Tournament Armoured Hero #8

Her tears stained the sand, her daughter standing at her side, trembling, unable to fully comprehend the breakdown of the adult world before her.

Upon the ground, bodies stained by blood and dirt, lay two men, one whom she had known but briefly, another who she felt had known for far longer than she actually had.

Both were motionless, equal in the death.

Convulsing with silent sobs, Taryse shook her head from side to side, struggling to hold herself together, to regain her dignity, to not let her daughter see her so weak; struggling… and failing.

Inwardly, she cursed herself for being so weak.

If only she could lift her head, if only she could find the strength to turn this sorrow into anger, to turn back towards their ruined home and take revenge.

She dug in the dirt with her hands, grains of sand leaving black stains beneath her nails. There was a weight upon her shoulders, a black presence that bore down upon her, that pushed her face closer towards the dirt, towards the dead.

Abruptly, the sensation dissipated, a sudden light spilling out over the fallen forms of the deceased.

Instinctively, she turned her head away, thinking it to be the glare of a motorcycle’s headlight.

Yet the light did not fade or advance, nor was it accompanied by the roar of an engine.

Instead, she felt a presence like no other she had ever felt; a warming of her heart and a soothing of her fears.

“Rise up, lady,” a soft voice from the heart of the emanation called out to her. “Rise up, lady, for whom the veil has been parted to permit such intercession as my presence might represent.”

She shook her head again, refusing to look at the voice’s owner despite the radiance that fell over her.

Gently, she felt her daughter at her side, her tiny hands grasping Taryse’s own.

“Mommy,” the child whispered softly at her side, “Mommy, there’s an angel here for your friends.”

Despite herself, Taryse found a smile touching her lips.

“Mommy!” the girl insisted once more, shaking her hand vigorously.

Slowly, Taryse Leiter lifted her tear-stained face from the sight of the fallen body and the sand before her and found herself confronted by a youth in plate armour, the metal radiant, his helm absent, revealing a long, pale face and a head full of dark brown curls.

She stared up at him, dumbfounded by his appearance.

“See, mommy! He’s an angel!” the young girl protested.

The young man smiled politely, gently shaking his head.

“I fear that I cannot claim such an honour, child. I am no more than a servant; a little trick made from folded paper and fabricated soul. I am but a messenger, come to deliver you tidings of both comfort and joy… as well as… a warning, mayhaps.”

“Comfort and joy?” Taryse questioned, smiling as she struggled to recall an aged tune, one that went around her head, summoning images of warmth and reassurance.

The saint in plate armour nodded, his pale features seeming to colour, as if he had been outside for the longest time and only now had stepped within.

He inclined his head, his smile unfading.

There was silence between them, the desert wind no longer beating against their backs.

“H-Have you come for…?” she asked at last.

The boy shook his head.

“None so great a task, though if it were in my power to grant peace to those who have fallen then with all my might, I would not shirk such a duty.

“Yet I am no psychopomp, madam, no guide for the dead. I am, in my humble way, but a warning.”

Instantly, Taryse seemed to shake free her reverie, at once assuming again the same defensiveness that had kept her alive as a tournament fighter.

The pain in her useless arm intensified; a reminder that she no longer had the abilities of the borrowed armour to force the limb once more into movement.

“What kind of warning?” she demanded, her tone firm.

Instinctively, Amelia, tears still in her eyes, stepped behind her mother.

“There are those who would wish to see you separated from that which is most precious to you. I bring you a warning of old friends with self-serving agendas.”

Bitterly, Taryse looked down at the fallen body of Chazz once more, tears stirring in her eyes, her teeth grinding together.

“It’s a little late for that,” she snapped.

“Forget not that I come bringing also hope as well as caution,” the youth chastised, his expression suddenly creasing in a frown as his eyes moved from Taryse to the cowering form of Amelia at her back.

Following the movement of his eyes, Taryse instantly felt a sense of fear rising within her. Slowly, she began to shake her head.

“No,” she whispered. “Whatever it is, whatever it means, you leave Amelia out of this!”

The ethereal saint continued to smile, his eyes twinkling.

“Your daughter is the Grail, my lady!”

Tournament Armoured Hero tome #8:

“The Transmigration of Souls”

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5

“So let me get this straight,” Travis Triton said cautiously, looking from his brother to the man with the patchy stubble and the infuriating smirk, “you’re telling me that this world isn’t my home, that the life I remember didn’t occur on this… this version of Earth, and that something just snatched me out of time without me realising?”

He took a deep breath, looking again from the smug Englishman and then to his brother.

“Not only this, but you’re telling me that the kid here, my own brother, isn’t the brother I remember, but somehow he’s a version of Chris from another Earth?”

Livingston Chance nodded lazily.

“That’s about the size of it, yeah,” he retorted, his tone sharp, his words a challenge.

Angrily, Triton shook his head.

“This is absurd. It’s crazy!”

“And yet it’s real!” Chance said, his tone suddenly sharp. “All of this bullshit is real. Something is messing around with the structure of time, something big.”

He hesitated, pausing as if struggling with the idea of whether he could trust Triton enough to impart such knowledge.

“Something,” he said at last, the words weighted as the escaped his lips, “called Destronger.”

—xxx—

He blinked fiercely, struggling to fully comprehend what was happening.

From the blue skies, ash and dust tumbled languidly down, a cloud rising up from the ruin of the fallen monster, its path momentarily darkening the skies as it passed before the sun.

“You okay there, kid?” a voice asked; firm, reassuring… familiar.

Still blinking, Jessie Elias struggled to identify the man standing over him, extending a hand down towards him.

“Hao?” he whispered, the words like broken glass upon his tongue, “Hao Wong?”

Beside him, he felt Alicia stir, fragile breaths drawn down into a frail chest. All at once, he felt incredibly possessive of the young boy at his side, his hand reaching out, searching in the sand for pale, slender fingers.

Alicia found him before he could make contact, taking hold of his hand and squeezing it reassuringly.

“I’m here,” the boy whispered reassuringly, his voice both familiar and yet hauntingly different.

“It’s you, isn’t it, Hao? It’s really you!”

Hesitantly, Jessie struggled to stand, anxiously gazing over his shoulder at Alicia as the young boy followed his movement, an expression of discomfort clouding features stained by dirt and blood.

Hao reached down, taking hold of him around the waist, lifting him up even as he clung to Alicia.

“Yeah, it’s me all right, kid. You don’t look so hot.”

Their eyes met and instantly Jessie felt his face wet once more with tears.

“Ani,” he struggled to say, his voice breaking. “Ani… he stayed in there… he carried on fighting so we…”

“Easy, kid, easy,” Hao whispered. “We’re here now.”

Angrily, Jessie pushed away from him, staggering back and almost collapsing back into the dirt, almost taking the frail form of Alicia with him.

“You don’t understand!” he rasped, unable to keep himself from trembling. “Ani’s dead! He’s dead… and it’s all my fault…”

Hao turned away from him, gazing at the horizon towards the drifting clouds of ash and the ruin of the fallen giant crowding the subterranean entrance to the pit.

“You were in there?” he asked, nodding towards the excavated cave mouth and the stone steps leading ever down into the ground.

Jessie did not reply, his lips swollen, his tongue dead in his mouth as he failed to find words capable of expressing both his grief and his loss.

Hesitantly, Alicia stepped forward.

“They came to save me, Hao,” the boy said, fingers still entwined with Jessie’s own.

Hao Wong turned to look at the child, frowning as he struggled to identify the earnest expression and haunted eyes staring back at him.

“I… I know you, don’t I?” he faltered.

The boy nodded, smiling despite his obvious pain.

Abruptly, Hao became aware of the young man’s nakedness, the burning desert sun beating down despite the dust upon his blood smeared back.

Hastily, he removed his jacket, stepping around Jessie and draping it over the youth’s shoulders.

“It’s me, Hao,” the boy nodded sadly, eyes staring deep into Hao’s own. “It’s me. Alicia.”

—xxx—

“Never heard of it,” Triton snapped tersely.

He was growing tired of being taken for a fool. First Concord and now…

His thoughts trailed away as he found himself looking at the man before him, his expression one of steady defiance marred only by the hint of regret.

To think that the two men were the same person, that these same qualities that even now seemed to wear Triton down despite the absurdity of his argument were the self-same qualities that Concord had used to convince to embark on such a mission tied his head in knots.

How could the same person be working against his own best interests? Not only that, but how could the same person deliberately try to endanger his own past? The idea was crazy; insane even.

Chance however seemed to take the situation in his stride, Triton’s own brother standing at his side, ready to defend the older man like some idealistic bodyguard.

“Not an it, Mister Triton, but a them.”

Triton offered him a weary frown in return.

For the longest moment, there was silence, dust motes playing in the air between them, the ruins of countless machines sprawled about following his brawl with Chris.

With a sigh, Livingston Chance reached down to the Exceed Buckler he still wore about his waist and unclipped it, the trail of metal and plastic coming away in his hands as he pulled it into the air and tossed it towards Triton.

Staggering back in surprise, Triton snatched hold of the belt, feeling the cool metal in his hands before finally looking back at Chance with a confused look.

“I don’t understand,” he muttered.

Chance shrugged and reached for his battered carton of cigarettes once more.

“If I give you what you came here for then you’re obliged to at least hear me out, right? You owe that much at least.”

Doubtfully, Triton looked from the other man and then to the belt he now held in his hands.

“All right,” he said begrudgingly, “spill the beans. No promises though.”

Chance smirked, his face marked by a sudden contempt that made Triton’s skin crawl, his stomach tightening with sickness and anger.

“I tend to find most of the promises offered me aren’t worth much anyhow so really, mate, that’s no skin off my nose.” He turned towards Triton’s brother, his expression softening as he addressed the boy. “Do you want to head into town and get us a bottle of bourbon or two? I think your big brother’s going to need a drink after this, whether he believes it or not.”

Christopher Triton-James nodded, tucking the novelty mask in his back pocket.

“Like Travis can hold his drink,” the boy smirked playfully as he turned away.

“I can hold it better than you. Remember that time you tried to take the old man’s car for a spin to impress a girl,” Travis answered back, more out of instinct than anything.

The boy paused at the door.

“Hey, that wasn’t just any girl, that was ‘Stella Calohan!” he remarked with mock indignation.

“Yeah, well, stellar she wasn’t,” Travis laughed. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Chris smiled broadly.

“Same thing you were thinking when you tried nailing both the Armel sisters at the same time!”

Again they laughed and, for a moment, it was hard for Triton to think of the boy standing before him as anyone other than his kid brother.

“You remember that time when I was 19…” he began, but already Chris was shaking his head.

The laughter faded and the younger boy lowered his eyes.

“Travis,” he murmured softly. “You died when you were 17.”

Triton fell silent, the colour draining from his face.

“I used to wonder what kind of a person you might have grown up to be. I guess I kind of know now.”

With a smile, he lifted his head again, the feelings of loss and anxiety buried once again.

“Later alligators,” he offered and, leaning against the door, made his exit.

For a moment, Travis Triton just stood there, stunned into silence.

“He’s a good kid,” Chance offered at last.

Slowly, Triton nodded.

“Yeah,” he answered, his voice dry. “Yeah, he always was.”

He felt Chance’s hand on his shoulder, slowly breaking his reverie and bringing him once more to his senses.

“There’s a lot we need to talk about,” he said sternly. “It can wait, don’t get me wrong, but I’d rather it didn’t.”

Triton nodded slowly.

“Let’s get this started then,” he said softly. Yet somehow he could not shake the feeling that he no longer belonged.

—xxx—

“I’m here to stop you once and for all, you bastard!” the child proclaimed loudly from where he stood in the broken doorframe, his hands resting against the gold belt hanging about his hips.

Long regarded the boy with a twitch of his lips, a mounting impatience rising within him as the form of Sha Jien gurgled and whispered at his feet.

“My name is Legion,” the boy announced, lifting his right wrist and revealing a box of similarly wrought gold with a red jewel at its heart and a narrow trench running down along the right, “For we are many!”

Without waiting for a reply, he swung his arm down, the jewel shimmering as a distorted, mechanical voice stirred from within the belt buckle.

‘Legion, Power Up!’

There was a flash of light as gaudy armour of varying colours emerged from godspace, bonding with the young boy and concealing his appearance beneath a red helm decorated with two distinct, bulbous gold eyes.

Five colours – a blue breastplate, black and green gauntlets and pink and yellow knee high boots – decorated the armour, a curious symbol upon his chest simplifying the outline of ocean waves against the rocks in a simple triangle.

A slow sneer crawled onto Long’s twitching lips.

“Legion, eh? Another useless armoured hero,” he spat on the ground, a thick wad of phlegm and blood striking the wooden boards. “Which circus did you run away from, boy?”

The boy charged forwards, reaching for the zanbat? bound to his side, the blade unsheathed in the guttering light of the ruined bar.

Swiftly, Long raised the Black Drag Claw, deflecting the course of the blade as he lashed out with his bare fist, his knuckles connecting with Legion’s mask.

The armoured hero staggered back, uncertain now he had discovered his opponent’s apparent disinterest in the power of his suit.

“Idiot child,” he snarled, stepping over Sha Jien’s fallen body. “Did you expect me to be intimidated by your armour? Did you think I hadn’t seen an armoured hero before?”

His fingers lingered upon his belt buckle, the Black Dragondecker upon his wrist ready to accelerate his own transformation sequence.

“You’re one of those children from Ryker’s academy, aren’t you?” His expression shifted, the cruel playfulness giving way to a bitter seriousness. “Tell me, where is my brother? Where is Koji Ryusei?”

Behind the mask, Legion frowned, beads of sweat forming upon his forehead.

“The academy was closed down,” he answered, readying his blade. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

Long screamed in rage, his eyes wild as the belt buckle flared with light, manifesting a glowing card in the air before him.

“Liars!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “You’re all lying to me!”

Without hesitation he snatched up the card, tearing it through the groove upon the Dragondecker and triggering the birth of his own bastardised armour.

The boy before him flinched as dark energy ignited around his opponent, solidifying in a chrysalis of shadows before shattering into shards, falling at his feet like the fragments of a broken mirror.

Standing before him, where once there had been a man drenched in sweat, was a perfect suit of armour, its every feature seemingly carved from onyx.

“Liars and weaklings,” he snarled from behind his black mask, his voice suddenly deeper, warped by the power of his suit, “Liars and weaklings, all of you!”

Throwing his arms to the heavens, the power around him intensified, the floorboards shattering, the bar collapsing and the ceiling shuddering.

“I’ll kill you!” he screamed. “I’ll kill you all!”

—xxx—

“So,” Chance said, leaning on the table and intently surveying the odd chunks of machinery before him, “Remember I told you didn’t belong in this world?”

Triton nodded.

“How could I forget?”

With a smirk, Chance seized hold of a tarnished silver chunk, an old motivator from a flying fortress perhaps, and moved it into the centre of the dust covered table.

“Imagine you’re a devotee of Destronger,” he announced.

The other man scowled impatiently.

“Easier said than done. I still don’t know exactly what Destronger is.”

Chance looked up, his hand still on the rusted motivator.

“They’re an idea from the future,” he said simply, “a string of concepts at the end of the world, the end of all worlds.”

“How can they be an idea? And what do they want with the present then?” Triton asked.

Chance smirked again and tapped the motivator.

“I’m getting to that,” he answered, drawing Triton’s attention to the old piece of machinery. “So, imagine you’re an aspect of Destronger and you’re sitting there in the vacuum at the end of time.”

Triton returned the smirk.

“Again, easier said than done.”

“Try,” Chance snapped angrily, picking the motivator up and slamming it down hard upon the table, disturbing the dust.

Triton nodded and said nothing more.

“So, Destronger are there at the end of everything, only the problem is that they don’t exist. After the world has ended, all that’s left are these impressions of ideas, the afterglow of souls or something like that – don’t ask me, I’m not too hot on metaphysics.

“Anyway, these ideas are yearning to be real again but to do that they need to occupy a physical space again and the only way they can do that is to bridge the past, to splinter themselves across dimensions.”

He sighed and then looking away, lifted the motivator once more.

Triton opened his mouth and then, all at once, Chance’s hand fell, smashing the machinery down again, this time so hard that it shattered into hundreds of pieces flying like shrapnel across the table.

“I don’t know how they did that, but somehow they did.”

Pieces of tarnished silver fell off the table, colliding with other machines, rolling into corners and scattering far and wide.

“Bit by bit, they got into every part of our past, every part of lives. They became the reason for our past, the motivation for our future. They changed everything, a flower blooming and spreading decayed pollen through the entirety of time and space.”

He shook his head sadly, staring down at the empty space now at the centre of the table, the dust stirring before him.

“And slowly, Destronger achieved flesh, a reverse apotheosis of spirit into matter.”

He lifted his head, meeting Triton’s gaze once more.

“But that’s not all they are, is it?” the other man finally asked.

Chance smiled, turning away and picking up a shard of the broken motivator.

“No, that’s just the beginning.”

Casually, he tossed the chunk of metal into the air and caught it again, his eyes searching about the table until he found another piece of junk.

With some difficulty, he brought the two pieces together, pushing broken metal against broken metal in an awkward configuration.

“Once they entered the past, Destronger, from a linear point of view had always existed. It became impossible to imagine a world without them. When people can’t imagine life without something, they tend to glorify it and when they glorify something, sooner or later, you’ll find a religion pops up committed to worshipping it.

“As a religion, Destronger appeared in the 1st century AD as an aberrant form of Christianity.”

Triton’s brow creased in a frown.

“You’re telling me these guys are just a bunch of crazy preachers?”

Sharply, Chance shook his head.

“No. The opposite, in fact – Destronger believe very much in the glorification of rot. To the early cultists, the main significance of Christ was in his decay on the cross.

“Through crucifixion, through intense physical pain, they believed apotheosis was gained. There’s a mirror for this in Catholicism, I believe, an idea that suffering is enshrined as a form of piety. Destronger got there first.

“Not only did they feel that the impure body needed to suffer to achieve its primary goal, but they didn’t believe in keeping the message to themselves.

“Taking the more pessimistic threads of philosophy evident in Gnosticism, adherents of Destronger went out there to mess themselves up and spread the joy of physical mutilation inherent in their salvation.

“They were outlawed by the Roman Empire, banned by the Church, none of that mattered. They just became those who hated them through the manipulation of both time and flesh. Like I said, soon no one could imagine a world without Destronger.”

He broke the two halves of machinery apart and dropped them unceremoniously down on the table.

Triton nodded thoughtfully.

“I guess that explains why you’re telling me this now and why this other you, this Liam Concord, is out to get you so badly. How did you get all mixed up in this?”

Chance shrugged.

“I can’t remember,” he replied. “Maybe I’m not involved with it yet, maybe that hasn’t happened. Maybe I will get involved soon or maybe I won’t. Maybe the event that got me involved has been erased and that’s why I can’t remember it. Maybe I don’t even have a home to go back to.”

Triton didn’t stop to think about the complexity of the issue.

“Next question,” he said simply, “how do you know I’m not from this world? I certainly don’t feel out of place. I mean, I can remember my whole life, there’s no gaps, no doubts or anything.”

“No one here is from this world,” Chance returned, “the only difference is that I’m aware I don’t fit in, that the past they’ve offered me isn’t anything to do with where I came from.”

Triton whistled softly.

“Well, if I can’t remember it, then surely I’m not missing out, right? If this all I’ve known, then that’s good enough for me.”

The other man offered him a cold gaze.

“What about when it changes again? What about when all you’ve ever known is Destronger concentration camps, when all you can remember is a body that’s been operated on so many times you don’t know which of your organs are still yours?

“What about when they change this world to another of their little world-ships, when this whole damn planet is sailing through the stars with a cargo of Destronger cultists waiting to spew forth onto a new world and you’re there in the crowd, dressed in sackcloth and  singing the praises of Apollyon or whatever?

“What then?”

Triton was silent for a moment.

“Then,” he said at last, hefting up the belt in one hand, “I guess we’ve got a problem.”

—xxx—

Angrily, Taryse shook her head.

“No,” she said, her cheeks burning red. “No, don’t you bring my daughter into this, don’t you dare!”

At her side, she felt Amelia tremble, her figure seemingly dwarfed by the scale of the desert and the howling of the wind.

The ghostly knight looked down upon her with kindly eyes.

“Perhaps you misunderstand,” he said, his voice apologetic. “None have sought deliberately to involve your daughter in what has come to pass and yet, as fate would have it, she has nonetheless become involved.”

He lifted his head, staring up at the heavens and directly into the sun, his face turned away from the unseen stars, Canis Minor and Canis Major, away from Hydra, Serpens, Draco, and even Scorpius.

“I cannot help but wonder that, had my father known the fate that awaited me when I clasped the holy chalice, would he too have been as protective and earnest as you are now?”

“And what exactly did happen to you?” Taryse snapped angrily. “Did you become this Grail as well?”

Gently, Galahad shook his head.

“No,” he whispered, “I died so that the Grail might be passed down. I touched that rough, hewn wood and my flesh was rendered useless, my spirit returned to an older father than he who begot this form I now reside in.”

Angrily, Taryse clasped at Amelia, holding tightly onto her.

“What are you talking about?” she demanded fiercely.

A strange look of reverie crossed the young man’s face.

“I was granted peace,” he said softly, “yet only for an instant.”

Taryse glared sourly at him.

“It doesn’t matter what you were granted, I won’t let you take my daughter from me!”

“Upon waking from that dream,” he continued as if he had not heard her, “I found myself far away with nought but my blade to protect me.

“A spirit told me that I had journeyed to the end of the world and, in doing so, must fight those principalities who resided in such a place.

“I remember my blood red blade tearing through the chanting, expressionless masses as they pushed ever forward. Overhead, the light of dim candles flickered upon the walls, sickly incense clouding the air and filling my stomach with nausea and my nostrils with its pungent odour.

“I remember staggering forward again, roaring with my hoarse voice and swinging the blade once more. Another cultist would fall; another soon rose up to take his place.

“My armour rusted with the rot and sin of the dank cave, silver soon tarnished by scorches, broken and twisted metal slick with human blood. What little of my face that could be seen behind the smashed and ruined mask was spattered with filth and dirt. The emerald green omnilens of my mask’s right side had shattered long ago, revealing my own terrified eye and the smears of unnatural colour that stained my face.

“I remember wearily thrusting forward again and again, killing each spirit as it was born once more into flesh.”

Slowly, his thoughts returned to the present, his gaze again falling upon Taryse and Amelia.

“At the end of the world, I discovered that there is only an ancient evil waiting to flood the past with its cruelty. It is the spirit of malice and neglect waiting to be born into flesh, to stir up the sand, to take a rib from those who slumber and, in doing so, to assume new and terrifying shapes.

“Your daughter is the key to turning back this future,” he said sternly. “Your daughter is piety itself.”

—xxx—

“So how can we hurt these Destronger bastards then?” Triton asked.

Chance sighed, cigarette smoke curling about his head, hanging in the air above him and adding to the slow stain that spread across the walls of the makeshift shack.

“That’s the problem,” he said at last. “I have no idea.”

Angrily, Triton slammed the belt down against the battered table.

“You know how little that helps?” he snapped angrily. “How can you go through all this bullshit with me and then tell me you have no idea how to make it any better?”

The other shrugged and offered him a smirk.

“I was hoping you would inspire me.”

An angry silence descended upon the room, tension evident in the curling smoke and the lack of words.

“There is one possibility,” Chance said at last, stubbing out his cigarette upon the scratched wood of the old table.

He lifted his head, meeting Triton’s gaze once more, “If we break the walls of the world, if we smash through the barriers that Destronger have weakened, then maybe we can fight them on their own terms.”

Triton looked at him with apprehension.

“How can we do that if everything’s changing and no one’s remembering?” he questioned.

Chance shrugged.

“I got here, didn’t I?”

“And how exactly did you do that?” Triton snarled, growing impatient with the other man’s smugness.

From the darkness above them came a sudden squawk, the call of an impatient bird.

Triton lifted his head just in time to see a large magpie swoop down, its wings spread, its tail feathers trailing black into vibrant blues and greens.

Without hesitation, the bird landed on Chance’s shoulder, its sharp claws digging into his shirt and causing him to wince momentarily.

Triton opened his mouth to speak yet the other man simply shook his head.

“I want you to meet a friend of mine,” he offered, nodding his head towards the bird. “Travis, this is Anna Romanova. Anna, this is Travis.”

—xxx—

Michael Leathman staggered, his head screaming in pain, his heart thundering in his chest as desperately he lifted his zanbat? to further deflect a blow from Long’s Black Drag Claw.

The blade shimmered, scratches now warping its once perfect surface as again the claw came down, relentlessly slamming against the edge of the sword until at last, Long’s boot found purchase in the boy’s stomach and sent him slamming into the far wall of the bar.

The air escaped his lungs, his head reeling from the older man’s assault.

Just shy of 25, Leathman had been one of the last students to train at Ryker’s academy before the tragedy that had forced it to close.

He had struggled to continue his training alone, clinging onto his belt and wrist changer when many others had been compelled to hand them in.

He had fought in illegal tournaments, sometimes he had even won. He considered himself a good fighter, someone with a respect for the rules of combat, the ethics of violence.

Yet never before had he faced an opponent like Long Ryusei.

The sheer violence in the other’s attacks, the impossible rage and hate that powered each blow, the shimmering glow of dark energy surrounding his obsidian armour; none of these things were anything like what Leathman had been trained for when he first acquired the Legion suit.

Desperately, he reached down for his belt buckle, lowering the changer over it and willing his armour to transform, to change – anything to give him an advantage.

‘Burning Red Form, Pow– ‘

The voice from his belt stuttered and stammered, the words failing to escape its speakers. The boy’s eyes widened in surprise, his grasp upon his sword failing.
Suddenly, he realised that the adrenaline coursing through him had failed to make him aware of the sudden, agonising pain spreading in his waist.

Slowly, he lowered his head, his nostrils flaring, his mouth gasping for breath.

Long stood before him, his arm outstretched.

Buried deep within Leathman’s waist were shards of broken armour… and the blades of the Black Drag Claw.

“H-How…?” he stammered, fearfully.

Beneath his featureless black mask, Long laughed softly.

“How were you defeated?” he asked, “Or how come you’re dying?”

He twisted his wrist, churning the blade within the boy’s stomach and shredding his innards.

Leathman screamed, spewing blood and vomit within his helmet.

“You were defeated because you are weak,” Long snarled, “and you’re dying because I’m strong.”

The boy’s lips trembled, tears streaming down his face as the flickering flames of Long’s dark aura reached out to engulf him.

“Whatever they taught you at that academy, it wasn’t enough. Whatever you thought you knew about life, it wasn’t enough!”

Before Leathman had a chance to reply, Long twisted his arm around and savagely tore the blades upwards, grinding through armour and organs in a shower of blood and gore that shattered the boy’s ribs and left him wide opened.

With a smile of satisfaction, the older man slowly withdrew his blade, steaming organs slipping from the youth’s belly and falling with a damp slap like fish out of water upon the rotten boards of the floor.

The armour about him dissipated, the flames guttering, and without further comment, Long turned away, leaving two heroes and countless bystanders dead upon the floor behind him.

—xxx—

Triton looked at the large bird with incredulity.

“A bird?” he questioned. “A bird helped you cross dimensions?”

Chance nodded.

“Like I said before, I don’t remember how I first got involved in all this but I remember the first time I met Anna, and I soon worked out exactly what she was.”

Angrily, Triton again hit the table before him, becoming increasingly agitated with Chance’s sense of showmanship.

“She’s a Storyteller’s familiar,” he said as if this was the most natural thing in the world. Triton opened his mouth to harangue the older man once more but Chance silenced him with a mocking smile. “Storytellers are like… I don’t know, they’re like the architects of reality, people who make things work the way they should and all that.

“I don’t know if they were meant to be like that but, from what I gather, that’s what they do – or rather that’s what they did.”

Triton frowned darkly.

“What happened to them?” he asked.

Chance shrugged.

“They all died out to my knowledge. Now we’re left here to make our own decisions… or let Destronger to make them for us.”

“Could Destronger have killed them?” Triton asked and instantly felt stupid. He realised that he was jumping at shadows, looking to blame Destronger for everything and anything.

Chance shook his head.

“No. If anything, it’s more likely that the Storytellers became Destronger.”

There was a moment of silence as Triton considered the full ramifications of such a situation, the idea that those who had once looked out for the human race were now worshipping devils and erecting concentration camps.

“Anyway, Anna here is a Storyteller’s magpie, a bird born from a tainted soul pulled back from the sacred grove beyond. She’s someone with a mission still to complete on Earth, someone who can only achieve her objectives by joining her yearning to a Storyteller’s capability.”

He turned and looked at the bird, a flicker of sadness crossing his face.

“The trouble is there aren’t any more Storytellers left for poor Anna to team up, so she’s all dressed up in feathers with nowhere to go.”

Again, Triton shook his head.

“How the hell can you know all this?”

Without pause, Chance turned to him and answered.

Kedamono chi,” he replied simply.

Triton waited for him to elaborate.

Unable to resist an occasion in which he might be seen as knowing something more than someone else, Chance continued.

“Kedamono chi is a form of energy, a spirit that allows one person to call other likeminded people to their side. People with kedamono chi are inadvertently drawn together and wherever there are one or more people with kedamono chi they become a sentai – a team.”

His eyes searched about the table, again looking for a shard of ruined machinery with which to make his point.

“I don’t know how to explain it but it’s like a gut feeling, a nonverbal understanding of the world despite your humanity. I guess it’s what being an animal must be like, an instinct that allows you to interpret other living creatures, that drives you to bond with people who share the same gift as you.”

Triton shook his head.

“I once thought I could talk to snakes, does that count?”

“Only if you went to school in Scotland,” Chance smiled in reply.

A long shadow fell over the table and Triton turned to see his younger brother standing in the doorway, a plain white convenience store bag hanging from his arm.

He felt his heart stir, his emotions thrown into disarray by how like his own brother this new version of Chris truly was.

Unhampered by such feelings, Christopher Triton-James stepped forwards and placed a large bottle of Southern Comfort and a pack of disposable paper cups down upon the dusty table.

“Hey, good going, Trav,” Chris said without looking up. “You’re not drooling yet so I take it things are going well?”

“Better than they ever did for you and Miss Calohan,” Travis retorted instantly.

Chris laughed softly.

“Come on, children,” Chance interjected as the magpie hopped off his shoulder and onto the table, “stop your fighting before someone gets hurt.”

Both Travis and his younger brother laughed softly as Chance reached for the bottle and began to unscrew the cap.

“Drink up, guys. After this, we’re all going on a very long trip.”

—xxx—

Taryse stared blankly at the spectral youth before her, a complete lack of understanding present upon her face.

“I don’t… I don’t know what you mean,” she murmured, her frustration growing.

Galahad’s form seemed to fade slightly, shimmering slightly as if that hideous future to which he had been consigned was now calling him back.

“It is not something to be understood in the present, only something that will be made clear in the future. Trust me however, when I tell you that the weight of the world will one day rest upon actions taken by the child you have brought into the world.”

“You can’t know that!” Taryse screamed, pulling herself to her feet, Amelia clinging to her tightly. “You can’t know the future!”

The spectral knight smiled sadly.

“I am the future,” he said softly, his face suddenly seeming to age as he spoke, “and the past.”

His form seemed to dissolve slowly into particles of light, his essence lost in the whistling desert wind, forgotten by those of his own time and loathed by those who came after.

“Do not mistake this as condemnation, dear lady,” he offered in his sad voice, old yet forever young. “I promised you glad tidings, remember? Be proud of your daughter; be proud of the light she will shine upon the world – upon all the worlds.”

His visage slipped away, his face dissolving in a shimmer of lights.

“What do you mean?” she shouted angrily. “What do you mean?”

All at once, she sensed another presence amidst the storm of dissolving fireflies, a face equally young amongst the light yet lined with a hardness that had not been present in the youthful knight’s features.

Standing in the desert before them stood a young man, his long red hair recently shorn close to the scalp like peach fuzz.

Lazily, he lifted a cigarette to his lips, the tattoo upon his left arm reading, ‘Victims… Aren’t We All?’.

Pale blue smoke streamed from his nose as he nodded first towards Amelia and then towards her startled mother.

“Hey Taryse,” he offered with a casual smile, “a friend of ours told me you could use a lift.”

—xxx—

The light from the cabin windows spilt within in intermittent bursts, a staccato code of illuminated bursts standing in for letters and punctuation. It was a letter from the past, he reflected, an epistle from the future.

It was not a message he cared to intercept.

Sitting alone in the final carriage of the old Densha de Go, his elbows resting against the smooth steel table before him, he slowly turned his head away from the window, allowing the light to flicker upon his face and cause flashes of the message to be read upon the reflective steel table.

He would not listen, he would not read.

For too long had he been the messenger of destiny, for too long had he had been time’s champion. Now he was older, wiser, the passing years having changed him.

His fingers wrapped together in a steeple, his grasp tightening as his face twisted with displeasure.

A lifetime ago, he had been charged with protecting the vast sands of endless time, with creating the Densha de Police.

For a while, he had been happy, he felt that his life had possessed meaning once more, a cause to fight for.

Yet eventually the question had arisen, what was the significance in being able to cross time if he could not alter it? Why would he want to protect a regime that was broken and dysfunctional, a system that imposed misery on all with lived within its linear stream?

He tried not to question this, had tried not to search too hard for an answer.

When David had died, he had lost the ability to refrain from asking.

Taking the old Densha flagship, Nero Samson had broken the wall that had divided the farthest future from the world they now lived within. He had ploughed the old train through fire and rain, watching the world collapse through the windows as, at last he had found himself in the purity of white that resided at the end of all time.

Disembarking, he had asked his questions of the only life that still existed long after the extinction of the human race.

The answers he had received had chilled him to the bone.

Turning away from the table, he again looked out of the window, watching time unfold and collapse, the sickness spreading through countless eras, compacting them, crushing them together, and burning away all he had ever known.

“Alicia,” he whispered softly, his voice a gentle purr. “Alicia, if you were still here…”

The thought went unfinished.

Outside the window, the present swam back into view – not the present he had always known but the present he had learnt to accept.

He rose from his seat and prepared himself.

There was no longer time.

Despite his resources, despite the vast significance of the Densha de Police, he, Nero Horatio Samson, had at last run out of time.

A single tear rolled down his cheek, falling to his lips and tasting like bitter fruit.

He turned away and strode with meaning towards the far door.

 

To download a PDF version of Tournament Armoured Hero #8, simply hit the button below and with one simple tweet, you’re away!

Leave a Reply