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Grand Conspiracy Arc

Stranger in the Night

As night turned the dark hours of morning, the bustling city of Crocus had fallen almost silent save for the crickets. The opening ceremony had been a smashing success as usual with just the minimum level of trouble for now, but with every bar slashing prices to pull in tourists, that wouldn’t be true for long. Still as fans and participants slept, council, military, and police forces burned the midnight oil. Ever since a certain tournament, security has been a very high priority.

In the pursuit of it, a triad of forces coming from the council, the local police force, and Fiore’s army have protected and policed the event much more extensively. As a result, Kane found himself carrying on that tiresome tradition. It didn’t leave much room for him to enjoy the tourney, but he would make due.

Eden and himself had been given command of the council’s rune knight units in an eastern sector in the city and were the only rangers within the entire city. With his hands stuffed in his pocket, he continues his trek down the local street. These parts were newer with wider roads and proper sidewalks, so he had the joy to make sure on opportunists broke into the array magical automobiles parked alongside his walk—truly work befitting a ranger. This was his third time making it down this block.

He had slipped away a few times to see if that woman was in the area, he had caught a glimpse of her moving towards his sector, but nothing has come of it yet. But, he could feel it, like a lion lying in wait for prey. She’d come this way. Even from their seats, he was able to sniff out her odd aura, that was no ordinary woman, no ordinary mage.

As he sighed, a chill went down his back.

“Gotcha,” he smirked.

From the shadows of a nearby alleyway, Kane watched as she moved across the streetway, having ditched the cloak, her full face and body bared to the world. She looked to be around his age with jet black hair and tanned skin, all almost glowing as she was bathed in a mix of streetlight and the shine of full moon. Kane eyed what looked like a sheath at her hip, she was armed. This could be troublesome, he thought.

As she looked around cautiously, Kane got the feeling she was trying to get away from something rather than the pursuit of anything. He kept his breathing slow and low as he continued to observe her, one could never be too careful. It had only been two decades since that bombing at the X980 tournament, a group of traditionalist whack jobs had detonated a lacrima bomb just a few blocks from the arena. Those images he saw in history class as a boy are hard to forget.

“Alright, who the hell are you,” Kane whispered to himself, watching her continue down the street.

He took to the rooftops, moving in swift silence across the buildings to her left flank. He hopped across alley gaps, dashed under laundry lines, stealing glances at her path as he tracked her down another few blocks.

He climbed down into a dark alleyway as she came to a halt before a small building across the street. It was a rugged and abandoned building, with a worn sign that read “Gino’s.” He watched as she picked the lock, forcing the door open and stepping in.

“Time for some answers.”

Kane stepped silently into the abandoned building. As the room came into view, it was obviously some sort of restaurant with tables covered in white cloth and moved to the end of the main room and a empty bar that had an array of glasses still in stock on the shelves behind it. That aside, nothing but dust and cobwebs with the girl nowhere to be found.

He continued to look around, but stopped suddenly as the creak of the old, wood floors rang into his ears. A drop of cold sweat ran down his brow. “Oh, shit,” he frowned.

Still, there was silence. The young ranger let out a sigh of relief; it looks like she hadn’t heard him. “Crisis averted, sort of,” he smirked.

Then, he heard it, a little whistling in his right ear. As he turned, he saw cold steel swiping past his face in the moonlit darkness. Eyes widened, Kane ducked, the blade barely missing his head. He quickly jumped back to the other side of the room, sliding to a stop across the dusty floor.

“That was close,” Kane said. The blade came into full view; it was a shimmering steel blade that was jagged in design, a bizarre thing. As he looked up, the woman’s eyes were cold. He finally got a full look at her, definitely around his age and with a stern face. Her composure was that of an experienced combatant, Kane could tell she was no slouch.

He threw right hand to the side as a sword flashed into it, an ornate, golden hilted broadsword. “This should be enough for now, though coming at me like that probably wasn’t your best plan,” Kane said, regaining his composure.

“Who are you?” She asked in a demanding tone.

“Funny, I was just about to—“

She lunged at him in that movement, coming at his side with a one handed swipe. Kane ducked once more and met her blade head on, sparks flying as their swords crashed together.

With inhuman speed, they danced across the room. Close quarters were no issue as Kane dodged and parried. The clang of their blades rang out in the dark room; their only light was the moon and their senses. Again and again, their eyes met. Swing for swing, swipe to swipe, Kane held strong.

She came with a two handed slash to his right flank, he jumped back, the steel swiping just an inch from his eyes. As Kane landed hard on his foot, he spun to the right, both hands grasping the hilt moving for a devastating swipe. She followed, spinning in the opposite direction. As their blades met, a burst of force, like a tiny shockwave ripped between them. The windows near them shattered with the glasses on the shelves behind the bar shattering as well. Their blades were locked as they exchanged glares, though Kane’s was more one of minimal annoyance, while hers was something far more intense.

“I think you’ve gotten your point across, but I can promise you, I’m not here to hurt you,” Kane said, gritting his teeth.

“Is that the line they told you to use?” She barked back.

“They, you mean the council?” he said.

The look on her face softened as she heard those words. She stepped back, lowering her blade. “Council or not, that still doesn’t prove a thing,” she said sternly.

“For god’s sake, woman,” Kane rolled his eyes as the sword in his hand disappeared into thin air. “Let’s try this again, this time the civilized way. Kane Vista, member of the Magic Council Ranger Corp and unit leader in the GMG special security forces.”

She arched an eyebrow, “Vista?”

“This is the part where you move your mouth and tell me your name,” Kane said. “You gotta give me something after that little exchange.”

“I am Vera,” she said with a scowl.

“They don’t have surnames where you come from?” Kane asked with a grin.

“Not for folks that don’t need to know them, that’s all you need to know,” She said, sheathing her sword.

“Well, aren’t you a joy,” Kane shook his head.

Directly across the street, a shadowy figure nestled into the rooftop, a menacing rifle in hand. As the moonlight lit up their face, a tattooed feminine visage came into view, so extensive as to create something inhuman in look. She laid down on her stomach, positioning the rifle towards Kane and Vera.

From a back pouch, she took a glowing bullet and loaded it into the rifle. One bullet, one kill, one chance—it was all she needed. As she adjusted the scope, the crosshairs landed on Vera’s head. “Everything goes bang,” She fixed her legs as the scope followed Vera’s head movement.

“Anyway, I’m one of the unit leaders for security around these parts, so whatever hell you’re doing is very much my business,” Kane said. “And by the way, try a less conspicuous look next time, sheesh.”

“I don’t have time for prattling,” Vera scoffed, moving towards the broken window.

“I couldn’t care less, there are questions you need to answer before you go anywhere,” Kane said, stepping towards her. “And I’m not asking, if you won’t do it voluntarily, then I’ll have to use force. It won’t be like that little sparring session a few minutes ago either.” A smile crossed the assassin’s face as the scope fell straight on her target’s head guided by a special laser invisible to the common eye.

But, these were not common targets.

As he stepped closer towards Vera, Kane eyed the faint laser on the side of her head. “Shit,” Kane dashed towards her, catching the young woman off guard. “Vera, get the hell out of—"

“Everything goes bang,” the assassin pulled the trigger.

The restaurant burst in flames as a small explosion rocked the building, shattering nearby windows on the block. The assassin rose to her feet to admire her work only for her sadistic grin to fall as her eyes veered to the street corner.

On all fours, Kane shielded Vera’s body, looking back at the burning building and then in the direction of the bullet, a very well placed one. “An explosive shell, holy shit, what the hell is going on?”

Vera pushed the young ranger from on top of her and rose to her feet frantically. “They’ve found me,” She said, grasping the hilt of her sword.

“Doubt it; this block is pretty much abandoned, so it won’t be until the block over starts calling in security that we’ll have any real company. The explosion was only enough to take out the restaurant’s serving area and us with it, this assassin is no joke,” he said with his eyes on the devastation, dusting off dirt from his clothes. “Unless you’re talking about someone else entirely, like that they you mentioned.”

“Vera?” He turned around to find her disappearing into the distance. “I’ve got to get better at this tracking thing.”

As the flames raged on, the young mage walked towards the building the bullet had most likely been fired from. As he moved nearer, he saw the figure in full view, sitting on the edge with large, black rifle in hand and face only an angel could love. He narrowed his eyes at her, earning a small grin in return.

“It seems I missed, I’m not supposed to miss. Good moves though, kid,” She said, her devilish grin getting wider.

“I need to deal with her as quick as possible and catch up with that Vera chick,” Kane kept his eyes on his new objective as a sword slipped into his right palm; he grasped it tightly on contact. “I’m going to have to ask you a fe—“


Kane sidestepped on a moment’s notice, sliding to the left. “Goddammit,” Kane grimaced at the smoking barrel of his assailant’s rifle.

“You got quick moves and requip? How fun,” the assassin said, rising to her feet. “But, this job and witnesses don’t mix. Sorry, it’s just business.”

“Lovely,” Kane said, twirling his sword to his side.

Painted Targets

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