It was getting unnerving, always hearing his footsteps behind her. Yes, of course, he was there to protect her, but by Celestia could they have picked someone else?
She held up a hoof, and the two stopped, hidden in the shadows of the narrow alleyway.
"Do you hear that?" Twilight asked.
Alucard cocked his head sideways, raising an eyebrow at the unicorn.
"Of course I do, Ms. Sparkle."
The unicorn listened, hearing the staccato of gunshots echo off of stone buildings ahead.
"Firefight," she whispered.
"I'd say about three shooters." Confirmed the vampire.
Twilight noticed a crackling bass note among the sharp chatter of firearms.
"And an energy weapon," she added.
Alucard drew the smaller of his two pistols, twirling it on a finger.
"Shall we… investigate?"
"Indeed," said Twilight.
The two crept out from the alley and followed the sound to a square. A wagon was flipped on its side in the center, and two warriors crouched behind it- the huge, power-armored soldier, John-117; and a girl Twilight recognized as the one Katniss had fought in the previous round. A bullet snapped through the air, passing through the cart to the left of John's head. The girl pulled back in fear.
The source of the shot came from a shop with a busted-out window across the street. A bulky-looking bald man ducked back underneath the sill.
"Just give up, SPARTAN!" shouted a female voice from inside the shop.
"Not until you do," replied the supersoldier in his gravelly baritone.
"No way, old man. You won't believe how long I've waited for this. I'm not blowing this opportunity."
"We'll see about that," said John-117, rising from behind the cart and snapping an assault rifle off of the magnetic clips along his back. He fired three tightly controlled bursts toward the shop window, and dropped back into cover.
"How many rounds have you got left?" asked Tris as the massive soldier took a seat again.
"One more clip. Then I'll be down to the sidearm."
"No. Clean out."
"We need to draw them out."
"I agree," said Alucard, phasing out of the ground in front of the cart. Tris popped up, leveled her pistol and was about to fire when Master Chief pulled her back down.
"What are you doing?" he barked.
"I was going to shoot him, what do you think?"
"Who's the new friend you've got out there, SPARTAN?" called the voice in the shop.
Master Chief stood and readied his assault rifle. He gave Alucard a nod.
"Why don't you come out and see?"
"You'll regret that! Heavy, suppressive fire!"
A minigun's barrel poked its way out of the window, spooling up to speed.
"I'll take care of this," said Alucard. John-117 ducked back behind the cart, grabbed Tris, and took off toward the street. Twilight waved them in her direction. They swooped behind a building on the corner of the square where the unicorn was peeking out from behind a wall.
"More rubble, less trouble!" barked the man behind the massive weapon.
"Alucard!" called Twilight. He tilted his hat forward, and drew his pistols.
The minigun erupted into life, ejecting more lead than the entire plumbing system of ancient Rome. The bullets formed a curtain of death, slicing Alucard into pieces. Limbs, severed from their body, collapsed to the ground in a bloody pile.
The Heavy Weapons Guy vaulted himself out of the shop window, examining the damage. He crossed the square to the soggy mess of clothing where Alucard had stood. A meaty hand landed on the broad-brimmed hat, and placed it on his own head.
"Not bad, puny cowboy-man," said the Russian, admiring the headgear.
"Looks like your reinforcements didn't work out so well, John," said the owner of the voice in the shop, stepping out into the open. Sunlight glittered over bronze power armor. The suit's broad, rounded shoulders gave way to a thin, sleek abdomen and tautly-curved greaves. Sections of the right arm's plating folded out, extending into a blaster that covered the manipulator. With her left arm she clicked a release behind her head and removed the helmet, long golden locks trailing out over the similarly gilded suit.
"So, what's she got against you?" asked Twilight to the supersoldier pressed against the wall next to her.
"It's a… complicated story."
The armored woman turned to her teammate.
"Well, what are you standing around for? Circle that way, I'll go around the other, and we'll surround them."
"Da, da. I am circling, okay?" the man hefted his large weapon and began to sidestep his way toward the edge of the square.
Tris spoke up.
"Well, what do you plan on doing?"
"Who, me?" said Twilight. "About what?"
"Your friend. They shot him to pieces."
"First of all," she replied, lifting a hoof. "He is an acquaintance."
The Heavy Weapons Guy was nearing the corner. Soon he would have a clear line of fire at his targets. He flicked the switch on his weapon's trigger, and the minigun's barrels began to wind up to speed. He chortled as he advanced, keeping the weapon stable and ready to fire.
"I hear someone building dia-"
A finger tapped his shoulder.
"And second," Twilight continued, "he is very difficult to put down."
The Heavy Weapons Guy turned, and found a terrifying amorphous mass of darkness, dog-like maws, and blinking, blood-red eyes. Near the center floated a pair of orange sunglasses.
"I would very much like my hat back," it said.
The Heavy Weapons Guy slowly set down his weapon, raised a shaking hand to his head, and lifted the hat off. A black tendril extended from the void and snatched the hat. The rest of the bloodstained clothes levitated off the ground and fluttered around the darkness, each piece closing over the mass at crucial points, forcing it into a humanoid outline. A glove formed over the dark tendril, and Alucard placed the hat back on his freshly-regenerated head.
"Thank you," he said with a degree of gratitude. "Now, did I interrupt you? Go on go back to what you were doing."
"No, I insist," said the vampire, a toothy grin spreading across his face.
The Heavy Weapons Guy watched the vampire carefully as he picked up his weapon. He squealed with fear as he began to turn.
"Go on," said the vampire, with an unhinged cackle. "Don't mind me."
"Nyet! I've had enough-" he turned back to find one of the vampire's pistols between his eyes.
"Were you saying something?" said Alucard.
"I… I…" The Heavy Weapons Guy reluctantly turned back again, stepping toward the corner once more. He looked down, and found the vampire's gloved hand protruding from his chest.
"Gaah," he said, collapsing. Alucard flicked the excess internal organs off of his hand, and drew his pistols, lining them up at the power-armored woman.
"Was all that really necessary?" asked John-117.
"Probably not," said Twilight. "But if it keeps him happy and shooting at the bad guys, I'm not too concerned."
The woman in the power armor did not seem too concerned, either. She casually toyed with a lock of her long, blonde hair.
"I was hoping someone would kill that idiot at some point. I honestly think he was bringing the team down."
"Bringing the team down?" said Alucard. "That's a very arrogant, dangerous thing to say."
"And why's that?" said the woman coolly.
"Because there's one less body for me to go through, before I get to you." A fang stuck out from under his grin.
"Ha! Ha ha ha! Oooh, that is RICH!" she cackled.
Alucard's smile shrank, if only a little.
"Listen, I've got to hand it to you," she laughed. "You're one tough customer. I saw you regenerate back there. That was pretty impressive. But I'm afraid you're not going to beat me. Not today."
Alucard licked his lips, eager for a challenge.
"Because I'm rescheduling. You guys seem to have another appointment," said the woman. With that, she performed a forward somersault, and her armor transformed her into a giant sphere. It revved in place, kicked up dust, and tore out of the square, with only one more comment.
"See you later, SPARTAN!" she called as she rolled away.
"Ms. Sparkle," said the vampire. "Permission to pursue?"
"No, Alucard. You've done enough for now. Good work."
Tris poked the unicorn on the haunches.
"Uh, Twilight? What did she mean by 'another appointment'?"
"I believe," said Alucard, "she was referring to her."
He pointed his gun in the opposite direction from where the power-armored woman had escaped. A girl leaned against a building's wall. She held a lemon, which she took a generous bite of, a little juice dripping onto her charcoal sailor fuku. She didn't bother looking up at the vampire aiming at her.
"That's it. I've had enough of sitting on the sidelines!" shouted Tris, barreling out from behind the wall. She rushed to Alucard's side, and aimed her own pistol at the girl.
"Wait, Tris! This is a bad-" John-117 cut the unicorn off mid-sentence.
"Eh, can't blame her," he said, rushing out to join the other two.
"Oh, you guys! You can't just- uaaaaagh!" growled Twilight, galloping out into the square next to her companions.
The mysterious girl took another bite of lemon, spitting peel on the ground. She let the fruit fall to the ground, and clapped in a mockingly slow tempo.
"Way to go. Way to go," she sneered. "You killed a fat guy with a big gun, and then you let Miss Ghost-of-the-Chozo over there get away. Con-gratu-lations, you are invincible."
"Enough smack talk," said Twilight firmly.
"Enough? Hah! Do you hear that, Senketsu? I'm being ordered around by a freakin' stuffed animal."
"I am not a stuffed animal," hissed Twilight.
"Oh, sure, and she's not a scene wannabe," she said, raising what looked like half of a pair of red scissors at Tris.
"This is how the Dauntless dress! You'll pay for insulting my faction."
"And you! Tin can!" she called, indicating John-117. "I'm pretty sure battle tanks don't need names."
The Master Chief's gravelly voice broke a little.
"I swear, you stop right now."
"Face it," she chuckled. "You're nothing more than a weapon. Why else would they keep you in the armor all the time? Well, maybe it's because you'd be worth less than NOTHING without it."
"Now you've done it!" the SPARTAN growled, raising his assault rifle.
"Say that one more time."
The girl feigned stupidity.
She slowly raised her right hand toward her left glove. From what Twilight could tell, there seemed to be a small bolt-action device on it, just along the wrist.
"You know!" shouted John.
"Oh, you mean, the truth? That you're nothing without you're armor?"
"EAT LEAD!" he screamed, jamming down the assault rifle's trigger. The weapon crackled like the world's largest bonfire, spitting embers of death toward the girl. She simply smiled, and pulled the bolt across her wrist.
A massive pulse of energy surrounded the girl, and she was veiled in bright light. The piercing brightness dissolved into pink sparkles, and then floated away. Several tiny, dented objects fell away from her, clinking as they bounced off the ground. A shocking transformation had occurred. The girl, except for now-glowing highlights, seemed unchanged. But her wardrobe…
"How can you even wear that?" said Tris in disbelief.
"To be completely honest," noted Twilight, "I've been wearing nothing this entire time, and no one has said anything about it."
"Yeah," said Tris, "But that is literally less than nothing."
While Tris, who had a peculiar way with words, was incorrect, her exaggeration was not too far from the truth. What had once been a moderately risqué bared-midriff sailor suit had now become… much less. The skirt had dissolved into almost nothing, the top had dissolved into almost nothing, and where the girl had been wearing a perfectly normal set of sneakers, a pair of impractically high-heeled boot-leggings now graced her legs. Perhaps most dramatically, her collar had extended out into a large, curved crest, the left blade of which seemed to feature a large, yellow eye-like design.
"Life fiber synchronize, Kamui Senketsu!" the girl announced, as two short bursts of steam from who-knows-where punctuated her statement.
"Does it hurt?" said Twilight carefully.
"What? No, it-"
"Do you… like… that it hurts?" finished the unicorn.
The girl was furious.
"Okay, NOW! Now that's enough! I am RYUKO MATOI! I am the STRONGEST of Lord Dio's warriors! That's right! The strongest!"
"Okay," said Twilight. "And what does-"
"AND I!" continued Ryuko, clearly not finished. "Will show YOU! The power of KAMUI SENKETSU!"
So that's what they're calling it these days, thought Twilight Sparkle.
"So, you're bulletproof," said John. "But I'm willing to bet that… whatever won't stop me from snapping your spine in two!"
The SPARTAN charged toward their new opponent, who casually spun the scissor blade in her hand as it expanded into a full-size, scissor-resembling sword. For a brief moment, the girl could be seen reading the blade for a strike. But almost before the attack could begin, it was over.
John-117 stumbled backward, barely able to steady himself. As he regained his footing, a chunk of his armor crashed to the ground.
"What… the-" he stammered.
Another piece fell with a loud clank, and then another, and another, until everything but his helmet and black bodysuit was in pieces on the ground. He sank to his knees in disbelief, futilely grasping at the shards of armor plate.
"Honestly, we may both be nothing without our armor," considered Ryuko. "But I've still got mine. Funny, isn't it?"
"Sure, that attack worked on him," said Tris. "But I haven't got any armor to lose!"
You can't be serious, thought Twilight.
Tris rushed toward the girl, converting her momentum into an axe kick. But before the attack could connect-
The Divergent was sent flying backward, her clothing parting from her as she tumbled from the sky.
"Ms. Sparkle, this is getting rather old," said Alucard.
"Agreed. If you would be so kind, commence level five release."
The vampire stepped forward, and was promptly sliced in half by Ryuko.
"You're next, stuffed animal," growled the girl.
Twilight shook her head.
"I think you've forgotten something," she lilted.
Ryuko remembered when she felt the arms of the regenerating vampire lock underneath hers in a full nelson hold. She screamed with rage, struggling against Alucard with all of her might.
"If she keeps this up, she might escape," strained Alucard.
"Don't worry. I think I have a solution," said Twilight, charging up her magic.
Ryuko twisted her body, snagging the hem of Alucard's coat. Using it as leverage, she spun herself in place, and kicked the vampire in his abdomen, neatly bisecting him.
"Now, I'm going to gut you and use you as a-"
"No," said Twilight. A magical sphere appeared on Ryuko's forehead. She convulsed in place, hissing madly.
"Ah, is this what's making you all touchy?" taunted the unicorn. She drew the object back toward her with as much power as she could muster. It tore itself loose with a spurt of blood. It was a small bud of flesh, with nasty-looking tentacles extending outward from it. Twilight trampled it underhoof, and instantly decided that she wanted to take a bath.
Ryuko fell forward, absorbing the brunt of the fall with her face. Twilight trotted to her travelling companion, who was just finishing regenerating.
"Well done, Mr. Alucard. With this incident alone you've proven your worth."
"I do my best, Ms. Sparkle."
The girl moaned, slowly picking herself up from the ground and cradling her head.
"Woah… that was a doozy," she muttered uneasily.
"It certainly was," confirmed Twilight.
Ryuko looked out at the fallen SPARTAN and the unclothed Tris, sheepishly scratching her hair.
"I guess I-"
"Yes you did." said Alucard.
"Come with us, Ryuko," said Twilight, who turned toward the street they had walked into the square on.
"You've got some explaining to do."