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Phase 1

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Skies of blue and violet swirled and twisted together, stretching miles in all directions. Amidst the hues existed not a cloud but instead many rocks, rocks that ranged in sizes as large as houses but none too small for at least two to stand upon. Many rocks floated about in wide rings, but some hung about near the center of the blue and violet globe, flattened at their tops like platforms, their bottoms tapering shallowly like squashed cones. The platform at the very center was much larger than any other rock within the sphere, five times the size of a house, and three caverns ran paths through its sides, with one only going a bit into the platform's top.


The silence of this large wonder was quickly torn by a grand, booming laugh. There was the sound of metal as swords knocked against each other, a great knot of intricately woven clothes falling from above and landing with a squat on the center platform, quickly assuming a prouder stance with chest puffed out, fingers flexing for the draw.


"Finally, the time has come!" Gilgamesh said, great anticipation carried in his voice. "A clash between god and man! No, wait, quarter-god and quarter-man!... That's not it, neither, is it!?"


The space opposite to him on the platform twisted inward, a spark appearing at the center of the contortion and expanding in the blink of an eye, blotting out the anomaly. The ball of light quickly broke apart into many small sparks, all of which flitted away and vanished like petals on the wind, revealing a tall, armored warrior.


"Your passion burns fiercely," The Architect spoke, his Starsteel Sword held with tip pointing diagonally to the ground below. "Of course, one such as yourself must know that passion alone can not win battles."


The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.


"Behold!" Gilgamesh hollered, arm thrown skyward from hammer space, a glorious blue sword in hand, its blade shining with power. "The sword that brought the flying tower to its knees! Or so it would have, if the architects were not so foolish as to leave knees out of the structure! What is a tower without knees to fall upon, I ask you!?"


The Architect flexed his godly will, and Gilgamesh thusly fell apart under his gear. All his skin, all his meat, all his bones, all bubbling down into a hot puddle of gray with assorted curtains and weapons on top. The Architect seemed intrigued by this.


"Yes, such is my power," he said, and watched as Gilgamesh suddenly exploded out of the liquid that was himself and back into his gear properly, leaving not a drop behind except for those that flew from his eyes as he cried out in a shrill tone about feeling his favorite rags mix into his melty bones. "So that's how it will go..."


"You reality warping wretch!" Gilgamesh said, pointing Crystalis towards The Architect. "How dare you make soup out of the marvelous Gilgamesh!? Do you have any idea how unpleasant a life soup leads!?"


"I have experienced all," The Architect said sagely.


"You have yet to experience Gilgamesh's steel across your muddled face!"




"Do not bother to brace, for no bracing of any degree will be enough to brace against my might!"


The Architect decided to try and puddle him again, but Gilgamesh jumped as soon as he could feel the tingles in his liver, his body becoming a speck high above, the shine of Crystalis pointing him out until it vanished behind one of the floating rocks.


"It is time you sampled heavenly wrath yourself!" Gilgamesh yelled from high above, The Architect impressed by how far his voice could carry. Great globs of light began to form above the rock Gilgamesh disappeared behind, orbiting and spinning through the air, moving faster, growing larger. The swarm of energy suddenly converged, and the rock was blown apart into red-hot chunks that now sped downward alongside the wave of radiance unleashed from Crystalis. The Architect studied the storm of light and burning stone that now fell towards him. He took two sidesteps to the right, then swung his Starsteel Sword twice, knocking away the only burst and stone that would've hit him. The remainder of the storm exploded around him as it struck the ground, The Architect's warrior frame managing to endure what he deemed to be the least harmful outcome of Gilgamesh's attack.


"I hope you did not fill up on that appetizer!" Gilgamesh said, again out of sight. "Impeccable Chef Gilgamesh has a full course of wrath and pain fresh from the kitchen!" Swirling energies like those before reappeared behind a rock just a few yards away from the first one. "The kitchen of the GODS!"


"God, singular, and you have not set foot in my kitchen," The Architect scoffed. The energies above combined and blew the rock to pieces, sending another wave of energy gouts and red-hot stones towards The Architect. Instead of staying grounded, The Architect leapt high towards the oncoming wave, swatting aside any bursts that got in his way and then doing a flip at an approaching stone, his feet kicking off it and changing his trajectory so that he veered off from where Gilgamesh had been. Energy was already gathering around Crystalis once more, Gilgamesh eagerly atop another rock, trying to peek over the edge without falling. He casually glanced at the glistening warrior that flew up high in front of him, resuming his downward peeking and then, after blinking a few times, let out an indignant gasp and looked up. Blindingly bright bolts leapt about the palm of The Architect's Lightning Gauntlet, which he had pointing straight at Gilgamesh, the sword collector stumbling back at the spectacle while drawing back Crystalis, its tip aimed forward. The Architect flexed his fingers while Gilgamesh thrust Crystalis towards his target, lightning and swirls of power colliding, a sparking, vicious fog erupting between them, bolts flying off and zipping by precariously close to those behind the attacks. The Architect flexed his fingers again, the Lightning Gauntlet's bolts swelling to twice their size and slicing through Crystalis' assault, Gilgamesh having been too entranced by the light show to prepare a defense. The force of the lightning blast sent Gilgamesh through the rock he stood upon, breaking it into chunks, the dazed sword slinger regaining his composure just in time to right himself in the air so that his plummet didn't end on his head, Gilgamesh landing with a grunt and squat.


"F-fool, it would take a thousand Thundagas to even t-tickle the immaculate Gilgamesh!" Gilgamesh said, still trembling a bit from the shock he received. The Architect landed a few yards ahead of him, brandishing his blade.


"The Plan has more in store for this excursion," he said, provoking an exaggerated tilting of the head from Gilgamesh.


"The pan!? Mind your swords and skillets, you confused creator! I will not stand for any insults against the flawless instrument that is the sword and all its breathtaking splendor!"


"So speaks he that made cooking taunts not even two minutes before," The Architect said, then raised his sword to block as Gilgamesh charged forward, starsteel and element-encompassing edge clashing against each other.


"Allow me to remind you of such splendor!" Gilgamesh said, swinging Crystalis downward as The Architect adjusted the angle of his sword accordingly, multicolored shards of light flying from where the blades met. "Even if I must carve an epic mural of it on that ridiculous mask of yours!"


"An impressive feat, to be sure," The Architect said, blocking another swing from Gilgamesh and following through with one of his own, Gilgamesh evading with a wobble before striking back, The Architect knocking the swing aside. Gilgamesh spun off the deflection, bringing it around with greater fervor, but was stopped dead in his tracks as The Architect raised his Lightning Gauntlet and filled the quarter-god with a continuous stream of electricity.


"Ai-ye-ye-ye-yee!" Gilgamesh squeaked through his voltage-fueled fit, trying to distract himself from the pain by concentrating on the tingling in his eyebrows. "N-n-now, Enk-kidu!"


A howl managed to join the volume of the electrical buzzing, the current cut as The Architect stumbled forward, claws in his shoulders and fangs buried in his neck. Things didn't stay this way for long since Enkidu wasn't accustomed to biting into bone-numbingly cold armor, the articulate beast throwing itself off The Architect and yowling as it swung its head about and beat its paws against the floor to try and get feeling back into them. His pet's agony was lost on Gilgamesh.


"Haha, well done Enkidu!" Gilgamesh said, composure regained from the thunder treatment. "But the victory dances can wait! This battle is far from over!"


The Architect, who was composed since the word 'victory' , already had a strike ready for Gilgamesh, but the cornucopia of cloth had remained alert and backflipped out of the way, energy amassing around Crystalis as he did so. The second Gilgamesh was back on the ground was the second another blast was unleashed from his sword, The Architect swinging his sword to defend but getting swiftly overwhelmed from the close range of the blasts' execution, his body bombarded by energy and his sword knocked from his hand, Enkidu gawking in awe all the while.


"Feel the punishing steel of my computer crushing sword!" Gilgamesh shouted esoterically, charging in behind the bursts and sword-swinging like some crazed toy from the 90s, each blow sending off a cloud of frost from The Architect's telepathically frozen chainmail. "Hahaha! Feel free to forfeit, you frivolous former of ff... fff... er, everything!"


Brilliance shone from behind the eyes of The Architect's mask, a hand raised amidst the salvo of slashes and halting the last mid-way. Gilgamesh froze, his mind shaking at the seams, coming undone and reforming simultaneously.


"Had... enough?" Gilgamesh said, sounding incredibly unsure of the words that barely crawled from his lips. He looked towards Crystalis, brows furrowing. "By the gods, what is this fanciful stick I hold!?" He then looked down at himself. "And what are these motley, itchy things stretched all over my nude body!?"


Wielding what he could muster and would allow, The Architect psychically plucked the increasingly confused Gilgamesh from the ground and sent him spinning into an invisible roller coaster of bludgeoning that he alone had tickets for. Bouncing off one airborne platform to another and another and another, Gilgamesh sailed within the caverns of the largest rock they battled upon, ricocheting off the walls as he went, exiting one side with stars in his eyes only to reenter through another opening to relive the tunnel of tumbling, constellations having a party in his vision. The Architect waved about his outstretched hand, sending Gilgamesh through another cave that he exited looking more ragged than ever before spiraling back above the main platform, The Architect letting go and Gilgamesh falling face first onto the stone. Enkidu gawked all the while, drool running down his chin.


Gilgamesh's head shook, fingers twitching. They started to curl, crumbs of rock pushing up against the tips as they dug against the stone. His mismatched clothing began to waver and flap, his normally gray skin taking on a red hue that grew more intense and vivid by the second, mutters turning to growls that turned into snarls. Gilgamesh raised his fists, and with a roar he slammed the ground and brought himself back to a stand.


"How dare you!!" Gilgamesh hollered, face glowing redder and hotter than a stove, scalding steam shooting from his ears and nostrils. "I say, how DARE you!! Warp the infallible Gilgamesh's thoughts and memories so he knows not the miracles of the sword!? And appreciation of fine tapestry!? You, good sir, are in for a world, nay, a galaxy, no, no, no, a veritable COSMOS of anguish! You will pay for wiping away even a moment of my love of finely honed blades, for it is MORPHING TIME!"


His crimson fury wrapped around him like a flame, Gilgamesh threw his arms out to his sides and chest forward, letting out a might bellow as six more arms emerged from his body, the remainder of his sword collection being taken up in his hands.


"The Plan, sorry," The Architect said, then dodged to the side as Gilgamesh, now even more hulking from his added limbs, flew by, weapons swinging. Feet skidding against the ground, Gilgamesh turned on a heel and hacked away chunks of the rock with Zantetsuken at the same time, the stones being slung into the air to be struck by Excalipoor and the Sword of Geburah, sending them spinning towards The Architect and battering his left side. Gilgamesh pushed once against the floor to send himself flying forward again, then a second time to close the distance since one push alone wasn't enough for his heavier body. The Architect turned and unleashed a net of lighting from his Lightning Gauntlet, but a swing from Zantetsuken proved that it could even cut lightning, and The Architect found himself being assailed by each of Gilgamesh's weapons. The beam saber sizzled against his armor, the Black Blade left slices in his mask, Crystalis hammered him with energy waves, the Sword of Geburah cut at his Lightning Gauntlet, the Masamune left deep gashes in his legs, Excalipoor poked him in the kidneys (if he had them), and Zantetsuken sliced through him clean, The Architect having to exert nearly all of his avatar's granted power to keep it in one piece. A boot to the chest knocked The Architect across the platform, Gilgamesh stamping the ground like a sumo wrestler as he prepared for the finale.


"This will end it!" Gilgamesh shouted, then knelt down as he went into a frenzy of slicing and dicing, great pieces of rock being sent into the air above. Growling, he pumped up all eight of his arms and brought them down around him, rocketing his body higher into the air than his legs would currently allow and before the mass of stones he had just hewn from the floor. The Architect, body jerking and halting as he tried to stand, looked up in time to see an avalanche come at him from thin air, Gilgamesh pummeling velocity into the rocks from behind. The Architect froze, his body disappearing under stones as they crashed onto him one after another, embedding in the floor and each other. Gilgamesh, being the extravagance and thrill fancier he is, saved the biggest rock for last, all eight arms and all seven swords bashing the rock as he let out a fearsome roar, the great rock hitting the center of the pile and embedding it further, dust blasting out from between the stones and encircling the impact point.


The ground broke around Gilgamesh's feet as he landed, his body aching from the move he pulled off, though certainly not enough to deter a man of his greatness. His collection of swords reflected the purple and blue swirls of the distant sky around him, his eyes locked on the pile of stones ahead, where his opponent now lay.


"It is over," he said with overdone calm, eyes slowly closing. One shot open at the sound of a pebble rolling away from the pile. "Hm!?"


A shabby, near-skeletal dog pulled itself out from under the rocks, whimpering, legs quivering. Its dimming eyes gazed upon Gilgamesh, then back at the pile. It turned back to Gilgamesh, body shaking as it hobbled its way towards the sword wielding hulk. Gilgamesh squinted.


"What nonsense is this?" he said, looking around, voice directed towards the unseen. "I best the one and only creator of all and you see fit to pit me against this disease riddled mutt? Is this a test? I still beat with battle fury! Must I set it to waste to show compassion to this creature?"


The dog whimpered again, managing a full stand, eyes on Gilgamesh. Its skinny legs began to beat against the dusty ground, its head bent low. Its muzzle dipped into the dusty floor, and by the time Gilgamesh caught the glint from the dust he could not react to stop it.


The dog landed behind Gilgamesh, the Starsteel Sword held in its brown and yellow teeth. Gilgamesh stood motionless, eyes wide.


"It... cannot... be!" he said, his upper half sliding a few inches from his lower before he went up in a red haze, his swords clattering to the floor. A lone clatter came as the dog dropped the sword, its form immediately shifting to that of a middle-aged gent, his body marked with wounds.


"Your strength may very well be comparable to a god's, Gilgamesh," The Architect said, his tired avatar holding his chest. "There is only one, however. Do not be disheartened by this."


A quiet settled upon the scene, The Architect gazing upon where Gilgamesh's swords lay, his own eyes not even twitching to catch a glimpse of his own. Enkidu remained anchored to his spot, paws marinating in a growing puddle of saliva.

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Gray trees towered high, their trunks wide and sturdy, bark wrinkled, their soft, pointed leaves a color of gold so distinct that they could have been genuine. Their branches did not sway, as there was no wind. It was a curious forest, made even more curious that it was somehow thriving in a cave, the rocky ceiling several feet away from most of the tree tops, a scarce number having grown to the point that their tops pushed and bent against the ceiling.


A lone pebble rolled about, stopping against one of the bent tips. It seemed the trees were not quite towering, though still tall, and the ceiling wasn't so much a ceiling as metallic footsteps echoed over it. A man in silver armor was the source of these footsteps, three sharp blades whistling through the air as he gripped the yo-yo-esque contraption they were attached to.


"We never had the chance to spar back then, did we?" Max said, his Shriek's spinning easing up as he eased his hold on it. "Global crises and all, but that's off topic. I don't plan on losing here. No hard feelings, man."


The pebble from before, having rolled away from the leaves it was caught against, was swiftly crushed to dust under another armored foot, which was attached to a red and gray armored man whose psychopathic façade was doing well to make the air heavy. It malformed into goofiness for just a moment.


"Nice seein' ya again, Maxie!" The Insane Space Hunter exclaimed before quickly reassuming the guise of Kane. "Try not to be too scared. I prefer red stains on my armor."


The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.


Kane aimed for the head and fired his assault rifle in a fraction of a second, the armor-piercing round traveling faster than it took Kane to ready the weapon. Before it met its mark it met the blades of Max's Shriek, the diced bits of bullet flinging safely by Max and embedding in the upside-down trees behind him. Kane aimed for the right kidney and fired again, Max swinging the Shriek downward to deflect another bullet, raising it again to stop the third from striking his left shoulder, then bending swiftly at the ankles and knees to slice the fourth that would've reduced his right knee to bone-rich pulp. Kane shrugged, then launched a grenade from his rifle. The dust underneath Max's feet flew up into a cloud as he took off, the explosive round zipping by and the explosion silhouetting the two fighters as Max swung, the blades of his Shriek cutting the top portions of Kane's assault rifle into ribbons and carving a noticeable line down Kane's armor. The minced gun was quick to explode in Kane's hands, Max having sped away and feeling only the shock of the blast against his back.


"I liked that gun," Kane muttered to himself, shrouded in post-explosion smoke. The armor on his hands was blackened, but otherwise not severely damaged, and the right was quick to reach for his plasma gun as he turned to face his foe. It grabbed air, and he felt something sting him on the shoulder.


"You mean this?" Max said, toting Kane's plasma gun, the inside of the barrel aglow. Kane quickly rolled to the side to avoid getting hit three more times, stopping on his feet and launching himself into the air, disappearing behind the layers of branches and gold leaves. Max held his Shriek and 'borrowed' armament close as he did the same, planting his feet on a thick bough about halfway to the actual ceiling of the area.


It became quiet. Terribly, terribly quiet. Max dare not move, lest the creaking of the branch give his location away. As he thought of this, he realized that it wasn't so quiet. His suit was making very subtle sounds, the kind of sounds he would only hear in the dead quiet. He quickly leapt to an opposing tree as a sword cut clean through the trunk behind him that supported the branch he was on and managed to leave a nick in the back of his armor. Seemed his cyborg opponent could hear his suit, too.


The severed tree let out a symphony of snaps and cracks as it struck the ground, several other trees following suit as Max's Shriek sailed through them in pursuit of Kane. The red and gray hunter leapt from one tree to another as he chased Max and avoided his Shriek, each tree letting out an arboreal groan as Kane clung to with his great weight. Max squinted as he caught his Shriek from its recent throw. He had lost track of Kane, but wasn't about to let up with the flora fleeing. He leapt higher and higher as he went from tree to tree, eventually stopping some seven feet short of the ceiling before holding firm to one of the gray-barked plants and throwing his Shriek upward, the mechanical discus moving in an outward spiral and slicing the nearby trees at their bases so that only Max's tree would be left. Max took hold of 'his' plasma gun, tuning out the Shriek as it worked, and threw himself around to the other side of the tree and opened fire, striking a mid-jump Kane three times in the chest. The move didn't work out as well as Max had planned, Kane's velocity as deterred by the attack as his arm was as it swung his tachi. Max threw himself around and down the tree again to evade the slash, but was slammed off when Kane nailed him with a brutal downward pound, Max breaking through several branches as he fell. The tree started to press against him from the top as he fell: Kane didn't want to leave the slash meant for Max unfinished in the tree.


"Crap crap crap CRAP," Max said, trying to shake off the dizziness Kane's fist had left. He grabbed at the trunk trying to get into a position where he wouldn't get flattened underneath it, but where he was now was not the sweet spot he initially had. Branches and stubs were getting in the way, hooking him in. Max straightened his arms briskly to clear them out, but they had already stalled him long enough. The tree smashed against the other fallen trees below, Max still caught underneath.


Kane grunted as he landed a short distance from the fallen timber, the ground around him busting up around his feet. His duranium tachi remained tightly in hand, unseen eyes unblinking at the broken pile of trees. There was hardly any movement, only the leaves giving slight twitches from the force of Kane's landing.


Splinters and shreds of gold were thrown into the air, a blur of silver flying out like a ball of mercury. Kane was unable to react, and the blur rocketed right into him.


And Kane didn't give an inch. Max trembled in pain, stiff from the force of his body slam being knocked back into him. Trying to ram an eight-hundred-eighty pound hunk of meat and metal probably wasn't the best thing to do, though, in Max's defense, he never took the opportunity to get Kane's weight.


"Dodge this," Kane said, and dropped his tachi down upon Max. His body's responsive returned just in time to send him to the right to avoid a fatal blow, though he found himself without a left arm once again, along with a deep cut into his left leg. Max bit his lower lip hard enough in pain that blood flecked against the inside of his visor. He managed a backflip to avoid another one of Kane's swings, and fought through the pain to do another, farther backflip to distance himself, though he fell upon his left knee on landing, soaking the ground below with blood. Kane had already rushed half the distance to him, tachi at his side to strike. The sound of slicing came much sooner than he anticipated. His sword felt lighter, too. When he shot a glance down at it, he could see it was because he only had most of the handle in his grasp, along with a smidge of thumb.


Max's Shriek flew ahead of Kane after having made work of one of his weapons for the second time. Max was quick to catch it, but stumbled back to the pile of trees he might one day claim responsibility for. Staving off the pain as best he could as the blood spurt and dribbled from his severed left arm and ran down the cut in his left leg, Max focused on the only other leg he had that was in good condition and continuously hopped to the side with it to distance himself from both Kane and the timber. Kane didn't bother following. At the rate Max was bleeding, especially during his evasive hops, he'd drop dead soon. Not an exciting win, but a win all the same.


'And I'd imagine that's all that counts to ol' Psyche!' Insaney thought. 'Let die.'


Max raised his Shriek, giving his head a shake to try to get the blurry out of his eyes.


"Not over yet," he said. He wobbled for a second before drawing back his arm. Kane still wasn't moving from his spot. Max winced, then tossed the Shriek high into the air, its blades giving dull, confused spins. His arm quickly drew back again, flinging forward with plasma gun in hand and emptying it of its last round. Kane stood his ground all the same, the burst of energy missing his left leg by a good two feet, sparks and bits of rock flying out from where it struck the ground instead.


At least one of those sparks flew into Kane's BFG, and the Big Fhorglinggrads Gun decided to make some worrisome noises and lights in response.


"Aaaah, hell," Kane said, arm slinging back and grabbing the BFG. Max's eyes widened, his right hand reaching up in a flash, force glove taking hold of his Shriek as it revved up and spun its blades to its fullest. Kane chucked his now electric-riddled BFG at the same time Max threw his raised arm forward, his Shriek diving down.


The weapons met and gave birth to an unpleasantly bright globe of crackling green energy. Streams of light and plasma wove through the globe as it churned and throbbed, letting out rays of light that shot off in all directions. Any gold leaves in the path of the light were quickly singed brown, and an alarming number of trees went up in flames. It was a sight truly to behold for those with protective eyewear.


When the smoke cleared, there were two pairs of feet firmly planted on the charred, stony floor, unmoved from where they were prior to the BFG blast.


Max's was the pair that was not smoldering stubs above the ankles.


"I lucked out on that one," a fairly crispy Max said with a laugh, choking a bit of blood up near the end. It was the only remaining contribution to his blood loss since the green radiance had burned his injuries shut. "I hope this won't keep you from wanting a rematch some time, 'Kane'!"

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The hum of churning machinery was joined by the howl of wind. The wind blew through a tunnel wide enough to fit four busses front to back, the tunnel's walls made up of two layers, the outer layer black with blinking yellow lines running across it like a circuit board, glowing with the electricity that constantly flowed through it. The inner layer was made up of rotating beige rings, each covering a distance of some five meters and rotating the direction opposite the one before. Though the rings were close enough to one another for the outer layer to not be viewed between them, they all had square shaped holes, some spaced apart, others forming staircase-like shapes and other large gaps, through which the glowing, static emanating outer layer could be seen.


A young woman walked onto the scene, grazing her curls with one hand while another held a small bottle of liquor at her side. Nearing the end of the ring she was on, she skipped across to the next, taking a sip from the bottle at the same time.


"Give me a second," Heather said, emptying what remained in the bottle and letting out a content breath. She chucked the bottle aside, the glass shattering and crackling loudly as it landed on the electrified outer layer of the tunnel. "All right, good to go. Sorry if I play a little rough."


Max slouched onto the scene, hands in his pockets, wobbling a bit as he moved. He seemed to be grinning at nothing in particular, unless he was grinning about the odd tunnel, or at his cute opponent, or a lewd lyric he suddenly recalled from some space pirate shindig he crashed - literally, at that.


"We're all ready, eh?" Max said, flexing his shoulders a little. "Let's have some fun, little lady, regardless of who wins. That sound good?"


The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.


Max back flipped into the air, taking Shriek in hand and tossing it forward when Heather reentered his vision. The three blades of the Shriek spun madly as it flew towards its target, Heather ducking at the last moment so that the only victims of the attack were a few strands off her mohawk. Hearing the Shriek make its return, she rolled to the side to avoid getting sliced from behind, Max snatching up the weapon and letting its blades spin as he readied to toss it again. Both combatants were now on opposite rotating rings, the tunnel's own sense of gravity keeping them where they stood despite the angles they saw one another at.


"One more time?" Heather taunted, having to look up a little at her increasingly distant opponent. Max, his grin going sly, gave his Shriek another whirl, this time lending to its aim with his Force Gloves. Heather loosened up as the blades drew near her again, performing a cart wheeling jump to the side to avoid the Shriek's first pass, then immediately twirling back on a heel to where she stood before as the Shriek came up behind her a moment later. Heather continued to bob and weave as Max guided the Shriek, though the growing distance was lessening the added influence of the Force Gloves. The BioSuit kept up her dance with the flying blade, which had left a good number of tears in her skirt and tank top, continuing on with a flurry of leaps and steps before finally drawing her BLOCKSabre as the Shriek's movements began to dull. She gave the Shriek a smack, its spinning blades snapping the brittle metal of her sword before the force of the blow knocked it onto the tunnel's outer layer, the Shriek emitting an agitated whine as it was shocked and spat back at its handler, who got a small shock himself when he grabbed it.


"Should've brought a gun," Heather laughed, looking at an adversary that was almost completely above her now. She looked down at her BLOCKSabre as the sword regenerated it lost blade, then over at the portion of blade snapped off by the Shriek, something catching her eye beneath it. "What have we here?"


There was a small tile-like covering set into the floor. Heather walked over to it while keeping an eye on Max, the bounty hunter maintaining his position from her. His hands were free, which was Heather's queue to do a quick turn and give the Shriek another smack as it came at her from behind. Again, her BLOCKSabre was snapped, but the blade readily grew back as the Shriek whined and wobbled in the air back to its thrower. Turning back around, Heather jammed her sword into the small space between the covering and the rest of the floor, and with a flick of the wrist the covering popped right off, revealing a mess of wiring and connections beneath. She stuck her hand right in, a smirk creeping up on her face.


'This oughta be good,' she thought, looking back up at Max as he caught his Shriek. Though he couldn't get a good look at Heather, his gut was making it very clear that something was up.


'Why do I have gas?' he thought, squinting to try and see what Heather was up to. He shrugged and reeled back to throw the Shriek once more and was promptly knocked off his feet when the ring he stood on suddenly accelerated to three times its original speed. Max toppled off the floor and landed right on the outer layer, his body receiving a generous dose of electricity before he was shot back onto another ring, body still shaking.


"There we go," Heather said, hand still buried in the wiring. "That was pretty easy. What else can I make this place do?"


"N-not too great, that," Max said, getting back up. He was now on a ring spinning in the same direction as Heather's, though his seemed to be going a bit faster. He was getting a better look at her now, spotting her hand in the floor. "Did she do that?"


"Ooh, this looks nice," Heather said, her wrist tweaking a bit. Lights lit up through unseen cracks in the floor a few feet from her, a tile lifting up with mechanisms materializing through a glow underneath it. The machine that had been raised from the floor was marked by twelve large holes on its front, and each hole let out a burst of fire as a missile launched out of it. Max would've swore if he had the time, instead focusing on running as the explosives rocketed towards him and collided with the floor behind him, feeling wave after wave of heat hit his back as he avoided them. Heather watched casually from alongside the launcher, using one of the many nozzle flares to light a blunt she had on hand.


Bits of shrapnel were starting to sting Max from behind as he continued to evade the missiles. He jumped over a gap in the floor ahead and nearly stumbled on landing from the force of the explosions knocking him around in the air. Shriek held to his side, Max swung his arm and let it go, the device crying out as it narrowly avoided colliding with the missiles on its way to its target, the smoke trails left by the projectiles masking its approach. Heather took a long drag from her blunt, still watching Max run for his life when she heard the sound of metal carving through metal. The missile launcher she was leaning on was now sparking after having been nearly sliced in half by the Shriek, the BioSuit leaping away quickly enough to avoid being caught in the resulting blast but getting flung higher into the air from the force of the explosion. Her insides subtly churned as the tunnel's unique gravity started pulling at her from above, Heather managing to get her feet beneath her in time to land right on the edge of a gap of another ring, the yellow lines on black staring back at her she as struggled with her balance on the edge.


"My turn," Max said as his Shriek returned to his hand, blades still spinning as he swung the Shriek low, slicing a covering tile in two to get at the connections underneath. Pulling the small tool from his belt, he stuck it through the wiring and allowed it to do its magic, all the rings in the tunnel going awash with light from previously unseen breaks in the tiling. Walls materialized up out of the floor, Heather falling back onto her bottom as the edge she stood on lifted up as part of one of these walls. Max returned the hacking tool to his belt, his shirt giving a flutter as the plate beneath it folded out into his silver, body encompassing armor.


Getting her bearings, Heather rolled off the side of the wall and back to the floor below, landing on her feet with a bit of a wobble after misjudging the distance back down. Carefully eying her surroundings, Heather leaned back against a wall and could feel it give a little as she did so, rolling to the side when thinking it a trap. She looked back and saw that there was a panel where she had leaned, and pushing it triggered it to move inward and down, machinery in the wall clicking and grinding away as a very large pistol, glistening in chrome, was drawn from the darkness inside by a stand on a rail and stopped a hair away from going outside the wall. This could have been a trap, but Heather found it too inviting to let such a big, humorously shiny gun go to waste, so she plucked it from the wall and took off around a corner as the stand receded back into the darkness and the panel returned, sealing shut.


Eager to try out her new toy, which was cold to the touch, Heather listened carefully over the sounds of the tunnel while her eyes darted about, taking note of the maze the tunnel had become as she hoped to find Max before she was found instead. She made sure to look up as well, though the walls on the opposite side of the tunnel made it hard to see most parts of the floor not directly above the viewer. Heather rounded another corner as part of her ongoing dash, stopping a few inches from a wall that was immediately in front of her. It was the next ring, the wall moving independently from the floor and other walls around her, and as an opening appeared, so too did Heather's silver clad opponent, who was also toting a new weapon, and a fairly big one at that. They both tensed their trigger fingers, the lack of any substantial kickback and nozzle flare from Heather's gun giving her the signal to fly back around the corner before Max's bazooka-sized piece ripped her a new one, because its shots certainly punched scorched holes into the wall that had been behind her.


"The fuck?" Heather said, angrily eying the shiny pistol that was vibrating in her hand, getting colder. 'Great, I get a weapon that needs to charge before firing. Any other surprises?' she started squeezing the trigger harder, just barely hearing a computerized voice say 'NO TARGET' three times in a row. Heather rolled her eyes. 'Wonderful, it needs to lock on, too. This is probably the best thing I could have for Speedy Gonzales over here.'


She snuck a quick peek around the corner. The opening had passed, another wall moving by. Heather kept the charge on the pistol going as she waited, staying as alert as she could. When the way became clear she pointed her gun, then rolled into the next ring when Max wasn't in sight, unfurling into a run afterwards and turning a corner. The sound of an unfamiliar buzz entered her ears as she approached an intersection, Heather dropping into a slide as Max jumped out into the hall, lasers spewing out from his gun. The cyborg passed safely under the shots and between Max's legs as she slid, keeping her pistol trained on him all the while. The gun finally gave a satisfied beep, the front letting out a shower of frost as a white spiral was ejected from it, Max diving forward in time so that it only skimmed his back and gave him a very unpleasant chill. The shot struck the wall ahead and exploded in a radiant cloud that quickly cleared, the large, affected radius being covered with ice.


"Scary," Max said, looking up at the ice layered on the wall. "Too bad it's so slow."


"Tell me about it," Heather said, still down on the ground, the floor at the top of her vision as she aimed again and, after the gun got its lock, fired, Max rolling forward and flipping into the air to avoid getting frozen. He turned in midair and unloaded lasers on Heather, though she had already sprung back to her feet and took off down a corner, a laser just barely catching the edge of her skirt as Max landed.


"I could totally catch up to her," Max thought aloud, "but she's probably expecting that."


Max's arms yearned to sag a bit under the weight of the big gun he was using, its increase in warmth with every use becoming a concern. He looked over to the wall on his right, having spotted a panel before like the one that offered him the laser cannon. He had been wary of Heather before, but now seemed like a good opportunity to see what other treats the tunnel had to over. He pushed the panel with his hand, and seconds later was being offered something that was decidedly a futuristic rifle of some sort. Definitely.


'There's something disturbingly familiar about this,' he thought as he quietly marveled at the gun. 'That Heather girl's probably found something new to play with, also.'


Light reflected off the top of the walls around Max, the bounty hunter catching this and leaping to the side just before a shivering skyward shot embedded icicles in his artificial epidermis. He looked up to see Heather on the other side of the tunnel, atop the walls, getting ready to fire again.


"Or maybe not," Max said, quickly darting away from another shot, only to run right into a blast that ripped holes through his armor and knocked him to the floor. "Never... mind..."


Amidst the pain of feeling like he had been pelted by scalding hot tar balloons, Max thought he heard a feminine voice, probably Heather's, sling out swears. When he spotted another burst of ice headed his way, he figured that whatever hit him before was likely a one-hit wonder, though one-shot wonder seemed more appropriate since he wasn't completely dead. He praised his luck inwardly and rolled away from the freezing blast, feeling bone-chilling cold hit his back as he twisted his neck to get his sights on Heather and let loose a salvo of speedy lasers from his rifle, one of the blasts managing to get the cyborg's shoulder as she evaded and jumped back down into the maze.


"Stupid spinning tunnel's screwing up the trajectory," Heather muttered, passing a glare at her recently acquired and quickly depleted blaster. 'And this thing sucked up all its ammo in one shot. Ehh, at least I hit the guy.'


She started back down the halls, moving once to the neighboring ring as a shortcut before returning to the one she had been on, and the one Max was likely still on as well, given how the shot seemed to mess him up. Heather was quick to return to the hallway now marked with ice, blackened holes, and a few blood smears and scraps of Grabeth, but no Max.


Her eyes caught red specks on the walls, Heather rushing towards them as the sound of laser shots cut the air, one catching her on the right arm, another getting a chunk off her left ear. She planted a foot on the wall and followed up with another, this repeating as she ran the wall's length and flew up, spotting an unarmored Max and chucking her emptied gun at him. While able to duck the gun, Max had a harder time avoiding Heather's BLOCKSabre follow-through, the blade managing to cut through the bridge of his nose as he fell back and off the top of the wall, Heather planting her feet where he once stood and leaping down after him. Lasers zinged by, one hitting the inside of the barrel of Heather's freeze gun, another striking the trigger and catching some of her finger. Snapping her legs straight, Heather kicked off the wall coming up behind her and then tossed the gun downward as its computerized voice buzzed out glitchy warnings, the ensuing wave of cold air from the gun's blast knocking Heather to the side and throwing her into a corner. She covered her eyes from the icy fog that was thrown out from the gun's explosion, lowering her arm as the cloud dissipated, the path ahead of her forking. She looked down the right side and immediately saw Max coated in frost, his legs frozen to the floor.


"K-kinda... cold," he chattered. "B-but I'm not through! I-I've faced colder!"


"Sure you have," Heather said, stirring the air with her BLOCKSabre as the blade formed out. She ducked and weaved through several lasers that Max managed to fire, Heather noticing the pistol. "Lucky bastard, getting all the good stuff."


"Th-this? It u-used to be a rifle, but then m-my armor..."


"So it shrunk without your protection?" Heather said, cracking an amused smirk. "I thought it was more exciting that way."


"... I d-don't get it."


"Oh, you," Heather said, then raised her BLOCKSabre as she prepared to charge. She paused on the first step, kneeling down as Max's Shriek zoomed in from behind, just missing her head, but she was quickly pelted by lasers, Max unloading the pistol with his right hand while his other reached behind him. Heather braced against the sting of the shots as she got back up, sword raised again, watching as Max threw his withdrawn arm forward, his laser cannon flying out on the force of his aptly named Force Gloves. She brought the BLOCKSabre down to cleave the weapon in two, but the Shriek fell back before her and snapped the blade of her sword, the laser cannon driving into her and carrying her through the air. She passed the way she came, never realizing that the left path led to an opening to the tunnel's outer layer.


"Bullshit," she said with an annoyed look on her face, her body lighting up as she hit the crackling surface. The bolts flying through her soon flew through the cannon that had rammed her into the opening, and the gun's stored energy was quick to have an explosive reaction to the stimulus. Max winced as he watched a tower of fire and smoke erupt from where Heather had fallen, the ice around his legs starting to fall away.


"Really can't let your guard down with the cute ones," Max said, still feeling a bit more cool than he would like. "Still, wish that could've ended a bit prettier. No hard feelings, sweetheart."


*Nostalgia Note: The guns acquired by Heather in this fight are Billy Chilly's Freezel Weasel and ISH's Mighty Stinger, while Max gets Kejardon's Pulse Laser and classic Max's laser rifle and pistol (which were originally separate weapons, but it seemed funny to have them shift here given how the usage worked with Max in BOTP2).

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Large, gray stone bricks and thin seams of blackish blue mortar composed the floor and ceiling, the two set apart a good twenty feet and kept that way by pillars made of the same bricks. The pillars were as thick as tree trunks and ten times as sturdy, all spaced irregularly from one another but never so close that three pillars could fit between them. If there were any walls helping to keep the floor and ceiling apart they could not be seen, a fog permeating the room that gradually turned the distance white, only a fifty-foot radius of visibility offered to the viewer regardless of where they stood.


Kane, or so the gray and red armored man was advertised as, walked onto the scene, hands fiddling with a mess of reeds that cracked, snapped, and popped as said fiddling went on. Contrary to popular opinion, the fiddling had nothing to do with a certain cereal, though the future was up in the air.


"Peculiar, possibly not hallucination-inducing fog... not as good as water," the Hunter said, letting out a sigh and tossing his basket attempt aside. "Bah, whatevs. Huh... would I say whatevs? Point is, baskets are for sissies if they aren't holding munitions and trophies."


A flame the size of a tennis ball appeared on the floor far ahead of the hunter, but still well in sight. It grew out into two like-sized flames that curved away and then back to one another, drawing a circle of fire onto the floor. The inside of the circle glowed orange and red, a pillar of flame erupting from the circle and splashing the ceiling with fire. As quickly as the tower of flame appeared, it vanished in embers, a white haired, red-eyed man appearing from behind the veil of dimming sparks.


"Sticking to the act?" Vaughn said, arms crossed. "A little disappointing. My tally for funny, unpredictable fights isn't going to get any marks if you're imitating your obnoxious brother."


The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.


Kane pulled out his assault rifle and unloaded a round as he briskly walked forward, Vaughn jumping back while simultaneously swinging out his daikatana, Kurohiarashi, a flourish of flame behind it, and bracing the blade with his other hand against the force of the bullet and deflecting it off into the fog. He reversed the angle of the blade to deflect the next shot, then dove behind a pillar to evade a third. Kane tilted his rifle up a bit, a fragmentation shell ejecting from the grenade launcher on the gun and hitting off to the side and behind the pillar Vaughn hid behind, bits of shrapnel flying out as it exploded. Kane now ran to the side opposite of where the grenade exploded, rifle still aimed upward as he fired a shot at Vaughn as he leapt high and away from the blast, fiery sword deflecting another bullet, though its velocity changed his path through the air, his back stopping against a pillar as another bullet flew at him, the demon gritting his teeth as he raised his sword again, this time reflecting the round back and into Kane's right calf. The moment Kane was stunned was long enough for Vaughn to spin around to the other side of the pillar at his back, using its cover to get behind a different pillar.


'Any second now,' Vaughn thought, back to the pillar, daikatana away to free up both hands for the fireballs he now conjured. The sound of a demonic shriek signaled him to leap out into the open, a gunshot ringing out but no bullet flying by. Three soot-covered imps surrounded Kane, a fourth lying incapacitated in the direction his rifle was pointing, its body slowing vanishing in a whirlwind of ash. While he shot another imp, the remaining two lunged and clung to his legs, Vaughn tossing his fireballs at the same time. Kane caught sight of the flames from the corner of his visor, sidestepping in time to dodge one while the other struck one of the imps. Its face lit up in a huge, crooked grin as the fireball collided, its blackened body exploding with light as its skin went up in flames. Kane grunted in response to the heat and clubbed the flaming imp on the head with the butt of his rifle, the mini-fiend going cross-eyed as its flames went out and it vanished in ashes.


"My handsome and totally not annoying brother can easily survive atmospheric reentry, much like myself," Kane said, the last, visibly nervous imp that hung on to his leg getting clubbed before he continued. "You think a little fire is going to get to me?"


"Little?" Vaughn replied with a short laugh, his voice echoing through the pillared expanse. "That was hardly a spark. You want to see little?"


Kane's visor flashed, his eyes spotting a perfectly round, fire washed rock the size of a softball roll out from behind a nearby pillar and towards him. He offered the rock a brief, blank stare before pointing his assault rifle at it and nailing it once, the rock bouncing back into the air and landing in a spin, a high-pitch, garbled snarl resonating from it. A piercing yellow eye opened from behind the flames and then closed as the rock started spinning forward, its red flame going to blue and then to white as it wheeled towards Kane, its great heat leaving a trail of glowing, reddened rock behind it. Kane fired another shot at the blazing rock, but the bullet ricocheted off it without hindering it the slightest, though it did increase the volume of its snarling. The assault rifle was raised a bit higher, a grenade being slung out and landing right in front of the fiery rock, the force of the resulting blast knocking the rolling creature away, though its snarling seemed to grow even louder.


'There's more,' Kane quickly realized, immediately feeling intense heat at the back of his legs. He spun on a foot to face the source and swiftly backed off as a pillar of flame shot up from where he had been standing, barely thicker than a telephone poll but burning with near-blinding white flames. He fired a round at the pillar's base, the flames dissipating as a second aggravated rock was knocked away from where it was erecting its immolating column. Feeling the heat of the first rock from behind, Kane fired another shot at the second before charging off to the side, a glance behind showing that he was being pursued by three of these round, roasting rocks. For the split second he had looked back, Kane was sure there wasn't a large, X-shaped mass of throbbing energy heading towards him before. He ducked and rolled as the energy ahead was about to hit him, a ball of fire dipping in from behind the attack and nullifying his evasive maneuver, the force of the fireball knocking him up into Antipode Cross, which in turn carried him backwards before fizzling out and dropping him on his back, his armor noticeably scuffed. He jumped back onto his feet just in time to hear a triad of squeaky cackles from around him, the three rocks surrounding him, their bodies blazing as fire spread between them. Kane attempted to jump from the triangle of fire, but the flames stretched to the ceiling with a hellish roar, trapping Kane in a three-sided pillar of burning fury.


'That's one amplifier down for summoning that trio of helstares,' Vaughn thought, sheathing Murasame as he watched the fire pillar from afar, its intensity starting to diminish. There was a momentary waver in the flames, unified shrieks ringing out as the three flaming rocks were knocked away from the pillar as it shrunk into ribbons before vanishing. Kane, tachi tightly in his grasp, stood firm, his armor charred and crumbling away from enduring the blazing attack.


"Still here," he said, only breaking his pose in order to swing his tachi again to knock away the rocks as they approached once more. "That was pretty toasty, though!"


The ground suddenly heaved to the side, both fighters trying to stay on their feet under the brief shake. Dust started cascading across the floor, Vaughn's summons emitting perplexed cries as they started to roll in the same direction. Cyborg and demon alike began to lose traction on the ground as the flowing dust started reaching higher, tachi and daikatana being shoved into the ground to halt their holders' skidding. Dusty flecks and grains started to rest against the heads of the two as they felt their weight shifting about, managing to keep their swords in the walls and feet on the ground. When the shaking finally settled, both were concentrating on keeping their feet on stone without forcing their blades from where they were embedded, gravity trying to draw them into the fog below.


The two continued to cling to their swords, both staring awkwardly at one another, neither willing to look away and thus unable to get a better idea of the pillars above and below them in light of the ceiling and floor having become walls after the area's ninety degree turn. There were a few more dust showers as the seconds went by, their crumbling sounds being the only thing to break the silence until Insaney spoke up.


"Wasn't expecting this now," he said.


"Kinda weird, yeah," Vaughn replied. Their silent stare off resumed for a few more seconds until the Hunter let out a short groan.


"Well, gotta get goin'," he said, then quick drew his plasma gun and fired off a few shots, Vaughn throwing up a Flame Aura Barrier to weaken the attack, a few of the blasts striking him in the chest before he drew Kurohiarashi from the wall and dove down into the fog. It was about the same time that Vaughn freed his sword that Kane started to swing back on his, quickly gathering enough forward momentum to spin around the grip and plant his feet on the blade, springing off it to a pillar above him; a timely maneuver, since all his weight on the wobbling blade quickly dislodged it the moment he jumped off, the blade hitting the walls and pillars with a shrinking clatter as it fell. He didn't give the tumbling tachi a passing glance as he kept low on the pillar, hoisting his BFG out and listening carefully as he went still.


'Been fun, but it's going to end now,' he thought, then cast an uncertain gaze upon the weapon, his fingers drumming lightly at the controls. "Wait, this thing doesn't actually listen to me, right? Well, I am the super duper weapons master. Giving the DNA scanny bits a tweak would certainly not be out of my league. Now, do I pull the blue wire or the polka dot one..."


Leathery wings could be heard beating against the air, Kane feeling his sooty garb ripple around him. Pulling the BFG close, he leapt off the pillar as a fireball struck where he was just kneeling, the residual flames licking at his legs as he zipped through the air and landed on another pillar, taking a quick look back to catch sight of the large demon that was coming after him, though it was not Vaughn. He took a second to fiddle with the gun before jumping away from another fireball, the flapping going silent as he landed on a lower pillar. There was a lone beat of wings, and from ahead and below the demon rose, Kane turning away from it in an attempt to retreat but getting swiped in the back, the blow knocking him off the pillar and sending him several flights downward before he righted himself in the air with a flip and landed hard on a column. He could hear the air being cut by the approaching demon's dive, keeping his head low as he focused on the BFG, the demon appearing through the fog above, a radiant inferno swirling between its drawn back hands.


"Enough!" Vaughn called out, the demon halting its fall in an instant. "That will do for now. Return from whence you came."


The raging fire held by the demon fizzled out. The fiend appeared perplexed by this order of recall, but didn't dedicate too much thought to it. It shrugged and then vanished in a poof of flame and blackish smoke.


"That's a good demon," Kane said, Vaughn's voice passing through his lips as his BFG gave a resounding buzz, followed by a much more subdued click. He heard the sound of wings once more, but this time it was Vaughn who appeared from the fog, his outline fiery from his Demonic Aura. Neither said anything, a devilish grin creasing Vaughn's face as the two stared each other down. 'Guess we had the same idea.'


Kane allowed himself to fall backwards off the pillar as Vaughn loosed a stream of fire from his right claw, diving down upon notice of Kane's maneuver and meeting him in time to swat aside the BFG that was pointed at him, the cyborg spinning off the attack and swinging out his legs to kick off of Vaughn's second claw strike. This act was enough to get Kane behind a pillar before another stream of fire could roast him, Vaughn bearing his fangs as he reached behind for his swords and drew them the instant Kane reappeared, Shin Kurohiarashi and Murasame crossing once again and unleashing ten times as many destructive waves as before. Kane's BFG was already aglow with green plasma as the waves headed towards him, the gun spitting out a green ball of energy that just barely missed the demon's onslaught, its kickback having sped up Kane's descent enough so that only two of the alternating waves were able to hit him, flaying the left side of his face and crippling his right arm, the BFG being flung from it. Vaughn, his glance having been kept on Kane and paying no mind to an attack that was way off course, let out an alarmed snarl as he felt his body being blistered by devastating force, leaning back and shielding himself with his wings from the explosion of the BFG's shot after it collided with the pillar he just passed. The giant green burst quickly ate holes through Vaughn's wings, the demon quickly fading out of his strengthened form as he spent all of its energy trying to survive the attack. He exited the crackling green cloud with his body doing a slow spin, wrapped in electricity, the bolts flying away from him when he landed on his stomach onto a pillar, a pained cough being launched out of his lungs.


Vaughn had one amplifier left after summoning the demon from before. He now used it to invoke a potent healing spell, his ravaged surface and busted insides starting to mend as the amplifier crumbled away into nothing. He climbed to his feet as he felt his strength return, and as soon as he got to a full stand he heard every bone in his spine pop, a numbing pain reaching down from the top of his skull after Kane's smashed into it from above. The cyborg steadily tilted off from the demon and landed soundly on his feet as his target staggered back a step, Kane knocking him against the wall with a straight-arm thrust of the left palm. Vaughn hardly fell an inch away from the stone bricks before Kane's knee dug into his gut and sent him back, his insides getting smashed again between brick wall and mechanically augmented joint. He slouched forward as Kane leapt away, arm held across his belly as he choked up blood in a splash, reddened eyes opening to glare at his opponent.


"You... dick..." he coughed, Kane becoming a dark smear against gray as Vaughn's vision started to blur. The Psychopathic Space Hunter('s stand in) did nothing more than watch as his increasingly unconscious opponent swayed side to side before toppling off the pillar, his limp body vanishing beneath the fog.


"Objective completed," Kane said coldly, grim-faced as ever, at least until he adopted a more contemplative look while tugging on the back of his singed ponytail. "Well, not really... why am I here again?"

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