The Slayer's Dogma
Complications, The Threat Underlying The Problem
"...and they said it left as soon as he scoured through the wreckage. Dozens of injuries were heard but thankfully any mortal ones were tended to immediately on site," Diana listed off, her body's image flickering in front of him within his study. It wasn't the first time they had their talks like this, having used the TPR to communicate long distances without stressing their personal magical stores. Hearing of the news upon investigating the incident, she reported immediately to Victor while he had waited the day for the news in full. "it didn't leave any signs of its presence."
"Interesting," Victor said aloud, his eyes furrowing as a expression of dispassion crossed his jawline. "this is the fifth train that's part of my company. The Intercontinental Magic Advancement will suffer if this perp continues his raids. Especially if they all happen within the span of a single month."
"At least we confirmed he's working alone," Diana said aloud with a hint of optimism, her body language and tone insistant on brightening her Master's disposition. "not enough signs of a large contingent, and the lack of stolen goods barring destruction and ransacking. Unfortunately we have no leads as to what kind of Mage he is or what he looks like."
Victor took a longing sip, pondering on the information that had been collected. It had been a little over a month since he upped the amount of Lacrima shipments to other newly established hubs for his company in other countries. Fiore, while its capital HQ, was going to be one of five other countries with official bases of operations. From there distribution and manufacturing could be easily managed between his elected managers he placed in each country.
What was disturbing was that specifically routed trains trying to leave the country were targeted by this single assailment. Capable of overturning an entire shipment without the standard security noticing or too swift to notice, many would be injured in the process. He could not account for any accidental deaths involved in the other attacks, but so far the saboteur aimed to incapacitate to reach his goal. Which brought up a reflexsive spark to light up within his eyes.
"Diana," Victor said aloud, his revelation fueling the vigor his tone now showed, turning on his seat to face her attentive frame, "you said that the perp approached the train and searched its contents after derailing it?"
"I cannot speak for the other attacks, but it appears to be the case for this one," The dutiful Virago spirit responded, tilting her head ot the side with curiosity, "why?"
"For one, it confirms the intelligence leak is minor. Perhaps spoken by people among those who work on the train, passed by other locals as rumors. Secondly it also disproves that he's a radical attempting to inhibit our company's aim. If he were so inclined to break the train, why would he try to search its contents and yet leave empty handed? No, this individual is looking for something but is grasping at straws. There is a specific type of item he is trying to find without being seen or known by those he assaults. Something in our cargo that isn't usually shipped but is supposedly transported by us. Such sloppy guesses are more out of fixated determination than a desire for thievery," Victor deduced, swiveling the remaining contents of his cup idly while keeping eye contact with Diana.
"I have the list of the cargo that was originally intended for Bosco," Diana nodded, knowing what was foremost on her Master's mind. Looking slightly up, she focused on recalling the information as she recounted for his benefit. "100 crates of Magic Malleable Metal. 200 boxes of Lacrima glass cannisters. 50 boxes of Fire Element Lacrima. 50 boxes of Water Lacrima. 50 Boxes of Ice Lacrima. 50 Boxes of Lightning Lacrima-"
"Stop," Victor said in a level, authoritative tone.
"Sir?" Diana inquired a furrow of her brows.
"I'm going to delay shipments out of country for a week and limit it to a single faux shipment that I will personally announce at one of my rallies in a few days," Victor said with a cunning smile, raising his tea up to be parallel with his hair covered chin, "our attacker won't help himself but to strike this shipment since I've eliminated any alternative targets. This one will be full of all kinds of material that is all but useless for our manufacturing plants but should be useful to a single individual. A recycling shipment if you will."
"What is it going to be...recycling?" Diana scrunched her brows further, still unable to understand her superior's logic.
"Lacrima," Victor said with an elated smile, "our Mage attacker is after a particular type of Lacrima. Once I have a buffet line ripe for the taking and heading out of the country he won't help himself. Either our friend is an addict or has something big planned out. If what he seeks is there, he won't refuse this chance."
With a bright gleam sparkling into Diana's eyes, a enthusiastic smile breached across her normally stoic face, "That's incredible, Master Victor!"
"This assailant is powerful, though, to take down trained men capable of staving off most Dark Guild attacks and bandit groups," Victor said with a more stern tone, his expression returning to a more business dispassionate visage, "most of my Guild is still in its infant stage. Already doing jobs for the greater parts of Fiore to set up a reputation before I assign them to protect the company's interests. I can't call upon a Guild for leaking out our inability to handle this ourselves. It would look bad for everyone if a Mage from a hired Guild took care of our attacker."
"Shall I safeguard the shipment?" Diana asked expectantly.
"I think it will possibly even exceed your abilities. After all, an unknown is a much more capable force than one we can understand," Victor shook his head, finishing with a final sip of his cup. Gently placing the empty container upon the saucer, Victor bridged his hands in front of his face, his eyes looking more determined. A projective glint of fiercesome intent crossed his body, as a silhouette enamored his being within the dimly lit study in the dark of the night of his mansion, "I shall be taking charge of this operation. You and the others shall accompany me, but should I command it, do not interfere when I approach the saboteur. I want to know what precisely is the object of value he seeks and why is it important to him."
The Alluring Delivery, And the Perp Is...?!
"You see anything yet?!" Christina shouted with hands cupped over her mouth, standing atop one of the box cars roofs of the speeding train. Her sister outfit flourished wildly with the high velocity winds buffeting the moving transport, causing her golden locks to flap around her head and towards her facing direction towards her comrade.
"Do you hear me, shooting?! Of course I don't!" Victoria shouted back, an angry vein sporting across her forehead as she gestured angrily back at her associate.
"Are you sure?!" Christina inquired again.
"STOP ASKING!!!" Victoria bellowed back.
"Quit the bickering you two," Diana's voice riddled their minds, causing them both to recoil and wince, "you should use your Mind Link Rings instead of wasting energy. It's easier for us to concentrate and exchange information that way."
"Oh, sorry," Christina laughed inwardly as she focused on the emerald gem embedded accessory on her left middle finger.
Huffing, Victoria spoke in a dry tone, "So, exactly why did Master excuse the two dozen guards that were supposed to watch this large train?"
"Avoiding casualties and to allow us more freedom of movement?" Christina piped in.
"For the most part, yes," Diana answered with affirmation, her own Arc Armored frame standing atop near the rear of the train, "each of us take a quarter of the train's perspective. Between us and the Master, we can cover all the blindspots by communicating with our Mind Link Rings."
"Having extra hands can do us some good. I'm a good eye and a better shot, but even I have limits," Victoria responded raggedly.
"Every assortment of guards established for every incident prior had failed to even notice the assailant's movements before the train was derailed. None that are conscious even recall his features or the Magic he used. It is a mage of a high caliber, one we can only cover. Having lesser qualified individuals would slow us down and endanger themselves needlessly," Diana explained smoothly.
"I guess that makes sense," Victoria sighed, making sure she turned around and took in the sights of their rapidly passing-by environment. This particular shipment was being shipped to a facility just over the border of Fiore in Bosco, using a separate set of tracks that weren't victim by the last wreck. Tall trees and lush green fields bordered them on either side, making a dense field of cover, hard for even a marksman like Victoria to catch sight of an exceptional individual like their to-be attacker. "still, why are we placed at sections of the train where the cargo is least packed?"
"The Master wants to be near the middle of the train while we guard the other sides. He has a hunch the item in question will be where the saboteur will run to. Besides, after exchanging blows with us, he'll quickly realize he can't topple this train but will have to penetrate its defenses anyways. From the way he operates, discretion is part of his creed as well as avoiding too much elongated conflict," Diana added.
Before Victoria could continue, the voice of Victor breathed into all of their minds simultaneously.
"But our thief is getting impatient. The last attack coincided in less than five days from the prior recorded attack. The others were in one week intervals. Whatever plan he's hatching will transpire soon and his window of opportunity is dwindling with every passing day. He will come and he will try to attain his item. Fighting through exceptional trained guards will not be part of the agenda, but rather avoiding fire and entering the hold to find the Lacrima. Keep your guard up for he will approach soon for the border draws near within the hour," Victor concluded.
Standing alongside the tracks, nearly to the border like, a young woman waited calmly, her black twintails fluttering in the breeze as blue eyes gazed into the distance. She had heard of another shipment headed out with some rather precious cargo. The risk of it being a waste of time, much like her prior endeavors was, to her, well worth the gamble of the shipment being exactly what she was searching for.
In the back of her mind, she recalled the last raided train a scant five days prior.
Even without her magic, disabling the train and moving through the cars was rather simplistic, once she cut the link between the engine itself and the rest of the train. Without its movement impeding her, she was free to deal with the pitiful guards and dig through whatever the vehicle was transporting, all in vain in the end. To them, she would undoubtedly appear as a mere phantom, her pale skin and dark attire making her seem as an agent of the afterlife come to call. Coupled with her speed, something she prided herself on, she would indeed be as a ghostly specter, only to become flesh and blood when the time to strike had come.
Despite her best efforts, many of the foolish defenders had indeed tried to battle with her, to eliminate what they perceived as a threat to their treasures and their purpose. And even then, she had kindly attempted at merely wounding her assailants rather than aiming for lethal blows, something she feared would eventually come to haunt her. Blood still flowed from them, just as in years long before, it had from her. There was no justice, she believed, in their deaths. Her past was laid at the feet of another being, thus she held no ill-will toward her victims, beyond being unable to empathize with them in their efforts to remove her.
As it was on each of her assaults before, the train hadn’t carried her particular prize, but she remained unmoved, eventually she would have it and the need to unleash even a tiny bit of her own wrath would cease, at least towards those who did not deserve their fates.
Snapping quickly from her memories, a familiar scent wafted on the winds, the unmistakable smell of smoke, in particular the smoke from a train. Diving into the foliage for cover, she sprinted in the direction of the train.
After what she estimated to be ten minutes of running, her target was in sight. Timing now became everything to her. She only had a single chance to perform the maneuver that would halt the transport after a few moments. From the scabbard held by her belt, she drew her weapon, an ebony black sword. She burst from the trees, quickly getting onto the coupler for the engine and second car, which, with a single stroke of her blade, was split clean in twain. With the engine now separate from the train proper, its momentum would surely die down, mitigating her natural weakness to transportation.
Although she would have seemed like a mere shadow at first to an observer, she knew that the moment the engine pulled ahead of the rest of the cars, her ploy would be discovered, and as far as she was concerned, it was the inevitable, so she forced open the door leading into the car and set about her work, keeping a well trained ear listening for the expected rush of guards as she began searching for any Lacrima she could find, all for the sake of her goal.
Christina blinked a few times at hearing a succinct clank of metal and rattle within the first few forward cars. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that the engine began to grow dimmer in mass and move farther away, while their train began to slow. After assessing what happened, Christina spoke into her ring with haste, "The assailant is here! He cut the line connecting us to the engine!"
"Shit! She's trying to keep us immobile!" Victoria swore aloud, already sprinting across the train car tops, vaulting over the gaps of each one as her closer proximate associate was doing, "Get down below, Christie! I'll handle 'em if he tries to skirt above or the sides."
"Right!" Christina replied with a nod, grasping the large cross-shaped blade slung over her back. With a firm grasp applied to the edge of the car's top, she flung herself through the window, cleaving her weapon with her to enter the interior. Seeing the rushing form of a slender being endowed with pale skin and a dark cloak, the Virago Spirit immediately tensed. Swinging her blade in the expansive car's emptier space, she slammed the edgeless bottom in front of her, declaring her cross bladed weapon in its appropriate shape in a defensive posture before her.
With that said, a bright light cast over the entire interior of the car the sprinting intruder was seen. Not only did this create a flashbang effect to slow her down, but it also exposed her feminine frame before her. Taking a few moments to gawk at her visage, being almost akin to that of a young woman's, she reasserted her objective. With a clench of her hands upon the hilt of her uniquely shapened sword, she established a violet hued barrier to erect from one wall of the car to the other, ensuring that she'd have to attack her directly in order to break through.
"Surrender yourself and you will be spared!" Christina announced, halfway pleading while the other half demanded.
The explosive light caused the girl to flinch as blinding white permeated her vision. Even after the glaring glow subsided, after-images swam in her brain as her sight tried to catch up with her last moments before the spell went off. Finally, she was able to see the one who triggered the spell. Standing before her was a nun, far as the thief could figure with a mere glance.
That damnable ‘mercy’ she had seen from much of humanity bore down upon her as the other woman spoke. “You ask me to surrender? I’ve already surrendered once before. I refuse to submit again! Why don’t any of you get that? Nothing you can do...none of it can be worse than his terror! So take your capitulation offer and begone. I have something to do and you happen to be in my way.” she snarled, obviously tired of hearing what amounted to the same vain plea over and over.
She entered a battle-ready stance, knowing full well that despite her own dismissal of the other, she would eventually need to fight her way through. To abandon her quest on the words of another would be paramount to death as far as she was concerned.
"She's so young...and yet I can tell she's been through so much," Christina's gaze softened into a mournful one upon hearing what the perpretrator said. She obviously was afraid of someone, her words confirmed as much. Was that the reason she needed a special kind of Lacrima? She could only guess as much, as she kept a strong grip on her sword.
"I'm sorry that you've suffered so much. Forgive my ignorance," Christina apologized while retaining her stance, keeping the barrier solid but not doing anymore than that. "perhaps if we met under better circumstances I could have been more sympathetic with your cause."
"What the Hell are you doing, Christina?!"
It wasn't until Christina heard the mental shout did her gaze veer to just over the girl's shoulders. Vaulting through the farthest car that she had entered from came in Victoria. Tumbling forward, her flak jacketed and longcoat toting person flourished into being as she broke into a somersaulting spin. Flourishing her hands to either side, white magic circles were created, as Gun Re-Quips were already in motion to be activated.
When a pair of arm clasping gauntlets, fastening a grip to two limb sized chain guns. Elegant silver grooves in the shape of bird feathers rain across each tubular barrel, while a painted face with perpindicularly aligned eyes with a devilish smile affixed the body of the identical weapons. When the flash of crimson light overcame their chasis did the multiple barrels spin and produce a series of electrical orbs the size of a pin on each metal edge.
Coming to train car that the two were presiding within, she finally let loose her attack with a gallant shout.
"Devil Chain Duo: Shock Fire!" Victoria declared, unleashing a wall of taser equivalent rounds to fill the entire car's space. They'd ricochet off Christina's shield, proving the studiness of its defensive integrity. Furthermore the shots did little to damage the environment of the car, only causing electrical outage along the lighting and producing a field of high voltage shocks throughout the entire cabin space.
It was the perfect takedown procedure, one that Victoria and Christina had done before. Yet why was Victoria looking more determined than Christina?
Attack of the Shadows, Revival of the Strongest Lost Magic!
The dark thief flinched as she looked into the habit-clad woman’s eyes. Despite having threatened to end her life, her eyes reflected pity, of all things. It infuriated her to no end. Blood boiling, the shadowy assailant would begin the fight if not for a sudden interruption.
Upon hearing the newcomer shout the name of a spell, she leapt upwards, hoping to dodge the incoming blasts as a flickering after-image remained in her stead. The unleashed magic that would have undoubtedly connected phased through the immaterial replica as the real one soon realized her mistake. The spheres reflected off the shield held by the nun, bouncing around the car, electrifying every surface. A few of the reflected rounds slammed into her, knocking her the electrified floor. Flipping herself so that she landed on her feet, she noticed the car had gone dark as the lights were zapped. Such a situation served her more than her enemies would believe, as they would soon see.
Breathing in, slowly letting her magic suffuse her being, she prepared her counter-attack. Thrusting both hands out towards the intruder, she intoned the name of one of her spells. “Darkness Dragon’s Fang!” As she called out the name, a barrage of tiny ebon-black blasts of energy tore across the length of the car each resembling a draconic fang. Numbering in the hundreds, they would serve as but the first taste of what was to come should her plans be further interrupted.
"What the-?!" Victoria exclaimed partway as a barrage of shadowy talons flew at her. Each of her shock shots were met by fangs of shadows, carving through and detonating them halfway. Worse was the fact she had managed to endure the visible impacts her shots had on her. With the sporadic flurry of gunfire and magic striking the halfway point, the glass shattered and the walls dented with the reverberating force the clashes of Eternano discharges were creating.
It was only when Victoria noted a handful of the fangs making their way past her gunfire did she retract her weapons and back around to the outside of the car to avoid being hit by the number of attacks. Raising the weapons upwards, she clenched her hands within the gauntlets, causing two fist sized cartridges to fall inert and useless next to her feet. Twisting her wrists within the gauntlets, she reloaded and adjusted the fire type, flinching at the sight of the shadow fangs piercing through the metal of the car aiming to get to her.
"Christina! Distract her for a moment. I need an opening in order to make my next shot," Victoria spoke over the Mind Link Ring.
"Understood," Christina nodded, solemnly confirming her reclaimed resolve to see the mission through.
With a pull upwards she deactivated her barrier and moved in to attack. Thrusting her flat edged cross blade forward, she aimed to hit her at the torso before swinging around in a arching diagonal motion, repeating the gesture as the balls of her feet would pivot her around in a graceful twirl. It would almost appear she was dancing as the mutually sized weapon swung around in the expansive space of the magic riddled interior of the train car.
The thief felt the air seem to vibrate as the barrier deactivated. The sudden change made her realize something was going to happen. With a quick motion, she halted her barrage of fang-shaped rounds. Black energy swirled around her body as she seemed to devour the darkness around her, feeding upon it, as if it were her power source. Without warning, she seemingly vanished from sight, blending perfectly into the shadows around her, the result of a wordless invocation of the Darkness Dragon’s Scales. Her body safely shrouded in the inky blackness, she sprung into action.
While her enemy would be unable to see her by sight, the mysterious mage could see perfectly well in the shadows. All that would be visible at this time would be two blue glints, the eyes of a predator fully within her environment. Concealed in her element, she freely began her attempt to escape the spinning swordsmistress now closing in on her with every passing moment.
Tearing forward, she launched up and over the oncoming onslaught, landing with the softest of thuds. She almost continued her run onwards to the next car before a sudden truth made itself known to her.
“If I press onwards now, there might be more of these people. Getting caught between too many of them would be hazardous to my plans. I can remain cloaked nearly indefinitely as long as there’s darkness, but in this kind of confined space, there would be nowhere to escape to if I were trapped.” Realizing that, she spun around and prepared to deal with the threats to her goal in one fell swoop.
Without pausing to give her target time to realize what was happening, she unleashed the signature technique of her kind, those given the power to contend with even dragons. “Shadow Dragon’s Roar!” Cupping her hands around her mouth, she regurgitated a wave-motion-esque blast of raw darkness. She smirked as the blast flew forwards, towards where once was the engine of the train. The car was too cramped to allow anyone the proper space to dodge the blast.
It baffled Christina that her enemy slipped and passed through the weapon as if she became a ghost. No matter how swift she was and fervent her strikes were, the girl seemed to evade her at every turn. Unlike before where she could barely dodge the vast flurry of shock rounds by Victoria, she seemed easily able to maneuver around her attacks. That was, until Christina noted how her body seemed to meld with the very shadows when she skirted around her wild and graceful sword strikes.
"Darkness Magic!" Christina realized with a pair of widened eyes.
That's when she saw the blast wave of darkness emerge at the far end of the car, the place she materialized after her latest broad swing, she knew the best form of defense against it. Aligning the cross sword to point its edge to her right, a series of golden magic circles manifested around the corners of the blade's arches. Just as the wave of darkness struck her with full force, Christina's magic activated.
"Avalon!" She cried out, as a enlarged blade of golden-white light cut through the massive fissure of Darkness Magic. As the partitions of Eternano ripped apart the sides of the train car and the cars behind it, Christina used the Light Magic's spell to cut through the pillar of destructive firepower. At the same time, Victoria ran through the path that was created, with both guns upraised and primed. "go, Victoria!"
Using the newfound airspace of the destroyed train car, Victoria leaped up and planted both of her feet atop Christina's shoulders. With a springing leap using her own partner as a pedestal, the Virago Spirit flew up into the air, aiming her guns down at her target. The Sun shining behind her created the perfect silhouette as her guns spun rapidly and lit up orange spheres around their barrels.
"Devil Chain Duo: Scorch Barrage!" Victoria cried out, unleashing a barrage of pyrotechnic rounds of Eternanon energy, creating a wall of bright flames to strike the enemy below. While not potent enough to kill a Mage, Victoria knew the mass amount of projectiles will severely injure if not hamper her ability to continue fighting should they connect.
"Try dodging these!" Victoria challenged inwardly, as she continued to unload her rounds high in the air above the mauled train car.
What kind of magic could negate my roar like that? she wondered as the destructive energy she had envisioned being a certain victory had been entirely rendered useless by a mere human, at least as far as direct damage was concerned. She raged silently, quickly planning her next move to eliminate the witnesses to her true nature.
That’s when she saw the second assailant take to the air and launch a retaliatory strike, the great lidless eye that was called the Sun blinding the young Slayer with it’s great light.
The hailstorm of fiery blasts rained down upon the thief, leaving little room to dodge, especially since her roar had taken out a chunk of the car’s available space. Zipping around the limited space, she tried to avoid the blazing onslaught. Every step left a faint after-image in her wake, making it harder still to track her movements, as if tens of the mysterious girl suddenly were made manifest upon the explosion-ridden car.
Her mind racing, her blood coursing. each beat of her heart like thunder, she felt the scorching rounds blaze past her, even as she pushed her muscles to their limits to evade them. One of the fireball bullets managed to slam into her, knocking her back and with a loud bang, she crashed into the wall of the car.
Standing back up, she once more unsheathed her blade, the ebony metal glinting lightly in the light. Although she wished the battle had ended so she could advance, the fact such difficult enemies were present sparked a bit of hope in her, that her prize may be aboard the train after all.
Thanks to the influx of sunlight removing much of the shadows, she ended the power that enshrouded her, making her once again fully visible. I can’t afford to take any more damage, but I can’t waste my power either. These two are proving to be a greater threat than I had anticipated
Without a word nor even sound, the raven-haired girl dashed forward, leaping skyward to try and slash at the gun-wielding woman. The sword itself exuded a bleak aura, as if it were fueled by the will of it’s user.
"She's coming!" Victoria thought with a wide-eyed glare. She couldn't believe just how fast the ascent the attacker was; it was almost like she took flight upon the aura of her own shadows. With a blade compressed with a color darker than the abyss, she raised it over her head as she intended to drive it clean through her.
"Not this time," Victoria uttered lowly, pulling the triggers on her guns, aiming to shoot her down before the sword could reach its mark.
"No! Not now!" Victoria thought with a look of recoiling dread.
As the bleak hued blade swung down, she crossed her guns in front of her face, bracing for the impact. What she didn't expect was the guns shattering and an elliptical eruption of air pressure to follow the annihilation of her offense and defense in a single blow. The buffeting air currents lapped on her frame as she spun out of control, aiming for the roof shredded train car.
"I got you!" Christina called out, leaping up and catching her in midair, bracing their descent with the flat of her cross-sword. With an audible clank of their bodies cushioning on the metal of her weapon, the car rocked and groaned but didn't get severely damaged. Groaning, the blonde haired Virago Spirit cradled the dazed Victoria in her arms.
"Are you alright?" Christina asked as Victoria sat upright, clutching at her bleeding arms.
"No. But she won't be once I'm done with her," Victoria spat vengefully, looking up at where the girl had sent her flying down from.
"Both of you, stand down."
"D-Diana?!" Victoria stuttered with surprise, almost forgetting the legendary confidant of Victor was aboard.
"Master Victor has seen enough. We don't want to harm her but lure her to the car he's occupying. I'll do the rest, just make sure she doesn't try to flee the train."
"We can take her-"
"Understood, Diana," Christina responded reassuringly, despite receivingly an icy glare from her partner, she continued while standing up with weapon in hand and erect by her body, "I'm under the impression you're going to come in a dramatic flare, as always?"
"When do I not?" Diana said with a wry tone of knowing before she became cut off from the transmission
The young thief slammed back onto the floor of the car, causing the already stressed metal to groan and creak from the force. She allowed herself a small smile as the fruits of her last attack caught her eye. Although she had intended to send the gun-wielder careening towards the horizon, destroying the guns themselves was a suitable second to the original idea.
Letting out a deep breath to steady herself, she entered a battle stance. An ominous feeling kept washing over her as the women spoke, it seemed like they were speaking to a third person, which caused her to worry, seeing as she could barely fight two. A third would just be a danger to herself, that much she knew.
Not wanting to unknowingly waltz into a probably trap, she stood her ground, sword at the ready, waiting for either of her two enemies to take the initiative and play their roles in her own strategy. Her azure eyes scanned both women for signs of movement, even as the rest of her remained almost motionless, except for the slight rise and fall of her chest with each breath.
"Re-Quip, Arc Armor!"
A voice called out, just shortly before the origin took flight from the car just a mere twenty meters away from the wrecked car. Billowing air currents displaced the path of the flying Virago Spirit, as her body's armored form glistened with cerulean waves of Eternano particles. Moving across the roof and then the demolished car's flooring as if she were weightless, she reached out to grasp Morgan by the collar of her cloak, quickly yanking her off her feet before taking back off into the air.
"I apologize in advance for what I'm about to do!" Diana said in a brusk tone, her body gliding with her cargo in a ragdoll drag as she skirted across the train's many cars. When she reached the place that was her intended destination, she leaped up and hurled her over her head, sending her careening into the open roof of a specially crafted train car. Upon entering, the roof's retractable shielding reinserted abover her head, encasing her in a pitch black environment.
It was there that Victor made his move.
"Salutations, Young Lady," Victor said in a smooth tone, making himself known with a tap of his cane, causing the end of his sceptre to light up in a bristling torch of orange-gold-red flames. It illuminated his bearded visage, smiling calmly, even as he sealed himself in with a potentially unstable assailant. Needless to say, the rows of Lacrima crates lining each flank of the expansive car were labeled in a way that could be visible in the dark. They'd read "D-Class Lacrima," on their sides along with various elements attached to them. An insignia placed over the D would depict a Dragon with jaws open and breathing out whatever element the box was affiliated with, showing just precisely what it was: Dragon Lacrima!
"As my Virago Spirit no doubt has stated, I must apologize for the ruse," Victor said as he approached her, walking calmly yet with very much authority in ever step that echoed the confined armored car, "I came under the conclusion of my hypothesis of what you are and what you're looking for. If you're willing to listen and speak to me like an adult, I'll tell you why I went through the trouble. If you're still looking for a fight, well...I'm sure I'll surprise you that I'm much more capable than my subordinates all combined."
The raven haired girl had no idea what was happening to her. One moment, she was ready to counter whatever had come her way, but the next, she was lifted out the car by a third assailant. In all the commotion, she couldn’t tell where she was being drug off to. Struggling to break the new enemy’s grip on her cloak, she flailed about for a few moments before realizing that she was falling down again.
Rolling with the force of her landing, she sprung back to her feet, dazed and confused at first, before her equilibrium righted itself. The scent of cologne in the confined chamber gave away that there was another man in the room with her, before he had even spoke.
When the man lit his cane with magic, the thief realized just who she was standing near, the man who’s business she had repeatedly attacked. That much she understood, having seen his picture in the news and on viewing lacrima, more often in connection with her own robbery attempts than anything else over the past few weeks.
She took a few steps back as Victor spoke to her, her eyes glancing at one of the boxes spewing forth violet and black smoke, a Darkness Dragon Lacrima, if her guess was correct. But then Victor mentioned something that caught her interest more than even the precious item she coveted so, he knew what she was an what she wanted. If he knew, then perhaps this is all a set up. Any of the boxes could be trapped. I need him to prove he’s got even one. Seems as thought I must become more like that monster than ever...I need to use this Victor to my advantage.
“How did you know? I barely ever used my magic against any of your guards, only to hide myself in the darkness. Not one of them should have been able to identify the spell, or me for that matter.” Her voice carried no emotion, not even the curiosity that consumed her as she asked the question.
"Educated guess followed up with hard facts," Victor began to say, halting his approach as he noticed her tension rising. Rolling his sceptre around in a circle, one could see the rich crimson robes affixed to his person, much different than his business suit he normally attributed as recognizable attire. His hood drawn back so she could see his face fully, nothing less than extravagant silk and linen adorned his body, giving him the presence of someone who exactly was as he is: an aristocratic and educated Mage, "no single Mage derails and plunders half a dozen trains without taking something with him or her. Security detail more than capable of spotting or taking down a band of mercenaries, bandits, or even Dark Mages but somehow is taken off guard by a single Mage alone? Even with Darkness Magic that seems almost too good for any single individual.
"You also seem to be after a particular train hauling a kind of Lacrima. Whenever you totalled a train, any witness spoke of you searching for a few minutes before leaving the scene entirely. I think anyone could find that a bit curious, especially when someone goes through the trouble of taking down trains from the same company over and over. And when it seemed you were described as a wraith, I only know a handful of mages who wield the element of Darkness and could possibly get away with schemes such as this.
"Looking through the cargo manifest of the recent train, a thought came to me. What isn't there that has a common attraction to the rest of the trains? Looking closer, I saw exactly what was in common but wasn't there.That being," Victor tapped his glowing sceptre against one of the opened Dragon Slayer Lacrima crates, his eyes glowing of ember from the flames lit on his stave, locking onto hers as he concluded in his speech, "Dragon Lacrima. Only one kind of Mage can benefit off this kind of substance without retrofitting it to a device of their own. A Dragon Slayer."
‘He was able to make that conclusion just from my own mistakes. He’s not as foolish as I hoped'
She cringed as she realized that even leaving no evidence was evidence enough for her goals to be discovered before she could even achieve the first phase of her plans. Such failures would haunt her in the end, that she was sure.
Her eyes were drawn to the open lacrima case, the gemstone shining brightly in the glow of Victor’s staff, the glow confirming beyond doubt the proof of the lacrimas’ existence, at least superficially.
‘Now or never...’ she thought to herself, as she prepared her scheme to simply grab a lacrima and cut her way out. One hand instinctively reached down to grab her sword, only for her to feel nothing more than air in her grip.
‘I...dropped it? When?...Back when that woman grabbed me! Oh...NO! NO! NO!’ She screamed to herself, a look of panic swept across her face as a bead of sweat formed. Weaponless, she could only rely on her magic, but she imagined that Victor would already have come up with a means to prevent even her Darkness Dragon’s Roar from doing much damage to a car filled with such precious cargo as the lacrima contained around both of them.
“Alright. If you’re willing, I suppose we can talk this over. Besides, you know what I want. What could I possibly possess that would interest you, Victor?” She asked, well aware that diplomacy, despite it being a skill she otherwise would have avoided, would serve as her only way to benefit her and allow her to leave with her prize.
"She's on the defensive already," Victor noticed with a dilation of his eyes, but did little else to betray his knowing of her nervousness, "it's expected. I lured her here, caged and enclosed. It's for both of our own good, but I can only act calmly to keep her from lashing out. Otherwise this meeting will be for naught."
Taking a brief inhale, Victor rolled the source of light in his hand before continuing to answer the girl's question.
"You are, as you know, the only Dragon Slayer to emerge from the Earth in the last two centuries. Not since the world nearly was toppled by the Winged Death all Slayers ceased to exist. Their rare power used to keep Magic in the world and halted the machinations of Zeref's Demons. At the cost, all of their lives and their essence vanished into the world and mingled within the people of this world. This means that no one has been able to make a duplicate of their power, not even with Lacrima, that you see around you," Victor waved around himself, pointing to the crate he saw her eyeing up. Setting the sceptre's handle down, he placed his hand around the ball of flames, nullifying it and causing it to ignite in an upward palm from his left hand, "the world has chosen now to rebirth the Dragon Slayers. I'm curious how you learned the Slayer Arts, since the Dragons that had fused their spirits with thier children disappeared forever. Are there other Dragons out there, or was this a form of instinct on your part? You can answer me when you give me what I want, as you bluntly put it."
Putting his sceptre on the side of the train car, he defused all form of light, allowing the train car to be completely covered in darkness. With eyes aglow with a rare form of light magic, enabling him to see through the dark, he knelt before her on his left knee while propping up the right. Reaching out his right hand, he placed his left over his heart, a tender smile spreading across his face as he beckoned her.
"I want you to join my family, young lady," He offered in as soft a voice as he could, while maintaining his sincereity, "I want you to join the Phoenix Guild that I am assembling to be born in a new era of peace and security. A place where the new Mages have a place beyond the shackles of fear and oppression, but serve everyone in the common goal of uniting everyone through a world of common magic available for all. A place where you can call home, young Dragon Slayer."
Let's Go Home, A Place Where You Belong
Morgan felt relieved as Victor disabled the light spell, although she found his glowing eyes to be somewhat unnerving. Thanks to the ever-bountiful darkness that now covered both of them, she felt invincible, knowing that at any moment, she could draw upon it to bolster her powers and to enhance her magics.
She almost didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as the man knelt before her and offered her a home and a family. Something in her wanted to fully embrace the invitation, the part of her that she thought long dead, the part that still held a dying hope that she could have someone who cared.
For the first time in a long time, she felt tears that she couldn’t explain well up in her eyes. Choking back the lump that formed in her throat, she barely knew how to respond. All her life, she was an outcast, an unclean thing that was tossed aside, nothing more that a broken doll that nobody tried to fix. And now, a stranger, one caught up in her mad desires for power and vengeance, wished to let that the dying embers of that hope spring back to life.
“Why...why don’t you want to kill me for what I did?” she started, the cracks of emotion in her voice startling even her. “I attacked your company, destroyed train after train. And you still offer me a place at your table? You have every right to be angry, to want to hurt me. What is with you and your friends and your damned kindness?” As she finished speaking, the last reserves of her will broke and sobs wracked through her body as tears flooded down her cheeks.
Hearing the girl's words hurt him as much as it did to see her literally break apart. She had tried to show how in control, how powerful she was when he gave her control over the environment. But when he offered her a second chance, he could see that this wasn't a criminal who sought selfish goals. It was a child, and one who hadn't had a true home that could have sheltered her from the world's turmoils and those who most likely outcasted her.
Stretching out his other hand, he now welcomed her more than before, determined not to give up.
"It is because I have hope for the next generation. I can see it in your actions that you want to resolve something inside of yourself, a pain that you wish to burn away like a red coal to a gnawing ache inside your body. But looking at you now, I can see someone who desperately wants something more than vengeance or power. I can give you that and in return, you can give so much more to many other children, families, and people who need our help," Victor said kindly, hands upright and arms spread to either side, "all you have to do is trust me, and I will do everything I can to keep you safe. The Guild will be your family and I will be the best father I can to those who call the Guild home. It is my role. Will you let me keep you safe, and shelter you? It is up to you, young lady."
Morgan tried to regain control over her emotions, but try as she might, the stoicism she had become so comfortable with would not resurface.
‘Is this really what I want? I thought I was content with being the monstrous one that nobody could care if they lived or died, and that I could simply walk through life not caring about them either. How is it this man has me second-guessing myself? Why does my heart hurt...?’ she asked herself, unable to find an answer.
She couldn’t understand how or why Victor’s questions dug so deep into her, tearing and clawing at the once emotionless creature of darkness that she was, exposing the lonely child underneath. But, she sensed that even now, he wanted to help fix the part of her that called itself broken, to repair the shattered and lost little girl who suffered so much.
She took a small, tentative step forward, her cautiousness having taken over for but a moment to test the waters and ensure no traps laid in wait. Once her mind registered that nothing was waiting to trigger, she surprised herself by wrapping her arms around Victor in a careful embrace.
“I’m tired of hurting. Please...make it stop.” she whispered, barely audible, as fresh tears threatened to rain down her cheeks.
Victor couldn't help but feel a warm pang pull at his heart. Feeling the shuddering young girl wrap her arms tentatively around him, she could hear her tears as much as feel them. Wrapping his own arms gently around the girl's shoulders and back, he stroked the back of her head as his own eyes began to water, overflowing with tears of his own. In his arms was a fragile child who only has felt grief and abuse, never the love of another; he felt determined to never break the trust he had forged with her.
"In time, your pain will fade, young lady," Victor said quietly, breathing a promising whisper in her ear, "I can't promise it will happen right away, but I know the feelings that will fill your heart will make it only a nagging itch in comparison to what you feel now. Until then, I shall be your comfort and shelter till you can walk on your own feet, confident and strong like the woman I know you will grow into."
Releasing her hug gently, his glowing eyes met the dark ones that stared back at her. Raising up a hand to wipe away the tears on her face, he brushed the top of her scalp affectionately as he asked, "Shall we go outside now? I promise when you get to know them, they aren't so hostile. They are part of my family too, after all."
As Victor returned the hug, she felt her muscles instinctively tense, memories flooding back from the contact. Although the flinch only lasted a moment, she cursed herself for it. She didn’t care for how even the most simple of human contact brought up her past, let alone how such contact forced her to be defensive. As they broke the embrace, she vowed to herself that one day, she could learn to fully trust another human being.
Forcing a smile, she nodded. “Sure.” she said, her voice still a low whisper, fearful of breaking down again.
Even now, although she couldn’t understand it entirely, she felt happiness, if only a little. To hear Victor having such faith in her, made her wish that she had met him earlier, before all her despair had taken such a deep root inside her thoughts.
Nodding, Victor slowly stood up, raising his left hand to speak into the Thought Projection Ring. The other he kept resting atop her crown, rubbing her hair in a reassuring manner, "Diana, you can open the roof canopy now. Our guest won't be causing anymore problems any longer."
"Understood, Master Victor."
With that said, the metallic groan of gears pulling back the shielding over their heads was sounded. Light seeped into the complete darkness, revealing the rows of crates and the two individuals from within. Thankfully a few clouds had rolled overhead, shielding them from the immediate glare of the Sun, but did little to keep blinks of the eye to adjust from darkness to light of the outside. After the metal clicked into place, Victor breathed out a sigh of relief, clearly glad he was out of the darkness and the tense situation they were both in.
"If I may be so inclined to ask," Victor began, looking down at her with a inquisitive smile, his face less obstructed by the glimmer of torchlight or the silhouette of darkness, "what is your name, young lady?"
The girl looked up at the open skylight, her natural ability to phase in and out of complete darkness at will aiding her adapting to the sudden influx of light. “My name is Morgan Deschain.” she replied, glad that the encounter between her and Victor, despite being extremely tense at the start, didn’t come to blows, and for that she was thankful.
Smiling down at her, Victor was kept from speaking further by the audible arrival of his Virago Spirits. Turning his gaze, he saw Christina landing first, with Victoria arriving behind with a less heavy landing than the cross-sword toting girl. Behind them, standing upon the train car's side like a hawk looking down, was Diana. With her arms crossed behind her back dutifully, she observed the happenings in a way she didn't appear inhibiting her comrades.
That is, till she saw Christina drop her cross sword and almost tackle Morgan into a big hug.
"I'm so glad you're alright! And I'm so-so-so-so-so-so-SO sorry we had to fight you!" Christina ecstatically cried out, practically snuffling Morgan into her girly embrace while ruffling her head and back with her arms.
"Hey, stop that! You're being too nice to someone who almost killed me!" Victoria exclaimed, pulling at Christina's shoulder, a visible bulge of a vein protruding from her forehead emphasizing her irritation.
"You were the one shooting at her, not me," Christina pointed out with cute pouty lips, looking over her shoulder as she kept petting Morgan's head while keeping her tight against her armored chest.
"She's the one who attacked the train in the first place!" Victoria pointed out in an exaggerated manner, looking up to Diana's impassive visage and then to Victor's amused face. "what?! Am I the only one thinking about this rationally?!"
"She's not going to be causing anymore problems, Victoria," Victor said with a smile, pointing to her with a simple gesture, walking over to pick up his Sceptre back into his possession. "I'll be taking her back to the estate. When we return home I'll be calling all of our members for our first Guild Meeting. You'll be meeting them personally, so please act on your best behavior."
"You did a good job, Victoria," Victor said with a smile, tapping his Sceptre on the metal flooring of the car, placing both hands over it in a declarative manner as he stood before the group of young women, "but our objective is complete. Morgan sees no need to keep harassing the company, attacking the trains, and cutting short supply lines to the outlying countries the Intercontinental Magic Company delivers to. She'll instead be taken in by the Phoenix Guild as a member and, by extension, become a member of my family. Isn't that right, Morgan?"
Morgan couldn’t even react as she was tackled and embraced. Her mind on other matters, the sudden initial contact would have knocked her over had Christina not pulled her close.
As she watched her former enemies bicker, she couldn’t help but wonder, utterly confused, if every family acted like that. Despite that confusion, she felt like in time, she could come to get used to their antics, and would likely have to do so in order to survive living with them.
She turned to look at Victor as he said her name and for the first time in many years, genuinely smiled. Although she the concept of family still eluded her, but simply being included as part of one made her happy. “That’s right...I’m now part of your family." she said, the mere thought that she'd ever say those words coming as a shock to her own mind.
"Isn't this great?!" Christina squealed happily, giggling as she placed her hands on Morgan's shoulders, smiling brightly at her, "we're going to be like sisters!"
"Yeah, Yeah, good feelings all around," Victoria said dryly, sighing as she stroked her face with both hands exaggeratedly.
"Why are you in such a bad mood?" Christina asked with pouted lips, still holding onto Morgan in a possessive manner.
"If you haven't forgotten," Victoria rubbed one temple, gesturing offhandedly at the Dragon Slayer and then to the rest of the train, "we're stranded here cause of her! The main engine will reach the intended destination and it will take at least two days for it to be sent back and reattach it. How are we supposed to get out of here other than huffing on foot?!"
"Have a bit of faith, Victoria," Diana said reprimandingly from above, reaching into the folds of her recently Re-Quipped Black Rider jacket. Pulling out what looked like a lacrima, embedded into stone, with several switches on its surface for which Diana pressed the largest crimson button. Overhead, an ominous sound resembling thunder was heard, and a dark shadow began to descend downwards.
Victoria blinked idly, raising a hand to shield the reflecting Sunlight that came off the incoming shadow. When it loomed over the entire open roofed train car, she pursed her lips together with dumb realization. This was punctualized with a level, "Oh..."
"YAY!" Christina shouted with excitement, bringing Morgan into a big hug as she jumped up and down giddily with her in her embrace, "Master, you had a Skyhawk following us the whole time?!"
"Master Victor planned for every contingency," Diana said in a cool manner, her hair whipping behind and around her head as she smiled in a chiding manner down at Victoria. Placing her hands behind her back in a dutiful, if not professional manner, the craft hovered a good twenty meters above them with just enough leeway for them to see it in all of its glory.
The Skyhawk, one of Victor Alexander's most stunning achievements upon starting IMAC, was shaped much like an enormous bird of prey. With a black dyed head that shaped an angled hook to represent a beak of a hawk, a yellow glassed cockpit for the pilot's seat was shown empty yet enough for two seats. Feather etched plating seemed to be enamored all over the aircraft, glistening a luminous emerald and blue trail of light, hints of Eternano flowing within the superstructure at work. As there were retractable talons affixed to the underbelly of the fighter transport, so too was there two extended wings that curved out in a forward angular fashion, much like a hawk could if it hovered above ground as the craft was doing now. Mechanical servos were heard as seamless lines revealed a downward opening hatch, revealing a built-in collapsable staircase that led up into the body of the aircraft.
"We'll leave the company to retrieve the train and repair it. For now, I'll announce that we've apprehended the culprit and that the attacks will cease. I can do that easier at the estate, for which I had a Skyhawk follow us, locked onto our Eternano signatures," Victor said with a calm, collected tone, walking towards the personally designed vessel without delay. With feet that seemed to step onto effortlessly crafted steps of light, Victor walked all the way up to the staircase as if it was simply ascending a stairway back home. Turning halfway to look at the girls, he beckoned them with a spin of his sceptre in one hand, and a wave upwards, "c'mon, Morgan. Girls. Let's go home."