“Please, let me go, hide me, do something! She’ll be coming for me and there’s nothing that will stop her!” Arthur raved, smashing his clenched fists on the spotless white table before him.
“Answer our questions Arthur,” replied a thin, tall man dressed all in black, including a featureless black mask, “who is ‘she’? Why were you meeting with two demons in that abandoned warehouse?”
The questions continued but all Arthur could do was whimper, whine and beg for shelter from the threat of something he identified only as ‘she’.
Behind a nearby one-way mirror Captain Steel watched Arthur’s interrogation, hoping to find out more about the demon he was forced to let live.
The door to the interrogation observation room slid open with a mechanical hiss, through which came an immense man inside in what seemed like a sleek metal suit, with only his head visible, sitting in a cradle of cables and tubes.
The armour whirred and chattered as the man walked into the room, his arms militarily held behind his back.
“Has the prisoner told who ‘she’ is yet? Or why he was meeting with a class five demon?” The dark skinned man asked with a gruff, battle hardened voice.
“Not yet Commander Blade, all he does is insist we protect him from her, we’ve yet to hear why he’s being hunted or what he did to incur the wrath of such powerful enemies,” Captain Steel reported.
“If the Black Division cannot handle this I’ll send him over to Magnus and his sorcerers. I’m sure they’ll be able to get him to talk, not like there’s much left of his mind anyway,” came a gruff and angry response from the armoured suit-bound Commander Blade.
Just then Commander Blade’s communicator switched on and from it came a message from the Captain of another Institute squad.
“Captain Varg reporting in,” said a tough no nonsense female voice, “we’ve reached the place our target and her abductor have been staying in sector forty three, they were here recently and they were joined by another.”
“Can you recognise the scent?” Asked Commander Blade in reply.
“No, the three seem to have set out west though, we’re close,” Varg answered.
“Very good, continue your pursuit, keep me informed,” Blade ordered.
“Sir, yes sir,” Varg snapped obediently, “Captain Varg out.”
“Out west sir? Do you think Ignis is returning to us?” Captain Steel asked.
“There’s a lot of west between Kappa Squad’s current location and this facility captain. I suggest don’t give it another thought,” Blade said sternly.
“Yes sir,” Steel replied.
A woman dressed in the Institute’s black suit with grey armour plates overlaid emerged from the exit of the storm drain that Felicia and Tar’el had called home.
Four other similarly dressed Institute members stood, seemingly haphazardly scattered around the area.
The emerging woman bore the same captaincy pip that Steel had, it was above her Institute insignia of an ‘I’ beneath the letter ‘K’.
“Kappa Squad; assemble!” The woman exclaimed and in an instant her team gathered in front of her, “It smells like our target is headed out west, Commander Blade has told us to continue our pursuit and to keep him up to date on our progress. Also, it seems another person is travelling with Ignis and her abductor, consider them dangerous until we know more.”
“Yes ma’am,” Varg’s assembled squad-mates replied.
“Lets not waste any time then, Kappa Squad move out!” Captain Varg ordered before beginning to run west, followed closely by her subordinates.
Further west the trio of Nemesis, Felicia and Tar’el darted through the thick forest that found itself between the nearby city and the Institute’s facility. The group had made good progress, however it was clear that their pace was mostly dictated by Felicia, who was by far the slowest member of the group.
“W-wait up guys!” Felicia exclaimed exhaustedly.
Tar’el looked back and saw Felicia falling behind, he turned to Nemesis, who was a little ahead of him.
“I think it would be best if we rested a few moments,” Tar’el suggested.
Nemesis shot a disgruntled look back at Tar’el as she bounded forward from another tree branch.
“Very well,” Nemesis uttered begrudgingly, dropping to the ground below with a heavy thud.
Tar’el also jumped down to join Nemesis, and a panting, tired Felicia soon followed.
“Sorry,” Felicia said between laboured breaths.
“It’s okay, take a few minutes to catch your breath Felicia,” Tar’el said sympathetically before turning toward Nemesis and talking again, “we’re about three quarters of the way there now.”
“Good,” Nemesis spoke, her voice sounding as cold and otherworldly as usual.
Unbeknownst to the trio the Institute’s Kappa Squad was closing in on their location and fast, easily travelling at twice or three times the speed Nemesis, Tar’el and Felicia could manage.
Varg leaped from tree branch to tree branch on all fours with amazing deftness, leading her pack forwards in their chase. The others followed close behind, although most of them struggled to go any quicker themselves.
Suddenly Varg stopped and perched herself on a particularly thick tree branch, holding an arm up, wordlessly ordering her squad to stop.
Varg pressed a communicator in her right ear.
“What do you have for me Captain Varg?” Asked the gruff voice of Commander Blade on the other end of the communication.
“I have our target and her two companions in my sights, they seem to have stopped for the moment,” Varg explained to her superior.
“Very good, engage them and take Ignis back,” Blade ordered.
“Very good Commander,” Varg responded obediently before the communication ended.
Captain Varg turned slightly to her squad-mates, “Siphon and Glacialis with me, we’ll go on ahead and engage from the front, keep Ignis’ companions busy. Shrieker and Null you’ll hang back until combat has started, then you’ll come in and attempt to seize our objective, is that understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” the rest of Varg’s squad said in unison.
“Then let’s go, before they get moving again,” Varg ordered.
Felicia’s breathing slowed and became less arduous, as she stood, wearily supporting herself against a tree she felt bad, knowing that she was slowing the group down, although she also knew that this was inevitable.
“I’m sorry for slowing you two down,” Felicia apologised.
“An extra five minutes won’t condemn this excursion to failure,” Tar’el said, trying to reassure Felicia.
Just then the trio heard the snapping of a twig from up ahead. Instantly Nemesis drew her sword and Tar’el summoned his glimmering blade into being.
A spear of ice blasted from out of the foliage of a nearby bush, tearing towards Tar’el, but it was effortlessly blocked as it drew near.
“Show yourselves!” Tar’el called out, and as he did three people emerged from behind trees or leaped out from behind bushes.
The first to emerge was the Captain of the squad, who leaped down from her perch above, hidden in the canopy of the forest’s trees. The next to show themselves was a rather slender man whose combat attire looked similar to those of Impetus, the Arcane Division member seconded to Alpha Squad.
The final person to reveal themselves was a rather gaunt and unwell looking gangly man with dark rings around his eyes and heavy stubble.
“Where are the other two of you?” Tar’el asked, taking care to look around him.
“It’s just us, we’ve been sent to ensure you don’t reach the compound,” the captain of the squad said in answer.
“If that icicle was your best effort then I’m afraid you won’t last long,” Tar’el gloated, looking towards the robed member of the squad.
“What!?” The robed squad member spat angrily.
“What have you done with Arthur?” Nemesis interrupted.
“Arthur? Do you mean that male civilian Alpha Squad picked up? I don’t know what’s been done with him, but even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” the captain of the group responded.
“He best be in one piece or else-,” Nemesis growled.
“Or else what? I’m afraid you and your friends aren’t getting any close to the Institute complex, your journey ends here and Ignis will be taken back to the Institute, where she belongs,” the captain explained calmly.
“I’ll never be taken back to that cell!” Felicia screamed angrily, hastily forming a ball of fire in her palm.
“Felicia,” Tar’el announced sternly, “stay calm and stay close, we’ll try and make this quick.”
“Oh? Will you?” The captain of this half strength squad asked before hunching herself over, with her arms crossed over pointing towards her feet.
The woman then began to pant and growl as her body began to slowly change.
Both Nemesis and Tar’el raised the swords, ready for any incoming attack.
The woman’s arms, legs, hands and fingers became elongated, her nails turned to vicious looking claws. Her face also changed, her mouth and nose becoming far more like that of a dog, her teeth became a collection of fangs while her eyes gained a savage, predatory gleam.
The woman threw herself back and let loose a great howl that seemed to shake the forest.
Before the woman’s bestial roar had silenced she burst toward Nemesis with great speed, right hand raised, ready to swipe.
Tar’el began to move, intending to block the incoming attack, but before he could move more than a single step another bolt of ice was hurled at his feet.
Tar’el turned about again, to face his assailant, but as he did he quickly had to dodge two more spears of ice in short succession.
The Arcane division member’s icy assault did not end and soon Tar’el found himself dodging and weaving through a veritable storm of icy shards conjured from the very moisture in the air.
“You’ll have to do better than that if you want to hit me,” Tar’el said boastfully.
“Is that what I’m trying to do?” The young, robed man asked his dark skinned opponent.
Tar’el continued to dodge through the hail of icy projectiles, he pondered the last words of Institution member, but his musing was cut short as the third member of this suspiciously cut down squad made his reappearance, leaping out from behind cover, with one fist outstretched, ready to strike Tar’el.
“Was all this ice just to distract me?” Tar’el asked himself.
The angel acted as quickly as he could, blocking the gangly man’s fist with the side of his gleaming sword, and while the strength of the blow was nothing impressive, at least not by Tar’el standards it was still enough to send him some feet away, crashing through a tree.
The robed squad-member was quick to reposition himself and swiftly start weaving the foci needed for his next spell.
As the final hand signs were made the spell was completed, “Deep Freeze!” The icy sorcerer exclaimed.
There was an instant of calm before a jet of icy magic blasted out from the gap left between the wizard’s cupped hands.
“Well, that was easy,” the ice magic user said with a smirk, turning from the now frozen solid stretch of forest.
“Yeah… err… I’m you know, not sure it’s entirely over Glacialis,” the tired looking gangly squad member said with a slight stretch.
“What!? Impossible,” Glacialis snapped arrogantly before hearing the ice behind him start to crack.
Glacialis began to turn, his eyes wide and disbelieving, but yet, even before he could fully look around Tar’el was already upon him, sword raised high.
With a powerful slash Tar’el cut straight through the shocked ice caster.
Elsewhere in the forest another tree fell with a loud crash as Nemesis’ dark blade effortlessly split it in two as she chased the captain of Kappa squad.
The pair clashed with great clawed hands meeting the sharp, demon-forged edge of Nemesis’ sword. The two struggled against each other in a test of brute force that was sure to end calamitously.
Varg snarled and gnashed her teeth as she pressed down on Nemesis, her transformation having made her substantially taller, taller even than Nemesis. As the pair continued the soft ground beneath Nemesis’ feet began to give.
As Nemesis continued to fight against the impressive might of Kappa Squad’s captain she felt the ground beneath her shifting, she could feel herself losing ground.
“You fools,” Varg chuckled to herself as she continued to force Nemesis backwards, “this was easier than I thought.”
With a burst of power Nemesis was sent staggering backwards but only managed to make it a few steps before Varg was upon her again, striking her with a widely swung punch that felt as if Nemesis had been hit by a fast moving train.
Nemesis crashed through the forest, leaving a trail of felled trees as she went.
“Separating you from her was easier than I had ever hoped,” Varg said to herself as she leisurely followed the trench Nemesis had carved through the earth.
The sound of toppling trees was loud in the air as Tar’el turned and began to battle with the rather lethargic looking final Kappa Squad-member that was present.
Despite the man’s tired, dishevelled appearance he was surprisingly sprightly, able to dodge all of Tar’el sword swings.
As Tar’el continued to tangle with his last opponent he heard Felicia cry out “Tar’el!”
The angel looked around to see the two other ‘missing’ members of Kappa Squad closing in on her, one a woman who looked to be in her mid twenties with a strange speaker-like apparatus covering her mouth, and the other looked to be a young boy who she held under one arm.
Immediately Tar’el broke away from his rather lethargic looking opponent, to try and reach Felicia before the two newest combatants, but before he could he heard the ominous creak of ice forming behind him.
With a blast of frigid magic that radiated out from some way back Tar’el was caught, his left foot held fast by creeping fingers of ice that slowly reached further and further up his calf. Tar’el stumbled forwards and fell to a knee.
“Gotcha,” snickered a familiar voice that accompanied another, fiercer wave of icy magic.
With a loud, frosty yawn new tendrils of ice snaked their way up the angel’s other leg from the ground, then to his lower torso, then they caught his arms as he struggled hastily to free himself. Tar’el did his best to look back as the rime and frost continued to grow almost organically to consume him and saw the body of the sorcerer he had cut in two.
Both halves were now glittering ice, slowly beginning to melt with another copy of the caster, or perhaps the real thing standing beside his melting facsimile.
Felicia threw another two fireballs at her newly arrived pursuers, but as the fireballs neared they petered out until finally they were extinguished before ever hitting their intended targets.
The woman rushing towards Felicia laughed to herself, her laugh amplified by the strange speaker-mask-like device that covered part of her face. Lunging forward she took in a deep breath and as she neared the desperate Felicia, who continued to throw ineffectual fireballs at the woman with the little boy slung under one arm.
“Shrieker! Now!” Exclaimed the upset looking Glacialis.
Shrieker continued to intake breath for several more moments, until finally she let loose a scream, amplified to such volume and power that not only was Felicia blown away as if struck by a mighty blow, but also tons of earth and stone were displaced as the sound waves tore the earth, carving their way through the forest.
Felicia smashed through a dozen trees before she slowed and crashed into the ground.
“No!” Tar’el shouted, starting to break free from the ice that bound him.
Glacialis turned to Shrieker and shouted, “you and Null go get Ignis quickly and take her on to Facility Twelve, we’ll finish up here and join you later.”
Shrieker nodded to her comrade before darting off, leaping from one splintered tree stump to another, following the path of devastation until she found Felicia, unconscious and bloodied.
“Siphon, drain him! Quickly!” Glacialis hastily ordered the tall, sleek man beside him.
Siphon sighed lazily as he approached Tar’el, who still struggled against the creeping ice that tried to tether him to the frozen ground.
Siphon crouched down beside Tar’el and put his open left hand to Tar’el’s bald head and instantly Tar’el could feel his reserves of power beginning to be drained away.
“So that’s why they call you Siphon,” Tar’el said as he tore one arm from the ice.
With another sudden, loud crash Nemesis burst through another nearby tree, crashing into Siphon, knocking him aside as she flew by. Tar’el looked over at Nemesis as he continued to break himself free of the ice.
Nemesis got back on her feet, her armour looked a little scuffed but she still seemed in good shape.
“Nemesis!” Tar’el shouted as he finally freed the last of himself from Glacialis’ ice.
Nemesis turned her head to look at Tar’el.
“There were two others, they have Felicia, go, get her back, I’ll take care of the others,” Tar’el proclaimed angrily.
“Will you now?” Glacialis asked, walking a few steps to put himself directly between Tar’el, Nemesis and the direction Felicia was taken.
“Now she’s gone…” Varg snarled, emerging from the dense forest besides her subordinates who now formed a formidable wall that kept both Nemesis and Tar’el from their friend, “there’s no need to hold back.”
“No, ma’am,” Glacialis replied to his superior.
“Then it’s time we stopped playing around!” Varg howled, arching herself backwards and beginning to change again.
This time the Kappa squad captain’s transformation was far quicker and more dramatic as dark, black fur began to cover all her visible skin, her eyes turned blood red with small, black pupils at their centre.
Varg grew again, her muscles and armour bulging until she was finally a mass of snarling, primal fury looking back at Nemesis hungrily with ferocious facial features that had become even more like those of a wolf.
The massive werewolf surged forwards, her speed now easily double what is was before, striking Nemesis in the gut with a punch that it released a shock wave that blew Tar’el’s frost covered clothes as if he was standing in a strong wind.
Nemesis rocketed away and Varg chased after her with a bloodthirsty look in her feral eyes.
“I may not have a fancy transformation like Captain Varg, but there’s still so much more to my power then I have shown you,” Glacialis said boastfully, beginning to form a half dozen different magical foci with his hands.
“Frozen Barrier!” Glacialis cried, a bubble like shell of ice forming around him for a moment before fading from sight.
“I hope the barrier is as strong as you hope it is, for your sake. I won’t be holding back either,” Tar’el announced, tearing the ripped and frosty clothes from his chest.
Tar’el knelt down, planting his sword into the ground blade down with both hands on the hilt.
Suddenly the forest seemed to tremble and the atmosphere of the immediate area changed, it became noticeably heavier.
With a flash of blinding light that caused both of Tar’el’s opponents to cover their eyes Tar’el emerged, now wearing gold and white robes atop gold, embossed plate armour, his eyes burnt with an intense white light and a great pair of shining white wings were open at his back.
Tar’el’s sword too had changed, it was now no longer a solid blade, instead it looked as two blades with a slight gap in between, but the gap was not empty, instead it was filled with golden light.
“Y-you’re an Angel?” Asked the gangly man lazily as he continued to cover his eyes.
Tar’el did not answer.
“Siphon, sit this one out, he’s way out of your league,” Glacialis stated plainly.
“No way Glacial, last time I let you fight alone miss Varg really kicked my ass,” Siphon replied with a weary expression plastered over his face.
“Then just try not to get in my way!” Glacialis snapped in reply.
“Enough of your bickering,” Tar’el said before seemingly vanishing.
Glacialis jumped backwards and raised a wall of ice where he previously stood, a moment later the wall was shattered by a single, swift blow.
The ice mage began feverishly forming his hands into different foci, he was surprisingly calm as he prepared his next spell.
Siphon looked on sluggishly, though when he caught site of the foci his partner was weaving his eyes widened, realising he was very much in the attack range of that spell.
“White-out!” Glacialis exclaimed as another beam of intense frozen magic blasted from between his hands, but this spell had a greater spread, turning absolutely everything he saw before him into ice in mere moments.
Tar’el reappeared out of his opponent’s line of sight, on the branch of a frozen tree some scores of meters away, knowing he could not stay hidden long Tar’el began to ponder his next move.
It was true that this Arcane Division member had indeed been holding back a great deal of his power before, he was likely ordered to hold back so that Felicia would be left unharmed, as she was their ultimate objective.
“Siphon,” Tar’el spoke to himself softly as an idea began to form in his mind, but before he act on it he needed to know more about Siphon’s curious power.
Tar’el felt the pressure around him change, quickly he leaped from the branch of the frozen tree he hid behind with wings open wide as the glittering, crystal tree was sliced in half by a immense, sabre like blade of icy magic emanating from Glacialis’ outstretched fingertips.
“You can’t run forever, monster!” Glacialis shouted as he continued to chase Tar’el with fine spray of ice crystals that looked almost like a shimmering sword from afar.
“I didn’t intend to,” Tar’el said calmly, appearing in an instant directly behind Glacialis, whom he then sought to strike with his free hand.
As Tar’el’s clenched fist neared it met with a icy plate which cracked under the force of the attack, but not before it began to freeze Tar’el’s gauntlet encased hand.
Even still, the force of the mitigated attack still sent Glacialis tumbling away a few feet, smacking face first into the sheet of ice he had created with his ‘White-Out’ spell that blanketed the floor of this part of the forest.
Tar’el did not stop there, in another breaths time he appeared before Siphon, who up until now was content to merely watch the fight. Tar’el swung at him too, this time his punch hit home and sent Siphon shooting away, shattering a few frozen trees before he finally slowed and re-gathered himself.
However, unbeknownst to the enraged sorcerer and his lazy comrade Tar’el had learnt exactly what he wanted to know, as he felt the hand he had just struck Siphon with throbbed with weakness.
Another tree was torn apart elsewhere in the forest as Nemesis’ blade met with Captain Varg’s vicious claws.
The captain’s skin appeared to be tougher than steel, because despite seemingly using her bare, clawed hands to clash with Nemesis’ demon blade she did not have a scratch on them.
Nemesis jumped and flipped backwards, attempting to disengage from Varg who seemed to have the upper hand on size and straight up strength. The armour clad warrior planted her armoured feet on the underside of a thick, sturdy branch at the apex of her jump.
Pushing off as hard as she could Nemesis catapulted herself off of the great wooden tree arm, destroying it in the process. As Nemesis rocketed back towards the large, snarling werewolf like creature her opponent had become she readied her weapon.
With a blood chilling clank and force enough to shake the forest for a mile in all directions the pair met, sword to claw.