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Feeling down? Like way, way underground? Feeling lost? As if you haven’t been seen in years? Feeling old? Like... ancient? Then you’d feel at home in the Nekropolektika Tēōtl. Nestled in the bowels of a secret plate cut adrift from the rest of the world by round upon round of highly freaky arcane warfare, you won’t find a more private place. In fact, if even you find it, you can have your money back. Come to the Nekropolektika Tēōtl and see the world as it used to be. Before nano plagues and Academies and super soldiers and falls. Right back when the EM fields which shaped this world fell into place like notes in a track. See history as it happens; pottering around in the lavishly decorated catacombs of this aeons-old necropolis complex. And marvel at the... What, you can’t make out the lavish decorations of the catacombs? You can’t see where you’re going? You didn’t bring a flash light?

Bring a flash light, K? And don’t play in the goo; that’s karmic sludge, it isn’t good for you. Oh, and ignore the nightmare shadows of the dreamcloud, they’re only echoes. What do you mean ‘what of’? Of you. Hey, are you running from that gargantuan, slime belching, multi-headed übersquib as it stomps through the barely sufficient corridors, its chainsaw pincers scraping the ceiling, its flashing fangs scratching the walls, about to feed on your flesh? You’re not running from an übersquib you know, you’re running from yourself. But don’t listen to me, will you? You’re the one making this stuff up.

“Prof, it’s gainin’.” And it was, too. Graining at a pace of a gargantuan stomp with every passing click. And with every gargantuan stomp, it shook the subterranean cloisters of the necropolis to the bone. And to the blood. And to the soot. And to the cinder. Well what else is it from which necropoli are made? How about the breath of the ancients?

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“Prof!” That’d be Materia they were yelling at; the prof. The expert. On gravity, magnetics and maths. Alright, so Materia wasn’t so hot on the maths. A disappointment to his race. But he was an expert on ancient history, necropoli and superswords instead. And he was a dirty, nasty, filthy anarchist too.

“Prof!” Alright, alright; keep your hair on. What’s left of it. Calm yourselves a bit and you might also avoid getting scalped. They were all anarchists. All eight of them. Alright, all seven... six... OK, all three. The rest had been reduced to squishy puddles by now, murdered by their own memories. So let’s just count them as dead. Anarchists don’t have any issues with admitting dead is dead. Especially anarchists being pursued by an überbeast. Through the muddled catacombs of the necropolis with their whistling winds. Through the ancient corridors with their intricately detailed line, dot and arrow motifs. Through the steadily clunking marble walkways, gradually ascending back towards the glorious light of day with the stomping, slobbering, sickening überbeast in hot pursuit through the thinning mists. If only they’d stop to realise this deranged diablo was being animated by their own mental puppetry, they could probably settle it down with a saucer of milk and a sprig of catnip.

A shadowy abomination from a lower hell. How many hells are there? Eight, you fools; don’t they teach theology at the Academy? A grotesque, twilight creature beyond human imagination, conjured up during some horrific war and left to roam unhindered when the conjurer fell foul of a soldier’s sword. A ghastly banshee confined to narrow corridors which could barely house its bulbous frame. Confined and slumbering in this sacred platform between worlds where it remained protected from the threat of falling back to whence it had come. Where there were probably even more ferocious thingies to be afraid of. Slumbering there, inanimate and inert until minds came along capable of fearing it. Because nightmares are immaterial until a dreamer comes along and dreams a dream.

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Incidentally, this particular überbeast had a centipede’s head and a dinosaur’s body. A unicorn’s head and a serpent’s body. A swordfish’s head and a big cat’s body. Oh, it could have looked however you feared it looked really. It’s only a formless karmic dreamcloud after all. “Prof! It’s comin’ this way!” If the prof could have told Sinch to stop stating the obvious and calm down, he would’ve. But Materia was a pyronette. And psytopians tended not to understand the language of old, type-in computer games, whether anarchists or not.

Members of the Soul Cage Trust who excavated necropoli across Psytopia. This was the seventh they’d found. Although admittedly they’d lost a couple along the way. They excavated these ancient places, retrieved the superswords which grew in their hearts and hid them from... Well, let’s say from less benevolent forces. The kind of people who waged arcane wars. They were the last in a long line of freedom fighters, you see. Anaquistadors; that was what they were called. Anaquistadors, and also psyientists. Because anyone with a firm grasp of gravmagtics can locate necropolis. They stick out like sore, throbbing, bulbous thumbs. Or more like pounding basslines in your head. So the method was to locate a necropolis, remove the heart and retreat to a safe distance. Because removing hearts tends to stir the dead. And all the other furious vibes which slumbered in the catacombs. “I reckon we’re safe ‘ere.” “Yeah. Reckon.” Materia waved his arms for them to be quiet. Who said pyronettes can’t learn sign language? “A’wight boss, I get ya. We make a run for it.” “Nah, nah. Boss says we gotta fight the ‘fing.” Arguing in the light of their dribbling tapers; stomp, stomp, stomping in their ears. Sign language is all well and good between rational psytopians and educated pyronettes, but reformed brain filchers aren’t the brightest torches in the wide, wild world.

SINCH

A reformed brain filcher A bit of a dope and a bit of an anarchist

MATERIA

An educated pyronette A bit of an adventurer, and a bit of an outcast

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SCATTER

A reformed brain filcher Another dope, and another anarchist

Holy Judgement


SINCH: “Oi reckon it’s gone away.” SCATTER: “Nah, it’s r’and the corner. I can smell it.” SINCH: “‘Course ya can’t smell it; it don’t smell of nuffink.” SCATTER: “It’s drippin’ stuff, innit? Brain juice, or someink.” SINCH: “You’ve got brain juice on the f’wuckin’... brain.” SCATTER: “I ain’t. I’m reformed.” SINCH: “Well there ain’t no beastie r’and the f’wuckin’ corner.” SCATTER: “F’wuckin’ is. Take a gander.” SINCH: “I ain’t ganderin’ r’and no f’wuckin’ corner.” SCATTER: “Cos y’ know it’s f’wuckin’ there.” SINCH: “Ain’t nuffink there, a’wight?” SCATTER: “Then gander r’and the corner.” SINCH: “You wan me ta’ gander, ‘wight?” SCATTER: “‘Wight.” SINCH: “I ain’t ganderin’ for nuffink.” SCATTER: “Cos you fwuckin’ know...”

Materia would have rolled his eyes in despair if he’d had any. Eyes I mean, not despair; he had plenty of that. If the equation had been the other way round, he would have been just as scared. But equations had never been his forté.

Brain filchers and their scattered minds. Scattered so because they contained bits of other people. No wonder the mists around these parts reached out to grab them. They saw something of themselves.

SINCH: “I see it ‘nah.” SCATTER: “You don’t see nuffink.” SINCH: “Fwuckin’ do, but crafty bugger’s comin’ from the ‘ovver side.” SCATTER: “Wot, from the sunlight?” SINCH: “Yeah from the sunlight; it’s a shada’.” SCATTER: “I don’t see no shada’.” SINCH: “‘Course ya don’t, it’s in the shada’s, innit?” SCATTER: “A shada in the shadas?” SINCH: “I’m telling ya I see a shada...”

Etc.

Of course there were shadows, you fools. There was nothing but. Materia turned the Raucous Whisper over in his wire gauze gloves. Come to think of it, it was reflecting a shadow. A shadow of himself? SINCH: (Standing up) “We gotta kill the shada’.” SCATTER: (Pulling him back down) “Ya can’t kill shada’s.”

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SINCH: “‘Course ya can; ya hit the real ‘fing.” SCATTER: “Ya said ya saw a shada’, not a real ‘fing.” SINCH: “Well there can’t be no fwuckin’ shada’ wiv’out no f’wuckin’ real ‘fing, can there?” SCATTER: “I dunno, do I?” SINCH: “I’m g’wan kill the shada’...” MATERIA: (Sign language) ‘Stop!’

Because brain filchers are nervous sorts. Don’t even know who they are half the time. Don’t know who they might go and butcher next. Just don’t go killing the professor’s son.

MANA

MATERIA

Eye to eye for the first time in... No; they didn’t have eyes Nose to nose for the first time in... No... Toe to toe for the first time in... Clog to clog for the first time in... …possibly ever And they looked so alike, too! Mana, has anyone ever told you you really have your dad’s... space? 4-1-4? 19-15-14? So they’d found each other As if by... gravity? OK, so to be fair pyronettes didn’t recognise each other like that. They were good with names and numbers, but not with spaces. They simply read each other’s numerical make-ups as if they were astrological charts. I’m not going to explain how; I’m a writer, not a statician. But in any case, Materia took Mana’s wrist the moment he read his binary. A very... psytopian gesture. Somebody had been out in the wide, wild world far too long. And what in the heavens were those crusty gloves for?

Rusty, clunky fiberglass things which particularly humble pyronettes would use to shift heavy materials for their psytopian masters. Meshy sub-metals of the cheapest kind. Well that was what they looked like. In fact, Materia had sprinkled them with dream dust. Right from the pineal glands of ravani masters in deep hover-prayer. They allowed him to excavate archaeological sites without slitting that fragile skin and taking a space walk. And they helped him see the history rather than just process it. Because history is alive, you know. It’s more than just dead old numbers. The dream dust frazzled nanos and ensured he didn’t warp the precious stuff he touched. Because make mischief with the past and it may become history.

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Oh, and one other thing which ether gloves allowed. For a pyronette to effectively wield a supersword. Mana could have told him to beware of such things. But that would spoil the adventure.

A long, light, curvy, blade of intricate lines, dots and arrows. Carved like patterns in ivory, adding an aerodynamic effect. Made of wispy, tangerine-tinted metri and complete with a sprocketed handle which clamped over the fist. Just in case you swished it so fast you lost grip. It was an ancient blade from an ancient age, and it almost grinned at them. Perhaps that was the effect of the crazy coils and curvature. And like any supersword, if you looked closely you could see echoes engraved in its flesh. Did I say flesh? Of course, I meant ‘metri’. It’s hard to tell sometimes, with fabris so swish. Where nature ends and nurture begins...

Materia cradled his supersword. Not because it was particularly precious or anything like that. Not even because it was oh-so über. But because with such brittle skin and such mathematical minds, pyronettes have to make sure they can defend themselves at all times. Otherwise, they’d freak.

Father

Father.

Father! Eeer... whdr?

I’m talkin’ n tap, that’s wht

Og ruhjy. I rhouhy yiy ertr arracling mr Father, wht iz ths swrd? Whsy? Wht... is ths swrd? Iy’a s di[rrtdeptf/

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So we’ve got one pyronette speaking in kiddie tap and another hitting the wrong keys. The wrong parts of Mana’s head... So he was rusty at tap, let’s not hold it against him. He was an anarchist; what do you expect?

Dad. I cn’t undrstnd u Your a bit 2 teh right O s,? Oh yuah, I am What r u doin out here?

I’m an archaeologist, son We’re preserving the necropoli The necroli? Yeah kid; don’t they teach you metaphysics in pyro school these days? Metaphysics? Days? Reckon not Well, that’s what I do; excavate necropolis Y? Y? I stop the primary instruments falling into the hands of the spooks, you know? We defend the souls of the ancients! Who do? Who’d ya think; the Soul Cage Trust!

Materia’s fingers were getting tired. Too much tapping for one day. I mean, he was pleased to see his son and all... But didn’t they teach anything to anyone out there anymore? SCATTER: “Who ‘dis anyway?” SINCH: “Is ‘e brainy?” SCATTER: “Dunno, but ‘e wouldn’t make above MATERIA: (Sign language) ‘You can’t eat his SINCH: “Did tha’ prof say we should eat ‘is SCATTER: “Nah, nah, I’m reformed.” SINCH: “Oh yeah. We’re bouf’ reformed.” SCATTER: “‘An anyway, ‘e’s a space’ead; got SINCH: “No brain, like tha prof.” SCATTER: “Prof’s cleva’ for someone wiv’ no SINCH: “You reckon this one’s cleva’ too?”

a mouf’-full.” brain, he’s my son!’ brain?” no brain.” brain.”

Materia held the Raucous Whisper close to his space-field chest. His wire gauze gloves, his gunk-caked clogs, the buttons on his majorette’s jacket. All reverberating in the breeze. In the breeze... What breeze; it was still down here. Or at least it shouldv’e been. Still but for the moments you draw breath. The moments where the spooks creep in...

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Materia held the Raucous Whisper to his space-field chest. Sure he could feel it... wincing. Pulling somewhat. Trying to pull away. SCATTER: “Well I ain’t eatin’ ‘is brain, wevver ‘e’s got one or not.” SINCH: “I dunno if I’d even wanna.” SCATTER: “‘Course ya wanna; everyone likes munchin’ brains.” SINCH: “Nah, I mean wiv’ that chill in the air.” SCATTER: “What chill in the air?” SINCH: “That one. The one what takes me appetite away.” SCATTER: “You’re seein’ ‘fings, int’ya?” SINCH: “Hearin’ ‘fings, I reckon.” SCATTER: “Like a shada’.” SINCH: “You can’t ‘ear shada’s.” SCATTER: “But ya can ‘ear the stompin’, can’t ya?” SINCH: “What stompin’? Whatcha’ talkin’ ab’aht?” SCATTER: “Like a slidin’. Ya ‘ear it, ‘wight?” SINCH: “I don’t ‘ear no slidin’, geez.” SCATTER: “Like a swishin’, then.”

ZARATHUSTRA: Two-point swish HIT! HIT! SCATTER: Scalped SINCH: Scalped OUT OF PLAY

Mana and Materia sprinting as best they could on clumsy clogs. Two purple-clad sprites headed for higher ground where the maths fell more in their favour. Father and son, united in desperation. And all because the magnetic pull of the blades brought the Principal here.

Two swiftly scuttling up the steady incline of the necropolis catacombs. In the absence of tapers, with only formulae to guide them. Up through the winding cloisters towards the harsh, pale light of day. Big, stomping metal boots in icy cold pursuit.

Necropoli were sacred places. People didn’t kill each other in necropoli. It was... rude. If they’d ventured back into the depths of the muddled chambers to the main courtyard where they’d found the sword, they would have been safe from the elements.

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From the elements. From all kinds of storms? Possibly not from the psychic kind. They’d have been safe from nature, at least. But Zarathustra was a beast of nurture. Of a bit of both. Haunted from within by so many vagrant vibes that who knows where Zarathustra ended and random slivers of other people began? Identities lost in the ethereal swirls of history. Let’s put it this way; anybody attempting to munch his brain would get a eclectic cocktail. And would then probably freak out, flip out, haemorrhage and die.

Three floors up and an inch away. From getting caught. From getting sprung. From getting slaughtered.

Father and son, on the run. Clatter of clogs through the subterranean corridors. Maths, maths, maths. Carrying them through the dark. Three floors on, and they were bursting out into the glaring sunlight. A light which would have scorched and blinded, inspired and amazed. If only they’d had eyes of course. Well, at least for the moment, they had each other. Dark to light. Narrow to spacious. Danger to safe? All in the batting of a spacey eyelid.

Three steps out of necropolis and onto the warm, orange sand. Three steps and space. Three steps and safety. Three steps... and Zarathustra grabbing Mana’s trailing clog.

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Petrified whimper. Agitated finger-counting. Desperate squirm. Zarathustra’s eerie tartan spooklets tightening like a vice around plywood. SWISH! CLUNK! FIZZ! Those were the sounds of an absent father doing his damnedest to make up for lost time. Swinging the Raucous Whisper as if it were an elongated limb. And feeling his space face sizzle as the metri stuck to Zarathustra’s armour. Like bubble gum to the bottom of a student’s desk in an especially tedious class.

FIZZ! HISS! THUMP! And that was the sound of Zarathustra effortlessly fobbing him off. The wily pyronette had clearly learnt one useful lesson though. NEVER LET GO OF YOUR SWORD.

Three steps from the jaws of death, then. Scrambling across the marsh mellow sands of the plateau like hunted animals packed and ripe for munching as if mobile ready meals. Just spare their brains, alright? Sprints into stumbles, slips into slides, swift escapes into clean getaways?

Three steps on and Zarathustra had snatched Materia’s coat sleeve. Invisible frown. Resistant tug. Zarathustra’s eerie tartan spooklets tightening like a belt around the belly of a podge at a pie eating contest.

BOOT! WHIZZ! TWANG! Those were the sounds of a lost boy pulling out the stops for daddy. Punting his loopball as if it was a pigskin globe on a tee. And feeling his absent insides shiver as it bounced off the metal maestro’s armour like a plastic bullet off a sheet of steel.

CREAK! SWAT! THUMP! And that was the sound of Zarathustra swiping the weapon aside. Our nervy pyronette had clearly learnt one lesson about the wide, wild world though. Life is a savage beastie at the best of times, and sometimes you just have to rely on good,plain, old fashioned, archaic luck. And failing that, friends.

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NEHEMIAH: Javelin toss HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Through shoulder Knockdown! And where he fell, the orange surface sand puffed up a cacophony of hidden colours Splashed with oily black goo Ah-ha! Here’s the big, ambly, chaotic cavalry!

Just the one of him You really don’t want to be facing more than one, so thank the heavens that despite all the mirror-mes, he’s unique.

Protecting the plates from the scum of the hells! Nehemiah, his wife Serenity and their daughter Severity Hosea and her sons Jeremiah and Zecheriah Mainyu A shadow-creature called Fiore, a ravani named Varuna and a curious little blue girl who we’ll just have to call Melodi Plus Materia and his long-lost son Mana

Familia!

Or at least, a raggle-taggle cocktail of weirdos... much the same thing Eleven on one. Looks like a mismatch, doesn’t it? You’re right; the Trust could have done with a few more converts. Liberdade!

The beach of shadows on the Platinum Plateau. A picturesque place with orange dunes and semi-buried caverns drenched in hieroglyphs. Sprigs of grass and smatterings of bluebells and jojibirds frolicking merrily in the breeze... Oh no, the jojibirds are making a flap for it; they must know something I don’t! (Like that the ampocalypse is about to happen?)

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Zarathustra back on his heavy, stompy feet. Casting the javelin aside. 80 yards from the fuzzfield. The Soul Cage Trust in random formation. As anarchism befits. Backed by the fuzzfield. Drawn here by gravity.

Let’s kick things off with a twang!

VARUNA: Black tailed jig HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: The other shoulder Down to one knee

Zarathustra tears the jig out, tosses it aside. Back to his big, stompy feet. Backed by the sandy steps leading down into the necropolis. Nehemiah and Varuna exchanging uneasy glares. Well, Varuna would have been if he wasn’t wearing a blindfold. A javelin and a jig and he was back on his feet? This wasn’t some workhouse peon. MELODI: “Alright ya block-hearted hack peddler...”

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HOSEA SEVERITY Brute bundle! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Armour COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet swat Spooklet slap HOSEA: Chin SEVERITY: Jaw Tumbles to the left Tumbles to the right Knockdowns! PUFF! Ooh; the pretty, sandy colours! Melodi with a pronounced scowl. More pronounced than usual. Didn’t these anarchs have any forward planning in mind? Herein lies the problem with anarchism.

Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 70 yards from the fuzzfield. Mana and Materia joining the brood. An irritating little mauve glove tugging on the blue girl’s wrist. Nehemiah and Varuna stepping to the front of the group, drawing their swords. Zarathustra responding; La Sensoria. This was going to get dicey.

NEHEMIAH: VARUNA: Charging crookblade hack Front step gigabyte stroke ZARATHUSTRA: Inside-out block ZARATHUSTRA: Outside-in slash HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Breastplate VARUNA: Chest plate Knockdowns! PUFF! The heavier they are, the more rainbow dust they kick up

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Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 60 yards from the fuzzfield.

HOSEA & SEVERITY: Leaping bundles (from behind) GRAB! ZARATHUSTRA: Back COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Double over-shoulder toss SLAM! Knockdowns! PUFF! So the sand was a rainbow mess by now; we get it

Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 50 yards from the fuzzfield. O...K... Time for the little people to confer. Melodi, Mana, Materia and the Mainyus. All in a huddle.

Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 40 yards from the fuzzfield. As the stomp, stomp, stomping comes their way. The squat squad, talking tactics... Oh shit, Melodi was the only one who could speak! So much for strategy.

FIORE: Flying shadowclaw lurch ZARATHUSTRA: Neck grab Hmmm, so this clunk could snatch shadows...

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HOSEA: ZARATHUSTRA: SEVERITY: Fist-first lunge (from behind) Overhead toss Feet-first dive (from behind) HIT! HIT! HIT! FIORE: Thrown into Hosea, Severity and the sandy floor Triple knockdown!

Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 30 yards from the fuzzfield.

NEHEMIAH: VARUNA: Kneeling crookblade whack Kneeling gigabyte swish ZARATHUSTRA: Turn-around swipe HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Temple VARUNA: Cheek Knockdowns!

Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 20 yards from the fuzzfield. Alright kids; confer, confer, confer. Blue girl orchestrating strategy... Eeer... strategy... Where are the kids?

JEREMIAH MAINYU MANA ZECHERIAH MAINYU 3-way loopball salvo! SPIKE CHARGE! FLAME CHARGE! SPIKE CHARGE! MISS! HIT! MISS! Anarch kids can’t aim

ZARATHUSTRA: Chest Anarch kids don’t do maths 100 licks of ethereal pain ZARATHUSTRA: Nanocast Whips an insy, tinsy EM field...

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HIT! MANA: Remote blow Hurled all the way across the sands and through the fuzzfield Knockdown! PUFF! The colours of the under-sand were in negative back there...

“Mana!” Melodi after him as if a homing missile to an exhaust pipe. Don’t want to meddle with his maths or anything... But he’d just had his space fields flipped.

Zarathustra making ground with his ghoulish, stompy feet. Going for Materia and the supersword. 10 yards from the fuzzfield. The Soul Cage Trust in disarray. Well, that should have suited anarchists. Scrambling to protect the supersword. Drawn together by gravity.

MATERIA: Clumsy dab CLANG! Raucous Whisper and La Sensoria FIZZ! SHUDDER! SHIVER! Absent eye to fucked up eye Materia drops his sword

Zarathustra reaches for the blade. The final chapter. The grim finale. The gravity. The magnetics. The ma...

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SERENITY: Limp-wristed slap HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Eye to fucked-up eye Oops. ZARATHUSTRA: Backhanded swat HIT! SERENITY: Mouth There goes your wifey, Nehemiah; soaring out through the fuzzfield Knockdown! Zarathustra reaches for the sword. The last gasp. The end of everything...

NEHEMIAH: VARUNA: Javelin toss Purple tailed jig HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Through shoulders Staggers... Nehemiah and Varuna with disgruntled shrugs Zarathustra reaches for his destiny. The remaining jigsaw piece. The final solution...

JEREMIAH MAINYU & ZECHERIAH MAINYU Desperate bundles GRAB! GRAB! Legs Fierce poodles gnawing tree trunks Tree trunks win COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA SHOVE! SHOVE! JEREMIAH MAINYU ZECHERIAH MAINYU Tossed through the fuzzfield Knockdowns! Zarathustra reaches for the chalice. The perfect prize. The grisly requiem...

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HOSEA & SEVERITY Brute bundle! GRAB! GRAB! Midsection and waist Uninflated life belts around non-swimmers in the raging sea Sea wins COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: SHOVE! SHOVE! HOSEA SEVERITY Hurled through the fuzzfield Knockdowns! Zarathustra reaches for the instrument. The holy grail. The closing strait...

FIORE: Leaping shadowclaw swish COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Overhand thump So this clunk can punch shadows? HIT! FIORE: Head Belted through the fuzzfield Knockdown! Zarathustra reaches for the ultimate 端beject. The golden fleece. The million dollar ticket...

NEHEMIAH: VARUNA: Charging crookblade blast Leaping gigabyte swerve CLANG! CLANG! HITS! ZARATHUSTRA: Soaked up by that ghostly armour He was really getting tired of this ZARATHUSTRA: Spinning cross-body slash HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Midsection VARUNA: Chest Sending them staggering through the fuzzfield Knockdowns! Now...

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Zarathustra reaches for the Raucous Whisper. The closing of the final curtain. The fat lady... Stand tall. Deep breath. Sing?

TONK! BANG! Buzzjacks... HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Staggers

REMEDY: “Snazzy shot, belle blaze.” ELEGY: “Snazzy, but he’s still standing.” REMEDY: “See, I knews we’s be needed here.” ELEGY: “We were looking for that blue girl of yours.” REMEDY: “Well I’s tellin’ ya she’s round here somewheres.” ELEGY: “What is this place anyway?” REMEDY: “Thiz pliz be nowhere. How flashy is that?” ELEGY: “How did we find this... pliz?” REMEDY: “I dunno. By gravity?” ELEGY: “It’s an ancient excavation site of some kind...” REMEDY: “Hey sister blitzer, you did mention this bod’s still standin’, right?”

ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-face slash MISS! MISS! REMEDY & ELEGY duck A hair’s breadth from decapitation

REMEDY: “Woah, this lumpfoot’s swish.” ELEGY: “What is he anyway?” REMEDY: “‘Fuses me, siz. Some kind of robo-prack?” ELEGY: “He’s a gimp, that’s what he is.” REMEDY: “A gimp? What’s that; some kinda diablo?” ELEGY: “There’s stuff in the tybrary about them. They used to live in a distant city... REMEDY: “Well, whatever it is, it doesn’t like us.” ELEGY: “Some say the Principal came from a distant...”

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ZARATHUSTRA: Twirling swipe MISS! MISS! ELEGY and REMEDY leap Just a boot’s tread from buckling

REMEDY: “Yeeps, this ice dune’s fast too.” ELEGY: “I think this might be...” REMEDY: “A supersquib kitz, yeah I know; s’dandy, I’s faced a few.” ELEGY: “But Remy, I think it might be...” REMEDY: “An überspook. That’s sweet candy sapphire siz, every beastie’s z-able.” ELEGY: “No Remedy, I’m saying this could be...” REMEDY: “Well whatever it is, it’s after that sword there...” ELEGY: (Backing away) “Remy...” REMEDY: (Lowering her blades) “And it’s a pretty darn dandy swor...”

ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-body swing HIT! HIT! ELEGY & REMEDY: Chests, covered by swords Knockdowns!

Zarathustra reaches for the sword. And a pretty darn dandy swor... Come on Remedy, get with it.

“Remy, that’s Zarathustra.” “And that’s one of them superswords Freia told us about.” “One of the Octet?” “Hack!”

REMEDY: Blitz Break Chain Overhand curl Underhand coil Backstroke loop Overhead hoop

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CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

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ELEGY: Blitz Break Chain Overhead twirl Backstroke swirl Underhand scoop Overhand swoop

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Zarathustra, assuming that was who he was, hardly bothered covering up at all. Either he really was a master, of he was stupid. Remedy and Elegy exchanging wry smirks. Let’s just hope he’s stupid.

ELEGY: Blitz Break Chain Overhead swoop Backstroke scoop Underhand swirl Overhand twirl

REMEDY: Blitz Break Chain CLANG! CLANG! Overhand hoop CLANG! CLANG! Underhand loop CLANG! CLANG! Backstroke coil CLANG! CLANG! Overhead curl

Zarathustra, assuming that was who he was, didn’t have much in the way of offence, hey? Either he really was an amateur or he was holding back. Remedy and Elegy exchanging thumbs-up. Let’s take him out this time!

REMEDY: ELEGY: Blitz Break Chain Blitz Break Chain Roundhouse swoop CLANG! CLANG! Cross-face hoop Backspin scoop CLANG! CLANG! Cross-body loop Cross-body swirl COUNTERED! Backspin coil ZARATHUSTRA: Head of steam powersnap montage HIT! HIT! REMEDY & ELEGY Everywhere? Especially their breath FIZZ! SLAM! PUFF! And suddenly they were on a different plateau altogether Thrown through the fuzzfield REMEDY: “Alright, so he can chain übertek; it’s Zarathustra.” ELEGY: “Remy, we just attacked our Principal.” REMEDY: (Roll of the eyes) “Oh, we’s gwan be excommed now for sure...”

At least they hadn’t let go of their swords. Hey look; through the fuzzfield;- a fiery little blue girl... You’re seeing things in negative, Remedy.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Psytopia: Adagio 3

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“Remy?” Ah, there’s the little blue girl; behind you. And not a moment too...

“See, now I spies moy lickle sprite, right here. Which means right there...” Squinting through the static haze. That wasn’t really a petite little blue girl now, was it? Zarathustra stomps through the fuzzfield; no longer in negative. Raucous Whisper in hand. Alright, so perhaps they were all a moment too late.

Just to confirm, this was Zarathustra Seven swords, seven trumpet blares, seven shades of hades waiting to be unleashed Let’s just pray, shall we? To who; Zarathustra?

Nehemiah, Serenity, Severity, Varuna, Fiore, Hosea, Jeremiah and Zecheriah Mainyu (The pyrates), Melodi, Mana and Materia (their guests), Remedy and Elegy (they may as well admit they’re anarchists now)

13 on one. Fair? Note to anarchists; ditch the maths and run.

A muddy ravine on the Lime Plateau. Hey, that wasn’t where Mana had got on. It wasn’t where Zarathustra had got on either. Or the pyrates. Or Remy and Ele for that matter. Don’t be too confused now, will you? The Platinum plate moved in the pyro sea of the Sacrament, eidjits. No wonder it was so hard to catch.

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As I was trying to tell you; a muddy ravine on the Lime Plateau. Surrounded by steep ridges and deep gullies. And filled with scattered clusters of multicoloured tombstones. Yes, there was a time in the past where psytopians buried their dead. Probably during the war when pyro was in greater demand. You can’t very well leave them out for... well, for dead? So this was one wartime cemetery which had stood the test of time. In a roundabout, cracked marble, sliding headstones, thick dusted kind of way. Well don’t get too used to these surroundings, will you? Some crafty gravimagmatician might just flip ‘em.

This was going to be like fighting on a cramped mountain pass. With random headstones peeking out of the mud like misshapen teeth. Not the best battleground for a blitzer. Remedy and Elegy sized up their opponents and their allies. Couldn’t quite decide which side they were better off taking. “Remy, these are anarchists, aren’t they?” “The handy, dandy Soul Cage Trust!” Remedy gave Nehemiah the thumbs up. Elegy managed only an uncomfortable wave and grimace.

“Are you sure we should be fraternising with anarchists?” “Well if you’se don’t tell the Principal, neither will I.��� “Remy. How do you know these... people?” “I know his bro. Knew his bro. Owe him a bit of a debt, I guess.”

Ahem. You kids should really be quiet in class you know. ‘Cos when teacher’s not happy... he raises hell! Zarathustra clanked the Raucous Whisper onto his spine rack. The anarchist band breathing a sigh of relief. Melodi was the only one to hold her head in her hands. Don’t breathe, you idiots.

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Huddled in groups. Remedy and Elegy. Nehemiah, Serenity, Severity. Hosea, Jeremiah, Zecheriah. Fiore and Varuna, Mana and Materia and Melodi all on her own. Six groups. Six sword styles. Six piles of broken bodies waiting to be trashed.

That’s how Zarathustra saw it anyway. Zarathustra was a little fucked up. Well you ain’t see nuthin’ yet. The groups huddling closer together. Group leaders; let’s discuss strategy. How do you bring a god to his knees? I dunno; stop believing in him? REMEDY: “Alright kitz, how’s we gonna level this jive?” NEHEMIAH: “He strong. We many.” REMEDY: “Mint policy. So we charge him then?” HOSEA: “We charge. At once.” REMEDY: “I dunno though siz. Sounds a tinsy tanse... Anarchic.” VARUNA: “I would heartily recommend we approach this contest using a simple application of passages and waves. We split into five complimenting groups; the first and second employing long range weaponry from the flanks...” REMEDY: “Hack, bud; you sprites really are too trippy for you’se own good, hey?” MATERIA: … REMEDY: “Well that’s probably the best strategy I’s heard in a long, long time but I ain’t heard it, so I’s not pitching it; soz bod.” MELODI: (Tugging her wrist) “Remedy...” REMEDY: “Hey mini kitty, we’s all strategised out now, K? An’ the only one we’s got is chargin’ the clod kicker, so that’s what we’s g’wan for.”

The options

Do nothing That may have been Materia’s; who knows? Split into five complementing groups, the first and second... Hack that. Charge him Right up their street May I point out that this was not a wise strategy. I’ve not got the flashiest field skills in the wide, wild world but for once I concur with the blue belle on this. If it’s ball they want to play, let’s play ball. But let’s protect the anarchic mites a bit by playing hard ball.

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MELODI: OBAKERAKU Take the invisible sash from your pocket Hold your breath! Tie that sash around your waist

Bon dancing Let there be...

Bon dancing attracts the inhabitants of lower hells. I dunno, because they like to watch blue girls make fools of themselves? And hot-steppin’ compels them to dance. They couldn’t see her of course; she was holding her breath, otherwise they’d kill her. They could only see the sash.

So let’s give the random bag of spooks a jig to jive to, shall we? How about something swift, simple and easily over. How about something that’d make spook soot of the opposition in double-quick time? How about something brutal? How about...

The plate goes black. Melodi disappears. Four obake roll out of the ground, forming from swirls of ethereal flame. Guided by a hovering black sash. It was all pretty freaky if the truth be told.

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I’d better introduce you. KANNEN OBAKE: A vague, translucent creature which evades satisfactory description. YOKAI OBAKE: A tall, veiled spectre which evades satisfactory description. BAKEMONO OBAKE: An oily, sharp-armed thing which evades satisfactory description. ONI OBAKE: A gaseous yet spiky mass which evades satisfactory description.

Elegy nudging Remedy with a sword hilt to the ribs. “This is... all a bit weird, isn’t it?” Remedy with crossed arms, fixed grin, watching the show. “Nah siz, watch what she does next. It’s sapphire, kitz; sapphire.”

Thirteen anarchists. Four diablos. One god. Let’s reassert the balance. “Wanizaz magik...” Zarathustra draws the Memento Mori KANNEN YOKAI BAKEMONO ONI Freaky flailing of undisclosed descriptions COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Shattershock reverb HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! KANNEN YOAKI BAKEMONO ONI Breaks their skulls OUT OF PLAY

Diablos seep back into their respective hells and the blue girl visible again. Visibly dejected. Visibly shell shocked. That was her brain mirrored in those spook skulls, you know. That and the realisation of who they were up against. “Zarathustra.. ” “Well that was strange but it wasn’t too hot.” Elegy not entirely convinced. “Yeeps, this gangler’s more loco in the coco than moy mini spritester.” Remedy had thought she’d seen it all...

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Well brace yourself, kids. There’s only one person here who’s seen it all. And that’s because gods see everything.

ZARATHUSTRA: Draws his battered little dolly Orinoko Shin Banraku Or Untotemacht Or warped reanimation Or just plain, old fashioned diablo raising

Melodi wished for a moment she was still just a dancing sash. Invisible to the world. Perhaps that way she’d avoid having parts of her soul mirrored. Because that’s what shin banraku did. It held up funny mirrors to your memory and reflected the dead. And it exaggerated them.

Zarathustra a crazy conductor with those tartan spooklets raising and wrenching. Plucking fractured mirrors from the gaias and makais. The heavens and hells. Given that you’re the only other person who has the foggiest idea what’s going on here... Melodi; any thoughts? “Hack.”

ZARATHUSTRA: Raises ZOMBIE ORINOKO from the black hell

ORINOKO

MELODI

A curious little girl and no mistake Possibly older than she looked Parched white skin Fruity blue skin Black-blue braids Glittery green dreads Little blue dress and blood splatted apron Little red dress and Aztecy ornaments Rainbow toenails Platform trainers Freaky eyes Scowl Hey is there a funny mirror in here or are you two just really pissed off to see each other?

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Melodi; an irritable frown. Orinoko; a bulbous-eyed smirk. Melodi and Orinoko, sideways tilts of the head. The spook storm reaching its ghostly hands...

ORINOKO: Nanotear COUNTERED! MANA: Bundles MELODI over before she gets shish-kebabed Bundle, bundle across the muddy ravine floor. Little miss merry and little mister mauve. Roll and roll and tumble to a halt and... >SLAP!< Woah, Mana should have saved Melodi’s life more often. Because that muddled his numbers up no end. That was an adventure.

“I think she doesn’t like that kid.” Elegy pointing a sword as a muddy Melodi adjusted her dress, stomping back to the pack. “Aw no kitz, she does, she does; she’s just too stroppy ta’ fess it.” You go on psychoanalysing Remedy, and Zarathustra will go on raising dupes.

ZARATHUSTRA: Raises ZOMBIE OBADIAH from the white heaven Raises ZOMBIE ZEPHENIAH from the white hell

“Hey; I knows them too, but not all... spookified.” Remedy doth protest too loud. Let’s give her something to really complain about.

ZARATHUSTRA: Raises ZOMBIE AZRAEL from the yellow hell “Azrael...” Oh yeah, Ele had been hot on that one, hadn’t she? Let’s see how she likes dead, stone cold. “Oh, you shady shaltz...” Remedy suddenly keen to smash zombified faces. Let’s douse those flames, shall we?

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ZARATHUSTRA: Raises ZOMBIE MOJO from the orange heaven “Wha... mo... moy Mojo?” Not your Mojo, kittyclaw. But quite possibly your death.

The Principal directing traffic. Picking the battles. Puppeteering the twisted reflections.

And ye olde Soul Cage Trust? How about the reflected cut the puppet strings... While the anarchs take out the puppeteer!

And

A muddy, tombstone-littered ravine on the Lime Plateau. Full of steep slopes, fancy mausoleums and fucked up beasties from different hells. Not the kind of place the Soul Cage Trust would seek to protect. So they may as well go ahead and trash it then!

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Whirl, twirl, hack, whack. Who’ll be first to fall down?

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Zarathustra drew La Sensoria. Head of the old school house against the sons and daughters of anarchy. Backstepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the limey gravestones.

NEHEMIAH VARUNA Crookblade hack ZARATHUSTRA Gigabyte swish MISS! Bobs and weaves MISS! Hits a tombstone Hits a statue ZARATHUSTRA Outside-in swipe Inside-out swing HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Shoulder VARUNA: Shoulder SLAM! SLAM! Against a mausoleum wall Against a tombstone SEVERITY Toejack punt

HOSEA ZARATHUSTRA Fistjack jab COUNTERED! Cross-body slash Cross-face chop HIT! HIT! Foot Fist SPLAT! SPLAT! Thrown back across the muddy ground Thrown back into Severity JEREMIAH MAINYU ZECHERIAH MAINYU Spookball thwack ZARATHUSTRA Spookball thump COUNTERED! Spinning block Spiraling cover HIT! HIT! Hood Clogs SLAM! SLAM! Thrown into a railing Thrown up some stony steps SERENITY FIORE Plasmawand scrub ZARATHUSTRA Shadowclaw swipe MISS! Ducks and dives MISS! Hits thin air ZARATHUSTRA Hits a shadow? Roundhouse dab Scriptal Montage HIT! HIT! Wrist Everywhere! SLAM! SOOT SPLAT! Against the morseleum wall Explodes! OUT OF PLAY

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Varuna quite taken aback. It takes a master of shadows to slay one. Well dream on vulc; Zarathustra is the master of everything! Oh glory; a challenge! Zarathustra tossing La Sensoria between his hands. 1-0, order versus anarchy. Waiting for the startled band around him to gather themselves. There were gravestones with every one of these anarch’s names on them! ————————————————

REMEDY

MOJO

A breezy belle knocked a step off her game Another breezy belle, through a twisted mirror Ginger hair, orange eyes, tangerine lips Black-red hair, black-red eyes, black-red lips Just as she remembered her Baggy cargos, flame-motif top, big metal boots Naked Just as she remembered... Hey; who made Mojo naked? Eeer... Sooty eye shadow, messy hair, grubby skin Uuuummm... Huge, sprawling überbeast tattoo; shoulder to hip O...K... Clanking metal fist, missing teeth, psychotic stare That wasn’t how she remembered her “M... Mojo?” Remedy had never seen Mojo naked before. I mean she’d never really imagined. Dead hot, dead curvy, dead classy. No, she hadn’t ever imagined at all... Dead dead; that’s the thing. Check, that’s Mojo’s body alright; body and brain, pacing around the unfinished crypt. But not her mind, mind... A sassy grin and a sassy strut. Made Remedy giggle, simper and lower her swords, ready to leap out and hug her. Eeer, don’t do that kittyclaw. She’s been conjured up to kill you, remember?

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This was going to be a battle of fire versus fire. Remedy raising her guard; Holy Judgement and Blessed Angel. Mojo raising hers; Le Furia and Fractured Rainbow. Show me yours and... well Mojo’s naked already, there’s not much more to show. Remedy tightening her fists, furrowing her brow. Mojo twiddling her fingers, staring her down. Let’s blow her a kiss just to spook her. Alright, that worked. This was going to be a battle of fire versus tears.

MOJO: Blitzbreak chain Charging swoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy frowns Backspin scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy tenses Somersault hoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy grimaces Front flip loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy turns her bottom lip Overhead twirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy looks away Turn-around whirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy shivers Forward roll swirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy wells up Torpedo spin curl CLANG! COVER! Remedy full-on cries She was a mess already and Mojo hadn’t even hit her. It wasn’t like Remedy was going to be able to gather herself and fight back. Mojo turning, pacing sassily away, grinning, twirling her blades and naked... “But moy Mojo...” What was it she’d always wanted to say; “I love you’se...”

Protest, protest; perhaps she’ll come back. And perhaps you’ll drop your guard so low she’ll dice you into paste. “You’se moy clove, you’se moy drum, you’se moy...”

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MOJO: Blitzbreak chain Lunging swoop SMASH! Hits a statue Leaping scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy backtracks Back flip hoop SMASH! Shatters a tombstone Side winding loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy skids into retreat Darting twirl SMASH! Cracks a pillar Front flip whirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy on a knee Spinning swirl SMASH! Explodes an urn Spinning curl HIT! REMEDY: Chest CRACK! Against the crypt wall Knockdown! Remedy gripping her blades close, sobbing. Not sure if she wanted Mojo to come close or go away. The naked nymph sauntering left and right, standing over her floored form like a game hunter over a wounded pheasant. Hate to point it out Remy, but you’re really getting... what’s the word; spooked here.

————————————————— There are some battles that just have to happen. Even if in reality they can’t. Even if in reality, they come from different realities. Like Melodi, from the world of shifting plates, nature and nurture... And Orinoko, from the world of dreams.

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MELODI

ORINOKO

A broody blue girl who was more than she let on

A moody ghost girl who was more than she seemed

An irritable sprite and no mistake When she didn’t get her way... oh she huffed and puffed and you’d know about it And he had some a pretty freaky box of tricks to back it up... But hey, we’re mirror opposites, K? We’re flip sides of the same coin An explosion waiting to happen So... mirror image? Hey; polar opposites, OK?

One of these girls was a doll, the other a doll master. One of these girls had been here a long time, the other was just in a cranky clunk’s head. One of these girls was mute, the other spoke in circles. One of these girls was backed by storms, the other by rainbows. And only one of these girls was getting out alive.

The maths is really quite simple. Eight hells, eight heavens. You’re going to get a few little angels and diablos crossing the lines. Psytopia was a world of matter. But music comes from elsewhere; gives life its spark. Psytopia was a world of wakefulness. But apparitions come from elsewhere; from the mists of dreams. It’s the collision of heavens and hells which makes the casserole go bang. It’s all about what blocks you choose to build your world with. Pyro or nano. You have to breathe some kind of life into it. Otherwise all you’ve got is an inanimate doll house and if that’s your world, you may as well be dead. So hot or cold, dolly girls? Let’s see you fry.

ORINOKO

MELODI

From Melodi’s point of view From Orinoko’s point of view A doll, that’s all; a tangled cluster of mixed up An endangered species, that’s all; a chaotic dreams which should have remained confined to cavalcade of spite and loss and guilt and the head of the dreamer but he had to rest that discomfort who was a danger to any modern head on a hyperdoll, didn’t he? society that’d bear having her around She didn’t trust her, that was for sure She didn’t belong here So what better excuse than to burn her up? Then what better solution than to tear her apart? Melodi and Orinoko. Freak versus freak. Circling each other at a distance. Kicking up rainbows and storms. The match of the millennium Melodi and Orinoko. Misfit against misfit. Staring at each other through the fuzzy haze which their dueling presences whipped up. Orinoko with a grin of see-through dentures. Melodi with a sneer of multicoloured teeth.

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Melodi and Orinoko. Angel facing demon. Melodi with her hands out, conducting an orchestra. Orinoko with her’s out too, as if in a nightmare, gripping a pillow. Let’s rip!

MELODI: Etherflare

ORINOKO: Nanoflare

Burns up grass in Orinoko’s sphere

Freezes grass in Melodi’s sphere

But doesn’t touch the freaks MELODI: ORINOKO: Etherbite Nanobite No effect No effect MELODI: Ethersault No effect

It’s all about manipulating the fundamental music sheets of nature. ESP and EM fields. Only people who are really, truly in touch with reality can do that kind of thing. Or really, truly aside from reality altogether. Same deal, different heaven. Ethertek can stitch people’s minds together or tear them apart. Nanotek does the same with people’s bodies. So how come neither of these twisted sprites were getting anywhere?

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Melodi and Orinoko. Circling each other at a distance, looking pissed off. Round and round a pair of grand stone obelisks. Frustratedly checking their palms and squeezing their fingers. Used to getting their way. LET’S TAKE STOCK

———————————————————

There are mismatches and there are mismatches. 13 on one; that’s fair. There are mismatches and there are mega mismatches. Like parahack versus pyronettes.

MANA & MATERIA

Father and son, formerly separated Well, they were united now One in hippy togs, the other in a traditional mauve boiler suit Both with faces of space Out of their depth

OBADIAH & ZEPHANIAH

Megaprack and megaprack, formerly enemies Well, they weren’t quite themselves Decked in grotty, rusted armour and gunk-caked scales Both with absent looks in their eyes In their element

Obadiah and Zephaniah stomping up after them up a muddly slope. Conjured here for just one thing.

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OBADIAH: Overhand whack

ZEPHANIAH: Underhand whack (Megaswords) MISS! MISS! MANA and MATERIA Evasive backward rolls

Up the hillside, clog over hood. With nervy grasps of wrists.

The mammoth pracks ambling up the hill. Keen to slaughter, just as they were designed to.

Pyronettes and parahack were the pinnacles of evolution. Evolution and design; nature and nurture. No wonder they were almost opposite. In effect, neither extreme was particularly balanced. Parahack were built as soldiers. You can blame Zarathustra’s lot for that. No more troops left, you see. So if you’re going to breed some new ones, you may as well make sure they’re effective. That’s right, parahack were the ulitmate peons of war. They did everything on the field; fought, cooked and didn’t question orders. They were self sufficient killing machines. Tuned into the motion of the plates and desperate to protect them. Against the map-warping über wepeons of anarchy, of course. And against Zarathustra’s loneliness and paranoia. Pyronettes had evolved; formerly psycientists. You can blame those aforementioned map-warping über wepeons for that. They were what was left when humanity became dependent on computers, you see. So if you’re going out in the wide, wild world during the fall, you may well get space-faced. That’s right, pyronettes were people who’s bodies had been stripped away. They did everything our human brains can do; thought, mathematised and worried. They were highly intellegent but brittle beings. All numbers and no substance, petrified of the world around them. Because they were techo geeks who’d ventured into the storm, of course. Back in the days when you could leave your body behind and go surfing. Pracks were packed with nanos, pyros little more than ether. But it’s the balanced who make the best soldiers. People who can both think for themselves and fight. To an extent, at least. Because teach them too much and people have a tendancy to become anarchists. That was why orphons were the best option; indoctrinate them young. You can certainly thank Zarathustra for that. He spent many rounds seeking out anarchist orphons. More often than not, it was he who made them so. A fine balance between nano and pyro. That’s how you achieve order, you see. By giving people an inch but keeping the lead taut. So they don’t take a mile.

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ZEPHANIAH: OBADIAH: Swinging whack Looping whack MISS! MISS! MANA and MATERIA Desperate back-tracking

Father and son up the hill. The maths not looking particularly positive. Brutal beasts up after them. Flailing hunks of metal closing in. ——————————————————

Sizing each other up. Breeze belle and counter merchant, against the wall of a crumbling crematorium. Poised like fencers, pointing swords. Looking each other up and down. Sticklers for technique, the both of them. Oh, they’d have been so good together.

ELEGY

AZRAEL

Breeze class, fresher Counter class, excom Because her field trip had ended in tragedy Because he’d manufactured a tragedy Meeting in the middle as they were meant to She’d had a soft spot for him, back in the day He’d never really noticed her but hey, why not? He was crafted and toned and sensible She was lean and leggy and elegant So what if he was parched skinned and bruised? So what if she was dressed cliquey and kooky? He was confident, talented and principled She was a worrier, and worriers can be hurt Not quite the person they remembered But old crushes die hard But good women are broken easily So they sized each other up. A couple of tentative foot shuffles. A series of preparatory feints.

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This wasn’t going to be a brawl, was it? This wasn’t going to be sound and fury. This was going to be civilised.

AZRAEL: Front step jab ELEGY: Back step ELEGY: Front step slice HIT! AZRAEL: Ear ELEGY: Front step hook AZRAEL: Block AZRAEL: Front step pang HIT! ELEGY: Cheek AZRAEL: Front step upper ELEGY: Back step AZRAEL: Flashlight Serenade HIT! ELEGY: Nanos frightened SLAM! Against the left hand wall of the crematorium Knockdown! So he backed off, pleased with himself. You’ve got to feel sorry for the innocent. They never see it coming, do they?

———————————————————

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Swipe, swing, pang, tang. Who’s next to fall down?

Zarathustra drew the Memento Mori. The grand designer against a bunch of reckless vandals. Backstepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the gravestones.

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SERENITY Plasmawand throwie MISS! ZARATHUSTRA Hits ether? Sidesteps ZARATHUSTRA Backhand snare HIT! SERENITY: Ribs SLAM! Into the mausoleum wall NEHEMIAH Crookblade charge

VARUNA Gigabyte slice

COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA Underhand clash Overhand cross HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Head VARUNA: Chest SLAM! SLAM! Bowled into Serenity Bowled over a tombstone SEVERITY HOSEA Toejack boot ZARATHUSTRA Fistjack hook MISS! Jigs and jives MISS! Hits a railing ZARATHUSTRA Hits a mausoleum Overarm hoist Underarm buckler HIT! HIT! Leg Arm SPLAT! SPLAT! Thrown into the muddy ground Thrown into Severity JEREMIAH MAINYU ZECHERIAH MAINYU Spookball belt ZARATHUSTRA Spookball blast COUNTERED! Turn-around tie Powerwave reverb HIT! HIT! Gloves Face SLAM! PUFF! Thrown into a railing Space field splat on the stony steps OUT OF PLAY

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Hosea’s reptilian eyes aflame. That was her son, you heartless glum! This man of ice and metal was gonna pay. Heads up, gimp; let’s be giving you something to mope about! Zarathustra rolling the Memento Mori in his grasp. 2-0, control verses chaos. Waiting for the battered band around him to prepare themselves. Circling him around the gravestones. ————————————————————— Remedy picking herself up, wiping her eyes with a sleeve. Mojo bouncing up and down... naked... Did she have to do that, it’s off-putting. “Moy Mojo, speak to moy...” Come on, scuttletoes; zombies don’t speak.

MOJO: Blitzbreak chain 360 spinning whirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy looks away Backstroke twirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy shivers Sideflip swirl CLANG! COVE R! Remedy wells up Frontflip curl CLANG! COVER! Remedy sobs Handstand hoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy mopes Backspin loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy whines Charging swoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy cries Leaping scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy can’t see for the tears She wasn’t used to Mojo fighting this way, looking this way, being this way. And she didn’t have any energy to fight back. Mojo turning, pacing sassily away, grinning, twirling her blades, and let’s not forget; naked. “Mojo...” I think you’re confused, Remy dear. “What’s happened to you’se?” She’s a zombie sister blitzer; she’s not coming back. So unless you realise this ain’t Mojo pretty quickly you’re going to be joining her. “But I didn’t do anything to hurt you’se...”

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MOJO: Blitzbreak chain Wild whirl SMASH! Oblitorates a heart-shaped tombstone Spinning twirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy back tracking Sideswipe swirl SMASH! Breaks the wing off an angelic statue Roundhouse curl CLANG! COVER! Remedy back peddling Twisting hoop SMASH! Cracks a marble pillar Backspin loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy pressed up against the crypt wall Leaping swoop SMASH! Shatters a crypt window Backflip scoop HIT! REMEDY: Cheek >SCHLINK!< Flips her over the crypt wall and into the building with a trail of blood in her wake Knockdown!

Remedy still holding her swords, on her back, in a muddle and a mess. Not sure if the cuts and bruises hurt more, or the fact that Mojo was beating the shit out of her. The naked nymph leaping up onto the unfinished crypt roof, laughing. Hate to point it out with everything so ominous already Remy, but you’re lying in a bed of bones.

—————————————————————— Melodi and Orinoko. Sunlight against storm. Melodi’s footsteps leaving pretty rainbows in the sheared grass. Orinoko’s leaving oily soot. Let’s make a mess of this horrible world!

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ORINOKO: MELODI: Nanotug Ethertug No effect No effect ORINOKO: MELODI: Nanocast Ethercast No effect No effect ORINOKO: Nanozip No effect Bah; that was her favourite, too! Melodi and Orinoko. Circling each other a little closer now, decidely pissed off. Round and round between a pair of grand stone obelisks. Frustratedly tensing their fists and gnashing their teeth. What was wrong with them?

The scores on the doors?

—————————————————————

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Cross, clash, stroke, swish. Why not join those who’ve already fallen?

Zarathustra drew the Burning Rage. The lord and master facing a gang of peons. Backstepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the gravestones.

Let’s spin the merry-go-round with a bit more fury this time SEVERITY HOSEA JEREMIAH MAINYU SERENITY Tossed through a tombstone Flipped over a railing Slammed into a mausoleum Hurled into the mud

ZARATHUSTRA Turning crop Head of steam epitaph HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Temple VARUNA: Steam rolled! SLAM! SLAM! Thrown into Serenity Charged through a crumpling statue OUT OF PLAY

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Jeremiah Mainyu couldn’t quite work out the maths. This hunk of ice and metal just took out a ravani. So yeah, OK; he had his respect. But he also had his brother’s space dust on his hands! Zarathustra whipping the Burning Rage in the air. 3-0, leader of the wild hunt verses a clutter of slyphs, vulcs and gnomes. Waiting for the disorganised band to lift themselves. Circling him around the gravestones. ————————————————————

Remedy had zoned out. Mojo pacing up there on the crypt roof, sassy and nasty and... let’s just not think about it. Did she even want to fight anymore? “S’dandy Mojo. We’s be dandy.” Huddled down there in the bones, dropping her head, dropping her hope, dropping her...

MOJO: Electric Guillotine Epitaph (prelude) Kamikaze dive off the crypt roof, blades crossed like scissors... MISS! REMEDY rolls out of the drop zone MOJO: Electric Guillotine Epitaph (nocturne) Hand-stand position, blades locked in stone, electric snips dancing in four directions HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! Electrified skeletons, anyone?

But not Remedy’s. Remedy was way out of zizzing range, and she’d just gathered the strength to fight back. Mojo staggering dizzily onto her feet, plucking her blades out of the marble. “You’se just a muddle of memories.” That’s right Remy; tell her. “Moy’s and other people’s.”

Mojo crossing her swords, that freaky metal arm still fizzing with static. She was mirror, that was what she was. An angry mirror, but a mirror nonetheless. And unless you want a lifetime of sore luck, bad mirrors need smashing.

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MOJO: Blitzbreak chain Diving swoop SMASH! Clatters bones Rising scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy stands her ground Topspin loop SMASH! Sparks against a crypt wall Rolling hoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy pushes her back Leaping curl SMASH! Rips off the hinges of an ancient trapdoor Back flip swirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy tightens her grip on her blades Charging whirl COUNTERED! REMEDY: 360 leaping coil HIT! MOJO: Solar plexus and chest >SCHLINK!< Flips her over the crypt wall and back onto the half-roof with a trail of blood in her wake

Knockdown... or knocked up... or just don’t say that

Remedy hopping up to face her, twirling her swords and seeing things afresh. The cuts and bruises hurt, but this nasty, naked nymph was gonna suffer more of them. The twisted mirror looking dazed and confused; Remedy less so. “You’se ain’t moy Mojo.” ——————————————————————

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Melodi and Orinoko. Circle, circle, circle. Alright, who’s getting dizzy? Who’s getting bored? How about we invite a load more kids to play? Orinoko’s eyes changing. Bulging, about to burst. Dainty hands waving in hectic spasms; orchestral overdrive. Grasping fingers pulling nano swarms out of the ether; mists tossed like a massive stir fry. Swirling swarms becoming grand, warped mirrors.

ORINOKO: House of broken mirrors

Melodi took as deep a breath as she could muster. “Aw... shit.” Seven shadows. Seven seals. Seven sins. Seven sisters. So shadows could make mirrors; who knew? Seven SHATTERS!

ORINOKO

Messed up shadow and the eye of the superstorm Gothic Lolita with stitched-up Gothic Lolita with stitched-up Gothic Lolita with stitched-up mouth and green-trim dress, mouth and white-trim dress, mouth and black-trim... decorated with swirls decorated with skulls

We know.

We know.

NUT

NUT

NUT

NUT

NUT

NUT

We know Yes, yes; we’ve met these alters before. Or as Melodi would prefer to call them:

NUT. And you know what, soot kitty? Two can play at your freaky little game! Melodi’s eyes changing. Deeper; like pits. Dainty hands slammed together; full metal drum kit bang. Tensing fingers, clogging her bloodstream; odd pulses sneaking through her nails. Dripity-drip. Thumping rivers becoming brash, broken beats.

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MELODI: Fractured echo night parade

Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up!

Orinoko took a step back as reverberations formed out of the rainbow dribbles. I think the words you’re looking for are ‘oh... shit.‘ Seven ids. Seven instruments. Seven breaths. Seven deaths. Little riffs can break up into big bands, you know.

MELODI

Messed up mistress of the doll dance, and the model on which all puppets were based A little girl surely no more A little girl surely no more than 5,500-odd rounds old, than 5,500-odd rounds old, with green skin, blue lips, blue with white skin, green lips, dress, white hair green dress, black hair

Alright

A little girl surely no more than 5,500-odd rounds old, with black...

Alright. We get the picture

Alright.

Seven ECHOES! Melodi had met her chambers before. But on account of her not getting on very well with them, she liked to keep them inside. Melodi and Orinoko. And the whole, warped freak show. Circling each other between the obelisks. Pretty crowded round here, as the dupes began growing personalities of their own. Let’s check ‘em all into brawl school before they learn disobedience!

MELODI

BIOS

RASH

Overhand whack HIT! Bloody nose MISS!

Underarm thump MISS! Cut eye HIT!

Underhand thwack

Puppeteering her stroppy split selves

Overhead smack

DORA

Wild elbow HIT! Split lip MISS!

Bundle!

Rabbit punch

APIPA

IPSEC

Rabbit kick MISS! Broken ribs HIT!

Underbelt punt HIT! Eer; that was rude! MISS!

Wild knee

Bundle! PARTHENOPE AGLAPHENE THELXIEPEIA RAIDNE Orchestrating her anarchic derechos

LAN

Overhead smash

Hey! Hey! HEY! Break it up Break it up!

MOLPE

LIGERIA

ORINOKO

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Freak

Vs

Freak


Melodi was fed up of this already. She’d seen enough of herself trading random swipes and boots; she was more refined these days. And besides, the bone ache of self reflection was draining her to death. Oh-oh, do you see ether forming around Lolita’s heads and parasols soaring in the breeze? Let’s just make this between the blue girl and the superspook!

MELODI

Oblitorating those eerie, ghoulish reflections

Green ether ear muff

White ether ear muff

HIT! AGLAPHENE

HIT! THELXIEPEIA

Burst of swirls

Burst of skulls

Burst of green noise

Burst of white noise

Green parasol

White parasol

Stomach BIOS HIT!

Heart RASH HIT!

Black Yellow ether ear muff ether ear muff Tighten and POP! HIT! HIT! RAIDNE PARTHENOPE Brains Burst of spiderwebs Burst of stars

OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY

Burst of black noise

Burst of yellow noise

Chest Eye DORA APIPA HIT! HIT! Swoop and >SCHLINK!< Black parasol Yellow parasol

Purple ether ear muff

Orange ether ear muff

HIT! MOLPE

HIT! LIGERIA

Burst of roses

Burst of butterflies

Burst of purple noise

Burst of orange noise

Purple parasol

Orange parasol

Head IPSEC HIT!

Annihilating those pesky background jingles

Face LAN HIT!

ORINOKO

Melodi and Orinoko. Just the two of them again. Circling, circling, circling with their random bags of tricks. Melodi wasn’t sure who’d scored more shots that round. But one thing was for certain; this was why she hated diablos. In case you’re wondering:

————————————————————

So Elegy and Azrael were still sizing each other up. Tentative foot shuffles. Preparatory feints.

This wasn’t going to be easy, was it? This wasn’t going to be how the tye sculptures said it should be. This was going to be swordstril verses swordstril, and that’s rude.

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ELEGY: Front step pang AZRAEL: Block AZRAEL: Front step plunge HIT! ELEGY: Shoulder AZRAEL: Front step chop ELEGY: Back step ELEGY: Front step cut HIT! AZRAEL: Temple ELEGY: Front step tang AZRAEL: Block AZRAEL: Rainbow Serenade HIT! ELEGY: Nanos flipped SLAM! Against the right hand wall of the crematorium Knockdown! So he backed off, delighted with himself. You’ve got to feel sorry for the sweet. They don’t realise how bitter life can be, do they?

———————————————————— Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Jab, dab, loop, hoop. Who’s falling next? Zarathustra drew the Shadow Splitter. Prince facing paupers. Backstepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the gravestones.

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Let’s just put them out of their misery JEREMIAH MAINYU NEHEMIAH SERENITY Flipped back over the railing Thrown through a collapsing mausoleum wall ZARATHUSTRA Downward tang Speed mirror: Sword hilt uppercut HIT! HIT! SEVERITY HOSEA SPLAT! FIZZ! Thrown through a tombstone into muddy ground

Whacked off the plate, into ether

OUT OF PLAY

Jeremiah Mainyu would have cried if he could. He could have cried for mummy but she wouldn’t have heard. You see, that’s the problem with familia. When you lose them, you lose yourself. Zarathustra clanking the Shadow Splitter back into the rack. 4-0, lord of Asgard verses random degenerates. Waiting for the beaten band around him to raise themselves. Broken and bruised amid the gravestones.

———————————————————— Remedy settling into a comfortable stance, wiping her mouth with a sleeve. Mojo moving wildly to and fro, crunching her knuckles and tossing her hair. That wasn’t how Mojo would move at all, and in fact, she was repulsive. Chant it Remy; just a spook, just a spook, just a spook. A spook on a fast track back to the grave!

REMEDY: Blitzbreak chain MOJO: Blitzbreak chain Overhand hoop CLANG! Back step scoop Roundhouse swoop CLANG! Side flip loop Leaping loop CLANG! Front flip swoop Backstroke scoop CLANG! Somersault hoop Eye to eye, toe to toe, heart to... Not with you, spook soup! Overhead curl CLANG! Spinning whirl Spinning swirl CLANG! Overhead twirl Looping twirl CLANG! Toe spin swirl Cross-face whirl HIT! HIT! Cross-body curl MOJO: Sliced face REMEDY: Sliced top Thrown off the crypt roof onto adjacent mausoleums

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But keeping their footing and holding on to their swords. And Remedy had energy to spare. The two of them eyeing each other, blades a-twirl. “Hey, mood juice...” Remedy seeing clearly. “Have you’se any idea how many coco ‘fusin’ ways I’s gonna Z ya?”

Glaring at each other down parrelel paths. Sauntering down the mausoleums as they grew closer together. Just about in range to...

MOJO: Mid air blitzbreak chain REMEDY: Mid air blitzbreak chain 360 leaping hoop CLANG! 360 leaping scoop Backstroke swoop CLANG! Roundhouse loop Overhand loop CLANG! Backhand swoop Underarm scoop CLANG! Bowling hoop They’d hit the ground by now, and in very close quarters Overhead curl HIT! HIT! Backstroke whirl MOJO: Shoulder REMEDY: Elbow They drop a sword each Looping swirl HIT! HIT! Overarm twirl MOJO: Forearm REMEDY: Wrist That makes them swordless Low boot HIT! HIT! Stranglehold (clunk arm) MOJO: Shin REMEDY: Throat Now they were down and dirty Overhand right HIT! MOJO: Mouth Well that’s lost her some teeth HIT!

‘Yow!’ REMEDY: Hand Leaping up and down, cradling her knuckles You did that one to yourself, siz Knockdowns!

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Remedy and Mojo face to face, in a heap. Sweating buckets, dripping mud; hating each other now. Naked nymphy Mojo in the mud... No, she hadn’t ever imagined that, OK?

——————————————————————

Melodi and Orinoko. Someone borrowed and someone blue, but neither of them particularly stupid. You can’t flip the translucent and you can’t manipulate non-existent minds. Angels aren’t animated with cogs and diablos don’t breathe real air. But what you can do is reflect; nanos for ether!

ORINOKO: Ethercast HIT! SMASH! MELODI slammed back into an obelisk, dislodging dust MELODI: Nanocast HIT! SMASH! ORINOKO slammed back against the other obelisk, dislodging dust ORINOKO: Ethercast SMASH! MELODI slammed against the cracking obelisk Falls to the floor, holding her back MELODI: Nanocast SMASH! ORINOKO slammed against the other cracking obelisk Falls to the floor, clutching her spine ORINOKO: Etherzip MISS! MELODI: Leaps aside

CRASH! The obelisk is torn apart

Melodi and Orinoko. Circling each other, boxes of tricks all ready to flow. Round and round what was left of the obelisks. Well that was a close call, wasn’t it? Melodi didn’t like this sprite one bit.

For the record:

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————————————————————————

Mana and Materia inching up the hillside. Hanging by clunky clogs on the edge of the cliff. Obadiah and Zephaniah up after them. Hungry animals in need of a good feed.

OBADIAH: ZEPHANIAH: Swinging whack Scalping whack SMASH! SMASH! Tombstones MANA and MATERIA On the precipice We’ve just lost the last two stony footholds on the cliff The grim abominations ambling to the top of the hill The pyronettes saying their goodbyes in tap?

ZEPHANIAH: OBADIAH: Lunging whack Charging whack MISS! MISS! MANA and MATERIA Roll under their legs ZEPHANIAH & OBADIAH Tumble over the edge OUT OF PLAY That’s one disadvantage of big, scaly feet. And father and son are left feeling tap happy again! ———————————————————— So here’s where the merry-go-round grinds to an icy halt. Zarathustra the carnival killjoy. Joy and whatever else happened to stagger giddily into his path. Stomping up the stony steps after what was left of the pyrate horde. A family; that was what it was. Well the least his brave new world has of those, the better. ————————————————————— Remedy and Mojo gripped their blades. Because with swords in hand, a blitzer is never truly naked. Remedy didn’t feel so naked anymore; not her heart, not her soul, not her grief. Don’t know if the same could be said for Mojo. All mud-caked on the floor with her and ready to roll!

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MOJO: Push-off kick HIT! REMEDY: Face Thrown into a muddy backward roll REMEDY: Flip-up swoop CLANG! MOJO: Cross-body parry MOJO: Overarm swirl CLANG! REMEDY: Cross-face parry The lovers having fought themselves to a standstill. Hey; less of the ‘lovers’, please. Remedy’s girl was indeed a snazzy, jazzy, candy mint sapphire blitz belle. But sadly for Remedy, her girl was gone and this wasn’t even in the same league. Backing off from each other, pointing their swords. Cut, bruised, mud caked and blood splattered. The two of them eyeing each other between the mausoleums, blades a-whirl. So, how do you break a deadlock?

MOJO: Takes a long run-up REMEDY crosses her blades, tightens her stance and takes the strain MOJO: Tunes up the orchestra REMEDY: Keeps herself settled MOJO: Front flip into back flip into side flip into somersault into... The Devil’s Pirouette CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Remedy soaking up the kinetic energy. Holding firm against the frenetic pace. Staying calm amid the anarchic barrage... And thinking all the way.

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MOJO: Devil’s pirouette Then just when the reckless spiral had burnt itself to a standstill... COUNTERED! REMEDY: Speed mirror She just threw back Mojo’s attack at twice the pace, channelling her own momentum REMEDY: Devil’s Pirouette, double speed! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Whatssamatter; can’t keep up? HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! It doesn’t really matter where All that mattered was that nobody can mirror perfection without being the real thing And you’se be peepin’ at it! HITS! MOJO: Wherever Puffs into soot OUT OF PLAY

Remedy biting her lip. Slowing her heart. Because that’s where her Mojo was, thank you very much. Sour milk, mirror kitty.

————————————————————

Melodi and Orinoko. A drop in then ocean and a storm in a teacup. Little mites with whole factories full of fireworks. Cracking knuckles, stretching fingers, rolling shoulders, full stop. Alright, let’s slow down a sliver of a shade, shall we? Orinoko with a crooked sneer. The reaching fingers. The blood caped apron. The storm clouds gathering behind her. She liked her odds, thanks very much.

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Melodi with a stroppy grimace. The glossy chequered gloves. The tinkling trinkets. The rhythms of the world welling up around her. Melodi didn’t like maths, but somebody’s number was up!

MELODI: NANOFLARE HIT! ORINOKO: In the hole that was her soul Blasts Ori’s nanos into sooty vibe splats on the broken obelisk OUT OF PLAY Fuck maths And fuck you. Melodi and Orinoko. And by that I mean Melodi and a smattering of oily goo. No, Melodi didn’t like maths, but she was learning. Spooks into the real world? That don’t go. One last look at the scoreboard

——-————————————————————

Mana and Materia half way down the hillside. A band of pyrates passing them on the way.

Oops; better join them, purple posse. When facing god’s judgement it’s best to bring backup. ——————————————————————

Which leaves Elegy and Azrael, sizing each other up. Off-putting foot shuffles. Confusing feints.

This hadn’t been easy, had it? This hadn’t been a wander through the tye-sculpted textbooks. But as they hopped onto the crematorium stage to face each other again, they knew there did have to be a victor.

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AZRAEL: Front step stroke ELEGY: Back step ELEGY: Flashlight serenade MISS! AZRAEL: Covers ELEGY: Front step swerve AZRAEL: Blocks AZRAEL: Rainbow serenade MISS! ELEGY: Covers AZRAEL: Front step swish ELEGY: Back step ELEGY: Death’s Head Serenade HIT! AZRAEL: Nanos halted So what does a spook do when it releases its breath? It loses its animation, and... SPLAT! Cloud of soot OUT OF PLAY So she sheathed a sword, happy with herself. She’d won. Plus, she realised she’d gone off Azrael. Let’s face it, he’s kind of rotten!

————————————————————————————————Across the ravine, another battle was brewing. Anarchy on its last legs against the irresistible force of order. You can’t resist order, you know. You can protest and protest, but in the end, the powers that be are there for a reason. To keep you people in your place. So this raggle-taggle band of pyrates better get in line before it’s too late. Mana and Materia aside from the crew. Pointing and tapping, hatching a scheme. The pyrates with nowhere to go on the cliff top. Nowhere to go but down into the ethery depths.

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MANA: Loopball punt Flame charge HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head 100 licks of ethereal pain Hey, was that an insect bite? MATERIA: Half-pint leap GRAB! La Sensoria, bottom sword on Zarathustra’s spine rack COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet swipe HIT! MATERIA: Chest Slight puncture He loses his footing Materia tumbling down the stony steps. Supersword fumbled in his grasp. Having a supersword increased the mathematical chance of victory. So altogether now; oops.

ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug Whips the blade back onto his spine rack “They’re pretty gutsy for pyros, hey?” “‘Course they is Ele; they’s moy sprites.” Remedy and Elegy, skidding to a halt at the foot of the steps. Melodi too; the team back together. Back together, and just in time. For honour, for plaudits, for glory. No, of course they weren’t in time for any of those things. They were in time to die.

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Viva la revolution!!!

Zarathustra draws the Prodigal’s Edge. Stops stomping and settles into a firm stance. Didn’t these... people know when they’d met their match?

ZARATHUSTRA Diagonal slice Lunging jab Diagonal hook SEVERITY NEHEMIAH SERENITY Toejack block Crookblade cover Plasma wand buff ZARATHUSTRA Rainbow serenade HIT! JEREMIAH MAINYU Flips his parahack nanos That means you’re nothing left but ether Join the family OUT OF PLAY

Little Mana nursing his dad. Melodi drifting in by his side. Curious that her usual disturbing presence had been replaced by something warmer. A hold of the wrist and a rare, lopsided smile. A moment of sensitivity in the middle of a manic maelstrom. Zarathustra draws the Raucous Whisper. Switches into a bouncy stance. Didn’t these delinquents know when a dance is done?

Reverse roundhouse curl SEVERITY Toejack block

ZARATHUSTRA Up-and-over swoop Spinning roundhouse coil NEHEMIAH SERENITY Crookblade cover Plasma wand hollow

ELEGY

REMEDY (from behind) Charging swirl Charging twirl COUNTER!

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ZARATHUSTRA Shudderwave Pirouette Angel’s Pirouette Charge and release! Hover and spin! HIT! HIT! ELEGY REMEDY Sword Sword Flip and crash! Bat and shatter! SMASH! SMASH! Through mausoleum walls back at the base of the ravine

Upside down. Heads spinning around. Ears full of sound.

STOMP!

STOMP!

STOMP!

Do you’se twos tag a spookstorm descending the hillock towards you’se? Little Materia passing away. Mana and Melodi by his side. When pyronettes pass, they become miniature black holes then ether. But in the short time Materia had known his son, he had taught him important things. Be proud of who you are, and don’t fear death.

-Writer’s little side note on lifeWhen you’re at the end looking back, you know you’ve had a good life if…

1. You’ve got a full bank account, flash car, flash clothes, high flying career, expensive jewellery and a house on the beach… which you can’t take with you? 2. There are a lot of hangers-on dressed up for a good day out at your funeral… who you can’t take with you?

3. You know you did the right thing by people.

STOMP!

STOMP!

STOMP!

The splodge of mud, the kicking of rubble, the buzz of superswords disturbing the blitzers’ unintended sleep. Elegy and Remedy clambering onto unsteady toes, dusting off spandex and cargos respectively. In time to see Melodi lift Mana up with a rub of the gloves an a kiss on the hood. “Ah, aren’t those kids sweet?” “Sweet...” Remedy twirled her swords. “And deadly.”

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Zarathustra draws the Crimson Harvest. Tenses up into an orderly stance. Didn’t these pitiful breathers know the game was up?

Little Mana had decided to go for broke. Numbers; who needs them? The maths said he wasn’t going to make it. But you know what; Mana was going to run on passion instead.

MANA: Limp jab TINKLE! ZARATHUSTRA: Armour ZARATHUSTRA: Icy stare HIT? MANA His very ethers rooted to the spot Get ready to join your daddy, star shine A purple dwarf star waiting to be pulped

SEVERITY SERENITY Wild bundle Plasmawand tag GRAB! SQUEEZE! HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA Hanging on his back Ether-roasting his nanos Rabbit kicks Jangling them around, burning them up HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! But cuts her feet But drains her brain REMEDY ELEGY Blitz Break Chains Cross-faded! Overarm curl Underarm hoop CLANG! CLANG! Backstroke whirl Overhead swoop CLANG! CLANG! Leaping twirl Reverse loop CLANG! CLANG! Spinning scoop Backhand swirl CLANG! CLANG! Front step hoop Back step curl CLANG! CLANG! Spiral swoop Cross-face whirl CLANG! CLANG! ELEGY REMEDY

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Zarathustra’s sword and armour whacked and battered. Who taught the kids how to fight like that? Some dirty, filthy anarch...

NEHEMIAH: Crookblade charge! SMACK! (Crookblade breaks in two) HIT! ZARATHUSTRA Chest Whacked off his feet, across the ravine and into a stone sarcophagus SMASH! Knockdown! And you know what; he dropped his sword!

Oh Zarathustra; you hadn’t forgotten that!

Meanwhile, little Melodi pulls little Mana to his feet. So they can whack this clank. Because anarchy ain’t so chaotic if it works together.

Now, what’s that raucous thundering? Chaotic, it is. Growing louder as the dizzied Principal lay in his marble coffin. What is that thundering, by the way? As the main man lay spread eagle in the crumpled stone sarcophagus, the Crimson Harvest dumped unceremoniously in the mud. Why, that raucous rumbling is the charge of anarchy coming your way. You’d better scuttle aside before it steam rolls you!

SEVERITY Leaping bundle GRAB! ZARATHUSTRA Straddling him on the sarcophagus Rabbit kicks HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Chest, ribs, spleen, wherever Strips of flesh flailing off her feet and shins

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Elegy nudges Nehemiah. “Pretty mean genes you got there.” Remedy whispers to Serenity. “You’se knows what; you’se daughter rocks.” Little Melodi and little Mana tentatively picking up their freaky play things. Mana’s tangled loopball. Melodi’s mud-smeared dolly. The pair armed and ready to roll. Plus, they had each other.

SEVERITY: HIT! HIT! HI... COUNTER! The master had had enough ZARATHUSTRA: Big, meaty uppercut HIT! SEVERITY Jaw

CRACK! Flies through a statue and into a railing Upside down, feet wrapped around metal, not quite sure where she was Zarathustra rising from the smashed sarcophagus like a vampire from a crypt. Face to face with a pair of nervous blitzblades. Head to head with a couple of angry parents. Let’s just Z this bod before he bares his fangs.

ELEGY

REMEDY Blitz Break Chains Cross-fa...hey!

NEHEMIAH: Head first charge Bundle! HIT! NEHEMIAH & ZARATHUSTRA through a crematorium wall Knockdowns! Nehemiah laying into him with battering swings HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! You know the drill Remedy nudging Elegy. “K, so I sees where that prackess gets her fire from now.” Elegy whispering back. “Yeah, and maybe her recklessness...”

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Little Mana and little Melodi exchanging prods and nods; plotting. Ah, you can feel the chemistry building here. As a mother drags her daughter back into the fray. Let’s hope they’re not a little too late. Elegy whispers to Serenity. “You’ve got your work cut out for you there.” Remedy nudges Severity. “You’se knows what; you’se family rocks.”

NEHEMIAH: HIT! HIT! HI... COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Big, meaty hook HIT! Nehemiah batted out of the crematorium Splatting into the muddy ground

Zarathustra emerging from the crippled crematorium like Frankenstein from a workbench. Now he really had had enough. And when gods have had enough, they just end things. True story... Remedy and Severity Two fiery belles with no cards left to play Elegy and Serenity Two bright girls needing to get their thinking caps on Nehemiah One bruised brute with nothing much left in the tank Melodi and Mana Oh, oh; they’d drifted into Zarathustra’s sphere Yeah, they meant that Because they were about to break the beat!

MANA: Loopball punt PYRO CHARGE! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Back FIZZ! Making the überswords angry Almost rattling at him HIT? MANA: Petrified MELODI: Banraku! Strike while the ice man’s vibes are luke warm! ‘Cos with his superswords confused, she might be able to sneak a Dolo into his head And imagine puppeteering a jack like that!

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Mind wrestling! Their heads

Time to freeze hearts Time to boil nanos Break the clunker down Psyche his nanos out of order... Fight hard... Battle well... Just one sliver from z-ing him. . Yerk! Moy frosty fingers!

Oh, merda los anarch. Melodi had just lost a battle of letter crunching. Of head haze verses head cold. He’d got inside her psyche, and that leads to...

Melodi felt her fingers chill. Her heart ice over. Her rhythm freeze.

NANOFLOOD! Sensory overload!

Falls backward, still as in iceberg. You really don’t want to try puppeteering such über nano hives as his. She wondered if this was what happened to the Ossava Ovatta tribe, confused to the point of mass suicide by puppetry overload...

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MANA:

This spark ain’t been stifled yet! Grabs the frosted dolly from Melodi’s cold, blue hands Eeer... how do you use this thing? A timely question:

SEVERITY & REMEDY Charge! ZARATHUSTRA Snatches the Crimson Harvest from the splodgey, muddy ground Plunge! HIT! Through stomach OUT OF PLAY

A shocked ‘Yeeps!’ Spooklet whack HIT! Face Flying through the roof of a crypt with a crunch Plume of dust as she disappears OUT OF PLAY? ELEGY & SERENITY Charge! ZARATHUSTRA Pulls the Crimson Harvest from Severity’s splodgey, bloody body

Plunge! A sullen ‘Oh-oh...’ Spooklet smack HIT! HIT! Through heart Face OUT OF PLAY . Looping the loop into an unmarked gravestone with a thunk Plume of dust as she zones out . OUT OF PLAY? . NEHEMIAH & MANA Charge! ZARATHUSTRA Grabs the Raucous Whisper from his magnorack Plunge! Plunge! Crimson Harvest Raucous Whisper HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH MANA Through head Through face Falls back off the cliff Falls forward down the hill OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY

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Zarathustra just killed the lot of them in three seconds flat. No wonder he’s the Principal. Oh, don’t say ‘killed’. How about ‘obliterated’? The iron man standing over Melodi, sheathing his swords. A curious blue girl in a block of ice, not even able to thaw her tear ducts to mourn. Her complicated heartbeat slowly shutting down. She could’ve gotten sad, she could’ve gotten bitter and she could’ve gotten angry... But instead she opted to just hold her breath. And what do you know; he milled around a while, wiped the blood from his armour... And left. Because he couldn’t see her.

It was a while before she spoke or thought or felt again. When the ice thawed and the grief had kicked in. When she no longer felt she was one of the dead. She wasn’t the only one of course. But if only one of the only ones had been Mana. Because she liked him, you know. Even if she hadn’t shown it. So it was a while before she stopped sitting there. All snivels and shivers, with ice in her veins and loss in her heart, cradling him. It was a while before she picked herself up. Before she gave up the ghost. It was a while before the deep, dark pits of her eyes bloomed with colour again. Before her kaleidoscopic teeth unstuck. Before her liquid rainbow tears began to dry. Before the world around her started happening again. Melodi could see the future, you know? Mainly because in particularly frightening moments, her heart stopped and the world followed suit. Time opened up for her.

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But Melodi couldn’t change the future; you know that, right? If she could’ve changed the future, she’d have changed the past. And then she wouldn’t need to. No, Melodi couldn’t change the future, but she could certainly attempt to warp it. Towards her way of thinking. And let’s just guess what she was thinking of right now... That’s right:

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Psytopia Adagio 3: Holy Judgment, 3rd Verse