surface of the sea three boats rapidly approaching. It had taken them a bit to mobilize the coastal guard, but now that they were out they were coming en masse.

"So it would seem." He echoed back. "Withdrawal tactic Delta."

Giving one final grunt, Brown Raven reached for his side and came up with a personal respirator; the same he had used when getting himself into position. Turning away from the ship and back out to the sea, he reached up and began to fix it onto his mask. Requiem himself paused; realizing he had been so unnerved back there that he had failed to call out the breach in code names. He pushed it aside and took a step toward the door.


In a moment, he spun back around. His sword was out in an instant once again and arching out; a slash already aimed for the target he heard behind him.

Yet it stopped a moment later, hovering just at the side of one of the assailant's necks.

This one wasn't in any position to fight further. He had already been cut down by Requiem when he came in, and was still sporting a monstrous slash along one arm that had been seared shut again after opening the brachial artery. Now he was leaning against the door frame, unarmed, and barely holding onto consciousness. What wits he had were being used to stare at the swordsman. He didn't even seem to notice the sword.

"Please…I can't go to prison…"

The armored man didn't move. His eyes never wavered. The sword didn't shift.

"My sis…" He moaned. "I had to pay for it… This was all I could do… No one will pay for it if I'm in a cell…" He swallowed, weakening and sliding down the frame a bit before he stopped himself. "I'm…begging you…"

The swordsman didn't move. He kept staring. The sounds of the ocean gently lapping against the boat echoed through the control room. The sounds of sirens began to mix with them.

The sword slowly left the man's neck, and the wielder stood.

"I am, well aware how desperation can drive us to do things we regret. Never the less, you should have known better then to think that this plot Lucero had would end well. That being said...if this is the true desire of your heart, things might turn around if you don't waver from your true desire to protect your sister. All right, move out."

Turning away from the desperate man, he again returned his sword to his sheath.

By this time, Brown Raven had chanted a different spell. His body shriveled and shank as a result, becoming merely rippling rather than the giant it had been before. By the time the nearest police searchlight was near enough to scan over the boat, both were already in the water, and not a trace of a ripple was left to be seen.

While the rest of the Crimson Tengu Ravens had done as the order was sounded, Dan was never really one to follow things "to the letter". As a result he hung out on the pier a little longer and make use of the rather expensive Dragon Lens Scanner built into his mask. Zooming in on the ship far out in the harbor, he was able to see a couple of figures jump into the boat several seconds before the police were near enough to spot anything.

Beneath the mask, a grin spread from ear to ear as he pumped a fist at the clean getaway. "Booya!"

Another win for the Ravens! Sure, it was kind of a rigged fight, but, eh…someone's gotta be the one who sucks. And I do love ending a festival on a high note.

"You cocky freaks…die!"

Dan's enthusiasm broke, realizing that was coming from right behind him. He spun around; his eyes instantly focusing on one of Gausau's thugs that had been unceremoniously ripped out of his car and given a case of road rash about ten minutes earlier. Apparently in spite of being bloody and torn up, he was still conscious, and in spite of being disarmed on landing he had one final armament up his sleeve: a grenade in his pocket. It was out now and he was already flinging his arm forward to throw it…

But before it could complete the lob, Dan saw something else. For a moment, he thought it was just a flash of light from one of Los Midas' displays—a single green blip darting past his vision. Before he could recognize what happened, it sailed past his head, struck a lamppost behind him to the right, bounced off to strike a parked hovercar, and richocheted to strike the thug right in the torso.

The second it made contact, the blip ignited, and the beaten man was lit up like he had turned into a livewire. Electricity surged through him for an entire second, causing his whole body to seize up and frying the detonator on the grenade before it had a chance to be disengaged by his thumb. It faded out a second later, and as it died down so did the thug; collapsing onto the street in a limp pile.

Beneath his mask, Dan couldn't help but wince. Damn…called it too soon and nearly got a face full of shrapnel. Well, that aside, it's another victory in the-


The Raven was distracted yet again, this time by a much more overt target. A clamor of footsteps rang out over the pavement as a team of policemen ran out to the only remaining Crimson Tengu Raven still in the area. Although they were still rather far off, apparently they realized trying to get close enough to him to pull their weapons directly on him and command him to freeze would just give him the opportunity to run off like the rest of his brethren.

Most people would have taken off and ran. Most people, however, didn't have the same past experience with the Los Midas Police Force that Dan had. Instead he began to shift toward a new fighting stance.

"Hey, what's the matter, pigs?" He shouted back. "Oinking and squealing because someone did the job you're supposed to do?"

"Get on the ground!" The nearest officer yelled, nearly close enough to risk taking aim with his already-drawn weapon. "On the ground n-"

"Officer! Officer!"

Dan had nearly put his hands into fists when another voice called out. Obviously, given the crowds and the suddenness of the incident, not everyone had been able to flee the area. Those who couldn't had done the next best thing; dove for whatever cover could be found and held on until everything was done. While the streets were clear now, there had to be bystanders all over the place hunkered behind kiosks or under benches or whatever else they could find.

Yet it was somewhat of a shock to both Dan as well as the approaching police when a middle-aged woman suddenly burst out from behind the hover-bus stop she had been hiding behind and ran right up to the closing officer. He was forced to stop in his tracks as she planted herself right in his way.

"Officer, my kid's gone missing! I can't find her anywhere! One of those men might have taken her!"

The policeman was stunned, left standing there a moment in an awkward pause. Yet as the other officers kept running forward and soon began to pass him, he seemed to realize he could afford to break off and finally turned to her. "Alright ma'am, please calm down…"

However, that wasn't the end of it. As Dan watched, no sooner had one broken out to intercept an officer when other people broke out from where they were hiding and began to run up to the others, swarming around them an in front of him.

"Help! I can't find my father!"

"One of them shot my boyfriend!"

The cries soon vanished into a cacophony of noise, and it was only seconds before a crowd of fearful people blocked the path of the policemen. The officers were stunned; finding their pathway blocked. A few of them tried looking above and beyond as they were forced to halt, but that only got more people to run up to them and shout all the more earnestly. They were swarmed. And Dan was left immobile in his own fighting position, blinking at what he was seeing.

Yet after a moment, he caught one thing in particular. The last one to come out was a fat man shouting out about how the attackers had shot his dog, but for a moment his head turned and looked directly at Dan…

Just long enough to give him a wink.

Dan's seriousness broke as he let out a chuckle. "They're helping cover for us? What'dya know…you can win people over after all."

Turning away, he broke into a run again.

By the time the officers managed to extract themselves from the crowd of civilians, the last Crimson Tengu Raven was already long gone. The best they could do now was try to follow him and the others in the direction they had gone, as they seemed to be gathering toward the dock areas. It took them a few moments of desperate searching, but finally they spotted a team of shadowy figures gathered around the end of one of the shorter piers. In spite of being outnumbered, a number of the police massed together and started to run out to it.

Before getting enough to shout again, however, a burst of magic went out and caused the surrounding ocean water to erupt into a barrage of geysers. Fearing it might be hotter steam, they stopped and held back as clouds of mist poured over the area and completely obscured the end of the pier. By the time it died down again, more policemen had gathered and the nearest bystanders risked coming out from where they were hiding to watch as well, but all they saw at the end was a blank pier. The order had vanished.

Mixed reactions went through the crowd. Many of the civilians were in awe while a number of the officers either frowned in resignation or let out an audible curse or two. The loudest sound, however, came from a pair of footsteps running as fast as they could.

Eddie Costello, his cameraman huffing and puffing behind him as fast as he could and struggling to keep a trace on the camera spheres to get them into position, ran only far enough to get a shot of the dock in the background before planting his feet and swiveling around. His face was ecstatic as he ran his hand through his hair in a vain attempt to straighten it, before giving the camera his widest grin yet.

"And that was it, folks! The Crimson Tengu Ravens decisively shut down a mass shooting spree and then disappear in the blink of an eye! We didn't see Requiem out here, but reports are already coming in that the 'masked man of steel' broke onto the hijacked yacht, where we're starting to hear he disabled escaped serial killer Lucero Gausau and rescued anywhere from ten to fifteen hostages.

"Despite being officially named a suspected terrorist by Aurino Kingdom and officially being declared an illegal vigilante by the Los Midas Police Force, there's little doubts on everyone's mind that Requiem and the Crimson Tengu Ravens pulled off something rather darn heroic." His head turned up and began to glance out of view of the camera spheres. "Now it looks like the police are calming things down and people are starting to come out again. We'll see if we can't get an on-the-site exclusive opinion for those of you in the studio…"

For a moment, Eddie's eyes flashed over the street, glancing about as people slowly came out from cover and tried to calm down, trying to find whoever looked the most shaken up and emotional after the ordeal. Knowing this was live he only was able to glance about for a moment and had nearly settled on a pair of older children separated from their parents, when he looked up a bit more and spotted someone far better: a young man with gingery red hair, and a white, green, and purple coat with a matching suit.

"Oh…oh! Right there! It's him!" Immediately he took off, barely indicating to the cameraman to follow, as he went into another run. "It looks like…no, it is him! Local celebrity Voltaire Joachim! Once again on the site of another hit by the Crimson Tengu Ravens!"

While part of that was meant for whoever was viewing at home, Eddie raised his volume at the same time; hoping to get the young man's attention. As for the red-haired man himself, he had clearly been turning to try and duck behind one of the stopped cars on the route, meaning to get out of view. Yet as the camera swiveled to put him in frame and Eddie began to close, his shouting getting the attention of others, he stopped, keeping his back to him. He took a rather deep and extended breath. Only after that did he turn, just managing a smile.

"Oh…hey! Look who it is!" He called out back to him as he rapidly neared. "Eddie Costello with NES again. Imagine that. Found yourself in a real war zone this time. You know, I hear post-traumatic stress may take a bit of a delay to kick in. I'd check yourself out with the nearest EMS…"

The reporter ignored the comments and soon had both his mic as well as the camera spheres in front of his face. "Nice to see one of Los Midas' most talented philanthropists in the spotlight again, Mr. Joachim. So glad we could catch you in another news story!"

"Yeah, well…easy for these things to fall in one's lap when they run after them screaming…" He half muttered as he winced a bit in the lights from the camera spheres. "You think you could be in my face a little less often? I'd like to give my pupils time to re-dilate…"

"Well, I was just lucky enough to catch you out here, Mr. Joachim. Speaking of luck, right as we were headed up to the dock there was someone out in the crowd calling out about how they thought they saw you take out one of the assailants with an amazingly well-aimed shot. Just like that shot you made back at the Midas Dome! Now we all know that you're a fan of the Crimson Tengu Ravens, but what I think I and a lot of the viewers at home would like to know is…is there a little more than that?"

Voltaire took a moment to orientate himself more to the cameras, getting a more "official" look, before his smile flashed wide enough for the front page. "Well Eddie, like you said, my official opinion is well-known. And I think NES is also well aware about the talk," He accented that word. "That my dad had with your boss about stretching the truth enough to make a story that would fit in better with 'Bat Boy Gets Married'. But if you came looking for a bit more than that, I'll say while our antique-wearing chap has done more good than harm to the nation I'm not looking to make a career change to start wearing exotic masks and go for violent romps outdoors. I already do plenty of that indoors."

"But you were in the area tonight, weren't you, Mr. Joachim?" The reporter echoed back, his voice turning more probing. "This is a bit far from your usual upscale hangouts, isn't it?"

The red-haired man paused only a fraction of a second before shrugging. "Alright. I confess. The truth is I'm not out on a purely social call. My dad figured my little brother's tutor had been doing such a good job with him that I should show our appreciation by offering a little trip to the local festival. And while here I thought I'd try to pull off a trick shot and win the big prize at one of these shooting galleries as a little bonus."

He gestured slightly behind him. Eddie, his face falling, looked over in that direction with the camera spheres following. A deployable booth-sized shooting game with several fast moving targets was automatically running on one side of the street. Several smaller and crummier made stuffed animals were arranged around it for prizes, with a five-foot tall Grante Gato toy seated in the back at one of the grand prizes. More eye-catching, however, was a rather attractive, curvy, and sensually dressed blond girl with blue eyes, smiling and giving him a little wave.

Eddie blinked for a moment before looking back to Voltaire, who shrugged with a smirk. "I'm sincerely passionate about higher education. Unfortunately I missed the last mark and…well…based on what you're telling me it looks like make it was fortunate I missed. I wish most of my errors wound up being so profitable."

The reporter blanched for a moment; Voltaire's alibi ruining his chance for an on-the-spot expose, but he quickly tried to recover. "Well, that's…amazing! Even your blunders are wonders! Still, I'd say most would probably think it's a bit odd you'd be playing a carnival game right in the middle of a crisis like this…"

He answered by closing his eyes and giving a glamorous shrug. "What, this? Last time I was at Golden Crown it was in the middle of a tsunami warning and I didn't let that break my streak at the dice tables. Things looked wrapped up enough. I'd rather get my money's worth on the Jiodisa Heritage Festival seeing as my family put so much into it. What's there left to talk about?"


Voltaire's face immediately twisted into a grimace. He knew that voice… Glancing only a bit to one side, sure enough there was probably his least favorite person in the world who wasn't a mass-murdering psychopath. It didn't matter that she was wearing a police SWAT outfit and helmet at the moment. He recognized her from the movement as well as the voice.

"Oh, officer. Thank god you're here." He immediately greeted. His hand pointed accusingly at Eddie. "This man looks severely suspicious. That mic of his could be a concealed wand. I suggest you take him downtown immediately. I fear for my safety."

The woman ignored him and came to a halt in front of him, yanking off her helmet. A red ponytail and a harsh glare greeted him.

"Oh, it's you again, Roxanne!" He reacted in faux surprise. He glanced to Eddie and back to her. "What's that they say about where there's smoke there's fire…? Say," He looked about. "Aren't there…you know…lots of, what do they call them…criminals around here to arrest or something?"

"That's Detective Starling to you." She snapped back with a frigid tone. "Forget it again and I'll slap you with charges of insubordination to an city law official. And while we're on the subject of possible charges, I'd keep your assessments a bit more accurate. Like that one statement three days ago you made about how you said 'the city recognizes a hero when it sees it'?"

"Oh, well, certainly I wasn't speaking on behalf of local law enforcement. As I recall I was only sharing an assessment of my personal thoughts with a local reporter on the matter, and last I checked civilians are still allowed to speak their personal opinions in the Aurino Republic. And my personal thoughts is that justice seemed to have prevailed unless NES is spreading false rumors about the incident on the yacht."

The woman's lips twisted slightly. "Vigilantism is still a crime, not an act of heroism, last I checked. No matter who ended up getting stopped."

"Oh yes. Well, feel free to explain that to everyone who didn't get shot by friendly plasma fire, detective. Along with an apology letter to arrive on the scene faster next time."

Roxanne's fists tightened so abruptly and rapidly that Eddie could hear an audible cracking of the knuckles. Swallowing once, he took two tentative steps back, fearing the worst from that. Her face actually flushed red momentarily. Voltaire, on his part, kept his calm expression and sly smile.

After a moment of silence, however, she relaxed.

"As for another assessment of yours that seems a bit inaccurate," She continued with visible restraint in her voice. "When you're out showing off for whatever bimbo you managed to get to be your arm candy for the evening," Her head motioned to one side, toward the last criminal to drop. His clothing was still smoldering as the police directed an EMT team to take him away. "Do you always charge your carnival game shots with enough electricity to disable a man?"

Voltaire's hand raised and adjusted his tie. "Oh well, you know me detective. I can be a tad extravagant in most of my activities. I just wanted to give a little flare for my date here."

Roxanne's eyes narrowed. She hissed and shook her head. "You always got an excuse, eh pretty boy? Why don't we see just how many you can list back at the precinct?"

For a half of a second, a shadow fell over Voltaire's eyes. Just a hint of the devil-may-care expression and attitude fading. Yet it was only half a second. He let out a half-chuckle of surprise. "…Pardon? You're seriously pressing charges? For what? 'Orderly conduct'?"

"You are aware of the concept of 'probable cause', aren't you Joachim? This is yet another day when you're in the same area as the Crimson Tengu Ravens, and yet another one of your happy accidents happened to do something a bit too convenient. In fact, you've been so close to their action so many times now that Chief Decosta would like you to come in voluntarily for a little chat to evaluate your stance on the Crimson Tengu Ravens. After all,"

She paused, crossing her arms over her chest. Within his mind, Voltaire wondered if she had caught the shadow over his eye. Wondered if that was the whole reason she threw out that comment to begin with…see if she hit close enough to the mark she'd ruffle a feather or two.

"You say you have nothing to hide, so you wouldn't mind giving us all that you know about them to help us with our investigation, would you?"

Voltaire smirked wider. "Oh, that's what all the fuss is about. But of course. Always looking forward to enlightening people on the gaps they have in their knowledge," He faux-shook his head. "Sorry, reports. I'll be there first thing tomorrow."

Her look hardened. "Sorry, but I'll have to ask you to come with us now. Voluntarily or I really will have to pull probable cause on you."

"Getting a little paranoid, aren't we? Sure you got enough room for me with all of the actual criminals around here?" His voice very slightly began to rise in volume. "You're going to end up ruining my date's night, detective."

"Your date can file a formal complaint. I'd like to hear the eyewitness story tonight. Unless you're suggesting you need a few more hours to make sure everything in it lines up?"

"Why do you guys always try and bother my brother?"

Roxanne suddenly found herself taking a step back; as a red-headed boy about half of Voltaire's age and size suddenly burst in between the two of them. She soon found herself face to face with the child as he glared at her angrily.

"Just because you're jealous at how cool he is don't think you can pick on him all the time!" He shouted. "Or you'll pay for it!"

For a moment, the detective simply stood there and blinked at the unexpected display of rather open hostility. The boy continued to fume and glare at her. Finally, she frowned again. "Listen kid, I know it's been rough around here but I'm not in the mood to humor temper tantrums."

The boy's teeth bared and he looked nearly ready to explode at her, both verbally and physically, before Voltaire, now much calmer himself, put his hand out on his shoulder.

"Oh, don't mind my kid brother Colin here, detective. He's just a little worked up over all the excitement going on. Looks like he got worried waiting for the two of us in the car."

The detective paused. Nearby, Eddie, seeing the presence of the younger Joachim there, let out a sigh before he turned with a regretful look to his cameraman, beckoning him to pull out as the hope of an expose was dashed. Roxanne's face eased but she kept her eyes on the boy glaring right back at her. She almost seemed to be studying him.

"Still," Voltaire went on. "I'm serious about having nothing to hide from the police and you are clearly serious about making this as much of a pain in the ass as possible. So, in the interest of quieting your fears and letting you know what a good little playboy I am, let's go on with this."

She continued to stare at Colin for a moment, before her eyes only slowly and deliberately raised back to Voltaire.

"Of course," He continued. "So long as this is just what you say it is…a little chat on my stance toward the Crimson Tengu Ravens. Anything ulterior and I'll have to drag my lawyers out of bed in the middle of the night."

Roxanne stared back expressionlessly for just a moment; before cracking just the hint of a smirk.

"Relax, Mr. Joachim. Some of us don't throw curve-balls with everything we say. All right…Joey, Franco."

Voltaire raised an eyebrow on hearing her call out additional names. A moment afterward, two more officers in SWAT outfits stepped up to Roxanne on either side, making especially sure to show off their respective figures being larger than the red-headed man's.

"Trouble seems to follow Mr. Joachim a bit too closely, so I'd like you two to keep an eye on him while we return to headquarters." Her voice lowered. "On a night like tonight, wouldn't want any local vigilantes unexpectedly dropping in on him, would we?"

"You got it, Roxy." The freckled one on the right answered. "No one gets to him until he gives his briefing."

"Chaperones! How thoughtful!" Voltaire sarcastically exclaimed. "Which one of you has to hold my hand when I go to the bathroom?"

Roxanne's smirk vanished in annoyance, but then she looked away. "All right, let's go before…" She paused, giving a start before looking around more. "Now where the hell is…Jeremy!"

Voltaire turned his head slightly, spotting a booth opposite the shooting gallery. This one was for selling food, although it was abandoned at the moment thanks to being half riddled with plasma fire. A lanky, blond-haired man in a suit was leaned over one pile of food hastily dumped on the counter, before he froze on hearing his name. Slowly he turned around, his cheeks stuffed like an oversized squirrel.

"Quit stuffing yourself on those Dodo Dumplings! We have a time table to meet!"

With a concerted effort, the man swallowed what was in his mouth in one gulp before he withered under the evil eye. "Gee, detective, I don't mean no disrespect! I just wanted to go over the food…I mean, evidence here to get a better report of what went down! 'Sides, I'm still kind of new to the city so I figured I'd write home about how different the street grub is from my home…"

"Just hurry it up, will you!" She cut off with an eye roll. She began to turn to lead the way.

Seeing this, the red-headed man looked up to the blond with him, who by now had run up to him on seeing Colin run out and up to him. He gave her an apologetic smile as he began to direct his younger brother toward her.

"Sorry we didn't have time for 'extracurricular activities' tonight, Sophie. Looks like I have to deal with overeager hall monitors. I promise I'll make this up to you, but could you get Colin home and explain to my dad what happened?"

The 'tutor' immediately nodded. Colin, on the other hand, looked anxiously back up to his older brother, clearly wanting to protest or, barring that, go with him. However, he looked down at him and gave him a smile and a nod, for once using a nonverbal message. Although he was clearly hesitant, the boy reluctantly slipped out from under his hand and went over to the woman. Once that was done, he leaned over just to give her a quick kiss before leaning back and focusing completely on Joey and Franco.

Seeing that they were ready, Roxanne nearly took another step before she was halted again. Apparently, the shot of one of the law enforcement sampling an abandoned food vendor's booth following a mass shooting was too much for NES to resist. Both Eddie and his cameraman were back, and while one of the camera spheres was recording Jeremy as he wiped his mouth and quickly stepped away from the booth, the other was now in her face along with the reporter's mic.

"Detective, any words you would like to share about tonight's turn of events?"

The woman took a fraction of a second to compose herself, clearly knowing to have a different attitude where the media was concerned. "The official press conference will be held shortly." She stated flatly. "On a personal note, I'm sorry we weren't here faster. That is all and I'm on duty."

With that, the woman began to walk forward and moved around him. Eddie quickly tried to follow. "Detective! Detective! But what about-"

He was cut off as the other men began to follow after her, and, as part of her "retinue", Joey stepped forward and formed a human wall. "Sorry, but the detective made it clear there will be no more answers for ya'."

The cameraman cleared his own throat. "Come on, Eddie…" He muttered. "Don't push them too much. They're still giving me hell for Krovada…"

The reporter snapped on him in an instant. "Damnit, Parker, you'll never get a major award if you don't have the guts to grasp a story!" He paused, his face falling. "You didn't just record that, did you?"


"Well edit it out! Where's the head of the festival? He said he had a few thoughts to share so let's start prying them out…"

The exit from the Los Midas pier had been rather dramatic, but, in reality, more theatrical than amazing. It wasn't long after gaining access to their hideout in the Valro Caverns that the Crimson Tengu Ravens started to exploit more of the underground systems throughout the city. It seemed the original Jiodisan occupants of Los Midas had been quite fond of their subterranean networks.

Whether it was because they valued sanitation or had some purpose related to their many infamous creations, there were abandoned networks everywhere. Many had been collapsed in the old war and others decommissioned, but the ones that were serviceable allowed for quick and surprise movement such as in places like this. One particular pipeline ran parallel to the city pier in this area.

It wasn't that hard to find a wall panel that could easily be replaced with a fake door. There was a chance the police might uncover it, in which case it would have to rapidly be permanently sealed, but as the entrance was underwater that wasn't likely to happen anytime soon. For now, it allowed a good point for the shadowy group to make their exit.

By now, Requiem and Brown Raven themselves had gone beneath the level of the pipeline entrance and to a lower and more secluded area, far from the eyes and ears of the police or anyone else, on a sub-level. Lighting was unnecessary.

All of the Dragon Lens Scanners had infrared. All they had to do was wait as the rest of the Ravens funneled in one after another. The swordsman didn't even have to bother counting them all at this point. As with many operations, he knew once he saw one member in particular, all others were in.

And sure enough, the last to descend the metal ladder leading to the sub-level, jumping down rather than climbing, was Red Raven.

"Is everyone alright?" He asked once he arrived.

The last member gave a hearty thumbs up in response. "C'mon man. Like small fries like that were going to screw us over? We hit 'em hard and fast and they fell even faster. The only thing that left me sore is having to check out of the Festival early, but there's plenty of time to sneak up later for some dumplings."

The armored man looked about the others. Infrared didn't exactly produce the most detail even if masks weren't present, but even so he saw the others looked unhurt and at ease. Only Brown Raven had his arms crossed.

"You all fought well. I'm glad you utilized the underwater training so effectively. We'll celebrate once we get back but keep it short. The first lead on a Rycroft escapee panned out tonight so we need to follow up on the others before they go cold."

Two or three of the assembled Ravens shifted weight uncomfortably. One let out a bit of a sigh. "Damn man," Brown Raven snickered. "Can't even pat us on the back before hurling us at another wacko?"

"This isn't a sports league where we're planning regular games." He retorted heavily. "Every moment we delay another life is in danger."

"Hey, none of us are keen on psychos running loose either, man." Red Raven spoke up, turning Requiem's attention back to him. "But we need a little R&R to stay on our A game, right? Ain't much good to anyone burned out."

Requiem hesitated. He was actually still for a few seconds, hesitant, before he finally nodded more readily. "...True enough." He admitted after pausing a moment longer.

Taking that as a good enough sign, Brown Raven uncrossed his arms and clapped his hands together. "Sounds good to me, boss. Fighting around all that food made me hungry…"

The others began to murmur as well, rapidly growing more energized and excited as well. Requiem largely ignored this, looking back up the way they came. Nothing but darkness, indicating no cracks in the hidden panel. As those around him continued to get louder, he held out a hand in a stopping gesture, quieting them.

"One moment." He clenched his fist again, reactivating the Codec. "Cipher Raven, are we in the clear?"

There was silence for a few moments, but no one tensed. They knew this was par for the course where she was concerned. Soon after, a more hurried voice answered. "Sorry, just getting dessert out. Checking the blotters, and…yeah, you're good. The cops seem to be clueless as to where you all went to… Nothing but the usual jargon and some occasional cursing and whatnot so…you're clean. Is that all you need? I want to see how this whipped cream works out."

A suppressed mutter echoed through the helmet. "I would actually like you to decode what Gausau had on him, but that's all for now." Releasing his fist, he turned back to the others, lowering his hand again.

"Go on. I'll ensure we aren't being followed then join you."

The Ravens nearly got up to move again, only for him to call out with more.

"Don't let your guard down. Even if they don't find out about this new route, we're not sure how stable the path is."

"Got it." Red Raven called back. "Watch out for any unstable bricks and keep the pizza warm." Turning back to the others, he immediately limbered up and took off in a dash. "Race back to the base, boys! Winner gets the rights to double beer!"

"Like hell they do!" Troy shouted back, cracking his neck before taking off after him. "I bought it!"

"First come, first serve, man!"

The others soon fell in behind the two as they took off full speed back down the cavern. Soon they were all vanishing into the darkness, letting out echoes of revelry and footsteps for a few moments, but those rapidly faded as well. Soon there was nothing but silence all around. Not even dripping from their entrance. And it remained that way as Requiem continued to stand there, staring at it.

Only after a time had passed did he go back the way he came, heading back up the same ladder he descended. The upper chamber that they had descended from nearest the entrance still had one functional service light. It wasn't much and it flickered, but it still offered an easy view of the entry point. On reaching the top of the ladder, he passed into the light as he made his way back to the entrance, his footsteps clicking and echoing back down the way he came.

As a result, he switched off his infrared and went back to color vision on his approach. On reaching it, he stopped and leaned in; pressing his head against the metal, then going still and waiting. Listening for any noise or any sound of anything or anyone coming.

Silence. No sound at all.

Pushing himself away from the door, he turned to the bar they had installed on it to act as a crude one-way lock. He placed his hand on it and gave it a test push. Solid and unyielding. Only welding it would be tighter.

He continued to stand there and wait, looking everything over, making sure not the slightest thing was out of place. Nothing.

He took in a deep breath and let it out, then turned to go back the way he came…and stopped.

While the entrance didn't leak, those who had come in and out through it not long ago had to do so via the ocean. They had left quite a bit of seawater behind. It was pooling up now, and in the pale, flickering utility light it cast just a hint of a reflective surface. He could see himself in it now. And in spite of the fact he had to swim to get here, he could see his attire.

In spite of the dim light, he could see the older stains still on it, soaking into the fabric portions and tarnishing the shining parts.

He thought back to where this had all begun. How shocking it was to see the bodies at that time, whether they were friend or foe. How hard it was to make certain moves that he knew would give the sensation of cutting through flesh. Oh, he had felt it before on the occasional bio-weapon or test creature bred for training in combat. And some of the magic proxies he had used felt suspiciously like the real thing. But knowing it was a real life forcing the blood through his target's veins? A living breathing person? That was something else.

Tonight it hadn't mattered. For the life of him, he couldn't remember the last time it had mattered. He saw only his target. His objective. Even that last criminal on board…he hadn't hesitated out of pity. Only due to being a non-threat. He remembered how long he had to stand there looking at him before he even started to feel a little like how he had on the first mission…

"Guess Orion was right. It does become 'dulled' if you survive it enough. Though…maybe dull isn't the right word.

We stopped a madman. We saved hundreds of people tonight. One of our best this month. So why does it feel so…so what?

Empty? Meaningless? Hollow?


Requiem stared at that image a second more. The face of fear and justice now in this city. Growing a bigger reputation all the time. Becoming famous in the streets. Yet he still saw just a costume. He also saw what was beneath it. And that part didn't look like it had changed at all.

"Who am I kidding. I know exactly why it feels that way.

Ares is still out there. Zandoris is still out there. Marvlos knows how many more like them are still out there. And there isn't a damn thing I can do about them. None of this…any of this…means a thing to them. It's not even worth their notice. We're not even worth their notice. Killing Steiner meant something, but nothing's changed since then.

As hard as I'm trying not to lose my passion for this, the truth is that we haven't really made any real progress.

All we've really been doing is cleaning up my mistakes."

He slowed in his step when he thought that. Another exhale went through his helmet. That was the darkest truth of all. The inescapable fact. No matter how many people had been spared or how much damage had been avoided, if even so much as a paper cup had been crushed it was because of him. His first act of heroism had been to unleash a team of criminals and killers on Los Midas. He wasn't making progress in giving Los Midas a better future…he was trying to make up for what he had done to this town. Every victory like this one wasn't just a failure to make progress. It was a reminder of how far 'behind' he still was.

And while I run around playing a masked hero in sewers, he's in that palace doing and saying whatever he likes with my father…and Uncle Nathan…and mom…and Miri-

He stomped a foot down, stopping in his tracks and letting out a loud echo through the sewer. It resounded loud and long, and he stood there in the dark and let it fade.

It wasn't until it was fully gone that he moved again.

I have to just keep trusting him to give me more news. And until then, I need to keep at this. I owe it to this city. I've come too far. I can't slow down now.

Reaching the ladder, he grasped the rungs, turned over the edge, and began to climb down.

Tonight was a victory. Keep telling yourself that.

Tonight was a victory.

Authors Notes: Welcome to the second installment of the Zilos Chronicles ladies and gentlemen. At the moment this is just a rough draft, I might be making heavy revisions depending on how much I ultimately change Zilos one but, I needed to write something again. Well, if by chance you like what you see I would be all to happy to see a review. And if you don't like what you see well, try to at least not be to savage in the bashing lol.