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FΩUNT [IC/PG-16/Accepting]

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When Elita opened her eyes, she was alone in the office. The signs of the ongoing battle had disappeared, and a deafening silence hung in the air. There was no lights on within the room, the only source of illumination was what seemed to be moonlight breaking in through the curtains.

With a little sigh, Elita brought a hand to her head for a moment. There was a searing pain, she remembered, but it seemed to have let up for the time being. She took a glance around the room, the fact that everything had gone dark was a concern. She doubted she had been out that long, at least… She saw little reason to assume it. Sei would have moved her somewhere more fitting, unless Sei had perished against Stratford.

In which case, there was little chance she would remain alive herself.

For a split second, she thought she saw the silhouette of another in the room, but when she turned there was nothing. She felt fingers run through her hair, but once again could find no perpetrator. Then she heard the voice, whispered in her ear seemingly from nowhere.

"How did you get in here, mon coeur?"

Elita wasn’t particularly fond of feeling fingers running through her hair, a brief spike of annoyance coming from her as she hummed lightly, “I suppose that would depend on where ‘here’ is, exactly. I suppose I just walked in, like anyone else would.” Despite the annoyance, her voice was calm… Though the corner of her mouth tugged upwards at the end of her sentence.

"You're very interesting," the voice came from in front of Elita now, with the unseen fingers brushing gently against her neck, "I think we will make magnifique friends, what's your name?"

Elita brushed her hand across her shoulder briefly, before letting her fingers push a strand of loose hair behind her ear. When she spoke again, her voice remained formal, “You may call me Ms. Thomas. A first name basis with someone I can’t even see? How unthinkable. If you would like to properly introduce yourself, I’ll do the same.”

An unseen fingernail hooked itself underneath the strand of hair Elita had tucked away, lightly tugging it back out of place, "Oh, I'd love to introduce myself, but how am I supposed to do that when I'm not even here…" by the end of her sentence, her voice had faded into nothingness. Elita felt a sudden chill pass through her body, but after a few seconds that too had passed. Once again, she was alone.

Elita let out a small breath as she shook her head, “Perhaps we’ll meet properly later then. Until then.” She stood straight as she focused her emotions… Then put her hand on the wall, closing her eyes as she tried to sense any emotions, anywhere inside of the building. “Something strange has happened… Where is Mr. Stratford? Or more importantly, Sei…”

She didn’t wish to say it, but she doubted there was much of a chance of Stratford surviving the encounter with the state he had been in, but Sei had been doing well to avoid that fate.

Beneath her feet, Elita felt the floor begin to rumble, lightly at first, but it only took a few seconds for it to build to a full quake. Opening her eyes, Elita saw the walls of the office quickly closing in, the entire room shrinking around her, threatening to crush her to death.

Her focus didn’t break immediately, the rumbling floor only did enough to throw her off once the full quake had begun. A scowl crossed her face as she mumbled lightly to herself, “Whatever is happening here, I’d prefer it to be over quickly…”

Her breathing hitched for a moment as the walls began to close in around her, the first real sign of her composure breaking at all as she focused her emotions, projecting them towards the walls as they drew closer. If they were actually closing in, well… It wouldn’t do much, but if it was a continued assault like what had been happening earlier… It might slow them down at least.

Unfortunately, this was an entirely different assault than what she had encountered minutes earlier. The walls closed in until they met her body, and in a split second of excruciating pain, passed through her, collapsing together within her. Suddenly, she was surrounded by nothing but blackness. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, no sensation whatsoever.

After a few seconds, Elita did come to feel one specific sensation. One coded within humans since birth to fear. Elita could feel that she was falling.

Falling was fine. Darkness was familiar to her. She didn’t appreciate the sudden pain, but there was nothing she could do about it now. Discerning emotions was easier when she couldn’t see, and it was rare when she could close her eyes and not feel anyone’s emotions swirling around her, in a sense, she could almost relax.

Falling, perhaps, was the tower crumbling around her. If that was how she was to perish, she could accept that. It meant Stratford was likely not rampaging anymore, and even if they had been unable to save him, there were plenty of people who weren’t at risk anymore. Her own life exchanged for that, while not optimal, was fine.

---

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Plan in Panic

She had lost track of how long her mother had been inside the bag. Just thinking about her mother running out of air made Kaede start hyperventilating herself, even worse than she had been already, and she spent the few frantic minutes after Jeremy’s improvised plan in a state of barely conscious fugue, the edges of her vision dark and her mind racing, trying to figure out the count. Six minutes? Seven and thirty? No, maybe it’s just five and thirty… Or is it eight?!? Oh God, Okaa-san-

She almost fell off of Sarashina’s horse again, and was brought back to the current situation as the now winged serpent slammed a storm of debris at them. She threw out a hand, desperately throwing up a barrier of solid rainbow light that sparked and spat as it blocked a decent chunk of the storm from striking them before Jeremy managed to intercede and blow away the lion’s share of it. 

She slid numbly off the horse, finding her hand reaching out to grab at the back of Jeremy’s shirt in a trembling death grip. She watched as Tempest and Kiyoko attempted to bring the beast down, but saw quickly that it wasn’t working. 

“Jeremy,” she said tremulously, eyes locked on the spectacle. “I have Okaa-san in my bag. She’s going to run out of air soon. I can’t take her out this close to the serpent or she’s going to die. Help me. Please.” Her words were simple, matter-of-fact, and nowhere near as chatterboxy as Jeremy would be used to hearing from the teenager. They had a flat, analytical bent to them. “I need you to blow something into the air for me. Not yet, though. Hold on.”

She yanked her hand away from his shirt, almost as if her hand was attached and she actively needed to apply force to make herself move away from the one familiar thing on the battlefield. Maybe she did. She ran back to the horse and Sarashina on top of it. “M-Ma’am?” she asked, looking up wide-eyed at the woman. “Do you wanna stab this one too? I have an idea.” She started talking quickly, tracing her hand across the bag she had been lugging around this entire time. Rainbow light started tracing itself over her extended finger, slowly forming runic sigils over the surface of the bag. 

She was dimly aware of Tempest stabbing shadowy tethers into the great beast. Yes, please, she thought desperately, her inner thoughts still a roil despite her outward demeanor. Just keep it still, long enough for me to work the spell… And she reached up to trace a similar spell on Sarashina’s leg, finishing her explanation of her idea to the woman as she did so, feeling her last iteration of the spell she had just woven break, wherever those objects were. 

“Can you do that?” she asked, that hint of desperation still evident in her voice. She has forty seconds, she thought. At most.

- - - - - - -

Leo stood still for a few seconds, his eyes darting around as his smile grew subtle. His nostrils flared for a split second, and a sharp intake of oxygen was all he needed before dashing toward his opponent, spinning his improvised weapon more like an extended baton than a staff. He let it slip slightly in his hand, the momentum carrying it forward so that when he reaffirmed his grip, he was holding it by the very end, extending his reach so that the horizontal swing toward Kess came a pace sooner than he had telegraphed.

“As IF-” Kess began to scream, ducking to the side to slide across a table, but his obfuscation had payed off. The staff tagged Kess in the bad shoulder she had twinged earlier, and she let out a gasp of pain as she felt it come dangerously close to dislocating. Her slide across the table lost a lot of control, and she landed on the floor opposite Leo and had to scramble for her footing, breathing now more ragged than it had been before.

Rather than capitalize on the opening, Leo tossed his piece of rebar aside, embedding it sticking out of a nearby wall, and leaned against the table Kess had tumbled over, with a hand on the surface. "You good blud? Battery ain't dead yet, is it? We can keep chatting if you like."

Kess’s good humor (or savage humor, as some might say) vanished instantly. Her face now set itself into a snarl as her eyes gained a disconcerting glow of rage. She shoved power into her legs, far more than was necessary, and her knees protested with burning pain as she rocketed towards Leo. She ignored it, turning to shoulder-check him as violently as possible. “Don’t slack off, Bubblegum Boy!” she snarled, fury lacing her voice just as the hexagonal sparks laced her body.

Leo took the force of the impact head-on, launched back to smack hard against the further wall, slumping on the ground. He coughed up a bit more blood, and grinned back at Kess, raising a finger in front of his face with a tiny pink flaming hovering at the tip. "You put up an extra good fight, it's a right shame you had to lose like this."

Kess became a blur of motion as she darted to one side, then the other. “Fuck you think you are?!!” she barked at him, the slight clink of metal buried beneath her shout. She darted at Leo, and in her hand was the bat he had tossed aside, drawn back across her body in an attempt at a brutal backhand blow. Before she could reach him, Leo blew out the tiny flame. 

"Tripwire Impact."

The ceiling a floor up that Leo had pushed down off of. The table that he had leaned on. The rebar stuck in the wall. The fragments of the thrown table that were scattered throughout the room. Even the spotting of blood on Kess's clothing. It all flashed bright pink, and exploded. The resulting blast knocked the entire wing out of the side of the Samsara Titan.
 

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"The fuck-" Kess barely had the time to say before the room exploded around her. In particular, the blood exploding on her front sent her flying backwards, her bat swiping down a solid foot away from Leo’s face, and Kess went spiraling out through the collapsing wall and into the light of day. She had been channeling most of her inner energy into her arms, and when she went through the crumbling walls she took the majority of the physical brunt of the impact through her body. Not enough to break anything, but certainly enough to discombobulate her until she was almost at the ground.

"Shit! Shit!" She pivoted in midair, swinging Leo’s stolen bat wildly. She found purchase on a piece of debris, knocking herself sideways onto a large piece of fractured wall. She managed to get her feet under her and leapt off, landing on the street below, forced to run pell-mell to avoid falling over and gouging off all the skin from her body by sliding several hundred feet over hard street. She waved her arms, trying desperately to regain her balance and slow down. Fortunately, she found something to cushion her impact among the broken streets. 

She swerved hard at the last second, feeling herself impact against something soft before the both of them came to a bone-jarring impact against the street. A strangled and furious moan of pain came from beneath her.

"Awww, thanks, babe," she said carelessly, slowly pulling herself up from where she’d fallen on top of Ryo, ‘accidentally’ elbowing her in the face while she stood for good measure. "Couldn’t have done it without ya’."

"Kessandra?? What are you doing back down here, did you ki-" Ryo's chastising was cut abruptly short when she saw the condition Kess was in. Despite Kess’s seemingly cavalier attitude, her shoulders were rising and falling swiftly, and she was leaning on the bat for some support. Her clothes and skin had all manner of abrasions and tears to them, but most of all she was glaring up at the Titan, and the blown-out portion of its body that was even now slowly starting to heal over, with a hard, narrow gaze. "Kessandra, is… Are you okay? What the hell happened in there?"

Kess whipped her head back around to glare at Ryo, hackles raised instantly. "Don’t fucking ask if I’m okay like you give two shits about it, I didn’t ask for your damn sympathy!" She lifted up the baseball bat, tossing it up to rotate in the air before catching it by the handle again. "The Brit with the hot dog cart thought he was hot shit."

"Did he knock you out of there? I suppose that makes two people here who you're 0 for 1 against."

Kess’s elbow didn’t drive back with the bone-breaking force she had wanted it to. She was too tired from the fight with Leo and being knocked out of the building. But it certainly still hurt. "You smug little bitch," she seethed at the doubled-over, gasping Ryo. "You sat here and did NOTHING while I had to fuck around in a building that’s trying to kill everything around it and inside it." She threw the bat down the street in anger. "You don’t get to comment on SHIT, so go slither back to your little snow queen and bury your nose up her ass, don’t come acting like YOU’RE better than ME." She stormed past Ryo, and began stalking back down the street towards the Colossus, reaching down to angrily scoop up the bat again, smacking the end into her palm again and again, growling under her breath.

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Before she had a chance to conclude whether she was dying or not, Elita hit the ground. As much as the impact hurt, she didn't seem to have any kind of visible injury from it. While the ground was as black and unobservable as the space around her, she could feel water, only a few inches deep, covering what she could only assume by texture to be tile flooring.

She wasn’t enthused by the sensation of water around her, but that was second to the fact that she had the wind knocked out of her from the rough landing. If anyone else had been nearby, it was likely they would have felt a spike of annoyance as her emotions projected from her, a rare display of her losing her composure. She brushed her fingers against the floor underneath the water, before pushing herself to her feet to, her hands reaching into the darkness to try and feel for any walls she could use to guide herself forwards, "Perhaps death would be better than whatever this is…"

While her blind wandering did not lead to any sort of wall, after what felt like an endless moment of aimlessness she suddenly saw the figure of Mayor Stratford standing before her. His clothing was neat and clean, and there were no signs on him of the battle that he had been involved in. He did not acknowledge Elita's presence, or seem to notice her whatsoever, as his eyes were locked upon something behind her, something that had his face contorted in absolute horror.

A small sigh escaped her, she knew she likely needed to turn around and see whatever it was he was looking at, but it was never a pleasant realization. With her hands neatly folded in front of her, she turned herself around swiftly, seeing six enormous silhouettes looming over them in the void.

Her brows furrowed as she took the moment to try and memorize the shape of the silhouettes, even if it was unclear if she would remember this once she… Awoke, she supposed. She took what notes she could about them, three in the back, their eyes were the stand out features on the majority of them, although one’s were covered. Height, she would have to hope that the white hair on one was accurate, she wanted as much information to work with once she was able to proceed…

Finally, she turned her attention back to the frozen Stratford. She took a few steps towards him once more, "As I said before, I wish to help. At this stage, I don’t believe I can save you… But I can at least allow you to pass without this much fear and pain in your heart."

She put her hand on Stratford’s shoulder, focusing herself as she prepared for the inevitable rush of pain that was sure to come from this, "Mr. Stratford, my mother often spoke highly of you, and the city’s belief in you was strong, it is a shame it had to end like this. I wish I could have done more."

Suddenly, the mayor's eyes turned downward to meet Elita's. The two held eye contact for a few seconds, before he spoke, "I have made a horrible mistake, haven't I?"

"Quite possibly." Elita gave him a soft, sad smile as she shook her head, "But most mistakes can be fixed. If you can tell me whatever you know, I will see what I can do in your stead. I do not believe you deserve to have your reputation destroyed over what occurred today."

"I expect the damage to be far greater than what can be undone. But I will do what I can, with what I have left." Stratford closed his eyes, and Elita opened her own.

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At ground level, things had escalated to a head. The founts gathered were facing down what had become an enormous dragon, flying hundreds of feet in the air. While it had been damaged by the assault from Kiyoko’s otherworldly co-conspirators, it bit back with laser breath fitting for a century old monster movie. Despite the insurmountable foe, the young magician Kaede had constructed a rudimentary plan, involving a rune placed on the bag she carried. Of course, she was far from athletic, so delivering that payload was an issue its own…

"... if she can, I can always chuck it," Diana offered, "I'm pretty accurate, so it should definitely be where we need it to go."

There was only a second's hesitation before Kaede handed the bag off. "Get some rocks in it," she said quickly, reaching down to grab at pieces of debris. "It's light, won't get high without weight. Jeremy, Ibuz! Give us a really, REALLY great wind to help it blast off, okay?"

Turning around to the debris, the hero dug around for a moment, before producing a piece around the size of her fist. After placing it in the bag, she pulled her arm back and began to spin it, taking aim, before...

"Go!"

In a flash, the bag was rocketing towards the serpent, a small burst of air around Diana as she grinned, followed by a surrounding gust caused by the fount and his kami companion. The bag impacted the dragon in the center of its mass, breaking through its armor and disappearing within the depths of its large body.

"PSHSHNEH!" she shouted in ancient Egyptian, holding out both her splayed hands and swiping them through the air, crossing her arms so the hands pointed in opposite directions. In a flash of triangular prisms, the knight woman who had slain one of the serpents disappeared, replaced by the bag that had been thrown, which fell limply to the ground.

Several seconds passed without any development, and the group began to wonder if something had gone wrong. However, before anyone had a chance to voice these concerns, the screeching sounds of tearing metal could be heard from above. Despite the distance and level of general chaos surrounding, it was still incredibly loud to those on the ground. The dragon coiled and contorted in apparent pain, struggling to remain aloft as it writhed about. This continued for a moment, before the knight errant burst forth from the chest like an alien larva in a classic film.

The dragon let forth a final blast from its maw into the sky, before tumbling backward and collapsing atop a tower that remarkably managed to bear the weight without collapsing. In a flash, Diana had kicked off the ground and used the serpent's falling rubble to jump higher still. After hundreds of feet were covered in mere moments, a single mighty leap propelled the hero towards Sarashina's falling form, catching the knight in her arms and holding her close as they sailed towards one of the tall buildings in the area. Glass flew through the air as they crashed into a window, Diana shielding Sarashina and seemingly handling the shards with ease.

"You alright?"

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The last few minutes were hell on Earth for Sei. Avoiding the mayor's attacks had been easy enough for her up to this point, but doing so with her new acquaintance slung over her shoulder was an entirely different challenge. She was bleeding from several spots, at least two of which she knew could spell real danger if untreated. There was even a portion of her left arm that has been badly scorched - she didn't expect the hearth to jump into the fray.

By this point, she had been backed into a corner, with her opponent looming over her for the finishing blow. She knew she wouldn't be able to get away in time, at least not while also protecting the vulnerable Elita. Luckily, this was not the day the two of them met their end. Elita suddenly began stirring back awake, as what appeared to be an expression of horrified realization appeared on Stratford's face. He was lowered to the floor by the spears that carried him, and dropped unceremoniously to his knees. As the spines withdrew from his body, blood and viscera poured freely from the openings they left.

"Thank you, child," his voice was ragged, filled with anguish both physical and mental, "I don't think I have much time left."

As Elita returned to the physical world, there was a small groan of discomfort. Her hand reached not for the ground, but for her purse, dragging it towards her as she started to sit up. There was a moment of fiddling inside of the bag, before retrieving a small bottle that rattled as she popped it open, and a cloth that she quietly wiped her face with, "...No, I can’t imagine that you do. Perhaps if I had managed to get here much, much sooner, we could have helped more, found someone who could heal you properly. I apologize for that."

"He isn’t dead yet," Sei groaned, slouching down against the nearest wall now that she could stop to breathe for a moment. "There’s at least, what, five other Founts down at street level? Surely one of them can heal our good mayor up, now that he’s come to his senses."

Elita frowned for a moment, "...Perhaps, but it isn’t likely that we can actually get him there in time. And we need answers. If you wish to try and bring one here, I won’t stop you, but… Mr. Stratford, it’s important that you give us any information you have."

"It would be faster to bring him down to ground level." Nodding toward the mayor, Sei added "With your permission, of course, Mr. Mayor."

"No. I don't believe I would last long enough to get down there. I am ready to pay the price for my actions." He turned toward Elita, the pain fading from his face as his expression turned serious, "I'm afraid the information I have for you is scarce. I heard a voice over my shoulder, and just like that was overtaken by unending paranoia. It was like a waking nightmare."

With a grunt of pain, he leaned toward the pair, "I have failed in my goal to protect this city from those who put it in danger. I need the two of you-" as he looked up, tears were visible cutting lines through the blood on his face, "-I need you to save M... save these people. Please, promise me."

Elita let out a tiny sigh, "I expected little, but this is unfortunate…" She folded the cloth in her hand, taking a moment to brush the blood from Stratford’s face as she nodded her head, "I will… Do what I can. With this little direction, it will be tough, but perhaps someone on the ground… Gleaned something. Rest, Mr. Stratford, I’m sure the goddess will gaze favorably on you, despite today."

"I’ll protect the people with all I’ve got. I’d be unfit to call myself a Fount if I didn’t. We’ll get to the bottom of this, and bring whoever’s behind it to justice. You’re more than welcome to haunt me for the rest of my life if I don’t."

 

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Megalopolis 6th District, 12:41 PM

Before the eyes of all on the ground, the Samsara Titan halted in its destructive march. Its mass lowered slowly, carefully onto the ground. While having the tower placed in the center of the road was far from convenient from a civil engineering perspective, it was far from the hazard it had been for nearly the past hour. The sun was directly above it in the sky, and if only for a second, it appeared as if the tower cast no shadow at all, glowing from every angle.

Megalopolis 6th District, 3:00 PM

The destructive rampage of the tower turned titan had been halted for a few hours by this point, and while emergency workers (assisted by a certain blonde fount with strength of half a dozen athletes) worked on recovering those trapped or injured in the incident, a fair number of those who had fought to put a stop to it were congregated at a bar a few blocks away - or at least, what remained of a bar. Perhaps if it reopened they would be able to capitalize on the open-air arrangement as the roof (and apartments that were once above it) had been completely wiped out. In any case, Leo stood behind the bar, pouring a series of shots from an unlabeled bottle for whoever would take them. He had a few new scars visible on his arms, matching his injuries from his bout with Kess.

"So, as extra exciting as all that was, I gotta ask what the bloody fuck it all was about."

Edited by (o ×)

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"That's the question, isn't it?"

-39-

Stepping forward, a woman slammed her hand on the bar itself, causing the liquid that Leo had just poured to slosh in its place. She scowled as she looked out over the group of founts that had taken on Stratford and his beasts, gritting her teeth a bit... before letting out a sigh. She stood up properly and brushed some hair from her face, before continuing.

"I suppose I should introduce myself, since you guys seem at least a bit chummy with each other. My name is April Soleil. I'm an investigative journalist, and all of this started while I was stranded a couple districts over. By the time I managed to come back, I found 'guvna' back there passed out inside of Samsara Tower, and, as you can see," she took a moment to motion to the roof, or lack thereof, "the fact that I am now homeless. So, what I wanna know is why. Why did the mayor do this? Why did each of you join in? Why does my insurance not cover giant monster attacks in a place filled with founts? Hell if I know any of it... First and foremost, which of you took down Stratford? If I'm gonna make enough to get back on my feet, I'm gonna need the first answers from those of you who stopped this. Don't give me any of that modest hero bull, I hate writing schlock like this, but a girl's gotta put a roof over her head."

Before anyone else could chime in, April looked back at Leo, finding him staring at her, and earning himself a rather disgusted look in response.

"The fuck do you want?"

"Dincha have blue eyes when I seen you before, bossgal?"

"... You must've experienced more blunt force trauma than I thought. Should get yourself to the hospital and get your head checked, cause my eyes have been yellow since the day I was born."

"You know, that guy is responsible for preventing quite a lot of damage to the surrounding people, even if listening to him talk makes my ears bleed." Ryo Kataki piped up in Leo's defense, albeit in her own venomous way, grabbing one of the shot glasses and kicking it back like an expert.

"Wasn't my property he protected, was it? If anything, I think he owes me for saving his life."

"Considering he saved my life, I guess that debt will pass right on." reaching into her purse, Ryo extracted a simple white wallet. She pulled out a few high value bills and tossed them on the counter before April, "Don't waste it. Now as this busybody was asking, does anyone here know what the hell got this started, and how the hell it ended?"

April's brow raised at the busybody comment, but picked up the money and counted it before stuffing it in a pocket. Leaning back against the bar, she let the others begin to chime in, quietly taking in everything she could.

 

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Elita let out a tiny sigh, gently rubbing at her head, “...Stratford has entrusted his dying wish to us.” She turned to Sei, her eyes seeming to gazing into the distance, “If you wish to help as well, I suggest we reconvene with the ones on the ground. Although unlikely, maybe they can point us in the right direction. I have questions that will need answers… And I’m sure they will want to know what happened here.”

“I’ll bring you back to ground level, yeah. I need to run over to the university for some errands before anything else though.” Re-inspecting the wounds from the battle she just had, Sei sighed “And in this state at that, if I want to make it home for dinner.”

Elita gave a small laugh as she nodded her head gently, “...I suppose that is fair. I will be heading towards… Well, wherever the nearest open bar is, I imagine. I just happened to win a bet. If you would like to join that, at least, we can bring the others up to speed… If your errands are urgent though, I can handle the talking part of things.”

“If you’re offering me free food or drink, I’m definitely not about to say no.” The familiar pair of red wings sprouted from Sei’s back as she made toward the windows of the office. “Come to think of it, I don’t think you ever gave me your name. I told you mine on the way up, so it’s only fair you tell me yours now that we’re heading back down.”

With a small nod, and a few steps forward, Elita sighed, “I believe I forgot… My name is Eilta Thomas, I’m sorry we didn’t meet under more pleasant circumstances…”

---

Megalopolis 6th District, 3:00 PM

"I suppose I should introduce myself, since you guys seem at least a bit chummy with each other. My name is April Soleil. I'm an investigative journalist, and all of this started while I was stranded a couple districts over.”

Elita had to restrain an audible sigh as April began to launch on her tirade. The media was already here, that was concerning. If they were going to be swarmed with journalists, then she would have to take the lead here. Her mother had been very clear: Control the media to control the narrative…

"the fact that I am now homeless. So, what I wanna know is why. Why did the mayor do this?-”

She caught herself once more from an outburst. If she was going to be hellbent on blaming Stratford, there was little Elita could do to change her mind. It was going to be a very risky game she would be playing.

“Why did each of you join in? Why does my insurance not cover giant monster attacks in a place filled with founts? Hell if I know any of it... First and foremost, which of you took down Stratford? If I'm gonna make enough to get back on my feet, I'm gonna need the first answers from those of you who stopped this. Don't give me any of that modest hero bull, I hate writing schlock like this, but a girl's gotta put a roof over her head."

Elita almost felt relief for a moment. This was where she lived. Journalists hadn’t pinned down their position just yet, which meant… She wasn’t doomed to have to explain everything right off the bat. After a moment, she stood up, “...I am Elita Thomas, and I’m the one who quelled the force that had overtaken Stratford…” She moved one hand, motioning to Sei as she did, “Sei… I don’t believe I got your surname before, I apologize for that.. She helped me breach the tower’s defenses and protected me as I calmed Stratford. If you wish to talk about this, I have a few rules that you will have to listen to. You are not the only one who lost their home in this tragic event, and I won’t have you using that to bully any poor soul here.”

“Hold up,” April stood up a bit straighter, scowling a bit, “What do you mean? ‘’Quelled’ and saying a force had overtaken him is an interesting choice of words. Are you suggesting that someone could control Stratford? When he was seemingly capable of weaponizing our entire city?”

Elita’s hand was held up at the end of April’s questioning, “As I said, I will tell you what I can. What I know. However…” With each word, a pressure began to bear down on those around her, a pit in their stomach starting to form as her own emotions projected outwards, unburdened by her usual stoic demeanor, “...If you intend on using this opportunity as a vulture would, to feed with disregard of the dead, we will not have anything to say. If you intend to slander a dead man, who overwhelmingly aimed to help this city, I will not tell you anything. Is that clear?”

“I want to pull myself out from the rubble, but I have no interest in reporting lies. There’s enough of that out there, without me adding onto it. So if you can swear to whatever power you believe in that you’re telling me the absolute truth, then perhaps I can. If not… the police are just a couple blocks away, and I’m sure the chief would be interested in meeting all of you.”

With an offer of her hand, Elita nodded gently, slowly pulling herself together as she did, “Very well. I’m afraid, with what we know at the moment, there isn’t a story you can likely sell just yet. I joined the fray because someone's, who know I know to be Stratford, emotions were in a state of wild disarray, which I felt from the ground. Sei helped me into the tower, I believe through dive bombing a window, I was a tad… Disoriented from the impact.”

“If that sensation earlier was your doing, I have to ask how you weren’t killed on sight without any defensive abilities,” the journalist’s scowl deepened a bit, “Between what sir stares-a-lot told me and what I’ve been able to glean, Stratford had more power than anyone knew. Even I could see that giant flying snake from miles away… so how, exactly, did you and her,” April motioned to the pactbearing fount, “Survive in close quarters with someone that powerful? And, I must ask again, what did your earlier phrasing mean?”

Another soft breath from Elita as she steadied her emotions, by now, that pressure had fully let up on the others as she folded her arms in front of her as she sat down again, “...As I mentioned, Sei protected me. I do not have much in the way of physical defenses, and I’ll ask that you not highlight that in whatever you write, since that does pose a danger to me if too many people discover it.”

She placed one hand on the table in front of her, before picking up a fork, “When the city was in chaos, things were being animated. I do not know if you saw it first hand, but many here were defending civilians from it. These objects were linked back to the tower, to Stratford’s frenzied mental state. I will get there in time. I have… Or I suppose had, I do not know if it was linked to Stratford himself or not, the ability to sever that connection and render the objects lifeless for a period, before they were reanimated. That is how I managed to get Sei and myself to Stratford in the first place.”

“... And it was just the two of you? Sei must be pretty strong then. If she can defend you and fight at the same time…” her gaze drifted over to Sei, taking note of her appearance, before looking back to Elita, “With how she’s roughed up and you’re basically fine. Did she tank every hit?”

“Sei’s defense was impeccable. When we arrived in Stratford’s room, I attempted to talk him down, but he was panicked. He feared an assassination attempt, and believed us to be the ones sent to carry it out.” Her face visibly fell at this point, a small sigh escaping her as she did, “...He was in that state when we arrived. Once again, I can only speculate. I do not know if that was what allowed him to animate so many objects, including the tower itself, but I believe it had a hand in it. Sei wished to carry him to the ground once we calmed him, but the blood loss… He would not have survived either way.”

“The two of you, huh… Wild. But I suppose you say that’s the truth,” April let herself relax a bit and leaned back against a wall, “And I’ve no reason to disbelieve it, unless Sei disagrees. In which case… Please explain how he was panicked. And whatever it was that you ‘quelled’.”

“I will stand by this account to my own dying breath, I made a promise to the late mayor, after all.” Her face had returned to its usual blankness, betraying none of her emotions as she spoke. “As Sei drew his attention, I approached Stratford. Once again, I would ask this doesn’t get out just yet, but I know you cannot promise that. When I touched him, I immediately collapsed. To get an account of what happened in the room proper, you’ll have to discuss with Sei, for I don’t know.”

She paused, a little sigh escaping her, “...It was strange. I had never had something quite like this happen. As I mentioned, his emotions, his mental state, was wild. He was paranoid and panicked, and when I ‘awoke’ for the first time, I was alone. Stratford was gone, Sei was nowhere to be seen… And the room was pristine. I heard a voice in the room, one I cannot identify now.”

“I thought just the two of you and Stratford were there?” April interjected.

Elita lifted a finger in the air, “I did not confirm that, Miss Soleil. Please, I know this is complex, and I don’t fully understand it all just yet… Sei and I entered the tower together, Stratford was there from the beginning I am forced to assume… And there was one more physically present, but cloaked in shadows. This figure blocked a single one of Stratford’s attacks aimed at me… And then it challenged me to calm Stratford down. I don’t know if it was hoping I would, or if it was a taunt from an adversary.”

“You heard this shadow person speak, yes? Then I assume this is also the voice you heard in… whatever happened when you fainted?”

Once again, Elita shook her head. This time, she laughed gently, “It’s very annoying, is it not? No, this first voice was very… Casual. As if it was playing with us, that is why I hadn’t brought it up yet… I find that to be the most interesting part. I was going to mention at the end and ask if any other sightings of something like this had been reported.”

She tapped the table idly, “The voice in this strange… I cannot call it a vision, or a dream. It very much affected Stratford. The second voice had no body, unlike the first. It seemed to whisper directly in my ear, and it was very interested in the fact that I was there at all. I would say it seemed surprised, but I don’t know if that’s what it was thinking. Almost as soon as I got there, it requested my name, but when I requested the same, it left… I believe it was female, but that is purely off the voice.”

April listened along, taking it in without much of a reaction. Even as Elita finished the statement, April crossed her arms and tapped her fingers against them for a few moments… before slamming a fist on the bar in front of Leo.

“God damn it! You can’t tell me something that juicy when I can’t even report it! Do you think anyone is going to buy your shadow person and illusory presence story!?” She groaned loudly as she raised a hand up to push the hair out of her face roughly, just to repeat the motion again with a bit more poise as the hair fell back, “I’m not saying you’re lying. It adds up more than just you and Sei being alone with Stratford. But fuck, all it would manage to achieve upon reporting would be paranoia and hysteria, which may very well be the aim of whoever did this. We don’t even know if our mystery elements are connected! And good luck getting the cops to listen, the chief won’t take hints from anyone, I’ve tried!”

Elita gave an apologetic smile, “...Now you see the problems I’m facing, Miss Soleil. I wish to defend Mr. Stratford’s name, for he didn’t do this under his own will. I believe that spectral voice to be connected to his increased paranoia, but I cannot prove it… It would create more panic than it would anything else. People will drag his name through the mud for the time being, as I investigate with very few leads, and I must simply hope I can find enough proof to restore his name with time. I wish I had more to offer, something that would clear his name and point to the culprits, but as of now, I do not. In the meantime...”

She motioned around the bar, a small smile on her face, "Perhaps you can find some engaging story among the defenders. If I can find leads... I would appreciate your cooperation, if you would offer it. You must have some experience in investigations."

As heated as the conversation had gotten, Ryo was staring intently at those speaking, taking in every word. Concluding that she had heard enough, she hopped down from her barstool, quietly pushing it in under the half-destroyed bar counter before making her way out of the building without a word, only stopping to turn the sign hanging in the window to 'COME ON IN, WE'RE OPEN!'...

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"It's light, won't get high without weight. Jeremy, Ibuz! Give us a really, REALLY great wind to help it blast off, okay?"

"Quite the tall order, miss Kaede...buuuuuut..."

"We have your back, Kaede." Jeremy nodded, his Djinn and himself prepping for the moment the bag of rocks would be launched. And at the moment it was time, the pair let loose the greatest gust of wind in the direction of the bag...whilst also prepping to make sure to keep Diana's fall to be slowed. "T-That...should do it..."

"PSHSHNEH!"

Now the knight and the bag swapped places thanks to the rune from Alexandria's library. Though for a moment, like the others, Jeremy was puzzled if anything happened. Nothing different seemed to be going on right now and the junk Quetzalcoatl still remained in the sky. "Um, Kaede...did you say that ri-..." About this time, Jeremy ate his words, watching the junk serpent let loose a screeching metal grinding on metal sound...maybe even metal being torn apart. Needless to say, it was painful to hear.

But in any case, the serpent had been defeated, the knight saved by Diana...and apparently the Tower stopped it's rampage too. Victory seemed to be theirs for the moment.

"Bravo! A good work to you all!" Ibuz laughed, applauding those who were on the ground. "Truly a band of like minded and formidable Founts if I ever saw them. Now, who's up for shawarma?"

Jeremy did have to admire and be amazed by Ibuz's enthusiasm about it all, but at the same time, this was NOT how today should've gone. But hey, it's life.


Megalopolis 6th District, 3:00 PM

Jeremy made his way to the bar, namely cause...where else would he go at the present since all the emergency work currently going on. While he sat down at the bar, Ibuz now safely within his lamp which still remained at Jeremy's side, the young man finally moved his bag onto the table and dove his hands into it. He rummaged around until he felt what he was looking for, pulling the items out: two intricately ornate Faberge eggs, though you could see the wear and tear on them as the years passed. It was obvious they had been with the couple he procured them from for a very long time. "They didn't crack or break...thank Christ..." he sighed in relief.

"Shame truly. I'm sure a few cracked eggs would've been perfectly fine, master."

"And have that on my record of being the one antique store owner and proprietor to not only take people's antiques but destroy them immediately before selling them again?" Jeremy asked in an irritated tone. "Yeah, I'd rather not...though I will say, they did say it these were of Napoleonic origin for one and the other...either Chinese or Japanese...still, doesn't matter. I'm sure these had some good history involved with 'em in the long run."

As he put the eggs back into his bag, he could overhear a conversation going on now...apparently from three Founts: numbers 39, 20 and 53. He didn't get it all at the present, buuuuut he got the tail end...

“God damn it! You can’t tell me something that juicy when I can’t even report it! Do you think anyone is going to buy your shadow person and illusory presence story!? I’m not saying you’re lying. It adds up more than just you and Sei being alone with Stratford. But fuck, all it would manage to achieve upon reporting would be paranoia and hysteria, which may very well be the aim of whoever did this. We don’t even know if our mystery elements are connected! And good luck getting the cops to listen, the chief won’t take hints from anyone, I’ve tried!”
“...Now you see the problems I’m facing, Miss Soleil. I wish to defend Mr. Stratford’s name, for he didn’t do this under his own will. I believe that spectral voice to be connected to his increased paranoia, but I cannot prove it… It would create more panic than it would anything else. People will drag his name through the mud for the time being, as I investigate with very few leads, and I must simply hope I can find enough proof to restore his name with time. I wish I had more to offer, something that would clear his name and point to the culprits, but as of now, I do not. In the meantime...Perhaps you can find some engaging story among the defenders. If I can find leads... I would appreciate your cooperation, if you would offer it. You must have some experience in investigations."

"Hmmm, the blonde one seems like quite the feisty one."

"...I'm going to ignore that, Ibuz. Besides, did you not see the feisty ones literally being the one behind the bar counter and the woman with the fiery red hair?" Jeremy sighed, shaking his head. "They're the feisty ones...."

"Perhaps master, but...I do like the challenge. Perhaps I can get her to give you her numb-..."

"That's it, you're done for the night." Jeremy shook his head, immediately taking the lamp and shoving it into his bag. A few muffles and groans from the lamp were heard as he shoved it away, closing his bag up. "You are just too much to handle sometimes...like, more than you should be." He glanced again in the direction of the three before shrugging. "Even still...investigative journalist..." Current events were technically part of history, so maybe he could learn and glean something from this journalist.

After a moment, Jeremy finally made his way over towards April after grabbing a quick shot of whatever Leo made. "Afternoon, miss...Soleil was it? Do you have a moment?"

“Eh? Hey, aren’t you that guy that owns that one antiquities shop?”

“I see my reputation precedes me.” Jeremy nodded, extending a hand out. “Jeremy Shelby, at your service.”

“Yeah… I have an item from there, from when I was a child. I know you weren’t the owner then, but…” April’s eyes sharpened, seeming to snap out of whatever place she had drifted to, “Anyway, what was it you wanted?”

“Well first off, I do hope whatever item you got from Diamond in the Rough Antiques was something that you truly enjoy.” Jeremy smiled, immediately pulling his hand back after seeing her eyes practically sharpen and snapped into the present moment. It was obvious she wasn't in the mood for the normal pleasantries... “Straight to the point, I was hoping to see if there was any other information you had on this case…or story…or whatever this currently is. Like, is this the first occurrence of something like this? It’s current events, and as a history major, I do want to make a point in trying to know more about these kinds of things.”

“Depends on what you mean ‘like this’. Any info on the case at hand I have is from missy or the lime back there, so I can’t tell you much. Individual districts have news all the time, but… Nothing of this scale, generally.”

“So something on the scale of a massive monumental building practically wreaking havoc isn’t on many dockets of news…okay, I should’ve figured, but I wanted to be sure all the same.” He shrugged, rubbing his chin slightly. “But I guess if things like this incident specifically happened in the other districts, it would’ve made the news and headlines almost instantly, I’m assuming.”

“Sorry, don’t have much for you. I hear a lot of the gossip through some people here in Districts 5 and 6, but even then not much of this… magnitude. Though some are maybe more concerning.”

“Concerning in what manner?”

“I imagine this came about due to a lot of unrest across Megalopolis,” the reporter explained, tapping a finger on the bar as she did, “Mangled bodies showing up in District 2, gang wars in Districts 4, 7, and 8… Zealots standing out in District 10, along with more cults popping up all the time. You name it.”

Jeremy rubbed his chin once more, pondering on what was told to him. “Hmmm, this is pretty strange. And if memory serves, Megalopolis hasn’t had anything like this, not counting the Tower Titan, happen in its history.” A sigh escaped his lips slightly. “I’d ask if there’s a possibility if these incidents are all connected, but alas, I believe you’d say there probably isn’t enough evidence or even there’s just no way they can be.”

“... Yeah, there’s nothing concrete,” April looked to the side, “No different than our story right now. Just hearsay at absolute most, as far as the greater public is concerned.”

“I see, I see.” he nodded, crossing his arms before adjusting his glasses slightly. “Still, this is a lot of stuff that’s been going on. And with the whole Tower Titan today…plus the junk Quetzacoatl…it’s getting strange that it’s all happened like this. Like…maybe like small dominoes falling…but, I’d have assumed the Tower would’ve been the final domino to fall if that.” He paused, before immediately clearing his throat. “S-Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to ramble there."

“We’ll see.”

“Oh, and by the way…” Jeremy said, snagging another shot. “I overheard your conversation there, annnnnd the people you’ll probably want to interview on the junk Quetzacoatl fight happen to be that one blonde girl out there helping out with the clean up, that knight…annnnnd there’s one more…”

“You’ll just tell her about miss Kaede like that?”

Jeremy sighed, smacking the side of his bag some. “First off Ibuz, it’s rude to just interrupt a conversation…secondly, it was her plan after all.” he turned his attention back to April. “The third one is Kaede, she’s the young girl with the sun hat.”

“I’m not involving a child unless they choose to be,” April interjected, “And I… don’t think chasing after Seigi is a good idea. Fucking impossible to nail her down for an interview, considering her fairly high record of property destruction in the act of heroism… But thanks for the info on the third one.”

“And I totally respect that…you’re definitely different than other journalists, that’s for sure.” Jeremy smirked. “They would’ve just gone straight to playing 20 Questions with the kid. But either way, I’m glad I could be of service…and if you ever need another antique or maybe want to drop any other tidbits of information by…ya know where to find me.” With that, the young man walked away from the journalist and sat back where he was prior. Though now, things were puzzling to him. Mangled bodies...gang wars...zealots and cults...and to top it off with the Tower walking and being sentient. These things were making sense, nor were their pieces falling into place properly...IF they were all connected somehow. For now, Jeremy hoped that things would start to calm down after this Tower situation...keyword: hope.

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Hunger. Pain. Hunger is pain. Pain bad. Pain bad. Pain is hunger. Pain... hunger, pain pain pain--!!!

monster_eyes_feed.png

 


Karna woke up with a gasp, sweat dripping down his face. Where was he? He didn't remember where he was or how he got there.

That was never a good sign.

He looked over his body. No wounds, no signs of any obvious damage. The most unusual thing was that he was full, but that didn't mean much. Looking around, he was in a rundown room, presumably inside of an apartment. It seemed he was back in one of his home bases. That was good, at least he wasn't stranded on the top of a building again.

His attention was drawn to his small, broken table. On top of the dilapidated furniture was some food, probably enough for the whole day. The delicious looking food, something most people in his situation would considered a gift from the gods themselves, only filled Karna's stomach with despair. There was no doubt about it. That food was not there yesterday.

That food was not his.

An incident happened.

Running over to the dry board (that was also stolen, from where, he had no idea), Karna quickly erased away the large 13 on the board, scribbling in a big 0 in its place. The transformations weren't following a pattern he could discern. It was probably just emotion based. Still, just seeing the number get bigger made him feel better. Even if his good feelings went away as soon as he had to scribble in that 0.

He sat at the table, nibbling away at the food. He always felt guilty, but he had to eat. Still, he could only hope that whoever he stole from could forgive him.

When he had his fill, the boy threw on his tattered jacket, walking outside. The sunlight caused him to squint. Seeing as his last memory was at dusk, at least a night had passed. Now he had to retrace his steps, and hope he could figure out what exactly happen last night. He quietly walked through the streets of District 13, keeping his head low. He made sure to stay out of people's sights, out of their attention.

He soon figured out he was on the Southern Border of the 13th District, right next to District 1. That worked out perfectly, as information traveled fast in District 1. However, he wasn't even in the district for long before he realized something horrible had happened.

The capital building was gone! All around was a trail of destruction, one carving its way into the distance. The damage was immeasurable, the path of destruction was wide. Karna stared at it, only one thought came to his mind.

"Did... D-Did I do that?" He muttered fearfully. His stomach felt like it would expel all its contents. He knew he was dangerous, he knew that he needed to stay away from others, but this. This was destruction on a scale even his own paranoia wasn't ready for.

He needed to know what happened.

And so he followed the path of destruction. All the way up to District 11, the path snaked. Karna could see homes ruined, businesses destroyed, lives in shambles. He could could only feel the guilt of it all crushing him, like the entire weight of the world was on his shoulders. The path suddenly turned, headed back down towards District 6. As he walked for hours, taking in all the destruction around him, his steps felt heavier and heavier.

Freedom was a gift he didn't deserve.

Not after all this.

After what felt like an eternity, he found the end of the path. The capital building, transformed into some sort of... mech, laid in ruins. It crushed everything around it, including Karna's own conscious. What had he done? What did they have to do to stop him? It was terrifying. Laying low wasn't on the table any more. Something like this would make him hunted for the rest of his life. He looked down at his hands. They didn't stop shaking. His life, it wasn't much. It wasn't worth trading for all these people. All these lives he ruined.

It hit him suddenly. A buzzing in his skull, the itching of his skin. A Fount was near. The buzzing, the itching, it was more intense than anything he felt before. There must have been so many Founts here. He looked over, his eyes focusing on a bar. The roof of it was torn off... something a Fount could easily do. How many where there? Where they all after him now? What should he even do in this situation? 

He decided to inch closer to the bar, looking in through one of the broken windows. There were so many people gathered there. Were they all Founts? His eyes scanned the room. Oh. Oh shit.

That was Sei.

This had to be about him. There was no way she just came here for some sort of social interaction. It had to be about what he did. There was nothing else it could be.

So what did he do? They weren't the police. They couldn't arrest him. Turning himself in wouldn't actually do anything. But at the same time, turning himself in to actual cops? There was no guarantee the monster within wouldn't break free to preserve itself. And far more people would get hurt.

He made his choice.

He opened the door slowly, his steps shaky. It felt as if even a stiff breeze would topple him. "I... I surrender..." He managed to get out, his voice barely a whisper. It felt as if vomit threatened to escape with every word that he spoke. His hands refused to stop shaking, his guilt refused to leave. "I-I'm sorry..." he could feel tears going down his face. How many people were gone? How many lives were destroyed? He was a monster.

But he made the right choice, in the end.

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seinoname.gif

After some time spent aiding the rescue efforts in the trail of destruction Stratford's building-gone-monster had left, Sei returned to the rooftop located away from the action, where she had left her bag before getting involved. Much to her relief, the building it rested on was more or less untouched, but there was definitely some cleaning of junk and debris to do outside. And with no roof access, the bag was still there, exactly as Sei had left it. Confirming the contents hadn't been messed with by some unknown figure, Sei looked westward. Megalopolis University still needed that form. And with the destruction that had just sliced through so much of the city, Sei knew the trains would be delayed, if not stopped entirely, for some time. Which only meant one thing. Making the rest of the trip, and quite possibly her return trip - on foot.

Certainly doable, but not something she wanted to do. Least of all in her current state, but she didn't have time to get patched up.

Happy friggin' birthday, Sei.


Megalopolis University, 1:58PM

This wasn't the first time Sei had to run an errand for Alice, nor was it the first time said errands took her all the way across town like now. The campus was certainly a far cry from the rainy slums she currently resided in, generally for the better at that, but if she had to pick one or the other, Sei would go live in the 13th District any day of the week. Out of the way, generally little foot traffic, and the district wasn't fractured in what Sei considered a glorified gang war. Luckily, people generally didn't bother her, so she had no reason to bother them either.

As Sei entered the building she needed to in order to turn in the form, the first thing she noticed was that the receptionist working here today wasn't the one she used to see coming here. While she hoped they were just out sick today, she did know that this would be an awkward conversation.

"Excuse me," Sei said, stepping up to the desk and pulling the form out of her bag. "I need to turn in this form on behalf of Alice Solari."

The receptionist looked up from his phone, to Sei and the paper she had set down. He seemed to be taken aback by the busted-up state Sei was in, but also seemed to dismiss it fairly quickly. Sei wasn't sure if that was just professionalism or if this university was really that violent, but she hoped it was the former. "Form for Alice Solari... and you are?"

"I live with her."

"She couldn't deliver it herself?"

"She said she'd rather not do it in person if she can help it. I'm only here because there was a problem with the university website stopping her from sending it online."

"So why's she sending her flatmate instead? One who seems to be a bit torn up, at that."

"With all due respect, is that really any of your business? Alice's paperwork is right here, that's what matters, right?"

"Ma'am, I'm gonna be completely honest with you, this is my first day working this desk, and I'm just trying to make sure you aren't submitting forged paperwork."

"I can call her if you want." Without waiting for an answer, Sei reached back into her bag. It seemed she'd missed a few texts from Alice, but nothing important. Call her phone, and after a moment of waiting...

"Hello?"

"Hey, it's me, I'm at the university and... what's that noise?" Through the phone, Sei could hear some sort of background noise coming from Alice's end, that she didn't normally hear in these calls.

"Oh, tha--AAH!!"

Sei heard the unmistakable sound of a person falling down, and several metal objects clattering against the floor.

"Alice!?"

"Everything's fine! I just slipped! What's up?"

"Right... I'm at the university. This guy at the desk wants to confirm you're real and I'm not forging your papers."

"Seriously? Put him on."

"Sure." Holding the phone out for the boy on the other side of the desk, Sei said "She wants to talk to you."

"...hello?"

"Hi, this is Alice Solari. Student ID number XXXX, major is theology. I'm not sure what's up with the website, but I wasn't able to submit that form online, so I sent Sei to do it for me. If I'd realized this would turn into a whole thing I would have just emailed my professor instead, but here we are. We were able to submit forms like this in the past with no problem, so I don't know why it's any different today."


6th District, 3:00PM

After a frankly infuriating amount of back-and-forth between Alice, Sei, and the poor boy working the desk who was a bit too vigilant against potential forgeries, culminating in the form finally being submitted, it was time to go home. While she was glad to leave the campus, Sei remembered that she still would have to make the return trip on foot, likely as not. Especially since she wanted to check the site of the disaster of the day, to make sure everything didn't go back to shit while she was gone. Between her earlier injuries, exerting the power of the kami to hasten her trip to the university, then doing it again to get back to the scene, Sei was barely standing by the time she got back to the Samsara Titan's resting place to confirm that it was still immobile, and that efforts were still underway to fix things up. She couldn't help but wonder how they planned to get rid of the building.

Her Fount senses were tingling though. In addition to at least one Fount still aiding in the rescue efforts, she could detect a small cluster of them in a bar nearby. Probably the group that had helped fight the thing earlier, if she were a guessing woman. Dragging her feet to the place in question confirmed her suspicions. It seemed Elita was receiving questions from someone, but Sei didn't pay much mind to the details of the conversation. Instead, she scoped out an empty seat at the bar, put herself in it, and promptly flopped her head against the bar. Mentally exhausted from the chaos and death from just a few hours ago, and physically exhausted from the trip to university and back, Sei was more than happy to just sit here for a while.

That was, until she felt yet another Fount's presence. Turning enough to look at the door behind her while still keeping her head on the bar, she saw... someone familiar, but she couldn't put a name to the face at this exact moment. But she definitely knew who this guy was. Him and that power of his. Good kid, really.

"I... I surrender..." He managed to get out, his voice barely a whisper. "I-I'm sorry..."

"For what, exactly?" Sei groaned. "You don't seriously think you did all that, right?"

"You don't have to try to make me feel better..." Karna muttered. His hands was still shaking as he took a deep breath. "I always knew this Fount Power was dangerous... I just... never thought..."

"It absolutely is dangerous, but that's not what I meant. Elita here and myself were inside that tower monster thing earlier. Someone... hypnotized the mayor or something, I guess. However they did it, or whoever it was, it couldn't possibly be you. If you really wanna do something to make up from a crime you didn't commit though, I'm sure nobody would say no to some extra help in rescue & cleanup efforts. I'd help, but my legs feel like warm pudding after going to the university and back. And I still have to get back home too..."


kiyokonanashi.gif

6th District, 3:00PM

"‼↨☺♀♀☼↨."

Above a pile of debris, a rift in the world opened. The face - or what seemed like a face, anyway - of something that defied imagination reared its head from within. Its mouth opened wide, and from within came a number of tongues, reaching out, grabbing piles of rubble and metal, and pulling them into the mouth from whence they came.

"¶◘↕☼↨."

Elsewhere in the affected area, a long, jagged tentacle reached from what seemed like thin air. Each of the suckers on the tentacle seemed to be a small arm in its own right, each one scooping up some of the wreckage in the area and tossing it aside, clearing the way to find would-be survivors stuck in the rubble and debris. Survivors that, if Kiyoko were to find any, would surely be greeted with a passionate welcome and explanation of the life-saving greatness of the Old Gods.

"♥☼♀♀♣♥¶."

In a part of the affected area Kiyoko noticed she'd been neglecting, a few smaller, more easily-described arms descended upon the ruined area. They reached down, picking up whatever loose ends needed removing from the streets to ensure people could get through with ease, and bringing them upward into the hole in the world that accommodated them.

Quite frankly, this was a whole lot of work! Far more than one person could ever hope to accomplish alone, even with some otherworldly assistance. And Kiyoko had been hard at work since the Samsara Titan stopped moving. A break was more than well deserved, and it was probably wise to confirm the other Founts that had helped during the crisis were all alright. Closing up the holy book for the time being, Kiyoko turned, and went a few blocks over, to a rather beaten-up bar that had tragically lost its roof in the chaos from earlier.

Inside were several Founts, most of whom Kiyoko recognized from the efforts earlier today. Including one who was asking a lot of questions. Well, if it was answers she sought, Kiyoko was happy to provide.

"Pardon me," she said, approaching the questioning blonde in question. "I mostly played a backing role, but I may also be able to provide some insight on the affairs that happened here."

"You sure you wanna speak?" April raised a brow as the other young girl approached her, "I'm not exactly keen on questioning kids."

"I'll have you know I am a legal adult. And while it may sound silly, I've always wanted to receive a press interview. Though I do wish it were under better circumstances..."

"Better circumstances, huh? What circumstances would those be?"

"Something like... "New Religion Takes Megalopolis By Storm!" perhaps. "Exclusive Interview With Head Priestess Kiyoko Nanashi: Learn More About The Divine Grace And Unfathomable Glory Of The Old Gods!" A girl can dream, right?"

"You sure can," April smiled a bit... before her expression dropped entirely. "Not interested. I'm not going to be a mouthpiece for yet another cult."

"Please, this isn't a cult. A cult is something like those Hyperion folks, who believe so fervently in something so obviously fake. What I preach is very real. More real than us, perhaps! Plus to qualify as a cult we'd need more than one member, but that's not the point. The Old Gods are very much real, and I've got the book to prove it right here." Gently extending the Necronomicon in April's direction, Kiyoko smiled "Read it if you don't believe me. Just a little peek, and you'll never see this world the same again. Surely you'd have nothing to lose if it's so fake, right?"

Alas, it seemed Kiyoko's attempt to get someone else to read the holy book's pages had fallen on deaf ears. Either April wasn't listening anymore, or had spontaneously lost her sense of hearing entirely.

Very well. Transgressions are meant to be forgiven, so I'll wave this one off. I'm sure she'll come around eventually.

Edited by yui

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Kaede had spent the last several hours being very quiet. Usually you had to put a book in front of her face for that effect, but she was content now to merely sit and let the adults do all the talking. Her mother was being seen to by the swarm of paramedics who had descended upon the district. Kaede herself had only been allowed to go free by them about an hour before. 

“Okaa-san,” she had told her mother, hand in hers. “Jeremy told me um, some of the people who helped me out there are at this place down the street… I think I need to go there. I need to know what happened today."

And now she was here. Still wrapped in the blanket the paramedics had given her, listening to the large group of Founts talking over the incident. She almost couldn’t believe Stratford was dead. It felt like he had been a fixture of the city forever. And that his killer, the one who had driven him this far, could still be out there.

She had been listening carefully to the others the entire time, eyes unfocused as she took it all in, and THAT was the biggest takeaway she had. This could happen again.

She frowned, pulling out the Library. She rolled it out on one of the tables near her, the great rainbow scroll glimmering against the wood. She had only translated a small portion of the Library, but there could be something about this, about all this, inside it. She just had to find it. Fast.

“The one who compelled Stratford,” she said quietly, the first words she’d spoken. “They’re another Fount, right? Has to be. But if they can force Stratford to do all of this… They’re obviously very strong.” She looked up to April. “They can’t have gone unnoticed with strength like that, right? There has to be a record somewhere. Of who they are, or at least what their predecessors did with it, right? Oh and uuuuh, I guess I can do an interview, um, thing? I might be busy with this for a while though, it's a LOT of work.”

She held up one end of the Library, pointing at it. “This has a lot of information in it about magic and other things… I just haven’t been able to decipher a lot of it.” She perked up. “I think I managed to translate the word ‘shadow’ though,” she called perkily to Elita. “If there was a shadow person I can maybe look for that! I’d love to look in your book as well, miss,” she said cheerily to Kiyoko, “see if there’s anything useful in there.”

“But we’ve got to figure out who did it, right? I don’t want the thing with the Titan or anything like it to happen again. Besides… It could be one of us, next time. Especially if they catch wise we're poking around.” That was a stark thought, indeed. “So we just have to find out who it was and stop them, right?!?” she asked, rising to stand, the difference miniscule. 

Kerna’s entrance then thoroughly surprised her. Is it really just gonna be that easy?!

- - - - - - -
“Hell, if he wants to take the wrap for it, I say fuck it, let ‘im.” The door slammed shut behind a narrow-eyed Kess, Leo’s bat slung up behind her head, one hand on each end of it as she glared around at the assembled group, eyeing Karna in particular. “Saves me a fuckin’ headache, at the very least.”

“Kessan-!” Ryo blanched as Kess swung the bat off her shoulders, leveling it at the girl.

“Don’t use my full name, you snow-headed shit. Hell are you doing here anyway, having an ice cream social?” She cast her eyes around the room again, raising an eyebrow. “Aaaah, I gotcha… You guys are all the others, huh?” She turned her leg to show off the number 120 that was emblazoned on the side of her calf, visible through a large tear her jeans had incurred during her ejection from the Titan. “Let’s see, and is- HA!” 

She leveled the bat again, pointing it at Leo as she spotted him behind the bar. “Dropped something, dipshit,” she called lazily, tossing the bat with a little more vigor than was strictly necessary. It slammed into the wall behind him, breaking some of the few intact bottles in a glorious cascade of glass and sound. “Oops,” she said sardonically, striding up to the bar and hopping up on top, turning to sit upon it and lean back to glare at him. “You’re lucky I’m on the clock, or I’d settle our score from earlier.”

Leo grinned, grabbing hold of his bat and swinging it around to rest on the bar in front of him, deliberately sweeping it through several more bottles, splattering the wall with alcohol. "You might want to get checked out by our new medic friend here, otherwise it wouldn't be a very fair fight," he raised an arm, pointing toward April with his thumb.

Kess barked out a laugh, kicking her feet through the air lazily. “HA! You’re assuming you hurt me enough that I even noticed.” She was very tired, run down from the fighting and the long walk she had taken towards District 7 before she had caught sight of a cloud of shaped smoke in the sky above. One of Morgan’s regularly changing code signals, almost going unnoticed in the great haze of smoke and concrete dust rolling into the air from the Titan’s wake. Go back had been the directive. Kess had sworn loudly and wheeled back around to beat feet back towards the cite of the fight. She was worn out, but she'd be damned if she showed it.

“So catch me up; Somebody tldr this shit. The fuck happened?” She looked back over her shoulder at Leo. “Oh, by the way, Bubblegum, you getting in my way to stop me from killing Stratford? Great job, he ate it anyway. Who killed him? One of you plucky shits get the kill on him? No small job.” Her eyes ran over the group. “Heard there was some bitch riding a horse. Joan of Arc get the guy?”

“Oh, one last thing,” she added, interrupting the one or two voices that had begun to answer her, holding up a hand to point at Ryo. “Hey, you. Get the fuck out. I don’t give a shit what your frigid bitch leader ‘needs to know’, I need to know more and I’m tougher and hotter and more wiling to kick your ass from wall to wall to prove it than you. Shove off.”

Ryo’s eye twitched, but that was the sole reaction this verbal onslaught garnered. "I have heard enough about what happened to take care of this on my own. Stay well, Kessandra." And with that she rose to leave, the door quietly closing behind her in a stark contrast to Kess’s entrance.

Kess stared at the door for a second with an expression that looked like disappointment. In a way it was. “Well. That was shockingly easy. I feel ripped off. Aaaaah well. I just made this whole shebang way more bearable with a single callout, you can thank me later. And the name's Kess, for the record, not Kessandra.” She leaned back, turning her predatory gaze back to the despairing Karna. “Is it your fault or not, spit it out, man!” she barked, seemingly oblivious to the fact she had been dominating the verbal space since her entrance. 

Edited by Faytl

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Tempest let out a tiny breath as he closed his eyes, taking a small glance around the bar as he did. The ongoing discussions were a bit out of his pay grade, he really did not have much to offer for the people who were theorizing on what was going on with the whole affair, and he wasn’t exactly fit to help in reconstruction either, leaving him… Feeling awfully useless at the moment.

He rubbed at his cheek for a moment as he pushed himself to stand up, taking a little glance towards the ongoing discussions. The… Interview going on wasn’t something he had anything to add to, he had only seen the most basic, surface level interactions between the tower and the infrastructure that it had been destroying. He made his way out of the bar for a bit of fresh air, considering that he probably shouldn’t have made his way in there in the first place, but a good chance to settle his nerves was needed after everything else.

He exited back into the district itself, his hands tucked into his pockets as he glanced back and forth. Ideally he would’ve just gone back to District 13 in hopes of scrounging up somewhere to stay low for a bit. Drawing attention to himself, even in the name of helping people get to safety, probably hadn’t been the brightest idea he had ever really had.

His hand pulled out of his pocket, slowly turning a card over in his fingers as he looked down at it for the first time since it had been given to him…

Dr. Hikan

Self Image and Loss Counseling

There was a phone number underneath, one that he would have to try and commit to memory in case the card itself was lost or something. The design of it, the red spider lily motif along with the elderly woman almost turned him off the idea entirely, but he let out a tiny breath as he recalled:

Once the dust had settled from the fight with the serpent, the blonde hero was quick to leave. However, on her way out, she landed next to Tempest, holding out a small card to him.

"So, uh... Thanks again. I'd do a bit more for you if I had time to collect contact info and stuff, but you did me a solid back there... so if you need to, give this number a call. Just tell them to forward any costs to me!"

With a grin, Diana kicked off the ground leaving Tempest in a small cloud of the dust her motions caused.

He hadn’t even gotten to respond before she had jumped off. It was a tad frustrating, but at least the card had been… Mostly self-explanatory. “...I don’t need this, do I? It was either do it and maybe live, or don’t and probably die anyway.” His other hand brushed at his cheek lightly as he let out a tiny sigh.

He was prepared to just wander off, but the sight of someone starting to sneak their way around the bar. He flinched for a moment, the shadows around him drawing closer as he ducked back into the alley he was lurking in, watching the figure… And then they entered the bar, still looking anxious, afraid. It almost reminded Tempest of his own emotions on certain days. Stuffing the card back into his pocket, he returned to the entrance of the bar, listening as-

"For what, exactly?" Sei groaned. "You don't seriously think you did all that, right?"

"You don't have to try to make me feel better..." Karna muttered. His hands was still shaking as he took a deep breath. "I always knew this Fount Power was dangerous... I just... never thought..."

Tempest let out a tiny cough by the door, "Uh, hey there. I was on the ground, doing a bunch of... Ground control stuff. The tower itself was doing most of the destruction, along with robotic things it brought to life. If she's saying you weren't inside of the tower, and you definitely weren't outside of it, then... I think you can hold off on blaming yourself for this one. It was just a freak... Incident."

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1:30 PM, District 4

On the streets of Neo-Kabukicho strode an unusual pair - a tall and well-kept woman who an onlooker would never have suspected to have been parading as a knight only an hour ago, now wearing the ornate and feminine outfit of a geisha, and another whose face was concealed by the basket-like shape of a rōningasa, the hat once upon a time used to obscure the identities of warriors without a master. Upon the hip of the latter was sheathed a long sword of Japanese construction, a gilded cloud design adorning the sheath and a visible tsuba taking the form of eight twisted serpent heads converging around the base of the blade. They wore a yukata with a vibrant design of flowers being consumed by dragons, and carried an expensive-looking umbrella over their shoulder.

"So you say the city itself was made a weapon? How curious…" the concealed figure's voice was feminine, but devoid of emotion as if deep in thought. "I must admit, I was not before aware of the late mayor's ability, but I suppose this makes sense given his station."

“And many youths of varying power, you should know, appeared,” the other informed, staring askew in recollecting what they were like and their capabilities. “They must have reconvened by now, but I left almost wordlessly after helping them defeat those metal serpents, to inform you and inquire what you should like done. Ah…but this kind of folly typical of the prince would have me found, even through these scented robes,” she played with a stray horse’s hair which made its way through her outfit from below its outermost layers, “shining sunshine alone would have undone me then, inauspicious as if I had found a laughing mask in my sickbed, but I am not sick.” She let the wind carry it away with a new manner, where the stress from earlier would have worn someone else down, or accustomed them to particular gaits or postures to compensate, or even some appropriate muscular tension, but she gave away no such secret, and seemed more separate in convention and habit from her previous appearance than any analysis could predict, though never so far as to invite suspicion on that front alone.

A light chuckle could be heard from underneath the woven hat, "Ever the poet, aren't you, Sarashina." The figure reached underneath the hat, making a motion that appeared to be moving a stray hair from their face, "You seek my guidance in interpreting this bizarre occurrence. It is true, such an event is unprecedented. I would wager the one to blame is my longtime enemy. I'm sure you suspected the same. This appears to be the work of the vicious monster that hides within the depths of our beloved district, The Dragon of Neo-Kabukicho." The figure paused in their stride for a moment, as if contemplating whether to elaborate, but continued forward instead. "In this small sliver of the city, those who do not bow to The Beast are forced to hide themselves away, and not in the fantastical way you manage to. I can't imagine this is a fate you want to see befall all of Megalopolis."

She eyed the serpentine sword guard at the mention of the dragon, connecting the figure to her enemy motivistically as in music—a useful parallel for the future. While her impressions lead to considering the same possibility as the other person, she was quite epistemologically agnostic, at least in these material, real-life affairs, and chose her response quite carefully, “the low ant, the pig, our mayor, or our high Dragon, you may press your finger into and measure its fatness, but its origin is nowhere to be found what ordains the sunflowers prostrate themselves to the, deep as you go; these myriad things, I am aware of less than I am unaware, and of those few of which I may be expert, it is only in their fatness, not the plot which conspired to make fatness initially necessary. I would not have the dragon’s dominion be gorged on the rest of the island, but to know his body is not to know everything else, or the origins of all deeds his character and station make him eligible to commit, or to determine a dimensionless locus as the essence of a fungal network, at a point of time which excludes all others.” Her response, though asserting ignorance, intended to communicate ultimate receptiveness and fidelity to any sort of possibility.

"Remind me to commission haiku from you when I sit upon the throne, Sarashina. Not a better storyteller lives in this city. You mentioned you had allies…" the figure paused and turned mid-stride, a glint of a red eye visible through the tight mesh of the hat. "I understand that there may be delays in rallying them, but as soon as you are able, bring them to me. Powerful as I am, I am no myojin. I will require help to slay this serpent." They turned away from Sarashina, a hand reaching up to grip the hilt of their sword, "This city, tumultuous as it is, was far worse several years ago. Without that man, I expect it to be worse than ever. We must nip this in the bud, for the sake of Neo-Kabukicho, and the rest of Megalopolis." After a pause, they looked back over their shoulder.

"I'll have a car for you to return to the scene post haste."

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Not much later, a most luxurious car bent around into the gradual beginnings of charmless, disorderly wreckage. Sarashina had ordered her driver to follow the least damaged paths, and to not take certain routes turning them toward certain directions in obedience to old superstitions, however inconvenient it may have been for him, and returned the hateful sight impressed on her vision with a disconcerted look of her own, enough of it hidden behind fanned cypress. That this had to happen at a bar irritated her, with her retinue of a single driver to take care of nothing for her, but she did see someone she heard of, a good fortune she was momentarily distracted from by the person—Sei—possessing great stature, which Sarashina disliked but would expertly, as per her professions, not let show in the slightest in any act, expression, or word. As her driver opened her door, she told him to summon the tall, exhausted woman to her location, and to offer her a seat in the car while she stood outside it, distant from the rest so that they may establish a connection at an undisturbed pace.

As Sei lay her head on the bar, replaying events in her mind for something she may have missed, yet another figure entered the scene. He didn't seem to be a fount. And based on the big fancy car parked behind him, he definitely wasn't somebody Sei knew, or connected to anyone she knew. He had gestured for her specifically, to follow him into the car. In any other circumstance, she wouldn't trust this guy. For all she knew, he was a lackey of one of the offending parties, here to kidnap her after helping foil their plans. But to send what seemed like just one guy, the plan was either to kill this guy instead, or it was too elaborate to likely work.

So, albeit reluctantly, Sei got up, and trudged along the distance between the bar and the car. He kindly opened the door for her, and once inside, Sei saw that the sole occupant was a geisha. Last time Sei had seen one of those was... just after moving in with Alice, come to think of it. She'd gone to Neo-cho to get souveniers, since Alice wanted some and refused to go there herself, lest, as she'd put it, "my power reacts to the place and sends Megalopolis to the bottom of the sea."

"A geisha in a limo, huh?" Sei observed, taking a seat and slouching down to avoid letting herself stiffen up when she was already worn out. "To what do I owe the pleasure of such a distinguished visitor?"

These interactions with strangers call for some covering of the face on Sarashina’s part, but she had her fan put away to look more personable to her temporary guest. This exception came about by several reasons, including pity, and she had already arranged with her driver to clean where Sei was seated after they were alone again, so she had little to fear in the way of cleanliness, and in fact by now, this kind of protocol was tacit. There was great incongruity between the person and where she was, and for Sarashina, Sei and the others in the bar seemed emergent, as if they had only spawned into existence from the rubble to serve as furnishing to the destruction, and in standing outside with Sei in her space, she fulfills a self-sacrificial sort of hospitality—in return for daring to deign to stand outside in the space of the wreckage, her guest rests in this just-isolated space—though she could still act the part of tolerance if needed, alongside a true understanding she only has problems with formally, and not fundamentally. “You can recline your seat, you know, miss Sei, and your leisure is earned after what we know happened here. We can speak briefly, and you can rest where you lie as long as you see fit. I can have you driven home after we are done here as well…. I have requested your conversation because we are aware of who you are, and trust you in acting as an intermediate between us and your new connections. Precisely, we have suspicions ranging from peripheral to essential of the fourth district being connected to what happened with the mayor, namely through the Dragon of Neo-Kabukicho. Are you already aware of who this is?”

"I've heard of the dragon here and there," Sei answered as she made good on the geisha's note that her seat could recline. "Not the first time I've heard rumors about someone eating kami either. Why me, though, to play middleman? Why anyone for that matter? Don't like crowds or something?"

“To be seen in that eyesore of a destroyed bar is a much greater concern to me than any crowd, but my personal proclivities, I suppress before the emergency in question. Now, you like fighting for important causes, don’t you? Your vigilante history corroborates a legitimate conviction for revolution and experience in unpleasant business I would never expect from civilians, or children….We can let the rest prattle about this after we find ourselves at the same page, and have some plan for dissemination and engagement, wherever my district comes in the order of business, and you can catch me up with the theories in vogue at the same time. What do you think?”

"Not much to discuss in the theories department yet, I'm afraid. All we know is someone... hypnotized Stratford, or something. I wasn't paying much attention to the details, to be honest. But working together to put a stop to this? Sounds good to me. How should I contact you?"
 

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7th District, 9:30 PM

Kess stepped into what was once a gymnasium of the university, long since overrun by the Jolokia gang. The ceiling had been torn away, allowing moonlight in from the waxing crescent visible in the sky above. Megalopolis's light pollution was significant enough that all but the brightest few dozen stars were drowned out, but the moon always shone brightly. From the entrance of the room to the end was a tattered red carpet, flanked by a series of oil barrels, each filled with burning coals. At the end of the promenade was a throne built up out of wrecked and repurposed bleachers, and upon it lazed Number 31, The Fount of Flames: Morgan O’Connor. She was fiddling with what appeared to be a Rubik's cube, seemingly baffled as to how to solve it, but the moment she noticed the new entrant to her throne room plastic cube was crushed within her hand, a sound like gunfire released seemingly from her body itself. "I heard the mayor died. Your doing?"

"Yep." The lie flipped off Kess' tongue easily. She was too tired to care. She had been awake for over twelve hours and after the scaling and subsequent ejection from the Titan, not to mention her fight with Leo, that was two hours too many. She'd be damned if she let it show, though. She stood in her traditional leaning slouch, hand on hip, customary scowl stapled to her face. "Had to go through the Titan to find the asshole, but a chair to the head worked as good on him as everybody else." Besides. She sure as hell wasn't turning down the street cred of taking down Stratford. At the very least it might make Daiki and Sin-Yu less likely to cross her.

"That frigid bitch was nosing around there," she continued. They both would know who Kess was talking about. She only ever referred to Aurora as the frigid bitch. "Ryo was down there as her eyes."

Morgan raised an eyebrow, leaning forward, "And did you use the opportunity to take her out? With Stratford gone, so are half the rules we had to follow. Hell, probably all the rules." She scrutinized her subordinate carefully, rolling one of the plastic fragments that remained in her hand between two of her fingers, "As much of a mess as today was, I'm looking to make it into a Big Win for us. I think if we act promptly, we can reform the full Seventh District in the space of a week." With another crack like gunfire, she flicked the piece of plastic away, launching it through the exposed top of the building and out of sight.

Kess barked out a laugh. "The bitch had the same idea. She wanted to help me kill Stratford. Was completely useless at it, too." She leaned back, allowing herself a theatrical yawn. "I used up all the juice taking out Stratford; I'll take care of Ryo later." She knew bringing up Aurora would get Morgan off the track of Stratford's death. After all, the mayor was dead. Might as well take the credit.

With a frown, Morgan lazily pushed herself up onto her feet. With the sound of cannonfire she was suddenly upon Kess. Standing less than a foot in front of her subordinate, Morgan looked down slightly to account for the small difference in their height, as a tailwind of hot air blew around her and ruffled the hair of both women. "Do you intend to let her survive your next encounter? You have a prominent future in our group, but not if you can't take care of your baggage."

Kess had committed long ago to never flinching in front of Morgan. She was so tired that she almost slipped. She barely managed to restrict her reaction to a lazy blink. "Let her survive? Not fuckin' particularly. She did the last useful thing she'll ever do when I used 
her as a landing pad out of Stratford's building."

Morgan stared daggers at Kess for several seconds without a word, the crackling fires surrounding the two providing a soundtrack to the furry visible in her eyes. Before it came to a head, she turned away. "And of Stratford. What was the cause of the commotion?"

Kess scowled. She still hated that Morgan was confident in showing her back to her. Cocky motherfucker. "There was a couple 'a nosy motherfuckers there, they figured some fount or other made him do it. I wouldn't think much a' it but they're all founts too, so they know KINDA what they're talkin' about." She arched an eyebrow, looking to see if Morgan's shoulders tensed. "This guy might be a problem for plan Big Win, 's what I'm thinkin', yeah?"

"I agree. Any threat to the old regime is a threat to the next one. Figure out who's responsible, kill them."

"Say less," was her response as she turned to go.

"Kess."

Kess whipped around, some resentment from the morning with the very brief phone call surfacing as she brusquely asked "What?" NOW the bitch is talkative.

Looking over her shoulder, Morgan smiled uncomfortably warmly, "Ryo too."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," she snapped, irritated. "S'cuse me if I was too busy setting up Plan Big Win to take out the trash, I'll cave her ribcage in, tell her ya send yer regards."

"Good girl. Keep me updated."

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1st District, 11:15 AM

Considering that the group of varyingly unlikely heroes of the previous day had agreed to meet at this location at 10 AM so as to gather information regarding the mysterious founts Elita had described, it was almost impressive how close to the goal time the group had managed to assemble. Or rather, most of them had. The knight errant that had helped slay the dragons had not been seen after the battle in question, disappearing into the surrounding chaos.

The last of the group to arrive was Leo, the Fount of Destruction. His clothing was visibly slept-in, and though his wounds from his bout with Kess were scarred over, the telltale signs of violence were still clearly visible on the ensemble he had not yet changed since the previous day. "Listen, I know you lot's the type to rise bright 'n early, but man's not waking up on anyone's schedule ever since I got to this island. 'Sides, this way I ain't gotta wait." Leo looked past the group to see the setup that the Megalopolis Police Department had put together some time in the previous 24 hours.

At least a mile around had been barred off by police tape. The members of the force swarmed about, although none of them seemed to enter the perimeter that contained what little remained of the tower. Curious pedestrians seemed to stop and stare, only for the cops to quickly come by and usher them away, looking about nervously as they did.

"You think the chief and that guy are fine alone in there? Seems like a lot of dangerous work for two people."

"I'unno, do you have magic abilities?"

"It's not magic, it's harnessing the power of humanity's collective unconscious."

"Harness the collective fuck I don't give, you sound like one of those New Age Triskelion nuts."

"Jeez man, I was just repeating something I read online."

"On what, a recruitment site?"

On a rooftop a few buildings away stood a young man, his hand on the hilt of an ornate broadsword, safely sheathed at his side. A outline of a pair of wings, formed seemingly from pure sparkling silver, sprouted from his back, though it appeared they were on display as a show of force more than anything else. He wanted to make sure his presence was known to any would-be trouble starters.

On the opposite side of the clearing, emblazoned upon what was previously a neighboring skyscraper to Samsara Tower, was an enormous mural, seemingly made through use of spray paint and large-scale stencils. The image depicted the Samsara Titan, wandering with its arms forward in the air, chasing after a stylized white bird made from geometric shapes. Considering the sensitive, or more accurately insensitive subject matter of the image, it could be assumed that the art was put up where it was less than legally, though the process by which one would pull off such a feat was left to the viewers' imagination.

"Looks like the boydem ain't exactly running tours. I'm all for tearing through this yellow tape," Leo cocked his head toward Sei, "but not if our resident super-hero is gonna tackle me extra fast once I'm in. Got me all wavey after the reporter here fixed me up yesterday, not lookin ta snooze another half a day."
 

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13th District, January 1st, 6:00 PM...

Home Sweet Home

Generally speaking, the last thing somebody probably wanted after a long day of nearly dying, watching someone actually die - the mayor of Megalopolis at that - and still having to deal with paperwork after the fact, was for it to be raining when they got home. But if she was asked, Sei would admit that at this point, crossing the threshold into that one corner of town where it constantly rained was somewhat refreshing. If nothing else, it meant there would be somebody to welcome her back home. Sei had even made a point to send a text on the way back, to let Alice know for certain that she was fine, despite the roughed-up appearance she'd would be met with. Once everything had settled down, she unceremoniously made her way home, stepped inside, hung her raincoat up by the door and left her boots beside it...

And couldn't help but notice the lights were all out. Which was odd. With Alice being a Fount, it wasn't like Sei had trouble tracking her down when she was nearby, and she was definitely in this building, just on the other side of a small wall that separated the house's entrance from the rest of the living room/kitchen. As Sei turned the corner to find out what the deal with the creepily-dark interior was, she did spot two little sources of light.

Candles! Two candles forming the number 29 had been carefully placed in the center of what seemed to be a strawberry cake, which itself was set on a plate sitting atop a pair of brightly-wrapped boxes.

"I heard someone around here's getting old," Alice teased. "Go clean yourself up; I got you a couple presents and this cake won't be good forever. Happy birthday, Sei."

As Sei passed by, she couldn't help but notice the state of the kitchen out the corner of her eye. It was an absolute disaster, but one that was clearly in the middle of being cleaned before stopping abruptly. And, after a couple of minutes to wash herself off, it was time to sit down, and have a nice evening. Cake was had, jokes were exchanged, and eventually it was time to see what was in the two boxes Alice had left sitting in the middle of the table. The first was just some clothes Sei had commented on needing. A new pair of boots, some shirts, and one skirt she distinctly recalled seeing on one of Alice's rare ventures outside of the 13th District, when the two had gone to the mall together on a day that already happened to be raining a few weeks ago.

The other was...

"What the!! Alice isn't this thing like crazy expensive!? How did you even know I was looking at these lately!?"

"I've got my resources. You aren't the only one who's got kami experience, you know."


1st District, January 2nd, 9:50 AM...

Sei always liked arriving to meetings and such early. Punctuality was a good habit to form, and her relative proximity to the 1st District only made showing up early all the easier for her. And since today was as good a day as any, she opted to try on that skirt she'd gotten just the day before. Pink wasn't usually something Sei went for, but "expand my horizons" had been a resolution she set for herself for the year of 2100. So, here she was, pink skirt, white shirt, ready to investigate. Alas, she imagined the MPD was busy enough at present, and she wasn't going to make their job even harder by bothering them with questions about an incident they probably knew even less about than she did. So, her attention was less on the site and more on the people around it. Above all else, she was keeping a watchful eye out for suspicious-looking people. And possibly whoever could have been behind that piece of street art over there.


kiyokonanashi.gif

1st District, 10:00 AM...

Aside from the general mood in Megalopolis following yesterday's tragedy, it was quite a lovely day today, and Kiyoko woke up feeling confident. Just yesterday she had helped save the city, made significant contributions to the cleanup at Samsara Tower's final resting place, and even made a tentative friend in her fellow literature-wielding Fount! And best of all? The girl in question wanted to read the Necronomicon! Normally Kiyoko had to convince others to do it herself, to no real success either, but this was practically a free convert if all went well! Alas, the timing of the request could have been better.

Kiyoko had been putting the holy book to significant use yesterday, and having only delved into the early chapters that could be read with her limiting, purely-human form, she wasn't too certain about the finer details of its inner workings. She wanted to make absolutely certain that Kaede reading the book would let her see the things Kiyoko saw that fateful day, and hear the things she heard, so Kiyoko had said that while she'd be delighted to have an exchange of information, yesterday wasn't really the best time for it. The reason she cited was she wanted to confirm her own "family" was overall unharmed - which was thankfully the case, aside from the shock of the news - but the reality was she wanted to give the Necronomicon some time to "recharge", just in case.

But that brought her recollection back round to today! Today was a very important day, after all! Not only was she planning to go home tonight having successfully converted someone to the one true faith, but it was also the day her investigations began in earnest. Before her lied a big pile of nothing, right in the middle of the city, where Samsara Tower used to be before Stratford went berserk.  There were a lot of questions Kiyoko had about the scene before her, though it was more about the culprits behind Stratford's rampage than the conspicuously missing Samsara Tower. Most importantly, there was no way to use this as a springboard to spread the old word until the whole mess was resolved and the culprits were brought to justice thanks to the personal involvement of Kiyoko and by extension the Old Gods, so just who and where were they? As if staring at the empty lot and its police tape barrier would yield answers, Kiyoko had been doing just that. Until a person walked straight into her, anyway. Then her full attention was directed at them instead.

"Oh, pardon me!" she said. She could detect the presence of another Fount in this girl who had bumped into her. With any luck, it was a stray thread that would lead her into the tangle of evil lurking somewhere in the city. "I must have been taking up more of the path than I thought. You're also here to see the lot, I take it? It seems to be all the news is talking about, after all."

It was immediately clear from the girl's directionless stare and dark glasses, as well as the cane in her hand, that she was blind. "Whoops! Gotta watch where I'm going!" she snickered like she had just told the most incredible joke as she stood back up and dusted herself off. "I'm not really one to see much, I'm just here with a coworker," she waved a hand in front of her face with a grin, "do you know what went on here? Been hearing lots of different stuff from lots of different people."

Without giving Kiyoko a chance to respond to her question, the girl extended a hand out to the rest of the group, seemingly expecting a handshake in introduction. "Usagi's the name, btdubs. What's such a colorful group doing together here?"

"Kiyoko. It's a pleasure to meet you." Kiyoko took this girl's hand, giving it a shake. The name Usagi seemed awfully appropriate; her high energy made Kiyoko think of a rabbit. Gesturing to the empty lot, she explained "The short version is that for reasons and by methods I don't fully understand, somebody incited a berserk rampage from our late mayor - may the Old Gods watch over his soul - and he used the Samsara Tower as something like a skyscraper-sized suit of power armor. The way I hear it, it caused quite a mess in a bunch of districts, but he was stopped in the Sixth District. The group I've come with were planning to look into the matter to try and learn more about the whole incident."

"And what about you?" Kiyoko then asked. "Something similar, I'd imagine, if you're here with a co-worker. What sort of work brings you to such a scene? Not journalism I hope, or else I'm afraid you're quite late to the headline."

Usagi frowned slightly as her hand was taken by Kiyoko, but the expression faded in an instant. Removing her glasses, she wiped them off with the corner of her shirt, her clouded and blank eyes unabashedly within full view. "Y'know, mostly just clerical stuff. My boss gets real disorganized so I keep him on track." She put her sunglasses back on, smiling warmly, "It looks like his and your bunch's plans are along the same lines, make sure to keep all your eyes open!" Despite not really answering Kiyoko's question, Usagi turned on her heel and made her way away from the group, weabing between people in the crowd as her folded cane clacked back and forth, hanging from the belt loop of her jeans.

"...will do."

What a strange person. With that out of the way, Kiyoko brought her attention back to the other Founts. Kaede was here, and that was far more important than someone's seemingly-blind assistant. The book. She'd have to get her to read it. And while she was at it, she'd get to take a look at that fascinating rainbow scroll her fellow wielder of literature had. Manuevering her way through the gaggle of other Founts that had assembled here, Kiyoko flagged Kaede down with a waving hand until the two were within speaking range of each other.

"Good morning," Kiyoko smiled. "Sorry about postponing our little exchange of info until today, but like I said, more important matters and all." Eagerly extending her holy book in Kaede's direction, she continued "I'm not sure if you'll be able to read it, but by all means, I encourage you to try your hardest. Give it a nice, thorough look. You might be surprised by what you find out!"

Kaede excitedly took the book, turning it over in her hands as she ran her fingers over the spine. She looked tired, and was tired; she had barely slept the night before, her entire body wired after the events of the day and the near miss for both her and her mother. Her parents almost hadn't let her leave the house that morning, but she'd wormed her way out of it. 

"It has to be very old," she said, marveling at the ancient cover. "You've taken great care of it to have it still be in a condition where people can handle it with their bare hands."

"Thank you. It wouldn't reflect well on me if I simply let this book fall apart, so I take great care to ensure it is well maintained."

Kaede placed her fingers around the edges of the cover. She pulled the book open to its first page, her eyes wide. She held that pose for several moments, expression unchanging. Then her forehead creased slightly in a frown. She turned the page, scanning the next entry more quickly. 

After repeating this three more times she finally looked up. "I can't make heads or tails of it," she said, sounding a little bit offended that the book had the audacity to be incomprehensible. "It's coptic, that's for certain, but... Oh, it's like someone who knew Sumerian wrote it all and it doesn't make any sense."

"Coptic, you say?" There was only a small amount of disappointment on Kiyoko's face, though it didn't fully reflect the feelings behind it. Was this some divine prank? That Kiyoko was so blessed with otherworldly visions upon first reading the book, but not Kaede? There were a couple of other explanations she could think of too, that didn't involve divine pranks. Perhaps Kaede's status as a Fount was creating some sort of interference? Alternatively, Kiyoko was more chosen than she initially suspected. Had she underestimated the confidence that had been placed in her by those beyond? Oh dear. She'd have to work a lot harder to gather new followers if that was the case.

"I'm not really a linguistics expert, but that doesn't seem right." Flipping through a few of the pages, Kiyoko stopped at one point in particular, pointing it out with her finger. "See here for example, where it says ♥☼☺♀♣‼♥♣? From what little specks of knowledge I've got on the matter, that doesn't quite sound like any Egyptian dialect. There's no denying these are hieroglyphics, but perhaps they're not meant to be used in ways you're familiar with? Very interesting all the same, and having a rough idea of a time period to pin to the book is oddly comforting! Though, I'll admit, I always imagined it being a bit older than that."

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---

1st District, 9:00 AM

Soon enough, I will have freedom to explore the scene of the crime.

Elita hummed to herself gently as she tapped at her cheek gently, her eyes lazily scanning across the wreckage of District 1 from the top of her family’s home.. The site of the Tower’s origin was truly impressive, the police force had been working nearly non-stop to make sure that civilians weren’t accessing it. Dangerous to the common folk, a need to quell rumors about the mayor, or maybe… Maybe the police force was involved in the attack as well? She couldn’t rule it out, it would be a fair enough angle for the attacker to take, if they needed to buy time to get an opportunity to attack Stratford. She couldn’t rule it out…

She brushed her hair behind her head as she thought back to the previous day. The tower’s rampage had cleared a path through the further districts, but even from her family’s home atop an artificial hilltop, she couldn’t see that far out. Her mother liked to have a good view of the rest of the District and the city beyond it, even if she liked to complain about the sight of District 12 so close to her own home. Elita was sure she enjoyed the sense of superiority she got from literally looking down at others, but that wasn’t her business.

She knew it had been unlikely for the tower to hit her family’s home, it would have started moving in the opposite direction and then made a U-Turn back towards District 6 for that to happen, but she had to at least pretend to be concerned when she got a spare moment to call her mother…

___

Yesterday, 6th District, 2:40 PM

She let her hand hold the phone steadily in front of her, a deep breath escaping the girl as she tapped on the contact labeled “Mom”. The phone buzzed as she held it up to her ear, until finally…

“Where are you? You were supposed to be home at 2 on the dot. I have a very important meeting, I need you here to-”

“Mother, have you been paying attention to anything today? Samsura Tower started moving. It carved a path straight through District 6.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, a choked sound escaping the woman, “What do you mean, carving a path? Are you okay, you were traveling through… Is this why you hung up earlier?”

Elita let out a tiny sigh, nodding her head, before realizing that wouldn’t do anything to help, “Yes, I had to pause our conversation to figure out what the… Disturbance was. I helped quell Stratford. Unfortunately…”

“Richard? Richard Stratford would not run a rampage through his own streets, you know that! You’ve seen the man-”

“I’ll be home soon. It will be about an hour before I’m free. I need to speak to the other Founts, and then… When I get home, we’ll have this conversation in full. I thought you might appreciate the warning that your meetings today are likely to be canceled. I doubt anyone will be in the mood.”

She hung up the phone before her mother could protest. She rarely did that, she just had to hope her mother would take the hint that this was a serious matter, and not argue with her on this one. It was rare she took such a hard stance against her, but it felt necessary since her own meetings were about to begin…

___

6th District, 4:10 PM

Elita quickly stepped out of the building, following the boy who had slipped free while others weren’t looking. She had been working to piece together most of the events of the day, from bystanders, from other Founts… And the rumors of a boy toying with shadows had caught her attention for obvious reasons. She knew it could not be that simple, there was likely no way for him to have been in the Tower at the same time as the evacuation events, but she could at least ask him for input.

He stood in the alley, his hands in his pockets as he gazed up at the sky, but when he heard her footsteps exiting the bar, he seemed ready to jump and run at first notice. Elita held her hands up in front of her, “...I just wanted to ask a few questions. You are not required to answer anything you don’t wish to.”

He flinched and Elita was able to feel a sudden tinge of concern from him. She forced herself to ignore it though, and waited for him to reply, “You’re the one who was hanging out with the reporter for a while. You saw Stratford die, right?”

She paused, she hadn’t expected him to launch the first question. She nodded her head gently, a little sigh escaping her, “I did. I cannot talk about too much of what occurred. I cannot risk information falling into the wrong hands. What I can say is that Mr. Stratford perished and I am looking for the one who-”

“I didn’t do anything! I was on the ground the whole time.”

That panic spiked again as she held her composure, “I apologize,” Tempest seemed to tense up when she said that, “I did not mean to imply I suspected you. I just wanted to ask about what occurred on the ground level. I heard from bystanders that you were helping with the evacuation.”

He nodded his head, before taking a deep breath… He launched into an explanation of the events as he recalled them. The brief mention of a weird book, and the constant reinforcements from the tower. When she asked about his abilities: “I can do small shadow manipulation. Nothing too impressive, but I can get a decent cloak, or a shield if the shadows are dense enough.”

“Did you happen to notice any other shadowy figures during the events today?”

Her face was stoic as she asked that, and his own scrunched up in confusion, “...No, I didn’t. It was all really fast, but… It was just me I think?”

Elita nodded her head, before offering him her hand, “I appreciate your cooperation. I have one last request, if you will hear me out.”

___

1st District, 11:15 AM

And now, her patience was beginning to bear fruit. As the others gathered around, her focus drifted a bit to watched the sky, a small frown on her face, “I should have pushed to meet earlier than this, I suppose…”

She wasn’t focused much on the others around her, instead taking time to watch the comings and goings of the police force. Watching their usual paths, how they patrolled the crater that they were busy investigating and what blind spots they had. It wasn’t as if she thought she could get down there easily, but she would like to take a closer look around the scene itself if she could manage. She let out a tiny hum as she took a glance at her phone, before putting it away as she turned her attention back to the crater. “I do not know what the rest of you would like to investigate, but I know what I’ll be checking out.”

"Looks like the boydem ain't exactly running tours. I'm all for tearing through this yellow tape," Leo cocked his head toward Sei, "but not if our resident super-hero is gonna tackle me extra fast once I'm in. Got me all wavey after the reporter here fixed me up yesterday, not lookin ta snooze another half a day."

Elita didn’t acknowledge Leo’s arrival, but she did give a small nod to him after the rest of what he said, “I will be entering the scene, but I won’t need to tear through the tape. I have a plan.” She nodded her head again as Tempest stepped through the group, “Are you prepared? We’ll have to avoid the police in there.”

She felt a twinge of panic, but his face didn’t show much as he glanced towards the crater, then nodded his head, “First sign of trouble and we’re leaving, right? I know you want to dig up more information, but like…” He took another look at the gathered police force, then back to her, “It’s one thing when it’s a rogue tower, but there are actual people with authority here. You could get into a lot of trouble if you aren’t paying attention.”

“I know. We will keep a low profile… I would like to hear what the investigators inside of the remains are saying.”

---

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4th District, 8:50 PM

The hustle and bustle of Neo-Kabukicho was always a pain to feel. He never seemed to be able to hide as well, but he never felt like he had to here, as strange as it seemed. Stratford’s influence didn’t matter here before, it was one of the few places that he felt reasonably safe from the Fount of Civilization, even if it came down to the fact that others could get him.

Yet, he didn’t care about that.

He had found a cheap room to stay in tonight, it was away from the mess of District 6, and it meant he could take an opportunity to gather his thoughts for real.

That sudden hero appearance and her gift of the business card got his attention once more. His fingers plucked the card up from the nightstand he had left it on, giving it another look. The room had a phone, he could dial… And he did. He let it ring for a moment, waiting as the line tried to connect. He knew they were likely closing, probably wouldn’t answer…

Sure enough, no response for the night, but that was fine. He turned the card over in his hands, just to have something to do as he sat down on the bed. The sparsely decorated room was perfect for him as he laid out, looking at the card once more...

Dr. Hikan

Self Image and Loss Counseling

“Maybe later.”

___

1st District, 11:15 AM

Tempest had been lingering around the meetup spot for a couple hours now, he had seen one person arrive close to ten, another girl bump into someone, but he was waiting for Elita to show up this time. The favor she asked for wasn't really something he was excited about, but... Maybe it would help make sure no one was thinking about him being that rumored assassin, if he was caught helping people who were trying to find out what was going on. He definitely didn't want that rumor spreading too much, especially not to the point where anyone might actually look at him! Eventually, Elita arrived as well, scoping out the scene as well as she could. He snickered a tiny bit, he knew that look. The look of someone looking for blind spots to sneak in. He jumped down from his perch in an alleyway, a fire escape ladder that he had commandeered for his own comfort. 

The group had a moment to regroup, and after confirming with Elita that they wouldn't stay much longer than they had to, he set to work. The ruins of the tower had left enough cover for him to pull shadows from, it was just unfortunate that it was nearly noon. The shadows being cast weren't in the perfect spots, but he could see a path to the center of the crater slowly. His hand pulled a few of the shadows towards him, circling around him and Elita as he glanced back to the rest of the group, "We're heading in. This is a stealth mission though, so I can't really hide too many of us."

His voice was oddly stern as he spoke up, but the shifty look in his eyes made it clear that he was just as flighty as always. "We go in, we listen, we gather what information we can. If you get caught out of spot, you run. I'll cover you if I can, but if you get too far away..." He didn't go into depth on that, but he didn't have to do that. Elita spoke up before he could.

"The police may use force if they find us in there. It would be... Unwise for us to be caught, that is all I will say, but sometimes, a less than legal approach is necessary. I would prefer us to not all go in, so I'll be traveling with Tempest on this mission. I will report back anything of note that we find."

Tempest pulled shadows from around them into a small ball, the duo starting to be obscured from the rest of the group as he nodded his head, "You all stay safe too! It's definitely less dangerous for you all, but like... You know, be careful!" He gave them a little finger salute as Elita and him dove underneath the tape, following the shadows into the crater. The shadows would obscure the outside from seeing them directly, but he had to be mindful to make sure he wasn't obscuring anything the people outside should be seeing. He couldn't move as fast as he normally would, but the two of them reached the crumbling remains of Samsura Tower's first floor, the shadow curtain starting to drop around them as they hugged the wall, quietly moving to tail after the police force. 

Elita quietly whispered to Tempest, his grip on the shadows starting to loosen as they ducked behind a corner of crumbled wall, the shadows positioned to block view of them, "There. Keep a grip on the shadows, we may need them any moment. I will be examining what we can find here as well..."

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