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Paradox Fighters Side Story 1: From Dust To Dust

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Some time directly after the events of Paradox Fighters Part 4

"Hoooooooooooow's it going?"

Adam scooted his chair to the left to make room for the girl as she careened to a spot on the table, sliding across the floor on top of her chair.

"I am fine, Ruby. Thank you for asking." He slipped what he had been working on over to where he sat now, and hunched over it, scribbling furiously.

Ruby leaned over one of his massive arms, peering down into the dark space formed by his encircling shoulders and long hair. "More cards?"

"No. I heard people saying that there is some book with Katniss' story in it somewhere around here. I felt a little inspired, so I thought I would write a story of my own."

"Oh boy. This'll be great," said Ryuko, pulling up a chair, and chomping on her lemon.

"Actually, it is quite fortuitous that you have appeared, Ryuko. You see, my story is familiar to both myself and Ruby. But for you, it will be new."

Ryuko toyed with a red strand of hair while kicking her feet onto the table. "I don't really have anything better to do," she sighed.

"Excellent. I will now tell you the story of how I met Ruby Rose, my best friend."

I was unsure of how much time had passed. It was dark, you see, and I thought it was possible that I was simply observing my non-existence. It was not as cold as I had remembered it; nor as hot. The last thing I had remembered were the flames. I lit them by my own hand, and willfully rendered myself to their destructive tongues. There, in that world of ice and death, I found my release from the cruel world that held me. I dove into darkness, and it was into that darkness that I awakened.

"So, this is going to be one of those stories, isn't it?" groaned Ryuko.

"I do not know what you mean," replied Adam.

"Where it's all in artsy-talk, and it goes on forever?"

"Creating a story that 'goes on forever' is physically impossible, Ryuko. Surely you know that."

"Hey!" interjected Ruby. "I want to hear this! Don't talk to Adam while he's narrating!"

Ryuko rolled her eyes and closed her mouth. Adam continued.

I felt surrounding my body a thick, uniform cloth. It was soft and warm; indeed, it was the source of the warmth I felt. I sat up, and found that I was not restrained. The cloth fell off me, and I felt the air against my body- the body I had taken such great pains to destroy. Why was I still alive? And where was I? These questions would all be answered soon.

I found that I was sitting on a bed, a very large bed. I had seen a bed or two in my life, but I had never had the privilege to lie down in one; let alone one that seemed tailored to my monstrous proportions. It was very comfortable. I then placed my feet on the floor- I was surprised to find there was a floor at all- it was hard, and cold. For a moment I thought I had returned to the place I was, that I had merely fallen into some sort of hallucination, and by touching the ice I had returned to my senses. This was not the case, I realized. As my vision adjusted, I could see that I was in a room. It was unlike any room I had ever seen before, wrought from some sort of cold metal. I stumbled about in the dark, and soon found that my room had a wardrobe and a water closet. I dressed myself- the clothing seemed to fit me, interestingly enough-

"Then why don't you wear a shirt?" interrupted Ryuko through a mouthful of lemon.

"I will explain that soon enough. I find it amusing that you point out my lack of clothing, when you mysteriously wear a garment that covers your arms but not your stomach."

Ryuko chuckled, running a finger under the collar of Senketsu. "You haven't seen it its active mode, have you?"

"A 'mode'? For a piece of clothing? How unusual." And with that, he carried on.

The clothing seemed to fit me, and so I searched around the room for a lamp- there were none. At some point, I bumped against a wall, and the lights came on. I later discovered that this was a device known as a "light switch", and was quite ingenious. For the time, though, my primary concern was my appearance. When the lights came on, I was standing in front of the mirror. Now, I was familiar with my monstrous features, of course. But what shocked my was that the clothing I had put on so blindly was that of my creator, Victor Frankenstein. Upon seeing his own form reflected in mine, I was consumed with anger and grief. How could that man have committed such a crime, to go to great efforts to bring me into the world, then forsake me like some pest? Even the blood that had sullied my own hands in life was not enough to make my soul darker than his. In this anguish I came to suspect that I was in Hell itself, and that kindred spirit Lucifer was nearby, taking joyous pity on my lack of fortune.

I removed my shirt, for in Hell there is no need for such, and found the door which was now obvious in the light. I opened it, and it seemed that my suspicions were confirmed. In the hall there stood a multitude of horrific creatures, twisted men and beasts alike. Walking machinery, weeping children- truly, only the deepest realms of Hades could house such monstrosities. Surely, justice had brought me there. I walked into the hallway, and was instantly carried along by the stream of those daemons, and I found myself in a huge gathering-hall, surrounded on all sides by these apparitions, who laughed at my bewilderment. I covered my head and face and ran, but I found that the room seemed to have no end, no solitary corner in which to hide. I found a table, not unlike this one, and sat in my despair. I thought that the tortures of eternal death would be… different.

I was surprised when the man on the throne spoke, and explained that this was not Hell at all; but rather some tournament. When he said that the winner would be able to re-write their world as they saw fit, my mind flooded with the possibilities- Should I make sure that Frankenstein would never think to create me? Or should I make him love me, as his son? I was still thinking these things over when the first round began, and I saw the elf- who I now know as Holly- and my friend Katniss fight, but refuse to kill one another. This was unusual- surely these were misanthropes who desired blood with every waking hour! What sort of fool would host a battle to the death with upholders of the peace and reluctant children as the contestants? But, as unusual as it was, that was how things went. I was astounded. Here, these two young maidens (of course, it only appeared that way- Miss Short has apparently lived for eighty-six years, yet maintains her youth. Katniss told me she lived to be a wife of a few children as well, before she arrived here and assumed the form she wore at sixteen years of age) had scarcely known each other for a few minutes, and were offered riches beyond comprehension to kill, and yet they did not.

For a moment, a spark of hope rose in my bosom- perhaps here I could find someone that would not shun me. But I was still vast and terrible, they made friends like cheery schoolgirls, for they were not so different (Though for a while, I pondered why there was an elf at all. Surely they are the work of old wives' tales, yes?). I then wailed aloud, for I knew I was beyond hope. Even surrounded by creatures more horrible than myself, love is a frail and dainty thing, that does not lend itself to the wicked.

I returned to my room before the next round began, still in a haze of sadness. A few young fighters fled before me as I trod, and I knew that I was destined for solitude and dejection. I sat down on my bed and noticed that there was a shelf across from it; and on the shelf sat a pencil and a stack of blank cards. I still do not know how they got there. I picked them up, searching for some sort of message hidden among them. But, as I had observed initially, they were blank. I recalled that another round was about to begin, and out of curiosity I left again. I considered if my absence would incur the wrath of the man on the throne, that perhaps he would smite me if I did not return. For that reason, I thought upon staying put, but my inquisitive nature got the better of me. I returned to the great hall and found a seat on my own.

More warriors had been chosen for this round, but there was still a large enough crowd to fill the endless hall. I sat, my head down, half-listening to the battle as it went on. The screams of fear and pain danced around those in my own memory. Violence, an ominous specter on my life, my brutal revenge against the world for rejecting me. When did the cries of the young warriors end, and the wails of the innocents I strangled begin?

"Help!"

"No!"

"Gaaaah!"

"Hey!"

That one was different. It was not a voice of anguish. It was also accompanied by a slight tapping on my arm. I lifted my gaze until I found the one who spoke. It was a young girl, with chin-length brown hair and a twinkle in her eye.

"And that's how you met Ruby," grunted Ryuko. "Okay. Nice story. How about I tell a story, maybe about the time I was looking for my father's killer-"

"But that's the only story you ever tell!" complained Ruby. "Adam wasn't done. Let him finish."

"Ruby is right," confirmed Adam. "You see, the first time we met, we were not friends."

Ryuko sighed, speculating about the turns the story would take in her head.

"Fine, fine. Keep going."

I frowned, as it was the natural position of my mouth.

What is she doing? I thought. Why is she here?

"Ah, hello there, mister," she mumbled. "I didn't mean to wake you up, but those guys back there dared me to poke you and say 'hey', so I did. I'm really sorry if…"

I rose to my full height, kicking my chair aside. I stared down at the girl, who was swallowed up in the horrible shadow I cast.

"… you're angry…"

"Leave me, madchen."

"… fine. No need to be so grumpy." And with that, she turned and left.

What an insolent youth, I thought, before the irony struck me. I had probably existed for less time than she had. She seemed the innocent sort, while I had committed atrocities in fits of outrage. Who was the insolent youth, after all?

"Ex..excuse me," I said, trying to make my voice as soft as possible.

The girl stopped. She turned, and looked back.

"What?"

"I'm… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

"Scare me? Oh, you didn't really scare me."

Those words cut me to the core. They were simple. They were brief. But they were not laced with deceit. The girl meant what she had said. She was not afraid. I was stunned.

"Ah-ahhh-" my mouth ceased to be able to formulate words.

"I just didn't want to make you upset, that's all. It was a pretty stupid dare."

I still could not speak. I thought of a thousand sentences, but I could not make those phonetic sounds. So I simply waved her back over. She walked, but with a quizzical look on her face. She took a seat on the other side of the table.

"I'm sorry, okay? Is that good? I mean, it was nasty of them to dare me to come over here and poke you… because you were alone, and look a little funny."

I scrambled across the floor for the chair I had tossed away, and slipped it back under the table as I sat down, in awe of her resolve.

"No, no child. Do not worry. I… just… you are not afraid of me?"

"Well, no. You don't look too scary. You don't act scary. You make it sound like you're a monster, or something."

As she said this, my logical processes came to one conclusion: she was lying. I slammed a fist into the table, the metal yielding under my inhuman strength. I let out a scream, and with my other hand I picked her up by the scruff of the neck.

"ARE YOU BLIND, MADCHEN? IS THIS PART OF THEIR DARE? TO PRETEND TO NOT SEE THE ABOMINATION IN FRONT OF YOU?"

I saw her pupils shrink, beads of sweat forming across her face. She was afraid now. I realized what I had done, and I quickly released my grip on her. She fell to the floor and scrambled away, and I covered my face in shame.

What… have I done? What was that? Was she lying? Even if she was not, she fears me now. All I can do is drive others away.

In my sorrow, I picked myself up, and walked out of the common hall to my room. I threw myself on the bed, folding my hands over my eyes. I slept.

"I remember that," said Ruby. "But it's interesting to know what was going through your head. I'm sorry that I made you angry, Adam."

"What is done is done. Those things are in the past. They are squabbles with an old man who has passed away, but I am not that man. Perhaps Ryuko would like to know how that happened."

"No, that's okay. I'll come back when you have it written."

"I do have it written."

"Oh. Okay. Go on."

I was awakened by the disembodied voice telling me that another round would begin soon. I decided to get up, as I thought- for a moment- that there was a chance I might see that girl again. I would apologize, and that would be that. I did not see her as I entered the common hall, nor did I see her as the man explained we would be fighting to hold a ring- this competition seemed to only become more bizarre as time passed. After he was done explaining, I wandered back to my room again. I looked at the cards for a while, and remembered the silly little games that the French family had played. I recalled the suits and the trump cards, and the laughter… these cards had been placed here to mock me. I would not let them.

The voice called again, and it told me to step through my door.

They want me to fight. But how?

I walked through that door, and within I found nothing. The door did not open into my hallway, but a blank white expanse. And then, another door ahead opened, and beyond that was a forest. I knew that was the way I needed to go, so I walked out into the shade of those trees, and I sat down. I had to find a ring. And I had to hold it.

How foolish. What sort of trifle is this?

The woods were quiet, and still. There were no warriors near me. I thought upon the battle that I had half-watched. Death did not seem to be permanent here; a defeat simply meant one was resurrected before the next round. There was no real escape from this place, but there was incentive to win. In that way, it was clever. I stood up and began to walk forward- I had a plan. I would keep walking until I found another warrior. I would then fight them. If I succeeded, I would ask them how to find the ring; if I failed, I would die, and that would be the end of the round for me.

As it would happen, I did not find a warrior on my path; not directly. I had reached a rocky gulley in the woods, surrounded on all sides by a thick mess of saplings and moss. The brook that ran through the gulley did not babble, as all the books said they did. The water moped on, trapped in its course. There was no way out, no matter how many tears it shed. It was a soothing sort of sorrow, that little stream. As I observed it, a cry broke the silence. It was from beyond the brook, to the west. I sprinted that way, springing off of each step, keeping my movements muffled. I dove into a thicket and peered out from behind. Instead of one fighter, I had found two.

The two faced each other in a narrow clearing, the tree roots having grown so entangled that no more saplings could spring up. On one end of the clearing stood a truly odd-looking character. It was the size of a man, but it seemed to be a skeleton of exposed machinery. Its arms looked like simple cantilevers, with a few pistons and hydraulic actuators spliced on. In its torso, cogs ground against each other as they whirled in their places. The machine was built for fighting- one 'hand' had two simple digits, which hardly looked like they could grasp anything. The other was not a hand at all, but what appeared to be a blade forged from the flames of Hell itself. The machine had a head, but more interestingly it wore a tribal-looking mask, like those carved by the savages of the Pacific, over where its face should be.

Ryuko coughed a little. "'Savages of the Pacific'? I don't think that's going to go over well with critics."

"But are not the people of those islands uncivilized?"

"As smart as you are, there's a lot you don't know," said the girl. "Change it to 'Pacific Islanders'."

It wore a tribal-looking mask, like those carved by Pacific Islanders.

"Better?" asked Adam.

"Better," answered Ruby and Ryuko.

Its entire metal body was colored in the likeness of the flames it carried on its right arm. Across from it stood a smaller figure. It wore a black dress, with men's leggings underneath. It had high boots, laced all the way up, and a long red cloak was pulled down over its face. I knew it had to be that girl from before, but I was concerned about asking for an apology now. It was clearly a tense situation.

"Listen well," said the machine with a voice that was quite human. It had an accent, but it was certainly not from any of the civilized world-

Ryuko shot him a glance.

It had a very exotic accent. "Listen well. I am Tahu, Toa of Fire. I will give you one chance to remove yourself from my path, or you will be destroyed."

The girl laughed a little, and pulled something from behind her cloak. It looked like a firearm, but it was of an unusual design- bulky and bright red.

"Nope!" she said, cheerfully defying the skeletal machine. It lunged forward with organic fluidity, brandishing its fiery blade. The girl lifted her weapon, aiming at the mechanical creature.

What does she hope to accomplish? A firearm cannot possibly do damage to a being of wrought metal!

She fired, missing the metal man completely. The force of her weapon's shot was so great that it sent her flying backwards into the trees. She extended a foot and caught a branch, flipping herself upright, looking down from her perch at the machine. It seemed quite surprised that it had not sliced her in half. I had never seen such a display of acrobatics or reflexes. Such things should have been impossible for the human body- resisting the force of such recoil, predicting the trajectory of the shot, performing gymnastics on a tree- and yet there she was, a little girl, displaying speed far beyond even what I was capable of. She laughed at the machine openly.

The machine looked up at the tree, growling behind its emotionless mask. "I will teach you to fear the power of a Toa! Come down here and fight me with honor!"

"Well, if you really want me to," she giggled, and hopped back to the ground. She held her weapon out, and it underwent an impossible transformation. Somehow, the bulky weapon reconfigured itself into something resembling the scythe of the field- the implement was far taller than she was, and looked like it should be quite heavy. She did not seem to have any trouble wielding it, and twirled it in one hand, like some sort of baton!

"This is Crescent Rose," she explained, and lowered the blade towards Tahu. The girl flicked her hand across the weapon, and it sounded a report just like it had when it was a rifle. The girl and the machine were thrown apart, but she had clearly planned this. She landed expertly along the trunk of a tree, and performed a graceful flip on her way to the ground. Tahu fell with less dignity, gripping his mechanical chest. He rose, brandishing his fire-sword, and charging toward the girl again.

The concept of a weapon that was equal parts gun and blade seemed excessive to me, and indeed 'Crescent Rose' seemed quite impractical as a rifle. However, combining the movements of the scythe with the recoil of the weapon to create an acrobatic combat style was brilliant- if again, a little far-fetched. I sank a little lower in the thicket, checking behind me to make sure no other warriors were approaching. I knew I wanted to intervene, but I did not want to risk scaring the girl away. I would have to wait, and it did not seem like it would be long; the girl was putting up an impressive fight.

She spun her scythe- always in short, brutal arcs- and parried the attacks of the Toa. Though her movements were so furious, it was possible to tell when she was on the offensive. In order to attack, she coupled her swings with a blast from her weapon's rifle portion, to varying effect. Sometimes it was to drive the pointed end of the snath into the ground, other times it was to put pressure on the attacking blade. I was glad they were fighting on soft earth and surrounded by trees, for I would not have liked to be hit by a ricocheting bullet.

The girl lined up another attack, her rapid movements briefly telegraphing her plan. She placed the blade of Crescent Rose on the ground underneath Tahu's right arm. Her intent must have been to sever that burning sword of his, which would render him harmless. The weapon fired, and the blade leapt up. I could almost hear the tearing of the metal before it happened- but then I listened, and that sound did not come. No, it would never come, for the scythe had stopped in mid-air, held below the Toa's arm by some invisible force.

"I am protected by my mask," grunted Tahu. "The Kanohi Hau forms a barrier that can deflect all harm!"

And with that, he smacked the back of his right arm across her head, and she fell. While she convulsed on the ground, he swung his sword in a circle above him, and the flames roared to a massive height. The tongues of fire licked the trees, the leaves and the edges of the grass. My own thicket began to be consumed by the conflagration, and I backed out of it accordingly. I had no need of it, as the shadows cast by the dancing flames hid me well enough. I stood there in the playing darkness, and I watched the Toa walk to the girl, who could not get up. I realized that I had not yet apologized.

"This is where your story ends," said the Toa, who placed the sharpened fire underneath her chin.

It was at that moment that I decided that I had to act. I bounded from my cover, and leapt into that blazing cell of arbors, landing behind the mechanical man. He turned, and I grabbed ahold of his mask, which he had bragged about.

"Who overcomes by force hath overcome but half his foe," I growled. With a heave, I ripped the mask off of the barren mechanical face, and I crushed it in my hand. The Toa roared, and swung its sword at me. I took hold of that arm below the narrow flames, and placing my foot on its chest, rendered it from his body. His metal form was lighter than I had thought, and bounced as it hit the ground. To make sure he would not get up, I drove my heel through his exposed face. He did not move after that.

"You… saved me," said the girl, stating the obvious. I nodded. Blood ran down her face, and I lifted her hair away to see the damage. The Toa's attack had caved in her skull- she did not have much time left. I picked her up off of the ground, her body so small in my arms.

"But you will not live!" She ignored me.

"Wh…what's… your name?"

That was a question I was not prepared for; and in fact I had no answer. I stood there, frozen, yet surrounded by flames. I thought about the feverish work of Frankenstein as he hurried about stitching me together, and I thought about the curses he hurled at me once I was complete. I recalled the books I had read, and thought of that other man cast out by his creator.

"Adam," I said. "Adam Frankenstein."

"Ruby… Rose," she coughed. "Thank you… for… saving me." She weakly lifted her arm, and placed a small hand against my chest. "You… are not… a monster." And with that, she breathed her last. This time, I knew she was sincere; and had been before. I felt tears gather in the corners of my eyes, and I held her lifeless body close. The flames rose higher, and consumed us both. As I burned, I thought over what she had said.

She says I am not a monster. She means it. For one person, even one, I am a man. Here, where anyone can be monstrous, I am a man. And if I am a man, I can then be a good man.

I decided there that I would use this Grand Combat as an opportunity to redeem myself-not in my world, but this one. I did not care if I won, and I doubted that I would. I would instead do as much good as was possible for others. I would spread love, not terror. I was no longer the creature cobbled together by Frankenstein, hated by the world. I was Adam. No more, no less.

After we burned, we woke in the light of the common hall. I still stood with the girl in my arms, and I could feel her heart beating. We were both alive, as I knew we would be. Still, coming back from death is not an experience that one is accustomed to instantly. I set Ruby down, who stared back up at me, blinking.

"I died," she said.

"Yes. You did."

"And you died."

"That is correct."

"I don't think I care that I lost."

"It does not concern me either."

On the screen, some fighters battled a creature made of shadows. I looked back down to find that Ruby had disappeared.

"Would you like to watch?" she asked, already seated at a table behind me. I did not answer, but I walked over and took a seat.

"I'm sorry. For earlier." I muttered, still a little dazed.

"I think you made up for it."

"I doubted that anyone thought I could be anything but a monster. That is all anyone ever called me."

"Well, I guess that's going to change," she chirped. "First, I'll call you Adam, because, duh, that's your name." A smile came to my face. I think I liked having a name.

"And second, if you don't mind, even with all of the people here, it can be kind of lonely. So… can I call you a friend?"

A friend. What a simple thing, for most. But for me, it was momentous. I knew I wanted to say yes, yet I was concerned about the execution. I had read of the virtues of friendship, yet had never actually practiced any of them.

"…Yes," I said, afraid of rejecting her request. And so we talked. I told her my shameful story, she told me of her adventures as a 'Huntress', when she killed monsters. She told me that those creatures were without reason or emotion, and that I wasn't a monster at all. She kept telling me that, I assume to make me feel better. It worked. We watched the round that we had already lost, and speculated about the rounds that were yet to come. We agreed that we would try and team up as often as possible, because, according to her, "that's what friends do!" And so I spent my time at her side until the third team round, when we met Katniss and met our fates trying to distract Dio.

"How did you like that story, Ryuko?"

Ryuko drew a pinky out of her ear.

"Oh, ah, it was really touching."

"I am glad you thought so. And who is this fellow here?"

Ryuko looked up to find a strange man standing directly behind her. In a knee-jerk reaction, she flipped out of her seat and hit the floor. The man then quickly slipped into the vacant chair.

"He looks like a real weirdo," said Ruby.

"Oh, I'm no weirdo," he said. His crazy brown hair cascaded up under a bulky headband, and a long ponytail trailed out behind. He wore a short vest over his tanned skin, and his bulky shoes clicked against the floor as he tapped his foot.

"I'm Sol Badguy, and I'm a Polymorph Psychologist."

Adam blinked, slack-jawed.

"A what?" inquired Ruby.

"A Polymorph Psychologist. I offer counseling for those dealing with mutagenic imbalances, gamma-ray attacks, and radiation side-effects. Here's a pamphlet."

He handed the bewildered Adam a folded-over sheet of paper. On it was crudely drawn a girl with angel wings and a tail, hugging a stick figure that shared Sol's haircut. Above the image was the text "HE'S DREAMY!"

"Herr Badguy, I do not believe that I-"

"Please," said Sol, raising a hand to halt Adam. "Call me Fred."

"I do not think this is necessary, Fred. I do not fit the criteria which you just described. In fact, I am not sure that such things exist."

"Of course they exist, man! Are you going to dispute me, SOL BADGUY, world-renowned scientist, bounty hunter, and bioweapon?"

"You mean, bioweapon expert, right?" offered Ruby.

"No, no. I meant bioweapon."

"Forgive me, but you do not look like a 'bio-weapon'," said Adam softly.

'Fred' chuckled. "Forgive me, but you look like a guy who could use my help! I heard your sob story, and I'm sensing a lot of unresolved tension! Tell me about your childhood!"

Ryuko crawled up from the floor. "Gimme a break," she growled.

The man looked down at the girl who now stood next to him. "Excuse me?"

"Did you even listen to his story at all?"

"Whaddya mean, kid? Of course I listened to it. That's how I know about his issues."

"But did you really listen?" Ryuko jumped up onto the table, raising her voice into a righteous bellow. "Those problems are in his past. Here, he doesn't care who he was or what he looks like, because the bond of friendship is stronger than that! As long as a man has true friends, he can get through anything! It doesn't take a genius, or a scientist, or a bioweapon, or whatever, to figure that out! And the spirit of a man with friends is like a mighty scissor, the kind of scissor that can rend the very heav-"

Ryuko. That is a nice hot-blooded speech and all, but the man is looking at you strangely.

Ryuko took Senketsu's advice and looked down- she didn't realize that she had been pointing up at the ceiling- to find Sol 'Fred' Badguy had formed his thumbs and forefingers into a little window, which he peered through intently at her.

"What are you doing? Are you some kind of pervert? It's like I told them, this isn't even Senketsu's active form."

"No," said Sol. "It's just that you aren't fully human either."

Ryuko hopped down from the table and wrapped an arm around Sol Badguy's shoulder, and turned with him away from Ruby and Adam.

"Say," she whispered. "I know a lovely gal that could really- and I mean really use your services."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Look for a sharp-dressed lady by the name of Janice Starling. And make sure to tell her that she looks old."

"Rock on, little lady," said Sol, who gave Ryuko a fistbump. He dashed away.

"Wow, Ryuko! You do care!" Ruby was positively ecstatic.

"Well, I just kind of know how it feels, to not have a friend. And I know how great it feels to find one." I also know what it's like to be the monster, she thought.

"Well, thanks for standing up for Adam," she said.

"No problem. It was the right thing to do."

"It does leave me wondering, though," said the artificial man. "Were the services offered by Fred legitimate?"

"With the kind of kooks milling about here, they probably were. But you said you didn't need his help."

"That is correct. Thank you again, Ryuko." He scribbled something else down, and looked back up. "Oh. That is it. Das ende."

"What'll you do now?" asked Ruby.

"I am not sure. I believe I am out of paper."

"Guess that kind of ruins plans for a sequel, huh?" chuckled Ryuko. This caused all three to burst out into laughter, and they laughed until they heard Sol's voice yelping about an allergy to wasps. Then they roared even louder.


"My liege," whispered Dio, kneeling. "Why are we meeting in my room?"

"Because it should be safe to plan here. Things have changed." The Master of Games' eyes darted back and forth, looking like little black trails on his blurry face.

"I know I failed, you, Master. I assume you'll want to destroy me?"

"No. I would have given you another chance anyway. It's that outfit, it's fantastic."

"Oh. Well, thank you, my liege. I always thought it was-"

"SHUT UP!" snapped the kingly figure. "I have a new task for you. Forget stopping the elf, the girl, or the unicorn. You need to find something that looks like the elf."

"I'm not sure that I understand, sir."

"It looks just like Holly Short. But not. You need to kill it if you see it, in any round. Other than that I don't care what you do."

"Is that all, my liege?"

"Yes. Don't worry about Ryuko either. I figured she would end up with them sooner or later. I've found a replacement that you'll find quite interesting."

"I will do as you command, Master."

"Good. Farewell."

The Master of Games ducked out of Dio's room, and began to walk briskly back toward the common hall. He looked back over his shoulder.

Good. Nothing there.

"Fancy meeting you here, brother."

He turned his head back reluctantly, and found the thing he had been looking for. His eyes widened in fear.

"H-hello there. You're looking quite dapper."

"You think so?" it said, motioning to the elven body. "I'm really enjoying it myself. It's got a sort of innocence. It's a delicious irony."

"That's great, that's great…" the Master of Games grumbled nervously. "It could be worse. I don't have to go into that elf's head to put you in your place." He was lying. This was worse.

"If anyone is going to be put in their place, it's you. You know that. You're afraid."

"I am not afraid of you. I'm still stronger. This is working, you know. Soon I will be as strong as before."

"I killed you before, and I can do it again. But I'll let you have your fun. There is no way anything you do will be able to stop that eventuality, so you might as well enjoy it."

The Master of Games gritted his teeth and ran past, while the creature that wore a body like Holly's stood still, silent in the empty hallway.

I can make that boast. I know I can do it. But what is this I am feeling? Something strange, like an itch on every strand of my being. Is it… something to do with this form? No. That would be preposterous. I am the slumbering god of Ry'leh. Nothing can corrupt me, for I am corruption itself.

And it walked down the hallway, its hands in its pockets, its head hanging low. It was not so sure.