(To be named)
As Lina entered the Pit, pitch-black darkness instantly surrounded her, and the air became denser. It was nothing short of oppressive. She wondered where could her companions be, and had no better idea than to shout out loud.
-Hello? Where is everyone?
However, the sound didn't produce the expected echo. It was as if the darkness swallowed it whole after it traveled just a few meters away from her. Lina instantly regretted the fact that she had no means to produce any sort of light, except for her weapon, which could only produce minor sparks. Unless...
She returned on her steps, leaving the darkness of the Pit and returning to the exterior. She searched for a sturdy club and, when she found one, she tore a part of her shirt and enveloped the branch in it. Afterwards, she dropped it on the ground, changed her Arc to Gun mode and shot a fire bullet to it, transforming it into a makeshift torch. "This will have to do", she thought to herself, as she picked up her God Arc and entered the Pit once again. The light the "torch" emitted only allowed to see a few meters in any direction, and immediately after entering, Lina saw three different paths branching out. Left, right, and ahead. Without thinking it too much, Lina decided to head right. Less than half a minute after Lina began walking, something resonated in the dark, and Lina readied her God Arc in case it was something like the tentacled woman she had faced earlier. However, she was surprised to see Baluar walking towards her, with a sandwich in his hands.
-Hey Lina! Long time no see.
-Are you kidding me? – In the horror-movie environment they were in, where there were enemies none of them could have thought of, their forces split and weakened... and the man was eating a sandwich just like it was any Tuesday. – What are you doing in the dark?
-Well, uh... I'm eating. - "Duh". - I'm hungry. And it's not that dark to me. Remember, Aragami eyesight and all.
-Weren't you supposed to be weakened by the ordeal you went through a few hours ago?
-I am. Right now, I am very weakened. If my sis', who's normally my equal, went mad and attacked me, she'd hand me my ass in a silver platter. – He then pointed to the sandwich. - Which takes us right back to the bit about the food. – He then took an enormous bite from the sandwich, consuming more than half of it in a single gulp.
-Thank you very much. – Lina would have facepalmed, but both her hands were occupied, so she settled with sighing. – So anyway, time to go?
-Yeah. Is there anything in that direction? You know, where you come from?
-Nah, nothing here. Just the kitchen.
-How did you even know where the kitchen is?
-All branches are built similarly. Kitchen slash recreation room at the right, elevator at the left... You know, that kinda stuff.
-Can we please stop talking about food and move on? - Lina asked, sighing.
-Ok, ok. It's the third sandwich, anyways...
They spent quite a while searching for another person. The Pit, despite being the Center of another underfunded Branch, was quite the place: while there were no unnecessary luxuries, it was a fortified structure, almost as sturdy as the Den itself.
-You know, I heard this place was huge… but I never thought it’d be quite this huge. – Baluar commented as he walked alongside Lina in a long corridor. – Care for a bit of trivia?
-Yeah, why not? - The silence had been oppressive. As disgusting as he was at times, Lina had to recognize he was cheerful and fun to be around of, especially in situations like that... as long as he wasn't making fun of her.
-I’ve heard this place was originally a bunker designed to withstand even the most powerful of nukes. When Fenrir took over, they decided to make the best use of their available resources and simply built their design of a Branch over the bunker. A minor modification to the structure, and… Wait a second. – He stopped on his tracks. – Did you hear that?
-Hear wha…? – Lina began to ask, but Baluar covered her mouth with his large left hand.
A few footsteps resonated behind them. Then, suddenly, silence. And then… more footsteps. From their front. And again, silence. Baluar honed his eyesight to the maximum, in hopes of seeing anything from the shadows that enveloped him, but found that even his senses were useless. The shadows had grown thicker, somehow, and outside of the sphere of light emitted by the makeshift torch Lina carried, nothing could be seen. Even worse, said sphere was dangerously small, its light barely reaching a few meters in any given direction. If whatever lurked on the shadows didn’t have that inconvenience, then they were at its mercy.
-Who’s out there? – Baluar asked. A bold move, Lina thought. No verbal answer came from the shadows, but an inhuman screech warned them that they weren’t finding any of their fellow God Eaters. Something ran to them at full speed from right in front of Baluar, who didn’t panic and instead swiped at his opponent, decapitating it in one swipe, his effort minimized by the momentum the monster had acquired while running up to him. Not bothering with identifying his attacker, he turned on his back ready to deal with his other enemy, but Lina had already taken care of it. The creature had impaled itself on her Spear, which was drilling and splashing everything with blood. Its face was out of view, but its body was clearly humanoid and still mostly dressed, with a few patches of destroyed clothing and rotting skin beneath.
-What a nasty bastard… – She said, as she lowered her spear and picked up her torch. While she was at it, however, she froze.
-Hey, what’s the matter? – Baluar asked, closing in. Then he noticed it.
It was none other than Wolfram.
-What in hell is going on here? – Lina asked. Baluar, however, was busy turning around and looking at the other lifeless corpse. He thought to himself he should have noticed it earlier. Of course it was her. It couldn’t have been anyone but her. The height of his swipe meant that it would have missed anyone lower, but he didn’t think that when in the middle of battle. Afterwards, however…
Seeing Nia’s lifeless corpse besides him didn’t help at all. If anything, it was a cruel joke from destiny.
He kept some hopes, of course. The hope tortured him… if he were certain of her death, he could at least be bothered to cry. But something felt off about her; that could be chalked up to her changing into an Aragami, but the feeling was odd and irksome, to say the least. The man had been through too much not to identify her, and that was not her, he was fairly certain… but “fairly” didn’t cut it. It was true that Aragami could adopt the shape of other beings if guided enough. However, that begged to question: could that really happen to the same person twice?
And even if it did happen twice, who could be behind it all? What kind of powers could they have?
-Guess we can only find the answer going on. - Baluar said to himself.
There was nothing but darkness surrounding Arthur. After the party had (in retrospective, unwisely) decided to divide in small groups to travel the fortress, he traveled with Baluar and Nia for a while. According to the later, the place was called the Pit. It was one of the few things he had time to say before he split ways with them early on to take a detour to the kitchen.
-I’ll go to the kitchen for a while. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you lot later.
However, he never did. Arthur doubted he could have done it, anyway, for when they were walking down the facilities the darkness became increasingly oppressive, forcing them to stick together. Not even their enhanced senses allowed them to penetrate the abyssal darkness. Thus, it was nothing short of surprising when Nia announced she’d split ways with him, claiming she had heard something and wanted to investigate it. Arthur’s attempts to convince her that splitting up would be suicidal and that sticking together was the way to go were in vain; the woman was known for being stubborn, after all.
So he had no choice but to tread down the shadowy path on his own, ominously thinking that they had chosen the worst place possible to split up. With no way to communicate with each other, they could be singled out by their enemies and killed one by one, their fellow God Eaters none the wiser…
He did his best to stop thinking like that. Dark thoughts wouldn’t help him survive; if anything, they’d hinder his ability to think calmly in an emergency, potentially hastening his demise. He decided to step up his game and began to use part of his reserves of Oracle-fueled energy to enhance his sight. While it was more energy than an average God Eater could output in a few weeks, it was but a raindrop in the vast ocean of the energy stored in his body. The veil of darkness was lifted from his eyes, not completely but enough for him to see a dozen or so meters in any direction. The first thing he noticed was that everything had a red tint to it. And then he realized what he was seeing… a nauseating perspective, for certain.
The walls were covered in all kinds of hides, which he couldn’t identify. That might have been part of the decoration, but the blood splatters covering the room were most certainly not, and the combined effect was very unsettling. What alerted him the most, however, was that there were no indications that a battle had taken place in there… no notches in the walls, no body parts other than the blood. What happened there was no fight: it was an organized, sadistic and brutal carnage.
As he organized his thoughts and weighed the possibilities, he heard a vague rumor from his left, from a different corridor. After a minute or so, a face he had seen before appeared. Her body was covered in blood, and there was a nasty-looking wound in her abdominal area.
-Yuka? Is everything alright? – Arthur asked. The alluded froze in place for a second, and then realized it was no enemy of hers.
-Blood isn’t mine, mostly. They come.
-Oracle cell duplicates. Can’t tell if the real ones are in there. But I did kill two Linas, so at least some are fake. They are weak, but fast. – She appeared thoughtful for a second. – Don’t even think of using exploding shots. Structure might be compromised.
The green-haired man readied his blade for the coming battle. He prepared his mind as well, in order to keep some degree of sanity after butchering the beings that could be his friends. Slowly but surely, crude mockeries of his allied God Eaters began to appear from the same corridor Yuka had appeared. They were exactly the same as their living counterparts, but something that Arthur felt when looking at them convinced him it was not them. He couldn’t identify what, but something was clearly off, and made it obvious it was not Souchi who was coming, with Baluar behind and… ironically enough, himself further behind. Arthur laughed sardonically as his doppelganger moved about in a slow gait, its neck broken and its head bent forward to a physically impossible degree.
The zombies met their end at the tip of his sword. After they suddenly began to move at a lightning-fast pace, Arthur readied a Charge Crush and released it when the nearest one was so close he could see the white of its eyes. The result was a messy pile of broken bones, blood splatters all over the room and some organs scattered around the floor.
-Holy crap… this is disgusting. – He then turned around and spoke to Yuka. – Should we go on? We’re not going to achieve anything just standing here.
Wolfram was doing his best to ignore the darkness surrounding him. It was of little consequence, really. If he had to fight, his instincts always warned him of approaching threats, to the point some would have called his skill "precognition". He cared not about its name, but merely how well it protected him.
After of walking around in the dark for quite some time, he suddenly heard something too close to him. Having heard nothing but his footsteps for a while, he was startled, although he instinctively knew that it was no enemy of his.
-Who's there? - A female voice asked, in a tone Wolfram could only define as "controlledly nervous".
-Ah, so it's someone sentient. - The woman's voice tone was noticeably more relaxed this time, and approached Wolfram. As soon as he spotted her, he recognized Nanako Kawashima, and after a few seconds a male figure appeared besides her, a man who Wolfram identified as Lyrr.
-I was hoping for another chance of practicing my accuracy... - The silver-haired individual said, his cheerful attitude contrasting with the reigning darkness.
-What is it? Why isn't everyone together? - Wolfram asked.
-The large group disbanded itself just a few minutes after you disappeared. We decided (foolishly) to split up in order to explore this goddamn place faster, and thus we divided ourselves into several small groups. We were originally with Yuka, but it's been a while since we last saw her.
-Any ideas as to... - Lyrr began to speak, but Wolfram interrupted him.
-Silence! Something is coming our way.
Before anyone had time to issue any further questions, Wolfram turned around and slashed at the darkness. Instead of cutting through thin air, he cut through something rather large... and then something rolled.
-A large head with black hair and red eyes. Huh, wonder who it is... - Wolfram spoke.
-Nice going. - Lyrr replied. - Is it the real deal or some kind of clone.
-Hard to tell. Let's move on, we'll find the answer then.
It had been a while since Souichi and Anya had last heard of anything. None of the members of the odd pair - the refined woman and the cool-headed man - had said a word in what seemed to be an eternity, and the darkness seemed to have swallowed them whole. It had indeed been a while since they last saw - or hear - of anything.
In fact, it had been a while since Souichi last had the chance to see anything that wasn't himself or his fellow God Eater. Not even the floor.
He was hoping for something to cross his way - anything. It was unnerving to be in the dark with nothing but a person he barely knew and the sound of his footsteps for all company. Even an Aragami would have been a pleasing sight - at least it would prove they weren't lost. That they were still doing something other than being in the dark.
And yet... nothing. For what seemed to be an eternity, nothing.
And then... a faint noise. Footsteps.
In a wordless exchange, both God Eaters agreed to prepare themselves and raised their Arcs. If it was a threat... it wasn't going to find them off-guard.
But it was no threat. It was another wandering person like them. One that Souichi couldn't help but notice was over a feet taller than he was.
-Nia? - While none of them was too acquainted with her, her height made her easily recognizable, even if they hadn't seen her for more than just an hour while they were walking to the hellhole that was the Pit.
-Yeah. I take it you are Souichi? And Anya?
An awkward silence followed.
Souichi couldn't help but notice it was quite some time before someone spoke again.
-Should we move on? - Anya asked.
-Yeah, that's probably the best option right now.
Baluar and Lina had met plenty of clones by the time they met with someone else. Each one of them had killed at least one of each person in their original group. Nothing worth too much attention, although Lina found Baluar's laugh when he cut his clone's head off very unsettling.
When they met Arthur and Yuka, they were relieved.
-At last, something alive and not trying to eat us. - Baluar said, without a hint of sarcasm.
-Nice to see you too, Bal. - Arthur replied.
Before any more greetings could be exchanged, Wolfram, Lyrr and Nanako arrived. And then Nia, Souichi and Anya.
While everyone was relieved to see no one had perished travelling the darkness, there was something more urgent to speak of.
-Isn't it way too convenient for us all to meet up at the same time? - Nanako said, suspicious.
-Huh? - Baluar said. - What are you suggesting?
-It's fairly obvious, really. We are being drawn to something.
-Well, if we are, then at least it means this is coming to an end. I am pretty damn tired of travelling in the dark killing mockeries of myself. - The hulking man answered. - Let's go somewhere. If we are really being drawn, then it means that wherever we go, the goal is there.
And he was right.
At first it was nothing but another door in another corridor, albeit a fairly large one. But as everyone was compelled to enter, they knew it was there.
-Should we enter and attack? Or should we wait and see what's inside? - Yuka asked.
-Whatever is in there is calling for us. I doubt it isn't prepared to meet us. - Wolfram replied.
-So what do you suggest? - Nia questioned.
-I say we go in there and find out what is it that's calling us.
-Sounds fairly simple. - Baluar said. He then kicked the door and ripped it from the wall. - Ladies?
Lina couldn't help but smirk. Even knowing of the danger that lied ahead of him, the man had time to spare for a joke. It would have made her nervous a few hours ago, but she learned that taking things seriously when around him wasn't going to get her anywhere, so she might as well enjoy the mood while it lasted.
However, something suddenly made her change her mind about entering the room. Whatever was in there was waiting for them to enter. It would be sensible for her to go elsewhere and enter where... whatever was in there wouldn't expect her.
So, instead of entering the room as everyone else did she turned around the corner and watched what happened in there from a crack in the wall. The crack was large enough for her to pass, if her presence was required.
Inside, the room was circular. It evidently served as a meeting room before the disaster.
-So, you've come. - A voice said, seemingly coming from nowhere. It was a deep, echoing one.
-Hey, Wolfram was right. Whatever that is, it was waiting for us! - Baluar shouted, and it looked like another comment was coming although a stare from Nia was enough to silence him.
-Ah, the cheerful one... You are truly one to be worshipped.
-Ok, I know I'm strong and all, but worship...?
-Of course. You are living credit to what I seek to achieve: the final step in evolution.
-Oh, I get it. - Nia commented. - Another evil asshole who justifies his evil plan saying he or she or whatever just wants to get the planet to evolve. Great. I have seen this somewhere else, you know...
-Calling me an evolutionist would be... fairly correct. I indeed do believe that half-Aragami are the next step in evolution. I was human once... and then I ascended to a god-like being. A half-Aragami unlike all others. But even with the power I command, calling me responsible for all of this would be giving me too much responsibility.
While none of the God Eaters spoke, the surprise was palpable.
-You think me responsible for the evolution of Aragami and the recent attacks on Fenrir's Branches. While I won't deny I had a hand in it, saying I am responsible is simply stupid
-You mean killing you won't finish this? - Souichi asked.
-Indeed it won't. You see, there's something you seem to ignore. Aragami tend to evolve based on what they devour. Your actions ensure that they can only devour other Aragami or the terrain, most of the time. Guess what is their option?
The answer was fairly obvious, but the question remained unanswered.
-Other Aragami. But as you can assume, this will eventually lead all Aragami to be the same. It would be a process that would take a very long time, yes, but the Aragami are nothing but hunger, and so turn to one another with ease. Speeding up the process was fairly easy.
-You mean... - Anya said.
-What I mean is that I am not responsible for the attacks on the Branches - not directly. But as Aragami have nothing to devour, they focus on humans. If you paid attention, you would notice that the beasts you slayed were all white. That was because a large part of their Oracle Cells came from Ogretails. The most abundant Aragami in the world. A large enough part for their Bias to recognize them as one and the same, but not large enough to effectively make them all equal. This would happen without me all the same. I just... hastened the process.
-That explains the attacks, unfortunately. But what about the illusion that attacked South America? - Nanako questioned.
-Ah, that... You see, the attacks were quite taxing on me. I didn't control the Aragami, but I focused them towards human settlements, in the hopes more half-Aragami would surface. So, I decided to throw a fake attack in the hopes of delaying your arrival here so that I could recover energies. It didn't quite work, as I have just recovered the energy I spent creating the illusion. Trust me, if I had all my energy right now, we wouldn't have this conversation. You'd already be by my side.
-Enough of this! REVEAL YOURSELF!! - Baluar shouted. While he was normally one to make humorous remarks, he was running out of patience. Their questions answered, there was now nothing to do but finish whatever was guilty of this. His/her claim of innocence was stupid; wether or not s/he liked it, s/he was to be held responsible for all this.
In a few seconds a figure materialized in the middle of the room. It was an unremarkable woman. Brown hair, brown eyes, fairly low height. In aspect alone, she was just a woman.
When she spoke, however, her voice was the same as before.
-You all intend on stopping me, don't you? Fine, I am sure trying to convince you of the truth of my point of view would be fruitless.
-Even if you were correct, I wouldn't trust a being who dwells in a shadowy base and cowers behind a wall of zombies. - Wolfram said, preparing himself for battle.
-You would be surprised to see what Fenrir uses as defense in their secret areas...
It was then and only then that the woman began to transform. She bent her back and began to scream, not in the deep voice but in a human one, one that corresponded to her appearance. Her body then began to grow... and grow... and grow... until she was at least 5 meters high and had more muscle than all the God Eaters combined. A large weapon manifested in her right hand.
-Damn! I mean, I kind of like muscular woman and all, but you're way too much... - Baluar commented.
-Being practical beats being beautiful. My limited reserves only allow me to change my form. Now witness the next step of evolution. Witness... a goddess.
-Goddess? - Baluar said. He then laughed. - I eat gods for breakfast.
He then paused for a second.
-Actually, scratch that. We all do.
Lina watched as the conversation unfolded before her. She had a good view of the battle.
The... thing that was waiting for them in there was not stupid. It knew, even in its final form, that it was no match for all the experienced God Eaters in there. So it allowed itself to spend some of its energy immobilizing its rivals in their place.
It was apparently a move to show pride, since Lina doubted there was any reason for it not to trap them all and kill them right where they stood. She suspected it was to show superiority or something.
Or perhaps she didn't want them killed. She did want half Aragami, and perhaps she'd want them by her side...
Nanako went first. She didn't have any unrealistic expectations, and while she had finished threats that made this one look tame by comparison, those were never directly attacking her with all her might. It didn't diminish her accomplishments, but she wasn't as fit for head on melee combat as others were. But skill was on her side. Her opponent was vastly more powerful than her, being stronger, faster and more durable, but had little to no skill in using weapons. Nanako was an experienced combatant and had seen many a fight with opponents stronger than she was, yet always came out on top.
But not this time. While she did harm her monstrous opponent more than once, she was outmatched and thrown aside in the end, consciousness quickly abandoning her body. Or so it seemed from Lina's viewpoint.
The next opponent was Wolfram. He didn't have any stupid hopes, either, but fared better than Nanako. His uncanny skill to know where his opponent would strike meant that he could move out of the way before the movement even began, and attack where he knew the beast wouldn't - or couldn't - react.
But in the end, he saw his options becoming scarcer and scarcer, until he saw that he'd be defeated. He kept on until the end, but he was defeated as well.
Following was Yuka. She started with a Charge Crush before the beast stopped boasting about its victory, and while the attack didn't quite have its intended effect, it did produce a long cut in the half-Aragami's back. The monstrosity's skin turned red and scaly, and Yuka couldn't do anything but block attack after attack, until she couldn't hold her shield straight. The beast took a moment before disposing of her as well.
Next up was Lyrr. The man knew melee wasn't his forte, so he switched to his gun and began to shoot at the creature. Whenever it came close, he ran to the side (all the while still shooting). It went on until he was finally catched, but he had left many injuries in the creature, with each and every one of his shots hitting their intended target. He was smiling before being thrown against the wall.
Following him was Souichi. The man was known for his versatility, and said versatility was put to an extreme test. He had to use all the skills he had acquired over his many years as a God Eater not to be instantly overwhelmed and tossed like a ragdoll. While he was not superhumanly strong or fast like others were, his skill allowed him to stand against a much tougher opponent and actually harm it. Repeatedly. It was only when he ran out of breath that the creature caught up to him.
Next was Anya. Her finesse with a sword was to be noted, as it was fitting for a woman who had trained in fencing for practically all her life. She kept the monster away with graceful yet deadly movements of her sword, seemingly without a great effort. It went on for a long time, until the monster ran out of patience and actually impaled itself with the blade just to get her out of the way.
The next opponent was Nia. She decided to wait and see what the monster did, and when she realized the creature was actually waiting for her to act, she didn't doubt for a second. Using some of the Oracle Cell reserves she had stored over her many years as a half-Aragami, she coated her God Arc with a yellow aura of cells to protect it and ran to the monster. The creature was waiting for her, but it was too fast even for the monstrosity to react as Nia's blade impaled it in the shoulder. A horrible scream of agony left the monster's mouth, but before it could retaliate, Nia put all her weight in the blade and the blade began ripping apart the monstrosity, cutting through its insides as if they were nothing but hot butter.
When she finally touched the ground, the blade had left a see-through hole that ran from the creature's shoulder to its knee. However, the raging creature had raised its fist and, with a single punch, knocked her off and forcefully threw her against the wall, which cracked due to the strength of the impact.
Arthur was next-to-last. He decided he'd try and soften the creature for Baluar, and he did. He used his Blade's enormous weight to temporarily stun the monster, and then began to slash the monster's leg. Repeatedly.
When the creature finally could react, it could barely move its leg, and trying to run would have caused it to collapse outright. However, that didn't stop it from using its powers to finally halt Arthur and dispose of him as if he was nothing but a ragdoll. He did all he could to release himself, but even recurring to his reserves there was nothing he could do.
Baluar would have been next, but the creature was sapient. It knew that it couldn't survive another encounter with a half-Aragami. It was crippled as it was already, and so decided that pride was but a small price to pay for victory. And so it approached him while his eyes burned with pure, unbridled rage. It was Lina's cue to get involved.
-So much for a goddess. Let me fight! Let me show you how much of a goddess I think you are!
-You will change your mind soon enough. - The creature raised its monstrous fist, but before it could do anything, Lina's spear hit the target. And then it began to drill on it.
Lina was already used to see Aragami insides flying all over the place, but having oversized human organs and huge amounts of red, human blood was something she was not quite ready for.
-You forgot someone.
The creature turned around, somehow still standing, and grabbed Lina by her neck.
Before it could hit her, however, nine God Arcs were aiming at it. Its eyes swelled in terror as it recognized God Eaters are not so easy to knock out of combat, and taking one down was a lot harder than it looked like. Before it could say anything, Baluar spoke a single word.
Saying that the creature collapsed when being attacked would be an understatement. It would be more accurate to say the collection of attacks tore it apart.
-It is done. At last, it's over. The world is safe... for now.
Everyone left the room, but Lina lingered.
She couldn't believe everyone just left like that. She had thought they'd speak of what they'd do or something, but they simply... left. Even considering that they just learned the world was doomed... even more than it was before, if such a thing is possible, they just left.
She was so unaware of her surroundings that she didn't notice the monstrosity dissolving into a thin black mist. Most of it simply vanished.
But some of it entered her body.
Before she could notice it, her consciousness slipped away.
She was mostly aware as Baluar approached.
Her consciousness was abandoning her, and her eyes closed, but she heard his words.
-Dammit. You hear me? We're gonna get you up and running in no time.
Before the darkness engulfed her, she thought: "I'll take you up on your word. You'd better fulfill it."
There's an epilogue coming this way!
Oh, and FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, COMMENT!!!
Please, say what you think, say ANYTHING! Even saying "holy shit, you're skills as a writer suck m8" is better than nothing. Yes, even with the writing mistakes.
Otherwise, no more fanfic for y'all. :V
Also, ROI LENGTH!
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