Phantom Arms

Episode I - A New Wind

ONE

17.What was the cause of the great war that led to the current state of human society and technology today? A. Scarcity of Natural Rescources B. Mass Genocide C. Territorial Control D. All of the Above E. The Cause is unkown

Wow, that is probably the stupidest question I’ve ever seen on these tests… not to mention the easiest. Arius rolled his eyes before circling ‘E’. History had always been easy, but this year the teacher seemed to want to make the class especially so. There wasn’t really any way Arius could think of that anyone in his class wouldn’t know the answer to question 17… or any of 1 through 16 for that matter. Yet the class average would always come back at about 75%. Could his classmates really be that stupid?

18.To date, which form of government has stood the longest since the fall of the old civilization? A. Comunistic Dictatorship B. Capitalistic Dictatorship C. Comunistic Democracy D. Capitalistic Republic E. Capitalistic Oligarchy Another stupid one. For one, Arius never liked how they referred to the former civilization as the ‘old civilization’. But it was better than the alternative of calling them ‘the ancients’, which a lot of people did. The truth was they thrived less than a hundred years ago. Granted society had come to see a hundred years as a long time, but the truth was it wasn’t. Arius shook his head and forced his mind to stop wandering. The answer was ‘E’ again. Granted it was a mildly controlled economic state not really appropriate to call ‘capitalistic’, but it was designed off the same principals, so that’s what they schools always drilled in to the people’s heads, along with a non existent sense of freedom: nothing more than an illusion. The only freedom this government gave people was that they couldn’t figure out how to restrict.

“Professor Lindsay!” The principal’s voice could be hear from down the hallway before he even reached the door to the classroom. Arius, along with all the other students, glanced up from their examinations and watched the door burst open. “Professor Lindsay!” The principal, Mr. Terrance Rockwell, was in his early thirties and when he was appointed, there was much debate as to whether or not he was qualified… much of this came from his own mouth. He lacked confidence as a leader… Arius saw this as an extreme downfall and sure sign he was not ready to take the position. Professor Lindsay, however, was Arius’ History teacher, and quite a different story. She was older, and though she was small and rather quirky, she never hesitated to take charge of things when needed. “Yes Mr. Rockwell? What is it?” She asked without loosing her composure in the slightest. “Turn on channel five.” “We are in the middle of the examination Mr. Rockwell.” “Turn it on!” She rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly, then stood and slowly made her way across the room to turn on the television set, then she casually scrolled through the channels until she hit ‘five’. The words “BREAKING NEWS” were posted in capital letters across the screen, and with it in slightly smaller text the words “Longest recorded government falls to Democratic Crusades.” “Our capital fell?” Mrs. Lindsay was shocked, but the only indication was a slightly raised right eyebrow. “Yes, there was a surprise attack last night, and without leaders, our military has been rendered useless… What should I do?” She frowned, thought a moment, then shrugged, sighing again as she did so. “Release the students and gather faculty for an emergency meeting. Did you hear me students? If your parents are unable to pick you up go to the cafeteria and wait until they can. Do any of you have any questions?” There was a silence for a moment, then Arius raised his hand quietly and elegantly. “Yes Arius?” “Will ‘E’ still count for number eighteen?”


Meanwhile, Lady Mialaria Gelford heard a click on the line followed by a voice. “Hello, this is Melborne.” “Lord Melborne? Lady Mia Gelford speaking. What’s going on.” “Frankly, chaos. Since the fall of the capital, they’ve been holding court to decide which noble families should be stripped of their ranks and which should be executed. Obviously neither of our names are in the hat for either. That’s the benefit to keeping one’s face out of politics.” “But what of the ARMS hunters?” “Yes, well it seems that they won’t be shut down.” “Oh thank god.” “Not so fast… the official statement is that they won’t be kept up either.” “What do you mean?” “I mean to say that I can’t get these democratic bastards to give us any funding… and if we don’t find a way to make money, then we’re as good as shut down.” “Don’t they realize that it’s a government funded organization designed to protect the people?” “I suppose they think their military is enough for that… or they think you can find a way of making money while protecting the people. Hell if I know. Don’t shoot the messenger.” “Fine… well, thanks for trying anyway. Which families have been executed so far?” “The Devon family, and the Travian family. That’s the whole list so far. It isn’t looking good for the Westons though.” “Lobby as much as you can for the Westons without getting yourself in trouble. We could use their financial backing.” “Of course Lady Gelford. Anything else?” “No. Just keep me updated.” “Of course. Goodbye.” “Goodbye.”

TWO

“Aja.” No response. Cage watched from atop a nearby cliff as Aja made her way swiftly across the desert sands on what was left of her motorcycle. It was broken down and bellowing smoke behind it as it went. This was hardly visible though, since the sand cast in her wake was thicker. “Aja!” “What is it Cage?” “The wind.” “What about it?” “It’s ominous. I feel a storm approaching.” Aja sighed. “Great, just what I needed… to get rained on… do you see where the phantom went?” “I don’t see it, no. But I can feel the disturbance in the elements. It’s close to you. Be sure to be careful.” “Of course. Did you get a good look at it?” “No, but it resonates with the tones of fire and wind.” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” In an instant, flames exploded around Aja. She screamed, but the sound was swallowed into the inferno that surrounded her. She felt the hot sensation of flame reaching towards her face, causing her to involuntarily pull away. This threw her balance, forcing her motorcycle to fall away into the sand. She winced as her face struck the dirt. “Aja! Look out! It’s right on top of you!” She yelled in to the mic in an attempt to say “No shit Cage!” but it was too muddled to make any sense. She rolled out of the cloud of sand, ignoring the pain she felt all over he skin. She blinked a couple times, trying to get the sand out of her eyes, buy to no avail. “Cage,” she paused a moment to spit out a mouth full of sand. “I can’t see.” “That’s fine. Just pull out your sword and start swinging. It’s right in front of you.” “What?” “Just do it!” She pulled out her blade from where it was sheathed at her side. It was a brilliant rapier with a jeweled hilt and long, slender blade. She lashed out wildly. “The key to fencing is footing Cage, if I can’t see it and my footing is lost in the sliding sands, how am I expected to hit it?” “You aren’t. You’re at the disadvantage. So just hold on, and keep swinging.” Cage reached down to his pocket and flicked the switch on his portable music library and it began to play. “The storm is almost here” Aja slashed wildly. The soft piano and strings began to hum melodically as Cage pulled a small, slender, metal baton from his pocket and pulled it to its full length, held it up, and began to conduct. Aja felt the wind push the hot flames reaching for her, keeping them just far enough away. The sand began to fall from her eyes, and her tears slowly began to clear her view. Rain began to fall, moving in quickly with the swing of Cage’s baton. He could feel the elements of the storm swirl around him, and he could feel them sway with the motion of his hand. Then… with the flick of his wrist! A spike of earth exploded upward, smashing into the flaming monster and beating it into the ground, throwing its head against the metal of the motorcycle. “I saw that Cage!” He reached down and flicked his music off. “That was my bike!” It was in pieces now, broken into five large segments, visible from where Cage stood, and many smaller ones. “Oops.” “That’s the second time this week Cage! I can’t keep replacing my bike! My parents are going to kill me!” “Sorry!” “I can’t believe you!” “Just seal the damn monster!” Aja rolled her eyes, then turned back. She could see it now. It was a phoenix, beaten to the ground and lying lifeless on the sand. Aja reached into her pocket and pulled out a card, the same size as a playing card. It had an ornate frame on one side, with an ancient design on the back… a sealing card. “You my friend… have been beate….” Suddenly it erupted into flame in a large explosive blast. Aja flew backwards, falling back into the sand again. “Holy shit!” Cage shrieked, “it’s back Aja!” “Owch… What?” “It’s back! It flew back up out of that explosion.” “Of course Cage, it’s a damn phoenix! It was reborn from its own ashes. We have to seal it while it’s still alive.” “Well, I could use some help with that!” Aja opened her eyes, forcing herself back to her feet, and as she did so she looked up. Cage was on the cliff, feebly attempting to dodge the vicious strikes from the bird. “Okay, okay, be there in a second.” She looked around quickly locating the fastest way up the cliff. If she went about twenty feet out of her way, there was a spot that looked sloped enough to run up if she could keep her momentum. “I can’t conduct my symphony, if you keep attacking me you damn bird!” Cage growled. It flapped its wings, showering him with burning sparks. He leaped back to dodge, but his heel struck a rock and in the next moment he was on his back, his baton clattering to the rock beside him. The fall paralyzed him momentarily, fortunately the creature’s next lash of its talons was off aim, raking the dirt beside him. “Cage! I’m coming!” Aja had snagged hold of a weed at the edge of the cliff’s wall and was pulling her way to the top when the bird caught sight of her again. It flapped its great wings and rose up into the air again, glaring at her. Cage saw its eyes move and took advantage of the opportunity. He rolled across the painfully rocky terrain, reaching out and grabbing Aja’s hand. She accepted it quickly and pulled, putting her full weight on his arm, which nearly ended up pulling them both of the ledge, but he grabbed a rock for leverage just in time. She rolled to her feet and readied her blade, meeting the phoenix’s glare. “You got it Aja?” “Sure do.” She declared, holding up the card as she pulled it back out of her pocket. “Good.” Cage sighed, breathing heavily. “I’ll just… stay here then.” He remained flat on his back in the dirt. “I’ll get the rest.” The phoenix let loose an ear piercing cry, the fell in a nose dive, breaking away just above the ground and charging Aja at full speed. Aja smiled, twisted her stance, and leaped from the hard stone ground, thrusting her blade downward so it held less than an inch above the ground. It was too late for the bird to change direction. It hit the blade’s edge at full speed. It split, transforming into what looked to be two balls of flame and crashing into the ground, each less than four feet from where Aja landed on her feet, skidding in the dirt for a moment until she came to rest at the side of the beast’s remnants. Imediately she turnned on the ball of her foot and held up the card. There was a blinding flash as the energy of flame was pulled from the two burning masses into the sealing card… into the empty frame. The bird’s slender neck reached out and its beak opened to let out one final cry before it was pulled into the ancient symbol. There was a moment of tension, then all was silent. Aja let out a sigh of relief, then inspected the card. It now read “Phoenix” in ornate letters at the bottom, and the frame was not filled with a beautiful drawing of the bird. Beneath it, on the right edge of the card, it had the letter ‘B’. ‘Wow, that was just a ‘B’ class?’ She thought to herself. “Hey, Aja… a little help up?” Cage flopped his arm on the ground, trying to raise it, but the pain in his back seemed to be too much for him to properly move any part of his body. She began to walk over to him, feeling the pain of her own wounds begin to throb all over her body. Cage rested his eyes a moment, and when he opened them, Aja was standing over him. She didn’t offer him a hand, merely looked at him unsympathetically a moment, then turned away. “You owe me a new bike.”


“Lord Gelford, one of the phantoms we had on our scope a moment ago just vanished.” Eamon Gelford turned his head to look at the screen a moment, then shrugged. “It was only a B class. Nothing to be terribly concerned about. I’m sure it will reappear once the satellite refreshes its signal. Besides, it’s not like it’s near a population.” “Y… yes my lord. I apologize for even bringing it up.” “Don’t worry about it.” The door across the way opened and a slender woman, average height, with long silver blonde hair stepped in. She cocked her head to the side, then smiled. “Yes! This would work splendidly.” There was an awkward silence for a moment, then Lord Gelford stepped forward. “What would work splendidly? And who are you? This is a restricted area Miss. I would recommend you leave immediately.” “Stand down Eamon.” Emerging from behind the first lady stepped Lady Gelford. “Mia… who is this?” “She is here to make us a proposition, Eamon.” The blonde woman immediately took off and began inspecting the room enthusiastically. “And that proposition is?” “You know of our current funding predicament?” “Of course, I have been informed.” “Let’s just say she is our solution. Valencia!” The blonde woman turned quickly and smiled. “Yes?” “Does this room suit your liking?” “Oh yes! This will make for an excellent base of operations!” “Very well, it’s yours.” Eamon couldn’t hide the look of shock on his face for a moment. He turned and looked at the girl a moment, then turned back to Mia. “May I please have an explaination?” “Sure. This is Valencia Mallory. She will be our new head of media operations.” “Media operations?” “That’s right dear…” Mialaria smiled. “We’re putting the Hunter’s organization on the air.” “We’re what?” “You heard me. We need to turn out a profit or be shut down… since shutting down isn’t an option, that means we need to find a way to make hunting phantoms profitable… and televising it is exactly what will make that happen.” “It was my idea!” Valencia chimed in. “If we make sealing phantoms into a competition, then have hunters race on the air to see who gets them first, we will have viewers like you can’t imagine!” She smiled and let out a squeal of excitement. “But… we’ll turn our respectable lifestyle into a laughing stock!” “Oh no, we’ll just have to make it a part of popular culture. Valencia!” “Yes mam!” “Make a commercial announcing a tournament. If we’re turning this into a race, we’ll need contestants. We’ll need to recruit new hunters.” “Oh! A performance tournament! That would be the best way for that! Plus it would drum up publicity! Come fight to determine if you’re worth of being the next Phantom hunter! So exciting!” “A tournament? Very well, a tournament it is. Get to work on it.” “Of course!” “Mia!” Eamon growled, cutting in. She smiled at him for a moment, glaring at the same time. “What Eamon, you don’t like the idea?” He gritted his teeth but said nothing. “Because you could always try and stop it, if you wanted…” Silence. “No? Well then sit down and do your job… and let her do hers. We have to keep up with the wave of the future, and if it’s money making we must do, then we’ll do it.” With that Mia turned to leave. “Wow, scareeey…” Valencia laughed.

THREE

“You two skipped classes! To hunt a phantom?” Mrs. Lindsay was livid. “Yes mam.” Aja and Cage said in unison. “What in heaven’s name possessed you to do that?” “Well, we found the sealing card at an antique shop and, well, when we saw the phantom on the radar we just…” “Did you have no idea how dangerous it was?” “We had a general idea…” “What if it had been an B class, or worse, and A or S! You’d have been killed!” “Actually, mam, it was a B class.” Aja cut in. “What? You two are lucky it let you run away!” “It didn’t mam.” “What?” “I sealed it.” Aja stood, the true image of a noble. There was no sense of apology in her voice. Only pride as she held up the card. “Wow!” Principal Rockwell exclaimed. Professor Lindsay quickly shot him a glare, to which he immediately responded. “Oh, I mean, hmmm….” “You two will be repremanded for this, make no mistake. But for now I must send you home. The school has been closed, so you have no classes to make up. Except, that is, for my history test… if I let you take it.” “Yes mam, thank you mam.” Cage said quickly, bowing his head. “Very well. Get home quickly. And never do something that foolish again.”
The phone’s ring was cut short as Lord Eamon Gelford picked up the reciever. “Yes?” “Gelford? It’s Rockwell… I have a couple students that may be of some interest to you.” “Huh, why would your high school students be of interest to me?” “Because they just skipped class to seal a level B phantom… the phoenix card, sir.” Silence. “Sir? “We’re holding a tournament. Make sure they show up.” Then Lord Gelford hung up.
Aja and Cage left the principles office smiling to themselves. “You know you’re too much of a brown nose! You don’t have to agree with everything Mrs. Lindsay says.” “Unlike you I actually care about my grades.” “I’m just saying missing one test isn’t going to kill you.” “Maybe not but you never know when it comes down to the wire at midterms.” “Yeah, yeah….” Aja laced her fingers together behind her head and sighed to herself happily, today had been a great day. She was one step closer to becoming a hunter and anything she did to piss off her parents was always worth it. Not only had she skipped school, her bike was destroyed, which she wasn’t really happy about but it was a means to and end anyway. Another thing to add to the list was her uniform, it was beyond repair. It was covered with dirt and blood, ripped, burned and all together a total mess. She glanced over at Cage who’s uniform wasn’t as worse for ware, but it was still needing help. “Hey sorry about your uniform, I didn’t mean for you to get so banged up.” She said frowning. “It’s okay, the pants and shirt sleeves were getting a little to short. It’s time for some new ones anyway. ” “You sure?” “Yup!” The two always avoided the subject of money, their families and pretty much anything else having to do with other than hunting. Hunting and school was their only real connection but it was enough for both of them. When they walked to the lockers to get their shoes they weren’t the only ones there. Two other students were collecting their things, both were in the Junior section . One a boy with headphones stuck to his ears, the other a girl undoubtedly swooning over the boy. Aja glared in their general direction and watched as the boy looked up to glare back at them. She looked away uninterested and collected her things before bidding Cage farewell. Aja went home to her very large and very empty house made entirely out of grey marble. Tossing her uniform in the garbage she went up to her room and sat down on her bed. Pulling out the phoenix card she smiled to herself and closed her eyes losing herself in a daydream. Today had truly been a great day.

“Ryuu, sweetie, take out the trash, will you?” Ryuu Nakano signed inwardly. I’m sorry mother, he thought, I figured you’d want me to be on time for school. I know how much you care about my scholastic career…Yeah, right. Unfortunatley for Ryuu, the last two words were said out loud. “Ryuu Eri, I’m disappointed in you.” Dammit…

Sparrow glanced anxiously from the clock to the door and back. It was a full ten minutes before Ryuu skidded into the classroom, headphones in his ears as always. “Mr. Nakano, I hope you don’t expect a recap of everything we’ve gone over today” Ms. Lyons chirped. Ryuu sat down next to Sparrow, pretending that he hadn’t heard. Sparrow rolled her eyes. “No of course you wouldn’t” Ms. Lyons muttered, shuffling toward the chalkboard. The loud speaker creaked to life. “ATTENTION STUDENTS: ALL CLASSES ARE SUSPENDED FOR THE REST OF THE DAY. GO HOME. IF YOUR PARENTS CAN’T TAKE YOU HOME IMMEDIATELY, GO TO THE CAFETERIA AND WAIT FOR THEM. THANK YOU.” “Sweet” Sparrow grinned at Ryuu. Ryuu huffed. “You mean I ran all the way here for nothing?!” Sparrow laughed heartily at her best friend. “Walk me home?” she nudged.

When Ryuu got home, he was surprised to find his father there. “Dad. Why aren’t you at work?” Jaq Nakano gave his eldest son a depressing glance. “Heathens…” he muttered. Huh??? Helynn Nakano entered from the laundry room. “What’s going on, mom?” Ryuu asked. “Nothing to worry about, sweetie” she assured him, her eyes wrinkling at the corners, the way they always did when she was lying. “It’s a government thing.” “Right…” Ryuu raised at eyebrow at her but didn’t feel like pressing the matter further. Instead he went upstairs to his bedroom. His cell phone, lying face up on his bed, was lit with a missed call. Sparrow. He dialed her number and waited.

“Ryuu, hey! Did you hear what happened?” “No. What happened?” “Our entire government has been thrown!” WHAT??!! “Well that explains dad’s mood…” “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” “Yeah, pretty much…” “Oh, you are just plain rediculous.”

And with that, she hung up on him. Ryuu had to chuckle. He loved annoying Sparrow. “Ryuu Eri, please tell me you didn’t forget to feed the cat again…” “Coming, mom!” He let out another deep sigh and headed back downstairs.
In a dark room far underground, a phone rang. Ring. A figure stirred. Ring. Slowly it made its way among the shadows ‘cast by a multitude of computer screens. Ring. The figure moved quietly, silently, without making a noi- “Damn it! Where the hell is the light switch?! It’s hella creepy in here!” The figure quickly ran it’s hands along the wall, finding the switch and clicking it on. The room was bathed in light, revealing the room to be entirely…pink. Pink walls, pink computers, pink carpeting, and making it’s way angrily towards the phone, which seemed to be growing a thick coat of fuzzy pink fur, a figure in a pink dress with an enormous poofy skirt. “I’m coming!” On it’s way to the phone the figure past a mirror and did a double take. “Oh, wonderful!” Looking back through the mirror was a beautiful young girl with long black hair hanging in perfect curls and deep, dark amber yes. The girls face lit into a smile and she gave herself a quick wink before advancing on the phone. “Hello?” “Charlie! My sweet! How-” “This better be really good, Geezer, you just interrupted my ten hours of beauty sleep! My REM cycle has been completely disrupted, and I swear if I have bags under my eyes in the morning-” “My little honey-buns I’m not even thirty yet. How can you even think to call me a geezer?” “What do you want?” Charlie snapped. “I was just calling to check on your progress. There’s really no need to-” “It’s done.” “…Excuse me?” “I said it’s done. My research is complete and I’ve achieved my goal.” “…” “What?” “It really is a shame that your motivation is so twisted. You could do great things for humanity.” Charlie puffed out her cheeks. I will do great things for humanity! I’m making this world a much more beautiful place!” “As long as you haven’t done anything to my lab…” “…” “…Charlie?” “So what did you really call me about anyway?” Charlie quickly changed the subject. The voice on the other end sighed. “My research really isn’t going very well. If only-” “I told you, I refuse to become a stinking hunter. I could become seriously disfigured, and then what good would I be doing to the world?” “Yes, about that, I’ve gotten some interesting news. How’s that little website of yours going?” Charlie pouted. “Ok, I guess. I’m now ranked as one of the top ten internet idols, but only just barely. I’m, like, eighth. Can you believe it?!” “Yes, well, how would you like an opportunity to raise your popularity a bit?” Charlie narrowed her eyes. “Spit it out old man!” The voice on the other end giggled. “Well, I’ve just learned that hunting is being made into a television program. They’re holding a tournament to decide who the new hunters will be. You can find out more info on your own. That’s all! Goodbye Sweetie-kins!” There was a click on the other end, quickly followed by the dial tone. Charlie slowly set the receiver down and made her way over to the mirror. She studied herself, turning her head this way and that, twisting her body in order to get a look at herself from all angles. She finely settled, staring at herself straight on, face soft and innocent. Then her eyes narrowed and her mouth split into a wicked grin. “I have work to do.”

FOUR

Arius placed his key in the door knob, but before he could turn it, he heard a click and the door was pulled away from him. “Welcome home Lord Arius.” Flora bowed her head and knelt in a courtesy. “Thank you Flora.” “You’re home quite early my Lord. Did anything happen at school today?” “Have you been watching the news Flora?” “Yes my lord. It appears there has been quite a bit of political activity today.” “That’s right. In light of the events, the school deemed it a good move to let everyone out early.” “I see.”
Valencia Mallory frowned deeply, wrinkling her brow. “Oh come now, you can do better than that.” Lord Eamon Gelford shook his head. “If you don’t like it get someone else.” “But I can’t, you’re the organization’s top hunter. If anyone is going to start as the face the media goes for, it’s you. So all I need you to do is smile. Look happy. This is going to be the biggest revolution of television entertainment and you are our public figurehead.” “You obviously don’t understand. I don’t smile.” “Oh, fine. Go away.” He shook his head, then rose to his feet and walked away, muttering something to himself under his breath. “Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me. I just need something to film for a promotion of the tournament… on top of that… I still need more cameras and people to run them… This is going to be interesting. ”
“Hey! Brother!” “There you are! I was wondering where you’d gotten off to after school let out. But I guess you beat me home.” Cage smiled. Louis was Cage’s little brother, he was a bit shorter, which Cage often gave him trouble for, with hair that was more brown than blonde and more ‘fluffed’ rather than curled. “Well I got a head start, you skipped class after all, so you were busy being yelled at.” “Glad school got out?” “Not really. I was looking forward to shooting the library scene in the movie we’re working on with the film club… Now it looks I’ll have to shoot for rescheduling sometime during finals week, which will be a pain.” “Closing up the library for shooting during finals week? Yikes.” Louis’ eyes widened a moment, “Brother! You’re hurt!” Cage glanced down at his leg, noticing a cut in his uniform pants revealing a small wound with trace amounts of fresh blood. “You’re filthy too! If you don’t get that cleaned quickly it’ll get infected.” “I know, I know. Thanks, I didn’t even see it there.” “What happened?” “Um… nothing. I just fell.” “In the sand? What, like, five times?” “Don’t worry about it.” “You weren’t doing anything dangerous were you?” “Well, not really. Aja and I ditched class to go use that sealing card on a phantom that popped up on the news radar this morning. It was just a short ride outside of the school district so we figured we may as well.” “Wow, did it work?” “Yeah, actually. She’s got the card. I helped quite a bit, but she finished it off.” “Yeah? Did you have to use your magic any?” “A bit.” “How’s her bike?” “Shouldn’t we be getting inside?” “You broke it again, didn’t you?” “No! Of course not!... The phantom did.” “Oh brother. You know, we don’t have any money to help her out… just like we haven’t the past three times you’ve broken that poor girl’s top-of-the-line motorcycle. It’s a wonder you two are still friends.” “Can we drop it please?” “For now, I guess.” “What’s for dinner?” “Not sure. Haven’t thought of what to make. I figured I could pretty easily put something together using those potatoes we’ve had for a week or so. Maybe I could run out and grab some more cheap ingredients…” “Yeah. You want me to cook it up?” “No thank you. I’d rather eat something that won’t keep me out of school for the week.” “If it opens back up by then.”
“You mean we’re need to open back up tomorrow?” Principal Rockwell asked, astounded. “This is a big deal sir… with all due respect.” “If you miss any more days, Rockwell, you’ll have to start cutting in to the student’s summer vacation. And I’m sure they won’t appreciate that. While I understand your concern, it is important to educate the children, even when in the midst of this chaos… in fact I’d say especially in the midst of this chaos… yes, you can quote me on that one.” “Yes sir, I will. I guess I’ll be sure and make that report to the local television and radio stations.” “Good move Rockwell, make sure those kids know they need to be back in the morning. Go ahead and put that quote in the next student paper.” “Yes sir, I will.”
“Flora… I’ve been thinking.” “Yes my lord?” “Ever since my parents died, you’ve been trying to keep up with your studies on your own… that must be hard on you.” “You needn’t concern yourself with my difficulties my lord.” “Oh enough of that Flora. I will concern myself if I like. But I’ve been toying around with the idea of enrolling you in my classes at the school.” Flora’s eyes lit up in an instant. “Really my lord?” “You like the idea?” “Yes, yes, very much.” “Well, then as soon as school starts back up, you should come with. I will enroll you in the morning and we can be in classes again by late afternoon.” “Thank you Lord Arius.” She took his hand gently and kissed it, as a formal sign of gratitude, then left the room. “If you’ll excuse me please.” She dashed down the hallway and into her room. She went straight to her closet. “School… Public school!”

FIVE

The collapse of the government so far hadn’t all together changed day to day life. In fact for Aja and her classmates the steady drone of daily school life hadn’t changed at all. It had been two weeks since the announcement of the government’s fall flooded the airwaves and they were still right on track with the syllabus. Currently the entire student body was gathered in the auditorium waiting to hear the speeches from the top student of each class. It was a yearly event and mandatory for those with the highest GPA’s. The candidates seated on the right side of the podium this year were none other than Aja, herself, representing the Sophomore class and some giddy little girl with pigtails and freckles from the Freshmen. On the left side and from the Senior class was the same guy that had apparently been up here every year since he was a freshman. Also representing the Junior class Aja noticed the same guy with the headphones she had seen the day her and Cage captured the phoenix. His headphones were firmly in place and he was staring off in to oblivion. “Gees, you could at least pretend you’re paying attention.” Aja muttered to herself as Rockwell finish his introduction speech and motioned for the freshman girl to come to the podium. It was short and agonizingly sweet. “I’ll give you a year and you’ll have a different attitude…” Aja said smiling slyly to the little girl as she stared back wide eyed and stupid. Aja took her place at the podium and smiled her best million dollar smile.

“Good morning everyone! I’m Aja Hillisine and I represent the sophomore class as the student with the highest GPA and today to encourage you ALL…to do as little as possible so you don’t have to stand up here next year and give a stupid speech. Furthermore in light of the recent fall of our government I currently even question if this institution is necessary for our advancement in today’s society. And no I don’t care what you think of me or my opinions but since I’m forced to stand up here and give a statement it might as well be one I feel pertinent to the situation. Which I believe is the statement I mentioned beforehand. Thank you and have a nice day.”

You could have heard a pin drop as Aja left the podium but she didn’t care because she had made her point. Her point being “That if you give me a microphone it means your going to hear what I want to talk about.” Things didn’t go much better with the next speech either. The kid with the headphones walked to the podium and just stood there. He stood there for about thirty seconds before pulling a set of mini speakers from his pocket and plugged in his ipod. Suddenly the sound of what Aja guessed could be called music filled the auditorium. It lasted for two or three minutes before he unplugged his ipod and walked back to his seat. He at least got a few claps and cheers from the crowd for his performance, but he couldn’t hear them because he already had his headphones plugged back in.

“I can’t believe you two! Well maybe you Miss Hillisine, but you Mr. Nakano I’m shocked. ” Professor Lindsay fumed as a silent Rockwell twiddled his thumbs in the background. Aja really didn’t feel like explaining herself today and apparently neither did the Nakano kid.

“Well don’t you to have anything to say for yourselves!?” “Not really, and I don’t think he does either.” “You Miss Hillisine are incorrigible! You’ve already received one detention this month for skipping class and hunting that stupid phantom and now you’re pushing for two!” Aja shrugged and prepared herself for Professor Lindsay to throw the books at her, she was hoping for an expulsion. “Well then if that’s the way you feel, off to detention with you! Oh and Mr. Nakano you can not only thank Miss Hillisine but you can accompany her as well!”

Three hours into detention Aja looked over at the Nakano kid. She figured he’d be uberly pissed but he was staring off into space as usual, well minus the head phones that were on Mr. Conley’s, the detention monitors, desk.

“Don’t you two have some homework or something?” “Do I ever do my homework anywhere but in class?” “No, I guess not…What about you Mr. Nakano?” Silence. “Ok, I guess that’s a no too…well I’m going to get some coffee you two behave yourselves. ” “Don’t worry we’ll wait to have the orgy till you get back.” “That’s not only inappropriate but disgusting Miss Hillisine.” “You know you like it…” Aja muttered before putting her head down on the desk for a nap. It would be a hour or so before he got back.

It was pitch black outside when detention let out and no one but the janitor was around. With his headphones firmly back in place the Nakano kid grabbed his shoes and bag but before leaving he intentionally bumped into Aja hard enough to understand it’s meaning. He left with out saying a word as Aja glared after him. “Jerk it’s not my fault you pulled the stunt in the auditorium that got you called to the office!” She thought as she grabbed her bag and followed.

Aja thought about cutting him off as she passed him walking on the side walk. She was on her bike, but if she ran him over it would cause more problems. So she refrained herself, to leaving him in the dust behind her. Satisfied she made her way home.
Ryuu Nakano hadn’t planned to be a rebel that day. He had prepared a speech, just like he was supposed to, and had had every intention of giving it but his father’s words that morning just couldn’t be ignored. “It’s just not right, Helynn. I’ve poured my sweat and blood into this job for nineteen years and now what am I gonna do? What do I tell the kids? No, you know what Helynn? Life just isn’t worth doing the right thing for everyone else. I’ve spent too long thinking about what I can do to keep everyone happy and it’s gotten me nowhere. Well I’m done caring what other people want.” Ryuu knew he hadn’t been meant to hear any of his father’s words but he was immediately glad that he had. He crumpled up his speech and threw it in the corner. Well, dad, I’m done too.

When it came time to give his speech, he just played “Kicking and Screaming” over the speakers. Sparrow cheered the loudest when he was through but he noticed a rather pleased smile on the face of the sophomore girl who had delivered her stellar speech before his turn. A small smile crept onto his face at her amusement. Then the word “DETENTION” was flashed across his radar. Shit…

Inside detention, however, he realized that the next few hours would be spent with the sophomore girl. He took this time to reflect on her, since his headphones had been taken away. She was cute, but he figured he probably wasn’t her type.

On the way out, he bumped into her. Okay, so maybe it was a little third grade to hit a girl you liked, but Ryuu probably hadn’t really thought about girls SINCE the third grade so it really couldn’t be helped.

Outside she passed him on her bike. And he wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw her glance at him.

SIX

Maximilian was bored. Granted this was nothing new, he was virtually bored every day. Stuck in the monotonous schedule of school and with no friends to speak of, things generally got pretty old pretty quick. Max had thought that with the upset with the government something interesting might happen. However, school restarted, just the same as ever, and he returned to his monotonous routine. Now, it wasn’t that Max didn’t like people. He was just a bit awkward. He towered over other freshman at a staggering six foot two inches and kept his eyes hidden by a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a head of messy black hair. The glasses must give him a menacing look, for people usually mistook his shyness for hostility. So, Max sat at his desk looking straight ahead, waiting for the teacher to arrive; the rest of the class giving him plenty of space. The homeroom teacher finally entered, the class quieting as the bell rang. “OK, class, today we have a new transfer student. She’s been home-schooled her whole life, so make sure you’re very nice and show her a proper welcome. She should be here shortly.” She turned and watched the door expectantly. Heads turned as everyone looked to the door, wanting to get a first look at the new student. There was a long pause. Someone coughed. Then someone giggled. There was a whispered, “Well where is she?” Then the door opened… And in walked an embarrassed looking secretary. There was a collective sigh of disappointment as the secretary made her way to the teacher and leaned up to whisper something into her ear. Max had already tuned out. He wasn’t really interested in another girl joining their class. The teacher nodded her head as the secretary finished and bustled out of the room. She turned to the class and said, “It seems there has been some kind of delay. We’ll start our lesson and give introductions once she arrives.” Max wondered what possible delay there could have been. The new student must be a noble. Most commoners lived fairly close to the school, as they didn’t have private transportation. Only the nobles drove in from their wide-spread estates. Max had to stop his musings as the teacher started talking so he could take notes. Class seemed to drag on longer than usual. The room was full with a kind of anxious irritation, as everyone was wondering when the new student would arrive. What would she be like? Why was she so late? It had almost reached lunch period when the door finally slammed open and in walked something straight out of a picture book. Behind his bangs and glasses, Max stared. She had long black hair that hung loose down her shoulders in perfect curls, and dark amber eyes that he swore tinkled as they swept over the class in a negligent glance. But it was what she was wearing that made his jaw fall slightly slack. Instead of the standard uniform, she had on a big, pink, poofy, pink, frilly, pink, lacy, and pink dress. Max wasn’t quite sure how she fit through the door. He swore the diameter of that skirt had to be much greater than the width of the door. The math teacher also seemed to be caught off guard. He had dropped his lecture notes and was looking at the girl in a mixture of confusion, and outrage. Finally he stammered out, “Wh-who are you?” Instead of answering him directly, she clasped her hands behind her back, turned to the class, and exclaimed, “I’m the new transfer student, Charlene Scorpius. You can call me Charlie. I don’t know much about public school,” she pouted, “but I hope we can all be friends! I want to get to know every single one of you!” And then she winked. Max’s lip curled in disgust, however, he could see a few girls and more than a few guys in the class blush and smile back tentatively. The teacher, and his face, remained frozen throughout this speech, but now a spell seemed to have broken and he advanced angrily on Charlie. “And where is your uniform?!” Charlie waved him off as she made her way to a desk. “That thing was hideous and cumbersome. You can hardly expect me to where that thing for one day, let alone every day.” Oh yeah, definitely a noble. Max scowled as she chose one the four empty desks around him, the one directly in front of him. He was quickly deciding he didn’t like this girl. The teacher looked outraged. “You can’t just-” he seemed to be struggling to find words to express himself. “Wh-why are so late!?” Having gotten such a blunt answer to his first question he seemed to be changing gears. However, Charlie remained unfazed. “She calmly tilted her head up to the teacher and, Max could swear she batted her eyelashes, said, “There absolutely no way I could wake up early enough to get to school when I was informed to. I figured there must have been a mistake. How could anyone maintain their health and beauty when they had to wake up at such ungodly hours.” The math teacher seemed to have finally found his bearing and squared up against this admittedly difficult opponent. “Now listen to me, little missy, we teach both nobles and commoners alike at this school, and nobody gets special treatment. You cannot just do as you please-” “I think you’ll find that my family just made a considerable donation to the school, so I can do as I please. It’s not like I came hear to learn. What could you possibly teach me?” The teacher was once again speechless. Luckily he was saved form having to respond to that as the lunch bell rang. There was bustle and confusion as the class got up to leave, and Max decide to put the whole incident from his mind as he made his way to the cafeteria.

Being feared my the majority of people had it’s advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantage: no one would sit at a table if he was there. Advantage: no one, not even teachers, stopped him from eating lunch on the roof. Max found it much less awkward than eating alone in a crowded cafeteria or classroom. So, lunch tray balanced on one hand, he made his way up the stairs to the roof, stepped through the door, and froze. There, facing away from him, was Charlie, hair and dress blowing in the breeze. Max could hardly believe his bad luck. The roof was his sanctuary, and now it had been invaded by pink. She had failed to notice him yet. Her head was down and she seemed to be fiddling with something on her wrist. Max was about to say something to her when suddenly her image flickered, and the words died on his lips. Now, standing in front of him, was not a girl in a frilly pink dress, but a boy in a skin-tight black jumpsuit. Max blushed. Oh boy. Then the door clicked behind him. Max barely registered movement before he felt a breeze rustle his hair and heard a heavy impact next to his head. H found himself staring into a very angry pair of amber eyes. Despite the circumstances, the first thing Max noticed was that the boy in the skin-tight suit was no pressed very close to him. His blush deepened. Ooooh, boy. Then he realized that the boy’s fingers were clawed, and while the claws on the left hand were pointed at his throat, the ones one the right were buried inches into the concrete wall of the roof entrance. Oh, shit. Then the boy, who Max now realized could only be Charlie, spoke; not in that annoyingly sweet voice he had used during class, but in a slightly deeply, much more menacing voice. “Tell anyone about this and I’ll kill you.” Max weakly nodded his head. That wouldn’t be a problem. No one ever spoke to Max. However, Charlie was not aware of this. His eyes narrowed. “As if I can actually trust you. I’ll have to keep my eye on you. Are you in any extra-curricular activities?” Max shook his head. “Good. Consider yourself the vice president of the Charlie Fan Club. Meet me after school right here.” And with that, Charlie completely lost his menacing air and gave Max a wink. “Be a gentleman and don’t make a lady wait.” Max’s eyebrows drew together in confusion before the image of the girl in the ridiculous dress flickered back into place. Oh, yeah. Lady. Wait… “See ya!” Max found himself alone and very confused as the door back inside closed. What the fuck had he gotten into? As he bent to gather up his dropped lunch, he was entirely ready to go straight home directly after school and just avoid Charlie for the rest of his life. Then he paused as he remembered that skin-tight suit… Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to see what Charlie was all about. Max al least knew one thing; his life didn’t look so boring any more.
Phro kicked up dust uncomfortably as she made her way to her new school. Her parents had picked an awful time to move. Not that Phro had minded, until she was told she had to go to school. Up until now, she had been working odd jobs for cash, but when the jobs were through, she got restless and the only entertainment was using her younger sisters as punching bags. She guessed her parents were hoping she would beat up kids at school instead. The minute she entered the entered the building, she met her nemesis. “You there!” called a voice. Phro turned to it and her mouth dropped in disgust. Standing before her, in a frilly dress, was an obnoxiously cute girl with long, curly black hair. The girl smiled at Phro’s reaction, probably mistaking the expression. The word “bitch” circulated through Phro’s mind uncontrollably. Luckily she managed to keep it off her lips as the girl approached. She tossed her curls, “Would you like to join the Charlie Fan Club?” “The what?” The girl leaned in, “My Fffffaaaaaaaannnnn cluuuuuu-buh.” she said, stretching out every possible sound and adding an extra syllable for the B, “We need members, and I was wondering if you would like to join.” “Why the hell would I do that?” The girl, Charlie apparently, frowned, “Why not? Look at me! Who wouldn’t want to be in my fan club?” Phro stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out if she was serious. Apparently she was. “I don’t.” She turned to walk away, but a hand grabbed her arm, “I don’t think you understand. I just invited you into my fan club. You should be honored.” Phro grabbed the girl’s wrist, “And yet, I’m not. So you’d better let me go before I mess up that pretty face of yours.” A boy stepped between the two, hesitantly pushing them apart, “Okay, okay. It’s not that big a deal. Right?” Phro analyzed the look he was giving Charlie. It was almost pleading, like he thought something terrible was coming, but not from Phro. She raised an eyebrow. So this was the bitch’s bitch. School was looking wonderful already. Charlie sighed, twirling around, “Whatever. Like we’d want her anyway fouling up my fan club anyway.” Phro stuck her tongue out as she walked away. Not the most mature move, but it was all she could think of other than decking her. She walked into her new classroom, her bad mood worsened. She was surrounded by ugly desert, ugly people, and- Beautiful boy! Phro froze in place, her mouth dropping open as her eyes zeroed in on the only beauty in the room. There he was, glowing like an angel, his icy blue staring off into space, ignoring the mundane world around him. Good thing, too, because Phro was definitely drooling. She snapped back into reality however when The Bitch bumped her shoulder as she passed. Phro wiped her mouth and moved to an empty seat, making sure the angel was in her line of sight. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
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Episode II - The Hunter's Tournament

ONE

“Qualifications?” Cage was confused. “The advertisement said anyone was welcome!” “That’s right sir. Anyone is welcome to face the qualification trial. We can’t allow combat amateurs on the field, you understand. If we matched talented fighters with,” the man eyed him, “low calibur fighters… there could be injuries on the field. And there will be some rather important corperate representatives at this event.” “Cage, calm down.” Aja said to him calmly. “Don’t have a cow until we know what the qualifiers are.” “Fine. What are these qualification rounds?” “It’s rather simple sir. There are two classes of combatant. Each contestant will be required to clear a simple obstacle course, striking each of the five targets on the course with an attack. If the timer hasn’t run out by the time the course is complete, the qualifying rounds are deemed to have been passed.” “What’s the time limit?” Aja asked. “Ten minutes.” “Ten? Are you serious? That’s plenty of time!” “There’s a little more to it sir.” “Yeah?” “You see, five contestants enter at once, with the goal of keeping the others from completing the course.” Aja couldn’t help but smile. “Sounds interesting.” “I thought so too.” She turnned quickly to see a girl standing a few feet behind her. “Only two minutes before the next round. Would you care to enter with me?” “Why not?” Aja’s smile couldn’t be hidden now, nor could the flare behind her glare. “I’m not one to back down from a challenge.” “I could tell. And your name is?” “Aja. Lady Aja Hillistine.” “A noble name. It’s nice to meet you. I am Charlene Scorpius.” “We only have two minutes. While it is nice to meet you, we may want to stop wasting time on pleasantries and sign up.” “Agreed.” The registration desk was only a few feet from the information desk. The three hopped across the pathway, Aja and Charlie just ahead of Cage. “You signiture please miss.” Aja signed. “And your miss?” Charlie signed. Cage stepped up. “I’m sorry sir, but we seem to already have our five contestants for this section.” Cage rolled his eyes. “This way ladies.” The man nodded to them and led them through a door just behind the desk.

Aja followed him into what appeared to be a waiting room of some kind. She seemed to have gotten in at just the right time. “Will each contestant please follow one of our attendant. The starting points will be located at various points throughout the course. No two of you will begin in the same place. These attendants will outfit you with weapons aswell.” Aja shook her head. “I have my own weapon.” “No miss, I’m affraid we don’t allow ‘lethal’ weapons on the course. We have made less dangerous versions of many weapon types. Paintballs or wooden swords and the like. You will be outfitted with one such weapon.” “Oh.” It made sense. These were the qualifying rounds for the purpose of keeping people from getting too badly hurt. It would have been a moot point if they’d allowed real weapons in the course. “Cameras inside and onlooking judges will determine whether or not you have scored a hit on the targets. But they aren’t picky. A hit is a hit. You will wear these watches. There are five lights on them. When you score a hit, a light should turn on within a few moments. You have completed the course when all the lights have turnned on. The watch also displays your remaining time. Any questions?” Nobody spoke. “An additional note, the top time in the obstacle course will automatically be admitted as a hunter without being put through the tournament. Alright? Well it’s almost time. Let’s get started.”

A training blade. It wasn’t as well ballanced as her own, which irritated her, but Aja kept her mouth shut. She stood calmly at her starting location. The door behind her was shut and locked. The course was outdoor, which surprised her. But she could already see plenty of man made structures. A small tower stood above everything else in what appeared to be the middle. That would be the first stop, to view and survey the locations of the targets. A loud buzzer rang throughout the area, and with that, she was off. She sped down the path, heading straight for the tower. It didn’t take more than what must have been a minute to reach… but that wasn’t the main problem. Along the side of the tower were stairs over a large moat. Each step was hooked to a mechanism that made them turn, move, or drop away at dificult to observe intervals. “Figure out how you’re going to get up there yet?” Aja turnned quickly to see a boy. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Vesper. Arius Vesper.” He nodded. “Getting up that is going to be quite a trick. And we’ve only got nine minutes left.” “We don’t even know if there is a target up there.” “Oh, there’s one up there. And it’s going to be the first one everyone goes for. I’m just thinking it may be a good idea to partner up for this one.” “Not interested.” Aja said, then quickly leaped out onto the first stair. Then the next. The third one was spinning around the tower on a slow conveyer belt. She landed it, her weight leaving the second stair just as it fell from under her. The fourth was spinning the oposite direction on another conveyer belt. She didn’t see it comming until it was right on top of her, nearly kocking her off into the water, but she grabbed it and pulled herself up. She rested for a moment to the sound of Arius’ applause. “Not bad!” She laughed slightly, then got back up. The fifth was moving up and down, which was difficult to time with the horrizontal movement of the fourth step. But she was fairly certain of her timing when she jumped, landing beautifully on her destination… then looking up just in time to catch plat form number six, another horizontal moving platform, right in her face. She fell backwards, her feet sliding out from under her, and fell, barely snagging the platform by hooking her legs around it and pulling herself back up. She ducked as the sixth platform came around again… then on the third swoop, she leaped again. This one led to a latter on the other side of the tower. With a sigh she reached out to grab it as it came by, but in the corner of her eye she caught some movement… another stair? But why, if there was a latter right here? An idea occured to her. Suspiciously she grabbed the latter as it came around and gave it a hard tug. It detatched and fell from her hand down into the watter below. “Those tricky little…” Her platform kept moving over until it rached the final one. It didn’t appear to be unstable, but just the same, Aja leaped from it up as quickly as she could, fearing it would fall out from under her… which it didn’t. Sure enough, at the top of the tower was a target. She stepped up to it and tapped it with her sword, too exhausted to do anything else. Almost instantly the first light on her watch lit up. Seven minutes left. She looked out across the course. It was smaller than she’d initially thought. The other four targets were easily visible. One was on the wall in each of the cardinal directions. It looked as if following the wall would work easily enough for finding the other four… a piece of information that would have been nice before leaving the wall to begin with. North was a water course. South, a small maze she easily traced a path through from her view above. East, a giant scale, from the looks of it. And West, seemed most treacherous of all… nothing looked unusual. South first, while she had the path in her mind. She glanced around to see if there was an easier way down than the way she’d come up. There was. A rope, securely fastened to the ground, she could toss over the side. She did so quickly, then slid down as fast as she could, repelling from the side of the tower and coming down unfortunately in the middle of the waist-deep moat. “Hey!” It was Arius. “You’re awesome!” She nodded, rather impressed herself, then looked at the rope. “Go on ahead. I’ll climb up the rope and pull it up so the other can’t use it. Coming down those stairs has got to be easier than going up. Mutual benefit.” She didn’t have time to argue. “Whatever.” She sighed, then crawled out of the water. Six and a half minutes to go.

Left, right, left, left, right, straight, right, left, straight, straight, right, right, left, left. Aja timed her footsteps to the pounding of her heart in her head. It was less than a minute since she’d left the tower when she tapped the next target. Her second light flipped on. She turnned back, unable to follow the wall until she got back out of the maze. Right, right, left, left, straight, straight, right, left, straight, right… no left… right, right, left, right. And done. Four minutes to go. And three targets. She had to pick up the pace. Following the wall she made it around to the East… the scales. She’d seen right. A scale was exaclty what it was. “Just who I was waiting for.” Charlie smiled. “I thought you’d get here pretty soon. So I wasted a whole ten seconds waiting. We need to help eachother out on this one. Stand on one scale.” Charlie had been busy. It was apparent from the fact she was almost as short on breath as Aja was. She was also wet. “Come on.” “Oh.” Aja hopped on to one end of the scale, while Charlie hopped on the other. As she did so, the scale lifted Charlie right up to the target, which she proceded to tap with her fist. Aja couldn’t help but notice a couple paint bullets scaring the surface of the target aswell. “Okay, there’s a lever on each of these. I think they’re locks.” Charlie panted. “Really?” “Well they say ‘Lock’ on them, so yes. I think we should both pull them, then I can help pull you up here to get the target. Let’s move. I’ve still got another target to get to.” “I’ve still got two.” “All the more motivation to hurry. Now move.”

Three down, two to go, and three minutes left to get them. Aja raced over to what was apparently the watter course. There were countless beams and narrow moving walkways for running across, but Aja didn’t care. Without missing a beat, she pulled off her top and jeans, wearing nothing but her, luckily fairly conservative, undergarments, and dove in the water, swiming as quickly as she could over to the other end. She didn’t even climb on to the platform on the other end. She just reached up, tapped the target, then turnned, pushing off the wall with her legs to give her a boost back to shore.

One to go… and the timer read a minute and a half as her penultimate light came to life. She grabbed her clothes, tucked them under her arm, and ran. West. Nothing appeared to be in her way… until the target came in to sight. “No obstacles. An easy finish, right?” The man standing in front of the target wore a watch with all five lights shining. He smiled fiendishly. He was tired. But still outweighted Aja by a good fifty pounds.” “Excuse me.” Aja panted. He shook his head. Aja’s eyes trailed over to Charlie, who was badly wounded a few feet away, apparently beaten in to submission. Her watch was one light short. “Please.” “No way. I ain’t letting you finish this race. Either of you.” “That’s too bad.” a third voice chimed in. Aja dodged impulsively as a rope flew through the air, striking the target while the man wasn’t looking. The girl that had come up struck a momentary pose in happiness at her success, then watched as her final light clicked on. Then she fell to the ground, exhausted.” Aja shook her head. Fifty second left. “Catch.” She yelled, throwing her clothes in his face. He stumbled backwards. Aja drew her ‘sword’, and lashed out, striking the man in the shin. He growled in rage, and swiftly reached out. His arm was longer than Aja had thought. He grabbed her wrist and threw her across the clearing, her weapon falling from her hand as he did so. She slid across the ground, barely managing to keep on her feet. He smiled. Fourty seconds left. She had no choice. She made a break for it. He was there, quickly stepping in the way. There was no way past… but she had to try. She came close. He raised his fist… And then…

Suddenly his face exploded into the most brilliant shade of blue, followed imediately by a neon green. He screamed in pain momentarily, but Aja saw her chance. She ducked his poorly aimed swing, and with a forcefull punch, she struck her target. The adrenaline pulsed through her for another moment as her mind registered what she had done, then with a sigh of relief, she fell to the ground.

The man wiped the paint off his face, then turnned to face Arius, who stood smiling, holding his aimed pistol in plain view. “You son of a bitch! I won’t let you get out of this!” Airus leveled his gun again, smiling. His very presence was powerful, but that smile and those cold blue eyes made him almost eerie. “Big words, let’s see what you can do.” Twenty seconds. The man stood, ready. A momentary pause as tension hung in the air. Then… A shot rang, throwing another ball of paint right at the man’s face agian, but in a swift motion, he pulled to the side with a dodge. “You missed, he laughed.” “So it would seem.” Arius smiled, then raised his left arm into view. There was less than a second before the last light flickered on. The man’s eyes widened, then turnned to see the bullet he’d dodged streaking the target with a brilliant yellow. “Checkmate… Let’s play again sometime.” Arius’ smile seemed to grow even wider, if that were possible, as he walked over to the man. “Not having to climb that tower proved to be quite a help. I’m not fatigued in the least…” “You bastard!” The man stepped forward, throwing a heavy punch, which Arius easily dodged, then dealt a swift kick to the mans neck where he found an opening. With a cry of anguish, the man fell to his knees and began a fit of coughing. Ten seconds. Arius stepped a few feet away, grabing the barely concious Charlie’s hand, and dragged her over to the target, then, with two seconds to go, placed her hand on it. “Tag.” Arius smiled. “It doesn’t seem working against the group served you very well at all… We all seem to have made it in to the tournament.” With that, Arius set Charlie’s hand gently back at her side, then turnned and walked noblely away. Aja laughed quietly to herself, then decided to find her clothes.

TWO

“Next set of contestants!” Cage frowned. “Did the others even come out?” “Yes, they’re out in the hall.” Cage sighed. “I guess I’ll ask Aja about it once I’m done… how hard can it possibly be?”

Cage glanced down at his watch. “Maybe I shouldn’t have walked all the way from the starting point.” He sighed, then looked up at the tower, which a couple people were already attempting to ascend. “Time to get busy.” He stepped forward, and took hold of a nearby tree branch, and with the wave of his conductor’s stick, it grew, lifting him high into the air and to the top of the tower. From his new vantage point he looked around, spying each of the other targets, and with a dismissive wave of his hand four times, he sent metorite fragments to demolish each of the four targets. “Child’s play.”

“You mean I’m disqualified?” “No, not exactly. You easily made the best time of anyone that did the course… but your methods were… well… the judges didn’t deem it a fair contest, so you will not be permitted to forgo the tournament. However, they are adding an extra judge to the tournament and have put good words to this judge about you.” “What the hell do I care about a judge? I’m supposed to skip the tournament all together!” “Well, you don’t understand. There were supposed to be four judges to choose four of the contestants in the contest as hunters… but now there are five judges determining five slots.” “You lost me.” “Look, this derastically increases your chances. But you aren’t being automatically admitted.” Cage rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

Aja slowly opened her eyes to see Cage standing over her. “Hey.” “Yo. How’d you do?” “How long have I been asleep?” “A while. Couple hours.” “On this bench? Damn! No wonder my back hurts.” “How’d you do?” “Qualified. You?” Cage nodded. “Without breaking a sweat. Got the best time too.” “You’re a jerk. Seriously, did you qualify?” “I’m not joking. But they’re making me be in the tournament anyway. Postings should be up here in about …” At that moment, a voice clicked on over the intercom. “The tournament bracket is now posted. The first round will begin tomorrow morning at ten o’ clock. Lodgings will be provided for all qualifiers if needed. Thank you to all contestants and good luck to those in the tournament.” “I’ll go check it out.” Cage smiled, then turnned and ran off. Aja tried to get up, but the pain in her back forced her to reconsider. “Let me know who I’m up against!” she called after him. With that she fell back down.

Cage stepped up to the display, where a few others crowded to look. “You’re going down sissy-boy!” The large man growled gutterally at Arius, who responded only with a smile as he walked away. The girl with the rope now held a whip in her grasp in its place. She sighed, rolled her eyes, and looked over at the bench Charlie was layed out on, then stomped away. A few feet away a girl with short blonde hair and a barret squealed with excitement, and a boy wearing a large set of headphones shrugged indiferently. Cage peered over a few heads to see who he was matched up with…

“So?” “So what?” Cage asked, stepping back up to Aja. “Who’s my opponent?” “Huh?” “I asked you to tell me who I’m up against.” “Ah… well… You’re.” “I’ll beat them up as soon as I can move again.” “Yeah probably.” “Oh, they not that tough?” “No, not too tough.” “How do you know? Where they up there?” “Yeah… um… Aja… It’s me.” “What?” “It’s me. I’m your oponent for round one.” There was a pause. “You know you’re going down right?” “Yeah… I know.”

Aja stood in the hallway outside the barracks that had been given to the contestants. Cage had fallen asleep hours ago, she had always been astounded by his ability to sleep in any type of situation. The only two contestants still up were herself and who she had now begun to call Phones. The kid never took them off, she even wondered if he had ran the first trial with them on. Realizing she was letting her mind wonder she snapped back and focused on the issue at hand, fighting Cage tomorrow. How the hell was she supposed to do that Sure she had known that she’d have to fight her way through this place and she was determined to cut down anyone standing in her way…but Cage? How could she, he was her only friend. It didn’t matter how many times he destroyed her motorcycle or said something stupid or goofy and embarrassed her, he was still her friend! The thought of forfeiting crossed Aja’s mind, then he’d win by default but what if he lost the next round? It would end up being a useless sacrifice, then they’d both be going home empty handed. The same thing could happen if she just half heartedly fought and let him win. No, she would have to fight for all she had because not only would she be hurting herself it would make Cage feel awful. What would he think? That she thought he couldn’t even win by himself with out her help, which she didn’t she just didn’t want to fight him. She slumped against the wall in despair, what could she do… She glanced down the hall to the double doors which the judges resided behind going over that days scores for the bazillionth time. What was their problem, why had they decided to screw them over the way they did “ARRGH!” she pushed herself off the wall and stomped off down the hall toward the man guarding the double doors. “Let me in!” she spat at him. “I’m sorry Miss, but I can’t do that.” BAM! She slammed her fist into the metal door beside his head leaving a ungodly large dent. “Let me in or the next thing my fist hits is your face!” She growled. The man was a full head taller than her but he quickly turned around and fumbling unlocked the door. She walked in and the panel of four judges looked up startled. “What are you doing? You can’t be in here!” “Don’t worry I won’t be looking at any of the scores.” Aja brought her fist down on the wooden table and the metal legs buckled feebly under her assault sending their papers flying. “Why isn’t Cage Argus exempt form the tournament!? He met your rules, he didn’t use a lethal weapon, he got all the targets, and he finished with that fastest time!” “Yes, but he used an instrument not provided by our equipment team, that voids everything.” A fifth man said stepping out from the shadows. “Also, if you think brute force is enough to scare us into letting you bully us around your wrong.” Aja turned toward the man calming herself down and gave her most noble expression. “Then money, everyone has their price. I pay you and you let Cage through.” “You can’t buy everything in this world Miss Hillisine, now I suggest you go get some rest. It’s a very long day tomorrow.” “You can’t be serious! You just came up with some stupid rule so he can’t move on, why can’t you just play fair?!” The man waved his hand and she was escorted through the door that then slammed shut behind her. “Assholes!” she yelled before stalking off to find a cot. She passed Phones on the way back. He was still sitting in the same, but this time he stared at her as she walked past. “What are you looking at!?” She growled before walking into the barracks door. It was settled, even if she didn’t like it. Tomorrow she’d have to fight Cage.

THREE

10:00 PM “You called me out here?” Arius asked. “Yeah, I did. I wanted to give you a piece of my mind.” “This couldn’t wait for our fight tomorrow? Or do you think your hangover will inhibit your ability to intimidate with such an early morning match?” “You need to shut the fuck up! I’ll kick your ass you stupid kid!” “Will you? Then you will be needing your sleep. I request you not wake me again.” “You think you’re all that just because you’re a noble, huh?” Arius shook his head. “It is not my title that makes me noble, but my actions. Just as it is not your lack of a title that makes you garbage. Now if you’ll please.” “Say that to my face!” “I’m sorry, I was under the impression I just did. But I would be glad to reiterate.” “That’s it! We’re settling this!” “That’s right. Tomorrow morning.” “No! Now!” “I’m not interested in being disqualified over so trivial a matter. And I intend to get my sleep for the match. You won’t be the only one I’m fighting tomorrow… unless you can get rid of that hang over AND pull some fancier tricks from your sleeve than you pulled earlier today.” “You think you can get away with talking down to me like that?!” “I would talk to you as an equal were it deserved, but I see no use for you as a friend, and you seem unable to do significant damage as a foe.” The man continued to scream, but Arius didn’t care. He merely turned and left.

10:25 PM Sleep. That would be nice. Too bad it hates me. This isn’t the song I feel like listening to right now. Skip. Alright what about this one. Ah, good one. Ryuu yawned, glancing up from the track listing on his media player, his eyes catching a deep black blur in the shadows in front of him. Hmm, I think I saw him looking at the tournament postings… so he’s another contestant? What’s he doing laying on the hallway floor? Ryuu shrugged, then looked back down at the track listings.

10:45 PM Nina skipped quickly down the hallway, and turned, heading up the stairs to her room. She was too excited to sleep. She looked in the mirror that ran the entire length of the room, but saw something lying in her bed… A small note. She turned and walked over to it. “From father?” She ruffled her brow, then opened it. Its words were simple: “Good luck tomorrow… don’t let your guard down. Eamon.” She frowned. Why did he always sign cards ‘Eamon’ and not ‘Dad’? It irritated her. But then again, there’d always been some strange division between her and her father she didn’t understand. She sighed, then turned and fell on her back on the bed, kicking off her shoes as she did so. Flop, one fell to the ground, and… the second didn’t reach the edge of the long king sized bed, instead bouncing back towards her. She sighed, sat up, and grabbed it… Huh? She dropped it, feeling something on her hand. She pushed it to the floor, then got to her feet and ran to the bathroom, using her free hand to turn on the light and look at what she now felt running between her fingers. Her eyes widened… “What is… oh my god!”

11:00 PM “Lord Arius.” He opened his eyes, wincing at the light that had been flipped on. “Yes Flora? What is it?” They’d gotten a two bedroom sweet at the Hunter corporation’s expense. “There, there are some gentlemen here to speak with you.”

11:05 PM “What’s going on?” Charlie asked indignantly stepping out of her room into a hallway now full of people. “We’ve got an important day tomorrow.” Aja whined. She didn’t appreciate being woken up. The hotel manager sighed heavily. “We’ve gotten some distressing news. Um… I’m, not used to saying things like this.” “Then let me.” A man in a long trench coat stepped into the hall from the stairwell, followed by several other men in uniform. “My name is Logan Renolds. I’m a homicide detective. It seems I will have to detain each of you to ask a few… questions. At approximately 10:00 this evening, a man was found dead.” There was a disbelieving silence. “D…do you have any idea who did it?” “Screw that!” Aja cut in. “Who died?” “A man by the name of Ted Stone. He was one of the contestants in the tournament to be held tomorrow. Which is why you have all been woken up to be questioned. So I’ll start bluntly. Did any of you see anything?” “Do you have any idea who did it?” “We do have a suspect in custody.” “Who?” Charlie asked, curiously. “I’m afraid I can’t share that information at this time. Now, if a Ms. Hillstine would come with me please?” “Hillistine,” she grumbled.

12:00 MIDNIGHT Flora sat on the bed, quaking as she felt the tears roll down her cheeks. A knock tapped lightly at the door, so softly she almost thought it was her imagination. She wiped her eyes and got to her feet, then walked over to the door and opened it quietly. “You work for that guy who got taken away by the police, right?” She nodded. “Yes, I’m Flora, his servant.” “Good, I’ll need your help. Come on.” “Wait! What are you doing? Who are you?” “Returning a favor. And the name is Charlie.”

12:05 AM Ryuu shook his head. “I didn’t look. No.” “So you see some guy passed out on the floor and you just leave him?” “I thought he was drunk. Didn’t figure it was any of my business. Besides, when I went to the restroom and came back, he was gone.” “About what time was this?” “I don’t know. Ten-thirty?” “You sure on that time?” “No.” “Hmmm…” ”...” “Anything else?” “Not really.”

12:05 AM (in another room) “I think there’s something you’re not telling us Mr. Argus.” “Excuse me?” “If we go back and check the cameras, will we find you told the whole truth?” “Um, yeah.” “Did you get up for anything in the night? Anything at all?” The other officer asked. Son of a bitch, they’re trying to good cop bad cop me. “Look, I don’t know anything okay. I was asleep.”

12:15 AM “Can I get to sleep now?” Ryuu grumbled. “Sure.” Renolds sighed. “Whether you know anything or not, I won’t get it out of you tonight. Go on, scram.” Ryuu got to his feet and stepped towards the door, but just as he reached for the knob, it flew open and another officer raced in. “Sir! We’ve got trouble! He’s gone!” “What?” “The Suspect! Vesper! He vanished!” “Son of a bitch!” With that Renolds was up and out the door, racing down the hall, but as he got to the end, he was met with a tall man with Blond hair. “Logan Renolds I presume.” “That’s right, I’m in a bit of a hurry at the moment.” “You can stop for me.” “Can I now?” “My name is Eamon Gelford. Elite class hunter at the ARMS Hunter organization. I have come to understand you have detained my daughter for questioning.” “Yes sir. We have a bit of a situation here, and her testi…” Renolds felt a swift and painful hand snap across his face, throwing his head to the right. He popped his jaw from side to side quickly, then turned his head back and glared at Lord Gelford. “You lower classes must learn to know your place. Release her. Immediately.” Renolds’ glare intensified as he ran his tongue against his bottom row of teeth a few times, then, begrudgingly, he nodded. “Fine.” “Glad you’re agreeable. Though I will have to go ahead and make a further demand.” “And that is?” “That you leave. We have a rather important event tomorrow that we can’t afford to delay. So I must request that you postpone your investigation for the next twenty-four hours.” “That is entirely too unreasonable sir.” “I’m afraid you have no choice… The police office is on thin ice right now. Your budget is gone and you will be discontinued if you continue to loose money. How do you think it would reflect on your office to also pick a public fight with the esteemed Gelford family?” Renolds growled deep in his throat, but didn’t allow it to escape. “Fine. We’re gone. But twenty-four hours is all. Alright?” Eamon said nothing, but merely turned and walked away. “Nobles are bastards.” Renolds growled, shaking his head.

3:23 AM Arius looked around the bloodstained carpet. Three bullet holes in the walls. He must have been killed here. But the witness didn’t hear over his headphones. A silencer? He looked closer at the carpet a few feet away. “What’s this?” On the floor was a small coin with a crest on it. Only the bearers of noble titles could hold these coins. And each family had its own crest on it. “There’s no way the police would have missed evidence like this… so was it left after they swept the scene?” The emblem… the house of Scorpius?

3:25 AM Logan Renolds set his empty glass on the bar. “No way am I leaving this alone…” “What was that Logan?” “I said I’m heading back.” “But… but that noble!” “I don’t care. I’m going to fine out what’s going on. With or without my badge…”

FOUR

Arius knocked on the door to the room issued to Charlene Scorpius. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. The door swung open, revealing Flora… not who Arius had most expected to see. “Lord Arius! Are you alright?” “I’m fine.” “I’m curious as to how you escaped.” Charlie’s voice sounded from the other end of the room, but even as she spoke, she never looked away from her computer screen…s. “A little overkill there, don’t you think?” Arius asked, smiling weakly. “What, the laptop? Not really. I custom designed it for five screen multi-tasking. I can’t really just use one at a time anymore. Just can’t get enough done. Besides, don’t poke fun at me. I’m doing you a favor.” Arius raised his eyebrow. “And what might that favor be?” Charlie smiled, but never looked away. “Finding the real culprit… that is, presuming it isn’t you.” Arius nodded. “I asure you it isn’t. How are you going to prove it though?” “I’m digging up the security camera recordings of last night… or trying to anyway.” “Why can’t the police do that?” Flora asked. Arius answered. “The police don’t have any real power anymore. All that’s left is those who decided to stick around after the fall of the last government. The only power right now is the families of those with their hands in the right cookie jars. At least until a new enforcment system is set up. Even that detective that is working to put me away right now… Renolds. He’s working for free right now. No payment system has been allocated to local law enforcment yet. Right now they’re just working, not for profit, off the ghostly shell of the fallen system.” Charlie nodded. “So when the hotel… or more specifically the Gelford family… said they didn’t have the athority to take the security footage…” “They didn’t have the backing to fight it.” Arius finished. “So I’m hacking them to get it… but I’m affraid I don’t have much good news.” “Fire away.” “It’s gone.” “What?” Flora was crushed. “It’s gone. Looks like someone with access to the encrypted files deleted them. No holes in the system, so unless it was someone as good or better than me, the files weren’t hacked. They were deleted by the administrator.” Arius sighed. “That is a problem.” “I’m sorry I couldn’t be more of a help… find anything at the scene? Oh, and could I have my crest back please?” Arius smiled slightly, pulled the crest from his pocket, and gave it to Charlie, who only then looked away from her screen. “Well, I can tell you right now, the bullets in the wall aren’t from a gun even barely resembling mine… but then again, that doesn’t prove I didn’t do it. Just that if I did it wasn’t with the gun I normally use. And if this comes to trial, they’ll pull out all their tricks on me.” Charlie nodded. “Vesper, right?” “Right. My parents suported the last political system with everything they had, until the day they died two years ago. Being such advocates of it, there’s no way this new government will pass up the oporitunity of making an example of me. Burning me at the stake as a supporter of the old ways, making way for the new.” “That’s terrible!” Flora said trembling. “That’s politics.” Arius countered. Charlie shrugged. “I’ll keep looking.” Arius smiled and nodded. “Thank you. Flora? Let’s go.” He turnned to leave. “It’ll be safer in here. Why don’t you two take the beds, I’ll call my father and get a ride back to the house until my first match tomorrow… well, today. It’ll be easier for you to dodge the cops here. Right under thier noses and all that.” Arius nodded. “Again, thank you.” “It’s the least I can do. After all, if not for you, I wouldn’t have qualified, right?”

The phone rang, and Eamon Gelford picked it up. There was a moment of silence, then. “Yes. Of course I did… I’m not stupid… it’s not the first man I’ve killed… The gun? I sent you a vase of flowers, they should be ariving soon. The gun is in the bottom of the vase… Don’t thank me, it’s not like I wanted to send you flowers… of course… no I haven’t told anyone… Do you know what country sent him yet?... If I had to guess I’d say someone to the North, his false ID was an altered northern passport, but if they were clever it could be a set up to make us think he was from the north… Trying to infiltrate our ranks while we’re in a state of political chaos, not entirely unpredictable… Anyway, I’m done for the night, or morning, as it were… don’t give me that… Bye.” The phone slammed down…

“I would like to appeal to the pannel of judges, if I may.” Renolds stood before them. “Regardless of the situation, you are one competetor short for this tournament. I would like to offer myself to take his place.” “You didn’t pass the qualifying round… how fair is that to the others?” Mialaria Gelford smirked, pulling a flower from her fresh vase. “But the purpose of the qualifiers, as I heard it, was to prove weapon prowess and ability to handle one’s self on the field. I have a license, albiet from our former government, but one saying I am proficient with my firearm and may use it as needed on the field. If the judges find it valiad, I would like to provide it as evidence of my qualifications to participate.” “Interesting!” Valencia leaned back in her chair and spun around as it rolled in a full 360 degree turn. “I think we should let him in! We hadn’t thought of what to do about that bracket problem anyway.” Lady Mialaria smiled. “Casting your vote already Mrs. Mallory?” “No no no! Not in the least. But I like his frankness and personality. The worst that will happen is he’ll get knocked out in the first round.” “The worst that will happen is that he dies in the first round.” Eamon Gelford cut in. “With all due respect.” Renolds cut in. “That is a chance that I’m willing to take…”

“Lord Arius.” Flora smiled weakly, forcing herself to look past the sleep in her eyes. He rolled over and opened his eyes. “Yes Flora?” “It’s time to get up. We’ve got a half hour to report downstairs for the tournament.” He nodded grogily, then forced himself to his feet, yawned, then steped over to the bathroom to prepare.

FIVE

“So we’re here at the start of what is sure to become the next phenomenon in television history!” Shit shit shit shit! Do I look alright? Hair? Check. Damn! I can’t believe I’m on television. “Keep going Grant, you’re doing fine.” Valencia’s voice floated melodically through his radio headset. “Phantom Arms! This news broadcast will be the kick off for the new show advertized so much on all stations in the continant. Of these eight contestants, Five will be chosen based on combat prowess into the newly established game show starting on this channel next week! This may be the first you’ve seen of it, but these contestants have already passed the grueling preliminary screening to even get this shot!” “Alright Grant, good job. Move on to the interviews now.” “And without further adieu, our brave fighters!” Where the hell are they? to my right? oh shit, left. Okay, I can’t look over my shoulder without taking my eyes off the camera, can I? “Easy now Grant, back and to your left.” Right, I knew it was left. Okay okay, here. “And this is our first contestant! Mr…” “Ryuu Nakano.” “Ryuu Nakano! Hello Mr. Nakano! May I ask, how do you feel being one of only eight contestants in this final process before initiation into what may well be television’s greatest advancement into the modern era?” He shrugged. “Next question Grant.” “What was it that made you try out to begin with Mr. Nakano?” He ruffled his brow and removed his headphones. “What?” “I asked, what is it that made you want to be a hunter?” He shrugged, then replaced his headphones. “Bad onscreen personality. Move on, quick.” Grant unconciously nodded, then moved on. “Next we have…” “That’s Aja Hillistine.” “Ms.” “Lady!” “Lady Aja Hillistine! Ms. Hillistine, how do you feel being in this competition?” “Alright, I guess.” “Are you nervous before your big fight to reach the top?” “I… guess…” “Well that’s to be expected! Any words you’d like to say to our viewers?” “Ummm… Hi.” ”... Anything you’d like to add.” “Not really.” “Keep moving Grant.” “Well you heard it audience! And channel seventeen would like to extend its best of luck to you Ms. Hillistine.” ”... thanks…” “Next we have…” “Lady Charlene Scorpius…” “Lady Charlene Scorpius! My you’re looking lovely today!” “Thank you. And you are?” “Grant Allen from channel seventeen news. I’d like to ask you a couple questions if I may.” “Sure!” “What was it that made you want to join the hunter organization?” “I wanted to give my fans something to watch!” “Wow, alright. And how about your father? Is he alright with this?” “That geezer? It was his idea! Of course he’s fine with it.” “Really! Well anything to say to our viewers?” “Just you watch! All you Charlie fans out there! I’m going to give you something to write about on your blogs!” “Wow! Isn’t she cute folks! Almost makes me want to ask you out on a date right here!” “Uh, sorry, I’m not interested in men.” ”...” “Alright Grant, move on. And put your eyes back in their sockets, you’re white as a sheet.” “Right… well, um, moving on, to…” “Argus. Cage Argus.” “Our next… contestant….” “Cage Argus.” “Argus, that is… um, Cage Argus. Mr. Argus? Got anything to say to our viewers?” “Huh? Oh, no, not really.” “Okay… um, well thank you very much. Channel seventeen gives you its best of luck. Next we have…” “That’s Nina Gelford. Lady.” “Lady Nina Gelford. Hello there.” “Hello sir.” “My you sure look pretty today. Are you sure you’re ready for a day of fighting?” ”... how else would I dress for a day of fighting?” “Well a fine black dress certainly is your style! um… So why are you here?” “My parents wanted me to enter the tournament.” “Oh, well do you have anything to say to our viewers?” “Sure! I hope you have fun watching! And I’ll see you in next week’s premier!” “Wow, such confidence! Okay, next we have…” “That’s Arius Vesper. Lord.” “Lord Arius Vesper! What made you decide to be a hunter Lord Vesper?” “My family has always done its best to be of service to the people, Mr…” “Um Grant, Grant Allen from channel seventeen.” “Grant, it’s a pleasure.” “The pleasure is all mine.” “Well, in any case, my family has always done what it thought best, and because of some of the alliances they’ve made over the years, their name and memory have been cast in to question. I am merely trying to do my part to serve the people the way they did. And I would like to do so by lending a hand to the hunters in keeping our territories safe from phantoms. And to keep such wars as happened a hundred years ago from occuring again.” “Well thank you Mr. Vesper. We all certainly look forward to having you out there to protect us. Well next up is…” “Aphrodite Merle.” “Aphrodite Merle!” “Call me ‘Phro’ thanks.” “Right! Well Phro, ready to give ‘em hell out there?” “Better believe I’m ready.” “Great! Well we’re looking forward to seeing you in action out there!” “You won’t be able to miss me if you try.” “Ha! Well before we go, would you like to say anything to our viewers?” “Just that they’re going to be in for quite a show.” “I’ll bet!... Oh, and this just in folks! The first round has had a bit of a change. The origional contestant is unable to attend, and so filling in is this man! Mr. Logan Renolds, um, sir, what made you decide to join the tournament at the last minute like this?” “I’ve got some unfinished business, that’s all.” “Oooh, that sounds a little cryptic. How do you think you’ll do?” “Well I guess we’ll see, now won’t we.” “Yeah, I guess so!” “Wrap it up Grant.” “Well that’s about all the time we’ve got. Stay tuned, the first round is about to begin just after we hear a word from our sponsors!”

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