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Emptiness and Desperation
(2013-07-11 - 2013-07-11)
No description.
Alma Hyral It's been a year.

A year since the plague.

A year since the portals shut down and the skies went silent.

There was order at first. Certainty. The plague would end. Resources would last. The House and the Order of Judges would remain, as they had always had remained, the voice of authority in Archades. The archadian military knew how to deal with the heartless, and so these new and virulent Empties who spread their hollowness with bite and dread as an aura around them were fended off. But all such temporary measures become inconsequential when there is little to eat. When the stocks were poisoned. When the city began to fall, one piece at a time, and could do little more than a holding action against the rising tide.

The riots came first. Then the shattering, when the Judges and the House turned on each other. Many judges and several judge magisters were slain, both in the fighting and in the executions to follow. The executions, public and otherwise. The resistance was rooted up and crushed only to rise again. And always the Empties. The plague. The heartless. Always the darkness gnawing on the edges of a broken city. Upper Archades was almost completely lost and the city, both Lower and Upper, carved by a butcher's cleaver into a number of warring districts all led by the remaining Judge Magisters, House members or officials such as Dr. Bunansa who flourished like a hideous and sickly smelling hothouse bloom in this time of calamity.

The dragon of Archades lay dying for a full year in the unforgiving sun. Now most of the houses lay empty. It is rare now to see the bands of hunting soldiers and bandits raiding the remains for supplies. There is little in difference to either group. Monsters and the heartless roam the abandoned city of Lower Archades, preying on the unwary while empties roam the hollow streets and mansions of Upper Archades.

And people do.. and make.. the best that they can. Even in the relatively safe parts of the remaining city, there is always a market for supplies. Rationing. Hardship.. and money for those crazed enough to venture into the abandoned parts of the city, braving the walls upon which are stationed Dr. Cid's thought controlled Rooks and mechanical soldiers.

Riku opens his eyes, rubbing at them gingerly with a hand as he looks away from the broken window. He leans against the peeling wall, the wood rotten and creaking as he leans against it. This wasn't an entirely safe place (for as much as any place could be considered safe anymore) but it was shelter and he had worked hard to make it as comfortable as possible.

He resecured the piece of wood over the window, a large glyph etched it in and every other entrance passively shielding the area from the heartless. It wasn't magic strong enough to be picked up by the sensors, but enough to make them pick easier targets.

And there were always those.. anybody can get tired.. and look away for a moment.

Riku had a moment of disorientation, a vague sense of unreality and then.. shook it off, sighing quietly as he goes to check their slowly dwindling supplies and make a list in his head of things he was willing to trade for when they saw the supplier today.
Alma Hyral Dr. Alberic Lux

The Mad l'cie who damned an already doomed world. His twisted plan to transcend humanity to the light by wiping away the impurities had brought the battle between light and dark to it's conclusion all too soon. His creations spread emptiness through a bite, and hunted the darkness with a dogged determination. And then they turned upon the light, any light that was not their own was soon gone. It was said that the Mad l'Cie was once again encased in crystal. Or that he'd destroyed his Fal'Cie master and had transcended to godhood. Reports were sketchy. His legacy is what remained.

At first Alma had joined the group of those who had sought to find a way to cure it the plague. But soon she was one of the only ones left. And she didnt have the biochemistry know-how to pull it off on her own. As the empties evolved, and they grew more adept at sensing the light, she smothered the borrowed light within her. She tried to learn how to conceal it, rather than to develop it to become more radiant and powerful. She only made use of greater displays of it in desperation.

She'd become far dimmer as a result, in more ways than one. Gone was that impish innocence and naivete that always had been a part of her before the first riots started. After they'd killed their first dozen group of bandits. After shed watched the light in their friends eyes go out and become.. the hollow light of empties.. she hardened her heart.

They'd lost too many for her to do otherwise.

And so she focused on survival. Put aside the dreams she once had for the future.

It was the little rituals that had kept them alive right now, as Riku came away from the window to the store room, she was in there already, taking inventory of their supplies. She did this with a clipped meticulous preciseness.

Things were more valuable than people now, after all. All except one person. Her partner.

She looked up as her partner entered the room, knowing the question he'd already ask about the impending meeting with their supplier,

"...We have enough to trade to Argider's man, Madison. A few pieces of refined Magicite would go a long way towards getting what we need from Bunansa, but hell take us for almost all we have."

The Rozarrian pirate who had crashed in the Lower City during the tail end of the riots had carved out his own sector who plagued on the tourists within the city, flanked by his formidable Bangaa crew members. They werent on the best of terms, not after he found out that Riku was a former Judge-Cadet, but some of his men were still willing to deal with them.

"..and he'll almost certainly try to kill us once the trade is made, but what else is new?"
Alma Hyral When the darkness went first, Riku almost hadn't survived the good doctor Alberic's legacy.

Time after time, they had only just survived the hunting packs of empties that still seemed to dog his steps, even to this day. They were rabid to destroy any hint of darkness and Riku, by his very nature, attracted attention.

When the supply of holy crystals faded and were now fiercely fought over as both one of the most effective and the most dangerous kinds of healing magic, he also developed a different requirement. He tried.. very effectively in most cases, and with great pains, to make sure Alma didn't see. Oh.. he was sure that she knew.

Had to know.

But they had made such a game of going along with each others lies, even when they were telling them to each other and not everyone else. It was hard to put that down. The truth, in many cases as too sharp-edged to handle. And if a bandit or one of Bergan's armored thugs disappeared every so often. Who was to say the world wasn't made better for it.

"Yeah. We'll see where that gets him." Riku snorts softly in derision, picking up a tin can and examining it idly before putting it back on the shelf. "Bergan's been overstretching himself.. again.." he says, flipping the channel to another conversation they had earlier as if they had never laid it down. "You know where that armory would get us. Especially since Argrider needs ammo to keep his racket going."

Never mind the place was swarming with empties.


Riku had become very cavalier and light-hearted as Alma shut down. Perhaps it was just another way of hiding, but whatever his real feelings were, he kept them behind a shifting series of masks. Alma saw farther than most. But only sometimes, and others? He seemed even to forget who he was entirely.

Those were the bad days.

Riku frowned in thought and then shrugged. "Your call. We can go to Madison and let the pieces fall where they lay, or we can try for the armory. One or the other doesn't exclude the shooting.. but we might find some neat stuff on the way down." he grins.
Alma Hyral She knew.

It was one of those things they didn't talk about. Things were more valuable than people. So long as she didn't see it, so long as they didn't talk about it.. she was fine with it.

And some part of her was disturbed by that in so many ways. At times she wondered if she was empty already.. but she was no longer prone to introspection. After the first three times she'd been overwhelmed by these ruminations and caught herself with a gun to her head.. that was one of the other lies she told, the one time hed caught her playing with it in her hands, with the safety off. That she was just a little careless..

...introspection was a luxury they couldnt afford any longer.

She muttered at that,

"Of all the people to survive in this.. it had to be that mad dog..."

She rubs a hand against her cheek, giving him a dour look, "...always talking about that armory. Just like one of those get rich quick schemes in those heist movies we used to watch..."

...and even if they got past the empties, Bergan.. well let's just say what he did to those he caught poking around wasnt pretty. 'I am the law' took on a new meaning. And with someone as inconsistent and wild as Bergan.. it became a spectacle event. Some even said he had a wheel of punishment which he spun. Alma suspected it was only a wheel in his head.

...but maybe some part of her actually wanted an end to this. And for that reason she was willing to take risks with enough nagging. Besides, Riku wouldn't stop talking about that place until they actually did something.. or he'd go on his own. And leave her alone.

...being alone was a fate worse than death.

"Chaos damnit Riku! Fine, lets go straight into an Empty nest. At least that way if we get out alive, we'll preserve most of what we've got.."

...and hold off on another cavalier scheme of his for three months. Maybe.

She hoisted a very mundane rifle that she'd recently cleaned on her shoulder, and began to take stock of what to take for the trip. Magitek weapons were a luxury that few could afford any longer, unless you were one of the Judge Magister's men. She'd learned to shoot early on, it hadnt actually been all that difficult once she managed the recoil. Like her magic, it was simple geometry to learn how to be precise. The rest just took practical experience and muscle memory. She was wearing a simple red windbreaker with long sleeves, with a white T-shirt stained nearly grey/brown from dust and the desert sands. And denim jeans. They were loose enough to allow for running, but not so loose as to trip her up. Her hair shed cropped short long ago. Long hair was another luxury thatd get them killed.
Alma Hyral Usually this is the part where he laughs and hugs her, almost picking her up off the ground before moving off to make preparations. Those schemes rarely ended well. Rarely were anything more than disappointments, but .. it just didn't seem to stick. This time he just gives that amused highwayman smile. The one he was giving more and more frequently. "I knew I just had to be patient." He then chuckles quietly.

"Yeah. I knew that since before the fall. Bergan thrives on conflict and war. The consequence of a narrow worldview and a top notch education." The grin widens into genuine humor again. "Maybe I should leave a note for him and his cronies once we've cleaned the place up a bit."

Riku leaves the storage room, examining one of the pair of sidearms he had stolen from one of Argider's competitors. The rogue judge had been squeezing his part of the city a little too hard and Riku took exception to that. In a long and protracted fashion. He seemed to take exception to everything the Judge Magisters and Vayne Solidor did now. As if every cruelty was an affront to a teenager orphaned for a second time. To the law that he'd studied. To the people he'd believed in.

He'd never given up the sword Gabranth had given him, even though getting close enough to use it was nigh on suicidal in and of itself. The runesword Avakyr stayed at his side. Riku pulled on a tough denim jacket to cover a faded blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up. Leather pants stained and marred by wear and dust and other things. The swordbelt also held a number of pouches as well as the stained and tattered backpack over his shoulders.

Riku closes his eyes and looks back and forth, crouching in front of the safehouse entrance. There wasn't any people anywhere close to the entrance, but he opened his eyes and checked the spyhole just in case before unlocking the door and moving out onto the rough platform outside. They were somewhat high up, isolated by height and distance in the partially demolished ruins of an old building. He got the ladder from where it was hidden by some debris and put it down with a clattering bump on the next platform, a apartment complex where one entire part of that wall had been ripped away and collapsed.
Alma Hyral Alma actually scowled at him at first, but when she turned away she managed the faintest hint of a smile. Seeing her partner happy was one of the few pleasures she had left in this world. She just couldn't let him see that.

She growled out the words in irritation at his light-hearted thought of leaving a note. "Oh don't you dare, with our luck he actually has developed a hounds sense of smell and he'd track us back here using it."

She pulled back the slide on a pistol, checking that there was one in the chamber, before sticking that into a holster at her side as well. Always have a backup. One of their rules after the first time they got into a firefight and found they couldnt rely on their magic to get them out of a jam.

Alma rarely spoke about her thoughts on the Judge-Magisters, or Vayne Solidor. Cid Bunansa didn't even factor into it other than he held the true power in the city, namely /who lived, and who died/ based on his rationing.

The way she saw it was just as another symptom of this madness. She didn't see it as a betrayal like Riku did. Maybe because she had just hardened herself to it and figured that /every/ place in the world was like this.. even if they rarely heard reports on the outside world anymore. As far as she was concerned, it didnt exist. Given the mutated /flyer/ version of the empties that wandered the wastes and picked across the seas like scavengers, she couldn't even consider using the last vestiges of her magic to fly them out of the city and to some other location in the Empty World.

They'd be dead within minutes. She hadn't even used that in over a year. She wasn't sure she even could anymore. The first few times she'd done it after the riots it had been like a beacon to the sensor empties. If they hadn't fled in time, she might have called almost every single Empty in the city.

Several of her friends had died or had been changed as a result. She'd been nearly broken by the experience to the point of uselessness for a while. She didn't use that, ever. Another rule.

Once Riku had retrieved Avakyr, she fell in line behind him, waiting for him to conduct the ritual of making certain it was safe to exit their safehouse. Once he'd retrieved the ladder.. she made her way across the platform inside the ruined apartment, her rifle was drawn, mostly as a precaution.. she moved immediately to the left side of the ladder to clear Riku's line of sight, then cleared left with a sweep of the weapon, then to the right. Then /up/.

Nothing. A little ritual that had become automatic. Clearing a room, or a platform, or a rooftop. If it wasn't automatic you didnt survive long.

Then she waved him on over with her offhand. Creeping forward only slightly in anticipation of the move to the next room.
Alma Hyral Little rituals.

Riku gave a crisp salute in response, then a smirk as he looked into nothing in particular. He quickly descended the ladder to the next platform, drawing a sidearm and keeping it at his side as he looked around. He always affected an aura of sloppy predictability, never clearing an area as thoroughly as Alma did.

It gave them an edge sometimes to lull an opponent into a false sense of security.

Heading into the apartment complex itself by the door opposite the blown out side, a barricade of debris blocked the hallway from floor to ceiling to the left, furniture and detritus jammed together. Tattered sheets hung above a warped railing that left one wall open to the grand courtyard underneath. A lush pool lay below in an abandoned fountain piece. Greenery was slowly overtaking the walls while grass carpeted the cracked stone floor. A metal staircase wound around the right side to ground level not too far to the right where another barricade had been placed.

Riku knelt in front of the staircase and several of the doors to check the boobytraps he had laid in each spot. An innocuous tin can lay flush with the turn of the spiral staircase, jagged bits of metal protruding from the battered container. He stepped carefully over the wire and slid the rest of the way down to the bottom, jumping off before the railing became ragged and torn.

The faint chuff of his boots hitting the grass. "Come on down, sparkle." he says, gesturing to her. "The water's fine."
Alma Hyral Alma hated that.

She was crisp, precise, almost military despite having no actual military training. She continued to think it was sloppy even after he'd demonstrated how it worked.

She hated that it worked. It meant he could continue doing it. Continuing giving her headaches to the point where she felt she had steam coming out of her ears from the cowboy way he went about all this.

It was only their lives hanging in the balance. Lives which.. were barely worth living. Lives which were next to worthless, but its all they had left.

The trek through the courtyard went off without a hitch, as it always did, but she was always extra cautious in here... She always imagined something jumping out of the waters like in a monster movie, despite Rikus carefully laid booby-traps, and despite the shallow nature of the pool trickling into the courtyard.

She stepped over the wire after Riku had, and moved down, scowling at him, "Alright, Solo."

Shed eventually settled on that nickname after the first few times Annie, short for Anakin fell flat. Theyd both hated the prequels. They both had really hated the prequels.

As they moved out of the courtyard, Alma put her hand up, moving forward very slowly from a crouched position, only making the slightest ripples in the watery pool as she did so.

Hanging just outside the door was an Empty. Just a regular one.. not a sensor or a flyer. A person with jagged claws and yellowed eyes. It was sniffing out the air was an abstracted look, having no concept that anyone was nearby.

No need to waste a bullet.

She moved up close to it. then stepped up, only rising from her crouched position slightly. A razor of light as if it were jutting out of the palm of her hand, and she jammed it right into its neck, and severed it's spinal cord with a single motion.

Like she had from a distance just over a year ago when shed killed her first.

This tiny display at point blank range, shed discovered long ago that it'd only attract the attention of a sensor if they were within about fifty feet. It was a very dim display of her magic, but it saved them from having to put together shivs or other knives for her, saved them materials.

Riku had Avakyr, his magical sword at least, but they didn't all have that luxury.

As it collapsed, and the hollow yellow light faded from its eyes, Alma waved Riku forward.

Why dwell on a single empty?
Alma Hyral Why indeed.

But Riku stood over it for a moment, frowning and blinking slowly as if trying to remember something. For a moment the empty had green hair and was shot through the head instead of destroyed so neatly by one of Alma's shards.

For some reason, that single empty had mattered to him.

But the idea slipped out of his hands and the empty looked like any other one. Riku shook his head and stepped over it, moving on as he tried to orient himself to the pathway he'd taken to get to the armory the last time. Once they make their way out of the courtyard and into a major thoroughfare, one of the Archadian canyons with the ruined buildings looming on either side he tapped the sidearm on his thigh twice before making the proper connection.

"Alright. If we stay off the main corridor we should evade Bergan's rolling guardtanks. Most of the alleys are blocked up by debris though, but there's a shopfront on the corner whose backdoor leads on a relatively clear path up to the first level of rooftops. Then we can make our way across to the restricted sector." Riku answers before they even get started again.

"It won't be heavily guarded this time because Bergan's off consolidating the city by the sword. Limited resources and all." He starts his way down the street, crossing the cracked and greenery strewn area mottled with crashed air cars and building rubble semi-deftly.
Alma Hyral Alma no longer saw green-haired girls. Itd break her if she did.

She just saw a threat to her and her partners existence.

...after shed killed one person in particular who had become an Empty.. there was little else this world could do to her that would be any more horrific.

/I love you../

They never spoke on that either. Not even after it had happened. It was shortly after that Riku had caught her during one of the three attempts shed made at suicide. They didnt speak on that either, just laughed at her carelessness. Like it was nothing. Nothing at all.

She still saw her sometimes in her nightmares.

Theyd held each other until morning sometimes when the nightmares got particularly bad. They never spoke on that either. Just part of their partnership. The not having to talk about certain things.

Once theyd oriented themselves to the major thoroughfare, Alma nodded as he described the path they should take. She acknowledged it only by saying, "No magic then."

The guard tanks weren't as particular as the empties about the sort of magic they sensed. Any sort of magic sensed might be a cache or hoard of Magicite, and that was more precious than any other commodity in Archades. 'Thank you Bunansa for equipping your dogs with such great toys.' she grumbled, and it might have been audible to Riku.

She stayed low as they went down the way, keeping to cover when she could, all the way to the shopfront. Once inside, they made a brief sweep for supplies.. but the scavengers had cleared it out long ago. Still never hurt to check for what they missed.

And then they went out the back.. from there, it was only a quick jaunt through the alleyway that was relatively unblocked by detritus to a place where the ladders were concealed by a few stripes of sheet metal. Taking them out of the way, she heaved up the ladder, and put it into place. Then she climbed.. and cleared the rooftop again.

Like Riku said.. it was far too easy to make it to the restricted sector. Maybe Bergan really was overstretching himself.
Alma Hyral A couple of bindings. Some sharps from inside a half broken cabinet but mostly just the junk left behind when the vultures have already picked an area clean. As they had been some of those vultures, another pass is somewhat unproductive.

Once they had cleared the rooftop they quickly found some cover as the patrol of a guardtank and it's escort began to sweep across the nearby larger streets with it's thunderous hum and clank of operation. Or perhaps it was quiet and it was simply the aching silence of the street itself that amplified the noise.

Riku watched the escort until it was at a bad angle to spot them before waving Alma across to the next cover. This happened several times in succession until they made their way to the corner of the rooftop where they could descend to another series of alleyways. There was a muffled pitiful groaning behind a door they had to pass through. He looked sharply at the alleyway which was far too close to the street and stood contemplating the door thoughtfully.

They began to thump and claw at the door more insistently as he stood there. "Let's just go around." he says to Alma finally. "We can't afford to draw atten--" and then they were on him before he finish. The door exploded inwards, two empties piling out almost straight into his lap.

There was a scraping sound of metal against leather. A CRIIIING and a sickening impact as one of the empties fell hewn from shoulder to hip in two bloody pieces. The other screamed in fury, claws raking his shoulder and side with a touch that burned like acid. Riku kicked the empty backwards into the wall, barking.

"GO!" as there was the sign of the guardtank's escort coming closer to check out the disturbance. "Through the garage and under the left loading door." He fired in the direction of the first armored goon which ricocheted off their armor but made them balk and pin them behind cover before they could get a beam on him or Alma.
Alma Hyral It had only taken one.

Dr. Alberic Lux had visited Archades in suitably cackly Mad Scientist form. He had come to sic his Empties on Riku and Alma. To extinguish the light that wasnt like his own. The Alpha to his Omega. To smother the darkness in Riku. And to get excellent data along the way. Heroes came at their call for aid. Among them had been Will Sherman. He'd even made a game of it.

He had out a bat. He'd been laughing about teamwork being the weaponized form of friendship as he caved in Empty heads. He was like his normal self. Just like Will.

But one of the Empties had been a special one. One that Alberic Lux had been saving to field test, to see what would happen.. Will had gotten in the way. He'd been bitten.

Even Doctor Lux couldn't have predicted what had happened afterwards.

That which was Will was consumed by the Emptiness. That which was Loki, was not. With his prison weakened, their mutualistic relationship broke down. The infection spread to Loki. He was not happy.

And Loki had reacted in his predictably chaotic manner. He tried to purge the infection with his Faeborn fate magic, which spread out within one of Archades slums. It wasnt just one empty now. It was a hundred.

...but it didnt save Will.

Now driven mad by his inability to purge the infection from Will, Loki went into a blind rage. He teleported all over the world at random, bringing devastation in his wake... spreading the infection as he attempted to purge his prison of this dread contagion.

In the end Oberon had shown up in a suitably dickish fashion, declared that it was a failed experiment, and took what remained of Loki and Will back to wherever the Fae went, likely Avalon.

He made no attempt to clean up the mess.

...Why was she even thinking about that? It was just a single Empty.

The bindings and sharps she puts away in a small backpack, separating the shards so they don't clank together inside the pack.

As they cleared the rooftop and Alma glanced idly at the patrols current position, marking where they were in her head. Once they'd passed by and Riku cleared her forward, she hurried ahead, keeping low along the way. She was no longer her klutzy self. A year of being on the move had knocked the klutz out of her, had made her asthma not so pressing an issue. She could either deal or die. She dealt. They descended into the alleyway, she raised a hand as she heard the groaning..

As Riku told her to go around, she was already moving in that direction until.. the two empties burst through the doorway.

One of them fell almost instantly before Riku's blade. The other, she pulled out her pistol by reflex, and there came the /pap/ /pap/ sound of the double tap as she aimed them right into its breastbone. She noted Riku's claw given acid burns and lacerations but she couldnt do anything about that right now.

/Oh sweet Cosma!/

She only thought that, she didnt say it.. she didnt talk about her goddess anymore. It was mostly by reflex she did it in her head. As far as she was concerned.. she didn't exist.

By the time he was giving her directions, she was already running. She scampered in a serpentine motion, trying to keep behind what little cover they could get in the alleyway as Riku tried to distract them the guard tank's escort. Once she made it to the open garage, she slid under the half-opened door, then got up quickly, making her way towards the left loading door inside. Once there, she started to lift it up as best as she could...

She wasnt particularly strong, but she could at least get it up just enough, so her partner could make a quick egress through there. Then he could hold it up for her... it was their only chance of both making it out alive.
Alma Hyral When Oberon had taken Will away, Riku had not been... himself for a few days. Who he had been was up ultimately for debate, but they hadn't been exactly pleased with the development.. and he had been all but a stranger in many ways.

Eventually, he came back to himself. They moved on.

So much lay between them unsaid. Unexamined.

And perhaps for the best.


Gunfire. Riku's footstep echoed in the old garage as he slid to a halt and then dropped prone, sling his backpack onto the ground and kicking it underneath the garage door as he wormed his way under it. On the other side he quickly stood up, reslung the backpack and threw this weight into pulling the door up long enough for Alma to slide through.

The harsh and angry voices of the guards and the ringing of armor echoed menacingly and very close at hand. Another door she had past though had been barricaded as Riku came through, so they had a few seconds to make their escape. Well.. maybe they did. If it held.
Alma Hyral And so that was something else they never spoke about. Another part of their partnership, even before theyd become partners. She'd held him in silence, even at the times he wasn't himself.

Riku wormed his way under the door, and held it up for her just as several shots ricochet near her last position, just as she scampers under the door and its closed fast.

The barricade wouldnt hold long, so she was immediately searching for another route of egress. Against the wall was a boarded up window. Man, she really wished Gabranth had taught Riku the rune jump just in time. As it stood, she pushed a crate, which allowed her to reach the boarded up tiny window, and another sliver of light appeared in her hand as she tried to burn off the nails. No time to consider if there were sensor empties in their immediate vicinity, and the guard tanks already knew they were here.

The board fell off, and she began to carve away at what she could see at the window. If she just smashed it, it would leave each of them a very uncomfortable experience as they tried to push through all the broken shards.

"I'm going to need a boost.. " She grumbled at Riku as she carved. Man, she really wished she was as agile and strong as he was right about now. She could rarely pull up her own body weight, even though she was at eye level with the window right now.
Alma Hyral A shriek like the explosion of a firework. Riku bellows "Alma. Hurry!--" A few seconds afterwards. Two sensor empties clambered over the top of the roof, making another shriek that keened through the city. They were almost on top of the former astronomer and her partner yells "Banish the shard" as he reaches down for a piece of debris.

"Hey guys?" he says in a chipper voice as the reinforcements arrive from behind him. "CATCH." an aura of darkness covers his hand, streamers of dark energy covering the debris as he hefts it straight into the midst of the armored party behind them.

The brick cracks against the edge of the wall and the ground, sparks of dark energy rising from the debris. The sensor empties now have a choice of targets, the mindless creatures never doing very well when given multiple targets.

Several empties round the corner from another alley and are felled by the armored guards who are forced to take cover. Riku runs forwards, snapping a shot at a former judge that leans away from their cover too far, kneeling down and cupping his hands to help Alma get a good grasp on the window. "Come on. Up you go."
Alma Hyral The trilling shriek of the sensor empties cut her to the bone. As if things couldn't possibly get any /worse/. She made the last of the cuts through the glass, before making a pushing motion with her hand, and it fell through, onto the other side. The sigil within her palm faded immediately, and with it so did the shard. And then she /buried/ every single iota of magical power within her so deeply that anyone would be hard pressed to figure out shed done anything at all.

The edges of the window which shed cut through were molten for a few moments, but by the time theyd be up there theyd have cooled enough that they wouldnt be given horrific burns..

/Hey guys/. Alma cursed, "Oh <GOOSEHONK>!" She knew what came next. Her partner did this often. And it was /always/ a tossup. Sometimes the Empties ignored this trick and went right for him. But they were already coming for them.. it was worth a shot.

This time it worked, lucky them. Sometimes she wondered if that was Will Shermans last gift to them, some of his /luck/ wearing off on them. Why they lived, when everyone else died. Already there were the sounds of shots being fired, amongst shrieks, and panicked orders being thrown by the escort who took cover and fired volleys at the empty creatures.

Alma put her sneakered foot on Rikus cupped hands, let him give her the veritable /allez-oop/! And up she went. As soon as she squeezed through the tight window.. she scanned the alley above then immediately turned around with her weapon drawn, ready to give him cover. Even though she knew Riku wouldnt need it.. It had happened on more than one occasion that an Empty had caught up to the other while they were in this disadvantageous position.

Another ritual that was automatic.

"Come on, come on! That just bought us a few minutes!" As soon as Riku was up, she motioned for him to follow her, as they went in the direction theyd originally intended to travel... one block over. The escort wouldn't follow them any time soon, and the guard tanks would be held up for the same reason. Gunshots still echoed one block parallel to them. The whole way she cursed at herself, "Sloppy, careless! Chaos damn me for a fool for agreeing to this!" Her goddess may not exist, but she still believed that Chaos did. It was the only explanation for this world.

Alma Hyral Riku chuckles as he pulls himself through the window. A wild shot smacks into the top of the window, bits of glass and wood shrapnel burning a track across his neck and the side of his face as he pulls himself clear.

The teenager pushes himself off the wall and they continue their breakneck pace. He quickly catches up and grins at Alma, keeping out of her immediate line of fire. "Ah. Come on, sparkle. Where is your sense of adventure?"

The next block over was where the tunnels started. Scavengers had made tunnels through this part of the city which had been pulverized by the year of conflict. It was a haunted ruin that had been forsaken even by the warlords on which the territory had been claimed, but the tunnels ran in a maze across parts of the city nobody thought were accessible. The Armory, isolated in it's own little sector, was one of those places.


Riku vaulted over a rough barricade, the remnants of some long lost holdout as he bolted across the street towards one of the few remaining buildings that mark the edge of the shattered terrain like grave markers. "Almost there."
Alma Hyral She retorts back in a biting tone, "I rafted it out to sea. You have your moments, not many of them, but you do have them, Solo!" Once they made it to the tunnels, she took a moment to catch her breath. No healing magic. Just good old, allowing the body to recover on its own. Every muscle ached, her chest heaved like bellows.

And then she dropped down into the tunnel once she felt like she could breathe again, immediately crouching low, and unslinging her rifle. This could either go smoothly, or it could be the worst of it, depending on how they went about this, and the density of the Empty infestation.. or whether the Scavengers decided to prey upon them as easy targets.

Instead of using her magic, as she might have done a year ago, she turned on a simple square flashlight, which she hung on her windbreakers pocket.

"...if you say anything about your feelings about this Im going to make you sleep on the roof for a week...." She always teased about leaving him up there for sentry duty. She never actually forced it upon him.

And then they crept forward into the maze of tunnels, as she cleared the area in every direction every few seconds.
Alma Hyral "I do, don't I?" Riku grins smugly after they have dropped down into the tunnels. He closes his eyes and looks back and forth. His smile wavers slightly and he wrinkles up his expression in something like worry or distaste before muffling a sneeze with the crook of his arm.

"You didn't think we'd even make it this far, did you?" He tchs. "Oh ye of little remaining faith. I've got the map here." he taps his head twice, brushing himself off and shaking off the tremors of reaction that came from being so close to so many empties. His hands still shake for a bit as he moves alongside her.

"It's a straight shot underneath that armory and then away." Riku laughs. "I actually can't wait to see Madison's face. Maybe I'll even take a picture." He takes in a sharp breath and lets it out, amused facade cracking slightly as they pass the skeleton of a scavenger. The bones were white and looked fresh. Whatever lived in these tunnels took care of the dead easily, but the living? They stayed away from.. mostly.

"Details, details. Its comfy up on the roof. You should try it sometime." One intersection then another. Then a large drop where some planking had to be found to cross. The wreckage of several aircars smashed together forming a platform to reach a higher level of the ruins.
Alma Hyral "Only on occasion." She rolls her eyes at him, sighing, her eyes continuing to scan the tunnels even as they spoke. "Oh me of infinite pragmatism, face it, without me to keep you grounded youd have probably gotten your face shot off nine months ago."

She did take a sidelong glance at the map, "Tell me this isnt one of those cheap bar napkin maps that the scavengers are selling... more often than not those things are fakes for the gullible tourists. It'll probably get you so lost that I'll have to rename you Seatlan."

Then she gave him a dour look, grumbling, "I'd prefer to just make the trade and be /done/ with it. If Argider catches wind of his man trading to us then the meeting place is like to have us enfilade to a few dozen of his people."

She tapped the skeleton only lightly with her foot, her rifle pointed at it. There were always little urban legends of necromancers in the sewers, preying on the scavengers.. but no, it was just a pile of dusty bones.

She cleared one intersection even before Riku arrived a step and a half behind her. Then the next..

Once they arrived to the drop, she looked for some of the local scavengers marks on the walls. They indicated where the planking was hidden, within one of the larger drainage pipes, beneath a small covering of refuse. She took it out and between Riku and her the planking was laid across. Balancing her way, she walked over to the other side.

She looked at the aircars with a sad smile. Once they had been a wonder, now they had about as much use as /munny/ in this age. With the flyers out there, the lack of people to repair them, and the enormous amount of Magicite fuel they guzzled.. no one used them anymore, not even those who held the keys to the city.

After a moment of ruminations, she climbed up to the upper level of the ruins, clearing their way again.. until her flashlight came upon something that scampered just out of the way on the ceiling, just before she could catch sight of it.

She just pointed with a finger upwards, Riku would know the only thing it could possibly be.. a lone flyer.
Alma Hyral Riku's cheerful expression died when Alma said 'Seatlan' but was quick to return. "I'm not /that/ bad." he murmurs with a small, strained smile. "Although you have to admit, his harem-building skills are the stuff of legends. It's a crime, really. Making me settle for just the one."

They walked across the drop and then looked up at the silent signal. Riku's aura of cheerfulness ebbed and he looked thoughtfully around him. He backtracked a little, pulling an ancient and rotting piece of cloth and padding that may have once been part of furniture from the rubble.

There is a wet but muffled repoire as he aims carefully and pops it out of the sky. It makes a dive like a dying swan to lay in a crumpled heap farther below. Riku discards the makeshift silencer and waves Alma forwards through the next intersection.

He then puts out a hand about halfway across and goes for cover, waiting until a group passes by going in another direction. All of them, like Alma, had guns drawn and swept the area ahead of them.
Alma Hyral She winced immediately when she noted his reaction, just mumbling a /Sorry/. Most references to old friends were off limits after all. This apology died in her throat when he gave reference to her being the singular member of his harem, with which she glared at him. "Keep that talk up and Ill have you settle for /nothing/ for a month."

She might have pressed further about how the harem was a little larger at first.. a few other /partners/, which hadnt quite worked out. Hadnt made the cut. Turned out to be stealing from them. Turned out to be sloppy, careless... Almost got them killed. Noone else had made it into the partnership/harem. The two of them were all that had worked out. Noone else did...

She was rather certain she knew what he'd done to one.. person that had tried to steal from them, but that was another thing she hadn't talked about.

Riku takes care of the flyer with his homemade silencer. He could see in the dark, she couldnt. His little tricks often kept them alive just as often as hers did. Each one could do something the other couldn't. Each one kept the other alive, by offering something the other lacked. Its how the partnership had worked when others had not.

As soon as Riku motioned to her that someone was coming, she went into cover, crouching behind a pile of refuse. She didn't dare to move, didn't dare to breathe. The group was much larger... and while they could probably take them with the element of surprise, it wasn't worth it. An unnecessary risk to their existence. She waited patiently as they started to move on by...
Alma Hyral It feels like a long time until the group has past and there are two that come perilously close to finding their hiding place until they decide to move off after seeing the dead flyer. After all, there was almost never such a thing as just one Empty.

Not for long.

Riku looked at Alma and his expression was blank, a listening silence as they waited to be discovered.. waited for the gunfire to begin that never did. As he looked into her eyes there is a moment where one mask slips behind another. He looks infinitely sad for a moment. Like he wanted to touch her face and wrap her up and make the bad things go away.

Being one of them didn't help that.

Seeing what they had to do to survive. Who they had to be to survive..

"Uurgh. Come on! Let's get out of here. This part of the route gives me the creeps." says one of the scavengers, kicking the dead flyer and looking around. "Make sure that tunnel's plugged. We don't want anything coming up."

Retreating footsteps.

Riku continues to stare at Alma with that look of abstracted pain on his face. His hand reaches up maybe a third of the way, then pauses.. and drops back to his side. He gives her a wan smile as he looks slightly off to one side and murmurs.

"Come on." they slide out from cover and approach the sealed tunnel. He looks at the lock thoughtfully and then starts to pull at it carefully. He unsheathes the sword again and puts it between the chain and the rest of the lock. He twists sharp and savagely, the magical steel carving through the old chains. "No fuss. No dinner bell." Riku says to her with a smile. "I am just /all/ sorts of useful. You wouldn't give me /nothing at all/ would you? That'd be mean."
Alma Hyral Alma catches that look from Riku, and as their eyes meet her expression softens. For just a moment she isn't the hardened survivor of this world, but just a scared little girl that never truly got a chance to live in this world of horrifying things. One that was broken, truly broken by a series of terrible experiences. And then she slides back on her own mask, giving him a look of determination.

She holds her breath for a little longer as they kick over the flyer. /Come on.. come on.. nothing to see here.. nothing to see here../ She once told the world the same thing about herself. She hoped she still had the talent to will people away like that.

Because as she was now, there really was nothing to see here. In the past it was a lie. Now it was the truth..

She slides out of cover with Riku, and they sidle along towards the sealed tunnel. She has her rifle drawn, covering him while he carves through the old chains. "As I said before, you have your moments.. not many of them..." And then in a begrudging tone, "...maybe just a little." A little of her old whimsy creeps into her voice at the end of that.

She starts down the sealed tunnel first, crouching low, making certain that Riku always had a clear line of sight, so that they could /both/ deal with whatever came next...
Alma Hyral "A smidge." Riku continues on in that vein for several more adjectives before falling quiet. He frowned slightly and slowed down considerably, crouching as they moved slowly through the tunnel and down some ancient and creaking stairs.

The moaning, whimpering mutters of empties could be heard from another room. Riku slowly moved from cover to cover as they moved towards the far stairs at the other end of the tunnel complex.

An empty came into the room, looking back and forth slowly as they jerked and spasmed and stumbled around, sometimes repeating fragments of words every so often in soft, crooning tones.
Alma Hyral "Just a smidge." She agrees, while smirking all the while. But then they were both silent, as they crept along.. they knew that theyd be walking into an Empty Nest sooner or later. As they make it to the stairs, she pads down first, given that her footfalls are slightly quieter.

And then she heard them, all in the next room. Her expression tugged despite itself as they spoke in their word fragments.


It seemed like such a hollow thing now. Sentience was a curse in this world.

Using magic would be suicide here, so she preemptively prepared. This time, instead of using her magic, she reached slowly into her backpack. She took out half of some old scissors, then slowly wrapped an old gauze bandage around it, tying it tightly to the barrel of the rifle, making for a makeshift bayonet.

Her efforts for preparation were rewarded as the Empty started to walk aimlessly out of the next room, in all its spasmodic glory. She started to creep up behind it.....

The world was still as she raised the rifle, and jammed the end of it into the empty's neck, before raking it across in what she hoped would be a clean kill...
Alma Hyral Riku watches it go down with a final murmured 'yesss' that turned into a gurgle as the bayonet severed their spine.

They flopped lifelessly to the ground and they make their way, carefully to the stairwell which creaks with every movement as Riku again 'unlocks' the cage around the stairs and begins to quickly ascend.

The mumbling groaning of the empties faded and then returned only to fade again as they made their way across the second level and to the fractured door where the armory lay open to the world, the old location ravaged long before by a battle that had ended in fire and pyrrhic victory. The charred remains and marks of fire can be seen plainly, several more empties pawing through the ashes at the far end of the room

Riku ignores them as best as he can, staying low and sliding towards the ragged door leading into the armory proper. He doesn't dare breathe until they are out of sightline of the empties, trying as hard as he can not to draw their attention.
Alma Hyral It was times like this that Alma wished that Riku had actually finished his Judge Armor. Judge Armor basically made all those surviving Judge Magisters invincible to Empties.

So long as they could maintain it. But being invincible to Empties would have had huge side benefits..

She doesnt spare the Empty another glance, taking the /yeessss/ that it was glad that it had died. A small mercy. They crept forwards before she even took the time to examine what her damage had done to the bayonet.

Her makeshift bayonet was already sagging from the gauze bindings basically being torn by the force required to do that, but she took them off, tied them half around again, and tried to preserve it for as long as she could.

Up to the second level... the fractured door of the armory. The scorch marks showed where someone had made their last stand. She didn't think on that. She just looked for any.. traps, that may be laid in place. Seeing none she advanced forward, and then breathed out a sigh, giving Riku a small smile as they finally made it inside, "Hey, maybe this wasnt such a terrible idea after all..." A teasing tone. It promised that shed probably at least be happy for a little while once they got back.
Alma Hyral Riku smiles. "But of course." as if it was to be taken strictly for granted. He turned away and straightened up looking around and coughing slightly on the stale air. Riku vaulted over some debris, looking about as a unlit 'Exit' sign lay amongst the debris. He snorted faintly and nudged it with a boot.

Down the stairs and past one or two long abandoned traps leads to a storage room left untouched by scavengers. Long rows of boxes and shelves remain unmarred and although not full, there is a scattered treasure trove of supplies and equipment that was never again reclaimed when this area was lost.

"Don't you know sparkle. All my ideas are good ideas. They just take some time to bake." he chuckles and looks around, starting to pick from the supplies and put them away in his backpack.
Alma Hyral Shed started taking supplies into her pack, smiling as she mentally ticked off how much this would get them in a trade. And by extension, how many months of life this bought them.

"Given how half-baked most of your ideas are it's a wonder that Kyra isn't doing the cooking..." She retorts automatically, like she hadn't even thought about it.

Its only a moment later that she processes the horror of that statement. And all the cheer flees from her in a second.

Sharp-edged memories. That one was the finest razor of all. Her jaw went slack, her joints felt frozen, as it scraped against her mentally. And then a moment later she was sagging down against the shelves. Staring at nothing, nothing at all.
Alma Hyral Riku continued to pack things away during that frozen silence, wandering across her sight line two or three times as he crouches down to filter through some rubble or examine a damaged crate which still had viable magitech ammo inside it. A real find when only the Doctor and the Judge Magisters had the weapons of choice.

He sniffs and then wrinkles his nose, blinking as he crouches to wrench open a twisted vent and go fishing inside. Riku open up a canister only to slam it closed again an instant later. He laughs very softly. "..Well will you look at that." he says quietly.

"No wonder the empties made their home here. Someone was stashing healing items as well. I haven't even.. SEEN a holy crystal in four months." he laughs again. "Go figure." he says softly. "No wonder they've tried to retake this place twice."

Riku gets up and turns towards Alma. He approaches and then walks straight past her. There is a sound of him fidgeting with some supplies and his backpack before he turns abruptly and gently wraps his arms around her shoulders, leaving her arms free to move if needed. He buries his face in her short hair and leans one cheek against her as he murmurs. "She's safe now. It's okay. She's not here anymore."

That had been the horror for a while. That those who were turned were forever trapped in their empty shells, the remaining bits and pieces still fighting a losing battle with the emptiness. That their minds were obliterated.. and spirits? Trapped between this purgatory and the next life.

Riku, despite having no belief or faith in any gods save the cruel mockeries that created Doctor Alberic and the petty tyrants that ended the Loki incident, didn't believe anybody stayed. Wherever they were, they were safe. They didn't have to worry about them anymore. It was perhaps the only belief between him and madness, which is why he clung to it so fiercely.

"It's okay. Let's get this jackpot sewn up before anything comes down here.. we've got a long, profitable day ahead, Sparkle. Gimme a count on what we still need to grab." he then slowly disengages and waits patiently for instruction, trying to get her focused on something else again.
Alma Hyral The part of Almas mind that was still on, and rational, attuned to their survival ticked off the supplies as he spoke on them, registered what he was doing out of the periphery of her vision. She was thoroughly disturbed by that.

Things mattered more than people.

Why did it disturb her? It hadnt for months.

Pragmatism was how she had led her life, now. She hadnt even /thought/ about Kyra since..

/I love you../

..Riku puts her arms around her, puts his face in her hair, and her cheek, states that shes safe, shes not here anymore. And she wants desperately just to hold him, to let him make all the bad things go away, except for one statement...

Shes safe now.

What does that mean, Riku, that shes in a better place?

The emotional part of her hated that. /Hated/ that. She wasn't on /speaking terms/ with Cosma anymore. There were no benevolent higher powers. There was no goddess, no afterlife worth living in. She /rejected/ the concept of a better place. That anything happened for a reason any longer. That there was a place of light that souls and hearts dwelled within after they were gone...

Light was just contextual. Empty. Itd soon be gone from this universe.

Darkness was what would remain eternal.

No.. that wasnt.


What was she even thinking about now? Why was she thinking this?

None of it mattered. Introspection was a luxury she couldnt afford. All that mattered was her partner. Their survival. Their existence.

It wasnt long before she got back up and started to gather up the remainder of the treasure trove in silence. Until eventually she broke even that.

"So, a holy crystal.. fancy that... youd best save that one for a special occasion, Solo."

She pried open a containment crate near one of the shelves, and the sight of what was within took her breath away.. Her voice was very quiet...

"We're definitely taking this..."

Small puffs of the Mist from the crate confirmed it even before Riku took a look on his own. High grade Magicite. It might have even come from the Mines shed discovered a year ago.

She holds up a single piece with a cheerful grin, then piles as much of it in her pack as she could get. She made a mental tally.. three months, six months.. maybe even NINE months. This could buy them nearly double the time theyd already survived since the fall. She was grinning like a certain infamous cat. Very cat-like.

"We're just going to have to be extra careful on the way back. The Empties won't sense it, but itll be like a beacon to the tanks."

And then a moment later she's looking at the back of the shelves, and picks up a set of Linkpearls, whistling, before handing one to Riku,

"Would you look at this? Haven't seen intact ones in six months. Hey, maybe this will actually give us a chance at getting past the tanks.. things really are looking up."

She hoists her pack, now laden with Magitek ammunition and Magicite. They'd found so much.. a true victory. The get rich quick scheme had really come through this time. Now they just had to get it back.
Alma Hyral Riku chuckles. "Thank you and your twitchy, homicidal paranoia Bergan. We thank you for the gifts we are about to walk out under your--" SHRIEK. His breath catches in his throat as a sensor empty screams somewhere in the distance. The sidearm is in hand almost before they were empty but there was no tell-tale feeling that the void was looking him in the face. That aura of dread was so muted they couldn't /possibly/...

.."Shit." he mutters, as his mind could only think of one explanation. "Someone else had the same idea that we did, and they weren't as good."

Another chattering, ear-tearing scream. Riku took out another one of his little traps, putting the inactivated can near the magicite they would have to leave behind. If anybody of that other party survived the scavengers, they'd have an abrupt and /explosive/ and very sharp surprise coming to them. And good recompense for making Riku and Alma ditch the remaining supplies.

Riku looks at the holy canister, then at Alma, then.. puts it carefully back down where he found it in that broken vent. Having it.. with the empties riled up above them, even if Alma carried it, would be suicidal. They couldn't afford to draw ANY attention to themselves. "Well." he says with a casual shrug. "I think we can pick up the rest of the groceries later." he chuckles tightly. "The neighbors are getting cranky."
Alma Hyral "....Don't give Bergan anymore ideas by praying to him, Solo, next thing you know hell be setting up little idols of himself around town, making everyone kiss his..." /SCREEEEEEE!/

She was down on her knees, her rifle up in a second. It was distant, but that meant.. nothing. Once a sensor was on hot on the trail it would take very little time to reach them, and they'd bring company.

And then she realized what had happened, about the same time. "...probably the same group, found the broken chain... didnt realize, just thought itd be a new section to scavenge."

Well no time to dwell on it. Alma looks at Riku forlornly as he decides to leave the Holy Crystal behind. That sort of a meal could keep him satiated for some time.. but he couldnt dare set it off right now. She doesn't even think about the trap. She was more than a little spiteful. How dare these people stumble on this and ruin a good thing for her and her partner?

"Let's get out of here, we can always come back.. dont imagine that group is going to survive much longer."

She heard the muffled and distant sounds of gunshots. The telltale sounds of a rifle, pistol..

Then silence.

Either the scavengers won or the Empties did. Alma had suspicions that it had been the Empties.

Her footsteps were muted as she tried to surreptitiously leave the armory with Riku.. one muffled footpad after the other. As they passed by the room where theyd left the last group of empties, Alma hesitantly used the barrel of her rifle to lightly nudge the door open just a crack more..

...they were gone. This was a bad sign. The sensor had probably summoned every single one of its brethren to it with that screech... every single one within range. And in these tunnels, that could be dozens, or even hundreds... Worse yet, now that they were riled theyd be far more alert.. on the hunt...

...she heard the sound of sobbing... Oh no. Oh no no no no no.

She made a gesture towards the opposite end of the tunnel for Riku to get prepared for it....

Wandering aimlessly outside was a female scavenger, recently bitten... in the process of turning. She likely had been bitten hours ago, or even a day... it was likely why the Empties spared her from just being a quick meal. She was sobbing with her head in her hands which hadnt quite turned into jagged claws. Crying forlornly as it fought the losing battle of being taken over by whatever possessed her.

She came closer. Alma took aim with her rifle right at her forehead. They wouldnt be able to sneak up on this one. Hopefully Riku would be able take it out before....

It lowered its hands and locked eyes with her.

And started to scream. A horrific, shrill sound, one of madness... as it charged right at them.

...even if Riku had already advanced on it and was about to strike, she put a shot right between its eyes.

At first it was a single shriek... but now the din of cacophonous echoes throughout the tunnel was almost deafening.

Alma Hyral Riku felt his stomach drop into his shoes as they find the scavenger. His hand almost reaches out to pull Alma backwards but doesn't want to spoil her aim. This proved a good choice because the screaming creature (Not person. They are not people. They--) goes down with a skull splitting CRACK as the gunshot causes them to flop forwards like a ragdoll.

A wave of dread slammed into him like a truck, the teenager fighting the instinctual panic of all that attention being turned like a half dozen searing spotlights straight on them. Or rather.. him. Riku doesn't have to be told twice. He fumbles with something in his pack for the first few steps and then surges up the staircase and bolts down another pathway they hadn't taken on the way down. As he does so he throws the carefully wrapped item onto the floor where it shatters. The bomb fragment appears with a roar of flames, biting down into an empty that turned the corner and immediately consuming them in flames.

A half collapsed barricade lay in front of a room strewn with rubble, the ceiling half gone and metal shelves collapsed into sharp heaps of sides and corners. Riku quickly looks up at the ceiling then around for anything that could get them up there in a hurry.
Alma Hyral She tore after Riku with a speed that outpaced what her body was actually capable of as she ran up the stairs. Rikus thrown bomb fragment takes care of the lead Empty, igniting it, making its world become fire...

She vaults over the half collapsed barricade into the room. Okay part of the ceiling was gone, they could work with this, there had to be something in the room... something...

She tried to push up a metal shelf on her first instinct, but not only was she unable to move the blasted, heavy thing, she realized it wouldnt support itself. None of them would. They were all jagged edges and ruined things. So she tries to do the next best thing instead. She tries to start shoving it towards the barricade.. at least buy them some time.

They had /none/.

The first few Empties who entered the rooms nearly were crushed against the barricade by the relentless advance of those behind them.

And Alma was backing away slowly. Taking aim, taking each shot carefully, every single time she could get one... trying to get near a place of cover even though she knew there wasnt one adequate in this room.

They didnt do badly at first. The Empties were so frenzied that a significant number of them fell even before they made it over the barricade. But then those served as a /ramp/ to those behind them. These were just normal Empties though.. nothing to write home about...

Even picking her shots carefully, she was out of rifle ammunition in short order. Then her sidearm was up... and that was when they started to lag behind. With her stopping power diminished, more were gaining ground more quickly... advancing further into the room, beating her partner back.

And then after she reloaded several times, she reached down to find that she was out of clips, even as the room became slick with gore, yellow blood, and empty humours...

Still no Sensors, still no Flyers.. where?


Sentience. Oh crap. Theyd actually thought tactically. They werent coming through the door at all.

They were above them.

And she was out of ammunition, worthless...

Desperation set in as a flyer swooped down.. she had nothing left except/

A Sigil appeared in the air. And the Flyers wing was carved off by a beam of light.

...and many eyes were suddenly upon her, despite her partner making use of the darkness to great effect.

More appeared, in quick succession. And suddenly the air above Alma was not unlike a prism, as multicolored streams of light fired in every direction. This wasnt the magic of the stars, that took far too time and too much setup. This was just laserfire. Constant streamers of light energy which crossed over her, setting up a web of death above them.

If she were in a lighter mood she might have said to Riku that shed just crossed the streams...

Some still made it through, she couldnt stop all of them. Those that did shifted to Riku typically, as most Empties were drawn to the Darkness more than the Light. She was too diminished from nearly a year of barely making use of her magic. One particularly large one somehow managed to evade the web of light above them, and made it down nearly on top of her. She subtly shifted it and.. Oh crap. This one had been an Empty for too long.
Alma Hyral She tore after Riku with a speed that outpaced what her body was actually capable of as she ran up the stairs. Rikus thrown bomb fragment takes care of the lead Empty, igniting it, making its world become fire...

She vaults over the half collapsed barricade into the room. Okay part of the ceiling was gone, they could work with this, there had to be something in the room... something...

She tried to push up a metal shelf on her first instinct, but not only was she unable to move the blasted, heavy thing, she realized it wouldnt support itself. None of them would. They were all jagged edges and ruined things. So she tries to do the next best thing instead. She tries to start shoving it towards the barricade.. at least buy them some time.

They had /none/.

The first few Empties who entered the rooms nearly were crushed against the barricade by the relentless advance of those behind them.

And Alma was backing away slowly. Taking aim, taking each shot carefully, every single time she could get one... trying to get near a place of cover even though she knew there wasnt one adequate in this room.

They didnt do badly at first. The Empties were so frenzied that a significant number of them fell even before they made it over the barricade. But then those served as a /ramp/ to those behind them. These were just normal Empties though.. nothing to write home about...

Even picking her shots carefully, she was out of rifle ammunition in short order. Then her sidearm was up... and that was when they started to lag behind. With her stopping power diminished, more were gaining ground more quickly... advancing further into the room, beating her partner back.

And then after she reloaded several times, she reached down to find that she was out of clips, even as the room became slick with gore, yellow blood, and empty humours...

Still no Sensors, still no Flyers.. where?


Sentience. Oh crap. Theyd actually thought tactically. They werent coming through the door at all.

They were above them.

And she was out of ammunition, worthless...

Desperation set in as a flyer swooped down.. she had nothing left except/

A Sigil appeared in the air. And the Flyers wing was carved off by a beam of light.

...and many eyes were suddenly upon her, despite her partner making use of the darkness to great effect.

More appeared, in quick succession. And suddenly the air above Alma was not unlike a prism, as multicolored streams of light fired in every direction. This wasnt the magic of the stars, that took far too time and too much setup. This was just laserfire. Constant streamers of light energy which crossed over her, setting up a web of death above them.

If she were in a lighter mood she might have said to Riku that shed just crossed the streams...

Some still made it through, she couldnt stop all of them. Those that did shifted to Riku typically, as most Empties were drawn to the Darkness more than the Light. She was too diminished from nearly a year of barely making use of her magic. One particularly large one somehow managed to evade the web of light above them, and made it down nearly on top of her. She subtly shifted it and.. Oh crap. This one had been an Empty for too long.

It wasnt that it evaded the light, it just wasnt harmed by it. It drank it in.. absorbed it. It had waited for so many of its brethren to die, for them to use up their resources and supplies.. so that it could close in for the kill. It was one of the Radiant. The large mutated Empties that were drawn to the Light.

She let out a cry to her partner of warning... even though she knew he too was sorely pressed by the relentless advance out front.

Just as it battered its fists down upon her.

She created a barrier of translucent blue light. Made solid by her magic. It shattered in an instant. The luminescence absorbed by the creature. It advanced on her.

A moment later it stuck its clawed fist right through Alma, only for that image to disappear...

And then shimmering like a heat mirage in the corner of the room was where Alma actually appeared.

A roar of frustration.

And then it pounced upon her with it's squat and powerful legs...

She tried to duck and roll out of the way, but it caught her within one of its giant claws. Its maw descended.. and its fangs sank in. Right into her shoulder. She felt her flesh being sundered beneath it, parted. But she wasn't screaming, she just looked at it serenely...

Then she stuck a finger of her opposite hand in its ear and proved that it was still vulnerable to light.. from the inside.

There was the sound of a sickening wet squelch, as it dropped senseless to the ground, its fangs releasing her from its grip in death.

And she just sank down beneath it...

...and waited.
Alma Hyral

Not enough time.

Riku moved the barricade against the door and there were sickening sounds as the empties were crushed against it. He waited at the base and slammed Avakyr through the first few that had been focused on Alma. They screamed and shrieked, the inside of his head feeling like one gigantic bruise as they came down at him. His cheerful demeanor evaporated as he pulled himself over to one side, dark energy running in streams from his silhouette.

"Come on!" he bellowed in an echoing and distorted rumble. "I'm the one you want. Over /here/." Claws came down. Limbs dropped hissing to the rubble strewn floor. He started to push them back towards the barricade when it all went from frying pan to fire. He used every trick that he learned and it was still not enough.

Flyers swooped into the enclosed space and Riku threw an actual fireball of dark energy into the swarm of empties, pulled backwards and into the embrace of two other empties. He kicked one in the jaw hard enough to shatter it, leaping back onto his feet and struggling free to find Alma being chased by one of the radiant. What the hell was THAT THING doing here?

No time for thoughts. Darkness had nearly consumed him, a black shadow gleaming with a single point of blue light slamming through the horde. Slashing and raking and the sword rising and falling.. rising and falling.. rising and..

The radiant grabs up Alma and he lets out a scream of wrath that almost matches it's roar of frustration when it had been fooled by her illusion. It dropped senseless to the ground before he could reach it and still he tore clawed fingers into it's back, heaving it off of her with another sound.

This time of anguish as the dark aura evaporated and he crashed to his knees in exhaustion.

There were no more empties. Only the ringing resounding echoes of battle remained in this place of death. Riku looked down at her, hands on his knees and just breathed in and out, face ashen with stress. He examined Avakyr and then resheathed it. "See?" he says in a tired voice that was still distorted at the bottom register. "..that wasn't hard, was it?" he then gently tries to scoop her up into his arms as he stands up. "Come on." he says quietly but firmly. "We're going home now."
Alma Hyral Alma's eyes were unfocused for a while. She didn't even dimly register that the battle was over. She looked almost catatonic. A side effect of not allowing herself to listen to anything but static for months. She and her goddess were back on speaking terms now and they had a lot to talk about apparently. Or maybe she just needed to listen to that which she refused to hear.

Riku lifts her up gently. Her wounds weren't mortal. Nothing that couldn't be fixed except... Fang marks in her shoulder, disease ridden flecks of spittle.

Riku tells her that they're going home. She smiles at that, "Home? A better place, huh?" Her voice was almost teasing. "Well it's time to break another of our rules... remember the thing we said we'd never talk about? Well it's time to discuss what we'd do when...this happens..."

She gently smiles at him, "Look.. I don't want to wait for the inevitable..." She puts her left hand, the one that isn't limp over her heart, "....and I know you're hungry stole my heart long ago... you know that right? So take this one too... My last gift to you..."

She then reaches out with a hand to caress his cheek, she looked infinitely sad, "I'm just sorry that I'll be leaving you alone... I have no regrets... other than that... alone in this dismal world.."
Alma Hyral "No." Riku says quietly as he starts carrying her out of the armory. He smiles at her as she touches his cheek but shakes his head. "No. I'm not going to stand for any more of your cheating." he quirks a smile. "Just rest. We'll get you cleaned up at home and we'll.. we'll talk then. Alright?"

He makes his way through the rubble, over the charred remains of the passageway and through the tunnel they had come to. The tunnel was closed. Apparently some of the scavengers had survived long enough to retreat and reblock the passageway. He kicked savagely at the door but it did nothing but make angry, thumping, clattering noise.

"Damnit. This is why teleporting was always so handy." he chuckles, holding her a bit closer. "I guess we backtrack then." he looks at so much death with the empties strewn around him and the empty armory around them and shakes his head. "Just stay with me, Alma. We'll get out of here. I think I am going to leave a note. I am seriously displeased with the guy who owns this place. Whose idea was it to come down here anyways?" he chuckles sadly and continues walking.
Alma Hyral Alma tried to give him her best disapproving frown, courtesy of her time with Souji, but she couldn't. She was still smiling, even laughing a little. Probably because she wanted.. She wanted him to remember her like this... Not.. Not as the scared little girl.. But still, even putting on her brave face she couldn't stop the tears.

"Hey... serious time now, what's there to talk about Riku?" She looks him in the eyes, still smiling as she caressed his cheek again. "....what would talking change? I can already feel it in my system. Remember, I'm a pretty damn good healer. And I studied the progression of the infection... I've never been that fit you know. It'll probably be a few hours... Not two days like those who hold out the longest... And once I change..." She puts her hand back over her heart, "I'm useless to you...."

She chuckles, "All that time that I spent angry at her for letting the world fall to this... and she never got angry at me... I can actually understand her now a little... she's calling me home... saying that it won't hurt... that I don't need to be afraid anymore. She's waiting for you too.... just that it's not... not your time yet...."

"Please... for me... I need to know that I left you with.... something..." She couldn't keep up the brave face anymore, her calm broken as she sobs not because she's afraid of dying, but because she's afraid of how he'll get along without her.. "....part of being... partners..."
Alma Hyral Everything has been taken from me.

Riku continued to walk while Alma spoke to him, listening but not really listening as he roams the empty corridors and stairways until finally he returns to the stairwell. There are still several untampered with traps as well as his own. More than enough.

It would be more than enough.

"Serious time huh?" he chuckles. "..Now I really know I'm in trouble."

But such maudlin and fatalistic thoughts seem somehow repellant to him. This entire situation twists his stomach as he slowly puts her down up against the wall and sits near her, holding her hand. The other arm is around her shoulders.

Riku takes in a deep breath and then lets it out, everything becoming distorted and twisted around the edges and giving him a massive headache. Possibly the exhaustion of pulling on so much darkness but it was also.. wrong. This was..

It slipped away from him and only dread took its place.


He didn't know if he could even handle that concept anymore. He had put all of his faith in other people and slowly, with the sure strokes of a falling axe, he had everything that he had faith in chipped away. Stolen. Twisted and maligned and filled with betrayal and loss. In some ways it should have broken him.

But the teenager had always been a stubborn bastard in the wake of calamity. Even when he didn't want to survive, he usually ended up doing so. He would hold on because there was a part of him that hadn't been destroyed by the bitterness and the wrath that had bubbled up in the wake of the fall. A part that he had preserved because of everything that had come before. A part he had preserved because he had to be better than just a monster in a human suit. Because honouring those who fell took any remaining humanity he had left.

And it had been better than the alternative.

Riku finds himself wondering how he can say that with his partner laying there, dying in all the ways that would matter and his heart breaking. With any family he had gained lost forever or destroyed. Any friend turned against him or lost.

Everyone had abandoned him, one way or another. He was better off without them.

"No." he says softly to himself as he looks at Alma sadly. "..No I'm not."

He reaches over and kisses her lightly on the forehead. "Go home, sparkle. But don't wait up, alright?" he frowns at her. "And don't talk behind my back with those sisters of yours. It's embarrassing." he takes in a deep breath and leans his forehead against hers. "Thank you." he ignores the hot traces down his face as he pulls her closer.

"You're right. Damnit, you are always right, aren't you? ..I never would have survived without you pulling me along." he chuckles. "..but give me a little credit, would you? I'll be okay. I promise. So.. don't worry about me. Just." and whatever else is interrupted by the abrupt slash.

It's quick.

And there is a sharp needling pain, abrupt and fierce, and then it is over.

Riku gives her another brief kiss on the forehead. "Be safe." He slowly closes his clawed fingers around the orb of light in his hand, the dark streamers forming the impression of a large ragged claw as he wraps his hand around it. It fades and is absorbed slowly, in stages until there is only the faintest glimmer remaining.

There is a feeling of frustration and annoyance that he's pretty sure doesn't belong to him. A passing thought that this did not go exactly the way it was supposed to..

And Riku lays against the wall... closes his eyes..

...and smiles.
Alma Hyral Like felling a deer, it's quick, it's nearly painless... It's over all too quickly...

She looks peaceful, like she's asleep and dreaming...

Which is about the time Alma Hyral wakes up in bed, sitting upright in a cold sweat. She's dressed in only a thin white shift... She's hyperventilating just a little, her chest heaving as her body remembers.. But despite her asthma she doesn't cheat this time. She lets her body ride it out. Lets the grip of fear loosen on her mind gradually.

What she remembers... Is already slipping from her mind like water through a sieve. Some images remain like spots in ones vision after a looking into the sun. Or ones eyes adjusting to the light after being in too much darkness...

She hugs her knees for a while, trying to clamp down on those images, hold them fast, even slipping into the song for a while to see if it would help, but even that would avail her naught.

Her memories of it are gone, only the emotional echoes remain. Once she's calmer she slides out of bed and steps onto the cool floor of her apartment. At first she thought to visit Riku in his room, maybe talk about the nightmare, but what was there to talk about?

She looks down and through the keyhole despite herself and notes he's up already. But she decides ultimately to leave him to his privacy...

Instead she walks over to the kitchen and starts busying herself...

/Two Hours later/

The smell of baked goods wafts throughout the apartment....

Alma walks over to Riku's door, knocks, then walks inside if he doesn't call out to stop her. She's still dressed in nothing but a thin white shift. Ambling over to the bed, she puts her arms around his shoulders and lightly kisses his cheek.

"Call it trying too hard if you want... But I decided to spoil you with cake for breakfast..."

She doesn't talk about the weird dream at all, she just smiles at him. Sits behind him with her arms around his shoulders and waits for a response....
Alma Hyral "Well well." Riku says without opening his eyes. "How... post-apocalyptic."

He sighs and lays there in the bed of the guest room for a long time, one arm over his eyes as he feels the nightmare try and squirm its way out of his head. "Oh, no you don't." he says softly. Conversationally. He holds it there by force of willpower and the fact that he has a great deal more experience with frequent and impressive nightmarescapes than Alma.

He pins it there like a moth and examines it, end to end. He had rarely had a compressed time nightmare. So he slowly pulled himself up and looked down at himself and then around at the surroundings. He looked outside at the city of Archades and took a breath of air into his lungs.

Riku closed his eyes and listened for that prickling dread that came with living in a city full of the dead. And felt nothing, and then relief after that. He stretched his arms over his head and paced around the room, his pants whisking faintly in the silence of the room.

The teenager paced the door for awhile and then sat up against the bed with one knee drawn up and a elbow balanced on it. He looked towards the door, and he thought about checking up on Alma.

No. She's probably still asleep. No reason to wake her for what was just.. an unusually vivid dream.

Riku frowns at that thought and dumps the events of the.. last.. day? Compressed time was really messing with his head. It always did. He dumped out what he could remember and frowned. "Alright." he says quietly to the open air, closing his eyes. "Give it up. I know you're there and I know you've been messing with my head. So... it's time that you and I had a talk." he grits his teeth along those last few words.

/Two Hours Later/

Riku smells the cake coming and raises his eyebrows. He is sitting up against a wall reading a text on Archadian history. He fastidiously moves the page, looking up as Alma enters. The teenager rubs at his eyes which seem to have returned to semi normal, changing again back to blue. He watches her approach with curiosity and amusement but not exactly recognition until she sits on the bed. Then he smiles at her warmly and rolls his eyes.

"That's cheating, not trying too hard" He pauses as if he was going to say something else, before ending with. "---Alma. Who can resist cake?" he shakes his head. "Nobody." He chuckles, patting her hand and teasing as she wraps around him. "It's a low blow."
Alma Hyral She laughs in a musical manner, "Oh? How low are we talking? Rabbit punches? Below the belt? Did I kick your shins? Or is it the obvious..." She lightly taps his stomach, "...and here I am, nearly a master chef, and no one told me the rules!"

She continues draping over him for a while before finally settling for another kiss to his cheek, "But no, I just didn't sleep well last night... So I just thought Id do something nice..." She loves that his eyes are azure again, but doesn't comment on it.

" come get your breakfast, Solo." She had no idea why she suddenly thought up that nickname, but it just fits. She slides her arms away from him, slips off the bed, and returns to the kitchen.
Alma Hyral Riku waits to react to that statement until after Alma has left. Then he reacted to that as if he had been shot. His eyes widen and then narrow and the breath goes out of his lungs in a grunt of surprise and irritation. He opens his mouth several times and then closes it. "Youre lucky there's cake." he grumbles to nobody in particular as he piles off the bed.

He paces for a couple of steps and realizes that he's crying. Riku wipes his eyes with grit teeth and an embarrassed swipe of his hands, rubbing hands through his air and throwing a shirt on as he leaves the guest room in search of breakfast. He ducks into the bathroom and runs water over his face, cleaning up beforehand.

Riku stares at himself in the mirror for a very long time. There is an impulse, but he restrains it, to smash the mirror into a hundred different shards. He lets his hand drop and departs for the kitchen.

This scene contained 46 poses. The players who were present were: Alma Hyral.