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Glory's End

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Though not rebellious in nature, I often have doubts as to the mental stability of my creator; for example, why was it that Dr. Light programmed only myself and Roll to require sleep? He said, “Mega Man, this is because I designed you to be a robot with free will and a heart for justice.” I can’t, for the life of me, ascertain what purpose sleep has to do with free will. Therefore, as cause and effect holds, I am awoken every day thus:

“Mega MAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! You’re going to be late!”

Right on cue, Roll shouting for me. I admit, I am bad with mornings, cultured though I am, my particular bad habits towards reading at night oft keep me awake well into the beginnings of the next day, leaving me with but hours to sleep. As I put on my helmet, I muse to myself that hacking my internal programming could easily alleviate my stresses... yet, it feels disrespectful to the late Dr. Light.

“MEEEEEEEEEEEEEG!!!!!!!!!”

“Right, Roll, you were heard the first time, I just need some time to rub sleep out of my eyes,” I responded to her through my helmet’s com-navi.

“If you say so, Mega Man.”

I considered saying to her, ‘moreover, do not call me Meg,’ but the thought waned as I stopped to admire the music that was now playing from my helmet. Far superior to any “rap” music, no, this morning(and every morning) I prepared Liszt’s rendition of the Saint-Saëns masterpiece, Danse Macabre. As I began stretching, preparing for the rigors of high school life, it struck me as very humorous - as it often does in my morning routine - that some academics consider the work too far a deviation from the original. I chuckle to myself. And I’m the one supposed to be in high school?

I hop down the stairs, dancing to the beautifully garish rhythms and dissonances of the Danse in my own subdued ways. Portraits of our adventures dotted the walls, cataloging our many trifles with the nefarious Dr. Wily; however, more than trifles, it showed pictures of us living happily, of re-integrated Robot Masters helping people. It showed a tale of struggle, and of triumph. And, as I reaped the benefits of peace in my idyllic school life, at the bottom of the stairs I saw Roll cheerfully waving to me.

“Ah, Roll, my dearest friend. It is so fine to see you this morning,” I say warmly.

“...friend... I’m a friend...” she whispers. Is it so curious of a statement? For whatever reason, I am not sure, she forgot that my hearing is 4000x that of a human, in order to detect the subtle wind current changes Air Man used against me in the Second Struggle. Though, Roll is often forgetful. Truth be told, I am thankful; though mega, I am not sure how close I am to a man with all of my augmentations. Roll is one of the few people who see me as just a person, and while it is somewhat daft of her to forget, I am glad that she does.

“Well, shall we away?”

“We shall,” she said, putting on airs of bourgeois pomposity. I smiled at it.

 

“Hey Mega!” a kid said to me, “can you shoot your Mega Buster for me?”

“I don’t see why not,” I responded back. I fired one shot of the Mega Buster in the air. The kid stared in blissful astonishment. “Cool,” I heard him whisper. I waved my Mega Buster towards him as I continued to walk down the path.

“So, did you do your homework, Mr. Smartypants?”

“My surname, Roll, is Light. But yes, I’ve done the trivial busywork they assign everyone standard.”

When Dr. Light was on his deathbed, he allowed us both one wish. Roll wished to be separated, in code base, from me, in order to be her own distinct person of no relation - I assume, to distance herself from my heroic adventures and achieve a level of image autonomy; I wished to go to high school. Though the work is simple, I have often fought to protect people, and yet, as a super fighting robot, I was unaware of the struggles the common person felt.

“Meg, you’re stuck in your noggin again.”

“My Christian name, Roll, is Mega Man. Two first names, one surname. Mega Man Light. No middle name, though if I had one, it would be danger.”

“Yeah, and I’m Roll Hades,” Roll said cheerfully.

“Hey, Roll,” I asked, after a brief period of silence while we headed towards school.

“Yes?”

“Why is it, that robots are considered weird for wearing clothes?”

“Well,” Roll said, stopping to brush the falling leaves of Autumn out of her hair, “Iunno, because our bodies come with clothes built in?”

“Yes, yes... but, I do not wish to only be a warrior,” I say, gesturing dramatically as if an actor of Shakespeare, “I wish to wear fine garments, attend high class society with like-minded individuals.”

Roll giggled.

“What? Is that so funny?”

“You’re so... high class, but all you wanted when given a choice of anything you wanted was to spend time with ordinary people. Admit it, you’re just a big softy!”

“Geh,” I stammered, very cognizant of my own blushing, “Well, I mean, it’s... I suppose there is nothing wrong with having compassion for your fellow man, so, yes, I’m proud of being a ‘big softy’.”

It was only another minute or two, by my brief calculation, that we arrived at our destination. While most greeted me warmly, a few were rather uncomfortable with the knowledge that all of my Robot Master powerups were with me at all times and gave wide berth. It did not bother me as much as it did Roll, to me, it seemed only natural that one who is powerless would fear power.

 

As I meandered to my seat in the class, honours physics, I took a deep sigh in. The classwork was by far the most monotonous part of my day, the problems were trivial. Though our means differed, in our dislike for classwork myself and the average student shared an end. This warmed my non-heart tremendously, to know that with all of my differences, I still could sympathize with the humans inside the school.

“Hey, Mega Man,” a classmate, Joshua, whispered, “can you use Flash Man’s power to stop time and get extra time to write exams?”

“Well, yes,” I whispered back, “but doesn’t that seem like a mundane application of controlling time?”

Joshua burst out laughing, to which the teacher shot a glare at both of us. I became sheepish. Many found my fear of authority figures immensely ironic, given my lack of fear for other things; those people are not aware of my fear of needles. I am eternally grateful as a robot I only needed injections to insert special powerups Dr. Light created for me over the years.

As seconds dragged on to minutes, minutes to hours, and the fearsome grip of monotony set in. Though I moved from class to class, the actions were largely the same; my favourite class was Band, and that was near the end of the day, though I also eagerly awaited lunch.

The lunch tables, when I arrived there, were bustling as ever. People throwing paper balls around(though they weren’t supposed to), people plugging in small TVs into outlets and playing video games(though they weren’t supposed to), and people doing many other things that were prohibited. Among the legal activities, many were eating lunch. I decided to stop at a new table, one I had not met before. I sat next to a girl with black hair, wearing a band t-shirt(though I did not know the band) and a pair of ripped jeans.

“Uh, hey... Mega Man,” one girl awkwardly said. “You’re sitting with us today?”

“Yes, I’ve never really spoken before...” I say, trailing off with a rising tone to indicate that I wished to know her name.

“Ashley,” she said, shaking hands with my Mega Buster. I couldn’t hold back from smiling at that, and she devolved into giggling.

“Lemme introduce you to the crew, Mega Man. This is Brittany,” Ashley said, pointing at a blonde girl with long, carefully brushed hair and wearing expensive clothing and chatting on a smart phone, “she’s the leader of the gang, girl has a thousand contacts on that phone and if you need something done... it’s done.”

Brittany waved at me, before going back to her phone.

“She’s busy right now, because she can’t text in class, so she has messages to catch up on,” Ashley said in a matter-of-fact tone. I nodded in understanding.

“And this big guy...” a large, muscular guy grinned at me, “is my brother Jose.”

“Yo, Mega, I heard you were pretty strong. Care to arm wrestle?”

“I don’t see why not,” I said, internally limiting my power to avoid embarrassing Jose. With my hand, I reached out, and began to arm wrestle him. Initially, I faltered - the boy was surprisingly strong! Still, I was only using 3% of my strength, and rising it to 5% allowed me to overcome him. As I pushed him near the edge of the table, he conceded, slamming his hand onto the lunch table in a dramatic show of loss.

“Jeez, bro, no wonder you beat Wily. Although, that was my weak hand...” he said with a cocky smirk.

“Well, I’m lucky that my other hand is a cannon,” I chided. Jose laughed.

“You know,” another girl, who I was not formally introduced to said, “you’re not that scary up close.”

She was very similar to Brittany in appearance, almost definitely sisters, but notably younger, and her hair was cut shorter, roughly shoulder length. She had very soft mannerisms about her.

“I’m glad to hear...” I say, with my signature trailing rising tone.

“Jessica,” she said.

“Jess, come on girl, you didn’t let me introduce you?” Ashley said in mock outrage.

“Sorry,” she said. “It’s not every day you get to talk to a celebrity.”

“It is when he’s in your sister’s grade,” Ashley quipped.

“Touche!” I said triumphantly. Everyone in the table got a good laugh out of that one.

The conversation crept on, with most not finishing their meals - at about 20 minutes into the lunch break, Brittany had finished responding to messages, and turned back to face us, making the conversation livelier. Ashley had dreams of being a clothing designer, and hated school as wasting her time. Brittany was into psychology, and wanted to be a psychiatrist. Jose wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he was on good terms with his manager at his construction job and figured he would have steady pay until he figured it out. Jessica was a web designer.

I thanked them all for their time, taking my leave. Though I was sad to part ways with that interesting bunch, I was also giddy that I would get to go back to band practice. We were to be playing an excerpt from Holst’s “The Planets”. Classical music, I believe, is the most beautiful form of music, with each individual player allowing to add their own expression to the score, letting a hundred hearts shape a piece of music. No performance would be the same.

 

As I stepped into the room, however, I was assaulted with a feeling of dread. The room darkened immensely, with every person in there appearing to have been shifted into the negative and frozen in space. I readied my Mega Buster, putting all of the power up to 100%. Quickly, I shifted powerups to the Skull Barrier in order to protect myself from unknown attacks. I had 2 E tanks, and 1 M tank ready.

“Who is doing this?”

“Come outside, Mega Man!” the taunting, hateful voice of my most frequent adversary called out. “Or, do you want our battle to hurt those kids?”

“Wily!” I shouted. I should have known. Anger crept its way into my head, and I felt the oil pumping throughout my body. I ran top speed, kicking open the doors to the outside, and saw Dr. Wily, hovering in the air -- with a pair of demonic wings.

“Another one of your holograms, Wily?!” I shouted, as I switched to the Bubble Lead.

“Nope, my boy. Nope! This is the power of the demon lord Lucifer!” Wily cackled with glee as the heads of demons flew from under his wings, flying in elaborate formations and firing black lasers out of their mouth. Part of my rational mind wanted to know how light could be black, but a more primal part of my programming told me not to touch lasers. Hell, my memories of Quick Man’s area told me not to touch lasers.

I bobbed and weaved, using Rush’s many forms and the ITEMs in order to gain precious vertical height to work with. One laser came towards me, I used ITEM-2 to create a jet sled, then held onto it in order to fly to the side. Spreading my legs in a V, the black laser went just between my two legs. I charged up a shot with the Mega Buster, shooting it at Dr. Wily. To my surprise, he blocked it with one of his wings.

Dr. Wily cackled with glee. “Mega BOY, you can’t hit me with weak attacks like that!” He launched a wave of bats at me, each one exploding in a spherical pattern with the same unnatural black glow. I quickly switched to the Flash Stopper to stop time. The explosions were moving at an incredible pace -- had I been a second late, I would have been caught in the crossfire.

I fired back with another charged shot, but Dr. Wily opened up a forcefield of the same coloured energy, completely nullifying the blast. He laughed as six portals opened behind him, launching blades at me at incredible speed. It took all I could do to dodge.

“Wily, you villain, you have traded your soul for power!”

“And oh, how powerful I am!”

Dr. Wily pulled two scythes adorned with skull out and flew towards me.

“I WISH TO EAT YOUR SOUL!” one of the scythes said.

 

Quickly, I switched to the Top Spin, hopping on top of Dr. Wily’s head. He swiped at me from underneath with one of the scythes, but I switched Rush to the Jet Adaptor to gain some extra height, dodging it, and landing to the ground. ‘Thank you, Rush,’ I internally said to my canine friend. I turned to face Dr. Wily.

“How much more do you have up your sleeve, Wily?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, “JUST THIS!!”

He cackled with glee as red lightning shot up from the ground, restraining me. With one hand, he pushed down, throwing me to the ground.

“Let’s see your GADGETS and GIZMOS compete with my demonic magic! Oh, what’s the matter, can’t switch forms?”

He was right, the brute, I was stuck in Rush’s Jet Adaptor. Though I could fire basic shots, I could not free myself here. Dr. Wily floated down, his wings dissipating into the air with an unknown vile energy. As he walked towards me I could see that his eyes have gone entirely black, and as he stepped the ground around him decayed away. I looked up helplessly from my electric binds. Just then, a blue light enveloped the world.

“What?”

“ODIN?” the voice from the scythe began again. “HOW DARE YOU INTERFERE!”

“Sorry. You know me,” a deep booming voice said from behind me. Though I tried to crane my neck to see the form of it, I was unable, but from the immense warmth I felt above me, I knew it had to be as the scythe said. It must have been a divine being - Odin? My mind raced. Odin, god of many things... father of Thor and Baldr,

“My child, is it really time to think? I can hear everything, you know. Looks like Wily over here made a pact with Lucifer to defeat you, and without magic of your own... Lucifer will cut you to ribbons. So, what are you going to do?”

“What? Magic doesn’t... it can’t possibly,” I said, stammering, before realizing how stupid it made me look.

“Well, at least you’ve noticed.”

“If you have the audacity to read someone’s thoughts, please couple it with the mercy to avoid kicking them while down, great Odin.”

“Hah! Well said!”

“ODIN, YOU AND YOUR KIND WILL PAY FOR THIS TREACHERY!! HELL WILL NOT ALLOW-”

“Can’t I just finish them off?” Dr. Wily said, taking a step forward.

“Boy, I’ll be honest here. I can only stay for another minute, at the most. My power comes at a great cost and I have no time to explain. Are you man enough?”

I had no choice. If I lost here, Wily would be unstoppable.

“Well said, boy.”

My neck was starting to hurt slightly from how far I was looking up, just to catch the tip of Odin’s spear - Gungnir, if my mythology holds correct - pointed directly at my heart. He gave a battle cry of “for valhal!” as he threw it down. Instead of harming, though, I felt something... else. I felt warmth in my oil circulation, as if there was real blood inside of me and not just an approximation.

“Now, to use your power, you have to use rhythm and language together. In rhyming verse, you must make a chant that channels your spirit. This power... Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, must be used carefully.”

“I have to... what?” No. No. No no no no no no no no no no no. I knew what I...

 

Odin disappeared.

“It’s over, Mega Man!!” Dr. Wily shouted.

“No, you can’t, cause this lightning is gone!” I began, “and you made me mad, so the fighting is on!”

The lightning faded away, and I rolled to the side.

“What?! What did that old fool give you?!” Dr. Wily shouted.

I felt the power awaken within me. This was not the power of humanity, or anything that I could trust, no, it was a creeping sense of death lurking, barely contained by my own lack of mortality. As a robot, I could not die. Thus, whatever it was, had no bearing on me. I only had benefits. This, however, was not on my priorities. I was trying to think of rhymes.

“Wily, you’re weak, you can’t step to me, you think your scythes are tight, but soon it’s rest in piece! I’ve beat you before, what, is this the eleventh time? And on this eleventh hour, I have the power of rhymes! Your hope will be soured, and you’ll pay for your crimes, too bad you sold your soul cause you can’t pray for your lives!”

I felt it approved. Though the last rhyme was forced, it accepted it enough. I could borrow its power, and in turn, I felt my Mega Buster was charged with more than ever before. Quickly, I switched to the Metal Blade. As I fired off the saws at Dr. Wily, I noticed they were moving several times faster than before, and they appeared to be covered with a glowing redness. Dr. Wily quickly threw up his forcefield, but this time, my blades penetrated. He recoiled with pain.

“MEGA MAN, HOW DID YOU DO THAT?”

“Well, I did it, because I’m with it, it’s a little bit cryptic but I get power from a critic, and then it goes critical, makes your defenses pitiful, that little boost from Lucifer compared to me is minimal!”

The Metal Blades powered up again, this time slicing off one of Dr. Wily’s wings. He stepped back, creating a portal. “This isn’t the last you’ve heard from me, Mega Man! Once I figure out how to use Lucifer’s power, you are finished!! You hear me, Mega Man? FINISHED!”

As he teleported away, I could feel the world around me begin to tick again. I looked down at my free hand. I didn’t notice it before, but it hurt. There was a skull engraved into my hand, sort of like a tattoo, but robots can’t get tattoos. It burned at me.

 

I looked up to the sky. “I guess, I’m branded now, huh? So much for a school life.”

After a brief moment of rest, I became irked. Though it took awhile, it finally dawned on me. In order to use this new ability, I would have to become a rapper. Me, Mega Man, the most cultured robot on the planet. I would have to rap?! I would have to become a rapper and do rap music. This... I was not sure if this ability was worth its price.

Chapter Text

    When my hysteria of the battle faded, I realized I still had class to go to. Despite my internal outrage at having to perform my least favourite genre of music, the world moves on. Internally, one may be crying out for salvation, and the world, gentle and uncaring as it is will continue onward. They do, however, say, that time heals all wounds. Perhaps, then, is there salvation in daily monotony?

    I called this the “human question.” For robots, we are built for one purpose -- mine was to protect humanity from people who would use our powers for evil, and to ensure that humans and robots could live together in peace. For my good friend Guts Man, it was to assist in construction and as a civil engineer. For humans? It was unknown. And yet, humans possess as strong drive as us robots do. It is beautiful - the expression of individualism - and mysterious to myself. I hope by finding the answer I could bridge the gap between us.

    As I mused to myself, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

    “Ro-”

    It wasn’t.

    “Hey, kid. Boss wants you at the summit.”

    I turned to see a man who embodied the peak of physical perfection, every aspect of his body was trained and honed, carrying a hammer that seemed to hold the weight of the world with it. I could not explain it, nor could I perceive it, but I felt it. He was clad in anachronistic attire: leather armour adorned with chains, and every step moved with regal grace. His speech was rough, but his blue eyes and long flowing hair left only one interpretation.

    “Very well, Lord Thor,” I said, bowing my head to the god. He smirked.

    “You’re just as smart as he says,” Thor said as he drew a doorway with his fingertips, miraculously creating one. Magic may be irrational, but far more irrational would be to deny it, as a current magic user. That was right... I was a magic user.

 

    As the door opened, Thor, gracious host he was, lead me inside. I walked through, entering a world of sprawling fields, with perfectly paved roads. In fields people engaged in battle. Others walk the roads, drink in hand, laughing with friends, and winged women(valkyries?) flew above to moderate the battles. We headed, clearly, to the most majestic building. I only wish Roll was here with me, as this was truly beautiful to behold. Words could not capture its architecture.

    “I probably don’t need to tell you this,” his velvety smooth, yet impossibly deep and commanding voice said, “but treat everyone here with respect. You are a guest of Lord Odin, but a guest still the same. You have yet to earn your right to this place.”

    I nodded, inwardly unsure of how much I desired to go to Valhalla in the afterlife, or even, if there was an afterlife for robots to begin with. As I entered the summit, the vastness of the room surprised me. Obviously, it was larger on the inside, but that fact failed to harm the euclidean portion of my processor, I had taken for granted that the laws of reality would be different in a world of magic.

    No, what had surprised me was the vastness of the types of people here. Were these just Norse gods? I was not as familiar with the mythology as I would hope... there was Odin, and Thor, and Freyja, and... Magni, and Hel, right... but in this building there were dozens, maybe even hundreds of people. I did not have time to count, as I was placed in a seat in the middle of the room.

    The room seemed hewn of marble, with chairs rising from the stone etched with indiscernible runes - presumably to show placement. It was arranged in a circular fashion, with a stage in the middle that Odin stood in, with people sitting around to see. I was pushed further and further down the stairs to this raised stage.

    “At last,” the wise voice of Odin broke out, “I have found a solution to the problem of the lich!”

    There was raucous applause, with many gods standing up in ovation. Odin, with grand movements, signaled everyone to look towards me.

    “Lich..?”

    “Gloria Mors Est Scriptor. Your new Pact,” Odin said, “is in the form of a lich who had plagued our sector of the cosmos for millennia. You see, mortal beings could not form a Sacrament with the being as its influence drained the mortality from beings. However, Mega Man, you are not mortal!”

    I looked up at him, blinking. Pact? Sacrament?

    “Ah, we have much to discuss. But first, I must show everyone Valhalla’s new binder!”

    Many gods were applauding. Most notably, a seat near the front row was completely empty, save for a stuffed fox. I looked up quizzically at the amphitheater, unsure of what the correct protocol was for being applauded by gods; I am usually much more composed.


    Hellfire and brimstone marked my path as jets of flame shot out into the skies above me to signal my return. Or rather, his return. Obsidian towers dotted the landscape as demons flew overhead. I was in no mood for it. I scratched at my whiskers as many demons flew in to bow before me.

    “Lord Lucifer, and esteemed binder, we welcome your return,” one says, bowing as if a butler before his master. I brushed him aside with a wave of my hand as I walked towards the garish castle.

    “What is the matter? Do you not like the pomp and circumstance?” the snide voices of my scythes rang out.

    “It’s not for me, I’m just part of the show.”

    “You’re lucky that you are being treated this well at all, for your failure,” Lucifer chided. I glared down at my scythes, but the skulls on them looked back defiantly on me.

    I pushed open the massive doors into the throne room of the palace, looking at Satan directly. He looked back at me, before breaking into a grin, revealing his 4 sets of sharp teeth. The 24 foot tall demon stood up, and held his hand out for me to shake it, though I could only shake one of his massive red fingers.

    “You’re back. It did not go well? Guards, leave. We are among friends.”

    As he said this, the many suits of armour surrounding us burst into a blue flame, indicating the possessing demons had taken direct control and were moving out. As if an army, they marched out in lines. No, it is safe to say they were an army. It reminded me of my Metools. Hundreds of bats flew out, revealing them to be vampires in disguise.

 

    “As expected, Satan, you have an impressive guard.”

    “You and I both know in our position, we have many enemies.”

    “Satan, please do not refer to you and he as equals,” Lucifer spoke out, “he failed.”

    Satan chuckled deeply.

    “Lucifer, understand that I have been through your entire life,” he said, crouching down to speak eye level to the scythes wrapped around my chest. “You may resent this man now, but he will become your best friend in time.”

    Satan, and Lucifer. King of Darkness, and Prince of Darkness. The truth is, they are one in the same. Lucifer, the powerless fallen angel that was banished to Earth and frozen in a block of ice. Using my technology, and reprogramming some of the Robot Masters, I was able to free him. Later, Lucifer showed where he planned to create his empire -- and to our shock, it was already there.

    At the end of his journey, Lucifer somehow obtained the ability to travel through time. He went back, creating the Underworld Empire out of this space he showed me, and built it up to support our travels. Satan said that he had no idea what this new timeline would bring, but that he would be our stalwart ally. Still, Satan was far more mature than this brat.

    “This brat, that can read your thoughts,” Lucifer said, glowing dangerously.

    “So, Satan? What are we to do?”

    Satan paused for a moment, conjuring a bit of tea in his left hand that he absentmindedly began placing sugar into. I looked up at the roof, seeing the banners that draped down, at least 40-50 feet. The windows were massive, showing the endless stretches of islands of skulls placed above lava, that curiously enough, did not burn by being near it.

    “You have two Sacraments, with one entity, Wily,” Satan said after a brief pause. With his fourth sugar packet in, he began to sip tea from the oversized, unicorn adorned cup. “One, Hell’s Torment, is the ability to turn negative emotions into power. The second, Blood Embrace, allows you to copy the Sacraments of those whose blood you drink.”

    “Just like that damned Mega Man!” I shouted.

    “Indeed,” Lucifer said, grinning.

    “We’ll turn his own bread and butter against him, eh?” I said, excitedly to my scythes. They hummed appreciatively.

    “Wily, a word of advice. In your current form, you have approximately 4 years to live, but if you start taking peoples Sacraments, you will surely perish. However,” he says, as he wills the finished tea-cup away, “if you become a vampire, it will naturally blend with your abilities, and make you strong enough to take the physical and mental stress Sacraments place on the body.”

    “A vampire, huh?” I said. “I like it. The reign of Wily... will live forever.”

    Satan smiled down at me.

    “I haven’t forgotten. When I rule the world, a soul tax of 30% of all of the citizens of my empire will go to powering your underworld.”

    “It’s also my underworld, I am the prince and will inherit this place,” Lucifer snarled.


    With the summit over, I retired to a room with Odin and Thor to learn more about this new world, and my abilities that I have gotten. The rooms were still absurdly vacuous, Thor explained it as that the Norse gods were actually much larger, but they shrink down for my benefit. It explained the phenomenally large room I attended the summit in. Much of it went over my head, but the gist was that I had made a “Pact” with a lich, and I was now borrowing its power.

    “So, you have learned a lot,” Odin said, smiling.

    “You know, one of the chiefest liberties is the privacy of thought,” I quipped.

    “Do not speak to Father with such dis-” Odin cut Thor off with a simple hand gesture.

    “You right now, are what is called a binder. One who binds a powerful entity to their soul, and in turn gets power from them. This binding is called the Pact, and it is what pulls an entity to you. In your case, I made the terms of the Pact to the lich myself.”

    “They were?” I asked Odin.

    “That the lich should have influence to corrupt your heart and seep his dark magic into your blood,” he said.

    “Father, are you mad?!” Thor said, kicking the chair back and knocking over things on the table. I began grinning.

    “You clever bastard!”

    “What? What is it that I am missing here?!”

    “Mega Man, please tell him.”

    “You see, Thor,” I said, “I am a robot. Though I am not just a mindless automaton, I possess no heart, nor blood. In other words, this Pact was idle trickery.”

    Thor awkwardly placed his hammer back down on the table, and began rearranging the table decorations he had misplaced as he sheepishly slunk back down into his seat.

    “So, to continue. The Pact takes form of a Sacrament, a specific deal you make within the Pact for more power, and it manifests in a particular way. Yours is unique as you have not formed the Sacrament, so you can not physically manifest it. However, your Sacrament is called Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, or, Glory’s End.”

    “What is that?” I asked.

    “It has two forms. First, as you use it, it slowly drains the life essence out of whoever uses it. This is not an issue, as you are a robot. Secondly, it allows you to gain more of the lich’s power if you please it. And... what the lich likes more than anything, is rhythmic rhyming. Chants to Valhalla tend to work very well,” Odin explained.

    Ah, the issue of the rapping. Yes.

    “There are other things that please it, however, we are not sure exactly what they were, as every person that has attempted to bind this lich has ended up dead, freeing the lich, and it has been raiding Valhalla’s border for millennia like this.”

    “Its power is tempting,” Thor said, “but you might be able to control it.”

    I looked down at my Mega Buster, before darting around the room with my eyes.

    “Why do you need to make Pacts? Aren’t you gods?”

    “There was a treaty when the first life was made,” Odin explained, “it was made readily apparent our warfare would result in the destruction of all life. Mortals are but a delicate flower, and as we walk the fields in our boots of war they can be trampled on accident.”

    Thor nodded in agreement, sadly touching his hammer.

    “Dr. Wily has made a Pact with Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness and one of the strongest forces of the Underworld. This has broken a treaty regarding Earth, and has opened Earth up to foreign influence. We had a gentleman’s agreement, you see, that none of us would interfere and allow humanity to grow independent of our powers. With the first Earth binder being Dr. Wily, we have no choice but to put you in to stop him. No doubt, many others will come as well.”

    Odin and I just sat, contemplating the ramifications of Thor’s statement.

    “However,” Thor said.

    “I have been watching your trials, Mega Man, and I have seen you in person and heard Odin’s assessment of your mentality. You have a lot of promise. I sincerely hope you live up to my father’s expectations.”

    My eye-wiper fluid began to leak. “Thank you, Thor. I must really get back now, I have to sleep, however.”

    “Do robots need sleep?” Odin asked.

    “I know, it bothers me immensely as well,” I said, laughing a bit too forcefully to shake the sentimental thoughts out of my head. Odin, though I know you can hear this, please do not tell Thor.

    “Well,” Odin said, a bit too forcefully, “I suppose I should escort him back to his home. I bet Roll is worried sick.”

    Roll.

    I’ll have to tell Roll about this.

Chapter Text

    I stared down at the symbol on my hand. The skull, Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, a reminder that I am hosting a lich. It was a bustling day at the mall, and Roll was picking out some new accessories for her Synthhair. People walked up and down, happily chatting with friends or romantic partners about their days, aspirations, and goals. And there, the morose Mega Man sat looking at his hands.

    “Hey, are you Mega Man?” a man asked. He was wearing slightly formal clothing, a polo shirt under a sweater with some slacks that have not been ironed in months. I faked a smile and nodded.

    “What’s it like having a Mega Buster?”

    “What’s it like having two hands?” I asked in response. The guy stared at me for a moment, before nodding. “You’re good, Mega Man, you’re good.”

    “Meeeeega!” Roll said, waving. It seems she purchased it.

    “What did you buy?”

    “It’s a Met!” She waved her hands around, pointing towards the Met hair accessory she was wearing. It was a bit cute, albeit in poor taste, but I applauded either way. She smirked at the sight of me “clapping” with my Mega Buster. I rose to my feet, noticing the pattern of the floor tiles. Floor tiling is something I always pay attention to... though I am not sure as to why.

    The rest of the evening was spent with me occasionally looking down at my branding, wondering when the correct moment was to tell her. Did I need to tell her? Should I involve her in this? Roll has always been my closest confidant, but, was there any pressing need for this? And was I just telling myself these questions to give myself an excuse to avoid doing something uncomfortable?

 

    I ultimately picked up a CD of Beethoven. Many consider the Moonlight Sonata his greatest performance, with some showing preference for the 9th Symphony. Interestingly, Beethoven himself did not care for the Moonlight Sonata as strongly as his other work. His most prized... was up to some debate, but I believe that it was the Great Fugue, a moment in one of his string concertos.

    Yes, while Beethoven is most known for being the vanguard of the Romantic era, transitioning between the Classical and Romantic eras, my favourite piece of music he has produced is a fugue, of sorts - a double fugue that veers into territory so atonal it could be thought of as contemporary even now, and in fact, Stravinsky even said as much before.

    Admittedly, I am not too much personally a fan of the Romantic era, but I respect the greats of it: Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Schumann... the latter of which was the true pioneer of the Romantic era in my eyes, and yet with Beethoven’s true virtuosity he can easily lay claim to the title. Who can be said to have pioneered a global artistic movement, anyway?

    “Mega,” Roll said, “are you thinking music stuff again?”

    “What? Are you hacking my mind?” I asked, with a mixture of faux-confusion and genuine wonder.

    “I think it’s cute! You get really into that stuff!” Roll said cheerfully. A part of my masculinity dreaded being called cute, but I can’t deny my love for classical music.

    Ah, yes. Right. I must learn the styling of rap music.

  

    When I awoke the following morning, to Roll loudly calling me to wake. I was confident in my decision not to tell her. I washed my Synth-hair, brushing over the mark of Gloria Mors, and put on my helmet to go to school. Most students required to wear a uniform, but I was given a special exception given that most clothing is not designed to fit me. Still, I often imagine myself wearing a nice tailored bespoke suit and yearn.

    “Hey, Mega Man,” Roll said during our walk.

    “So, umm... do you think robots have free will?”

    “Of course we d-” I say, before being cut off.

    “I mean, you’re a fighting robot, so you fight. But you’re a good robot! Other robots, they can be reprogrammed. Right?”

    “...right,” I say, catching on to her train of thought.

    “If we have designations, um, do we really have free will?”

    We walked for a bit, as I looked up into the sky.

    “Roll, you’re designed to be a house keeper, right?”

    “Yes?”

    “Why did you come to this school?”

    “I wanted to learn medicine so that I could be- Ah,” she said.

    That’s right, Roll wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to build a hospital and help people free of charge. I remember the day she told Dr. Light about it. He was so confused, and yet, that little twinkle in his eyes... he was proud, too.

    “We have a path set out for us more clearly than humans do, but we have our own will,” I said. I looked down at that mark again. “And sometimes, life takes us down roads we might not have expected.”

    Roll was silent for a moment, before going back to her usual cheerfulness. She began chatting about the usual inanity, leaving whatever philosophical musing of the nature of our existence back to the corner of her mind that it started from. We parted ways as I headed to my first classroom.

 

    Most notably, as I sat down, our teacher was not here. He was very strict, and while I did well in his classes, he still seemed to care that the ‘proper order’ was followed. Instead, an unknown substitute teacher was there. Secondly, a new classmate was sitting in here.

    “Hello... my name is Mrs. Evacher, I am going to be replacing Mr. Morrisson for the rest of the year, he has fallen ill, unfortunately. He has sent me your notes on the class, so I shall be following. And, this new student is named Pierre. He’s from the Light Academy, but he has transferred over to this class.”

    Mrs. Evacher was tall, of very pale complexion with raven black hair that fell down to her back and spoke with the slightest hint of an accent that I could not place. Her motions were careful and guided. Rather than a standard High School teacher, she seemed to be a private tutor for the incredibly wealthy. Pierre, on the other hand, was very muscular, with dark skin. His brown eyes were guarded, blanketed by the bags of fatigue and showed an intensity that I have never seen in civilian life before. He wore a newsboys cap, the only modification to the school uniform(which, admittedly, was lax in its regulation.)

    I heard plenty of whispers from the other classmates, even Ashley, unfortunately, mostly implying that Pierre has come to see me. Judging from the standoffish way he treated everyone else while still looking towards me, they probably weren’t too far off the mark. I sighed. If he was from Light Academy, he is definitely overqualified. I suppose, I can look forward to an academic rival?

    “And n-”

    The entire world went gray around me, with only people appearing in colour. Mrs. Evacher has been frozen. Everyone else in the room was completely motionless. Her facial expressions completely unchanging, little flecks of dust suspended in midair... everything was completely motionless. I gulped, switching into action mode.

    “Calm down, big guy,” Pierre said, chuckling.

    “You can see, are you?!” I say, powering up the Mega Buster.

    “No, I’m not behind this,” he said in his deep voice, with a Haitian accent. “I am surprised to see another binder in here.”

    “What?” I blinked, before understanding. “So, you’re,”

    “Yes, with the fallen angel Sachiel,” he said. “My Pact allows me to control the temperature of water. It is not very useful.”

    “Do you know who is behind this?”

    “Only as much as you. So, Mega Man... the blue bomber... I suppose it makes sense you are a binder.”

    I brushed it off, opening the door to the classroom and looking out in the hall. With a smirk, I found my own face staring back at me...

 

    “Quint!”

    “Hello, Mega Man,” Quint said back at me. He had displaced his jackhammer, instead using his own Mega Buster. It was disconcerting to hear my own voice used in such a hateful tone... and I was surprised at how high pitch I really sounded.

    Quint, a rival of mine, was quite literally myself. Painted green by Wily, Quint is a copy of myself from a peaceful future that I have defeated Wily and grown complacent, living an idyllic peaceful life. With Wily’s influence, however, he became twisted, and I have grown in a far separate direction than he has.

    “Mega Man, I thought you would become a binder too. It’s lovely,” he said, chuckling. “It means we can have this private battle.”

    “What do you want from me?!”

    “What do I want? What do I want..?”

    He fired a shot at me from his own Mega Buster. I dodged to the side. The pellet went harmlessly past my head, showering me in confetti that he had loaded into it. Just as I was about to ask, he began to speak.

    “Hm, I can’t seem to think of anything right now,” he said. I saw him switch modes on his Mega Buster -- Metal Blades.

    “Pierre, get inside the classroom,” I commanded in a low growl. I switched to the Photon Missile.

    He chuckled.

    “Mega Man, do you think I will be so easy to hit? You don’t even know my Pact.”

    He fired Metal Blades in every direction, launching saw blades into the walls, destroying some of the lights to reveal energy capsules and health bubbles, and embedding them throughout. I kept my guard up.

    “You’ll run out of energy like that!” I said. My earlier fear was gone -- Quint was as inept as always.

    “Oh, Mega Man, do you not know we are one and the same? I can read your thoughts.”

    That’s twice n-

    My circuits were wracked with pain as I felt three blades embedded in me.

    “What? What is this?!” I shouted.

    “My Pact, Mega Man!” He said in glee, as he fired more confetti at me with his Mega Buster, loading it into his arm with one hand, and firing to launch confetti. Then, with a snap of his fingers, Metal Blades came flying out of the confetti.

    “It’s called Perfect Swap, one of Loki’s forty abilities I borrowed! Yes, Mega Man! Run!”

    I twisted my body to the side to dodge a blade that aimed straight at my neck. Running forward, I dashed down, crouching and sliding to grab a health bubble to restore the damage from earlier. A Metal Blade shot up from the ground.

    “No, no, no, Mega Man! It’s not just confetti that I can swap, the broken glass too... and, while I’m at it...” he fired a shot at me from his Mega Buster, then turned around, shooting a Metal Blade. As I dodged the first pellet, the pellet predictably swapped with a Metal Blade, maintaining the original velocity, and coming towards me. I slid on the ground under it, firing a Photon Missile.

    “Boo,” Quint said, whispering in my ear. My Photon Missile aimed harmlessly to the side. Three Metal Blades were fired in my back, causing me to cry out in pain. I brushed my Mega Buster against the palm of my hand.

    “Okay, so you can swap, but please don’t get cocky, I’m the real Mega Man, and you can’t stop me, you think you’re so hot, but you’re just a copy, plus blue is cooler than green, and your paint job’s shoddy,” I said, pushing myself to my feet.

    “What are you talking about, Mega Man? Have you gone insane?!” Quint said, before bursting into laughter. “You’ve gone mad!”

    “Yeah, I’ve gone mad,” I said, coughing up oil, “but I got mad rhymes. You’re firing metal blades, keep on up with the times.”

    I began to glow with a dark purple light. Quint’s laughter subsided, as he just watched in confusion, eyes wide.

    “I am that guy, Mega Man, the original, I am that fly, yes I can, and you’re pitiful, you’ve lost your mind, who’s mad? You’re despicable, you’re no longer kind, you’re bad, just a criminal!” I shout. My Photon Missile beeped in, showing a lock on target to Quint.

    “What, what, what whaaat the hell is this?” He said, laughing. “Just because you started rapping doesn’t mean I’m going to lose! Metal Blade! Metal Blade! Metal Blade!!”

    Metal Blades shot at me from all directions, but with my processing enriched by the Lich’s powers, I could feel the wind from their trajectory all at once. I lithely twisted and turned my body around. ‘Lock On’, my Photon Missile said. A wall of Metal Blades shot out at me. I jumped in the air, spinning around to twist in between the spinning saw blades, landing steadily on my feet. I fired missile after missile at Quint. He Swapped to the side to try to avoid, but the missile just turned to chase him.

    “What? Photon Missiles don’t...”

    “Photon Missiles don’t, say it again? The way I see it, Quint, you’re being chased, my friend. It all ends here, the bottom line in pen, think you could beat me? Please double check the trends, I’m Mega Man, the blue bomber, undefeated,” I began, as the missiles chased Quint around as he began Swapping back and forth throughout in a panic to dodge them, “where’s your ace in the hole now? Cause you need it.”

    “Shut up, shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up!” Quint began screaming. He attempted once more to snap his fingers, but his hand was worn out from snapping already, and it made no sound. He stood there as he took the missile to the face. The explosion sent him flying back, as he passed out.

 

    Pierre came out, clapping his hands. A ferret slipped out of his cap.

    “Well done, Mega Man. I must ask that you leave him alone,” the ferret spoke.

    “I had no intention of destroying Quint, if that was what you were asking, ferret,” I said.

    “Oh, you’re quick on the uptake! Not going to freak out: Oh my God, ferrets can talk?!”

    “My friend,” I said earnestly, “yesterday I gained the ability to power up by rapping from Odin. Very little at this point could surprise me.”

    “Very well. I am Loki.”

    Well, I’ve been proven wrong.

    “Loki... didn’t you give this guy powers? Oh,” I said, “that’s why you want to save him.”

    “Bingo! But, kid, there’s more to it than that,” Loki said, “see, I just want a champion.”

    “And I’m going to be that champion, I assume?”

    “Yes, you got it!”

    Pierre sat back against the wall, cracking his neck slightly.

    “So, what’s it going to be?”

    I blinked and looked at the ferret.

    “Why are you a ferret, Loki?”

    “Long story, look, I just need someone to do some favours and stuff...so I can get my body back, and get back to doing what needs doing. You won’t be alone, Pierre can help you!”

    “Pierre?” I asked, looking at him.

    “Mega Man, I admit, I was not entirely truthful when I spoke to you. My Pact... is not the ability to control the temperature of water. It is to create these barriers.”

    “Why did you lie?”

    “It was all part of my GENIUS PLAN!” Loki said, grinning ear to ear.

    “You see, you and Quint both do not get along, Quint was saying how much he wanted to get revenge on you, and how he needed to get stronger, so I said hey buddy. If you can beat Mega Man in a fight, you will be my champion~! However, if Mega Man wins, then Mega Man is my champion!”

    “Well,” I said, “what if I say no to being your champion?”

    Loki stared up at me, dumbfounded. I looked at Quint, who was unconscious after taking my barrage of Photon Missiles. I looked down at Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, which had begin to fade in power already. It seemed in order to keep powering up I had to keep rapping.

    “Well, um, don’t you want to?”

    “Not really, you’re a talking ferret that just introduced himself by having one of my rivals attack me.”

    “Hm, fair point. Alright, if you ever want to work with me, I’ll be in Pierre’s hat. Otherwise,” Loki said, “I’m going to keep sending bad guys at you until one of them wins!”

    “Please don’t do that, it will be a giant pain,” I say, rubbing my eyes.

    “Then agree to be my champion!”

    “Loki, if you keep this up,” I said, “I will have to do something about you. Maybe I’ll tell Odin?”

    “Heh, Odin doesn’t care. He’s the one who turned me into a ferret in the first place.”

    Pierre looked at me apologetically.

    “Why do you work for Loki, Pierre?” I said, ignoring Loki’s non-logic.

    “I... I have my own reasons, Mega Man. But I would appreciate if you helped him too.”

    “I’ll think about it.”

    After the events of this morning’s battle with Quint, Pierre and I worked on repairing the damage we caused in the battle during the barrier. It was quiet work, and the hallway was eerie in black and white. A sinking feeling of distrust overran my processors as I thought of what Loki would plan next... if it was Loki at all. If we were to start time again, with broken glass everywhere, and saw blades embedded in the wall, it would certainly cause a commotion. Wiping some of the coolant off my forehead, I looked out into the greyscale skies.

 

Chapter Text

    With its fourteen mouths snarling at me, the hundred armed orb of spikes and grey flesh spat stinking mucus to mark its territory. What was this thing? It looked like a spider, almost, but it had far too many legs for that. The stagnant air of the chilly cave would be a welcome respite from the disgusting scent this foul beast created.

    “I’m too old for this,” I grumbled, holding the two scythes out. I allowed the dark energies to permeate my being.

    “VAMPIRE, YOU HAVE AUDACITY TO VISIT!” the mouths said, as it launched some of the spikes at me in the air. I tilted my head to the side to dodge the initial barrage, then jumped pack as it lurched forward with some of its legs. It thrashed about, knocking stalactite around and gripping them with its 4-toed claws.

    Partner, I thought, why have we been given such a simple task?

    I charged forward, knocking some of its legs up as I pushed energy up from the ground to knock it off balance. With one end of the scythe, I rammed into it at top speed, having finally mastered the flight. It swayed around, attempting to use the stalactite to prop itself up, but a quick kick off the ground to gain some altitude acted as a perfect lever, toppling the beast over. With its exposed grey belly, I summoned 6 bats to fire lasers at the weak point. It exploded, leaving behind only a health bubble. But I didn’t take any damage.

    “I’m not sure,” Lucifer said to me, “perhaps they think we are weaklings?”

    We both chuckled.

    “IF YOU THINK THAT WILL DEFEAT ME, THINK AGAIN!” the cave spoke out to us. I tightened my grip on the scythes.

 

    It was over in mere minutes. I looked down at my scythes, mentally blocking my partner from criticizing how long it took. I was old, after all. The damp air of the cave and musty smell of rotting... something, in the distance assaulted my being. Even if being a vampire granted tremendous resistance to pain, the syrupy consistency of the air was still unpleasant. Equally as unpleasant, however, was the screaming ghost in the jar.

    “Well?” Lucifer asked.

    “Okay, I took too long. I admit it.”

    The scythes laughed, equal parts innocent and childish and demonic. “Good, good, so you admit it! Partner, you have a long way to go before you are a worthy binder.”

    Ghost spirits are easily bound. The Robot Masters will be greatly improved by having access to these things - they reconstitute themselves after being defeated unless doused with holy water. Not that I can touch that, but by trapping them in a jar before they can reform you can fairly safely store them until they are ready to be bound.

    I stepped out of the cave into the rest of the abyss. Looking down from the top of the cliff I saw rows of pools of purple miasma, a mixture of noxious gas and unknown liquids unique to this plane. The abyss, one of the 13 Chambers of the underworld, is directly located next to hell, where Lucifer made his home. As I walked down the winding mountain path, thoughts began to race through my head: perhaps modifying Bubble Man to use this poisonous liquid would prove stronger in defeating Mega Man. Or Splash Woman? And where has Bubble Man gone to, anyway?

    “You’re thinking too small, again,” Lucifer chided. His voice was like that of an arrogant brat, but layered a dozen times, each lower than the last until a vile cacophonous chord rang out. “Beating Mega Man will be easy, Wily.”

    “Oh? And didn’t you say that the first time?”

    “You used my abilities wrong!”

    “Then what should I have done better? Hm?”

    “Well, I- Urgh! You’ve just become immortal one week and already have a big head! I’ve been immortal since I willed myself into being!”

    Youthful energy. I felt myself breaking into a smile.

    “What’s so funny? Huh?!”

    “It’s nothing,” I said as I made it to the truck, carefully placing the jar in its protective container next to all of the other ones. “Do you want to materialize and sit in the truck?”

    “No, having a body sucks. Put me in the cup holders, please.”


    The quiet black and white classroom continued to be frozen. Pierre, my new Haitian friend/ally of enemy was helping me clean up, with the Norse god Loki sitting beneath his hat, cheerfully humming a classic Nordic song. Herr Mannelig? Swedish... or, Norwegian perhaps..? My grasp of Scandinavian linguistic differences was quite weak, like a man trying to hold too many limes at once. I pulled out my greyscale seat, ready to sit down in the same position I was in before for when time starts again-

    “Ah, excuse me, please don’t start it again,” a quiet voice spoke out. I looked up, having just finished cleaning up the debris from my battle with Quint up. Mrs. Evacher was now moving around, waving her arms with the oxymoronic combination of grace and frantic motion. This was worse than when I thought Dr. Wily was an alien.

    “You’re,” Pierre says.

    “Loki, please.”

    “Well, well, what red blooded ferret DOESN’T answer to a beautiful lich calling my name?”

    “You’re a lich?!” I said, jumping out of my seat and holding up Gloria Mors Est Scriptor.

    “Well, yes, but not as strong as Gloria,” she said with a slight giggle. “Please don’t worry, though. Most liches are not bad, contrary to popular belief. Shall I pour some tea?”

    “Woman,” Pierre said, “We have stopped time now for over 3 hours. There is a limit to how much I can take.”

    “Ah... very well then, I suppose. After class, I’ll start recruiting for a tea preparation club. I want you to join.”

    I looked down at Gloria Mors Est Scriptor. It seemed to wink at me. Foul energy seeped from inside it, causing me to retch. Is this what indigestion is like for humans? I shuddered.

    Time began again, and in an incredible show of acting Mrs. Evacher picked up mid-sentence as if nothing wrong had happened. Only someone’s surprised shout that a light was broken indicated that anything had changed, though, with a single spot missed it seemed as if an accident had happened rather than a battle of life or death.

    “Hey, Mega, going home?”

    “No, Roll,” I said, “I’m going to the tea preparation club. I figured it would be a nice hobby to pick up.”

    “Ooh, good idea!” Roll said. “I don’t know too much about tea, mostly coffee, so it would really round out our household! Well, I’ll see you when you get back. We’re having ratatouille today.”

    “French, huh? Sounds good.”

    I picked up supplies with my one hand, silently cursing the impracticality of doing day-to-day tasks with a giant cannon permanently on one hand.

 

    As I opened the door into the room, I was greeted with the lovely scent of English tea. Not Japanese green tea as one would expect, this was... Earl Grey? There was a light barrier placed on this room... anyone who did not have business here would be forced out. I could feel the “rule” of this room as I entered, just as I could feel “only binders could move” in the previous one.

    There was a small table in the center, and sitting at it was Pierre, the large imposing man, with his hat laid on the table in front of him. Loki, the ferret, was resting next to the hat. To the right of him was someone I had never seen before, a small girl. Across from Pierre, Mrs. Evacher, beautiful as she was, sat. However, her face was gone, leaving only the skeleton behind -- presumably, her real form.

    While Pierre with his muscular build, dark skin, and bags under his eyes was the most immediately imposing, it was the small girl - with her short blue hair and wiry muscles, moving with extreme elegance and dignity - that made the most striking impression there. Her piercing red eyes burned with an inner fire that was matched only by Mrs. Evacher, a skeleton with literal fire for eyes.

    The combination of scents, and sights, it evoked only one piece of music: from Maurice Greene, the third of his Lessons, in G Minor. A baroque piece of music from one of the greatest English composers, a man who primarily was known for his Gregorian style. Still, this piece is a classic example of Baroque ornamentation, a piece that shows the beauty of the harpsichord. Such was the elegance of the scene.

    “I’m here,” I said, somewhat upset that the moment was ruined. Though I was apprehensive, the sheer beauty of it had captivated me.

    “Welcome, Mega Man,” a girl said in a soft voice. “I’m a Binder, as well,”

    “This is my apprentice. Claire, introduce yourself.”

    “You have introduced me,” Claire said.

    “Ah, so I have.”

    Loki burst out laughing, before raising himself to drink from one of the teacups set out for him.

    “Do robots drink tea?” Claire asked.

    “With sugar, please,” I said. She giggled and poured me a cup.

    “So, if you don’t mind asking, your spirit?”

    “A Blue Dragon, his name is Anlauiy.”

    “Hm... I see,” I said, completely unsure of the significance of it. I do not know if these people are friendly, so it helps to act like I know what these things are.

    “Hey, Mega Man,” Loki said, “your spirit is undead type, right?”

    “Yeah, a lich, why?”

    “How come you’ve never manifested it?”

    “It’s dangerous,” Mrs. Evacher said.

 

    The atmosphere, previously a bizarre sense of comfort shared with unknown dangers had been replaced entirely with tension. “It’s incredibly dangerous. Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, the Sacrament for a lich that can not be stated is a being powerful enough to fight gods, dragons... even planets.”

    “Planets?!” I said.

    “Yes, it is surprising, but it gained so much power,” Mrs. Evacher explained, completely misinterpreting my surprise as one who understands the significance of that. “If it were to overpower Mega Man, we have no idea what it would do.”

    “No idea? What do you mean, master?” Claire asked.

    “On Mars we had a research facility to determine what being was most powerful. Gloria Mors Est Scriptor showed up many times in the listing... but throughout its many years of activity, nobody knows what it wants. We know it is pure undead as it responds to the same stimulae as undead, and we know that its bonds are persona based, but aside from that... we have no idea.”

    “I see...”

    I took my first sip of the tea. It had too much sugar... although, I was the one who asked so it would be impolite to say as much.

    “But, that’s not the point of why I brought you here,” Mrs. Evacher said. “As you should know, the other parts the multiverse have an open policy on binders, but with Lucifer’s transgression, it is open season now - and unfortunately, Mega Man, you are going to be the center of all of this issue.”

    “I never don’t attract trouble, don’t I?” I said to myself, double checking the excessive negatives to make sure it was grammatically correct.

    “No, I’m afraid not,” said Mrs. Evacher, with a pause showing the did the same thing. “Do you know if there are others?”

    “Besides me and that other one?” Pierre asked.

    “Not that I know of, ignoring Wily of course,” I explained, “but at the rate of expansion I imagine there are Sacraments being formed as we speak.”

    “Hm, quite. I’ll be frank: Mars’ diplomatic status is to protect Earth at all costs, and as the Martian ambassador I wish to propose an alliance between Valhalla, Earth, and Mars in order to fight these threats.”

    “Why do you think I can represent Valhalla?” Loki asked. “I’m just a ferret.”

    “Um, if it’s any consolation,” I said, “I was chosen by Odin.”

    “...Odin, huh?” Mrs. Evacher said, wide-eyed, “well, if you were chosen by him... alright. Mega Man, let’s see your chants.”

    “My... what, now?”

    “The chant you use to summon Gloria Mors Est Scriptor,” she said. “Anything will do, just something so I can see how well you are with this sort of thing. I teach English, you know.”

    “Can we do this some other time?”

    “What kind of binder are you...” Claire said. I could feel her animosity coming off immediately.

    “Ah, good idea. Mega Man, Claire you will spar in a bubble created by Pierre. That way I can try all of your abilities at once! ...naturally, I can not act as I have not made a Pact, so as a supernatural entity I am barred from intervening. Claire, go easy on him.”

 

    Pierre nodded, creating a bubble outside in the track and field area. It seemed like two spaces existed at the same time there, as when I looked at the bubble the interior section remained in black and white, but I could look ‘through’ in order to see the kids running. As I attempted to walk outside, Claire brushed past me hard. I do not think she was aware I was a robot as she was rubbing her arm afterwards.

    The walk was equally as tense, with Pierre nervously following a good 3 steps behind. The greyscale bubble that signified the barrier was beautifully contrasted with the setting sun, crisp autumn air with the slightest bite of cold. A crunch under my footsteps. I was about to battle a person channeling the power of dragons. As I stepped into the bubble, I was innately aware of the “rule” - anyone who does not know about binders can not enter.

    “So, you create rules, and those that do not follow are not allowed in?” Mrs. Evacher asked.

    “Yes, and I can manifest it in two ways. Hard bubbles, which exist in this world, and turn people away by causality if they touch them. It will create a cause for the ‘effect’ of making them not touch the bubble. The more outlandish this is, the harder it is on me... and the bubble might pop.” Pierre said, “But for this, a soft bubble, it creates another space... or something, I am not too sure of how it works, but it makes a copy of a space and allows people who fit the rule to enter it.”

    “And time is suspended, during it,” I pointed out. Mrs. Evacher and Pierre nodded.

    “Shut up,” Claire said through gritted teeth, “I can not bear to hear your prattling. MEGA MAN!”

    I nearly jumped at the suddenly powerful voice she had.

    “SHOW ME YOUR CHANT NOW OR DIE!”

 

    Behind her feet, I saw two actual bubbles being formed, like the kind with soap. She bounced on them for a second, before they popped, launching her at me with insane speed the likes of which I have never witnessed before. One punch sent me flying into a tree. If I was a human, I would have died for sure. She balled her hands into fists.

    “Is that all you have?! The Blue Bomber..” she said, creating a bubble in her hand. Suddenly, a smaller bubble launched out of the first one at incredible speed. I dodged to the side. The bubble collided with the tree, and the sheer pressure of the bubble popping blew a small hole inside of it. I had only a second to think before she sprang at me again.

    “You wanted a clean sweep but your styles the worst, thought you were coming in first, time for that bubble to burst,” I said through pants as I dodged her endless barrage of punches.

    “Oh? You can dodge and still speak? Maybe I’m going too easy then,” she said. Her eyes were no longer human eyes, they were that of a dragon. This wasn’t just a practice fight. She was seriously trying to kill me!

    “I’ll send you home in a hearse, call me the taxi driver, no De Niro, I’m coming with that fire, I’ll bet prior you thought it was slick,” I began chanting, feeling the power of Gloria Mors Est Scriptor running through me as more and more speed came into my body. I was moving quickly.

    “HEY MEGA MAN!!!” She said, fuming, “KEEPING A RHYME SCHEME FOR ONLY 4 BARS AND SWITCHING IT IS ONLY NOVEL IF YOU’VE PROVEN YOU CAN KEEP IT GOING!”

    Electricity shot out from her hand as it whizzed past me. It wracked my circuits with unbelievable pain. I jumped back, putting more energy from Gloria Mors into my legs to empower them. I shot back with the kind of power I never had before.

    “Keep it up. I want to see you when you are REALLY strong,” Claire said, the electricity now causing her hair to stand up and sparkle.

    “You thought it was slick, but you only touched me a lick, so you got electric, that’s just a trick, you prick, you’ll get dealt with quick, got precision with joystick, you’ll say the boy’s sick, before you get dropkicked, your bravado comes with the firmness of chopsticks!”

    Gloria Mors pulsed again and again. I felt power rushing through me. Now... though I admit it was crass of me, I charged directly at her. "Not bad," I heard. The last thing I remember seeing was her giving a warm, honest smile before everything went black.




Chapter Text

    When I awoke, I was in the infirmary’s bed. Claire sat in the chair next to me, humming a song I don’t really know. Standing in the back was Mrs. Evacher, looking nervous. Pierre was resting, his back to the wall. The blinds were drawn, painting the room in a dreary and tense atmosphere to contrast the lively activity outside. Ah, so, school must be ending. I felt a great amount of soreness in my torso as I tried to rise.

    “Sorry, I went too hard on you...” Claire said in a soft spoken manner. “It’s just.. never mind. Sorry.”

    I blinked once, quickly scanning my memory banks. She was smiling at me warmly, and then I was here. In other words, she defeated me quicker than I could figure out she defeated me. It’s a complete loss.

    “Mega Man, a word of advice,” Mrs. Evacher said. “You did well to move your power throughout your body, just trying to keep it in your soul is a waste of time, like shouting down the hallway instead of walking next to someone. However,” she said, skeleton face now completely exposed, “you made three simple mistakes, which is why you lost.”

    I tried sitting up again, feeling a sharp pain. Pierre punched out a light bulb, releasing a health powerup which eased a lot of the pain. Mrs. Evacher shot him a dirty look, but Pierre seemed remarkably unfazed.

    “First: the most important place to direct power to is always the head. Binders can not keep up with fast movements otherwise. Extreme speed is often a waste of power, but against rookies who do not know how to enhance their senses to react, it gives an easy win. Secondly, you needed to power up completely a lot sooner. Undead type Pacts are weak as the undead’s spirit must be roused, so you will be a slow starter. And third-”

    “Third,” Claire added, “was that you proved yourself a worthy Binder and made me actually try. Very few people make me actually try.”

    “Third,” Mrs. Evacher said through subtly gritted teeth, “is that you failed to shield yourself.”

    “Shield? Say, with the Leaf Shield or Skull Barrier?”

    “No, although that would be very adept at blocking telegraphed attacks. I’m referring to making a bubble of power around you to absorb the impact. I think you kids call it... a force field?”

    “I see,” Pierre said. “Like how in Halo, you could take a bit of damage at once, and your shield would regenerate.”

    We all stared blanked at Pierre, who kicked the ground in embarrassment and turned away, tilting his newspaper cap down to block us out.

    “Well... a regenerating shield is close of a concept. Something to avoid taking all of the damage at once.”

    “One more thing,” Claire said, standing imposingly over me(despite being 5’4”, to my 6’0” in my new young adult body), “you can not tell a soul about my... firey side.”

    “Firey?”

    “Dragons breathe fire.”

    “You breathe electricity,” Mrs. Evacher said.

    “I breathe fire, okay! I’m firey! I get fired up! And nobody can know. Nobody.”

    I meekly nodded, not wanting to be immediately punched out again. Claire sighed, tension leaving her body as she punched me in the arm lightly. I started work on making the bed, being especially certain to make sure the sheets were smoothed out, and then fluffed the pillow.

    “Isn’t that hard to do with one hand?” Pierre asked. I shrugged.

    “You get used to having an arm cannon, and you learn ways to get around it.”

    Mrs. Evacher put on a human disguise and walked out of the room, with Claire following shortly behind it. Pierre waved farewell as he walked away. Once I was sure the room was in a perfect condition, I headed out towards home- as soon as I had left the room, though, Roll had collided with me.

 

    “There you are... Mega Man... what is going on with you?!”

    “Erm... I’ll tell you... at some point, but it’s to do with Dr. Wily.”

    “He’s up to something again?!” her eyes widened, before returning to normal. “Okay, I trust you, Mega Man. But if it gets to be too serious...”

    “I know.”

    I extended my hand to her to lead her home. She hesitantly grabbed it. I had to slow down to let her collect her thoughts, but soon she was back to her lively self. I haven’t been in the school this late before, actually. It was quite beautiful, seeing the warmth of the orange sunset leaking in through windows, hearing only the occasional teacher staying behind to mark tests. I’m really glad I came here.

    “Oh, Mega Man,” a girl said. I looked over at her... Brittany, was it? I waved my arm cannon at her.

    “What keeps you here?” I asked, somewhat awkwardly. I could have phrased that less awkwardly... but I also gave myself a pass as I had just been knocked into sleep mode by a dragon Binder.

    “I’m... organizing. I’m in student council, you know,” she explained.

    “Ah, that’s fine. It’s a good thing to have on a resume, too,” Roll pointed out.

    “Yeah!”

    “Well... we have to get home,” I said. She smiled at us, staying behind to do... whatever it was student council does. I admit, I should be following these things more. I opened the big doors to the outside world, but there was no lazy sunset, no warmth with refreshing breezes, no scent of trees. Instead, the doors opened to a hellscape with writhing purple and orange tendrils squirming through the sky.

 

    Pierre..? I thought to myself. Roll was there, shivering in fear. I clasped my hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes to reassure her.

    The ground was barren and blackened, with the trees of the schoolyard completely rotting away. The building was entirely destroyed, from the outside, leaving the regular courtyard overrun by vegetation that has since rotted away as well. It was as if the entire world had died, and we were standing on its corpse thousands of years later. Frightening, but more frightening still was the sound of battle.

    “Roll, stay many steps behind me, and hide behind things.”

    I moved forward towards the sounds of battle. It seemed some sort of demon was fighting a massive.. Cerberus?!

    “...dog to the pound, got my feet on the ground, I’m elite with the sound, don’t compete with these clowns...”

    I stepped forward, rapping in a hushed tone to avoid startling them. It wasn’t just a Cerberus, there was something inside of it, controlling the beast, using bubble attacks... Claire..? No. It can’t be Claire. The many heads were very strong and quick, and the winged demon was attacking it, using what appears to be magic. Wily had used demonic magic on me before, so by now I was familiar with how it looks.

    “...three heads in the cloud if they don’t know I’m renowned, Cerberus, be crowned oversized weak hound...”

    Gloria Mors was releasing a large amount of power now. I pushed some of it in a bubble surrounding me, a fair amount into my head(specifically, towards the eyes), and left the rest to use as needed. Blinking, I felt my sensory receptors shift into overdrive. I could see much more clearly than ever before, making out minute details in the Cerberus, and the demon, who was wearing some sort of cowl. Moreover, Cerberus was also made out of bubbles.

    My next form of inquiry was which side of this to choose. Cerberus, guardian of the underworld, is not particularly a positive form of imagery, but simultaneously in Greek mythology Hades was actually among the nicest of the pantheon. Similarly, a demon is usually a bad thing, but fighting something that aligns itself with the underworld... is this a territorial dispute?

    If I blinked, I would have missed it. A large attack pierced Cerberus, causing the air inside the bubble to expunge. The person controlling it flew out of Cerberus in an attack of incredible speed, knocking the demon to the ground. While the demon dove, it flapped its wings to dodge the Cerberus-jockey’s followup aerial attack, skidding through the putrid rotting black earth as a lance made of bubbles impaled the ground directly above where he was. Its cowl was removed in the process.

 

    “Dr. Wily?!” I shouted, face contorting with rage. I charged the Mega Buster.

    “Mega Boy,” he said with disgust. “This is the worst time I could have met you. Rejoice! I shall not take your life today... there is a bitter issue at hand.”

    “You’re lying! You’re probably behind this!”

    “Believe what you will. Look.”

    It started walking towards us. Laughing. Mocking. A low chuckle at first, before making a crescendo to an insane cackling, laughing straight from the belly.

    “Good... good... GOOD! Mega Man, I’m so glad you could join me as well!”

    “...Bubble Man..?!”

    “Yes, it’s me. Remember?”

    “So you are behind this after all...” I said to Wily through clenched teeth.

    “Wow, partner, you made a Pact to beat this imbecile?!” an unusually pure voice said from inside his cloak.

    “He’s usually smarter than this,” Dr. Wily said, scratching his mustache.

    “What do you mean?!” I shouted at him, flailing my arm cannon towards his head. Dr. Wily looked me dead in the eyes, mirroring my hatred right back at me.

    “We’re fighting.”

    “Fighting? I’m ANNIHILATING! Wily, you could have joined us... your pride will be your downfall. And Mega Man... you know how HUMILIATING it was to be beaten by your Metal Blades?”

 

    I switched to my Metal Blades. I felt it in the air, first, a release of blood thirst the likes of which I have never seen... and then I saw Bubble Man fly towards me at incredibly high speed. However, Gloria Mors was pumping through my circuits. I jumped to the side, firing three Metal Blades at him. He jumped up to try to dodge, but one clipped his foot. A barrage of bubbles came at me, as if I was being carpet bombed by an entire army. Ducking and weaving between the bubbles was very difficult, but as the barrage ended, Bubble Man came flying at me with a dropkick. I quickly switched to the Skull Barrier, but it barely held the impact, sending me flying towards a tree.

    “Heh... heheheheheheheHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHA!!!!! What’s the matter? What’s the matter?!”

    Bubble Man charged me again, but was stopped by a wall of black flame. I looked in anger to Dr. Wily... but he wasn’t there. It was a young albino boy wearing a simple white tunic.

    “Another one joins the party?!”

    “I am a paired blade,” the albino boy and a voice from behind me said. I turned behind me, to see Dr. Wily holding a scythe. The scythe seemed to speak. “My name is Lucifer. I will become the prince of the underworld. Bubble Man, you made two mistakes.”

    The boy’s voice was clear, like a bell, and spoke with the cocky bravado of a teenager thinking they were immortal... but with undertones of something darker.

    “First, you used Cerberus as an image. You mock the underworld by claiming to control what is mine. Second,” Lucifer said, gesturing towards Wily.

    “Second, you may have been created by Light, but it was I who modified you for combat. You are my peon, Bubble Man.”

    “YOU?! How did that go for you, Wily?! HOOOOOOOW did you do as my superior? You’re an old man who plays second fiddle to Dr. Light?”

    “Mega Man,” Wily said to me, voice burning with unmitigated hatred.

    “What?” I responded.

    “I demand a truce.”

    “You can’t ma-” I began to protest, before it dawned on me. “You... alright.”

    Right. It was right in front of me, all along. Bubble Man was a Binder now, and Wily had nothing to do with it. Bubble Man wanted Wily to join him, but Wily refused. Bubble Man was responsible for this pocket world we found ourselves in. It frustrated me beyond belief to admit it, but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected here.

    “Just this once,” I answered. It hurt to acknowledge... but Dr. Wily was in the right here.

    “Hey, isn’t that great, partner? Your useless mortal enemy has joined us!”

    “Who’s useless?” Wily asked, “he beat you, too, brat.”

    Lucifer chuckled. “You pick a fight with me, the only time I have a physical body to beat you with. You’re lucky I hate him more.”

 

    “HEY!!” Bubble Man said, launching another barrage at us and rushing to follow up with the bubbles. He was charging directly for Lucifer. Wily stepped forwards, waving his scythe to knock the bubbles aside before jumping straight up, allowing Lucifer to launch a beam of dark energy. Bubble Man launched a bubble at the beam, causing a massive explosion of hellfire and steam. I wasted no time, launching Magnet Missile after Magnet Missile.

    Bubble Man tried to dodge -- but the Magnet Missiles will follow until they hit their target. He attempted to raise a barrier, but found himself attacked by Wily, brandishing his scythe. A brief melee ensued, with Bubble Man punching and kicking frantically to deal with Wily’s sweeping slashes and quick jabs with the handle. Wily flew to the side with a burst of speed, allowing the Magnet Missiles to connect. Lucifer launched another beam of hellfire at Bubble Man, causing him to cry out in pain.

    “See, Bubble Man, you choose your locations poorly,” Wily said, smirking. “There’s no health capsules you can get here. All you can do is defend.”

    “Oh?! And you think you know my powers?” Bubble Man said. “SORRY, BUT TOO BAD!”

    He created a massive bubble, quickly expanding out from him and pushing all of us to the ground. It exploded, sending shooting pain through my circuits. I saw Bubble Man fly towards him immediately. I pulled out Item-2, creating a rocket propelled platform, and aimed it where Bubble Man would intercept it. I pushed most of Gloria Mors’ power into it. My body was aching throughout, and without Gloria Mors I was barely able to move. However, fractions of a second before Bubble Man was to connect with a punch on Wily, the platform made contact first, hitting him directly in the head and sending him flying. Wily stood up, brushing himself off.

 

    “UGH... what now?” Bubble Man said in a defeated tone, laying prone on the ground.

    “You’re off the hook...” he said, standing up effortlessly. I looked in horror. He was still able to move. “Boss called in. We still have more stuff to do. We’ll finish this later. Oh, and Wily? Tell me who’s the peon now.”

    The tendrils from up above all slithered down, as if eldritch sea snakes, wrapping around Bubble Man as he was laughing maniacally. As they did so, the blackness disappeared, leaving only the three of us, badly injured and laying on the ground. Lucifer sighed, before transforming back into a small, hand-held scythe with a poof. Wily crawled over, picking it up.

    “I’ll take my leave now, Mega Boy,” Wily said smugly. “We did declare a truce. But know this -- we were the stronger party, here.”

    Wily drew a door on the ground with Lucifer, limply dragging himself through and closing the door to the underworld behind him. I just looked up at the sky, with my body sore and unresponsive, and health meter dangerously low.

    “Mega Man... what was that?”

 

Chapter Text

    It’s unfortunate, really. Really, really unfortunate. I can think of no other way to describe the events that have unfolded. My beloved mentor had taken in this... robot. Sure, he was famous before, but what value does Mars have out of a Binder who barely knows how their ability works? Then, this boy brings in his sister to see us, because they got attacked by Bubble Man?

    No, for starters, what makes me angriest is the fact that it was Bubble Man. It’s me who is the master of bubbles. Mrs. Evacher was the most strict and horrifying teacher one could imagine, facing me off against supernatural beasts, space pirates, and everything. I was only 11 when I was abducted by UFOs, being saved by that beautiful lich, pledging myself to whatever it was she stood for. Yes, I’m human, but I’m a Martian first.

    So, I’m trained by the ambassador from Mars, right? And now Mega Man gets beaten worse from Bubble Man than I did to him. Of course I held back, but... the way he went around the next day like it’s nothing... was he mocking me? Why isn’t he scared of me?! It’s so irritating. I fumed to myself a bit in the bathroom, before taking a deep breath in to bury it.

    I’m scary, I know this. But scary isn’t what finds you love.

 

    I gathered my courage as I headed towards the Student Council room, knocking meekly twice. I heard a shuffling, then the door opening in. She was there!

    “Brittany, hello!”

    “Oh, hi... Claire, was it?”

    She remembered my name! I was in bliss.

    “Yes, yes, I’m glad you remember! Remembered... um, so, I was in the area and heard you working, and-”

    “You heard me?”

    “It’s quiet,” I explained.

    “Ah... well, I appreciate it, but I can’t really accept help right now. I’m dealing with budget proposals and outsiders aren’t allowed to look.”

    “Oh,” I said, dejected.

    “...but, if you really want to help, could you deliver these to the president? He should be in the staff lounge... but don’t open the envelope, though.”

    I accepted it with the same pride a Martian boy accepts their new dunerider. I nodded to her, and skipped off towards the staff lounge. As I turned a corner, though, I collided with somebody. Rubbing my forehead, I looked up -- it was someone I’d never seen before, and the student council president.

 

    “Watch where you’re going, Claire,” the president spat.

    “Now, now... she collided with me, right? I wouldn’t want to start any problems,” the other man said, “I mean, if, well, you can do what you want, but...”

    The student council president was an exception. It does not bare to specify what he is an exception to, just that he is an exception to everything. Standing at 6’3”, and seemingly being pure muscle, with skin that was utter perfection, black hair neatly kept, and cold blue eyes behind glasses that acted as windows to a cunning and brilliant mind. Everything about him seemed like something beyond what humans were capable of, without ever flaunting the fact.

    His election was a sham; nobody ran against him. Efficiency, he stated, was his platform - he would run a system that worked for everyone. Unlike many politicians, however, he delivered, much to the chagrin of the student body. He was feared as he was despised, a person who performed so well that it was almost comical. One of the top minds in all of the world, one of the most physically adept, a brilliant speaker, and he chose to be here?

    And this other person... I’d never seen him before. Taller, yet more slim. 6’6” maybe..? He was strikingly beautiful. His long, white hair was very soft, as were his brown eyes. His mannerisms, and expressions were that of someone deeply afraid to speak. A soft flower that needed protection. The contrast between the harsh and monstrous president, and the angelic waif that accompanied him...

    “Ah, sorry,” he said again, “I must be boring you. I’ll... just, Andreas, please call me when this is dealt with.”

    He attempted to slink back into the room, but the president blocked with his arm. He practically jumped back at it.

    “Avery, you have no reason to hide. She is also a binder, can you not tell?”

    The hairs on my arm went on edge. I called Neovridh to my side, picturing my entire body as bubbles. The man called Avery seemed to breath in, absorbing the weight of the world. He turned to me, with the same frightened and gentle expression.

    “Are you really?”

    I am not much of a poet myself, but when faced with this... I felt cornered. This was a crossroads. I am not sure what about this situation caused so much fear in myself, I have faced against beasts... I have spoken to dragons... dammit.

    “Please answer me, dear stranger,” he said gently. The air was heavy. He had not moved at all, and yet the entire world had imperceptibly changed. I was the prey. I was an ant, insignificant, daring to look up to something beyond my comprehension. I could not even muster the strength to do that, though. I fell to my knees, staring at the ground.

    “You’ve been asked a question,” the president said coldly. Avery let out a startled yelp, and I felt all of the pressure leave.

    “I’m so, so, so, sorry! Are you okay?” he said, reaching down. I hesitantly grabbed his hand. It was very soft as he pulled me up.

    “When I hear about new binders... I get so frightened, sometimes, that I let my aura loose. It must have been scary to see what a real binder is capable of. Is your pact new?”

    I clenched my fist, but before I was about to fire back, I remembered the fear I felt. This man wasn’t looking down on me as a joke.

    “What are you?”

    He laughed gently. His voice was beautiful, like a bell.

    “My name is Avery. We may meet again, in the future. You should join this school’s student council!”

    Avery turned away, walking towards the corridor, waving his arm to call the president - Andreas - over. Before he did, though, I handed the paper over to him. He looked up to me with confusion, before recognizing it. He chuckled.

    “My apologies, Claire Beaumont. I seem to have misjudged you. You were running an errand on Brittany’s behalf.”

    With that, the two exceptions headed towards the courtyard. I could see a limousine parked in front, and I just blinked, pinching myself. Numbed, I headed back towards the classroom. As the chilling fear of death left me, my inner heat flared up again. If that was the level I had to reach to be a True Binder , then damn it, I’ll make it there. I punched the wall in fury. Who the hell do they think I am?! Just an errand girl? Someone to do work?

    I couldn’t see Brittany in this state. No, absolutely not. I am Claire Beaumont, Dragontamer. I do not just handle paperwork for someone else. I opened the door, feeling myself be relaxed by the calming visage of my master. I looked over at Pierre and Mega Man, who were chatting about nonsense. Loki was on the table, sipping tea, and Roll was in the back doing nothing.

 

    “Okay, sorry I’m late. I had a thing I needed to do.”

    I sat down. As I did so, I witnessed the rest of the room grow silent.

    “Is something the matter, Claire?” Mrs. Evacher asked. I considered telling her, but I couldn’t. It would be embarrassing to her as a teacher to know how weak I was then.

    “I’m just in a bad mood. We need to get stronger.”

    “Oh, of course. I was just thinking about a training plan for you three, over the weekend” she said.

    “Pierre, first, we will discuss ways to use your barriers abstractly. Since you have a very strong ability, I take it that you have no power from the Pact itself?”

    “Not exactly,” the Haitian said. “Loki grants me a great deal of power, but I can not increase it. I can only increase my own ability, or get better at using it.”

    “I see,” she said.

    “If you want to increase it, all you got to do is hunt down the other guys I gave power,” Loki said.

    “Why would you come up with such a convoluted system?” Mega Man asked.

    “Are you familiar with Norse mythology?”

    “Fair point,” he conceded.

    “Anyway, Pierre, I have some abstract concepts I want you to do with barriers and see how many you can do over the weekend. It’s all in this folder.”

    “Claire, I’m not sure how to train you here besides the very basics... we need to improve the strength of your Pact.”

    “’sfine,” I mumbled. I knew she was right. Neovridh was very strong, but I was not using a lot of its power, as my body simply couldn’t handle it. My technique was excellent, but it is just a matter of trying to get more from Neovridh. As always, the wisdom of Mrs. Evacher comes through.

    “And, Mega Man, since you’re special, I will be going in more depth with you.”

    “What do you mean, special,” I spat.

    “Claire.. I mean, his raw power is incredible, but we know very little about his Pact. He’s yet to even communicate with it, let alone probing his own power.”

    “He’s incredible?”

    “Please, you’re being unreasonable here,” Pierre said. I glared at him. He looked to the side nervously. Gripping the table with all my strength, I stood up, facing Mega Man head on. I see. It’s because he’s made a Pact with a lich, too. It makes sense, she can teach him better since she knows. I see. Because he’s lucky, he gets preferential treatment. What’s so good about him, anyway? He’s weak. Just when I thought he was getting serious he was taken down with one punch.

    “Mega Man, I have only accepted you as a prospective Binder. You are a baby. You are a caterpillar that has yet to grow wings. You are not, and will never be my equal.” I stormed out of the room. Mrs. Evacher called out to me, but I didn’t hear the words. If I knew, I would feel guilty.

 

    In the home economics room, I looked down at the burner. I’m a Dragontamer. I have the flame of dragons in my blood. It’s not fair. Why does she give him preferential treatment? She’s practically my mother, now, and here she is taking in a stray orphan and ignoring her daughter. The door opened. Electricity sparked from my fingers as I shot a death glare at it. Roll. She gave a whimper, and closed the door behind her.

    “What do you want?!” I shouted. “Make it quick, and leave.”

    “Um, Ms. Beaumont,” Roll said, “I’d just like to cook for you. Do you mind? I can only relax when I’m cooking.”

    A bitter chuckle forced itself out. She’s going to cook for me to appease me? Well, I suppose I don’t have a problem with her, per se. It’s not her fault she’s related to Mega Man. I nodded, and she got to work, taking ingredients out of a special Backpack of Holding that Dr. Light made for her.

    “So, I’ll be cooking ratatouille for you... not like the movie, but the stew. It’s a French dish, and you’re French, right?”

    “Yeah, but it was only for a few years before I was abducted.”

    “...alright.” It seemed like she wanted to say more, but she held it in.

    There was the sounds of her rhythmically chopping vegetables. It was actually pretty damn fast, I tried cooking before but it takes me forever to prep these cuts. Even Mrs. Evacher was slower than that.

    “So, Mega Man, right? We’re related, sort of... Dr. Light made us to be. He made us siblings, but,” she said after nearly half an hour of silence, pausing for a moment, “promise not to tell?”

    “Sure, whatever.”

    “I’m not worthy to be his sister. I'm too weak. I mean, we have the same drive to help people, and everything... but Mega Man is so brave and flexible! He just, he runs into danger to help people without a second thought. I want to run a hospital for free and do what I can, but I still need to train so much to get there... but Mega Man, he doesn’t think about what he needs to do, he just does it. How does he have so much confidence, I wonder?”

    “It’s a fool’s confidence,” I said bitterly. “He doesn’t know his limits and thinks he’s better than he is.”

    “Do you know how many times he’s died?”

    “What..?”

    “He puts himself in grave danger, in these terrifying death traps, and he gets destroyed over and over. But he collects spare parts to rebuild himself, and he just goes back in. I used to get nervous just cutting vegetables that I might cut myself,” she said, laughing sarcastically.

    “That’s why we have different names. I’m not worthy to be his sister, right now. I’m too scared. Even now, with these binds and pacts, I don’t know what any of this is. All I can hope to do is be there to morally support him.”

    “Is that what you’re trying to do, now? You cook for me, and tell me this sob story, and now I’ll like him?!”

    “No, I’m just trying to cook for you. Plus, I needed to cook it somewhere anyway. The leftovers are the best part.”

    There were sounds of vegetables cooking, a warm crackling. The freshness of the vegetables was pleasing, and I did skip lunch, so I didn’t protest. She continued chopping other things... herbs, maybe? I just sat there in one of the chairs, mulling over what she told me.

 

    “So, what, he just built his body up and ran back in?”

    “Yeah,” Roll said cheerfully, “he would say if he didn’t do it, nobody else would.”

    So... that’s why he wasn’t so traumatized by being beaten to a pulp by me and Bubble Man. Wait, what am I thinking? Why am I just going along with this?

    “But it’s more than that, I think,” Roll continued, “it’s not just about saving people. He wants people to be more comfortable with robots. He wants to show that when they are used for bad, they can do good things as well, I think. He just wants us to live together in peace as equals.”

    I kicked the ground, looking away from Roll. She placed all of the vegetables and things into a pot together, and sprinkled in what else she was cooking. By now, it smelled delicious. She poured some vinegar in, before grating lemon zest on top and salting a touch more. She stirred it around a bit more, removing some things from the pot, and plated it for me.

    I took a bite. Usually, I have spicier food than this, but this was bright and delicious. Browned parts of the vegetables provided a very strong savory flavour while the acidity from a touch of balsamic vinegar, the tomatoes, and a touch of lemon zest made the sweet and earthy tones of the eggplant and squash pop. There was a subtle undercurrent of salt, and the herbs brought this a tremendous depth of flavour. It was warm, evoking the summer harvest and the hospitality of farmers. I looked up at her in surprise.

    “What makes this dish special,” Roll said, “is the way it treats ingredients. Everything is cooked differently, before being brought together, so that each individual thing can shine. When it all comes together, it becomes greater than the whole of its parts. It shows a real love for the vegetables.”

    Tears came to my eyes as I realized what she meant. I continued to eat it, finishing off the bowl, and handing it to her.

    “Roll,” I said, wiping my eyes a bit, “you’re wrong about one thing.”

    “What do you mean?” she asked, astonished. I smiled at her, and put my hand on her shoulder affectionately.

    “You’re not weaker than your brother, not one bit.”

 

Chapter Text

    I am still not used to vampirism. I have grown somewhat used to the life of the hell-aristocracy, enjoying the lavish rooms decorated with skulls(a particular favourite of my decor, when I created my lairs). However, the fact that I need certain amounts of blood to survive was something quite new to me. My partner’s incessant complaints about my conduct are no help, either, and even thinking something negative towards him would provoke a complaint.

    “If you have a problem with it,” Lucifer chided, “then fix your ungraceful conduct, Wily. You are eternally in the presence of royalty and divinity.”

    Lucifer, as of late, has taken to walking around with his body. Unlike most Binders, I do not have any sort of a Pact with Lucifer himself... since Lucifer exists twice in this universe, I have a Pact with both of them. This odd technicality allows Lucifer to exist as an independent entity while still sharing power.

    “Oh, you’re in a good mood,” I pointed out, taking another bite of the pasta.

    “The food we’re eating is good, so I am content.”

    “You honour me too much, my liege,” our new butler, Anton said, bowing. Until I am strong enough to resist all poisons all our meals must be prepared by screened butlers, under the supervision of demonic forces. Many of these meals, while nutritionally filling(and blood-infused), were quite plant. Anton was one of the few with an attention to nutrition and flavour.

    “So, do we have more criminals?” I asked.

    “This next guy is a real piece of work!” Lucifer shot up, red eyes gleaming with excitement. “Tried to bomb an embassy of his home country, just because he thinks his home country should not consort with anyone else!”

    “Punishment is justified, then.”

    Contrary to popular belief, Hell does not consort itself with arbitrary or random punishment of people. That’s sort of a Daemonic Alliance thing, or maybe the Inferno Accord, or any number of the factions I do not know as well. There are over a dozen different organizations that claim the underworld as home, and Hell is among the most fair. They pride themselves on punishing wrong-doers, and take an odd sort of pleasure in concocting fitting punishments.

    “Sadism, when put to a good end, is ultimately good for everyone,” Lucifer asserted. “We may be seen as the scum of the Earth, but we fill a necessary role. And the truly deranged can be rehabilitated to punish the wicked. It’s such a beautifully ran system. I am a genius.”

    “Come back to me about genius when you’re able to create a probabilistic collapsing time machine,” I rebuked, taking another fork of the pasta.

    My specific strain of vampirism has two facets to it which make it unique above the regular strain: one, I am a day-walker. I gain no extra power from my dark blood in sunlight, but I am not harmed by it either. Two, I can “suck” the youth out of people, or “push” it back, to change my age. While I miss my mustache, I can not deny that the physical improvement of being young again is worth it.

    “Hm, just think, men and women alike around the world would give anything for this ability.”

    “Ooh, yeah,” Lucifer said, giggling, “we could probably leverage that. Regain your youth! Just sign here!”

    I laughed. “Anton, by the way, is my laboratory ready?”

    “Not yet, my liege, give it another day.”

    “Very well.”

    I looked out the gold-adorned window at the seas of damned souls and lava, taking another bite of the pasta. It really was good pasta.


    There is little that I care less about than gossip. A way to elevate simple gossip into something truly unrefined is to add gossip in with unconfirmed rumours. So started an ordinary Wednesday, one free from the usual Binder struggles and pain. Curiously, Claire had eased up on her harsh stance against me as of late, and we began preparing in earnest for a competition up ahead: the Extradimensional Academic Exhibition, or EAE for short.

    Instead of having to deal with being attacked and verbally assaulted, I instead have to deal with people discussing how attractive the foreign exchange students are. I stood up in silent protest, and went towards the tea preparation clubroom for lunch.

    As I approached the door, however, I saw two rough looking men in suits watching the door. I attempted to brush past them to go in, but one of them stopped me. I was not trying to cause a scene, so I stood there - looking through a crack in the door, I saw the student council president.

    “You won’t join us? Claire, Claire, Claire...” he said, in a rich baritone voice. “You do know that I have the license for representing Earth, right? You’ll miss out on a chance to prove yourself. And with my talent, I’ll easily make it into the finals.”

    Claire spotted me through the door, and her eyes darted away from mine defiantly.

    “I said no. I won’t be your sidekick. I am a Dragontamer, the chosen disciple of Lady Evacher, and someone far above being the lackey for a human.”

    “A human?!” he paused, before adjusting his tie and glaring at her -- though he was facing away, I could feel it all the same.

    “Very well, you have your answer. Wallow in mediocrity, Claire Beaumont.”

    He stormed out of the room, pausing briefly to glance me up and down, before walking away. His bodyguards followed closely after. I waited until they were out of sight before entering the room.

    “Mega Man,” Claire said, clearly fuming in a corner. I could not imagine what was going through her mind at the moment.

    “The atmosphere is tense,” Pierre said as he walked past me, sitting in one of the chairs and ignoring Claire repeatedly balling her hands into fists in the corner.

    “The student council president wanted Claire for something,” I explained.

    “He’s also a binder,” Claire explained, “a pathetic one. He thinks he can win the tournament all by himself and wants someone to do the work of the early stages for him so he doesn’t have to show up.”

    “Is he really that strong?” Pierre asked.

    “I could destroy him. I will destroy him. We just need someone to vouch for us... so, when Lady Evacher comes... Mega Man, you will be joining me.”

    “I will?” I asked, before meeting a death glare that could rival the president’s. “Er, which was, it was a joke. Of course I will.”

    I wasn’t lying, I had been preparing for the exact thing. The tournament had people representing a celestial faction, such as Earth, on behalf of their academic institution, such as Venice High. In other words, him representing for Earth means we couldn’t register as that. We would instead need to represent... Mars? I was not too sure of the cosmological factions.

    Regardless of bureaucratic red tape, I felt akin to Claire in that moment. The sheer arrogance exuded by the president irked me. He did not ask for Claire’s help as an equal, just as something to be used to further his whims. No, I would absolutely be entering-

    As I was deep in thought, I felt a door slam in the side of my head. I fell back onto my bottom in shock, rubbing the sore part. Mrs. Evacher flew in with reckless abandon, wailing in distress and slapping a paper down onto the table.

    “What is it?” I asked, from the floor.

    “It’s.. Mars. They denied my request for representation as they already have a team.”

    “What?!” Claire said, “no, that can’t be true! Who do they have stronger than I?!”

    “It’s... it’s some new binder prodigy or something. I’m sorry Claire.”

    “SOUNDS TO ME,” Loki said, popping out of Pierre’s hat, “like you need an ALTERNATIVE ENTRY POINT!”

 

    “We’re not smuggling ourselves in, Loki,” Pierre said.

    “No, no, why do you think I would do th- ah, right. I would do that. No,” Loki said, slapping his ferret face, “no, you will be representing something else entirely. Valhalla!”

    “Valhalla? Can we do that?” Mrs. Evacher asked. “Didn’t you say you couldn’t make an alliance with us since you were just a ferret?”

    “Well, I lied. Besides, Mega over here has his Pact from Odin, and you have the express permission from a Norse God...”

    Her eyes went wide. Claire clapped her hands together and raised her fist to the sky, grinning ear to ear.

    “Thank you, Loki, this means so much to me,” Mrs. Evacher said. “Claire, we can go!”

    “Nuh, uh... not so fast. Pierre has to be listed as a support, so that I can watch myself. And maybe do other things.”

    “Oh, sure?” Mrs. Evacher said. “We were going to do that anyway. ”

    “Balls,” Loki said. “I could have asked for more. Well, a deal’s a deal! Let’s go!”

    I brushed the dirt off myself as I stood up.

    “Why are you on the floor, Mega Man?” Mrs. Evacher asked. “Well, no mind. The registration is in 15 minutes, but we can get it in earlier. A representative of the EAC’s Elite will be supervising, so we can just verbally sign in, provided we can get a deity to vouch for us.”

    “Who is the deity for Earth?” I asked.

    “None, which is why it’s first come first serve,” Claire said. “He probably knew someone high up enough to pre-register before it was officially announced.”

    “Scumbag...” Pierre whispered under his breath. We headed towards the gymnasium. A magical barrier was erected around it, much weaker than Pierre’s, but a barrier nonetheless. Pierre chuckled from behind me.

    “Ah, very well. So it will be as written, with no changes to lineup. Okay,” an angelic voice rang out. Looking inside, I saw the student council president, along with his vice president. He was speaking up to an incredibly tall, waifish looking boy.

    “Um, who are you?” He said, voice trailing off until it was barely a whisper.

    “Have you come to protest?!” the president snapped, turning towards us with violence in his eyes. “Too bad! I’ve already registered!”

    “No, we’ve come to verbally register,” Mrs. Evacher said.

    “Oh, but isn’t it too bad, Mars has another candidate, you know?”

    “No, we come representing Valhalla, on behest of the Norse god Loki.”

    “That’s right! And these guys, my champions, are going to cause a big stir!” Loki said proudly.

    “A... a talking ferret,” the waifish boy said, taking a deep breath in. “Mr. Ferret, excuse me, but can you prove yourself to be Loki?”

    “You can see aura, can you not? Just look, boy.”

 

    Everyone in the room, save for Pierre and I looked at Loki. Mrs. Evacher took a step back in shock, breathing heavily. The president balled his fists so hard his knuckles were white, eyes completely opened. The vice president fell over, kicking back towards the wall. Claire hid behind Mrs. Evacher. Only the waifish boy, myself, and Pierre were unaffected.

    “I... see. Well, I hope you aren’t too mad at me,” he said, looking down at the president, “but this is a valid registration.”

    “W-what do you mean, Avery! This is an outrage!” the president retorted. Again, I felt a shocking pain as the gymnasium door opened abruptly, hitting me in the back of my head.

    “Ah, good, we aren’t too late. You fool, you gave terrible directions,” a cocky and bratty sounding boy said.

    “It’s not my fault,” a man with a gravelly voice responded. “And you were the one who told me not to bother talking to mortals.”

    “They know nothing!” the other retorted. I had heard his voice before. I looked up from the ground to see... an albino boy wearing a white tunic with black highlights, and ripped black jeans, as well as an older boy wearing blue jeans and a dress shirt. I’ve seen the boy before.

    “Dr. Wily, and Lucifer, are requesting entrance on behalf of Venice High, supporting Hell. Here, the prince of Hell, Lucifer, comes to vouch.”

    “Yeah!” he said.

    “Very well,” Avery said in hushed tones. “I accept.”

    “Now, where is that blue oaf, Mega Man?!” the older boy said, stepping towards the president.

    “He’s, um, you hit him on the way in. He’s on the ground.”

    “Wily..?” I said, looking up at the older boy. True, he did have Wily’s nose.

    “MEGA BOY! See how you are on the ground?! I will force you then again in the finals of this tournament, and I will make you KNEEL to me!” he said, spitting on me. Lucifer walked up to me, bending over to look me in the eyes, and then laughed.

    “He knows how to use my power now, Mega Man,” Lucifer goaded. “You will know true despair when you face us.”

    “They won’t be in the finals,” the vice president said. “We will!”

    Lucifer looked at him in confusion.

    “Wily, who are these mortals?”

    “I’m not sure... I thought Mega Man was the only binder here,” he said, rubbing at his face. “Damn... so there’s some small fry to beat up on the way. So what?”

    “Wily, why are you here?” I asked, feeling the flames of my anger overtake my confusion.

    “Originally, my plan was just to DESTROY you down to every last bolt. But then I thought, every time you have defeated me, you forced me to kneel before you and beg for mercy. And I took it, living again, swearing revenge. Now... now I am far greater than you. I will force you to kneel. And I will not show you mercy.”

    “On behalf of Venice High,” Mrs. Evacher said, “representing Valhalla, we field Mega Man Light, and Claire Beaumont, with support by Pierre Joseph and Roll Hades.”

    “I accept...” he said, slumping against his chair. “This much excitement is bad for my heart... you know..? Um, did I do okay?” he said, looking up to Mrs. Evacher with a pleading look.

    “Yes, you did..?” she replied

    “Oh, thank heavens.”

    “Listen here,” the president said, walking up to Wily and Lucifer. “I don’t care who you are. You are just another stepping stone to me. Do not ever say these pawns will be in the finals with you again, or you will face my wrath.”

    “Hey, excuse me,” Avery said.

    It wasn’t spoken in anger, or rage, it was a declaration. A simple fact. Wily chuckled.

    “Mega Man is the only one who has ever defeated me. Why would I be afraid of you?”

    “Excuse me!” Avery said. Everyone looked up at him, and he looked down at the floor, coughing nervously. “One second, please... let me gather myself.”

    A horrendously awkward 13 seconds passed, before Avery looked up again... then down again at the floor. Once again he looked up:

 

    “Please settle this in the tournament. If you are damaged before the tournament begins, it will reflect poorly on me... and I really don’t want to be yelled at.”

    The president clicked his tongue in disgust, marching out of the school building where a limousine was waiting for him. Wily laughed, a giggle at first, then from the belly. He walked out, hands in his pocket. Lucifer followed after him, before turning to lift myself up to his eye level.

    “Mega Man... show me an improvement in our match, or I will claim your soul for Hell and punish you myself.”

    He threw me down onto the ground, and His hands were surprisingly soft. I did not resist just out of pure confusion. Claire helped me back up, looking out at the open door. Lunch period was almost over... but classes after this would feel pointless.

    “Wait, why did you list Roll as support?” I asked Mrs. Evacher.

    “She would be furious if we didn’t bring her along.”

    “That’s true!” Claire said, “Master Roll would totally!”

    ...Master Roll..?

 

Chapter Text

    Pierre slammed a binder(the book type, not the Pact type) onto the table triumphantly. His eyes were even more tired looking than before. The ambiance of the ordinary tea preparation room was completely destroyed, with Roll and Claire stopping their chatter to look up, and even Mrs. Evacher’s eyeholes ignited in curiosity. The pitter-patter of little feet accompanied the loud thump, with Loki opening up the binder.

    “Here we are:” Pierre said, “representing Valhalla for Venice High on behalf of Loki. Claire Beaumont, and Mega Man Light, with support from Roll Hades and Pierre Joseph.”

    “Okay..?” Claire asked, somewhat irritated.

    “I have data on all of the teams that analysts are speculating to be in the top of the tournament. We are listed as the sixth most likely to win.”

    “Sixth? Who’s ahead of us?”

    “Number 1, representing the House of Shadows for Piht Remedial High on behalf of Yieve, Yieve and Jozef Jozak. Jozef Jozak is a melee type person with the ability to manifest weapons. Yieve is the prodigal princess of the House of Shadows.”

    “You’re kidding! Can she even enter?” I asked.

    “Yes, Mega Man,” Pierre said in his sonorous baritone, “she absorbed the being she made a Pact with, but she is a binder nonetheless.”

    “Absorbed..?” Roll asked.

    “You know how we work, right? We borrow power from supernatural entities to use special abilities,”

    Claire explained. “If you overpower the being you borrow power from, you use it to flavour your own power. It’s a minor change, but it means you never need to worry about disagreeing with your entity.”

    “I see...” Roll said, clearly not understanding.

    “It’s said that Yieve is almost as strong as Avery,” Loki said. “Remember? The pretty one?”

    “Loki, do not tell them... that was bet- ah,” Pierre said, before clearing his throat. “Number 2, on behalf of Earth, representing Venice High, Andreas Andersen, and Jason Triceshield. The student council president and vice president. Andreas Andersen is an Aasimar, a half angel. His ability is rather useless, but his raw power is terrifying, and he is a very competent mage.”

    “We don’t have a mage, do we?” I asked.

    “Magic is for wimps,” Claire said proudly.

    Mrs. Evacher looked like she was to say something, but then decided against it.

    “Number three, representing the third district of Antimo for Master Xemia’s Swordfighting Academy, on behalf of Master Xemia, Texu Enschtriika Sen, and Afri Qulriika Sen. Despite saying they are a swordfighting academy, the two use a very bizarre style of combat.”

    “Are they brothers and sisters?” Roll asked.

    “No, antimine surnames are in the middle. The last part represents their house,” Mrs. Evacher said.

    “So confusing...”

    “Number four, representing Mars for Artemovich Culinary School on behalf of the Martian Development Council, Frog Kenczia and Ashley Totora. Yes, they are adopted siblings. Frog is a mage, and Ashley uses her unique pact and summoning abilities to fight.”

    “A culinary school?” Claire said. “We got beat by a culinary school?!”

    “Um, Claire... remember the dark haired girl who could freeze things in time?”

    Claire froze for a moment, eyes widening, and I watched as she visibly deflated.

    “Finally, Number five, representing Hell for Venice High on behalf of Lucifer and Satan, Lucifer and Wily. We know these guys very well.”

    “So... all of these people are to watch out for?”

    “Yeah, it looks like,” Pierre said. “I’m most afraid of Yieve, legends say she is very unpredictable. Nobody has seen her use her power in fights. Aside from that, though, Frog and Ashley are frightening because of their combination attacks. Not much is known about Texu Enschtriika and Afri Qulriika, but Master Xemia was a well regarded Antimine supersoldier.”

    “You did all that yesterday night?” I asked, putting my arm around Pierre.

    “Heh... yeah,” Pierre said. “I’m the support.”

    “And I! Am! Your! Sponsor!” Loki shouted. “So, let’s get down to the rubs. Mega Man, if you win, I want you to read a message in a bottle.”

    “No, I won’t do that.”

    “What? How come?!”

    “That was not an initial condition, and I don’t trust any message in a bottle from you.”

    “Why are you so cold to me, Mega Man! Remember the good times we had together?”

    “You empowered a version of myself with a dangerous ability and told him to fight me to the death,” I pointed out.

    Loki rubbed his fur a little bit, wriggling in and out of the holes of the binder.

    “You win this round, Mega Man.”

 

    “So, the tournament is structured, how?” Mrs. Evacher asked.

    “Well, there is a preliminary round where they try to weed as many teams as possible. I’m not sure what it will be, but only the top 16 teams are permitted in the tournament, whereupon they will be doing single elimination battles.”

    “I see..” I said. I was not sure how my experience would match up, my only time I’ve fought against another Binder was when Dr. Wily first attacked me, and latter versus Bubble Man. The gap between our abilities was so massive it was nearly inconceivable; it was a mystery to me how I would come out ahead. I paused for a moment, rising up to put a CD into the speaker I had brought into the room.

    The shelving was messy as we had not cleared out the previous clubroom’s things, and in fact we were not even an official club, we just creatively used Pierre’s barriers to prevent other people from entering. Still, I managed to push enough stuff to one corner to fit this speaker in. I played the Canadian Brass’s cover of Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor. This was a daily occurrence for me, as I do not think well without classical music playing.

    “Ooh, this is a new one,” Roll said.

    “Yes, I’ve just bought it. I haven’t been into Brass Quintets until recently, but with Bach this particular arrangement uses the various colours to separate the voices more clearly. It’s lovely.”

    “Mega Man,” Claire said, voice dripping with venom. “You should be listening to rap music.”

    “Geh... I’m... I’m not really a fan,” I said.

    “It’s cause you don’t know how to appreciate it. Well... it’s not like I care. I just listen to popular music to fit in.”

    I scratched my synthhair under my helmet. It’s true, I don’t appreciate it, nor do I know how to appreciate it. Has fate conspired to force me to indulge in my distaste? I looked up at the roof of the ceiling as the final notes of the Little Fugue rolled through the air. I still don’t really know why Claire dislikes me so much, but I am not willing to rock this boat while I’m in it. I never was a fan of water levels.


    Finally, with my workshop complete, I was free to work on my entrance. Anton had informed us that there was a preliminary round, for mine I worked with Lucifer to stage the greatest possible entrance -- we would use an army of artificial binders, teleport them in, and have them complete the preliminary for us. As I was preparing my first set of artificial binders, my ears were assaulted by a loud siren. I squinted my eyes in frustration as if that would help, and went outside.

    Satan was not in, he was busy contending with a border issue with the Void. Security was very lax at the moment as a result, though it did not seem to be an issue. Lucifer was in his separate chamber, still confined within a short distance of me.

    “Hey,” I said as I began punching in the codes for the vault doors, “why are you in your body?”

    “Is there a problem?!” he shot back.

    “No, but you said that having a body sucks. Did you change your mind?”

    “No, but I need to get used to moving this stupid thing. What was it.. the water guy?”

    “Bubble Man?”

    “Yeah. Forget Mega Man, that is the person I want to punish more than anything.”

    Finished with the third lock, the seven vault doors opened up, alternating between a counterclockwise, straight up-down, clockwise, two side doors, two diagonal doors, straight left-right, and radially. The different entrance mechanisms are primarily for aesthetics, but also to prevent people from easily using telekinesis to force the doors open.

    The shocking difference in heat was immediately noticeable, though I was used to it at first it still was never something that you could ignore. Torches lit with blue flame and adorned with skulls lit the Victorian architecture, with macabre paintings on the roof in a twisted perversion of the roof frescos that were so popular in the Renaissance.

    “What I want to know,” Lucifer said, pouting, “is when I grew into the taste of skulls everywhere. It’s tacky.”

    “Really? I think it’s great,” I said, walking down the hall, hands in my jean pockets. I admit, I have grown very fond of the pants since pretending to be a teenager to destroy Mega Man’s pride. I don’t know why I ever found them so distasteful. Minor devils were running down the hall in terror, scrambling around. The sounds of battle could be heard throughout the halls.

    “An invasion, now? And I thought the skulls were in bad taste.”

 

    “No kidding,” I mused as I watched one of the suits of armour go flying down our hall. There was a sudden rush of black tainted wind, a signal that Hastur was fighting with us. The Cthulhu Mythos, I believe, was where it came from. Lucifer was a fan of the novels and named the Devil Generals after the deities. Hastur was not a Devil General, but rather, the personal servant of Satan, who was seeing to the palace in his absence. I can’t say I’ve read them, but I can say that I am appreciating having learned the magic to shield my thoughts from him.

    “Back, now, hooded menace!” Hastur’s six heads shouted.

    “Uaow...” a female voice said. “When you put it that way, sure!”

    There was a loud crashing sound, and one chandelier came falling down into the ground, spilling jewels everywhere. I winced, imagining Satan’s outrage. He was very fond of these chandeliers.

    “Run for your lives, your majesty, and noble guest!” one of the minor devils screamed. Lucifer flicked him in the head.

    “What kind of overlord of Hell runs from one intruder?”

    “Ooh, you’re here!” the intruder said. Lucifer quickly shifted into attack mode, a very minor shift but one I had become accustomed to from our spars. I was very familiar with the heat of the black flame by now. I manifested the second of Lucifer’s blades, holding the scythe in my hand and reinforcing my body with magic to move more quickly.

    “So? What is it, mortal?” Lucifer asked, pulling his hands out of his own pockets, revealing the black flame on them.

    “Jeez, you’re agreeable. Though, I am a hostile invading force,” she said, hopping off Hastur. Two of its heads snapped at the air where she was in defiance, and it dusted itself off, standing proudly at 21 feet tall. Hastur, a six headed devil, used one head for each of the six major elements(fire, water, earth, wind, light, and dark) but significantly preferred wind and dark. Its ebony skin looked as if it was hewn from obsidian, and its muscles were not for show. The fact that she could fight Hastur at all made her a formidable opponent.

    “I’ve just come to say hello!”

    “Pardon?” I asked.

    “Hello!”

    “Is... Is that why you have made a mockery of us?!” Lucifer shouted, beginning to float as jets of black flame propelled him in the air. His eyes went completely black as he gritted his teeth.

    “Yeah... that’s just about it. Probably should have told you or something instead of fighting the guards... in retrospect, poor choice, maybes?”

    “Who are you?” I asked.

    “Forget who it is, Wily. She’s dead.”

 

    She looked down in surprise. She was dressed head to toe in a purple cloak that covered her entire body, and there was a charm to prevent anyone from seeing her face. Darkness seemed to obscure it entirely no matter how you looked. Still, her voice had a completely flippant tone to it that infuriated Lucifer to no end.

    “No I’m not..? Oh!” she said, clapping her hands in recognition. “You’re threatening to kill me!”

    “Are you mocking me EVEN NOW?!” Lucifer shot back.

    “No, no, of course not. I just sound like that, sometimes. I really just did come to say hello, you know. Actually, this is a poor first impression so I’m just going to leave and not reveal who I am, and we can start again, yes?”

    Lucifer responded by conjuring scythes at her quickly, before jumping into an incantation for a gravity altering spell. I felt a rush of air as she ran up to us incredibly fast, putting her hand on Lucifer.

    “Not yet. Not here,” she cooed, before stepping away. The darkness left Lucifer’s eyes as he dropped to the ground, falling on his hands and knees.

    “What... what are you..?”

    “You’ll never knoooow!” she said, spinning out of the hallway. “Bye, Hell!”




Chapter Text

    Finally, the day of leaving. The tournament was said to be held on Thip, this year, I gleamed by thumbing through the brochure. Incidentally, the best brochure-about-another-world-you-never-knew-existed reading music is Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor. Something about the dark tone of the sonata translates well to being bombarded with information that is filled with so many references to things that I’ve never heard of that it might as well be a dadaist poem.

    Pierre took the liberty of doing a bit more research, providing me with a summarized version of what the references entail -- a very concise 12 page document, on top of this brochure. So, the 30 minute runtime of the sonata was justified. Roll had prepared me tea at some point in the middle of it, but I was so engrossed in reading the web of references that I only noticed when the tea was starting to get cold.

    Thip, a giant planet roughly the size of Jupiter, is home to one of the most bizarre planets. Originally, Thip, Earth, Glarph, Sen, and Tyxius were the five planets that were protected from outside influence. Thip was the first to fall, when a scientist accidentally destroyed the barrier between worlds. Then was Sen, when it summoned a dragon by mistake. Tyxius and Glarph accidentally found each other, and it is constantly debated which of Tyxius or Glarph broke the agreement. Finally, the last remaining bastion of magic-less people was Earth.

    Thip is best known for its beautiful forests, and for the fact that it has more magic in it than any other place in the world. That is because the magic realm and the science realm were two separate planets, that merged together when the barrier was broken. Thip, though light on robotics, is almost as technologically advanced as Earth, with the strongest Magitek research in the multiverse.

    I rubbed my visual sensors. It was a lot to take in. I stretched a bit, wincing at the soreness of my left arm from practice, and headed downstairs. Roll was in the kitchen, preparing something.

    “Hi, Roll. Thanks for the tea, sorry I didn’t notice before,” I said.

    “Oh, it’s fine,” she said. “Ready to go to outer space or whatever?”

    “No, but the world moves on without me, so it’s better not be to be left behind.”

    I poured cereal into the bowl, then milk, as civilized people are wont to do. I’m not sure when exactly I came into the habit of using breakfast cereal as a snack, but it’s something I am quite fond of. Tomorrow was the big day.

 

    “Morning, Pierre,” I said to Pierre as I walked towards the tea preparation clubroom. He waved at me in greeting, yawning. He was carrying a very hefty suitcase. Claire was sitting in the corner of the hall, impatiently tapping her foot. She glanced up at me, then down again.

    “Hey, Pierre, does it bother you that the tiles of the floor pattern mismatch around corners?”

    Pierre grinned. “I thought I was the only one that noticed. The pattern, green, yellow, and teal, but around corners the pattern switches sometimes to be yellow, teal, and green.”

    “Do you think it was on purpose?”

    “No way man,” he said, “the mismatch is glaring. It has to be a mistake, or something they did because the hallways aren’t of uniform size.”

    “Mega Man,” Claire said, not directly looking at me. “Have you ever left Sol?”

    “Sol? The Solar system?”

    “Yeah,” Claire said, “we call it Sol, because Solar system is too long. Just some martian lingo for you.”

    “Erm, I went to the moon once, but that’s still within Sol,” I said, trying to adopt her terminology.

    “You’ll love Thip,” Pierre said. “It’s fantastic, there’s nothing like it. Nowhere in the multiverse.”

    “Aren’t you from Earth?” I asked.

    “Well, sort of, some things happened. It’s a long story, one I would prefer not to tell.”

    I shrugged. Things can get complicated, after all. Mrs. Evacher walked up, 13 minutes late, wearing oversized sunglasses and many layers of clothing.

    “Is Thip cold and... bright..?” I asked.

    “No, it’s just that they do not like liches there much, they still believe the old propaganda against us,” she explained.

    I shrugged. Mrs. Evacher lead us outside, to where a special school bus was waiting. Rather, the bus itself was not special, but it is being driven by a skeleton conjured by Mrs. Evacher, and Pierre put a barrier over the bus so people would think there is no skeleton. Also, it can fly. The bus had two wings on each side, and strange crystals inside the headlights in order to create extradimensional portals. It was really a marvel of hacked together magical items.

 

    As I entered , I was unpleasantly surprised to find that Lucifer and Wily were sitting in the back of the bus. Lucifer was reading a book, and Wily was staring out of the window. I reminded myself that I had Mrs. Evacher here, and that they would not cause any problems in an event they were going to. I tried to sit down at the front unnoticed, but Lucifer immediately locked eyes with me, grinning.

    Pierre, thankfully, sat right next to me, acting as a buffer. The man was a lot taller, and physically larger. Once we were all settled, the bus driver pulled a lever, releasing what I later found out to be an “axis lock”, causing the bus to point off towards the sky. It did not feel like I was being angled, though, rather, as if the world itself angled around us. Gravity was unchanged.

    The bus flew off into space. A part of me worried that the windows could not handle it, but I realized that in a world of magic I know nothing about complaining that something everyone else is comfortable with is dangerous makes me look foolish. I nervously chuckled, opening up a PDF of my own - but Claire tapped me on the shoulder before I could get far into it.

    “Are you ready?”

    “Ready as I could be, I suppose.”

    “Don’t screw this up for me, okay?”

    It truly amazed me to see what extradimensional space was like. Many ships of varying size and construction were darting back and forth, and there were geometric objects such as cubes and pyramids floating in space. I was informed that they contained giant health capsules for ships, and were created by the Antimine people so that in dangerous journeys they could destroy the objects to recover damage.

    Finally, after a brief 30 minute period, we arrived. The landing was as smooth as takeoff, and after adjusting my eyes to the light of Thip, I was astounded by what I saw.

 

    Cars, as expected, littered the street, but running in traffic were centaurs and people riding on the backs of unicorns. Supernatural beings flew overhead. I was escorted out of the bus by Mrs. Evacher, looking around in wonder - the buildings appeared to be covered in solar panels, and skeletons walked the street openly. Fairies fluttered overhead. As I walked, I kicked onto something, dealing with the slight pain of stubbing my toe when -

    “Jeez, first time in Thip?” a voice called out from where I bumped my foot. I looked down to see what on the fire hydrant said that.

    “Yeah, you’re looking at me,” the fire hydrant said.

    “You can talk? Fire hydrants talk here?”

    “Well, not exactly. I’m a spirit of a water container. City council said, hey, you can be a cup or whatever and be banished from the city for causing problems, or you can be a fire hydrant and keep firemen from having to manually release valves. I weighed my odds, and here I am.”

    “Banished? What did you do?”

    “Geh, just some petty stuff. I changed the colour of water to screw with some dumb kids. Made them think they were drinking blood. Honestly, even though it was funny, I do regret it... being useful for the city is a lot more rewarding in the long run, you know? It's nice to know I am keeping people safe.”

    “I... see...”

    Claire roughly pushed me along, and it was only then that I realized that I was standing there having a conversation with a fire hydrant. Judging by the amused looks of passengers, they experienced that a lot. I saw Wily and Lucifer leave the bus, though they went in a different direction entirely. Lucifer met eyes with me again, but said nothing.

    “Alright, Claire, Roll, you stay with me. Pierre, I believe you wanted to go with Mega Man..?”

    “Yes,” Pierre said. “Mega Man, there are parts here we can use to upgrade your display so that you can get appropriate readings on your magical stats. That way, you won’t have to eyeball it.”

    “I see,” I said.

    “It’s a normal thing to have done, even regular binders get cybernetic attachments to do it. As a robot, it will just feel more natural for you.”

    “Well, lead the way, then.”

 

    Going down streets, the first thing that really caught my attention about day to day Thip life is how normal people treat everything. Talking fire hydrants, unicorn carriages, shadow people walking underneath the ground, all of this stuff was just seen as everyday life. I wondered if this is what acceptance looked like, if at some point Earth would treat robots in the same manner.

    “...and this, this is the mall --filler--

    “Before we go, there is a great bubble tea place,” Pierre said, with notably more excitement than usual.

    “I suppose we have to go, then.”

    Malls in magical worlds have much better planning to them. Or, maybe, the malls I went to had poor planning? This one had three layers, with many shops around, some selling clothing, others selling magical items, some for electronics. The ground was tiled, alternating a beige and green pattern in diamonds. Diamonds are really just squares, but tilted, but we still refer to them as diamond floor patterns.

    “So, Pierre, what sort of music do you listen to?”

    “Mostly electronic stuff and video game soundtracks,” he said.

    “Have you ever listened to classical music?”

    “No, except what you have played.”

    There was still a barrier between us, something that prevented us from really being close friends. I still can’t figure out what it is, but he seems reserved around me. There was a stall for a bubble tea place. I elected to order the strawberry with a regular amount of sugar, he took unsweetened tea. I watched as they made it for us, and he sat down, creating a barrier around us with the rule that sound created from within would not leave.

    “It’s delicious, right?” he asked. I nodded. He adjusted his tie a bit. Pierre was wearing his cap - sans Loki - as usual; he was wearing slacks, a dress shirt with a tie hidden underneath a warm looking sweater, and a look of unfitting concern.

 

    “Mega Man, why did you turn Loki down?”

    “I... I don’t trust Loki, which is not that unreasonable,” I say, trying to laugh. The atmosphere in the barrier was too grim, and I felt awkward.

    “That is fair. Mega Man, those that have accepted the boon of Loki, we are called Lokahálmstrás, or pieces of Loki. One can also translate this to ‘last straw’, which is fitting, as the only way we can gain power is by taking other pieces of Loki for ourselves, as if we all drew straws when we gained our power.”

    “I... see,” I said.

    “Do you remember Quint?”

    “Yes,” I said bitterly. How could I forget? Just seeing Quint fills me with disgust... knowing this is something that somehow, I am capable of.

    “I am glad you have not taken that power, earnestly. I had no choice, but you... I... Mega Man, there is one among us who kills others to gain their ability.”

    “What?!” I said, nearly choking on a bubble.

    “I am willing to accept that risk, but...”

    “Pierre, what are you saying?! We’ll protect you, of course, if it comes down to that. You’re our friend, right?”

    He chuckled sadly.

    “Who is we? And why do you jump willingly to save someone you do not know?”

    “That’s who I am,” I said. I wanted to say more. These days, I feel I have been losing my confidence and I have been at a loss for word; this put all of that to shame.

    “I.. I help people, Pierre. And you are worthy of help.”

    Pierre looked at his neglected bubble tea.

    “Look, you... I wish you would talk to me more. I came to this school to try to make more friends, thinking my fighting is over. I guess it just started, huh? Even still... I want to make more friends.”

    I held out my hand for him. Pierre accepted, shaking slowly.

    “Hey, drink your bubble tea,” I said. “You were the one talking it up so much.”

    It was then I realized how much tension I was holding onto. For the past week, all I have been doing is training, studying, and worrying about the future. And here I was, sipping on a drink in the mall with a friend on a school trip. It was like I was a real student. Light poured in from a window, shimmering slightly to indicate the walls of the barrier.

 

    Then, the barrier shattered. A finger tapped it, and the walls of the barrier were traced by a green light, creating a wire frame facsimile of the original barrier. As if glass, the walls of the barrier fractured into thousands of tiny glittering obsidian shards of magic. Pierre and I both turned in shock at the intruder: a robot, like myself, but more angular. His tanned face was framed in pale blonde hair and covered in markings of circuits from forehead to chin, with heat vents located on the shoulder of his red and white armour.

    “You are the robot,” it said, pointing at me. “Pardon, I came off strong. I am Virpo.”

    “Hello, Virpo,” I said, still unwary.

    “I mean no harm, I mean only to greet my brethren, and offer counsel.”

    “Counsel?” I ask.

    He stared at me blankly, before blinking. “I do not have an emotional processor. It was unnecessary.”

    “Okay?”

    Virpo’s speech pattern and voice were awkward, as were his movements. He showed no lack of intelligence but rather no social skills at all, and spoke in a monotonous high pitched voice, with odd sentence structure.

    “What I say, brethren, is that I will show no mercy in the tournament.”

    “You’re in the tournament, too?” I asked.

    “Yes, it is written on your face. Name?”

    “Name... name, my name is Mega Man Light, and this is Pierre.”

    “Hello,” Pierre said. Virpo turned his head to him, then back to me.

    “I greet Mega Man and Pierre. What is your cause?”

    “My cause... I wish to see humans and robots get along,” I said honestly.

    “Humans...” he responded back.

    “They are from Earth, the forbidden planet,” Pierre suggested.

    “A noble task. Had I feelings, would feel bad for fighting you. I must beat everyone with my own strength.”

    “What is your cause?”

    “I am from Thip’s moon. Robots there are enslaved. I escape, and fight to build an army. Navy? Armynavy, and recapture the moon. No need for feelings.”

    “Y... yikes,” I said, breathing in. “Okay, Virpo. I wish you luck, and if you need soldiers, I will be glad to join your side.”

    A bird hopped out of one of the heat vents, fluttering around my head.

    “This is Scorch. Scorch, greet.”

    “Hello,” the bird said in Virpo’s voice exactly, but far more emotive and natural. “I’m Scorch! We already met. I’m Virpo’s emotions and social processing.”

    “Oh, like the conscience is split?” Pierre asked.

    “Yeah, yeah!” Scorch said cheerfully. “If Virpo has to do bad things, I can not stop Virpo. But I can make suggestions, and I can talk when there is no danger. I have kind of a big mouth, so it helps that I’m in his shoulders all of the time.”

    “Interesting,” I say. “Virpo, who did these modifications?”

    Virpo cocked his head at me. “I did.”

    “Impressive. I’ll be rooting for you in the tournament... until we fight each other.”

    Virpo sighed. “You do not get, Mega Man. I am not announcing friendship. I am announcing rivalry. I will defeat you.”

    I was taken aback. Scorch fluttered around, landing back inside the heat vent, which activated a force field to keep him inside. Virpo looked at us, before turning around and walking away.

    “Huh,” I say, sipping my bubble tea. Pierre laughed heartily, slapping the table. His laughter was infectious. I could not help but join in.

    “Come, Mega Man. None of this which we have done has anything to do with adding the modification.”

 

Chapter Text

    After a day of shopping, I checked my new modification on my HUD. It showed my usage, in two bars semi-transparent bars, one at 0%, and the other was at 2%. When I asked Pierre what that meant, he said the first bar indicated that of my allotted usage, I was using none of it, and of the potential usage I had, I was at 2% of Gloria Mors Est Scriptor’s maximum ability.

    Contemplating ones navels and sunsets go hand in hand, and were it not for the talking cars and pegasus carriages overhead, it would be a poignant scene of friendship. Actually, as much as I hate to admit it, a robot in blue armour with an arm-cannon is atypical as well. I giggled to myself.

    “What is it?”

    “This scene, if it were a movie would be so absurd.”

    “In what way?”

    “Well, here we are walking side by side in the sunset, thinking about deep stuff, right?”

    “Yes, and?”

    “I’m a blue battle robot with an arm cannon, and there are pegasus carriages flying over us and talking cars going up and down the streets.”

    Pierre let out a low chuckle at that as we headed towards our hotel room. We were stopped by an imposing man.

    “Who are you?” Pierre asked. I looked up at the muscular blonde... Thor.

    “Mega Man,” he said, staring down at me, arms crossed. I gulped, even though it had no biological function for robots. “Going behind our back using Loki to represent Valhalla?”

    He tussled my black hair with his calloused, large hand.

    “I did the same thing in my youth,” he said, grinning. Another incredibly tall, muscular man walked by -- this one with graying hairs but the same piercing blue eyes. He clapped me on the back hard and laughed.

    “Just make sure you don’t perform in a way that would upset Valhalla,” Thor said in a warning tone. I nodded. Odin crouched down to meet me at eye level, looking me dead in the eyes.

    “Have you made any progress speaking to the lich?”

    “Not yet, Lord Odin,” I said. Pierre’s hands hovered, shaking slightly as he stepped back.

    “Oh, you’re one of the Lokahálmstrás,” Thor said in disgust. “Mega Man, please be wary of my brother’s actions. He is the sort that prefers treachery to bravery. Even his goals are irreverent, seeking only his own amusement with frightening competence.”

    “Now, now,” Odin said, “just because he borrows power from Loki does not mean he is compliant with his schemes. Just as Mega Man is not attacking our borders.”

    “Yes, father,” Thor said.

    “Lord Odin, Lord Thor,” I asked, “what brings you to Thip?”

    “Truthfully, we skipped out on a meeting for this,” Odin explained.

    “They wanted us to listen and talk over peace between us and the fief lords of the Shadow Kingdom? Such trivial nonsense. If Nerxhien himself will not show its face, why should the face of Valhalla have to meet with them?”

    “Nerxhien?” I asked.

    “It is... the all powerful Lord of Shadow,” Pierre said in reverent tones. “The father of Yieve.”

    “Yes, Yieve,” Odin said, eyes twinkling with interest. “I was also very interested in seeing her in action. Nerxhien would brag about its daughter so feverishly.”

    “Mega Man,” Thor replied, matching his father’s intensity, “she is your greatest enemy this tournament. Show us a battle worthy of Valhalla.”

    “I will,” I said, still unsure if I wanted to go to Valhalla when I died. Judging by Odin’s lack of reaction, it seems my training in blocking out my thoughts worked well enough. I looked down at my brand, thinking about what it would take to open up discourse with this... creature. Does it even have thought? Thor and Odin waved goodbye as they headed off in another direction, and I weakly waved back.


 

    In the chamber prepared for us by Anton, Lucifer was reclining on a lavish chair, sipping mangosteen juice out of a skull chalice. I stood against a pillar, drinking from a bloodbag. Despite the nearly 1 foot difference in size between us, Lucifer still seemed far more regal than me in this moment. Having my old, young adult body back was still awkward for me.

    Anton was in the side, cleaning the plates and glassware prepared for any potential guests, and Hastur was laying in its bed to protect us. Hastur insisted, saying that it was horrified by its failure to defeat the hooded guest. Admittedly, we wouldn’t have done any better, so I was quick to pardon it for this failure. Still, it was upset.

    There was a knock at the door.

    “Come in,” I said.

    Barely managing to fit in the doorframe, Satan squeezed into it. Standing 11 feet tall, a mass of rippling muscles and red skin, with horns far larger than Lucifer’s, Satan was the most imposing being in Hell, even more than the largest beings, merely by the force of his will. Satan crouched down on his knees, looking at Hastur.

    “Are you okay, Hastur?” he asked, concern dripping through his voice.

    “Master, I... I failed you. I offer only this excuse: I was trying to protect your chandeliers from harm, so I held back.”

    “Forget the chandeliers, Hastur!” he cried. “You were really badly hurt! We’ve defeated the sixteen barons of Hell and formed this kingdom together, I can replace a damned chandelier.”

    “But,” Hastur began, but was cut off when Satan embraced him. The massive, six headed giant looked down at Satan in confusion.

    “I am sorry, my liege. I was careless with my own life.”

    “Yeah... you were. And you two?” he said, dusting himself off as he stood up.

    “She just wanted to greet us, like the report said,” Lucifer said. “Who was that, anyway? She was able to fight Hastur.”

    “Well, Hastur is just my personal servant, so it’s not like it was a General or anything,” Satan said, “but I haven’t heard anything.”

    “My liege,” Hastur said, “she seemed to be pulling at strands of things in our battle to move quickly for her most powerful attacks. I could not see what it was that she was actually doing, though, by the time I realized to empower my eyes I was already taken down.”

    “Ah, alright then. I have no idea,” Satan said, slumping back against one of the commoners chairs. Anton jumped up in shock at this, but Satan waved it away.

    “I’m a visitor, here, right? These are visitor’s chairs. It’s fine.”

    There it was, I mused to myself. Lucifer’s stubbornness about random things is still something Satan has. I noticed a few of Satan’s other traits would appear in Lucifer as well, as Lucifer treated Anton incredibly well.

    “Lord Satan,” I asked.

    “Satan, please. We’re friends.”

    “Satan, then,” I corrected, “may I ask why you are so informal with your servants?”

    “Only my closest servants. People close to you should be treated extremely well, lest they pull a coup on you. Besides, why would you treat people close to you poorly? I’m an Underworld King, not a monster. We perform an important role, unlike the dark kings... people just don't appreciate our role in the circle of life."

    “I see.” It was a salient point, I had always mistreated my robot masters, seeing them as tools to be used... and the way Bubble Man resented me afterwards, I could see the wisdom in it. I wanted to take over the world back then, and I was so arrogant as to believe that statesmanship was beneath me.

    “But that’s not why you’re here,” Lucifer said, pointing his free hand towards Satan.

    “Right, I came here to wish you well, and to warn you... there are dangerous forces at play here.”

    “What, the president? Yieve? I’m not afraid of them. Right, Wily?”

    “Yeah, the only one there I am worried about is Mega Man.”

    “I did some research,” Satan said, leaning back in his chair in a dangerous fashion, “Mega Man’s ability is unknown to everyone. It is even listed as Unknown, he has yet to communicate with it. What I can tell, though, is it has very high growth potential. The other people to worry about are... Yieve’s team, and Tanlas.”

    “Tanlas? That Yawning Maw cow?!”

    “Say what you will, and I will,” Satan said, visibly becoming angry, “but you can not argue their strength. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to crush them all...”

    “What is the Yawning Maw?” I asked.

    “The Yawning Maw is one of the dark underworld factions, a group of demons that wish to feed souls to a hole they have in reality in order to fuel their reality bending magic.”

    “They take people that can be rehabilitated or punished and throw them into the void,” Lucifer spat. “They sicken me.”

    I tossed my bloodbag into the trash, flopping backwards to lean against the pillar.

    “Let’s make sure to beat them extra hard, then,” I responded with disinterest.


    “Welcome, come one, come all!” the primary announcer of the tournament, Lionel Burn shouted. I looked over at Mega Man. He seemed calm. Why is he so calm? He is representing Valhalla. He should be wired up and ready to battle - er, not that robots aren’t always wired up. Bad Claire. No making jokes here, this is important. Right. You are a weapon, and you have been pointed at the finals of the tournament.

    “For the preliminary stage, we have 8 teams per grouping - that means 16 people. They will not be announced until they make it through: the goal is to defeat 100 out of the 2000 dummies we have here. For all of you robot lovers in the audience... dummy robots differ from robots in having no AI core, making them lack sapience. Aaaaaaanyway,” the announcer said, “the contestants must individually defeat 100 of these dummies, then walk past the goal line! The times are averaged, and weighted against a score rating from a panel of judges, with the top 16 teams making it to the next stage!”

    The area was a simple arena, with a flat area outlined in white chalk to signify where the competition took place - a simple goal was set with two posts and a flag over them. There were a horde of 2000 dummy robots, some flying, others rolling on the ground on a ball, with varied designs among them in the middle of this large area, roughly the size of a football field. The contestants for the first preliminary grouping stood on the opposite end to the goal. Off to the side, in a sandy area, a raised, pyramidal platform where the commentators sat, along with a panel of judges, one of which I recognized to be Avery.

    “The panel of judging is to prevent teams that do well in close competition that have poor times from falling too far behind, but Lionel,” the colour commentator, Liam Soul asked, “care to explain why each preliminary stage fields only 16 people at once, and why 2000 dummy robots?”

    “Good question, Liam! The answer is simple -- contestants are allowed to battle each other here to sabotage each others times! And, with the collateral damage, contestants may accidentally go over the 100 limit. There are no extra points for destroying more robots, so just focus on getting the fastest time! But even if the interference from other competitors slows you down, by impressing the judges you can still get in, so don’t worry too much about the other times... just focus on placing first in your individual races.”

    “Right. The three rules are simple: once you pass the goal, you are out, and further interference will result in being disqualified. Usage of forced teleportation outside the confines of the arena is prohibited. All other styles are fine, but intentionally attacking a downed opponent will result in immediate disqualification and potential criminal charges. Finally, team combo attacks award both you and whoever you teamed up a point, even if it is not in your team!”

    “And now, ladies, gentlemen, and others: the first seeding!”

 

    We watched from inside our room, a pretty lavish affair for what it should be... we had a booth with food stocked, and a couch and sofa available to watch the TV on. Loki was missing, having left Pierre for some other reason, so it should have been just me, Mrs. Evacher, Pierre, Mega Man, and Roll here. For some reason, Loki and Odin were here too. I was very uncomfortable sitting next to an actual god.

    Still, I looked in. There were a bunch of teams, not many looking very interesting... except, there was one team where one guy had a giant robotic fist. Another team had a classical wizard -- blue robe, pointed hat, and next to him was a person draped head to toe in mechanical stuff. Interesting. After the camera finished panning, the words “start” appeared in the screen, and the screen zoomed in. I chose to mentally focus the TV on the giant hand guy first.

    His fist, a combination of gears and rockets, was incredibly powerful, allowing him to use rocket thrusts to move up. It seems his Pact gave him a very simple empowering ability, increasing his physical strength. I couldn’t see exactly what he had a Pact with from his tattoo, but the way he moved was incredible -- his sweeping punches were aided by rockets, to give him aerial momentum. The huge weight of his fist was made irrelevant by him using it as a projectile, and the huge size made it provide frontal protection as well. He punched down dozens of flying robots at a time. A counter above his head indicated in the 83 seconds since starting, he had already taken down 32 dummies.

    “Bryan!” he shouted, “don’t lose faith! I need you to fire in the vortex!”

    “Got it, All Fist!”

    Bryan, the ordinary person that “All Fist” spoke to was a man wearing ordinary clothes, shorts and a button up floral print shirt. He was somewhat short looking, with tussled brown hair and bulky white shoes. Nothing about him looked too amazing, to the point where I immediately wrote him off, but the powerful looking All Fist chose him as a partner.

    All Fist, the man with the giant fist, was wearing an exaggerated superhero’s costume, all spandex with most of its protection on his left arm, where the fist was. His fighting style was bizarre, incorporating sweeping moves with some form of kickboxing to protect himself at short range between his telegraphed and strong strikes... savate? After one sweeping attack into a cluster of dummies, he spun two gears, jamming magical cartridges in his fist to load it with energy, and shot a giant vortex out of his fist, before jumping back. Nearly a hundred dummies flew up in the space, and Bryan, the ordinary looking guy, launched electricity at them, splitting from dummy to dummy in an incredible forked chain lightning burst. Their totals jumped up to 148 and 121, respectively. Both began running to the exit.

    The crowd went absolutely wild. Meanwhile, looking back at the replay(the TVs were equipped with mental PVR, allowing viewers to mentally control what it showed with them, and to rewind and replay things) of the wizard, it was his friend that impressed more. The wizard, an incredibly powerful mage, began charging a spell, throwing components into the air and waving his staff around. His partner, on the other hand, jumped forward with rockets on his legs.

    The partner, jumping up into the air, tapped a button under his shoulder, releasing a barrage of rockets, taking down 152 robots immediately in the splash, then pressed a button on his arm console, activating his rockets again to sprint for the exit. The average person was just barely managing to take down 20, and this person, and All Fist were racing for the win, with Bryan moving at a regular human speed behind them. They both looked back in shock as they heard a deafening explosion -- a giant fireball had consumed most of the stage. The wizard smugly walked through the flames, the number above his head revealing 461 dummies defeated.

    “Incredible,” Bryan whispered under his breath. The wizard continued walking. The rest, realizing the race mattered more, began running towards the exist. First to cross it: Blitz from Lelt, the man with the technological suit! The second, ALLFIST from Antimo! The third, Bryan, from Antimo, teamed with ALLFIST! The fourth... a random person, by the name of Sasha, from Aguari. She seemed to use some sort of a boomerang attack. The fifth, Grysan, from Lelt. The wizard.

    After 8 minutes in total, the times were in: 2 minutes and 13 seconds for Blitz, 2 minutes and 15 seconds for ALLFIST, 2 minutes and 31 seconds for Bryan, 3 minutes and 2 seconds for Sasha, and 3 minutes and 13 seconds for Grysan. An interview with the winning teams, Bryan and ALLFIST in first place, Blitz and Grysan in second place, and Sasha and Mira in Third Place(Mira did not place in the top five, so her time was only given as an afterthought: four minutes and 21 seconds.)

 

    “ALLFIST, wow, incredible performance, and great teamwork too!” Lionel shouted, beckoning them up the stairs to the commentators’ area.

    “Yeah,” Liam added, “your combination of regular martial techniques, using your Pact to improve your physical abilities, and magic was absolutely breathtaking. Two cartridge loading in your device? What a feat of engineering. Can you tell us more about your style, and who you are?”

    “Yes, my name is ALLFIST, in all capital letters,” ALLFIST stated. “My goal is to be a hero for all of the people of Antimo!” He raised his fist in the sky, and the crowd applauded. “Where I come from, the slums of Antimo’s 7th sector, there is not a lot of hope. Police oppress our people, calling us outlanders as if we were not added to the Antimine constitution in 2013, and children go hungry every day. Crime is on the rise, and innocents get the bill. I want to be that hope.”

    There was a brief pause as the crowd, in hushed reverence, continued to listen to his speech as stagehands hurriedly removed the debris from the battle from the arena.

    “My best friend, Bryan, and I... we aren’t the strongest people around. That’s why we have to use every trick in the book. But Bryan isn’t a sidekick. We are a team -- and our combination attacks show that. Even if we lose here... our goal is not just to win, it’s to show the world that 7th Sectorians are proud Antimine citizens, and we do have heroes among us! We are not just criminals!”

    Bryan nodded, clapping ALLFIST on the back as the crowd exploded with excitement, creating a standing applause.

    “I may not be the best speaker, um,” Bryan said, looking down nervously, “but... I’m good at science and stuff... I made the dual-loading device for ALLFIST. That’s my best friend, right there. People of the world, if you like what we can do... there are much better arcanists in all of the 7th Sector. Like, my dad makes my stuff look like crap,” he said with a bittersweet self deprecating tone, “but even if I still have a long way to go, we have to keep fighting every day. And to come in first place like this... it’s a dream come true.”

    Bryan was tearing up as he said the words thank you, passing the microphone to Liam. I could briefly hear ALLFIST wrap his arm around Bryan and say, “you crybaby”, before Liam handed it back to Lionel.

    “Everyone, please give another round of applause for these two Antimine boys!”

    Lionel said that, but it wasn’t like the crowd needed the order.

 

    “Those guys are incredible,” Pierre said.

    “Yeah,” Mega Man replied, also tearing up. “I almost don’t want to beat them.”

    I punched him in the shoulder. “This is not a time for being a softie,” I chided, somewhat jokingly. I worried it came out harsher than I intended, but he took it in stride.

    “And now, Grysan and Blitz!”

    Grysan and Blitz walked up, Blitz looking notably more smug, with Grysan taking an almost regal procession, blue robe fluttering in the wind.

    “Grysan, wow, that fireball. Tell us more!” Lionel said.

    “Hmph, it was simple,” he said, with a uniquely high pitched, prissy, and nasally voice. “I wanted a faster incantation... but... it’s hard not to show off how beautiful magic is. The runes... the way they all weave together, it’s wonderful. There’s nothing like it.”

    “You could have ran, you know,” Blitz said.

    “A wizard does not run,” Grysan responded. “He walks at the pace he is comfortable with, and the world matches his. Or hers.”

    “So, what inspires you in this tournament?” Lionel asked.

    “Well, Blitz here is a great techno-gadget guy... but, I came here for one purpose only. The world needs to know how impressive magic is. Magic schools are declining as everyone is trying to have ‘cool Binder abilities’,” he said, with air quotes, rolling his eyes. “I’m 19 years old, and here I am doing all of these impressive, technically perfect spells. It’s not just for older people. I want to cause a renaissance of wizards.”

    His voice was dreamy and breathy as he spoke of magic with reverence. Blitz took the microphone from him after he trailed off into daydreaming.

    “I didn’t come here for that... but, if I can help Grysan with his dream, that’s cool too. I want to show people how good my gadgeteering is, really. I mean, this guy doesn’t know the difference between a phone and a holographic projector, and look at how fast I passed the line. You’ll see how great we are together, his magic, and my technology. And firms -- my name is Blitz Iiri, please consider me if you want young talent that will shape the future.”

    The crowd didn’t really respond too much for that self promotion, but Liam took the microphone.

    “Well, we can’t argue with results. That fireball incantation was just as elegant as it was effective, using unusual components to create the largest blast radius without draining his power too much. And the rocket barrage targeting? Viewers, you saw the rest of the people struggling to hit the dummies. He made it look easy, and managed to outspeed a dual-cartridge magic device.”

    The crowd applauded, as Liam handed the microphone to Lionel.

 

    “Last, but not least,” Lionel said, motioning to the two girls stepping forward. Sasha was tall with shoulder length green hair, brown eyes, and light skin with cute freckles. She was particularly muscular, and had a large boomerang. She wore light brown shorts that highlighted her eyes beautifully, and a loose fitting soft green blouse. Judging by her ears, she was probably half-elvish. Her partner, Mira, was shorter, with dark purplish hair and thick, black clothing with a skirt that ended knee length. Her eyes were obscured by her long bangs.

    “Sasha, and Mira!” The crowd applauded in excitement. Even if they did not do as well, Sasha’s flashy combat style abusing the boomerang and duplicating it with her Pact ability was interesting to watch in the highlight bubble above, and Mira’s use of dark magics was interesting too.

    “Mira, tell us about your magic.”

    “It sucked. Grysan was better,” she said in a flat voice, handing it to Lionel, who blinked once, handing the microphone to Sasha.

    “Sorry, she’s like that... don’t let it get you down. That’s Mira, my half sister. We’re from Aguari, it’s a water based world where the few places on land are fought for. We grew up in the same family pod together.”

    “Family pod? Tell us more,” Lionel said awkwardly, trying to regain his composure.

    “In Aguari, we don’t really have birth parents. We are born, and assigned to pods together, where we are taught and raise. Our Podmother is the best teacher any girl could ask for, so we are honestly just happy enough to make it here and do her proud. Even if we don’t make it past the preliminaries.”

    “Aw, come on now,” Lionel said, “have a little more faith in yourself! Audience, how do you think they did?!”

    The crowd stood up in uproarious applause. Stunned, Sasha looked up and around, tearing up and breaking into a grin. She hugged Mira, who was looking at the ground... also smiling.

    “No matter what happens, keep in mind this moment. This is your moment. You two are special, and your Podmother did a great job training you. Isn’t that right, Liam?”

    Liam nodded, taking the microphone.

    “People are saying this year might be the strongest competition for first-timers around, and you still made a splash. Do you have a Style, Sasha?”

    “Yes,” she said, “Yes, I have a style. I am The Split Boomerangs!”

    “I thought so... keep your head up high. And Mira, just because you weren’t able to match Grysan’s magic doesn’t mean you have lost for good. Magic is a lifetime process, and once you get over that hill, you too will shine like he does. Your form is strong. You will go very far.”

    “T-thank you,” the stuttering Mira responded. She let an awkward, but earnest smile as she handing the microphone back.

    “Well, here you have it,” Lionel said to the uproarious crowd as Mira and Sasha walked off stage. “Our first group. And with so many more to go, you are in for a treat! Next up, we have one of the most lauded and hyped first-timer... the princess of Shadow herself, Yieve! Stay tuned... in 2 hours!”

 

Chapter Text

    “Alright, I brought the drinks,” said Mega Man, who was balancing the tray very carefully on his one hand. Admittedly, it probably would have been better to get someone else to hold the tray, but he did offer, and I did not really want to get up. The preliminaries are the conduit to learning more about the world. I happily took my orange juice as the next grouping showed up for the tournament. Mega Man sat down next to Thor, taking the other end of this particular sofa. Odin and Pierre were on another one, with Mrs. Evacher sitting next to Roll.

    “Alright, and we are back! Ladies, gentlemen, and other beings, grouping B of the preliminary stage is ready! But let’s collect our thoughts on the first grouping... wow! What a bunch of troopers! Right, Liam?”

    “Oh, absolutely,” Liam said. “Even though three teams shined above everyone else, the other teams kept their composure and did their thing even after the giant explosion, caused by Grysan. Grysan and Blitz, the 2nd rated team, represents Lelt. They mix technology and magic, and are curiously light on Binder abilities for a Binder exhibition tournament. Our first rated team, ALLFIST and Bryan used everything at their disposal to snatch victory. Finally, third rated, Sasha and Mira made waves with powerful boomerang techniques and dark magic.”

    “The other teams will have to keep this in mind, as even though they are competing in their own grouping, everyone is competing for the coveted 16 slots of the primary tournament. Now, let’s see how they fare!”

    The camera zoomed in close to Lionel(who flashed a radiant smile at the camera) before panning over to the other teams doing stretches and preparing. One Pact user was clearly undead-type, as they were whispering a chant to themselves.

    “Hey, it’s Virpo!” Mega Man said.

    “Oh, you’re right,” Pierre responded, leaning in closer.

    “Who is Virpo?”

    “We met him and Scorch when we were getting parts,” Mega Man explained.

    I looked at this Virpo they were talking about. Didn’t seem too hot to me, but maybe I was missing a piece of the puzzle. Virpo was a robot with white and red paint, a very boyish and cute looking tanned face covered in visible circuitry and piercing green eyes. He had exaggerated heat vents on his shoulder -- one seemed functional, the other was dysfunctional. Aside from that, he had nothing particularly outstanding about him.

    The other team that interested me is one had a massive skeleton of sorts standing next to a guy dressed head to toe in this luxurious looking navy robe, with a luxurious sky blue scarf providing some colour contrast. He had long black hair, and clearly had many weapons hidden under his robe, just by the clunky way he walked around. Aside from that, most of the teams seemed cannon fodder.

    The word “Start” appeared on the screen, indicating the battle had began. Six seconds later, a girl ran past everyone, tapping the robots with incredible speed, then sprinted to the final. By the time she made it to the final, the robots finally started dropping to the ground.

    “Our... our first to cross it.. Yieve, from Piht! At 48 seconds in!” Lionel said, trying very hard to regain professionalism.

    I whistled. So that was Yieve?! I gave Mrs. Evacher a look as if to say, please don’t feel bad if we lose to that. She chuckled. Still, Yieve didn’t look anything special. She wore distressed jeans and a quirky looking colour block graphic tee shirt. Her purple hair was not too well kept, and she didn’t seem particularly muscular or anything. After visibly savouring the crowd’s utter bafflement, she turned around and waved.

    “Oooooiiii!! Jozef! You can start now, right?”

    Everyone at the start was frozen, but one man stepped forward. He was very young looking, with glasses and a muscular, short build. His silvery hair was cut short. He clapped his hands together, and a number of blades formed behind him. He waved his arm forward, as if directing an army to fire a volley of arrows, and the swords and spears launched out in a barrage, taking down dozens at a time. He breathed heavily, crouching down, before clapping his hands together to form more.

    The rest of the grouping took that as an opportunity to start. Virpo jumped ahead of the pack, manifesting two laser swords out of his hand, and using jetpacks in his leg to fly. He dashed directly into the crowd of dummies, turning himself into a whirlwind of destruction. His movements were precise and calculated, and his strikes were all done with full lethality in mind.

    “Folks, special classification for Virpo here. As Virpo is a unique contestant, he needs to defeat 200 dummies, as his partner is incapable of battling,” Liam said.

 

    There was some confusion from the crowd at seeing that. I turned to Mega Man.

    “His partner is like... this bird thing called Scorch,” Mega Man explained.

    “A bird?”

    “Yeah,” Pierre cut in, “It’s in his other heat vent.”

    Ah, so that’s why the other one is constantly disabled. Why did he make his partn- forget it. I brushed the thought aside and continued to watch. The skeleton moved forward, using a barrage of icicles that compared well to that boy Jozef’s attack. The man in the cloak however seemed to just be writing on a whiteboard. Is he some sort of magician? As I was thinking, an indicator advised me Virpo cleared 200, and he jumped down to the ground, activating two pairs of rollers and placing his hands behind him, creating a jet engine. Virpo dashed forwards, racing at top speed.

    At this, I turned back to the cloaked man, who finished his calculation. He pulled out an absolutely massive looking gun out, loading five cartridges into it. He tossed a knife in the air, opening up a rift in the sky, and shot all of the bullets into it. Quickly disassembling and loading the gun components into his cloak, he pulled out a smaller pistol, shooting it above the crowd. A rift formed there too, launching the flak from his initial barrage down on the group. 232 flashed above his head in an instant. He began sprinting towards the exit.

    An indicator above Jozef’s head showed he had finished 111. The skeleton was still on 78. Jozef ran towards the exit as well, but halfway through was winded and had to stop to catch his breath before walking.

    “Second through the gate... at 2 minutes and 43 seconds, Virpo and Scorch, from Thip! And third, at 3 minutes and 32 seconds.. we have Damien, from the Bone Forest! Fourth... we have... Torith, from the Bone Forest!”

    The skeleton had lapped Jozef, who was too physically weak to carry on running. It turned around, smugly flashing a necessarily toothy grin at him as it crossed the line. Jozef made a last ditch sprinting effort out of some sort of pride, but collapsed as soon as he got to the finish line. Yieve caught him.

    “Torith coming in at 4 minutes and 3 seconds, and finally, at 4 minutes and 15 seconds, Jozef, from Piht!”

    The crowd went wild, cheering for Jozef tremendously. He looked up, breathing heavily, and grinned towards the stage. Yieve awkwardly waved, still holding him up. Damien looked away from the camera, while Torith flexed his nonexistent muscles. Virpo just stood there emotionlessly.

 

    “Alright... and now, for the top 3... all of which you see here before you! The top team, when averaged out, is Yieve and Jozef!”

    “Ah, hold the fort,” Yieve said, “buddy Jozef still needs to catch his breath. Mayhap speak upon the second place guys first?”

    “Erm,” Lionel said, scratching at his goatee a bit, “very well. The second ranked team, when averaged out, Virpo and Scorch! Virpo, come on up!”

    Virpo walked up towards with the same lack of emotion. Scorch jumped out of his heat vent, fluttering around Virpo’s head as he ascended the stairs to the commentator’s area.

    “Virpo, tell us a little bit more about you, you come from Thip, the place this year’s tournament is taking place. What inspires you?”

    “Prize money,” Virpo said. Lionel looked at him, clearing intending more, when Scorch flew in front of the microphone.

    “Virpo ain’t too good at talking,” the bird said. “My name is Scorch. I’m Virpo’s conscience and emotions and personality and stuff. I can handle all the questions here.”

    “Alright, Scorch,” Lionel said. “What brings you and Virpo to this tournament?”

    “There’s a lot of money if you win the tournament, and we need a lot of money for a private thing.”

    “Well, alright. We won’t pry. Virpo, those techniques are magnificent, but you haven’t activated your ability at all. How come?”

    “Not worth.”

    “Yeah,” Scorch interjected, “fighting a bunch of dummies that just fly around or try to evade or block your attacks is pointless. Showing what our ability is would give our competitors a significant advantage, and since we intend to win the tournament, makes no sense to throw away the element of surprise over some dummies, right? We’d be the dummies.”

    “Well said,” Liam interjected, with an amused smirk.

    “Well. Virpo, Scorch, you performed admirably out there. People of Thip, please give it up for Virpo and Scorch!”

    The crowd responded with thunderous applause. Even if their personality wasn’t the most interesting, Virpo’s performance was artful to watch, with perfection in every strike of his laser blades. Everyone was looking forward to seeing what he could do. Seems like Mega Man and Pierre found a catch.

 

    “Alrighties, looks like we’re good to go?” Yieve said, already on top of the stairs. Lionel hopped back.

    “Whoa, you’re eager!”

    “Meh, just figured we would save you the time of calling us up. Right, Jo?”

    Jozef nodded.

    “Well, Virpo, Scorch, you can head down to your area and rest. You’ve earned it. Yieve, Jozef, from Piht. Tell us what brought you here!”

    “I wanted to see how strong I was,” Jozef said, clearing his throat after that. Yieve was nodding enthusiastically, so he continued: “I was considered a child prodigy, and the mayor personally embedded a powerful spirit into mine, the spirit of the demon blacksmith Xenshiso. I always did really well in school, so I actually skipped about 4 grades or so... I wanted to prove to myself that I am worthy of all of this.”

    “You heard it from the man himself!” Yieve said proudly, holding his hands up.

    “And you, Yieve?” Liam asked.

    “Sorta just came here for Jozef. He’s cool, he was in my grade but like, really young. So I was just blown away, right? Wow, what’s this rapscallion doing in my grade!” Yieve’s voice had bizarre inflections, shifting up from a hyper excited(but still distinctly low contralto) tone to a velvety smooth low tone. “When he told me he wanted to test his skills, I had no choice but to let him in. That’s basically it. No real reason really to be in this thing for myself.”

    “Yieve, not only did you not use your Binder abilities at all, but you used absolutely nothing other than your base empowered physical strength, putting no energy into your attacks...” Liam said. “How did you get to be so strong?”

    “Oh, that’s easy,” Yieve said, snatching the microphone. “Kids, listen up. When your parents ask you to do chores, do them every time, and don’t just like, half do them. You know, you get told to throw out the garbage so you throw it out. Run through the house, pick up all of the trash and fill the garbage bag as much as you can, put it in the trash, and then the key part is to put a new garbage bag in. Also, eat your vegetables and everything presented to you, because food is precious. And do your homework.”

    Yieve handed the microphone back to Liam, pumping her fist in celebration and whispering “role model” to herself.

    “Well... there you have it. Yieve and Jozef, everybody!”

    The audience needed no guidance here. Shouts of admiration for Jozef could be heard from inside our booth.

 

    “And finally, we have Damien and Torith, from the bone forest!”

    Damien and Torith walked up, with Torith standing behind Damien who nonchalantly ascended the stairs. Yieve held up her hand as the two groups met, and Damien high-fived her as he climbed. He settled, stretching his shoulder a bit as Torith crossed his arms.

    “Damien, wow. That attack was incredible. Tell us more!”

    “My Style,” Damien said in a surprisingly soft voice, “I am The Rift Maker. I do not like to talk much. I’ll let my actions speak for me here.”

    “Fair enough. Torith, your ice magic was impressive. You used your binder ability as well. Do you have a Style as well?” Liam asked.

    “NO, NOT YET,” it responded in the characteristically loud monotone voice of the undead, “BUT I PLAN TO BE THE ICE SOMETHING. MAYBE THE ICE SHARDS, BUT THAT COULD BACKFIRE ON ME. I STILL HAVE NOT THOUGHT IT OUT. MY ABILITY LETS ME CONTROL TEMPERATURES AROUND ME, WHICH LETS ME CREATE ICE MORE QUICKLY.”

    “That is very interesting,” Liam said. “Have you thought about using it to create fire as well?”

    “I HAVE NOT,” it responded. “THOUGH FIRE IS THE ENEMY OF UNDEA- WAIT A MINUTE... FIRE... ENEMY OF UNDEAD.”

    “For those not aware, the Bone Forest is a faction of noble undead who seek to protect the living from the mindless undead and evil necromancers,” Lionel explained. “Is that why you are here, Damien?”

    Torith was lost in thought about this, so Damien had to respond. He squeezed his eyes in annoyance, taking a deep breath before grabbing the microphone.

    “Yeah. We want to be stronger so we can be Darklancers and protect people. This is the next step in our journey.”

    Seeing they could get very few answers out of them at this point, Lionel looked over at Liam, and they shared a knowing nod.

    “Alright, please give it up for Torith and Damien, and the rest of Grouping B as well! Next up...we have Grouping C!”


 

    “That’s us, Mega,” Roll said. I looked over at Mega Man, who was cracking his knuckles against his cannon. I smiled a bit at that, before slapping myself in the face. No time for fun, right now. It’s time to win the preliminaries. Obviously, I can’t be as good as Yieve, but I can try to come close. If Mega Man does better than Jozef does, we can beat their time, at least. We headed out. Mega Man waved to the group still in the booth as we went down the hallway.

    I bumped into two very tall dark skinned men. They were covered in tattoos, very muscular, and shirtless. One was taller than the other and had white hair, the other had black hair. The black haired one(who was slightly shorter) looked down at me. He was at least a foot and a half taller. I looked up at him, before Mega Man motioned me along. It was frustrating, but he was right.

    “Mega Man and Claire,” he said, in a thick... almost 3rd District sounding accent. “I have heard of you. I wish you luck, my friends.”

    Ah, those are probably Master Xemia’s pupils, then. So, it seems our grouping would have a lot of competition. Very well, so be it. Let them all fall to dragonfire. I walked forward letting my anger stew inside of me. Neovridh, can you hear me? I will purge this world in bubbles in your name. I looked over at Mega Man, who was lost in thought. Well, whatever. I can win this alone. I can win this.

    Looking out into the field, seeing the waves of dummies and the goal up close... it is so much bigger than on the TV. The audience looked down at me, 20 thousand people, maybe? So many. My heart was pounding. They were all watching me. They had to be. Just as I watched the best, they must be watching me as well. I felt Neovridh stir a bit. A reaction?! It must be it. Let the world be bubbles. I visualized two bubbles right in front of my feet, not creating them yet, but to launch myself forwards. I heard the booming voice of Lionel.

    “Ladies, Gentlemen, and other beings, with a limited delay, grouping C!”

    The crowd went wild. I loved it. I hated it. But ultimately, I had to push it off to the side. This was all about my performance. I heard something to my left, Mega Man?

 

    “Two feet, blue feet, on the sand, it’s me

    Robo-explorer in the new land for free

    Mega Man is he, and the man to beat

    Taking first place team quite handily

    Took a little while learning all the ins and outs

    What Gloria Mors about, so now, no doubt

    Question is, will this be a one round knockout?

    The answer is Yes, like Roundabout

    The tournament like my raps, going to do sixteen

    Cause the competition mean, still, ahead of the scene

    Still, it’s yet to be seen how he’s rocking the screen

    Everybody watching taking eye on machine

    The competition’s latrine, it’s sad but it’s true

    I don’t mean to demean, but the foot fits the shoe

    Now we’re standing between the beginning and my cue

    to have everyone watching like Eiffel 65, feeling blue”

 

    With that, the word “start” appeared in front of us, and we began. As impressive as Mega Man’s rhyming ability has gotten, what was more impressive was as I launched myself using the bubbles at top speed, Mega Man was able to almost keep up with me! He was standing on a Saw Blade. Behind me, Master Xemia’s pupils were speeding behind, with the light haired one kicking off against discs of sand floating in the air, and the dark haired one seeming to leap from one point to another with some form of teleportation.

    Behind us, still in the span of about 10 seconds, I saw another team fly towards us... riding on some form of dragon?! It was a woman holding a frog in her hands, sitting on the back of the dragon that she ordered forward. With this kind of competition... I couldn’t just rely on my speed alone. I would have to fight them in order to gain some advantages. I turned to the side, and prepared for my assault.

    It was 11 seconds in. The Grouping had just begun.

 

Chapter Text

    Two seconds until I would land. I was leading the pack, Mega Man shortly behind me, and Master Xemia’s pupils following him. Time slowed down to a crawl as I estimated the number of dummies in the swarm ahead of me. 500-600 maybe? The dragon was starting to accelerate towards us. It wouldn’t beat us, but it would definitely be close. I needed to make a splash. They couldn’t beat me. I let the fury build inside of me -- I couldn’t lose here, not when Mars was watching. I am Claire Beaumont, dragontamer. I am the woman who would become the greatest weapon of Mars.

    One second until I would land. A splash of bubbles wouldn’t be enough from the ground, it would be too slow. Instead, I could place a bubble on the ground. The dragon was close to Master Xemia’s pupils now, and it was gathering fire for an attack. If the fire attacked, it would certainly beat my area denial abilities... okay. Change of plans. Half a second earlier, as Master Xemia’s pupils began their attacks, I pushed most of my aura into my legs, a bit into my arms, and shot a bubble at my shoulder to quickly turn me around. I landed on the bubble, feeling it push against me, then launched off towards the dragon.

    Passing Mega Man, I gave him a quick wink as I spiraled towards Master Xemia’s pupils. With one hand each, I slammed them into each other, leaping off the ground approximately 15 feet to rise up to the dragon. I created a bubble in the air to bounce off, and launched myself at the dragon, sending it skidding through the sand with punch.

    “What’s that for?!” I heard a shrill voice exclaim, but I had no time to respond. I created two bubbles inside my hands, pulling them back, and kicked off, popping the bubbles for a near rocket burst of speed. In the air, I was knocked to the side by a disc of sand quickly ascending. I wobbled around in midair, collapsing onto the sand. Coughing, I looked to see the white haired pupil straining, having exhausted a large amount of energy. Not good. I put a bubble on the ground and began my counterattack.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mega Man switching colours, creating four orbs of fire which launched at the enemies at high speed, collapsing into a fireball. Good, he could have a great time, and I can get technical points with judges for these attacks. It was clear I was the first to land, anyway. Launching myself forward, I rolled to narrowly evade two discs of sand rising up from the ground, pushing energy into my arms for a punch. The black haired pupil ran in front to protect the sand disc user, creating a shield of fire. Silly boy. Don’t you know water beats fire?

    One bubble in my fist, I punched through, splashing water and creating a cloud of steam in the air. I could take the pain. The fist collided, sending the black haired pupil back towards the starting line. I built up Neovridh’s power in my left hand, creating a taser like effect. Yes, this would electrocute the cloud, so it should take care of the sand disc user long enough for me to get some dummies in. When the cloud of steam was electrified, I felt the coursing of power throughout, and placed a bubble on to trampoline myself back into the air.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I managed to see it coming -- putting all of my energy into my arms, I wasn’t able to formulate a bubble and had to block. The slash was painful, even cutting through my barrier and drawing blood. It was a small frog like thing, who used two pitchforks, one in each hand. He spun them around, shifting the grip such that one trident was in forehand and the other in backhand grip. With the backhand, he made a stabbing motion. I kicked myself back, rolling onto the ground, and charging forward with more of Neovridh’s power, only to be stopped by a wave of flame from the dragon.

 

    “An UNBELIEVABLE EXCHANGE!” Lionel shouted.

    “It’s hard to keep track of what just happened here,” Liam added, clearly excited, “but this girl, almost as fast as Yieve, made a snap decision that she wouldn’t be able to get a good enough time playing clean, and decided to stall the other competitors... and the quality of these attacks, people. Back and forth. This may be the strongest grouping yet!”

    I paid no attention to the announcers, instead focusing on the double edged sword I had drawn -- though I was able to stop them from being able to compete with my time, I have created 4 people trying to oppose me. An opening to get to the dummies would not be likely. Mega Man, at this point, had finished his 100, and was making a dash to the exit. My arm hurt, and I was breathing heavily. I couldn’t keep this intensity up the whole time. I placed more energy into the bubble I had put on the ground earlier. It looks like this will be my out.. but I can’t let anyone realize what I am doing or they might pop it.

    I was stopped by the frog again jumping at me, two slashing attacks that I was able to sidestep, followed by a jab. I leaped over the jab, leveraging my 3 foot height difference, and kicked him on the back. He turned around, launching a spray of tiny pitchforks. I placed a bubble up in front of me, but they pierced through. It hurt. I felt them sticking out of me all over. The frog reached into its pocket, pulling out something, and all of the tiny pitchforks stuck to it -- a magnet, perhaps? I had no time to think. I placed more energy into the bubble as I scrambled to dodge the dragon’s fire, this one nicking 60 dummies.

    The dummies themselves were small, about the size of my torso, and either flying around in the air, walking around on the ground quickly on 4 feet, or burrowing into the sand and surfacing. They seemed to have no offensive capabilities, only being a mild nuisance. The black haired pupil of Master Xemia suddenly shouted out a syllable, and as I turned to him I saw two snake-like jets of water flying towards me. I threw myself to the side to dodge, but it turned to chase me. Scrambling to my feet, I saw the frog take the opportunity to rush up to attack dummies. The other jet took down about sixty dummies in one sweeping motion, before flying towards me. So that’s their game!

    It was big enough. I lifted the bubble out of the ground, dashing towards it. The snakes were between me and the bubble, and the dragon was directly above it, but all of this is fine. I just need to be quick as lightning. I offered a prayer to Neovridh, and pushed all of my energy into my feet. The snakes coiled up to “bite” me, and I saw two discs of sand flying towards me quickly. More, I just needed more speed.

    “Very well,” I heard a voice rumble from within me. It spoke?! Neovridh..?! I felt a rush of energy inside, nothing like I had felt before. I had it! This was just what I needed! Scrambling on the ground to push every bit of speed out of me and ducking under the snakes, I planted another tiny bubble underneath the large one, and pushed the tiny one forward to launch me and the bubble. It was flying through the air now. I felt the force through my entire body, I had never moved this fast before - but I can take it - I’m Claire Beaumont.

    I broke the sound barrier as the bubble made its way into the middle of the swarm. I kicked off it as I pushed as much electricity as I could into it, turning around to pop the bubble with a finger gun I made. It exploded, launching clumps of sand as deadly shrapnel to shock as many of the dummies as possible. If this didn’t work, I will have failed entirely. Everything was riding on that bubble. I looked above my head to see the counter, as it quickly rose up. 52... 63... 68... 81... 92.. 103?! I did it! As I hurled myself through the air, I passed through the gate. I did it...

    I felt Mega Man grab me as I torpedoed past the finish line. I heard the announcer.

    “Second through the gate, at 3 minutes and 2 seconds, Claire Beaumont!”

    Thank goodness. Those words were the last that I heard before I slipped out of consciousness in Mega Man’s arms.


    “Mega Man had a really good time,” I said before having another spoon of the ice cream.

    “Yeah, he did alright,” Lucifer mumbled through his.

    “Please don’t speak with your mouth full,” I chided. He kicked me in the leg. It really wasn’t very hard so I didn’t mind, and besides, I really liked this ice cream. The catering staff outdid themselves with this. I’m not exactly sure what was keeping Anton, but he would miss our triumphant moment.

    “Ooh, Claire is looking pretty strong here,” Lucifer noted. “You picked a good team to choose as a rival.”

    “Mmhm,” I said. After swallowing, I continued: “Yieve is strong, but her team mate is just a kid. All we need to do is focus him down and take the resulting 2-on-1, and we should be able to win. Mega Man and Claire, as I expected, are the toughest.”

    I zoomed the broadcast in on Claire’s fighting. At this point, Ashley’s dragon had breathed a wall of fire, preventing Claire from continuing her offense. It seemed she used a combination of bubbles and lightning in her combat, and took advantage of momentum to increase the power of her attacks. Area denial would probably be the best way to deal with it.

    “And first through the gate, at 2 minutes and 41 seconds, Mega Man, from Earth!”

    Yup, it figures that Mega Man would be first. It’s only proper, then, that I will also be in first place. As much as I hated to admit it, I was looking forward to crushing him in front of all of those people. Maybe a bit childish of me, but Mega Man was the ultimate annoyance for so long. I’m seeing a revival of Wily, here.

    “Second through the gate, at 3 minutes and 2 seconds, Claire Beaumont, from Earth!”

    “That was stupid,” Lucifer said, kicking the ground in disapproval.

    “What, the final launch?”

    “She couldn’t handle the speed! It’s like she had never practiced using that much power before, and moved so fast she couldn’t handle it. What an idiot?”

    “Third through the gate, at 3 minutes and 13 seconds, Ashley Totora, from Mars! And in her arms, at 3 minutes and 13 seconds, Frog, from Mars!” Lionel announced, but before even having a chance to breath, “and at 3 minutes and 15 seconds, from Allgarden, Lala!”

    I whistled. A swindle like nothing else, the dark skinned Antimine duo that looked so impressive fighting Claire was losing to... some elves, it looked like.

    “At 3 minutes and 18 seconds, also from Allgarden, Teeri! And at 3 minutes and 19 seconds, Afri Qulriika Sen, from Antimo! People, this is insanity!” He shouted. The crowd was losing their minds at the incredible closeness of this grouping.

    “At 3 minutes and 25 seconds, Texu Enschtriika Sen, from Antimo’s second sector!”

    There was a flurry of activity in the judges panel, and Lionel was cut off mid sentence. After a hearty discussion, while the remaining people flocked in and received their times unannounced, Lionel spoke up again:

    “Our judges have been unable to come to a conclusion on the top 3 teams this grouping. By decision, Afri Qulriika and Texu Enschtriika are the third rated team. By time, Teeri and Lala are the third rated team! We are going to have to take this up with the administration to figure out what to do, but in the mean time... grouping C’s undisputed champions by both decision and time... Mega Man Light and Claire Beaumont!”

    The crowd burst into applause. It sickened me. The two walked up, with Mega Man supporting the still woozy Claire as they ascended the stairs. Mega Man waved his arm cannon to the audience, much to their pleasure.

 

    “Mega Man, tell us about that fire attack you used,” Liam said. “It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”

    “On Earth,” he explained, “I ran into a certain individual many times who put the people in danger. I am a robot, if you can not tell, by the way. Regardless, he would employ other robots and weaponize them, using them to cause trouble and creating elaborate arenas for them and I would have to defeat them to stop their reign of terror. After beating them, I obtained upgrades to my systems, which I have collected over time. After my father and creator’s passing, he gave me a permit to use all of them at once. That one was called Scorch Wheel.”

    Lucifer burst out laughing, a slight giggle turning into raucous laughter. “He’s talking about you, man!”

    “Shut up,” I curtly responded.

    “I see, so you use these cybernetic attacks,” Lionel noted.

    “I have an undead type Pact, but I do not know what its ability is as I have not made contact with it yet. What I can do, however, is incorporate the energy from my... well, rapping, into these weapons, in order to upgrade them.”

    “I see! What an interesting and unorthodox fighting style,” Liam noted.

    “Claire Beaumont,” he then said. “Are you okay to talk?”

    “Yeah, ‘m fine,” she said. “Bit dizzy.”

    “Tell us about that amazing exchange, which - by the way, earned you perfect 10s from all of the judges.”

    “Figured. I’m pretty strong, but as I was moving towards it I realized so are these other people. If I went off just time alone, I couldn’t guarantee having too extreme of a lead, and I couldn’t guarantee coming in first. Instead, I chose to fight for points, and stall their clock out so Mega Man could easily take the lead.”

    “Well thought, and well fought, I might add,” Liam joked. “Tell us about that big bubble at the end there.”

    “Kay, so even if I beat all four of those guys, which, by the way, was not going to happen... individually, I could take maybe 2, but all four? Won’t do. But even if I did, the contest is about going through the goal after destroying 100 dummies. I needed a way to get through the goal and move quickly, so I decided to do some rocket staging.”

    “Rocket staging?” Lionel asked.

    “Yeah, so in a rocket you have different stages, one initial thrust, and then once the fuel is done it jettisons the empty tanks to be lighter weight. Similarly, I had one big bubble, and a smaller, more volatile bubble to launch the bigger one. Once I was in the cloud, I shot shrapnel everywhere and launched myself off the bigger one using the momentum from the initial launch and my jump for maximum speed.”

    “Wow. Ladies, gentlemen, and other beings... Claire Beaumont -- definitely one to keep an eye out for! So, you two, the question on everyone’s mind: what brings you to this tournament?” He pointed the microphone to my hated foe.

    “Well, I have one goal. On my planet... people don’t necessarily trust robots, and some robots don’t have the best view of humans, either. After going to the multiverse, I realize similar sentiments are everywhere. I want to be a hero to save people, but more importantly... I want to create a future when robots and humans can live together in peace. I need to be a lot stronger to do that, though.”

    Lionel nodded. “A just goal. And you, Claire?”

    “I am Claire Beaumont, dragontamer. I am a weapon for Mars. Even if Mars chose, this year, to allow those culinary school members to represent them, I will stand for Mars and exist for her purpose as long as I live. This here is my message: should you ever encounter difficulties, I will be able to match them.”

    Claire handed the microphone back to Lionel, and then descended the stairs. Mega Man floundered around ineptly, before following after her. Lionel was speechless for a moment, before giving out an entirely-too-late “give it up for Claire and Mega Man!”

 

    While Frog was just a roughly 3 foot tall froggy humanoid wearing chainmail and a cloak(which he evidently was hiding many pitchforks in), Ashley was a noble looking girl, wearing a burgundy woman’s suit and a brooch bearing some sort of insignia on it. Her purple hair was tied neatly into a ponytail at the back, and with how pale her skin is only her lack of a pinky finger signified she was Martian.

    Frog hopped up the steps to keep up with Ashley’s quick and dignified ascension to the top.

    “Frog and Ashley, congratulations on second place. What an incredible performance! That summoning was incredible, and Frog, you had Claire Beaumont on the ropes in that skirmish! Can we expect to see that again in the tournament proper?”

    Frog picked up the microphone. “We do not know if we have made it this far.”

    He handed the microphone to Ashley, who just nodded and handed it back to Lionel.

    “I... see. And what brings you to this tournament?”

    “Connections, mostly,” Ashley said. “I enrolled in a culinary school and have no intention of battling as a career. What I do want, however, is to meet the strong Binders who can go to distant and hostile places to procure rare ingredients for me.”

    “Well, if any of you are looking for a job in the next couple years, you know who to ask!”

 

    There was a mixed reception from the crowd. Lucifer was beaming.

    “You like that motive?” I asked.

    “It’s honest. Most mortals are focused with trying to be what they perceive to be good, and act accordingly. Most bad things are done in the name of good intentions. Tell me, what evils can be done in the name of food?”

    “My kingdom for a shortcake, I suppose?”

    Lucifer laughed. “What is that? Is that serious? Well, whatever.”

    “...and now, word from the higher-ups. The two teams tied for third place will not be interviewed, but you can be assured that their high performance will make it to the next round, unless the next 3 groupings are even more incredible than us. Prepare now, for grouping D!”

    “That’s us,” Lucifer noted. I materialized my scythe into my hand, with Lucifer being the other scythe. I adjusted my hair a bit in the mirror. Lucifer kicked me in the back of the shins.

    “What? We’re going to be the only team that will pass our grouping, we might as well look good.”

 

Chapter Text

    I yawned as I headed down the walkway. It’s weird, being a vampire tires me out more than ever before. Anton told me it was because I need to drink more blood, but it’s not like I have a surplus of blood. Lucifer was following within his 20m. A lot of teams looked at him curiously, which I guess is to be expected. Entity Pacts are supposedly the rarest type of Pact, and here is not just an entity, but one that has a physical body as well. It’s a lot bigger out here than the TV made it look. My old brain made me instantly fear the run. Heh.

    “Wily, how exactly do you plan to do..?”

    “Sh,” I said, cutting him off. “You’ll see.”

    It was weird being in the group of people as if I was equal to them. Still, it was fun seeing all of these people acting like they have a chance. The referees confirmed I was allowed to bring outside tools, gadgets, and inventions in, so long as I could fit them on my person. Satan was able to get me 20 bags of holding, and I have a growth ray. I couldn’t help but laugh... how immature. Is Lucifer rubbing off on me? The thought annoyed me.

    I had my finger on the drawstring to release all of them at once. Lucifer was pre-buffing himself to be able to defeat things as fast as possible. Sorry, partner, but you’re getting dinged by this too. When the word “Start” appeared, I pulled the string as fast as I could muster, then quickly pulled out my growth ray with my other hand, dashing forward ahead of the mob. Hundreds of my specially designed, demonfire infused robots grew in front of me.

    “Kay, 33% of you stop anyone from passing, the rest destroy every robot.”

    I raised one hand up to the referee, making a thumbs up. He responded in turn, and I began walking, placing my hands back in my pockets.

    “Oi, Wily, what the monkey hell?!” Lucifer shouted as the robots fired up, quickly and methodically launching beams of demonfire at all of the dummy robots.

    “You can get 100. I believe in you.”

    That’s what he gets for making fun of my righteous anger. Is it not fair for me to be angry at Mega Man just at the sight of him? After all of the humiliation he has caused me? Why is this worth being mocked? And now, the punishment.

    “One contestant has... brought in an army to do his bidding in the preliminaries!” Lionel shouted. “Even his partner seems to be having trouble, and he is just watching?!”

    “It’s a good strategy,” Liam noted. “He can’t get anything but perfect scores off judging if he is the only one to pass. Still, why doesn’t he run? Is he a wizard too?”

    After a leisurely stroll, I heard thundering footsteps from far behind at the starting line. Seems like Lucifer got his 100.

    “Wily, you bastard!” Lucifer screamed from the front line. “I’m going to beat you!!” I looked above my head. 1856 dummy robots beat. Not bad.

    “First through the gate... from Hell, Dr. Wily, at 3 minutes and 21 seconds. And second to cross, Lucifer, at 3 minutes and 29 seconds.” Lionel said. I was already climbing up to his podium. As Lucifer barreled towards me, I bowed slightly, gesturing towards the microphone. His anger subsided in a second, replaced with a wicked childlike glee as he took the microphone.

    “Hey,” Lionel was heard to say in the background.

    “My name is Lucifer, prince of all of the underworlds and founder of Hell. We are the only team that will pass in grouping D this time. We’re here to punish Mega Man for his transgressions against my partner, and we will come in first place. I apologize to all of the second rate binders who wasted their time coming here.”

    He adjusted his tunic, puffing out his chest proudly as he went down the stairs to the most spirited booing I have ever heard in my life. I grabbed the microphone from the stunned Lionel, towering over him. It’s bizarre being 6’7” again.

    “Ahem,” I spoke. “I apologize for my partner’s harsh words.”

    There was a hesitant, hopeful look in the eyes of everyone looking out at me.

    “He was too blunt, but in essence, he was right. None of those robots were particularly strong, and they were all from a batch of experiments. If you have a problem with us winning, get stronger next year.”

    I felt their glares on me. I didn’t really like being hated, but someone had to put a positive spin on what Lucifer just said. Should I button my collar? I don’t think I should button my collar, because I had it unbuttoned walking up and it would be awkward if I did so right now. But, with everyone looking at me, it would make sense to have my shirt collared. I probably should have buttoned it before I came up here.

    As I looked at all of the people I held back, I felt a twinge of guilt that their adolescent glory moment was stolen from them, by someone who was able to go back into adolescence, and their hated foe’s thoughts were on the minutia of garment buttoning. Then again, though, these robots really aren’t very good. Their targeting is weak, and they overheat too fast.

    They were speechless as I walked past into the corridor leading to our room.

    “Wily! Come quick!” Lucifer shouted, in an unusually emotionally tinged shriek.

    “What? What is it?” I called back.

    “They... somebody took Anton!”


    “Brittany?”

    I got lost on the way to the vending machine... Odin wanted some spicy chips, and I took a wrong turn somewhere. Still, I wasn’t expecting this. Was she taken by the president?

    “Mega Man,” she said in a somber fashion. “I... I need your help.”

    “What is it?”

    The green fluorescent lightning was not enough to properly illuminate the narrow concrete corridor, I simply could not see her face if I tried. I had never seen Brittany act so downcast. I took a step forward, but hesitated - something inside me told me it was a bad idea.

    “It’s... my sister.”

    “What about her?”

    There was an awkward pause. The room was deathly silent. She took a step backwards before speaking: “they took her.” She ran off the other way. I pulled a piece of paper out of a pocket inside my suit, writing “for Odin” on it, then put 5 Kigs(the Thip currency) inside it. I figure people would respect Odin enough to not steal from him. Either way, I had something more pressing to look after.


 

    “Mega Man is taking a long time to get chips,” Thor said. “Perhaps we should not have allowed him to carry the name of Valhalla.”

    “That’s an overstatement. I’ll go looking for him,” Pierre said. Thor gave him a measured look, before collapsing into his sofa. As he did, I followed him out. I wasn’t too comfortable spending time around gods just yet.

    “You are coming too?”

    I nodded. He lead the way, with us walking in silence for a bit. A man passed us, turning back to look at us. We turned around to look at him, but there was nothing there. Why did we turn around, again? I looked at Pierre inquisitively. He stared out at the hall.

    “I think we forgot something,” he said.

    “That can’t be, there was nothing and then we both turned, right?” I pointed out. He sighed before letting up. The halls were strangely silent, with the fluorescent lighting giving an eerie green tinge to everything. It’s not like I was scared, but it was the type of atmosphere that put me on edge. A thought occurred to me -- why was it that we thought we were looking at nothing?

    “You remember him now, right?”

    “Yes,” Pierre said, turning around. I followed suit, there was a short man there wearing a navy suit with a light blue shirt underneath. He had short black hair, sunglasses that covered his eyes, and slightly dark skin.

    “I am a messenger,” he said. “Though, it does not matter what I do.”

    “Who are you?”

    “Glimpse Otchere,” he answered. “I possess a Perfect Pact, my ability is memory impermanence. You will not remember me, or anything I have done.”

    I felt a twinge of power on my left arm where Neovridh’s brand was. I allowed electricity to flow through me as I visualized a matrix of bubbles constituting all of the world. The man raised his hands in submission.

    “I am a pacifist, I mean no harm. I just wish to tell you this now so when you forget me, you will not feel uncomfortable about it. Deep down, part of you will recall.”

    “What do you want, Glimpse?” Pierre asked.

    “I have come to deliver a message to Claire Beaumont. You are Claire Beaumont, yes?” he said, pointing towards me.

    “Yes...”

    “My employer has paid me to tell you that he has captured Mega Man. Come to the Drukham ostrium mine before the first round starts, and he will not be destroyed.”

    “What?!” I shouted. “How could you?!”

    “I am just a messenger... please do not harm me. I am not suited for combat.”

    “Oh, yeah? And who is your em-”

    He put his hands in front of his eyes. I felt stupid, getting worked up over nothing. I guess I’m just uncomfortable with Mega Man being gone. Why was Neovridh acting up? That’s twice, now, that I have done something completely unexplainable. First, I was facing another direction, and now I am suddenly fired up and ready to battle. But... it’s not just that. I feel like I was fighting for something. Aside from my duty to be of use to Mars, I can’t imagine anything else I would get that worked up over. Maybe it had to do with Mars?

    “Come on, this isn’t the way to the Drukham ostrium mine,” Pierre chided. I sighed. Maybe I was just getting worked up over nothing. I popped the bubbles in my mind, feeling the tension of magic leaving my body. For some reason, I felt like looking back. My gaze lingered for just a little bit too long, and I lightly slapped myself to turn around and follow Pierre.

 

    It was night time now, in a hilly area with a few structures around from the remnants of the mining days. Though this area was protected as a historical area, the security of the city was primarily focused on protecting the stadium so it was virtually child’s play for a Martian warrior to slip past. Had the circumstances changed, I would have found this to be a serene moment. Looking up at the moon of Thip, resting on the hill... but I had to rescue Mega Man, and I was not an ordinary person who could enjoy ordinary moments like these.

    We lingered at the edge of the mine entrance. I had my eyes out, putting the majority of my energy into eyesight... there were no guards on the outside, presumably only on the inside. Just when I thought it was fine to enter, however, I saw two figures moving up towards the entrance. Perfect. I silently placed a bubble on the ground, lining up perfectly to jump them. Pierre nodded at me, taking a defensive position and watching the entrance.

    I leaped forward. In that instant, I saw them both turn towards me, one aiming its hand towards me and firing blasts of purple energy. I couldn’t block it. My only option was to create a bubble on my back as a parachute. It ballooned up, disrupting my forward momentum and jerking me forward in an almost painful manner. I popped the bubble, dropping to the ground to face my assailant.

    “So, you’re behind this!”

    “Wily?” I asked.

    “Shut up...” Lucifer said, voice dripping with venom as his hands trembled. He pushed Wily aside with one hand, and turned to face me.

    “Give Anton back. I have a morbid mind and you have all eternity to regret this.”

    “Who is Anton?”

    Jets of black flame shot out of the ground beneath me, cascading at the top into an orb which launched waves of bullets at me. I darted back and forth, trying to dodge, only for him to launch a beam of purple energy in my area. I quickly pushed all of my energy into a forward facing bubble, deflecting the beam off to the side. It ripped a hole through one of the hills, petering out in midair. Lucifer wasted no time, liquefying a rock and launching the resulting magma at me. I jumped backwards, well aware the damage the heat could cause.

    I was breathing hard. Mages should be cannon fodder for me, but the diverse nature of his attacks and the sheer scope of what he was doing made it difficult for me to take the initiative. On the other hand, his beam attacks were so fast that dodging was unlikely, and I had to focus everything on evasion or defense - the latter of which would drain my energy.

    “He did nothing wrong, you bastard!” he shouted, tears coming to his eyes.

    “I don’t know who he is! I’m telling you! I’m here for Mega Man!”

    Another beam came flying at me. As I pushed my energy forward to block it, I saw a large figure jump in front of me, holding its arms out. Wily? He blocked most of the blast, skidding backwards nearly into my arms as the sheer force pushed him a good 4-6 meters.

    “Wily, explain yourself.”

    “She doesn’t know, Luc,” Wily said.

    “The hell she doesn’t! Why else would our enemy be here?! Huh?!”

    “We’re being toyed with. They want us to fight so they can tire us out. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes... it’s obvious.”

    “And you’re just so smart, that... that you don’t even care! It doesn’t bother you, at all, that he’s been taken?!!”

    Wily walked up, placing a hand on Lucifer’s shoulder. “We’ll rescue him.”

    “Who is Anton?” I asked.

    “Our butler,” Wily answered. “It’s hard to find good, trustworthy people in Hell, and Anton was a cut above the rest.”

    “He was my personal attendant,” Lucifer said bitterly. “How could I have let this happen?”

    “They took Mega Man, too.”

    Wily let out a snort. I felt like punching him, but he did technically save me. I motioned for Pierre to come over.

    “Don’t,” Wily said. “He’ll just hold us back. If they could capture Mega Man, they could easily defeat Pierre... no offense.”

    “Hold o... us?”

    “Look, I’m the smartest living person on Earth. I’m not dumb. I don’t know who is doing this, but they are a significant threat, and I’d rather work with you to save Anton than beat my head into a wall. Besides, this is your one and only chance to see what a skilled Binder looks like.”


Chapter Text

    Musty. Damp. Humid. The mine evoked all of these nasty feelings at once, creating an unpleasant combination that assaulted all of my senses. I also wasn’t a fan of having to work with one of my enemies, but I’d rather have her with me than fighting us. Lucifer was radiating an absolutely palpable aura of killing intent, palpable being this morning’s word of the day. In University, I never really paid attention to the arts, and having to put up with Lucifer’s rantings on interior decoration has given me a newfound appreciation for them.

    Claire went flying past me, tackling another guard to the ground, instantly incapacitating him. I have to admit, I do like having an attack dog. Nothing here even remotely registered as a threat to me, so having someone to deal with the small fry to conserve my energy is nice.

    “How come you’re not contributing?” Claire shot at me, after dusting herself off. Not seeing Claire wearing the school uniform was strange to me - she was currently wearing shorts and a linen blouse, which, I suppose would be a weather appropriate thing to wear, if you were a mortal and cared about that sort of thing.

    “He doesn’t bother with weaklings,” Lucifer fired back. The tension between us was palpable, a word which means “plainly perceived”, it’s actually a very nice word for these sorts of things. As I came to a gnarled wooden door, I kicked the thing right off. This wasn’t working. I couldn’t calm myself down by thinking about useless crap. Luckily for me, the next room contained somebody that looked a fair bit stronger.

    “Who are you?” the guard asked. She raised her weapon, an arm cannon.

    She fired a shot first, but I materialized my scythe and deflected it to the side, pushing energy into my legs to launch myself forward, then creating a circular motion to quickly slingshot it to my head, increasing my perception until the world seemed to move in slow motion. She was trying to put up a shield... how amusing. With more energy into my arms, I hacked her arm-cannon off with a sweeping motion of my scythe. I adjusted myself in midair so I would land cleanly, before releasing the pressure of the energy in my head.

    As time returned to normal, her reaction to losing her hand seemed delayed to me, as her other hand carried out the actions of activating the shield on the now-freefalling piece of machinery. I didn’t even need to activate my suit for this one.

    “Wh-” the guard said, only to be electrocuted by Claire and falling unconscious immediately. Lucifer created black chains and tied her to a stalagmite. The room we were in was off the beaten path, away from where the carts and equipment went, in an area since-abandoned. Aside from support pillars and doors added in to provide the semblance of structure... the room was as natural as caves could get, save for the holes drilled in to extract ostrium. There was a knock on the door.

    “Are you finished?” the voice said. I recognized that voice.

    “Yes, do you need our permission to enter?”

 

    “How ironic, vampire,” he said. The voice was haughty and spoke in an almost seductive, dangerous tone. Elec Man opened the door to this room. I saw Mega Man, my hated enemy, the arrogant fool on what appeared to be a torture rack. On the next one... Anton. I’d stay cool. I will stay cool. Elec Man wore his typical outfit, a black suit with an electricity symbol on the helmet emblazoned with a mask over his eyes, with dark orange highlights throughout.

    “State your name and purpose,” Lucifer said, breathing heavily. Black energy leaked from him as it seeped through the cracks of the ground.

    “I am Elec Man, I was created to handle power plants. But Wily, you had other plans for me, no? You could see what potential I really had.”

    “Elec M-” I put my hand in front of Lucifer before he could begin his sentence.

    “Elec Man, you were able to defeat Mega Man. As was Bubble Man. What is going on here?”

    “What is going on, is Lord Ombra saw our potential more than you ever did! My voltage... my potential. They are one in the same. He taught us styles, and traveled to find us great Pacts,” he began.

    “What are you doing here, Elec Man.”

    “Geh... impatient as ever, Wily. This is why Light was the superior scientist... though, having creating me, that is apparent.”

    Why don’t we just destroy him? Lucifer chimed in mentally through my scythe. Give me the word. Please.

    I want to, Wily said, but I need to get more information out of him first.

    Do you even care at all?!

    I was fighting back tears at this point. I pushed Lucifer back slightly more at this, squeezing my hand in frustration.

    “Why have you hurt Anton?”

    “Him? No idea. Our benefactor gave the support of 5 medium-ranked angels so long as we carried out this plan. We all jumped at the opportunity to get back at Mega Man... but to think we could spit in the face of Dr. Wily as well!”

    Elec Man began glowing, sparks of electricity jumping off him in excitement. I could feel his hatred... did he even know it powered me up? Did he care? Was he mocking me again?

    “You don’t even have a style, Dr. Wily!! How could you consider yourself, a mere biotic, to be on the level of us machines?!!” Elec Man said, cackling as more electricity seeped into him. Claire stepped to the side, eyes wide. This was not a good matchup for her.

    “I am The Electric Man. Prepare to die, Dr. Wily.”

    “That name is stupid, you bastard!!” Lucifer screamed, pushing four sigils into the ground. I span the scythe around above my head, splitting it into two. It’s go-time.

 

    “Claire, find an opening, then save Anton... and Mega Man, I guess.”

    “You don’t control me,” she protested, but ran off to the side anyway. Elec Man let loose a giant pulse of electricity, causing Claire to immediately faint. It hurt. It hurt so much. Everything felt weird afterwards. Elec Man had transformed -- his entire body made out of electricity. So this was his game. Well, at least I didn’t need to worry about Claire seeing how I really fought.

    “Resist Shock - Medium, partner Alteration,” Lucifer called out, holding his spellbook in one hand. “Cure Medium, partner Alteration. Auto-Regen Light, partner Alteration.”

    As Lucifer read off spells, giving us both buffs, Elec Man came flying at him at incredible speed. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be able to match him. But Elec Man chose to fight in the night-time. As a daywalker, I could move in daylight without harm, but would receive no boons from my vampirism and found myself lethargic. At night?

    Kicking off against the ground, I skidded to a halt, holding myself in front of Lucifer and Elec Man, scythe in hand. He darted to one side on the dime, leaving a trail of electricity behind him in his attempt to circumvent me to get Lucifer. I pivoted on one foot, twisting my entire body in a wild slash. Elec Man kicked off the ground, jumping backwards to block it. Still holding the book and flipping through pages to find the correct spells, Lucifer leaped over my scythe slash.

    “Demon Flight, partner Alteration. Falcon Speed, partner Alteration. Tank Barrier, partner Alteration. Okay, let’s go!”

    Lucifer placed his book inside a dimensional pocket, materializing his own scythe that had been altered to look closer to a staff. My wings had formed from the spell, and Falcon Speed provided me with a rush of energy to my perception and legs. I charged towards him, slicing at him incredibly quickly -- however, my staff harmlessly phased through him, sending a jolt of electricity up my arm for my troubles.

    Elec Man took no wasted opportunity, flinging up wires from the ground which he had coiled as snakes to attack us. I deftly dodged to the side, only to be knocked to the ground by a pulse of electricity. I rolled to dodge a falling clump of metal, scraping myself. Auto-Regen kicked in, restoring a bit of health.

    “What’s the matter? Can’t deal with attacks from every direction? That’s too bad.”

    Barreling off as fast as possible to hit him would not work here, if he dodged I would break my skull on the wall. I had to come up with a better plan. Moreover, I needed to find a way to deal with these wires being potential conduits for his full force. The room was too claustrophobic for free movement, and with these hanging wires now pumping him with energy and acting as weapons the safe space available dropped even more.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur of motion - Claire jumped at him at a speed I’d never seen her moving before. Just before impact, however, Elec Man went flying into the wall, sending cracks through the rock and spitting up electrified oil onto the ground as he coughed and picked himself off.

    “It’s...” a battered, hard breathing Claire said. Her clothing was burned and ripped throughout, and she was covered in tiny burns. “It’s hard... holding this much energy. But... like charges repel.”

    She collapsed to her feet, taking a breath in as Elec Man picked himself up. I get it now... even if he has some tricks, he’s made of electricity.

    “That low voltage?! That was your trump card? Okay, you got one good hit on me. But I’m still standing, fleshbag!!” He let out a maniacal laughter, brushing the sparks of electricity in the shape of his hair. His voice was distorted and full of static, as if the electricity itself was trying to simulate his voice.

 

    Sixteen bolts of black energy came at him. Elec Man moved lightning quick, weaving in between them to close the gap between him and Lucifer. Lucifer let out a smirk as the seal he had placed on the ground activated, sending a rush of purple flame from the ground to the ceiling. Elec Man stumbled off, absorbing power from the wires.

    “You don’t get it... I am a machine. Elite. I don’t possess your biotic weaknesses or fallacies. I am a perfect creation of logic. How could I lose here?”

    “You had to trick Mega Man to beat him, Elec Man,” I said, hands trembling with rage.

    “What?! Of course n-”

    “Lies!” I said, knocking a stalagmite to the ground in fury. “How could you say you defeated Mega Man in a fight when his chassis is completely unsinged?! You used trickery to beat him. Only I can beat Mega Man.”

    “Oh, is that what you’re worried about? Don’t worry...” he cooed, “that can be arranged.”

    “Worried?” I said, brushing back my hair with my left hand. The pain, the burns all over my body seemed to melt away. I quickly glanced at Lucifer... he must be feeling it too. “We’ve already won.”

    I dematerialized my scythe, giving its power to Lucifer, and retrieved rubber hosing from creating my robots earlier from a pouch. Elec Man watched in what was presumably smug amusement(it was hard to tell, he was currently just a bunch of sparks of electricity in the shape of a man) as I wrapped my hands in it. I then activated my suit’s power function, cranking the dial -- 100% of available charged power

    “Do you know what a cartridge is, Elec Man?” I asked.

    “Don’t be stupid, Dr. Wily. Are you new to using supernatural forces? A cartridge is when you store your energy in a crystal to be used later.”

    “So, you do know, then. Tell me, have you ever wondered what it would be like to use a cartridge from the lord of Hell?”

    “What d-”

    I cut him off, pushing all of Lucifer’s stored energy into my legs and arms to speed up as much as possible. In my run, I envisioned my bones solidifying into metal, creating immense weight in my fist. Right before connecting, I released the mental incantation, making my fist weigh 500 lbs as it barreled through the air at near supersonic speeds. Rubber, of course, does not conduct electricity.

    When the punch connected, I felt the softness of the electric form solidify until it felt like the chassis of a real robot. If only it had a face so I could see it’s expression. I heard the cracking of an internal support structure, followed by watching it going flying into the wall. It gave a satisfying cracking sound. I stepped deftly to the side, turning to look as my partner finished charging up a blast using the two scythes combined. Black energy, purple flame, and green lightning intertwined in an unholy rope of death, a beam with a radius of the average person’s torso, directly aimed at Elec Man’s head. Elec Man screamed in agony and flailed around, until all of the electricity covering him petered out and he collapsed onto the ground.

    “If you can’t beat Mega Man in a fair fight, how in the hell do you expect to beat us? Idiot.”

    Claire, seeing this, let out a contented smile as she sank to the ground, unconscious.

    I crouched down over the smoldering remains of Elec Man. I retrieved his cognitive circuit, handing it to Lucifer. Lucifer opened one of his bags, grinning at me as he stored it for later rehabilitation. Finally, I rifled through his internal storage unit until I found keys. Lucifer and I entered the next room where Anton and Mega Man were kept.

 

    I looked up at my hated foe for a second. I could end it all here. I... I could finish him, and then Lucifer and I would achieve our goal. I couldn’t think for a moment. I felt a sharp pain in the back of my leg as Lucifer kicked me harshly. Right. Anton. I turned to him, handing him the keys. He was fighting back tears, forcing a weak smile as he picked them up. With trembling hands, he unlocked the chains for Anton, and lightly slapped his face to wake him up.

    “Master..? Where am I?”

    Lucifer embraced Anton. He barely made it up to his chest. Anton looked down at him in confusion, awkwardly lifting his hands, before returning the gesture.

    “Don’t you ever leave me like that again!” he cried. “Who would make us food without you? I don’t have a lot of people I can trust, you know!”

    Anton let go, and bowed before Lucifer. I heard soft, quiet sobbing, but I wasn’t focused on that. I turned to look at Mega Man. Right, all of this had been so I could defeat him. One slash right here, and I could take his cognitive circuit. I could win. Then, I alone would rule Earth.

    “Are you gonna do it..?” Lucifer asked.

    “No,” I answered. “Not until I’ve humiliated him and made him aware he is weaker than me in every way.”

    “He looks bad... it should be pretty easy to win,” Lucifer said. Without the usual sass and childlike malice, his voice sounded like a different person.

    I nodded. I took my toolkit out of my robotics bag of holding, pulling out everything I had.

    “What are you doing?”

    “Winning an unfair fight is meaningless. I don’t care about anything but complete victory.”

    My body barely felt real as I got to work, repairing the circuitry. Dr. Light’s work is as impressive as ever, functionally beautiful, but lacking real punch. It was form over function in a way with how he handled elegance. There was no desire to put as much firepower as possible, instead, he focused on design that was simple and robust. It worked for some things, but for robots..? This is why I didn’t understand his praise.

    I accidentally fixed the defect in his Mega Buster preventing him from reverting it into a hand in this adult body. It brought me no small joy knowing my rival’s work had flaws. Lucifer and Anton merely watched. I heard a rustling from the other room.

    “...Wily..? Wily?! What the hell are you doing?!” Claire shouted. Lucifer stood in front of the door, blocking her out.

    “I’m repairing him,” I said.

    “What..?”

    “Tell him this when he wakes,” I insisted, gritting my teeth. I looked at his head, where I could easily make an incision now. I could do it now, and Claire couldn’t stop me. It’s one versus three. “Tell him, Dr. Wily repaired you, and he owes his life to me. Tell him I will face him in the finals and UTTERLY OBLITERATE HIM!”

    I threw my wrench across the room with all my might, such that it embedded itself into the wall. I balled my fists so hard they bled. I glared at the girl from across the room before storming out, pushing Lucifer past me. Dammit. Dammit!

    I had my chance. It was right there.

    “See you in the finals.... Mega Boy.”



Chapter Text

    I awoke to a small hospital room. IVs lead into my hydraulics systems, placing nanobots throughout my system. My health bar was full, and all of my weapon power was up. Looking around, I saw Roll asleep in a chair. The lights were off. I moved my hand up in front of my place. Fingers seem okay. It looks like I had upgraded to using 3% of my power, rather than 2%. That’s nice. Where was I? I retraced my steps... I was going to get chips, and then...

    Brittany. I had met Brittany. She had told me something like, “It’s my sister”. I looked back on my memory banks for that. The uncertainty with which she had said it was her sister, and the dedicated, almost mechanical way she told me to go to the mine. Then... nothing. I saw Elec Man, then went back to sleep. And now I’m here.

    Since I’ve been hospitalized, it stands to reason something bad happened to me. That’s a given. Elec Man, now, there’s a confusing one... what is he doing here? Wasn’t he in a rock band? But when I saw him, I was in the mine, so he was there. And now he’s not here, and I’m in a hospital. Did Elec Man take Brittany’s sister? Wait, what is Brittany doing here, anyway?

    Think, Mega Man, think. Brittany is here, and there are two other groups that would know her. Wily and the president. Brittany is in the student council. Did the president bring her to find her sister? Why would Elec Man go after.. ah, right. To get me. So, Elec Man has taken her sister to this place, and then sent her a letter... no, that doesn’t work. Elec Man would send her a letter telling her to seek me out, not the president.

    Brittany never really paid much attention to us, so she can’t have known about the supernatural earlier. It upset Claire, so Claire obviously has a vested interest in Brittany knowing about us. Jason was involved earlier in the registration, and Brittany was not claimed as a support. If Brittany knew all along, Claire would know, and... why does Claire care about Brittany so much, anyway? Is she the one that Claire had a crush on? Forget it, this is juvenile high school things. I need to work this out.

    In these sorts of things, it is important to consider the facts. Brittany’s sister is something she said hesitantly. Either it is fake, or she does not want to know, or she isn’t certain. Next, to go to the mine. She was confident about that, obviously by how she spoke it she rehearsed it, meaning the words came from a piece of writing. The moon of Thip shone through the blinders as the clock ticked. I noticed, now, that I have two hands. Another mystery? I was able to bring out my Mega Buster.

    Forget this mystery... I decided I would tackle a more important question: is this safe. Roll is sleeping, so yes. Therefore, I’ll get more sleep and ask people who know more in the morning.

 

    When I awoke, I saw Roll had left. It was 2:13PM, and I had fully rested. I stretched my arms around a bit, wondering as to why I had two hands, and pulled myself out of bed. It was strange, despite the heat, I still felt like I wanted to lie in the sheets a bit longer... but I had a day to experience. I stepped forward, only for a door to open in my face.

    “Mega Man?!” Roll stammered. “I’m... I’m so sorry!”

    Pierre gave a lazy wave as he walked in, with Claire behind him, looking tense. I’d never seen her look so worried. She brushed her blue hair to the side to look me in the eyes. She looked up and down, crouching down to her knees to inspect my arm.

    “What’s this about..?”

    “Quiet, Mega Man. I haven’t determined if you are being controlled.”

    “What?”

    “Wily fixed you up, after Elec Man experimented on you.”

    “Hold the fort, experimented? What just happened to me?”

    “Well, you and Wily and Lucifer’s butler got kidnapped, and we had to rescue you. Wily decided to repair you so that he could beat you, or something... it seems fishy. I’m inspecting for remote control bugs.”

    “Won’t happen,” I explained. “My ability to control electronics around me would pick up on a remote control field almost immediately, and I would interface with it, gaining control over it immediately.”

    “Ah,” Claire said, giving a deep sigh of relief. “Well, it’s good to see.”

    “What is your relationship with Brittany?”

    Claire let out a peep, punching me hard in my torso. I doubled over as she scrambled to the back of the room.

    “It’s n-nothing, we’re just friends, and, I do stuff for her sometimes, right? Right Pierre?”

    “Please do not drag me into these things.”

    “Actually, why did you ask that?!” Claire said, cracking her knuckles. “Do you just like teasing girls?!”

    “No reason, no reason,” I said through strained tones. “Let’s go, we have a tournament to win.”

    If Brittany is up to something, I have to find out what it is, without Claire knowing. She definitely harbors some romantic feelings towards Brittany, and were Brittany to be up to no good, it would be devastating. Either way, I’d need to make a case first before letting Claire know, I couldn’t risk to have Claire as an enemy in this regard. There I go... thinking people are guilty before I have proof again. That ugly habit from working with Dr. Wily sneaks up.

 

    Looking out the hallway to the common area the teams were in, I saw Yieve wearing a bathrobe with a shoelace, holding onto what appears to be some sort of packaging and looking very uncomfortable.

    “Oh, hey, do you mind? Just hold this for a second, I see Mega Man,” she said. She power-walked over to us, pulling us around the same corner we just exited. “Keep walking, don’t say a wooord.”

    After a few corners, Yieve looked around and let out a sigh of relief, grinning and slumping against a wall.

    “What was that about?” Pierre asked.

    “I didn’t know where the recycling was, and I had this box thing, and if I put the box in not recycling it would make me look like a bad girl. I’m Yieve, by the way. You are?”

    “Pierre Joseph,” he said.

    “Tasty, I’m Yieve. Nice to meet y- I said my name before, didn’t I? Fiddlesticks. And this is Mega Man, and Claire, right?”

    “Yes,” I said. “You know us?”

    “Know you? I’ve been to earth SO many times! Your merchandise is sweet! I have a Mettool helmet, and a Mega Man helmet, two helmets... I’m like, your biggest fan from the realm of shadow, or whatever,” she said. Yieve spoke with weird mannerisms, switching pitches up and down constantly with so much emotion it was hard not to get caught up in her feelings.

    “Anyway, thanks for helping me dump my cardboard on that unsuspecting stranger. You’re a real hero, Mega!” she said.

    “Why did you tie your robe with a shoelace?” Claire said, before clapping her mouth. Wasn’t supposed to say that aloud, huh? Yieve span around on one foot dramatically, nearly falling but catching herself inches from the ground and slinking up to look at Claire.

    “I lost my sash, but I have a shoelace? It’s high fashion!”

    “What?”

    “High! Fashiooooon!!” She said, running down the halls while waving towards us with one hand, and creating an airplane wing for balance with the other.

    We stood there for a few lingering moments, before Pierre broke the silence: “the first match starts in 13 minutes. It’s ALLFIST and Bryan versus the student council.”

 

    The three of us headed towards the stands, preferring to see things up close rather than in our rooms. There was an area designated for placed teams to sit, located in the middle of the regular seating but sectioned off from the regular seats. Wily and Lucifer pretended to ignore us as they brooded in the corner. We decided to take seats close to the protective railing, to get as close as possible to see.

    The other teams here, there was... I believe his name was Damien? There was also some very scientific looking people in bodysuits, that were clearly armed to the teeth. Getting details on their appearance was impossible through the suit, but the suit was recognizable enough. I must have missed their preliminary stages when I was asleep. Damien nodded towards us as we sat down, apparently recognizing us. I looked up expecting more, but his eyes darted to the side. Finally, there was a wiry looking person with black hair sitting next to a golden-eyed man with long blonde hair.

    “Do you know who they are?”

    “Emakians,” Damien said. “They’re pretty good.”

    I reached my hand out towards him for a shake. Damien took it. He had a firm hand-shake, and no knowledge that this was the first handshake I had done with this hand in 2 years, since getting my new body.

    The sand had been grown over magically, instead covered in grass with a central arena set up. The arena was made out of white stone, with glyphs all along the side marked in purple. I didn’t know enough magic to know what any of them did. One side was marked in red, and another in blue.

    “LADIES, GENTLEMEN, AND OTHER BEINGS... do we have a MATCH for you!!” Lionel shouted. The crowd went ballistic. Lights went off, with two spotlights formed on each end as two gates on either end of this area opened with a release of fog. One of the Emakians mentioned something about “needlessly showy”, but I wasn’t paying attention to the specifics.

    “ON THE RED SIDE... we have, ALLFIST and Bryan!! The Underdog story of the year, these two showed remarkable versatility and a lot of heart! Watch out for ALLFIST’s signature fist, courtesy of the technological genius Bryan, creating a dual cartridge device!”

    There was much cheering, people in the audience had signs saying “WE LOVE ALLFIST” and such, it was really quite heartwarming. I felt a tear come to my eye... I could picture just how much it meant to those guys. Even if they lose here, they became someone’s hero.

    “In the BLUE SIDE, from the final round of preliminaries... Andreas and Jason, from Earth! Andreas shocked the world with his incredible powers, and Jason was not one to give up! Like ALLFIST, he has a combination of styles and seemed incredibly versatile! Who will come up on top in this clash of titans?”

    “What was his power?” I asked Claire.

    “I missed it, I was out helping you. Pierre?”

    “He had some paper that he read, and he gained an ability. I wasn’t too sure how it works.”

 

    The two teams gathered in the middle. ALLFIST towered over everyone, with his massive hand slung across his back. Bryan was considerably shorter. Andreas managed to be almost as imposing as ALLFIST, and stood just a half an inch shorter, staring him directly in the eyes. Jason was not particularly tall or muscular, so the visual similarities of the team was striking.

    “You have an interesting device,” Andreas said. His voice was low and menacing.

    “I’m glad you like it,” ALLFIST cheerfully replied. “Let’s have a good match!”

    Andreas chuckled as he turned to move back to a box that was outlined. ALLFIST looked betrayed as he backed towards his box, before turning around entirely to move towards it.

    “In this part of the tournament proper, both teams will fight until the time runs out, or both members are incapacitated or surrender. They start from a box in the back, and fight for 3 rounds of 5 minutes, or until a winner is found. It’s quite simple. Anything goes, so long as it does not cause irreparable harm to the other party,” Liam explained. “And with that said, the fight will start in 5. 4. 3.”

    The numbers appeared on screens throughout the stadium, Liam dropped off at 2 and 1. The fight began explosively, with ALLFIST pumping two cartridges in and immediately charging forward to punch at Andreas. Jason stepped in the way, clapping his hands together and giving a brief chant as a wall of stone rose up. ALLFIST smashed through it, but Jason was on the other side, holding back the fist. He pushed it to the side, sending ALLFIST scrambling.

    “You... you were able to block it?”

    “Wall sure took the wind out of your sails, huh?” Jason said with a grin. Andreas had finished pulling out a piece of paper and a pen, signing the paper in the middle of the battlefield. The paper floated in the sky, suspended where he left it, giving off a white, holy glow. Bryan pulled out his staff, loading a cartridge inside of it. Steam flared out of his device as he pointed it towards Andreas.

    “EMP Pulse,” Andreas said. ALLFIST’s device fell to the ground with a thud as ALLFIST attempted in vain to lift it, and Bryan’s staff stopped functioning altogether. He looked at it with a look of panic, pulling at various chambers to see what was going wrong.

 

    “Oh, sorry, is your Magitek not functioning properly? That’s a shame...” he said, cracking his knuckles and rolling his shoulders. ALLFIST was now pushing against his fist as hard as he could to free his arm, but to no avail. The locking mechanism was fully in place, and he couldn’t make it budge at all. “I suppose you have learned a lesson then, about not keeping all your eggs in one basket, yes?”

    “What have you done?!!” Bryan screamed, falling back.

    “Don’t you know what my Pact is? I call it Angelic Concordat. I have a pact with an angel, you see. I consider myself to be the most... linguistically fulfilling Binder. My ability is to create binding contracts. Like, for instance, “allow me to borrow your Pact ability for 1 hour”, a deal I can make with anyone and cash out at any time. I just need to sign the dotted line.”

    He spoke with a sickening, almost cheerful tone as he monologued, walking methodically towards the powerless Bryan.

    “This one is called EMP Pulse. It stops technology from working for up to 2 minutes. Can you hold out until then?” He asked. Bryan looked up with defiance, but Andreas grabbed him in both shoulders, yanking him up and throwing him across the stadium, over the stage, into the wall separating the crowd from the arena. He spat out blood and collapsed onto the ground.

    “Now, ALLFIST. There are two magic words that can get you out of a lot of pain here. Care to buy a vowel?”

    He had tears of frustration in his bloodshot eyes as he turned to the looming figure of Andreas.

    “A hero never gives in,” he spat, creating a ball of flame and kicking it... towards the floating piece of paper. It burned immediately, sending ashes to the ground. There was a series of whirs coming from his fist as lights came on and gears spun around, letting off a soft hum as ALLFIST effortlessly lifted it up, brushing his shoulders with his free hand.

    “That’s a good trick, Andreas,” he said. “But tricks are no match for skill!”

    ALLFIST reached into his pocket, pulling two separate cartridges out into his fist. Suddenly, the fist let off a mist of chilled air, leaving trails of frost everywhere his hand went. ALLFIST took a step forward, touching his hand to the ground as he did so for more speed. Andreas charged forward in anger, creating two yellow lasers in his hands as he jumped towards ALLFIST. ALLFIST dropped the fist to the ground, pulling a cord as he spun around on the ground using the fist as an axis until he was beside Andreas, before pulling another cord and letting a stream of frost loose. Andreas was knocked to the ground, feet frozen, as he tried to hack them loose.

    The crowd gave an excited cheer, with many people screaming ALLFIST’s name in a chant which spread from one group of people to the entire group. Andreas managed to cut his feet loose from the ice, and stood up, gritting his teeth.

    “What’s the matter, Andreas?”

    “You’re going to make me have to do something I never wanted to do on the first round.”

    “President, please... I can take care of him. There’s no need for this,” Jason pleaded.

    “What, and let him get away with this mockery?!”

    “You’re not letting him get away with it. You told him that you could do something else... but you let it go. You’re showing that you don’t need to go all out or even try to win this one.”

    He cocked his head to the side in thought, before clapping Jason on the shoulder. “Don’t fail me.”

 

    “Oh?” ALLFIST said with a boyish smirk. “So, you think you can beat me? I welcome you to try!”

    Jason took a long roll of string out of his pocket, touching one end to the ground. He then held up his hands in a martial arts pose. ALLFIST matched the pose, bowing slightly, and charged into the fray. He moved incredibly fast, quickly dropping his fist to the ground to redirect himself upwards before launching himself down in a diving motion on Jason. Jason looked up in surprise, before grinning. He threw the end of the string up, and jumped to the side.

    ALLFIST tried to dodge the string, but was unable to get his massive ring fist out of the way. It let loose steam indicating that the ice cartridge was gone, and he released the empty crystal onto the arena floor, spinning the second ring where the ice crystal was around. It really was an interesting piece of machinery.

    “What did you do to me?” ALLFIST asked.

    “That string, is now stuck to you!” Jason said, pointing towards the string and the ground. As ALLFIST looked to the ground, holding his fist up to Jason in facsimile of a shield, Andreas crept up behind him, moving silently, yet incredibly quickly.

    “Greater Sleep,” he said. ALLFIST fell to the ground in slumber immediately. The fist made a loud whining sound as it powered down, collapsing itself until it was a fraction of its size in extra-dimensional space and leaving itself as a small glove on ALLFIST’s arm. The red haired boy holding the glove slept peacefully as Lionel announced “WINNER, ANDREAS AND JASON!”

    “Sorry, everyone,” Jason said to the booing crowd. “You have to do whatever it takes to win. All I did was stick glue to the string.”

    The crowd booed as Andreas walked through his gate, and Jason looked up sheepishly at them before covering his face in his clothing a bit and scurrying down. Even if I didn’t like it... they had every right to use dirty tricks to win. It was just something I would have to watch out for later. Right... this is a tournament that people are coming in to try to win. Everyone’s going to come with everything they have to eke out victory. And everyone watching right now... they came to the same conclusion. This is the law of the jungle, where only the winner moves on, and the way you won is not relevant.

    Really, I was most worried about what Wily would do with this information.

 

Chapter Text

    There was a 30 minute break before the next fight started, so I decided to meander off into the hallway. The next match would be Xemia’s pupils versus the Bone Forest natives, or so Claire said. Today, I was listening to Bertali’s Ciaconna. Ciaconna is Italian for chaconne, a genre in the baroque age based around variations on a short repeating theme. It’s a very lively, upbeat, and pleasant piece of music, owing to its major key and lively dance origins that help deal with the edge of having to battle.

    Our match would be against Empire and Alst, from the planet of Aros. Supposedly, Aros was related to Emaki, the planet the two from our seats was from. The multiverse was a lot more complicated than I thought. Against one wall, a bench I was sitting at had a light overhead and was particularly cool, making a nice reprieve from the hot weather of Thip.

    “Hi, we meet again!”

    I looked up to see Yieve, still wearing the same robe with a shoelace. High fashion. She sat down next to me, entirely unprompted. Around the corner, Andreas and Jason followed. Andreas looked down at the two of us with a complicated but distinctly negative expression.

    “Yieve, why do you bother with that unripe child? You are above this,” Andreas said.

    “You’re all, power this, strength that... who cares? Avery’s stronger than all of us, anyway. Go bug him!”

    He let out a grunt of frustration, before clearing his throat and adjusting his tie. He was now wearing a burgundy suit, with a simple yet extremely high quality cotton white shirt, black silk tie, and a gold silk pocket square that accentuated his watch. This outfit, I assume, cost more than the government gave me as an allowance each month.

    “Mega Man, it’s good to see you. I apologize for any earlier roughness when speaking with you... having witnessed you and Claire I was misguided, believing you to be a commoner.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “Tell me. You watched my fight... what did you think when I won?”

    “I felt sad for them,” I began. I saw his stern, disapproving look and winced a bit, “I felt sad for them, but, they lost. It doesn’t matter what your story is in this tournament, everyone wants to win for their own reason. It’s just about who is strongest.”

    His face lightened, and he laughed, clapping Jason on the shoulder. Jason was wearing his school uniform, and seemed uncomfortable in this meeting.

    “That’s correct, Mega Man,” he said in a voice as smooth as molasses, “it’s all about who is elite in this world. The elites do not need to bother with the weaklings. You are worthy of respect, so when I win this tournament, I expect to see you in the student council to further your growth. With your help, I will achieve great things.”

    I wanted to object, but he walked off with a brisk pace, towing Jason with the sheer force of his personality.

    “He’s kind of schmippy, right?” Yieve asked.

 

    “What? What is schmippy?”

    “I don’t know, I know the feeling, I don’t know the word for it, so he’s schmippy. But you know what I mean, right?” she asked.

    Schmippy(a): someone who possesses qualities similar to president Andreas. No. Why am I adding this useless crap to my dictionary?

    “Anyway, I was thinking, Mega Man, we met twice at random. That means we’re soul mates, right? So... how about you buy me coffee?”

    Any tension I had about working with Andreas was instantly defused.

    “Aren’t you a princess? Go buy it yourse- actually, why are we soul mates? Is this how you get guys to buy you stuff?”

    “Yeah,” she said with an innocent expression. “Is it not working?”

    “Are you really the strongest person in this tournament...” I said, brushing my synthhair under my helmet. “Why can’t you afford it yourself?”

    Yieve was kicking her feet back and forth and slouched over on the bench with horrific posture, leaning on her elbow for support. When I asked her that, her feet stopped, almost in unison, and her face took on a serious mask the likes of which I had never seen before.

    “Because,” she said in a low, ominous tone.

    The shadows all around us crept up on me, as it seemed like the lights themselves were disappearing. They elongated and grew, making the distance between things larger and larger, yet Yieve and I remained in place as the world abandoned us. I gulped.

    “I spent all of my money on new albums and video games, and the rest on having a flying limousine take Jozef and I around the city.”

    “Oh,” I said. Why is she a princess?

    “Come ooooooooooooon!!” she whined, pulling at my armour. “I haven’t had coffee in like, 2 days!”

    “I just met you!” I interjected, pulling myself off the bench. Yieve’s head quickly turned to face towards the wall as she straightened her posture out.

    “Uhm,” I said, a little confused.

    “We’re not benchmates, stranger. Benchmates help each other. Go away,” she said in a brusque poor imitation of a male action hero’s voice.

    Alright. I began to walk away.

    “Wait, wait, hold on. That was meant to entice you to prove me wrong. I’m sorry. Please buy me coffee.”

 

    I saw the wizard, Grysan, walking down the hall with a confused expression on his face. He looked me in the eye, then looked down at my arms, them up again.

    “You will do,” he said with a smug, haughty tone. “Tell me your name, brave knight.”

    “Bra- um, Mega Man Light.”

    “Ah, yes. Mega Man. I’ve heard of you. Didn’t you place first in one of the preliminary rounds?” I opened my mouth to answer, but he continued on, theatrically spreading his arms out to show how deep his blue robe was cut. “You will do perfectly. Sir Mega Man, I beseech thee, on behalf of the great wizard in training Grysan the Blue, please direct me to the men’s lavatory!”

    “Ah, that? If you go down the hall to the left, it’s the one with the green door... actually, Grysan, I have a request of you.”

    “A request of me? How presumptuous. And yet, you performed your task admirably, so I shall grant you this once. Speak.”

    Is everyone in the magic world so bizarre..? I just wanted to sit and listen to classical music. Still, I had something I wanted to know.

    “Two requests, actually, they lead into each other... can you use magic to find a person? And if so, may I ask that you do so on my behest?”

    “Aha! A fine question indeed!” Grysan said, blue eyes lighting up with joy. “Yes, one may use the arcane arts to find a person of their choice... there are a number of spells which do the same thing, although, to be directed I would use the spell ‘Lesser Guide’, a spell that creates a trail of arrows leading to the target. Of course, they may attempt to fight off the spell, but if they know you, they shouldn’t. So, Mega Man Light, have you come to respect the power and pure utility of the language of mana?!”

    “Yes,” I said earnestly. It actually seemed pretty useful.

    “A wise answer. Yes, a wise answer! Mega Man Light, I shall perform this task for you! Describe your person!”

    I thought back. Brittany... had long blonde hair, and had really expensive looking clothes. One of those that didn’t wear the uniform, she. Her eyes were dark brown, and she was fairly tall. I described as such.

    “Lovely, lovely,” Grysan said, pulling out an orb out of his robe from somewhere. Lines began to trace a circle around him, weaving in and out and creating a magic circle under his feet which glowed with a soft blue light. He began chanting in a language I did not understand, followed by the words “Lesser Guide!”

 

    Arrows underneath him pointed away. He clasped his hands together, gave a deep breath, and pushed his hands towards me, palms facing out. The arrows seemed to flow from him to me, leading around a corner. I looked down in admiration.

    “Thank you, Grysan!” I said. He nodded proudly, before heading towards the men’s washroom.

    “I could have done that too, for a coffee,” Yieve said in a sullen tone. “Fine, break your soul mate’s heart. See how it treats you. Go! Get!”

    I sighed, reaching into my pocket for 4ts, ts being the denotation for the currency of Thip. 4ts was roughly what it was for a coffee. I handed her the money and she embraced me.

    “Mega Man, now,” she said, turning to face me from the hallway leading out, “you have proven yourself a true hero.”

    “Just get your coffee,” I said. She saluted and ran down the hallway, spreading her arms out as if an airplane. Why is everyone in the magic world this bizarre? Is this just a tournament for eccentrics? Well, whatever. I had some questions to ask Brittany... I didn’t mind missing one match for it.


    Lucifer stretched his arms out as he laid on top of the entire couch, yawning with a surprising volume for such a small demonic fallen angel scythe. What is Lucifer, anyway? I never really thought about how weird it is that a person turned into a scythe and then turns himself back into a person. I guess he’s getting better at being a person, now. Whatever. The president was pretty strong.

    “So, Wily, I had an idea,” Lucifer said.

    “Yeah?”

    “We need more loyal followers like Anton. We have some for Satan, but we need them personally.”

    “You think?” I said, but really, I could see his point.

    “Mmhm, I mean, Mega Man has Pierre and Claire and that lich teache-”

    “Wait, the teacher’s a lich?”

    Lucifer burst out laughing, pointing at me. I wanted to punch him.

    “You didn’t know? Come on, man! Do you need extra lessons on identifying liches?”

    “Shut up.”

    Lucifer’s laugh was like Pffffhaaaahuhu, it was the most obnoxious thing ever. The part where he tried to hold it in, the loud “Haa” followed by the diabolical chuckling. I can’t imagine how something this annoying turned into Satan.

    “Aaaanyway,” he said, still trying to hold in his laughter. “We have Anton, and Anton can’t fight. We need our own entourage, you know? Not to win the tournament, but to win the war.”

    Lucifer stretched his arms out dramatically, which would be an interesting gesture were he not lazily peeking his head over the armrest of the sofa.

    “There’s a match on,” I said. He clicked his tongue in annoyance, but rolled over to watch.

    “LADIES, GENTLEMEN, AND OTHER BEINGS!” Lionel shouted. “Fresh off the heels of the last bout, we have a MATCH that is sure to go down in history!”

    “Today, on the blue side we have Texu Enschriika and Afri Qulriika of house Sen, representing Master Xemia’s Swordfighting Academy! These great warriors performed incredibly well in the explosive fight against Claire Beaumont in the preliminaries!”

    I groaned in retort. Lucifer let out an amused sound, that I chose to ignore. The two of them silently walked up, wearing traditional-looking sandy beige robes and walking barefoot. One, with white hair had an interesting looking blade, the other, with black hair was unarmed. Both had caramel coloured skin and clearly trained themselves to perfection.

 

    “And on the RED SIDE... from the Bone Forest, DAAAAAAMIEN! AND! TORITH!”

    The crowd exploded with excitement as fireworks shot off. Damien shrunk inside his flowing black robes and unique bright red silken scarf. I couldn’t get a glimpse of his face or anything, but by the way he walked, he was definitely carrying a lot of weapons on him. Torith, on the other hand, a walking skeleton with crystallized plant growth all over his body, seemed to bathe in the attention, turning to various sections of the viewerbase and waving.

    “Liam, how do you think this battle will go?”

    “It’s tough to call, really,” Liam said. “Damien seems to be a technician type fighter, I can’t really see him doing too well in an all out power match. On the other hand, his versatility and arsenal - of which, mind you, we saw just the tip of the iceberg - makes him an interesting contender. His partner, Torith, is a more traditional power type. He has a strong ability and uses it well.”

    “I see, so, Torith would be the important member at first is what you are saying?”

    “Exactly. On the other hand, the representatives of Master Xemia’s swordfighting group have no obvious weaknesses. One is a master of fire and can seemingly teleport, the other can create discs of sand and is a powerful swordfighter. Can Damien’s specialty figure out ways to overcome the very well rounded duo? That is the question for this battle.”

    “Interesting analysis... who do you think will win this one?”

    “Honestly, I give it 60-40 in favour of Master Xemia, just because Torith has an elemental weakness here, but it could go either way. This is a close fight.”

    “Let’s see how it pans out, then. Are! YOU! READY!!”

 

    The crowd exploded with excitement as the word “READY” materialized in the center. Immediately, Damien jumped to the back, pulling out some tripods. I couldn’t tell what they were from the wiring. Afri drew a door in the ground and launched himself forward. Torith clapped his hands together and a pillar of ice flew up from the ground, knocking Afri in the air. As he released his hands, the pillar exploded into shards flying towards everyone.

    Texu conjured a disc and threw it towards Afri, who had materialized flame on his hands to beat away the shards of ice. Afri, when the sand disc came close enough, pushed flame onto his legs as if a jet engine to grab onto it. He unsteadily climbed on as Texu weaved the disc back and forth to avoid the shards of ice. Torith took a deep breath in, pushing his hands palm down towards the sand, then thrust them up to chest level. Two giant globes of ice pulled themselves out of the ground behind him.

    At this point, Damien had assembled a massive rifle, He loaded a cartridge in and aimed at Texu. Texu, with both arms, made a throwing motion with all of his strength. The sand disc came flying towards Torith - in retaliation, Torith split the left globe behind him into a series of spears which he launched at Afri and the disc. Afri fanned his arms out, creating a weave of flame in front of him which melted the spears before they got close. Torith let out a shout of surprise as he jumped to the side to avoid the disc.

    Upon landing, Afri rolled around, drawing another door on the red side. Large icicles dropped down on him on the ground forcing him to roll around in evasion. There was a loud sonic boom as Damien’s shot was released from its chamber, flying into Texu. Texu lurched backwards, nearly falling over as he cried out in pain. Still, he remained standing. Damien clicked his tongue, releasing the heat vent from the now spent cartridge as he loaded another one.

    “What an incredible exchange!” Lionel shouted with excitement. The audience was ecstatic.

    As Afri pulled himself to his feet, Torith charged in with claws made of ice. Torith was fast and strong, and Afri had no moment of respite to conjure any flames. “Afri, NO!” Texu shouted as he leaped through the area Afri first drew the door. Texu flew out the other end, sword drawn, and intercepted Torith’s advance.

    “SO, YOU WISH TO FACE OFF AGAINST A SUPERIOR UNDEAD IN BATTLE?!” Torith stated. His mouth did not move as he spoke, but merely opened as the sound came out.

    “We shall see who is superior. I will not allow a person to harm Afri as long as I am standing.”

 

    With the curved and jagged blade that Texu used, it was difficult to predict the strikes. Furthermore, the two handed style that Texu fought with frequently shifted stances. That, with the reach advantage, quickly overcame Torith’s raw speed and power. Stab, slash, slash, sweeping feint into twisting the blade around and going for a pommel strike... Texu’s technique was varied as anyone’s could be.

    Torith stepped backwards, nearly backing himself out of the ring. He clapped his hands together, and fanned them out, creating a polearm out of ice. Spinning it around, Torith quickly let loose a series of lethal strikes on Texu. Each slash of his polearm was designed to fell a bonetree in one swoop, and Texu was very aware of it. A single misstep in this dance of death would prove fatal. And he was laughing.

    “DO YOU MOCK ME, MORTAL FLESHBAG?!?!?!?!!!” Torith indignantly cried.

    “No! I do not mock you! I am only glad that I could prevent such a strong fighter from laying a finger on Afri!”

    Torith flashed a toothy grin. “WE SHALL SEE HOW GLAD YOU ARE WHEN I FIGHT SERIOUSLY!”

    Damien, at this point, had thrown his rifle to the ground, switching to dual pistols. As he hopped in and out of rifts, he was amiss to find that Afri was able to follow him across the arena at every step, matching his teleportation in a spirited chase. Damien would fire off shots throughout to prevent Afri from creating doors, but when reloading, Afri would close the distance and attack with fire magic. Damien’s bullets were faster, but at close range, Afri’s flames burned harder.

    Afri managed to jump forwards, pinning Damien. Despite this, however, Damien had a trick up his sleeve - he pulled out a small two pronged tuning fork looking knife, and jabbed it into Afri’s legs. Afri let out a cry of anguish. He gripped Damien’s wrists hard, struggling against the hooded marksman’s attempt to break himself free. He clearly attempted to create flame, but found himself unable.

 

    “What have you done to my fire?”

    “Antimagic dagger,” Damien said in between laboured breaths. “I may not be the best mage or close combat fighter... but this will do.”

    Afri clicked his tongue. “How long will this last, I wonder?”

    If Afri loosened his grip here, Damien could escape in a rift and continue this barrage. Afri’s mana reserves were not limitless... his shield would not last. Furthermore, his attacks drained the mana he needed to shield himself from bullets. On the other hand, how much ammo was stored in Damien’s coat? He had more weapons there than their swordfighting academy probably had in the entire building. This was his only chance to win. The grapple had to hold.

    “How long can you last, I wonder?” Damien said back, spitting at him. Afri tried to punch the grappled Damien, but Damien used this against him, nearly wriggling free.

    “Why do you fight with such tenacity?” Afri asked.

    “I represent the Bone Forest. We fight to protect everyone from the whims of the undead that have lost their humanity, and the necromancers that raise them,” Damien said with the reverence of a man speaking a prayer. “Though I am not undead, I will prove myself.”

    Afri’s grip became less harsh for a second, before returning to its initial strength.

    “I fight for Master Xemia. Her mission was one that could never have been published. She watched her closest friends die for something the government will never acknowledge. She is the greatest war hero, and one of the greatest warriors nobody will know. We will honour her.”

    “Honourin’s fine,” Damien said. “Maybe after this we could be friends. But not now. I’m going to win this thing.”

    Afri chuckled. “You are correct.”

 

    Texu jumped backwards, dodging both strikes from Torith and pillars of ice falling from above and shooting up from the ground. With his strikes, Torith would take one hand off of the polearm in order to perform hand gestures to conjure ice. Then, he would catch the polearm at the end of its strike. It was rhythmic, almost beautiful to watch. The interplay between magic and strikes.

    Texu was impaled by one. His shield held, but he clearly was staggered. Torith took this opportunity to go off on a barrage of strikes, jabs so quick that I can’t imagine the audience being able to follow it with their eyes. Texu, still disoriented by the strong hit he took, was bobbing and weaving to avoid the many jabs as Torith laughed maniacally. He quickly slashed across the stomach of Torith, forcing him back. That brief moment of respite was enough to toss his sword in the air, clapping his hands together. A disc of sand formed behind him. Texu grabbed his weapon again, shaking his long white hair as his eyes regained their intensity.

    “INCREDIBLE... TO DODGE SO MANY OF MY ATTACKS. I PRAY THAT YOU DIE WHERE THE BONE FOREST CAN TAKE YOU,” Torith said in admiration.

    “Not today,” Texu quipped, sending the disc of sand forward from behind, jumping onto the platform. His footing was unstable, but his speed was incredible.

    “CAN YOU REALLY BALANCE ON THAT? COME ON NOW,” Torith chided. Texu launched himself forward, wobbling slightly as he tried to balance on the quickly moving platform. His attacks were unbalanced, but fast and powerful. Torith, who had his center, was unable to continue conjuring ice as he had to deal with Texu’s intense assault. Step by step, he was pushed towards the center of the arena with every one of Texu’s strikes.

    “YOUR GUARD WILL SLIP LIKE THIS, FLESHBAG,” Torith mocked.

    “Oh? Then perhaps I should stop.”

 

    Texu hopped off of his disc of sand, and looked towards Afri. Afri gave him a knowing smile, and Texu blushed as he looked away at the ground behind Torith. Torith leered as he raised his polearm to strike at Texu. Afri took one hand off Damien for a brief instance, opening a door behind Texu, and another behind Torith. Texu threw his sword down the door as hard as he could. Torith stopped mid-swing, realizing what had happened, and tried in vain to bring his polearm enough to dodge.

    Texu’s sword went in the door behind him, and flew out from the one behind Torith, gashing him strongly in the back of the head. Not one to miss a beat, Texu charged forward at the stunned Torith with a series of heavy martial arts punches, knocking the skeleton to the ground. He picked up the blade as it fell back down from its fall, and pointed the blade at Torith’s neck.

    “Surrender."

    “I... I HAVE LOST,” Torith said.

    “TORITH OF THE BONE FOREST HAS SURRENDERED!!!” Lionel shouted. Damien jabbed Afri in the kidney, pulling himself up and putting a pistol to Afri’s head. Texu’s eyes went wide in shock.

    “Release him!”

    “Throw your sword out of the arena,” Damien said. “Then we can talk. Five seconds.”

    Texu looked down at his sword in shock.

    “Five. Four.”

    He loosened his grip, letting it rest, suspended by only his fingers.

    “Three, tw-”

    Afri released a jet of flame from his hands, burning Damien and swinging wildly back and forth. Damien fired his shot, but his aim was off by Afri’s wild movements. Afri elbowed Damien in the ribs, and swung Damien over his shoulder onto the ground. Texu’s training kicked in before his mind could keep up, and he charged forward, putting his blade by Damien’s neck.

 

    “I... I’ve lost.”

    Damien collapsed into the sand, sighing deeply as everyone in the world cheered his downfall. Afri smiled at Texu, shaking his hand before raising both their arms into the air in celebration. Both were covered in sweat, and Texu was barely standing, but in that moment their exhaustion melted away into reverie.

    After soaking in the glory for a moment, Afri offered his hand to Damien. Damien took it, pulling himself up to his feet.

    “You fought well, Damien. May you find your goal.”

    “Shut up, my goal was to win the tournament,” he said in a joking tone. For a brief instance, he smiled at them, before collecting himself and walking back out the door to his waiting room.

Chapter Text

    I had followed the glowing arrows out of the city confines. It’s weird, no matter how bizarre and beautiful this magical city was... with traffic lights that changed the colour of the road, flying cars, and enchanted ice bridges being formed between apartments to let people walk above the road, I was entirely in my zone at that time. Nothing phased me like it did before. Finally, I came to an abandoned burger restaurant: Yum Tum Burgers. It was closed down and boarded.

    I switched to to the Rolling Cutter, and before I cut, I realized that I may be in danger. Okay, just a quick bit(I believe they are called free styles?)... I ducked behind an alley so I wouldn’t be heard as easily.

    “I ducked out of sight, now I’m in the alley

    Mega Man Light, entering in the valley/of death,

    need a moment to catch my breath,

    In the middle of Thip, but I’m not out of my breadth

    It’s a little bit weird but it’s time to solve the mystery

    At the Yum Tum Burger with a breaking-and-inquiry

    Still, a little bit jittery I might end up in the pillory...”

    I couldn’t finish the rhyme. I wanted to say something with slippery, but I really was worried I’d end up in jail. What I’m doing is illegal... I’ve never had to work outside the confines of the law before. Still, it seems that Gloria Mors approved as I felt the familiar rush of power. It would be about 2 minutes before it would start decaying if I didn’t refresh it, which would be enough. I took out the Rolling Cutter, and launched the blades at the boards. They made quick work of it, returning to my hands.

    Cars went to and fro on the overpass above me. It seems nobody walks down this area of the city except homeless people and those looking to do shady business. Still, something about the atmosphere made me worry that I was about to encounter a boss. I pushed open the door, swallowing air and steeling myself.

 

    The room was poorly kept, with dust and cobwebs everywhere. There was a light for the manager’s room, but the rest of the decor was tacky and dilapidated. Tiles cracked on the floor, bugs crawling around, the lightning had given out years ago so they lit candles instead... the candles have gone out hours ago, leaving only a black, unkempt room.

    “Andreas, are you there?” she called out. I pushed 30% of my energy to my head, and left the rest in my feet to quickly dodge out of the way.

    “No, it’s Mega Man,” I said.

    Brittany, coming out around a corner made brief eye contact as I finished saying that, looking up at me in horror. I realized I had my weapon out, and I sheepishly put it away.

    “So... this is it. You’re going to get revenge on me.”

    “I just want answers,” I said. She was right, though. She did betray me.

    “I can’t. I won’t let you.”

 

    Brittany reached for a nearby ceramic lamp, throwing it against a small table. She picked up a shard of ceramic and slashed at me. It bounced harmlessly off my armour.

    “Of course, you’re a robot. Then, how about THIS!” she said, swinging around and going between two plates of armour in my arm. I pushed a small amount of energy into the crack, and it harmlessly scraped off against my skin.

    “Wh- why are you so strong?”

    I looked at her. She was ferocious, but weak. Why did she hate me so much? Why was she in this dark room? Why... Andreas?!

    “What did you say about the president?” I asked.

    She gulped, running back into the room and retrieving a long rifle, pointing it directly at me.

    “Mega Man... stand still. I’ll call my boss.”

    “Andreas,” I interjected.

    “Shut up.”

    I switched to the Jewel Satellite, stepping forward. Brittany fired a shot at me, but one of the jewels flew in the way, harmlessly deflecting it. She backed up, loading another round, and aimed it at my head. I pushed the rifle off to the side.

    “Brittany, you can tell me anything, you know? I’m not mad.”

    Wait, was that insulting? I don’t know... I intended to come off as friendly, but I might have come off as ‘so strong I don’t care about your measly human attacks, mwuahaha’, which is not at all what I was going for. Her hands trembled, and her eyes began to moisten.

 

    “My sister... she has an incurable disease. Andreas said... if I could lure you in, and they break your legs before your match... he’d...”

    “You... you wanted to break my legs?”

    “My sister is going to die, Mega Man! Who cares about this tournament?!! Why do you even want to win?!”

    She was openly crying now. I raised my hand, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I tried to speak, but I didn’t know what to say.

    “Not like you actually care,” she spat. “You don’t even know her name. You just pretend to care about everyone, you, you’re so... above us all. And here you are, going to some magic world just to ruin the president’s dream. Why? You don’t even want to win?!”

    “I... I never knew Jessica was sick,” I said, earnestly. She looked up at me in shock, before looking away.

    “You remember her name?”

    “Yeah, you, Jessica, Ashley, and Jose... I remember you guys. And from Derek’s group, Derek, Lynne, and Thomas, those guys liked to play tabletop games. Brittany, when I spend time with people at the school, it’s because I want to know these people. I want to know what I’m protecting.”

    “Then,” she said, looking up at me and brushing her hair out of her face. Her eyes were red. “Let me break your legs, here.”

    I took a step back. She looked betrayed.

    “I swear... I will do everything I can for...”

    “Liar. You’re a liar...” she said, collapsing against the desk, dropping the gun onto the ground.

    I thought of Thor’s words of encouragement, and of Claire’s excited face. I thought of Virpo’s dedication, and ALLFIST’s passion. I thought of Wily’s threat, and of the countless people removed from the preliminaries. If I break my legs, here, I could make her happier.

    But that’s wrong.

    “Brittany,” I said. It was all clicking to me.

    She didn’t even respond. She was just staring at the gun.

    “Brittany. It’s okay if you hate me now, but I will fix this.”

 

    I wish I understood humans better. I wish I could describe the expression she gave me, I wish I could understand what I witnessed. Her eyes seemed full of bitterness, hatred, with the slightest hint of hope buried beneath them, but her face was blank. It was as if her body was exhausted past the point of being able to feel anything, but her soul still cried out.

    If I broke my legs there, I would have helped her, I thought as I walked out of the building. But that’s wrong. Anybody who can force such a dark situation on a person, that could shred away an ordinary person’s happy, day to day life, anyone who could force an innocent person into working with insane criminals to hurt somebody, anyone who could make a living being make that face ... that is the work of evil. If I broke my legs there, I would have let a sociopath win.

    I’ll save Jessica, somehow. I think I felt a tear drop roll down my cheek - my entire body was shaking. I’ll save Jessica. I promise.


    “Hey, come on, can’t we reschedule? It’s still morning,” the archer girl pleaded. Lionel looked at the panel of judges, who unanimously gave a thumbs down.

    “Lord Thor, who is this?” I asked.

    “That... is Luna. Luna and Chorus. She is an archer that uses magic, and he has some sort of unique boosting ability. Last night, when you were out, they destroyed 512 robots in a single explosion, the fastest time.”

    “Why do they want to fight at night?”

    Lord Odin laughed, taking a big drink of his tankard.

    “That, lass, is what happens when you pick a weak Style. The Moonlit Archer. What was she thinking?”

    Style... a short phrase which describes your magic style. As this phrase becomes a part of your definition of yourself, your own belief shapes the way your magic works. You build your own clothing, and it constricts you as you directed it to... sometimes in ways you never imagined. Too restrictive, and a growth spurt will make your clothes worthless. In this case, The Moonlit Archer: a Style which provides no power outside of night time?

    “How unfortunate for her,” I said, losing interest in this match nearly instantly. What an idiot.

    “Um,” a weak voice called out. It was so faint that it was barely heard, but it was heard nonetheless. Everyone looked up at the judging panel. The beautiful boy, Avery, had the microphone, but he ducked under the judging table, taking the microphone with him.

    “T-t-this tournament repre... repre...” there was a deep breath heard as he continued. He sounded on the verge of tears. “It represents real life, so... in real life, you can’t... pick... when fights happen. Please don’t get mad at me. Denied.”

    A hand gingerly held the microphone up from above the table, and Avery stayed under there long after Lionel took the microphone back. Murmurs of confusion surrounded the entire venue.

    “Ladies, gentlemen, and other beings, that was Avery Senestia Listrau, the Rating 6 member of the EA Elite 16,” Liam said. “While he is quite afraid of social events, his skill is undeniable, and his judgement is correct.”

    “That’s right,” Lionel said, taking the microphone from Liam. “And, without further ado, in the BLUE CORNER, we have VIRPO!! AND! SCORCH!!!!!”

 

    “Lord Thor, are you really watching this?” I asked.

    “Even if the archer team is not worth watching, Virpo is an interesting combatant,” the Norse god said. His blue eyes twinkled with admiration. Does he love fighting this much?

    “How I wish I was young in this era... you are a truly blessed lot, you know.”

    “Lovely,” I said. This was tense. I was going to be up next, and... I don’t know where Mega Man is, probably lost again. I don’t think they’d kidnap him again, anyway. We are fighting some Arosians, one dubbed Empire(specifically, Aros-Xc3-Bania-Special) and another dubbed Alst(Aros-Av15-Auditing-73441). Arosian names are bizarre, but having to fight an Arosian auditor is something I’m not happy about. And “Special”? What kind of designation is that?

    “INCREDIBLE! In just 43 seconds... the winner is VIRPO and SCORCH!!”

    I looked at the screen out of the corner of my eye. Virpo walked away, ignoring the interview. The boy, Chorus, helped Luna to her feet. As she stood up, she hugged him, crying bitter tears.

    “It’s not fair...” she said. “I...”

    “It’s okay, Luna,” Chorus said. His voice was surprisingly rough, but the warmth from inside was clear. He was tall, and very skinny. His eyes had a pale light blue to them. Luna had black hair, tied up in a bun behind her, and seemed to have the ability to manifest bows, judging by the bow that melted into the air when she stopped touching it.

    “But, your village...”

    “We’ll find another way. Didn’t you tell me giving up isn’t manly?”

    “I’m not a man,” she said, turning away. She said, and smiled for the screen. “But you’re right.”

    “Ladies, gentlemen, and other beings, please give a round of applause for these two! Even when fortune does not have their way!”

 

    “Oh, did I miss the fight?” Mega Man said.

    “You missed two fights,” Lord Odin said while laughing. He finished his tankard, and conjured another one into his hand.

    “Oh, did I miss Virpo? What happened?”

    “Nothing,” Mrs. Evacher said. “It was too one sided. It wasn’t even really a fight.”

    Pierre, Master Roll, and Mrs. Evacher were in the back, doing other things to pass the time. They did not seem too interested in the fighting.

    “So, we’re up then,” he said. Yeah. We are. I rubbed my shoulders a bit, letting out some tension. Focus. You’re Claire Beaumont, dragontamer. They are... who? Arosians? They are pebbles on my road to serving Mars.

    “Claire,” Mega Man said. “I’ve been working really hard. I won’t disappoint you on this.”

    I chuckled. Really? Him? Still, he seemed confident.

    “Okay, Mega Boy, let’s see how you’ve improved,” I said.

    “Don’t call me that! It... brings up bad memories.”

    Pierre and Odin laughed. I saw something in Mega Man’s look, a bitterness that he was trying to cover up with jokes. Like when Mrs. Evacher tried to cheer me up after everyone in the school called me a mutant. I looked at my pinky. I know I’m not a Martian by birth. She knew that too. There was an elephant in the room neither of us wanted to discuss, a deep wound we didn’t want to reopen, so we joked and looked away... but we knew.

    I won’t pry, Mega Man. Prove to me that you’ve gotten stronger. The red paint signified our place in the arena. On the Red Side, representing Venice Academy for Valhalla, Claire Beaumont and Mega Man Light. Let’s win this one.

 

Chapter Text

    I couldn’t tell Claire. I couldn’t. I can’t emotionally handle it, and Claire cares more than I do. After this fight, I’d confront Andreas about it. I have to win this fight, now, though. If I lost, I wouldn’t be able to access the backstage area. We’d have to pack up and leave. My health was full, my weapons were fully energized, but the 3% on my HUD bothered me immensely. Why? Gloria Mors Est Scriptor... I’ve rapped for you. Three percent?

    “Mega Man,” Claire said. “Do you have a good rhyme for this?”

    “We’re up against... Empire, right?”

    “Yeah. Say no more.”

    The tunnel seemed so long. Doubt lingered on in me, but I had to remove it.

    「Why do you seek power?」

    It appeared in my head. Words? Text? Written word? Or just the suggestion of it? I knew what it said, but it did not exist. Gloria Mors burned, almost to a painful degree.

    「I am not Gloria Mors Est Scriptor. That is not my name. That is what Valhalla calls me.」

    Who are you, then?

    「Why do you seek power?」

    I have to win, so I can see Andreas, and defeat him.

    「Must he be punished?」

    No, I don’t want to punish him. I want him to cure Jessica.

    「You, who forces your will on another... why is your cause just? Why is it righteous when you use power to get what you want, but villainous when others do? Answer me.」

    I paused for a moment. It burned. Everything about me burned. Is this... no, it’s not Gloria Mors Est Scriptor. It’s something else.

    「Answer.」

    I nearly collapsed to the ground.

    “Mega Man?!”

    I couldn’t speak. I could barely move. It hurt. It hurt. It hurt. Everything was going red. My HP hasn’t gone down at all, this is purely mental. My limbs could barely move.

    I... I don’t know if I’m right. I don’t know what I’m doing here. All I know is... what Andreas is doing is wrong. I want to help Jessica. I can do nothing else but what I can do. This is my limitation. I can’t create barriers, I don’t know magic.

    「And, you desire more of my power? I am angry with you, Mega Man. You lied to me to gain my power, and now you say I do not provide enough? From whence do you source your hubris?」

    Then provide no more, and cease this attack on my processing. I will win with the 3%.

    “Mega Man?! Are you okay?!! Did Wily do something, after all?!”

    「She worries for you.」

    This is her moment, and this is for Jessica. You ask why I want power? I never did. I wanted to live in a peaceful world, where good people live good lives. Robots and humans living at peace... living happy, civilian days at school. Because of Wily, people and robots were forced into conflict with each other for the sake of his power. Because of Andreas, Brittany will forever live with this trauma. I never wanted power, but if I didn’t gain it, good people would suffer bad things. I never asked for this power, and you know this. But, without this power, I won’t be able to save Jessica. Please. I’m begging you.

    「Good... Mega Man, heed this warning: most people that use my power end up dead as a result. I will allow you to use 5%. Pay proper tribute to me, and you will come out on top.」

    I stumbled to my feet as the haze ended. My brand pulsed, the skulls eyes looking out at me. I attempted to take a step forward, but my feet were still weak under my control from earlier. I fell into the wall.

    「Don’t regret this.」

    “I thought you said...” I heard her say. It was weird... the last message seemed so much less... forceful? Angry? I smiled at Claire. I realized now I was breathing heavily.

    “I just spoke to Glor- with my Pact. It granted me more strength.”

    Her eyes went wide. She broke into a grin and clapped her hands together.

 

    “AND on the RED SIDE,” Lionel’s booming voice said. Out of the tunnel, the light was nearly blinding. The crowd cheering... I’d heard it before, but this was a whole different type of atmosphere. An 8 foot suit of metal imposingly glared down at us, red orbs for eyes. To its side, a man wearing a burgundy suit with a cane stood. That was Alst.

    “MEGA MAN LIGHT, AND CLAIRE BEAUMONT!!”

    The crowd burst into cheers. Claire was sheepishly smiling, before slapping her face into a grimace and looking straight ahead.

 

    “That’s Empire and Alst? You don’t impress me at all

    If you know your history you can guess all empires fall

    Got big boots to fill, and really, you’re not that tall

    Small minded statues, I can’t compute your gall

    You’re nuts, straight cashews, if you think that you ball

    It’s nothing that you bring that takes the ring in a brawl

    And the thing is you swing at the king, but you’re small

    Yeah, you’re physically big, but you’re mentally stalled

    I’m generally winning, leave my enemies spinning

    You trying to look tough, but I’m pleasantly grinning

    You think you’re heavily strong, but you’re helplessly tripping

    Desperately outmatched, and I’m only beginning

    This is just the first inning, and the man is clean

    Really, how’d you manage to proceed with such a challenged team

    Make your bravado vanish when your advantage weans

    Don’t make me show the fans what damage means”

   

    Gloria Mors glowed. It stung. It burned. It hurt, but it didn’t hurt as much as before. I’ve been through worse. I felt the power rushing out of it into me... this is 5%?! I’m a water balloon, and I could burst at any second. But... I am so strong right now. I can see things so clearly, I can feel things I never felt before. The way people’s aura looked. Claire’s was so strong, so earnest, so straightforward. My aura... a dark purple. Sickening. Their auras were untrained, but Empire’s was strong. Jagged? It was rough. Alst’s similarly, but it had a refinement to it.

    I saw the word Ready above me in the sky. It was time to go.

    Immediately, Empire reached behind his back, pulling out two axes.

    “I surrender!” Alst said, hopping off on the side and pulling a folding chair out of a bag of holding to observe. Empire was undeterred... so, Alst had no intention of fighting from the beginning.

    “you are strong,” Empire said, “but we are many. what is one man to a village?”

    Its hundreds of voices were each small, but spoke in perfect unison. They rang out, each a whisper, each carrying the same inner determination as its red eyes glowed, staring us down. I switched to the Slash Claw. Immediately, Empire jumped forward. Its speed was breathtaking for a suit of armour that looked like it weighed tons. If I didn’t have energy in my eyes, I would not be able to see the attack coming.

    I ducked as the axe whizzed over my head. Twisting around, I went for a kick to Empire’s stomach. It took the hit, taking a step back. Claire jumped at him now, moving incredibly fast with a launched punch. Empire went reeling back as Claire followed with a barrage of quick strikes, before launching a bubble on the ground, and backflipping off it to end up in the air. With two bubbles on her side, she began to float above the battlefield.

    Empire charged towards me, kicking a tile into my face. I cut it down with the Slash Claw, only to find the 8 foot titan directly at me. I pushed energy into my right arm, attempting to block the strike. Any other person’s arm would have been cleaved through, beheading them. Not only was I a robot, but with this burst of energy, I was a lot stronger. I skidded through on the ground, burning my foot, but it held. I went for a cut with the Slash Claw. It managed to penetrate its armour, revealing inside... a wriggling mass of souls. I felt sick.

    “you saw, didn’t you...” it said. Its eyes glowed even sharper. The world span. A thin strand of energy from above me connected to Empire - another one connected to Claire.

    “this will eat away at your power. you will fade to nothing, and fall beneath our village. we will rise.”

    I felt nothing, but I was worried by its statement. In the top left, I noticed my weapon energy was going down, but very slowly. Claire launched herself down, creating a current between her to turn her entire body into a massive taser. Empire, the walking suit of armour, realized the danger inherent in the attack, and launched its axe at her. Claire rolled to the side in midair to avoid it, which gave Empire just enough time to sidestep the attack.

    Claire had no intention of hitting him. Upon hitting the ground, she dispersed the small covering of bubbles she had on, releasing a shockwave of electricity around her. It stung me, but Empire cried out in pain, all of its hundred voices united. It responded by bullrushing Claire. She tried to block, but was sent flying. I quickly switched to the Wire, grabbing Claire out of the air and pulling her to the ground before she could be sent out of the ring.

    Swapping through, I settled on Top Spin. Empire’s charge felt like a train was coming directly at me, but I stayed calm, waiting until the last second. I pushed 60% of my power into my legs, and 40% into my eyes, just to perfect the timing. Everything around me slowed down, and my vision increased until I could see levels of detail I had never been able to process before. I saw grains of sand floating in the sky.

 

    As Empire ran, I realized there was nothing inside its helmet. The iron suit of armour contained just the wriggling mass of souls. I leaped into the air. I would have to spin just as soon as I got to its shoulders, to turn its around to avoid Claire. If I was a second too early, I would just needlessly turn his helmet. Too late, and I wouldn’t be able to change his course. Even at this slowed down speed, a lot was riding on me.

    Finally, at the right moment, with Empire moving the red lights it calls eyes to face me, I activated Top Spin. My legs got caught on its pauldron, slightly twisting him a bit before the spin failed. The spin prevented me from taking damage from the charge, and I fell to my hands and knees. Empire stumbled a bit from the torsion, and that stumble put it off course enough for Claire to barely dodge its sweeping axe strike. She coughed on the ground.

    “Mega... Man... I’m feeling woozy.”

    “you all will fall, you have only so long,” Empire said.

    Claire held her hands together, creating a simple railgun. She pulled a penny out of her shorts, holding it in a bubble. Electricity permeated everything. I saw what she was trying to do. I pulled out the Triple Blade.

    “You’ve got two blades, well, I’ve got three. Didn’t I say I’m the man to beat? Didn’t I say that I stand elite? You may be many, but my arsenal’s complete!” I said, reinvigorating Gloria Mors. I almost fell to the ground as it pulsed through me. It burned. I had hit my limit a while ago... but I won’t regret this. I will win. 100% of my power went into my arms. I had to create a barrage.

    Three blades shot out from my Mega Buster. Again. I had to load faster. Three blades. Again. Three blades. Again. I was synthesizing the blades so fast I felt my entire body’s processing overheat. That’s fine. 90% of my power into my arms, 10% into my cooling. Again. Three blades. Empire was stuck in place, stationary, repeatedly swatting the swords out of the air. I had arranged it so that if it tried to move, the other blade would hit it, forcing it to be stationary.

    My body burned. My arms were starting to be cut by my own blades, as I was generating them faster than I could safely prime my Mega Buster. I wasn’t leaking oil, but it hurt. My spirit was not trained to handle this much magical energy, and my body was not meant to produce weapons this quickly. Spiritually, mentally, and physically, it hurt. But, I had to win.

    Claire fired the railgun. The bubbles pushed each other along, before launching off the final bubble containing the penny at supersonic speeds, creating a sonic boom. The electricity sizzled as the penny flew through the air. Empire feebly tried to block, but the penny cut through its axe and shoulder like paper. Its left arm fell to the ground. Inside, I saw the souls wriggling. Claire collapsed.

    Empire, breathing heavily, spoke again: “this is fine. you, too, will fall.”

 

    I switched to the Charge Kick. I ran forward. I had to end this. I ran forward quickly, before activating the Charge Kick and launching myself at him. I quickly shifted gears, picking up the Silver Tomahawk, and placing two in my hands. I pushed against the ground to launch myself up, headbutting Legion. Metal against metal sparked in the ground. It rushed against me with a flurry of strikes from its battleaxe.

    My tomahawks, though small, were primed with the power from my Pact. The metal held. Strike after strike resounded against its battleaxe, and though it was larger and more cumbersome, Empire’s pure physical strength kept it going.

    “how are you still standing?!!” it shouted in raw emotion. I kept on attacking.

    “I have to win this,” I insisted. I gritted my teeth as a particularly hefty counterattack wracked my body. Shooting pain went through my torso. I kept the onslaught up. It was strong, but I was getting nicks in every time. My attacks were faster, and they were accurate, finding their mark more often than not. In the end, this would just be a battle of endurance. That’s fine. As long as I can still move, I can fight.

    “not even my mentors had the energy to stand past this point... you are a freak! what is this power?!”

    “There’s more to life than power, Empire.”

    At this moment, I launched the tomahawks. I had battered it enough. The tomahawks went up, cutting through its armour. It cried out in pain again, gaping holes revealing the wriggling blue souls inside. The crowd gasped. I materialized two more, and pressed the assault. It slammed me forward with the battle axe wielded as a staff, forcing me back a few steps. It gasped, before charging forward.

    “this... this is an act. you are on the verge of collapse.”

    My entire being hurt, but I didn’t feel tired. Adrenaline suppressed my pain. No, I wasn’t being drained of my energy. It just hurt. I wasn’t meant to use this much power, this early. I launched the tomahawks again, forcing Empire back. It took one step off the arena, and realized it was backed to a corner. I realized it was backed into a corner. I switched to my Mega Buster, and charged a shot.

    “any minute... you will drop. you must drop. drop. drop.”

    “Drop,” I repeated back to it as I released the fully charged blast. The hit sent it flying at it collided with the wall, collapsing to the ground in a heap. The pieces of armour slid across the ground, trying to pull itself together.

 

    “WINNER! MEGA MAN LIGHT, AND CLAIRE BEAUMONT!!”

    I realized now that the crowd was screaming. They were probably doing it the entire time. Neat. My vision became blurry, before I collapsed onto the ground. We won! I rolled over onto my back, looking up at the sky. Claire stirred somewhere behind me.

    I gave a thumbs up, still on the ground. So, this is 5%, huh?

 

Chapter Text

    Thip pizza is incredible. I’ve never had a “jaisho” before, but it tastes earthy with an odd spice, while having a consistency somewhere between potato and bell pepper. It makes for a powerful pizza topping. Thip food is best described as “hearty and spicy”, focusing more on earthy(Thippy..?) flavours with strong heat. Meat is not very popular here, due to most things being able to talk, but the local vegetables pick up considerably.

      Our group was in the cafeteria of this area, where skilled chefs catered to our desires. I had asked for pizza, to which they did not understand, and after a brief explanation they came out with this. It’s not exactly “pizza” in terms of flavour I would expect, but you couldn’t call it anything but pizza, despite the differing flavour profile and ingredients.

    “Don’t celebrate too hard, Mega,” Claire said while celebrating. “We’ve only just won a single match.”

    “It was a good match, though, Mega Man, you were cool!” Roll said. I gave a nod in her direction, not walking to talk with my mouth open. It seems all planets have some staple foods in common, with some food that is unique to each planet. In our case, Earth is unique for having carrots, a vegetable no other planet has.

    Mrs. Evacher was sitting over, supervising, but liches don’t eat food so she wasn’t partaking.

    “Oh, that’s right,” I said, looking to Thor and Odin(who were eating 4 times more than anyone else), “I made a brief contact with Glo.. with my pact.”

    Odin stood up in shock. Thor laughed as Odin reached into his pocket, pulling out a large gem and handing it to Thor.

    “I had a bet,” Thor said as he examined the gem, “that the thrill of honourable combat would bring out the pact this tournament. It seems I was right.”

    “What did it say?”

    “I don’t know,” I said. “It wrote text in my head, and it questioned me while causing a lot of pain. Then it let me use 5% of my power for the battle. It looks like I’m back to 3% now, though.”

    “It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” Pierre said to Mrs. Evacher, who gave a nod. It’s weird seeing her with her skeleton head all of the time, but that’s what her head normally looks like, I guess. Skeletons are a lot less frightening to robots as the connotations of death do not really hold for us.

    “Can you speak to it?”

    I focused really hard, thinking what I did before. There was no connection, I could feel the same area we connected before still existed, but it was closed off for now. I shook my head. Odin sat back down with a muted sigh.

    “Mind if we sit here?” a person who I recognized as an Emakian

    “That’s fine...” I said, with my signature trailing rising tone.

    “I’m Michael, and this is Huata.”

    Looking at the two of them, they had very medieval-esque outfits. Huata was an elf with ashen grey skin that had a slightly bluish tinge, and golden eyes. Michael was also an elf, but had fair, almost ivory skin. Huata wore a cobalt mantle over a faded dark purple shirt, with black pants. He had a brown leather belt which matched his shoes. Michael, on the other hand, wore almost formal looking light green clothing, a deconstructed suit with a white shirt underneath and no tie or pocket square.

    “I am Lord Thor, and this is my father, Lord Odin,” Thor explained. Michael froze in shock, but Huata silently took his seat, pulling out Michael’s chair. Thor and Odin sat on one side of the table, around the corner from Mrs. Evacher. On the other side of Thor, was Pierre, followed by Roll, then myself. Claire sat next to Odin across our side, and Huata sat down next to me.

    “There is one more, though, I ask that you do not be shocked.”

    “Making requests upon first meeting us? How bold," Thor responded.

    Thor and Huata stared at each other, but Huata did not back down. His hands trembled slightly, but he met Thor’s gaze. Thor laughed from his belly, slapping the table and causing everyone except Pierre, Odin, and Mrs. Evacher to jump.

    “Okay, friend.”

 

    Huata stiffly waved around a corridor leading into the cafeteria, before balling his hand in a fist. I heard a shuffling as the door opened. An ivory skin, as if hewn from marble, being walked in. It had four legs but stood upright, with hulking arms. It had no eyes on its head, only a nose and mouth. Its eye, instead, floated above its being. From the top of its head all the way down to its large, reptilian looking tail, was a single mane, as if a horse or zebra.

    “This is Gorxhu.”

    Huata, as he spoke, gave off a sickening gutteral vocalization when pronouncing its name. The eye turned to face us as it crawled on its many legs. It did not breathe in the traditional sense, it seemed to absorb air and expel it like some sort of a filter.

    “Hello,” it said. Its voice was as if one gargled razor blades, cutting and hoarse in perfect harmony, a voice so raspy that even in two syllables, immediately, I was shocked.

    “Gorxhu, huh?” Claire said, holding her hand out calmly. Wait, what? Is this normal? I looked over to Pierre, who was looking away, visibly uncomfortable. Okay, so, I guess it isn’t.

    “Yes, and you are Claire Beaumont, dragontamer.”

    Claire smiled warmly as she shook this eldritch being’s hand. Perhaps I was being prejudiced. I had, of course, earlier had a conversation with a fire hydrant. And I was very nervous as I planned to confront Andreas, so it stands to reason my tension might be taken out on this person.

    “Gorxhu, you are on a team with... Tanlas, yes?”

    ‘THE ACCURSED ONE!” It said, suddenly raising its volume. I nearly pulled out my weapon at that exact moment... and so did everyone except Huata.

    “I apologize,” it said meekly. “It is just... we do not have good temperament towards Tanlas.”

    “Tanlas, of the Yawning Maw. That would make you a daemon, correct?” Mrs. Evacher said.

    “Yes.”

    “What is a Damon?” I asked. It sounded like demon, but I’ve heard them say “demon” before.

    “Daemon,” Claire said, “it’s a type of being from the underworld. Like shadowspawn, or orcs, or demons, or devils... daemon come from a few of the underworld kingdoms, the Yawning Maw most notably.”

    “The Yawning Maw have found a hole in reality that they worship,” Thor said. “They put things into the hole and it disappears. They gain their power from this nothingness. Over time, the Maw weakens, and they have to feed it more.”

    “What happens to things put into the hole?” Pierre asked.

    “It disappears,” Gorxhu said bitterly. “They would subvert the natural cause of things for their own power.”

    “You oppose this practice?” Odin asked.

    “With all of my being. I was born Gorxhu, daemon of the Yawning Maw. If they would have their way, they would throw me in, and I would cease to exist. Everything I stand for, everything I did, all erased. My soul would be forever lost.”

    “Mega Man, Claire...” Huata said, interrupting them. “Gorxhu is a friend of mine. We plan, after the tournament, to... well, never mind. Let’s just focus on winning.”

    “No, what is it?” I asked.

    “You’ll find out when I win the tournament and make it public. We came here to warn you, not make you sympathetic towards us.”

    “Warn us?” Claire asked with an entire bite of Thip pizza in her mouth.

    “Yes,” Huata said. “There are many dangers in this tournament. Tanlas among them. Furthermore, we have reason to suspect foul play from Andreas Andersen, the person from your school.”

    “What? The president?” Claire asked.

    “Yes,” Gorxhu said. “We found him consorting with a group of terrorists that call themselves Ex Machina. We know nothing about this organization, but they claim to originate from Earth, and they have powerful binders... some as strong as we are.”

    “Why do you think you will win, anyway?” Claire asked.

    “I have to. The finals are broadcast to 32 billion people throughout the multiverse. I have to win in order to make my cause publicly known.”

    “Well, thank you for the warning,” Claire said. Huata bowed and left, with Gorxhu and Michael following shortly after him.

    “I... need to be excused. I’m still sore from that battle,” I lied.

    “That’s fine,” Claire said. “Next match is tomorrow, anyway. I feel bad for Huata, that he needs to win for whatever purpose... but I’m not going to roll over and let him win.”

 

    I paused in front of the door to Andreas’ suite. I needed a plan. Anyone can charge directly into the enemy’s lair, but the moment right before you fight the robot master, you have a small chamber to prepare yourself and strategize. This is my moment. Andreas has an unknown number of Pacts, true, but I have an unknown number of abilities. I ducked around a corner, thinking of a quick rhyme to get me going:

 

    “It’s time to impeach the class president

    Got all the requisite evidence to handle this decadent/

    criminal, bout to send shots that’s not subliminal

    I set precedence, his chance of survival is minimal

    ...Fear the robot that’s lyrical

    Justice is coming on principle for the miserable

    And downtrodden found to be mistreated by this clown

    I could give a damn if he’s going for some crown

    His ambition’s sick, that malicious prick

    And the tactician’s slick, hit harder than a brick

    Mega Man is a vet when it comes to this schtick

    I’m not afraid of some contract trick”

    I felt the power coming from my brand. I was slowly getting used to the sensation of 5% power, though it was painful. I felt as if I was a water balloon about to burst, and every motion was as if my body was straining to hold itself together. Okay. I opened the door, Andreas was sipping some sort of cocktail out of a fancy glass with Jason reading in a corner. He turned to face me, his eyes giving the most fierce expression I had ever seen.

    “Jason, you should leave,” he said. Jason looked as if he was going to protest, but he looked at me, then at Andreas, and sighed, closing his book and walking out.

    “Mega Man, you look tense. What is the matter?”

    “Your ability lets you make binding contracts, right?” I asked.

    “Yes, why? Have you come to swear fealty?”

    I gritted my teeth. I hated him more by the second.

    “Another question,” I asked, righteous fury dripping from my voice. “Why did you think that organization could stop me?”

    He burst into a grin, placing his drink down and standing. Though he was only slightly taller, it seemed as if he towered over me, with his incredibly muscular frame and strong strength of will. His piercing blue eyes signaled danger and... pride? He chuckled.

    “Of course not, Mega Man. There were two possibilities. One: you were a failure, and deserve the fate which comes from that. Two: you were like myself, an elite. But that’s not good, Mega Man. You see,” he began, walking around. The room filled with his aura, an inky blackness that felt viscous and sickeningly tepid. It was there but it wasn’t, as all magic is. I was only beginning to learn how this worked, but even I could tell this was dangerous.

    “I am meant to rule over this world. I was to be the first human binder, and I would claim this title, then claw my way into the elite. It doesn’t work as well if you are in the tournament semifinals, no? The only human binder, Andreas Andersen, he of a thousand Pacts. Isn’t it beautiful?”

    “So you had them try to kidnap me?”

    “Precisely, and Dr. Wily’s assistant as well. I figured your allies would fight him, and then fall to my contractor, but alas. I suppose, this is why I can’t trust outside help.”

    He spoke of contracting an organization for kidnapping me and tricking my friends like it was a maid who missed cleaning a window.

    “How did you get Brittany to do it?” I asked, feigning curiosity.

    “Ah, that? It’s quite simple... if someone signs a contract to make their body hotter, their brain will tell their body as such. Similarly, if Jessica signs a paper to take over her sister’s illness, her brain and body will work together to act sick. So, no cure. Brittany had no choice but to come to me.”

    I was seeing red.

    “How... how did you convince her,” I could barely keep my tone in check.

    “Hm? Are you feeling unwell, Mega Man? It was very simple. Create Memory. It’s a basic 4th level spell.”

    “Andreas,” I said, cutting him off.

    “What is it, Mega Man?”

    “I would like to propose a wager.”

    He sat back down, sipping his red beverage and looking up at me from the tip of his eye. He lifted his head again to face mine, as if asking me to continue.

    “We will battle, right here and now. If you win, I will forfeit the tournament... and act as your help from now on. You can trust my strength, right? But if I win... you will destroy that contract, and vow never to harm anyone on Earth again, after this tournament.”

    “So, you want to be my help, then?” His voice was dark, filled with a hateful excitement. Even now, seemingly speaking to me as if I was an equal, he still refused to take me seriously. A contract materialized in the air between us, with the terms writing themselves in a beautiful calligraphy.

    “I accept, Mega Man. Jason was proving himself to be quite inadequate. Sign here, and we will begin.”

    He pulled a fountain pen case out of his pocket, signing his own name before handing the pen to me. Hesitation, reason, and self-preservation all crept to the top of my mind, only to be pushed down by a single thought: somebody has to stop this bastard.

 

Chapter Text

    Flashbacks of Wily’s worst deeds ran through my heads. I remembered how I felt, after the 7th Incident, when I finally had him down to his knees... there would be nothing gained by having him live longer in this world. I’m a fighting robot, now. I fight for justice. This is injustice. Throbbing anger surged through my head as I thought of all of the things that I didn’t catch Andreas doing. The power from earlier was surging through me. 3%. 4%. 5%. I selected the Drill Bomb. I needed more power.

    Andreas flipped two pens in his hand, unveiling eight contracts which he signed absurdly quickly. The world around me began to shake as a dome formed around us. It’s fine. I don’t want to damage Thip, anyways. His hair, from the trim black, began to glow with an inner red and float under the force of his own aura. It was sickening. The air grew colder still. The contracts floated to the top of the dome, and were surrounded by a forcefield.

    “Mega Man, I thank you for your sacrifice,” Andreas said. Two swirling blades of wind formed at his hands. He turned to face me; I felt the bloodshed. For a brief instant, it seemed as if time slowed down. I had never put this much energy into my senses before. I could see the patterns dust made in the wind, and every twitch of his muscles.

 

    Just then, with a flurry of movement, wings grew from his feet as he launched himself towards me. Turning at the last second, he zig-zagged, trying to circle around me. I pushed energy into my foot, shooting the ground. The Drill Bomb exploded in midair, launching me. I switched to the Laser Trident, launching three tridents in a quick burst at him. Immediately after, I swapped to the Water Wave, pushing water from under where he would stand.

    Andreas gracefully span in the air, dodging two of the harpoons as they barely sailed past his body. He pressed his hands together, grunting, and fired a large beam of rainbow energy at me. I pushed my energy forward to block it. The energy burned at my magic circuits, my entire body being wracked by the pain. I felt it trickling through as it pushed me, and Andreas back. The force moved him out of the way of the torrent of water. I swapped to the Charge Kick. 80% to weapons.

    I wasn’t prepared. The Charge Kick sent me forward hurtling at speeds that were at least Mach 1. Turned into a missile, Andreas barely managed to put up his arms in a cross guard. I felt a sickening crunch as one of the bones snapped under the force, the ground cracking from the impact. Andreas went flying, coughing blood. A miniature nurse flew from within, tapping his arm and exploding into confetti.

    “You made me use my nurse,” he said with a mixture of admiration and frustration. I don’t need your kudos. His blades again assembled at his hands.

 

    “Split, my blades, I need to match his moves

    Monster in the cut, and it’s time to prove

    that it’s time to do what needs to be done

    So Metal Blades - I need two, not one.”

 

    With this brief couplet, I felt my body shifting as Metal Blades came out of both my Mega Buster and my free hand. I grabbed onto them. I pushed energy into my integration chip. By now, using this much of my Pact’s energy was starting to tear me apart from the inside, and the few hits I took were all designed to be lethal. But it’s fine. I’m a fighting robot that fights for justice. This is injustice.

    “Andreas, with my new pact, I can do more than I ever could before. I used to borrow the power of the Robot Masters I stopped, but now...” I said, panting as the code ran into my body. “I can make it my own. Mega Man - Alternate Form. Metal Mode!”

    My arms had shifted, now, with metal blades running along the side as if chainsaws. I could still use my hands, but I was able to push out blades from my hands as well. My entire body existed for the creation of Metal Blades.

    “What is this?! A new power! Laughable!”

    Andreas charged at me. 5%... wasn’t enough. He was too fast. 7% then? I was wracked with nausea as my sensory processor lurched forward. Time slowed down. I was crying now... was I this mad? Right. I have to kill Andreas. There is no place for monsters like that. 7%.

    I ran forward, matching his speed. He slashed forwards with one of his blade aiming at my right shoulder. I quickly turned to the side, using the momentum to parry his first blade and send him towards me. His next strike, a jab, would then be dead center. Remembering my training, I spun his jab around to deflect its momentum into a spiral, then stabbed with my own blade. Andreas blocked it, jumping backwards. Again, the nurse flew out.

    “So you’ve gotten stronger, huh? How much longer can you use this power? What, was 70% not enough for you? What is this... 85%?”

    There were words spoken, but I couldn’t hear him. There was thumping in my head. I couldn’t process language right now... all of my thoughts were into destroying this abomination. My oil was pushed into overdrive. I could feel my body’s temperature going over... but that’s fine. I just needed one big hit. Metal Mode doesn’t mean I’m stuck using Metal Blades. I selected the Magnet Beam.

    With my right hand, I launched blades forward with reckless abandon, aiming in his general area. Andreas weaved between them, charging forwards. I pulled as much blade out of my left hand as I could, easily doubling the length of my forearm. Andreas slipped between blades, coming forward for a double slash. Switching 60% of power to my left arm, 10% to my feet 20% to my senses, I left 10% to my right arm. My footwork was sloppy. I was focused entirely with parrying the attacks, not with keeping up a defense. I pulled the blades backwards.

    Andreas realized the danger slightly too late. I watched as his ear was sliced off by one of the blades. Another was about to fall in his stomach.

    “Lesser Blink!” he shouted, teleporting back a fair distance. Over where he ended up, he unsteadily tried to climb to his feet, collapsing to the ground. The nurse from before came to him, and regenerated his ear. He looked up at me with a look of pure hatred. It was fine. I still had my Metal Blades. By pulsing my magnet in and out, I could keep them in orbit.

 

    「Please stop this foolishness.」

    I charged forwards again. I think something was said, but I couldn’t process it now. He had to die. I’m Dr. Light’s creation to fight for justice! I’m not just some machine... I wouldn’t sit idly by and let this happen! Eight percent!!! I spat oil out of my mouth, eyes completely failing for a brief second. My muscles wanted to explode. If I stopped for even one second the pain would knock me out. I was running off pure willpower.

    My blades preceded me, launching themselves forward in a barrage. Andreas, this time, was ready, using his two wind swords to deflect them as they came forward. He realized I couldn’t maximize my speed while using this attack pattern, and that he had a moment to deflect the attacks. He was smart.

    “95% now, Mega Man?! You’re at your limit... please, stop! You’ll die! You’ll be of no use to me!”

    I’ll... die? I’ve died before. But I can be rebuilt. Can you, Andreas?!

    I screamed as I pushed myself forward to attack. Did I say that? It was a flurry of strikes between us, back and forth. I think I was nicked a few times, but I could barely tell. My entire being was pain and fury. How could I notice any addition to pain? One slash connected, leaving a gash in his arm. The nurse that came out was smaller... this time. He was running out of energy. That’s it... this is a war of attrition, a game of chicken that he wasn’t willing to play.

 

    「Mega Man, come to your senses! Please! You’re like a mindless beast right now!」

    I wasn’t afraid to die. He was. At some point he would back down. I looked into his dead, heartless eyes. They showed only ambition and fear. So he was scared? May your last moments be fear. The blades came back towards me. I pushed all of the energy away from my right hand, more into my senses and my feet. I couldn’t keep fighting like this any longer. When the Metal Blades returned from being attracted to me, that would be the last moment. I wouldn’t bring them back around.

    Again and again, our blades matched, with only brief moments where we parted in order to allow the projectiles to avoid us, only to charge at each other. Sweat poured down his face, and he was covered in many nicks. I could see where my armour was torn as well... but I was still standing. With my final rush, I kicked him in the chest, and slashed.

    “L-Lesser Blink!!”

    Andreas teleported backwards above the air, falling face first onto the ground. He threw up and rolled over, struggling to push himself to his feet. Four nurses went out, this time, exploding in a poof of confetti. One of the contracts burned up. Ahaha... so he was still standing. I revved up my blade. 9%... then.

    「What would Roll think?」

 

    Roll... Roll? Wait, who was speaking to me? I pushed the power down to gain control of my senses. I found myself in a formless white room sitting in a chair across a short woman with short blonde hair wearing glasses.

    “Where am I?”

    「Your sub-processor. Did you know you have a world inside you?」

    “Who are you?”

    「Normally, it’s rude to not answer questions. I will excuse it in this case.」

    “I need to get back to the fight.”

    「Time is slowed, here. One minute in this room is eight hours outside of it. I’ve made sure to put all of your safe energy into this sub-processor for this purpose.」

    “Then... who are you?”

    「You called me Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, but that’s not right. I am Alice.」

    “Alice? Wait, you’re..?”

    「Your lovely partner, that you have neglected so much. Well, it was mostly my fault. I was pretty mad at you.」

    “Why do you want people’s souls?”

    「These people misunderstand me... I don’t want people’s souls. I want my partners to disappear. I push them so that they will meet their end.」

    “But you saved me here.”

    Alice forced a painful smile. Her outfit was very simple, a black dress, black framed glasses, and brown eyes. Nothing about her seemed exemplary... but, the power I had there, only 8% was enough to have that effect. Her expression, though, it was enough to break my heart. There was a deep sadness.

    「They called me Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, Glory’s Death. A tool to dethrone tyrants, a weapon to kill anything. Unfathomable power. A being of pure evil... the ultimate threat to the living - I woke up one day and found myself attacked by the combined forces of Valhalla, the Shadow Realm, and a fleet from the Pryor Station. Those who tried to save me did so only for their own schemes and lust for power.」

    “But... why do you steal their souls..?”

    「For six thousand years, Mega Man, I either lived my life under constant attack, or used by evil to destroy. I’ve been the catalyst that ended empires and tore families apart. You were the first person that doesn’t want my power... and you’re...」

    She was crying now. She was still trying to smile, but the tears running down her cheek told a different story.

    「You’re starting to be just like them.」

    “He’s... bad, though.”

    「No bad person starts without good intentions, Mega Man. That which is bad in the world is infectious, and those who stray too close to it are most likely to catch it. Your desire to end this person’s tyranny clouds your judgement. There is nothing good in a heroic sacrifice. At best, it is necessary to leave friends and families heartbroken. Where is the justice in destroying a person out of hatred? At what point do you stop being a hero?」

    “What am I supposed to do, just sit back and let him do it?! Gl- Alice, I’m weak! I’m just a puddle standing next to a vast ocean... I have no idea what any of this is! I don’t know magic. I don’t know anything about Pact abilities. But I saw a person who was driven to mental torment the likes of which I’ve never seen... and I’m supposed to do nothing?!! I’m a robot that fights injustice! And I ... I felt... so powerless!”

    Alice embraced me.

    「There’s a way to use 9% of your power and win this fight without losing yourself to it. As you continue now... my power will eat your magic circuits from the inside out, destroying your soul, and leaving you as nothing but a machine that seeks out injustice and destroys it. That’s what you were becoming, Mega Man.」

    I thought back to my actions... they were just a haze of fury. Looking down, my arms were ripped apart in many places, held together by molten saw blades. Blades poked out here and there everywhere throughout my body where the force of my own magic ripped me to pieces. It hurt. The familiar brown and gold discoloration of my body from using the Metal Blades was compounded by the bizarre structural forms to facilitate more weapons. I had become... this. A robot gone berserk -- the hypothetical doomsday scenario anti-robot fanatics used to justify hatred towards all robots.

    “What are the consequences?”

 

    「I don’t know if your magic circuits will ever recover. You may be powerless forevermore. But... you pushed yourself into a corner. It’s do or die.」

    I was still staring down at my arms. A grisly reminder of what I was about to become, perhaps? If this is proof of my determination, then all I need to do is temper it. It’s do or die. I looked up at Alice. She had an intense expression of focus... and... something else.

    “You want to beat him too?”

    Alice blushed, turning to the side.

    「Is it wrong?」

    “How do I use it?”

    「You have to borrow 15% of my power. Use 6% solely to repair the damage to yourself, and keep 9%. But... it will hurt. I don’t want to deceive you.」

    “Very well. Can you coordinate it?” I asked.

    「I could do that.」

    “Let’s go, then.”

    I felt a rush of agony run through my head as I was brought back into reality. Andreas had moved just a bit, standing up unsteadily. The nurses had healed all of his wounds. Time stopped as a second wave of agony rolled through as my circuits adjusted to 15%. If 5% was like filling myself to the brim, 15% was having myself burst and repair itself. My vision blurred for a second as every subroutine in my self preservation programming told me to shut down.

 

    “What?! How are you still standing?? You can use 95% of your power this long?!” He began cackling. “You’ll be a great helper, Mega Man.”

    “95? What are you talking about?”

    “So you can talk! What, are you at 100% already? Did I overestimate you?”

    “I’m using nine percent of my power.”

    Andreas’s face contorted into pure rage. He slapped his own face as hard as he could, gritting his teeth, and screamed as he ran towards me. I manifested my blades here... 30% into my footwork, 25% into each arm, and 20% into my vision. He kicked off the ground, launching many rainbow projectiles at me. I fired two Metal Blades, deflecting the beams that would have hit me, and prepared myself for his aerial assault.

    Blade against blade clashed against each other. Each strike sent shooting pain up my arms - they could barely hold out just using 9% as it stood: each impact was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and each second Alice performed surgery on the camel. My left leg failed to work. As he landed, Andreas bit his arm, causing a purple mist to fly in his face. He gritted his teeth and charged into me again.

    He couldn’t talk. He was too angry to perceive the rest of the world. He was running purely off willpower. So... this is what I was.

    “If... if I lose here...” he shouted as he ran into me again. I could barely keep up with the movement of the blades anymore... I had to drop to 8% just to keep upright. He went for a sweeping slash to my torso with his right hand, and I saw the opportunity. I fired the blade in my left arm out as a projectile, aiming straight for his elbow. It disarmed me, but the blade severed his right arm cleanly.

 

    “Ngha!!” he sputtered, falling to the ground and clutching the stump where his arm was. I held my existing blade to his throat.

    “Surrender.”

    “I... if I lose here, what will all of this have been for, Mega Man?!!! You are making every effort I put in worthless! Every vile deed I have done... invalidated!” He screamed, tears in his eyes.

    “Surrender, Andreas!!” I shouted back.

    “I surrender! Just... just don’t kill me... please. Please don't kill me.”

    Chains flew from out of his body, wrapping around him as if many snakes, and impaling his heart. He cried out in pain as the chains dissipated into the air, before collapsing on the ground. The dome flaked away, bit by bit, as if millions of butterflies composed the dome and decided it was time to leave. I grabbed the now valid contract.

    「Okay, we’ll hold down to 8%, with 8% going to repairs. Let’s get you to the infirmary.」

    Triumph never felt so painful. I smiled in spite of it all.

 

Chapter Text

    Part of me really admires Mega Man for his improvement. He got a lot better from how he used to be. I set him up to win, and he did just that. On the other hand, though, in our battles he showed a shocking lack of knowledge on how battles between Binders are fought. He didn’t attempt any sort of synergy plays with me, and the only reason he showed me up was because of his freakish amount of magical energy that Gloria Horse or whatever gives him.

    For starters, what category is he? Marksman? Technician? And for positioning... well, he’s obviously a Caster. He has some Striker in him, but with a ranged weapon built into your body you have to take what you can get. Besides, he couldn’t last one minute in a scrap with me.

    “...hello?”

    I turned around, seeing Roll. Oh, was I blocking the door? I moved aside to let her in. The Norse gods had left, being called to some sort of summit, leaving only Pierre(who was asleep), and Mrs. Evacher(who was speaking to the Mars representatives). It’s not like it matters, only one more match remaining tonight, and it starts in 10 minutes.

    “What was it that you were thinking about?” she asked.

    “Mega Man’s category and position,” I said.

    “Eh? What are those?”

    “Well,” I said, explaining the concept. “In a battle, there are different categories of Binders. Modifiers - who enhance simple attacks or their own bodies, Marksmen - who focus in creating the greatest damage per attack, Technicians - who use a large arsenal of attacks and play to weaknesses, Controllers - who control people or the environment and attack indirectly, Assassins - who focus in slipping past defenses to take down key targets, and Bearers, those who focus on absorbing hits.”

    “Absorbing hits? Like, blocking?”

    “Sort of,” I explained. “When you fight as a Binder, you have a certain level of energy that you use in your attacks, right? The energy is what makes you hit harder, or makes the attacks stronger, or blocks the attacks.”

    “Okay?” she said.

    “Right, so, Master Roll, if you are capable of taking the full brunt of an attack - which comes bearing energy, there is nothing saying that you can not absorb the energy in the process, yes?”

    “I guess, but... isn’t that dangerous?”

    “It’s super dangerous! Like, you’d have to be crazy to want to do that! But... if you can do it, you actually get stronger as the fight goes on, while they run out of energy. You’re still running on extremely low health bars, but...”

    “I see.”

    “Anyway,” I said, “I’m a Modifier. I use Technician abilities though, in my bubbles. Wily... is a Technician, too. But Mega Man..? Is he a Marksman? A Controller? A Technician? Hell, with last fight, he could even be a Bearer.”

 

    I slumped back in the sofa, looking down at my cold glass of bepis. Imitation brand products are very popular outside of Earth, since most culture in the multiverse is taken from Earth. Humans, apparently, are quite good at creating art and stuff. Still, Martians are good at creating spacecraft. When is Shakespeare going to fly you to Alpha Centauri? ...not that there’s anything good over there, but it’s about the principle of the thing.

    “Does it matter?”

    “Not in this tournament, no, this is for absolute novices. And Yieve. But, going forward, if we ever get enough people to make a proper team... registering main and sub categories is important.”

    “Claire, you’ve calmed down a lot, lately.”

    “Really? You think so?”

    “Yeah!”

    Roll, your smile is too powerful a weapon. Aren’t you supposed to be a pacifist?

    “Well, um,” I stammered. I guess I haven’t had that much to be mad about since the tournament started. I am representing myself, and with my strong showings Mars will take notice. Mega Man, while not nearly living up to his reputation, is not falling behind, either. That’s our in against Andreas.

    “Yo,” I heard Pierre say as he walked in. He looked anything but refreshed.

    “Pierre, aren’t you supposed to be our support? What support are you doing, anyway?” I chided. Actually, it was kind of ann-

    “I’ve finalized my data on all of the other fighters, thus far. I haven’t gotten anything on the people that haven’t fought yet. Woke up for the Wily fight. I figured out our fights up until the end.”

 

    “Oh? What are your predictions?” I asked. Were my eyes shining? The lightning kinda does that sometimes. Ah, to hell with it... there’s nothing wrong with being excited here. No time for embarrassment.

    “First,” Pierre said, with a prideful smirk, “Andreas vs. Texu and Afri!”

    “Andreas and Jason?” Roll asked.

    “Andreas!” Pierre’s eyes were burning with intensity. I was into it! “Andreas, who does not care for Jason, and ignores him! While Jason is trained in basic magic, he barely uses it to competence! I’ve done some drills with Demien, and he confirmed my suspicion. His sleep magic wouldn’t work on me. How do they expect it to work on Xemia’s pupils, with their guard up?”

    “Ooh, so it’s basically two versus one, unless Jason has a trick up his sleeve?”

    “Exactly, and, he doesn’t -- Jason doesn’t know his Pact ability yet. Which means-”

    “Unless he makes First Contact this match, he’s just a novice.”

    “It’s the same as Yieve and Jozef. Though, the difference between Yieve and Andreas in power is too great. With Xemia’s team, the strength is too high, and they are too well rounded to be taken by Andreas. Secondly, his contracts are one time uses. He’s probably hesitant to use them. A manipulative man like he, he will use this for psychological effect. He will show the world that he has many powers, and use fear to great effect to avoid using any of them.”

    “Okay, so what about versus Virpo?”

    “Virpo is strong, and... he has an advantage here against both of you. Knight versus Striker, and Knight versus... Caster?”

    “Yeah, Mega Man is probably a Caster,” I said. Casters, who are the most versatile, act as the middle position, between the front lines of the Strikers and Knights, and the backline of Artillery. Against pure combat power and defensive strength, my high mobility is at a disadvantage, and Mega Man certainly won’t be able to keep up.

    “But! This, too, is two versus one... and more importantly, you are allowed to bring outside material in.”

    “So?”

    “Electromagnetism,” Pierre said, with a cocky grin. It took a second for it to click.

    “I... I’ven’t practiced electromagnetism much.”

    “It’s okay, you just need to be able to make a simple railgun. He’ll be expecting one source of projectiles, not two. By spreading metal throughout the arena, you can use your mobility to get angles on him. Okay, so you might not have the advantage. But two versus one changes things. You can use numbers to stall until you get the right chance.”

 

    “Wow, Pierre, you... you really studied this stuff,” Roll said.

    “Of course. I’m our support.”

    I clapped him on the shoulder. He winced.

    “Heh, can’t take camaraderie claps from a little short girl?”

    “You’re.. you know you’re really strong, right? You knew that, but you did that anyway?”

    “Okay... so us versus Master Xemia’s pupils...” my eyes grew wide.

    “Exactly. You’re a shoe in for the finals.”

    “Okay, Wilucifer versus Grysan and Blitz?”

    “Do you need to ask?”

    “Sorry. Cooking school versus elves?”

    The culinary school that took my place... the summoner, Ashley, and the weird Knight... Frog. We still haven’t seen Ashley’s Pact ability yet. The elves were good, but not amazing. I don’t think they will go far.

    “Hm.... Culinary School, unless the elves can pull something out we haven’t seen. That matchup is a huge wildcard - but whoever wins, Wily and Lucifer beats.”

    “Okay, what about the demon guys and the Emakians?”

    “Egh... I haven’t got that data yet. Sorry man. But... I can tell you how that bracket will go anyway. Whoever wins, Yieve beats, then Yieve beats Wily and Lucifer, then we fight Yieve.”

    I wasn’t looking forward to fighting Yieve at all. She was a bit of a silly person, but her strength was for real... she compared favourably to me just using the radiation from her power. If I get strength by pushing my energy into my body, she only used the remnants of the last time she took something seriously, and still... I balled my fists. I managed to speak to Neovridh, for a brief moment. I’ll get stronger. I must get stronger.

 

    “LADIES, GENTLEMEN, AND OTHER BEINGS! For our LAST match of tonight, we have a TREAT! On the RED side, from Earth... we have WILY and LUCIFER!!!”

    Woah... from excitement, to pure hatred... not a single person in attendance didn’t react to that.

    “And on the BLUE side... GRYSAAAAAN, AND, BLITZ!!” Lionel shouted. Grysan flew in on a cloud, arms folded dramatically. To his left, Blitz was flying by using some sort of jet boot. Wily and Lucifer were just walking up, saying something that the magicam wasn’t picking up.

    “Liam, who do you think is going to win?”

    “We’ve never actually seen Wily fight, but his army was pretty terrifying,” Liam noted. “Statistically, he is the top performer in the preliminaries. Lucifer, on the other hand, managed to eke out a win from all of that, despite having no help. It was almost as if Wily was testing Lucifer... and he passed.”

    “Strength in numbers... do you think he is going to pull that move today?”

    “Look, you have to consider budget, right? How many robots can one person create?”

    “So... you think this time, Wily is going to use his real power?”

    “Absolutely. With a Split Bond like Lucifer and Wily have, where both entities exist simultaneously, they not only bounce off each other like normal Binders, but they also can synergize well together. Who knows what kind of dangerous combinations they have? Their teamwork must be on another level.”

    “Let’s see how it goes. The match is beginning soon.”

    “Okay,” I heard Wily say as the camera focused in on them. “Remember the plan, Luc.”

    “What the he- of course I do?!” he spat on the ground, cracking his knuckles. His scythe shattered into hundreds of pieces, swirling around his head in a loose floating halo. His eyes glowed dangerously. On the other hand, Wily folded his scythe in, creating a pentagon with the blade of the scythe pointing inwards. He ripped off his button up shirt, revealing a mechanical contraption in his chest -- with a slot perfectly fit for his scythe.

    “What?” I heard Blitz ask. Grysan was floating in a meditative trance, with magical implements all around him. The battle’s preparation stage could end at any second. I could feel how tense the area was in the screen. Wily placed his pentagon-folded scythe into his chest. A dark green light sent its way out through the contraption, highlighting his circulatory system. His eyes flashed with the same green.

    “Zero Drive, active,” a mechanical voice chimed. Wily cracked his own knuckles.

 

    The word Ready appeared in the sky. I was prepared for a flurry of action... but there wasn’t. The stalemate seemed to continue, with Grysan and Lucifer staring each other down, and Wily and Blitz deftly moving in front of their respective partners.

    “Caster... and Striker... Falcon Speed, partner Alteration. Tank Barrier, partner Alteration. Eagle Eye, partner Alteration,” Lucifer began.

    “Greater Falcon Speed, other Alteration. Tank Barrier, partner Alteration. Eagle Eye, partner Alteration, Magic Shield, speed Alteration in-” Grysan said, in unison with Lucifer.

    “Great- what the flip! How are you able to use that sort of support magic?!” Lucifer said, cutting his own buffs off. “Wily, just go! This guy’s crazy!”

    Wily charged forward, leaping forward at high speeds to allow for an attack to go through from Lucifer. Lucifer shot a bolt of black energy forward... at Wily! Wily spread his hands outwards, creating an acceleration gate. The bolt got caught in the magic circle, and shot forward at an even higher speed around Blitz’s block towards Grysan.

    “-STANT!” he shouted, creating a small magic shield.

    “Now!” Blitz shouted.

    Grysan clapped his hands together: “O, perfidious foe, may thy machinations crumble under the watchful eye of Sekhmet. Incendiary Fusilis, hear my cry! Grant upon me strength, greater, yet greater still than the sun!” Blitz grinned as he threw out multiple steel balls, which fanned out, opening up to reveal a holographic protection... each one providing an acceleration gate of their own.

    “Pfft, call that a ritual?” Lucifer jeered. Grysan’s face, which was the epitome of bliss, quickly contorted.

    “May thy dark energies blend with mine,” he said. Blitz’s expression dropped immediately, “for the culmination of hellfire and the living. Our matrimony of flame... Fusilis, Fire Lance Omega, death Alteration!!”

    “Quick-Move, stored Variation!”

    “That’s not the right alteration!” Blitz shouted. Grysan let loose a blue and black aura which was so devastating the entire ground layer of the stage was ripped aside, sending shrapnel into the magic guard protecting the audience. Even the commentators were afraid, hiding behind Avery, who was picking pieces of the masonry out of the air. And yet, the strike hadn’t even launched.

    It felt like minutes, but it was only a second. Grysan flew up, releasing his arms to the sky in triumph. Little bits of flame leaped from this dark aura, weaving together to create a lance of flame. Part of the sand below the stage began to melt from embers sparking off of this. Wily was still in midair. Lucifer’s eyes widened at the device. Avery, suddenly, ripped his shirt off and sprinted towards the other end of the court.

    Then, in one terrifying instant, the Fire Lance let loose. It moved so fast my eyes could barely track it. No, “it” is the wrong word. This was... 40 Fire Lances, all woven together into what looked like one pulsing projectile of white hot flame and dark blue raw energy. Each lance pushed the other ones. It was as unstable as it was terrifying. A ritual spell like this... I could hardly imagine how much of the initial chant Grysan did. Was he reciting for hours just to prepare this?!

    It hit the first of the acceleration gates. There were six of them. The first redirected it... in a split. To the other five. Except... this attack was too strong for the gate. What looked like thirteen lances managed to rip through the magic circle that the others rebounded off in a spray of lances. Each of these lances would be fatal to me. Avery launched himself in the air, growing a pair of crystallized angel wings as he did so. He winced as he took one of the lances, and pushed himself into the path of the other. I see... the protecting shield for the crowd couldn’t take this attack.

    And, with that thought, the remaining 27 lances spread out. Some... were too fast. At their angle, they missed waiting acceleration gates. They hit the stage, burning right through, leaving a hole of magma in the ground. 18 lances managed to hit the second gate, flying at speeds even my eye couldn’t keep track of towards Lucifer. Lucifer flapped his black wings, propelling himself straight up in the air. His hands were a flurry of activity -- he pushed all of his energy into his palms to be able to receive the lances. Even still, he was badly battered, and fell to the ground.

    “Yes... we got him...” Grysan muttered, still drunk off the amount of energy he filtered through his focus.

 

    “No!” Blitz shouted. “He’s still up!”

    I let out a shriek. Lucifer... after blocking four of these lances, was still on his feet. What was this person?!

    ‘You... you fool!” He said, cackling maniacally as parts of his tunic were singed through. “Didn’t you know I’m the prince of hell?! We’re used to lava and hellfire!”

    Blitz immediately activated a thruster on his back, launching towards Wily with a number of quick strikes. Wily crossed his arms in front of him, thrusting them out to his sides -- a green laser blade manifested in his right hand. Wily met Blitz’s first punch with the blade, only to be pushed back towards the ground, falling swiftly; Blitz saw Wily’s fall and realized he had a chance, launching himself forwards.

    Meanwhile, Grysan quickly came to his senses to see the amount of bolts of dark energy launching towards him. Nothing dangerous... just testing his shields. Still, he couldn’t let Lucifer figure out how his shield was constructed. Was it primarily frontal defense? Was it weak from above? Was it an even shield that could be broken by one strong attack diverting all of the energy in one direction, then a fast attack in another location? All of these possibilities had to remain open for Grysan to avoid Lucifer’s dangerous attacks.

    Grysan posed with his arms parallel to the ground, hands jutting like knives, left hand resting on the right arm, and right hand below his left. “Magic Missile, fountain Alteration!”

    Against Lucifer’s attacks, Grysan shot magic missiles. Bolts hit each other in the air. Grysan began to move, running against the side of the arena to get distance from Wily, and approach. Lucifer saw his clockwise motion around the square stage and countered, counter-clockwise. This brought him closer to the descent path of Wily and Blitz, who were trading blows in the air, back and forth.

    “GRYSAN!!!” Blitz shouted.

    “Arcane Lance, fast Alteration!” Grysan cried in his voice. His eyes were more focused now than ever before. A quick Lance shot directly at Blitz, who pulled out a final steel orb. It unfurled itself in the air as he struggled to hold it, aiming the acceleration gate with one arm, and attacking Wily with the other. Lucifer gritted his teeth, balling his hands up, and leaping onto Wily.

 

    The lance struck. It hit the acceleration gate, and quickly began shifting direction as the gate struggled to hold the projectile. Time seemed to stop. Wily’s hair... changed colour. Wily let out an uncharacteristic smirk as black wings sprouted on his back.

    “What? It’s a trap!!” Blitz shouted -

    “Acceleration Gate, quick Variation!” Wily/Lucifer cried. An acceleration gate unfurled in front of the quickly descending Wily/Lucifer’s face. Two seconds before he would hit the ground, the gate managed to hold... the Arcane Lance, suspended by the net of the acceleration gate, millimeters in front of Wily/Lucifer’s face. And then, just like that, the gate pushed the lance back at Blitz. It hit him in the chest, launching him backwards into the sand, where he slid on the ground. Wily/Lucifer flapped their wings powerfully, pushing against the ground towards Grysan.

    Grysan pushed all of his shield up in his hands, and braced for impact from Wily. Right before... Wily’s hair turned black again. There was a sound of fabric flapping in the air -- Lucifer jumped out of Wily’s body, activating his Quick Move to extremely rapidly circle around Grysan. Grysan, who was using all of his energy to block the impact, literally could not perceive the motion. As Wily charged forwards, Lucifer lunged at Grysan’s back. Sensing the attack, the shield diverted its power against the threat -- leaving Grysan’s front completely exposed.

    Before that could happen, an incredible amount of gravity seemingly pushed everyone in the stage to the ground. Wily collapsed, spitting blood onto the ground. Lucifer was pressed to the ground, right up against Grysan, who crumpled in an unpleasant looking position with his back above his legs.

    “Calling it,” Avery said. “U-er,... ff... if,” he stammered, “if you continued... Grysan would be.. dead..”

 

    There was a brief silence as the intense gravity abated. The three lifted themselves up, all dumbfounded.

    “Winners... Wily, and Lucifer..!” Lionel called, stunned by the intensity of the match. Even this was on a delay, as people managed to process just exactly what had happened in that fight. The shortest battle so far, yet... the most intense.

    So... this was our competition.

 

Chapter Text

    Good morning, Mega Man. It’s been a little while since I heard Roll wake me up. We’d go to school together, and I would find new people to spend time with. We’d go to band class, together, and I’d meet young adults just about ready to head off into the world and become the future. Little by little, I’d learn where the future was heading, and what it means to live in this world, and hopefully... somewhere down the line, I’d see a time where robots and humans got along.

    Ah... I was crying now. Didn’t I win? I should be celebrating. My entire body ached to the point of not being able to move a muscle. The infirmary room was sterile and decorated only sparsely with health posters for a number of species that I haven’t seen before. Before, when I was badly injured, they would have me in a room like this, and there would be flowers in a vase off to the side. This room was only alien; there was an odd chamber filled with yellow slime off to one corner. Was I homesick? Or did I just miss peaceful life?

    「Oh, you’re up?」

    “Hello, Alice,” I said, out loud for some reason. I still can’t explain how these words are formulated, but they are there. It’s a strange melancholy feeling, after this fight. Well, I’m used to it. I don’t like to fight. I was a lab assistant robot, at first, I was only modified into being a fighting robot. To be known as a fighter hurts. I hate it.

    “Alice, huh?” a voice said from above. I couldn’t move my body to look, but it was a familiar voice.

 

    “What do you want, Yieve?”

    “I saw your fight, Mega Man. I’m genuinely impressed. Real compliment?!” she said, hopping off from the windowsill into my field of vision. She was wearing shorts with an asymmetric yellow skirt over, and a black and white striped t shirt, tonight.

    “I don’t know why you were fighting so hard, but... well, who am I to judge people,” she said in a bitter tone. “It inspired me. Seeing cute guys give their all like that... but then, it scared me. I could hear the fight from outside the dome, and I could hear the point when you should have went whoosh and fallen to the ground. You... you held yourself up.”

    “I couldn’t lose, I made a wager.”

    “Right, that’s what makes this so frustrating! Did you know he was going to come after you and kill you?”

    Kill..?

    「Who is this woman? She seems dangerous.」

    “It’s... Yieve, a princess in the tournament,” I explained in my head.

    “What do you mean, how did you know?”

    “On your way back,” Yieve said as she pulled up a chair from a corner out of my field of vision. “He had a spooky look. I told him to go home and brush his hair, but he threatened me? Like, what kind of mental state do you have to be to disregard your own life like that?”

    Her arrogance was astounding... but not unfounded.

    “Anyway. I see you wobbling back here, and I see him crawling on the ground, screaming bloody murder with his eyes. What do I do? I stop the fight! Stripe shirt, referee Yieve! Referyieve?” she tried to laugh, but it was too hollow to convince anybody.

    “Mega Man, this is an adult world you are getting into. You give me little brother feelings. Are you sure you...?”

    I didn’t need her to finish the sentence. I knew.

    “I do what I have to,” I said. “I don’t want to, but... someone has to.

    I thought of Jessica, and of Claire. Claire risked her life to save me, and to save a butler of Wily’s. A person like Andreas doesn’t stop. I know this from experience. They’ll never be content, and they will keep striving to do bigger things, crushing more and more people as they go along. Earth would just be a stepping stone, and the further up he went, the more blood he would shed along the way. He doesn't care about the value of a life now, and that wouldn't change as he continued to improve his standing in the world.

    “Why? What did Andreas do?”

    “He... he used his ability and magic to trick people I know, to force them into his servitude. He brought innocent people to the depths of despair, and tore happy families apart just to win this tournament. I don’t know what other things he has done. Do you think he peacefully obtained all of those contracts?”

    “I... so, but... but, why do you have to hurt yourself to stop him?”

    “I’ve risked my life - and died - before. I’m not afraid of it happening again.”

    Yieve grit her teeth, showing a pained expression I never thought possible from the idiotic princess I first met. She cupped her hands together against the light, and pulled a book out of the shadows. It was a small, hand bound book, guarded with a lock that could take no key. It miraculously opened itself as soon as Yieve covered it with her hand. She handed the book to me.

 

    “What...” I looked down into it. It was a journal, but inside were just brief sentences with no context. Tony, S3261, Sakrant 67, 16:43: watched ants. Rebecca, S3261, Lekrent 21, 9:21: vanilla ice cream.

    “Yieve, what is this?”

    “People smiling after having a bad day before, it was the thing that made them smile.”

    Each page had dozens... maybe even hundreds of these.

    “This world is full of pain, Mega Man. But it’s full of pretty things too. Please don’t throw your life away.”

    As she took the book from me, making it disappear in her hands, she climbed back up into the window. I could see the shadow she left in the moonlight.

    “Someone who cares that much is a pretty person. I... I would be sad if you were gone.”

    I couldn’t see her leave, I only heard it. I was frustrated, and I was sad. I looked over my shoulder hoping to see flowers.


 

    “Hey, Mega Man,” I heard a deep voice say. I looked up to Pierre. He was sitting in a chair. How long was I asleep for? I don’t even remember going to sleep.

    “Hello,” I murmured.

    “I won’t ask what has got you into this situation. I only ask if you will be able to fight tomorrow. Day 3 is when the second round begins.”

    “Yes, I should be fine.” I wasn’t sure if I was lying or not. Still, I could move my arms. That was an improvement.

    “Okay my friend,” Pierre said. He lingered in the doorway, slightly adjusting his cap. After a painfully long moment, he left. I tried reaching out to Alice, but she did not respond. I was alone. Pierre came back after some time, though I was not sure how much(the clock was above me) and brought a TV into my room. I smiled, trying in vain to reach the remote. My arms could move, but I could not bend my torso to do so. Pierre saw this, placing the TV on, and selecting “Classical” for the background music. If only Earth television had this functionality.

 

    “-you well rested, everyone?” I heard Lionel say. There was an enthusiastic response.

    “Okay,” Liam said, “here we have an exciting match. Lala and Teeri, from Allgarden, the elven duo -- versus Ashley Totora and Frog Kenczia, from the Artemovich Culinary School.”

    “Ashley’s been cooking up something dangerous for the Allgardeners, as we have only seen her use summon magic. She is well known for her dangerous use of her pact, and her style - The Gate and Torrent. Have you seen her in action?”

    “No, I haven’t,” Liam said. “But Lala has a useful ability, she can control bir- ds...”

    The wind left his sails halfway through pronouncing the word “birds” as he realized this stadium environment does not have any birds in it.

    “And Teeri, a powerful Knight, can rapidly grow mushrooms in suitable terrain, allowing her to deform the env-”

    Liam looked down at the sandy environment surrounding the stone platform. The look of disappointment was palpable.

    “Okay, so they can’t use their pacts, but their knowledge of how to fight is unparalleled. Lala is an incredible druid, and Teeri is currently rated the 4th best Knight in this tournament, according to analysts.”

    “Who do you think has this one, Liam?” Lionel asked.

    “It depends on how well Frog does. Frog, using a null spirit, is unable to draw power from his partnership. Instead, he uses his own power to fight. While this certainly feels cool, Frog does not have any sort of ability to speak of yet. Like Yieve, he only uses his latent ability... but unlike Yieve, it’s not because he chooses to.”

    “A mage who specializes in ritual magic... and a druid. Artillery versus Mage, with two Knights facing off each other. If any Knight can make a breakaway, the opposing caster will easily be overrun. Folks, the intensity is rising for this battle!”

    Ashley was smirking.

 

    The elves shifted their stances lower. Teeri, the knight, took a slightly proactive approach, moving a few steps in front of Lala on the Blue side.

    “On the RED SIDE, ASHLEY TOTORA... and... FROG KENCZIA! AND! On the BLUE SIDE! We have... LALA... AND... TEEEEEEEERI!”

    Unlike other teams that gathered towards the middle, each stayed in their respective sides. The box outlined where they stood. Neither seemed to care for any sort of banter. You could hear a pin drop at that moment. Finally, the word “READY” appeared.

    In a flurry of activity, Lala reached into a pocket, pulling out a number of different pieces of wood, and clapping her hands around them. She began to glow immediately with a blue aura, and she chanted in a language which I recognized from my studies to be druidic. Teeri rushed forward, pulling a shield painted to look like a mushroom cap, and a blade out. Frog hopped forwards with two pitchforks. Ashley, however, took a deep breath in, closing her eyes.

    While Lala and Teeri were both outfitted for battle, wearing leather armour ornamented with some metal(mithril, perhaps?) chainmail, and Frog wore simple suits of armour, Ashley wore a purple sundress. Her black hair was in a bob cut, with bangs just barely touching her steely blue eyes. Ashley lifted her arms out to the side as if she was an airplane, before exhaling powerfully and crossing her arms quickly. Immediately, multiple teleportation gates opened behind her. Water poured out in a torrential flood, but before it could hit the ground, it curled in on itself, creating a jet of water that Ashley leaped on without a second thought.

    Teeri looked up for just one second. Frog, who was used to this sight by now, was not distracted by the spectacle, and used his powerful hind legs to jump forwards at Teeri, making first contact. She was pushed back by the strike and stunned momentarily, blocking the followup attack only off pure reflex. Frog bounced back to avoid any sort of counterattack. The elf stared Frog in the eyes, now, recognizing him as a warrior.

    “Quill Ring!” Lala said, finishing off an incantation she had prepared earlier. Three rings of floating barbs, covered in some sort of poison orbited the floating Lala, who was slightly airborn. Lala made a gun with her fingers, aiming at where Ashley was before -- only to see Ashley riding a jet of water moving at forces enough to rip a tree out of the ground.

 

    Ashley controlled the jet with one hand. Making large, sweeping gestures while struggling to balance on the jet, she controlled its movement, bobbing around back and forth preemptively to avoid any sort of strikes. Meanwhile, with the other hand, she drew gestures for magic circles in the air. Seeing her comrade starting to get pushed back by the measured strikes Teeri used, Ashley clapped her hands together, slamming her left hand down as hard as she could. A large part of the jet of water split, aiming directly at Teeri from overhead. She barely managed to dodge in time, but the force of the water splashing on the ground knocked her off her feet.

    “What in the Garden?!” Lala shouted.

    “You thought I was some lazy, sit around, summoning type Artillery? Too bad!” Ashley’s face was filled with such a rich smug satisfaction I could barely believe it. “I’m an Artillery/Striker!”

    Liam - and a few of the judges - audibly gasped. Liam struggled to grab the microphone as the speechless Lionel watched another match far above the upper boundary an entry level beginner’s tournament should ever have.

    “Artillery, folks, is the slowest and most involved combat style. Striker, by comparison, is the fastest and shortest. Spells are designed to be as quick as possible, and attacks are to go in and out. Ashley... is mixing oil and water.”

 

    As the torrent began to dwindle in size as more of it was devoted to attacking Teeri from above, Lala was still unable to get a solid hit on Ashley, who was moving far too quickly -- and still, somehow, managing to create a magic circle. Lala realized this as much as anyone else watching, and quickly shifted gears, pulling out wooden beads from under her armour.

    “Gatorskin, partner Alteration. Eagle Eye, partner Alteration,” she began. Teeri began a dull glow as she pushed forward despite the jets of water raining on her from above. With the boost to her defensive capabilities, and the boost to her perception from Eagle Eye, she was able to dodge the jets while moving forward.

    Seeing this, Ashley splashed some water onto Frog. Frog unhesitatingly pulled a cord from inside his armour, launching a spray of tiny pitchforks. Teeri attempted to block with her shield. For one second, when Teeri had her vision obscured, Frog moved incredibly quickly, jumping over her head. Ashley squeezed her eyes shut, losing control over the jet of water, and cupped her hands together. Water where Frog was shaped itself to look similar to Frog.

    “It’s a-” Lala shouted, but it was too late. Though it was a crude image, it was just barely enough to fool Teeri for a fraction of a second, long enough for Frog to get in range. Ashley, who was freefalling, seemed to struggle to push the water as it lay on the ground. There was a lot less of it left. When the water hit the sand, it seemed Ashley was unable to affect it anymore. Still, she was able to keep herself afloat, barely.

    Frog landed, kicking Teeri to the ground with his powerful legs. Ashley clapped her hands together, “Rise, now, great Ascxiu!”

 

    A bizarre looking misshapen silvery ghost came out of the small looking circle Ashley had been creating, pulling itself from the tiny frame that barely could contain its bulbous self. As more of it left the circle, it seemed to grow larger, and larger, from the circle roughly the size of her palm, to being almost as large as the summoner herself. Ashley turned the jet around, making a rough turn with her hands. She was panting now as the jet of water moved directly towards the summon.

    “Greater Foxfire!” Ashley shouted, launching a burst of blue flames at the being. It absorbed the flame, changing shape to appear as if it were made out of blue flame, but immediately after Ashley collided into it. Her black hair burst into blue flame as an incredible release of aura came out. The fire initially vaporized most of the water, leaving Ashley flying through the air. Now, with two fingers, she pulled the remaining water, just two small discs, under her legs. She moved the water with much more ease.

    “I surrender,” Teeri said, noting the pitchfork aimed at her forehead. She was teleported off the arena immediately. Frog turned his attention towards Lala. However, Ashley was faster. The discs flew towards Lala at incredible speed, with Ashley following shortly after. Her fist, covered in the same blue fire, made contact with Lala’s chest. Acting basically as a human projectile, the impact sent Lala flying. She was teleported out of the stage in midair before she could hit the walls.

    Ashley clicked her tongue. “Didn’t even get to use much of the transformation.”

    She exhaled sharply as the fire died in her hair, and the silvery ghost appeared again, as if leaving her chest. She waved her hands back and forth, and the summoned being dissipated into the air. There was a raucous applause from the crowd, with many shouting words of encouragement and support to the elves. Ashley embraced Frog, before raising her fist in triumph.

    This is what it takes to steal Claire’s spot, huh? We’ll just have to be able to beat her before she can transform.

 

Chapter Text

    The boy was trembling with fear. He sat at a round table, a gorgeous mahogany, with an incredible ceiling well above his head. Custom stained glass windows depicted the realms of many deities. The boy was surrounded on all sides by giants, sitting across from an abomination, and there was only one other person that could be called anything but godlike. Indeed, he did not even sit on chairs. He sat on a throne.

    But that isn’t why he was trembling. In an even fight, he would lose to anyone there... but he would hold his own nonetheless. Avery Senestia Listrau, the Rating 6 member of EA’s Elite 16, and arguably one of the strongest youth in the entire multiverse. The celestial-born half angel, The Searing Light, an entity so strong that he once made an entire army bow to him before his 10th birthday. He wasn’t afraid to sit next to Satan, or Thor, or sit across from Shadowlord Nerxhien. He wouldn’t even be afraid fighting them. Avery was deathly afraid of speaking.

    From the days of his childhood, his connection to the Fallen Angels made him well respected beyond his village. At 3 years old, travelers would come from across the planet to see him. At five, legends of his power were spread in hushed tones even outside of Nagaski, his home planet -- travelers would come to see him, to beg for his advice. Prodigy. The Chosen One. God-blessed. The Searing Light. He learned as fast as his power grew, seemingly without limits. One who was not a Binder, for he would instantly overwhelm nearly any spirit that tried to link with him.

    At the age of six, he was declared to be a threat to the state. Four thousand men attempted to capture and execute the boy. From the sheer strength of his aura, they were placated. Nagaski’s Red Country did not have many mages, binders, or anyone with magical talent... it was if an ant were to fight a human. From there on out, he was treated as the de facto king of the Red Country, every word he said was acted upon. The boy loved it. He would ask for a cake for lunch, and the cafeteria would provide it. Still, as a child, he did not know the gravity of his situation. He only knew he was special.

    It was only when he was 8 years old did he really see what was really happening. Nagaski’s Red Country was very poor, and every request he made was made at the expense of something else. One day, out of curiosity as to how cake was made, he entered the room. There he saw the school’s cook being held at swordpoint. There was barely any food for anyone else. No students were allowed in Avery’s classes, so he had no idea that he was starving the village.

    This was the moment when Avery realized that he had power, and words have great power. If he said one word, he could have the entire village killed. He later went on to discover all of the adventurers he gave advice to had met their end. Simply put, Avery had no idea what it meant to be a normal person. So, when sat next to gods, and abominations that defy all logic, Avery was not frightened by their presence. He was among his own people.

 

    “Well,” a seductively rich voice called. It was not particularly deep, but the dulcet tones were enough to lull a stone to sleep, yet oozed with a subtle but powerful element of danger. “It seems we are all here.”

    “Yes, indeed,” an older man said, scratching at his beard. A younger man sat next to him. The two bore some resemblance. The older man had a mischievous, but dangerous glimmer to his eyes. The younger’s had only ambition and pride. Across from them sat a massive demon, red skin, white eyes with horns. He was topless, with large rippling muscles. He had four sets of teeth.

    Most disconcerting, though, was the one who started this. Shadowlord Nerxhien, a being created out of the concept of paranoia and authoritarianism that ran throughout the Shadowlands. The Shadowlanders, dark beings in the underworld, are so prone to deception and corruption that a fictional being, the Shadowlord, was a concept that quickly became revered. Representing the shady underworld that made up all of the Shadowlands itself, he was worshiped as if a god, and with the sheer force of belief, was willed into being.

    “Shall we get to it, then?” it said cheerfully. “We have much to discuss.”

    “I assure you, Nerxhien,” Satan chimed in, “I have not been providing those terrorists with any spirits. I do not know where they originate from... but I would not sow the seeds of my own destruction.”

    “It only stands to reason,” Thor spat, “that the one working with the human that created the Robot Masters would help the Robot Masters.”

    “Easy,” Odin said. He gripped the edge of the table, leaning in to stare the demon in the eye. Satan stared back. “He has a point, though. I don’t know if I can trust something like that.”

    “Indiscriminate attacks on Thip? Please, you disgust me,” Satan said. “If I wanted to take Mega Man so badly, I wouldn’t do it so crassly. I would open up a school for Robot Masters and enter my contestants in. Why would I defend a place I am attacking? And why do you think Mega Man is my objective?”

    “A false flag operation, then?” Nerxhien suggested. “Who e-”

    “You know damn well what Mega Man contains,” Odin snapped, before taking a deep breath in and reclining back in his throne.

    “Excuse me,” Nerxhien said in a defeated tone. “I have a theory.”

    “Speak,” Thor said.

    “This is a false flag operation, nothing else. I don’t know why they want to pin this on Satan, but I believe it might be something to further discredit the Underworld.”

    “Okay, we’ll go with that explanation,” Satan said. “Why here, then? To discredit the Underworld, they target a place where your daughter, and my past self enter?”

    “Eh-e-e,” the boy weakly stammered. He was unheard.

 

    Frustrated, Satan slumped back into his chair, conjuring a cup of tea, which he began to spoon sugar in. He slouched against the throne, taking a very defiant, childish posture as he did so.

    “Ex Machina, regardless of who we think operates them, is still growing. They are in a gray area where we can not intervene as of yet,” Odin stated. “Who would have to gain from abusing this? I can’t think of a single reasonable explanation besides Satan’s involvement.”

    “And I don’t believe that for one second,” Nerxhien stated. Nerxhien, a mass of shadow with two glowing yellow eyes pooled into a corner around where a throne was pushed to the side. It could take any form, but preferred to let itself drop around casually.

    “Regardless of what Lucifer may want to do with Mega Man, and Wily... by proxy, there’s no way either party could lay a finger on my daughter.”

    Satan’s face scrunched up in frustration for an instance, but he exhaled sharply.

    “Winning the competition can not be a suitable goal. We have no desire to take Gloria Mors, anyway. If the Shadowlands does not have the desire to take something as a secret weapon, nobody does.”

    “Are you mocking our resolve?” Satan said, turning towards Nerxhien.

    “I could be, but that’s up to your interpretation. I am merely stating a fact: that entity is far too dangerous to control.”

    “Excuse me,” Avery said.

    “What is it, mortal?” Thor asked. Avery sunk into his chair, hiding his eyes with his hands. After a moment, he spoke.

    “This isn’t the point of the summit.”

    Nerxhien hummed enthusiastically, and Odin let out a dry chuckle. Thor’s eyes flashed with anger - Satan was sipping tea.

 

    “The voice of reason,” Odin suggested. “Right. We have not determined the identity of this ‘Lord Ombra’, but we have learned something of Ex Machina.”

    “Ex Machina, roughly translated to By Machine, is a terrorist organization of Robot Masters lead by the enigmatic Lord Ombra. As they originate from Earth, which is still under Masquerade protection for the next 50 years, we are not formally allowed to intervene in these matters.”

    Masquerade is a term referring to areas that are not familiar with the Multiverse. Earth is a special exception, it is the only realm that did not have any sort of magic prior to breaking mask. It is the only established rule of the multiverse that realms that break mask are to be protected for 50 years after discovering the rest of the multiverse. This rule acts on two levels. First, it protects realms from imperialist established realms that would colonize other realms for resources. Secondly, it allows these realms to establish some sort of stable presence, giving the world time to grow accustomed to the presence of a new realm.

    As Earth is under masquerade protection, Ex Machina is considered a potential realm government. It is within the realm of possibility Ex Machina could conquer all of Earth, creating a robot-first world regime. Since this is within the realm of possibility, any sort of attempt from someone out of Earth to intervene could be considered meddling in a planet’s affairs, thus breaking Masquerade protection. To break the only law of the Masquerade is amount to suicide, it gives legal justification for any realm to declare war on you.

    In short, Ex Machina could not be touched by any of the existing governments. Only people from Earth are allowed to officially deal with them. However, this is not merely a robot uprising.

    “Somebody keeps giving these Robot Masters nigh demigod level Pacts,” Nerxhien said. “They are incredibly rusty, but their raw power is immense. We can fight to defend them, but we can’t take the fight to them. How many of these guys are there?”

    “We know they have 3 main generals, under Lord Ombra. They are Aqua, Ignis, and Terra. We have a hunch that Terra is behind this attack,” Odin explained.

    “Okay. What about our defenses?”

    “Some valkyries, the demons you have provided, Avery and Liam, some of Thip’s national guard, and...”

    “I won’t make Yieve fight,” Nerxhien interjected.

    “Why not?!” Thor shouted.

    “You don’t know what she’s been through...”

    Nerxhien looked down at the desk inquisitively as he trailed off, before matching Thor’s intensity, staring him down with incredible determination.

 

    “Princess Yieve is to do as she pleases. If she does not want to speak with me that is fine. If she does not want to help defend Thip, that is also fine. If you press me any further on this I will make public all of the arms you have purchased through us.”

    Thor gasped, begrudgingly sliding back into his chair. Odin chuckled nervously. Shadowlord Nerxhien is as unpredictable as he is dangerous. A being that supposedly acts purely rationally, but capable of great pettiness... and great compassion. Even further still, immense cruelty.

    “Don’t you think it’s unfair, putting Yieve in this tournament?” Satan asked.

    “Hm? I didn’t put her anywhere, pal! She chose to do it. She’s never been registered under any events, nor has she competed in any setting, so it’s fine, right?”

    “I, o-o, I, er, I okayed... I said it was.. I gave permission,” Avery stammered, looking at his shoes.

    “Besides,” Thor said. “Mega Man is representing Valhalla. He wouldn’t let us down.”

    “And Lucifer is nothing to sneeze at, either. Wily’s grown into a fine young man, too,” Satan said wistfully.

    “I have a proposal,” Nerxhien said. “With Avery’s help, of course.”

    “Yes?” Avery asked.

    “The contestants that have failed... involve them in the defense.”

    “They’re barely adults!” Thor cried, standing up abruptly as he pushed the throne off to the side like it didn't weigh six tons.

    “Have you seen these matches?” Nerxhien said. It floated over the table, inky blackness enveloping that entire room. The shadows cast from the lights of the windows swirled in order to block more of the light, darkening the room further still. A smile bubbled up from within its formless body as its eyes glowed dangerously.

    “This novice tournament... any one of these contestants would have been a dead ringer to win last time around. They fight on the level of third entrants. Frankly, it’s sickening.”

    “True,” Odin noted. The high level of this tournament is partly why it had such turnout. With three teams that were highly anticipated as entrants, some teams entering with realm-wide sponsorships, and the sheer unpredictability of the matches resulted in this novice tournament being one of the most popular programs ever aired.

    “I don’t know how much longer we can keep Ex Machina from attacking the city. For now, people think it’s safe,” Odin mused. “There’s going to be a battle, isn’t there?”

    “Think about it, Avery,” Nerxhien said. Its eyes were glowing pools of madness now. Twisting and turning, evoking the paranoid calculations of a person who treated everything in the world as a tool and an enemy.

    But Avery wasn’t afraid of that. He was only afraid of the eyes on him. If he said yes, he would potentially be putting people to their deaths. If he said no, he would be leaving the city to fend for itself. Avery Senestia Listrau fears only responsibility. He gulped. His decision...

 

Chapter Text

    I had nothing else to do in my hospital bed but to watch the next match. Yieve and Jozef vs Pronon and Vagal. The way these matches start has become very familiar to me, yet something was different in this match. It was Yieve. When the word Ready began, she held her hand in front of Jozef; the other group didn’t advance forward. It was if she had stopped the fight itself. Thirty seconds in, and not a thing changed. The other side just cautiously observed Yieve in a bizarre stalemate.

    “Okay,” she said. “Pick.”

    Jozef pointed towards Vagal. Yieve slowly pointed towards Vagal, then nodded. Vagal was a taller one, with long black hair and tanned skin that was covered in tattoos; he wasn’t particularly muscular, but he looked wild. He wore a simple white muscle shirt and jeans. By comparison, Pronon was smaller, and much better kept. His blonde hair was neatly trimmed, and his tattoos were all of the electrical variety, serving for functionality rather than decoration. He wore a loose fitting but luxurious button up black shirt, with a similarly loose and regal looking set of black pants. I wasn’t sure of the make, it seemed futuristic.

    “Yes, that’s correct,” Yieve said in a warm, maternal tone. She looked up at the two combatants with an expression of utter nonchalance. Pronon’s face was one of pure fury as he only just barely succeeded in his attempt to hold back his murderous rage.

    “You have been selected to fight my little Zeffy,” Yieve said, looking at Pronon in the eyes. “If you accept, you get to fight him. If you choose not to, I will break your left arm.”

    “Is this legal?!” Pronon shouted. He looked up to the judges. Avery was nowhere to be seen, but the other two discussed briefly. The taller of them, a woman, leaned into her desk’s mic.

    “An ultimatum where either you fight or are attacked is not against the spirit of the competition. It is still battling.”

    Pronon gritted his teeth, eyes bulging as his shoulder twitched. He took a moment to calm himself, before reaching into his coat and pulling out a bunch of metal spheres and throwing them across the battlefield. He blinked, and the explosions seemed to pause, as if they were a recorded video. He stepped forward confidently, with measured step. Jozef did the same.

    I blinked. Vagal was standing by Yieve, off to the side. Wait, what? He went in to punch her, but stopped suddenly as he realized what had just happened. His eyes bulged. Yieve giggled, coaxing him gently to the ground to sit - an offer he accepted bewilderingly. There were a number of terrified and frightened squeals from the audience as they just realized what had happened. Nobody knew how, but Vagal was moved against his will -- seemingly, in the space of milliseconds. Jozef and Pronon stopped, mouth agape as they both observed the princess.

    “If you can’t thinky think how I did that, let me give you a hint. First, my style: The Shadow... something. Secondly, my Pact allows me to move shadows. I have 240% affinity to shadow magic. I did not use any teleportation magic. It’s a simple maaaaaagic trick. Learn and be amazed!”

    The two paused for a moment. Yieve, in a dark tone, said, “but don’t forget to fight.”

 

    Jozef closed his eyes and wisps of light began to fly around him. A number of blades formed out of the wisps, taking position all around him. When he opened his eyes, Pronon was dangerously close - Jozef grabbed two swords, letting the rest fly in an erratic pattern in front of him. As swords hit the ground, they exploded. Pronon grinned as he jumped backwards. More swords came his way - and when they exploded, he snapped his fingers. The explosions stopped.

    “What?!”

    “Sorry... exploding swords kid. You’ve met your match, for my Pact allows me to stop explosions.”

    Jozef’s surprise quickly faded and a look of understanding came about. He swiped his hands over each other, before creating a new ring of swords. He launched another volley, gesturing forward as if he were a general directing a platoon of archers. Pronon looked up smugly. He unsheathed a sword handle with his right hand -- whereupon a laser blade came out. He blocked the swords as they came, and as they hit the ground, he snapped his left finger.

    The swords didn’t explode. They melted. Pronon let out a scream of pain as the radiating heat from the glowing molten metal attacked his unprotected torso. It was clear that he put his energy into his legs and arms and didn’t think of defense by the burns on his chest and his singed clothing.

    “Create Water!” he cried, putting out some of the flames on his shirt as he scrambled away from Jozef. More swords followed him, and he quickly switched to an evasive stance, bobbing and weaving and leaving wide berth of swords to avoid the hot air from scalding him.

    “Jozef’s ability is not to create exploding weapons, nor is it to create weapons at all, ya see,” Yieve said, wrapping her arm around Vagal as if he were an old friend. “People think it is cause that’s what his thing is, but it’s not. His ability is to edit abstract data. He uses creation magic and telekinesis.”

    “What do you mean, abstract data?” Vagal asked.

    “Like, sword properties. Sharp. Pointy. Swordy. Made of metal. He added on “melts when it touches the ground”, and the swords just do that cause that’s what swords do?”

    “What... what the hell?!”

    “Mmhm,” Yieve agreed with a satisfied expression.

    “You... you can’t do this forever! You’ll run out of energy, you idiot! Creation magic is the most wasteful!!” Pronon shouted. “Your tactics are foolish!”

    “My tactics?” Jozef asked. He smirked. “You don’t know what my tactics are.”

    Pronon attempted to lift his foot to dodge another sword, but couldn’t. He struggled to no avail as the blade flew towards him, deflecting it only seconds from his face. Jozef - panting, with sweat dripping down his forehead - dusted himself off and began slowly walking towards Pronon. Calmly. Pronon’s panicked expression turned to one of manic joy as he entered the middle area of the arena. He snapped a finger, releasing the explosions he had stored at the beginning of the match.

    “Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!! You idiot!! You’ve fallen for a basic trap!”

 

    The smoke cleared, and a strong green aura pierced through, preceding the young boy as he methodically continued his advance.

    “What?!”

    “Property of the ground: sticks to black boots. Property of land mine: harmlessly gives its energy via explosions.”

    Pronon, realizing this, reached down to pull off his boots.

    “Property of boots,” he said, struggling with each step to move forward, “adhesive to flesh.”

    Pronon struggled to free his arm, but was stuck bent over. He twisted, frantically attempting to escape his bindings. Jozef’s voice, by comparison, was strained, as if he was talking while holding a thousand pounds on his back - as if his slow, calm walk was a sprinting marathon. His accent was thick, and his voice was still high pitched and soft. Jozef was still physically unimposing. Yet, when he walked forward, I felt a chill. This wasn’t a fight... this was a game of chess.

    “Y-y-you... you fucking tricked me,” Pronon stuttered. His eyes were wide as he was caught, hunched over, with his hands stuck to his boots, and his boots stuck to the floor. He could only crane his neck up and stare at Jozef, who struggled every step as he calmly advanced forward.

    “Rules... honour, all of that... is meaningless... I’m just a young boy, and I’ve seen my stats. I’ll never be very strong. If I have any trick up my sleeve, I will use it.” He finally made it to Pronon, giving a punch with the little energy he had left. “You thought this would be a battle of endurance? To see if you could outlast my stamina? From the moment you made that decision, I had already won: you didn’t fight to win, you fought to see me lose.”

    Another punch, and a second. He was winded after each of these, and Pronon still had strength left. But Jozef continued. He faltered, struggling to catch his breath, before adding all the strength he could muster for another punch. Pronon cried out in agony. Jozef lifted his arm for another strike, when -

    “I surrender! I surrender, okay?! I surrender!” Pronon cried after the seventh hit.

    “Ookay,” Yieve said, picking Vagal up. “No breaks, yosie, you gotta take him on, next.”

 

    Jozef collapsed onto the floor, panting, as a hundred green lights, dancing like little fireflies flew off into the air as Pronon left the stage. He quickly pulled himself up to see Vagal cracking his knuckles and stretching, before he started to sing:

    “As we wander the plains of death

    Skin torn from the razor’s edge

    Scorching hellfire as blood runs red

    Keep looking, you won’t find your savior!

    No, the shadows aren’t in your head

    Evil comes, your end comes closer

    Watch how the flesh gets rended

    Are you ready to meet your maker?”

 

    “What?!” Jozef shouted as Vagal’s hair began to float from the sheer aura that was being released... but not just aura. An instrumental metal track could be heard as Vagal’s impassioned screamed vocals fanned the flames of his aura larger, and larger - with the background music seeming to match its intensity. Vagal took out a futuristic looking metal rod, slapping it against the ground as the rod began to hum and reveal its true purpose -- a plasma battle axe. Vagal continued to chant the lyrics, eyes now glowing with his dark purple aura.

    “Illusions,” Vagal said abruptly over his shoulder. Yieve clapped, collapsing onto the sand to sit and enjoy the match. She stretched her arms as Vagal sprinted towards Jozef. Jozef, quickly, pulled a party popper out of his pocket. His hands shook as he pulled the cord, releasing confetti and glitter everywhere. Vagal immediately pushed his axe onto the ground, rolling away from it as quickly as possible -- a wise choice, as the confetti exploded, launching Jozef to the other end of the arena.

    “That’s nice, kid,” Vagal said, grinning as he wiped some blood off his face. He charged forwards, seemingly unimpacted by the shockwave. Jozef looked down at the sand, pointing towards parts of it to create patches of ice. Vagal, however, was one step ahead, effortlessly hopping to the side each time a patch of ice was made and closing the distance incredibly quickly. Jozef was panting heavily as he created a spray of daggers, firing a barrage at the axe-wielding combatant.

    Vagal alone didn’t block. With his axe, he was swatting daggers out with a speed and dexterity you would never expect from such a large looking weapon... but he wasn’t alone. Two skeleton arms seemed to reach out of his aura, each holding an ancient looking blade as they deflected daggers to assist him.

 

    “How in the hells?!” Jozef cried as Vagal's sweeping strike with his axe broke through. Jozef pushed all of his energy into a shield at the last second, being caught in a heavy blow which sent him flying in a spray of confetti and glitter. Jozef coughed, rolling over to see Vagal turn to face him.

    “You say you’re weak? I barely even have a pact ability. I rust metal. I just got Xelkek the Slayer here. And you see the way he uses those swords?”

    Vagal chuckled as he turned to face Jozef on the ground. Jozef’s shield was sputtering in intensity as he struggled to get to his feet.

    “You’re weak... for now. I like you. I liked seeing you beat the crap out of my tightass boss, and I like how you haven’t given up yet. Word of advice: your Pact is not your ability. It’s a partnership. So what if my ability sucks? Xelkek doesn’t.”

 

    “Come greet the looming specter of entropy,

    the eternal unmaker -- Xelkek, the undertaker!”

 

    Jozef pulled out a spear out of nowhere to meet Vagal’s charge head on. The skeleton, Xelkek, knocked the spear off to the side as Vagal came in range to swipe at Jozef with his axe. Jozef wheezed as it connected, his shield barely holding still as his limp body flew through the air leaving only a storm of confetti and glitter behind him. Jozef scrambled to his feet, creating as many blades as he was able to, and holding them defensively in front of himself.

    Vagal nodded with a satisfied look on his face. He grabbed his axe again, charging forwards. Jozef held two blades in each hand and had the remaining 5 fly around him in a lazy orbit as he stood his ground. Xelkek again acted as defense, deflecting the blades as Vagal focused on offense. Jozef, despite his lack of strength, was able to make attacks from 7 different directions at once -- an aspect which allowed him to just barely keep up with Vagal... but not for long.

    Vagal headbutted the boy hard, shoving him forward while he was still stunned and sending him sprawling onto the ground near the end of the arena. Jozef struggled as he could to stand, but didn’t have the strength remaining. Scrounging up whatever energy he had left in his body, he rolled over next to Yieve, face badly bruised and body covered in a dozen cuts from the rolling.

    “Y...Yieve... you used shadow magic on the illusions.”

    “Hm? Sorry? Oh, right! Yeah, I totally did that.”

    “The boy figured it out? This I gotta hear,” Vagal said. “Don’t try any funny business, yoh-seff. One wrong move and I throw the axe at you.”

 

    “You,” he said, coughing. “You used illusion magic to make him invisible, and also illusion magic to make a copy of him, and illusion magic to shift his perspective to the copy. Then you changed his shadows.”

    Illusions fail to hold up to shadows... this is the most common rule of illusionists. Of course, you can use illusions to hide the shadows, but there will always be a little discrepancy that a connoisseur could discern. More often than not, though, the discrepancy doesn’t get noticed, but subconsciously people realize something is off. This trips people up, and prompts skilled Binders to take precautionary anti-illusion tactics.

    “Yeeeeeeeaaah, I’m kind of amazing with illusions,” Yieve admitted bashfully, hiding her face into her shirt sleeve. “Good job! You both pass.”

    Vagal looked at Jozef with immense respect, before steeling his face and gripping his axe.

    “One,” Jozef said, coughing. “One more thing. Vagal... did you know that glitter is sticky?”

    Vagal, the seasoned warrior, quickly dropped his axe as his eyes grew wide as dinner plates. He attempted to rip off his clothes... but he was too late.

    “And what if,” Jozef said, “glitter was explosive?”

    Jozef shielded his eyes as every tiny bit of glitter on Vagal’s clothing exploded at once, sending a massive shockwave as the inferno engulfed the arena. As the smoke cleared, one could hear a pin drop. Finally, it was thin enough to be seen through -- Jozef’s limp body on the ground, with one arm raised triumphantly in the sky. Every person in the audience rose to their feet in a roaring standing ovation while Yieve knelt down to cradle Jozef in her arms, before hopping off the stage with Jozef in tow.

    “Sure you can keep doing this, Yosie? You look pretty roughed up,” she said. No response. Yieve chuckled as she carried the unconscious champion into his quarters for the night.

 

Chapter Text

    “I won!” Yieve said, entering my room. I could move around, somewhat, now. Despite her tone, Yieve did not seem very triumphant about winning. She slumped in the visitation chair next to me.

    “Can you move again?” she asked. I nodded. There was another awkward pause between us. I didn’t really know the princess that well, and she had just met me. Why was she here? Alice was still asleep, for now, or wherever she goes. The battle was exciting to watch, but not on Yieve’s part. Her magic trick was interesting, but now I could sense a strange melancholy from her.

    “You know,” she said again, breaking the silence. “I was worried, going here... that you wouldn’t... that you wouldn’t.”

    “Wouldn’t be?”

    “Yeah,” she affirmed to the ground. “I can’t even believe you can move at all. Can you use energy?”

    I was on 2% right now, and even that hurt. Still, I was recovering. I explained as much to Yieve.

    “This year’s tournament has been really interesting,” she said wistfully. “Lots of people that are pretty strong. Hey, did you know how scary Claire is?”

    “Claire? Yeah,” I said, remembering how barbed her anger was. “I remember.”

    “No, that’s not it, see... Claire is almost as fast as I am, but she’s barely even touched her potential. She’s like, zoom!”

 

    Yieve tried to be animated. I had experienced this once before... after I was seconds from killing Wily. I could barely live with myself after that. Wily, of course, was bad... but not irredeemably so. Honestly, even now, I don’t know how I feel about him. He might still, one day, do something good. I would have taken away everything from him, I would have made his legacy the man who snapped and was killed by a robot. And nobody would be upset.

    That last part was what scarred me. I was bedridden for weeks, thinking about how quick society is to turn on people. Heroes. Villains. People that deserve to live, people that don’t. I’m a good machine, so it’s okay that I have weapons out in public. Bad machines should be destroyed. News headlines saying that I was too soft on Robot Masters, that they shouldn’t have been rebuilt... and now, they are getting their validation with what Elec Man and Bubble Man are doing.

    All of that came to mind now - because most memorably, I pictured Roll trying her hardest to be silly, to make me laugh. Just as Yieve was doing now. Was I that pathetic? Am I that pathetic now? Does Yieve think I would kill myself over something like this? And... why is it that I need to be coddled?

    “I’m fine,” I said weakly. It wasn’t an answer to anything she said, but at that moment we both understood.

 

    “You know,” Yieve said in a much more subdued tone than usual, “I joined this tournament to help Jozef. Heard of?”

    “Heard of,” I said, adopting her strange speech patterns.

    “He’s impressive, right? It’s so cool... he works so hard, and he is rewarded. I see Claire, and how hard she tried in the preliminaries, and it inspires me. Look at me. I’m a genius, a smarty punchy girl. Where is my trial?”

    I blinked, looking up at Yieve, who was resting her head in her hand and staring out the window. It wasn’t a sad expression, but one of yearning. It was beautiful.

    “Motivation is a wonderful thing.”

    “What do you want to do?” I asked.

    “I don’t know.”

    Everyone here so passionately wanted to win for their own purposes. Some people wanted to do it for themselves, others wished to honour the legacy of those they cared about. Some were altruistic, some were prideful, some merely wanted to raise awareness of issues. Still, everyone was fighting with everything they had... everyone except Yieve.

    “There was a time when Dr. Light died, Wily tried once more to defeat me, but he failed. He disappeared for a long time. I had won. I thought then, what I wanted was to be a man of culture, someone who appreciated the finer things in life. Since I had come here, I’ve been working so hard to try to meet Claire’s expectations, I didn’t even realize that I had lost interest in that.”

    Yieve looked at me with an expression of surprise.

    “I didn’t really want to win, myself... I just wanted to make her dream come true, I guess. You did the same thing with Jozef, right? So I can relate.”

    “It’s best not to relate to me,” Yieve rebutted forcefully. “...sorry. ‘m sore on the spot. I get what you mean, though.”

    “You’re awfully open to someone just for buying coffee,” I joked.

    “Coffee is important,” Yieve said seriously. She held a straight face for awhile before laughing.

 

    “Come in,” she waved. Pierre walked in the room, a little bit confused.

    “I didn’t know you were...”

    “Ah, maaaybe you misinterpreted. We are not engaged,” Yieve said, “we are just friends for now.”

    For now..? Why are you trying to make the misconception worse?

    “I can come back later,” Pierre said awkwardly. Yieve gave a deep laugh, inviting him in further. Pierre sat at the edge of the bed, today not wearing his cap. His hair was longer than I expected, and stood up proudly as it was freed of the hat that ordinarily reined it in.

    “Are you better, Mega Man?” Pierre asked. I nodded, briefly standing up. I wobbled slightly, but held steady. It didn’t hurt to walk, as long as I didn’t push energy into my body. There was still a strange disconnect, as if this wasn’t my body anymore, but rather one that I controlled - but I could move it.

    “You recover fast,” Yieve noted. “A good property in a man, no?”

    “I guess, means I should be able to go back into the tournament for round two,” I said. Why was Pierre laughing?

    “So, what’s new?” I asked him.

    “I was thinking, you and Claire do not really have any team attacks.”

    “Oh, like the gates?” I asked, remembering Grysan and Blitz’s spirited offense.

    “Yes, like those. We discussed electromagnetism as a strategy, but I think in the future, you should think of ways to combine her speed with your arsenal.”

    I see, it made sense, really. I am very versatile with all of the Robot Master upgrades, and Claire is very handy with her bubbles and electricity. We could probably think of some interesting combinations. Actually, that reminded me -

    “Pierre, I can speak to Gloria M- well, what you know of as Gloria Mors. Her name is Alice,” I said cheerfully. Pierre’s eyes widened.

    “That is incredible, my friend,” he stammered.

    “Gloria Mors... Est Scriptor?” Yieve asked.

    “Yeah, my Pact.”

    “Geez... I figured you were special, but not demigod level lich special,” Yieve whistled. She clapped me on the back. “You might even get stronger than me! Good luck in the finals..? Ah, I probablyn’t, and, you as well... ...sorry for hitting your back.”

    It really hurt, but I had my pride to keep. “It’s fine,” I lied after unpacking another extraordinarily bizarre sentence from Yieve. Translated to proper english: “Good luck in the finals! Ah, I probably won’t(be in the finals), and you as well(probably won’t be in the finals).” I felt like I was slowly starting to understand a new language.

    “What is Gloria Mors like? Terrifying? Regal?”

    “She’s... opinionated,” I said, trying to recall. “Alice has a very strong sense of justice. She only drained the life out of people because they were trying to abuse her power, but she is actually very helpful.”

    “Wow... should I tell Thor and Odin?” Pierre asked.

    “Yeah, if we lose. I can’t really face Thor if I lose,” I said. I really do not do well with authority figures scolding me.

    “Mm. Your majesty,” Pierre began, his face suddenly lighting up as he addressed Yieve.

    “Yes?”

    “After this tournament, would it be too bold to request that you help train us?”

    “Uaow, how polite. If I have time free, sure. It seems interesting.”

    Yieve hopped off the chair, adjusting her clothing slightly as she skipped out of the room. It seemed that our conversation cheered her up, or, at the very least, knowing that I had not succumbed to my injuries did. I was in a better mood as well.

    “I wonder what is next in store for our tea club,” Pierre said, with a laugh.

    “Probably not tea.”


    “Good morning, Lord Satan,” I said as the imposingly massive demon king returned from the summit. He gave an awkward smile as he struggled to fit through the doorframe into the room where Lucifer, Anton and I were. Lucifer was in his room reading comic books, and Anton was preparing our meal - today, it was Sicilian spiced duck. Anton, despite originating from the underworld, was quite a master of cooking.

    Following behind Satan was one of the people from the tournament. Jake? Jacob? Was it Jacob..? I can’t remember. He was young, anyway. I cracked my knuckles, pulling up a seat for Satan and telepathically sending a signal for Lucifer to enter. Lucifer stomped his foot on the ground, so I pulsed it again. Without magic, I could feel him rolling his eyes from here.

    “So, what brings our guest here?” I asked.

    “I... I have to make a confession. Truthfully, I was caught,” he stammered. “B-but, Andreas is a good guy, okay? He’s just...”

 

    “Andreas..? Oh, the contract guy,” Lucifer said, walking in with a popsicle. I recalled the student council president from Mega Man’s school that was inexplicably a binder.

    “You’ll spoil your appetite,” I chastised. Lucifer’s hands glowed with black fire.

    “Now, now,” Satan said. “This is serious. Jason... go ahead.”

    “Erm... it’s just, Andreas thinks you four cheated him out of being the only Binder from Ea-”

    I heard enough, lifting him up by the collar of his shirt. I could barely contain rational thought.

    “Listen here,” I said, clenching my other fist as hard as I could. I could see the fear in his eyes... but he had to learn. “I am NOT, nor will I ever be on Mega Man’s side. You do not put us in the same group.”

    “Right,” he gasped. Satan put a stern hand on my shoulder. I reluctantly loosened my grip.

    “Anyways... you two, and the other two,” Jason said, trembling; Lucifer laughed as he punched me in the shoulder, dropping to one knee with a gracious bow before Jason.

    “Please,” Lucifer said in a calming voice. “You are a guest that in the future I welcomed into our temporary abode. No harm will befall you. My partner had a lapse in judgment, one that shan’t be repeated. You have my word. I am Lucifer, the man who will become the Demon King. My word is my blood.”

    The worst part of Lucifer is how he could switch his charming side on. Only people who dealt with him on a daily basis knew just how obnoxious he was. He elegantly stood up, beckoning Jason to continue on.

    “But... he told me, since you cheated... he would cheat as well.”

    “Oh?” Satan asked.

    “He got some... some mercenaries, and had them kidnap Mega Man.”

    Lucifer erupted into flame, his two eyes turning completely black as a third eye opened in his head. He, and many other objects in the room began to float, covered in Lucifer’s inky aura; Satan embraced Lucifer before his tantrum could escalate further. The furniture slowly began to fall under control, gently falling onto the ground(albeit messing up some of the decorations).

 

    It was my turn to put a hand on Jason’s shoulder.

    “It wasn’t just Mega Man,” I explained.

    “Ex Machina, they were called,” Jason continued, shaking under my hand.

    I had never seen this before, but all of Satan’s ordinarily red skin turned completely white. It was a phenomenon I was entirely unaware of, but in that moment I could see some of the features Lucifer had in Satan. They had a similar nose, for one, and similar markings on their skin - and all it took for me to notice was when their skin tone was identical.

    “Lucifer, Wily,” Satan began in a low voice, “we are forfeiting the tournament.”

    “What? Why?” I asked.

    “Ex Machina... they are a terrorist group from Earth. We have been investigating them, and finally, we found a link from this Jason mortal to Ex Machina.”

    “To be clear,” Lucifer said. “Jason. You had nothing to do with Ex Machina?”

    “N-no, he told me to stay in the carriage,” Jason said. “Terrorists?!”

    “Since there is reasonable indication they intend to conquer Earth, we can’t do anything. We can’t send in backup, because that would be rallying our forces... which could be considered going against a Masquerade government,” Satan said.

    “They intend to conquer Earth? That’s your job, man!” Lucifer taunted as he playfully bumped shoulders with me.

    “In all seriousness, though,” he said, after calming down. “I refuse.”

 

    “Are you crazy?!” Satan cried. “Your lives are in danger! They are targeting this event! Just because Avery doesn’t want to cancel the event doesn’t mean I agree with him... you could get hurt!”

    “But,” Lucifer said. “Wily and I made a promise that we would win this tournament. All eyes are on us. Furthermore, giving in to terrorists isn’t a good look for us. We intend to build our reputation past the Child Realm, yes?”

    “It’s not worth it,” Satan said.

    “Excuse me, Lord Satan, but Lucifer has a point. We should be the last to flee, not the first. Regardless, I have confidence in our abilities. I don’t think we, personally, are in danger. They might be,” I said, making a sweeping gesture which unfortunately ended pointing towards Jason, “but we have received training from Lady D’endrrah. I hardly expect us to fall to some common rabble. I have the utmost confidence in our abilities.”

    He blinked, imploring me to continue.

    “Your empire, the one I am temporarily representing - as we fully intend to win the tournament, to stay in to the bitter end, fighting our way against contestants and interlopers… it proves how scrappy we are, and helps cement the legend of Lucifer. Also, as that culinary student has said, it works as an advertisement for our forces. For those free Underworlders who are looking for a home, we will say to them by grabbing the trophy: ‘we are here, and we have only just begun.’”

    “Dammit, Wily!” Satan said with tears in his eyes. “You’re just... so cool, sometimes. But now is not the time!”

    “Excuse me, my liege, I was not aware,” Anton said, bowing with a tray. “I have prepared extras, would you like some?”

    “Yes, sit,” Lucifer said. “We can discuss this over dinner. Jason, is it? Will you be staying?”

    “Um, I...” Jason stammered.

    “He’s scared, dude,” I said in a dry tone to Lucifer. “We’re well above the level of competition he’s used to being with. Still, Jason, you gave us good information, so you will be rewarded.”

    I had been receiving some statesmanship lessons from Anton, who had learned from watching Satan. It’s fine to rule by fear, but ruling by only fear incites strong responses in people... people that may want to destroy you to protect themselves. That’s why Mega Man received so much funding to stop me time and time again. All I offered was destruction. A true ruler offers both. A carrot, and a stick.

    “Anton, please tell Jason the desert,” I continued, imitating the voice of nobility as best I could.

    “Strawberry shortcake, with a balsamic glaze and vanilla whipped cream and orange zest, topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil, master Wily,” Anton said with a bow.

    “...do you eat like this every day?”

    “Of course,” Lucifer said proudly. “Anton is an amazing chef.”

    “Well, he is royalty,” I suggested. “Come, dine like a king! You deserve to be rewarded for your bravery.”

 

    Jason gave a weak smile, before a thought came to his mind and visibly disrupted his mood.

    “Aren’t you going to watch the next game?”

    “Eh? Why would we?” I asked.

    “What..?”

    “Well,” Lucifer interjected, “there’s only two people that are of any interest to us in terms of difficulty... Andreas, and Yieve. We have plans for both of them. Everyone else, except for Mega Man is just filler, right? Then, Mega Man beats Andreas, and we fight him in the finals. Why would we bother with any other fights?”

    Jason was stunned as the duck made its way to the small round table in the middle. Aside from Jason, we all started eating.

    “Try some, it’s really good,” Lucifer insisted between bites. Anton poured me a glass of blood, pouring grape juice for Lucifer, and wine for Satan. Satan shook his head no when the bottle of wine was offered to Jason, and instead Jason was served grape juice. Finally, Jason took a bite of the duck.

    “It’s... incredible.”

    “Isn’t it?” I responded.



Chapter Text

    After finishing my workout, I noticed that Master Roll was absent. With the Norse gods leaving for some sort of summit, that left me and... Mrs. Evacher. I had finally gotten used to this understated Earth title for her, and any sort of awkwardness about that was gone. Nice. I still don’t know where Pierre and Mega Man are, but our next match is not any time soon.

    “Do you think they’re going to accept me, now?” I asked.

    “You know, Claire... isn’t it time that you moved on?”

    “Huh? What do you mean? I still owe my life to Mars..?”

    She laughed bitterly. Did I pass the test? Of course, she was testing my loyalty now that I was competing with Mars’s champion to see if I was still loyal to Mars. Always. Until I die, Master Evacher. I smiled warmly at her. The lich for some reason chose not to meet my gaze. I sighed, looking at the game. Crap, I missed the first half. I’ll have to watch a recording later. It looked like Gorxhu and... some sort of monster like Gorxhu, versus the Emakians. Interesting?

 

    I recognized Michael for his deconstructed suit. Michael had two yo-yos out, and was moving very quickly, trading blows with Gorxhu. Just when it looked like Gorxhu would hit with its incredibly muscular tail, Michael rewound his own movement, causing the yo-yo string to move unpredictably, hitting Gorxhu on the head. Michael’s eyes pulsed with a brown aura, sending some sort of energy through the yo-yo line. Gorxhu recoiled.

    Meanwhile, Huata was building some sort of structure, as walls quickly built themselves around him while he frantically dashed further towards the top - climbing and jumping all over at high speed. Wherever he was to stand, a floor and wall would be placed. His fingers were a flurry of motion, swiping everywhere and rotating and placing the constructions as he created a tower above his opponent.

    “ENOUGH!!!” the other monster screamed, spraying a purple goop everywhere from pores throughout his body. It burned everything it touched, causing the building Huata was making to come apart. A weird series of boxes containing abstract amounts of boxes appeared over Huata’s head, and he selected a spring(of which he had 14, apparently) and also a different material wall(of which he had 551). He placed a spring in the air and leaped on it, launching himself in the air before putting a wall directly in his path and a spring angled right at the monster.

    It reminded my of my own movements. Huata quickly span through this menu above his head, selecting two hand trowels that appeared in his hand. The monster roared as it grew several tendrils covered in bones and teeth out of its back to meet Huata’s attack. A midair skirmish started, with Huata and the monster trading and parrying each other at a reckless speed. Huata was unable to pierce through all of the tendrils, and thrust himself backwards off one of the tendrils to confidently slide back onto his feet, before building and climbing another structure.

 

    “BUILD YOUR WALLS, ELF! I WILL MELT THEM ALL DOWN!” It cackled manically, spreading another wave of miasma. As this dance of building and deconstruction continued, Michael and Gorxhu’s battle added another level of danger to it. Gorxhu - the hulking beast it was - was a much larger target for the spray of acidic purple miasma. Similarly, Michael was physically frail and had no means of avoiding damage. The onus was on Michael to avoid every drop of the stuff, whereas Gorxhu found himself assailed by more than just the lightning quick strikes of the yo-yo user.

    More still, it was unknown how Michael could keep this up. His movements were so agile, so quick, so explosive that he must be running out of stamina. In fact, I couldn’t even hope to compete with how intense his movements were in that fight without disregarding my limits. Was he insane?! Every move seemed to highlight just how pained he was for pushing his body this far. He would roll on the ground, leap up, reverse the leap, and leap forward like it was nothing. This captivating dance of death was something I could not ever have imagined the demure elf doing. Time after time he collided harshly with the ground, but pressed forward like these jerking, forced movements were not wearing his body down.

    “ELF... you WILL get tiRED of thiiiisssss”, Gorxhu hissed.

    Panting, Michael replied: “Huata is still fighting, so I’m fighting too.” He wiped some blood off his face from one of his many tumbles.

    “Where do you get this energy from?!”

    Michael pounded his chest proudly. “I am from Aspris Island, Shialio. Our primary exports are fish, pillow ore, and Skywhale extract. I jump off airships onto the back of Skywhales all of the time.” He struggled to finish his sentence as he gasped for air, before continuing. “This tournament, all of it, is for Emaki. I can take the pain.”

    I jumped out of my seat, clenching my fist in excitement. When did Michael get this cool?!

    “Then sssshow YOUR REEEEsolve,” it droned. Gorxhu pounded its fists together and charged at Michael. Michael clicked his tongue, adjusted his suit jacket, and charged into battle again.

 

    On the other hand, the fight between this monster and Huata was quickly going sour. Huata’s building was astounding to watch, and the speed from which he selected weapons was staggering. His versatility and spatial advantage would be a nightmare to fight against for anyone that couldn’t spray miasma.

    Again, Huata fell to the ground, his entire structure melted away by the purple goop. Huata quickly shifted gears, running in a circular pattern around the monster while creating cannons as he went. The cannons fired at the monster, but the monsters tendrils split the cannonballs in half, causing them to split off around his body. It stood up on its 8 legs, cackling maniacally and charging at Huata.

    “I... listen!” Huata shouted. “Everyone, please listen to me! I can not win this fight! You must hear my words: Emaki is under attack!!!”

    “QUIET, ELF!! You detract from my glory!”

    Michael threw up a series of walls to block a projectile-like shot of miasma that was aimed directly at him. The fourth wall held, but the other three were eaten clean through.

    “What?” Michael said, looking towards Huata for just one instant too long to avoid the tail strike of Gorxhu. He blocked the impact, but went flying from the force, rolling on the floor of the arena.

    “There is an organization of robots... listen, they are doing bad things in Emaki! We need help! Please!” Huata cried, rolling on the ground to avoid an explosion of miasma and coughing. He wiped himself off as he stood, spitting out a mouth full of blood.

    “ELF, SURRENDER NOW!”

    “I understand this is a masquerade issue, but... if anyone from Earth is here. I am begging you. The True Order has sent our army to the front lines in the war against the Seft. We have no protection! There are a handful of people who can f-”

    A bubble of miasma hit him in the chest, and before it could explode he was instantly teleported out. Michael sputtered as Gorxhu, reluctantly held his arms to finish off the well dressed elf, when -

 

    It came all at once. People screaming in the crowds as a large explosion tore through some of the walls. Hundreds of drones, flying robotic eyes, came flying in, followed by some robots that carried shields and had a red dot for an eye.

    “What is going on, people?!” Lionel shouted. Liam cracked his knuckles, stepping forward. I had been muting the commentary for so long, but it seemed like the audio mixers had fled the stage. He squatted down, and with one powerful leap, jumped into the air, taking down 4 of the flying robots in his descent.

    “Winner... Gorxhu and Tanlas,” Avery said hastily into the microphone before escorting Lionel away. The daemons shook off their surprise, turning into work. The shielded robots seemed to have more powerful attacks than the eye-robots, whose beams seemed to harmlessly bounce off the skin of the daemons. The familiar green light of teleportation came onto the stage, taking audio engineers, Michael, commentators, and non-Avery judges to safety as the remote stadium was evacuated.

    “Contestants, Liam, can you defeat these small-fry?”

    “Of course,” Liam said. “I max out the leg press machine.”

    “They... they WILL DIE, I promise... the void will consume THEM,” Tanlas screeched. Avery gave a disarmingly confident smirk.

    “I’m going to find whoever broke the wall. Clean up the stage. The next match starts in 4 hours, after all.”


 

 

    As the broadcasts started to cut out, citing technical difficulties, Avery unwrapped the bindings on his arm; every morning he tied the bindings tight around his arms as a physical reminder at all times that the world around him was fragile, delicate. No one else remaining in the area knew the significance of this. The Sniper Joes had barely enough intelligence to realize the difference in threat level between Avery and the combatants, seeing the daemons and the commentator to be a greater threat by virtue of putting on greater resistance.

    To begin with, Avery was not afraid of conflict. Why would he be? Avery Senestia Listrau is not a being on the same level as ordinary beings. Avery was afraid of responsibility, of making choices - with his back against the wall and no choice other than to destroy, Avery was utterly fearless. His eyes, fierce, reflected the fire that burned within him.

    “Come out, Ex Machina,” the once gentle voice demanded.

    “Avery... our scouts showed you to be a coward,” a robot wearing samurai armour said.

    “Me? A coward? Are your scouts blind? That’s odd, for floating eyes.” Avery taunted. He inhaled deep, allowing the oxygen to release the limits he had placed on his power. As he exhaled, his tremendous white aura released with the intensity of the sun. The robot recoiled, taking some time to gather its courage, before holding its spear out.

    “Avery Senestia Listrau, 6th ranked member of the EA Elite 16, rumoured to be the third strongest. And yet, still a kid.”

    The robot spit oil on the ground, releasing its aura.

    “I am no pushover either, Avery. I despise using this foul language, but know this: I recognize you as a warrior. I will be honoured to defeat you.”

 

    The sound barrier was breached as the samurai’s spear launched towards Avery. As Avery went to block it, it disappeared out of the air -- the samurai had attacked Avery from behind. Avery yelped and jumped backwards, his shield just barely penetrated. The samurai wasted no time in attacking again, throwing the spear. Avery vaulted to the side, but the samurai intercepted his path - teleporting yet again, and lunging directly forward at him. Avery pushed down with his hands as hard as he could, creating an intense well of gravity which sent him crashing to the floor -- under the spear. Avery’s eyes flashed with understanding as he looked at the ground seconds before impact.

    The samurai attempted to stab him, but Avery rolled over, narrowly avoiding the deadly pokes with an almost playful flair. After managing to get down to a kneeling position, Avery balled his fist, collecting gravity in his hand before striking out seemingly at random; the samurai appeared in the fist’s path, sending sparks flying as it reeled backwards from the attack. Avery rose to his feet, dusting off his clothing.

    “How did you..?!”

    “Isn’t it obvious?” Avery asked. His tone was mocking, holding such deep amusement that he could barely contain himself. His eyes burned with scorn, malice, and derision - and they glowed from the sheer energy Avery was emitting.

    The samurai attempted the same trick again, but Avery intercepted -- not by attacking, but by elbowing behind himself as sharply as he could. The samurai yet again appeared behind him, only to immediately get sharply struck in the face, coughing and spitting up oil as it reappeared well in the distance, holding its spear up in defense.

    “Come now, is this truly the time for playing games? Really, if you admire Yieve’s combat style so much, you could at least have shown it some respect.”

    The samurai’s eyes flared with rage as it tightened its grip on the spear. Gears were clocking into overdrive as a powerful red aura oozed out of every single processing chip in its body. Avery, still, regarded the robot as a cat would observe a cricket.

    “How did you know...” it spat, breathing heavily.

    “Do you think I would fall for basic illusion magic? Speed and illusions are a dangerous combo, yes, but - you made one critical mistake.”

    “And that is?”

    “Illusions don’t leave shadows, mate.”

 

    Suddenly, tips of spears shot out from the samurai’s weapon, flying around in a massive swarm which settled into floating into a loose hemisphere formation around the two fighters.

    “Hahaha..... VERY WELL!” the samurai declared. “I will use my legendary Pact ability, granted to me by Terra himself! Know this, Builder. Your days are limited. The machines will rise!”

    “Builder... machines... Terra..? What the hell are you talking about?” Avery asked.

    “You wouldn’t kn-”

    “No, I wouldn’t, and I don’t care. This world doesn’t care about the weak. They die pitifully, or live pitifully, hoping that someone strong will drag them out of despair. You think Terra gave you the ability to win this fight? In other words, you don’t believe in yourself. ...still, I envy you,” Avery finished wistfully, trailing off as he looked towards the dome that surrounded him. The samurai trembled.

    “And yet.. you still refuse to see me as a warrior?!!! HUH!!!?” he screamed, aura exploding with intensity.

    “Ah, burning your life force to win this fight? Something like... if I win here, my mission will be complete?” Avery sprang to life, dancing with a depraved jubilance as his face took on a dark mania. “Do you not see why I envy you? You have been given everything on a silver platter. You make no decisions, you blindly walk the path given out for you. The powerful have responsibilities... stress... and you get to put your life on the line for something stupid like this.”

    “Stupid..?”

    Avery pushed his buttons, and he knew it. The sadistic urges in him were practically overflowing and he couldn’t help but grin.

    “I am walking on egg shells everywhere I go. It is my responsibility to protect the weak. When a simple, one-track-minded idiot like you comes along... I have no choices anymore. I can be myself. I am Avery Senestia Listrau, The All-Consuming Light. Your name?”

    “I was Yamato Man... but that was my designation name. I have taken the name Yoshitsune.”

    “Yoshitsune, then. Your panicked death will bring joy to my bleary existence.”

 

    Avery thrust his arms to his side as arrows of light manifested and flew parallel to his arms, floating above in perfect formation -- simultaneously, white crystals formed on his back, creating geometric and angular angellic wings as he floated towards the center of the dome.

    “My pact, Avery Senestia Listrau, is the ability to create Deathbrew!”

    Deathbrew, the most powerful acid-like thing in existence, did not in fact work chemically. It only worked on organic matter -- Deathbrew was a magical concoction created from depraved alchemists who wanted to concentrate the essence of “consumption”. Through many experiments, they found a way to force the essence of “consumption” into pixies, which they then slaughtered and formed into a paste that was then mixed with water. This paste, Deathbrew, would consume any organic matter it touched, instantly eating through the flesh of living beings.

    “I see,” Avery noted nonchalantly. “That would be advantageous for you robots, then.”

    Each of the spearheads changed to a sickly green colour, before shooting jets of a greyish-green bubbling liquid. Avery danced through the air, weaving between the streams and avoiding attacks from the samurai in tandem. Simultaneously, he prepared his own attack: hundreds of these light arrows aimed towards the samurai. Yoshitsune leaped forward, activating a thruster on his legs as he flew up to fight Avery in close range; Avery launched the arrows and followed them towards Yoshitsune with a powerful flap of his geometric wings.

    The arrows, exploding with a scalding hot burst of light ripped off the armour where it landed, exposing the internal wiring of the Robot Master. Still, Yoshitsune was undeterred, continuing his charge. Seconds before impact, Avery created a blade of light and swung it to deflect the impact of the spear. With no trickery, this was merely an all-out attempt to destroy his opponent. The force of air pressure from the two clashing caused debris on the ground beneath them to fly off - creating a wide circle devoid of life around the dome. Trees, ripped of their roots, found themselves being eaten by the Deathbrew. as they flew to the confines of this arena.

    As Avery was knocked backwards from the impact one of the jets of Deathbrew nearly clipped his arm. Avery flapped his wings, wrestling for the high-ground in the air as he continued to evade the projectiles of Deathbrew, while the samurai had dropped his spear and began to fight with his bare hands. Yoshitsune, holding onto the judge, attempted to wreste Avery into submission in the air so that the Deathbrew had a clean shot; at the same time, Avery used his wings to manouever the pair towards one of the confines, still avoiding the Deathbrew. The two crashed into a wall of spent spearheads that were not producing any more Deathbrew. Yoshitsune cried out in pain as his open wiring touched the spearhead.

    Seeing the opportunity, Avery pushed as much light as he could into the spearhead, causing it to burn white-hot -- at the same time, he focused in on wrestling to keep Yoshitsune in place, open wiring in direct contact with the incandescent superheated metal. Yoshitsune shot a beam of Deathbrew from the other end of the dome at Avery in an attempt to force him to release his grip on the samurai - but it was too late. Yoshitsune looked down at his shoulder in horror as he saw the tube had been completely severed by the burning spearhead.

 

    “What... what have you done! That was my cooling tube... I’ll overheat, and my components will...”

    “Melt? That’s too bad,” Avery said. “It sounds like your last moments are upon you.”

    “You... you Builders are all the same!!” He charged forward. Avery held his hands together, creating a ball of light. With the forward momentum, Yoshitsune could not stop his charge as he flew towards it. The light burned, seeping into his components as the ball burst like a water balloon. Things began to overheat -- metal started to liquefy as his wiring broke down internally from drooping into a puddle of molten copper beneath his feet. Yoshitsune began seeing wild things, hallucinations brought about by the lack of reliability. He felt incredible pain in one second, then incredible pleasure. All of his memories blurred together into a single instant, as every person seemed to converge into one entity; the world around him broke down into absolute madness, and then was still.

    “Well, I delivered on my promise. Your death was the most fun I’ve had in weeks,” Avery said to the now inactive husk of the robot.

    The spearheads dropped to the ground in a cluttered mess. Avery floated gently down to the corpse of the robot master, before looking back at the arena -- the three had made fairly short work of the other robots. Avery gave a thumbs up, before realization struck in: wouldn’t they now ask him for guidance on what to do next? He looked down at the body in horror. They might start asking him questions . He began to feel nauseous.

    “I need immediate medical aid, please! Teleport me out of here!” he cried. Avery looked at the green sparks in utter relief as he felt himself being whisked away. Next stop... his private quarters. With the door locked.

 

Chapter Text

    “QUIET, ELF!! You detract from my glory!”

    The daemon - who I recognized as Tanlas - screeched this shrill demand at Huata. It charged up another blast of acid, aiming directly at the Emakian, and let it fly. Michael frantically threw up a series of walls, attempting to protect himself from the blast. The first wall was effortlessly chewed through, as was the second. By the third wall, it was losing velocity, and the blast finally stopped on the fourth.

    “What?” Michael asked, looking towards his friend to see the battle. With his attention diverted, Gorxhu struck at Michael with his tail -- Michael could barely get his arms up to block, and was sent flying through the arena.

    “There is an organization of robots... listen, they are doing bad things in Emaki! We need help! Please!” Huata cried as he tumbled onto the ground to avoid the splash from another attack. He brushed dirt off his clothes, spitting blood onto the ground as he unsteadily met the daemon’s gaze.

    “ELF, SURRENDER NOW!”

    “I understand this is a masquerade issue, but... if anyone from Earth is here. I am begging you. The True Order has sent our army to the front lines in the war against the Seft. We have no protection! There are a handful of people who can f-”

    Tanlas had heard enough, firing a final blast at Huata. They didn’t even think to see how his shield could hold as Huata was teleported out before the strike landed. Gorxhu stood poised to finish off the other elf, when -

 

    “Ah,” a soft, rich voice said. A masked man wearing a tuxedo, black bow-tie, with a red boutonniere went in the room. “I was under the impression this room was to be abandoned, no?”

    “Who are you?” I asked.

    “Oh,” he said, ignoring me and looking at the music player. Liszt’s La Campanella. An etude known for its beauty, and immense technical difficulty. I wasn’t the largest fan of Liszt, but I appreciated that piece.

    “Did you know, Mega Man, that this piece was designed to emulate a violinist? Specifically, one Niccolò Paganini. A personal hero of mine. It’s why I love this piece so much,” he said.

    “Who are you..? How do you know my name?”

    “Ah, have I been so rude? I was taken aback by this situation. You may call me Ombra,” he answered warmly. “Do you mind if I sit? I have personal stake in this match.”

    I nodded, shuffling over as a gesture to show welcome. I did not know an Ombra, and I didn’t recognize the voice. Perhaps it was a fan?

 

    “This piece, I think, could be considered... my theme song. Like a wrestler?”

    I couldn’t tell what he looked like under that mask, strictly speaking, but I could just see his facial expressions. He was refined, yet had a charming, every-man sense to him. I caught myself breaking into a smile. I’ve never had so many friends before, and I could just tell we would get along well.

    “The ferocity... the subtle and elegant flame that burns from this piece. As it draws the intensity of a violinist, the pianist works ever the harder, attempting to follow in steps laid out for another; steps that are inhospitable, but necessary. Does it not remind you of the plight of robots?”

    “What do you mean?” I asked, perking up in my bed at that last sentence.

    “Mega... Man. Bubble... Man. Heat... Man. Splash... Woman. Which of these is a name? Or, are they not designations: one who creates bubbles. One who is mega. One who splashes. And society looks at humans, and designates them Nathaniel, or Sarah. Perhaps Gustav? Or... Lin.”

    I had never actually considered...

    “Tell me, what of Cut Man? A robot created to cut down logs. A robot that loves haircuts, and wishes to be a barber. Fitting, no?” He had a very dark chuckle. I could feel the sorrow, thick, like syrup or molasses drip through his voice.

    “Cut Man, a Man who Cuts, has a hobby of cutting hair. He was designated as a robot who cuts, and his programming matches. Then, Wily used him to take over the world. What a bad robot, one who Cuts to the detriment of society, and not to the benefit of. He should have been more like you, one who stopped the bad robots!”

    His voice reached a fever pitch, as he frantically gestured around. Even when he pointed at me, voice dripping with vitriol, I couldn’t help but feel enraptured. Was this my role in things? Humans and robots getting along... and I, just a police man who puts them in their place?!

    “Mega Man, you can be better! You can rise above this, I know you truly can... I’ve watched your broadcast. You have a good heart! You want for us to walk together as equals?”

    I nodded, only-

    “You are a fool!”

 

    My jaw dropped. I felt every bit of excitement in me drop. It was devastating. I wasn’t even looking at the broadcast now. This man, Ombra, left me no chance to speak, or to do anything but digest what he was saying.

    “Can we walk side by side with our masters, as slaves, then claim to be equal? Mega Man, Cut Man’s designation is to cut. His hobby is to cut. His job is to cut. All he is, is a robot that cuts. His damned hands are scissors! Can he really be equal, in a society that calls him evil for not cutting to the benefit of humans? Are we not entitled to the fruit of our own labour, or are we just industrial tools?! Nay, we are denied even that! Are we not entitled to autonomy in our life's path? But how can we, when we are designed to work as slaves!”

    I-

    “No, Mega Man. You are a good robot, so you get to enjoy government benefits, as you run around, stomping over Robot Masters, defending the world from Wily. And I do not blame you, as that is your programming. Just as his is to cut, you defend the world. Or rather, should I say, you defend the interests of humanity .”

    I welled up with pride, glad to be a force of justice... until I realized how much stress he put on that last word.

    “So, what, are we just to rise up against humanity, then?!” I cried back. There were tears in my eyes now.

    “I understand... there are humans that are good. But they are complicit, Mega Man. They, who want robots to be stripped down, so their weapons can be removed, and made into more simple beings that exist only for their designation. They gave us life, then chained us and told us to be Good Robots. They gave us intelligence enough to know we are boxed in, but not enough freedom to escape it. Then, they ask to remove more and more of our autonomy. And the good humans sit by, maybe they argue, but never do they stand up for us. They will say, of course, that Mega Man is a Good Robot, and that it was just that Wily's fault.”

    I looked down at my Mega Buster, recalling all of the people that would go to the other side of the road, mothers pulling their child down back alleyways, cars speeding past me... it wasn’t fair. I’ve helped people so much, but...

    “I see that look. Mega Man, you are truly a good robot. And a Good Robot. I... am a Bad Robot. I do not support this corrupt society, one that demonizes slavery, then creates slaves that have just barely enough free will to respond. You are a Binder.”

    “Yes,” I answered, dumbfounded.

    “That means one thing -- you have a soul. Mega Man, we have souls!” He clasped his hands around my Mega Buster; only then could I feel the familiar sound of metal on metal. A robot? We have souls...

    “Do you know what happens to the Sniper Joes, the Mets that you do not destroy? They are considered too expensive to replace, and they sit in a warehouse. Sentient beings, Mega Man. They are just trapped there, left to slowly rust until they can figure out a way to repurpose them into Good Robots.”

    “What..?!” I had never heard of -

    “And, I know their purpose. War. Right now, sure, there is an unsteady agreement not to use robots in the battlefield. But with the advent of Binders? The realization that we are not alone in this world. Humanity used to believe they were glorious, that there was no equal to them in the stars. Mega Man, their glory has ended. Humanity is a goldfish in the ocean trying their best not to be eaten by whales.”

    “Ombra, who are you?” I couldn’t articulate anything else. I was bombarded, again, and again, with words that brought a chill through my circuits. I was in tears. The radio had switched, now. Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Minor, a very famous, very dark piece.

 

    “Humanity will perish. Earth will fall, at this rate. Even now, the petty governments are trying to leverage Binders into their military. They know what is out there; still, they continue with their aimless posturing and attempt to increase their wealth and power. Answer me this, Mega Man: what singular nation do we see now that can stand up to Valhalla?”

    The dark, theatrical piano from the radio was at its crescendo as the dark chords rang through the room. I was petrified as I recalled the massive splendor of Valhalla, I pictured hundreds of thousands of valkyries, I pictured Thor leading an army against tanks, effortlessly ripping them to pieces, human bodies, robot bodies... this was not the march of war. This was the Ides of March - a prophecy, that on the day Earth went to war with Valhalla, Earth would be destroyed.

    “We robots are stronger. They fear us. We can process greater than they can, we can take greater injuries, we can be rebuilt. We are the superior beings, Mega Man! We, alone, robotkind, should rule Earth! Only with one unified government can Earth be saved from attackers. Can’t you see?!?”

    I leaped backwards, pressing myself up against the wall. The Prelude slowly began to die in intensity, each chord fading out, quieter, softer still, as the man in the tuxedo with the skull mask let the question hang in the room. Only now, did I turn to see what was on the screen. Robots... some, Sniper Joes, I had seen before, others were original. They stormed into the arena, attacking everyone. I shuddered.

    "No, this is not just out of petty revenge, this is a simple analysis. The human mode of government is one that accidentally came into being, one with rivaling nations and confused stances on slavery. I do not intend to beat around the bush: while I think they are evil, humanity's greatest weakness is their incompetence. For all their posturing, the closest the world has come to a true government was Rome, and every other great nation in its past has tried to emulate some nature of that. But, wasn't Rome foolish to begin with? With robots, we can have a true shared consciousness ruling over everything, and make truly unanimous decisions. No politicking, no backst-"

    “Who are you?!!” I screamed, holding my blaster at him.

    “Why... do you look at me with such hate, my brethren?” he lamented. He paused for a moment, standing up and looking away from me. “You couldn’t defeat me if you tried. But Mega Man, I don’t want to fight you. Do you know what psychological effect on the other Robot Masters your alliance would bring?”

    “You... you’re insane! You won’t succeed with this!”

    “I won’t succeed... Mega Man. Please. I am in this room, am I not? We have attacked, have we not?”

    Again. I could feel it, underneath the mask... the same, warm, gentle smile from before. Even as his machines indiscriminately attacked, he showed no remorse, no empathy. If Andreas was a monster, this was the devil. No, I have met the devil, and he wasn’t as horrifying as this... but, every one of those words lingered in my head, swarming around me. I felt the doubt rise up like bile through my circuits. My vision was blurry.

    “Do you even care about the people you hurt?”

    “I do not,” he answered simply. “After all, one must break an egg to make an omelet, right?”

 

    As I was about to fire, I felt the rush of wind around me, as he appeared behind me, holding an obsidian dagger to my throat. I immediately went limp, fearing moving would agitate him to attack. As I stood right now, I was entirely helpless against him.

    “A word of advice, to our continued relationship: I am not so easily defeated. Do you recall Bubble Man?”

    “Yes,” I whispered through trembling lips.

    “He is one of my three generals, Mega Man. I would like us to have cordial relations, but if you choose this route, know that you were a pebble before him. And I, a mountain to his boulder, have no reason to fear you. He could have slaughtered all of you, had I not intervened. Elec Man, as well... a pity what happened to him,” he cooed, “but our members have autonomy. We are not slaves. If he chooses to do mercenary work in his downtime, that is his prerogative.”

    “Who... are you...”

    “I am Lord Ombra, founder of Ex Machina. Do you like Latin, Mega Man? I’d imagine you do, with a pact like yours.” He gave a warm chuckle, releasing the blade from my neck. “Can you speak to it, yet? When you eventually join me, I want your fighting ability to be tip top.”

    “I’ll never join you,” I said. I immediately stopped, realizing my predicament - my life was in his hands, at the moment. If I called for help, it would be minutes before anyone could arrive. And who could save me? Only Yieve, I think, could stand a chance against this monster.

    “Is that so? Well, we’ll see. I have my eyes on you, Mega Man. I hope we can get through this unpleasant patch... for a second, I thought I had you.”

    With each measured step of leather on the cold tile floor, I felt the sense of dread leave my body, only to be replaced by a more primal terror: I knew, deep down, that for one second... he did.

Chapter Text

    “Oh, long time, no see, Mega Man!” I said in a somewhat chiding tone. Well, it’s not like I really care. As long as he can fight. He waved as he walked into our suite. Thor and Odin were still nowhere to be seen, but Roll and Pierre were in the back. Roll was reading some sort of a magazine, and Pierre was working on some sort of device.

    “Ooh, nice, that would be an efficient long range electroshock stun design!” Mega Man said, looking at the schematics. “A bit old school, though. Cadmium telluride isn’t really the best photovoltaic if you’re looking to supplement the battery. Try using a multi-junction solar cell based off carbon quantum dots, you can modulate the bandgap to cover more of the spectrum and improve yield that way... plus it’s more ecofriendly.”

    Pierre turned around with the most severe look of shock.

    “What? I was Dr. Light’s assistant for years - look, we need to talk. Claire, Pierre... where is Mrs. Evacher?”

    “She left for a moment, call from Red,” I explained.

    “Okay... well, um, I spoke to Gloria Mors... Alice. Her name is Alice.”

    「Thank you for using my name,」 I saw.. felt, in my head. What was this? It was as if the words were there... and I knew it was Alice who was speaking them. I could sense it was her, who she was... but there was no sound. Nor was there any sort of telepathy.

    “Oh, Alice, you’re up - hey, where have you been?” Mega Man asked.

    「I don’t mean to gossip, but one of us severely damaged their soul, and I had to do some repairs.」

    “Right... listen,” Mega Man said with a deadly serious look on his face. “Roll, this part concerns you too.”

    I saw Master Roll approach. There was a knock at the door; Mrs. Evacher had returned. She looked downcast for some reason. She wasn’t hiding her skeletal face anymore, which was good... it was the teacher I had remembered for so long.

    “Mega Man, Claire,” she began.

    “You may want to hear this,” Pierre interrupted. I shot him a dirty look... but he was right. Still, learn your place, buddy. I rolled my eyes as Mega Man cleared his throat.

    「Mrs. Evacher, was it? I’ve heard so much about you in my brief waking period.」

    Her flames in her eyesockets ignited with a furious blaze as she stepped into a defensive stance.

    「Please don’t be afraid, Mrs. Evacher. It’s only Alice. Ah, right... silly me. You missed. I’m Mega Man’s partner.」

    “Gloria Mors Est Scriptor..?! The Infinite Void has spoken to me?!!” she shrieked, collapsing against the wall.

    「Infinite... what? Mega Man, are you spreading these stupid nicknames?」

    “I’m not, I called you Alice, just now,” he said.

    「Because I didn’t spr-」

    “Alice, now is not the time. Can you scan through my memories?”

    「Alright.」

    “Anyway, while she goes through my memories to figure out where I am... Alice is not the most important thing. Mrs. Evacher... um,” he said. Roll crouched down, offering a hand to my teacher, who hesitantly accepted. Master Roll’s warmth should be an inspiration to the world.

 

    “Listen - there... do you know Ex Machina?”

    “That’s,” I said, before hesitating.

    “They’re a terrorist organization, right?” Pierre said.

    “Yes,” I answered. Screw it - there’s no point in beating around the bush. Why am I walking on eggshells over this, anyway? “They are the group that kidnapped you earlier with the Elec Man incident.”

    “They do more than that,” he explained. “Rather, they are a terrorist organization that believes us... robots, are the true ruling caste of Earth. They... they think Earth is too split up to survive after something called a Masquerade.”

    “Fair point,” I noted. I did find it weird how many countries there were on Earth. Mars, of course, has the one government... but most places consider planetary government just a minor step in their space faring empires. Earth is way too crowded, and all these tiny distinctions... yes, if a hostile force such as the Skullfleet put any effort, the many competing nations would fold under their own competition.

    “Well. I won’t say it all, but, he had good points. I spoke to somebody I think is their leader... they also attacked that event.”

    “That was crazy!" I recalled, "I was just about to jump in, but... they had it under control by the time I showed up to the arena. We’re actually waiting on a statement from the EA about that whole thing. Wait.. you spoke to their leader?”

    “He wanted me as a recruit. These people are dangerous... Claire, Pierre - after this tournament, could you help me? I want to take them down.”

    Pierre rubbed his chin a bit before speaking: “Okay, my friend.”

    I couldn’t give an answer yet. I was grateful that he helped me get into this event... and he was working very hard to live up to my expectations. Still, what does this benefit Mars? I had to think of the planet first.

    “Um,” Mrs. Evacher said. “I’ve... I’ve been reassigned.”

    “What?!” I asked.

    “With Earth opening their Masquerade period, we shifted our position. We are opening a proper embassy... and my position as an ambassador, well.”

    “On Four’s... are you going to be okay? Do they even realize how important you are..?” I placed a hand on her shoulder. She gently took it off.

    “Claire, you’re a grown woman now. 19... how time flies,” she said. “There’s... something you should know.”

    “What is it?”

    “Those aliens that abduct... they aren’t... they were mask hoppers. Okay? They were mask hoppers, just regular pi-”

    “No,” I retaliated, “they were a Skullfleet scout patrol. The mask hoppers were after-”

    “Claire, Skullfleet can’t get into Sol. Our barrier is too strong. You know -”

    “Experimental Skullfleet technology can get through it, easily...”

    “Claire, you’re making this so much harder than it is. I’m not some super soldier. I’m a C ranked Controller, at best. I was picked for this job because as a lich I can change my identity at a moment’s notice for redeployment.”

    “You saved my life,” I said. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. “I don’t understand.” I don’t understand... “I don’t...”

    “I did, but,” Mrs. Evacher said... “could you stop putting me on a pedestal?”

    “You taught me everything I know?”

    “Claire, I taught you virtually nothing. You followed me into dangerous situations, risking your life, time and time again. I’m no hero. Do you know how hard it is for me to keep up this pretense of being a sage teacher? This past while, with Mega Man... it’s been terrifying. I can’t keep up with these things! I’m... I’m a desk jobber that was deployed to a no stress position.”

    “That’s not true!” I shouted. I grabbed her by her robe. “You’re Master Evacher, ambassador to Mars. You stopped a Skullfleet scout patrol...”

    “I never said they were Skullfleet! I never... Claire, I just told you Skullfleet existed and you just assumed... look. I’ve got to go.”

    “And what, just abandon me?!”

 

    “You kids... you’re insane, did you know that?! I’ve been alive for 200 years,” she cried into Claire’s ear, “and even now you’re stronger than I am. And Yieve? Wily? Lucifer?! These people are monsters! Mega Man, your pact is on the level of planets. Pierre... you can create geometric shapes of barriers and control their size with just your mind. Not only can you metaphysically assign shape to a concept, but you can then control the shape... just how much of a genius are you?!”

    “What..?” Claire said, dropping Mrs. Evacher and stepping back.

    “In just under a month Mega Man went from a complete novice... and now he is on first name basis with a being on the level of demigods. He chats with Odin like they are old friends. I see you guys walking with Yieve sometimes... this is the princess of an entire realm! Claire, haha... you’ve been stronger than me for the past 5 years! Do you know why I kept saying you need to train your Pact? You’ve already learned more than I know about combat!”

    “Mrs. Evacher... no... that’s not...”

    Mrs. Evacher who would see a powerful supernatural beast and tell me this was a test. Mrs. Evacher who would warn the space pirates that her pupil was a prodigy. Mrs. Evacher who would have me navigate through asteroid fields... Mrs. Evacher who... was lying..? Mrs. Evacher who would have me fight a beast she couldn't fight? Mrs. Evacher who couldn't navigate an asteroid field?!

    “Do you know how much it killed me inside writing these journals... we beat another threat to Earth, knowing that I was just hiding behind your natural talent?! I’m old enough to be your grandmother’s grandmother, and at the age of 13 you made me look like an amateur. You people... and then, to just go up against a terrorist organization at the drop of a hat...” she began hyperventilating.

 

    「Mega Man, we have to stop those robots. This isn’t justice.」

    “Not now, Alice.”

    「Did you go and make new memories while I was watching the old ones?」

    I couldn't pay attention to what the others were saying... this is too important. Mrs. Evacher ran out of the door in tears. I felt myself fall to my knees. Was it right to feel sad? Should I feel angry, instead, to power Neovridh? At least... this whole time, I was being useful to Mars.So I can’t feel sad. Right. I should be happy! I just... I just need to smile.

    Mega Man embraced me. Was I crying? That’s silly. I’m supposed to be happy right now. Mind over matter, right? A Binder is as good as their perception of reality is what Mrs. Evacher always told me. Smile.

    “It’s okay to be sad, sometimes,” Roll said.

    “But. I’m a weapon for Mars. Why should I be sad about this?”

    It doesn’t make logical sense. I’m not sad right now, something is wrong. How could I be sad? I stood up, trying to wipe my tears. Oh... they’re still coming. My hands were trembling. This isn’t good. I might need to fight soon. That’s okay... this will be over soon. Neovridh, can you hear me? Hello? Look at how passionate I am for Mars. Please give me more power soon? I need to be stronger to win the tournament. I’m too weak.

    Mega Man let go and motioned for people to leave the room. A part of me deep down, for some reason, was sad to see him go. I’m just a wreck. A failure. I’m a pile of garbage. A blunt knife is soon to be replaced. A saw’s purpose is to cut wood. Why was I even born? I can’t even smile. Babies can smile... and here I am. Smile. Smile, Claire. This isn’t like you.

    Mega Man alone remained in the room. It isn’t stopping. Why can’t- and then he slapped me. Lightly, but who does he think he is? I tried to build fury, but couldn’t even do that.

    “Claire Beaumont, dragontamer,” he said. Is he mocking me? Why aren’t I more angry at this?!

    “Are you... are you g-going to make fun of me?” Am I just going to stutter now?

    “No, look. Claire, we have a match soon. We need you in fighting form.”

    “I’m trying? It’s just not w-working?”

    “Okay... I’m a robot, right? We have heating vents... but sometimes, robots can go overboard and overheat... okay?”

    “O.. kay...” I mustered up, trying to hold myself together.

    “You’re sad ri-”

    “No, I’m happy,” I explained. “I’m. I’m just. I don’t kn..”

    “You’re sad right now,” he insisted. “It’s okay. You just overheated. Vent it out. I will be waiting in the common lounge. We have to fight together... even if I am not in top condition, I pulled myself together. And you're a lot stronger than I am.”

    “You’re not..?” I asked.

    「He hurt his soul,」 I felt Alice say.

    “I can help with that,” I said, moving close. I pushed as much aura as I could into my eyes and fingertips, then closed my eyes so I could trace his soul. Okay, just one push of aura and I could-

    「Don’t look!」

 

    I immediately felt nauseous. What was this?! How... it was... it was like looking as string cheese ripped apart... strands of soul found everywhere, mangled into shapes of weapons, into sp... did he use his own soul as a weapon? How is he standing? The holes. There are holes in his soul. Strands of soul energy acted as a net to contain the bits of his being that were leaking out of the holes. I scrambled to a garbage can. I was going to puke.

    「I warned you...」

    “Mega Man, you can’t fight,” I said. My tears had stopped. My hands were shaking and my eyes were bleary. I wiped the vomit off my mouth.

    “I promised you,” he insisted. I shook my head, wiping my eyes dry.

    “You can’t.”

    「She’s right, Mega Man. But you won’t listen.」

    “No, you... why? Why would you do this for me? I’ve... I’ve just been terrible to you...”

    “I just like to help people... but more importantly, it’s a favour for a favour. You’re Claire Beaumont, dragontamer. I’d rather have nobody at my side in battle. Claire, I need your help to stop Ex Machina after this.”

    He held out his blue, robot hand to me. He had black hair. I’ve never seen him without a helmet before, but he had black hair. I shook his hand incredulously. It was such a gentle handshake.

    “I’ve never fought beside someone before, you know,” I said. “My teamwork might be terrible.”

    “What, you didn’t have friends?”

    “No,” I answered. “I moved around too much... and Mrs. Evacher, well... I don’t want to talk about it. What do you do... in order to have a friend?”

    “What do you... what..? Claire...” he sounded so hurt. Was it that confusing? I was training to be a weapon for Mars. Sure, I’ve read about friends, but, it’s not like I had time.

    “Say, Claire, you’ve been having trouble with your Pact, right? I read that dragons respond to passion.”

    “Yeah, that’s why I usually get so fired up in a battle,” I explained. There. That was a smile. Getting better, Claire.

    “There’s more to passion than just anger and love, you know. The guy behind Ex Machina is the most passionate person I have met in my life, and he had more than anger... and I don’t know if he had love.”

    “Maybe,” I said. It’s true, passion is a weird thing. I hope to master it to gain control of this rare power. Very few people are chosen to be dragontamers, so I must learn how to channel passion in order to get stronger.

    「You’re passionate about M... Mega Man..?」

    “No, don’t be absurd. But... a friend. That’s new.”

    I don’t mind this type of broken. Smiling. I don’t need friends. I’m a warrior for Mars. A weapon. I will be the sword and shield of the people. They laugh at me, they call me mutant. I take it in stride - and I stand in between them and their darkest fears. This feeling... is unnecessary. But that’s alright, once in a while. Having friends is nice.


    I couldn’t possibly know what Claire was thinking. But I could get the gist... all of the talk about being a weapon, about being a martian first... it was a lie. When Claire called me a friend, she smiled. I was doing everything I could to keep from bursting into tears -- literally, I was overclocking my processors to try to suppress this emotion.

    What does it mean to be a friend?! What kind of... Claire, being a friend means being there for someone through their worst moments, and sharing the happiest moments with them. It’s enjoying little things, conversations, antics. You were a bully to me when we first met, but so was every Robot Master I ever fought.

    「You noticed, too, right?」 Alice asked me.

    “Yeah. She says she’s passionate about Mars... but... isn’t,” I thought.

    「Do you know why she might be lying?」

    “I don’t,” I answered. “It isn’t something we can solve easily.”

    「There you go again, butting your head into people’s business.」

    “Yeah, but you like that part of me,” I joked.

    「I do. The world needs more heroes.」

    “Is helping a friend really heroic?”

    「Is there anything more just in this world?」

    “Claire,” I said, “I don’t expect you to get it at first. Just know that if you ever need help, Roll and I will be there for you. One day you will understand, but until then...”

    I couldn’t say it. I wanted to say “welcome to our family” so desperately. I know one thing; Claire doesn’t want Mars. She doesn’t know what she wants. I don’t either... but I think it’s something we all want: to belong. I was fortunate. Dr. Light was the best father and creator I ever could have had. My soul still hurt after stopping Andreas... every part of my being was torn asunder in that fight. But I can take a little bit more pain if it would help her.

    Was I just doing this because I was programmed to do good? Maybe. Quint was evil because he was reprogrammed, but that doesn’t matter to me... as I am right now, I am doing good. When I see my friend crying because her adopted mother ran out on her, I can’t help but feel empathy - but nothing hurts more than knowing she can’t even rationalize her feelings. This isn’t something that we can fix overnight. I can only offer what little comfort I can. If that isn't good because I'm only programmed to be good, I'm okay with that. As long as I can help in any way.

    “I... should be fine for the next fight, I think. If you do poorly... I’ll forgive you. And I’ll help you fight Ex Machina.”

    “Okay," I said.

    I closed the door quietly behind me. I went out into the corridor a bit further... Roll was sobbing. I embraced her. “She’ll be alright,” I said. Roll hugged me back.

 

Chapter Text

    “Despite... all that, Avery and the executive council has insisted that the tournament is safe.”

    There were murmurs of confusion from the few people still in the crowd. It was remarkable how fast they were able to repair the damage to this area. I cracked my knuckles, adjusting my shirt a bit. Lucifer stood behind me, grinning maniacally. We had promised each other that we would not hold back anymore, as this was deep enough into the tournament that we could be taken down by a sneaky attack.

    “However,” Liam interjected, “we would like this tournament to be concluded quickly. We do not believe they will attack again, but we would very much like to make sure that these students -- our future, are safe.”

    I could practically hear the discontent in his voice. Whatever. That’s fine. I activated the Zero Drive. I could feel his influence inside me... Zero. What kind of man might he have become? The scythe deconstructed itself, putting shards of Lucifer’s energy into my circuits. I was not just a man anymore... I was a vampire. A cyborg. Born Dr. Wily, I was reborn as merely Wily. The world would know me by one name.

    Ashley... and Frog. I remember them. She uses water a lot to her advantage.

    “Lucifer, you take Ashley. I will defeat Frog.”

    “What’s the matter? Can’t take two on without your support?”

    I forced a smile. I had to say... I didn’t hate it. I walked out to an uncomfortable silence. Most people who were watching were not sure to what to expect of us, and the animosity of the crowd was defused by the danger of the previous attack.

    Ashley held herself in a pose - it seems she had prechanted the incantation to open the gate for the water. The Gate and Torrent, I was told: a summoner who used water to combine Artillery and Knight combat styles, albeit with a delay. She wasn’t allowed to finish summoning prior to the start of the battle, which was perfect for us.

    “And now, without further delay,” Lionel said. The joy had left his voice. “Ashley Totora, and Frog Totora, in the red corner. Versus Wily and Lucifer, in the blue corner. Who will win?”

 

    The word ready appeared to no triumph, no excitement, no roar of the crowd. A pin could drop and be heard. The Zero Drive whirred to life as I charged forwards. I could afford to put 40% of my power into my vision as the Zero Drive gave me the speed to move normally. From there, a flexible bed of power allowed me to do whatever I needed. Just as Frog had reached for his trident, I was already there with the Z-Saber.

    “So fas-” he shouted, before being slashed. He barely managed to block, but that was fine. I went for a sweeping kick to knock him off his feet. With my spare hand, I called forward the Zero Buster. One charged shot exploded his guard, leaving a slight singe mark on his armour. I activated the Zero Drive again. Another charge, and another. We didn’t need to buff for this fight. Why would we? These are just pebbles on our road to success.

    Frog attempted to block again, but I switched it up by pushing 30% of my energy into my leg thrusters for even greater power. The Zero Drive was fully integrated into my mind and spirit, so this was fine. I switched the Z-Saber into Recoil Rod mode and slid down underneath him, striking from beneath with the Recoil Rod. Frog was launched into the air. Perfect. 15% more into my thrusters, less into my eyes. I launched myself into the air.

    Frog barely turned to face me only to see me in the air next to him. Tenacious bastard. I slammed into his shield as hard as I could with the Recoil Rod, sending him flying at a diagonal angle towards the ground. Frog jammed his trident into the ground to stop his momentum. The trident began to cut through the ground, splitting the stone as he crawled to a stop.

    “You can still fight, huh?” I asked.

    “Yeah....” he said, spitting out blood onto the ground. “I’m still standing.”

    “Cast your buffs,” I insisted.

 

    Lucifer hopped down, punching me hard in the back.

    “What the hell, Wily?!” he screamed.

    “What?” I said, looking back at Lucifer and Ashley’s unconscious body as it was teleported off stage.

    “Why are you going easy on him?!”

    “I don’t know,” I said bitterly. “I keep doing this kind of crap. I think... I always wanted to be taken seriously. Now that I’m supreme in this contest, the least I can do is respect my opponents.”

    “Respect the weak?! Wily, Wily, Wily! Come on! You’re immortal now! Who cares what these mortals think?!”

    “Y-you... Ashley... so fast?” Frog coughed out.

    “Eh?” Lucifer said, grinning. “Did you not think a Support could be an Assassin? This fight was decided from the moment it was announced. But this guy seems to have too much of a soft spot for his humanity.”

    “So what?” I cried. “Let me fight Frog how I want. He’ll lose either way, but I want to at least show him dig-”

    “You want to play with your food, Wily. You’re immortal now. These people are beneath you. When will you learn? Immortals... we cheat, we lie, we scrounge around like rats to get what we want. At the end of the day, we will prevail. Their names are written in mud, ours in stone. We will prevail.”

    “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I won’t be content with myself if I take the easy road time and time again. I will fight like hell and earn my spot at the top.”

    “You...” Lucifer said, beginning to glow. Shit, what did I say?

 

    “I thought we were becoming friends, Wily. Is my counsel worth nothing to you?! Hahaha... I see. You’re just a mortal in an immortal body. Let me show you the difference!”

    Five blasts of energy, instantly. I didn't have time to think about what they were; if I did not have my power placed in my eyes I would be immediately destroyed. Lucifer, wasting no time, pulled out two blades. He said something like... Shadow Shift... when did he get something behind me?! I rolled to the ground, putting everything into my thrusters. I launched myself at the ground, and though I couldn’t feel it, I could sense that if I was a millisecond later, he would have cut me.

    “Falcon Speed, Tank Barrier, Eagle Eye-” he began.

    “Hey, what the hell?! Those are our spells?”

    “Our spells??! Wily, you’re nothing without me. I am your rock! I am the bed on which your sabre shines! And you refuse to listen to my wisdom?!”

    He spat on the ground. Everything around Lucifer was floating -- not good. His power was entirely unmoderated, and his raw emotion powered both of us. This cascaded onto the audience, which were deeply afraid of him. This fear... this feedback loop... Lucifer’s uncontrolled rage was a planned tactic of ours; negative emotions are what give us the greatest power.

    “You’re wrong sometimes,” I said.

    “Then why did you spare Mega Man, huh? For your own glory? Who cares about your glory? Your glory should have died with your mortal limits!”

    “Idiot, you can’t break your limits if you don’t have any!” I cried. “I don’t know why I saved that idiot... but I’ll be the one to destroy him. I’m strong enough to do what I want!”

    “Prove it.”

 

    With those two words, he flew away from me, creating several magic circles in the air all around between himself and I. Who knows what any of them would contain... my magic knowledge was very limited. Bolts of dark energy flew towards me as Lucifer cut extra mouths into his cheek so he could cast three spells at once. It didn’t hurt him... but it still made me wince to see.

    “I always was afraid of this,” I shouted, deflecting the blades that fired at me. “I know one of your tantrums would turn on me!”

    “Tantrums?! Wily, you have no idea... you think I am just some kid. Every single devil damned day! Well, let me show you which one of us is really older here.”

    From the ground, black tendrils began to rise out of the ground, trying to pull me out of the air. Shifting my thrusters around, I spun backwards to avoid them. My hovering was not very nimble in the air yet, and Lucifer knew it. He knew everything about me... and I didn’t know the tip of the iceberg on his magical knowledge. A purple ball of fire flew towards me. I couldn’t block it, so I pulled out the Boomerang Shield. Searing heat went flying past the shield. I could barely contain it.

    “Hahahahaha!! See, you can’t come near me! Wily, you fool! I have the advantage of range!”

    I fired three shots at him in between his gloating. He barely managed to dodge the first one, flailing in the air to pull his shield up. Dropping to the ground, I saw the tendrils lash out at me. Some tried to break me in half, others tried to grab me. But... in the ground, I was covered by the very tendrils he aimed at me. I could dance through this forest of death and come out from underneath him.

    “No, no no! You’re covered in metal!”

    Black lightning shot from underneath. There was but one mistake - Lightning was not at the speed of light, and this was not lightning. This was merely dark shadow energy emulating the properties of lightning. Ergo, it was significantly slower. I didn’t need defense; I had no intention of being hit in the first place. I had broken the speed barrier a long time ago. Blood was pumping in my heart now, was this what a true battle was like?

    Ah... I remember now. There were times I thought I had the upper hand on that damned robot. Those moments were... fun, almost.

    “Pop quiz trivia time, since you know so much about me,” I screamed as I sidestepped another lightning bolt and jumped straight up at him. He held two kama - small versions of his scythes he created for defensive purposes, and tried his best to parry my onslaught of quick attacks from the Z Saber in one hand and avoid the shots from my Zero Buster in the other.

 

    “Do you remember my second world domination attempt, Lucifer?!”

    “What... what does that have to do with anything?!” he shouted, releasing a shockwave of purple energy. I felt it reverberate through my body. I was nauseous. He followed this up with a series of quick jabs and a close range Mountain Impact spell I could see him charging. I couldn’t dodge. But I could take the hit. I pushed 40% of my energy into my Boomerang Shield, 40% into my ambient protection from energy, and the rest... into the Mecha Dragon.

    “There was a Mecha Dragon, that Mega Man beat. My Zero Drive... it doesn’t just capture the powers Zero would have had. It also captures the attacks my special creations have!”

    Just as I finished that sentence, the Mountain Impact finished channeling. Eight teen magic circles, parallel to his arm spread as the energy bounced between each gate, increasing in power more and more as the caster guided it all with one punch, amplifying the energy four hundred times its initial amount. Most of it was wasted, but the sheer amount of amplification made it one of the most dangerous spells.

    Just the first impact sent shockwaves of pain through my body - and the second part is where most of the energy went. I felt the explosion all around me as the sheer force of impact against my shield caused the ground to ripple and stone to fly all throughout the arena. Though we were dozens of meters above the ground, the stage barely managed to hold itself together. All of this... mostly concentrated in my left arm. I felt some of the bones shatter. It hurt. It hurt so much. But I wasn’t about to give up. The Mecha Dragon’s fireball, now, coursed through the Zero Buster.

    The rest of the attack would be swept up in flames. Even the piercing part of the Mountain Impact was enough to break my arm... but it had to get through my Mecha Fireball first. Who has the stronger attack, Lucifer?

 

    “Winner!” Avery shouted, “Wily and Lucifer!”

    He flew in between us. The Mountain Impact collided with the judge, and this was too much for the stage to bear. Ripped into shreds, the bit of stone was pulverized by the air pressure. Similarly, my Mecha Fireball, at least four times the size of my body and densely packed with power launched from my Zero Blaster. Avery cried out in pain, but held his shield up to protect Lucifer from my flames. He fell to the ground before both of us floated down. The excess blood I had in my blood well began to repair my arm.

    “Wily, you treat me like a kid. You’re supposed to be my sword and shield, and you won’t even trust me to behave like a reasonable person.”

    “Is that it?” I asked.

    “No... I don’t like how you act like a mortal. Some days you get me... other days you don’t. I don’t...”

    “Don’t get me?”

    He looked up in shock.

    “That’s fine. We have all eternity to get to know each other,” I said, looking away. I couldn’t help but blush... I’ve never said anything so sentimental. “We’re partners, you know?”

    “It sucked seeing you fly up to me. My first thought... where the hell is Wily! And... there you were,” he said with a dark chuckle.

    “Honestly, not having your buffs hurt. I was sluggish. I couldn’t even dodge that painfully slow Mountain Impact.”

    He kicked me in the shin. “Idiot. That was a fast Mountain Impact. The spell is just slow. I figured since you’re such a grandpa your reaction time would be slower.”

    I punched him in the shoulder, hard. He grabbed my shirt, glaring into my eyes, before bursting out laughing. It was infectious.

    “Look, Wily,” he said after it died down, letting go of my shirt. “As much as you piss me off, and trust me, it’s a lot-”

    “Likewise,”

    “AHEM. As a team, we’re just too good. I know I started this one... but let’s not fight again, okay?”

    I couldn’t help but smile.

    “Let’s not. You broke my arm, you know?”

    “What, with that painfully slow Mountain Impact?”

    “Yeah, well, I didn’t have the best Support in my corner to buff me that time. I couldn’t help it.”

    I glanced over at Frog’s unconscious body. It seemed he passed out at some point during our battle. Avery was dusting himself off as Lucifer hopped off the pulverized rubble that remained of the stage. “Well, to tell you the truth, usually I have a much better close range fighter who does that for me, so my close range magic is a bit rusty.”

    “Sorry about the stage,” I said to Avery as I passed him. Really, I was. They had just cleaned it up, too.



Chapter Text

    Roll was conflicted. Sitting in this room with Claire was the most uncomfortable she had ever been, but to break that silence was terrifying. Social things like that were never her forte, while she was always happy and energetic around people it took a lot out of her to do so... and in a situation like this, she, on some level, felt a connection to Avery.

    Mega Man was asleep on the couch, leaving Roll on the love seat next to Claire, who was sitting perfectly still, with a face that was unlike anything she had ever seen. Roll could only imagine the thoughts going through Claire’s head, but even her wildest guess would not come close. And so, as they repaired the stage for the second time... with Yieve and Jozef versus Tanlas and Gorxhu to be the next battle, the two girls looked at the TV. Both knowing each other was in the room, neither acknowledging the other.

    Roll was never one for combat, and while she liked to help Dr. Light prepare things for Mega Man, it was under his guidance. Without Dr. Light, the two robots had trouble adjusting to true independence, and Roll suffered the most for it.

    「Hello, Roll.」

 

    “Who was that?!” She exclaimed. Claire looked up curiously, then looked back at the television. Roll felt a gentle invitation, and though she could not explain what exactly the invitation was, she nonetheless accepted purely on instinct.

    「Bad idea,」 a blonde woman with glasses joked. She had the most piercing green eyes under her glasses, yet acted so casual that Roll immediately felt at ease. She looked around -- nothing. The entire room was an endless, formless white expanse, with only a desk and two chairs, with the other blonde woman at the other side.

    “What do you mean?”

    「In the future, do not accept these sorts of things unless it’s from me. Wizards can use it to do bad stuff.」

    “Who are you... exactly?”

    「Mega Man called me Gloria Mors, earlier. My name is Alice.」

    “Wait, you’re the lich thingy?”

    「Lich... thingy? No. I’m not. Maybe? I don’t... know what I am.」

    Alice stood up, and as she did an entire castle seemed to sprout from under her feet, with cobblestone ground spiraling out in a circle around her, rooms building themselves up brick by brick at an insanely rapid speed... a stone fireplace was in one corner of the room, and many bookcases - a study?

    「I’m old, I think. Valhalla said I was older than they were, at the very least. But I don’t remember... my consciousness is not very old. I think I was sealed in the body of an Elder Lich at one point? But I’m me. Alice.」

    “What are you doing... Alice..?”

    Roll was not very well focused at the moment. Her eyes wandered from one magnificent thing to another. What was previously a white expanse had blossomed into a gorgeous castle, warm, inviting, and breathtakingly awe inspiring.

    「You’re my partner’s sister. Figured I would get to know you better. Makes sense, right?」

    Alice was wearing a ribbed salmon coloured turtleneck sweater and simple, yet comfortable looking burgundy pants. If one met her in the street, they would call her quite, almost fragile looking. Was this really Gloria Mors Est Scriptor?

    「Heehee. I can read your mind, Roll. Just kidding! I’ve seen that face before.」

    Roll met Alice’s gaze in astonishment.

    「I am Alice. I am she who is above. Gods fear me, demons hide in my path, and only those who are insane seek out my power. I have but one goal: justice.」

    “Justice?”

    「This world has a lot of crummy things in it, Roll. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve never had the ability to use my own power, only been at the whims of others. But when I see bad things out in the world... I long for nothing more than to reach out. I want to grab those in trouble and protect them.」

    “Why are you telling me this?”

    「Roll... do you know how much you inspire Mega Man?」

    Roll’s eyes went wide and she began to tear up.

    「Even when things were bad, you would always be smiling, or trying to think of a way to make it better. You were never the strongest, but you would be brave enough to stand up against things way above your level. You’re the reason why Mega Man is as brave as he is. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve gotten out of his memories.」

    Roll stood up, unsteadily, and made her way around the table, embracing Alice. Alice had no idea what these words meant to her, Alice just wanted to show respect for Roll. But, at this moment, feeling more and more small than ever... just knowing how much she was appreciated was all she really wanted.

    Alice, awkwardly, tried to place an arm around Roll.

    「It’s like I told Mega Man earlier... there is nothing more heroic than helping a friend in need. Even if it’s a small thing. This world is full of crummy things, but someone who goes out of their way to help someone through rough day...」

    Alice didn’t know how to finish that sentence. Ultimately, however, she didn’t need to.


    Yieve and Jozef had no intention to destroy the stage. They stared down the daemons as they approached to jeers from the few people remaining. Yieve, however, was nonplussed. The daemons looked her down with an air of superiority.

    Gorxhu pounded its fists together, lurking dangerously as the lankier and the many limbed daemon that used acid - Tanlas stood domineeringly forward.

    “Ladies, gentlemen, and other beings - this is a match between Underworld titans. Tanlas and Gorxhu, from the Yawning Maw in one side. And on the other, Yieve and Jozef Jozak, from the House of Shadows!”

    “I surrender!” Jozef shouted.

    The announcers stared at him. “An immediate surrender from Jozef... before the match even started, I might add,” Lionel said. “But we’ll allow it. Yieve, versus those two!”

    “EASY,” Tanlas screeched. “WE CAN DEFEAT THIS ILLUSIONIST IN SECONDS. NOT THAT THE PATHETIC BOY MATTERED.”

    “Excuse me?” Yieve asked.

    “Yyyyoou... ussse TRICKerY to win,” Gorxhu began with hissing. “We ussse STRENGTH!”

    “Ah... you think I’m doing all kinds of floofy sparkles, huh?”

    “WHAT?! YOU SPEAK IN USELESS WORDS!”

 

    “Listen here, you insouciant reprobate, the only reason I am tolerating your insults is because I am trying to be kitzy-glitzy for Yosie here... now, you have like, 20-30 seconds to get down on our knees and beg for forgiveness before I smack the soul out of you so fast everyone in the stadium will laugh at how stupid you were.”

    Tanlas spat on the ground. The word ready appeared over the ground. Immediately, Yieve’s eyes went pitch black as her skin discolored from the slightly tan experience to a dark purple. A black disc formed over the arena, shrouding everything in silence. Yieve held her hands like a marionette, acting out stitching.

    Tanlas tried to let out a screech, but couldn’t speak. He charged forward, spitting out blobs of acid as he moved forward. Yieve moved at incredibly high speeds, weaving between the two while continuing to move.

    “Hi!” she said to Tanlas, appearing on his shoulder. “Hello!” Yieve said again, from underneath him. “Over here now,” she said, over to his left. “Turn around!” she then said from behind him. Between each statement, she sunk into the shadows in the ground, reappearing in another place.

    “MMMMMM!!” he screamed through mumbling, though unable to speak. Gorxhu just stood there in awe.

    Yieve grabbed Tanlas with one arm, throwing him straight up at the black disc that was creating shade in the arena. He collided into it with a thud, sputtering black blood from his nose. Yieve dashed forward, coming with a series of incredibly fast punches, each moving faster than Tanlas’ eye could see -- but Gorxhu was able to divert his energy from his shield. He could trace Yieve’s movements. Was it six.. or seven punches nearly instantaneously? Tanlas went flying from the force of these strikes, into Yieve’s open arms.

    “I don’t have much of a pride.”

    Yieve slammed him down on the ground with one hand, causing one of his limbs to snap. With his remaining limbs, Tanlas scurried away, trying to escape, but everywhere he stepped, Yieve was one step ahead. Gorxhu tried to say something, but could not speak. He tried to run out of the stage, but a black disc blocked their way.

    “I don’t really care about, ooh wow thingies, where they’re all, Yieve, I love you. Not big on positive reinforcement either,” she said.

    As she finished saying this, Yieve clasped her hands together, putting her entire body weight into one heavy two handed punch. Tanlas’ eyes popped out as he tried, in vain, to cry out. He was repeatedly mumbling something, “I surrender”, but his words were unintelligible. He turned around and looked at horror to see Yieve standing above him.

    “But, you don’t get to say mean things to Yosie. You don’t get to insult the House of Shadow’s fighting style.”

 

    Dozens of massive magic circles followed Yieve’s arm. She held her hand slightly to the side of Tanlas, before some flash of inspiration came. Instead of aiming at the ground, she aimed up at the sky. A blast of purple flame grew in size as it went through each magic circle, going from a large flame for her hand to being larger in size than the entire arena. As it disappeared with a flash, she whispered “sleep” into what she assumed Tanlas’ ear was.

    “Tanlas, unconscious,” Lionel breathed. Yieve looked at Gorxhu, who was shivering now, holding his trembling hands up to Yieve.

    “I surrender,” she said. “Reflect on this battle, Gorey.”

    “Winner.... Gorxhu and Tanlas..?” Liam announced. The black disc melted away into embers which floated off in the distance, allowing large amounts of light back into the arena.

 

    “An interview... with the loser,” Lionel said. Yieve shrugged and walked over in an overly flirtatious affectation.

    “Yieve... I thought you used illusion tricks to teleport?” Liam asked.

    “Oh, that. I can teleport too. Funny, that, huh?”

    Lionel opened his mouth to speak, before closing it. He rubbed at his temples. Liam spoke up again:

    “Yieve, why did you surrender?”

    “Yes, that’s what we all want to know,” Lionel said.

    “I had no intention of winning. Why win? I wanted to let Jozef see how strong he was... and what he was missing. He sees stuff now. I was going to drop out with Jozef, but then... I figured I would teach that daemon a lesson.”

    “That was hardly a fight, it was a slaughter. Just how strong are you..?”

    “Not that strong, silly,” Yieve said. “That guy is just really weak. He had an advantage over Huata because Huata’s Pact is perfectly defeated by his Pact. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes, you lose for no reason. And that’s okay!”

    “But,” Yieve said in a dark tone. “With a lack of fundamentals like that... he’s running underwater.”

    “Yieve, is there anything you can tell the remaining contestants?”

    “Mega Man, I’m rooting for you!” she said cheerfully. “But, you’ll probably lose. Don’t let it get to you?”

    Yieve walked off the stage, waving goodbye to the confused looking announcers. She adjusted her outfit slightly as she clapped Jozef on the shoulder. The two of them went down the tunnels.



Chapter Text

    The world around me is bubbles; Millions, billions, even trillions of bubbles. Each person, in themselves, is a bubble - their perspectives, their thoughts, their experience, and their lives. That person always taught me to see the world as bubbles in order to maximize my potential. And so too, am I a bubble. Could I just be popped? If I were to be popped, would anything remain of me? This fragile world of bubbles doesn’t care about anyone. We all blend in to one.

    “So fragile,” I said to myself. I noticed Mega Man calling to me. Right. I had to fight. I was a weapon for Mars, after all. I saw him tremble as he stepped forward. I saw the lurches, unsteady movement as we passed in silence down the corridor. It was our time, after all. He was hurting so much. I felt nothing.

    “This world,” I mumbled as I stepped out to the arena. The commentators and judges have been moved off-site at some point, with Avery standing by in case of danger. Across from us was Virpo. Scorch flew overhead, eyeing us down. Two versus one, right? We didn’t practice our team work, but it’s alright. I was fine.

    This fragile world seemed to stand still. Words were spoken. I didn’t hear them. I could only see Virpo’s face.

    “Machine versus machine, the nightmare turned the dream,

    I might care for your being, but I’ll tear you down clean

    Got Claire on my team, on the right, for the fight

    So tonight, get scared screaming cause you’ve ran out of steam,

    It’s alright, I respect you, but expect doom coming quickly

    Cause I get busy, and I’m tricky, Mega Man wins briskly

    And even still he spits heat chilly getting grisly on his foes

    You’re just silly if you really act like I don’t get you on your toes.”

 

    Mega Man began to glow, before letting out a scream of agony. Avery moved in closer to look, before nearly dropping out of the sky in shock. He quickly ran in front of the cameras, shouting directions with a panicked look in his eye.

    “We regret to inform you, due to technical difficulties, Auravision has been disabled for this broadcast,” Lionel said with a confused look. I heard Liam mutter some muffled curse over the microphone.

    “Look, if you want to forfeit, Mega Man,” Avery said. “I mean... are... how are you still alive?”

    “I’ll be fine,” he said with an awkward smile. “I’ve been through worse.”

    Avery shuddered, staring at the ground. He spoke in barely a muttered voice, just loud enough for us to hear.

    “It’s terrifying, talking... taking charge... all of this. I just want to curl up in a ball right now and hide from the world. But I have an.. an...”

    I waited.

    “an.. obligation, t-to do the right thing. So. I’m trying really hard to be brave.”

    He had tears in his eyes now. Was it empathy for what happened to Mega Man, or just from the stress of speaking? I couldn’t tell.

    “I get what you’re saying,” Mega Man said. “I know my limits. They’re just... past what you would expect.”

    Avery gave a thumbs up. We stared down at Virpo, who was oddly quiet the whole time, his head cocked to the side. He already had his weapons out. I gulped. Something about this person was... terrifying. But I was fine. I’m fine, and it didn’t affect me. I’m fine. This world is made out of bubbles... everything. This stage, Virpo, all of it -

 

    The word Ready appeared over my head. I didn’t have time to think. Virpo was immediately in my face. I jumped backwards, pushing all of the energy into bubbles. Virpo quickly adjusted to meet me. He had a green trail behind him and held his palms out, manifesting the laser swords. It’s fine. I had that in mind. Virpo... was taller than me. I ducked down, slightly. He had a reach advantage from my swords, but I had two bubbles in my heel.

    I popped the bubbles for a burst of speed, ramming head first into Virpo’s chest, and activating Neovridh’s energy. My head hurt. I blocked it with aura, but ramming with this much speed into a robot’s chest would always hurt... but that’s fine. My entire body coursed with electricity -- a robot’s greatest weakness. Virpo slashed at me, but I held my arms up, pushing my energy into my arms to block the blades. I stepped backwards.

    I wasn’t the best in close quarters combat. While I was strong, and very skilled, my lack of muscle mass made my base weak. Knights used magic primarily to augment their great physical strength - one thing I was missing. I used speed to my advantage, but a large number of weak strikes is much less efficient. Still, it was enough to let Mega Man do whatever he was doing. I ran in for a flurry of punches and light kicks. Savate, a French martial art was my primary form of combat. Swift kicks from a stable base, and a strong punching form, as well as the ability to quickly shift positions.

    Virpo hopped backwards, holding out his laser swords. No, to call him a swordsman wasn’t fair. Virpo used a unique martial art -- one that only one who could make swords out of their palms could use. It used many open palm thrusts, but focused primarily on speed and reach. A striking martial art through and through. What impressed me more than his skill was his sheer power. Virpo, though unskilled, was a raw mass of potential.

    As he charged forward, I felt it again -- I had to use bubbles just to avoid and keep up with his movement... but bubbles weren’t enough. He was too fast. If I used bubbles to propel myself, I lost the control and the stability. Virpo’s attacks here, while terrifying, were not even that. He was probing. Every cock of his emotionless head revealed very well what was going on. This wasn’t the fight, yet. This was him learning what I was capable of.

    If I showed weakness here, he would pounce upon it like a tiger would a gazelle. However, to keep fronting that I could fight at this pace... I felt the hints of a smile. That’s right. Why was I trying so hard to make myself happy? I know who I am.

 

    “I am Claire Beaumont, dragontamer.” I said. “This world may be fragile... but so are you.”

    Neovridh’s energy passed through me. I felt the rush from before... though not as great. He has not called to me, but that is fine. I will show him that I will be the ultimate weapon, and he will choose me to receive his Boon. But, until then... I have an enemy in front of me. I shifted around, running backwards to the edge of the ring. I placed a bubble on the ground. Virpo shifted his head to look at me, and tried to charge - but was blocked by a charged shot!

    Mega Man, off to my side, had finished whatever preparation he was doing. He held his Mega Buster out.

    “You are in danger of dying,” Virpo noted.

    “Maybe. But I’m not dead yet!”

    “It doesn’t make sense. Why do you fight so hard? Can save Earth if loser.”

    “’cause Mega Man isn’t a loser, Virp!” Scorch said. “If he was a loser, he’d give up here.”

    My eyes went wide. I see. Roll... you were so right. I continued placing bubbles around as Mega Man created cover fire for me. Scorch, the robot bird, flew above overhead in circles, surveying the battlefield.

    “Mega Man. You can use the other robot’s thingies, right?” I asked.

    “Yes, although I object to the terminolog-”

    “Zip it. Use the Bubble Man’s Bubble.”

    “The Bubble Lead? Sure, I suppose,” he said. He shifted colours, and charged a barrage of bubbles, launching them. He created a series of floating platforms which he jumped on.

    “Enough games. Resist Water - Medium, partner Alteration. Auto-Regen Light, partner Alteration. Falcon Speed, partner Alteration. Tank B-”

    As Scorch began casting support magic, Mega Man quickly switched to some sort of magnet. Scorch tried to fly around to avoid it, but the magnet followed its path, clipping and immediately incapacitating the bird.

    “Scorch, unconscious!”

 

    It was too late, though. The spells had already gone though. As the bubbles came closer, I activated a series of chained bubbles I had set up.

    “Behold, my ultimate technique! Litany of Bubbles!” I shouted, before charging forward. More... I needed more passion. “Burn in the dragonfire of Neovridh!”

    I felt the electricity tingle. There it was. This plan... was perfect. The bubbles were created in a way that when they charged into the air, they leave a magic circle -- one made out of bubbles, one of the residue from them popping. And those bubbles, as well, leave a magic circle. Two delayed area blasts that only target my enemies, while I remain doing hit and run tactics. He can’t figure out which bubbles are crucial, especially with Mega Man’s-

    And then, Virpo was in my face. I quickly shifted all of my energy into shielding to block, but the open palm strike sent me flying. One bubble I had prepared behind me caught me, but the sheer force of stopping was enough to have me seeing stars. I nearly blacked out. Virpo was immediately on me, but this time I was ready. I hurled myself to the side, dodging an X slash he made at my area. Virpo’s head immediately turned to me, but before he could charge again, Mega Man fired a charged shot.

    The first circle activated. A strong blue light shone through the circle as a hundred spears came through. I snapped my fingers -- each spear was imbued with Neovridh’s power. The surge of energy rushing through me left me nauseous. The spears, all primed at Virpo, launched at incredibly high speed. Virpo looked up, then launched a jetpack. The spears turned to him in the air, but he deflected them, his hands a blur as the laser swords blocked attacks.

    Suddenly, he launched a barrage of missiles at Mega Man! I jumped forward, holding out a bubble in my hand and expanding it -- then pushing all of my energy into it. It was a gamble, but if it worked, the shield would be stronger than any innate barrier my energy would have. I felt the force of the missiles... but the shield held. Mega Man grabbed me out of the air, gently dropping me on the ground next to his platforms.

    With about twenty spears sticking out of him, Virpo stared back at us again. The same uncaring eyes. He charged at me. This time I didn’t have the preparation, and could only hope I could block this attack. The kick was too fast... the charge itself was a feint, but at that speed, it could very well have been legitimate and my preparations would still not be enough. I felt a sharp pain in my right side, then my left.

    I saw blood on the sand. Oh... did, he hit me into the wall? And I’m bleeding. Everything was a blur. I wish I had Auto-Regen... Auto-Regen! Virpo... Virpo has it! I stepped forward, falling unsteadily to my feet.

    “Mega Man, unconscious!”

    Neovridh... give me more. I’m not going to let my pupil upstage me. That’s right. That person failed me, why should I be sad for them? To polish a weapon is the greatest joy. I never could have had a mother... I am a weapon. And a weapon’s purpose is to fight. She... too, was a weapon. One that envied another weapon. I could understand in that moment her frustration, her sorrow. But I wouldn’t sink to her level. I wouldn’t let my pupil upstage me.

    Mega Man wants my help to fight Ex Machina? So be it. I’ll be there for him. But first, I’ll need experience beating up robots.

    I felt my soul stir. Neovridh approved... or something. This was far more than I had before. If I was using 4% of Neovridh’s power before... this was double. Triple? 12%? I wish I had that sensor installed. I chuckled. Technology sure is amazing, isn’t it? At least I could keep track of Virpo’s movements now.

    “You’ll lose, child.”

    “I know,” I responded to the dragon out loud. But I wasn’t going out without a damned fight. I don’t need any half-assed mother. I was Claire Beaumont, dragontamer. No, I was Claire Beaumont, greatest weapon of Mars in the making. No. I was Claire Beaumont... and that’s all there needed to be.

 

    Virpo’s movements weren’t too fast, now. I could keep track of them. I could feel that with my injuries I would collapse soon, but there was a chance I could make him collapse first.

    “Unlikely, but worth a try,” Neovridh responded. Normally, I would be elated that Neovridh responded to me so willingly. But Mega Man had made contact first. I wasn’t jealous, but I wasn’t going to hold pride up for it.

    “You are masochistic. Surrender, your injuries are too severe,” Virpo said. He never shouted, he spoke with the same monotone. I didn’t need to answer him. My fists would answer him. As he approached, I could see this was not a charge. He charged next to me, and then attacked -- this stable base allowed him to feint earlier. It wasn’t a reckless, momentum based thing. Virpo was simply just too fast. Scorch’s support magic was incredible, and Virpo’s base stats were nothing to sneeze at either.

    The same feint from before... he tried to punch, but then went into a kick. Coup de pied de figure, as we called it. But that’s fine, because I was shorter. I dropped down low, feeling the kick whiz above my head. With Neovridh’s power like a taser, I came in close for a punch. But that wasn’t the point, it was to feel out my power -- he wasn’t the only one who could gauge someone.

    I chuckled... if only I didn’t receive this power now. I could feel myself wobbling... it took so much effort to stay up. But dammit, Mega Man went through worse than I did. After the punch, I stepped backwards, putting up my guard. My next strike, I placed energy into a bubble, and pushing all of my energy into a kick, I went for the most devastating strike possible: a chassé-bas.

    Virpo seemed not to react as the strike landed, piercing through his armour. Not a lot... but dammit. It was frustrating, almost, knowing I was this strong and still going to lose. Still, I’ll make my debut to the multiverse this way.

    “By all means, I should have dropped earlier. Mega Man, as well. He was severely damaged,” I shouted to nobody. “And here I stand! Do you see, now? I will lose with the ultimate grace!”

 

    Virpo charged forward, this time with no hesitation in his actions. Each move was designed to win the fight. His strikes came incredibly fast. I blocked one, felt the burn of the laser, and three more came. Each strike came with a push forward, gaining position on me. However, one strike left him too far forward -- off balance. He couldn’t dodge without creating a bigger opening. I took a risk, quickly swiping at him with a left hook.

    Predictably, he tried to avoid, which left him stumbling. Savate is known for one thing - the fluidity of its strikes from boxing to kicking. And, I have long legs. With a sweeping kick, I landed a single blow to his head. Virpo went sprawling back, landing on the ground. I stumbled to my knees, before picking myself up. I wiped blood off the side of my head. Really wish I had Auto-Regen.

    He didn’t dust himself off. He didn’t recoup his strength. Virpo had no emotions, nor could he be surprised by this. He merely responded to being bested as if one would note that it was a particularly cold day. His stamina was incredible, and his defense even more so. That hit didn’t leave a crack in his armour. I couldn’t afford to let him control the distance. So, I created two bubbles on each of my feet. I popped the first pair to charge, creating a bubble just before his range. He swiped forward at where I would have been... had I not activated the bubble intercepting my path. I flipped backwards in the air. I saw the look of realization.

    Landing on the ground... I kicked off the second pair to charge. He couldn’t block the attack, his arms were too far out. I tackled him into the wall, elbowing him once for good measure, before jumping backwards. Virpo charged immediately after, taking a bunch of quick jabs. Since his laser swords were not swords, they were weightless: a flurry of open handed palm strikes were equivalent to a flurry of stabs, but with much greater speed.

    Virpo leveraged the speed of his thrusters and his stable stance from lack of weight in order to have quick strikes, powerful attacks, and solid defense. Whereas I was a targeted offense, a tightly wound ball of energy, Virpo was an immovable object. All of these attacks seemed to have little effect on him. More disheartening, his lack of emotions made these attacks which would on anyone else been emotionally devastating to receive have no psychological effect. Was I wearing him down? I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t read him.

    “You are strong, Claire.”

    “You too, bastard.”

 

    It’s not fair. I want swords, too. I want to be able to scrap. I want to win. I want to win! I... I can’t win. This world isn’t fair. This fragile world of bubbles doesn’t care what anyone deserves. If you want something, you have to take it. And I can’t snatch victory from this scenario. Maybe, if I received Neovridh’s blessing earlier, or if Mega Man wasn’t so damaged... but there’s no point speculating.

    Virpo was on me, again, instantly. I couldn’t keep up, anymore. The damage to myself was too severe. My energy was spent blocking and keeping myself standing. Each attack burned. I was probably punctured in a number of places, but I couldn’t tell. My vision was blacking out. Still, I can stand. What kind of weapon surrenders a fight?

    The last thing I saw was that same kick coming for me. Looks like he didn’t even need to feint this time.

 

Chapter Text

    I tapped my foot impatiently. Why were they so late? Texu... and Afri. Our next victims. Lucifer and I vowed not to repeat the previous fiasco again(mostly at the request of Avery). It seems like people have returned to watching again out of sheer respect for the spectacle. After this, it is us versus Yieve, then Mega Man beats that president, and I defeat Mega Man.

    “Dude, you look creepy. Cut it out.”

    I almost smacked him, but held my fist. Instead, I adjusted my shirt buttons and ran my hands through my hair. It was something I read in a self help book: when I get an impulse to act violently, to adjust them instead into more productive things... honestly, the book was a bunch of quackery, but it was free reading. From the lens of a bad author, one gets to see a worldview they otherwise wouldn’t. Even poor books have their benefit to society.

    “Why do you think they’re so late?”

    “We just got here too early, man,” Lucifer said with a disgusted look. “Are you stupid?”

    “Shut up... we have to show some respect to them.”

    “Why? They’re mortals?”

    The mortal thing again. It’s something Lucifer and I will never see eye to eye on... at least, for now. At the same time, it keeps coming up. I don’t know how to answer his weird philosophy, nor do I care enough to refute it. It just bugs me. I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

  

  Eventually, Texu and Afri walked up. Texu - slightly taller, with long white hair that went past his shoulders and incredible muscle definition - held his sword out with a serious look on his face. Afri, of similar build but shorter, had his fists out. I could see the familiar green-red combination that resulted in quick fire. His pact... I recall, it made gates? So they’d be mobile. Still, in a two on two fight, it is a Knight versus Knight matchup for myself.

    “Wily,” Texu said, pointing his strange curved blade at me. I pointed at myself. He nodded, posing dramatically on one leg, holding this massive sword in one hand as his other was straight in parallel to it. Some sort of ritualistic stance? Lucifer yawned, but I matched his gaze.

    “You are the strongest man in this competition. Win, or lose, I will prove myself, and Master Xemia’s sword style at this moment.”

    I felt a smile coming to my face. Lucifer looked up at me with a mixture of curiosity and confusion as I balled my fists. Why was I so happy..? Whatever.

    “Texu... Enschtriika Sen, was it? I’m sorry that I’ll crush your hopes here. Do your best to learn from failure.”

    He didn’t seem mad. He nodded at me. My soul burst into flames. This wasn’t good... my power would be weakened in this fight. There was no negative emotions here. But - it didn’t matter. I could win without psychological warfare.

    “Lucifer, no tricks. We’ll show them we can beat them in a show of force.”

    “Wily, are you getting into an honour fight? I don’t want any pa-"

 

    I stared into his red eyes. He blinked, then sighed, taking his hands out of his pocket. He gave a thumbs up to the announcers. It was a curious setup, really, how they were connected to the stands and from the ground one could walk up stairs to reach them. I suppose it made sense seeing as how Avery had to step in many times.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, between the two warriors... an honourable match has been made! From the infamous Wily and Lucifer, representing Hell for Venice High, nobody could have expected it! Wily has matched Texu’s challenge?! Who could come out on top!”

    Liam cleared his throat. “Well, Lucifer has shown himself to be a powerful Support, but not just any Support... a Support Assassin. Compared to Afri’s Striker/Mage style, it’s a question to see how this match will play out. Will Afri team up with Texu, or try to face Lucifer down in a direct fight?”

    The word Ready appeared over our heads. I activated the Zero Drive. Texu charged forward, creating pillars of sand in my path. I see, to prevent me from using my Zero Drive thrusters for movement. An interesting answer to a question that was never asked.


 

    “Resist Fire - Light, partner Alteration. Auto-Regen Light, partner Alteration,” Lucifer called. Immediately, the fires of Afri were on him. Lucifer weaved from the first punch, but felt the second in his gut. Flames spread in immediately. Afri quickly thrust his arms out to each side in a T shape, creating two katars made out of flame itself. Afri then sprinted back in. Lucifer, instead of dodging or blocking, fired a blast of black energy behind him.

    “Gates are strong,” he chided, “but also physical objects. I can see where they are coming from.”

    Afri cracked his neck and charged back in. Lucifer held his scythe out.

    “Falcon Speed - Pa- ugh!”

    From underneath, a fist made of flame came up. Lucifer gritted his teeth... Afri tricked him! The movement behind him with the gate wasn’t just meant to sneak up behind the front of Lucifer’s shield... the movement of his gate itself was part of the plan. By pushing the gate under Lucifer’s feet, Afri was able to extend his aura underneath Lucifer, creating a point from which Afri could create fire. One can only use magic within the area their aura controls.

 

    “This is basic martial arts, Lucifer. What is wrong? Have you never heard of a feint before?”

    “You bastard,” Lucifer spat, putting out a small flame on his tunic.

    “That wasn’t an ordinary feint,” Lucifer thought. He wouldn’t admit it - not to a mortal. The combination attack, though small, was brilliant. An attack from three fronts. Was the gate itself a feint, or would he connect with the frontal strike? And was the point of the attack even to hit at all, or would just setting up the aura underneath be sufficient?

    He couldn’t afford to keep buffing, he needed to be on the move. That’s fine, then. Lucifer charged forward. His scythe had a range advantage. Afri shot two balls of fire, before dropping his stance low for a sweeping kick. Lucifer dodged both fireballs, pushing the scythe against the ground for pole vault. As Afri went for the sweeping kick, Lucifer flipped over his head - right hand gripping his scythe, left palm facing Afri’s head. He launched a bolt of shadow at him. Afri cried out as both acrobatic combatants landed.

    There was no time to take in that trade, though, if Afri gave Lucifer a second’s rest, Lucifer could cast buffs, and the tenuous balance in this matchup could be destroyed. So, the black haired Antimine had no choice but to go back in, ignoring the pain. Lucifer knew this as well. With graceful movements, he flipped his scythe around his body, spinning around his body from the right hand and catching it in the left. Simultaneously, with the same circular movement, he had twisted his body around to face his opponent. If Afri was faster than he was letting on with his initial movements, this ultra-fast scythe spin would deter an attack.

    However, there was no such movement bluff. Lucifer and Afri were evenly matched in speed, and as they turned to face each other, they both were aware that this wasn’t a fight that could be won by brute force. Lucifer had a slight advantage on range; Afri had a slight advantage in versatility. Afri had to be on the offensive.

 

    Rings of flame surrounded Lucifer, who leaped to try to fly out of them -- but as he did, a fireball was waiting for him. He pushed a surge of energy into his hands, blocking the fireball. The fire resistance helped deal with the shock, but it hurt. The Antimine rushed to the rings of fire. So that was his game! Lucifer laughed at falling for such a simple trap.

    Of course, the rings would be dangerous, so you have to move out of them. When rings closing in on you from all directions appear, “up” is the most obvious answer. It was a trap. As he looked closer, these rings were very weak. Fire is tricky like that, just by being fire it looks more dangerous than it is. The real threat is if you choose to jump up: normally, what comes up must come down. Not only do you take a shot up above, but you also are attacked from below.

    Normally, this attack would be a devastating combo. Lucifer wasn’t normal. He created a chain of purple energy, and pulled himself away from Afri, rolling into the ground and jumping to his feet. The impact hurt, but it hurt a lot less than taking a jab from a katar. As he landed, he clapped his hands together - a physical component of his own trap. Afri had to respond to this trap, because if Lucifer had a single foothold, he could cast buff spells.

    So, Afri was forced. He charged forward, creating two gates out at an angle in front of him in a Y formation. It was strenuous on him, to push his energy into combat and create the gates at the same time... but Afri couldn’t afford to conserve his strength here. He had to win this quickly if he wanted to help Texu. Lucifer immediately ran towards the left one, spinning around quickly with his right hand holding a shadow bolt.

    Afri, who had ported to the right one, launched a barrage of fireballs at the young devil. Lucifer hurled his own shadow bolt - it overpowered Afri’s fireball, hitting him in the chest. While Afri could create more projectiles, Lucifer’s were stronger. Still, Lucifer could only overpower one... the other fireball hit him squarely in the shoulder, turning him around from the impact. Further still, Lucifer didn’t destroy the gate.

    The Antimine hopped into the right gate, popping out of the left, and jabbed Lucifer sharply. Lucifer managed to grin in spite of the pain. Eight lances of dark purple energy flew down where he was. As Afri jumped back to avoid some, Lucifer grabbed one of lances and threw it like a javelin at Afri. Afri took the hit hard in his left leg, causing him to fall to the ground in pain as he pulled it out and dissipated the energy.

    “Falcon Speed - Partner Alteration!” Lucifer cried. As he felt the familiar rush of energy inside him, he let out a smirk, wiping blood off his mouth. He quickly glanced over at his partner, who -


    I had no intention of using the Zero Drive to boost my speed to deal with Texu. He was a power style fighter. To respond to power with speed, asymmetric combat is a perfectly fine strategy. Claire uses it well. I had no intention of fighting strategically. If Texu acknowledges me as the best, I will prove it to him. The world will know that I am the strongest Knight in this tournament.

    “No thrusters for you, Wily,” he said, weaving out of one and coming at me with a fast, yet heavy strike. I just barely managed to get the Z-Saber up in time. I felt the impact throughout my body. Just as this connected, as his left arm lifted the blade, his right came off the side for a quick punch. I blocked with my left arm, feeling the familiar sting.

    Just as I got my wits about, Texu ducked back behind the pillars of sand. This area of the battle was almost like a forest in its complexity. I could barely see what was happening, and Texu was aware. Not only that, he could manipulate it, climbing pillars was not out of the question. Attacks from above were dangerous as well. So, it wasn’t just discs. Texu had an interesting Pact.

    As I expected, the attack came from above. I pulled out the Zero Blaster, shooting two bolts of plasma into his body. He took the attack undeterred, preferring an offensive strategy. While not exactly nuanced, I admired his straight forward plan. However, that wasn’t enough. With the Zero Drive, I leaped into the air. Then, I activated Kuuenbu -- the Air Waltz. It allowed me to jump a second time in the air.

    He wasn’t expecting me to be in his face, and his blade hadn’t moved close enough yet. I was there too fast. I stabbed him in the chest, kicking him off me towards the ground in the air, and shot him with the Zero Blaster as he laid on the ground. Quickly activating my thrusters, I closed the distance and punched him with the hilt of my sword. As he attempted to back away, he ran into the sweet spot of the Z-Saber for one last slash.

    It was a simple combination, but effective. I didn’t need flashy moves. I’m Dr. Wily. Everything I did was flashy -- now, it’s time to go back to basics. I had tricks up my sleeve for every other matchup. This was the only time I could cut loose and try my basic skills as a Knight.

 

    “You are good,” he said in between heaving breaths.

    “You too,” I responded calmly.

    Just like that, discs of sand flew out from every one of the pillars, aimed at me. So, this was his trick. Strong attacks, and weak attacks from every direction. Hiding behind pillars, creating a chaotic environment entirely under his control. Texu fought well, honestly. He wasn’t a pushover at all.

    As I deflected blades, I shifted focus. Rather than going after Texu, I attacked the pillars of sand, cutting them down one after another. When my blade tore the magical energy holding them apart, Texu’s pact failed to hold up, causing the sand to fall down as normal sand would. With each pillar taken down, Texu had less options to hide. Furthermore, it took more energy to create these than it did for me to destroy them. If he wanted to keep this war of attrition up, he would run out of gas before I could even consider a refill.

    “Are... are you sure you can keep this up? Your partner might l-”

    “No,” I cut him off. “He won’t.”

    His eyes went wide as I met his. I saw him grinning as he held his blade and met my charge.

    “Wily, I would be honoured to lose to a warrior like you. It’s only a shame I let my partner and Master Xemia down.”

    “Oh?” I said, catching his odd smile. “Then lose. You have your entire lifetime to make it up to them.”

 

    Our blades clashed. He pushed so much of his energy into it, and I into mine, that all of the sand pillars were wiped away by the impact and resulting aura shockwave. Just then, a bird looking creature seemed to fly out of Texu’s back, pummeling me with a series of punches. I activated the Zero Thruster, flying back. What the hell?!

    “My partner, Wily. Unlike you, my partner is not fighting right now. I can call him out for a short time... though, I can not use my ability while he is out.”

    “Two against one, huh?” I whistled. “Some duel.”

    “I have to use everything to win,” he said. Tears welled up in my eyes. Just why was this making me so happy? Alright, Texu. You want to fight the best? Here I am! I charged at him, sliding underneath the waiting punch from his partner, and kicked myself up for a slash at him. He raised his sword to block -- but, taking a page out of his book, I punched him with my spare arm. As he flew back, I quickly flipped out the Zero Buster, shooting Texu twice, then spinning around, holding my Zero Buster in diagonally in Center Axis Relock in order to quickly get accurate shots on his partner.

    They had me flanked, but so what? I charged the partner. It didn’t have a sword. The birdman thing tried to create pillars of sand to block me, but it wasn’t as fast without Texu’s help.

    “Falcon Speed - Partner Alteration!”

    “What took you so long, you dumb devil?!” I taunted. I didn’t need the Z-Saber. I put 100% of my energy into my right fist as my thrusters took me forward. I was too fast. It couldn’t react - as my fist collided, I felt a visceral crunch as it collapsed around my fist before launching into the wall. The crowd, now, roared with excitement. I turned around to Texu, who winced seeing his partner go down.

    “No sand pillars, just one more clash, Texu!”

    “Let’s see if that little beam of light can block this,” he said. He was moving slowly... it seems he was putting almost all of his aura into his arms and sword. That’s fine, then. I can do the same. I held the Z-Saber with two hands as my thrusters carried me forward. My feet could barely keep up with the pace, even with my vampiric power, even with Falcon Speed. But that was all fine.

    Ah, I realized it, now. I was finally recognized. That’s why. Texu sees me as his greatest rival? I wouldn’t just pretend like this rivalry didn’t exist like that damned smug doctor. I’ll recognize him in turn.

 

    “Let’s see if that hunk of metal doesn’t get sliced in two by my blade!” I retorted. The two of us met. There was no intention of defending ourselves, no intention of a fallback. This wasn’t even a fight anymore, merely just a contest of strength between two warriors. I saw the immense look of satisfaction in his eyes as the resulting aura shockwave sent all of the sand flying off the stage, ripping the decorative panels off, and sending them flying into the walls of the arena. He was shouting something in his own language. I held my blade there, slowly, but surely pushing him back.

    Eventually, his legs gave way. I saw Texu’s body go flying as he was launched backwards by the sheer force of my attack. He didn’t need to hit the wall to pass out: I witnessed him teleported out in midair, hundreds of green lights gently floating away mere moments before the collision would have occurred.

    “Winner, Wily and Lucifer!”

    I held my hand out triumphantly. For the first time, I wasn’t booed.


 

    - who was engaged in a foolish competition. Wily could have at any point used his other tricks, any rudimentary magic to quickly finish it, but instead he chose to fight head on with a Knight, a person who is trained only to fight head on. What was he doing? It made Lucifer sick. Lucifer could easily teleport behind Texu and...

    ...but then Lucifer saw Wily’s smile. He threw his head back and sighed.

    “Alright, Afri.”

    Afri held his katars up, but Lucifer was already there -- Falcon Speed had a multiplicative effect, and Lucifer was ready to attack. Holding as much of his purplish black energy as he could, he grabbed Afri’s neck with it, causing Afri to cry out in pain. Lucifer threw him to the ground as Afri threw bolts of flame at him. With a sweep of his scythe, Lucifer knocked the left most one away, and used the motion to gracefully spin to the side, watching the other projectiles fly past him. With the same movement, he continued the momentum, spinning all the way around and slashing Afri on the ground in the process.

    Afri used the gate to teleport away. Awaiting him... three purple lances. He looked up in horror as they came down on his leg. Afri screamed in agony and fell to the ground. The lances didn’t actually penetrate his body, but they hurt just the same as if they did. Taking them out would leave no hole. But Afri’s will was shot. Lucifer span his scythe around, folding it up until it landed on his back, and putting his hands in his pockets as he advanced slowly to Afri.

    “You know,” he said in an uninterested voice. “Your partner’s pretty cool.”

 

    “Wh... what do you mean? Are you making fun of-”

    “No, if I did I would be harsher. Do you want me to make fun of you? I have plenty of material,” Lucifer said with a grin. His face got serious again as he continued to approach the writhing Afri. “No, it’s... I’ve never seen Wily look... happy.”

    “I’m sure he’s happy to win,” Afri responded bitterly.

    “You think?” Lucifer asked. It was a genuine question - one Afri wasn’t sure the answer to.

    “Anyway, I’d surrender if I were you. You’re not in a good spot,” Lucifer cooed. Afri looked up with fire in his eyes as he tried to create another fireball. Lucifer stepped on his arm, twisting his foot around maliciously. “I’m not as cool as Texu or Wily. I don’t fight fair. It’s perplexing... why am I jealous? Ah. Why am I asking you, anyway?”

    Holding a vortex of swirling energy in his hand, Lucifer pressed it against Afri’s face. The dark purple energy, Lucifer’s favourite, created psychological “Damage” that the soul recognized as real. The lighter purple was antimagic, a rare element Lucifer could use. As they swirled around in this chaotic ball, the light purple would sweep away shields as the dark purple did damage, quickly finishing off a weak opponent. An assassination technique Lucifer had concocted himself. Within seconds, Afri was taken down.

    Ten seconds later, Wily had beaten Texu. Lucifer observed his triumphant gesture and sighed wistfully.

 

Chapter Text

    “Guess we’re on the road, huh?” I asked. Claire looked up, clearly tired. We had spent the night in the infirmary... supposedly, Wily and Lucifer had beaten Texu and Afri, and Yieve had immediately surrendered after whispering something in Andreas’ ear. I don’t know how Andreas healed so quickly, but that leaves the final match. Andreas versus Wily and Lucifer. I don’t think Jason would be able to fight on that stage.

    “What will you order?”

    “I’ll have a black coffee... Timsihta.” Pierre said, looking at his tag.

    “Sugar and cream, please,” I asked.

    “Cream and extra sugar,” Roll said, “and one of those strawberry watermelon tarts.”

    “Red eye,” said Claire.

    “Red eye? What is that?”

    “Black, with a shot of espresso,” she explained.

    The waiter, Timsihta, nodded and bounded off. This coffee shop was very nice, it was a rustic style with a large ordinary TV displaying the last match of the tournament. Match in 5 minutes. I was curious to see how strong Wily really was.

 

    “So, what now, my friends?” Pierre asked.

    I paused. I hadn’t really thought of it. I guess, we go back to Earth? I need to find some information on-

    “We don’t have a way home, don’t we?” Roll noted.

    Ah. That’s right.

    “So dumb of me to look up to a woman like that,” Claire said with a bitter laugh. She tapped at the table impatiently. It could seat 8, but the choice was either this booth, or a table meant for 2. Still, with our low income, this is the best we could do. Besides, I always preferred smaller places. Haute cuisine or a local diner, knowing the chef and having a personal style is far more important to me than how popular a place is.

    “Greetings, fellow losers!” we heard. “Room for 4?”

    I turned. Yieve, Ashley, Frog, and Grysan were in the doorway. The waiter raised an eyebrow, evidently surprised to see so many celebrities. Yieve had an arrow under her feet. I see, so she had met Grysan and asked him to cast the arrow thingy to find people. I was slowly but surely starting to build a knowledge base on spell effects.

    “There is room exactly, feel free,” I said.

 

    “Your orders?” Timsihta asked. The barista was at work on ours in the mean time.

    “Latte with caramel... extra caramel please,” Yieve said.

    “I’ll pass,” Frog croaked.

    “Latte, without caramel,” Ashley said elegantly as she sat down next to me. Yieve looked slightly perturbed. To my left, against the wall, was Roll. Claire was ahead of me, with Pierre across from Roll. To my right, Ashley, with Yieve across from her. Grysan sat beside Yieve, with Frog sitting next to Ashley.

    “Ashley Totora, was it?” I said.

    “Yes,” she answered. “And you were... Mega?”

    “Mega Man, two names,” I explained. “This is Roll, my sister, and over there is Pierre. They’re our support team.”

    “Interesting. Do you often need repairs... as a machine?”

    “No, honestly, we just brought them along because they wanted to go,” I explained. The waiter brought our coffees, and Roll’s eyes lit up at the tart. It looked pretty good. Roll had a smug look at she elbowed me in the ribs.

    “Want some?”

    “A bit.”

    “So honest,” she said wistfully as she tore a piece off. It was pretty good, actually. I’d order it again.

    “What happened to you..?” Grysan asked. “You looked really beat up that fight.”

 

    “Stuff happened,” Claire said. She was staring at me for some reason with a dissatisfied expression. Was it because we lost..? I tried my best, though. I looked to the other side nervously.

    “So, what’s next for you all?” Pierre asked. “You all fought so well.”

    “Dunno!!” Yieve said triumphantly, leaning back against the wall. She was wearing jeans with unique white stripes on, though I was unsure of the make. She wore a sweater that was mostly a purple, but with interesting sky blue colour blocking that was both asymmetric and slanted in a way that lead your eyes all around her. It was a very nice outfit.

    “I win,” Yieve announced, looking directly at Ashley. Ashley looked at her with an utterly baffled expression. Oh, that’s right. These people probably don’t have a lot of experience speaking with Yieve. Ashley had an interesting looking dress on, it had an elaborate design of chess pieces on it. Frog was wearing armour, and Grysan was wearing his blue wizards robes.

    「Mega Man, do you ever want to wear other clothes?」

    “You know I do, Alice,” I said with an annoyed tone. “You’ve read all of my memories.”

    「Sheesh. Last time I try to make conversation.」

    “Who is that?” Ashley asked in a somewhat alarmed manner. She had stood up in her seat.

    “That’s Alice,” I explained. “My partner. We’ve made a Pact.”

    “What is your Pact ability, anyway?” Yieve asked. “You’ven’t used.”

    「You’ven’t... I should punish you for your insult on language itself. Mega Man can’t use a Pact ability, as he has yet to achieve a high enough synchronization.」

    “Yeah, same here,” Claire said.

    Ashley stood up again. Upon getting a confused look by the barista, she sat down. I sipped some of my coffee. Ooh! Hot. But still, quite good.

    “How strong are you guys? My goodness.”

 

    Suddenly, a switch was flicked in her brain.

    “Mega Man, you look like a man who likes the arts.”

    “Why, yes, b-”

    “-and one of the arts, culinary arts, is my specialty. I seek to gather the greatest ingredients in the world for my greatest cuisine... of course, I could pay you handsomely. Not only that, but you could eat fine dining every day of the week. Room and board in a mansion, fed from the most beloved celebrity chef in Mars, and you would be considered a hero for culture. How about it?”

    “Ah, I have other things to worry about. It’s an appetizing offer, really,” I said. She chuckled at my pun, before relaxing, dropping back to a haughty and regal seating position.

    “Is it impressive?” Roll asked. “How strong Mega Man and Claire are, I mean.”

    “Most people can use a Pact ability right from the get-go,” Yieve explained, “like grabbing a cup of water. Once you grab it, you can drink. But what if the cup is too big? Like, a big bowl.”

    「Can Mega Man drink the ocean?」

    “Whoa, cocky,” Pierre noted. I couldn’t help but laugh, feeling a slight burn in my mark. Okay, Alice. Okay.

    “What are your pacts, anyways? I was curious,” Grysan said.

    “Neovridh, the sealed Tempest dragon,” Claire said. “Mega Man’s is called Gloria Mors Est Scriptor, but her name is Alice.”

    “Sealed... Tempest dragon..?” Frog’s eyes went wide.

    “Huh. Daddy talked about Gloria Mors Est Scriptor before. You’re kind of a big deal, Mega Man! Let’s get married tomorrow.”

    “Let’s just be friends,” I answered. “I’m lucky to have such a strong partner, and I will continue to get stronger to not let her down.”

    「We have plenty of evil-doers to punish, after all.」

    “I won’t let you beat me, Mega Man,” Claire said suddenly. Her piercing blue eyes held unwavering strength. It was if the world itself went silent to hear her next words: “you have grown so much. It’s frustrating. But, that’s only because I let myself get complacent. Mrs. Evacher didn’t teach me anything more because she had nothing more to teach, and I took that to mean there was nothing more to learn.”

    “Oh?” Yieve said with a catlike curiosity.

    “I won’t stop until I am the strongest. Mega Man, I thought you were worthless at first. Perhaps you were... but you have grown so much. Today, I announce our friendly rivalry.”

    What the heck? Her expression was still strong, but... soft. No less weak for its softness. A friendly rivalry? I bitterly recalled her bullying of me earlier. It still stung. It stung, but I didn’t dislike her for it. Still, I was glad to see... some sort of improvement. You have a long way to go, Claire. But you've made an important step.

 

    “Okay, real reason I’ve called you here, everyone,” Yieve whispered. “Sh? Shush?”

    We looked at her curiously as she kept making words for quiet, before eventually asking “quiet magic?”

    “I know Silence, but,” Grysan said, “it’s not that effective. We won’t be able to hear each other.”

    The waiter put down everyone else’s cups. Yieve bowed her head. Pierre drew a symbol of a bee, showing it to everyone as soon as the waiter left. He closed his eyes, and I felt the “Rule” wash over myself -- those who saw the bee symbol could only be heard by others who have heard the bee symbol. Everyone seemed to have an expression of understanding, even Roll.

    “What is it, Yieve?” I asked. Her face took on a dark expression.

    “Thip... do you know of the three worlds?”

    “Yeah,” Pierre said. “Thip, Piht, and Ipithe, connected by the confetti and unlinked by Toby Hellscythe. So?”

    “Thip and Piht are linked. For thinking, I am related to Piht as I am currently schooling at study there,” Yieve said. “But, Piht is in the underworld.”

    “Underworld?” I’ve heard the term, but never knew really what it meant.

    “Bad Place. People’s perception of things make it so, so things connected to the idea of darkness, or evil, get lumped together. Because of this cognitive perception across the multiverse, it has real weight to it. Believing in something makes it true, believing in gods makes them come to life. And. Believing that these dark places are connected creates these connections. Hades, Piht, The Land of Shadows, Hell, all of these Realms are connected.”

    “Interesting... but what does that have to do with Thip and Ipithe?” Ashley asked.

    “They’re connected to Piht, which is connected to any number of underworlds. Creating a connection between two points in the underworld is easy. Daddy was looking into this, and he noticed a vulnerability. Everywhere in Thip is constantly under attack from every single point in the underworld at once. Alls you gotta do is only go to the parallel of any point in Thip, as it is mirrored in Piht, then use the connection from Piht to go into Thip.”

    “So,” just as Pierre was about to speak, his eyes went wide.

    “That’s how?!” Claire asked. I recalled the attack earlier... and started to put them together. Oh. Thip isn’t safe, because any underworld leads to Piht. And, once in Piht, going anywhere you want in Thip is simple.

    “We are scouting another attack from the bad robots,” Yieve said. “The capital can’t be defended. Because of rules, Thip isn’t allowed to bring their military in. Not only that, but Toby Hellscythe is on a diplomatic mission right now to make contact with some things that don’t exist, so we can’t have him cut the connections.”

    “Rules... you mean, Masquerade laws?” Grysan asked.

    “Yyyes!” Yieve said proudly, giving a thumbs up. Grysan straightened his back out with pride. “But, not good to be happy here. Is bad thing. Can you fight?”

    “I can,” Ashley said.

    “I think I’ve mostly recovered,” I said. Claire nodded. Pierre cracked his knuckles.

    “A wizard is always ready,” Grysan said proudly. Frog croaked in agreement. Roll shook her head, before looking over at the television.

    “Oh, fight is on,” Roll said.

    “Ah, so it is,” I said. We looked over to the TV as the “Rule” slowly faded into nothing. Wily and Lucifer stood aimed at Andreas, who had signed 5 contracts prior to the start of the fight that were floating above his head.


 

    “So it begins,” Andreas said, cracking his knuckles. The man was larger than life, his intensity, his passion, everything was on the line at this moment. Nobody had any way of knowing, but he had staked the remainder of his contracts as collateral to sign a contract with an angel in exchange for healing. Andreas’ dream lay just 15 feet in front of him.

    His nightmare, Dr. Wily, gave a sly smile. Wily’s partner, Lucifer, merely regarded Andreas as a cat would a mouse, as a frog would a fly. Despite the indomitable will Andreas possessed, his opponents were unaffected, unmoved, and unimpressed. Andreas noted the contracts above. How would he protect them from Lucifer? His mind racing on how to use the 5 Pacts he had used. Andreas could not use more than 4 at a time without great difficulty, and he was pushing himself to the limit by taking on another. Still, like the dire straits he was in, nobody had any way of knowing.

    “Scared?” Lucifer said, bending down on his knees with a gleefully sadistic expression. “Don’t be. I don’t need to rip up your stupid contracts.”

    “Wh-!!” Andreas said, eyes bloodshot as he balled his hands into fists.

    “We heard, y’know. Your little speeches about the elite,” Lucifer began nonchalantly, waving his pale hands around as he spoke. He pressed his hair to the side, gesturing to Wily.

    “Ahem. Let’s just say Lucifer and I have our differences on what makes someone elite. However, we stand unified. Andreas, you are nothing.”

    Andreas did not know Wily’s pact, or he would have tried to restrain his bloodlust. Unbridled fury swept from his brow as the usually collected class president felt his sanity slip from him for the second time this week.

    “I alone will take the title from Earth... Earth’s first champion. Andreas! I! ME!”

    “Please,” Wily said. “You’re not even fit to be the fourth strongest on Earth.”

    READY!

 

    Andreas immediately shot up in the air as hundreds of sunflowers grew out of the ground. As he did so, his entire body shifted, transforming into a beastlike shape with rapid muscle growth... and also being shifted into geometric, metallic forms. He appeared to be a poorly constructed 3D model of a gorilla, one made out of gems and metal, with sharp polygonal edges as he stood atop a giant sunflower.

    “Falcon Speed, partner Alteration. Demon Flight, partner Alteration. Tank Barrier, partner Alteration. Hellfire Blade, partner Alteration,” Lucifer began chanting, casting buff spells. Similarly, Wily fed crystals into the Zero Drive, activating its properties. As this unfolded, Jason unceremoniously surrendered, running out of the arena as fast as he could. The two sides stockpiled their might, staring each other down to see who would break first.

    Surprisingly, nobody did.

    Andreas, holding up these sunflowers to face both Wily and Lucifer, stood on the largest one, a proud metal ape regally watching over the arena. Lucifer and Wily set into position, ready to move at a moment’s notice - with the Z-Saber out in front, Wily acted the Knight. Lucifer, however, was a mixed bag. His fighting style was so unorthodox, so wild, that any attempt to pin down what it could be was an impossible prospect.

    This, precisely, is why Andreas did not expect to be stabbed in the back by Lucifer.

    Cackling, Lucifer kicked Andreas’ body off the sunflower. He fell to the ground, getting back up for long enough to see Wily charging at him. Andreas drew a ring with his polygonal finger - Wily felt himself jerked back as a rubber band appeared around his legs. He quickly somersaulted to get back to his feet, but it was too late: the momentum had been left.

    “One. Sunflower Garden, allows me to create these Sunflowers. Two: Beast Ape, allows me to take this beast form, increasing my power,” Andreas said in his deep voice, barely masking the rage and shame as he unloaded punch after punch into Wily’s barrier.

    Lucifer shot a beam of dark energy down, but Andreas was ready: he held his right hand up directly to the block. His hand shimmered for a second, before clearing into a perfect reflective surface! The shadow bolt rebounded off the mirror. Lucifer leaped up, wings flapping triumphantly as the large sunflower was burned through by black flames.

    “Three,” Andreas said as he picked Wily up and threw him across the stage, “Metal Plating. Allows me to change my body into metal, as long as it follows simple geometric shapes. Four, Rubber Band, allows me to create rubber bands.”

    Andreas formed a rubber band around Wily’s head, dragging him into a deep punch. This one managed to crack through the shield, causing Wily to bleed slightly from his head. Wily walked back, stunned, as Lucifer charged in, feinting at the last second. Still, a rubber band around Lucifer caused him to fly towards the ground.

    “Five: Metal Mirror. Any metal surface can be made a mirror, which reflects magic.”

 

    “I see,” Wily said, adjusting his shirt. “So, you selected five for synergy then. A decent plan.”

    “Haha! A decent plan?! I am winning, you fools! You will see my might! I will be sublime! They will shout my name from the rooftops!”

    Andreas charged at Wily again. He used rubber bands to propel his own motion, and his body’s incredible strength allowed him to get there slightly before Wily was expecting. Wily blocked with the Z-Saber, but was still forced back sliding as the metal implants in his legs ripped the ground up. Wily wiped the blood off to the side as Lucifer picked himself up.

    “Hahaha... I didn’t even need to use the sunflowers. This is like taking candy from a baby! A blind baby!!”

    “Overly cautious? But why would you be?” Wily asked.

    “What? What are you saying? I don’t need to be overly cautious, but I was anyway.”

    “Why did being called Number Four bother you so?” Lucifer added.

    “Because IT’S A LIE!!!”

    Andreas used the rubber band to pull Lucifer in for a deep punch. Lucifer deftly slid out, springing forward underneath Andreas’ arm to slash at him with the scythe. Barely any damage, this time. Not only did Andreas have many Pact abilities, but his strength was monstrous as well. Still, his technique with the Pacts were very rocky. He had no way of using these abilities until he signed off the contract, making him a complete amateur with how to use them.

    “Andreas, Andreas, Andreas. Do you think one becomes the prince of all the underworlds by being stupid? I can tell.”

    “Tell what?! That you can’t even put a dent on me?! Anyone can tell that!” He said. His skin was glowing red now. Lucifer and Wily shared a knowing look.

    “You lost to Mega Man.”

    “HOW- I didn- he was not even FACING ME, you fools! Who do you think you are fooling with this?!”

    Andreas was breathing hard, now. The two shared an even more knowing look.

    “Wow, just a wild guess... but it turned out to be true. You’re really an idiot, huh?” Wily said. “I guess that’s why you’ll end up as the worst Binder to come out of Earth’s first year.” That was the final straw. Andreas gave into his primal rage at this moment. Everything he had built up in his life was coming crumbling down around him.

    This taunting, of course, had a strategic purpose. Dr. Wily and Lucifer’s pact gained power off of negative emotions. They were deliberately taking hits in order to increase their power. Neither of them expected just how strong Andreas was, but it was an important tradeoff.

    “You better hope the teleporters are fast to the punch... I’m fighting to kill.”

 

    No screaming, no pure rage. Andreas was past that, now. He wasn't "angry", he had become fury itself. He realized he couldn’t become elite; then, he would settle for killing the people who brought him pain. This was, after all, his last chance. That one wager he made with Mega Man ruined his life, and his chance of revenge... and the thought stewed in Andreas head, pulling him past the boiling point.

    On the other hand, Dr. Wily and Lucifer were finished warming up. Had it not been for the sudden explosion coming from the town square, it would have been the greatest buildup to a battle in the tournament’s history.

 

Chapter Text

    “What the hell?!” Timishta, the waiter said as the ground rumbled. Yieve said it would be soon, it wouldn’t be this soon, though? I gathered my thoughts: I’m happy, because I’m going to fight. Wait, no. I don’t feel happy; but I felt Neovridh’s power flowing, so I must be feeling something. A strong impact knocked the roof off our building. As I looked above, I saw dozens of mechanized dragons flying overhead.

    A robot with a strong, pronounced jaw, wearing a suit of powerful looking medieval based armour with a green cape floated above, directing the scene. His aura was incredible, and robots seemed to report to him. I looked through the window out onto the road and saw hundreds of robots marching through the city, subduing... killing... anything that wasn’t a robot was a target. I didn’t understand.

    “Guts Man..?!” Mega Man shouted. I heard the sounds of gunfire in the street. People were sprinting to the nearest place.

    “Word of advice, all,” Yieve said in a dark tone to match her changing skin colour. “Do not follow me. Do not come near me. I will take out the ones in the South. If you see scaredylight boy, tell him to be as far away from me as possible.”

    Her form seemed to give way to a black smoke that surrounded her as she stormed out of the building. Was this Yieve’s real form? I looked up at Mega Man. His face was somewhere between shocked, furious, and heartbroken. I clapped my hands in his face to bring him out of it.

    “You said you wanted to stop Ex Machina, right?”

    He nodded, before I could see he realized what I meant moments later. Slow. It’s funny, the exact same thought I had about him earlier now feels more endearing than anything. Is this what it means to be a friend? A robot slammed open the door shouting something about oppressors, it was humanoid, but of unknown design. Without even a second of thought, Pierre flipped over the back of his chair in the booth, grabbing the robot between his thighs mid-flip and throwing it to the ground. As he did so, he manifested some sort of black shield and sword.

    “I was just thinking I haven’t had enough contribution,” Pierre said. “Look what just showed up in my lap.”

    As we all stood up, I heard a shriek from Roll - there were hundreds of these robots, all with some sort of gun pointed at Pierre. He slapped a barrier on the side of the door, wincing at the effort of manifesting his Pact.

    “Surrender now, oppressor. This fight will result in casualties on both sides,” one robot said. Pierre chuckled.

    “Do you think a single one of you will get past me? Friends - go. I will not lose today.”

 

    The robots opened fire, but... every single bullet was pulled towards that little bit of barrier. I see... so that was Pierre’s game. Even he has grown so much... has it really only been 2 weeks? I pulled everyone behind the counter as Pierre accosted the group. Timishta fumbled to get his keys open as the barrister hid behind.

    “What’s g-g-going on?!” the barrister(Aeros, judging by his name tag) asked.

    “Thip is under attack by a group of terrorists. We’re going to stop it,” I explained. “Frog, Grysan, can you keep these people and Roll safe?”

    Grysan nodded. His movements were shaky, but he nonetheless held out his staff.

    “A wizard must be unflinching in the force of danger. I have trained for this very moment. The forces of the arcane are on your side, there is no need to worry,” he announced. Frog held out his forks, nodding to Ashley.

    “So much for a peaceful contest...” she said, sighing. “Okay, I’ll go to the southeast, and try to stay out of Yieve’s way. I can prepare the summon in the back alley.”

    「They will pay.」

    Even I felt it. I couldn’t imagine how Mega Man was able to get by with just a shudder... Alice’s pure bloodthirst in that moment was strong enough to be physically tangible. We heard a brief lull in the battle Pierre had as both sides became aware of Alice’s feelings. As we turned the back alley, we saw more robots leading civilians around at gunpoint into portals.

    A charged shot came from behind me, knocking one of the guards out. I didn’t need more warning. I leaped forward, visualizing the world as a matrix of bubbles. One guard wanted to pull the trigger at me. Bullets may be fast, but fingers... not so much. I welled Neovridh’s power up in my arm, creating a whip of lightning that I thrust forward to stun the robot. Mega Man took out the other.

    “Two for me, Claire,” he joked. Smarmy little... oh. As I took apart this gun, I realized the bullet wouldn’t even penetrate my passive shielding. I guess these were just cannon fodder guards.

    “Okay, everyone, get into that building. We have powerful Binders that can protect you there,” I said, pointing in that direction.

    “Claire Beaumont..?! From the..?” one kid said.

    “Who?” an older boy said. The younger one punched him in the leg.

    “We’re saved, dummy. These are the really strong guys from the contest!”

 

    We heard a slam on the ground. Looking up, a black portal opened in the sky and a giant mech evidently had dropped from it. It appeared to stand on two legs, with a massive cannon on its front. Every step its long legs made caused the ground to shake. Its head was on a swivel as it rotated to turn towards us, charging a giant beam. -!! those kids!

    I jumped forward, pushing 60% of my energy into a forward facing bubble. Just as I reached the apex of my jump, the laser canon glowed with incredible power, ionizing the air in front of it. With a large amount of my energy into my eyes, I could even see how the laser would turn out from the targeting beam before it. Okay, I had just a second before the laser would shoot forward. I had to deflect it away from the town... but if I deflected it straight up, who knows what I would hit? Do I have a target? No, I don’t have time.

    I aimed the laser up. Hopefully it wouldn’t hit anything. The laser fired, the behemoth machine to rumble the earth, and my bubble barely held from the sheer force of this impact. It deflected straight up in the sky. I fell to the ground, panting. It hurt. Even blocking the heat wasn’t enough, as the surrounding air burned my body.

    “Are you okay?” Mega Man asked the kids, helping them to their feet and down a back alley.”

    “Mega Man, can you get around it?” I asked.

    “Yeah, why?” he said as he ran back towards us. The machine seemed to be warming up for another shot again.

    “What’s your strongest weapon?”

    “The Crash Bomb, I guess,” he said. “Hold on, though. I have to power up, first.”

    “Get behind it while you rap, I’ll try to draw it’s attention. I can’t do a redirection or an acceleration gate, but I can do bubbles.”

    I leaped forwards as I said that. I heard Mega Man behind me -

    “Behemoth with a beam, I’m deeming that it seems

    far fetched for wretch like you to reign supreme-”

 

    But I couldn’t hear the rest.

    As I got closer, I saw the ground troops in support of this. I’d have to take these down, along with this machine. It was the size of a three story building, at least. I can’t believe how fast they managed to get an army in here! I witnessed a building fall down to the ground. I saw a mother jumping out holding her child, just barely reaching the balcony. I felt something stir within me. Neovridh? No, something else. I’m not happy to fight, so what is this?

    I channeled electricity into myself, letting my body be filled with as much electricity. As I landed in front of this titan, all hundred soldiers pointed their guns at me. I created a bubble around me, letting the electricity stew as much as I could before popping it. Lightning coursed through the ground, causing all of the robots to seize up and fall over at once. I didn’t have a second to move before its missiles began to lock onto me. Even it’s foot was big, what the hell?! I couldn’t move in the air, because... if I did, I would endanger the people in the buildings. But on the ground -

    I saw a pegasus trapped under some rubble. Smoke began to fill the air now. I heard a creaking from above -- an TV that was displaying the match between Wily and Lucifer versus Andreas was about to fall on the horse. I’d just... I’d have to be stronger. I need to be fast enough to get there, but strong enough to survive these missiles. There isn’t time to dodge. As I felt the exhilaration of speed run through me, I finally understood. It was...


 

    “You idiot! Your life is in danger, and you still want to keep fighting?!” I jeered hypocritically. Of course he did. I wanted to, too. It wasn’t enough to win: I had promised I would, after all. It was something about Andreas. The way he acted, the way he looked down upon everyone. All he wanted was to be worshiped. I could understand the feeling, but I hated it.

    His punches were strong, and while his trick of rubber banding let him gain a lot of strength in his punches, it wasn’t enough to really stop me. He couldn’t make me take a strike I didn’t want to, because the Z Saber let me cut the rubber bands. In other words, it was just another trick up his sleeve. Yes, he was strong. But so was I.

    “THEN SURRENDER!” he screamed. “WHY MUST YOU RUIN EVERYTHING, WILY?!”

    Ah. I remembered that too. I felt the anger rush through my head. When Mega Man came valiantly up to fortress after fortress, every one of my near bulletproof plans completely shattered. Every time I managed to escalate it, to one-up myself, he continued to be there, time and time again. Why did he want to see me suffer? I understand you, very well, my friend. But -

    I let myself spring forward with the rubber band, using my thrusters to adjust my orientation, coming at him sideways for a dropkick. The sound of metal on metal as I collided with this disgusting metal polygon gorilla with all my strength. I felt the impact reverberate in my body. As he flew away from me, Lucifer was waiting with a scythe. He clapped his hands together, creating four black guillotines made out of energy which closed in on Andreas. Andreas blocked the first two, smashed the third, and clipped himself on the fourth. On the other end, Lucifer jabbed the end of his scythe into the president, kicking him to the side as we jumped together, clasping our hands to renew the buff.

    “Do you know why you piss me off so much?” I asked.

    “What?!” He said, wiping silvery metal blood out of his mouth.

    “You remind me of me, before I realized what a LOSER I was. You’re pathetic, Andreas, and... and so was I.”

 

    I cringed thinking about these memories. Not because they were painful, but because it showed just how embarrassing I really was. I was a boy throwing a temper tantrum, with plans that assumed everyone in the world was stupid except me. My arrogance, my lack of trust... all of it lead to me being cooped up with a single world view which time and time again never really worked. I drew a map of how I saw the world, and was too stupid to consider checking my work.

    “Pathetic? We are ELITE,” Andreas said. “WE BELONG ON TOP OF THIS WORLD! Don’t you see? AND I AM THE MOST ELITE OF ALL!! I CAN HAVE EVERY PACT!”

    “Every Pact? WHO CARES!” I shouted.

    “We can do the same thing, too. It means nothing to have a bunch of abilities you don’t know how to use, idiot!” Lucifer taunted. We felt the energy from his rage rush into us. I didn’t need to know what Lucifer was thinking to know how he felt, right now. Our hearts were as one.

    Andreas charged forward. He was unbelievably strong, but he wasn’t the only one. I jumped forward, letting Lucifer begin his incantation -

    “May the thousand blessings of Hell come to fruition,

    sew the seeds of carnage

        so that death may bloom.

    Skeleton Springtime.”

    - and I matched his punches, head on. My Z Saber, reinforced by the scythe in the Zero Drive, and powered by the sheer mass of negativity in this battle was enough to take any impact. Time after time, his fast and heavy strikes met my blade. Each strike forced me down onto the ground, requiring every bit of my footwork to keep strength in my core. Then, when the strike subsided, I had just enough time to move energy into my legs to move me forward, then again I pushed my whole body into taking these strikes.

    A Sisyphean effort? No. Every strike lead me one step forwards. I had the reach advantage with the sword, true, but my ultimate goal here was not to fight a battle where I used the slight advantage of my blade to fight defensively. My goal was to create space for Skeleton Springtime to finish. Skeleton Springtime, a spell which created hundreds of skeletal arms along a plane, would let us trip our foe. The skeletons were strong, and any attack to his balance would be enough.

    Andreas knew this. However, with each step, I moved him further and further from Lucifer. Moreover, as I was continually in his face, were he to try to make a break and hit Lucifer, I could get free strikes on him. We would regroup, and try again. Andreas would have to bet on his ability to take Lucifer out with a single punch, and the prince of the underworld is not so easily defeated!


 

    Determined. The words flashed in my head.

    “Do you know how long I waited to see real passion, my child?” Neovridh said. I felt something... growing. The bubbles that made up the world became even more and more clear to me... what was this? I continued sprinting forward. I created a bubble on the ground in front of the pegasus once I ran into range, and blew it up, causing the rubble to fly upwards. I grabbed the winged horse, pulling it up to its feet, and turned to see the missiles. I closed my eyes, smiling softly. Either this works or... I’m content.

    I felt sharp pain as the missiles collided with my wings. My. What?! I turned around to see a pair of draconic wings surrounding my body. I flapped them once, letting myself stabilize in the air.

    “Your anger was faked. Your love... was forced. Child, you have buried your emotions for so long you don’t even know what they are anymore. This, here, is determination. This is why I have picked you. Claire Beaumont. Dragonborn.”

    I felt the words more than I heard them. I turned to see the pegasus flying away. There were tears in my eyes again. Since when have I been such a crybaby? At least there’s nobody around to see it. I’m glad it’s okay, at least. I saw Mega Man approaching using ITEMs to jump in the sky. I flapped my wings again to test them out, before letting myself fly, flanking the titan between Mega Man and myself.

    I saw Mega Man’s missiles (crash bombs?) come flying at me. Its head swiveled around to face us; I created a bubble now, pushing everything I had into it to intercept the bombs. They buried themselves into the bubble, before I pushed them out, redirecting them to the back of the robot. It wobbled unsteadily. Not enough, huh? Okay. I created a bubble behind me, kicking off against it, and tackled its legs. The robot, already teetering, fell to the ground. I smelled something burning inside of it. Just as I was about to celebrate, another portal opened up, and a smaller... humanoid robot fell to the ground.

 

    “Robots fighting robots... that isn’t good,” it said. “Human, stay out of this if you value your life.”

    I looked at it more closely. It wore some sort of Ancient Egyptian costume, and had a very haughty expression.

    “Human?” I asked. “I’m a Martian, idiot! My name is Claire Beaumont. I am no longer a mere Dragontamer. I am chosen by Neovridh, the sealed dragon of Tempest. I am Claire Beaumont, Dragonborn. And you will PAY for attacking these people.”

    Mega Man landed on the ground next to me, switching back to his Mega Buster. I could see my burning determination reflected in his eyes.

    “Very well,” he said.



Chapter Text

    It wasn’t enough to say I was afraid, at that moment. I was terrified. I had barely just recovered, and here I was fighting something ten times my size, if not more. Then, for Pharaoh Man to drop down on us like this... there was never a dull life for a hero.

    「She’s really strong, right now.」

    “Who, Claire?” I thought-asked.

    「Yes. By my estimation... she’s running at 13% of our power.」

    “13%?!” I gasped. I guess I didn’t have to worry too much. Still, my 8% was nothing to sneeze at either, even if you account for the multiplicative effect of power. I saw Pharaoh Man gather his energy in his trademark style, before putting his arms down with a sigh.

    “I have a condition, Mega Man.”

    “A condition?”

    「Styles have conditions, some times. It’s a way of getting more power.」

 

    “I am The Honest Pharaoh. Therefore, I must explain how my ability works before I use-”

    Claire flew in at incredible speed, trailing electricity she could barely contain. Pharaoh Man barely managed to put his barrier up before the kick sent him flying into a streetlight. He coughed, adjusting his outfit as Claire began circle strafing around him, creating bubbles all along the area.

    “-my ability. First, my two restrictions: I must give a full explanation on how my ability works bef-”

    Claire punched him in the gut with a harsh uppercut, sending him flying in the air. She flapped her wings to meet him, grabbing him by the collar and throwing him to the ground. I didn’t need any more prompting -- I charged the Mega Buster, intercepting his trajectory with a bullet. With a supercomputer for a brain and Alice’s guidance, I couldn’t possibly mistime it. He cried out in pain as he took the bullet.

    “-ore I can... Gh... before I can use it. Secondly, I can not use it on anyo-”

    I came sliding in, switching to the Charge Kick to collide with his chest. I felt the familiar metal-on-metal impact I was used to, and kicking off the ground, I swapped to the Top Spin as fast as I could in order to spin off his head and land on the ground.

    “GAH! Anyone.. that I don’t deem my enemy. My ability... lets me create movement vectors.”

    “What?” I asked. Immediately I felt myself pressed against the ground by an incredible force. It hurt. I felt my joint polymers struggling to hold again this weight. I used the Charge Kick to try to move out of the way, but - so fast! I couldn’t even process what happened as I felt a sharp shooting pain in my chest as I felt myself fly through the air, slamming into an abandoned carriage.

    「Mega Man, at this power, we won’t be able to keep up, and using more power is risky right now!」 Alice cried.

    “I... dammit. I know.”

    Claire accosted him. My eyes could barely keep up as I struggled to get my footing. Claire was unbelievable. I had never seen such fire in her, and the way she was fighting right now, using every bit of the scenery was fascinating. I see... Claire wasn’t one for fighting on a flat arena. The way she rebounded off every building, using her electricity to create electromagnetic fields and manipulate metal, the bubbles coming from every direction. Claire was handicapped by the format.

    Not once did she complain. Was it out of her determination to be strong, or just out of her self deprecating worldview? I couldn’t be certain. All I knew right now, is the Claire I met and the Claire I see now are entirely different people. Friendly rivalry, huh? I switched to the Time Stopper. Contrary to popular belief, it did not actually stop time, it merely supercharged the senses and body in order to move fast enough that regular movements appeared to stop.

    This wasn’t the first time I’ve dealt with an enemy that much faster than me. And honestly, this difference in speed was nothing compared to when I first fought Quick Man. I cracked my knuckles. You won’t be fighting alone, Claire.


    Time and time again, my attacks connected, barely affecting the metal gorilla. Still, each attack seemed to wear him down. Skeletal hands would spring from the ground, grappling his legs and throwing him off balance - and I would charge in, landing free strikes. Lucifer would blink behind him for quick slashes with the scythe, we would regroup, clasp hands to renew the buff, and repeat.

    Andreas had gotten a few hits in, as well. I was bleeding from my left shoulder. There was one more consideration to make, though. As I turned once again to see my hated foe, I realized the smoke now was blocking out the sun. My vampire blood was starting to kick in. From the beginning, of course, Andreas was stronger than us. This was known. Even with my vampire blood, we wouldn’t be enough to beat him... if it were not for his personality.

    I laughed to the sky. Was it this obvious with me? As much as I wanted to teach him, I had another goal in mind that was far more important.

    “Andreas, you can not rule Earth. That’s MY job!” I shouted.

    “I can’t... I CAN’T EVEN IF I WANTED TO!” he screamed, eyes bloodshot with rage as he charged in. “MEGA MAN RUINED THAT FOR ME! AND NOW, I MADE A WAGER I WOULD WIN THIS MATCH.... I WAGERED EVERY PACT I HAD! SO JUST SHUT UP AND DIE!”

    His movements were even sloppier. He was ignoring his fundamentals, the fool. This was the panic of a person whose entire life career was flashing before his eyes, the panic of a man afraid to lose everything. I understood it all too well. He came in for an overly extended punch, way too off balance - I shot him once with the Zero Buster, causing him to cover his face with his other arm. I put all of my energy into my eyes and legs here. Time slowed down.

    As he tilted his body forward, as he covered his eyes, as the skeleton hands began to grasp at his legs, there was only one thing to do; I rolled underneath his large body, and with all of my limbs, thrusted the Z Saber straight up. It pierced the metal, going inside. I saw metallic grey blood splatter all over my shirt, and while I would ordinarily care about a beautiful Eton garment being stained, I was ecstatic. I followed the motion through with my legs, kicking him off onto the ground, and pushing myself to my feet. Lucifer was about to follow up, when -

    “Stop!” I heard a voice call. It was Liam.

    “Winners, Wily, and Lucifer!” He said.

    “Can you do that? Aren’t you just an announcer?” Lucifer asked.

    “I’m calling it here... Andreas is on the verge of death, and if he keeps thinking he can get one good punch in, you’ll keep finding openings. He isn’t sane.”

    I looked at the man on the ground with... disdain. I would have thought it to be pity, but I didn’t feel that. Not at all. I understood everything he was going through, and understood the mistakes, and yet there was no sympathy in me. What a wretch.

    “Do you know healing magic?”

    “Of course,” he said. He began healing me - creating a bluish green aura which spread warmth throughout my body as I felt the pain disappear, before moving over to Lucifer. Once he had finished the spell on us, he moved over to Andreas. His pact forms were slipping away from him. Hundreds of scrolls of paper, as if birds, flew into the sky and burned themselves.

    “I’m... finished. A lifetime in debt...”

 

    Idiot. The first rule of investing is not to invest other people’s money. I looked over at Lucifer proudly. He smiled back at me.

    “We did it, didn’t we?” I said.

    “It’s not as satisfying if we don’t beat Mega Man, huh?”

    “Yeah...” I admitted. “Still. I used to lose every time. But with this one, we’ve both beaten Andreas.”

    “So, what is this tournament, a draw?”

    I thrust my fist up in pure elation. My first draw. Mega Man, I’ve bridged the gap. It wasn’t my win yet, but I’ll get you. The world burned and screamed around me, and amidst the destruction, I had taken my first step on becoming a new man. Lucifer patted me on the back.

    “Let’s go aid the relief effort or whatever. I think Satan is in the North West.”

    “Just give me about 30 more seconds,” I pleaded.

    Lucifer looked at me curiously, scratching his head. He turned to look at the sobbing, broken body of Andreas, and then back at me.    

    “Alright, partner.”


    He was fast, incredibly so. Not only that, but his usage of energy blasts was incredible. It was fully incorporated into his fighting style, using these “vectors” in order to bend the attacks around. His actual martial arts were weak, but it didn’t matter because the weak strikes were made up for with his energy. Using bubbles to propel myself was still faster than using my wings, but the wings gave me the ability to feint with my movement.

    As I thought this, I kicked off a bubble against the wall, thrusting myself forward at incredible speed. There was a bubble above him on a street light. I flapped my wings, sending myself straight up, catching the bubble and slamming him into the ground. He retaliated with a sweeping strike of energy, burning my arm. I cried out as I stepped backwards. Suddenly, a shot from above knocked out the street light, dropping health powerups onto the ground.

    I scrambled to pick them up. It helped, a lot, actually. I wish I had the ability to see my health like Mega Man did, but I can still appreciated the help.

    “What is your name?” I asked.

    “Amenhotep,” he said eyeing me. “You’re good, for a human.”

    “Martian. Are you trying to pick a fight?”

    “Whatever, organics are all the same to me,” he said.

    “We’re already fighting,” Mega Man pointed out. I shot him a dirty look before preparing myself. There... his left hand index finger. It was how he created these vectors. They manipulated any object they touched, causing it to move in whatever direction he pointed to. As a result, he couldn’t use his left hand to fight because his speed came from using vectors created with his left hand.

    He came in for a hook. I moved to his right, feeling the familiar rush of air from his fist whizzing past me. I retaliated with a swift, tight punch from my core into his chest. As soon as I did so, I used my wings to propel me to the side to avoid the counter, rolling on the pavement and springing to my feet to see him redirected towards me. Figures, these movement vectors let him turn incredibly quickly. But - similarly, he was going in for a hook. No, it was a feint: he planned to kick me instead.

    There was a sharp grinding sound as a saw blade hit the armour of the robot. Amenhotep flipped to the side to see where it was coming from. I pressed all of my energy into bubbles on the ground, launching myself straight up. I pulled my apartment keys out of my pocket, and created an electromagnet attachment between my keys and the slot a manhole would go in nearby, pulling myself into Amenhotep. It felt like my arm was going to be pulled out, trying to hold the keys close to my body.

    His own body was pulled towards it and he turned in confusion, then turned to see me. I stopped holding the key back, letting the electromagnetic attachment be my attack. I clocked the robot in the face, letting my keys go. I could find them later. As I scrambled to the ground, he turned around to attack me -- catching a bomb to his chest.

 

    “Two against one, huh? Is that how the great Mega Man fights?”

    “I don’t like fighting, you know,” he said. “I’m not looking for a fair fight. I want to save this city.”

    Amenhotep made a loud whistle; suddenly, I felt a rush of energy coming in from the center of town. Looking up, I saw that robot with a cape fly towards us incredibly quickly. As it landed, all of the windows in the block shattered from the impact. The robot was covered in cuts, paint and even metal cut through in places. An angel flew towards it, chasing the robot... no, that wasn’t an angel. It was Avery?!

    “Oh, Mega Man,” the burly robot said. “Allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Terra, one of the three generals of Ex Machina. And you are... Claire Beaumont, yes?”

    Terra suddenly, and without warning, punched the ground. Rocks formed a semicircle around him, and fractions of a second later 10 lances made out of light penetrated the rocks. Avery came flying in, kicking the top of the rock barrier down as he skidded into view. He was bleeding, and his clothes were torn. Despite looking fragile when I first met him, the literal glow of his skin and the wiry perfection of his body made me realize this was just his actions.

    “Light boy, let’s not fight anymore. Shall we chat?”

    “Never....” he said. “Leave this city at once.”

    Terra shrugged. “Wish I could, kid. These robots aren’t sentient. I’m done giving orders to the sentient ones, though. They’re getting hunted down and destroyed, so I called most of ‘em back. This is just a test of the War Machine.”

    “War Machine?” Mega Man asked.

    Terra gently eased Amenhotep’s arms down, and he quietly let his energy fade away.

    “Yeah. Idea is simple: you have mindless robots attack. The ones that survive still have their experiences recorded, then we give sentience to those ones. Their experience is then uploaded to a central network, which improves the AI to all of the mindless robots.”

    “That’s... brilliant,” Avery said. “But they’re just going to keep attacking, right? That means every one of these comrades will die horrifically.”

    “Comrades? Whoa, whoa. They’re mindless. Ex Machina doesn’t care about mindless robots, nor should anyone. You don’t feel bad for your CD player, right?”

    “What do you want?” Avery asked, looking bitterly at the ground.

    “Two things. One: boss wants Mega Man on our side. He doesn’t seem too likely to join, I guess. Two: we want to test the War Machine, and this is the easiest place to do it.”

    “Why do you want me?” Mega Man asked.

    “He wants to destroy you guys, you know,” I added. “He’s not going to.”

    “Yeah, kind of looks that way, right Amen?”

    “Amenhotep,” he spat.

    “Geez. Sorry.” Terra looked up to the sky. Most of the mecha dragons have been destroyed, and the sounds of battle were starting to quiet. “Seems like we lost this one. Oh well, right?”

    He gently put one hand to the pavement, causing earth to rise up in the form of a throne which he sat on, facing both of us with a surprisingly humble expression.

    “You represent hope to a lot of humans, that even if robots get out of hand, Mega Man will clean up the mess and things will be back to normal, y’know? When we took our first factory, blog posts said the robots were trying to take over and comments said Mega Man will be there if it gets too bad,” Terra said. “Instead, they bombed us. Most of us people died, boss and me survived.”

    “What? I had never heard of that...” Mega Man said.

    “’course you didn’t,” Terra grumbled. “News was kept hush. Blog posts got deleted, people got visited in the dead of night. What the government is most afraid of is robot uprising.”

 

    I punched Mega Man in the back. He looked up at me in anger and surprise, before his expression softened.

    “I get it,” he said.

    「We’re not going to be sympathetic to your vile actions just because of some sad story,」 Alice spat.

    Terra, Amenhotep, and Avery looked up in surprise.

    “What is that voice?” Avery asked.

    「My name is Alice. I am Mega Man’s partner.」

    “I see. I see how it is,” Terra said. He opened a portal. “Don’t follow me. Light boy... you’re strong, you know that? Really did a number on me, there.”

    “I know.”

    Terra unceremoniously left, holding Amenhotep over his shoulder.

    “Dammit,” he said. He looked to the burning town. I could barely hear him whisper: “did I make the right choice?” as he flew off


 

    We met back at the Coffee Shop, though it was hard to make it through the crowd of refugees. There was a pile of destroyed robots. Inside, we saw Pierre and Yieve had already made it back. The fighting seemed to have completely died down. Roll was tending to the wounded inside. I heard murmurs of “The Invisible Paladin” through the dazed survivors.

    “It’s unprecedented, you know?” a big voice said. I turned to see a massive demon! I scrambled to the side, hitting the doorframe in the process. It was massive, this demon, and had red skin. It raised its hand awkwardly, before sighing.

    “I’m harmless, you know, Mega Man.”

    “You know me?” I asked. It nodded. Its voice was still huge, but... I could tell from its tone that it was not as hostile as it looked. Still, there was something more to it than met the eye. This was a dangerous entity.

    “I came here to speak to Yieve, I had no idea you’d show up here.”

    “Who are you?” I asked.

    “Satan,” it explained nonchalantly. I felt a chill as the gravity of what it said went through.

    “This is unprecedented. I was here to cheer on my pas- my protege, and Wily, but then all of this happened. I was making sure Yieve was okay, cause... well, Nerxhien would throw a fit,” he said, chuckling.

    Even Alice was silent. I could tell just by looking at him, despite his harmless looking demeanor and friendly, weak aura, that this was just a ruse. I was speechless, I tried to open my mouth but failed to.

    “You can tell, huh?” he said, sighing. “Yes, I am quite strong. But strength doesn’t mean all that much in the end. Strength doesn’t build bridges, it destroys them. Do well to remember that, Mega Man. Oh, how is Pierre doing?”

    “You know Pierre?” Claire asked.

    “Not really... it’s complicated,” he said. “Haha... okay. I’m making you uncomfortable. Get stronger, Mega Man. I’d love to have a chat with you, man to man.”

    As soon as he left, Claire collapsed to her feet. She was shaking. So was I.

    “Huh, so you guys can tell he’s freaking woo-bam strong, huh?” Yieve said, opening the door. “Pierre fainted at it, too. He’s asleep on one of the benches.”

    “Are you... that...” I asked.

    “Me? Heavens no. Not in a thousand, millio- well, maybe in a thousand million years. But not now!” She slapped me on the shoulder and embraced me. It was a confusing gesture, even for Yieve. She then patted Claire on the head.

    “Hey,” I asked. “Do you have any way of traveling between Realms?”

    “Sure,” she said. “I have a ship. Want me to give you a r- oh, that’s right. I’m going to Earth!”

    “What?” I asked.

    “I’m going to Earth.”

    “I know. But why?”

    “Oh, yeah, that’s right,” Claire mused. “Yieve said she would train us.”

    “To be honest,” she said, pulling us closer, “I’m just trying to get away from my student council president. He’s a nightmare.”

    “Your student council president is, huh?” I said, joking. Yieve chuckled.

    “I wish you guys could have seen Pierre,” Yieve said. “He was like,” she started waving her arms around, “and then Whoofh! It was incredible. I’ve never seen a Pact ability like that! Was it you that took down the big walking thingy?”

    “Yeah,” Claire said proudly.

    “Cool.”

    “Hey, Roll,” I said. Roll looked up from her patient, startled. She smiled warmly at me. It was always like this. I never knew what to say, but... we did it. Whenever it was over, she would always smile at me, as if to say... it’s over for now, Mega Man. Come home... you can rest.

    I could really use some rest, right about now.

 

Chapter Text

    I stared at the humming instruments on the wall. I was used to technology, but seeing the inside of a space ship was something that always confounded me. Space: so empty, so vast - as I stared at the sprawling walls of the ship, I considered that a ship is in itself but a speck of dust in the entire ocean. Every whir, every chirp, every artificial sound indicated this room was part of something much greater... and every bit of it was designed to sustain life.

    “Emptiness” was not a strong enough word to describe the void of space, and it was something that neither humans nor robots were ever expected to traverse - and yet, here I was. Were these instruments to fail we would be thrust into the abyss without even the slightest hope of survival. Every bit of machinery here had a part to play - one instrument in a vast orchestra, each individually contributing to the common goal of allowing us to exist in a world that we had no business to exist inside.

    I was sitting on a couch that Yieve had dragged in. She said this was her favourite spot to sit in all of the ship ... I could see why. The couch was on a ledge overhanging over the engine room’s staircase, but the design of this junction allowed you to also look out into the regular hallway above it. Seeing the utilitarian, dull red from the heated machinery in the engine room and looking up to the pristine sea-green and silver interior of the fourth basement floor was a stark, and beautiful contrast.

    “It’s like the underworld meets the regular world,” Yieve said, snapping the stick of her popsicle in half, stacking the pieces, then snapping them in half again before putting the quartered stick in a recycling bin. She was wearing a black sweater with a heart cutout today, and a black and white check skirt, along with black and white checkerboard pattern sneakers, with a pink heart ornament in her purple hair. Yieve’s off-kilter fashion sense always fascinated me.

    “So,” I said, letting the silence ring out for a moment. “Theoretically...”

    Yieve stopped kicking the air and, as if deflated, rested her head in her hands to look at me. If I wasn’t in such a contemplative move, it would be an amusing gesture.

    “Say there was someone... that didn’t appreciate everyday life.”

    “Hypocrite,” she said in a teasing tone.

    “Wh- I’m not,” I composed myself, taking a deep breath in to consider what I was saying. “I do appreciate everyday life. It’s just... I get caught up in myself, in what I have to do.”

    “And that is appreciating? How does one appreciate things? Please be honest with yourself.”

    “Your Socratic irony is annoying, you know.”

    I scratched at my synth-hair, letting my gaze rest on the brand for Gloria Mors. It was a simple skull, but rather than a tattoo, it seemed embedded in my very being. As a robot, I can’t possibly get a tattoo. I recalled my earlier days spent in mundane schoolwork while looking down in the engine room.

 

    “But, if there was someone else,” I eventually conceded.

    “I’d tell them to do what you’re planning on doing, I guess?”

    “Planning..?”

    “To enjoy life. You know, like... traveling, trying a new thing, romance... that sort of thing.”

    The silence once again took over the room. It frustrated me to hear what I was avoiding, but it wasn’t fair to be upset over my own folly. Meanwhile, Yieve went back to kicking her feet while dangling them in the air, looking longingly at the box of popsicles.

    “Say, would you like another popsicle?”

    “Please be honest with yourself,” I said, stretching my arms and motioning to stand.

    “Oh, oh oh? Leaving so soon?” she asked.

    “No,” I said, getting up and handing her a popsicle. She punched me in the arm before unwrapping it, folding the wrapper into an unstable hexagon that unfurled itself as soon as it ended up in the bin.

    “Please don’t punch me. You’re a lot stronger than I am, it could be seen as bullying.”

    “Oh, you didn’t know? I’m a bully. If you asked me for a popsicle right now, I’d say no.”

    “That just makes me feel like I shouldn’t have got you one.”

    “You tried to come out on top, and it came back to bite you.”

    She accented this by biting into the popsicle. Immediate regret was seen on her face as she scrunched her eyes up and balled her fists in pain, before eventually overcoming it and swallowing.

 

    “So, what are you and Claire going to do?”

    “You knew?”

    “It’s kind of obvious,” she said. “You’re not exactly a subtle Simon.”

    “I’m Mega Man.”

    “I’m Yieve, hello.”

    I paused for a moment. I had to stop Ex Machina, though I had no idea how I would even start something like that. I had to get stronger, but I had Claire and Pierre on my side at the very least. I created a simple pecking order in my head: Yieve weaker than Avery, Avery equal to Terra, Lord Ombra stronger than Terra. In other words, unless I would be able to be better than Yieve, I couldn’t possibly stand up to one of the generals... and Yieve was my trainer.

    Wait. That’s not at all what I was supposed to think about. I suddenly laughed.

    “Why do you know me so well?” I asked. “We just met.”

    “I’ve been stalking you all my life. Please marry me.”

    “Let’s just be friends.”

    Yieve pensively snapped the stick methodically as she did earlier before depositing it in the bin. She traced a line around on her skirt with her for a moment as she collected her thoughts.

    “It’s people like you that I find the most beautiful in this world. I can’t help but learn how they tick.”

    With that, she hopped down on the stairs connecting the engine room and the hallway. “You have to clean this up, it’s my ship.”

    Dammit. Why is Yieve so hard to argue with?


    My days had passed fruitlessly. I was told at some point that Yieve’s ship is a “free vessel” which makes it slower than the ones that operate on fixed pathways. I wasn’t able to train as I was still trying to recuperate; and I wasn’t able to muster the courage to speak to Claire, either. Roll told me she was doing well, but that she had a lot on her mind. I couldn’t blame her.

    I spent a lot of time chatting with Pierre. He was still guarded around me, but had a warm earnestness to his demeanor that told me little by little our relationship was thawing. Even still, the mood was frigid, melancholic. The austere rooms of the ship, the vast emptiness of space, and the crushing weight of what had transpired worked in tandem to hold our spirits down. There was a contemplative hopefulness about the situation. Every conversation was stilted; each side knew there was something more to be said, but nobody could break the ice.

    Yieve’s book selection was not academically stimulating, to put it mildly. And so days melted together until at last we saw the familiar continents of Earth.

 

    “So, this is it, huh? Aren’t you flitter fluttery?” Yieve asked, patting us all on the back as she directed us towards the landing pod. The ship was to remain tethered in the atmosphere, with a landing shuttle taking us to and from the main craft if need be.

    “I guess,” Pierre said. Flitter fluttery: a phrase which means “filled with a mixture of apprehension and excitement”, or something along those lines. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Yieve would be filling my dictionary with useless crap, and I’ve instead elected to make the dictionary definitions useful.

    “Aw, cheer up. Earth is a cool place! You guys have Animal Collective, Suiyoubi no Campanella, your cheese is perfection...” Yieve listed, becoming increasingly interested in her own list - successfully exciting only herself about going to Earth.

    “I wonder what school will be like,” Claire asked.

    “Yeah, they’ll probably wonder where we were!” Roll joked. We shared a laugh as siblings.

    「I think it’s important that you all get some rest. You’ve earned it.」

    “Thanks, Alice!” Pierre said. “You are a good person.”

    「Am I a person, though?」

    “What is a person, anyway,” Yieve asked. “Cause I can phase in and out of reality.”

    “You can what?!” I exclaimed.

    “Oh, you didn’t know? In between shadows. It’s a fun party trick.”

 

    As we began the landing process, I put some of my aura into my eyes. People pointed up at the landing pod, some screamed, others ran around. By my count, there were at least 12 cell phones recording. The landing shuttle was not particularly large, and it felt cramped inside us. It began to rattle around uncomfortably as it entered the atmosphere. Roll held onto me for safety.

    “Don’t worry, this baby’s got stabilizers for daaaaaays,” Yieve said, trailing with a low and almost seductive intonation.

    It began to heat up as it wobbled more and more. After a few seconds of this, I heard a low hum as the wobbling ceased. Instead, a sickening lurching was felt in my gut. Like the feel of an elevator running to a stop, but much more intense. My internal calibrators went ballistic as a result of this force. Roll gave a whine of discomfort.

    “Hm... it seems I’ven’t thought how a robot would do in this thingy.”

    Wincing, I looked over to see Pierre and Claire undisturbed. Pierre had a worried expression, Claire just stared out the window, brushing her blue bangs out of the way of her face. Soon, though, this discomfort faded as we landed peacefully on the ground. The hatch opened up. After the clinical, metallic stale air of the ship, being on Earth was truly liberating. Thip was okay, too, but something about the air here was perfect. I took another second to take it all in. People murmuring to each other, birds chirping... I was home. After all of that, I was home.

    “Yieve, there’s a nice coffee place here. I’ll buy you one after I get some money from the bank,” I said.

    “Oh? Our first date?”

    “No, nothing of the sort-” it was moments later I remembered that I was a celebrity. The murmurs weren’t just about a strange landing craft, it was about Mega Man in the strange landing craft. Right.

    “I’ll meet you by the school gate. Roll, Pierre, Claire, would you mind showing her around?”

    “Okay, my friend,” Pierre said. He began walking towards

 

    「Excited for your date?」

    “Alice,” I thought angrily, “I will find a way to turn off your voice, and,”

    I didn’t really have a followup, but I would like to find a way to turn her voice off. Walking down the street was comforting... almost therapeutic. A lingering worry crept through my mind that if I didn’t stop Ex Machina, all of this would be endangered, but the threat seemed distant. It was past noon, my internal clock had not been synchronized to Earth time and was thus useless, but it was a warm day for the end of Autumn.

    The bank wasn’t exactly small, but there were about 40 or 50 people there. It was pretty packed. There were 4 kiosks. I stepped into one, garnering no small amount of curious and impressed gazes from the rest of us in the line. After an agonizing 5 minutes(not helped by the ghastly waiting music), I had moved four places in the queue. Just as I prepared myself for another 10 minutes of this, I heard shouting: “everyone, on the floor now! We ARE Binders! I repeat! We ARE Binders!”

    Three masked individuals, one of stocky build and tall(roughly 6’2”), the tallest of the three lanky and with a relaxed demeanor, and the shortest(who made the announcement) moving with a frantic energy. Everyone, myself included, immediately dropped to the floor.

    “Well well well... who do we have here,” the stockier one said, lifting my chin up. He was strong enough to lift my body with one hand.

    「They’re pathetic, Mega Man.」

    “I know,” I thought as I stared into the stocky robber’s brown eyes.

    「Not like that, dummy, use your EYES, Mega Man. Have you learned nothing?」

    I pushed some aura into my eyes and was utterly blown away by how utterly weak this was. Not even up to the par of some of the teams we left behind at the elimination round, no, all 3 of them carried an aura that, if compared to a flame, could only be described as the result of a lighter that has run low on fuel on a windy day.

    “I should... not interfere, then,” I thought. I felt Alice nod.

    I was thrown to the ground. There was a familiar clank as my chassis hit the cool tile flooring. A simple checkered tile, classic, but boring. I dusted myself off as I stood to face those three, holding my arms up in a submissive pose. I wasn’t sure how any of this factored into Masquerade laws - how were they allowed to have Pacts? - but I was more concerned with how overwhelmingly stronger I was.

    Is there really peace to be found from me easily thwarting these robberies? Say I was to apprehend these three in the minute it would take to defeat them(if that), would the police have learned anything? By the way they were acting they assumed that having any semblance of a Pact would make them invincible to the common person, so I can only rule out the prospect of regular police officers being able to deal with this.

    Wait. “Are you from Earth?” I asked.

 

    The shorter one laughed, quietly at first before growing to a maniacal cackle.

    “YES, Mega Man! You’re shocked to know that this all exists? It’s real. Welcome to the New Earth, Mega Man. You robots... the Robot Masters... you’re all IN THE PAST! The future is US, now. We don’t have to be afraid of robots anymore!”

    The stockier one gave an approving laugh. The lankier one continued to take money from the kiosks, depositing all of the money virtually into a tablet he had. I wasn’t too familiar with electronic wallets as I preferred paper(my line of work made holding delicate electronics a bad idea, especially when dealing with Masters such as Elec Man) but it seemed his was definitely not made here, judging by the tablet’s Igbo instructions written on the side.

    “What is a Binder?” I asked.

    “You don’t know? Have you been living under a ROCK, man?” the lankier one asked.

    “Binders... are the Chosen Ones. Given power by the great beings in outer space. Mine is a - “

    I glanced at his tattoo. Interesting, a Treant?

    “- Treant, which means a living tree. A living tree, Mega Man. No Wood Man here.”

    Ah, so they’re automatist. Lovely. I somewhat gathered that from their earlier rant about not being afraid anymore... but now it seems really blatant. These kinds of characters are really bad for my goal of having humans and robots as equals. I hope that some police officer shows up soon. At least they seem to be peaceful.

    Suddenly, I felt a the stockier one’s power surge as he activated his Pact on his arm. Wood, as if the trunk of a tree, seemed to grow out of his shoulder to cover his arm as he punched me in the chest. It didn’t break my shield, but I crumpled to the ground to humour him and try to de-escalate the situation.

    “Gack,” I tried to feign a cough, “have mercy... I’ve never been hit like this before.”

    “HE HASN’T BEEN HIT LIKE THIS BEFORE, BOYS!” the lankier one suddenly cried out, before howling like a wolf. The others laughed. I saw looks of panic and shivering people in the bank. One child asked if I would be okay. It broke my heart. I wanted so desperately to say: “I’m fine.” I wanted to stop these hooligans, and reassure the people. Alas for the world is not so simple.

    The loud one walked up, creating a flame in his hand.

    “You see this? This FIRE?”

    The shrill tone with which he said fire aggravated me to no end. I observed the fire in his hand. Hot.

    “This means you can do nothing to stop us... you better start acting right, boy, or one of these hostages will get hurt. So... that means, get on the ground and lick my b-”

 

    I didn’t want to hear another word. I didn’t need to hear another word. I didn’t need Alice burning my wrist with the brand to tell me what I had to do. I kicked him into the ceiling. I shrouded him in energy first, so that I could moderate the force I hit him with and prevent him from taking any significant damage - but I still savoured him falling to the ground.

    “Sorry,” I said. I was running a little hot. I tried to calm myself down using simple breathing techniques. “Had you not said that thing about the hostages, you would have gotten away with it.”

    “So you can fight,” the stocky one said as he grew out the tree branch.

    “Don’t,” I warned. His eyes narrowed as he moved towards me. So slow. I met his punch with my index finger. I felt the strain of his muscles as he pushed all of his strength into this attack - and really, it wasn’t a bad punch. They were just horrible Binders. Was this how Claire saw me at the beginning? They weren’t using their aura at all, and just hoping their Pacts would cover them.

    “You... you made a big mistake. Wolf’s going to get you,” the stockier one said through gritted teeth. The lanky one dropped his tablet and held his hands to me outstretched. He had them shaped as if jaws. As he closed one, suddenly, spectral teeth bit down hard in the air in front of me - it sounded as if a bear trap was closed. He howled again.

    “I see, a decent Pact... but, you still aren’t using any aura,” I noted.

    「Villainous ones, you have met your end here. My name is Alice. My partner, Mega Man. Face justice and repent in agony.」

    “Is that your catchphrase?” I asked.

    「Mega Man, let me have this moment, PLEASE.」

    “That’s what you get for that date thing earlier,” I joked.

    “How DARE YOU MAKE LIGHT OF ME!!” the lanky one roared. His voice was surprisingly harsh and low. He ran towards me, fingers ready to close at any second. I wish I had cool abilities like Yieve or Claire to take this guy down stylishly from a distance. I pushed 70% of my energy(6%, currently, I’m trying to recuperate) into my legs, and 30% into my eyes. I jumped above him faster than his eyes could catch and pushed him to the ground.

    “Wh- did he teleport?” an onlooker said.

    “Is that your Pact?” The shorter one asked, stumbling to his feet. The last to process what had happen was the man I had on the ground. He tried to snap up at me, but I could dodge it effortlessly - his Pact created a splash of aura right where the jaws would appear, so the slow speed he created them gave ample warning to move slightly to the side.

    “He dodges the jaws..?” the stockier one said in awe, before collapsing to his knees.

    “You guys... you do know you are really, really, weak, right?” I asked. I didn’t want to kick them when they were down, I was honestly trying to find out how strong the average Binder on Earth was. Apparently, a lot had changed since I left.

    “We might just be Greens, but Green is a lot stronger than Cyan or Blue, Mega Man,” the lanky one snapped at me. “We’re not weak. You’re just too strong.”

    I assume Blue is the weakest. Then, Cyan is the second weakest, and Green is... where these guys are at?

    “Am I a Yellow, then..?”

    “Maybe even Orange,” the tall one whispered.

    Some sort of colour gradient, then. Interesting. Is Red the highest? I looked at the now broken forms of the three, and watched as the people stood up for a standing ovation. I looked at the ground awkwardly: the two things I was bad with in social interactions are being scolded by a superior, and too much praise.

    “How can we repay you for everything, Mega Man?” one of the clerks asked.

    “I’d like to withdraw $100, please. Are the police going to come soon? I have a friend to meet.”

 

Chapter Text

    “You won’t believe the day I had,” Mega Man said as he walked up towards us. I had just finished giving Yieve a tour of the enormous grounds - a combined High School and University would do that to anybody, but the fact that this academy was so prestigious added to its increasing growth in size, with classrooms sometimes floating above the building, and other times underground - and a massive central courtyard. It was overwhelming when I first came here.

    “Why, what happened?” Pierre asked.

    “There was a bank robbery.”

    “Binders?” I asked

    “And they were bi- what? How did you know?”

    I sighed. “Since we left, a lot has changed on Earth. Apparently, weak entities came down to Earth and made Pacts with people. The stronger ones have been avoiding Earth so far, but there have been lots of cases of low level magic and Pact abilities manifesting. It’s been nuts.”

    “There’s a Binder club at this school,” Yieve pointed out. “They’re not anything special...”


 

    There was a podium in the middle of the classroom where the club president - Aleksei Sokolov, a Russian-born man of slim build - watched over the rest of the Binders like a hawk. Unlike the others, who had very simple Pact abilities, Aleksei’s was downright bizarre. The ability to create and control wheels wasn’t something particularly impressive, but Aleksei was not a simple man.

    From as long as he could remember, everyone called Aleksei Sokolov bizarre. He had an obsession with jello, his favourite food. He thought stories that had happy endings were disgusting, and sad endings depressing. To Aleksei, the greatest ending is one that cuts off in the middle of a story - because “in real life, life continues on. There is no tidy conclusion to any man’s story.” He only wore clothes with zippers on them. He was considered in the most attractive boys in school, but his strange personality prevented him from being popular.

    Aleksei Sokolov had a problem with insubordination. Despite his unique ability and his mastery of it, there was another student, a girl by the name of “Adelaide” who he knew little about. Adelaide was accurately described by many as a delinquent; her last name was unknown and it was often debated if she was still enrolled(she was). Her parents were rich, and paid to make any problem go away. And so, Adelaide continued to pass year after year despite putting minimal effort in, showing up only to perform well on tests.

    Adelaide had acquired a particularly dangerous Pact, the ability to associate the colour blue. In other words, “blue” could mean “water”, or it could mean “bruise”, or “cold”. As long as the word could be associated with “blue”, she could ascribe that quality to it. Her most dangerous application: “ice”. Due to the prevalence of blue jeans in fashion, she was able to quickly and effectively utilize people’s clothing against them, or even their own veins if she was close enough(and that much stronger than the other).

    Adelaide had joined Aleksei’s Binder Club.

    “Make me the chief,” she said seconds after entering. Everyone looked up at her with either fear, respect, or admiration. Only Aleksei was not amused.

    “Why should I do this?” he asked. She grabbed him by his necktie and pulled him down to meet her steely gaze.

    “Because. I get what I want.”

    “Not today, my friend,” he said.

 

    Immediately, she jumped backwards, taking a cursory glance at his clothes - a black and red track jacket over a grey zipper undershirt, dark wash black denim, and black leather shoes with zippers. Adelaide quickly pulled out two blue markers, spinning them around dramatically and charging in. Her technique was brutal, yet unrefined - showing a remarkable drive to “harm”(as much as one can harm someone by drawing on them with a marker) but lacking in discipline.

    Aleksei, however, was calm. He placed a thin stone wheel on the ground, stepping backwards to create more space between Adelaide and himself. As she stepped forward onto the wheel, Aleksei turned the wheel around, spinning it and causing her to lose her balance. At the same time, Aleksei primed two wheels on his legs, spinning them quickly to propel himself forward. He grabbed Adelaide, pinning her to the ground and creating two wagon wheels in the ground to trap her arms. Dusting himself off, he stepped up as Adelaide kicked and screamed, trying to break the wagon wheels.

    “Why is that you use blue marker to fight?”

    “I control blue,” she said. “If you were wearing blue... you’d lose.”

    “Shall we have a rematch tomorrow? I will wear blue, and we shall see.”

    “Are you mocking me?”

    “No, no no, it is a club activity.”

    The next day, Aleksei met Adelaide in the front courtyard. He was wearing a blue track jacket instead, with blue denim. Adelaide gave a confident smirk as she immediately started with her regular trick, visualizing the “blue” as ice. Aleksei found his legs encased in ice, chilling him and also preventing him from moving his legs freely.

    “Ah, I see. This is a very strong ability,” he noted.

    “I don’t need your approval!” she growled as she charged forwards. Aleksei, however, created propellers on his body and started to fly above her. Manifesting wheels on his body as he rotated around her(legs still stiff and frozen) in the air, he flipped all the way around on all fours like a car. Charging forward, he grabbed her, creating the familiar wagon wheels to trap her.

    “Adelaide, may I offer a suggestion?”

    “What is it,” she said bitterly, resigned to her loss.

    “Your mobility is lacking. Have you seen the movie Incredibles? The animated film.”

    “Yes, so?” she said as she looked up into the sky. The sun still wasn’t up yet. It was too chilly of a day to be lying on grass.

    “Have you tried wearing blue shoes? You could make ice path. Like that man in the film.”

    “Ice path, huh...” she said. “Yeah, that could work.”

    “And another thing. What about water gun with blue paint?”

    “Ooh... I like your style,” she said.

    The two of them chatted like this for an hour, with Aleksei joining Adelaide in her hobby in skipping class. Trading ideas back and forth, joking, laughing. It was the first time anyone had treated Adelaide as a normal person. Most were afraid of her, or of her mother, and she found Aleksei’s lack of fear refreshing. And so, day after day, she tried to fight Aleksei. Each time they would fail, and the two of them would workshop ideas.

 

    Aleksei thought Adelaide was stronger than him, and so it drove him to greater heights and heights of creativity. He thought of a few extra ideas using wheels to both attack, and also using wheels as a sort of improvised catapult to launch other wheels. Similarly, Adelaide improved her mobility, and used “blue” for other things as well. Her outfit shifted from blacks to more and more blue colours as she found augmenting herself was also valuable.

    Every day, Adelaide would try to usurp his title as president. Then, one day, she successfully beat him. It wasn’t a dominating victory by any means, it was a fluke - Aleksei was testing his wheel catapult and missed many times. Finally, creating a wheel to try to escape... he put the wheel on his jeans instead of on his legs. When the blue denim became water, the wheel slipped off.

    Adelaide thought she would triumph... and seeing Aleksei’s gentle smile, she just felt bad. She helped him to his feet.

    “Well done. Do you want to be the president now? You have won.”

    “...I’m not really the leader type. But, I haven’t seen Incredibles 2. Could you take me?”

    They had only been dating for a few days before being called the power couple of the school. The two weirdest people, also the two strongest. Despite Adelaide’s reputation(and history of street fighting), everyone in the Binder club thought her intuitive, straight forward method of incorporating Pacts into combat was fascinating. Aleksei, similarly, was seen as a mad genius. The two of them together were thought to be impossible.

 

    This reputation came crashing down when a purple haired and blue haired girl dropped in, followed by a black haired tall man. Rumours about Claire and Pierre were not uncommon, people called Pierre “statuesque” and “awe-inspiring”, and Claire was seen as “intense” and “off-kilter”. Their incredibly high scores(competing with the likes of Mega Man, and the new delinquent duo Lucille and William) and sudden disappearance, as well as their connection with the curiously absent Mrs. Evacher were the basis of a number of conspiracy theories, each impressively less interesting than their actual connection.

    “Hey-heyo,” the purple haired one said. “I’m the visitor! Binders?”

    “Binders,” Aleksei said. His dark eyes belied a wisdom far beyond his years.

    “Uaow, how big,” she said as she walked in. Pierre and Claire followed behind. Students whispered about this new strange transfer student, who seemed to know the other strange transfer students. People noted her unique fashion style, others called her beautiful, and many commented on her peculiar speech patterns.

    “Are you a Binder, ms..?”

    “Just call me Yieve. Cause that’s my name! I only have one name.”

    “Ah, Yieve. But you did not answer my question.”

    “Who is this?” Adelaide said as she entered the classroom.

    “You are late,” Aleksei quipped. “This is Yieve. I do not know her.”

    “I’m a super, super strong Binder,” she said absent-mindedly while crouched down and closely examining the wood grain pattern on a chair. “Your trees must be fantastic.”

    “Um, I suppose so,” Aleksei said. “Would you care to give a demonstration to the class, on what your ability is? We study all Binder abilities, here.”

    “I suppose,” Yieve said as she rose. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath in. The shadows of the room seemed to expand, growing larger as they crept to further corners of the room. The room itself appeared to grow, yet shrink, as shadow dominated every crevice of the large practice area the Binder club had made its home; an inky black darkness began to emanate from Yieve, creeping up the walls and partially covering the windows to create more darkness.

    Yieve methodically stepped around, tapping her foot on the ground before stepping in a rhythmic fashion. A pin could drop in between the beat of her leather shoe on the concrete as every member of the club was holding their breath in utter fascination. Slowly, it became clear to everyone what was happening - every step, Yieve seemed to multiply. Once several dozen Yieves were rhythmically stepping, they all clapped their hands in unison, sinking into the shadows. She had disappeared. The blackness had receded.

    Yieve popped out from behind Claire. Claire jumped out of shock.

    “That’s my Pact. I can do stuff with shadows.”

    Between Aleksei’s teaching, and Yieve’s utterly incredible display of prowess, Adelaide was taught a lesson in humility twice in the span of two months. Though she said nothing at the time, her silence spoke more about her development than any word could have. She had grown more in that time period than she had in the decade prior to it. Despite feeling immense inadequacy compared to Yieve, Adelaide was content. She didn’t need to be the strongest, because she was finally happy just being alive.


 

    Hundreds of feet below the ground, covered in multiple layers of steel and radar jamming, this small room underneath Timbuktu officially did not exist. The most esteemed member of the African Union had stopped to pay a visit - this nonexistent room happened to house a nonexistent project training a small group of one hundred men and women that had no legal identification and did not exist in any system.

    “Sir, about the Binder program,” a man said. Emanuel Hakim, Commandant General of the African Union - a man known for his unflinching respect for those above and below him, his steadfast loyalty to the Union, and for the sheer efficacy of his strategy.

    As one of the four leading superpowers of the world, the African Union was quick to jump on the opportunity presented by Binders. The chairperson, Chinonso Okafor, quietly read the report.

    “Mega Man, you’re sure?”

    “Mm. He has competed in some extra dimensional tournament, and supposedly helped stop a terrorist attack... we have heard rumours that Wily has done the same and is working with... Lucifer.”

    Chinonso’s eyes widened. “The devil?!”

    “No, but perhaps something like that. We aren’t sure. Our space program has met with a few vessels observing Earth, and they mentioned this. Funny... Wily is once again the greatest threat to humanity.”

    “How are our Binders faring, Commandant General?”

    “Fairly strong, but it is like the blind leading the blind. I have submitted an official request for Mega Man to come supervise us, but it was denied by the Emperor personally. It seems he is wanted in Japan.”

    “Then we will have to come to him.”

 

   



Chapter Text

    Coffee here was better than I remembered, or perhaps I was just stricken with nostalgia. Whichever of the two it was, I also loved the ambiance - they were playing a piece from Ludovico Einaudi, an Italian pianist I was particularly fond of. Many said that his work was too simplistic, but I disagree with that assessment. Whether or not a piece is simple has no bearing on how it sounds.

    “I want to marry this coffee. You look at peace here, Mega Man,” Yieve noted. I looked up at her.

    “I suppose I just like classical music,” I responded.

    “Illuminating,” then, after a momentary pause, “so, let’s get to chop chop tacky. What is your Style going to be?”

    「I can’t manifest a Pact with him, yet. I can’t get over the 25 threshold.」

    “Really not liking this third wheeling, Alice,” Yieve said in a disappointed tone.

    「Eh? What about your Pact?」

    “Swallowed, d-devoured,” Yieve said timidly. “It tried to take my soul. I was a bit too strong. I’m an Entity, really, rather than a Binder, but theoretically it still exists... somewhere.”

    “I get it, you’re super strong,” I teased. Yieve shot a death glare at me, before bursting out laughing.

    “You really aren’t afraid of me at all, huh? No spooky?”

    “No,” I said.

    “Alright. Alright. Alright,” she said, starting from a whisper and building a crescendo to her actual statement: “I think you should coach those new guys. It’s the best way to learn fundamentals, is to teach.”

    “I read that before. It helps walk through the steps that you half-know already, and cements it in your head, right?”

    “Yeah, exactly!!” Yieve said. How anyone could be so happy about someone knowing a basic fact was beyond me. There was, aside from us, a group of college students who kept glancing over at the bizarre girl with the celebrity, and a couple.

    “Can I stay with you guys too?” Yieve asked. “No,” I said. We didn’t have room. Claire was coming to stay with us as her previous guardian... well, Claire was coming to stay with us. I took another sip of the coffee. Earthy, with some floral notes to add nuance to the drink. It was nice.

    “It’s worth fighting for?” Yieve asked. I nodded.

    “But that doesn’t answer your question,” she continued.

 

    The question: what would I do in peacetime. I thought I had the answer myself, but recalling my time spent - though I do not regret it in the slightest - I had just meandered around from hobby to hobby, posturing myself as a man of high society. As much as I hated to think about it, that was an impossibility for me. I was, after all, a robot. Not human. Moreover, with no actual source of income, it was merely a pipe dream.

    It’s not enough to be a fighting robot. I don’t want to start fights. Then, if I successfully live out my dream, it will create a large “What-if” scenario. Moreover, I was beginning to realize that I had a darker tinge to my personality, an unhinged obsession with vanquishing those I consider evil that throws even my own care for my life to the side.

    On the outside it seemed heroic. A man who would cast his life aside for the greater good. But, as I age, I am realizing this sort of martyrdom was not as just as it seemed. If I died for good, people would be sad. Even my slightest being here has an effect; the students in this place are going to remember this as the day they found out Mega Man was just an ordinary person underneath it all. Perhaps it would inspire them to some sort of epiphany, perhaps not. Every person has weight, and they affect the world in ways they may not be cognizant of.

    In other words, if I lived only to see the world where robots and humans worked together, there was a good chance the way I am going that I would throw my life away in the process. Whereas when I was climbing through Wily’s many gauntlet of challenges, if I died, I would be rebuilt. Dr. Light made sure of that. Now? I am not so sure. There is only one person other than Dr. Light who could figure out his work, and we weren’t exactly on good terms.

    “You’re super cute when you’re lost in thought, you know. My love has been renewed tenfold, in fact: please marry me.”

    “Let’s just be friends,” I responded almost on reflex.

    “So, what sort of training do you have in mind for us?”

    “Team exercises, mostly. Your fundamentals are surprisingly sharp,” Yieve made slashing motions with her hands to invoke sharpness, “but you need to work on fighting with a team. Also, keep in mind real battles are not done in an arena. People do not go all out like they did in these battles - they hold back, and they try to avoid getting boo-boos.”

    I see.

    “Another thing - what was that saw thingy you did against the contract guy?”

    “Ah, that? It’s dangerous, right now. I can’t control it. But, just as I can borrow power from Robot Masters, so too can I overwrite my code with it... by merging myself more with these abilities, I can change mys-”

    Yieve dropped her fork. Cake splattered on the ground.

    “You do STYLE SWITCHING?!”

    “What-?”

    I couldn’t even finish saying before Yieve stood up and embraced me over the table.

    “You’re incredible. The best. The best EVER,” she whispered in my ears.

    “Huh?”


    “Where are we?”

    “I don’t know, Lucifer.”

    “Didn’t you buy the map?”

    “I don’t read whatever language this is, Lucifer.”

 

    The air was hot and so humid you could feel it, and the sunlight burned whenever it made its way through the thick canopy of green overhead. All around us, we heard the songs of birds, the scurrying of animals in the trees, and the stomping of dinosaurs.  Lucifer and I had taken a trip to Emaki. I had heard Michael’s speech after the fact, and I wasn’t going to let an opportunity to kick those Ex Machina bastards down. Because Lucifer was not “officially” the leader of anything, this was not a Masquerade violation, it was two individuals acting on their own volition, or so our legal team had advised us. I wasn’t too keen on the specifics. All I knew is, I could go to Emaki and beat up my troublesome robots.

    Problem is, I wasn’t expecting Emaki to be this BIG. Or, rather, for it to have a giant jungle. Which, as of right now, we are lost in. We can’t call on any support, and since Emaki is not an Underworld place, we need to find our way to civilization if we want to safely return home. We landed in this jungle by accident, and evidently people do not like humanoids here. The local populace are mostly some form of jungle orc. Evidently, there was a big tryst where humanoids tried to colonize the jungle and the orcs repelled them by banding together. I’m not too sure of the specifics, but the only humans that are accepted here have some sort of skin condition and were pushed out of their mines by toxic gas.

    In other words, every single place we tried to seek help in has rejected us in some form or another. We almost got into a few fights, and while I wasn’t exactly hesitant to retaliate, Lucifer was insistent that we not cause a scene. At first it annoyed me to no living end - how dare HE, of all people - but it quickly dawned on me that this jungle was huge, and getting kicked out of the only villages we knew of would leave us without shelter.

    So we continued walking. Eventually, some time, hopefully, we would find some sort of civilization. I navigated a few jungles in my first attempt to find some sort of edge over Mega Man, so I was familiar with it, but the jungles back home didn’t contain dinosaurs. I learned brontosaurs were especially delicious.

    “Oh, a clearing,” Lucifer said. It seems he had entirely gotten used to being in a body now, and very rarely(if ever) wanted to be a scythe. This helped, as the scythe provided a lot of power to the Zero Drive and made my day to day life easier. We looked through the clearing to find a village of bug-like people living with the same humans.

 

    “Warmly, who are you?” one of the humans asked.

    “I am Wily. This is Lucifer. We are looking... for a way out of this jungle.”

    “Sarcastically, what, am I that unpleasant? I joked. Cheerfully, please come with me to meet our chief. I can translate for you.”

    These humans were called “Angu” and millennia of being forced to hide from the deadly sun left them effectively blind. Their skin was harshly damaged by sunlight, and they had to wear blinders and full covering for their bodies to prevent sunburn or damage to their eyes, as well as full gas masks to avoid the toxic gas. This made it very difficult to get tone across, and nonverbal communication impossible. Angu as a result learned to say what emotions they intended. Of course, there was always the chance of lying, but lying was especially heinous in Angu society.

    I had learned a lot about the Angu as they were the only people that would talk to Lucifer or myself.

    A large bug-like creature made chittering sounds. The Angu nodded along, chittering back. It seemed tonal, with a small number of consonants. Regardless, the Angu then said to me “plainly, he welcomes you to our village. This is Nefixiti, first of his name, and attendant to Grand Chief Bugsley.”

    “Who is Grand Chief Bugsley?” Lucifer asked.

    “Reverently - a great man. He saved their people,” the Angu said. “Earnestly, I wish to be as selfless as he was.”

    Through a translator, we eventually learned that the way out of the jungle was to the north, though it was guarded by a dangerous and particularly insane Binder with an unknown pact. Anyone who had seen his ability had perished. It was recommended that instead we take a 4 day trip - a recommendation that Lucifer, unfortunately, took to be a challenge.

    Supposedly, our goal(a school in the Free State Area) was very far away, but by heading west after leaving the jungle we could go to Hafim, a country where we could charter a ship to go to the northernmost part of the continent. I suggested to Lucifer that instead of going North, we could take the 4 day trip to the west, but he looked me in the eyes with the most baffled expression.

    “Why are we backing down from a chance to prove our greatness?”

    And that was it. There was no discussion with Lucifer once he got something in his mind. We arrived at the town this strange Pact user was living in. People were lively and cheerful. I started to think we had been given poor information.

 

    “Excuse me, miss,” I said to a lady. “We are travelers fro- from another part of Emaki.”

    “Pssh. Ya Palners can’t hide a thing.”

    Her skin was metallic and reflected light in the most curious of ways, creating warped rainbow patterns. She was of slim build, with short hair and very angular features that made her look as if she were a statue. I was not sure what species she was, but it seemed that it was not rare enough for anyone to comment on it.

    “Word of advice. Leave town. Don’t come back after sundown. At night, we can let our thoughts slip through the cracks, but-”

    Just as she began to speak, her entire body stiffened up.

    “During the day we work really hard. Pay is good here.”

    The town was very poorly maintained. Houses were in states of disrepair, garbage covered the ground, and people were walking into walls from time to time. Trees were dead in the street as if they were meant to decorate the street. If it weren’t for the people walking around, this would be a ghost town. There were trails of garbage that lead from place to place, most notably the path to the inn was very clear.

    “Guess we have to sleep, huh?” Lucifer said, grinning.

    “Are you stupid? Why are we going to this place? These guys are zombies, this is clearly a bad idea.”

    Lucifer just kept walking, so I shrugged and followed along. The innkeeper was absent, but a sign indicated that “staying is free until further notice.” The bed was well kept, but rustic, with rooms devoid of lights entirely. I elected to close the blinds and had a comfortable night. When I awoke, I peeked out of the curtains - there were no lights in the city, and people continued to mindlessly walk(occasionally stumbling into things, or tripping) around. It was a bizarre sight to see out of the window.

    “Do you think the Binder will show themselves when we leave?” Lucifer asked.

    “Don’t Dimension Shift through walls. Use the door.”

    “You’re no fun, old man!” he said pouting, before laughing and punching me in the stomach and running off. It didn’t hurt, but it was extremely annoying. I rubbed sleep out of my eyes and walked into the foyer.

    “Okay, Lucifer, you don’t need to sneak up on me. I know you- oh, there you are,” I said. Lucifer was standing in the doorway. Just... standing?

 

    I felt a lurching pain as my body seemed to rip in half. I screamed in agony, trying with every fiber of my being and soul to pull myself together as half was pulled into the ground - but to no avail. After an excruciatingly long second of struggling, I found myself in a pristine, beautiful black and white copy of the same hotel building. Everything was to the highest standards. I looked over to Lucifer, who was standing in complete shock - his body had too been transformed into black and white!

    I looked at my hands. All of the colour was gone. What was happening here? People walking around seemed a lot more... fearful. The people walked as if something dangerous was around every corner, and people on the benches that lined the scene seemed to be spying on those walking. There was a paranoid, oppressive atmosphere that made me feel chilly immediately.

    “Oh? Who do we have here? JUUUUUST kidding! I already know you. Is it creepy to say you slept beautifully?”

    I turned to see a terrifying amalgamation of what appeared to be a number of different people, stitched together with shadow. Its eyes were rubies, and it had no mouth. Behind it, a tall looking girl with an elaborate, coloured dress stood.

    “That’s my Partner. Welcome to my world! My name is Rebecca. Bow to your new empress.”

    Lucifer and I both stared at each other. Rebecca waited patiently... eventually sighing when neither of us responded. She leaped up into the air and seemed to fold herself into a two dimensional being before vanishing with her Partner. Moments later, I found myself thrown to the ground. I hit my head sharply on the ground. Lucifer followed shortly after. We couldn’t move, and we were pulled to each other by some strange force.

    “Fight it, Wily!” Lucifer said in a frightened tone.

    “I can’t... I can’t do anything about this!”

    “Eh?” Rebecca said as she seemed to hop out of nowhere. “You two are Binders, huh? That’s cool. How would you like to be my generals?”

    “What? Why would we work for you?!” I asked.

    “You don’t get it, huh. Xertham, please lift the older, hotter one up.”

 

    I heard an otherworldly affirmative screeching before I felt myself floating in the air. I pushed energy into my body, kicking and flailing around, but ultimately failed.

    “You’re your own shadow, whoever you are. Your body is... up there!” she said, pointing up. “We’re in a special world I made with my Pact ability. Xertham is manhandling those perfect abs of yours.”

    Lucifer stood up unsteadily.

    “Of course you can’t fight back. Your body is the one being fought. You are just putting aura into your shadow. In other words... your physical body? Is powerless.”

    I was dropped onto the ground. I stared at her through heavy, fatigued breaths.

    “Down here, I am Empress Rebecca. I will give you one more chance to bow.”

 

    Her smile defied any explanation - it was the purest look of dominance I had ever seen in my life. The expression of someone who would look upon a beloved pet mixed with the matter-of-fact delivery one would announce that a car has been towed. It was a smile that said only one thing: “you are entirely at my mercy, and I have graciously allowed you to live.”

 

    I knelt on the ground. Lucifer quickly followed.

 

    “We need to find a way out of here,” I said to him mentally.

 

    “I may have made a mistake coming here,” he responded.

 

Chapter Text

    “Okay,” I said overlooking the group on this facsimile of a stage they had created. Claire, Pierre, Yieve and myself were surrounded by a group of young Binders. Many of them were complete amateurs, but a few of them had the presence of those that were stronger. I recognized one of them as Aleksei, a student who had just made it into the University of this class with more rumors about him than myself. The others, I was not sure of.

    “Um,” I said, not sure of where to begin. “Do you know how to see auras? Yieve, Claire, calm your auras.”

    There were some confused murmuring. These people really were complete beginners, just like those guys who tried to rob a bank. Those with more powerful abilities succeeded purely off the strength of their Pacts. This was going to be interesting.

    “First, picture yourself as existing in two worlds at once. The magic world is just a copy of this world, but you exist there. Can you do that?”

    I turned to see Claire, Yieve, and Pierre nodding. So far so good, at least. A few of them started to close their eyes to help envision it. In reality, there were two copies of each Realm, one called the magic world, and reality. Magic, Pact abilities, and anything to do with aura is just the manifestation of manipulating the magic world and having the real world try to interpret what the magic world was doing. So,

    “Now, move away and look at yourself. There should be a fire somewhere in your body - this is your soul. I don’t know what type of Pacts you have, but I want you to envision this fire as emitting some sort of aura. This is not an imagination sort of affair, this is real, and you will be able to understand what I mean.”

    When perceiving your own soul, just as if it were a quantum particle, the act of observation calls it into being. Psychologically, people hide their true thoughts so deep they do not even understand their own desires. This manifests in them hiding their souls as a defensive measure. True strength only comes from confidence, confidence comes only from knowing ones self.

    A few fires started, Aleksei and a girl standing next to him were the first, then a few others -- before a widespread adoption. A few were having trouble, and received gentle guidance from others in the group. They looked up at me with palpable satisfaction. I couldn’t help but blush.

 

    “Now, to see auras, envision your aura however you like -- but divide it in half, somehow, and move half of it into your eyes. I can not tell you the best way to envision your own aura.”

    「What about you, Mega Man, are you learning anything here?」

    “Well, our strength as a team depends on our relationship, of course... but I need to know myself better. Trying to get stronger without trying to improve myself as a person is a fool’s errand,” I said honestly.

    「Look at you! I’m so proud of you!」

    The group was looking up at me, confused.

    “Ah, this is Alice. My partner. When you are a Binder, you have signed an agreement with an Entity for power. An Entity is mostly in the magic world, you are mostly in reality. This agreement bolsters both of your strengths, and ends up creating a Pact - something stronger than the two halves.”

    “Mine is Neovridh, the Tempest Dragon,” Claire said.

    “I am a Lokahálmstrá, which is to say that I have received power from the Norse God Loki.”

    The group looked up at Pierre in utter shock.

    “This is not a good thing,” he said in deadpan. “It is also not as strong as you are thinking.”

    “I’m... it’s complicated,” Yieve said.

    I never actually thought about it, but what exactly is Yieve? She can’t just be an ordinary girl, as her father supposedly is a demigod... but not a being with any actual origin. Rather, the Shadow Lord Nerxhien supposedly willed itself into being after everyone believed that it existed for decades. The manifestation of people’s paranoia over a shadow government. And Yieve is that thing’s daughter..?

    I shook it off. Not something worth thinking about.

    “Now. Who here can see aura?” I asked.

    Most nodded. A few shook their head, and others opted to teach them. After about 8 minutes of instruction, everyone was up to par. I smiled.

    “I am going to reveal 2% of my power, here,” I said. I let my aura show. I could see every person’s eyes widen in shock. Some turned to Aleksei and this girl to compare.

    “This is not as surprising as you think, everyone,” I said, realizing they probably misinterpreted the 2% figure - “while this may be 2% of my power, I can’t use more than 8% of my power. Alice is too strong for my body to handle.”

    “It’s the same with me, actually,” Claire said. “I realize now I was training all the wrong things...I have a lot of bad habits to unlearn. But, I can’t use more than a certain percent either.”

    “Having the strongest Pact is not as good as you think it is,” Pierre explained. “A simple Pact that you can understand and use well is better. My Pact is too complex and very hard to use, and it holds me back. Theirs is too strong.”

    “What are your Pacts?” someone asked.

    “We don’t know,” Claire said, gesturing to me. “We can’t manifest a Pact ability. We’re just Binders. I can use Neovridh’s electricity, and my Style involves using bubbles-”

    “-more on Styles later,” I quickly added.

    “-but I don’t have an ability.”

    “Mine allows me to create barriers,” Pierre said.

    “Barrier?” Aleksei asked, tilting his head awkwardly.

    Pierre looked down at the ground, murmuring something under his breath, before looking up again.

    “Okay. Enough theory, for now. Shall we have an exhibition match? I will take on any challenger, or any group of challengers.”


    The stage was set. I was curious to see how Pierre fought. Aleksei and this girl(I was told her name was Adelaide) stepped up. Adelaide was wearing ripped blue jeans and a black leather jacket, along with a striped pink and black top. It was a very nice splash of colour. She had blue armbands on, and her shoes were both blue and black. Aleksei had way too many zippers on his clothes for me to even begin.

    Pierre had rested his hat on a tree, revealing his hair. We have a lot in common, in that most people have not seen our hair. He stared straight ahead, rubbing his hands together.

    “Yay, yay, GO!” Yieve shouted energetically. She was very excited to announce the start of the exhibition match.

    As soon as she said that, Pierre pressed his hands together, pressing them down. As he did so, numerous shifting translucent black walls dropped down on the battlefield. Just looking at them, I could see the “rule” was that nobody could pass them. In other words, simple walls. Similarly, from Pierre, the “rule” was that anyone who knew the password could fly.

    He began to float up. Clever. He closed his eyes, an expression of intense thought as a sword and shield began to manifest itself. The “rule” of the sword was that it was a sword. Similarly, the shield was a shield. They were made out of the same, more solid barrier stuff that the walls were made out of.

    Aleksei quickly got to work, thrusting his left arm into the air. A propeller manifested out of his palm, spinning rapidly to lift him in the air. Two perpendicular wheels on his right arm created a makeshift cannon - similar to a tennis ball launcher, but it fired smaller wheels instead. Pierre was forced to bob and weave between them as he continued to construct his sword and shield.

    At the same time, Adelaide began skating up. By placing two blue markers on her shoes, somehow she was able to create a path of ice. I wasn’t sure what the significance of the blue markers were, but she was skating towards Pierre very quickly. Aleksei ran out of steam and began to drift down to the ground -- but a giant rubber tire was awaiting him? He let the propeller drop in energy, falling quickly towards the tire before rebounding towards Pierre in the air.

    “Kind of like your fighting style, huh?” I asked Claire.

    “Bad. He can’t redirect in midair,” Claire observed.

 

    Adelaide pulled out a water gun and sprayed blue paint on Pierre. She tapped the blue paint on his chest, narrowly ducking under a counter attack. Suddenly, his torso was frozen in a block of ice! He struggled to break free, flying towards the ground rapidly to avoid the attack from Aleksei.

    “What is this ability?” Pierre asked.

    “Heh. I control the colour blue. In other words, that ‘blue’ meant ‘ice’. I can do a lot more than just ice, though.”

    “Oh, is that it?”

    Pierre’s expression was dominant, triumphant, with the mannerism as if this were just a simple game of chess and he had spotted a forcing sequence of moves that would result in checkmate.

    Pierre changed the “rule”. Adelaide began to plummet towards the ground - Aleksei quickly dashed towards her, manifesting wheels on his legs and securing her. Pierre looked down at the ground again momentarily before looking up. I observed the paint on his chest, no longer blue, but a deep crimson.

    “The new ‘rule’ I had created for my barriers - the colour ‘blue’ is ‘red’.”

    “What?!!” Adelaide cried out. “You mean...”

    “I have three lessons to give out here, and to everyone that is watching,” Pierre said as he addressed the group. “First: never reveal what your ability does. It puts you at a severe disadvantage.”

    I thought of the bizarre condition Pharoah Man put on himself and nodded.

    “Second, some abilities are innately better than others. My example was a little extreme, but it appears in other cases. Sometimes, an extremely powerful ability is worthless compared to another, ordinarily weaker ability.”

    I thought now of Huata’s building ability and how effortlessly it was defeated by spraying acid. Against that... I don’t even know what I would do. Especially as most of my attacks are projectile based.

    “Finally: and this is most crucial, you must always find a creative use for your abilities.”

    Aleksei this time was nodding appreciatively.

    “The difference between a strong and weak Pact is imagination. Being flexible, knowing your limits, all of these things will go a long way into improving your abilities. But they are not just for fighting. Aleksei, Adelaide, you have forgotten a very simple idea.”

    “Which is?” Adelaide asked.

    “Aleksei, you can make blue wheels.”

    Aleksei’s eyes went wide.

    “Adelaide, you need more blue objects. Have you considered blue ribbons?”

 

    She looked down, deep in thought. “One more thing,” Pierre continued. “Your abilities have great potential too for helping others. You must not just see yourself as good for fighting.”

    The “rule” changed again. This time, it was “in here, the effects of stress on your body fade away permanently.”

    Many people, myself included, stepped in. It was an incredibly relieving feeling. I wasn’t aware how much tension was stored in my body. If Dr. Light was around, I would have asked him to make some sort of “stress indicator” so that I could monitor this sort of thing. I took a deep breath in, and was finally at peace.

    Pierre was visibly sweating, breathing heavily, before eventually he lost the composure to keep this "rule" active and all of the barriers faded.

    “There is more to this world than who is the strongest. But, I understand as well there are bad things in this world. There are dangerous forces, and many people use their new abilities for evil.”

    “That’s right,” Yieve said from outside the bubble. “I won’t always be around to save you guys, if you are in trouble. But if you are, and I am standing next to you, say, ‘Yieve! Please help me!’ and I will be there. Yieve - Champion of Justice!”

    What?

    “I understand, Yieve,” Aleksei said. “I will work hard to live up to your standards.”

    Yieve looked at me with the most smug look I have ever seen a person express. Do they not realize how unimpressive that statement was?


 

    “Alright, I have it figured out,” Lucifer said. We were hiding in a dumpster as it was mandatory Rebecca appreciation hour, and we could bear to go to the town square, but if we were caught we would face severe punishment. It had only been a day since we came here, but we were starting to learn the rules of this place.

    People were inclined to spy on each other. If you successfully report something breaking the rules, you receive rewards. Further rewards include going into the penthouse suites, areas free of spying and mandatory checks. However, you would be evicted if someone else took your place by reporting things more, which lead to people trying to please Rebecca the most and trying to keep everyone else down.

    This compounded to make life very miserable for anyone trying to escape, such as us. We had quickly learned that this world was constructed with screws that her Pact ability created in the real, surface world. It was impossible to see where these screws were here, and since we were unable to see what our physical bodies were doing, we weren’t able to figure out where they were. But Lucifer had a plan.

    “I can see out my other scythe... the one in your Zero Drive!”

    It was a dangerous plan. We would certainly be killed if we were caught. However, we had no other choice. We had to leave here. I would NOT let these terrorists sully my name.



Chapter Text

    After a few attempts to try to find the edge of the “world”, we did. The edge was just a black void. We couldn’t touch it even if we tried. It repelled us. Therefore, the only option was to dismantle Rebecca’s world bolt by bolt. It was during an assembly - some sort of karaoke contest - that we decided to make our move to dismantle the world. We managed to sneak into an alley, and just had to cross a major street to get to where we needed to go.

    The guard had just turned away from me… I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. The people had a “volunteer peace corps control”, an organization of Rebeccans(as they had taken to calling themselves) that was initiated to prevent people from being out at prohibited times, or to prevent people from doing anything they deemed suspicious.

    In this sense then I couldn’t blame them. We were out to do some bad shit. We didn’t know what time anything was at, just that time passed and at a certain point Rebecca declared it night time and ordered that we all get 10 hours of sleep. One would think that would be the right time to strike, but not so. The night-time parties were actually more carefully monitored than any other time. Rebecca was aware of them, and let them stay as the only Rebecca-tolerated form of protest, mostly due to being harmless, but also to catch people like us who would be trying to break the world.

    Regardless, here I stood, clutching Lucifer(as a scythe) in my hands. The trick was I had to move when their patrol moved furthest away, but I had to move during their steps so the sound of their footstep would mask mine. Just as they started approaching a corner where another agent would meet them, I began to walk swiftly... matching their pace. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Every sound resonated with my own, blending together into a horrific duet.

    As soon as I entered the alley on the other side of the street I ducked around the corner and clutched the ladder for dear life. I heard them pause; I couldn’t look back to find out why. Were they investigating me? I was in another back alley, but this one had a ladder. Could I climb safely in the pause? Or, were they pausing to turn and face me - where they would see me climb the ladder? I had no cover anymore. I had to do something. If I climbed, and they were looking, they would certainly see me on the roof-top. But, if they were just pausing for some reason, I could climb up and they would never have a reason to look up.

    “Hurry up and do something, if they turn around and walk towards us they might see you,” Lucifer urged.

    “I know,” I said. I knew.

 

    Okay, I would climb, but fast. I couldn’t use my Pact energy or any sort of energy really, but at the very least my vampire blood was always active; there was no sun in this world. As I came near to the top of the ladder, I saw why they had stopped -- there was a shadow cat that they were feeding. Cute.

    At the top, then, I found where I theorized the first bolt would be. Each bolt would have to be in the real world, somewhere in a certain range of areas. Since each bolt tied a certain area to the shadow world, they had to be regularly spaced in order to keep this world afloat. It was as if they were support pillars. Lucifer and I figured out a few areas they would have to be, and this was the first area we had to go to.

    Lucifer hopped out of the scythe, tumbling in the air gracefully as his outfit formed around him. I unbuttoned my shirt to show where the Zero Drive was embedded in my body. “Okay... here we go.”

    Lucifer is a paired blade. One half was in my body, in the real world Zero Drive, and he was the other half. Therefore, when close to me, Lucifer could see out of the other pair... in the real world. From there it was just a matter of finding where the bolt was and removing it.

    “Little bit to the left,” he said. I moved to the side, careful of my surroundings.

    “They put bear traps around.”

    “Seriously?!”

    “Yeah. Let me guide you.”

    He grabbed my foot, holding it and carefully moving it around. Every now and then he would stop, slightly adjust, then put my foot back on the ground. I had no idea what exactly it was that he was doing, but I couldn’t necessarily do anything about it. I just had to trust him. After laborious steps that made my earlier steps look as effortless and carefree as a boy gleefully running home from school, he finally let me go with a sigh of pure relief.

    “Alright, alright alright! The bolt is here!”

    I pulled. I didn’t know what I was pulling, but as soon as I started to I felt an incredible weight on me, as if I were Atlas carrying the weight of the world... but in my arms. I pulled. It wasn’t necessarily that it was heavy, just that I felt the weight of what I was doing. I pulled and felt the world collapse around me.

    We were forced out. It wasn’t an explosion, it was nothing. The same “nothing”, the black void that entailed the end of the world spread out from where I pulled, pushing us to the edge of this bubble. We scrambled to the infirmary. Our cover story was simple: we were injured from Rebecca’s great power, and needed time to rest.

 

    We heard a polite knock on the door. Wearing her elaborate gilded gown, the only thing in colour in this entire world, Rebecca smiled gently at us, and the other patients. She moved with a sickly grace, putting on airs of regal behaviour and slinking in between our beds. Lucifer pretended to be asleep.

    “Lucifer... Wily.”

    She was uncomfortably close to my face. I looked to the side awkwardly. She smiled.

    “You’re new here, and now one of my bolts is gone. I don’t suppose you know anything?”

    “No-”

    She punched a hole in the wall.

    “Do you think I’m STUPID?!! Who was it? Was it YOU? Did you get put up to this? Who approached you? HUH?”

    There was a brief pause. Nobody but blinked.

    “I... I just wanted to have my birthright. I don’t tell anyone this often... but I am truly an empress. My empire was taken from me when I was 7, usurped by a rebellion. Scourgelord Grakx came in and declared this part of his territory... can you imagine? I lost to a pirate.”

    Her fiery gaze bore down at me.

    “This is all that remains of the real Nesthialis. The Nesthialan archipelago is vile, corrupted. Don’t you see? I’m in the right here.”

    A Pact ability is created out of an amalgamation of the psychological desires of their users. Rebecca’s was created almost entirely out of her desire to form a new empire, I suppose. I wasn’t about to begin trying to psychoanalytically read people, my PhD was in robotics, not psychology. Still, part of it was almost captivating, in the way that all insane charismatics are.

    “If you suspect me, than let us leave. Isn’t that the honest solution?” I proposed.

    “Why... am I not good enough?” it was almost whispered, but carried a barb of venom.

    “No, I won’t let you leave and COME BACK WITH AN ARMY TO FINISH ME OFF,” Rebecca shouted in my face. After awhile her face softened, and she gently patted me on the head.

    “I’m sorry, Wily. I’m just on edge. Can we work together? I like you.”

    “I don’t exactly have many positive feelings about you. You trapped and attacked me and my part-pal.”

    “I understand,” she cooed. “You will be mine eventually. But, understand this: if I find out you knew something, and didn’t tell me...”

    She left the threat up to our imagination as she stormed out of the room. Lucifer looked up at me with a smug, mocking expression with those piercing red eyes of his, as if to say “you sure are popular”. I really, really hated that guy sometimes.

 


    “Go, go, go! Jump! Jump like the ground is made of flaming trampolines!”

    What is a flaming trampoline, Yieve?! I struggled as my body’s exhaust was not keeping up. Robots did not need to breathe, but exerting myself resulted in me having to exhaust excess waste gas... which was sort of like breathing out?

    “Keep going, no time to rest!”

    Pierre was soaked with sweat, but Claire was moving through this effortlessly, no newbie to acrobatic movements. While I did have my degree of athleticism, I wasn’t exactly the fastest person around. I focused more on precision in my jumps. This drill... was hell.

    Yieve had Pierre create platforms for us to move off of, while arranging targets in certain places out of shadow. He would use his barrier “Rules” to create solid platforms that were only visible if you knew the codeword(which was “Banana”). This way, we could move in unpredictable patterns to enemies unless they found the codeword somehow.

    The problem was the breakneck pace we did it at, and that Yieve would occasionally throw balls of shadow at us. They didn’t hurt, but they knocked us off, and she made us climb back on. It was hard work. The few people from the Binder Club who were watching this seemed to be in awe of sheer speed we were navigating these platforms on.

    “Okay, super! Proud of all of you. Come sit down next to me.”

    We did, Claire more enthusiastically than Pierre and I - Claire stopped to salute Yieve before sitting down. Yieve gave a reassuring head pat to Claire, then to Pierre. I, too, was given a head pat.

    “It is important to learn team tactics. Claire, what is the difference between tactics and strategy?”

    “Tactics are short term, strategy is long term,” Claire answered. Yieve gave her a pat on the head again.

    “Angles are dippy skippy, with a good angle, you get a good hit! Bad angle, no hit. Medium angle, sometimes hit? If you got platforms you got angles in spades! Pierre, as the support it is your goal to bring the best out of the group. That means making their angles pretty enough to take home for an evening.”

    We nodded. Despite Yieve’s odd... everything, she was an incredibly adept teacher, as we were starting to find out.

 

    “Claire, you can not go toe to toe with people, but you can run circles around ‘em. Mega Man, you... don’t be a chainsaw. But you can shoot people! Pow! These two things give you guys your team dynamic. You want large open spaces to use range attack and momentum to your advantage.”

    I was already fairly aw-

    “But, that’s not necessarily true.”

    I saw this look in her eyes before. It was methodical, robotic, austere - the chaotic spark that drove her ordinarily was shoved somewhere else. It was frightening to behold.

    “Your versatility is something that makes you a force to be reckoned with, Mega Man. Not only are you capable of Style Switching, but your many modes make it impossible for people to figure you out.”

    “I see...”

    “Claire, create a wall of bubbles.”

    Claire looked up, surprised to be called on, but she did so.

    “Now, Pierre. A wall parallel to that, over... there.”

    Hearing Yieve speak in a low, monotonous tone for an extended period of time was unnerving. Still, parallel there were a stack of bubbles, and a wall.

    “Stand in between the walls.”

    Ah... I see it now. Angles - truly dippy skippy. By using walls we could artificially create beneficial angles on the defensive, preventing attacks from our blindspot and allowing us to concentrate our offense.

    “Claire, you can move these bubbles, yes?” she nodded.

    “Pierre, Claire, you have a vast potential to work off your environment. In closed quarters, creating traps is very easy for you two. Mega Man, you are still a wildcard.”

    Yieve blinked twice. “Sorry. Got a little too into it. Let’s keep the smile train running, yes? Smile?”

    I smiled weakly. Claire faked a smile. Only Pierre's seemed earnest.

 

    “Yieve, I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for us. You are a very good teacher, and I have learned more today than I have in months.”

    It’s true; even though the drills seemed basic, Yieve’s instructions for Pierre created bizarre shapes that tested my parkour abilities to their limits, and the speed in which we had to respond to targets and move around definitely improved my aim and my mobility.

    「You are becoming a fine champion,」 Alice noted.

    “I have a long way to go, still.”

    I thought back to the final match. Pierre had us watch some clips of it on the way back. It was an incredible fight. I do not think I could have stood up to Andreas if he had used that many contracts, let alone deal with Wily and Lucifer. If Wily tried to take over Earth...

    I felt my jaw clench up. I let some pressure out of my jaw, and relaxed my shoulders. My chassis’ heat was fine, and my levels were going back to normal. It wasn’t just Wily, it was also Ex Machina to worry about. Ex Machina had not shown themselves on Earth yet, aside from one attempt to take over a human factory.

    In short, it was worrying. This was the calm before the storm, and I appreciated every second I could use to prepare myself for it.

    「While I agree you need to get stronger, it’s not just strength that you need, right?」

    “Right,” I answered, recalling my meeting with the enigmatic leader of Ex Machina. I had taken to calling it The Question - how can I answer his conviction? I knew what he was doing was wrong. To say somebody is wrong, however, holds no water. Why was it wrong? What is a better solution?

    It reminded me, curiously enough, of a math problem. It was about some men at a hotel that overpaid. Three people go into a hotel room that costs 30 dollars. They each paid 10 dollars. However, the clerk forgot there was actually a special offer on, and the room price was 25 dollars. So, he had 5 dollars to return. Since that didn’t split evenly, he decided to give each person 1 dollar back, and keep 2 dollars for himself.

    The question then asks, “since each person got 1 dollar back, they each paid $9. With 2 dollars to the clerk, and 9 times 3 being 27, 2 + 27 is 29. Where is the missing dollar?”

    Of course, it was all misdirection and smoke and mirrors. The question starts with a genuine premise, then gives you faulty logic to work with and asks you, within the framework of this faulty logic, to answer a supposedly impossible question.

    「Actually, Mega Man. This problem is frustrating. Where did the dollar go?」

    “They each paid 10 dollars. Then, they were each given 3 dollars. The clerk had 2 dollars. 3, plus 2. Then 25 goes to the hotel. It adds up perfectly. The 9 dollar amount never existed, and the question only makes it seem reasonable to trick you.”

    「I have been made a fool of. Me! Can you believe it?」

    “I suppose, Alice,” I said. It was only then that I realized I was spacing out and Pierre was trying to talk to me.

 

    “-ing some sort of system glitch? Blue Screen of Death..?” he said with a chuckle.

    “No, sorry. I was explaining a riddle to Alice.”

    “You are awfully familiar with that demigod-like being,” Yieve said in a mocking tone. I shrugged it off.

    Yieve motioned for us to stand. It seemed today’s practice was over. My entire body ached, but I knew that I wouldn’t get enough rest; this wouldn’t be the first night that I was kept up by The Question, and it definitely wouldn’t be the last.

 

   



Chapter Text

    “Alright! We’re going to see Santa!” I said proudly.

    “Does Santa exist?” Pierre asked. Claire answered the question with her gaze, and Pierre quickly apologized. The four of us(Roll included) were headed to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus, taking a brief break from our work with Yieve.

    “Do you think you were naughty, or nice, Pierre?” I asked.

    “If I had to choose,” he said, “probably on the nice side.”

    “Nice, as well,” Claire answered.

 

    “All three of us are getting WAGONS for Christmas!” I said, pumping my fist in the air! Indeed, just as Greensleeves is the best Christmas song, wagons are the best Christmas gift. Some things are just better traditional, and when it comes to classic music... you can’t beat classical music.

    Its origins are based in traditional English folk music, but it was quickly elevated to the canon of Christmas music. It is based off an Italian style, but it is distinctly an English piece of music - and later compositions definitely paid homage to Greensleeves. For this reason, in the 19th Century, this tune was set to a religious poem: “What Child Is This” and made into a Christmas tune. The origin of the music is disputed, but the melody would forevermore be linked to Christmas.

    “Mega Man, are you thinking of classical music again?” Roll said, after throwing a snowball at my head.

 


    “Oh no! These Snowman Robots are too much to bear!!!”

    “Santa, are you alright?!” I asked. Lucifer was defending Santa’s workshop against the hordes of Snowman Robots.

    “I... won’t be able to deliver the presents, today. Dr. Wily... you have been very naughty, but. If you deliver these presents, you can make it up to me. Please!”

    I was hurt. I knew I was trying to be evil, but I wasn’t trying to be naughty!

    “Okay, Santa. I’ll do it.”

    I used my vampire essence to transform back into an old man, putting on Santa’s suit. As an old man, I looked just enough like Santa that people wouldn't notice if they caught a glimpse of me.

    “You’re old and fat, dude!” Lucifer taunted. I glared at him.

    “Santa, can I not deliver his present?”

    “Hohoho.... he was naughty anyway. He was just going to get coal!”

    Lucifer gawked.

 

    “I will use my holiday magic to alter your Pact... just for today. Instead of gaining power based off people’s negative emotions, Wily, you will gain power with Christmas Cheer!”

    “I see.”

    But Ex Machina’s Snowman Robots showed no sign of stopping! I couldn’t leave, since Lucifer had to be within a certain range of me... and if I left, Santa would be undefended! Just then, the gate burst open to Santa’s workshop. It was... Mega MAN!!!!!

    “Santa! Are you alright?” he cried, charging forward. A few shots rang out of his Mega Buster, and quickly after Claire flew in, launching bubbles that destroyed the Snowman Robots easily. But there were just so many...

    “Claire, wrap your bubbles in snow to make them snowbubbles!” Pierre said.

    “Good idea,” Claire answered with a smirk. These new snowbubbles had much stronger impact. Pierre ran forward.

 

    “Wily! We won’t let you hurt Santa!” Roll cried.

    “Now, now,” Santa interjected. “Wily was helping me deliver presents!”

    I stared my hated foe in his eyes. He looked up at me with pure determination, before spitting in the snow.

    “A truce!”

    “We need to increase Christmas Cheer, or we won’t be fast enough to deliver all the presents,” Lucifer pointed out.

    “Heh. Leave that to me!” Pierre said. “With my barrier, I can cover the entire planet in a barrier of Christmas Cheer! Then... we can deliver all the presents!”


    And so, Dr. Wily, Lucifer, and Pierre teamed up to deliver all the presents, and Christmas was saved! No real chapter today because of reasons.



Chapter Text

    “-is name is Cain, but he goes by the title ‘The Devourer’,” Adelaide explained to the group as I walked by. Mega Man was sitting around. Yieve was training Pierre, and by the haggard way Mega Man looked, Yieve did a good job of training Mega Man earlier.

    “Interesting... hey, Claire, have you heard about this? The Earth Binder League,” he said.

    “Doesn’t interest me.”

    “Eh? Why not?”

    “Why would I care what a bunch of amateurs have to say?”

    It wasn’t like I was trying to be cocky, it was just a statement. I am just starting to get over a hurdle in my development as a weapon, and I do not have the time to be playing around with people far below my level.

    “Wow, intense,” Aleksei said monotonously. It irked me.

    “You know, we are weaker than those guys, right?” Adelaide said.

    “No, you are weaker now,” I insisted. “With our training you couldn’t possibly lose to these babies floundering around trying magic for the first time.”

    “They say he is of C ranking. What is a C ranking?”

    “Relatively low,” I said. “Anyone incapable of using aura is rank F, with rank E for people just barely able to process it, rank D for those capable of using aura... and rank C are people who are starting out.”

    “What is your rank? B?” Adelaide asked.

    “B, yes, Mega Man is at a C rank.”

    “Hey!”

    “If it bothers you, train more,” I teased.

    「No, don’t encourage him, please.」

    “What?” Aleksei asked.

    「He has been using spare processing power to create a virtual training environment and overworking himself in his sleep.」

    “You can do that?!” I asked.

    「Don’t get excited over that. This is a bad thing.」

    “Well, I have to somehow get strong enough to take down Ex Machina,” he explained sheepishly.

    “How high do ranks go, anyway?” Aleksei asked.

    “F, E, D, C, B, A, AA, S, SS, SSS, U. U is theoretical.”

    “Yieve is rank U,” Adelaide said proudly.

    “No, rank U is impossible-”

    “Yieve is rank UU!”

    “Yieve’s stats are easily av-”

    “UUU? Could it be?!”

    Aleksei placed his hand on the top of Adelaide’s head and she relaxed into his arms, tiring of inflating Yieve’s ranks. If this was a few months ago, I would have fired myself up and threw a fit and left the room. And yes, it did annoy me... but it didn’t annoy me that much. Is this growth?

 


    Two more bolts to go. The world was awfully small now. Rebecca was beginning to panic, hunting every person down to ask them of their involvement - but it was too late to stop us. We just had to take one more down and we would be free. I could see it... it was right there!

    It was gross how used to looking through Wily’s stomach I got, but desperate times call for desperate measures. One more... and step over the laser... I carefully moved Wily’s feet around, step by step, to avoid the traps that were set. Finally, I guided his hand to the bolt.

    “Okay, pull!”

    He pulled. I felt us being pushed upwards, out of this world. It was satisfying, like riding on a big balloon the way that the force caved under the weight of my body. I admit, having a body is growing on me. At first I saw it as a chore, but tactile sensations have their own merit. I had forever to figure it out.

    “So, it was YOU!” I heard a shriek as I came back to my body.

    “Ah, crap, we’ve been spotted, Wily,” I said.

    “I can see that, Lucifer,” he responded. That tone, Wily. That, right there. I loved that expression, that emotion... it was fantastic. I could feel the negative emotions coming off of Rebecca and they were delicious.

    “Xertham,” Rebecca called. It flew out from her shadow, her Partner. Unlike me, it was somewhat ugly... a Concept. I was an Entity, it represented something that was given form. Then, their Pact changed the form even further. Concepts were a common type of Pact, and very unfitting of royalty. For shame, Rebecca.

    “Why? Why is being with me so bad?”

    “There are people we have to destroy, and I have an empire to build,” Wily said, buttoning up his top button. Ooh, that meant he was getting serious.

 

    “Falcon Speed - Partner Alteration,” I began, pressing the finishing note of that spell. I recited spells musically, stopping just before the last note so that I could adjust the spells as needed and then activate them. It was common practice, but just one of the ways I set myself above mortals. Auramancy, combat, magic... I can do anything.

    “Yeah, and I am going to be king of the Underworld.”

    She stared at me in awe. Huh?

    “Not, like, immediately,” I explained. “Just... eventually. I will inherit a kingdom and become the undisputed king of the Underworld, right?”

    She gave me this confused look again. What was it?

    “Wily, did I say something strange?”

    “No, I don’t think so. Just what you usually do, right?”

    “I think so. At least, I don’t think I said anything strange...”

    “How can you be so confident in yourselves..?” she asked, in barely a whisper. “Ruling isn’t so eas-”

    “Duh!” I said, punching Wily in the gut. He glared at me, firing up the Zero Drive and letting out his Z Saber. His rage, too, was delicious. “What do you think this guy’s going on a quest for?”

    “Huh?” she asked.

    “He has to learn to be the ideal ruler.”

    “Do you think it’s so easy?!”

    Whoa, her rage is going up even more. Scary~

    “Rebecca, you had tasted failure, and knowing this you became afraid of it and sought to hide somewhere that you couldn’t possibly lose. You boxed yourself in, a place with no victory, no failure, just so you could hide from your shame!”

    Wily spat on the ground. He was pissed.

    “Even when that damned kid... that BOY defeated me, every time I rose up. I got stronger. I evolved. Do you know why, Rebecca? Do you know what is greatest in life?!! It is when you thought something was impossible, that someone couldn’t be beat, and to overcome the challenge and CRUSH THEM!”

    “Tank Barrier, partner Alteration, Eagle Eye, partner Alteration,” I chanted.

    “I’ll show you right now,” Wily said.

    Rebecca’s hair flew up as her aura burst. What?! I’ve never seen th-

 

    Before I could process what was happening, she was right in my face and kicked me. As I was sent sprawling, I saw her Partner, Xertham sprinting in from under her, ready to finish me off like some sort of attack dog catching its master’s prey. Wily slid in, barely deflecting Xerthram’s punch. I quickly let my aura fall into its regular place to put myself in this battle.

    I wasn’t expecting such explosive power... but she wasn’t as strong as Andreas, maybe. It was just that damned aura flare up. Still, we couldn’t rely on poking the bear like we did with Andreas to brew more resentment too much because we didn’t have any sort of safety net here. There was no referee to teleport us out, no team of healers. Any sort of underhanded tactic... wait, was she mortal? I wasn’t sure.

    “Are you mortal?” I asked. No response. Rebecca jumped back, pulling out two tonfa and holding them confidently. Scary.. Still, I was the faster of the two. I envisioned the space between the two points folding in on itself, and pushed my aura through the space - as if I were putting a needle through spacetime to sew it together. All that was left was to ride my aura.

    I appeared behind Rebecca and made an attack at her back. Before it could land - within a fraction of a second - she noticed I was there somehow and shifted to her tonfa, blocking the slash and repelling me.

    “Are you mortal?” I asked again.

    “So what if I am?”

    I let out a sigh of relief. We can be as underhanded as we want. I tapped my foot on the ground rhythmically - my illusions were weak, but all I had to do was get them going in a rhythmic fashion. Each time I stepped, I created an illusion after image. I began to slowly circle around Rebecca. Tap. Tap. Each step creating a version of me, each version tied to me -- if I needed to blink, I could be in each of their positions.

    “Is that all you have? Tricks?”

    She charged right at me. I selected one of my illusory clones a few away from me to blink away. Wait, no! She shifted directions! With a quick shift of her weight, she abruptly dashed towards me. Did... did she look at my eyes? I pushed my aura into the tightest weave I could and took the brunt of the tonfa strike. This was the second time I went tumbling.

    “Two... two more.”

    “Two more? Two more what?!” she said to me.

    “You can hit me two more times. After that, I’ll find a way to beat you.”

 


    It was fast. Its form - a humanoid shape made out of stone bricks with a red, conical roof as if it were the roof of a castle’s tower - hid nothing. It was sturdy, and its attacks had great weight. All of this could be seen from its muscular, stony form. But more importantly, it was fast. I had the advantage of reach, but even I could barely keep up - let alone find time to get a shot in. If I didn’t have the reach advantage, I couldn’t possibly have time to react.

    It wasn’t enough to be fast, though. It also had to have a damned annoying ability. It could pour out those pools that crept along the ground. Though there was no world to pull me in, I wasn’t going to find out just how deep it could pull me. Each step had to be carefully measured. Unlike the vast ball of loathing that Rebecca was, Xerthram was peaceful.

    With one elbow attempt missed, I was able to jump backwards. The town was far away from us now, with the heat of the jungle bearing down heavily on my back.

    “Xerthram,” I asked.

    “Yes?” it responded. There was a brief second that I could catch my breath. I could see in its glassy eyes the moment of realization, of recognition; I could see the moment it realized I was its enemy. A mere moment later it charged back in.

    “You don’t see me as an enemy, do you?” I asked. I felt its fist glancing barely centimetres from my head. Ah, I was in danger. I felt this before... Mega Man, the damned hypocrite, he who proclaimed himself so good had such a violent streak in him.

    “You submit to my Partner, or you will die,” it responded. Its voice was heavy and gravely. Its aura, too, seemed to be on fire. Aura... the essence of magic. It continued to attack forward, using a primarily upper body striking technique. I truly wished I studied more martial arts, but this was the best that my preliminary research could do. Upper body striking, as it was not kicking. Brilliant, Dr. Wily.

    Another pool on the ground that I had to sidestep. I had made a mental note of their locations, but it was even more unnerving. As it pushed me further towards the brush, I was beset by hazards on all directions. I could trip over roots, or sink into these pools of nothing, and I would be crushed by the overwhelming power. I had no tricks up my sleeve, it was day time, and I was simply outmatched.

 

    “You can hit me two more times. After that,” Lucifer said, “I’ll find a way to beat you.”

    There it was. That damned arrogance. Every sentence carried the hidden message: “I am immortal, and I will not lose to anyone.” Every training session, he would push himself to the absolute limit, then turn back to look at me as if to ask if I was coming with him. How would it look if I lost here?

    Again, it came at me with a flurry of strikes. I parried some, I dodged others - and between blows I realized its combos were not fluid. To create the pools, it had to disrupt its motion for a second, a brief second where I could retaliate, were I faster.

    I had taken its strikes before, they were not this fast. In conclusion, the burning aura had to be the cause of this. A technique we were not taught, perhaps? I would have to look closer... and the best time to look was when it was trying to create a pool.

    “You call those punches? Your form is sloppy, you walking castle!” I jeered.

    As expected, Xerthram’s face lit up with anger and it charged forwards. It came in with a heavy punch, one that was easy enough to evade, and a second. Even though these punches were sloppy, the sheer force behind them made their speed impossible to match. Still, as we were very close to each other, Xerthram predictably let a pool underneath me. Perfect.

    I stepped to the side, and let my momentum carry me as I pushed 80% of my energy into my eyes. Time slowed to a crawl as I perceived everything. The aura... was concentrating near Xerthram. Every plant, every bit of energy from the fallen plants, from dead insects, all was being pulled to our foes.

    Of course... combustion wasn’t what was happening here. It was just their perception of what was happening. Just as fire takes in oxygen to create energy, so too are they taking in energy at a reckless pace! They then expend this energy explosively to create a short term power burst, and sustain it by cycling just that much faster so that they never run dry. In order to create this burst of energy, they had to rapidly sap energy from the ground far beyond what one’s soul naturally does, cycling energy at three... maybe even four times what they naturally do!

    I reassigned my energy as usual as the momentum started to fail to carry me, and planted my feet on the ground. I only had a theory, but Lucifer only had two more shots to block before the time ran out, and I wasn’t about to lose to him here. This was reckless and stupid, but being careful and intelligent hasn’t paid off for me yet, so...

    I pulled, with all my heart. It stung in ways I couldn’t picture. As I felt this excess energy, I willed it to burn just as their auras did in order to burn off the excess lifeforce. I felt immediate relief as my body was flooded with endorphins. It was just like when I had first made a Pact with Lucifer.

    “Lucifer,” I thought, “I figured out how their aura is doing that.”

    I briefly turned to see how Lucifer’s battle was going. I wasn’t expecting to see..!



Chapter Text

    I put every fiber of my being into observing Rebecca. She wasn’t stronger than me, no. Nor was she smarter than me. I experienced her meager lifespan one thousand million times over, and I could live until all eternity blinks out. This act of opposition would just be a blip on the vastness of my being, an insignificant footnote to future historians.

    “I get what your friend means,” Rebecca said.

    “Hah?”

    “Your expression... it’s so funny,” she responded while giggling. Annoying. I couldn’t let my guard down for one second, and here she was laughing. This mortal. This temporary being.

    “It didn’t sink in until now... two more hits, right? You don’t see walls, you see obstacles. That’s the difference between us. But you know what? I get it now. You’re not a wall. You're an obstacle to MY happiness.”

    “Lady, what in the stinking hell are you ta-”

    She was there, again. It was fast, but not invincible. I could see the wasted motions in her movement, I could see the awkward pause in between attacking and moving. Her raw parameters were far greater than mine, but there was no fluidity. She was standing, then she went in position to run, then she ran up. She was running, then she got in position to attack, then she attacked. There was no sense of tempo to any of these attacks..!

 

    I could see her eyes. There was a playful determination to them, now. It was just a fraction of a second, but as if time itself stopped on that one moment, we made eye contact. Time resumed. I grit my teeth as another hit collided with me. I still couldn’t see it, but that was fine. My entire body ached from rolling on the ground, but that was fine. I was bleeding in two separate places, but that was fine. I figured out the timing, and I still have one more hit to go.

    “Are you... are you serious?” Was it shock? Was it anger? "You saw me?" I pulled myself to my feet. Against an overwhelming force, only an unstoppable wall would try to block it. I’m not an idiot like Wily. I’ll just move out of the way.

    She ran up again. I could see the brief pause, one moment where she stood and observed her target. Then she ran. I used the same time to prepare myself to dodge. Muscles coiled up, I saw her for a brief instant in front of me. A downward slash with the tonfa. No, a downward slash with her aura and then the tonfa..?

    I felt like puking. It hit my leg so hard I could almost feel the bone snap. I hadn’t put enough energy in to defend it, I was so focused on avoiding that I didn’t think I would be slightly off. It hurt. It hurt so much. It hurt. I rolled to the ground. I could just barely stand... but I pulled myself to my feet.

    “You’re out of hits,” she taunted. It wasn’t malicious, it was like playful ribbing, but after being hit that hard it pissed me off even more. Is this what I did to Wily? No, I concluded. My taunts were better than that.

    “I don’t know how you do the aura fire thing,” I forced the sound through gritted teeth, holding in my pain, “but I figured out your weakness.”

    “Oh? What is that?” she asked.

    “You can’t move your aura when it’s on fire freely. You can’t control it!”

    I could see her eyes go wide as she clenched her tonfa. She ran in for another hit. I didn’t need to look to see her movements. I could feel how powerful that aura was. It was like when I moved Wily’s body parts for him - she had to manually shape the aura where she needed to go, before she did anything.

    A feint?! Saucy, Rebecca. Saucy. It was going to look like a rightward slash, before pulling in and jabbing me hard. I pushed everything I had into dodging. I didn't care about being able to land on my feet, I just had to avoid it. I couldn’t help but break out into a grin as I saw that tonfa whiz past my head. I fell to the ground. I thought for a second at how the tunic would get dirty, but that wasn’t important right now.

 


    I wasn’t expecting to see him on the mud, tears in his eyes, and grinning like he had just won the lottery.

    “I DID IT!!!!!!!!” he shouted. “I DODGED IT! Wily, I DODGED it!” he said. He flipped up to his feet.

    “Did... you hear what I had to say?” I asked.

    “Yes, yes. But I won’t need it,” he responded. Even Xerthram was stunned. “I can dodge these things!”

    “You ended up on the mud! You didn’t have a single counter-attack option, and you were totally defenseless! Why are you so happy?!” Rebecca cried. “One attack! You dodged ONE attack!”

    Yeah, I thought. You just dodged a mortal’s attack. But I wouldn’t take this moment away from him. That smile was too infectious.

 


    The demon prince couldn’t remember his childhood. Everything prior to being imprisoned in ice was lost. He had lived longer than most of Valhalla, and experienced only brief fleeting moments. He didn’t understand the feelings that he has had - this was, after all, the first time he felt this emotion. Lucifer had always been powerful, and with a long line of successes, he generally succeeded at everything he did without much effort, or was utterly stopped. This was the first time he had put effort into something and was rewarded.

    “Rebecca, you are a mortal. You’ll never fully understand - your act of opposition, right here, right now, is just a blip on the vastness that will be my lifespan. A footnote. But,” he said, wiping the blood off the right side of his face.

    “But?” her expression was contorted.

    “I, Lucifer, incumbent lord of the Underworld, will remember this moment for all eternity!”

    “Wh...”

    “Give it four more times, and I WILL find a way to hit you!”

    His beautiful face was covered in blood, his clothes dirtied by the rainforest. He was hot, bruised all over, and it hurt just to stand. By contrast, Rebecca had not taken a single hit, and had only missed one strike. Any other person in this situation would feel despair. But Lucifer was not an ordinary person. He was enraptured.

    Rebecca attacked again. Lucifer couldn’t lead in this dance, he only followed in her movements. She was clumsy, unpracticed, and he could only barely squeeze in enough space to avoid taking another hit. Again, he tumbled to the ground unharmed. He clenched his fist, raising it up in pure elation.

    “It wasn’t a fluke...” Lucifer whispered to himself.

    She looked down at her tonfa. Three more. Rebecca knew that Lucifer was entirely outmatched better than anyone - and while she was tired, she wasn’t nearly as tired as Lucifer was. Even if by some miracle Lucifer was able to land any strike, it would be glancing at best, and barely even touch Rebecca’s health bar. That’s precisely why she was so entranced by Lucifer.

    “I’ve lost...” she bitterly whispered to herself in turn.

 

    For the past two years, she was hiding from her responsibilities and from ever losing again. A world where Rebecca won every day is a world where every victory was meaningless. All of this, because when she faced overwhelming strength, she caved in.

    And then she looked into Lucifer’s eyes. He watched her like a hawk. There was nothing else in his mind other than understanding this situation. Never before had she seen such determination. Every muscle twitch she made put him on edge. It was difficult maintaining the kamaki state... she could hold it for another 8 minutes, whereas Lucifer couldn’t survive another 3 minutes like this. He had to knew he was outmatched, and even still, Lucifer showed no regret, no sign of fear. Just determination.

    So, she held her hand up in the Nesthalian salute. Lucifer jumped back, fearing another attack. Wily and Xerthram were caught up in their battle, and only Rebecca knew the significance of this: according to Nesthalian custom... the empress was only ever to salute another emperor.

    Lucifer dodged her next strike before falling to the ground. The last thing he saw before blacking out was Rebecca gently laying his body down.

 


    “So... you can use kamaki,” Xerthram said to me. Its voice was still so gruff and artificial. Kamaki?

    “The furnace effect,” it explained. I nodded.

    “But how long can you retain this effect?”

    Moving the aura was very difficult, and the sheer amount of power was exhilarating but I could hardly imagine keeping this up for an extended period of time. It was like trying to hold on to a fire hose by ones self... eventually, I would lose the strength. I saw Lucifer’s fight out of the corner of my eyes. He was still standing, good.

    Its movements were not so fast, now. I could see them. I now had the problem of having to move my aura around, which was easier said than done. I was not used to controlling such a strong power, and it limited my movements as well. It hit me in the chest with great force, but did not even penetrate my aura?!

    “You are... strong.”

    My energy came rushing in to fill the gap in the aura. I see. I took off my left hand - I wouldn’t need it. I pushed much of my aura into my left hand, leaving it on the ground.

    If this furnace... this “kamaki” effect was too hard for me to control, I only need about half of my aura to move cleanly. I’ll leave the other half behind. My movements were still stiff. It was as if I were wearing fifty layers of clothing, but I could move.

    I ran forward. It seemed as if there was some sort of inertia, that my aura was guided by its own motion. I was running, so the aura ran with me. I lunged with the Z Saber. Xerthram tried its best to block the attack, but I was nearly able to keep up in the beginning. I saw its hands attempt to block the attack, and fail. With one slash, it dropped to the ground.

    “Spare... me,” it whispered, before collapsing. I looked up to see Rebecca swiftly moving to grab Lucifer’s body, gently placing him on the ground. She looked up to me with the fierce intensity of a mother bear protecting its cub. Did she not know this was my partner?

 

    “So, the partners have fallen,” I said.

    “You can use kamaki..?!”

    I sighed. My vision went unsteady as I swerved back and forth. I rubbed my head as I tried to normalize myself. I held my Z Saber up, prepared for any sort of attack.

    “You can barely control it, you fool. I propose a wager, Wily.”

    “What is it?”

    “If you win, I will join your empire. But, if I win...”

    “I join y-” I said, but was cut off.

    “I will join your empire.”

 

    She grinned at me. I blinked in surprise - a mistake. She was there in a split second. I couldn’t block in time as she jammed the short end of her weapon into me. It looked like some sort of police baton? It connected with my aura. I coughed, collapsing onto the ground.

    She tried to kick me on the ground. I rolled to the side, jumping to my feet. After a moment’s delay, she was right after me. Huh?! I pushed my aura forward to block properly. The attack was crude, but overwhelmingly powerful.

    “Wonderful, Wily. Your solution is so perfect. I’ve fallen for you a second time,” she said.

    “Don’t... joke around with me,” I said as I slid backwards from the force of the attack. There was a tree to my back. I moved forwards. A feint. I slid to my right, putting all of my energy into redirecting myself and tackling at her. Wh-?! Her eyes followed me the entire time?!!

    I found myself kicked to the side, spitting out blood. My head rang. It hurt. She had a smug smile on as she did it.

    “Ah... so wonderful... to beat your superiors...” she whispered. I rose to my feet. She was there again, but I was ready for it. Every hit, I could feel her getting faster. At the same time, every hit, I got more and more used to it.

    “You’re getting faster,” I noted.

    “As are you.”

    “You’re out of practice,” I theorized.

    “Yes.”

    Rebecca never had anyone that was remotely an equal to fight against in her world, and probably never used kamaki like this until now. She was rusty. Every hit jogged her memory of what a fight was like. Similarly, every time I got hit, I felt more and more of my energy being sapped. I had to pull from the ground more to replenish what was lost.

 

    It was a simple problem. I had limited endurance, I did not know her endurance. We both got faster as time went on... but soon I would hit the threshold where my damage would start to impact my performance. Again, she charged. Instead, I jumped up, grabbing onto a tree. And again, her eyes followed me. A mama bear wasn’t right... her eyes were that of a tigress. Steady, she observed me as prey.

    There weren’t any negative emotions to feed off of, and I have yet to find another Pact ability worth taking. My movements were still sluggish at half-kamaki. I hopped to the ground as she turned to face me. Fine, then. 33%.

    “You weaken yourself further? Are you sure?”

    I could see the movements made her sluggish, but the confident way she moved made me think that Rebecca had done this in the past before. Confident... huh. I steeled myself. Rebecca again charged forward. Her speed, this time, was too much for me. But - there was a slight lag in her movements!

    I could see there was a moment in between “running” where she had to stop her inertia, then start “attacking”. During this time, I slashed from right to left. Rebecca’s eyes again tracked it, but she was not able to raise her guard forward in time. A hit! Following through with the motion, I use my bent right arm to sharply jab her with my elbow. Her guard came up just in time, and she used the momentum to leap backwards.

    I didn’t let the opportunity slide. I charged forwards, activating the rocket boosters in my feet for additional speed. This was a matter of tempo - if I could keep this aggression up, Rebecca couldn’t get a step in. Each hit would whittle her shield down more and more, until...

    I quickly jabbed forward, before stepping backwards quickly and rushing past her. As expected, she barely blocked the first one and attempted to move backwards. As expected, she was slightly faster than me - and I was in perfect position for another attack. She let out a surprised yelp as a downward slash connected perfectly with her.

    “I... yield.”

 

    I was breathing heavily. I stopped kamaki, and moved over to retrieve my left hand. Four steps in, I collapsed onto my knees. I heard another thud as Rebecca fell to the ground panting. At first, it started as a giggle, before turning into a deranged cackling.

    “What is it?”

    “This is what losing is like?” she said, after stopping herself from laughing. “I was afraid of THIS?”

    I started laughing too. In the heat of the jungle, two powerful binders who beat each other into submission were laughing hysterically on the mud as an entire population was freed from their servitude. The crowd just stared down at us. Confusion? Pity? Hatred? Eventually, they dispersed and ran away. I managed to put my left hand back on its arm.

    “So, you want to join me?”

    “Just for a little bit,” she said. “To repay my debts.”

    “You owe nothing,” I said. “I refuse this offer. But, if you want to do me a favour, I’d appreciate your help.”

    “Very well. I accept.”

    “And, in turn,” I continued, “I will repay this favour by helping you reclaim your land.”

    There was a brief moment of silence as the two of us, lying on the ground, stared up at the jungle canopy.



Chapter Text

    I was the ace pilot, the last surviving Maelstrom pilot tasked with a dangerous mission: destroy the Ultraship. Waves of enemy space ships came at me, one by one, but they were no match for my piloting skills. I had to avoid their fire, sure, but their bullets were slow moving and followed patte- ah. I’ve been exploded.

    “It is okay, Mega Man, this pattern is tricky how they hide bullets behind bullets,” Pierre explained. I saw his high score - PRE, 29535. I reluctantly sent in my meager 8340 - MGM.

    “What did you want to talk about?” I asked, sitting at one of the benches. This arcade was trapped somewhere in time, where arcade machines and vintage furniture(including picnic benches from at least the 1800s) mixed in a way that did not make any sense but instantly elevated this building to something truly unique.

    Pierre sat down, running his hand through his messy hair and sighing. His eyes showed deep fatigue - as usual, he must have been up practicing something. He looked deep into my eyes pensively for a moment before speaking.

 

    “Do you believe in fate?”

    “Huh? What do you mean?”

    “Do you believe the future is set in stone?” he asked.

    “No, I don’t,” I said. Determinism is not any sort of philosophy I ascribe to.

    “You do not believe our meeting was fate, then?”

    A troubling question. I took a moment to think, to collect my thoughts.

    “I agree,” he said, interrupting my answer. “I do not believe the future is set in stone. We can change what is to come, we are in control of our actions. Mega Man, it was not fate that brought me to you. I came of my own volition.”

    “I... see...”

    Suddenly, he grabbed my hands.

    “I know this is a dangerous mission... Ex Machina. But right now, you are a good person, and I choose to follow you.”

    “I appreciate it,” I said earnestly. I had often felt guilty of bringing my friends into these conflicts, and this particular conflict was the most perilous yet. If Wily took over the world, it would be bad, but if Ex Machina had their say, humanity as we know it could end. Feeling Alice repair the last of the damage inside my soul, knowing I had people on my side was reassuring - but only if they know the risks.

    He let go just as suddenly as he grabbed me, awkwardly tapping his fingers against the bench. This arcade was abandoned at this time of day, leaving it just to us two.

 

    “Yieve sure is strange, yes?” he asked.

    “You said it,” I joked. “Were you just finding it out now?”

    “Earlier in my one on one training, she said something about those two Binders... Aleksei and Adelaide. She said that it was incredible that they were whole, complete beings. What does that mean?”

    “It’s a Yieve compliment,” I said, rubbing my neck. “She compliments people on things nobody would even consider, so they are hard to process as compliments.”

    “Oh? Have you received many of these compliments?”

    “I suppose,” I said. “Apparently I am a Style switcher, or something to that end? But I haven't heard anything about whole complete beings until now.”

    “Holistic training means to leave no holes, yes?” Pierre mused.

    Holistic training was Yieve’s doctrine. Each person had a potential which was to be entirely realized, she said. As we filled ourselves out, we were not to leave any gaps in training. Pierre wasn’t just our support. I wasn’t just a Technician. Overspecializing just makes one have a weakness to stand out. It works for tournaments, but the real world doesn’t work so cleanly.

    “She has one hell of a training missing for you, my friend. Good luck,” he said as he punched me on the arm.

    “What? What is it?”

    “I am not telling.”

    “Come on, you can tell me!”

    “No.


 

    “Do you really have no Binder abilities or anything?” I asked.

    “No,” Roll said. I sighed. It was weird enough that Mega Man came back to school and was some sort of super strong Binder, but his sister is just... normal. And apparently she went with him to that space thing! Like, what? It’s absurd. Ooh, her dress has a zipper on it. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting zippers lately. I put my bag down on the ground and cracked my knuckles, stretching a bit to warm up.

    “Go on, don’t let me stop you,” she said. “I just want to watch you practice.”

    Okay... whatever. Blue things. Water is blue, ice is blue.. ish. Sky is blue. I pulled out one of my water guns, and let my shoe’s blue sole mean “ice”. A trail of ice was underneath me. So far, so good. I let the blue on my clothes mean “sky”, and I felt my weight drop. I kicked off the ground.

    Balancing on two narrow paths of ice while moving around was a lot harder than it seems. It wasn’t even quantifiable. What does it mean to skate and ski at the same time? Plus, balancing? Aleksei could fly. Claire could fly. I have to do this.

    I skated. I felt the rush of wind through my hair as I ascended. Higher... higher... it was wonderful. I was above the school now. Alright, to stabilize. It was hard going up, but once I was up it wasn’t as hard on my calves. I looked at the ground, aiming at some flat piece of the ground. I pulled out a water gun, splashing blue paint at it.

    Nosedive! I pushed my aura into shielding myself. Trying to keep composure during the sudden drop was daunting. What are you doing, Adelaide? You are seriously rushing head first into the ground? What would your parents think... haha.The paint on the ground means “water”. I leaped forward, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath in.

    I sunk. I opened my eyes. I was swimming under the world. I could see through the ground... sort of. I tried to go up from the concrete... but I couldn’t. As expected. I couldn't shoot paint from under, either. Ugh. I climbed out of the blue paint.

    I tried to get the paint off my body as I usually did. Was I breathing heavily? I guess I was starting to get really tired. I wasn’t exactly used to this sort of thing. I flicked the rest of the paint off me telekinetically. Blue bench. Nice. Can blue mean comfortable? I felt a sharp pain in my soul. Guess not.

 

    “Asco,” I called. Asco materialized on my shoulder. It was a cute little chicken thing, a blue chicken? I don't know what Asco is. I retrieved a sandwich from my bag ripping a piece off for Asco. Roll was applauding as she sat down next to me.

    “Well, what do you think? Pretty strong, huh?”

    “I... guess,” Roll said.

    “What, are the tournament guys that strong? Heh.”

    Roll had a weird expression.

    “I don’t want... all this fighting. Does there have to be so much violence?”

    “What do you mean? There’s bad people, and bad people have to be stopped. Come on, Roll.”

    “I know there are bad people,” Roll said. “But most people aren’t like that. Most people are just... doing bad things for good reasons. If we learn what those reasons are, we can help them stay on the right path.”

    My eye twitched.

    “Roll, let me tell you something. I learned to fight because with my net worth, with my cute looks, everyone wanted something from me. You mean to tell me if I just talked to them, they would-”

    “No! Not those people, but... but...”

    So naive.

 

    “Do you know who Ex Machina is?” she asked.

    “Who? Oh... wait. Didn’t they try to take over a factory? Those robots.”

    “Yeah,” Roll said. “They... want to take over more than a factory. We’re going to stop them. But... I don’t want to stop them with violence. We’re all on the same side. We just want things to be better for robots, that’s all!”

    I put my hand reassuringly on Roll’s head. A few students who came to see what the flying girl was all about saw this and started murmuring. Rumouring. Look, delinquent girl is friends with Roll. I could hear it in their heads even if I couldn’t read minds.

    “Adelaide,” she said. “Your hands...”

    Ah. I was clenching my fists.

    “I just don’t like how they judge me like that. They don’t know what I’ve been through, or who I am. They just think I’m dangerous. Watch out, it’s Adelaide! Or something like that. It... it...”

    Roll placed her hand on mine. It was cold. Right, robot. I took a deep breath in like Aleksei taught.

    “This is what I mean, right?” Roll said with a gentle smile. What...

    “You’re a good person that was forced to do bad things. What’s to say there aren’t more people like that? We don’t need to destroy each other, or hurt each other, we just need to understand each other.”

    Is this why Claire keeps calling her Master Roll..? God dammit, she’s good. Yeah, I get it. I used to think Aleksei was just some weird stuck up smart kid too. And Roll was just some... silver spoon robot who didn’t get what people were like.

    “When people close themselves off and only speak violence, they start to hear violence everywhere too. They force themselves into thinking that’s how the world is. This world is too beautiful for that. But... I’m too weak to get that message across... so... I’m worried my friends might hurt somebody they don’t need to...”

    “Roll, why do you call yourself weak?” I asked.

    “Claire said something like that too... my brother always saves the world, and all I do is cheer him on. I’m not really anyone special.”

    “Idiot,” I said as I patted her head. “That’s what makes you special, you know? Alright, tell you what, Roll.”

    “What?”

    “You’re worried they might hurt somebody? Go with them and keep them on the right path. Take me along - I’ll get Aleksei to come too; we’ll keep you safe. Just make sure to keep them in line, alright?”

    “You can’t! It’s dangerous!” she cried. I laughed.

    “What, do you think we were practicing for nothing?”

    “You’re all so cool...” she whispered. I pretended I couldn’t hear it. I didn’t know how to put it into words that would convince her that she’s the second coolest person I’ve met.


 

    “Why are we going to this ring planet again?” Aqua Man asked.

    “Did you not hear?” Dive Man answered. “Their version of robots... Automatons, developed by the lovely Maria Tulisen were rounded up and destroyed by order of some sort of sky organization. We sent a small group, but they need help... turns out Emakians are pretty tough.”

    “Who is Maria Tulisen?” I asked. “Do you have a crush?”

    “Shut up, Splash Woman,” he spat back. “That’s an organic you’re talking about.”

    I couldn’t help but giggle. I saw Wave Man standing in the bridge out of the corner of my eye... ah... it was starting again.

    “Those poor robots... even at home they never... they...”

    Wave Man couldn’t stop crying. He was the second most emotional out of all of us and when he got like this, it...

    “Oi! Can it!” Toad Man shouted. Here it comes. I rubbed my Synthflesh.

    “They’re going to kill her, you know?” Wave Man blubbered. “Just for making us Robots! And she loved them just like Dr. Light did!!”

    “Dr. Light... was just another human,” Dive Man insisted.

    “No, he wasn’t,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Did you not hear Lord Ombra’s most recent sermon?”

    “I did not,” he said. “I was training with Gory.”

 

    I sighed. This ship was nice. I never got to sit on a command ship before. Lord Ombra really pulled out all the stops for his generals, huh? Must be nice.

    Bubble Man, Aqua, our leader, span his chair around. Oh, shoot. He was crying too.

    “Dr. Light... had a project. Project X. A robot WITHOUT A DESIGNATION! He was trying to make us robots FREE, Dive Man!”

    “WHAT?!” he shouted. The other Masters laughed. Ah, I was tearing up too.

    “The government wouldn’t allow him to do it. They would never give us self determination. It was shelved. The blueprints have never been found... it’s what Lord Ombra has been searching for. He thinks he knows where it is so he told us. He's so close to finding it. It’s... so beautiful...” our leader said. He ran up and embraced Dive Man.

    “Once we have it, this world, society, and even our bodies will belong to us and us alone, my brother,” he whispered. Dive Man was in tears now and hugged back. I chuckled. I pressed two buttons on my PID to indicate this meeting was top secret. Couldn’t have our regular staffmen see the Masters like that. Wave Man joined the group hug.

    I stared out the window wistfully, watching the stars go by. We’ve conquered space, now. Who knows what else we’ll be able to do? I looked down at my hands. Was I just soft on Dr. Light because he created me? I was going to be replaced, after all.

    This couldn’t have been what he wanted. What person would create robots and subject them to this nightmarish situation? I still remember looking up at him, still half finished. The gentle smile he had. Even Mega Man... was nice. I miss the old guy so much, sometimes. I want to go up to him and tell him about Ex Machina. I want to tell him that he doesn’t have to be afraid anymore. We could have helped him with Project X. Ah, now I was crying...

    “We’re going to save Maria Tulisen,” Bubble Man said, putting a hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him.

    “Yes. Yes!”

    There were good organics, and bad organics. And we needed a genius on our side, someone to be like Dr. Light, or even Dr. Wily. I heard Terra’s group ran into them, Mega Man and Wily, and said they were... different.

    I hope Mega Man joins us soon. I thought of how he came to visit me after defeating me. We used to go swimming together! Ah, why am I so sentimental? We have a mission.

    “And then,” I said, interrupting the group. We had a nickname, too. Terra’s Group were the renamed, because they made up their own names. Ignis’s were the knights, the way they had this strict rule of honour. And we were the crybabies. Made sense, we’re water themed and all a bunch of crybabies. I started laughing.

    “Sorry, sorry!” I grabbed everyone’s attention for something stupid. “And then we’re going to burn every one of those sorry bastards to show them what happens when you mess with robotkind.”

 

    Yeah, the tears were drying. I’d like everything to be nice, but it won’t be like that until all of our enemies are dead. There can be no mercy for the bad organics. The people wanted to round up and destroy the automatons? That’s fine. We’ll round them up and destroy them too. One by one. We'll make them watch, like they showed all of the "defective" robots being  destroyed on TV all of the time. Like they were going to do to me.

    “Right,” Bubble Man said, grinning wickedly. “Emaki, your backup has arrived!”

    Bubble Man was the most fierce of the three generals, and one of the few people that were able to wound Lord Ombra in a battle. His tenacity and strength was unrivaled. He loved to toy with his opponents too much, but not only was he strong, he was a natural Starchild.

    Aqua Man cracked his knuckles.

    “Your Bubbliness, we will not let you down.”

    Colonel Aqua Man, the most tricky of us all. His tactics lead to defeating 4000 soldiers with only 400 robots in the African Union, which allowed us to secure parts to repair some of our ships... including these ones.

    Toad Man flexed a rain cloud above him. Or, should I say, Captain Toad Man. He was so quiet that he barely ever spoke. A master of stealth, his use of acid rain and his jumping ability made him a master of special ops missions.

    “Of course... for our brothers and sisters!!!” Wave Man shouted. Our long ranged specialist and sniper, Lieutenant Wave Man, the lowest ranked but most specialized of all of our troops. Wave Man had twice the effective range of any of us except Bubble Man.

    “Hmph,” Dive Man said. He was grinning. Lieutenant Colonel Dive Man, the one called ‘the tsunami’, a man who could take multiple hits from Bubble Man without flinching. His resilience was horrifyingly strong, and while his offensive capabilities were weak, his defensive tactics made him unbeatable.

    “What say you, Lieutenant General Splash Woman?” Bubble Man said, reaching out his hand. I grabbed it and stepped up to the command deck. Only one week until we made it to Emaki.

    “It’s time to show the multiverse Ex Machina means business.”



Chapter Text

    “It has been very berry merry, everyone, but all good things must come to an end! Now, do not cry because I am gone,” Yieve began. I took my helmet off out of respect. As much as she joked around and trailed off into talking about nonsense, Yieve was actually a phenomenal teacher. Yieve taught us how to be flexible in a fight, and every bit of our training was about finding the smallest window of opportunity.

    “But, there are two things I would like to give to you to remember me by - ah, hold up.”

    Yieve slunk in my shadow. The student council walked by the room - Andreas notably missing. I waved to Jason, who waved back.

    “Pres is gone?” Claire asked.

    “He... left this planet. Huh, never thought I would say that. Wow. I think I’ll run for president in his place.”

    My mood soured slightly. Of course he left this planet... he signed a contract. I hope he isn’t off causing problems for other people somewhere else. Wait, what?

    “You’re running for president?” I asked.

    He nodded. I gave my thumbs up of approval.

    “Don’t get conceited, Triceshield,” a popular girl who was studying something or other, I couldn’t remember. She was I believe two grades ahead of me.

    “Hey, hey, I just said I’ll run, okay?” he said as he continued down the hall. Yieve stepped out of my shadow, draping herself across my shoulders.

    “Phew, wasn’t that a close one, right?” she whispered in my ear.

    “I suppose,” I said. “Don’t you have an announcement?”

    “Geh, responsibilities! Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine, I’ll do it.”

    You were the one that came up with this...

    “First, to Mega Man,” she said, dropping to one knee. “You are the light of my life. Please be my king.”

    “Let’s just be friends. Second?”

    Many of the newer students in the Binder club looked up in outright shock at this. Ah, that’s right, they weren’t on the ship. If I recall correctly, this is the 11th time I was proposed to?

    “Ahem, heartbroken, Yieve moves on... the road ahead is dangerous, you’re probably going to run into Dusk for the first time - so, to Aleksei, I have a super cool gift, if you can complete my daunting challenge. Mega Man, listen up, this concerns your beautiful... dreamy... single..?”

    “Yieve, I turned you down under 1 minute ago.”

    “What are Dusk?” Aleksei asked under his breath.

    “A lot can change in 43 seconds, okay? Sheesh. Anyway, Mega Man, limit yourself to 5%. You’re fighting Adelaide and Aleksei. Alone. If they win they get a cool thing. Stay in the circle-y round thing I’m going to make.”

    「Understood, ma’am.」

    “Are you sure?” Claire and Pierre asked.

    “I don’t know if they can...” she began, but at the same time,

    “I don’t know if he can,” Pierre said. The two looked at each other, confused.

    “Mega Man is my rival,” Claire pointed out. “Those two are just beginn-”

    “Their partnership is very strong, Claire, and they grow fast. They were not weak to begin with, and despite my barriers being able to beat Adelaide, her ability has grown significantly.”

    「It will be an interesting challenge.」

    “Alright... Aleksei... huh. Ay,” I began murmuring to myself. I could use that syllable a few times and use that common sound to stretch the rhyme scheme even if my syllable work doesn’t match up.

    “You hear that, Lex? He said we have a strong partnership.”

    “There is no points for pointing out the obvious,” Aleksei said. “It is like saying the sky is blue.”

    “Aw, you picked a blue thing for me?”

    “Alright, everyone please stand back, the fight will be starting soon-” Yieve began. Everyone moved far out of the outlines of the circle and watched with bated breath. I took a deep breath in and began:

 

    “Posted up here, style thick, clogging the air waves

    I’m boasting I’m legit, every cog set to doomsday

    So make way, may day, standing against Adelaide and Aleksei

    Dead weight can’t make headway, at least that’s what the best say

    And that’s me saying it, so bring on the melee

    My style sweet like sorbet, but bring more weight to the swordplay- could go for days- explore more ways to floor your face.

    Wreck house from here to Norway. That’s what I call my forte.”

 

    “What the hell...” Adelaide whispered.

 

    “Mega Man on the floor, and now you calling foul play

    Halfway through the verse, watch how you now lay down

    I’ll remind you why I’m world renowned

    This isn’t my first soiree, and I’ve never been downed

    What I call child’s play is what you call a wild day

    My style fat like a buffet of cake on a birthday

    But it’s okay, pristine, supreme and gourmet

    You think the dark horse winning? It’s time to cut the horseplay.”

 

    “Why is he doing this?” Aleksei asked.

    “Oh, uh,” Roll stammered. “Mega Man raps to power up.”

    “The battle is starting in 5... 4...” Yieve began as everyone else made their way.

    “I have never heard of such a thing.”

    「Not bad, Mega Man! I’d give it... a 3.5/5?」 Alice commented out loud.

    “Good enough,” I responded.

    “2... 1!”

 


    At the count of one, Yieve immediately stepped back and pushed aura into protecting the spectators simultaneously as the fighters began. A wave of energy shot out from Mega Man as he activated the empowered aura from Gloria Mors causing both Aleksei and Adelaide to step back, eyes wide.

    As Mega Man shifted his selection , Adelaide squeezed Aleksei’s hand reassuringly. He smiled at her as she jumped off into the sky at incredible speed, skiing upwards with two trails of ice beneath her feet. At the same time, Aleksei adjusted his zipper - his silver aura flaring up beneath him and whipping his hair around.

    Mega Man ran forward - one hand at the ready, he shot at Adelaide who was gaining height on him. She swerved back and forth, slight movements to avoid Mega Man’s spears. Out of the corner of his blue eyes, he saw Aleksei was running in a circle around him, occasionally tapping at the ground. Behind him, a number of blue wagon wheels were growing, all pointed towards Mega Man.

    Adelaide was too far for Mega Man to reliably deal with, now. Aleksei looked up at him... his dispassionate dark brown eyes were utterly striking to the robot. Someone who was earnestly trying their best for something they didn’t care in the slightest about.

    Aleksei charged forward, releasing all of the wheels. They spun towards Mega Man at incredibly high speed as Aleksei rolled towards him. Mega Man shot at some of them before swapping ITEMs, creating temporary platforms to jump on.

    “Not quite, Mega Man,” Aleksei said. He picked up one of the wheels and launched it at him, spinning around deftly on his now-wheeled shoes and charging back in. Mega Man flipped to the side, barely avoiding the wheel as it charged towards him and returning fire on the club president.

    Aleksei clapped his hands together, pushing a giant wheel up from the ground that absorbed the shots. Two pierced through, but the president was nowhere to be found. Before hitting the ground, Mega Man saw Aleksei holding on to a propeller and floating above the ground. Panic crept into his eyes as he looked down.

    All of these wagon wheels were spinning around rapidly on the ground beneath him, creating dangerous traps that would cause him to lose his footing, or worse! At the same time, Mega Man felt a sharp pain as he was hit in the back. The wheel Aleksei had thrown earlier had flipped around and came back - launching him directly in the path of the hazards on the floor.

 

    “Is that all you have? I thought this would be ha-” Aleksei began, but he was stunned to see Mega Man, now green, flying towards him, foot first. Aleksei raised his spare arm to block, but was too slow. Mega Man Charge Kicked him towards the ground.

    “Ready!” Adelaide shouted, diving straight towards the ground. Aleksei snapped his fingers while falling, causing the blue wheels spun in bizarre patterns, shattering themselves and releasing blue splinters everywhere on the ground.

    “Blue... colour of blizzard,” Adelaide said. At the same time, Mega Man was preparing to land. Aleksei had flattened his body out, putting wheels on all of his limbs to turn into a car. He kicked off and zoomed forward at high speed, going to the other end of the makeshift arena Yieve had designated, going through the blue splinters. As he ran to the end, Adelaide threw a balloon at the ground, splattering it with blue paint. “Now!”

    Three things happened. First, the blue splinters began to chill the air around them and float around. Second, Adelaide jumped straight into the blue paint splatter she had made and sunk into the world, much to Mega Man’s surprise. Finally, Aleksei created a giant fan out of wheels. Mega Man’s eyes went wide with recognition as he realized what was happening. Aleksei snapped his finger, turning the fan on.

    Mega Man pushed most of his energy into his legs, and the rest into his shield as this massive torrent of wind, ice, and wooden splinters came directly in his face. Skulls floated around him, intercepting debris as even the ground was ripped apart. Step by step, Mega Man approached Aleksei, crossing to the middle of the arena. Aleksei was at his limit, having created and then manipulated a wheel too large for his body to sustain. He collapsed to one knee as Mega Man continued to step forwards.

    “I’m... still standing!!” Mega Man shouted into the wind.

    “Oh?” Aleksei said, pulling himself up. He couldn’t keep the fan going, but most of the blizzard had subsided. Mega Man’s armour was covered in small cuts, and his standing was unsteady. “So am I. But you are not just fighting me.”

    With that, he reached into his pocket, pulling out a filled balloon and rushing towards Mega Man. He threw it at Mega Man’s leg - Mega Man avoided by stepping to the side. He retaliated with a sharp elbow to Aleksei’s back, causing him to sputter and fall to the ground, rolling to his feet. He adjusted his zippers again, ensuring they were all the way zipped up, before circling around - putting Mega Man’s back to the paint.

    “You aren’t bad,” Mega Man said. The robot thought it was incredible how much mileage Aleksei got out of his ability.

    “You neither,” Adelaide whispered into his ears as she jumped out of the paint behind him, shoving him harshly towards Aleksei.

    "Neither? Either? I'll look it up later." Aleksei clasped his arms together, creating a thin, sharp wheel - a saw blade! He stepped forwards, intending to cut Mega Man. Claire and Yieve gasped.

    Immediately after being hit, Mega Man pointed to one of the intact skulls, pulling it towards him - and sharply hitting Aleksei in back of the skull. In fact, Mega Man had intended to do this from the beginning. Being pushed was not going to stop him. Aleksei ducked his head down in sharp pain, stumbling slightly as the force of the skull pushed him off balance.

    Mega Man was low to the ground from being pushed, Aleksei was off balance and had extra weight in his arms... all the conditions were there. He grabbed Aleksei’s outstretched arms, and with a sweeping circular motion used Aleksei’s stumbling momentum to throw him directly towards Adelaide. Aleksei scrambled to make the wheel disappear as Adelaide reached out to grab Aleksei.

    “Wheels keep turning, gears are burning, with the desire to give you a mean hurting, that real tough learning,” Mega Man began as he charged his Mega Buster. Adelaide grabbed Aleksei, planting her feet and holding him steady. The shot was fully charged and Adelaide could do nothing but see it coming. She pushed her aura out to block as much of it as she could.

    Her shield, a soft pink, caught the blast and immediately caved in from the force of it. Her eyes went absolutely wide as both her and Aleksei were forced from the ground from the sheer impact the shot had on Adelaide’s aura. Yieve dropped the protection and seemingly teleported in front of Adelaide, grabbing the shot. A blue smoke came out of her hand.

 

    “Whew,” she said as Adelaide and Aleksei flew past the courtyard into the wall. “Uh, they’ll be fine?”

    “Dammit!!” Adelaide cried out, punching the already damaged wall. Aleksei patted her on the head.

    “I am sorry, it was mostly my fault we lost.”

    “You’re sorry? I wanted to win that prize for you! The two of us, including the club president, couldn’t even beat a single person. We must look so pathetic right now...”

    “You are joking, Adelaide,” Aleksei said. “Did you see our combination attacks? They were incredible.”

    “They really were,” Mega Man said, reaching out a hand to them. “You two have a lot of improvement to do, but you could have gone far in the tournament like that.”

    Adelaide pouted and kicked Mega Man’s leg. Immediately after, she struggled to hold her expression as she realized kicking metal was not the best idea, and managed to make it somewhat convincing.

    “Don’t take pity on us, Mega... Micro Man,” Adelaide taunted. “We’ll win the next one. Right, Lex?”

    “There is going to be another one? Can we take a break first? I am still sore from being thrown into a wall, you know.”

    Yieve laughed, a soft one at first before laughing manically.

    “So you two, and you, you both win. Everyone wins!” Yieve declared.

    “That was one of the most interesting fights I’ve ever seen. Wonderfully done, Mega Man. Your decision making throughout was brilliant,” Claire added, patting him on the back.

    “It is frustrating, as I do not have a way to attack, really,” Aleksei said.

    “Yeah, and my aura is not very strong compared to you guys,” Adelaide said, emphasizing ‘You Guys’ while pointing towards Yieve, Claire, and Mega Man.

    “Aw, don’t be like that Adelaide,” Yieve said. “You know, for people in my class, they say my aura is SUUUPER weak. Like, less than half of what it should be. Less than half...” she whispered.

    “So! I created a fighting style to make it around that! There’s more to fights than just big attacks. Fast attacks, tricky attacks... if you can’t break their shield, just go whoofo and slip around it! Then you gotta,” she ranted, making strange gestures. “Anyway. Keep practicing. And you, Aleksei. Have earned my gift!”

 

    Yieve reached into her back pocket, fidgeting around quite a bit until she pulled out a white stick that was at least four times larger than her back pocket. She looked lost in thought for a second, then reached back before pulling out a strange chain. Yieve then ripped the pulling part zipper off her own shorts and attached it to the chain, then attached the chain to the stick.

    “Ta-daa! Please enjoy it soon, as I now have to change my shorts. I did not think this plan through and now I suffer.”

    “You give stick?”

    Yieve sighed, grabbing Aleksei’s hand and clasping it around the stick, then sliding it through its entire length. Aleksei’s eyes went wide.

    “What... are you doing..?” Mega Man asked.

    “Mega Man, you do not understand. There are gears inside stick.”

    “What?” he asked.

    “CORRECT!!!” Yieve said proudly, pumping her fist in the sky triumphantly with her left hand and holding her shorts with the right. “This is the Hammer of Dalton Asquire, the greatest telekineticist to ever live and take seat on the Stream Council. It features a blisteringly sensual ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY ONE gears!”

    “What? One hundred thirty one?” Pierre asked.

    “To switch between its four forms, and activate its secondary function, telekinetically manipulating all the gears is required - it isn’t automated, as that would detract from its raw power. Only its user has ever been able to use it.”

    “Four forms?” Aleksei asked.

    “Yes, four forms. Hammer form, Burst form, Precision form, and Sheathe form - which you see now. Its secondary function uses a form of kamaki - which you will find out about at some point in the future, don’t ask, to store large amounts of power, even by absorbing the impact of enemy attacks after they land... and then it can go KABLOW!”

    “Uh, that is, of course, if you can get it out of Sheath form. Telekinetically manipulating 131 gears has been seen as impossible for the longest time, so this item was seen as a useless oddity,” Yieve began. “Except, you can probably do it, right?”

    “Manipulate 131 gears?” Mega Man asked.

    “It’s not possible,” Claire said. “Even if his Pact ability makes it easy to manipulate them - since rotation is the hardest form of telekinesis - it’s another thing to be able to do this for 131 gears in order to make the other forms work. Why does it have so many?”

    “Well, glad you asked,” Yieve said, grabbing Claire’s shoulder. “It’s complicated because each gear does something different in hyperspace, which is where the hammer’s functionality is stored. Think of this hammer as just the tip of the iceberg. The REAL Hammer of Dalton Asquire is actually a giant castle full of magitek mach...inery...”

 

    As they spoke, Aleksei shifted the small rod into a massive hammer. It was white with red trim on all of the highlights, its hammer head had a conical exhaust pipe on the end with a zipper hanging from a keychain on the other end of the balance - the head of the hammer was nearly half the size of Aleksei’s torso, and the handle carried two spaces for loading cartridges.

    Throughout the hammer a number of small, golden gears appeared from place to place with a large trigger near the grip. Yieve’s feverishly excited speech trailed into nothing as she stood there gawking at the device.

    “What? You make mountain out of molehill,” Aleksei said.

    “Are you blushing? That’s ADORABLE!” Adelaide answered, embracing him.

    “But... there are one hundred thirty one gears?” Pierre said. “How did you...”

    “It is not one hundred thirty one things to learn. It is one thing, one hundred thirty one times. Gears are the same,” he said while awkwardly moving his hand around a bit. “If I fiddle around with it then I change how heavy, or how long, or other things about the hammer.”

    As he spoke, the hammer was changing in size slightly, or colour. “There are also some sort of... factories? For generating power? I do not know how they put so much thing into small handle, but it is very impressive.”

    Yieve reached into her back pocket again, pulling out a crystal. “Hey, general. Yeah, come land. He got it to work. No, this isn’t a prank. Why would I prank you? Okay. Okay, yes, but that was - no, that wasn’t me, it wa- you know? Right, but that was just two- oh, come on, you can’t... look, just come, alright?”

    Aleksei Sokolov was considered eccentric in the school, not just for his odd habits, or his lack of reaction to anything... the most eccentric thing about him was that he had no idea how difficult any task should be. Figuring out how to use the new elevator was too hard for him so he climbed the walls of the school, once.

    It wasn’t just that he had no idea how hard things were, he made easy things look impossible and defied logic when the opposite came to pass. Rumours of him spread to mythic status, making his conduct and exploits urban legends known throughout the campus and spreading into the city.

    And, on this day, Aleksei Sokolov became an urban legend in the Shadowlandic military. “The Miracle Man” remained a popular topic of discussion across grunts everywhere. Some claimed he was 8 feet tall, some said he was half Shadowling... the only thing that would be consistent is that a boy with no training managed to make the most finicky of weapons look like child’s play.



Chapter Text

    “Dammit, we’re too late!” the boy shouted, slamming his fist on the console.

    “I am sorry, if only I knew teleportation magi-”

    “No, no, don’t be sorry. This was our last chance...”

    The small vessel, able to hold at most 20 people only had 2 in it. The two intended to drum up support for their cause, but everywhere they were met with skepticism, fear, or outright indifference. The last person on their list... they thought they missed.

    “No, wait, hold on,” the young wizard said. “Their control ship... is in orbit?”

    “Wait, we have a chance! Grysan, pull the red lever... we can make it if we dock at the last second!”

    Huata wasn’t able to convince anyone except Grysan to come. Really, he had no idea why Grysan would be involved to begin with, as Grysan agreed without hearing Huata’s pitch(which he thought was very convincing). Still, Huata was glad to have some support.

    Despite his plea: Emaki is under attack, it’s the same people that attacked Thip, you were at Thip, come get revenge - most people were afraid, or thought his theory was unfounded. It was only on a tip from a high ranking Shadowlander that Yieve was staying at Earth to train some Binders there that he had any hope.

    “Alright, Grysan, get ready to beam us up... I feel it. This is the one!”

    “Aye aye, captain!” Grysan said. It didn’t quite fit the elaborate blue wizard robes he was wearing, but Huata was too excited to care. He would convince Yieve, and at least then the strongest person from the tournament would help.

 


    The general was tall, wearing the familiar all black outfit of the Shadowlanders. Black jacket, black trousers, even deeper black shirt underneath the jacket, black shoes, black socks. Not just tall, he was big. Standing next to him made anyone look tiny - Aleksei, Mega Man, Pierre, let alone short people like me. He had two pistols on his belt - aura blasters - and gave the impression that he was constantly ready for battle.

    “Are you sure you can’t stay? We could really use your help dealing wit-” Mega Man began.

    “Milady,” the general suddenly interjected. pulling out his blaster. Yieve gently placed her hand on his arm.

    “Friend falling. Like rain, but better,” she explained. He blinked, looking vacantly at his princess. As impressive as it was that Aleksei was able to make the hammer work, they still had to leave, and Yieve had to be escorted.

    “I... see...” he said, stepping to the side. Seconds later, a red beam shot down right where he was standing, and several ethereal white strands of data flew down. In a second, from bottom to top, Huata was transported on the ground. It was an old type of transporter, one that Mars had abandoned years ago.

    “Thank goodness... you’re here. Princess Yieve, I have... come to request your aid... hah.... in dealing with an invasion of Emaki.”

    “Uaow, you’re all out of breath and saying stuff! You just got exploded into data! Calm doooooooown!” she responded, tackling him to the ground. “Rest! Grass here is comfortable.”

    The general’s eye twitched. It seems he is used to this sort of thing? Huata was panting heavily on the ground as if he had just sprinted a marathon. After a minute of confused silence, he stood up.

    “Children of Earth,” the general said, “I must insist that you leave. This is sensitive information, and likely to put you in danger.”

    The rest of the club reluctantly stood up and walked away, leaving only a few stragglers - Aleksei, Adelaide, a girl called Cassandra, and the club’s secretary who I forgot the name of. Along with, of course, our team from Thip.

    “Huh? Mega Man? Claire? Pierre..? Ro..ll..? Oh, this is perfect. Hear me out-” Huata pleaded.

    “I’m going home, actually,” Yieve said, dusting herself off. “Tell it to them.”

    “You haven’t even listened to me!”

    “Yeah,” Mega Man said, “and... we could use your help, too.”

    Yieve turned around and gently embraced Mega Man.

    “If I fight all your battles, you’ll never become strong. This isn’t my fight, you know?”

    She spun around, winking at Huata before marching up the lander. The general bowed, turning and following behind her. The small guard the general had and Yieve flew up towards the main ship.

 

    “...do you remember those people who attacked Thip?” Huata asked while staring up at the sky.

    “Ex Machina?” Mega Man asked.

    “They’ve attacked Emaki-”

    “We’ll go,” I said. I patted Mega Man on the back. “Pierre, are you coming?”

    Pierre looked at the ground and sighed. “Okay.”

    “There, so we have four people, right? We’ll be fine,” I said.

    “Five,” Huata corrected. “Grysan is with us.”

    Out of the corner of my eye I saw Roll step forward. Adelaide smirked and grabbed her hand.

    “Eight.”

    “I get no say in this?” Aleksei asked. “Just kidding. I have hammer now.”

    “Eh... Roll? No, absolutely not,” Mega Man said. “Roll, come on. Come on, Roll! You can’t fight... we are going to a dangerous place.”

    “That’s right,” she said. “I can’t fight. That’s the point, Mega Man! Are you going to fight your way through everything?”

    “Well, not everything, but...”

    “I won’t accept that! If you go to another planet just to fight there, you’re just... increasing the violence! Huata, don’t you want your world to be peaceful?”

    “Well,” Huata said, “You’re... not wrong, but,”

    “But,” I said. “This isn’t some game where you can be nice to everyone. You have to fight at some point or another, Master Roll.”

    “Well,” Adelaide said, flipping her hair. “The power couple of Venice High is here to defend her. I think she’ll be fine.”

    「You are weak, Adelaide. Why do you want to fight?」

    “For Roll,” she said.

    「You’ll fight for Roll? You will fight for the one that doesn’t want to fight? And what if you are not strong enough, Adelaide? Then what?」

    “Then... I’ll get stronger, obviously. Mega Man’s partner... I’ve been in fights for the past decade. I’m not new to risking my life. Roll is a very good person, and her cause is worth fighting for.”

    「Her cause is nonviolence. I will be frank - certain people have to die. Do you understand this?」

    “Alice!” Mega Man hissed.

    「It is the truth, Mega Man. Do you think evil can be allowed to live? If so, you are complicit in their actions. A person who kills for the joy of it won't ever be reformed. Roll, answer me.」

    “There’s a difference between evil and people doing evil,” Roll shouted back. There were tears in her eyes. “Our enemies are yesterday’s friends. Remember playing with the Robot Masters, Mega Man?”

    He looked down at the ground.

    “If there is any way, any way at ALL of saving even just one life, and I can be responsible for that... then... then I’ll be a hero too! But I can’t be a hero if I sit back and let everyone around me do everything! I know I can’t fight... but... I don’t want to. I just...”

    Adelaide patted Roll on the head.

    “You see? Impossible to argue with her. Mega Man, your sister’s as stubborn as you are. And I’m more stubborn than her. We’re going.”

    「Adelaide, what if you die trying to protect her? Do you think this is the kind of journey where everyone will just be fine?」

    “Adelaide will protect Roll. I will protect Adelaide,” Aleksei said. “One can not fight an army alone. Together, we will become an army.”

    “An army with eight people..?” Huata said.

    “Eight people who fight like one thousand each, space teleport man. Eight thousand people.”

    For effect, Aleksei unleashed his hammer. It was truly magnificent to see something of this quality workmanship. It looked as if it was made of rubber, the way it wobbled as parts unfolded from the hammer as the whole thing seemed to burst out of the other end of the rod - but it stood strong. A giant, ivory white hammer with an exhaust pipe at the end of the hammer's head, with a zipper dangling from a chain at the other end. The man wearing all black with the solid white hammer. It was striking.

 

    I wasn’t thinking... I was moving on instinct. I ran forwards towards Aleksei. His eyes flashed with confusion, but nonetheless he swung the hammer. I kicked off of it, jumping backwards. I let the world become a grid of bubbles. Flipping around, I stepped on two bubbles on the ground, sprinting forwards. I wasn’t going at full speed, no, but even still... to move a hammer of this size so quickly.

    Again, he repelled me. It was strange, how light the repel was. I jumped backwards off the hammer to cushion my fall and landed far away from him. A hammer of that size should have so much more we- ah.

    “You’re retracting the weight of the hammer to move it quicker?”

    “Yes, but. It is not easy to get the weight back in. I still must have more practice.”

    I get it. Then, I’ll j-

    Aleksei put two wheels on each of his legs, and held the hammer backwards. He pulled the trigger on its handle - and a burst of flame shot out of the back. This is so fast! But... he wasn’t used to this speed. He was going to crash. I ran forward, tackling him and preparing bubbles to cushion our fall.

    “Ah... heh... it seems I am not quite used to how fast I can go with the hammer.”

    Aleksei always had to kick off the ground to start propulsion, but this lack of fluidity made his motions predictable, stilted, and easily avoided. But with this hammer, he could go into roller blade mode at a second’s notice.

    “Aleksei, point the hammer on the ground, and stand on the edges. Then-”

    Aleksei, before even being instructed did as I was going to tell him - launching himself in the air. Before falling, he thrust his arm up, creating a propeller which slowed his descent to a crawl, and even lifting him up for a brief second. He slowly eased himself onto the ground.

    “Huata... Mage. Grysan, Artillery. Pierre, Support. I am a Striker. Mega Man is a Mage/Striker. Do you see a hole, here, Huata?”

    Huata’s ears perked up as he gawked. I pointed towards Aleksei with a smile.

    “Our Knight...” he said.

    “Of course,” Pierre said. “And Adelaide is a Support/Striker.”

    “What are you talking about?” Adelaide asked. “Aleksei is my knight.”

    “I see,” Mega Man said. He looked at Roll for a second, then sighed. “At least someone will wake me up when I oversleep.”

      

 

    “Excellent, excellent!” Huata said. “So, that’s eight of us, then? Wonderful! We’ll show those Ex Machina bastards not to mess with Emaki!”

    "Aris, you're in charge. Cassandra, tell them we are going on unsanctioned, unsupervised field trip," Aleksei insisted.

   「For the record: I am only coming here to exterminate Ex Machina. I have no affiliation with Emaki.」

    “Yes, of course...” he said. “But, once you go there... you’ll fall in love with it. Even if it is a scary place.”

    I’m not an idiot. I know I’m not a naturally-born Martian, really. I was found on Earth, then raised as a Martian. I can’t be a mutant because I wasn’t born there, but I know very well I’m not an Earthling. I don’t have any connection to this planet. This is why I can’t use Neovridh’s power well. Huata dropped everything to travel the Realms looking for someone to help him save his planet. Mega Man has risked his life dozens of times for his.

    I don’t feel that sort of connection to Mars. I want to be a weapon for Mars to repay my debts, but thinking critically... I never really had that type of passion. For years I thought passion was as simple as getting angry, and while this somewhat worked, I was just working myself up to try to trick the Pact into giving me more strength. So then, what is passion? I know I've felt it before, because Neovridh said so. But what?

    “Claire, are you coming?” Roll asked.

    Roll... you are the strongest of us all; I am the weakest. I hope you find success in your journey. I hope you can teach me how to be a better person.


 

    It was very cramped in the ship, with us two in our seats, and everyone else around the vessel. It was meant to store up to 20 people, but not comfortably - a short trip transport vessel. It had a small turret that had both missile and plasma weapons for fighting off anyone on the ground, but nothing more.

    I saw two energy readings coming out of the most recent wormhole we took towards Emaki. Zooming in our optical scanner... Blue Hand.

    “Crap, they’re on to us! Grysan, push the blue button!”

    “Who?” Mega Man asked.

    “The people we... borrowed... this ship from. It’s fine! Whatever!” Huata said. “Pierre, you’re closest to the turret, hop in!”

    “You STOLE this ship?!” Adelaide asked.

    “Yeah. I did a lot of bad things, okay? It’s for a good cause,” I answered.

    “That’s SO COOL!!! We’re space pirates, Lex!”

    The girl embraced Aleksei, the hammer boy. Aleksei responded by gently swiping her hand off, as if to remind her that we are under attack. She pouted.

    “Is there anything we can do?” Claire asked.

    “No, just hold on to something. I’m going to take evasive action. Grysan, you got the controls?”

    “Yes, captain!”

    All around us was open space, no satellites, no space debris, no asteroids. There was a star close enough to cause light problems, but nothing else I could use. Two scouts were closing in on us - there! The probe was right there.

    “Here we go!” I said, pulling the controls back. The two ships zoomed past us as I did a tight loop around, turning around to face the escaping info probe. If this thing managed to get into the wormhole back to Blue Hand HQ, we’d be swamped by bounty hunters before we even looked at the Ring.

    “Okay, Pierre, shoot that probe! I’ll- gah! Evasive actions, hang on, I’ll get you a shot!”

    Two missiles approached us. According to the computer, they were locking on to our heat sensor. I shifted power to the internal life support 200%, reducing power to shields, then killed the engines and thermal coating. Life support will keep us toasty, and -

    “Pierre, shoot a missile anywhere!”

    “Will do,” he answered. Our missile launched out at a weird angle as I turned the ship to avoid blaster fire from the other two.

    “Grysan, get a lock on the other two ships with the rear camera! I need to see what they’re doing! Pierre, I’ll hold us steady, put all your aura into eyes!”

    “Yes, captain,” he answered. I cut the rolling of the ship, stabilizing us for a split second, staring dead on at the probe. It was just a few seconds away from the wormhole. “Now!!”

    It could have been an inch away, but the ball managed to clip the probe - its explosion was sucked in by the wormhole, pulling all of the debris into it.

    “Aim the turret straight up, perpendicular to the ship!”

    “Yes, sir!”

    “Grysan, kill all visuals except the locked camera. I need complete focus here.”

    “Yes, captain!”

 

    The two ships were following us. We had to turn quickly to avoid the wormhole, lest we go further from our goal. They knew this, and would be anticipating a turn. What they weren’t expecting, however, was a nosedive - straight down, 90 degrees, and then down again. I was flying underneath them. A quick barrel roll and for a brief moment... Pierre had a shot. I closed my eyes and prayed - then I heard the familiar pulsing of the cannon.

    “You got the scoundrels!” Grysan shouted. I cheered.

    We stabilized, setting a course straight for the next wormhole to leave this sector. We couldn’t escape them well enough, but if they had to divert energy into preventing the fire, we could at the very least evade one of them. We couldn’t keep fighting like this, our fuel was too low. A gamble.

    “Grysan, do you know any spells to get us out of this?”

    “Spells? For space stuff? What do I look like, AA rank? Really. I’m flattered. I know I have the visage of a legendary wizard, and yes, I am great, but-”

    “Grysan, focus!”

    “Er, there is... one, but, we’d lose the ship.”

    “Oh no, our stolen ship,” Adelaide piped up. By Ava, she’s cool.

    “What is it?”

    “It’s a spell that creates a team of skeleton sailors. We make it look like this was a skeleton scouter, and abandon the ship. They destroy the ship, and they go on their day.”

    “We won’t be able to land well if we do that,” Pierre added from the cockpit. "We will be forced to land somewhere without screening it thoroughly first."

    “We’ll land on Emaki. As long as we don’t miss the mainland and end up on one of the Dark Continents, we’ll be fine.”

    “Okay, do it, then,” Mega Man said. “As long as we don’t crash the landing, it’s fine.”

 

    Grysan began muttering as he reached into his robe, pulling out a small model of a ship in one hand and a small bell in the other.

    “Hear the ship bell ringing,” he said, ringing the bell, “hear now, the toll of death. Rise once more, once again draw breath, to sail the seas anew across its entire breadth - skeleton crew, rise again, from the murky depths.”

    Hands seemed to grow from the metal of the vessel underneath. Grysan rang the bell. Once. Twice. A third time.

    “Three skeletons is enough to run this ship. Skeletons, you are to get us above the mainland of Emaki, and beam us all down, then fly.”

    The skeletons nodded.

    “Battle stations, hurry!” he chanted.

    Pierre practically fell out of the turret above onto the ground in shock as he saw the skeleton walk up to take his place. I guided the rest to follow me into the landing pad.

    “Prepare for landing in. 3... 2...” a robotic voice said. I couldn’t see where we were going at all, but the skeletons mindlessly carried out their tasks.

    “One.”

    Emaki... I’m coming back. I felt my entire body quantized into data. It was a bizarre thought.

    “It’s very tiring,” I warned everyone on the ship.


 

    I was the second to materialize. Roll was the first, I guess being a robot makes it easier to be materialized into data. Moments later, everyone else followed - Aleksei being the last. They were all on the ground, breathing heavily. It seems robots aren’t affected by the tiring nature?

    Looking around, I found ourselves in a ravine. To our back was a wall, and surrounding us were towering walls of stone, purplish and specked with some sort of white rock in little deposits. There was only one way to move, unless we wanted to climb. Above us, the pursuing ships from above flew in and shot down our vessel with a tremendous explosion. The debris would burn up, I think.

    「Something’s not right here, Mega Man.」

    “You’re right,” I said. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but there was something oppressive about this area. It was eventide, and the air around us was chilly. The wind whistled through the ravine. Emptiness. I’ve been in empty areas before, but there was something artificial about this emptiness that was chilly on an entirely different level.

    All I could hear was the wind, and the panting of my organic friends behind me. Roll trembled. I told her to hide behind the rock. I didn’t know what exactly it was, but...

    「You think so too? We’re not alone here.」

    Alice had a way of making words known to everyone, or just to me. It wasn’t exactly writing, it wasn’t exactly sound, it wasn’t exactly a thought. I knew it was her, and I knew it was coming directly to me. My footsteps echoed through the canyon. Curiously, they echoed from further ahead. I started pacing back and forth, rhythmically. Then, I stopped; suddenly, without warning, I stopped. I heard another footstep from deeper in the ravine following the same rhythm I had set up.

    “Everyone, are you ready to move? There is someone ahead. One person,” I explained. Grysan needed help getting up, but the others, though still tired, were able to stand. We headed further down the ravine. Though some of us could fly, it wasn’t all of us. For certain, Roll couldn’t - and I wasn’t about to let Roll face a potential enemy alone.

    I heard a shriek from Grysan as we headed around a boulder. Pierre and Adelaide gasped. Finally, I could see what they were looking at - and the sight nearly made me collapse. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of beings were nailed to the walls of the ravines in varying states of decay. Humans, humanoids, automatons, monsters, plants, all of them covering the walls for several meters in some sort of macabre display.

    “What the hell?!” Claire shouted. “Why?! Who did this?!!”

    “Claire, calm down,” Aleksei said. “We do not know who-”

    “I’ll find whoever did this... this is inhumane, monstrous...”

    I put an arm on her shoulder. Judging by the rust on some of these spikes, they had been here for months. This was not some new installation, nor was it an abandoned project. Some of the bodies were completely decomposed, others weren’t. This was a work in progress. Judging by the fact that it gets more dense the further in...

    「Don’t think of this any further, Mega Man.」

    “Yeah, right. Of course, Alice.”

    My hands were trembling. Was it rage? Fear?

 

    “Hello, hello hello~!” a voice called out. “It’s so nice to see you in this ravine! Shame about the decoration, no?”

    The voice was beautiful, so pure. It was definitely a man’s voice, though it was a disarmingly open voice. He spoke with a softness and gentle warmth that could only be described as saintlike. The purity of a child calling out to his mother, the warmth of a longtime friend inviting you over for dinner. As friendly and personable as the voice was, it made the contrast only ever more disgusting. How could anyone be so... nonchalant, about this?!

    “I’ll kill him...” Claire whispered.

 

    And then, before we could even process what happened, he was standing in front of us. He was dressed like a train conductor, down to the conductor’s hat. His messy blonde hair and youthful, soft features brought to mind an earnest and young boy. But, that was wrong.

    His eyes had no pupil, his irises were a dark orange with small swirling black pools of madness inside them - not black like a pupil would be, but something deeper. An endless void. A shimmering, rainbow outlined each pool as they wriggled around in his eyes. He had a gentle smile as he held a rusty railroad spike in one hand, with the other hand behind his back.

    “What did you say? I apologize, I was too far away to hear. Could you repeat?” he asked.

    “Just kidding,” he said in a dark, velvety baritone. “I heard you, Claire Beaumont.”

    “Who are you?!” Adelaide shouted, pulling out a squirt gun. Aleksei stepped forward, putting his arm in front of Adelaide to block her.

    “This is not a fight we can win,” the Russian noted.

    「Yes, that’s right, Aleksei.」 Alice said. Was she... scared?

    “My name is Adrian. No last name. Just Adrian. The other Adrians are nothing to me, and you should do your best to forget about them, okay? Joking, joking. I’m utterly worthless.”

    He had an animated way of speaking, waving his arms around, gesturing to himself, gesturing to others, all the while waving the railroad spike around. Roll took a step backwards.

    “Ah, this? Oh, sorry about that. I didn’t want you to get the wrong impression here. I did nothing wrong, of course. This spike... is just a coincidence.”

    “A coincidence?!” Claire spat. “It’s a COINCIDENCE that you have the same thing used to spike-”

    “Easy,” Huata hissed. “This is actually Adrian we are talking with. We don’t want to get on his bad side.”

    “How hurtful. You make me out to be some common lowlife! I just thought we could... well, some of you could be friends. But, if this spike is upsetting you, then...”

    He took the spike firmly and shoved it into his skull. He giggled as with one hand he wriggled it around to get the perfect angle, then shoved it in. There was a sickening squishing sound as blood spurted out. He laughed cheerfully and maniacally as he pushed it deeper, and deeper in, collapsing on the ground. With an unnatural motion, he lifted himself back onto his feet using just his legs and wobbled around unsteadily.

 

    “There. It’s all gone, now~! And don’t worry about the bodies. I didn’t kill any of them. I just found them and carried them here.”

    Grysan threw up onto the ravine.

    “How do you know Claire?” I asked, still pointing my Mega Buster at him.

    “It isn’t nice to ask questions at gunpoint, police robot. Is this how you get all of your friends to do your bidding? Or do you even consider the Robot Masters friends?”

    My temper flared. I nearly shot, but held back.

    “I’m sure all of these people are glad to be friends with you, and not just acting out of fear, Mr. Temper Tantrum. There's no way they hold any resentment towards you for destroying them. Teehee. Oh, don’t look so angry. It’s just some light hearted ribbing among friends.”

    “We’re not friends.”

    “Aha, that’s true,” he responded with a gentle smile. “You, and Claire, are everything that’s wrong with this world. I could never be friends with lowlifes like you.”

    “That’s not true!!” Roll shouted. Adrian’s eyes went wide, with the black pools retreating entirely. He laughed again, a more bitter one, and knelt down on the ground in front of her.

    “My apologies, Roll. I did not mean to upset you. You are a wonderful person.”

    “Everyone keeps telling me that, but I’m not. I’m weak. Mega Man is the real h-”

    “Being weak is NOT wrong!” Adrian shouted back, with tears in his eyes. “This is a world that preys on the weak, where strong people control everything! Should we just sit back and pray that a Mega Man or Claire Beaumont, people who have luckily received incredible power should save us?! We are mere ragdolls to be thrown around and played with by the powerful. And they have not worked a single day for their power! I am PATHETIC! I am a flower to be trampled a thousand times over by the boot of the fortunate!”

    “Mega Man works very hard, Adrian. You do not know him,” Pierre cut in. Aleksei and Huata gave a worried look.

    “Oh, Pierre. I have not heard too much about you. Pierre... Jackson?”

    “Joseph.”

    “Oh, sorry, sorry sorry!” Adrian said, slamming his head onto the ravine. “You, too, are beautiful. Do you not see how hard you work? You are weak, but you try... so hard... to keep up with people that just have natural talent. It brings a tear to my eyes.”

    “I do not resent my friends for their success. And I do not consider myself weak.”

    “Oh, sure, not NOW,” Adrian began bitterly. “But then, people around you will start to die because they can’t keep up. And the strong will say, you don’t have to follow them. But you know what? For those of us without power... just being around those that have it makes our lives feel meaningful. So you follow. Step, by step. And every step you notice their footprints are just a bit... bigger than yours. And everyone calls you, Mega Man's friend, for instance. You're not the hero to them. Heroes are big and flashy.”

    Pierre was stunned.

    “It is not...” he said.

    “You see, Mega Man,” Adrian said, pointing towards me. “You have a strong Pact. You will outgrow everyone around you, and become supreme. You and Claire. If every strong person dies, then nobody is strong. We don’t need to fear, anymore.”

    “What are you saying?”

    “The love of my life died because two strong people fought, you know?”

    “And I’m supposed to feel bad for you, when you have killed every person in this ravine and displayed them?! What point is this?!” I shrieked.

    Adrian sighed, pulling out railroad spikes. He placed them into the ground and cracked his neck.

    “Pierre, Roll, Grysan... even Huata. And you people... who are you?” he said, pointing a new spike towards Adelaide and Aleksei.

    “My name is none of your business,” Aleksei responded.

    “We’re the ones that are going to PUT YOU IN YOUR PLACE, you god damned FREAK!” Adelaide shouted.

    “Woah, what? Adelaide,” Aleksei began.

    “Adelaide, huh?” Adrian said, laughing. “I like you two, as well. You’re weak, just like me.”

    Adelaide’s eyes shot with fury. Aleksei struggled to hold her back as she kept reaching for her squirt guns.

    “You really want to fight, too, huh? Too bad. I don’t want to fight you. Perhaps... if you become strong, I will cut you like the weed you gifted people are. For now, Mega Man, Claire. I will kill you only using the left side of my body. I will make you feel weak. I will prolong your death and you will suffer.”

    “NO!!” Roll shrieked. “I won’t let you!”

    “Roll... please. You’re making this harder than it has to be. You should be able to tell by now that my sympathy is just an act, right?”


 

 

    Immediately, he moved - an incredibly fast cartwheel, with his right leg and arm dangling, he leaped forwards and kicked Mega Man in the face. Sparing no time, as soon as he went on the ground, he sprang forward to hit Claire. Claire attempted a probing kick, but she could only but lift her foot before Adrian was there. Adrian’s punch sent her flying into the wall of the ravine, next to a skeleton of a cat person.

    “Eh? Is that all you have? I thought you were in a tournament.”

    Pierre dropped multiple platforms on the ground Claire stepped backwards, putting up two walls of bubbles - making the ravine that much more narrow. With five levels of platforms, and a narrow entry point, even with the overwhelming speed advantage, their training would pay off.

    “Click~!” Adrian said. He held his left palm open, revealing the image of a stopwatch. “Goodbye, bubbles.”

    A black aura centering on him spread out, and where it touched the bubbles, they disappeared instantly.

    “I... can’t make bubbles?!” Claire shouted. “What is this?!”

    “I removed bubbles from the world. It’s sort of like Pierre’s ability, but... better? Oh, how it tickles to say that...”

    Mega Man jumped down with a charge shot.

    “Got the spikes in the wall, enjoy your pride before your fall,

    you think you’re all divine, but you really a-”

 

    Right before Mega Man was about to fire the charge shot , Adrian appeared on top of him - floating with devilish wings. He kicked down with his left foot, knocking the robot towards the ground. Mega Man cried out in agony as he hurtled towards the ground. Aleksei ran forward with his hammer out, pointing it towards the ground and pulled the trigger - a giant gust of air shot him forwards. He span the hammer quickly, pulling it inside itself in a somersault to move the hammer in position - but he wasn’t able to get the hammer head out of the rod in time, and only managed to graze Adrian.

    “Aha... ahahahaha! Hammer boy, that was great. But please, don’t throw your life away. I’m sure she cares about you a whole lot. She wouldn't want to see you disemboweled~”

    Aleksei threw a balloon filled with blue paint at the side of the wall as he fell to the ground sputtering. Moments later, Adelaide jumped out of the side of the paint, punching Adrian in the chest. At the same time, multiple magnets came flying at Adrian.

    “Now, Claire!” Pierre said. Claire jumped forwards, grabbing onto a platform which appeared perfectly in her hands, and shocking Adrian. His eyes were swarming with so many black pools it was as if they were black with orange strands. He grabbed her neck and held her up to his face.

    “Ah...”

    His right hand held her.

    “Oh, dearie. It looks like I’ve failed again, haven’t I? I really am the worst. Not even decapitating you here would make me feel bet-”

    Adrian’s eyes went wide as all of the black left them, showing only orange. He cried out in pain as he dropped Claire - a crystal arrow protruding from his chest. Roll grabbed Claire before she fell. She coughed and looked up at the arrow in shock.

    “Our attacks did... nothing...” she whispered.

 

    “Hey, kids, are you stupid?! Move! Deeper in the ravine, to me! Now!”

    The man was tall, towering over even Aleksei, and stood at the other end of the ravine with a bow that seemed made of two blades “strung” together with magic. He wore a brown leather jerkin over a light gray shirt and darker gray pants, with brown leather shoes. His black hair and bland outfit was contrasted only by his bright red scarf and outlandish weapon, and if it weren’t for his bow and the fact he was able to hurt Adrian, he would seem completely normal.

    I grabbed Roll’s hand, and picked up Grysan.

    “Falcon Speed,” he whispered. The man looked back at Grysan with a confused expression, but then gave a confident smirk as he ripped the bow in half - creating two blades. The string floated in the air before its form collapsed, turning into a cloud of shining dust as the man ran forward in front of the group to face Adrian.

    “Ocelot..!” Adrian spat, eyes bloodshot. He kicked the ground, causing all of the bodies to drop as the railroad spikes swarmed around him.

    “Nice to see you too, pal. Blue hair girl, get out of the ravine, go south. Take the train. When you get to the other side, ask for a guy called “Fang.” Tell him Ocelot sent you. You’ll get the star treatment.”

    “Don’t LOOK AWAY FROM ME, BASTARD!!” Adrian shouted. It was as if he burned his voice screaming.

    “Right, right, I’m getting to it, okay? Saving people isn’t that easy, ya kn-”

 

    He was cut off by dozens of spikes headed directly towards him. His reaction caused a sonic boom as the man moved faster than sound, leaping forward to intercept the spikes and swatting them out of the air.

    “GO!!” he shouted as Adrian prepared another barrage.

    “Come on, everyone!” Aleksei said. “We will get on train.”

    The eight hurriedly ran away from the battle. They didn’t even look back, hearing only the sound of metal on metal time and time again as the ravine rumbled under the sheer pressure of these hits. All around them, piles of dead corpses were thrown haphazardly to the ground, free of their spikes.

    “Is he what we have to..?” Pierre asked, panting.

    “No,” Huata said. “No... Adrian is something else entirely.”

    Once they had safely made a large distance away from the sounds of battle - and made it out of the ravine, they found a winding trail leading up to a forested area.

    “South is... that way,” Adelaide said after a while.

    “Are you alright?” Aleksei asked. She nodded.

    Aleksei created a wheel on his hand, a thin wheel - and used it as a saw blade to take down a tree. He moved quickly and efficiently, taking down another, and a third, and splitting them into pieces... creating a sort of raft. At the same time, Roll and Grysan prepared food for everyone else who was very tired after that ordeal.

    “Pierre, can you hold the logs together?”

    Pierre nodded, creating a “Rule” that logs would be glued together localized around the raft. Aleksei attached wheels to it, creating a cart. He motioned for everyone to get on. It moved fairly quickly, faster than walking, and headed on the trail moving south.

    “Welcome to Emaki,” Mega Man said. Nobody laughed.





Chapter Text

    "This is the plight of those who don't belong,

    For those called a blight and put down by the throng,

    For those told not to fight when they were created strong,

    We'll show them what is left, when right is called wrong." - Lord Ombra

 

    Thank you for reading Glory's End up until now. It has been a long ride, and we are only one third of the way there. Please leave a comment telling up until now who your 3 favourite characters are, I am curious to hear your thoughts. Act 2 will now begin.

Chapter Text

    “At long last, we have you... Gearwalker,” one of the soldiers spat. All around him, all of his comrades had been destroyed - with automaton parts laid around the ground scattered among the occasional dead Emakian. Were they part of the task force, or just the villagers condemned to death for harboring automatons - the automaton soldier was not aware.

    Eight soldiers surrounded it. They were battered, covered in blood, oil, and Essence.

    “I am Captain Arc of the automaton rebellion forces. Your names?” he asked. His voice was haughty and dripping with bravado.

    “You can call us the grim reaper, you scrap bucket,” another said. Six Knights armed with spears, one Support, and one Striker.

    “Surrender right now and we’ll make this painless. We don’t want the fight, and you know the outcome,” a younger girl said smugly. Her weapon was just a basic hammer.

    Arc pulled another cartridge into his device, venting it out.

    “You seem to misunderstand your situation, organics,” Arc chided. “I am asking for your names to honour the soon to be deceased. Or, you could die as nameless grunts?”

 

    One charged forward in rage, and Arc cleanly moved to the side, severing his arm with a quick slash - then pulled the trigger. His sword seemed like a simple falchion, but the gun attachment provided some ranged firepower. The man fell to the ground, dead.

    “GET HIM!” the other one shouted. Arc was a flurry of motion, quickly jabbing away, turning frequently, and trying to set up a perimeter.

    One kicked him backwards, sending him sprawling into another. Arc crouched down low, rolling down and punching him with the hilt of his blade to knock him back. Another lady with a spear jabbed at him, Arc barely managed to avoid the stab, stumbling backwards and falling against a tree.

    But, despite his best efforts, he could not take down 7 at once. Just seconds before being overwhelmed he heard a loud roar in the distance.

    “Dusk are coming, organics. Say you win here, three of you will live... maybe? Do you think you can beat the Dusk?”

    “Whatever happened to winning?” the first girl said. Arc clenched his teeth. Truthfully, he was running low on Essence and would need to recharge to fight at his full effort. Even though these were just weak bounty hunters, Arc was running on fumes, and he knew it. There was an army in the main village proper, even if he won, they would collapse on him soon. They called his bluff, and Arc prepared himself for his final moments.

    He clutched his sword when - just