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Old 02-01-2012, 05:34 AM   #21
neko-sennin
the turn of the tide
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Kyuubi IX 2-3

“I know they like to toy with small towns with faltering economies,” Shades informed him. “Only weeks ago, we got stuck in the Isle of St Lucy, where one of their ‘Research Institute’s’ little science projects kept the same day on repeat loop, over and over.”

“There was this underground lab, and all these computers and shit,” Justin added, “and every time we tried to leave, we had to start all over.”

“Hey, you’re not just pullin’ my leg here, are you?” His eyes narrowed. “That old pirate didn’t put you up to this, did he? Just ’cause he thinks I’m paranoid?”

“No, I’m serious,” Shades assured him. “The only thing Rude Bones said about you was that you were packin’. I wish I had some kind of proof, but tell me, what did they do in Elyria anyway?”

He seemed to look inward for a moment before he answered.

“I suppose, but I want to hear about your experience in… St Lucy, was it, first. By the way, the name’s Wilkins. Russell Wilkins.”

And so Shades and Justin introduced themselves. They spent an hour or so telling him about Project Pythagoras and its aftermath. The more they explained about Adnan’s Academy and Sheriff Boggs, the more Mr Wilkins started taking them seriously, his knowing nods and scowls suggested that he was no stranger to Camcron’s ways himself. Shades especially was increasingly certain that his account would also be from personal experience.

As they talked, Shades examined Jolly Roger’s selection of holsters, finding several shoulder and sling holsters that would be well suited to concealed carry underneath his denim jacket. Though he had every intention of honoring the local accord on weapons during his stay, at least as long as things remained peaceful, it was their dislike of open carry that inspired his decision to try concealed in the first place. Reflecting on events in St Lucy, Bodeen and Centralict, as well as future destinations, he wondered why he hadn’t seriously considered it sooner, back at the Tradewinds Mercantile District, if not the market of Kon Miribar.

Justin too, apparently, from the look on his face.

Along with dropping off their supplies, the other thing they went back to the ship for was to retrieve his power pistol. Now he handed over his power clip to Wilkins as he tried on different holsters and tested out his draw with his own gun, and his jacket on. Even when his own curiosity wasn’t getting the best of him, even when Justin kept his sticky fingers in check, even when Max’s socially awkward misunderstandings weren’t drawing hostility, hell, even when the locals had no beef with Bandit, the four of them still seemed to function as some kind of trouble magnet. He no longer needed to be sold on the value of having more than one ace up his sleeve.

Shades had narrowed it down to two choices by the time Wilkins began his recounting of the last days of Elyria.

“You see, back then,” he explained, “Sheridan was an old fishing town, but for a time they had a prosperous trade in outside goods as well. But you know how it goes, when business gets slow, greedy merchant bastards take the money and run. Then somebody got the bright idea to try tourism.” He snorted. “Don’t know whose brilliant plan that was. The only place I can think of that any tourists would actually want to see wasn’t even on Eelya. It was on Elyria, a clifftop called Land’s End, that I used to hike to as a boy, but I doubt too many folks would go out of their way to see it.”

“So that’s why you’ve hung on to that newspaper all this time,” Shades observed: “You used to live there, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I grew up there. For over twenty years, Elyria was my home,” Wilkins told them. “The place was so small, it only had one town, Sinclair, but most of the island was scattered settlements. I watched the place go downhill since I was a kid, finally got to where I had to work over in Sheridan just to make a living. By that time, it was becoming obvious to even the densest fool around that the tourist thing was doomed from the start. That’s about when Camcron showed up, promising to ‘revitalize’ Sheridan.”

“And let me guess,” Justin speculated, “they set up a research lab on Elyria, didn’t they?”

“You bet your ass they did,” Wilkins muttered. “They ran my grandmother right out of her home. Some shady realtor sold the place right out from under her, somehow tricked her into signing something. Built the ugliest excuse for a building on five generations of my family, to say nothing of Grandma’s gardening. It was simple, but she took good care of it…

“Anyway, the point is that for all their talk, they never did jack shit for most of us. Sure, they poured a small fortune into local coffers, but the only ones who even saw any of it were corrupt officials and businessmen who were all in Camcron’s pocket. It was really more like hush money than any real contribution to the community, and before long, they just seemed to own the place. And there were always weird rumors about that ‘research facility’ of theirs, especially near the end of the whole mess, but if they were just rumors, then why was the Institute so determined to shut people up, huh?”

“I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here,” Shades commented. “That’s exactly how they leveraged everyone back in St Lucy.”

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Old 02-01-2012, 05:35 AM   #22
neko-sennin
the turn of the tide
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Kyuubi IX 3-3

“And that was when it happened,” Wilkins explained. “I was working over in Sheridan, over in the harbor, when I heard the commotion. Elyria disappeared. An entire island, disappeared. Not sank, not exploded, not flooded, just gone, empty ocean, as if it never existed. My home, my shop, my family, my girlfriend, my entire life, all vanished in the blink of an eye…”

Damn…” Justin breathed. Once upon a time, he would have thought this guy was yanking his chain, but after the Institute demonstrated that it could make an entire day repeat itself again and again, he found that photo on the front page frighteningly believable.

“And let me guess,” Shades intoned, “Elyria was never seen again?”

“Not as far as I know,” Wilkins answered. “Not many travelers through here been to Eelya, and none of ’em have ever seen Elyria. Apparently, they don’t talk much about it with outsiders, but back then it was the talk of the town. It’s almost a sick joke, how that could have made a tourist story… Still, I did hear a lot of fishermen stay away from the area where Elyria used to be, and I can’t say I blame them.”

“I wonder what they were trying to do there…” Shades mused.

“Project Parabola….” Wilkins hissed. “That was what they called it. They had an office in Sheridan, but the night after Elyria disappeared, there was a fire. The whole place burned, every scrap of every document, and their ‘Representative’ was found dead the following morning.”

“Just like that head researcher… Grady, I think his name was,” Shades thought aloud. “His corpse was still fresh, barely a day old, as if his killer set Project Pythagoras in motion and skipped town in a hurry. Now I wonder if their experiments are really ‘successes’ or just sabotaged. It looked like there was some kind of internal power struggle there…”

“And this whole Geist business,” Justin muttered. “What the hell was that all about?”

“Geist…” Wilkins looked over at Butch out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve heard the name a couple times, always in spooked whispering, but I’ve never heard of anybody who’s ever seen him, or actually knows anything.”

“Yeah, only the people who called on Grady’s phone to warn or threaten him ever mentioned Geist by name,” Shades recalled, “and they both made a pretty big deal out of him, like he was some kind of enforcer or something. Though I’m glad he never showed up while we were there, I still can’t help but wonder…”

“Yeah, same here,” Wilkins concurred before continuing his tale. “With nothing left for me in Elyria, I decided to ship out. Back then, I was going to make my way to New Cali, give those Camcron bastards a piece of my mind, but along the way, it bothered me more and more that I had no evidence, and word was that Camcron was in the business of covering up these sort of shenanigans, so I went looking.

“I found out that their ‘Projects’ are spread way apart, in far-flung realms, and often years in between. There was Elyria, I’ve heard talk of one in a place called Sinovia, and now you tell me about St Lucy. I only found one other place some years ago, Parker Pines, a small town where they were just starting up one of their ‘research facilities’ so I decided to stick around, see what happened.

“Of course, I told some folks about what happened to Elyria, but nobody listened to me. The local police threatened to run me out of town, the mayor’s secretary called me a crackpot. And the only person who’d listen to me was an old man whose home Camcron bought right out from under him, the local government tripping over their own feet to get their hands on that ‘development money’ before the neighboring town. Another ‘tinfoil hat’ nobody’d listen to.”

“Hard to say which one makes a harder case for himself,” Shades remarked: “the outsider, or the long-time resident who got the short end of the stick, and whose reputation, I’m guessing, didn’t exactly lean toward credibility?”

“You got that right,” Wilkins snorted. “Ended up living out of a truck with his dog, he camped near the construction site, as close as he could get without the cops runnin’ him off anyhow. Snuck into the place a couple times while they were still building it, telling me about strange machines nobody in those parts had ever seen before. The second time, he brought a camera, but their private guards broke it when they caught him. After that, we were going to sneak in together, try an’ find something that would convince the people just how dangerous their research was.”

Were?” Shades raised an eyebrow.

“Well, that was the plan,” Wilkins admitted, “but when I went to meet him that night, he didn’t show up. I looked around, and when I found him, out in the woods nearby, he was dead. Not a mark on him, but stiff— petrified— with the most awful tormented look frozen on his face! I ran all the way back to the truck, where I found his poor dog, just sitting there, whimpering and whining like I’d never seen a dog do before.

“Though the poor mutt looked unharmed, he acted as if he had been beaten within an inch of his life. After that, I took his truck and skipped town. Lived in it all the way back to the coast. After that, I was afraid to stop anywhere for more than a few hours, so certain they were looking for me, too. Looking back, I s’pose I just helped them cover up his murder, but I was too scared to stick around and find out. I took the first ship that would take a dog, and I’ve taken care of Butch ever since.”

“I see.” Shades had noted, over the course of that last account, that poor dog becoming increasingly stressed, as if his keeper wasn’t the only one digging up unpleasant memories.

“Kept him with me all these years,” Wilkins patted him on the head, reassuring him, “but I’ve never heard a peep about what became of Parker Pines. I just keep an ear out for anything about Camcron, but most folks just say I’m paranoid. It’s nice every once in a while to hear you’re not crazy— hell, I might even give you a discount on that holster.”

“Cool,” Shades replied.

“Who knew that whole mess back there would actually turn out to be worth something?” Justin wondered aloud.

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Old 02-09-2012, 12:06 AM   #23
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the turn of the tide
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Iruka X 1-2

X
While they were finishing up Shades’ purchase, a snug-fitting shoulder holster, and Justin started making inquiries about bolts, Rod breezed in, browsing Jolly Roger’s wares.

“Fancy meeting you guys here,” he remarked. “Can’t say I was expecting you, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In any case, this works out well, since I wanted to ask you for some advice. You know, practical advice, from somebody who’s been there.”

“What do you mean?” Shades asked.

“Fighting,” Rod elaborated. “Even one of you has seen more action than all of us combined. After hearing about your crazy adventures, I think it’d be a good idea to arm ourselves, and start practicing, before we set out to tour the world.”

“Good thinking,” Justin chimed in. “You can never be too well prepared out there!”

“There’s not a shooting range around here, but I suppose I could set something up.” Recalling their harrowing travel tales with every word. “I was just wondering if you guys have any pointers.”

“Yeah,” Shades told him. “First and foremost, always be sure you know what you’re shooting at before you shoot. The last thing you want to do is accidentally hit your friends.”

“I think that one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Justin jumped in. “I’ll tell you the most useful thing I was ever told about guns, and I’ll do it for free ’cause you’re his friend. You wanna practice your quick-draw every day. I always practice ten times before I go to sleep.”

“That’s a keeper,” Shades seconded. Back when they first met, he had his doubts based on his companion’s crude form at hand-to-hand, but after witnessing Justin’s gunplay for himself, he could see just how skilled he really was in that department. “I’ve been doing that for a while, and it’s definitely helped.” Though not half as fast as Justin, at least he wasn’t fumbling it anymore. “You want to get it down to where you can do it in your sleep. A weapon is no use if you can’t get to it fast enough. An ambush won’t give you time to think about technique.”

“I see,” Rod nodded. “You guys weren’t kidding about all that shit, were you?”

“Damn straight!” Justin laughed. “Unless you can draw quick enough, and aim decently at the same time, your gun might as well be back on the ship for all the good it’ll do ya when you really need it.”

“I don’t know exactly how to say it,” Shades informed him, “so I’ll be blunt: you can’t think in terms of your old life. Master Al was a combat veteran, whereas I grew up in a civilian society. These days, I think I’m finally starting to get what he was trying to teach me all those years. I’m just glad I started to ‘get it’ before it got me.”

While they were talking, Rod was browsing the gun display, pausing at something that made him blink in spite of himself. At his request, Wilkins fetched it out of the case, allowing him to examine it. Both Justin and Shades trailed off as Rod turned over the peculiar piece in his hands, Shades especially, as something about it struck him as eerily familiar.

“Roulette?…” Rod stammered, rotating the gun to examine all six of its gatling-gun barrels. Attached to an assault rifle stock, with a stabilizing hand-grip on top. Four slots for power clips lined the length of the buttstock, Justin noticed. “My Zero Hunter weapon, just like in my dreams…”

Though not an exact likeness, Rod found the resemblance most uncanny.

“Roulette…” Shades also pondered that name, seeing Rod in a whole new light while holding that weapon. Certainly older now, but that was to be expected after seven years. “You mean, from the Resistance?”

“Wait a minute,” Justin blurted. “What are you talking about? You know this guy from somewhere?”

“Yeah…” Shades mumbled, his certainty building the more he thought about it. “But only in my dreams. We used to fight together, as a team.”

“Shades…” Rod mulled over that name. Of course, he had wondered why the name ‘Shades’ sounded so familiar to him back at the Mall, but back then he had been too preoccupied with the curse, and their first live show, to give it much thought. Now, holding this weapon, he found himself remembering a lot of things he hadn’t thought much about until he wound up in the Sixth Dimension. “It really is you, isn’t it?”

“But… I thought you were just a dream…” Or at least assumed he was back then, as he had no analogue to anyone he knew in the waking world. Just another ‘denizen’ of the dream world, if an ally rather than an enemy.

“Yeah, but I’m the one who told you not to use your real name there, remember?”

“Yes, the Resistance… the Zero Hunters…” Among them, a young man who called himself Roulette… a voice that was and wasn’t Carlos’, threatening them… It was starting to come back to him. All the crazy dreams he used to have when he was a kid. Especially that year. Things he had thought less and less about in the intervening years, while his thoughts were more focused on his more recent dreams these days. “I remember, you and Quincy, and Amy, too…”

“Amy?…” Rod paused for a moment. “You don’t mean…”

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Old 02-09-2012, 12:07 AM   #24
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the turn of the tide
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Iruka X 2-2

Tomboy?” they both blurted in unison.

“You mean she’s the one you’ve been looking for all this time?” Rod gasped.

“What the hell are you guys talking about?” Justin demanded, looking back and forth between them.

“I’m not even sure where to begin,” Shades told his friend. “I used to think it was all just a dream…” Turning back to Rod. Roulette. “But if you were real…” Back then, he kept telling himself it couldn’t really be her, just another dream figment tagging along for the ride— too afraid to ask her in the waking world, despite being right in the next row in class, so close, yet so very far away, for fear she might think he was some kind of freak… “Then does that mean Amy…” Not so sure he liked where this was going, given the kind of dreams she starred in in this world, combined with the kind of dreams she used to turn up in back in his. “This could take a while to explain, but I’ll tell you about it later, okay?”

Looking a trifle miffed, Justin turned back to negotiating replacement flash and smoke bolts from Jolly Roger’s rather limited selection.

Turning back to Rod, Shades asked, “So, if you were real, then does that mean Quincy was real, too?”

“Yes,” Rod answered, his face turning somber. “He lived in another town, so it was only hearing about it from a friend who lived there that I found out what happened. We only met once, on a field trip, because we recognized each other in the waking world. But you remember how he disappeared, right before those last couple battles before the Rift closed?”

“Sort of.” Shades liked where this was going even less than thinking about the implications of Amy’s dreaming plight. Probably because it was another unwelcome factor in this equation.

“Well, he was found dead one morning,” Rod told him, his voice ashen sober. “I had to do some digging to find out, but it turns out he died in his sleep. Parents found him dead when he wouldn’t wake up for school. Not a scratch on him, cause of death unknown.”

“The Zeroes got him…” Exactly as Shades feared. …Will wake up dead (Trap)… Almost wishing he could forget Amy’s entry in the Book of Fate. Back when he was a kid, he sometimes feared that if he had taken even one wrong turn in some of those dreams, he would never wake up, but over the years had written it off as scaring himself needlessly. “Those weren’t just normal dreams, were they?”

“I think you’re right,” Rod agreed. “I’m just flying by the seat of my pants here, but the best theory I can come up with is that there is more than one level, more than one layer, to the dream world. For instance, there’s just your own dreams, which are probably no more dangerous than, say, watching a movie…”

“But go deeper down the rabbit hole…” Shades speculated, “and you end up someplace other dreamers can wander into, as well. And if you die there…”

“You don’t come back,” Rod nodded. “Of course, I can’t help thinking that most pass through that level from time to time, but most don’t stick around long enough to take any serious risks, or maybe wake up before they’re in too deep… I used to warn Quincy not to wander off on his own, but he always insisted on scouting out that weird No Man’s Land on the border of Zero territory. He always had a bad habit of letting his curiosity get the best of him.”

“And sometimes you couldn’t wake up,” Shades recalled, that was especially true in No Man’s Land, that eerie place where the fabric of the dreamplane itself seemed to have been corrupted by the Zeroes’ presence. “I hope nothing like that happens to Amy.”

“If I were you,” Rod said, face and tone dead serious, “I would try to catch up with her in there, even you can’t find her out here. I mean, I know she was a Zero Hunter like us, but it sounds like she’s forgotten how to fight in that world, and you might be able to remind her.”

“I see.” Shades nodded. “I’ve been having some creepy dreams these days, but none of them are like those dreams… It’s like I’m just a spectator, rather than a player. I don’t think I remember how to go all the way down…”

“You have to try,” Rod pleaded, “for her sake, as well as ours. You have a stronger connection to her, so you’re more likely to find her in there. To tell you the truth, I’m also having trouble getting into it, but I’ve seen enough to convince me that the Zeroes are back, and you don’t want her to have to face them a—”

“There you are!” Dusk poked his head in the door. “Everybody else is ready to rehearse! Come on, man!”

“Just a minute!” Rod called back, then turned back to Shades. “Just remember, it’s dangerous in there, so keep your wits about you. Don’t let the fog of dreams cloud your mind on that side. We’ll talk about this some more later, okay?”

“Okay.” Shades half expected this to be some kind of prank, but Rod knew way too much. Even Amy’s old Zero Hunter codename, something he had never told a soul in the waking world.

“Yo, Russell,” Rod turned to the proprietor, handing him the peculiar piece, “this thing’s an important memento from my childhood. I don’t suppose I could talk you into hanging onto this while I make payments?”

Leaving Shades to his own troubled thoughts as he wandered out the door with his new shoulder holster little more than an afterthought.

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Old 02-15-2012, 04:28 AM   #25
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the turn of the tide
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Sasuke XI 1-3

XI
Seeing that Justin had long since left Jolly Roger Arms, Shades wandered down the way a bit, eventually bumping into Max and Ma’Quiver, out stretching their legs along with Bandit.

“What’s up?” Ma’Quiver asked, noting the serious look on Shades’ face. “You look like you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

More than he had at the Bazaar, at any rate.

“Well,” Shades wondered, much like with Justin, where to even begin, “have you ever had a dream about somebody you never knew in real life, only to find out years later that they really did exist?”

That prompted a quizzical look from both of them.

“What do you mean?” Max cocked his head.

“It could take some time to explain,” Shades told them. “I, uh, kinda feel like sitting down after that…”

“Then let’s go eat,” Max recommended. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving!”

“How about the Hang Ten?” Ma’Quiver suggested. “Rude Bones can keep his brew, and drink it too, but that one girl, Jillian, said Kalika makes the best seafood on the island.”

“Sounds good,” Shades replied.

Turned out they hadn’t far to walk at all, as their meandering had brought them within a stone’s throw of the Hang Ten Bar & Grill already. A low, sprawling driftwood building down close to the beach, with a weathered collection of old surfboards leaning against the wall on either side of the entrance. Inside, they found even more surfing and sailing memorabilia lining the walls, adding color to the spaces between porthole style windows.

Clusters of tables and chairs, of more uniform but of less decorative make than Café la Mer’s, with a broad bar on one side, the windows offering a tranquil view of the Ocean. Shades almost immediately noticed several arcade games off to the side, making a mental note to check them out later. It was still too early for the dinner crowd, so there were only a handful of people about.

“Well, at least we shouldn’t have to wait too long for our dinner,” Ma’Quiver quipped as they approached the bar. “Excuse us, ma’am, but we’d like to order.”

As she looked up from wiping glasses and dishes, Max was taken aback for a moment by the barkeep’s violet eyes. Then he relaxed, reminding himself where he was. He guessed from the looks on their faces that Justin and Shades had noticed, as well.

“What’s their problem?” the proprietor demanded. A middle-age woman of medium height and build, with mid-length sun-bleached hair, her sleeveless tunic exposing exotic glyphs tattooed on her deeply tanned shoulders. Her face a study in world-weary exasperation that struck them as well-suited to a bartender.

“I think they’ve had a few bad experiences with Cyexians before,” Ma’Quiver remarked.

“Oh really?” she raised an eyebrow, taking a no-nonsense tone that surely came in handy talking down folks who’d had a few too many. “And just what kind of Cyexians were those?”

“Pirates, mostly,” Shades answered sheepishly, wishing no one had even brought it up. Remembering Kato and the Triad, he tacked on, “And the occasional swindler.”

“Always pirates,” she sighed, having clearly been over this more times than she cared to count, “pirates and mercenaries and Pactra… When I first started, it was because that was the only way for us to make a living on the high seas where I came from, not because my goal in life was to be an outlaw.” Then her face softened somewhat. “Still, it’s not like we’re welcome in every realm, so I guess it’s only fair to say that’s how I might’ve ended up myself if I hadn’t found my true passion in life.”

“And what might that be?” Ma’Quiver asked.

“Why, I thought it’d be obvious to you boys just by lookin’ around!” she laughed, sounding younger than she had at any point in this entire conversation. “Surfing, of course! Ever since I saw it on Moki Island, I knew that was what I wanted to do, even before I learned how. By the way, the name’s Dagmar, co-owner of the Hang Ten.”

And so they introduced themselves.

“I first met my partner, Kalika, during my travels, seeking good places to catch a wave. On a good day, the waves here are some of the best I’ve ever ridden.”

“Kalika?” Max thought a moment. “The one who makes great seafood?”

“And great surfboards, too,” Dagmar added, gesturing over to one of the tables.

Wiping down a table, he was a man of average height, and that lanky, sinewy physique of someone who swims a lot. Hair bleached almost white, with a tawny skin tone, and a weathered face that made it impossible to pin down his age. Decked out in the shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops that seemed to be common attire around the island.

“The best waves are in the morning, so we’re never open before noon. The perfect way to start the day, don’t you think?”

“I see,” Shades nearly giggled, wondering if he hadn’t listened to too many Beach Boys songs on the radio as a kid, “now if only people like Striker would just find a hobby.”

“Damn, no wonder you were so edgy!” Dagmar remarked. “Lowlifes like her give all our sisters a bad name. In my youth, I used to run with Striker,” she winked, “but not the one you’ve heard of.”

“What do you mean by that?” Max’s face puzzled.

“If you really want to know, go ask him.” Pointing to a table in the corner, where they saw Rude Bones sitting with another familiar face. “He’ll talk your ear off about ‘the good old days’— your other ear, too, if you buy him a drink. Me, I don’t like to dwell.”

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Old 02-15-2012, 04:30 AM   #26
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Sasuke XI 2-3

“Rude Bones?” Ma’Quiver intoned.

“You know him?” Dagmar cocked her head.

“Sort of,” Shades clarified. “He kinda saved our lives yesterday when we were stranded.”

“You don’t say?” Dagmar grinned. “Maybe the old fart does have some redeeming qualities!”

“Well, he did charge us for fuel,” Ma’Quiver pointed out.

“There we go, that sounds more like the good-for-nothing scoundrel I know!” she laughed. “And that would explain why he’s paying his tab up-front for a change…”

“But what’s Justin doing hanging out with him?” Max wondered aloud.

“Don’t rightly know,” Dagmar sighed, “but like most things he does, it bugs me. I mean, I know there aren’t any laws here— something I normally like about the place— but at times like this, I wouldn’t mind a drinking age to wave in his face…”

As she turned back to her work, they went over to see what was up at their table.

“Hey guys!” Justin called out, waving a beer bottle at them. “What took ya so long?”

“Oy kitty!” Rude Bones waved at Bandit.

“Um, Justin, are you okay?” Max asked, having never seen him like this before. Weird, like Rude Bones was last night. Only when Rude Bones was like that, he just seemed even more like himself, whereas Justin…

“You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?” Shades had his suspicions after hearing Dagmar’s remark, but it was still something else to actually see it for himself. Trying to shrug off the awkwardness of his own upbringing and customs, “I mean, I know there aren’t any laws around here—”

“Damn skippy!” Rude Bones interjected. “We was just talkin’ ’bout pirates!”

“Yeah, and one thing led to another,” Justin blurted. “This stuff tastes pretty funky, but for some reason I don’t mind…”

“Feel free to partake,” the old pirate invited with a lopsided grin. “Yer money goes further with her than it does with that miser at the pumps!”

“No thanks,” Ma’Quiver declined. “Shanshou-kan is an art that requires intense mental focus. As part of my training, I abstain from anything that dulls the mind.”

“What he said,” Max hastily added. Aside from entertaining the occasional Outlander, he couldn’t recall his parents drinking. That, and there was just something about Justin’s manner that bothered him, as if he wasn’t quite the same person.

“I’ll pass,” Shades said, but took a seat as Max and Ma’Quiver looked at him for a moment, then turned to each other and left, leaving him alone with them. This could be entertaining… “But I’ll stick around for the conversation.”

“Party poopers… more for me, I guess,” Rude Bones sniffed, taking another sip. “Suit yerself.”

“So,” Shades broke in, trying to keep things conversational, “Dagmar says you used to know Striker.”

Justin spit his brew at that one.

“That all depends,” Rude Bones smirked. “Which ‘Striker’ ya talkin’ about?”

“How many can there be?” Justin demanded.

“Oh, there’ve been several, t’be sure,” the old pirate leaned back in his chair, “even a couple imposters who were askin’ for it.”

“I’d say!” Shades laughed. “That sounds like a dangerous name to throw around out there. I’m surprised anyone would dare.”

“Ah, but the one she was talkin’ about was one of her predecessors,” he went on. “There’s been at least half a dozen Cyexian pirates named ‘Striker’ in the last few generations, ’s’almost more of a title than a name anymore.”

“I see.” Shades nodded.

“Seeing as how only you stuck around,” Kalika announced as he brought a tray of seafood over to their table, “I took the liberty of making only one order. I hope it’s to your liking, young mariner.”

“Thank you,” Shades replied as Kalika walked away, shaking his head at Justin, who simply cocked his head back as if to say, What?

“Along with the name,” Rude Bones continued, “t’other thing the ‘real’ Striker had was a pair of laser swords, a matching set. They were apparently passed down from one Striker to the next.”

“Say Justin,” Shades cut in, “you should really try the crab!” Hoping he could make this little rite of passage a little less painful for him. “It’s some of the best I’ve ever tasted!”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Justin replied, nibbling at a few bites, then turning back to Rude Bones. “So if there’s supposed ta be two’ve ’em, why’d the Striker we met only got one?”

“Ah, that’s where Dagmar’s Striker comes in,” the old pirate explained. “She don’t talk about it no more, but back in the day she use’ta run with some pretty wild gals. Trust me, I can tell ya just how wild… heh, heh.”

“I’m sure you can,” Shades assured him, shoving some of the appetizers across the table, though Justin wasn’t paying any attention, “but I believe you were talking about Striker?”

“Yeah,” Rude Bones sighed, “well, long story short, Striker lost one of ’em in a duel.” He cackled for a moment. “And to a man, no less! From what I heard, she was pissed. She spent the rest of her days searching for that sword, and the man who took it. I think that’s when Dagmar left her crew. Striker was so obsessed with that sword, and with revenge, they say she lost her crew, her ship, and finally her life, without ever finding either the sword or the swordsman.”

“So there’s another exotic blade like that floating around out there,” Shades mused.

“Ya got that right,” the old pirate warned them, “and every ‘Striker’ since her has been lookin’ for it ever since. If yer friend actually beat her, ya can bet yer ass she’ll be lookin’ for revenge!”

“Yeah,” Shades laughed to himself, though he didn’t much care for the idea of meeting her again, “when we parted ways, she was mad enough to chew lumber and spit toothpicks. The fact that we sank her ship means she has it in for all of us, not just Max.”

“Hate to be in the same neighborhood when she catches up with ya!” Rude Bones laughed.

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Old 02-15-2012, 04:32 AM   #27
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Sasuke XI 3-3

“Ha! We’re not scared’a that bitch!” Justin declared.

“Yeah,” Shades chuckled, “it is easy to say that after the fact, isn’t it?”

“Oh yeah!” Justin shot back, “well, it was my EMP grenades got us there’n the first place!”

“You mean our EMP’s,” Shades amended.

“Damn straight! Was my money that bought ’em!”

“Oy! Dagmar!” Rude Bones called out. “These lads sank that Striker’s ship, ya know that?”

“And I should care, why?” Dagmar rolled her eyes.

“Fer old time’s sake!” the old man told her. “This calls for somethin’ special. Ya still got that mystery bottle ya picked up a while back?”

“You’re not serious, are you?” Dagmar shook her head. “Even I have no clue what’s in there.”

“A’course I am,” Rude Bones replied. “There’s gotta be somethin’ good in there, right, Dagger?”

“I told you not to call me that.” Both her tone and her glare sharp enough to draw blood.

Even Kalika’s already stern disapproval seemed to dial up a notch.

“Fine…” Dagmar muttered, digging around under the bar and coming up with an unmarked bottle of something dark pink and hazy, and a shot glass. “But if you get trashed and make a scene when the evening customers are here, I’ll kick your ass no matter how drunk you are.”

“Spoken like a true pirate,” the old man grinned.

“And you’ll pay for it in advance.”

“Spoken like a true barkeep.” His face and voice pleasant enough, his payment flung across the table.

“What the hell is that?” Shades asked as Dagmar plunked the bottle down on the table. While no connoisseur himself, he had still never seen anything like it.

“Don’t rightly know,” Dagmar admitted. “A former sister of the old Pactra traded me for it, but I still haven’t dared to crack it open, given that she’d drink damn near anything. Kinda like someone else we know.”

“So, it’s a mystery, huh?” Justin looked at it, noting the way it seemed to shift and shimmer, seemed to almost change color ever so slightly.

“Yep,” Rude Bones popped the cork, “and she’s been hoardin’ it all this time, chargin’ more’n even her best. This better be worth it…”

He poured a shot, shoving it across the table to Justin, saying, “First one’s on the young hero who made this possible!”

“Really?” Justin sounded flattered enough, but then he just stopped and stared at it for a moment in hesitation.

“I don’t know…” Shades took a long look at that glass himself. “That stuff looks like trouble.”

“Ya gonna listen to a prude like ’im?” Rude Bones sniffed. “I’m offerin’ ya the first shot outta respect fer winnin’ yer first fight with a Cyexian.”

Another remark Dagmar spared him a sharp glare for.

Shades shrugged in resignation.

“Not one word!” Justin took up the glass and downed it all in one gulp. “You’re the one wanted a Donner Party!”

Then fell over face-first, nearly tipping the table as he rolled off of it.

“Out of respect, eh?” Shades couldn’t help noting the childish glee on Rude Bones’ wizened face.

“Now that’s what’s supposed to happen!” the old pirate cackled, pouring himself a shot and tossing it back, coughing for a moment. “Now that’s some good shit there!”

Then his eyes rolled up, and he fell over backward.

Shades reached over for the bottle, sniffing it cautiously, nearly fumbling it at a powerful, eye-watering smell he had never encountered before.

“Dammit! I knew this was gonna be trouble…” Dagmar fumed, “but he just wouldn’t shut up about it…”

“I suppose I’ll have to drag him back to his shack,” Kalika muttered, “but at least he won’t be troubling our guests tonight.”

“And I’ll take Justin back to the ship,” Shades volunteered, fearing it would come to something like this anyway. “I’m pretty sure that was his first time, and I bet that bastard knew it, too.”

“And you?” Kalika raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve… sampled a couple things along the way,” Shades confessed, recalling a funny detail about living within driving distance of the Canadian border: the realization that at least half of his old classmates ‘celebrated’ their eighteenth birthdays up there, “but much like coffee, alcohol’s an ‘acquired taste’ I just never acquired.”

“I see,” he nodded. “Then take care of your friend. I don’t think moderation is his strong suit.”

Shades nodded, then turned to his task, saying, “For what’s it’s worth, your seafood’s to die for.”

“Glad you like it.”

As the two of them set out, Dagmar took a sip from the bottle.

“As I thought,” she said after a moment, “old girl still drinks like a fish.” Then she handed the bottle to Kalika. “At least he paid his tab in full for once, he can have it if he wants it.”

Then she went right back to work.

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Old 02-22-2012, 10:25 AM   #28
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the turn of the tide
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Hinata XII 1-3

XII
Shades sat on the piling of one of the docks, staring out at the sunset.

Despite his intention to take it easy so soon after their ordeal at sea, he was still sore and stiff from an afternoon of training, but satisfied none the less. A day of training and sightseeing had done him good, as he suspected it had for Max and Ma’Quiver. Justin, on the other hand, had spend most of the day in bed, and was still in a foul mood.

That’s why they call it hangover, he had explained. And Justin tried to deck him. But he was too out of it to hit the broad side of battleship, and no nauseous, he couldn’t even sleep aboard the ship, complaining about its every movement.

Mumbling and muttering at him every step of the way as he hauled his friend back from the Hang Ten to the docks. Wondering every step of the way why Justin had to pick a place with no taxis. Still, he was grateful it wasn’t someplace crawling with lowlifes like Bodeen. After Justin woke up just long enough to hurl over the side of the dock, Shades nearly regretted eating so much of Kalika’s delightful seafood.

More than anything, he just hoped Justin learned something from that.

Naturally, Max was concerned at first, but Ma’Quiver had served on his fair share of ships, with his share of sailors, and knew what to do. And set about making preparations, while reassuring Max that Justin would be just fine once he slept it off. Bandit, meanwhile, just sniffed at him for a moment, then sneezed at him.

Between last night’s hassles, and today’s training, it just dawned on him that he’d been too busy to even get around to discussing his peculiar conversation with Rod yesterday. Then again, the last couple nights were the first time in ages that he had no worrisome dreams about John or Amy, though he still wasn’t completely certain if it was just relief after such a desperate week or so at sea, or if it was something about the island itself. Figured he would probably have a better answer after a few more days.

To be sure, it was a relief, not to be burdened with such worries in his sleep, but his conversation with Rod, with Roulette, did little to allay his concerns while he was awake. Training had provided a few hours’ distraction, but now that things had settled down, his mind just kept revolving back around to it. Especially the part about Quincy— not just that he turned out to be a real person, and not a figment of his imagination, but also that he died in his sleep.

It was even less reassuring in light of Amy’s entry in the Book of Fate. (Will wake up dead.) Made him wonder just how many of the adversaries he faced in those dreams might have been real people. The monsters, he was quite certain, were native to that plane, some of them, he suspected, alien even to that world, yet Rod’s words called every human enemy into question, in a way he was not at all comfortable with.

It was troubling enough at times, reflecting on the life-or-death battles he had participated in, both willingly and unwillingly, in the last few months. All the enemies he’d run into in passing. Wondering if perhaps he hadn’t already picked up a body count since he walked into this world. Guards, random shootouts, Striker’s crew, marauders in the Konas, Nikopol… Reminded himself that they did try to kill him first.

For the hundred and eighth time, he wished he could talk to Master Al about it. Yet to think that he may have may already soiled his hands as a kid, without even realizing it, was a most unsettling thought. Akin to playing a video game, only to find out later that he was controlling real-world events. But even as he worried about what Amy would think of him, it dawned on him that she may well have been fighting alongside of him through whole swaths of it.

Amy. Tomboy…

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Old 02-22-2012, 10:26 AM   #29
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Hinata XII 2-3

…A different evening, a different dock.

This time on Flathead Lake, rather than the boundless Ocean of another dimension, though he often imagined it as such, with only the fact that he could see the other side to intrude on his fantasies. Paddling around about mid length along the dock, where the water was just starting to inch up over his head, and he could tread water to stay warm. For as the setting sun cast the mountains’ shadows across the lakeshore, he could feel cold water from deeper in the lake shifting in around his feet, and even the surface waters were not as warm as they were an hour ago.

Wearing dark goggles in place of his shades, staying out where simple buoyancy would keep his bare feet from pressing too hard against the sharp rocks along the bottom. After a year of so of training with Master Al, he actually ventured out this far without shoes; a couple more years of training would harden his feet to the point where he would no longer give it a second thought. His sandals, shirt, and towel sitting near the foot of the dock with the others’ gear.

Much like the shadows creeping across the lake, the final days of summer before his seventh grade year were slipping through his fingers just like the water he was treading. Though it was rare for him to receive invitations outside of his tight circle of friends, when told at the store that afternoon that there was a party down by the lake, he nearly declined before hearing that the water today was warmer than usual. Flathead Lake was not only the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, it was also one of the deepest, so most of the time it was too cold for his taste even in the summer. Unlike some of his rare excursions to Foy or other smaller lakes in the surrounding mountains.

There were only two public docks in Lakeside. One of them was at the marina, right next to the boat ramp. Just down the road from his house, on the other side of the highway. Right next to the boat ramp, giving the water a shimmering, oily surface he never trusted for swimming. Fortunately, the party was being held at the other dock, which, despite also having a boat ramp, was in a less enclosed space than the marina, so the water stayed much clearer.

Naturally, he came expecting to hang out at the fringes of his upper middle class neighbors’ company. Though not in the habit of mooching off folks like them, he also felt no shame in partaking of their barbeque, scoring a couple free hot dogs and a soda from the cooler of people who drove mini-vans hitched to trailers hauling toys that cost more than his mother made in a year. Not like he wasn’t invited. Came expecting to get in some swimming without having to go all the way to Kalispell.

What he didn’t come expecting was Amy.

In hindsight, he really should have seen it coming, seeing how many of her friends were in attendance, swimming and sunbathing and hanging out on the dock and the shore. Still, he nearly turned around and went home, chiding himself for getting cold feet before he even dipped his toes in the water. Instead, he decided to stick it out and enjoy himself even though, much as he feared, he never did find any opportunity to talk to her without her friends around.

He was about to take his leave, when he heard one of the partygoers call out that Amy’s beach ball had somehow gotten bounced past the edge of the dock, slowly drifting out into the lake.

Having already glided out to the end of the dock by the time the older guy who first went after it just gave up. Looking back, Shades wasn’t really sure what got into him, maybe he was just looking for a way to ingratiate himself in her memories, even if it was only a cheesy act of chivalry. Kicking off the last piling, he went all out.

Wanting to catch up with the ball before it could get any further out. Not that he lacked confidence in his swimming, but only now did he realize that any inner tubes or other floatation devices were all back on the shore, so he was on his own as he came against the colder water that likely prompted the other guy to turn back. Just beginning to dawn on him that the water out here was deeper than any pool he ever swam in, as several people called out for him to let it go, it wasn’t worth the trouble.

Even Amy, standing up and nearly shrugging out of the green jacket draped over her shoulders, still wearing the bubble-gum pink one-piece she was swimming in earlier, with that breezy sort of modesty most valley girls were trying so hard to dispense with by her age, and a reminder that the wind coming down off Blacktail Mountain was warmer than the water he was now swimming in, yet he was almost there, so he resolved to go the distance.

By the time he caught up with the beach ball, he was genuinely alarmed at how far out he was. The dock a daunting distance longer than any swimming pool, he was surprised he could still hear them. Getting behind the ball and pushing it forward as he swam, he tried not to dwell on the contrast between the brightly colored segments rolling before his eyes, and the looming shadow he swam back into.

Reminded himself that he still had plenty of energy left, that the distance was all in his head, as Master Al always taught him, those onlookers’ anxiety was exaggerated.

All the same, when he made it back, he was a little disappointed to find himself handing off to the guy who turned back, who in turn gave it to Amy, acting triumphant as if he went out and retrieved it himself or something. Amy, in turn, acting more embarrassed than flattered, as Shades gave her the
V. And giving Shades what he hoped was a meaningful look before handing the ball off to another one of her friends.

And then, just like that, the party partied on…

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Old 02-22-2012, 10:27 AM   #30
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Hinata XII 3-3

…It was only later, sitting on a dock in another world, that he traced the exact moment he gave up on the notion of the Amy who appeared in his wildest dreams, and the Amy of the waking world, being one and the same. As if to confirm that it was too good to be true. It wasn’t as if he expected a medal or something, but it was only thinking about it years later that it occurred to him that all he’d really done that day was fetch a ball, like a dog.

In retrospect, found he wouldn’t have minded if she patted him on the head, but given the company they were in, decided that he got off lucky since no one else had, either.

Still, like most of his memories with Amy, it held a special place in his heart.

Recalled that he would later take even more foolish risks feet-first, just this past summer at John’s bandmate, Becky Chandler’s place down on the lake. They were lucky enough to buy an older property, before they started subdividing the lakefront into narrower slices than a cafeteria pizza to keep up with demand. So preoccupied hanging out with his friends, he had forgotten what he was dealing with, jumping right in.

And freezing solid, sinking nearly ten feet before he was able to force himself to move, lucky his lungs froze up, too, or he would have let out all of his air, putting himself in absurdly stupid danger, so at least fetching a ball for Amy wasn’t even the dumbest risk he had taken out there over the years.

As he stared out at the Ocean, he realized that he had never really thought about it from her perspective before. After all, if his childhood adventures on the dreamplane really had involved real people, then that meant she had also had weird dreams about fighting monsters and stuff with him, and he wondered how she felt about that. Did she believe it herself? His mind chased its own tail trying to figure out what sort of conversation he might have had if he’d ever upped the nerve to actually talk about it back then.

Now it made him wonder if that might have been where Amy was really trying to go with it at the mall when she asked him about paranormal stuff.

It was about this point he finally noticed he wasn’t alone anymore. Hearing footfalls on the dock planks, he turned to see Twyla ambling along. Turning back to the sea, he waited for her to make her way over to see what she came for.

“So there you are,” she remarked, making it clear she had come for the conversation rather than the view.

“I thought you had a show tonight,” Shades answered, wanting to be alone with his thoughts.

“Yeah, but not for a while yet,” she told him. Taking a seat on the next post, getting right down to the point: “You know, Rod doesn’t really talk much about his dreams, despite saying that he gets a lot of inspiration for songwriting from them. But today, he was a lot more talkative about it than he’s ever been.”

“You don’t say.” Shades turned to face her, deciding that perhaps he was not as alone with his thoughts as he previously believed.

“Usually, he doesn’t say, but something you said yesterday really got him talking. He said you used to fight together in his dreams. Zero Hunters, you called yourselves. What is a Zero?”

“Well, it’s hard to describe,” but Shades attempted to anyway. “They could take a lot of different forms, and could manipulate the dream, sometimes just as much as we could. The only thing we were sure about was that they didn’t belong in our dreams, and they seemed to be ‘after’ something, though we never figured out what. Hell, even in this world, I was pretty sure it was all in my head, right along with having the girl of my dreams along for the ride. But after talking to Rod, now I’m not so sure.”

“I see,” Twyla nodded. “You’ve seen how big this world is— from what I can tell, you’ve seen a lot more of it than we have. How long do you plan to keep searching for these friends of yours, and what will you do if you never find them?”

“As long as it takes.” Shades surprised even himself with his own resolve, given how fruitless his search had proven thus far. “John’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life, and I’m responsible for him being in this mess. And Amy, if it’s true about our dreams…”

“So she’s that important to you, huh?”

“Yes, she is,” Shades told her.

“Then I wish you luck,” she said as she stood up, smiling. “You might just be her best hope, wherever she is. Anyway, it’s almost time for our show, so I gotta get going. Maybe we’ll talk about your dreams again later.”

“Let’s,” Shades agreed, now glad she’d come along. “And see if you can get Rod in on it, too. There are still some things I’d like to talk to him about.”

“Sure thing!”

Then Shades faced back out to sea.

“And whatever you do, don’t you dare give up.” Twyla turned around. “If your dreams really are connected, then your strength is also her strength. Don’t let her down.”

“I won’t,” Shades assured her, and promised himself.

As she turned and continued on her way, Shades realized that he truly meant it, more than he previously thought he had. Found a new sense of confidence in the possibility he had beaten monsters even as a child, that it held out hope for her. Especially since she had fought them, too.

I’m stronger than I was back then. If I could do it before, I can do it again.

This he thought as he watched the tide roll in.


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Old 02-29-2012, 06:42 AM   #31
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obito XIII 1-3

XIII
Ma’Quiver stood near the docks, watching a new ship arrive, shielding his eyes against the late afternoon sun’s glare.

One of the few ships to drop by in the week or so they had stayed on the Isle of Castaways. While he still felt a measure of restlessness after being stalled in Sarna for so long, he was also surprised at how relaxed he felt at times here. Going by his friends’ equally relaxed posture, he was increasingly certain there was just something about the island’s easygoing atmosphere that simply rubbed off on people the longer they stayed.

He was beginning to wonder if they were planning to leave any time soon, or if it might be time to settle his affairs with the Maximum crew and sign on with another outfit.

Not that he hadn’t enjoyed himself, he was just afraid of staying anyplace too long anymore when there were still so many places to search. Shades clearly relished any chance to run along the beach, Max’s swordsmanship was coming along well, and Justin seemed to have learned the pitfalls of drinking with old pirates. And just like on the ship, they took to using their old EMP-wrecked guns from St Lucy to practice disarms and weapon retention. Having marked them with colored electrical tape from the supply room for safety. Justin, especially, demonstrated a natural knack for both.

Everyone enjoyed their often musical training and sparring sessions down by the beach, and he was even considering trying his hand at surfing with Dagmar and Kalika.

Yet as he watched the crew of this new ship, Danjo, disembark, he spotted something that completely rephrased the question for him. Or rather, someone.

Medium height, medium build, with almost platinum-blond hair, parted and swept to both sides, he looked much as Ma’Quiver remembered him. Older, naturally, but with that same cocky, smugly self-assured expression only served to close the gap of five years. Closing the gap enough to make him recoil in spite of himself for a moment.

Clyde Voidt, Lazlo’s first apprentice…

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Old 02-29-2012, 06:43 AM   #32
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obito XIII 2-3

…Dominik Ma’Quiver lost his parents at the age of seven, in a terrible accident. That he recalled precious little of, let alone how he managed to survive, though later he would begin to formulate his own bitter theories. Most of them based on how he came to be Lazlo’s second apprentice in the first place.

Short for even his age, and scrawny, with a shaggy mop of black hair, and wary eyes that looked around as if constantly expecting trouble in all the new places his master took him in his travels since that day.

That day in the town of Cordova, he was simply walking down the street, delivering news bulletins, as he had been doing for nearly a year to help support the orphanage, when he was about to get hit by an out-of-control truck. He blacked out after that, but when he came to, he found he was once again mysteriously unharmed, and a strange man named Lazlo was lobbying to adopt him. Told him that he possessed a rare gift, which he had used reflexively to escape death or serious injury, and he could teach him how to use it to its full potential if he would become his pupil.

So far, though, he had yet to succeed in using it deliberately, but Master Lazlo assured him that he would get the hang of it in time. Thus far, even for a novice like himself, Shanshou-kan training was very challenging, but even in the few weeks he had been practicing, he had come to find a certain satisfaction in it, much more so than any of the chores the orphanage asked of him to help earn his keep there. There was only one thing to disrupt the peace and tranquility of his studies.

From the moment Lazlo came to pick him up from the orphanage, he was already there, staring down his nose at him. Having already trained under his master’s tutelage for five years, the first thing out of his mouth a jab about
taking in strays. In the weeks since, Clyde had made good on that quip, taking every opportunity he could get away with to make Ma’Quiver feel unwelcome.

As Ma’Quiver stood on the bustling street of the seaport on Adair Island, he caught sight of Clyde strolling down the way, spotted the telltale “flicker” he had already learned to detect when they practiced time-shifting techniques. At first he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, though something still bothered him. It was seeing Clyde ambling over toward him with an unfamiliar wallet that made the pieces fit.

“Score!” Clyde gloated, popping it open, taking a look inside. “Like taking candy from a baby!”

Then back up, asking, “So, you finally ready to start making yourself useful, scrub?” With that same condescending manner he always addressed him with. “There’s this place I found, but I need a lookout. If you pull it off, I’ll even give you some money. If you do a good job.”

“But why?” Ma’Quiver stammered. Though he was becoming increasingly certain Clyde was spending more money than he was making, he was still taken aback to see him stealing outright. “We have plenty right now…”

“You mean that chump-change Master Lazlo has us making doing the work of peons?” Clyde sneered. “If I have the power, why shouldn’t I use it?”

“Just because you can?…” Ma’Quiver balled his hands into fists. While Lazlo let them keep most of the money they earned, he understood it wasn’t his fault kids like themselves couldn’t work jobs that paid as much as an adult. “Master Lazlo trusted you…”

“And he’s gonna
keep on trusting me, if you know what’s good for you!” Clyde snatched him up by the front of his shirt before he could try to run, shoving him up against the fence behind him. “If you tell Lazlo anything—”

“Tell me anything about what?”

A strong, solid hand gripped Clyde’s shoulder, dragging him back as he abruptly let go of Ma’Quiver. Middle aged, with fading brown hair and a handlebar moustache, Lazlo typically held a kind, fatherly aura about him. Right now, though, he was the very face of stern.

“Well, um…” For once, Clyde was at a loss for words.

“I saw what you did, Clyde,” Lazlo informed him, “and I’m very disappointed in you. I didn’t want to believe my first apprentice was a thief, but it seems turning a blind eye was a mistake. Not only are you using the powers I taught you to steal from hapless bystanders, but now you’re trying to make your brother an accomplice, as well?”

“He’s not my brother! And if we didn’t have this dead-weight with us, we wouldn’t be so strapped for cash!”

“Do not speak that way of your brother,” Lazlo told him. “You were once a novice yourself, don’t forget. As your teacher, you are both like sons to me. And I don’t recall teaching any son of mine to be a thief.”

“Well if Shanshou-kan’s so great, why do we have to go around doing lame chores for hand-outs?” To this day, Ma’Quiver suspected Clyde was chafing under Lazlo’s itinerant lifestyle, even before he came along, and it looked as if he was finally going to have it out in the open. “Why don’t we actually
use our power to take what we want?”

“Because we are as responsible for our own actions as anybody else. It is our actions that decide the worth of Shanshou-kan,” Lazlo sighed. “So how fast would you have us wear out our welcome in this place?”

“But, if no one knows…”

“There’s no such thing as impunity, Clyde,” Lazlo informed him. “I thought I taught you better than this. Tell me, what would you do if the authorities all came after you?”

Clyde had no response for that.

“I don’t want you to have to live as everyone’s enemy.” Lazlo placed his hand on Clyde’s shoulder, gently this time. “That’s no life any father would wish on his son.”

“Then maybe I shouldn’t be your ‘son’ anymore,” Clyde scowled.

“I would think carefully about how you plan to take care of yourself at your age. Let alone if you decide to become a criminal,” Lazlo cautioned him. “When you grow up, you can live as you choose, but I won’t tolerate stealing from any of my pupils.”

“But we could be rich…”

“We already
are rich,” Lazlo told him, “more than you know. It has been generations since the since the last time a master of Shanshou-kan was blessed with two apprentices. Our art is rare enough— why would you seek to drive it into extinction by marking a Dark Art out of it? Such actions will only drive it into deeper obscurity.”

“I still think that’s what we’re already doing…” But Clyde handed over the wallet anyway.

“Now, it’s almost time for training,” Lazlo told them. “I have a little errand to attend to. When I get back, I expect to see both of you working together…”

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Old 02-29-2012, 06:44 AM   #33
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obito XIII 3-3

…On the surface, that was likely what Master Lazlo found when he got back, but beneath the surface, the whole training session consisted of Clyde using him as a punching bag. Frequently muttering, I have no brother.

Of course, before going back to the inn to face whatever Clyde could get away with doing to him in the name of training, he followed Lazlo for the first leg of his errands. Sure enough, his master had marked Clyde’s mark, and a short while later caught up with him, telling him he had dropped his wallet. The man’s reaction shifting from confusion, as he checked his pocket, to suspicion as he took it back, to sheepish relief as he sifted through its contents and saw it was all there, thanking Lazlo profusely. After which, Ma’Quiver went back to the inn, having resolved to learn even from Clyde’s abuse, to become strong enough to stand up to him.

So that the next time I see somebody getting robbed, I can use my powers to stop it.

Though he never heard Clyde raise the issue with Lazlo again, he did become increasingly sullen, and one day simply disappeared. Try as they might, Clyde made good on his threat to leave, and they never saw him again. As time went by, Lazlo focused more and more on training his one remaining apprentice, giving the impression of having given up on Clyde. But every now and then, Ma’Quiver would catch a distant, almost nostalgic, look on his master’s face that seemed to suggest otherwise.

For his own part, Ma’Quiver had hoped Clyde would straighten out, but what he saw on the dock was hardly encouraging. Starting with the ship’s name, Danjo, which he had heard in passing, connected to an outlaw who, by all accounts, used Shanshou-kan shamelessly in every fight. Seeing Clyde Voidt, of all people, step off with this posse only served to confirm what he had suspected for a long time.

Clyde’s companions didn’t exactly inspire confidence, either.

Behind him strode two men, one with a mop of dark brown hair, the other with short, curly black hair, whose swagger and overall demeanor reminded him of both the bullies from his childhood orphanage, as well as the Nikopol thugs of more recent acquaintance.

The last member of the group looked the most out of place in this crowd, even walking by Clyde’s side. Shorter than the others, and lithe, with curls of spun gold and a long braid swaying half-way down her back, she seemed just a tad too regal for such lowlife company. Even her clothes, disheveled from travel as they were, still looked a cut above any of their gear.

Seeing as how none of them had noticed him yet, Ma’Quiver ducked behind a storage shed and continued to observe them as they disembarked.

“This place…” the young woman remarked, looking around the seaport with thinly-veiled disdain. “Is there even a decent inn around here? A hotel would obviously be too much to ask for.”

“Cool your heels,” said one of the two in back, “I’m just lookin’ for some real food.”

“And somewhere to stretch my legs,” said the other.

“Brad, Graham, look no further,” Clyde told them, his tone still just as cocky and sublimely self-assured as Ma’Quiver remembered. “It may not look like much, but this ghetto seaport should suit our needs nicely. The locals shouldn’t be too much trouble, either.”

Two local men came over to greet them.

“I’m not spending another night on that ship, Danjo,” the woman told him, completely ignoring their welcome.

“Heh,” laughed the one called Brad, “maybe this dump has other accommodations!”

“Maybe even a little privacy, if nothing else,” snorted the one called Graham, swiping his hair out of his eyes.

“You said it!” Clyde nodded with a sly grin.

The two men at the dock took a couple steps toward them, then faltered, turning to look at each other for a moment while these newcomers continued to gab, giving both of them not even a backward glance, before they sighed, shrugged and turned back to their own business.

By now, they were out of earshot, but as they walked away, Ma’Quiver watched the young woman elbow Graham, turn up her nose at Clyde, then turn and stomp away, heading toward the beach, while the others headed toward the main town.

Ma’Quiver lingered until they were out of sight, then headed toward the main docks, having decided that what he had seen looked like trouble in the making, that perhaps things might be a little quieter around here without him.

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Old 03-07-2012, 04:39 AM   #34
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Ino XIV 1-2

XIV
During their first visit to the Hang Ten Bar & Grill, Shades had noticed several arcade games, but of course hadn’t exactly had the chance to check them out that evening. Since then, he had dropped by a couple times, finding both a couple familiar games, and a sense of nostalgia. Had to admit he was a little nervous about bringing Justin over after what happened last time, but at least Rude Bones was busy fishing this afternoon. He had also wanted Max around for this little event, but he had gone off looking for Ma’Quiver for their afternoon training session.

Now, the two of them stood before a cabinet labeled Extreeeme Jaake!! with a pair of Uzi-shaped light-guns holstered in front. Loud, bombastic 16-bit chip-tune cycled, along with an occasional voice shouting “Extreeeme Jaake!” at intervals, as Shades recalled how, only a couple years earlier, it was rare for the voice FX to even be intelligible in games. Even the graphics, he noted, looked right at home in any arcade he left back on Earth, unlike some of the more futuristic machines he had seen at Club Positronic, or even in the other corner here, for that matter.

“So, you just point those and shoot at the screen, right?” Justin asked, looking over the unit.

“Yup,” Shades explained. “Normally, back in my world, you’d have to pay quarters or tokens to keep playing, but things are a little different here…”

Due to the fact that both the quarters and the tokens it was designed for were foreign coinage, combined with there being no one consistent currency passing through such a remote locale, Dagmar had arrived at a somewhat different arrangement. Instead of paying for credits, people paid for time. She would open the coin slot, allowing players to repeatedly flick the switch that the coins would ordinarily trigger, allowing for unlimited play for a specified time.

“I’ve already made arrangements,” Shades told him as Dagmar came over and unlocked the machine, “so let’s see how close this thing comes to the real deal! Let the Two-Fisted Rambo Challenge begin!”

“What? You’re not gonna play?”

“Of course not!” Shades laughed. “I’ve always wanted to see how somebody’d do at shooters using both guns, and you’re better at that than anybody else I know.”

“You asked for it!” Justin declared, arming both light-guns as Shades started the game.

Though he got off to a rough start, as Justin took a couple stages to adjust to the differences between light-guns and energy weapons. Once he hit his stride, though, he started blasting through levels, Shades occasionally ducking in to flip the switches for more continues. And found himself doing so less and less, until the last couple levels, whose manic pace taxed even Justin’s itchy trigger fingers.

“Dude!” Shades remarked triumphantly, “You did it! And in less time than I thought!”

“Damn straight!” Justin laughed, noticing for the first time what his friend already had: that their Challenge had attracted quite a crowd among the Hang Ten’s patrons, and Kalika found himself rushing around trying to keep up with fresh orders.

“Looks like you won the bet, Shades,” Dagmar told him. “Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have any money ridin’ on it!”

She then closed up the machine and started helping her partner pick up the slack.

The two of them, meanwhile, took a seat near the exit, and Justin opened his bag, taking out a couple candy bars. “Check this out!”

Shades read the label, and even mirrorized lenses couldn’t hide his mixed reaction.

“Here, have a Dookie!” He handed Shades chocolate bar, then paused, asking, “Um, did I say something weird or somethin’?”

“Dookie?” Shades cocked his head, looked at the wrapper as if he expected it to be some kind of practical joke.

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Old 03-07-2012, 04:41 AM   #35
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Ino XIV 2-2

“Yeah, I got ’em at Lamar’s earlier. Said they just showed up in a shipping crate a while back… What’s the matter? I thought you liked chocolate.”

“I do,” Shades tried to explain, “it’s just, how can I put this…”

“But they’re really great!” Justin insisted, turning the wrapper over and reading the back label: “Melted fudge nuggets, covered in milk chocolate, for a smooth, creamy texture, with peanuts and almonds mixed in…”

Shades, meanwhile, was trying desperately not to laugh out-loud at what he was increasingly certain had to be some kind of joke product.

“Hey, what are you laughing at?” Justin demanded, unwrapping one. “Lamar recommended them, even sold ’em to me for half price.”

“I’m sure he did,” Shades concurred, snortling in spite of himself.

Justin then took a bite out of what, to Shades, looked like a big, lumpy turd, with bits of peanut stuck in it, and started chewing with much gusto.

“Dude, I’m gonna be blunt,” Shades finally replied. “You see, where I come from, ‘dookie’ is a slang term for shit. And that candy bar… I never would’ve thought chocolate, of all things, could ruin my appetite. Still, at least you didn’t find it in a swimming pool…”

“I ate scarier things in the alleys of Benton,” Justin informed him, “and hope I never have to again. But if you don’t want it, that’s just more for me.”

“Lighten up. I didn’t expect you to take it so personally,” Shades replied as he got back up, “but if you want to make a good practical joke, offer Max one without telling him anything about it. Anyhoo, I just remembered, I told Rod I’d hang out with him before the show.”

And with that, he took off for Bankshot.

And Justin finished eating his Dookie Bar.

Then someone else sat down next to him.

“You’re the one who beat that game, aren’t you?” she remarked. “That was so cool!”

“You think?” Justin turned to see who he was talking to.

Golden curls, framing a lively face, and green eyes that beamed with something he was fairly sure was admiration of a sort. And a glimmer of something else he couldn’t place, as he couldn’t recall a girl ever looking at him quite like that before. Even wearing clothes that had seen better days, she wore them well, with poise and a breezy grace that spoke of more civilized places than any he’d ever been to.

“I’ve never seen anyone handle two guns like that!” she went on. “Are you that good with real guns?”

“Of course!” Justin laughed. “That was my first time with a video game, but I’ve been practicing my quick-draw since I was a kid.”

“Really? It definitely shows! So, what’s your name anyway?”

“Justin Black,” he answered, wondering how he had become so talkative after being annoyed by Shades anyhow.

“Justin Black…” she mused, sizing him up. “This should be fun. I’m Felicia Cass, and after a long, boring trip, I’m just looking for some place to hang out and relax. So, know any places on this island to have a good time?”

“Well, there is Bankshot,” Justin told her. “They even got a live band…”

He wondered why he found himself wondering about Eleanor, the girl he vaguely remembered from his childhood aboard the Skerry, what became of her, what she might be doing now. It struck him as odd, since she was nothing at all like this Felicia. Yet it was closest he could recall to how he felt right now.

Clearing his head, he recalled the candy bar Shades turned his nose up at.

“So, uh, want a Dookie?…”

As he got up, they headed off for Bankshot.

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Old 03-14-2012, 04:50 AM   #36
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Sakon XV 1-2

XV
Shades stood over near the stage, talking with Dusk and Dan while they waited for the show to begin.

“Yeah,” Dusk told him, “we actually started playing together in high school. Of course, that was before we met the others. Our first live show was the school talent show Senior year. We played some Descendents and Op Ivy, but afterward, we decided we wanted to start a band for real. The others drifted away, but after graduation, we met Twyla and Vaughn, who introduced us to the sound of 2-Tone Skamen,” which Dusk explained was the inspiration for their more jazz/improv approach to ska, “and the rest just fell into place like a good round of Tetris.”

The whole conversation, along with Dan’s remarks on how much they had been forced to improvise in this world, put Shades in mind of Nowheresville’s resident ska enthusiast, Vince, and his insane patience for inane projects. Especially one evening, in Sandy’s basement, when he first joined the band, and Becky commented on his backpack. Though they had been vaguely acquainted throughout high school, it wasn’t until Shades noticed that he wore the same backpack— claimed to have since middle school— and just how bad it was falling apart.

“And he was fixing it up with duct tape?” Dusk asked. “So what else is new?”

“No, nothing so mundane as that,” Shades assured them, “he was replacing it with duct tape. Said it was ‘just the prototype’ and at the time I wasn’t even sure he was serious. Sure enough, though he was just using it as a pattern, later he showed up with a backpack made entirely out of duct tape.”

“That’s nuts!” Dan laughed.

“Becky said that, too, but all he said was, ‘Well, if I need a new pocket for something, I just make a new one. If I don’t want it anymore, I can just cut it out and patch it up with more duct tape.’ That, and he said he was really fond of the ‘Space Age’ look.”

“You had some interesting friends, Shades,” Dusk remarked.

“Wouldn’t have ’em any other way!” Shades replied. “Then or now. Of course, by his Senior year, Vince was the Wizard of Duct Tape, in tune with the tape, envisioning new patterns in a matter of seconds…”

Shades trailed off, getting that peculiar sensation of alarms going off in the back of his head, which he had come to dread, as it was always followed by something troublesome.

Scanning the area, he spotted a young man with almost towhead blond hair step out into the dining section. Found his attention drawn to this unusual new arrival as he made his way across the floor, wondered why this person inspired such unease with his mere presence. After all, he not only appeared to be unarmed, but walked with a more casual confidence he had come to associate with people who excelled at unarmed combat, as if he had no need for a weapon…

“So, Shades,” Dan nudged him, “I have only one question about this zany scheme of yours: where would I find that much duct tape in this world? It’s not like there’s an S-Mart just down the street or somethin’.”

“Huh? What?” Shades snapped back to the conversation at hand. “Oh. Right. Guess you do have a point there.”

“What’s up?” Dusk asked, gesturing toward the newcomer. “You know that guy or somethin’?”

“No, it’s just…” Sometimes I know trouble when I see it…

Towhead, meanwhile, made his way over to the table where Rod, Twyla and Brian were relaxing before they set up for tonight’s show. Not noticing him at all, Brian got up and headed in the direction of the restroom. In his absence, the newcomer seated himself in his place, interposing himself between Twyla and Rod.

“Hey, babe,” he leaned toward her, “this seat taken?”

“Uh, yeah,” Rod informed his back. “That’s Brian’s seat.”

“I don’t see his name on it,” he retorted, not even turning around, “so I guess it’s my seat now.”

“Excuse me?” Twyla’s tone sliding from incredulous to exasperated. “We’re trying to have a conversation here.”

“So talk to me already. What do you want to talk about?” he asked her. “The name’s Danjo. What’s yours?”

Withering silence.

“Don’t tell me you’re goin’ out with this scrub?” Danjo remarked, dismissing Rod with an offhand gesture. “Try runnin’ with Danjo, and we’ll show ya a good time!”

“Can’t you take a hint?” Rod muttered, getting up and standing over him. “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”

“What?” Danjo spared him a sidelong glance, “Can’t she speak for herself?”

“Yes, she can,” Twyla snapped, “and she’s telling you to go bother somebody else.”

“You heard her,” Rod told him. “You’ve got until Brian comes back to his seat—”

“Or you’ll what?” Danjo finally craned his head to acknowledge Rod. “I have it on good authority there are no laws on this island.”

“Damn straight,” Rod replied, “and that means there’s no law against us throwin’ you out on your ass.”

“Don’t go there,” Danjo warned him.

“Rod,” Twyla started to get up, “let’s just go…”

“No,” Rod insisted, reaching for the back of Danjo’s chair, “we’re not giving up our table to this asshole—”

From his seated position, Danjo snapped his foot up with jarring reach, kicking Rod in the face, sending him staggering back against an unoccupied table.

“You want trouble, you got trouble!”

“Rod!” Twyla reached out and slapped him.

Danjo backhanded her—

Only to be kicked from behind.

“Not cool.” Shades stepped in.

“How the hell did you do that?” Danjo demanded as he turned around to face him.

Shades shrugged.

“In spite of my appearance, people tell me I can be easy to overlook.” Though he had sometimes managed it in desperation (especially at his last job at DepartMart), it was only after training with Ma’Quiver that he finally started to figure out how to ‘mute his presence’ deliberately. “Still, I’m not half as sneaky as Justin when he wants to be.”

“So, you want some trouble, too, do ya, prettyboy?”

“No, not really,” Shades sighed, “but why do I get the feeling you’re not gonna give me a choice? I mean, I could buy you a drink and we could—”

“You don’t know how much trouble!” Danjo sneered.

—just call it even… Shades finished in his head as he put up his dukes.

Just in time to feel that by-now familiar something shift as Danjo flickered and vanished.

And Shades just barely dodged in time.

“No way…” he breathed, trying to figure out what he was up against here. He already had the impression this Danjo was no slouch at hand-to-hand, but Shanshou-kan…

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Old 03-14-2012, 04:53 AM   #37
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Sakon XV 2-2

“That confirms it…” Danjo muttered. “Only someone who’s fought against Shanshou-kan would have any chance of stopping that. Alright, where is he?”

“Where is who?” Shades asked guardedly, not liking where this was going.

“Dominik.”

“Who?”

“Ma’Quiver, dumbshit.”

“Hmm…” Shades cocked his head. “You’re too young to be this Lazlo I’ve heard about…”

“Don’t you ever mention that name around me again.”

And Danjo launched back in, and all Shades could do was try to keep up. Once again, it hit him, a spark in the back of his mind. In one of those split-second flashes of thought, too fast to form words, barley enough to form pictures— the speed of ideas, perhaps the only thing proven to exceed the speed of light— but his feet just couldn’t keep up.

Though Ma’Quiver’s training helped him hold out at first, Shades quickly found himself being driven back, up against a table.

“Your luck just ran out, punk!” Danjo snarled at him. “Now where is he!?”

“Hey Danjo!” one of his companions hollered as he ran onto the floor, “What’s goin’ on?”

“Brad—” Danjo began.

While Shades used his moment of distraction to roll back over the tabletop, out of Danjo’s reach, just before he could kick it over.

“Nice move!” Twyla called out.

“You bastard!” Dan shouted, snatching up a chair and charging Danjo. “Leave my friends—”

But failed to notice the one called Graham coming from the other direction, who tripped Dan and shoved him, sending him crashing into another table.

“Anybody who messes with our team,” Dusk stepped up, “answers to me!”

“These the ones you’re lookin’ for?” Graham asked Danjo.

“No, but close enough,” Danjo answered. “They’re gonna tell us where he is, even if we have to beat it out’ve ’em!”

“What the hell are you people doing!?” Bruno, the bouncer, demanded as he stomped outside. “You get out of our club right now!”

“Make me,” Danjo smirked.

“This be my favorite waterin’ hole!” Rude Bones’ declaration punctuated by his breaking a beer bottle on the table next to him. “One of ’em anywise.”

“It takes a lot of concentration to use that technique.” Shades stepped over next to Rod, glad to have Bruno as an ally this time. “Roulette, I’ll back you up, just like the old days.”

“Roulette?” Twyla muttered. “But that’s what he named his guitar…”

“Hell, more like I used to back you up, man.” Rod could still see it; Shades wasn’t a kid anymore, but there was no mistaking the defiance in his stance. Even against ridiculous odds, he was as fiercely loyal to his friends as he remembered, and he kept half-expecting to see the battle-fire ignite, even here in the waking world.

Twyla raised an eyebrow at that last remark.

Then Rod gave Shades the V, hoping it would stick.

By now, any casual visitors at Bankshot had scattered to the edges of the floor, if not fled the club entirely in the face of this tense impending showdown.

“Wait! What are you doing!?” DJ cried as he scrambled outside. “Please stop dis!”

He may as well have rung a ringside bell, as everyone involved took his interruption as their cue to start.

Rude Bones lunged at Brad, slashing at him with his broken bottle, while Dusk hung back. Bruno advanced on Graham, who held his ground. Danjo, meanwhile, seemed to catch on to Shades’ plan right off, appearing to almost move in two directions at once as he kicked both of them, then turning and focusing on Shades.

All DJ could do was watch in helpless horror as Bankshot’s outdoor dining area and dance floor descended into chaos as a chair-swinging, table-smashing brawl ensued.

Though quick and nimble from a lifetime of fisticuffs, Rude Bones was still past his prime, and all putting just one scratch on this Brad earned the old pirate was a flying chair that bowled him over. Dusk tried throwing a couple bottles at him behind his back, but Brad saw them out of the corner of his eye and dodged both. Even as Dusk reached for a chair, Brad rushed in, hammering him with a barrage of punches and kicks.

At the same time, Bruno tried to grapple with Graham, looking to subdue him so he could help restrain the others, but Graham managed to slip out of his chokehold, and stomp his shin. Slowing him down enough to retreat a short way, snatching up one of the torch poles DJ had lit up not long ago. Armed with fire on a stick, he twirled and brandished it, jabbing at Bruno as he frantically tried to evade, finally landing a direct hit, square in the chest.

Lighting and burning away a good chunk of his shirt as he dropped and rolled, screaming.

Shades, meanwhile, quickly discovered that Danjo wasn’t playing around anymore, fending off fewer and fewer hits until Danjo nailed him with a low-flying punch, right in the solar plexus. As he stumbled back, coughing and gasping for air, he caught a brief glimpse of the others’ plights, dismayed at how alarmingly fast everything turned against them. Then Danjo kicked him, knocking him on his ass hard enough to see stars, his new hat fluttering to the floor nearby.

Rod tried to chair Danjo while his back was turned, but was horrified long enough to see his opponent vanish right before he was dragged back by his shirt collar and slammed onto a table.

As Rod struggled to get back up, Brad stepped in, twisting his arm until he felt like his wrist would snap.

“Ha! What a bunch of pussies!” Brad laughed. “It looks like you were right about this dump!”

“Yeah,” Danjo replied, “but why are you using such a weak hold on him?”

“It’s not like this wimp can break out,” Brad snorted, “but is this more what you had in mind?”

Rod winced as Brad twisted his arm around a different way.

“No, more like this.” Danjo reached over, elbowing Rod in the face, adjusting Brad’s grip until Rod was doubled over, feeling every joint from his fingers to his shoulders strained to their limit.

“I see!” Graham lit up as he sauntered over.

Twyla looked on in abject horror, imagining her bandmate seeing his guitar career flashing before his eyes, his hand bent at such a painful-looking angle.

“Now,” Danjo leaned down close to him, “you’re going to tell me where that chickenshit Dominik Ma’Quiver’s hiding, or I’m going to break your fingers.”

“Why don’t you try fighting someone who can fight back?” a voice demanded from across the floor.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AUTHOR'S NOTE
The name "2-Tone Skamen" is purely fictitious, so there is no need for anyone to give themselves an aneurism trying to look it up.

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Old 03-21-2012, 04:54 AM   #38
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the turn of the tide
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Kamina XVI 1-3

XVI
All eyes turned to see Max as he strode up to them.

“And who the hell are you?” Danjo demanded as he turned to face him.

“Who the hell are you?” Max countered.

“You watch your tone with me, asswipe,” Danjo warned him. “I take it you also know Ma’Quiver?”

“And what of it?”

“Tell me now. Where is he?”

“Wouldn’t tell you, even if I knew.”

“Fine, have it your way.”

“Please… Somebody…” DJ pleaded.

“Let’s take this outside,” Max told him, seeing the damage to his club.

“No more stalling,” Danjo said curtly, “we settle this here.”

Brad wrenched Rod’s arm again for emphasis.

“Coward,” Max called him out, “let Rod go.”

“Just who do you think you’re talking to?” Brad demanded. “Nobody fu.cks with Danjo!”

“As this fool’s about to learn.” Danjo glared at Max. “Just hang on to him. Somebody has to know where—”

Before Danjo could blurt out a word of warning, Rude Bones popped up behind Brad and cracked a bottle over his head.

“Thanks, man,” Rod mumbled, stumbling away while rubbing his mauled wrist.

“Heh-heh!” the old pirate cackled. “Still got it!”

Shooting a sly wink at Jillian, who gasped as she peered over the top of the table she was hiding under, increasingly certain that following up on her employer’s drawn-out absence was a mistake.

At least until a glass ashtray beaned him right in the forehead, flooring him, and she ducked back under her table.

“That’s enough of that,” Danjo remarked, having snatched that projectile and winging at him before Max could make a move. He then turned to Jillian’s hiding place. “Yo, girl!” he quipped, “You wanna go out after we’re done? I promise, this won’t take long!”

“What the hell is going on here?” Justin demanded as he stopped short of the open floor.

“You did it again, didn’t you?” Felicia sighed disgustedly, hand resting firmly on her hip.

“Wait a minute!” Justin stepped back, taking in the scene, then turned back to her. “You know these guys?”

“Felicia?” Danjo paused for a moment, then turned to Justin with a withering glare. “Don’t tell me you’re picking up strays?”

“What the hell does that mean!?” Justin then turned to Felicia. “And who are those assholes? Don’t tell me they’re with you.”

“That’s enough!” Graham declared, hefting the torch pole he still held. “If you’re with them, you’re goin’ down, too!”

“Be careful, Max!” Rod warned him, retreating to the edge of the floor. Painfully aware that he was horribly outmatched in this mess. “That bastard uses the same shadow-moves as Ma’Quiver!”

“What?”

Before Max could fully register what he just heard, Danjo zapped in, and if he hadn’t had so much experience of late trying to dodge such things, he would be flat on his ass instead of barely out of the way.

“So you can’t use Shanshou-kan,” Danjo sneered. “Why would he bother to teach a loser like you?”

“Ma’Quiver…” Felicia snorted. “So that’s what this is all about. Always Ma’Quiver…”

“Max!” Justin stepped forward.

“No ya don’t!” Graham challenged, brandishing his torch stick. “Little twerp like you ain’t even worth Danjo’s time, which means I have to waste my time with you instead!”

“You asked for it!” Justin shot back.

Before he realized that he had gotten a little too used to this place, remembering that he left his weapons back on the ship after their last training session. And thus quickly found himself dancing madly backward in a desperate attempt to avoid that torch Graham kept thrusting at him. Thinking quickly, he moved to grab one of his own.

Felicia, meanwhile, slipped up silently behind him, bottle in hand, have taken a page from Rude Bones’ playbook.

At least until Shades caught her by the wrist, locking her arm joints as the bottle rolled haplessly away along the floor.

“Let’s sit this one out, shall we?” Shades suggested, glad he wasn’t trying to leverage anyone as strong as that Graham fellow appeared to be. Danjo’s attack had taken a lot out of him, and he doubted he would be able to hold even her for long as it was. “Don’t know what your story is, but that’s not how dates go where I come from.”

“Let me go, you jerk!” Felicia tried to kick at him, but he had positioned himself so she couldn’t reach at him while doubled over.

“Hey!” Graham shouted, “Let her go!”

But as he turned to face Shades, he barely dodged a swipe from Justin’s new torch stick.

“Don’t turn your back on Justin Black,” Justin warned him. “I’ll burn your ass!”


Last edited by neko-sennin; 07-12-2012 at 11:28 PM. Reason: DE-CENSORED
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Old 03-21-2012, 04:56 AM   #39
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the turn of the tide
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Kamina XVI 2-3

“I got your back, bro,” Shades told him. “Let’s wrap this up, ’cause Max’s gonna need all the help he can get.”

“Oh, I’ll wrap things up.” Graham twirled his torch stick for emphasis. “Nobody fu.cks with us without getting burned!”

As the two of them clashed, Max and Danjo began their own fight in earnest. And Danjo wasted no time, jumping right in on a fast-paced offensive that Max could barely keep up with. Found he was fast beginning to suspect that this was what things would have been like back at Nikopolas if Ma’Quiver had gone all-out, instead of entertaining the crowd.

Justin, meanwhile, quickly learned how tricky it could be to try to dodge a torch while not tripping over tables and chairs. Graham ruthlessly pushed him around the floor, pressing him with a constant barrage of thrusts and swipes. Nearly got him when he kicked over a table, and Justin barely sidestepped it, the bottles sliding to the floor and cracking open a puddle of booze on the floor.

Graham’s next strike so close he could feel it singe his hair.

Seizing the opportunity, before Graham could bring the plain end around at him, Justin swept upward, nailing him square in the nuts. Followed with a blow upside the head, then knocking the torch stick out of his flailing hand. He then finished by knocking one of his legs out from under him as he staggered back.

His torch, though, hit the ground at the same time, igniting all the alcohol pooled on the floor.

Now that their fight was over, DJ rushed in with a fire extinguisher as Graham rolled frantically away from the puddle of flames, accidentally hitting his head with the canister as he turned to put out the guttering blaze.

“Damn…” Shades muttered, more certain than ever that the staff was most definitely Justin’s weapon of choice. But his impression faded to dismay as he turned his attention back to Max. Though his friend had tried to muster an offensive against Danjo, this troublesome foe’s evasion was too quick; for every blow Max actually landed, Danjo got in several, and those last couple clean shots had only served to stoke his anger.

Now Max was reeling on his feet, and it was no great surprise when his friend’s next attack ended with Danjo zapping to the side and kicking him from behind, sending Max rolling over one of the tables and crashing to the floor.

“Max!” Justin cried, rushing in with his still-burning torch to strike from behind, but Danjo was too fast. Even Justin was taken aback by his uncanny speed, switching his grip in an attempt to block. But Danjo’s kick smashed through his makeshift weapon at mid-length, leaving him clutching two splintered halves as his foot stomped back down, knocking Justin sliding across the floor.

Shades could only watch in horror, for making even a single move would first entail letting Felicia get loose.

“So, what’s it gonna be?” Danjo turned to him.

“I don’t do hostages,” Shades told him, remembering all too unpleasantly what it was like to be one. “My only objective was to keep her from interfering.”

With that, he let her go, casually blocking her attempt at backhanding him as he stepped back out of her reach, bracing himself for the coming beatdown. Already had one round to learn just how outmatched he was here. And, unlike in his dreams, no way to bend the rules the way this guy could bend time.

“I’m only going to ask one more time…” Danjo cracked his knuckles. “Where is Ma’Quiver?”

“He’s right here, Clyde.”

Sure enough, Ma’Quiver stood near the entrance, then made his way across the floor, both his face and his gait carrying a sternness Shades hadn’t seen in either since their confrontation with Bertona back in Bodeen, as well as a steely resolve he was sure there must be a story behind.

“It’s Danjo now, Dominik,” he informed him, “and it’s about time you showed yourself.”

“Whatever,” he muttered, then turned to his friends. “I’m sorry, guys, I truly am,” he apologized. “I was hoping if he didn’t know I was here, he might behave himself for five minutes. So, the rumors about you were true. You even took the ancient word for ‘Trouble’ in your childhood homeland for yourself, I see…”

“So you were hiding from me,” Danjo smirked.

“I was sort of hoping you’d grown up, but that was apparently too much to ask,” Ma’Quiver resumed. “I didn’t want to believe you’d hurt innocent people, just to get to me. You just crossed the line. I guess this is one pointless fight I simply can’t avoid anymore.”

“So this is the great Lazlo’s apprentice…” Danjo appraised him. “Your master’s not around to save your ass this time.”

“He was once your master, too,” Ma’Quiver reminded him, “so I guess now you’ll finally get what you wanted. From here on out, this is between you and me. If you lose, you and your friends pack up and leave this place.”

“And if I win,” Danjo conditioned, “you never teach another person Shanshou-kan again. Ever. Lazlo never needed another apprentice.”

You abandoned him,” Ma’Quiver replied, “when our art has always been one apprentice away from extinction. But fine, I accept your terms. Let’s see what you’ve learned since last we met.”

“Oh, you’ll see, Dominik. I didn’t train to become a homeless loser like you.”

“I am not homeless,” Ma’Quiver countered. “Just like my master, I learned to make myself at home wherever I happen to be.”

“It’s the same damn thing,” Danjo snorted.

“Don’t be so sure. How many places have you worn out your welcome anyway?”

“Well, I’ll give you this much,” Danjo sneered, clearly not liking having to look up to him now that they were standing closer, “you have gotten taller.”

“I suppose I have.” Returning his gaze without so much as flinching. Shifting into his fighting stance, he said, “Show me where you’ve been.”

And so they squared off.


Last edited by neko-sennin; 07-12-2012 at 11:29 PM. Reason: DE-CENSORED
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Old 03-21-2012, 05:00 AM   #40
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the turn of the tide
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Kamina XVI 3-3

Much like the others, Shades tried in vain to keep track of them as they blinked and flickered around the room, catching only a few more fleeting glimpses than anyone else. Even their normal moves were fast and furious, making it hard to tell who had the advantage. Blurs and shadows he couldn’t always follow, yet he tried anyway.

After a couple rounds, the action began to slow down, pausing with them both standing a couple paces apart.

“Well met…” Danjo snorted, breathing harder than his tone of voice would suggest, “but surely that can’t be all you’ve got. Let’s get serious, shall we?”

And so their duel resumed, both of them fighting with an intensity that made their first round look like a casual sparring match.

But as their fierce exchange continued, even those less versed in the martial arts could tell Danjo was getting pushed back.

“Dammit…” he muttered, staggering back. Then he righted himself, declaring, “Now you’re in trouble, boy. Now I’m serious.” His face tensed in visible concentration. “Let me show you something that would make Lazlo shit a brick. You’ll miss it if you blink. I call it…”

Ma’Quiver raised an eyebrow, even as his eyes seemed to come unfocused.

Danjo seemed to completely vanish— not even a flicker— and it was only after he appeared behind Ma’Quiver, eyes bugging out from getting elbowed in the gut, that anyone else began to figure out what happened.

In another blink, Ma’Quiver disappeared, popping up behind Danjo instead.

“I couldn’t care less what you call it,” Ma’Quiver informed him. “It already has a name: Shanshou-jin. Master Lazlo would have taught you, too, if you’d only stuck around.”

“You bastard!” Danjo blinked again, and so did Ma’Quiver.

They both flickered around the floor, apparently trying to gain the advantage of each other, and at first it looked like a stalemate.

At least until Danjo went sliding across the floor.

“I must say I’m impressed,” Ma’Quiver’s voice as earnest as its sentiment. “Shanshou-jin is not an easy technique to learn, even with someone to teach you. It’s a dangerous move that pushes your time-shifting power to its limit. It’s not something I use on a whim. That you figured it out on your own says much about your potential. A pity you chose to rely on it as a gimmick, instead of furthering your training.”

“Dammit!” Danjo pounded the floor with one fist as he struggled to get back up. “How the fu.ck can this be? I have five years more experience than you!”

“That may be,” Ma’Quiver replied, “but what have you been doing with all that time? I’m not the little kid you used to bully around anymore.” He gave Danjo a level look, right in the eye. “…The only thing that hasn’t changed is you.”

“I won’t lose…” Danjo snarled, drawing himself up to his knees. “I won’t fu.cking lose to a stray dog like you!”

“What have you been doing with your life?” Ma’Quiver asked him. “We all touch each of the people we meet, like ripples in a pond. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve tried to make anything in the world I touch better than I found it.” He gestured to Max and his friends. “These guys don’t have any rare powers like we do, but they still had the integrity to stand up to you, even knowing what you could do. As Lazlo’s apprentice, I have my own responsibility, Clyde…”

“I… am…” Danjo turned around. “DANJO!!”

In a burst of speed, he came flying at Ma’Quiver.

All in vain, as Ma’Quiver delivered a direct roundhouse kick that sent him crashing through a table to land in a limp heap.

“Clyde!” Felicia screamed, rushing at Ma’Quiver with a knife she pulled from somewhere.

But Shades put out his foot and tripped her, and she fell flat on her face, the knife spinning across the floor, coming to rest under a table somewhere.

“You should have stayed down,” Ma’Quiver said quietly. “Now there’s no dispute over who won. Though I suppose I can’t blame you. After all, mercy is for the weak, right? You can’t afford to waste it holding back against those who are genuinely strong… can you, Danjo? If you take nothing from this fight, remember to show mercy to those weaker than yourself.

“The irony is that I’ll be leaving soon anyway, but these people will expect you to honor your word and leave Para-Para. If you wish to challenge me again, do it somewhere else, and don’t drag anyone else into it. I’ll face you as many times as you want, until you’re satisfied.”

Felicia looked up, glaring first at Shades, then Justin, who could only return her death-rays with a sheepish shrug, before turning away from Ma’Quiver in abject disgust and shame.

Who subsequently staggered over and fell down in the nearest chair still standing.

Max was back on his feet, but much dismayed at the aftermath of Danjo’s rampage.

By now, a sizeable crowd had gathered around the commotion, and once it was clear that the fighting was over, various people moved in to help the injured, clean up, and take Clyde Voidt and his companions into custody.


Last edited by neko-sennin; 07-12-2012 at 11:30 PM. Reason: DE-CENSORED
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