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The long hall leading to the Death Room was silent, the two partners not speaking. Karkat had his fists clenched tight, his jaw set, and his eyes on the floor. Sollux was focusing on breathing and staying calm. Sure they'd fucked up, but they were just kids. Lord Death would understand that, wouldn't he?

They'd been sent on a mission to collect the soul of a witch, and had severely underestimated her. They'd already accumulated the 99 Kishin egg souls, and they'd done it in less time than any other pair. Of course they thought they could handle the job. They were wrong.

They walked through the archway, to the center of the room. With a quick glance at Sollux, Karkat approached the mirror. He breathed on it and wrote in 4242564. The mirror shimmered, and he stepped back beside his partner. They stood up straight and put on poker faces.

Lord Death appeared behind the glass a few seconds later. With the silly mask he always wore, it was impossible to tell how scared they should be. He stood in silence for a moment before Sollux spoke up.

"Meister Sollux, reporting in as requested, Lord Death."

"And Karkat..." Karkat mumbled. He still had his jaw clenched but was trying to appear relaxed and professional otherwise, with his chin held high.

"Nice to see you two. Thank you for coming. I wanted to discuss your recent mission." He bobbed a little as he spoke. "As you well know, out of the hundred souls needed to make a death scythe, the witch's soul is both the most important, and the most difficult to retrieve. Failure to get it has consequences. And you have failed."

Karkat took in a quiet, sharp breath and Sollux gulped discreetly. They looked sideways at each other briefly and nodded to Lord Death.

"However, your failure was understandable. Had we known how powerful this witch was, and known of her entourage, we would have sent in our most experienced death scythes, rather than students. We may as well have sent you after a Kishin! You may be advanced, but there was no way you could have beaten her. In depleting most of her followers, you've gained double the number of Kishin eggs necessary and made it slightly less difficult to get to her, though she will likely gain more servants again soon. Because you held up so well before retreat, you may keep all of them. That is all."

He waved his obnoxiously large hand, and the mirror went back to showing the pair's reflections, which now looked pretty silly. They both had their mouths hanging open, staring in disbelief. No student had ever gotten out of being punished for failing a mission, let alone REWARDED. After a minute or two of standing there, Karkat grinned, baring his sharp teeth. "YES!"

Sollux turned and smiled wide, "HELL YES!"




They high fived on the last word, and walked back down the long hall, their ecstatic laughter echoing.


Equius charged forward, arm retracting, ready to thrust it forward. As he approached the small girl, he planted his foot and put all his strength into his punch. Moments before the fist connected to her body, she grabbed it, using it to swing under his arm, twisting her body as she came up on the other side to put her legs around his neck, steadying herself by grabbing his horns lightly. With all the lean muscle packed into her tiny body, she was easily more agile than most other weapons, and maybe even more than meisters. She giggled above her partner as he registered her movements too late. She dropped backwards onto her hands and let her legs fall gracefully. She'd been a gymnast for years before she'd joined the Academy.

Equius spun around, hand already clenched, and aimed for her stomach. She hadn't been expecting him to react that quickly. Apparently her lessons were working. Which was kind of a bummer for her at this point. She keeled over from the hit with a loud "Oof!"

As she dropped to the ground she groaned out, "You got me good that time, goddammit."

"Nepeta, we've discussed this-"

"You punched me in the gut I am not going to apologize for 'vulgar language' you sweaty jackass!" She was already recovering, (couldn't keep her down for long) but she figured she'd guilt him a bit while she could, and maybe get him to drop his guard. He reached his hand out to pull her up. She looked at it a moment before taking it and rising up. The moment she was off her knees, she got under him, turned her body, and threw him down over her shoulder. He landed with a loud thud. Slightly daze, he stumbled back up, and looked around for her.

"Equius!" She sang. He looked up to see her hanging from a chandelier. How in the fiddle fudge did she even get up there?? She smirked and pounced, tackling him down. Hands on his chest, knees by his hips, she leaned down. "I win" she whispered. She hopped off and smirked gleefully.

Equius got up and followed as she crossed the emptied classroom to the water cooler. "This is not a game. This is serious training."

"You're just saying that because YOU. Lost."






Bits of the clay pigeons showered down as each shot hit perfectly. Jake admired the way Jade knew exactly how much power to put into each blast, never so much to call it overkill, never so little it wouldn't shatter the target.

"Jade, six cylinder."

Jade shifted her form from sniper rifle to revolver. She could transform into any gun he wanted. But his favorite was always the six cylinder revolver. Even though the cylinder count didn't matter since they didn't need actual bullets. He'd always loved the feel of it. The way it kicked back in his grip when he pulled the trigger, the click it made as the cylinders turned. It wasn't as reliable for long distance attacks, but he still liked to try.

"Watch the kick on this one!" She warned.

Jake held her up and winked. "Pull!"

Jade compressed Jake's soul wavelength tighter than she had with the rifle, so it would be able to hit at a longer range. The target flew up. Jake smiled, lining up his weapon, and pulled her trigger. The blast shot out hard, bucking back at him more than he'd expected, but thanks to the warning, it didn't phase him. He watched as it seemed to go in slow motion, traveling the great distance to where the target would be once the shot got there. He'd timed it perfectly. The clay and soul bullet collided and burst. He smirked proudly and turned to look at Dirk. The boy was still stoic as ever, leaning against the wall in the small area designated for observation. He nodded up, the sun glinting in his pointy shades the way it would in an anime. He gave Jake a thumbs up with one had, the other still in the pocket of his black jeans. Jake felt pride swelling in him when he noticed the corner of Dirk's mouth turn up in a hint of a smile. He turned back around and took a deep breath.

"Hey Jade. Let's try...Ahab's Crosshairs." Eridan had designed that gun when they first started going to the academy. After explaining it to Jade, she figured out how to make a working prototype, and since then it's been in her repertoire. They hadn't really used it before, but Jake was in a mood to show off. Instead of just blasts, this gun shot a beam of soul wavelength. Jade shifted to it and sighed. "Don't get too carried away here, Jake."

"Me? Shucks buster, I would never."

He raised her up and shouted again, "Pull!"


Dirk put his hand back in his pocket, reprimanding himself in his head for not being able to keep his smile from showing. He wasn't sure why he tried so hard to hide his emotions away, but he preferred to not think about it, just accept it. Jake was switching to the badass beam gun Ampora had designed forever ago. Which was weird, cause that kid didn't even use guns. He watched Jake ready his gun, and couldn't help but notice how good those shorts made his butt look. He stared for a while, until a hand came down on the side of his head. "You're staring, perv."

"Dude, don't fuck up my hair. It took me, like, an hour."

Dave put his arm up against the wall and leaned on it, an eyebrow raised over the top of his shades. "Your hair's fuckin fine, dude. I doubt I could fuck it up if I tried with all the shit you've got in it. What the hell do you even use? Cement?" He flicked a piece of hair that was sticking up, exactly the way dirk styled it to. It bounced back into place immediately. "Holy Jesus do you see this? Like it's got a mind of its own, Christ on a cracker." Dirk rolled his eyes behind his shades.

"Why are you here, Dave?"

Dave smirked a little, and leaned in to whisper in his brother's ear. "It's time," he sighed seductively. Dirk stood straight. "Now?"






Dirk looked back at Jake, who was focused in on his shooting. He probably wouldn't even notice if Dirk left by this point.

The twins took off toward the combat training area, not exactly running, but flash stepping every few seconds to get there faster. Their movements were perfectly in sync, left, right, left, flash step, etc. They sauntered into the room they heard a "Yahoo!!!!" coming from. They hid their excitement over getting training time with him. Getting to train with Black*Star wasn't something everyone got to do. First, because he was always busy on missions since, as everyone knew, he was one of the best in the school. And if you didn't already know that, he'd tell you. Like when iPhones came out and you always knew who had one. Because they would tell you. Constantly. Second, because he'd only train you if you were 'worthy'. You had to challenge him, and if he liked your style and you weren't totally incapacitated from his attacks, he'd take you under his wing.

When the Striders had challenged him, it was the very beginning of this year, their second. He'd given a huge speech and monologued for a full five minutes before he noticed them walking away. Then he finally got into fight mode. At that time, Dave would be the meister and Dirk would be his sword. But they switched within the first few minutes because Dave wouldn't shut up. When Dirk told him to just fight already, Dave insisted that he get his own five minute shitty monologue too, and that since he'd been interrupted, he needed to start all over. That earned him a smack to the head from a now-human Dirk, so he turned into a katana and let Dirk do the talking. Figuratively, because Dirk knew how to keep his mouth shut and focus.

Needless to say, they made quite an impression. Black*Star still won, but insisted they teach him to do that 'awesome flashy moving thing'.

They approached silently, because that's just how Striders do, and nodded to Tsubaki when she turned around to greet them.

"Hey guys!" She smiled, hands behind her back. Black*Star jumped up onto the table and looked at them.

"Alright, listen up!" He screamed, even though they were right fucking there, seriously, this guy... "We will not stop for blood, sweat, or tears! We will not stop because you're tired or injured! We will not stop until you have improved! Even though you'll still never be at my level, because I'm practically a god! But maybe someday you'll be close, if you do as I say!"

The twins kept their heads facing Black*Star, but shot a look at each other from the corner of their eyes, conveying a mutual thought of 'Is he for fucking real right now?'

"Alright. Tsubaki!"


She turned into her Enchanted Sword form, and Black*Star ran his hand on top of the blade held in front of his face, markings spreading across his skin. "Let's get started."