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RPG Shinigami Dance

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Without Wings[/B][/CENTER]
Phaidra cringed as she watched Lucia barely manage to dodge her attack. So far she had nothing more than a few bruises since Lucia and the others had been keeping the vampire from taking advantage of her lack of fighting skills. But it was clear that the fight was starting to wear Lucia down and even she was starting to feel a little worn from the constant use of her magic. It was exasperating since all she?d managed to do was singe the vampire?s hair and burn her jacket, forcing the woman to abandon it.

There had to be a way to bring the woman up short. At the moment she was taking advantage of their need to be careful to run them in circles and Lucia?s attacks seemed to be doing nothing beyond some bruising. [I]You don?t have time for wards, think of something else. [/I]

The barrier and the first spell the vampire had used were of a higher caliber but the lightening and releasing the spell hiding the vampire were cruder. They didn?t really match up. The barrier was clearly a trap but the other was probably a set spell, something given to her and only usable once.

It would certainly account for the disparity between those spells and what she was using to fight. It would also mean that she didn't have any other spells. Seeing that she was running them in circles and taking very little damage, it was clear she didn't need more.

There was something nagging at her memory every time the vampire managed to land a blow and hit Lucia with the lightening, but she couldn?t seem to pin it down. She was running to keep up, looking for an opening when it occurred to her that she could? [I]Of course! Why didn?t I think of that sooner?[/I]

Phaidra would only have one chance for it to have the most impact. If the vampire managed to see it and dodge it? She started tracing the symbols in the air, for it to work right, she needed an arcane circle. Sarvel gave her an odd look before casting another circle meant to strengthen what she was about to do.

The blue eyes of the vampires glanced in her direction as she readied the spell and waited. [I]That?s right, I?m about to attack. It won?t be what you?re expecting though.[/I] Phaidra thought as she sent several fireballs in her direction. The vampire retreated, dodging those and then Ruby?s fire as she attempted to catch her. [I]Just a little more? NOW![/I]

A barrier circle appeared right behind the retreating woman and she slammed into it with a grunt of surprise and pain. She lost her grip on the left dirk and the impact sent it skittering across the floor before coming to a rest. The vampire stumbled slightly forward, looking to where the dirk had come to a rest.

She took one step and then her head whipped back around as she brought the remaining one up to meet Lucia?s rush. She was just a tad too slow, allowing Lucia to catch her right wrist before shoving her back into the barrier circle. Her right hand came up and before the vampire could stop her, purifying flames hit her in the gut, knocking the breath out of her momentarily.

She screamed in pain and frustration as she twisted out of Lucia?s grip and retreated, hunched over with her arm across her stomach, favoring it. She shot Phaidra a look of pure hatred before straightening back up in an attempt to pretend the burns across her stomach and chest didn?t bother her at all. The stiffness of her movements indicated otherwise and Phaidra merely stared back for a moment before looking away.

It was too late for her to retrieve her dirk since Ruby had kicked it across the floor in Phaidra?s direction. The vampire was too busy avoiding Lucia. Phaidra bent over and picked up the short knife. She glanced at it before tucking it away into one of her pockets, taking care that it was fastened and wouldn?t shift around.

It would be pretty stupid to accidentally get stabbed. And then, she began to ready the spell again, even if the vampire knew about it, forcing her dodge would make things easier and if she was lucky, she?d catch her like that again, giving Lucia another opening. [/FONT]

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[COLOR="RoyalBlue"][FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][CENTER][SIZE="3"][B]The Howling[/B][/SIZE][/CENTER]
Lucia was fighting with her scythe now that Phaidra?s spell had caught the vampire off guard several times. Though she never got her as good as the first time, with the purifying flames, the woman was now sporting burns across her stomach, chest, right arm and along the upper part of her back. Lucia had plenty of cuts along her arms and a couple on her chest and back as well, but her clothing had at least offered some protection.

It wouldn?t matter once the fight was over since, like before, her body would heal. She could feel the blood and sweat that was soaking her clothing. They couldn?t have been fighting for very long and yet she was already starting to feel tired. Lucia had an idea on how to end it, she just needed the opening.

At the moment, she was the only one pressing the woman since Ruby was hanging back to help Sarvel protect Phaidra from the vampire?s attempts to stop her spell casting. It was still taking far too long, but the tactic seemed to be working. In no time the woman was also sporting cuts from where Lucia?s scythe had managed to connect.

Another one of the barrier circles that Phaidra had been casting sprung up in front of the vampire. She jerked to the side and managed to avoid it, resulting in Lucia?s scythe slamming into the circle instead. It took her a split second to register that the woman had spun, her right hand out as if reaching for her. Lucia caught the blur of the blade coming her way before it struck.

It lodged into her left shoulder, and with a startled cry of pain she stumbled back a few paces. At the same moment she saw that the vampire had had rushed her, Lucia also realized that the others were too far away. The vampire?s right hand caught the handle of her scythe just above her hand as the woman reached for Lucia with her left one, lightening already forming in her palm.

[I]I?m not going to be able to avoid that.[/I] She thought even as her mind ran through the things she could do. There was only one thing that would work and she shifted her grip to grab the woman?s hand, sliding her right hand up to where her left hand had been. She would only get one chance.

The vampire?s hand slammed into her chest, sending lightening into her body. Lucia ignored the pain as much as she could as she pulled her scythe apart. She brought it down until the tip of the lower blade touched the floor. Then deftly she switched her grip and brought it up in an arch aimed at the woman?s unprotected right side.

The woman was already letting go in an attempt to avoid the slash. With a sickening crunch the blade slammed into her side, electing a scream from the vampire as it hit. She tried to pull away as Lucia let go and grabbed the other end with her right hand. The vampire was pulling on the scythe embedded in her side when Lucia swung with all her remaining strength to take her head off.

As if in slow motion the body parts fell to the floor as Lucia released her scythe, letting it go back to its resting place. She could hear the others shouting as a wave of nausea drove her to her knees. As soon as it faded, without giving it a thought, she reached up and jerked the blade out, heedless of the damage.

The sudden flare of pain caused her vision to gray and the room seemed to spin. Lucia wondered if Adrian had felt the same after the fight with the Count. She was starting to fall over when she felt hands supporting her, keeping her upright even as they helped her to sit down. For a short moment what they were saying made no sense at all and then she heard herself speaking.

?[B]She?s dead right?[/B]? She looked up and Phaidra who was crouched in front of her. Ruby had changed back and was sitting on her right shoulder looking at her anxiously. She could see Sarvel over by the fallen vampire, checking the woman out.

?[B]Good.[/B]? She said when Phaidra nodded. Lucia ignored her as she fussed over where the blade had gotten her. She was bleeding freely, but she could tell that it would be fine, given time.

?[B]Will you be alright while I take care of the barrier[/B]??

Lucia just nodded slightly. She started to reach for her communicator as Phaidra got up and walked away. A sharp pain from the movement changed her mind and she let it alone. She could check the data later. She said nothing as Ruby landed on the floor in front of her and then just quietly climbed into her lap. As soon as Phaidra and Sarvel took care of the barrier, they?d leave and once they did that? she would send that message to Nathan. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Arial"][CENTER][B][U]B Street Blues[/U][/B][/CENTER][/FONT]

[SIZE="1"][align=justify]A heavy sigh from her partner made Isen look sharply about.

[B]?What is it??[/B]

Nathan mumbled his response. Rolling her eyes, the werecat elbowed him.

[B]?Waaugh!?[/B] The shinigami reeled, throwing his arms up and stared at her.

Isen held her gaze forward, ignoring his hurt glare. [B]?Talk,?[/B] she demanded.

[B]?I....? [/B]

Nathan stopped himself before he could speak any further. Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he caught up with his familiar and fell in step. A moment passed before he spoke again.

[B]?I have to kill him,?[/B] he said at length. [B]?I swore I would kill him. I spent years tracking him down, setting up ways to get closer to him, to get access to him. Every time I see him, it?s all I can think about. He?s the reason this happened to me, the reason Trey....?[/B]

He sighed again. Isen said nothing.

[B]?...and then every time I get the chance, every time I have him right in front of me, I can?t do it.?[/B] Nathan?s voice took on an anguished edge. [B]?Every time he has something I want or I need or something, and ... and it feels like he?s expecting it somehow. Like he?s watching me, waiting for me to take a step he?s already known about.? [/B]

As if hearing himself say the thought made him realize its truth, Nathan quieted down. [B]?It?s like he?s studying me,?[/B] he finished.

Isen nodded. [B]?That is possible.?[/B]

[B]?I don?t like it.?[/B]

[B]?Why should you??[/B] The werecat examined her hand. [B]?I think he is genuinely interested in what we?re doing, though,?[/B] she added. [B]?And I think he?s worried about something.?[/B]

[B]?Hunh?? [/B] Nathan looked at her searchingly.

[B]?Didn?t you notice? It wasn?t just that he brought his sword out again. He was wearing his chainmail.?[/B]

Nathan stopped dead in his tracks.


[FONT="Arial"][B][U][SIZE="2"]Passing Thought[/SIZE][/U][/B][/FONT][/CENTER]
[B]?What news??[/B]

Victor strolled into the darkened part of the air conditioner structure on the building?s roof.

[B]?As bleak as it hass been,?[/B] he answered, without humor. [B]?Tsough tsey have not finished yet, tsey are getting very close.?[/B]

[B]?We?re running out of time.?[/B]

Victor shrugged. [B]?I am afraid tsat is inevitable now. I can tsink of notsing effective we can do to interfere witsout compromising ourselves grievously.

?And you cannot remain here for much longer,?[/B] he added. [B] ?You might arouse suspicion.?[/B]

[B]?That?s my business.?[/B]

[B]?As you will,?[/B] said the vampire. [B]?I hope for your tsake it iss not a mistake.?

?We?ll see, won?t we??[/B]

Victor smiled. [B] ?Quite tso, my dear. Quite tso.?[/B][/align][/SIZE]

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][SIZE="2"][B]When Gods Fall[/B][/SIZE][/CENTER]
Karl lost track of the times he tried to kill another guard. They were too cautious after the one time, but he kept at it, ignoring the beatings and punishment. Any mark was fine, a broken finger a bruised arm, if he had the strength or opening at all, he took it, maiming anyone within reach. Their threats were meaningless, compared to the two vampire lords… he shuddered involuntarily.

If he couldn’t escape, he would rather die, but no matter how much he provoked the guards, they exercised restraint. Karl knew he was pushing it, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He often wondered where he would go if he actually did escape. Unless the Mark was removed, no werecat would have anything to do with him. His own clan would drive him out or kill him, he would be lucky to escape with his life.

They may have had little contact with those involved in the war between the Shinigami and the vampires, but even they knew that those who were Marked served the vampires. They would never believe him that it had been forced on him. They would have no reason too. Without the ability to change, he would be helpless.

He sighed when they stuffed him back into the cell, too beaten and tired to resist. The Guards, though they had been a bit more enthusiastic this time around, still stopped short of killing him. The door was slammed shut with a loud bang and Karl merely closed his eyes, staying on his right side where they had dropped him.

“[B]If you’re trying to get them to kill you, you’re wasting your time.[/B]”

Karl snorted. “[B]What do you care?[/B]” He quipped. “[B]It doesn’t affect you.[/B]”

“[B]True.[/B]” The Reaper agreed.

Karl took a deep breath and let it out. “[B]You should worry about yourself. You’re the one who won’t die unless they kill you.[/B]”

Karl shivered, he couldn’t stop himself. The very idea of being stuck in a place like this for eternity… at least he knew that one day, he would die.[I] Unless they find a way around that.[/I] He shoved the thought back. That was something, he couldn’t think about. [I]How has he managed to stay sane?[/I]

“[B]There are things worse than death[/B].”

“[B]Do tell.[/B]” Karl was snider that he intended.

He didn’t mean it. Sometimes, the only thing that kept him from feeling like he was going crazy was the conversations he had with the Reaper. The things he learned when the man was willing to talk were astonishing. He was always torn between wondering if it was a lie and thinking it had to be the truth. And this time was no exception as he elaborated on just what he meant.

He finally shifted so he could see him, to see that same serious expression that he had at times. It always made him feel slightly uncomfortable, as if he could see straight into his soul somehow. Karl stared at him in disbelief for the longest time before he finally looked away. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know if it was true or not.

“[B]I’m sorry.[/B]” He finally said.

It was the last time he saw him. When they took Shinigami away again, they never brought him back. And somehow, he knew that what he had told him that time was why. It wasn’t until later that he realized that he didn't know what his name was.

Not that it mattered, if he couldn't leave, all he wanted now was to just die already, before they could somehow force him to serve, like they had forced the Mark on him. [/SIZE][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Enter Sandman[/B][/CENTER]
The point of the grayish black scythe staff dug into the floor as Phaidra leaned into it. Careful to avoid stepping in the blood spreading across the floor, she studied the remains of the vampire. A tiny bit of what looked like a wallet of some kind was sticking up from underneath the belt to her skirt. Phaidra let go as her scythe vanished and she crouched over to tug the item free.

The thin black wallet was empty save for a few hundred dollar bills and a driver?s license and insurance card. Grace Ann Wickham, age 26. The rest of the details were some address that Phaidra figured was in the area. She tucked the ID and the insurance card into her pocket before setting the wallet on the floor next to the woman.

?[B]Phaidra look.[/B]? Sarvel indicated the gauntlet on her right hand.

On the inside, further up along the edge was a small circular flat stone. It was faint, but she could sense residual magic radiating from it. [I]The set spell?[/I] She undid the fastenings and removed it, tucking it into her pocket. She could study that later. Phaidra stood back up, her scythe flashing back into existence.

?[B]I?ll gather Lucia?s things.[/B]? Phaidra stated. Sarvel was already looking for the weak point for the barrier and merely nodded.

It took Phaidra little time to gather Lucia?s cloak, hat and gloves. There was still something about the fight that was nagging at her memory, but for the moment it eluded her. [I]I?m sure I?ll remember later. [/I]

Lucia was still sitting down when Phaidra returned and set the clothing on the floor next to the other dirk.[I] I hope Ruby?s not too tired to change back and carry her. She looks like she?s going to fall asleep.[/I] She turned her attention to Sarvel who was in the process of building an arcane circle around the fallen vampire. Phaidra?s eyebrow shot up. [I]What?[/I]

?[B]I figured it would be easier to take care of both at the same time.[/B]? Sarvel explained.

?[B]Right.[/B]? She took up the other side of the circle and then poured her energy into the spell, letting Sarvel direct it.

She would incinerate the remains once they were done. Phaidra waited until she felt the snap of the barrier coming down before she altered the flow of energy to destroy the vampire. A wave of weariness washed over her as she kept at it until nothing was left but ashes.

It didn?t take long to gather up their things and leave. She was sure that Ruby was also tired, but she seemed to manage carrying them just fine, insisting that Phaidra ride as well, to keep Lucia from falling off. For once Lucia simply accepted her aid without muttering any complaints.

The cool night air was oddly refreshing as they flew back to their own town. Phaidra was expecting Lucia to bombard her with questions regarding magic, but as soon as Lucia finished sending a message to Nathan she fell asleep instead. [/FONT]

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][SIZE="2"][B]The Silent Force[/B][/SIZE][/CENTER]
“[B]You’re too soft Gavrie.[/B]”

“[B]Shut up Duyi.[/B]”

“[B]I know you feel sorry for them,[/B]" His companion continued as if he hadn't spoken, [B]" but what if Jian Tsu gets away? We waited quite a while for the timing on this.[/B]”

Gavrie sighed, “[B]Do you really think that letting their [I]experiments[/I] go will result in them realizing that we’re here?[/B]” He fixed Duyi and Quan, who had been silent, with a glare.

“[B]If they notice in time, it will serve as a distraction. If he tries to flee, it will be up to the two of you to stop him.[/B]” He looked at both of them, “[B]Now you both know what to do so get going.[/B]” He waited as one went to the right and the other to the left around the small castle.

Intelligence reports indicated that Jian Shou had left the area to deal with other aspects regarding the war. It was the perfect time to slip a small team into where their research was being conducted to take Tsu out. Duyi was right; they [I]had[/I] waited for a while for the timing to be right.

Gavrie snorted. [I]If they don’t want someone to escape, then they need to stop giving me assignments like this.[/I] He thought with irritation as he gathered his energy and created a force wall. With a tiny gesture he sent it flying, tearing a hole through the stone.

He didn’t give the guards on the other side a chance to respond, they barely had time to realize he was there before he had neatly beheaded them. Gavrie relieved them of the keys to the cells. No point in wasting the energy necessary to break in when he could just unlock them.

The smell of blood was prevalent as he made his way through the darkened hallways, dealing with any guards he came across and letting those who were locked up go. Most needed no urging at all to make a run for it. Those that had little time left to live, he killed, releasing their souls. The further he got into the castle, the more[I] incensed[/I] he became.

Reading about what they had been doing wasn’t the same as actually seeing it. [I]We should have put an end to this sooner.[/I] He fumed silently. He was about to head further into the castle when he realized there was another door on the right that was heavily barred. Curious he paused to open it. It lead to a set of cells that were heavily fortified.

Some had skeletons, but other than one, the rest were empty. [I]This must be for their more troublesome prisoners.[/I] The heavily chained werecat, in the last cell, was covered with both old and new bruises all over his body, confirming his guess. He didn’t seem to be afraid like the others had been as he quietly watched Gavrie approach.

He had an odd seriousness in his gaze as he watched him; Gavrie ignored it as he opened the cell and removed the chains. He issued a curt order for him to flee and left. It wasn’t until he was further along in the castle that he realized the werecat was following him, sporting a sword that he must have scavenged from one of the fallen guards.

He stopped with a sigh and turned around. “[B]I told you to get going.[/B]” He whispered harshly as he made shooing motions with his free hand.

“[B]You’ll need help.[/B]” The werecat stated flatly.

Gavrie pressed his left hand to his forehead. [I]Lovely, just what I don’t need, a tag along.[/I] He had to get rid of him. “[B]I don’t need help. All you’ll do is get in the way so get lost.[/B]”

“[B]Gavrie.[/B]” An amused voice from behind him softly said. He groaned and turned to face Duyi who had caught up with him.

Gavrie pointed his left index finger at Duyi, who was holding in the laughter, accusingly. “[B]Don’t say it, just don’t say it.[/B]” He glared at Duyi who was still smirking.

“[B]Go home kid.[/B]” He ordered the werecat, by now Quan had to be in place and the two hurried to join him. They couldn’t afford to let Tsu get away.

“[B]Don’t look now but you’ve got a tag along.[/B]” Duyi snickered.

“[B]Shut up Duyi, just shut up.[/B]” He growled as he came to a halt and tensed, Duyi doing the same.


He didn’t have to tell him, they were coming that way, he could feel the unmistakable aura of many vampires. [I]Shit.[/I] He looked to the werecat who was following their lead, gripping the sword he had fetched tightly. [I]Gahhh!. Damn. Stupid. Pigheaded kid![/I] He knocked the sword out of the werecat’s hands, startling him. Before he could respond he picked him up by the back of his tattered shirt and shoved him through the nearest door. Gavrie closed it and took a moment to break the lock.

“[B]Go home you idiot.[/B]” He snapped through the open slits in the top part of the door.

“[B]I told you you’re too soft.[/B]”

Gavrie ignored Duyi as they scattered to the sides, he hoped that they hadn’t picked up on the presence of the werecat. He didn't have time to extend cloaking his own presence to include the werecat as well. To his relief the main doors leading to the hallway opened and Jian Tsu, along with a small party of vampires came rushing in, clearly in a great hurry.

With a feral grin the two rushed the party, taking them by surprise. Jian Tsu took one look at the group before he turned to flee down one of the side corridors. [I]Bloody hell! Where the hell is Quan? That coward is going to get away![/I]

He had to do something… “[B]Your father didn’t run like a coward Jian.[/B]” He called out; the taunt had the desired effect as Tsu halted to turn to look at him.

“[B]Though I suppose if you’re as weak as he was, it would probably be best for you to run …[/B]” The look of hatred sent his way was all he needed to know he had hit a sore spot, and the hesitation on Tsu’s part gave him the opening he needed to brush past his opponents and rush Tsu.

He barely noticed when Quan arrived as he fought with Tsu. For someone who was supposed to be in charge of experimentation and research on other species, he was surprisingly skilled at fighting. In the end, it was not enough and he ran him through before finally beheading him.

The other two were finishing up as he let his scythe go. With a nod at the other two, the group turned to leave; it wouldn’t be long before the commotion brought the others in the castle. [I]Now we just need to…[/I] he recoiled at the sound of a door crashing to the floor. With an inward sigh, he realized that it was the werecat. [I]Jeez, what is the matter with that idiot?[/I]

“[B]I told you to go home.[/B]” He snapped when it became apparent that the werecat was following the trio.

“[B]I owe you my life.[/B]”

“[B]Whoop de do da.[/B]” Gavrie said rudely, not bothering to slow down. He ignored the suppressed laughter that escaped from his comrades as they hurried back the way Gavrie had entered the castle and then into the surrounding forest.

“[B]Look, you owe me nothing.[/B]” He finally explained when the kid kept following them. “[B]So get going.[/B]”

“[B]I cannot go home. I am marked.[/B]”

“[B]Not my problem.[/B]” Gavrie said coldly. “[B]And even if it was, I can’t remove a seal, only the caster can.[/B]”

“[B]I still owe you my life.[/B]” The werecat insisted stubbornly. He rushed on when Gavrie said nothing. “[B]I already know you can’t remove the seal. I will still repay the debt.[/B]”

Gavrie pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand and sighed before letting go. “[B]You don’t get it. You can’t possibly follow along as you are. All you’ll do is get in the way.[/B]”

“[B]I know what you are and that I would have to become a familiar.[/B]” He countered.

“[B] Good for you.[/B]” Gavrie replied snidely. “[B]However, I know that many, if not all, werecat’s consider being a familiar beneath them.[/B]”

He stopped and stared at him. “[B]This isn’t some game kid, if you do that, there’s no turning back.[/b]”

“[B]I will [I]not[/I] change my mind.[/B]” The werecat replied stubbornly. “[B]If the vampires are not stopped, all werecat’s and free creatures will be turned into slaves to be used as they see fit.[/B]”

Gavrie pressed his left hand to his forehead again and groaned, ignoring his companions who were barely holding back their laughter. [I]Why me? I don’t want a familiar, not after…[/I] He let go and looked back at the werecat who was waiting intently for him to say something.

"[B]I will follow you no matter what you say.[/B]" He said when Gavrie didn't respond immediately. "[B]No werecat would turn their back on a debt they owe.[/B]"

[I]Oh for the love of...[/I] Gavrie sighed. “[B]Fine. I’ll test you to see if you’re suitable.[/B]” He held up his hand to hold off his response. “[B]We'll discuss it [I]after[/I] I test you.[/B]” He glanced sharply at the other two who were grinning at him, highly amused by the situation. Gavrie looked back to the werecat who finally nodded in agreement.

“[B][I]Right[/I], so now that we’ve settled that,[/B]” he said as the group continued their trek through the forest. “[B]What’s your name?[/B]”


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[COLOR="RoyalBlue"][FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][CENTER][SIZE="3"][B]Into The Sandstorm[/B][/SIZE][/CENTER]
Lucia didn?t even bother to object to receiving help. Lately, any form of protest hadn?t done her any good. From the moment she had been summoned and informed that she had to accept being a Reaper and abandon her research, not once had her attempts to stop it, or anything else for that matter, made a difference.

So this time, she just nodded and did what Phaidra suggested. She gave her the list of her current assignments and set her communicator so it would forward any surprise assignments to Phaidra for the next couple of days. Then, other than to snatch brief moments of work to dredge for information, she let healing trances deal with the injury.

Now, a couple of days later, as she sat in front of her computer and checked her searches and looked for information on the vampire they had killed, it was becoming apparent that it had resulted in that line of investigation being closed. The messages she had been tracking had been redirected. Whoever changed it had increased the security, which meant she was going to have to rewrite her program and crack it.

Her searches for information, based on what the identification that Phaidra had gotten from the vampire stated, also lead to a dead end. It was clearly fake since there were no matching records in the city and the address didn?t exist either. In other words, the best they had done was manage to eliminate one vampire and the name she had gotten, if they were indeed the person in charge of it, would be aware of what they were up to.

However, considering the trap that Phaidra had collapsed a short while back, it was likely that was already the case. [I]We?re lucky there weren?t more of them there.[/I] If there had been, training or not, they would have died. Ruby had been more than right; her stupid insistence on keeping others at arm?s length was going to get them killed. The training she had gotten from the humans had helped, but it wasn?t enough and if not for Phaidra?s quick thinking in using barriers to impede the vampire?s movements, she had no doubts that the woman would have won.

?[B]What are you thinking Lucia?[/B]?

Her eyes flickered over briefly to where Ruby was sitting on the makeshift desk and then back to the flat screen on the wall.

?[B]I?m thinking about what we need to do next.[/B]? She started typing up a list. ?[B]I need to write a new program to track the messages since the security has been increased. I need to find out more about who this Shou Jian is.[/B]? She trailed off... She had an idea on how to do that, though it was potentially problematic.

?[B]Are you going to ask Nathan about training?[/B]? Ruby interjected.

Lucia snorted, ?[B]Who else would I ask? I already checked out the humans in the city. I could hunt for more contacts to see if there are others who know more, but I get the feeling that one of our own is what I really need now.[/B]?

She had some other ideas she wanted to try out as well, getting stabbed was something she didn?t want to repeat. Getting electrocuted hadn?t been very pleasant either. [I]I just hope Phaidra didn?t notice...[/I] She looked over at the two dirks they had brought back. They would be essential to what she had in mind.

Lucia could finally figure out what they were and why they couldn?t ghost through them, and having them on hand would make testing something she wanted to try out easier. If what she had in mind worked, it would make getting stabbed like she had less likely. As soon as she finished up a bit more work, she was going to go and retrieve the necessary crystal material to get started.

?[B]Are you sure you really want to write the other program you mentioned? If you get caught...[/B]?

?[B]Yeah, I know.[/B]? That was something that really would get her in a lot of trouble, even more than she was now. But she couldn?t shake the feeling of uneasiness she had. ?[B]I?ll be as careful as possible, I promise.[/B]?

Before that though, she needed to send off the detailed report about that line of investigation being a dead end to Nathan and to ask him about training. If not him then who he would recommend. And then she needed to talk to Phaidra and Sarvel about magic. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[CENTER][B]Light at My Feet[/B][/CENTER]
?[B]So let me get this straight, we?re going to dodge all of the cars, people and so forth?[/B]? Adrian?s eyebrow shot up. ?[B]In addition to that we can?t go inside buildings, we have to stay on the streets and we can?t fly.[/B]?

Alex nodded. ?[B]Even on the ground we?re quite a bit faster than any human and dodging cars shouldn?t be all that difficult. The idea is to be mostly out of phase with this plane so if you accidentally hit something, you?ll still phase through it.[/B]?

?[B]What?s the point in that though?[/B]?

?[B]So you?ll feel it of course.[/B]? Alex explained. It wouldn?t hurt; it would only feel a little odd. ?[B]That way you?ll know if you failed to properly dodge.[/B]?

Adrian leaned back into the sofa in Alex's small apartment. ?[B]No, what I mean is what?s the point beyond that.[/B]?

Alex caught himself starting to walk back and forth and stopped himself. ?[B]Well in battle we?ll have unexpected things come up. The best way to dodge something unpredictable is to use something that[I] is[/I] to practice with.[/B]?

?[B]True,[/B]? Adrian stood up. ?[B]So I take it we need to move as quickly as possible?[/B]?

?[B]Yeah. It won?t be a true time goal since traffic and the path we take will vary, but it will at least give us something to work with.[/B]?

?[B]Am I supposed to dodge too?[/B]? Astera asked.

Alex looked at her. ?[B]For the first couple of runs you?re welcome to simply stay put on Adrian?s shoulder, or simply follow along.[/B]?

?[B]And I suppose I shouldn?t use any magic either.[/B]? She said with a smirk.

?[B]Uh? yeah, if you do decide to join us, the idea is to not use tricks or techniques. That?s something we can consider adding in later.[/B]?

Nall took off from the chair he was sitting on and landed on Alex?s shoulder. ?[B]I?ll be flying above both of you to watch your progress.[/B]?

?[B]You mean to keep a tally of when we miss,[/B]? Adrian said.

Nall pulled back slightly, ?[B]Not really, I?m going to look for ways to increase the difficulty of the runs. We?re not going to keep track of how many times one fails to dodge.[/B]?

?[B]Alright,[/B]? Adrian replied. He turned to Astera, ?[B]Why don?t you go with Nall? At least for this time.[/B]? She nodded in agreement.

Alex reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of maps. He handed one to Adrian and opened up his own. There was a path clearly marked in red winding through the busiest streets of the city.

?[B]So when are we going to do this?[/B]?

?[B]In about ten minutes.[/B]? Alex answered.

?[B]In the middle of the day? There?s going to be a lot of traffic out.[/B]? Adrian pointed out.

Alex grinned, ?[B]Well yeah, that?s the point. We could do it at night, but then there wouldn?t be anything to dodge.[/B]?

?[B]And you?ll get the advantage since you made the route.[/B]? Adrian twitted him.

?[B]Well I did make it, but I haven?t actually gone and physically done the run yet.[/B]?

?[B]Wait a sec,[/B]? Adrian turned his map around and faced it towards Alex. ?[B]I thought we had to stay on the streets, you have this going through some of the city parks too.[/B]?

?[B]Well I figured that would fall under dodging people since I doubt they?ll be walking down the middle of the streets.[/B]?

Adrian shrugged slightly. ?[B]True.[/B]? He looked the map over again before tucking it into his tunic. ?[B]Alright, let?s get this show in the road then.[/B]?

?[B]Oh and before I forget, if we get too close to any vampires running about, I?ll signal that we need to detour down different streets.[/B]? He waited for Adrian to nod in agreement before he tucked his map away too. ?[B]That?s one thing I don?t want to run into.[/B]?

He looked to the two and then turned and ghosted out of his apartment, the others close behind as he made for the starting point. He could see signs of an incoming storm off in the far distance, but for now it was bright and sunny. They would be done long before the storm arrived, not that it would matter since if they choose it, no rain would affect them.

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][B][SIZE="2"]Without Wings[/SIZE][/B][/CENTER]
[B][I]-This ought to be interesting.-[/I][/B]

Astera?s laughter rang through his mind. [B][I]?You find the idea of dodging cars and humans amusing.-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-Of course. Even if I didn?t, I?d still do it.-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-You realize this means you have to come up with ideas for training right?-[/I][/B]

Adrian snorted. [B][I]?Of course. I?ll just take some of what Karl had us do and modify it.-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-Cheater.-[/I][/B] She teased.

Adrian just smiled a bit. He landed on the sidewalk as Astera took to the air and followed Nall. He pulled out the map and ran his mind over the path again, committing it to memory. Unless something happened, he should remember it just fine.

?[B]You ready?[/B]? Alex asked once he had tucked the map back into his tunic.

Adrian shifted his existence slightly, feeling things pass through him was going to be odd, if he messed up and hit something that is. He wondered if it would throw him off if he did.

[B][I]-So don?t hit anything.- [/I][/B]Astera snickered. [B][I]?Or you could do it on purpose to find out.-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-Hush you.-[/I][/B] He shot back. Astera just laughed even more, making him smile a bit.

Alex was still waiting for him to reply, giving him an odd look as he did so. ?[B]What?s the look for?[/B]?

?[B]You were talking to Astera weren?t you?[/B]?


?[B]I wondered if that was what you were doing,[/B]? Alex pointed to his forehead. ?[B]You scrunch your eyebrows together a bit when you?re concentrating.[/B]?

Adrian tilted his head to the side a touch. ?[B]Shall we start?[/B]?

?[B]Right, on my mark? [I]go![/B]? [/I]

With a grin, Adrian took off. He figured it shouldn?t be too hard to dodge cars, even if they moved quickly; they still were limited by their traffic laws.

[B][I]-Since when did humans ever obey laws?-[/I][/B] Astera snerked.

He didn?t bother to reply, dodging between two oncoming cars, his left foot hitting one of the yellow lines that ran along the pavement as he ran between them. He felt a hint of a breeze tugging at his clothing since he was partially in the human world.

A brief tickling sensation hit his left elbow and he realized it had brushed the edge of a mirror jutting out the side of the car he had just passed.

[B][I]?Shit.- [/I][/B]

At least he knew what it felt like but still, to hit something almost immediately? Karl would have never let him forget it.

[B][I]-What makes you think I?ll forget?-[/I][/B] Astera needled him.

Adrian laughed as he swerved to avoid a car changing lanes, barely missing the back bumper, but the move placed himself in the path of an oncoming car. He didn?t have the time to avoid it and he shoved off in an attempt to clear it, barely remembering at the last moment to not fly.

[B][I]-I forgot to ask if we could jump.- [/I][/B]Shinigami could easily clear thirty feet, and he sailed over the car to touch back down between two more of them.

[B][I]-Nall doesn?t know if jumping?s alright or not.-[/I][/B]

Adrian let his momentum carry him forward, stepping to the right to avoid a truck and then immediately to the left to avoid a motorcyclist running between two cars illegally.

[B][I]-I?m going to try and avoid it.-[/I][/B] Adrian replied. [B][I]?If I can simply jump, that makes it too easy.-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-I agree.-[/I][/B] Astera said.

The first major intersection proved to be a tiny bit more challenging; the traffic was going across, forcing them to slip between them. This time it was Alex who didn?t completely manage to dodge one of the vehicles and when he caught him glancing in his direction, he couldn?t resist a slight smirk. Alex just grinned sheepishly and continued.

Adrian turned back and then cursed colorfully when he ended up going through half of a car before he could properly dodge. The sound of Astera?s laughter echoed through his mind and in the air. He couldn?t blame her, he had earned [I]that[/I] one. Alex had said it wasn?t a race against one another so other than to pay attention to where he was located; he shouldn?t have been smug about Alex messing up a bit.

[B][I]-This is where Karl would be reminding me that I?m an idiot.-[/I][/B] He thought ruefully.

He could tell that Astera was amused, but she didn?t bother to respond. Adrian made a note of it though. He was feeling competitive and that just wouldn?t do, at least not for something like this. They needed to work together and the only thing he should be worrying over was where Alex was in relation to his own movements. They would phase right through other things, but not each other.

[B][I]-You run into Alex and I?ll tell Karl.-[/I][/B] Astera joked.

[B][I]-If I?m that clumsy, I deserve it.-[/I][/B]

He turned the corner, the first park coming up and he nearly halted in surprise. The park had a festival set up and it was literally teeming with people going about. Adrian had felt their auras but for some odd reason he had thought they were in a building.

[B][I]-Lovely.- [/I][/B]There were too many of them and in spite of his best efforts, he ended up coming into contact with someone three times before he was back on the next street and dodging cars.

[B][I]-Vehicles are a thousand times easier to dodge.-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-It?s too bad they don?t have fairs more often.- [/I][/B]Astera said. [B][I]?I think you?d both benefit from it.-[/I][/B]

Adrian had nothing to say to that. He knew it was just training, but he still hated messing up. He willed himself to let it go. He had the same problem when he had worked with Karl and Gavrie. He just wished he could move like Nathan could without needing to channel Astera?s ability.

He was approaching the next park when he was surprised by a familiar aura suddenly showing up and a blur of movement in front of him caught his attention. Startled he faltered, running through a car before coming to a halt at the edge of the park. It was Nathan?s sister, Chris.

[B][I]?What is she doing here?-[/I][/B] He hadn't felt her aura until they were almost next to her. Puzzled he looked over at Alex and then back to the park.

Alex had come to a halt as well and Nall flew down to land on his shoulder. Adrian started walking in Chris's direction, the others following his lead. He wondered if she knew they were there, but then she turned her head and flashed a grin in their direction.[/SIZE][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Where Do We Go From Here[/B][/CENTER]
It hadn’t been easy to get back to the town and check for magical traces, not while she was filling in for Lucia. With her own work, Lucia's and the random assignments they sent her, it made finding time to slip away next to impossible. [I]Why in the world are they giving her random assignments?[/I]

Phaidra had checked for magical traces in the city when they initially left, but either she had been too exhausted or there just wasn’t anything to be found. Her brief jaunt back with Sarvel had proven equally as useless. If there was anything there, it would have been shielded since she got no response to the search. Without knowing where to go, there was nothing to be done there anymore.

“[B]You still thinking of going back to the other side?[/B]”

Phaidra looked up from the set stone she had been studying. “[B]Yes.[/B]”

“[B]Why? They didn’t answer your message. I doubt going in person will matter.[/B]”

“[B]I’m not going for that.[/B]”

Sarvel stretched a bit, getting more comfortable on the small couch. “[B]Oh? What for?[/B]”

Phaidra set the stone down on the table. “[B]I want to make stronger wards and I have a few questions I’d like answered. So I’m going to check the magical studies library.[/B]”

“[B]Don’t you think she’d tell us if she wanted us to know?[/B]”

“[B]I want to be sure.[/B]” Phaidra sighed. “[B]Anyway, I’m more interested in why they were giving Lucia random assignments.[/B]” Her brow furrowed. “[B]How in the world do you get random assignments? They’re given to us two weeks in advance so that makes no sense at all.[/B]”

There was no reason for anyone’s assignments to be random. It just shouldn’t happen. A reaper [I]knew[/I] in advance if someone’s time was coming up. It took her time to get used to it, but now, if she was close enough, she could tell if someone’s time was approaching. Once it was within a month, she even knew the day and approximate time.

One of the women she worked with for the catering business had that odd aura about her, and had been included in her last schedule update. It was going to feel odd to send someone she actually knew on their way. Not that it would stop her. She just wondered if the woman knew somehow since the last time she had seen her, she had give Phaidra a very particular look.

“[B]I still think it’s none of our business.[/B]” Sarvel said.

“[B]Perhaps.[/B]” She shrugged. “[B]I still need to go back for the wards. If I want to put one in a set stone like that spell the vampire used, I need some very specific details for the spell. I already put the request in for us to go back to get the information.[/B]”

“[B]How long would that take?[/B]”

She thought about it briefly before answering. “[B]It shouldn’t take more than a few days. If it does, I'll start it and then just keep going back over when I have time between assignments.[/B]”

Sarvel settled back down, saying nothing to that. There wasn’t much to be said. The fight had made it obvious that they had a lot to learn. If Lucia and Ruby hadn’t been there, they would not have survived.

Since they returned she had gotten rid of her skirts, other than a few for special occasions. The long flowing skirt pants were better suited for research and unexpected trouble. [I]I wonder if I should learn more about fighting.[/I] It probably wouldn’t hurt. She could ask Nathan at their next magic session.

“[B]Anyway, forgetting that, we still need to tighten up the casting time for those shield circles and I’d like to increase the wards for my clothing.[/B]” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “[B]Ideally, I’d like them to be as strong as a full ward, but if the set spell I have in mind works, it won’t matter.[/B]”

“[B]Sure it will.[/B]” Sarvel countered. “[B]If we increase the protection for your clothes, you can keep the set spell as a backup.[/B]”

Phaidra stood up. She reached up with both arms and stretched. “[B]I think I’m going to go for a walk.[/B]” She lowered her arms. “[B]You’re welcome to come along if you like.[/B]”

Sarvel looked at her for a moment as if considering and then settled down on the couch. “[B]You go ahead, I’m going to take a nap.[/B]”[/FONT]

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[center][b][u][font=arial]Double Vision[/font][/u][/b][/center]

[font=calibri][b]â??Boy, you should have seen the look on your face,â? [/b]Chris told Adrian when the group had drawn closer. [b]â??Like someone had dropped a half-melted ice cube down your back.â?[/b]

[b]â??What were you doing just now?â?[/b] asked Alex, as if he hadnâ??t heard Chris speak.

[b]â??Iâ??m sorry?â?

â??You werenâ??t here a minute ago,â?[/b] he said. [b]â??I didnâ??t feel you anywhere around, and then youâ??re just there. What were you doing?â?[/b]

Chris shrugged.

[b]â??Some of us older shinigami are capable of shielding our auras from others,â?[/b] she began, but Alex shook his head.

[b]â??No,â?[/b] he said, [b]â??you disappeared again for an instant after you went in front of Adrian, and then came back, like you decided to stop. Iâ??ve seen Nathan move like that before, so I recognized it now.â?[/b] He looked at Adrian. [b]â??You felt the same thing, right?â?[/b]

Adrian shrugged. [b]â??I was half-dead at the time. I could barely tell who was even in the room.â? [/b]

The younger reaper looked a little crestfallen, but pressed on, undaunted.

[b]â??I know you were doing whatever Nathan does. I asked him to show me how once, but he wonâ??t tell me anything about it. Other than he does it â??very carefullyâ??.â?[/b]

Chris laughed. [b]â??Sounds like him,â?[/b] she said. [b]â??And youâ??re right; good eye for detail.â?[/b] She paced to her left, idly spinning her daggers through her fingers. [b]â??A long time ago, maybe about a millennia and a half after the War, my little brother came up with a way to move very fast from point to point. Heâ??s always been curious about how we use our energy and studied it a lot after the vampires were defeated. He was the one who figured out how to alter the shape of our scythesâ??â?[/b]

[b]â??You can do that?â?[/b] interrupted Adrian, surprised.

[b]â??Yes. Originally our scythes were . . . more, umm, scythe-like,â?[/b] she answered. [b]â??Bigger, and more like what Alex uses. Except without the little,â?[/b] she made an obscure gesture in his direction,[b] â??things on the back.â?[/b]

[b]â??Yeah, he doesnâ??t know what theyâ??re for, either,â?[/b] said Nall. Alex glared at him; Chris smirked.

[b]â??So what this ability boils down to,â?[/b] she continued, [b]â??is us making use of the energy needed to summon our scythes from the ether. He first figured out a way for us to capture it so it accumulates over time, and whenever we need to use it we have a reservoir to dip into.

â??With the right kind of concentration, we can use it to augment our movement or flight speed tens of times beyond our normal capacity. It has its limits, but itâ??s very useful in the right circumstances.â?[/b]

[b]â??So itâ??s basically a type of super speed,â?[/b] Adrian hazarded.

[b]â??Not quite.â? [/b] Chris stopped pacing and looked at him. [b]â??Here, Iâ??ll give you an example. Pull one of your scythes out.â? [/b]

Adrian complied.

[b]â??Good,â?[/b] she said. She stepped back and flipped her daggers back against her forearms. [b] â??Now use both hands and take a big old swing right there, like youâ??re hitting a baseball. Hard as you can.â? [/b] Adrian gave her a strange look, but stepped forward and swung. Chrisâ??s outline blurred.

Adrianâ??s scythe jerked back halfway through as if it had collided with a solid wall of air. The shinigami stumbled backwards and almost sat down.

[b]â??What the hell was that?â?[/b] he cried.

Chris relaxed. [b]â??I just kicked off of your blade,â?[/b] she told him. At their blank looks, she went on.

[b]â??This speed boost is basically only a straight-line ability. We can move in one direction as far as we can faster than eyes can follow, but if we want to change directions we have to strike something and use it to alter course.â?[/b]

[b]â??So you can only use it against one person at a time, or as an escape tactic,â?[/b] Adrian said, openly disappointed.

[b]â??Itâ??d be insane indoors or in a closed space,â?[/b] added Alex, musing to himself. [b]â??You said you can both do this?â?[/b]

Chris cleared her throat. [b]â??Heâ??s better at it than I am,â?[/b] she admitted. [b]â??Right now, I can only take about twelve steps or so if I push myself. Concentrating is very hard, and the strain on you if youâ??re not used to it can be nasty.â?

â??What about Nathan?â?

â??He . . . I donâ??t know, really. It seems like he can use it as long as he wants. But then again, he was the one who came up with it, and heâ??s had centuries more practice at it than I have.â?[/b]

[b]â??What do you call it?â?[/b] asked Astera.

[b]â??Oh gosh, do they name techniques these days?â?[/b] Chris grinned; Alex was struck again by how much she looked like her brother. [b]â??We never named anything we did. He doesnâ??t even have a name for those blue firebolts he uses. He just shoots them.â?


â??We used to joke about it, though, when weâ??d meet. I made him think up a name, just for fun. Told him when he left on an assignment one day that he wasnâ??t coming back until heâ??d thought one up. He didnâ??t find it as funny as I did until a few years later, but I guess he came around while he was wandering.[/b]

[b]â??He called it Hellspeed.â?[/b]

Adrian gave her a funny look. [b]â??Hunh. Did he ever tell you why he chose it?â?[/b]

[b]â??I never asked,â?[/b] she said with a shrug.[/font]

[font=calibri]The pair of shinigami touched down in the middle of a deciduous forest in full summer regalia. Nathan felt his companion's werecat following closely behind; he was uncertain what to make of the man's seemingly servile attitude towards his shinigami partner, but brushed it away from his thoughts as he gazed about the shade of the trees.

[b]â??So,â?[/b] he started, [b]â??why are we in New Zealand again?â?[/b][/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][SIZE="2"][B]Shadows Of Death[/B][/SIZE][/CENTER]
Gavrie couldn?t get the meeting with Nathan out of his mind. It was more than the knowledge that Shou Jian lived; it was what the vampire Victor had said about leaking information to the Council, if that was true? [I]Why the hell haven?t they done anything about it?[/I] That bothered him more than anything. It was his job to tie up loose ends like that, back during the war and since then.

When he was not engaged in training, or enjoying lazy days on the veranda of his home, he was off taking care of issues Earth side. So why was a potentially huge problem like Shou something he knew nothing about? The implications behind that, including the possibility that they were using human souls for forging more of the black blades, was staggering.

There were over six and a half billion humans, more than enough to make forging more of the blades an absolute nightmare if the vampire numbers were on the rise. If they didn?t need the original source to make it, there was no telling how many had been made. That alone, forgetting about Shou, was a disaster in the making.

?[B]I need more information.[/B]? He hadn?t realized that he had spoken out loud until Karl gave him an odd look and then looked away.

That was another thing, ever since Isen had snapped at him, Karl had been moody. He was trying to hide it but they had been partnered for three thousand years. It didn?t matter what form Karl was in, Gavrie could see it. Karl was acting calm, but the slight air of distraction and odd look of almost pain that would vanish the moment he realized Gavrie was looking at him, had him convinced he was brooding.

He supposed it was understandable; it had been at least half a millennia, if not longer, since someone had reacted so strongly to him being marked. Those who could remove the mark were long since dead and only his smaller form would hide the obvious visual reminder. It was no surprise that Karl preferred it, though most werecats did, mark or not.

?[B]You know,[/B]? Gavrie said off handedly. ?[B]Being moody isn?t going to solve anything.[/B]?

?[B]Weren?t you just saying that you need more information?[/B]? Karl?s eyebrow shot up as he gave Gavrie a look that said he was being stupid. ?[B]Surely that?s not what you were talking about.[/B]?

?[B]No, it?s not, it?s still true though.[/B]? Karl?s eyes narrowed slightly and Gavrie pressed on. ?[B]We didn?t get to finish our meeting with Nathan.[/B]? He explained.

?[B]What more was there to learn?[/B]? Karl kept his expression even. ?[B]We know that Shou still lives.[/B]? He fought to keep the bitterness out of his voice. ?[B]We?ve learned that they?re probably using human souls to forge the blades; and apparently the Council knows and seems to be sitting on their asses doing nothing about it.[/B]?

Now it was Gavrie?s turn to give him a look like he was being stupid. ?[B]We got side tracked by Victor interrupting the meeting, among other things.[/B]? He finished meaningfully.

Karl couldn?t resist rolling his eyes slightly. ?[B]I?m sure Isen would be [I]thrilled[/I] to have us return for another visit.[/B]? He clamped down on his irritation and shut up, not wishing to go down that path.

?[B]You could always check on Adrian and Astera while I meet with Nathan.[/B]? Gavrie grinned. ?[B]You know, to make sure he?s not slacking off on keeping fit.[/B]?

?[B]You?ve already made up your mind to go back.[/B]? Karl said flatly. He was not amused.

?[B]I already sent him a message.[/B]? His grin widened. ?[B]After all, I did promise to explain that lucky strike from our spar before.[/B]?

?[B]What did he say?[/B]?

?[B]I haven?t gotten an answer yet.[/B]?

Karl stared at him through narrowed eyes. ?[B]You just want to spar with him because of who he is.[/B]?

?[B]That?s certainly possible,[/B]? Gavrie conceded. ?[B]However, there?s no denying that he?s very good. Other than a few back home, everyone has gotten soft over the millennia?s. There's hardly anyone around who can keep up with me in a spar.[/B]?

"[B]Don't you mean beat you?[/B]" Karl smirked.

"[B]I'm sure he could.[/B]" Gavrie said candidly. "[B]Like I said, there are few who can keep up let alone land a blow like he did.[/B]"

Karl couldn?t argue that point, training simply didn?t go beyond the basics and hadn?t for a very long time. Cases like Adrian and Astera were few and far between. Over the centuries the training had steadily decreased until it was nothing more than a joke. Karl could perhaps understand not bothering with full training, but Reapers were eternal so time wasn?t an issue.

"[B]Anyway, there's no hurry, we'll be on Earth for a while yet.[/B]" Gavrie said when Karl didn't respond. "[B]They've given me an additional list of targets to take care of.[/B]"

Karl didn't seem to want to discuss it and Gavrie let the matter drop. He hadn't heard back from Nathan yet so it could wait until later. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was overlooking something though.

Gavrie got an answer from Nathan, just as he knew he would. He was about to suggest meeting up in the city again when it occurred to him that it would be better to avoid any location where certain nosy vampires could conveniently show up. With that thought in mind, he suggested a halfway point between assignments, a location that was not on his schedule and therefore less likely to be known.

?[B]You?re going overboard on the caution.[/B]? Karl told him.

Gavrie grinned faintly, ?[B]And here I thought you?d be pleased that we?re not going to see the others again.[/B]?

Karl just snorted; saying nothing as they finally met up with Nathan and then came in to land in one of the many forests in New Zealand. He had nothing against Isen he just knew, from experience, how much his presence made other werecats uncomfortable. The same was true of some of the other Shinigami as well, even if they were more accepting of his situation. He put it out of mind and focused on what the others were saying instead.

?[B]I wanted to finish our meeting where certain individuals wouldn?t just happen to be strolling by.[/B]? Gavrie was answering Nathan?s question. ?[B]Starting with how your tech girl managed to get her hands on the information that Shou Jian is alive and well.[/B]? [/SIZE][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Autumn Interlude[/B][/CENTER]
Seven years wasn?t more than a moment in time to a Shinigami. Still, as Phaidra exited the massive gate, along with Sarvel, it felt as if she had been gone much longer. The still tranquil calmness that could only be found at home washed over her and she found herself relaxing as she came in to land on the ground at the base of the trans-dimensional gate.

She had taken no more than a single step when magic washed over her, hot and scorching. Startled she stumbled slightly, her hands coming up to cast a ward. Before she could do more than think about doing so, the feeling vanished. [I]What? just happened? [/I]

It had felt like the ward designed to track and recognize personnel who passed through the gate, but the intensity had been startling. The last time she had come to the gate, it had felt calm and soothing, like warm sunlight. This time it had felt like it was going to burn her. Phaidra straightened up as one of the gate personal approached.

?[B]Phaidra and Sarvel correct?[/B]? The young woman asked her.

She nodded in response.

?[B]Right this way.[/B]? She turned around and headed back into the building without bothering to wait to see if they were following along. Once they were inside she looked at the pair again. ?[B]Welcome home. Will you be here long?[/B]?

?[B]No.[/B]? Phaidra hesitated, ?[B]Is the recognition system malfunctioning?[/B]?

The woman gave her an odd look. ?[B]Beg pardon?[/B]?

?[B]Just now, the system identified us, but the intensity was too strong.[/B]? She explained. "[B]For a moment, I thought it was going to burn us.[/B]"

The woman gave her a blank stare.

Phaidra shook her head. ?[B]Never mind.[/B]? She reached up and pushed her glasses back a bit with her forefinger. ?[B]Thank you.[/B]? She said politely before taking her leave.

?[B]Sarvel,[/B]? She started once they were outside and on their way to the library.

?[B]I know I felt it too.[/B]? Sarvel answered her unspoken question. ?[B]I?m not sure if it was messing up or not. It did feel odd though.[/B]?

?[B]Yeah, I wish I could have checked the wards to see why it felt like that.[/B]? She took a deep breath and let it out. ?[B]No matter. It didn?t hurt anything? it was just [I]startling[/I].[/B]?

She had never heard of the gate or the wards malfunctioning in that matter though. Phaidra was pretty sure she hadn?t imagined it. She put it out of mind as they made their way through the city to the library; and then to the section she was interested in.

The small terminals reminded her a bit of the computers the humans used, though the resemblance was superficial. She took a seat and activated the small terminal. Then once the query to find the symbols she was interested in was started, she pulled out the notebook she had brought with her. Like the other one back on Earth, it too was sealed.

Once she found what she was looking for she would undo the seal so she could take the necessary notes for creating the set spell. But first there was something else she wanted to look up. She had seen something during the fight with the vampire, but the symbols were pretty basic and part of the foundation for many possible spells. Something, her search confirmed as it pulled up things she hadn?t thought of.

?[B]Well that didn?t help anything.[/B]? Sarvel commented. ?[B]Now your list of things it could be is even longer.[/B]? She took a seat on the counter next to the screen. "[B]I still think it's none of our business.[/B]"

Phaidra just started at her for a moment. [B]?I?m not so sure that the list has changed any,[/B]? she disagreed. ?[B]Unless she?s hiding the ability, those are pretty high level spells.[/B]?

?[B]So what? Someone else could have done it for her.[/B]? Sarvel countered.

Phaidra couldn?t argue that point and she opened up her book and took notes instead of answering. She found it highly unlikely, but short of actually asking her, there was no way to know for sure. Then, she moved to the information she had come for, tuning everything out while she gathered what she would need.[/FONT]

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[CENTER][B]On The Prowl [/B][/CENTER]
Alex was sitting on the edge of the roof to the building he lived in as he examined his scythe, lost in thought. He couldn?t get what Chris had said out of his mind?

[INDENT][SIZE="1"][I]?[B]Yes. Originally our scythes were . . . more, umm, scythe-like,[/B]? she answered. ?[B]Bigger, and more like what Alex uses. Except without the little,[/B]? she made an obscure gesture in his direction, ?[B]things on the back.[/B]?[/I][/SIZE][/INDENT]

It had never occurred to him that one could change the shape of their scythe. Nall had been right; he still didn?t know what the three floating points did. But he had never considered the possibility of them changing in some manner, or rather, more than they already were by virtue of not being directly attached to the rest of his scythe.

?[B]You?re just going to give yourself a headache if you keep thinking about that[/B],? Nall twitted him.

Alex glanced at Nall and choose to ignore him as he let his scythe go, sending it back to it's resting place, before taking off to head for where they were to meet Adrian and Astera. Of course he had no idea what, if anything, it could do. No one knew. He couldn?t even confirm if any of the ideas he had would work. He didn?t know how to actually go about testing it.

?[B]Oh come on Alex[/B],? Nall said contritely. ?[B]I was only kidding.[/B]?

?[B]I know. I just wish I could figure out if they actually serve a purpose.[/B]?

?[B]Why do they have to have a purpose?[/B]? Nall maneuvered until he was able to land on Alex?s left shoulder. ?[B]Everyone?s scythe is different, that?s probably all there is to it.[/B]?

?[B]I don?t know, it just seems like it should have a purpose. That?s all.[/B]? Alex sighed, ?[B]It doesn?t matter. I?m going to talk to Nathan about it when I see him again. Maybe he would know.[/B]?

He put it out of mind as he came down to land on the rooftop near their starting point for yet another run through the traffic. Adrian and Astera were already there waiting for them.

?[B]You?re late,[/B]? Adrian joked. He didn?t look upset, just amused as he handed him a map of the city to look at. This time, Adrian had made the route for them to follow.

?[B]Yeah, sorry about that.[/B]? He said as he started opening up the map to take a look. He had it halfway open when a familiar aura caught his attention. Alex looked up at the same time the others turned to look as well.

?[B]Is she going to do this with us?[/B]? Alex asked.

?[B]Not that I?m aware of[/B],? Adrian said.

He folded the map and tucked it into his pocket, Alex doing the same as Lucia and Ruby came in to land on the roof.

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[COLOR="RoyalBlue"][FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][CENTER][B][SIZE="3"]Separate Ways [/SIZE][/B][/CENTER]
Lucia didn?t like it when she had to work at one of the offices for the company that had hired her. She could do everything from her apartment, but that was one area they wouldn?t budge on. She was required to be there for some of the work. They claimed it was necessary in order to properly review and calibrate some of her work, but she knew better. Some of them just wanted to see if they could figure out how she did her work in so little time.

It wasn?t her fault that human technology was so primitive. Their attempts to peek into what she was up to were always met with her own security. She just wished they?d get over it and stop trying. Seven years and yet there was always someone prying. At least at her apartment, no human could enter unless she allowed it. She finished up the final bit of coding for the latest project and sent it off.

?[B]What are you going to do now?[/B]? Ruby asked her as they left the building and then took to the air once they were clear.

?[B]I need to forward the information on that smuggling location we found earlier.[/B]? She started to take out her communicator and halted.

?[B]Or you can just tell them in person.[/B]?

She suppressed a sigh and made straight for Adrian, Astera, Alex and Nall who were looking in their direction. She fought the urge to detour around the building they were standing on. Lucia had promised Ruby that she would work on not doing that. It wasn?t so easy to override her first instinct of simply avoiding others though. And it irritated her that she even had to fight it to begin with. [I]I really am an idiot,[/I] she thought ruefully. [I]None of them have done anything but try to help. [/I]

?[B]Lucia, Ruby,[/B]? Alex nodded politely once they had landed. ?[B]Did you need something?[/B]?

?[B]I?ve located another hub for drug smuggling for the vampires.[/B]? She pulled out her communicator intent on pulling up the info and forwarding it to them. ?[B]It?s just a relay point with no more than a few people guarding it.[/B]?

?[B]Are you certain there are only a few people?[/B]? Adrian asked her.

Lucia nodded. ?[B]I was able to hack into their surveillance. A look at the logs shows no more than three people manning the place.[/B]? She pressed send, directing the file to both Alex and Adrian?s cells. ?[B]The only time there is more is when a shipment passes through the area.[/B]?

The two of them looked over the information that she had sent. ?[B]Hunh, it looks like they had a shipment go through just the other day.[/B]? Astera said.

?[B]Do you know how often something goes through?[/B]? Alex closed his cell.

Lucia shook her head. ?[B]Other than the surveillance logs, there isn?t any sort of information being kept there. Even the logs are erased every week since it just records over the previous file.[/B]?

?[B]So it?s only enough to pinpoint troublesome groups and not a real record.[/B]? Adrian put his cell back in his pocket. ?[B]If there are only three of them, even if they?re all vampires, they should be easy to deal with.[/B]?

?[B]I don?t have any assignments for a few days,[/B]? Alex added. ?[B]If someone just came, then the best time to strike would be now, before they realize we?ve found out.[/B]?

[B]?That won?t work for me.[/B]? Lucia disagreed. ?[B]I have one tonight, tomorrow morning and one in the afternoon.[/B]?

?[B]Well if there are only three of them, I?m not sure you need to come along anyway.[/B]? Alex looked over at Adrian and Astera before looking back. ?[B]We can see if Phaidra can come, but even if she can?t we should be able to take care of it.[/B]?

?[B]Are you sure? That?s what Phaidra and I thought last time.[/B]? Lucia folded her arms across her chest and stared at the others. ?[B]Perhaps you should wait until you can talk to Nathan first.[/B]?

?[B]I?m sure it?s fine,[/B]? Alex insisted. ?[B]We?ve already tackled larger groups with Nathan and Isen. If there are more when we get there, we?ll simply fall back and wait until the rest of you can come.[/B]?

?[B]Alright, did you want me to forward the information to the others?[/B]?

?[B]No, there's no need,[/B]? Adrian said. ?[B]We?ll let them know we?re taking care of it.[/B]?

Lucia let her arms fall to her sides. ?[B]Okay, let me know when you get back.[/B]?

?[B]Sure thing.[/B]? Adrian said as she took off. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Black Rose[/B][/CENTER]
In no time Phaidra had gotten all that she could for her trip back. She did not bother to say anything to the gate personnel about how the identification ward felt off. It didn?t feel like a true malfunction and she could always discuss it with one of her instructors at the school should it happen again when she returned.

She was more interested in getting back and comparing some of her notes once her next assignment was taken care of. Phaidra paused back at her place only long enough to tuck her book away in the drawer in her small desk. She took a brief moment to make sure the seals were still in place and then pulled out her cell to look at her schedule again.

?[B]We just have one assignment right?[/B]? Sarvel asked her.

Phaidra nodded. ?[B]Yes. We?ll need to leave in a few minutes.[/B]?

?[B]When is the next one again?[/B]?

?[B]We don?t have another one until after we return from going back to the other side again.[/B]? She put her cell back in her pocket and looked to where Sarvel was sitting on the sofa.

?[B]That means we?ll have some extra time then.[/B]? Sarvel started to lie down and thought the better of it. She could take a nap when they were finished.

Phaidra smiled. ?[B]Yeah. I might even start on a third cookbook. I?ve got some ideas for new recipes that I want to try out.[/B]? She flushed slightly when Sarvel just gave her an odd look and then shrugged.

?[B]Anyway, let?s get going.[/B]?

She had the information telling her exactly where Mrs. Cox would be, but she didn?t need it. Phaidra had been to her home many times in the past seven years. For the first time, she simply ghosted her way through the walls, heading for where she could feel her presence in the home. It was almost time.

Phaidra halted in the living room and called her scythe forth. She waited patiently as the older woman entered the room struggling to carry a small basket of laundry. Mrs. Cox didn?t get far before she halted with a jerk, grimacing in pain. The basket clattered to the floor as she collapsed on the floor.

One step forward and Phaidra brought the scythe down and through the woman?s body, severing the connection between her spirit and her body. And then she stepped back and waited patiently. Within moments a confused dark haired woman was standing there, looking down at the body.

?[B]What just happened?[/B]? She looked up and then froze when she saw Phaidra standing there. She glanced down at Sarvel, her eyes widening as she took a step backwards.

?[B]I?m dead?[/B]? She whispered.

?[B]Correct.[/B]? Sarvel answered her.

?[B]But I felt fine.[/B]? She protested. ?[B]How?[/B]?

?[B]You had a heart attack.[/B]? Phaidra explained.

?[B]Wait, why are you here, how can you see??[/B]? She stopped and looked down. ?[B]You?re here to make sure I die.[/B]?

?[B]Ehhh... Yes and no.[/B]?

Mrs. Cox looked back up, puzzled.

?[B]You would have died whether I was here or not.[/B]? Phaidra answered. ?[B]All I do is make sure you can go to the next phase like you should.[/B]?

?[B]I see.[/B]? She looked at her and sighed. ?[B]Do I have to go now?[/B]?

?[B]Yes, you do.[/B]?

Phaidra watched as she slowly faded and then vanished. Sometimes she had to help push them on their way, but not this time. It was easier when the person didn?t resist it. Well easier on them, it didn?t make her job any harder since giving them the necessary nudge to send them on their way wasn?t difficult.

She glanced at the body again and then turned and ghosted out of the home. It hadn?t been as hard as she thought it would. Moving to the next phase in life was for the best. Once Mrs. Cox got there, she would understand. She was almost back to her place when her cell chimed, indicating that she had a message. Once she was inside she opened it and read what it said. Her right eyebrow shot up in surprise.

?[B]What does it say?[/B]?

?[B]Adrian and Alex want to know if we?ll help with more vampire stuff.[/B]?

?[B]What do you want to do?[/B]?

Phaidra stared at her. ?[B]Go with them of course. We don?t have any assignments for a few days anyway.[/B]? She sent them a message to let them know she was on her way.[/FONT]

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][SIZE="2"][B]Smoke And Mirrors[/B][/SIZE][/CENTER]
If not for being able to sense that there were two vampires and one tainted human in the building below, it would have been easy to assume that the small building was deserted. It looked like an older warehouse for storing goods. If you looked closely, it was clear the place was being used. The two docks where trucks would back in to either load or unload, though worn, were clearly in good repair.

There was no reason for anyone to be out in the area at all. The exit from the freeway was nothing more than a simple number. No rest stops or anything of interest was around for nearly sixty miles, and the building itself was not visible from the freeway. There was nothing but barren rock and slight hills. It was neatly out of the way and yet Adrian wondered how they would cope if the law took notice.

[B][I]-Don?t be silly.-[/I][/B] Astera quipped. [I][B]?A couple of vampires could easily deal with any humans that came nosing about.-[/B][/I]

[B][I]-True.-[/I][/B] Adrian agreed.

?[B]There?s an underground section beneath the building.[/B]? Sarvel said quietly.

?[B]Do you think they?re doing research too?[/B]? Alex asked her.

?[B]Unless they?re very well hidden, there is no one down there.[/B]? She answered.

?[B]I?m not finding any wards or magic either,[/B]? Phaidra added. She looked at the others, ?[B]That doesn?t mean anything though. I did not detect the barrier trap Lucia and I encountered until after it was triggered. So there could be something down there.[/B]?

?[B]They?re probably using it to store extra drugs or perhaps they?ve got living quarters down there.[/B]? Nall offered. ?[B]Vampires may be able to get around in sunlight just fine, but they probably don?t like it.[/B]?

?[B]I agree,[/B]? said Alex. ?[B]Every lab we?ve run into had a lot more people and vampires about.[/B]?

It made sense, Adrian decided. Having guards on duty or other aspects making it clear there were people there, would only draw unwanted attention. Minimal staff just tied into the appearance of being nothing more than a shipping point for normal goods. Two vampires was more than enough to deal with any pesky humans. He looked over at Alex and nodded slightly.

?[B]I?ll take the one on the right.[/B]? He turned to Phaidra. ?[B]You focus on the human. You know what to do right?[/B]?

?[B]I think so,[/B]? she said hesitantly. ?[B]You?re going to rush their location and take them by surprise.[/B]?


Phaidra summoned her scythe and nodded again. ?[B]Okay, I?m ready.[/B]?

Adrian grinned and waited for Alex to give the final nod for them to start. The moment he saw it, he was off, the others right beside him as they made for the building at top speed. They drifted slightly apart as they got closer and each one moved to head straight for their target. They had barely cleared the outer walls when he felt a sudden change in the aura?s of the vampires they were targeting.

It was almost as if they had detected their presence already. It was too late to stop the others and he shifted his flight path, dropping below the floor level. He could feel the vampire moving hastily away in an attempt to predict where he was coming from.

The move sent all sorts of alarms running through his mind. Either it was an unbelievable coincidence or their target was far more skilled than expected. He, of course, opted for the more cautious route, he couldn?t afford a mistake.


[B][I]-I know,-[/I][/B] she replied tersely. [B][I]?Just a few seconds right?-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-Yes.-[/I][/B] He shot back.

There wasn?t time to elaborate. She knew what he was asking; it was one of the tricks they had worked on during training. A short moment of her channeling ability which would give him the window he needed to slip past the vampire without him realizing it. A split second later and he felt like he was in free fall. Adrian allowed his momentum to carry him up through the floor behind the vampire who was backing up.

The moment was over and he phased back, barely in time to twist in midair and shove off the wall with both feet, aiming for the man?s unprotected back. The vampire was just starting to turn when Adrian summoned his scythe and ran him through the chest, piercing his heart. Blue flames raced down the staff and slammed into the vampire, burning him to ashes.

Adrian could see Phaidra dealing with the tainted human out of the corner of his eye. She was using some sort of shield to hamper the human?s movements as she lobbed fireballs at them. He let his scythe go just as one hit the woman full in the chest and sent her sailing. A second fireball was launched and he turned to see how Alex was doing since Phaidra had things under control.

He was just in time to see Alex sidestep a slash meant to behead him. Alex fluidly stepped forward and then twisted as he called his own scythe and swung upwards, slicing the vampire from behind. The massive blade neatly tore the vampire in half. Adrian smirked and then frowned at the blood on Alex?s cheek.

?[B]What happened?[/B]? He checked the room and then frowned even more when he saw an overturned desk.

[B][I]-When did that happen?-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-It must have been when I was channeling.-[/I][/B] Astera said. [B][I]?I didn?t see it either.-[/I][/B]

?[B]The vampire managed to avoid our rush,[/B]? Nall explained as Alex destroyed the vampire?s remains. ?[B]Alex dodged his blade, but he still knocked him into the desk.[/B]?

Alex finished and then looked up, grinning sheepishly as he fetched a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the blood off of his cheek. It was nothing more than a shallow scratch. He tucked the clothe back into his pocket when he was done.

?[B]I wasn?t expecting him to respond so quickly, it caught me by surprise. He almost got me with his blade, twice.[/B]? His eyes moved over to Phaidra and Sarvel. ?[B]Did you have any problems?[/B]?

?[B]No, she was quicker than other tainted humans, but not enough to be a problem.[/B]?

?[B]Those vampires were awfully quick though.[/B]? Sarvel?s tails were twitching slightly. ?[B]I?ve never seen one move so fast before.[/B]?

Adrian bent over and rifled through the papers at the desk, there was nothing of interest. He had planned on splitting up to check the building but if there were others hidden and just as perceptive, it would be too dangerous.

?[B]We should stick together,[/B]? Alex said, echoing his thoughts.

It didn?t take them long to check the rest of the upper levels. Other than a few stray boxes and older supplies, there wasn?t anything to be found. There was a little in the way of food supplies and a television in the break room, but nothing else.

The lower level was nothing more than additional storage space. A set of stairs and a massive lift were the only means to access it. The lift was broken and the doors to the stairs unlocked. Curious, Adrian flipped the switches and was rewarded by the lights coming on. It was, other than a few odds and ends, completely empty.

They spread out and checked to be sure, but there was nothing of interest. Dust covered everything, indicating that no one had been down there in a long time. Adrian turned to head back for the stairs when Sarvel gave off a startled growl.

?[B]Look out![/B]? She shouted at the same moment he felt the auras of at least five vampires rapidly approaching. They were down the stairs and moving to rush the group before they could properly react.

[B][I]-Where the hell did they come from?- [/I][/B] Adrian wondered.

It was clear as he moved to intercept them that they were too quick for them to slip away.

[B][I]-There are more of them Adrian!- [/I][/B]

[B][I]-WHAT!?-[/I][/B] He cried. [B][I]?How many?-[/I][/B]

[B][I]-I?m not sure! At least ten, possibly more.-[/I][/B]

Adrian cursed colorfully as he avoided a kick and then caught the wrist of one vampire, throwing him into another one. The man simply shoved him aside and made for Adrian, his blade ready. If the others arrived too soon? they would be overrun.

?[B]Phaidra! Can you block the doors?[/B]? Alex called out. He sent a ball of purifying fire sailing towards a vampire angling for Phaidra, forcing them to retreat. A moment later, the shimmer from a barrier could be seen in front of the door leading out.

?[B]It will only hold for a few minutes.[/B]? She said tersely.

?[B]Call Nathan.[/B]? Adrian barked. ?[B]We?ll hold them off as long as we can.[/B]?[/SIZE][/COLOR]

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[COLOR="RoyalBlue"][FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][CENTER][B]Get The Balance Right[/B][/CENTER]
Lucia didn?t have enough time between assignments to go with the others, but that didn?t mean she couldn?t take care of some of the testing she wanted to do. They couldn?t ghost through the blades the vampires would use, but that didn?t mean they couldn?t be blocked. The only question in her mind was to find the most effective manner of doing so.

She didn?t know how to cast wards like Phaidra or Sarvel and she lacked the combat training that the others had received. However, she was of the opinion that relying on better training wasn?t the answer. She needed something now and the only thing she could think of would be to improve her defense, making it harder to even get stabbed in the first place.

At first she ran her mind over the idea of some type of body armor but dismissed it almost immediately. It just wasn?t practical. Lucia needed something that she would always have with her, no matter what. To always run around in some sort of armor would be highly impractical and in all honesty, most of what she could look into wouldn?t be worth using. It wouldn?t be strong enough to protect against the strength of a vampire.

That made the answer simpler; it had to be something that she could use her own spiritual energy to enhance. But to do that, the material in question would have to be spiritually receptive. The only thing she knew of that was durable and would reliably hold the energy was the crystal her communicator was made of. It was why she had chosen it.

So with that in mind, she had gathered up some of the material and looked for a way to either turn it into cloth or to distill it into a solution that could simply be applied to existing clothing. In the end, she had to settle for simply soaking some cloth in a solution she made from the crystal material. She didn?t have the necessary equipment to weave clothing anyway.

It wasn?t too hard since the humans had been doing things like that for centuries. Lucia had just used her programs to search for the easiest method that she could actually do herself. Once she got that figured out, she could look into improving it. If it worked that is. If it didn?t, there wouldn?t be a point in continuing.

?[B]You?re ready for the first test?[/B]? Ruby asked her from where she was sitting on the desk.

Lucia didn?t bother to turn around and continued hanging up the squares of material on the wall. ?[B]I am.[/B]? She said simply.

The first one was just the normal material her tunic was made from. The second one was a section that had been soaked in the crystal solution. The third was the same thing, only this one, she took a moment to run her spiritual energy through it. It made the material feel slightly stiff, but that was all.

She walked back over to the computer and picked up the dirks she had kept for testing, pausing only long enough to make sure her scanner was running before she turned and hurled the first dirk into the first square. It went right through the material without a fuss, the same with the second one.

Lucia frowned slightly as she retrieved the two dirks. She had hoped that just the solution alone would help but even if it had, the blade had gone through it too easily. That only left the last one. If the spiritual charge didn?t help, she?d have to start over. She checked it to make sure the charge was still holding and then once she was back to the other side of the room, she threw the dirk. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[CENTER][B]Policy of Truth[/B][/CENTER]
?[B]You?re back early.[/B]? Patrick didn?t bother to get up or turn around and look when Terry and Fiero ghosted into their apartment to join him. He wasn?t really looking at anything in particular as he sat and stared out the window at the city.

?[B]They left the city.[/B]? Terry said before settling down on his shoulder. ?[B]So there was nothing to watch anymore.[/B]?


?[B]He means Alex and Adrian.[/B]? Fiero elaborated before settling down on his other shoulder. ?[B]Instead of dodging cars, they got together with Phaidra and left the city. We don?t know where they went.[/B]?

He sighed, ?[B]I?m bored.[/B]?

Patrick laughed. ?[B]You could have visited the others you know.[/B]?

?[B]Nuh uh.[/B]? Fiero snorted. ?[B]Ruby said they were busy and Isen ignores us.[/B]?

?[B]I thought you liked that chess game that Nathan has.[/B]? Patrick pointed out. ?[B]Weren?t you both going to finally beat him at it?[/B]?

?[B]Uhhh? He?s gone too. So we didn?t bother to stop in.[/B]? Fiero finished.

?[B]So in other words, there was no one for you to pester half to death[/B].? Patrick said with an amused grin.

?[B]Hey! We don?t pester people![/B]? Terry objected angrily.

?[B]Oh shut up,[/B]? Fiero retorted. ?[B]Yes you do.[/B]?

?[B]Do not.[/B]? Terry snapped back instantly.

Patrick just said nothing and let them bicker among themselves. They would stop on their own and sure enough, within a few minutes they settled down. He didn?t mind it since their overly social nature made it hard for them to simply stay quiet for long periods of time.

It was why they had ended up becoming partners in the first place. Terry and Fiero tended to be mercurial with their curiosity. There was nothing they weren?t interested in and even mindless conversation or simply watching what others were up to was enough to keep them happy.

It wasn?t something that just anyone would be comfortable with. Patrick wasn?t anywhere near as social as they were, but he found their quick chatter comforting and therefore, easy to tolerate. Though he wondered if that was because it meant he could let them do the talking at times.

They were a lot smarter than people gave them credit for. Their overly chatty nature was a bit misleading in that respect. And that too was part of why he liked being with them. Patrick took a deep breath before letting it out. In a bit, he would need to get ready for another meeting.

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[font=calibri][b]"Oh, is that it?"[/b] Nathan laughed jovially. [b]"I would have thought that was obvious. You said it yourself; she's our 'tech girl'. Though I don't believe she would appreciate the title terribly much,"[/b] he added with a wink.

[b]"That doesn't tell me a whole lot."[/b]

Nathan nodded. [b]"Ah. Well, from what I understand, she's using their own communication lines against them. Intercepting transmissions and tracing LOCs and such. It's all pretty technical, which means I don't pay attention to a lot of it even if she does decide to spout off strings of jargon like most of the nerd-types tend to do."[/b]

[b]"I see," [/b]said Gavrie, who looked as if he didn't. [b]"And does she?"[/b]

[b]"No. She's got this whole ice-and-barbed-wire thing going. Very Women's Lib."[/b]


[b]"You need to spend more time Earthside."[/b]

Gavrie raised his eyebrows. [b]"I'll keep that in mind,"[/b] he said drily. He considered a moment before speaking. [b]"How do we know her sources are reliable? After all, both of us thought the Jian were wiped out millennia ago. Couldn't it be someone using a famous name they got from a history book somewhere?"[/b]

Nathan nodded again, looking somewhat darker.

[b]"I thought of that, too,"[/b] he said, [b]"but the methods seem uncannily similar, after I think about it. Besides, you know the reputation the Jian had for weapon forging. And now the same type of research is being done, with prototypes already in live testing?"[/b]


[b]"It's too close a resemblance for me to be comfortable leaving it alone. And even if it is someone different, just the thought of a new vampire resurrecting the concept for that metal...."[/b]

[b]"Yeah,"[/b] agreed Gavrie.

[b]"But if you really want to be sure,"[/b] Nathan continued, [b]"I can see about setting up a meeting for the two of you. Provided we don't keep getting interrupted every ten minutes,"[/b] he said, rolling his eyes.

Gavrie spun, scythe out, scanning the trees for intruders.

[b]"Which way?"[/b]

[b]"Easy there, Quick Draw." [/b]Nathan chuckled. [b]"I'm buzzing. Hang on."[/b]

He withdrew his cell phone from his hip pocket and glanced at it. Surprise flitted across his face for a moment, but he answered it happily.

[b]"Hey! How's itâ??hold on."[/b] He snapped serious. [b]"Slow down, and say that again."[/b] As he listened, he slid his free hand up over his eyes, kneading his temples with his outstretched fingers. He sighed heavily. [b]"Okay. Okay. We'll get you out. Hang on for now and do what you can." [/b]He flipped the device closed, squeezing it to ease his tension.

[b]"Trouble on the home front?"[/b] asked Gavrie?

[b]"Something like that."[/b] Nathan slid the phone back into its pocket and, reaching into his blazer, withdrew another slightly larger phone, this one silver. Flipping it open, he drew his finger down and off the screen, and lights appeared from the console, spreading out to either side. Nathan began typing rapidly with his right hand.

Gavrie's eyebrows went up. [b]"Care to share?"[/b] he prodded.

[b]"I'm afraid our meeting has to be cut short again,"[/b] the blue man answered, not looking up. [b]"Something important has come up."[/b]

[b]"Oh, that's fine,"[/b] Gavrie replied. [b]"I had other things I needed to finish as well."[/b]

[b]"No,"[/b] said Nathan, dismissing the lights as the two spirits turned to leave, [b]"you don't quite understand." [/b]He closed the second device and replaced it. [b]"Sorry."[/b]

And then he was between them, gripping them both by the arm.

[b]"[i]Settan kairos![/i]"[/b]

The world shattered, and all sense of direction vanished. The cold of a dimensional shift set in, but instead of a liquid crash, the three bounced off the surface at an angle, and open plains reformed around them. Off in the distance, a lone silo jutted against the flat horizon.

[b]"What the hellâ??"[/b]

[b]"Where are we?"[/b] demanded Karl.

[b]"Kansas,"[/b] replied Nathan. [b]"It's as close as I could get, but we still have a decent flight ahead of us. Come on; we need to hurry."[/b]

Gavrie balked, visibly angered. [b]"I don't have time for this, Nathan. I have tasksâ??"[/b]

Nathan whirled and locked Gavrie's gaze. His aura pulsed harshly against the air.

[b]"You will fight for me."[/b]

The other hesitated, then sighed.

[b]"I understand,"[/b] he acquiesced.

[b]"Good."[/b] Nathan relaxed. [b]"Follow me. We don't have much time."[/b][/font]

[font=calibri]Isen looked abjectly at the suddenly active crystal in her hand. The message it held was startling, but even more startling was the source. Nathan never used that device.[/font]

[indent=1][font=courier new,courier,monospace]Kids acted without permission. Ambush. Next raid destination. Get inside, keep them alive. I will send you help. Chris outside, block reinforcements. Thirty minutes out. No time. Go.[/font][/indent]

[font=calibri]The werecat rose from the couch and made a grab for her boots.

[b]"Christine," [/b]she called.[/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]We Are Not Separate[/B][/CENTER]
Phaidra barely had time to tuck her phone away before another vampire managed to slip into the underground storage area. Without the time to set up a proper ward, the barriers Sarvel and she were casting, didn’t last more than five minutes. Even with them trying to switch off, there was still a short lapse between each one. At this rate, they really would be overrun before Nathan could arrive.

It didn’t help that the vampires were taking advantage of their numbers and speed to keep them from retreating. All they would need was a minute to slip away, but it was taking everything they had just to stay alive, if they turned to run, they would be cut down before they could take more than a few steps.

“[B]Phaidra![/B]” Sarvel called out in warning.

“[B]I know! I know![/B]” She shot back, too busy to properly reply. Sarvel didn’t need to explain, she could [I]feel it[/I]. The aura was unmistakable. Someone outside was casting a spell.

Phaidra resisted the urge to swear as she felt it settle. If she wasn’t so busy casting shields and sending sheets of both fire and purifying flames at the vampires attacking her, she could have easily shattered what had been cast. But she didn’t have time to prepare the required spell.

It was nothing more than a low level containment spell, similar to what had trapped Lucia and her before. Only this was far cruder and literally depended on the presence of the walls and floors. The only thing it was good for was to keep them from being able to simply ghost through the walls. They could still merely walk through say the lift or any open window or door.

“[B]Sixteen you said?[/B]” She called out as she dodged to the right, avoiding a rushing vampire. The fireball she launched at his back missed completely as he danced out of reach. Phaidra clenched her teeth in frustration.

“[B]Yes.[/B]” Sarvel replied.

So that meant there were ten more outside. If Nathan didn’t arrive before they managed to get in… For a split second she was distracted by movement to the left as one of the vampires managed to slip past Alex and rush her.

A startled gasp escaped her lips as she twisted desperately to meet it. The others were too far away and Sarvel was halfway into recasting the barrier to keep the other vampires out. There was no way Sarvel could pull free of the spell in time and… [I]I can’t dodge![/I]

A wave of fear ran through her, and she outright shrieked in fear when something slammed into the vampire from the right. To her surprise it was Adrian, and he had run the vampire through. Blue flames engulfed the vampire in a flash, burning him to ashes before she could do more than take a few steps back.

[I]What? How did he manage to do that?[/I] She could have sworn he was on the other side of the room just a second ago. The other vampires hesitated slightly, a look of surprise on their faces. Phaidra tried to shove the fear aside, she had to warn the others that they couldn’t ghost through the walls anymore, and she had to let them know that they had no choice but to exit via the lift or the stairs.

“[B]Adrian, the walls have…[/B]” she started to explain.

“[B]I know.[/B]” Adrian cut her off. He grimaced slightly before turning back to launch himself at the closet set of vampires. They had already recovered from the brief shock of seeing him seem to kill the other vampire so easily.

It was slightly reassuring to see that both Alex and Adrian were much more experienced at fighting than she was. Especially Adrian, at times, it was like he was nothing more than a blur, even to her eyes.

Phaidra tried to put it out of mind, to focus on keeping the others out long enough to let Nathan get there. She hoped it was soon. She lost track of the time as she focused on using her shields to help hamper the movements of the vampires for Adrian and Alex. And though she never seemed to hit anyone, she still kept trying to hit someone with the purifying flames or the fire of her magic.

But it was draining and she knew she couldn’t keep it up for much longer. Phaidra was wondering if they were going to make it when she was startled by a large crashing noise. She whirled in time to see the door to the stairs fly into the room. The force of its flight was enough to level the unfortunate vampire in its path.

Standing where the door used to be, was Isen. [/FONT]

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[center][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Unspoken Memories[/b][/font][/size][/color][/center]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]It had been a while since Gavrie and Karl had been sent on an extraction mission. Not that he had a problem with it, his own tasks could wait, for now. He'd grill Nathan over the particulars later. Getting the kids out of that mess was more important and upon approaching the location, it was clear that they were still in trouble.

He could sense ten vampires in the immediate area, one was casting magic, and it felt like they were assaulting shields. Gavrie turned and glanced at Karl, a plan already forming in his mind, he would take care of the magic user while Karl joined the others. He could feel Isen's aura near them, but by now they had to be exhausted.

"[b]Help the others,[/b]" He said shortly before altering his flight path to intercept the vampires who were outside the room where the others were.

He summoned his scythe, twirling it as it appeared to deploy the dual spiritual blades at each end. Gavrie gathered his energy, chanting under his breath as he made the appropriate symbols with his right hand. The moment he was through the walls, he let it loose.

Gavrie smiled as the vampires turned to face him, the magic user barely had a chance to realize something was around him before Gavrie closed his hand in a fist. The force walls he had cast collapsed, crushing the vampire on the spot. With a feral grin, he rushed the remaining three, his staff already above his head as he spun it wildly, forcing them to hastily retreat.

One wasn't quite fast enough and the tip of his blade tore through his shirt, leaving a red mark across his chest. Gavrie pulled back, his eyes widening slightly. [i]What the hell?[/i] His expression hardened and he met the others rushing him in an attempt to take advantage of his slight hesitation. Suddenly furious, he met the rush with one of his own.[/font][/size][/color]


[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karl didn't need an explanation; Gavrie would deal with the magic while he assisted the others. There was some sort of barrier between him and the group and he made for the opening that he could sense. He called his blades forth and made for the two vampires outside a door leading down. The presence of one vampire who was on the floor in pieces, explained the caution of the two near the door. He wondered who had cut them in half.

The remaining two whirled to face him and then pulled back in surprise. Karl grinned at their stunned expressions. They scattered to the sides in order to avoid his rush. With an expert flick of his left hand, he sent the one blade flying to slam into the wall, barely missing the retreating vampire. The unfortunate vampire ran into the chain connecting the two blades and stumbled. Before he could recover, Karl ran him through with the other blade.

Karl grinned and yanked the blade free, allowing the body to collapse. He let his blades go and whirled, his right foot coming up to connect with the wrist of the other one attacking from behind. The force of the blow shattered his wrist and the vampire howled in pain as the blade clattered to the floor. He stumbled backwards and then turned to flee.

He didn't get more than a few steps before Isen seemed to appear out of nowhere, neatly cutting the man in half. Karl smirked, that explained the other one and why the vampires were being cautious. He resisted the urge to grin and instead followed her as she headed back down the stairs after glancing in his direction. He didn't need to tell her that Gavrie was taking care of the rest, she would be able to feel it like he could.

There were four more in the room with Adrian and the others, not including the ones who were dead. One of them looked like something large had snapped him in half. The door lying on the floor a little further in the room was the likely culprit. Karl glanced around and then made for the vampire closest to a woman with long dark hair.

Karl glanced at Adrian and groaned inwardly. Training or not, he still was about as graceful as one of those large buses in heavy traffic. He sighed; he'd lecture the idiot once they got the hell out of there.[/font][/size][/color]

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[center][b][u][font=arial]Display Of Power[/font][/u][/b][/center]

[font=calibri]Ten miles east of the facility, Christine was waging a one-woman war of her own. A high-altitude circling pass by her familiar had revealed a small convoy of vampire-manned vehicles bound for the team Isen had gone to assist, so she had altered course and intercepted, and was now engaged in a small firefight in the middle of the highway. Ward-circles sprang into being, disintegrated, and reappeared around her, absorbing or reflecting multicolored arrays of magical blasts, and shards of lightning leapt from her fingers, keeping the vampires pinned in the shelter of their transports. Her body moved in fluid, rhythmic patterns, her breathing smooth and controlled as if the fight were merely her morning yoga, oblivious to the shouting tumult of her adversaries. Her mouth formed soundless phrases, reciting words so familiar they no longer required thought. Only her eyes did not reflect the same calm: two intense blazes of cold blue flame darting from car to car, calculating, tracking, commanding.

A trailing sphere of purple energy slipped past the protective barriers, its trail dripping lightâ??and was nullified by a blast of air from over Chrisâ??s right shoulder. The air spirit swirled around its partner, illusionary white seagulls forming briefly in its wake, its cool breeze tossing the shinigamiâ??s hair and billowing her clothing with each pass. Ever watchful, it loosed small gusts at precise intervals timed with Chrisâ??s sporadic attacks, stopping any gaps that formed in her defenses, deflecting errant projectiles harmlessly into the desert sands.

A vampire howled and dropped to his knees, clutching at the jagged hole now bored freshly through his shoulder. His friend paused and turned to reach for him and drag him behind cover. Too late; a second burst took off the manâ??s head.

So absorbed in her dance was Chris that she only barely registered unusual activity in the convoyâ??s rear. She could spare none her attention for it, though she darted a look whenever a lull occurred. They did her little good; the most she could see was two or three vampires gathered together. Too many bodies and vehicles obstructed her sight to tell anything more clear.

And then she saw them all draw back, arms thrown out in wide gestures, and a fourth vampire shot into the air, his hands glowing a fiery orange. At the apex of his flight, he slammed his palms together, and a two-foot flaming ball burst into life and blistered through the air towards her.

She was halfway through bringing up a hasty power shield when a flash of blue interposed itself between her and the vampires. Her brother stood poised in the air before her, his right fist and forearm wreathed in blue fire, and with a furious cry he reared back and struck, slugging the blazing globe just as it reached him.

The projectile rocketed backwards and down, detonating in the middle of the convoy. Bodies of scorched vampires and molten cars were tossed from the highway.

Nathan alighted in front of his sister, murmuring under his breath. She nodded in response and closed her eyes, spreading her arms and lowering her gaze.

[b]â??Vampire dogs!â? [/b] Nathan roared, wheeling about. Those he addressed stopped picking themselves gingerly from the carnage and froze in place.

[b]â??Vampire [i]dogs[/i]!â?[/b] repeated the blue man passionately. [b] â??Three thousand years ago I fought your vile kind. Three thousand years ago your race should have died! You struck first at us, swearing our destruction, and when we crushed you we let you live on. And now you kill dozens of our people and think nothing will come of it? [/b]

[b]â??You first moved in secret, and so until now we also have moved against you in secret. Now wish you open war?!â? [/b] Nathan paused, surveying the wrecked highway. [b] â??Then tell your master: we will give you open war.â? [/b] He spat on the ground and turned his back.

[b]â??Blow them away,â? [/b] he said to Chris.

[b]â??With pleasure.â? [/b]

His sisterâ??s hair was standing almost vertical now, her clothes snapping and whipping in the wind of her familiar. Around her raged a vortex of wind, white phantom birds whirling higher and higher. She drew a deep, full breath, and the air around her seemed to breathe with her, tugging at the very essence of being.

And she twisted, dropping to one knee to slam one fist into the dirt.

[b]â??[i]Decifin caarano![/i]â? [/b]

The gulls spun into a line and shot down to the point of impact. Car-sized boulders tore themselves from the earth and were immediately caught in a maelstrom of wind and dust and debris. A sound like a freight train shattered the air, and the deadly cyclone raged into the mess of vehicles and bodies, sweeping them from the road.[/font]

[font=calibri]Victor Lâ??Envers jerked around in his chair, his sudden fierce scowl slowly replaced by an astonished smile.

[b]â??Well,â? [/b] he mused to himself with a laugh, [b]â??if tsat does not draw attention, tsen tsey are all truly dead.â? [/b][/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[CENTER][B]Out of the Dark[/B][/CENTER]
Alex shoved the thoughts that it was his fault they were in this mess aside. He didn?t have time for the distraction. If they got out of there alive, he?d talk to Nathan about it. Until then, there was nothing he could do. The longer they fought, without landing much in the way of a serious blow, the more unsettled he began to feel.

If the vampires were fast enough to avoid taking damage, then why weren?t they using that speed to take them out? They had the benefit of greater numbers and though Phaidra and Sarvel were doing well enough with magic, they were clearly more open to attack. Something that became obvious when one of them finally rushed her, slipping past his guard.

Once again he felt that brief moment where Adrian?s aura seemed to vanish and he knew that he would take care of it, so he focused on those who were closest to him instead. But other than to show slight surprise at the death, they still didn?t press the advantage that they had, even when three more managed to slip past the magical wards that Phaidra and Sarvel were casting.

[I]What the hell is going on here?[/I]

He had learned a lot from Nathan, but not [I]that[/I] much. An unpleasant thought crossed his mind and he grimaced in distaste. If he was right? they had to get out of there and they had to get out immediately. Alex was wonder how the hell they were going to be able to do that when Isen finally showed up.

Unlike Adrian dealing with one, seeing the massive metal door go flying hard enough to slam into a vampire and break him in half - resulted in their stance changing. Now it was the vampires who needed to be cautious. It only took one making the slightest error in his path for her to seemingly come out of nowhere to take him out with a single slash of her blade. Isen was impossibly quick as she went back and forth between the room they were in and the door they had come in, keeping any other vampires from slipping past the barriers.

And then, his eyes widened in surprise when he felt the stirrings of magic outside of the complex. It was different from whoever was assaulting the shields that Phaidra and Sarvel were maintaining. There was no reason to fight that far away from the building, which meant it had to be help in some form.

Alex dashed forward, bringing his massive blade slashing up. But the vampire back flipped out of range and then his eyes widened in surprise. Alex didn?t know who was more surprised, the vampires or him when the magic assaults halted and another werecat showed up. Before he could take advantage of their confusion, the vampires suddenly pulled free, nearly stumbling over themselves in their haste to get free.

He was wondering if they should give chase along with Isen when the other werecat interceded, blocking their path. He shook his head negatively and then turned to head back up the stairs, motioning for them to follow him out.

Alex grimaced at the site of bodies outside the main door; there was another Reaper in the building, someone he had never met before. There was blood splattered on his clothing and his expression was grim as he approached the group. His eyes settled on Adrian as they got closer. He opened his mouth to say something and then broke into a grin instead, suddenly amused by something.

?[B]Alex![/B]? Nall exclaimed, but he didn?t have to explain, he could feel it.

Someone was using powerful magic close by; it felt, to his senses, like someone had taken a hold of the dimension that humans lived in and shaken it in one spot. It radiated out in waves that washed over the group, causing nearly all of them to freeze in place. An odd crushing sensation, that felt like it was forcing the air out of his chest, followed by a chill wind, swept over him. It happened so fast, that he couldn?t be sure if he imagined it or not. [I]What the hell was that?[/I]

?[B]Get moving.[/B]? The Reaper barked at the group when they had stood there for a few moments, causing Alex to jump slightly.

Alex took a few steps in the direction of the disturbance before coming to a halt when the Shinigami grabbed his arm, stopping him.

?[B]Wrong direction kid.[/B]? He admonished Alex.

Alex flushed, embarrassed, and nodded, following the others as they ghosted through the outer walls and left. He hadn?t meant to do that. It had been an instinctive reaction, to head towards the disturbance.

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[center][b][u][font=arial]Incidental Music[/font][/u][/b][/center]

[font=calibri]Outside of Reno, a light-grey sedan pulled to the side of the highway and parked. A dark-haired man in a charcoal Armani suit emerged from the driver's side of the car and removed his sunglasses, staring curiously at the rogue tornado rampaging in the distance.

[b]â??Hmm,â?[/b] he said, his brow furrowing contemplatively. He crossed his arms over the top of the door and leaned there, watching.

Presently an unpleasant sound began filling the air, growing louder and more distinct as the man stood beside his car. The man seemed not to notice, idly scratching his shoulder as he studied the horizon. The sound coalesced into a long, terrified screamâ??which abruptly cut off when a body crashed into the car's windshield.

The man looked abjectly at the disfigured corpse.

[b]â??Hmm,â?[/b] he said again.

Leaning back, he peered into the car's interior, gesturing at the body with his head. The passenger door opened, and a tall, slinky woman in a navy business suit, a just-long-enough skirt, and three-inch heels slid from the seat. She almost glided around the door and also surveyed the body for a moment.

Casually reaching up an arm, she offered the deceased vampire's face a gentle caress. Her eyelids fluttered, and her breathing quickened imperceptibly. She braced herself against the vehicle for momentary support.

When she looked up, her driver was observing her silently, an inquiring expression on his face. She nodded once and returned to the car; the man joined her after shoving the body off of the hood and loading it into the backseat.

The sedan started smoothly up and, pulling an easy U-turn, headed back to Reno.[/font] Edited by Allamorph

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