"This is it, then," said Holly, folding her arms across her chest as she came to a halt, the mansion looming ahead in the morning light.
You know, you never really get an appreciation for arms until you lose them. They're brilliant.
"So, what kind of strategy are we going to use?" asked Ryuko. "Are you going to distract them out here with the titan, and we sneak in?"
"The only person they had guarding the rear is dead," said Katniss. "That could work."
Holly laughed, shaking her head. "Guys, I can turn into a giant. I'm going to punch a hole through the front door, grab that Dio lowlife, and wipe the floor with him. You guys can do whatever."
Twilight begged to differ. "Holly. I have to disagree. If you're going to show off, you need at least some theatrics."
"That's not what I thought you were going to say at all," said the elf, smiling. "What did you have in mind?"
"My loyal warriors," said Dio, pacing in front of his assembled team. "The first team to reach our gates lies just outside. I'm sure you're familiar with at least three of them, considering they're THE ONES WHO KEEP ON KILLING YOU."
The Yautja growled indignantly, but a sharp glance from Dio shut it up.
"Today, we will reverse that trend. Time itself is at my command, and with you by my side, no enemy can stand against us. Now, we're going to go through that front door, spread out, and pick your targets wisely. We attack on my signal. Ready?"
The collection of monsters and Mr. Everdeen nodded.
"Let's go!" shouted Dio, and the team streamed out the door, forming a line in front of the gate.
"Lord Dio," called Nightmare. "I thought we were to 'pick our targets'. How can we do this with one opponent?"
Indeed, only one figure stood in the square. Holly sat in the baked clay in the center of the crater Katniss' hadoken had created.
"I see you've kept the décor fresh, Dio."
"You miserable wretch," hissed the vampire. "How do you still live?"
"That's a question I'd like to ask you," she said, and addressed the resident sniper. "Mr. Everdeen, I hear Katniss tore him apart without her bow. Is that really the kind of weakling you take orders from?"
"That's enough, elf. THE WORLD!"
Something kicked up dust alongside Dio, and he began to walk down into the crater.
"C'mon," taunted Holly, hopping to her feet and throwing a few punches at the air. "Make this interesting, this time."
"I don't care what art you use. Your fists are useless against me."
"Should we attack?" shouted Nightmare from the top of the crater.
"No, no," replied Dio, turning to the knight. "Hold on one-" A punch blasted across his cheek, and he spun in place until the triumphantly-beaming Holly was in his sights.
"Your move," she chuckled.
Dio exhaled slowly, and something invisible punched its way up into Holly's gut, forcing the air out of her violently. She was suspended off the ground by whatever it was, balanced on an invisible pillar of pain.
"What…in…Frond's…" she gasped.
"My Stand, The World, can do more than stop time. As a ghostly manifestation of my will, it can strike with unnatural speed and power!"
Slowly, the thing that had punched Holly faded into the realm of visibility. It looked like a muscular, broadly-built man, wearing some sort of ancient Egyptian headdress. Bulky-looking tubes ran under its arms like suspenders, and a gaudy belt adorned its waist. Its left fist was currently buried in Holly's abdomen.
"Now, let its strength be the last thing you see, before I kill you again!" screamed Dio, as the Stand pulled its arm back and unleashed a hurricane of punches, its huge fists shattering the elf's bones as Dio accentuated each strike.
"MUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDA!" he cackled as his stand beat Holly into a pulp. As soon as the final punch landed, The World spread its arms to its sides, as if it was about to give the air a hug.
"THE WORLD!" shouted Dio again, and a ripple of energy swept out of the Stand, inverting the color of all in its wake and halting the movements of Dio's men. Holly was stunned as she froze in midair.
He's stopped time… but this time, I can see it.
"Time has stopped," confirmed Dio, rummaging in his pockets. "And now, I will allow you to see your own demise!"
He drew two handfuls of his knives, and flung them with terrifying speed toward the airborne elf. As the knives' trajectory neared Holly, they slowed down, as if they had passed from the air into a gelatin dessert. The tips of the knives halted inches from Holly's body, glittering ominously in the unnatural lighting. Dio walked over to the elf, snatching a knife out of the air, and spinning it around his finger.
"Time will now flow again," he said quietly, and the bizarre colors retracted back into his stand, which disappeared. The knives then snapped back into action, turning Holly into a pincushion. She fell to the ground, which drove some of the blades in further. She groaned in pain, and slowly staggered to her feet. A poorly-coordinated hand pulled a knife out, and began to move to another.
"What's the matter, elf? Want more?"
"Guh… revenge… is gonna feel… really good, Dio..!" coughed Holly, as she removed a second knife. A thin trail of steam flowed out of the tear in her uniform. "Really… good."
"You have the audacity to keep living?" Dio spat, rushing to the elf. He grabbed her by the neck and lifted her into the air, shaking her violently. "Fine. I'll suck you dry, so you stay dead!" Dio felt something tapping the bottom of the arm he was using to hold her aloft. He looked down and found the elf slowly raising her own knife-impaled arm in defense, feebly swinging it in what was meant to be an attack.
"How futile," he guffawed.
Holly managed to grin through her pain.
A greenish-yellow lightning bolt cracked through the sky, though whether it descended to Holly or whether it rose from her was unclear. A shockwave knocked Dio's warriors off their feet and sent them flying into nearby buildings. It blasted the atmosphere into a super-heated haze as sinew shot out of the elf's stab wounds, congealing into a solid mass around her. It expanded at near the speed of sound, mimicking Holly's form on a grand scale. Less than a second had passed between Holly's words and the formation of a titanic fist that propelled the stunned vampire backward, up, out of the crater, past the front gate, and through the fortified wall of the mansion, embedding him in the far side of the foyer. Skin formed over choice parts of the expanding mass, as huge legs sent the newly forming head into the clouds. With a burst of steam, Holly roared in triumph; for now that she could look down upon the world, it was hers to destroy.
From the buildings behind the freshly-formed giant rose the two swordfighters, brandishing their blades. Mikasa and Ryuko landed in unison, each one locating the temporarily-stunned members of Dio's team.
"I fought Nightmare last time," said Mikasa. "You can take him now."
"Sounds fair," replied Ryuko, who performed a flourish with her blade as it extended to its full length. Senketsu's booster fired up to full power as she rocketed toward the knight. Mikasa identified the Xenomorph peeling itself off of a wall. With a flick of her swords' triggers, her 3DMG locked onto the building, and she sailed off.
The Predator dusted itself off and rose to its feet. The elf had a nasty trick there, but it would take more than a little explosion to put down a Yautja warrior.
"Excuse me," said a voice from behind.
The Predator turned and fluidly drove its wrist blades into the man's chest, his blood matching the color of his long coat. The man calmly reached down, pulled the wrist blades out, and drew a humongous pistol, polished like a piece of fine silverware. He grinned, pearly white fangs shining in the shadows of his broad hat.
"Do you have a moment to speak about Jesus Christ?"
The oversized fist opened, and snagged Dio by the leg. Holly ripped him out of the mansion and threw him across the block, his limp body skipping off of rooftops like a stone over calm water. She growled with satisfaction and took off after him, eager to torment him more. Mr. Everdeen picked himself up and realized there was no one defending the mansion. He bolted for the new entrance, ducking through the ruins of the foyer. The stairs had been destroyed by the recentremodeling of Holly Short.
Damn. I can't get up for a better vantage point. Not here. If I cut back further, there is another staircase. Maybe I can get there.
He banked down a hallway, passing door after door. He slipped through the kitchen, vaulting over wooden tables, hung a left, and almost ran into the ballroom door.
Isn't the other staircase across from the ballroom? Isn't that what Starling said?
He kicked open the door, the serene openness of the delicately-laid wood floors doing little to calm his nerves. The fact that his daughter was standing in the middle of the room didn't help much either.
"K-Katniss? What are you doing-"
"What do you think? I'm here to fight you, and capture this mansion. I came in from the roof. I tried to get in this way before, but that bug-lady stopped me. Did you know there's an armory back there? That just seems silly."
Mr. Everdeen smiled. "Heheheh. Those dances can't get too exciting, can they?"
Katniss returned the smile, chuckling a little. "They can probably only have those slow, boring ones…"
The two sighed wistfully.
"Gosh," said Katniss. "It's just like old times."
"It can be again, you know. Just let me win."
Katniss' smile disappeared. "No. I know you think you want what's best for me, but you're wrong. I lived my life. I know how it turned out. Would I change some things? Yes. But would I trade it for what you want?" She became silent for a moment, pondering life with her father. She imagined never going to the Games, never losing her sister. She imagined Rue killed in cold blood, with no one to mourn her. She imagined Coin's slow and careful chipping away at Panem, eager to gain control and commit atrocities in the name of justice.
"I… I'm not sure," she concluded.
"Katniss, you don't need to be sure. I'm sure. I'm sure I want you to live the life I wanted you and your sister to. One without pain or fear. You'll grow up healthy and not hungry, and you'll become a fine, respectable woman. Maybe you'll marry some nice boy, like that Hawthorne kid from down the way-"
"Listen to yourself! This isn't about me, it's about you! It's what you want! And Gale is a psychopath!"
"…Really? He seemed like such a nice kid."
"Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but- hey, you're changing the subject!"
"This isn't going anywhere," he said, drawing his knife. "I'm not going to be able to get through that thick skull of yours with words."
"I'm sorry, Dad," she whispered, slipping her bow off of her shoulder. She curled her hands into fists and she assumed her fighting stance. "This is going to hurt."
Dio placed one hand on the wall behind him for balance, and used the other to snap his neck back into place. He looked around, certain he had no idea where he was. It was some alley, but how far he was from the mansion, he could not ascertain. But he could already hear Holly's footsteps pounding closer.
So that was how she came back to life? He thought, summoning his Stand to his side. She turned into some sort of crazy giant? How did she do that? I don't remember her being able to do that.
Shingles crashing into the alley announced Holly's arrival, her hand covering the roof of the building ahead of him. She peered down into the narrow passage, a child jubilant to have found back a favorite toy. Unlike a child, her response to finding the toy was to punch it. Her fist was halfway through its descent before Dio could shout "THE WORLD!"
He sprinted from the alley and onto the time-frozen street, running straight past the titan's legs. He unfroze time and watched the massive hand obliterate the entire alleyway with the shockwave, driving into the ground like an oversized piledriver. The impact was powerful enough to splinter her arm bones through the skin, but they soon slipped back under, the wounds sealing shut.
Titans can regenerate. She has healing magic. Put them together and she heals faster than I do.
Holly turned her huge, shaggy head to locate her quarry.
WHERE DID HE GO? HE'S NOT THERE.
She caught a glimpse of the man's bright-yellow pants fleeing down the street, and leapt back to her feet. The resulting earthquake caused the man to trip briefly, but he soon caught himself and continued running.
THERE YOU ARE, DIO. KILL DIO. CRUSH DIO, Holly thought. This is weird. It's so hard to… think. But I really do want to SMASH DIO.
As fast as his legs could carry him, they were not enough to escape Holly's massive, agile titan form. He heard the air being pushed out of the way from another strike, and he yelped for his stand again. With time frozen, he turned to see her outstretched hand nearly on top of him, fingers splayed.
She would have squashed me. Like a bug. I, the great Dio, reduced to an insect.
He sprinted further ahead, and let time flow once more. Her hand tore into the street, ripping itself to shreds. In a burst of hot steam, the hand reconstituted, and Holly continued her pursuit.
"GHAAAAAAAAAAAARuuuuuuh," Holly gurgled, raising a foot to stomp on the vampire. He dodged just before the street was liquefied under the force of her leg. He turned and tossed a spread of knives, which harmlessly stuck themselves in her exposed flesh. Holly stared down at Dio, and made a series of successive grunts that might have been laughter. She kicked her submerged foot forward, tearing a trench through the street before it surfaced in a kick that sent Dio flying back toward the mansion.
Dio's Stand caught him, stabilizing his flight pattern. He glided to a soft landing on a roof.
I need to get back, he thought, looking back at the building, its once-proud fortifications in ruins. A shadow passed over the building, and Dio instinctively used The World, leaping back to dodge another attack. The negative colors dissolved, and Holly's arm sliced the building in half. Dio stood only inches from where it had passed, tearing through two stories of the stone building like butter.
Every time he does that, he's moving a shorter distance, Holly thought. Makes it easier to SMASH, CRUSH- no, no! Think! He's wearing out. It's more difficult for him to stop time. Eventually he won't be able to anymore. That's when I can SMASH DIO. EAT DIO. Wait, what? No no no! Bad titan!
Alucard pulled the spear-like weapon out of his arm, tossing it to the ground next to the Predator's smart throwing stars, net gun, and plasma caster.
"Are you out of options yet?"
The Predator kept a wary eye on the vampire as it rummaged through its utility pouches. It was concerned to find there was nothing left. It feigned fumbling for a little while longer, and as soon as it saw Alucard move, it drove its wristblades through his sunglasses.
"Hmm," said the vampire. "I wonder why you did that. It didn't work last time."
With a simple flick of his wrist, Alucard severed the Predator's attacking arm from the gauntlet back, and yanked the blades out of his face. He dropped them with the rest of the alien's weapons, and snatched the broken frames of his sunglasses off of the ground. He set them on his regenerating nose. The Predator grabbed at the place its forearm used to be, desperately trying to stop the bleeding by clenching a claw over the glowing-green stump.
"If you'd like, I can take the other one. Then they'll match, and you'll be completely disarmed."
Even through the lifeless mask, Alucard could sense the Yautja's disdain.
"I never really was good at jokes," he said, and shot a hole through its chest.
Too easy. I had better go check on the other two.
Ryuko lifted her Scissor Blade, blocking another strike from Soul Edge with one hand.
"How do you possess such strength, wench?" growled Nightmare, attempting to put more pressure on his sword.
She used her free hand to pluck one of her Kamui's suspenders idly.
"Senketsu and I have a special bond. With his Life Fibers and my willpower, nothing can stop us!"
"But how can you glean power from your clothing, when you wear so little?! Voldo was more modestly dressed!"
Ryuko rolled her eyes, and kicked Nightmare into a building across the street.
"I have no idea what you're talking about. But I'm getting tired of people poking fun of Senketsu. Have you seen what some of the people around here are wearing?" she asked as she vaulted over a chunk of blown-out wall into what must have been a living room, prior to Nightmare's arrival.
"You… still… look like a-"
A gust of wind ripped through the house in the wake of the inconceivably- fast attack, blasting the room into silence. Nightmare's armor split down the middle, crumbling to pieces. Strangely, it was completely vacant.
"That's surprisingly more awkward than it normally is," Ryuko muttered.
Perhaps we've just gotten too used to slicing clothes off of people, said Senketsu.
She turned to walk away, and smacked into Alucard's chest.
"Jeez," she said, recoiling. "You want to start giving people some warning before you teleport behind them?"
"I see you took care of Nightmare," lilted Alucard with his perpetual grin.
"Sure did. How's Mikasa doing?"
"Annoyed," said Mikasa, landing outside of the house. Something had worn through her swords, as they were reduced to rusted-looking ribbons. "That was my last set of blades." She flicked a switch and the ruined blades fell to the ground.
"And how about Twilight?"
"She said she was checking on Holly's progress. She'll warp back soon," said Alucard.
"And Katniss is-"
"Inside, fighting her father," confirmed the vampire.
"I say we stay as far away from that as possible," said Mikasa. "Last time that happened, things got messy."