Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Generalist – Taboo 3: Misfits and Mayhem Round 3

Round 3

Frank grinned, his hands behind his back. The Trial had begun, and he could hardly wait.

This is going to be freakin' awesome! Kitty agreed with him, already prepped and more than ready to receive the event.

The Trial was everything he wanted it to be. Taking a seat, he scanned the amphitheater, created from transmuted materials just for this very event. That night a Barrier had been raised around the entirety of Rancho Cucamanga, taking advantage of the majority slumbering, timing it with the emptiness of the freeway to set the Barrier and pinching the entire area off of base reality. Such an undertaking was necessary, due to the nature of the criminal. An S-class criminal, beyond even the A rankings, with a history of murder, dealing with demons, deception, treachery, and with more skill in Illusion Magia than any known magus today.

Frank's grin turned into a bloodthirsty smile. It was the perfect trap, set for the perfect criminal.

The amphitheater, set in the parking lot of the Ontario Mills mall, was an impressive bit of architecture, fashioned from purest marble and onyx, the rows themselves built of purest silver. Magi gathered from all seven major houses, each one taking up a slab of the amphitheater in a line from the ground up: the leaders sat closest to the ground in order to react to the first sign of trouble.

At the dead center of the amphitheater was a small disc of silver, and in a circle the Council and the Grand Magus of the Order would stand, hearing all who would speak within the Trial before casting their judgment.

It was here, in the ring formed by the greatest human magi, that the true Trial would take place. All who wished to speak must have permission to enter, and the Council acted and judged through the Artifact thrones they sat on, connecting their minds and souls together to allow for instantaneous decision-making and reaction. It was whispered that the Grand Magus, alone, could counter-act them though there was no record of this ever happening.

Of course normally the Grand Magus acted alone, despite the presence of the Darkwatch, as was his leisure. For the arrival of such a dangerous criminal all seven houses had brought their most powerful, the seven leaders, Darkwatch and Grand Magus all to sit upon their thrones.

The Council of Nine had convened, and looking at the silver disc, Frank couldn't be happier.

From all seven "sides" of the amphitheater they came, the recognized strongest and wisest of each House, each walking the distance from the amphitheater seating to their throne. Kitty, keeping his senses open and aware of as much movement as possible, ticked them off within Frank's head:

Valken. Of all the houses they are counted the most dangerous, and it is whispered that Ol' Leggy Jerry is going to attempt a coup and become the next Dawnguard. Due to the methods of their training and the rigorous mental prowess, they are the ones who trains the Orders' assassins and guardsmen. On the other hand, they have a further greater form that is damn near direct brainwashing. They are powerful in water, earth, illusory, charm schools of magic as well as mesmerism, but it's well-known that their "training" is hypnosis combined with Darkness magia, which isn't illegal but IS frowned upon.

Kitty noted with interest, Jerome is sitting in the throne, but I don't see his little brother anywhere, who should be here as his Second.

Ignore it, Frank responded, his eyes locked onto Jerome as the man took his seat, as always wearing the resplendent cloak and clothing of his station, Just give me the rest. I want to make sure none of them pull any surprises tonight.

An elderly man swathed in silk robes sat down gingerly, a staff of iron so cold it radiated with a chilling, blue aura. Settling himself, he gazed about with clear eyes, his craggy face hidden by massive white mustaches. Removing his hat, he mopped at his bald pate with a handkerchief and set it back into his cream-colored robes, letting go of the staff where it remained rooted to the floor.

Darius, of the Tremor House. They specialize in Fire, Air, and Light Magia. Darius himself is also a well-known and respected Alchemical doctorate, and is one of the few Advanced Alchemists known. He's supposedly in the Grand Magus's pocket, and is known for being difficultly agreeable when confronted. Though the Grand Magus cannot claim any house, the Tremor House is supposedly his alma mater, for all that neither will confirm it. Due to their ferocity and expertise in alchemy, they're the ipso-facto rulers amongst the Houses and are considered the "Judgment House," keeping balance between the other six.

A young woman, her face and form suggesting functionality over beauty, sat down lightly on her throne. Wearing a pair of light cream-colored trousers and an even lighter brown blouse, her dark hair had been hacked viciously short, the back of her head and sides shaved down. Though she was far from the beauty his Vorel was, every part of her promised exquisite physical prowess. For a moment the taste of her cream-colored, lightly freckled skin grazed his memories and Frank withheld a chuckle as her royal purple-colored eyes shifted to him, quick and unnerving in their intimacy. The only one of the Council who was truly youthful, Frank was finally able to remember the details only a split-second before Kitty did. Out of all of them, it was Elliemae Ra'zer that he was truly afraid of, if only because of how she was able to cut to the heart of any matter...even better than he himself did.

Elliemae Ra'zer. Combat Magia specialists who are incredibly ferocious, violent, vicious, and just plain mean. They send their people to the Valken House for the final stages of their guards' training, though it's just to reinforce the viciousness that's already there. They're the best known Enhancers, weaving magic spells into items for a bit of time, almost like Artificing only the effects are only temporary and nowhere near as strong. Elliemae was once your greatest competitor in the realm of Artificing, and is known for being especially cruel in how she applies Combat, Defense, and even Support Magia. She's one of the few people who never learned Elemental Magia during Crucible basic training, and the only person better than her with a weapon here is you, possibly the Darkwatch and the Grand Magus. She's also the youngest leader of a house ever, having bested her own father at the age of 14 in a critical duel, nigh on ten years ago. You apparently had some relations with her five years ago, and she's one of the few people on this planet who knows about me. That is not a coincidence. Out of anyone here, only she has the charisma and ability to resurrect the War Party, with you gone from the Order. Strangely enough, she has not, probably out of sentiment...except she's her, y'know? Simple sentiment doesn't cut it.

An exquisite woman sat down on one of the thrones, crossing her shapely legs. Neither too muscular nor too thin, her body was as full as she herself was ravishing from head to toe. Long, red hair cascade down her back in waves, as clean as her olive-tanned skin. Lustrous, large green eyes gazed through thick eyelashes, and the only bit of makeup the woman wore revealed itself with her perfectly-applied red lipstick, her lips full and generous.

Gazing about lazily at the others, she sighed and placed a sharp-nailed hand against her heaving bosom, her entire body covered in bits of black, leather straps, in what could be considered a semblance of a dress, though a noticeably tight one that still showed off plenty of her well-toned, tanned flesh.

A flash of a smile that never touched her eyes flitted across her beautiful features as she locked eyes with Frank, challenging him to a game of wills. Instead of rising to the bait he immediately shifted his gaze to the next councilmember, ignoring her delectable pout and the interesting stirring sit provoked from him.

DeFerens, the only House whose specialties aren't publicly known. They're practically all over the place, and no two DeFerens will sport the same specialties and basics. They're also the only house here outside who has two known representatives: the young woman you see sitting on the throne and the Darkwatch, naturally. Little is known about them and they prefer it that way. They are strong allies of Masaharu and Tremor, for all that Tremor publicly hates them. Hedonists, every last one of them. That is Melisande DeFerens, mother of Magus Dawn Tanelin and far-removed niece of Darkwatch DeFerens himself. It's rumored that she's a practitioner of every single Magia known, and may not be completely human which would explain that anomaly. No human can master more than five Magia at a time without blowing their head up, y'know? I apparently had some relations with her five years ago, and she hasn't a clue about me. You're happy with that coincidence, she was happy with your prowess, I still don't remember sleeping with her and you STILL won't share those memories with me.

Frank chuckled at that and ignored the implication that he should share them with Kitty in the near future.

On the fifth throne a truly nondescript man sat down, his gaze wary and hawkish as he sized up the other six before calmly looking at Frank. Of middling height and age, he was the one who reeked the most of magic, his aura practically spilling random elemental spells onto the ground. Neither handsome nor ugly, his two most noticeable features were a beakish, hawklike nose and graying sideburns that faded into majestically black hair, slicked back and cut at the neck. Dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a simple, button-up shirt, the man looked practically outlandish in comparison to the other Councilmembers.

Mauser, pure Elementalists, their game is ever and only Elemental Magia. The only handlers of Plasma Magia known outside of the Grand Magus, and there are no Advanced Plasma spells. You either learn it or you don't, apparently. They're very straightforward and are counted as being staunchly supportive and loyal to the Orders' directives. Strangely enough, their brand of over-specialization in Elemental Magia makes them very dependable in a fight though not predictable, whether it be long-range or even melee, though they're not as good as the Enhancers of Combat Magia. That man there is Gerard Mauser, and he is an absolute fiend at just about anything he does...which is so weird considering how sneaky the bastard can be. Almost figured me out during a panty raid on their House Mansion, and he still suspects I'm with you to this day. He's also gifted with a natural Aura-sight, his eyes extremely discerning even before the Mage training. Dangerous, but nowhere near as dangerous as the others - he prefers to think up a plan first, THEN acts on it.

The sixth Council member was an older woman who sat levitating two feet above the seat of her throne, her legs crossed in a classic lotus position. Whereas the other Councilmembers were relatively in their physical prime, either by natural or occult means, she ran to fat quickly, her hair a fringe of silver around her bald pate. At the moment her eyes were closed, but Frank remembered that they were silver by nature and quick to glare at anything even remotely associated with himself, though not due to any actions of his own but, rather, his nature as an Esper.

House d'Balthazar, well-known sages who rock at scrying, forecasting, basically any Magia that crosses with Psionics. They're also noted for alchemy, research of all Magia and experimentation, and are pretty much the Order's historians, bookworms, and scribes. They are not to be underestimated - they have proven themselves time and time again as being just as good combatants as any other House outside of Ra'zer. Because of how important they are to the research and development side of the Order, they are highly respected. Ethel d'Balthazar there pretty much lives up to the trope to a T, and is the best freakin' Librarian we've ever met. She was also a terror to us when we were teaching here, mainly 'cuz she hates the Internet and we're, y'know, actually a psionic whereas she needs spells to do what we do naturally. If only she understood the terror of Burnout...

The last one to take their seat was one that took him by honest surprise.

Frank hated surprises.

Masaharu, known for Interdimensional, Conjuration, and Banishment Magia. Despite how specialized they are they are considered incredibly powerful, not just for those particular schools but in how they can use them offensively and defensively, ways that no one outside of the Masaharu House can use. Outside of yourself they are the foremost leaders in Interdimensional Magia and all-related subjects. They're also incredibly loyal to the Grand Magus but were especially counted as allies of yours, since you helped clear thier names during that little faux pas when you were Darkwatch. Much like House DeFerens, they don't really mingle well with other Houses and normally keep to themselves.

Frank, I haven't a clue who that is though!

The last time he had checked with the House of Masaharu, an elderly patron, good-natured and kind despite his open alliance with the War Party, led them with a kind and wise hand, a man full of secrets.

The woman who took the throne in the name of Masaharu was no one he had ever seen before. Her hair tied and pinned into a loose bun with a pair of golden picks, the magelight did little to hide the strangely luminescent shine to it, a color so black it bordered on purple. Though she wore loose clothing, white bandages peeking out from a loosely-belted tunic of soft, silver material suggesting either a breast binding or a strange form of fashion statement and dark leggings, she strode with the gracefulness of a dancer, her body lithe and gracefully muscular. No jewelry or makeup adorned her features, and the freckles that lightly dusted the bridge of her nose and cheeks were without enhancement. Every part of her smelled completely mundane, though wonderful, to him.

And that actually scared him - unlike the other six, there wasn't a single ounce of discernible magic about her. In fact, every single type of sight he possessed didn't catch a single slip of any of the four known types of energy from her.

It was as if she wasn't there at all.

The woman took her throne and, crossing her legs at the knee, gazed directly and intently at him, her eyes only half-opened. For a moment, Frank felt dizzy as he spied violet eyes behind the thick fringe of eyelashes, only to realize they were both red – no less a shockingly inhuman color as violet, but at least it was one he could deal with.

Choking back a frown he watched as the thrones activated, the Artifact merging their consciousness into a hive-mind, a gestalt that took their individual thought processes and balanced, weighed, and judged using them.

The Grand Magus grinned wickedly as he stepped beyond the ring made by the Council, the Darkwatch DeFerens by his side, both clothed to befit their stations. The Darkwatch wore the black catsuit, wide-brimmed, floppy point black hat as well as jet-black pauldrons on his shoulders, lined with onyx and draping a simple, black cloak that barely brushed the ground, covering his back entirely. The Grand Magus wore the full regalia of his exalted calling, his own exquisite robes of crimson and gold, worth more than any five countries combined, hidden underneath a magnificent cloak of purest silver thread, his own pauldrons of jet and gold sloping downwards to cover his upper arms as well.

Both of them reeked with enough magic to cause a minor anomaly, if not for the reality-enforcing nature of the pocket dimension set up within and around the amphitheater.

The thrones deactivated and Jerome immediately slouched, looking aside and growling aloud in a bored monotone, "I speak for the Nine, and this Trial is to begin. You will not be killed outright, and will be presented with a chance to defend your case," he offered a grimace towards the Grand Magus, his teeth clenched as he growled out, "such as it is."

Frank grinned and held up a gloved hand, pointing directly at the Legatus, "I call you forth, Jerome Valken, to stand before the Circle."

A loud murmur arose from the assemblage as Jerome, startled of his reverie, blurted aloud, "H...what? Me? What madness is THIS, Todd?!"

"You have been called forth, Magus Valken," the Grand Magus rumbled deep in his throat, his shaggy brows covering his eyes as he closed them, "Even a Councilmember must stand and submit upon the dais when called."

"That's outrageous," the Legatus growled, slamming a fist against the arm of his throne.

Darkwatch DeFerens took a step forward, smiling lazily, his eyes sleepy as he murmured loud enough to be heard by the magical amplification, "Do you deny the Grand Magus and the Council, Legatus Valken? Will you not take the stand and commit yourself to the geas?"

Valken's glower shifted in quick succession, from Frank to the Darkwatch then back to the dais before slowly answering, "No. It sets a bad precedent, one that would set aside both aeons of history as well as the-"

"Why so glum, chum?" Frank's chuckle contained little warmth and even less mirth as he gestured with a gloved hand towards the silver disc, "C'mon, Jerry. Ol' Leggy Jerry. Afraid you're going to be forced to give THAT away? Heh. Big secret, everyone knows your fetish for bodybuilders' legs."


"Because until now, none have ever been suspected of so many crimes as you, Jerome Valken," the Darkwatch spoke softly.

"Wh-WHAT?! What poisonous, treasonous, vile-" Magus Valken held up a finger and pointed at Frank as the brown-skinned, black-clad man slowly stalked towards him, "YOU! What have you done? What IS this?!"

Ignoring Valkens' tirade, Frank continued to close the distance between them until he stood about a foot away from the enraged man, setting down the Trial summons Tanelin had given him two days previous. The entire time, his rage spewing so venomously he was blind to Frank's actions, Jerome continued to rant, "Is this not the Trial for HIM?! Frank Todd, the base deceiver, the fraud, the charlatan, the-"

Jerome's eyes, the best part of him according to some, suddenly widened as the magical energies associated with the spell known as the "Eye Maze" became dispelled from the paper. The spell was an amazingly subtle piece of work, one that he himself would have been proud of doing had it not been used by him.

The dais. The damned dais. The Trial. Everything suddenly clicked and Jerome realized the trap that had been set.

He didn't dare look up into the eyes of the Council, who had duped him into coming here. He didn't dare look towards the Grand Magus nor the strangely sober and sentient Darkwatch.

He looked straight into the murderously intense, chocolate brown eyes of The Generalist and growled, "You have no proof. You have no precedence."

The court summons hadn't been for Frank.

It had been for Jerome Valken, the greatest known Illusionist and Charm-based Magus on the planet. It was for the Patriarch of the House of Valken, suspected for illegal brainwashing of the guardsmen, harboring and trafficking with demons illegally, and practicing the banned Magia of Daemon and Thaumaturgy.

He was on trial under suspicion of creating Demonsidhe, the warped product of baleful, hellish magics and Alchemy.

The last sent a chill down his spine, reinforced and made ever so much colder as Frank's voice cut through the ringing that had begun in his ears, "We have a Tribunal here. Temporary Darkwatch, Darkwatch Descending, and the new Daywatch. All three of the Security forces are here."

His breath caught for a moment as he was about to point out that he would never speak out against himself when a particularly electric blue gaze caught his eye. Slightly behind the Grand Magus, her slight form hidden behind the bulk of the Grand Magus's regalia, Daywatch Tanelin watched his every move, studying him as she would any specimen. Her face, alive yet passive, held absolutely no emotion, her form sheathed as it was in the black unisuit Frank had taken the time to make just for her, the position of Darkwatch held for so long that none knew where the original Daywatch's gear was, let alone if it had survived the ascension.

Jerome's eye twitched as he growled, "You cannot stop me. This...this is merely a momentary setback, one that can be easily explained-"

Frank threw a handful of papers atop the court summons and began to laugh, "OH! Oh, HAH! Yeah. Now I know yer on the ropes, yer startin' to talk like a villain~! You gonna start monologuin'?" Frank slipped on a pair of shades, his finger sticking to the bridgepiece as he growled around his glowing fist, "That's all the evidence we need. Your orders for large shipments of dried spells, the powdered remains of spent Magia that sometimes erupts from around a magic circle. Sodium pentathol. Your brainwashing techniques. The very recipes you've had to follow from your own SPELLBOOK...which if you weren't such an elitist scumbag, you would've noticed I rummaged around your personal effects," Frank chuckled and shrugged at Valken's incredulous look, "The perks of bein' Darkwatch. Despite your denials of it, you've secretly attempted to secure the very Shop itself as well as our store of legal artifacts and reagents, a war that was NOT condoned by the Order but you, in your hubris and ego, felt was proper. If we were as weak as you had been led to believe by the false rumors we planted with your own people, then you could just TAKE what you wanted, including-" he slapped down the final point of paper evidence, the written order re-constituted via a simple cantrip, "my friend, the legally protected American citizen, Daniel 'Dash' Hopkins, the troll-gene! The Council has already found you guilty, sir.

This wasn't a trial for me. This has always and ever been YOUR lynching, Jerome."

"You," Jerome slumped into his throne, a hand thrown over his face as he responded slowly and carefully, "Ever since you have come into my life, Frank. You've been nothing but a stone underfoot, a thorn in my side."

"I get that a lot," Frank frowned, realizing something was up. Jerome was way too goddamned calm not to get his hackles up.

"You've always got to be the underdog who wins. The champion of the little people," Jerome chuckled slightly, each member of the Council coming to the same conclusion as Frank, their paranoia increasing the calmer the Valken Mage got. He began to clap, slow at first then more, his chuckles turning to guffaws before becoming outright laughter, "OH! Oh! Oh the drama of it all! How long have you been setting this up, Frank? How long have all of you been working together on this?"

Frank offered an honest grin, "I got the word 'roundabout a month ago. Dawn's been slowly gathering information on your brainwashing techniques and your clandestine replacement of dried Magia for a small while. It was SHE who figured you out first. The rest, well-"

On a lazy Saturday, with nothing better to do, Frank and Dash lazed about the upper floor of the Shop. Frank thumbed his way through a graphic novel, his eyes flying as he absorbed the book, his bulky form stretched out on the big, black, comfortable leather couch they had. In his hammock, Dash slowly thumbed through a book on boxing, his muscles jumping inside of his skin every now and then as if the rest of his body was moving without his skin.

The sun was out, for once it wasn't that smoggy, and the two had nothing to do.

A small pop intruded on the comfortable silence as a strip of paper popped out of thin air, floating down towards Frank. Snatching it with a gloved hand, Frank read the message then burned it with an instantly-cast spell.

Dash, barely noting the whole situation out of the corner of his eye, asked in a calm tone, "Hey, Frank. What's that about?"

Frank grunted as he turned the page, "Huh. We just got requested by the Order of Magi to help them stop a violent coup, reveal a Demonsidhe scientist that's attempting to create an army of the twisted little fucks, and basically use ourselves as bait to bring the fucker out and finally put the kibosh on his skull."

Dash, for a few long minutes, simply read and allowed his muscles to move on their own, so deep into the book that he needed those minutes to fully process what Frank had told him. Looking at him suddenly, he blinked and roared, "WHAT?!"

"And that's how babies are made," Frank ended with a grin, "So. The trick wasn't how to put my fist through your skull, or at least get you to give up and submit to the twelfth position for the Council, but, rather, how to get you to willingly place yourself close enough to the Dais that your magic would be affected and drawn to it. Then we had to separate you from your assassins, which we did by whispering into the ear of your little brother that we would be vulnerable. Funny how being an asshole can sometimes cause your own people to give you up, huh? So you get all uppity and send your assassins after the Shop. We isolate the agents sympathetic to our cause, and kill the rest - your training is way too good and it'd take an army of the best hypnotists and psychologists to undo the kind of damage you've done to them, an army that doesn't exist since so many people couldn't keep the secrets of our Order for long. Best to put the dog down while it's frothing at the mouth."

Walking around the Dais and keeping Jerome's eyes on him, Frank continued, "Next, we had to ensure you would be in a place where you would be separated from the guards who were under your direct control."

At the mention of the guards Jerome looked from side to side, seeing for himself that the only people in the amphitheater were the general Magi community and the higher-ups of the Households. Growling, he realized that he himself had wanted them to be used to help steer the mundanes away from the Mall and the surrounding city, wanting it to be a show of power as he ascended to become the new Daywatch.

He also realized, too late, that the Council members had slowly made their way to a short distance between those seated at the lowest part of the amphitheater and the thrones themselves, forming a ring around them to exclude him. His eyes flickered back towards the Dais and he immediately wondered at what their next move was going to be.

The Dais was a rare Artifact, one that dispelled magic yet radiated magic at the same time, forcing whomever stood on it under a geas to tell nothing but the absolute truth without even the briefest of deception.

The whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth.

Still, the Dais was too powerful, and repelling magical energy even up to a third of the way up the amphitheater, getting in the way of anything less than a Higher Working. Growling, he focused back on Frank, realizing the man had allowed him the time to note what he did.

That bastard!

"Suffice it to say, we even got videos of one of your assassins trippin' out and transforming into a freakin' Demon...using Blood Magic to empower it! Thankfully Dash is a hard guy to bring down, but hey - there ya go. And now, here we are."

Frank grinned, tapping his own head, "And we are. At the Trial. What do you plead?"

Jerome looked over at him, his eyes hard as flint as he asked, "I don't suppose a 'Guilty by Insanity' will work?"

Frank chuckled good-naturedly as, behind him, the Councilmembers raised a new Barrier, a subtle work that operated within the two already established, "No. But you'll get the pleasure and honor of dyin' by my hand. I speak for the Council of Nine.

Jerome Valken, you are ostracized and marked for death, to be carried out immediately by the hand of The Generalist, Frank Todd, of the Shop."

Jerome grinned wildly back at him, pointing at the Dais as he shot to his feet, "You and what army, Todd?! YOUR magic is nullified as well!"

Frank grinned and held his arms to either side, rotating his hands with a flourish at the new barrier, "You and I are separated from the crowd and the dais. They can watch as you and I carry on where our earlier Duel left off. I'm gonna tear your freakin' skin off and wear you like a goddamned Edgar suit.

Bring it."

Wasting no time, Jerome roared and leaned forward, slamming his fists into the ground as a magic circle erupted around him, "FINE! SHALL WE GET TO IT?"

Frank's voice began to rise in a gentle song, his hands becoming obscured by a dark, severe mist. He slowly stalked towards Jerome as the Defense Magus cast forth from transmuted earth his Mage Armor, the ground itself rising up to cover him before changing into his own suited plate of armor, black and severe, lined in glowing purple. His breath exploded forth in a fine plume of super-heated mist, growling aloud, "Earlier, I knew something was up. Obtenebration Magia is not without its' weaknesses as well, you know...and I have discovered it! You yourself shall behold the power of the Valken specialty, the Added Effect~!"

"You talk too much for a guy who's lusted after becoming the Number One for as long as you have," Frank chuckled, slightly hunched over as he pounded one fist into the other. As he advanced on the transforming ex-Legatus his mage sight noted absolutely no real difference in the Mage Armor, figuring his previous speech to be bluff. It was stronger, so the solid magical energy suggested, but otherwise it was his usual boring form.

"Number One? That has been denied to me now," Jerome snarled, holding his arms wide to receive whatever Frank was going to throw at him, "I would've been quite satisfied to simply be the man behind the throne, the Vizier. I would have led the Order to a glorious new age, one that not even the War Party could outshine! But, I'm going to have to change my plans."

"I didn't mean that, numbnuts," Frank grinned, his intense gaze wild despite the shades, "You can't surpass the Shop with such underhanded, shady tactics. You should've come at us directly instead of attempting it through assassins and a shadowy war that the Order suspected.

That's no way to become the Number One killer in Los Angeles, man!"

Jerome grunted, "I suppose you're right. Fine then. Show me what it takes!!!"

"MY PLEASURE!" Frank roared, covering the distance between the two with a blinding swiftness that caught Jerome off-guard. Leaping high into the air, Frank spun around once and immediately launched himself into a series of spinning back-heel kicks, wanting to test the physical limits of the Mage Armor - or so he had thought he was going to do as he flew backwards, landing roughly before rolling to his feet.

Gasping, more shook up than hurt, he glared at Jerome, ignoring his laughter while replaying in his mind what had happened.

For a glorious moment, the thrill of combat raced through Frank as he made the first attack - always his favorite tactic. Besides, he wanted to see what kind of surprised the so-called Greatest Defense Master in the World had for him.

And he got it as the Mage Armor rippled for a moment after his first back-heel kick landed, the Water-based nature of the Mage Armor finally revealing itself as the physical force of the kick rippled through the Armor and around it only to explode back towards him, the Armor stretching to form a boot not unlike his own to strike at him, sending him flying backwards.

Getting to his feet and bouncing on his heels slightly, Frank brought his fists up before him, the black mist still spilling out of them. Valken's laughter died and he sized up Frank again, his frown noticeable even through the plate armor helm.

"Since you cannot come to me, I will come to you...Frank. I am going to break you."

"Whatever, Drago," Frank smiled wildly as he rushed forward again, leaping to the air.

"Again? Your tricks won't-!!!" Jerome's eyes widened as his mind fought to catch up with the obscene series of attacks he had been subjected to. Between one second and the other, Frank had disappeared from his sight, somehow stopping his own momentum in mid-air and crossing the distance between them in a blindingly fast run that caught him off-guard.

Then Frank fought with himself.

With a speed that was completely inhuman, Frank struck at the Mage Armor with his mist-covered fists, each punch faster than the other, pounding his way through the Armor's dense, magically-enhanced protection. Turning far too slowly by his own perception, Jerome realized what was happening with a frightened gasp as Frank's arms disappeared, moving too fast to be seen, a strange and utterly demonic energy pattern erupting from his form as he leaned into the flurry of attacks.

With each punch Frank gave with one hand, he parried the attack the Armor rebounded back to him, punching and blocking at the same speed but immediately making the next punch faster, the block the same speed only to punch EVEN faster on the next one! In such a manner, Frank was severely overloading the Armor's ability to absorb and redirect the force of the attacks back at himself.

Roaring, Jerome swept his fists in front of him blindly, intent on driving the other man back with his horribly spiked gloves only to stagger forward, once again caught off guard by a burst of speed that made Frank practically invisible, his attacks barely relenting for a second before resuming their brutal assault on his Armor.

Frank's laughter rang out, evil and full of malicious intent as he felt the backplate of the Armor buckle. Unlike normal armor, Mage Armor didn't dent or take damage by it's combined and buckled pieces but, rather, as a whole. Frank had, within the span of several seconds, decimated the Armor's defensive potential by a clear fifty percent, and was intent on bashing his way through the other fifty! Staggering forward, he sought to put space between them himself, Frank's relentless assault slamming harder into his backplate, denting it further even as the spell sought to reaffirm itself, drawing further from Jerome's reserves

Jerome roared and immediately synchronized his body's natural energy pattern to that of the earth below him, forcing Frank into a series of hard backflips in order to dodge the stalactites his spell slammed up from the ground, each one as tall as a man and able to spear even a tank clean through. .

Refocusing his energies, Jerome roared wordlessly and created a dome of hardened and packed Earth around himself, a magic circle surrounding it as the simple protective dome became a thing harder than steel, reinforced by the magical energies he sought to pour into it.

"Come and get me now, you bastard!" Jerome panted, his glowing Armor providing enough light for him to realize he had trapped himself with the Dais, separated only by a thin layer of reality-warping magics. Despite that, he shivered, certain he could feel it drawing at his precious reserves - without the Mage Armor, he had no

Outside, Frank walked up to the dome and chuckled, recognizing a cornered rat when he saw one. His shadow trembled as he fought for control, allowing Gregorio to reach up through it and come up to his waist into the physical realm. The humanoid trembled with it's lust for violence, finally accepting Jerome as a worthy-enough target.

"Go for it, Gregorio," Frank knelt down and dipped his fist into his own shadow where it stretched and connected with Gregorio in an unnatural fashion, the magelight within the amphitheater beginning to waver under the presence of such an outpouring of strange magics, "Do what yer going to do."

For a moment the Shadow Demon spun it's head around to glare at Frank, who met it's unnatural gaze with a cool expression of his own, his features calm as he relaxed his control little by little. Startling all within the amphitheater, the Council members included, Gregorio roared with the strange sound of gargled, jangling glass before pulling itself completely into the physical realm before passing through the earthen dome, leaving electrical currents of dark energy racing about the dome's surface, for all intents and purposes shredding the Earth Magia as if it was so much tissue paper.

From outside the dome, Frank stood stock still, the energies of the two combatants growing quiet to the senses of the others. All about the amphitheater students, novices, masters and teachers all took furious notes and compared them with one another, seeking council and the perspective of wiser heads. The wisest stood in a ring about the execution stage, each one seeing for themselves what they each had only suspected concerning the strange Shadow Magic.

Some had seen it in action before, but the masters of Obtenebration were, if anything, sneaky in how they used such spells. Those who were firsthand observers had long since died, and the current generation of Councilmembers only knew of the effects and weave of the energies by stories and notes, found in the journals of their predecessors. To witness a battle where it was actively being used was a rare treat for them, and one that assured each one in their own way.

The Grand Magus, Darkwatch, and Frank Todd each shared a certain trait that they, connected still via the Gestalt Artifacts, noted together. A certain fatalistic urge that bordered on the suicidal.

Frank frowned, his mage sight seeing what others could not: within the dome Gregorio physically grappled with the ex-Legatus, the nature of the dome and the dais, even through the barriers that separated the two alternate realities, turning the dome into a pressure cooker. Laughing evilly, Gregorio turned into liquid in Valken's grasp, slipping into the Mage Armor through the chinks and imperfections Frank had created earlier only to find a genuine surprise - Valken grinned as Gregorio found itself unable to simply crush or drown Valken, who had surrounded himself in a small shell of hyper-pressurized water, the Added Effect of the Mage Armor he had called forth.

Taking the challenge for what it was, Gregorio increased the pressure around the shell of water, seeking to force it to implode, heedless to what the exchange of energies was doing to the immediate area within the dome. Unable to move, Jerome gritted his teeth, forcing himself to endure it as point-blank in front of him, barely a scant inch from his flesh the Shadow Demon attempted to crush the life out of the paper-thin, already hyper-pressurized shell.

Outside, Frank noted a tiny fissure begin at the base of the dome then immediately backed up, mentally keeping the Overdrive from rocketing itself in order to help him compensate to the immediate danger: within a mere second, the dome suddenly erupted, testing the strength of not one but both barriers and the Dais itself as the magical clash sought the only direction it could go in order to relieve the immense pressure.


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