Deep within the heart of a mountain range, a little over three hundred miles south by south west of the Institute’s Facility Fourteen was another of the Institute’s compounds, designated Facility Twelve. Unlike Facility Fourteen, which was mostly used for containment of prisoners and research subjects and a warehouse for items of little interest Facility Twelve was more akin to a fortress that dwarfed several other of the Institute’s facilities found throughout America.
In a grim, dark chamber deep within Facility Twelve a man dressed in black and red robes poured over books that glowed dimly with purple runes. The man’s skin was pale and wrinkled with age. An oddly youthfully black beard spilled down from his face, reaching down to the bottom of his neck where it tapered off whispily.
The collar of his robe was wide, tall and grand, boasting ornate gold patterning. The arms of his robe were vast and baggy, drooping most of the way to the floor when his old, pale arms stood at his side. A black, red and gold mantle sat upon his shoulders, extending a little way from him on either side, ending in a prominent point.
At the man’s side was a large staff standing up against the table, it was easily almost as tall as the man himself. The shaft was the same mixture of red and black with gold embellishments as his robes. At the head of the staff was a four fingered golden claw that grasped at a roughly cut, deep red stone.
A nearby device buzzed, it looked strangely out of place in this room of tomes, scrolls and old world curios. The robed man glanced at his noisy communicator before pulling it a few feet over to him with a simple gesture.
The man took up the strange, grey device and pressed a button on its edge.
“Speak,” the man said, his voice conveying both commanding power and the wisdom that comes with age.
“Master Magnus,” responded the monotone voice of Terra, Beta-Squad’s Arcane Division member, “We are bringing Glacialis to Facility Twelve, he’s been pretty badly wounded, he may not even survive the journey.”
“So I have heard, this is troubling Terra, things will have to advance sooner than anticipated. Return to your fallen comrade, care for him as best you can before you arrive here,” Magnus ordered.
“Yes master,” Terra answered, ending the communication.
Magnus sought to place his communication device back down upon the tome and scroll covered table, but before he could it buzzed again. The old sorcerer rolled his slightly milky amber eyes in frustration as he once again brought the device near to his face.
“What is it?” Magnus snapped at the comm unit, “I told you I was not to be disturbed while in my sanctum.”
“Sorry Magnus sir, but Commander Blade and Shadow are about to arrive and have requested your presence in the control room,” the apologetic voice of a man explained to the head of the Arcane Division.
“Bah!” Magnus snapped as he ended the communication.
Within minutes Magnus made his way to Facility Twelve’s command centre. When he entered he saw the newly arrived Commander Blade and Shadow, though Shadow looked slightly out of breath, likely Magnus thought from hauling Blade’s considerable bulk and power through the Shadow Web.
“You called for me?” Magnus asked, making no attempts to hide his irritation at being summoned from his lair.
Blade turned to face the sorcerer, “we did.”
“Well? Speak quickly Blade, I hate to be kept from my valuable work,” Magnus snapped.
“Kappa-Squad was defeated in battle, most of the members left wounded, in particular your student Glacialis, we also have Siphon trapped in an icy construct Glacialis created, we’ll need you to free him from it,” Blade ordered.
“Very well, though I am somewhat aware of what has been happening around Facility Fourteen, including you evacuating the entire facility for a single demon, one that could have easily been dealt with by Alpha-Squad, who were present with you at the time,” Magnus said, expecting some kind of explanation.
“I felt it was best that I engaged the threat, instead of leaving it to Alpha-Squad,” Blade explained.
Both Magnus and Shadow rolled their eyes.
“These are not your glory days any more Blade. You may, perhaps be the single strongest fighter the Institute has, but since the Zero incident, since your Vortex Reactor was ruptured each time you go in to combat you risk the lives of everyone around you. You should have let Alpha-Squad deal with the demon, that is, after all what they’re there for, why they were trained,” Magnus said, still clearly agitated.
Blade opened his mouth to respond, but was quickly cut off again by Magnus.
“I know full well why you felt the need to risk your life, the lives of others and a small fortune in Institute equipment, it was because this demon was the likely killer of Captain Varg was it not? Your attachment to the soldiers of the Institute is your greatest weakness Blade. They are tools, tools to be used and not to be mourned when they finally fail,” Magnus spat callously.
Blade growled angrily.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me I have work I need to get back to, when the casualties of Kappa finally arrive I will see to Siphon and Glacialis,” Magnus stated as he turned to leave.
Blade fought back the urge to assault the head of the Arcane Division.
“Sometimes I really hate that man,” Blade grumbled to Shadow who stood silently nearby.
“He may not say it diplomatically Blade, but he’s right, we’re not being funded to coddle these men and women, are you forgetting we tore many of these children from their families and homes when their powers were detected?” Shadow asked.
Blade looked back at Shadow with dour, serious eyes.
“No, I’m not forgetting what we’ve done, but if we don’t care about the fate of our soldiers then who will? I trained many of them personally, I know them all, I remember where they came from, I remember saving some of them from a life on the streets, a life of being singled out as the freak. I’m just not prepared to think of them all as tools to be used and forgotten when it suits me,” Blade responded, his tone was earnest and his speech clearly heartfelt.
Blade turned away from the shapely Shadow and looked to one of the galleries below, filled with busy Institute personnel.
“Get me video of Facility Fourteen, I want to see Captain Björn,” Blade ordered, standing with arms held behind his back, looking off towards the broad, central monitor that sat lifelessly in the midst of a wall of one hundred smaller screens.
“We have him sir,” An technician announced from below.
“On screen,” Blade commanded, “come on Björn, put that demon down.”
The main monitor suddenly came to life, an acrid cloud of dust and fine debris filled the picture.
As the cloud of scattered dust and rubble cleared the immense bear-formed monster that Björn had become roared as it continued to bear down with his incredibly powerful arms.
Beneath the Institute captain’s giant clawed hands were Nemesis and to Björn’s surprise Tar’el, both of them with swords raised and held above their heads, struggling against Björn’s considerable might.
As the monolithic and savage ursine monster continued to struggle against his opponents the very ground they stood on began to split and give way under the colossal force of Björn’s assault.
“We can’t match his strength,” Tar’el grunted through tightly clenched teeth.
“Not even close,” Björn roared, pouring yet more of his seemingly boundless strength into this contest of might.
As Tar’el felt the power of Björn’s attack increase he darted backwards in the blink of an eye, leaving a contrail of golden light in his wake.
“Nemesis!” The angel cried as Björn’s mighty arms crashed into the ground with a heavy, explosive crash, sending out a massive rippling shock wave that even managed to blow Tar’el back a step.
Björn raised his massive, tree trunk-like arms and turned his head to look at the nearby angel.
The enormous bear-man stepped away from the crater his last attack created, preparing to engage the elusive angel in combat, but as he did the tall, armoured figure of Nemesis rose from the pit he had slammed her into.
“Where are you going?” Nemesis asked coldly.
Tar’el looked over to Nemesis as she spoke, he saw the shallow cuts and wounds on Nemesis’ dirt scuffed face stitching themselves back together near instantly.
“She didn’t have regenerative powers of that magnitude before, what dark deal has she made with Abaddon!?” Tar’el thought to himself, gravely concerned for his comrade.
Björn turned back to Nemesis and roared angrily before beginning to charge over to her, each of his strides followed by a heavy thud as his massive clawed feet struck the earth.
Nemesis stood her ground, raising her sword to defend herself.
Björn swung one of his dark furred arms in an outward arc as he neared the demon that slew his sister and despite Nemesis’ readied defence she was struck with force the likes of which she had not felt since the demon Sacaya. Nemesis was sent rocketing away, crashing through the metal and concrete walls of the nearby Institute building.
Björn roared triumphantly, rushing after the demon on all fours, following Nemesis’ own trail of destruction, smashing through the gaping tears in the walls the Nemesis had left in her wake.
Nemesis struggled out of the trench she had carved through the building, pain filled her entire being, but as she got to her feet she could feel her muscles reconnecting, she could feel cuts and scrapes closing, she felt bruising diminish and what blood came in contact with her demonic armour was quickly absorbed into the cruel demonic steel.
Nemesis then heard a loud, blasting noise, followed by the rhythmic pounding of what was sure to be Björn, charging through the broken halls and corridors to find her. A few seconds passed and Nemesis heard another heavy crashing noise, likely Björn breaking through into another room in his search for her.
Nemesis walked towards the hole she had torn in the concrete of this dull, grey and silver room and saw Björn thundering towards her in the distance as he crashed through yet another wall.
The soul-hunter stepped through the gash in the concrete as she watched and prepared to meet Björn head on, but as she did, as her heavy, metal boot touched down upon the floor of the adjacent corridor with a familiar heavy clank she heard Tar’el speak faintly in the distance, his voice barely louder than the pounding of Björn’s heavy limbs upon the facility floor.
“Did you forget about me?” Tar’el asked as he rushed towards the charging Björn so quickly as to appear as a streak of golden light, striking the rushing bear like a bolt of lightning to the side of the head.
Björn tumbled away with a series of loud bangs and crashes followed by the immensely loud, piercing sound of shattering glass.
Nemesis began to rush to where she last saw Björn, eager to re-enter the fight. As Nemesis passed through room after room she had only a minute ago crashed through she heard the loud, unmistakable sounds of battle, the sound of swung steel slicing the air, the sound of Björn’s heavy limbs being thrown about and destroying everything in their way.
When Nemesis finally stepped into the room Björn looked to be when Tar’el last struck him she looked to her left and saw the pair continuing to fight in a distant hall, Tar’el still darting about evasively, striking at the immense bear-man when possible while avoiding his slow but destructive swings.
Nemesis ran towards the pair, sword held at the ready but as she approached Björn threw his great clawed arms out, predicting where Tar’el would likely dodge to after evading his last attack.
Just as Björn guessed Tar’el darted to where he expected and was met with a heavy, dark furred claw. With a blast of power Tar’el was sent crashing directly into the glass littered floor below.
Nemesis was struck by a shock wave of force from Tar’el’s speedy descent but it did not stall her as she continued to surge towards her fallen angelic comrade and her foe.
Björn lifted his massive left leg and sent it thundering down, crushing Tar’el beneath his heel. As Björn’s immense clawed foot connected the entire room shuddered.
“Tar’el!” A familiar voice cried out, momentarily drawing Björn’s attention away from the prone angel or the charging Nemesis.
The great bear-man turned his head towards a nearby door that opened into another room, he saw the young woman he knew as Ignis leaping towards him, a fireball formed in her right palm held out in front of her supported by her left arm.
As the red head neared she screamed, “Cinder storm!”
A jet of fire and burning embers exploded from Felicia’s young hands, enveloping Björn’s snarling, muzzled face.
Björn roared in pain, stumbling forwards, the jet of fire and burning ashes lightly singing his flesh, but far more importantly and as Felicia planned, burning his eyes.
Felicia dropped to the floor, screaming in agony as the markings that ran the length of her arms burnt bright yellow.
“Ignis you traitorous bitch!” Björn howled, swinging his clawed arms around wildly, hoping to strike Ignis, or anyone else nearby.
With the help of her screams the temporarily blinded Björn zeroed in on Felicia and swung his clawed arms, hoping to catch her between them and crush her.
Björn’s arms clashed together, releasing a thunderous wave of force and an equally loud noise but he could not feel Ignis’ broken carcass between them, he could even still hear her pained whimpering.
Just then Björn was struck solidly on his blocky muzzle by an armoured fist.
The attack sent Björn reeling a few steps backwards before he was struck again and then again by powerful armoured blows.
Björn swung blindly in front of himself in wide horizontal arcs accompanied with loud, exertive roars yet for all his effort he seemed to strike nothing.
“Demon!?” Björn roared ferociously, continuing to lash out blindly, continuing to destroy more and more of the surrounding structure.
“You cannot hide from me for long monster, you stink of brimstone, just like all demons, no matter how long they skulk in our world,” Björn taunted as he began to focus on finding his assailants through his keen sense of smell, instead of his temporarily damaged eyes, “found you.”
Björn rushed forward, one gigantic clawed arm raised and ready to be brought down like a hammer to strike an anvil.
Nemesis evaded Björn’s clumsily aimed attack, dodging easily to one side.
Björn turned towards Nemesis’ scent once again, but as he did he heard the clink of movement in metal armour as the angel stood slowly from the crater he was stamped in to.
“Why won’t either of you just stay down!” Björn snarled in frustration.
Tar’el stooped to pick up his sword and woozily stood ready to attack, much to Nemesis’ surprise.
“Tar’el, you’re in no condition to fight,” Nemesis said to her angelic ally.
Tar’el wiped blood from his lip and looked back into Nemesis’ black, inhuman eyes, “sight or no you need me to even stand a chance of putting him down.”
“There’s no chance, not for either of you! When my sight returns I’ll reduce you both to bloody heaps!” Björn roared as he began to thunder forwards, rushing towards Nemesis’ scent.
Nemesis raised her demon-blade in reply and rushed towards the immense bear-man.
Tar’el did likewise, but before he did he lifted his blade and held it before himself, he could still see both Nemesis and Björn running towards each other through the hollow centre of the blade.
“Separate Eld’uriel!” Tar’el cried as a great light split his shining two-handed sword down the middle.
Tar’el pulled the two halves of the blade away from one another, taking one in each hand and blasting forwards at speed towards the charging Björn.
The streak of gold light sped by Björn’s leg, shallowly slicing his thick, muscular calf, causing the immense bear-man to falter and stumble as he ran.
Nemesis leaped forward, when she was level with the stumbling bear-man’s head she swung her demonic sword powerfully.
Still unable to see Björn raised his left arm in a desperate bid to defend himself.
Nemesis’ demonic sword cut into Björn’s flesh hungrily but got lodged in the mass of dense, tensed muscle.
Björn let out a pained grunt but swiftly brought his other arm up and grasped the front of Nemesis’ waist.
“I’ve got you now demon!” Björn bellowed as he thrust Nemesis through a nearby piece of uncollapsed wall.
The impact caused Nemesis’ blade to dislodge itself from Björn’s other arm and with his left arm free Björn then brought it back as far as he could.
The immense bear-man launched his fist forward, aimed squarely for the armoured demon he still held captive.
Right as Björn’s blow landed Tar’el streaked by again, slicing Björn across his broad, brown furred back.
The fifteen foot giant growled angrily, arcing his back as he felt the pain shoot through his muscular body, throwing his punch off a little too.
With a tremendous boom Nemesis was struck by Björn’s colossal clawed fist, the force of the blow sending her flying away, smashing through glass, concrete and steel.
Björn turned about, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his paws, his vision beginning to return.
“Where are you angel?” Björn bellowed as he sniffed the air, hoping to pick up Tar’el’s scent.
“I’m here,” came a stern, authoritative voice from behind the huge bear.
Björn spun around, bringing his right clawed fist around in a wide arc as he did, hoping to catch the angel off-guard, but he hit nothing.
Suddenly Tar’el descended from above as a bolt of light, plunging his twin swords into Björn’s broad, muscular shoulders.
Björn howled furiously, bringing both of his arms up to catch the angel, but by the time they searched for him he was already gone, his sword left around half-blade deep into the centre left and right of his back.
In the blink of an eye Tar’el attacked again, striking out with an armoured fist at Björn’s midsection at incredible speed. To the angel’s surprise it felt like he was punching a solid concrete slab, instead of fur covered flesh.
Björn roared fiercely again, bringing his huge arms thundering down, seeking to crush the angel beneath him.
With another surge of speed Tar’el vanished, taking his swords from the immense Beta-Squad captain’s back.
Tar’el sped into another, nearby room in the hopes of catching his breath.
“How can this man be human!?” Tar’el thought to himself as he tried to control his heavy, laboured breathing, “he’s taken everything we’ve given him and he still seems like he can go forever. I won’t be able to fight like this for more than a couple of minutes, if only I was at full strength when this fight began… no, even then I’m not sure I have what it takes to put this monster down.”
Suddenly one of Björn’s huge claws cleaved through the wall separating the room he was in from Tar’el’s.
“You can’t hide from me angel!” Björn snarled tirelessly as he tore down the wall separating him for his angelic quarry.
Nearby Nemesis scrambled to her feet, pushing a sizeable chunk of concrete off of her aching midsection.
“Nemi!” Felicia exclaimed, limping over to Nemesis as she rose to her full height.
“Felicia,” Nemesis said, acknowledging the young red-head’s presence while looking off towards Björn who seemed to be occupied, for the moment at least with Tar’el.
“I-I was thinking, maybe, if you distract him I can blind him for a little longer and we can get away?” Felicia suggested.
Nemesis looked down at the young woman slightly disapprovingly, normally she wouldn’t entertain such a suggestion, but with her brother growing further away by the moment and with Björn’s stubborn refusal to give in Nemesis did pause to consider the possibility of retreat.
The soul-hunter’s considerations were cut short when what felt like the entire foundation of the building shook as Tar’el was once again struck by Björn’s powerful arms and sent crashing into the floor.
Nemesis turned to Felicia, “do what you can, I will draw his attention.”
Nemesis rushed off, back towards Björn who loomed menacingly over Tar’el once more.
“Bear!? Wasn’t it me you wanted? For killing your weakling of a sister?” Nemesis gloated as she rushed through the gaping holes in walls she herself caused, with demon-blade held tightly.
Björn roared angrily, forgetting all about the broken angel at his feet and began to charge at the demon running towards him.
Felicia looked on as the demon steel clad Nemesis and the massive, transformed Björn met, Björn lashing out with a fearsome, wide swipe that Nemesis was only just able to jump over before landing a blow of her one, barely managing to cut through Björn’s dense fur and tough flesh to wound his shoulder.
“Right,” Felicia said to herself as she continued to watch the fierceness with which Nemesis fought, “this is the strongest spell I can cast like this, let’s hope it’s enough.”
The young redhead began to form foci signs with her hands before then holding out her right palm and gripping her right wrist with her upturned left hand.
“Helios Star,” Felicia said softly to herself.
Suddenly a fireball began to form in her right palm, one of immense size and seemingly more controlled than many of the other ‘primitive’ fireballs she had thrown. The fire within the Helios Star seemed to swirl about at incredible speed yet from the outside the sphere of flame seemed calm.
The markings up Felicia’s arms began to glow red, progressing quickly to orange, Felicia gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the nascent, burning pain. The young fire wizard knew that using a spell like this would cause her a great deal of agony, hopefully the lion’s share would come after she had made use of her evocation.
With Helios Star in hand Felicia too ran towards the melee, she needed to hope that Nemesis could keep Björn occupied, else she would never even make it close enough to use this spell.
Björn continued to swing furiously at Nemesis, his mighty arms crushing and demolishing anything unlucky enough to be in his way, it was almost all Nemesis could do just to dodge the bear-man’s wild, ferocious blows, since her speed, even in bursts seemed to pale in comparison to the angel who was still left in a heap in an adjacent room.
Björn roared angrily, throwing his massive arm sufficiently ahead of Nemesis as to hopefully predict where she would be when his blow was to land.
Nemesis saw the immense clawed arm come down like a falling hammer before her, quickly she slowed herself and turned towards the giant man-bear, as she did she saw Felicia running through the broken, ruin strewn halls, an immense ball of fire suspended above her right hand and the runes covering her arms glowing a bright, hot white. As Nemesis looked closer she saw the intense, painful expression on Felicia’s face as she ran.
Nemesis raised her blade and firmed up her stance, she focused on Björn’s massive form and as powerfully as she could she thrust her blade towards the transformed man’s stomach.
Björn was slow to react, seeing what Nemesis planned when it was too late.
Nemesis plunged her blade into the Björn’s midsection, struggling against seemingly iron flesh and dense muscle to pierce him as deeply as she could. Björn let out a defiant, furious and pained roar as he now swung his left arm in a wide horizontal arc to strike Nemesis who still struggled to push her sword deeper into his gut.
With a terrific boom Björn’s claw crashed into Nemesis, bating her away effortlessly, sending her crashing through into a different room. As Nemesis was carried away by the force of Björn’s strike her tight grip ensured her weapon was torn from the massive bear-man’s stomach.
As Björn’s mighty arm finished its swing he was intent on continuing to maul the demon that slew his sister but in the next moment he sensed something behind him, he heard the pattering of human feet and felt the air around him heat up fractionally, he knew Ignis was about to strike him.
Nemesis lifted her blood spattered head, hoping that she had bought Felicia the time she needed.
Björn swung about, flinging his right arm out in a wide arc, hoping to strike Felicia before she neared.
“Felicia!” Nemesis cried out, watching on in horror as the massive bear-man turned to strike her.
Felicia continued to run forward, her heart pounding fearfully, her body filled with the intense burning pain emanating from the marks on her arms, but it was now or never, it was up to her and as she saw Björn’s massive claw nearing she held out her right arm as far as she could, just hoping that no matter what happened to her she could help Nemesis and Tar’el escape.
“Angelic Bulwark!” Came a strong, authoritative voice from beside Felicia.
Björn’s powerful claw smashed against a wall of blazing light that even his incredible strength could not hope to breach.
Felicia didn’t look back, she continued to rush forward passed Björn’s defences until she finally plunged her Helios Star into Björn’s gut.
With a final pained scream Felicia activated the spell, driving the ball of fire deeper into the Beta-Squad Captain’s midsection.
Björn roared as his fur and flesh were singed and burnt by the spell before finally, after a moment of relative calm the Helios Star burst into life, a trail of fire blasting from the rear of the orb and like a rocket Björn was carried away by the spell, sending him crashing through scores of walls, steel beams and thick concrete edifices, all the while a powerful, churning ball of fire attempted to burn and push its way through his ursine form.
When the Helios Star was all but spent and Björn now hundreds of meters away it detonated violently, consuming everything nearby in a roiling inferno.
Nemesis stood and walked over to Felicia and the battered Tar’el uneasily, she was impressed with Felicia who, up until now she thought was nearly powerless, now she understood that she had a great power indeed, one held deep within, not just her power as a sorcerer, but also her strength bearing the terrible pain of those runes which were now a blazing white.
“We best go while we have the chance,” Tar’el announced, somehow knowing that that was the plan all along.
Tears started to fall from Felicia’s cheeks, such was the intensity of the pain she had endured merely in conjuring and maintaining the spell.
Tar’el stooped down and helped Felicia up, “Felicia, can you cast one final spell for us?”
“I’ll try,” Felicia whimpered.
The trio began to leave, stepping over piles of rubble and dust, walking towards edge of the forest nearest them, as they walked Tar’el explained what Felicia needed to do.
“I need you to start a fire in the forest, a large one, the smoke and a spell I will cast shall make it all but impossible for that Institute Captain to track us,” Tar’el explained, looking earnestly into Felicia’s tearful, pained eyes.
“I’ll do what I can,” Felicia replied.
The trio jumped Facility Fourteen’s perimeter fence, with Nemesis holding Felicia and Tar’el preparing his magic.
As the trio entered the forest fire began to spark and spread behind them, beginning to lick at the base of the nearby trees.
“Conceal,” Tar’el announced loudly as they continued walking into the dense forest.
Some five hundred meters away a massive, singed and furious Björn erupted from a pile of rubble.
As he stood to his full height and sniffed the air all he could smell was the thick smell of smoke and the fading scent of the demon he sought from hours before. The immense bear-man looked around and saw a large forest fire had gotten under way, with a thick, column of smoke billowing up from the inferno.
“Ignis,” Björn growled angrily as he morphed back to his slightly out of breath human self.
Björn touched a device sitting in his ear, “this is Captain Björn of Beta-Squad, I’m in need of an evac to Facility Twelve.”
Meanwhile the dark blue-skinned demon, Locar and his hound traced Nemesis to the storm-drain run off that Nemesis had left only hours before.
“Her stink is strong, she was here sometime today,” Locar said to himself and his conjured demonic tracking beast, “we will find her soon, then I shall break her before taking her back to master Neroth.”