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Sasuke1986

Phase 4

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Vivid oranges and pinks rose from the horizon, a sun of soft red peeking above the edge, undulating gently. The sky above was of an orchid hue, puffy clouds of a lighter shade mixed through it. The seams of tiles would occasionally flash across the otherwise invisible ceiling that projected this wondrous illusion, the floor below unseen, covered by a fog of identical color to the clouds that came up a foot and a half above the floor. It all constantly moved in unison with a delicate, unending breeze, a realm with a sunset that never ceased.

 

A blue light shone from below the fog, dying a circular portion of it the same color. The light went back and forth between dimming and brightening, The Architect arising from the spot like an ancient tower arising from the sea, fading strands of fog cascaded off of his warrior avatar.

 

"There is nothing I could do to change one's faith, or even grant it to one," he said, as still as a statue, cape and tunic flowing with the breeze. "Actually, I easily could, but it's not in The Plan."

 

The haze from a blunt whipped through the air, disappearing into the ambiance around. Heather, wearing a leather jacket and a skirt longer than the norm in light of the area's cooler climate, plucked the blunt from her lips for a moment, taking a look at her surroundings and her opponent.

 

"So you're 'the' god, right?" she said, cracking a small grin. "That's funny. This should be fun."

 

The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.

 

As Heather rushed in, The Architect stood still. Drawing her BLOCKSabre back, tip forward as it formed, she stopped with a thrust, the blade hitting The Architect in the center of his chest and shattering into three pieces, only leaving a small rip in his tunic. Leaving his stance, The Architect swung his sword upward, Heather flipping back through the air to avoid it. She moved in again, spinning around a horizontal slash and then countering with a swing from her regenerated sword, the blade breaking once more against The Architect's solid body. She rolled away from the downward slash that followed, brows slightly bent from growing frustration.

 

"That's some stupid strong armor," she said, looking between it and her sword. She ran in again and attempted another slash, the brittle block-formed metal once again getting busted. The Architect spoke as Heather dodged another of his strikes.

 

"Perhaps a change is in order, as stated."

 

"By wha-" Heather's speech was cut short as the empty eyes of The Architect's mask stared at her, her body being overcome by a bizarre sensation. Locked to his gaze, she saw him step closer, look farther down at her, his body getting larger, height greater. The breeze started to feel more distinct, her body more aware of it, a strange, unidentifiable shift occurring in her vision, the fog below now starting to cloud her sight. She had to voice her growing confusion. "Rowr...?"

 

An odd thing to say, until Heather took a few looks to her sides and realized what had happened. She was now naked, fluffy, four-legged, and had a tail whipping around on the end of her butt. She wanted to make a face, but her new feline façade didn't quite register the order well, so her tongue stuck out a bit instead.

 

'I never wondered what it was like to be a cat so I guess this is it,' she thought. 'Powerful desires to claw sofas, laze around in the sun, vomit where people like to walk, and eat food that looks like mouse crap. Sort of boring.' She looked down her nose. 'At least I still have my joint.'

 

Her attention went back to what was immediately ahead, which was no longer The Architect's warrior avatar but his unassuming dog avatar. His mangy, jittery, starving dog avatar. Heather hissed.

 

'Involuntary, but a good translation of what I might've said,' Heather thought, then took off, a snarling maw of yellowing, brown-stained fangs behind her. Her four paws shot her through the fog that now clouded most of her vision, her path winding as she tried to guess her way around and outmaneuver the mutt chasing her. She could hear The Architect's jaws snap shut again and again as her tail twitched and whipped out of the way of his bites, feeling her claws tap against the fog enshrouded floor without making a sound. 'Oh yeah, I got these.'

 

"Reeeaaawrr!" Heather said. Yowled. She made a verbal occurrence to be captured in text whilst miraculously managing to keep her blunt in her cat mouth and spun around and to the side, getting out of The Architect's path while throwing out a paw, sharp nails curving out.

 

"Aip!" The Architect yelped as said nails dug into his jowl and exited near the end of his scarcely fuzzy face. He snapped back, but Heather twisted away as though she had always been a cat, with a cat's equivalent to Heather's murder machine training. Malnourished blood flew from The Architect's snout as Heather clawed him again, the mangy mongrel manifestation staggering back with a whimper. This didn't stop Heather from continuing her attack, leaping onto The Architect's patchy back and sinking her claws in before leaping off and leaving several deep, bleeding cuts in the thin layer of meat over his apparent bones. Letting out a pained howl, The Architect took off on his skeletal legs, away from the crazed kitty that was turning him into shredded dog (no preservatives). The breeze helped carry him a few dozen yards away, his tongue hanging out and occasionally lapping up the blood that trickled down the side of his face. His movement started to slow, path veering to the left as his head turned to look across the foggy expanse. He was tall enough to see above the cloudiness amidst the floor, but this didn't help him see Heather, the BioSuit-turned-cat nowhere in sight. His ears perked as he sniffed the air, cautious, unstopping. The gentle wind blew into his ears, his limited fur ruffling. A distinct, burning scent filled his nostrils and he turned with a vicious chomp, feeling the hot end of Heather's joint against the roof of his mouth. The Architect spat it out with a garbled whine, then tumbled to the ground upon feeling both back legs being clawed. He lowered his head as Heather's nails swiped through the base of his right ear and across his back again, his left front leg getting several cuts and then his crooked, rotting tail getting hacked off half way. His legs jolted to send him off on another run, but a boot to his right side sent him flying through the air instead, his brittle body bouncing once before disappearing under the blanket of fog.

 

"Finally, that urge to lick my asshole was getting old, fast," Heather said, taking great pleasure in stretching her arms up and around after not having them for a while. As The Architect arose from the fog to a kneel in his warrior form, now looking just as worn as the pooch, Heather took out another blunt and put it to her lips, snapping her BLOCKSabre against the floor and catching a piece as it flew into the air, striking it against the reformed blade until a spark lit her hit.

 

"You weren't... supposed to change... back just yet," The Architect said through some mighty wheezes. Heather shrugged, throwing aside the BLOCKPiece.

 

"Looks like I did anyway, douche," she said. "Shouldn't you be, I dunno, happy about that? I was slashing the hell out of you."

 

The Architect let out an exhausted sigh, pushing himself back up to a stand.

 

"I'd prefer that proceedings be as outlined in The Plan. Deviation is unwanted and a little irritating, but I suppose I should just resume the course best I can."

 

"Good for you," Heather said with a smirk, bending low in preparation for a dash. "Now if you'll excuse me, I want to see if I'll have better luck with my saber now."

 

As Heather broke into a run, The Architect raised his Lightning Gauntlet, Heather quickly moving to the side while ejecting her BLOCKSabre's current blade, the lightning bolt hitting the discarded edge instead. She closed the remaining distance and swung her sword as it reformed, the blade snapping but its piece sticking for a split second before clattering to the floor. Heather weaved away from the Starsteel Sword as The Architect swung it down, taking another shot with her own blade and getting a result similar to her initial blows, though she didn't let this dishearten her. The Architect slung his starsteel down towards Heather's thighs, the swift cyborg taking to the air and somersaulting over her opponent and landing behind him. She turned around, ready to strike again, but stopped, staring for a long second, a bit of a confused, yet amused, look on her face.

 

"I don't think I ever noticed before how these dark squiggles on your cape form a thumbs up," she said. The Architect paused for a long while, still at the end of his last attack.

 

"That is... quite the coincidence," he finally said, then turned around and slashed again, Heather evading and only having her blade broken off again. It reformed, then busted again against The Architect's tough armor, growing back and then breaking in a similar manner, a cycle that went on while Heather dodged and countered The Architect's hefty attacks, mostly managing by starsteel swipes but also having to avoid a bolt or two his gauntlet would shoot. Many split bits of BLOCK blade began clattering against one another as they hit the floor around the two, some adding to the littler later then the rest either by delays in Heather's attacks or due to making some small headway into The Architect before falling off. The sound of swords cleaving the air came to a halt when The Architect influenced his speed a few notches, gauntlet hand swinging down and up, Heather's downward BLOCKSabre attack being caught and the weapon being flooded with electricity. Heather uttered a short shriek as she was launched off her sword by the strength of the current, being flung through the air and tumbling head over heels through the fog. The Architect remained where he was, BLOCKSabre in his grasp, bolts flying up its blade and down its handle, the electricity coursing to the floor, the fog being lit from below and flashing as shocking threads jumped and skipped across all the broken blades beneath the haze. Heather, hair a bit frizzy, woozily got back on her feet, looking ahead at The Architect and the light show around him, the lightning from his gauntlet zipping down to the circuit below and brilliantly cycling about and back into him, then into his gauntlet to add more glory to the next wave and the one after, over and over and over. The electrical splendor grew so great that even Heather started having trouble watching, eyes squinting at the radiant, jagged rings rapidly flowing over the gauntlet, across the sword, and up The Architect, arches of blinding veins jumping in and out of the fog in swarms, growing thicker, denser, more numerous. Silent bursts of light began flickering in and out around The Architect, the carnival around him leaking out into the air and fusing, becoming a pure white mesh dome with fat, starry clumps. Heather dropped to the ground and threw her arms over her head as the orchestra of electricity finished with a howling boom, everything around losing its color as the light exploded outward.

 

The light in Heather's tightly shut eyes faded. She hesitantly opened them, her body still low to the ground. She picked herself up a little, peering over the layer of fog, spying The Architect still standing, his body singed but sparkling, nothing in the hold of his Lightning Gauntlet, shoulders far apart, a space between them that tapered down to his waistline. She had no idea where his head could've gotten. Her legs lightly ached as they pushed her back to a stand, a short laugh escaping her.

 

"That was meant to happen, right?" Heather said, smirking, looking at The Architect's frozen remains as the unmoving sunset shone through the blown open cavity of his upper body. "You really are a funny guy."

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Dark gray and blackish clouds swirled around high and low in an imposing cyclone, forming the turbulent walls of the inside of a cylinder. Within this vertical, hurricane sided expanse flew scaly beasts of a dark, subdued blue shade, each baring four wings held in a shape reminiscent of a manta ray, their alligator-like heads holding their mouths partially agape in leisure, long, flat tails trailing behind them. They flew about in a slowly ascending, upward spiral, some moving clockwise, others counterclockwise, their hollow, wind-like bellows joining in with the tornado wall.

 

Fire spawned and whipped about in the air, heralding Vaughn's arrival, the demon somersaulting out of the flame and landing on the back near the head of one of the soaring creatures. It didn't even notice he was there.

 

"I'm not quite the same as before," Vaughn said, kneeling since his landing and then rising to a stand. "But you... you're the very same. Those events must still be fresh in your mind."

 

The whipping sound of high velocity spinning managed to reach above the sound of the winds, Max also flipping onto the scene from above and landing on the same creature as Vaughn, only near its tail end. He jolted to a stand, Shriek spinning its blades as he held it in his right hand.

 

"Oh yeah, I wouldn't forget you!" Max said, a smile hidden under the helmet of his suit. "Nice tan you have going there. I have to ask, though... how's that sweet little sidekick of yours been?"

 

The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.

 

"Here it comes!" Max called out, tossing his Shriek with a swing of the arm, taking off to the side as the spinner sailed straight towards Vaughn. The demon pulled his right hand behind his head, getting a grip on Kurohiarashi while shifting his vision between the Shriek and its thrower, Max running near the edge of the large creature's back and curving towards Vaughn.

 

"I see what you're doing," Vaughn said, swinging his daikatana to the ground and releasing a spout of fire that threw him into the air, getting out of the conjoining path of Max and the Shriek. Max caught his weapon as it irately veered away from the flames, the creature beneath them uttering a mildly bemused bellow in response to the small spot of heat on its back. Both bounty hunters turned to face the other, Max below and Vaughn up high. The armored one threw his flying dicer again, the fancily adorned one cutting the air with his sword and sending out a wave of flame that knocked the dicer off course. Max jumped out of the way of the fire's path, head turning back to watch as his Shriek fell beyond the beast's back, between its wings and out of sight.

 

"Shoot," he said, facing back to his opponent and jumping to the side again to avoid another wave of fire, Vaughn landing shortly after his attack. Max charged in, closing the distance in the blink of an eye, fists pulled back for an imminent pummeling. Holding his sword close, Vaughn threw up a Flame Aura Barrier, bracing himself against Max's Quickining of punches and kicks while quietly muttering magic words. His barrier's color crackled to a more vivid shade, flying out in a forceful field of flames that sent Max through the air and downward to a wing, bouncing off it as it descended in one of its slow flaps. "Not... good."

 

Max managed to steady himself as he fell farther from the beast he had been battling Vaughn on, keeping his back to the sky and limbs out, guiding himself through the inside of the storm and towards another one of the flying giants. Vaughn, now holding onto the end of the original monster's tail, watched Max from above, speaking another incantation. He let go of the tail as one of his amplifiers let go of him, the device crumbling away as a platform of fire halted his fall, the flames giving way to wrinkled, wafer-shaped hunk of reddish brown meat with six tiny bat wings at its sides. Its underside throbbed with an orange light as its wings franticly beat, keeping Vaughn in the air.

 

'Let's test that agility of yours,' Vaughn thought, reciting another spell, a spiraling fire forming over Kurohiarashi. Max, still gliding towards another monster, turned his head and managed to get a look at Vaughn from the edge of his visor. He tilted to the side in time to avoid a jet a fire from blasting him, Vaughn taking aim again with the tip of his daikatana to shoot off another. Diving towards the monster now, Max landed with a roll to avoid the next infernal spearhead, turning towards his opponent while his hand reached to his side, grabbing nothing.

 

"Oh, right... it fell," he said, then sidestepped away from another fiery projectile. Vaughn flipped his sword around once in his hand, blade and flaming spiral leaving a blazing streak as it moved, pointing the sword back to Max and releasing blast after blast in quick succession. While Max bolted out of the way, Vaughn redirected his aim to strike ahead of his path, the shots leaving small fires where they struck the back of the creature. Max turned left and right in his sprint to evade both the incoming shots and their lingering effects, bounding over any walls of flame that Vaughn's attacks would make to restrict his movement. The spiral around Kurohiarashi started to speed up and condense, Vaughn thrusting it towards Max and shooting off a bigger, stronger blast, exhausting the rest of the spell's energy and returning the sword to how it was before. Max back flipped away from the explosive shot, bits of embers flying passed him as he moved through the air, unsteadily landing on his feet as the monster groaned and shook beneath him, perturbed by the recent blast. Vaughn conjured the spell on his sword once more as Max tried to not fall off another monster, the creature slowly turning its back downward, the fires on its back starting to go out. The bounty hunter of the intergalactic variety had to juggle staying grounded (possibly backed in this case) and dodging fiery shots when Vaughn recommenced his long range attacking, the creature's back now facing the right as Max moved between its wings, using them as a temporary shield against the demon's assault. Vaughn held off on attacking until Max had to leave his shelter due to the beast's continued rotation, fires now shaping on the monster's underside as the blasting and dodging resumed. Max kept ahead of the flames, Vaughn quickly exhausting his spell once more.

 

"Is that it?" Max taunted, gesturing in disappointment towards the dying flames around him. "You can do better than this, can't you?"

 

"You thought I was trying?" Vaughn said, Kurohiarashi held parallel to his chest, free hand with palm against the flat of the blade, the living platform below him still beating its wings in a panic. "Here, let me show you some REAL hellfire."

 

Vaughn chanted three times longer at three times the speed from before, notable venom in the words he uttered. His sword's kanji burned bright red as another spiral formed around it, thicker, more tumultuous, the fire black and white. He raised his sword as this new spiral undulated around it like a living thing, slinging its point forward to unleash a narrow, blazing, monochrome beam. Max wasted no time running from the beam, trying to keep pace as the monster slowly tossed about, aggravated by Vaughn's attack. The beam whipped about as Vaughn lightly drew with the point of Kurohiarashi in the air, Max ducking side to side during his dash to avoid the beam as it occasionally overtook him and fell back, a terrifying wave of heat coming off the beam that he could feel through his armor. The attack thinned into fat sparks, Max coming to a halt, sweating. The black and white spiral of fire still surged around Vaughn's sword, the demon drawing it back and thrusting, this time sending off bursts like before, one after the other. Max brought his short rest to an end and resumed avoiding the attacks just as he had before, only this time without the jumping: while the flames left by these bursts covered the same amount of ground, they reached several feet into the air. He ran in parabolic paths and altered his course on fast pivots, the monster all the while groaning irritably as its belly was marked with bizarre bonfires. Max soon came to a halt near the end of a zigzag, surrounded on all sides by the raised fires, Vaughn's attacks still coming straight at him. Max quickly threw his palms towards the incoming bursts and caught the first in the field of his Force Gloves, then the next, then the one after, each subsequent shot adding to the increasingly chaotic sphere a few feet away from him. He receded his outstretched arms slightly before pressing forward harder than before, his legs adding to the motion, sending the sphere of collected flames back to its caster, Vaughn raising the tip of his sword to the air while his summoned platform moved him out of the orb's range as it exploded. Max took a step back, hands whipping around his body, Force Gloves scooping the flames off the creature and condensing them into a ball similar to the last that he once again launched towards Vaughn, the demon evading it the same way, the air around him filling with the cascading fragments of the exploded spheres. He pointed his daikatana back towards Max, the spiral spinning around faster and faster until it was ejected as a drilling missile of blazing contrast. Max, not wanting to risk trying to catch the large attack, leapt away from it and was knocked further into the air from the ensuing blast, landing on the underside of the monster's jaw, his ears starting to ache from the volume of its bellows.

 

"Don't know what you're complaining about, big guy," Max said, looking down towards where the attack struck, the flames dying down to reveal no damage done to the creature. "You're taking this better than me, and I'm not even getting hit!"

 

He could feel himself starting to slide down as the monster started to curve up, righting itself, Max's feet scrambling to get him back to a stand. The monster's tiny eyes managed to get a good look at the cause of its discomfort, one dressy demon and his goofy summon, its jaws parting to reveal bright, blue light growing out from its throat. Vaughn swiftly ducked down, his platform carrying him diagonally downward and to the left, out of the path of the giant laser that erupted from the monster's mouth.

 

"Sorry," Vaughn muttered, warily eying the creature as its beam died down, whispering some simple healing magic to regain the stamina lost from his last incantation. His vision turned downward, then around. Where was Max?

 

"Gotcha!"

 

Vaughn suddenly tumbled back into a fall, his platform being pulled out from under him. His ascending vision immediately captured Max, the silver armored hunter using his Force Gloves to keep hold of Vaughn's platform as it spazzed out from separation anxiety. Max slung it forward into the gut of his foe, withdrawing it before Vaughn could get a grip on it and then slinging it again, smacking Vaughn in the forehead. The demon made another attempt to reclaim his platform, but Max's quick movement made it a bit difficult, so Vaughn instead swung Kurohiarashi, firing out a Burning Force Slash into the air. Max shifted his fall and evaded the attack before it curved downward and vanished below. He then spread his body flat against the air, slowing his descent and spacing himself from Vaughn, to the demon's mild confusion. The maneuver made sense once he landed on his back onto another monster, the air getting knocked out of him twice: once from the impact and then from his platform jabbing him in the gut again. Vaughn was able to get his arms around the platform this time despite the recent shock, holding firmly to it and pulling it free from Max's Force Gloves. The fallen bounty hunter then quickly got back on his feet while the falling one landed, something catching his eye.

 

"So this is where you've been," Max said, picking up his Shriek from a small groove in the creature's hide, the blades eagerly spinning out. Max looked ahead to Vaughn, leaping to the side to dodge the incoming wave of fire and watching as Vaughn remounted his platform. Max smirked. "Not safe any more!"

 

He tossed the Shriek, the weapon emitting its eponymous sound as it spun towards Vaughn, the demon throwing out more waves of fire that the whirling device deftly evaded. The platform tried to move Vaughn away from the Shriek but wasn't nearly as speedy, Vaughn gritting his teeth as more of his attacks missed, the Shriek moments away from his ankles.

 

His body gave a sudden jerk when his platform stopped, something he would've met with great frustration if he hadn't also noticed the Shriek's pause. The device emitted a steady, shrill hum as it hovered inches away from Vaughn's summoned platform, the meaty wafer's wings flapping at their same frantic pace. A long period of time passed with both fighters exchanging looks with each other, their immobilized assistance, and the immobilized assistance of the other. Vaughn let out a baffled grunt when his platform abruptly tilted back and dumped him several yards down to the giant monster Max was on before realigning itself with the Shriek. A lengthy moment went by as the meat-platform and mecha-yo-yo stared at one another through mutual eyelessness, their sounds consistent, positions unchanged. They both faced the distance, side by side, and drifted off, vanishing behind one of the monsters in the funnel. Max and Vaughn, both witness to this, gawked for many confounded seconds at where the living platform and Shriek disappeared before turning their heads to one another.

 

"Uh... okay..."

 

They quickly resumed battle poses and flew at one another, Max closing the distance in a silvery streak while Vaughn quickly chanted another spell, his body being enveloped in a crackling red aura, his agility getting the necessary boost to put him in a better position to brawl with his speedy adversary. The two clashed atop an oblivious monster, punches being thrown and kicks being swung, arms working to deflect the former and legs redirecting the latter. Demon and human brawled, Vaughn loosing a left jab, ducking, sending out a right hook, and turning to the side, Max hopping some to the right, performing a roundhouse kick, backing off, then doing a downward punch. This tussling tango went on, Max feeling the heat of Vaughn's fiery fisticuffs, Vaughn getting scraped by Max's speedy strikes. The demon took a punch to the grunt, bearing it with a grimace while simultaneously catching the responsible arm with his left. He thrust with his right while Max was caught, staggering the space hunter and using the opportunity to thrust again with his left, another of his amplifiers breaking free. A beach ball sized meteor was produced from his left palm, nailing Max in the stomach and rocketing him off the monster, Vaughn watching as the blazing comet careened towards the violently windy wall, exploding on impact. The fires were quickly sucked up and dissipated into the dark, cloudy winds, Vaughn standing idly, lips pursed, while a few silvery bits of scrap metal flew by and bounced off and along the monster. He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, then shrugged.

 

"Better luck next time, Max," he said, crossing his arms, garb fluttering in the wind, the gusty walls and beasts giving low howls.

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Crumbling walls of sandstone were covered in alien pictographs, their stories and histories told in an ancient script said to have been lost to the eons. Beyond this sandy structure of bricks and slabs lay a tropical maze, walls forming from massive, fan like leaves of an orange hue and thick, brown trunks studded with thorns, the floor covered in an assortment of colorful blossoms and petals. Within this humid labyrinth even more relics existed, but it did not end there. Silver shone through the leaves and cracks, abandoned space vessels the source, their windows cracked, plating and piping just starting to show the symptoms of rust, insides devoid of whatever power that might have once pulsed through. Pieces of civilization both archaic and advanced were surrounded on all sides by dark, unrelenting nature.

 

A thin wire lashed about from between some leaves, hacking the brush down and making way for Mebius and his MutaStone string, hidden beasts quietly hissing and snarling at him as he walked out into the open.

 

"Not good enough..." he said, thinking of nothing, thinking a little bit of other things. Many other things. "You know, don't you? You met him. He... needed a lot of good."

 

Heather strolled in, letting out a yawn so thick with liquor that it wilted one of the plants peeking through a break in one of the old walls near her. This didn't stop her from taking another sip of booze.

 

"Oh yeah, your brother was gross as all hell," she said, changing up her bottle for her BLOCKSabre. "You're not going to start flinging crusty wads of snot, are you? I'd like to hold on to what's in my guts for a bit more."

 

The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.

 

Mebius whipped the MutaStone forward, a blade forming on its extending end as it flew towards Heather. The BioSuit quickly turned the other way and hightailed it into the ruins, rounding a corner and halting Mebius' attack. He was a versatile fifth dimensional fellow, but looking through walls was something he needed practice with. Turning around, he walked through the cut stems he arrived from, disappearing into the rainforest, the sound of numerous angry snarls arising shortly after. Heather, meanwhile, continued running through the dusty corridors, occasionally taking a backward glance to see if the MutaStone was still pursuing her. She started slowing down, her headlong run calming to a relaxed walk.

 

"Okay, he can see the future and has a shape shifting weapon and some sort of super spandex," she said, looking forward. "That's it, right? Now how can I get around that..."

 

Her legs carried her out of the ruins and into the woods, scaling a few fat roots and elevated soil before reaching one of the inactive spaceships. It was a very sleek, impressive ship, barring the fact it was partly on its side with a huge hole ripped through its bottom. Heather stepped towards the opening, a ferocious bark entering her ears and causing her to do a spin, BLOCKSabre held outward. The body of an odd, wolf-like monster fell to the ground, Heather's blade having scalped it dead, its seven green eyes losing their color. She peered at it curiously before turning back to the ship.

 

'Guess I better get inside,' she thought. 'Maybe there's something in here I can use to get an edge over that guy.'

 

The oranges and browns behind Heather gradually disappeared as she walked into the ship, steps quietly clacking against loosened tiles on the sloped floor. She kept her weapon at the ready, staying alert in case something unfriendly popped up while she searched for something useful. After traveling down two disheveled corridors, Heather finally entered a large room, glass from broken monitors and tubes strewn about the floor. She looked around as she walked further in, trying to identify anything she could use.

 

'I'd probably have better luck looking in a weapons bunker and not... whatever this place is,' she thought, trying to figure out what might've been an old security room. The tiling beneath her gave a sudden heave, Heather glancing around to find the source. She back flipped at the sight of a metallic blur, narrowly avoiding being crushed by the large claw of an even larger robot that was in much better shape than the spaceship it was guarding. It rose to a stand as it reeled its claw back in on thick sections of arm, a set of cannons popping up next to its small head as its slowly stomped towards Heather, towering yards above her.

 

An assortment of grizzly creatures lay dead on the floor, from familiar wolf mockeries to dirty balls of fuzz with huge, layered sets of skinny teeth. The MutaBramble spun around Mebius after removing itself from a few of the land sharks and blade-antennae'd crickets, its thorns shrinking back as it returned to a more stony shape. Mebius looked emotionlessly upon the fallen beasts, then up and around at the toughened trees and the ruins and ships they held. The wilderness had overtaken these artificial structures, regardless of whatever durability and ingenuity they once and still held. The flora and fauna would just keep growing, but the structures only went as far as what their builders allowed. The natural overtook the unnatural, uncontrolled exceeding the controlled. Mebius pondered this for a moment, recollecting the fatal madness had by his alternates, quieting his own thoughts to nothingness before the growing noise of his mind could lay more groundwork for insanity. He continued on his way, leaving the dead bodies of attempted assailants behind him.

 

Upon leaping down from an arching tree root, the ground beneath Mebius exploded, throwing him to the side. His back struck a trunk, wincing as its thorns cut into him, falling back down and landing on a leg and knee, left arm propping him up, right held back to wield the MutaStone, JETSPA seeping into his cuts. He looked up to see a sizable machine walking unhindered through the forest, cannons smoking beside its head, Heather perched behind the right blaster.

 

"Would've settled for a handgun, but this guy will do," she said, patting the machine on the head just above the panel she had opened to hack it to do her bidding. The cannons hummed and fired again, Mebius exploding the photon rounds in midair with several swipes of his elongated MutaStone, feeling the sizzle of sparks on his face. He thrust the weapon forward to try and dismount Heather, but the robot fired a thin, red laser from one of its five eyes to halt the MutaStone, the metal curling back against the crimson line of light. Mebius withdrew his attack, making sure to keep the red-hot areas of his weapon isolated from the one he was holding, and leapt away from the laser as it moved up and carved a burning line along the ground and off into the trees. The robot threw one of its claws towards Mebius, the fifth dimensional thief jumping above the claw and landing on the segmented arm. He ran up its length, MutaStone snaking around in the air to attack from behind. Heather gave the robot's head a light tap, all five eyes lighting up to shoot red bursts towards her opponent, Mebius morphing some of the MutaStone to block the attacks. It worked for only a second as the heated weapon quickly had holes pushed through it from the projectiles, a shred slipping through and striking Mebius' wrist, causing him to drop the weapon before it was able to hit Heather from the back. He leapt back to the ground as the robot reeled its arm back in, watching as his scalding MutaStone got stepped on by one of the bot's big blocky feet, the machine keeping its foot down as it opened fire again with its cannons. Mebius looked into the thoughtstream to see his options against the explosive shots, JETSPA reaching around his head as he leapt back and behind an upheaval of earth and root, avoiding the energy blasts before bolting off, his body wavering into invisibility as he went. Heather cracked a light smirk, placing a hand on the robot's head. "Tell me where he is, boy. Where he's facing, where he's hiding, the works."

 

The robot made an affirmative buzz, Heather jumping down from its shoulder and to the flowery floor below, taking off in the direction the robot told through transmission, her right hand digging through her rutsack. Mebius, a vaguely human shaped shimmer running by leaves and old slabs, was ahead, his mind aching as he continued picking through paths of the future. Which paths lead to safety? Which didn't? He was quickly narrowing down the ideal choice, subtly questioning why some looked so blurry. A stout beast reared up from the ground ahead of him, Mebius having already read this much and coming to a halt, pulling back his right foot and swinging it forward, kicking the monster under the jaw and repelling it. There was a sudden increase in blurry outcomes. Mebius choked as he felt an arm get him around the neck, JETSPA going out of cloak and lowering from his head to ease his breathing, the opportunity being seized by another arm from behind to fly in and stuff something down his throat. He broke free of the hold, leaping ahead and turning to face Heather as he coughed.

 

"What was that?" he said, backing away, arms raised to defend. Heather crossed her arms, a sly sparkle in her eyes.

 

"Shouldn't you know, Mr. Fortuneteller?" she said. "It was just a little something to help you relax, that's all."

 

"Re... lax...?" Mebius said, his vision starting to go fuzzy, his concentration thinning. The colors of the leaves and petals started to swirl into hypnotizing pools, scenes from his other incarnations starting to bleed through, adding their colors to the mix and some lingerie and a football helmet to Heather. He pulled his right hand in front of his face, watching his fingers wriggle like tendrils, the nails shine like flashlights, the creases in his palm deepening into canyons where ravines of the finest ales brewed and bunny-eared bear cubs played badminton with box jellies. "Whoooooooaaaaaaa~"

 

"Yeah, maybe the same amount I'd use it a biiiiit too much," Heather said, chuckling at the scene of Mebius pulling his hand closer and farther from his face as his pupils wobbled. He started to spin around on a foot, wiggling closer, hand stretching out and taking a swipe at Heather, the BioSuit ducking fast. "Hey, watch it now."

 

"You can't triiick me, half naked helmet lady... fairy... ladle," Mebius said, trying to take another swing, Heather leaping away. "This here's a bowl... uh, loll... brawl... loll. We're punchin' each other"

 

He stumbled and fell flat on the ground, head gyrating a little. The JETSPA around his hands stretched and flattened against the floor as he started to get up, knees shakily straightening him to a stand, his cloth-armor pulling up sharp bits and pieces from the ground and shaping back around his hands to form a crude set of claws. Heather readied her BLOCKSabre.

 

"Bad drunk, huh?" she said playfully, attempting to slash Mebius across the chest, the drugged fighter unintentionally avoiding it when his muddled equilibrium made him bend back. He bent the other way, pointy hands swinging forward and prompting Heather to step back, her body doing additional twists and turns as Mebius' messy balance pushed him forward, his flailing flowing enough to deter Heather from counterattacking. The sudden sound of snapping and splintering trees entered Heather's ears and bounced off of inebriated Mebius' radar, the BioSuit leaping high into the air while Mebius got clobbered towards some nearby ruins by a mechanical claw. Heather grabbed onto a hanging stem at the peak of her jump, looking to see the robot push its way through any trees its punch didn't take down. "A heads up next time would be nice."

 

She pointed a finger towards Mebius, the tipsy thief back on his unsteady feet and wiggling his way further into the ruins. The robot opened fire with its cannons, the shots missing Mebius as he flopped around a corner and blasting through a wall instead. Crumbling resonated ahead, the canopy of leaves above rustling and then snapping as a pillar fell through, stopping after crushing the robot's head, the machine going stiff as smoke started billowing from its shoulders.

 

"Aw, my robot," Heather said. "You'll get fixed up after this, I'm sure."

 

She sighed, swinging her legs back, then forward, then back again, building up momentum. She let go of the stem as she swung forward again, flinging herself into the air and landing on the fallen pillar, sliding down it into the ruins. She leapt off just before where the pillar had smashed through the wall, planting her feet where she last saw Mebius. He was still in the corridor, spinning in place while pumping his arms front and back.

 

"Wheeeeeeee~~~"

 

"Having fun without me?" Heather said, pointing her BLOCKSabre at him. Every part of Mebius, except his left leg, stopped to look at Heather. He staggered towards her, arms whipping around. Heather pointed her saber upward and backed away a little, luring Mebius to one side to give her the room to get by his drunken range. She sidestepped away from a swipe, then continued stepping until she was behind him, slowly walking back as he turned and charged, arms whirling. Heather took her time evading his attacks, looking for any patterns in his dizzy approach, her skirt getting a clip here and there from his claws. Mebius took a long step ahead, dragging himself forward while his left arm flew down and the other flew up. Heather moved to her left to avoid the downward swing, slinging her sword out and severing Mebius' upward arm at the wrist, the clawed hand falling to the ground, the JETSPA on his arm sluggishly moving in to cover the amputation, though it gorged a bit afterwards from not immediately clotting the spurting stub.

 

"Hey... where'd the bunny-bears go?" Mebius said, his out-of-sync eyes gawking at his stump. He turned an accusing look to Heather. "Whaddya do to mah bun-bears?"

 

"Definitely too much," Heather said, raising her sword. She swung and missed as Mebius lurched towards her and fell, the blade only clipping off some of his hairs. He hit the ground hard, Heather feeling the bricks give underfoot, both falling through as the floor gave way into sandy chunks and showers, a purple striped darkness passing them by. Mebius flipped about through the air gleefully, one of his cycling legs catching Heather in the chest, the force of the kick knocking both away from one another before falling through crisscrossing vines. The two passed through and hit the ground below, ensnared in thorns, Mebius' mouth a combination of grinning and agape, Heather wincing as she struggled against the vines, unable to pull free as they tightened, their thorns digging deeper into her.

 

"What the hell," she said. She let out a surprised yelp when she felt a pinch near her ankles, looking towards the floor to see a black, termite-like creature taking a small bite out of her. She tried to kick it away, but the bramble kept her legs, and just about everything else, bound. More of the black bugs were now appearing from the ground, crawling towards her, pincers chattering. "Really, now?"

 

"Heeeey, I remember this place," Mebius said, the painkillers in his system making him oblivious to the bugs nibbling at his stub and hips. "I was headachin' to see where I could go to die so I could lure ya there, then I'd lose... I mean win."

 

"Ass," Heather said, glaring at Mebius. He started giggling.

 

"Your boobs got reeeaaally big just now. One, then the other. Ahahahaha!"

 

Heather rolled her eyes, then winced as more of the bugs started taking lengthy samples of her legs. She tried to break free again, but all she could do was lightly squirm against the vines binding her.

 

"Well, guess I'll see what it's like."

 

"Oooh, what-a-what?" Mebius said, a lecherous hint to his slur while a bug tugged on his cheek.

 

"This."

 

A pebble fell loose from the edge of the hole Mebius and Heather had fallen through. It came flying back up three seconds later, riding on a column of fire and smoke as the hole vomited it upwards, widening, bricks being flung into the air with the eruption. The crumbling ceiling went flying away in chunks and slabs against the force of the devastating pillar, feral eyes watching from the darkness as the blaze shot high above the canopy and plumed into a miniature mushroom cloud, fires spreading from its sides as the cloud turned into a hot haze that continued to rise in the air, its infernal colors turning to beige and black. Fires still burned down at the source, a once small chamber blown to three times its original size, littered with the singed husks of insects, disintegrating bits of blackened ivy, and explosion stretched shreds of fireproof underwear. Besides the scraps of skivvies, not a shred remained of the two fighters post-DS^2, their battle ending in what would eventually be settled as a draw amongst argumentative nerds who unearthed the Grand Archive of Battlestuff on planet Kayx in the year 3074, Stid calender.

 

 

 

For posterity, the combatants accepted it as a draw following some friendly conversation.

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"Hm? My turn again? You know... I was thinking about how lame I was before, with the preaching and all. Guess it's just another thing to work out the character kinks, but ehh, yeah, I wouldn't put on a very good show with how I'm feeling right now. Maybe later? But if you need a better answer... Hm... so... do you take requests?"

 

******

 

The floor was striped brown and gray. It was mostly brown, since every brown stripe was twice as wide as a gray stripe. The gray stripes were metal grates with metal bars underneath, and underneath these bars were metal panels marked with yellow and red lights that alternated between on and off. When yellow turned on, red dimmed off, and when red turned on yellow would dim off. The brown stripes were nothing more than dry, rocky soil, a few pebbles here and there, a crack or two every several feet, plenty of dust. The tall walls went up as metal tiles a fourth of the way, with the following two fourths being made up of a screen that stretched all along the wall, all along the room. The last fourth at the top was metal tiles like the fourth on the bottom.

 

A fire roared up from out of no where, embers scattering about as the flames flew away, Vaughn rising to a stand atop a scorch on the metal beneath him.

 

"The cold, calculating hunter," he said, looking forward with his deep red eyes. "It suits you terribly. Just thought you should know."

 

Metal dented under metal, grating under boot, ground under Kane. The gray and red armored cyborg grew to an imposing stand, assault rifle firmly in his grasp.

 

"If it isn't my good ol' demon buddy!" the Insane Space Hunter, acting in Kane's stead as ever, declared. "I've so been meaning to add a new set of horns to my trophy room. Mua ha ha ha haa!!... Ah, he doesn't do the laugh, does he? Shouldn't I know this!?"

 

Their simultaneous stance assuming filled the massive room with the sound of metal, their feet skidding against the grating where they stood. Either could strike at any time, Vaughn within cutting range, Kane's trigger finger pretending to itch. The tension escalated, both eager for the brawl, both overflowing with the burning desire to fight more and more and more.

 

The sounds of their stance-assuming echoed to silence, dust gently blowing by. Both remained ready, their battle fury being joined by budding curiosity and impatience.

 

"So..." the Hunter said, breaking the semi-silence. "Doesn't that wiggly-wobbly thing usually happen by now? Then that sudden strobe our old duck pal would love?"

 

"Yeah," Vaughn said, easing his grip on his blades that were still at rest at his left side and on his back. "Maybe this isn't the same? Maybe we aren't fighting each other this time?"

 

"That'd explain why we're so close," the Hunter said. "I mean in a proximity sense and not a platonic relations sense. It's platonic, right? You haven't been harboring any hots for me, have ya Vay-hawn?"

 

Vaughn didn't respond to the remark, instead gazing upward. As much as the Hunter wanted to warp his reply of silence, he decided to mimic his demonic associate and turned his eyeballs to the sky.

 

Above the last, tiled fourth of wall was a rounded canopy of metal, and far, far, far above this canopy was the ceiling, banded with metal decorated in the same lights as the ones below the bars and grating under their feet. These bands were stretched far from one another, the spaces being filled by massive, seamless sheets of impervious glass. It was a giant window to what lay beyond the Unknown Garden, thousands of stars, nebulae, and planets appearing to move by outside, the black of space practically absent from being tinted by the rainbow of colors offered by all the celestial bodies.

 

"Fancy," the Hunter said. "Although I recall this place originally being surrounded by the cold, black, soul sucking void. But who says we aren't allowed to change our minds? Not me, probably. I'm okay with this. But yes, fancy. Ain't it?"

 

"I don't think it ever really occurred to me where we've been all this time," Vaughn said. "It... brings back so many memories. Seeing all those stars. And the planets. It's like a dream."

 

"Isn't it?" the Hunter said, getting Vaughn's attention back towards him. "Don't matter if we kick it here, we just bounce back, and that pretty voice told us that once time's up we'll go back to whatever we were doing before as if none of this ever went down. Sounds about as dreamy as that time I ate a truckload of cheeseburger ice cream. Only, you know, that actually happened. I think? Who knows!"

 

Vaughn laughed, shaking his head a little.

 

"Sorry if I've told you this before, but you haven't changed."

 

"Heeeey, I change plenty," the Hunter said, getting a bit huffy. "Like that time I was that ninja! With the bazooka full of the kitchen sink and the kitchen stove and kitchen cabinet and the kitchen. I'm like an endless kaleidoscope set to auto! An ubiautoleidoscope!"

 

Vaughn chuckled, head tilting back a bit. As he brought it forward his merry demeanor slowly changed, a seriousness taking its place.

 

"As fun as this is, we can't drop our guard," he said. "We were summoned here for a fight, and we weren't given any details besides meeting the other, right?"

 

"You betcha. Thinking back, she didn't really phrase it the way she usually does. There wasn't that thick, creamy indication we'd be buttin' heads."

 

"So if we aren't battling each other again, then-"

 

The entire room abruptly started to quake, gravel rattling against the floor, lights flickering out of sequence, the massive, wrap-around screen showing static. Even the stars above seemed to be shaking.

 

"D-drama-atic interup-uption?" the Hunter tried to say through the tremor. "Thi-this is a b-b-bad place f-for it, isn't-t it?"

 

Something caught Vaughn's gaze, the demon turning to his left to face it, the Hunter (as Kane) wobbly but managing to turn right and face the same way. The ground ahead of them was throwing up dust in a swirling, churning cloud, chunks of rocks being picked up by an invisible force and being drawn within the twisting dust and vanishing. Vaughn and 'Kane' were nearly knocked off their feet when the shaking violently rocked the room three times, the first causing upheavals to form around the cloud and the following two times increasing their size and ruggedness. The quaking became rapid and more severe, and in an instant the phenomena before them gained an unreal thickness, as if the dust has become a swirl of pale brown paint. Two sets of massive, rocky-scaled limbs emerged from the bizarre, earthen cloud, crashing down and gripping the floor in their menacingly large claws, rocking the chamber again. A pair of gravel-y wings spread out next from the cloud, casting a dark shadow underneath, a long, jagged, spiked tail whipping out from behind the hind set of limbs. A serpentine neck soon rolled out from the front, curling down, a vicious, reptilian head that could have been hewn from a giant boulder on its end. The cloud grew out into a sandstorm as the beast opened its piercing, wicked eyes, throwing its head back and letting out a roar like a trio of colliding avalanches from the most barren pit of hell. The terrible quaking came to an end, the sandstorm cascading to the ground as the roar diminished to a hateful growl. The Hunter smacked his forehead.

 

"Of course! You can hardly call it a party if this guy ain't invited! How ya doin', guy? Not still mad from that time on ol' 'paradise', are ya?"

 

The beast answered with a roar that would have caved in any normal being's skull, praise be to all fighters' abnormalities. The Hunter raised a hand to the right side of his mouth to whisper away from the dragon and to Vaughn.

 

"You think he's still mad?"

 

"You need to find a way to share that little world of yours, ISH," Vaughn said, then turned his sight back towards the dragon. "This... guy... I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of meeting him before."

 

"Might be right, might be right," the Hunter said as he also faced back to the beast, nodding. "If only John were here! I'm sure you want to scrap with him most, don'tcha?"

 

The dragon snarled fearsomely, pure loathing in its glare, sand dribbling down its curling, jagged lips. Vaughn drew Kurohiarashi and Murasame, glaring back at the earthen monstrosity.

 

"This is it, then," he said, gripping his blades, steeling himself for the upcoming fight. "Was hoping for more than just putting some monster in its place, but overestimation can be a disappointing thing."

 

"A bit harsh, but hey, all to get pumped up!" the Hunter added in, returning his rifle to the ready position. "I might be here for the grumpster, but I ain't gonna leave it all there this time! I, the Insane Space Hunter, want in on this action, so prepare to die and hold on to your shorts, too!"

 

The dragon raised its neck, jaws trembling with wrath as it slowly shut its eyes, throwing its head back, then whipping it forward, eyes and mouth opening wide, a bone rattling bellow of a roar sending the area into a seizure, the screen displaying raging flames.

 

The air rippled thrice, then flashed with competitive fury.

 

The dragon's neck swelled, rocky barks and actual rocks firing from its mouth in steady sequence. Vaughn and Kane moved away from one another as the boulders flew at them and hit the ground in a roll, demon leaping aside while cyborg walked sideways in powerful strides, occasionally rolling with a "Whoop!" Both drew closer to the dragon as it randomly decided who to target, one rock the demon, two rock the armor, one rock the demon, one rock the armor, three rock the demon, never spitting more than three rocks at a single foe. Kane stepped away from another incoming boulder, its stony side grazing him as it passed, the space hunter taking aim with his assault rifle and opening fire as the dragon turned to face Vaughn, bullets sinking into the rugged scales on the left side of its face. It reeled its head back with an insulted shudder, its neck condensing back to its original size as its head pointed back to Kane, jaws spreading to catch him in a spray of shards and stones, knocking the gray and red armored one off his feet and treating said armor to a plethora of new scratches and dents. A wave of fire carved across earth and grating before striking one of the dragon's claws, the monster turning his glare back to Vaughn as he loosed two more Burning Force Slashes its way. The dragon raised its targeted claw and slammed it to the ground, upheavals ripping out in front of it in a line, one after the other, the towers of stone extinguishing the slashes as they emerged, their path heading towards Vaughn. He attempted to dodge the approaching attack at the last moment, but the rock that came up from beneath him was the thrice the height of the former one and twice as thick, Vaughn getting pushed into the air against the stone and flying off when it halted. The dragon's neck trembled as it looked towards the midair Vaughn, snapping its head back and forward to spit another boulder his way. Before it could connect, Kane jumped in and grabbed Vaughn, the rock passing by an inch from his head as he fell, setting the demon down upon landing.

 

"You are safe now, fair damsel!"

 

"Shut up, we need a plan," Vaughn said, pointing towards the dragon with Kurohiarashi, both fighters leaping the same way to avoid another boulder. "And thanks."

 

"Rules doth say they be proneth to screwing of the highest order," the Hunter remarked. "And no whining in that event, in capitals, even. Any such thing and the words of the masses shall bestow upon you a new hole! Sure you wanna risk it, bub? And you're welcome."

 

They leapt away from another boulder, the dragon snarling, its claws slamming against the floor as it started moving towards them.

 

"Got any better ideas?"

 

"Of ideas, I am a pot of them! None of them gold."

 

The two heard another boulder being spit, turning to face it. Vaughn swung Kurohiarashi upward while Kane launched a fragmentation grenade. The two attacks collided at the same time they hit the boulder, the explosion blowing the rock to bits.

 

"Teamwork's worked twice now," the Hunter said, a piece of rubble bouncing of his head without recognition.

 

"I think that much has been clear since the fight started," Vaughn said. He glanced over at the dragon as it thundered closer, making an aggravated sigh as he turned to face it. The dragon halted its approach, claws twisting around as it spun its body, Vaughn and Kane leaping high into the air to avoid getting impaled on the spiky end of its tail. The dragon swiped one of its claws along the floor as it continued to spin around, unearthing a row of tumbling rocks and swiping them up into the air. Kane quickly grabbed Vaughn and planted his demon feet on his cyborg shoulders, Vaughn kicking off to gain height while sending Kane back to the ground, both moving clear of the path of the rocks. Vaughn raised his swords at the peak of his recent jump and swung them down in a cross, launching at Antipode Cross downward while Kane fired an incendiary grenade. The attacks struck opposite sides of the monster's head, provoking a pained roar from it as Vaughn landed alongside Kane. "Hit it hard, then?"

 

"Just like my toaster on a freezing summer's solstice when solstice ain't!" he said, then pulled out his BFG. "I need time to adjust this, however."

 

"I need time to give you time to adjust that, then."

 

"I can make that time."

 

"Do it," Vaughn said, kneeling down as he started to chant, Kane rushing forward while putting his BFG back. The dragon blinked away the blurriness caused to its sight by the previous attacks against it, immediately spotting Kane as he kicked off the ground and whipped his helmet off, body snapping straight as he rocketed towards the dragon's jagged mug. His skull connected with the dragon's snout with a resounding slam, neither moving upon collision until gravity got its hold back on Kane after a few seconds, dragging him down to the floor. The monster let out a gravel-y grumble that sounded a bit too much like a laugh.

 

"Hey, not cool, man," the Hunter said, fists on his hips. "Bro can't help it if he's too professional to not headbutt like a sissy... maybe you can not ever tell him I said that? Things would go badly for someone."

 

Kane went flying into the air when the dragon flicked him away with a claw, then followed through with some boulder breath. A six winged wafer caught Kane from below and raised him away just in time to avoid getting sky-bowled, the cyborg putting his helmet back on after craning his neck to spot Vaughn below.

 

"Does this make us even, maiden of the finest white locks?"

 

"Shut up and stay on it," Vaughn said as his summon hovered to him, Kane standing himself up proper on it. "It'll try to keep you safe. It's also sturdy, so don't be afraid to use it as a shield." Kane steadied himself as the meaty platform he stood up tilted its front up and down a few times. "I was talking to the guy on top of you, wise ass. No slacking, so get going."

 

As the platform fluttered away with Kane, Vaughn turned back to the dragon and unleashed another Antipode Cross to bust apart another boulder. The craggy beast stared him down, wings flexing, pebbles pouring out from its maw. Vaughn could feel something lightly landing in his hair, quickly jumping to the side before a cascade of sand was able to bury him in a mound, the demon immediately jumping back upon landing to avoid getting smashed under one of the dragon's claws. He whipped Kurohiarashi about several times in the air, sending streaks of flame of varying intensity to the floor, the fires carving up from the ground and hitting the monster across the front of its body. It made an extremely agitated, prolonged bark.

 

'Guess I'll have to turn up the heat,' Vaughn thought, one of his amplifiers shaking and falling away, three circles of fire appearing on the ground in front of him, round, blazing rocks forming inside, each having one, intimidating yellow eye that erratically blinked. Their peepers slammed shut as they let out garbled shrieks and bounced into the air, landing to roll towards the dragon. The beast squinted at them angrily, swatting them far across the room with its claw, Vaughn ducking out of the way so as to not get bashed in the face by one. 'About as much as I expected for the start.'

 

A sick rumbling echoed from the dragon as it planted its front claws and set its sights upon Vaughn, Kurohiarashi held high in the air, point towards the ground, as flames began to course over it. The dragon dropped it head and jaw, regurgitating a huge landslide across the floor in front of it, Vaughn thrusting his daikatana to the ground and going airborne off a stream of fire, the landslide spreading out below him. He pulled back his swords and crossed them three times, sending three spaced waves of destruction down at the dragon. It bared its fangs, raising an arm against the first wave, swiping the same arm against the second, and exhaling two rocks towards the third, the first getting destroyed along with the destructive cross, the second barreling through the smoke and catching against Vaughn's daikatana, the blade cleaving the boulder in two before it could do any damage. Vaughn felt a sudden rush of wind around him, his eyes pointing upward to see the dragon in the air, its fangs revealed in a devilish grin as waves of sand flew across its body. A raised claw was brought down, smacking Vaughn out of the air and into the dirt below, soil being slung high and all around like a tremendous splash. Vaughn opened his eyes to see the monster plummeting towards him, everything darkening as the dragon's shadow closed around him. The darkness was soon cut by three towers of white fire, the dragon yowling in agony as the incinerating columns dug into its chest and forced it back, its tail whipping forward and smashing into the ground alongside Vaughn, sending one of his summons flying while forcing him back into the air.

 

"Think fast!" Kane's voice called out, the orange-lighted underside of the platform summon zipping into Vaughn's vision, his arm shooting forward and grabbing tightly to its edge. The platform did a turn, carrying them higher and away from the dragon as it rolled back onto its belly, snapping and swiping at the two blazing ball summons it hadn't knocked away. "You got lucky. I sure know how nasty it is to get hit by that tail, oh-ho! Now hang on tight to Flyin' Patty Junior, cuz this could get messy."

 

"Flying Patty Junior!?" Vaughn called out, taken aback, then quickly threw his other arm up to tighten his hold on Flyin' Patty Junior upon hearing the familiar warm-up of Kane's BFG. The platform and its two riders swayed backwards as the volatile green sphere of annihilation was fired, its chaotic light quickly grabbing the attention of the dragon. Its eyes widened, but it did not freeze, raising both front claws and smashing them into the floor, a wall of solid rock curving over it in half a dome. The BFG round exploded into a mess of energy against the rock, giant sparks and light spreading from the point of collision, Kane and Vaughn bracing themselves close to the platform as the shockwaves spun it around, countless chunks of stone flying by. When the summon finally steadied itself, there was no time to watch the dust settle, a vicious roar sweeping it away, the dragon standing tall, its eyes solid red as its cry shook the arena, its body marked all over with fresh scars. It snapped its arms and wings straight and pointing away from its body as it let out another roar, a massive whirlwind of sand coiling up around it and then launching towards Kane and Vaughn, the furious sandstorm slicing across them as it separated them from the platform, the winged wafer tumbling about as it was carried off with the sands, letting off clouds of sweat as it futilely flapped. Both fighters, meanwhile, toppled back to the ground, Vaughn covered in cuts that sprayed out some blood upon hitting the ground, Kane's armor making a short moan when he struck the grating. Hearing the large monstrosity churn as it moved, Kane shot back up, skidding over to Vaughn with arms raised. The demon looked up as he pushed himself back to a stand, watching as the dragon's tail smashed against Kane, the dragon losing one of its spikes, Kane losing all of his armor as the force of the blow blew it off into twisted plates and scraps. Vaughn gritted his teeth as he gripped his swords.

 

"Get down!" he shouted, Kane quickly obliging and dropping to his stomach to avoid an Antipode Cross to the back of the head, the devastating wave hitting the dragon's tail and sending it away, as well as breaking off a few more of its spines. Kane picked himself up a little, looking back.

 

"I assumed you were being literal, but I can also bust a move if that's whatcha meant," he said. The sound of searing flames and an anguished howl turned his attention back to the dragon, pillars of white fire searing it from below on different sides. "Those things sure now how to last!"

 

"Legends claim they were born on the most infernal of the demon realm's suns, so yes, they tend to last," Vaughn said. The dragon curled its jagged lips back as it glared, raising one of its claws and clenching it into a fist, smashing it down on one of the balls, its garbled shriek cut short as flames flickered out from under the dragon punch before quickly dying down. "... Legends are legends, of course."

 

Kane looked back, his weaponry strewn about with his bits of armor.

 

"Got to get my gear," he said to Vaughn, jerking a thumb to his stuff. Vaughn nodded.

 

"Let's see what we can do before that cannon of yours gets its energy back," he said, hearing a second blazing ball get squashed. The red in his eyes grew out and deepened as he faced back to the dragon, a hellish aura overcoming him as he took to the air, wings sprouting to keep him aloft. The dragon smashed the third ball before turning, pulling its head close and its arms over its head upon seeing the incoming series of destructive waves, earthen crumbs getting plowed by its hind claws as the ten energy X's smashed into it and pushed it back, adding more scars to the cracking scales on its front limbs. It moved its claws away, two stygian glares meeting, fire demon and earth dragon drawing a sparking line of rage between their eyes. The dragon roared, the demon bellowing an incantation in a wicked tongue, the ground before the dragon crumbling upward as a giant lance of stone arose from it and froze in the air, the flames around Shin Kurohiarashi going blood red as Vaughn reeled the blade back. Two monstrous battle cries cut across the arena, stone lance shooting forward like a missile, demonic daikatana being thrust and launching a rampaging beam of burning devil's blood, the two attacks colliding and dying the chamber with darkness. The lance spun like a drill as it fought against the beam, reddish brown slivers flowing out into the air where the two gnashed against each other, shrilly echoing the calls of their casters. Cracks started reaching across the lance from its tip as it continued to spin, the bloody laser's glow starting to flicker as it narrowed, the darkness being blasted away as the attacks negated one another with a thunderous clap, rocky shards flying by the dragon as crimson embers zinged passed Vaughn.

 

"And then came the Insaney in Psyche's clothing!" the Hunter called out, both sets of devilish eyes looking high above. "Not impressed before? Then try on the genuine High-Velocity Whimsically Ridiculous Unreliable Flying Headbu-"

 

The Hunter was cut off by the deafening sound of his reinforced skull hitting the dragon's rocky one, the beasts eyes spinning in their sockets as it grimaced so hard that chunks of its rugged jowls broke off and crashed to the floor.

 

"-at Ensures Victory!" ISH finished when the echoing clash died down enough for the rest of his technique's name to be heard. The dragon staggered back, wings falling low as it tried to keep itself from falling by holding against the ground with its shaky right limbs. Insaney fell back to the floor, looking back at Vaughn as he did so. "Think I should use the acronym for those tight moments?"

 

"Get your BFG ready!" Vaughn roared, palms out on straight arms as his second amplifier fell apart, the dazed dragon letting out an alarmed grunt as twelve massive, gnarled, molten hands emerged around it, each of its limbs getting caught in the grasp of three hands, binding it to the ground. Vaughn jolted himself upwards, gaining more altitude, his final amplifier falling away as his aura thickened and rounded into a circle around him, expanding in pulsations until it had grown seven times its initial size, its insides churning with black and crimson flames, Vaughn's demonic silhouette at its center, eyes and scowl a vivid red. The energy within the sphere increased exponentially as it spun like a cyclone, the circle taking on a blazing outline, its outer layer blood red, the thickest, black layer following, and the circle most tightly around Vaughn fluctuating endlessly through yellow, orange, red, and black, mottled and turbulent. The demon had encased himself in a miniature, barbarous star. He hunched over, his crackling red eyes locking onto the dragon as it uttered wrathful cries, trying to pull free of the lava limbs keeping it bound. Vaughn angled himself towards the dragon, spreads his wings, then dived, immolating tendrils trailing behind the amassed energy as it stayed gathered around the demon, one word carrying on his deepened, warped voice: "NOW!!!"

 

"Loud and clear!" Kane shouted, hoisting the BFG up as its innards sung, a second catastrophic sphere being fired. It whipped about through the air on its path to the dragon, shards of plasma dancing around it as it throbbed and shuddered. It was dragged up into Vaughn's infernal field as both drew closer to their target, the energy peeling into ribbons and encircling the devil star in a green, barbed spiral and white, jagged rings. The earth dragon's otherworldly eyes widened, the incoming destruction reflecting off of them, its fangs clenching so hard that blood began to pop and gush from its hard, wrinkled gums.

 

White and black rays flew across an outline of everything in the large room, all other colors drown out by the growing monochrome orb at the point of impact, all sounds silenced. Color suddenly returned as the orb fell apart, flames and shards of electricity spewing out from the rips and tears, the thrashing powers letting out a mind numbing scream that shattered the screen, tore fissures in the earth, and pulled tiles, grating, and bars from the walls and floor. A thick haze blasted out from the scorching cloud and flooded the entire room, blotting out the devastation wrought not even a second ago, reaching up above the twisted overhang of metal, churning inches away from the glass and metal bands that showed the cosmos beyond.

 

"Whooie, now that's a spicy meat-a-ball!" the Hunter called out from inside the haze, then coughed. "Vay-hawn? Oh Vay-hawwwwn! Don't tell me I'm the lone survivor of all this? Oh, the sorrow!"

 

"Keep it down, I'm right here," Vaughn answered, though there was still too much dust to see anything.

 

"The demon lives!" the Hunter said, voice mixed between joy and 50's era horror. "Did we win?"

 

"Let's wait and see," Vaughn said, ISH complying with a hum. The murky cloud started to disperse and fade, showing the scraps of metal, dust filled cracks in the dirt, and the smashed and darkened screen. Vaughn and the Insane Space Hunter, as Kane, reappeared as the haze was drawn away from them like a curtain, a giant crater of desiccated soil ahead of them, not a grain of their draconic adversary in sight. Kane pumped an arm in the air.

 

"Woohoo! Champs of the world, baby!"

 

"That might be taking things a bit far, but it does feel good coming out on top of something like that," Vaughn said with a nod. "Still, like I said before, it was just another monster. We've both probably fought things far more formidable than it before."

 

"Creamed corn, corn on the cob, candied corn, cornucopia, tacorn!" the Hunter said, hopping up and down giddily in amaizement. Vaughn sighed, unable to restrain a smile as he shrugged at his ally's merriment. "A hero's welcome, I say! A taco party for the ages! Because we rock! Faux Grumpster and Vay-hawn rock! Rock on! Rock-a-doodle-doo! Rock around the clock, we're gonna rock rock ro-"

 

The Insane Space Hunter's victory cheering came to stop under the huge slab of earth that just crushed him, and since that same slab of earth was an overturned piece of a third of the room's floor Vaughn was also flattened. The dragon stood atop it on all fours, panting heavily, rocky hide sagging as its thick blood dribbled out from the countless deep cracks and scars it received after narrowly avoiding vaporization by sinking into its element, which put it in a prime position for payback. Its eyes grew and sparkled as it realized what happened, its tired jaw picking up and helping to form a delirious grin as it looked back and forth with wide sways of its neck, excited chuckles falling from behind its crooked teeth.

 

"What a load," Vaughn said, sans legs and fifty percent his usual opacity. In place of his missing walkers was a flowing, gaseous tail, which wasn't too inopportune a thing since he was floating high up in the air, looking down at the dragon.

 

"Hey now, we didn't do bad," the Hunter said, similarly transparent and wobbly below the waist. "Sure, we got punked, but that's not a big deal when we TRIED OUR BEST, right?"

 

Vaughn stared blankly at him.

 

"Missing the fish, buddy. Besides, is losing really so awful? That guy's been aching for a win for so long. Just look at him!"

 

The dragon was up on its hind legs, front claws on its hips, doing a merry Scottish jig upon the rocky tomb it sandwiched its foes under, tail wagging back and forth as its tongue lolled about. No one was quite sure where the bagpipes were coming from, but that didn't put a lid on the dragon's exuberance. Its growing lightheadedness might have also been a factor.

 

"Yeah, I'm asking for a rematch after a few cold ones."

 

"I'm with you there, old pal. I'm with you there."

 

Side-Note Thing: The blue text is meant to be ISH's original tomcat color, which is darker in appearance. Tomcat doesn't register when put in the color tags, though, and I don't know the hex for it either, so I'm just putting blue here for now, yo.

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