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!”

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Tournament Armoured Hero #7

“Hey, it’s me,” he said calmly, surveying the wreckage of the room about him. “Listen, I’m afraid things didn’t really go according to plan.”

He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the phone and nodding his agreement.

“Yeah,” he murmured after a moment. “The clone didn’t make it, sorry about that. I think that kid our friends sent out bit the dust too, quite literally. It’s a shame but, you know, it’s a battlefield out there.”

There was another momentary pause and then, at last, Randall Kalish smiled warmly.

“Don’t panic so much. Taryse is fine, Amelia’s fine too. They’re just a little shaken up, all they need is for you to ride out there in the desert and…” he paused, the smile fading slightly. “Yeah, I understand that. Well, if you can’t go out there, I guess I’ll…”

He stopped again, suddenly agitated.

“You’re going to send Mitsukai?” he snapped impatiently.

At his side, Joe Hammel anxiously bit his nails, his round face drenched with sweat and his expression one of apprehension.

Kalish opened his mouth to decry the situation and then, apparently listening further to the voice on the other end of the phone, he nodded again, sighing sharply.

“I guess I see your point. Maybe I was a little heavy handed. Still, that kid really ticked me off, you know. Don’t worry, I won’t misbehave in future.”

The scowl turned into a smile.

“Besides, we’re bros, right? Everything’s cool.”

The voice on the other end of the phone seemed to acquiesce and  Kalish’s smile brightened.

“Listen, if you don’t need us out here anymore, then I’m going to lock this place down and head back to base. That cool?”

There came another pause and then Kalish nodded.

“Right. Take it easy, bro. See you when we get back.”

Without further comment, he snapped the phone shut and dropped it back into his pocket, turning once more to look in Hammel’s direction.

“Get your stuff together, Joe. We’re burning this place down.”

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Tournament Armoured Hero #6

“You’re really going to do this, aren’t you?” the French woman questioned, one eyebrow raised as she leant casually against the iron wall, arms crossed over her chest.

Sky Raider finished adjusting the metal gauntlet he wore, flexing the fingers and tightening them once more into a reassuring fist.

“Of course,” he responded with disdain. “The only way to trap this bastard is to act the part.”

Fait Accompli’s eyebrow crept slowly further upwards.

“And you believe you can accomplish this by looking like some kind of tin machine, yes?”

The young man turned to regard himself in the mirror, polished armour and flowing black cloak giving him the appearance of a knight, or a tyrant… or both.

“This is the armour you people supplied,” he offered, reaching out and taking up the horned helm in his hands, regarding for a moment the inhumanity of the visage he was to assume.

“At your request,” Fait Accompli reminded him, pushing away from the wall and eyeing him once more with suspicion. “And I must confess that when the agreement was made to arm you, no one expected that you would wish to go riding into battle dressed like King Arthur.”

“Mordred,” Sky retorted softly, lowering the helm over his head.

“Pardon?” Fait questioned with a smirk.

Sky Raider turned to her, his face now hidden by the cold metal of his mask and she stopped dead in her tracks, her smirk fading.

“Mordred,” he answered, glaring at her from behind the mask. “Arthur wished to unify a nation. My goal is solely to destroy a king.”

He turned away once more and, reaching out, took hold of a massive greatsword filed away amidst the numerous arms of the weaponry.

“I have to beat him,” he whispered, more to himself than the female Department ? operative. Before him, his own reflection stared coldly back from the polished silver of the blade. “I have to beat him, otherwise everything Joji stood for, everything we fought for, means nothing.”

Slowly, he lifted his head once more.

Fait Accompli caught his piercing gaze and simply nodded, stepping back from the door as if to indicate that she would not stop him.

“Godspeed,” she said and then, as an afterthought, added, “MONARCH.”

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Tournament Armoured Hero #5


The branches of the trees were barren and skeletal, like the digits of fingers reaching up from dead frames and clutching at the grey skies outside of his window.

It had been four weeks since Jaden Stryder’s mother had died, four weeks in which the young boy had grown accustomed to the new status quo in the family home, his back raw with the fresh markings of his father’s belt and his eyes still red with tears.

He knew it wasn’t his father’s fault, he knew that somehow, despite the cruelty and unfairness of it all, his father was just expressing the sorrow they both felt now that they were alone together in the world. He understood that if his grandparents had telegraphed the money his father had requested of them then maybe he wouldn’t have to suffer the older man’s anger. This was the manner in which the world worked and whilst he was only six years old, Jaden Stryder understood this implicitly.

If you were weak, the world took advantage of you. He hadn’t understood that whilst his mother had still been alive but in the four weeks that had followed the car crash that had killed her and left his father with a permanent limp, Jaden had acquired the knowledge that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Jaden!” a voice from outside the room bellowed through the house. “Jaden, you little son of a bitch, where are you hiding?”

Upon the stairs, there was the sound of heavy footfalls, one boot falling against the carpet whilst the other was dragged after it, a wooden stick clattering against the handrail.

“For Christ’s sake, you little runt, where in God’s name are you?”

He felt a sickness stir inside him, fear rooting him to the spot as the sound of his father’s ascension grew louder and louder.

“I swear to God, I’m going to beat the living daylights out of you if you don’t give me a good answer soon!”

The boy’s lips parted but his tongue was a lead weight in his mouth, no words able to lift it and spur him into a reply.

Too late, he heard the sound of his father in the hallway outside and then, abruptly the door was thrown wide open to reveal a large, heavyset man in a lumberjack shirt, one hand clutching a bottle of whiskey and walking stick, the thick leather of his belt wound about the knuckles of the other.

The older man’s eyes flashed in his ruddy face, his black teeth visible beneath the coarse hair of his beard.

Jaden Stryder felt the taste of bile rising in his throat, the seat of his trousers dampening with fear as a tremble ran through his body.

Without a word of explanation, his father raised his first, light glistening on the silver of the buckle.

The boy closed his eyes and the older man’s fist descended.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #4

Mikuchi Keitarou stood on his front doorstep, barely suppressing a yawn, his open dressing gown swaying around his bare legs and revealing a faded JAM Project t-shirt and a pair of unassuming boxer shorts. Upon his feet, he wore the most unflattering pair of fuzzy monster feet slippers whilst in his hand he held a cup of steaming black coffee, the side of the mug still emblazoned with the old academy logo.

His hair was dishevelled, his face marked by several days’ worth of stubble and, at the corner of his lips, the stub of a cigarette still smouldered.

The breeze was crisp but not uncomfortable, full of the promises of autumn and the suggestion of spring. The great London plane tree that stood at the far corner of his garden had shed crisp leaves onto the green grass and the blue skies above were cloudless and free of any suggestion of rain.

To his left, his neighbour’s station wagon was absent from the spot it had been warming all weekend, suggesting that not only was Mister Simon Dice out, but also his wife Marisa. To the right, Sean Stemmie loitered at the end of the road, avoiding school and waiting for the arrival of friends.

All over Pittsburgh, the early afternoon sun shone down on quiet houses and places of work alike, autumn illumination highlighting the everyday routines of the joyful and the sorrowful, the content and the resentful.

The day was warm, his coffee was as bitter as his sense of humour and everything was right with the world.

With another yawn, Mikuchi looked down at his watch, staring blankly at the LCD time set as the seconds clicked over perfectly, revealing the digits ’12:12:12′.

A sudden crack of lightning hit the end of the street, a peel of thunder rattling the windows in his house as a colossal silver and white train burst out of the void and tore down the street. Rails of spirit energy fell into line before it as the colossal machine shuddered to a halt, ploughing through several parked cars in the process, a chorus of mechanical alarms calling out in the wake of its motion.

With a wry smile, Mikuchi plucked the cigarette from his lips and took a sip of coffee.

“Never a dull moment,” he murmured and, with the grin still fixed to his face, began a leisurely stroll across the lawn towards the massive train.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #3

The creature was impossibly massive, its broad shoulders shuddering and its Adam’s apple bobbing as it tilted its head back, swilling the flames of the inferno that rose in its gullet.

At his side, he sensed the arrival of Wong and the unfamiliar tread of Dreamcaster’s bright red and white Soap branded trainers. Kanemura did not turn to greet them, his eyes staring intently up ahead at the tremendous monster above them.

“Impossible,” Dreamcaster murmured softly, reaching for his keyboard.

Gently, Hao Wong reached out and placed a restraining hand upon the other hero’s arm, his lips curled in a lop-sided smile beneath the bug-eyed masque he wore.

“Fall back, Dreamcaster,” he said, his voice firm and determined, “whatever you think you’re capable of, you’re not able to take on a karura-grande.”

Dreamcaster glanced from Hao’s masque to the hulking abomination towering above the buildings.

“B-But what about the people who live here?” he stammered in protest.

“This is USMDF’s fight now, not ours,” Wong continued.

Angrily, Dreamcaster shook his arm free of the older man’s grasp.

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Tournament Armoured Hero #2

Struggling, he lifted himself up from the foulness of the water, his armour rusted with the rot and sin of the world around him. What little of his face that could be seen behind the mass of tangled hair and the wiry curls of his beard was now spattered with filth and blood.

His sword lay he knew not where, lost within the undertow of those murky waters and, likewise, his strength had also deserted him. All that remained was his determination, his will to drag his battered and bruised body onward through the endless toil and achieve that for which they had been tasked with.

A blinding flash of light filled the dour skies above and Sir Bors, who once dwelt in riches in his own native land and now seemed consigned to rot with the foulest of sea creatures, lifted his head at last to catch a glimpse of the heavenly youth standing but a short way from him.

Time seemed fractured, the stream of filth momentarily like liquid metal, dragging him down beneath the surface, filling his eyes with images of a thousand other worlds before he broke free once again, clawing his way up through the roiling liquid and turning bloodshot eyes to where the youth remained.

A second flash of light filled the heavens and, on the horizon, he saw the immaculate young man in his spotless white armour reach up to the skies, drawing down something solid from those higher realms.

“Galahad,” he croaked, his voice little more than a dry whisper as he reached out for the figure in the distance, “Galahad!”

The heavens swelled and another burst of light broke against his tired eyes, momentarily burning the scene from his sight and filling him with an insurmountable dread.

He felt the waves of metal wash over his ruined armour once more and suddenly the world returned, that youthful figure, his head rich with curls of dark brown hair and his armour unhindered by the dirt of the world around, crouched down before him, reaching out and taking hold of his hands.

“Bors,” the youth said, his voice calm and patient, “I ask of you to take this to the King.”

The older man felt something rough and wooden pushed into his hands, a cup of some kind, a goblet, a grail!

“Take this to the King,” the boy commanded, “I go now to meet with my Father.”

“L-Lancelot?” Bors stammered in confusion, “Lancelot is with us?”

The boy shook his head and smiled sadly as if such understanding was beyond the older man.

“No, Bors, I go not to meet with my earthly father but rather my Father who waits in Heaven.”

Bors opened his mouth to protest but the younger man was already rising, his armour unstained despite contact with the filthy waters. Desperately, Bors reached out.

“Galahad,” he murmured again, his voice rising. “Galahad!”

There was another flash of light and once more, the beautiful youth was upon the horizon, an insurmountable distance from his fallen companion. He turned and spared Bors a faint, disinterested smile.

From above his head, the older knight imagined he heard the sound of chariot wheels and horses descending from on high…

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Tournament Armoured Hero #1

Destronger cultists had held that time was a desert, a liminal realm into which the souls of immortals passed when they had exhausted themselves on Earth. In reversed binary code they had carved their litany and proclamations onto steel and flesh alike, inverted the normal operational pattern of code sequencing and turned it inside out to better express the perverse manner in which they gazed upon the universe.

The steel plates they had slid inside his head, the knotted metal of his spinal column and the burning imagination engine that replaced his heart, each one bore the embossed string of ones and zeros representing the Destronger belief in time as a destination that may be reached by immortal travellers.

Standing beneath the overhang of the jagged red mountains, the man formerly known as Yamamura Joji found the notion strangely comfortable, the precept more palatable than it had been following his rebellion against the cult.

Running alongside the litany of belief was the oft-suppressed counter argument that if time was a desert, then reality was a vast and tremulous ocean lapping at sandy shores.

During the golden age of the Destronger faith, when their temples had risen up upon the grassy plains and jagged cliffs of every nation in the world, the priests would occasionally anoint kaijin worthy of veneration and dispatch them in conical craft across the seas and into different worlds.

They referred to these kaijin, praised for their bravery in life and venerated as heroes following their departure, as heronauts.

Yet the age of the heronauts had long since passed and the Destronger cultists that had rebuilt his body following the death of his son were now in decline.

Looking out over the endless desert, the warmth of his motorcycle at his back, the man now known to the world as MONARCH found a strange calm descending upon him. It was a peacefulness he had not known in a long time, a respite from the sorrow that had besieged him following his child’s demise.

Slowly he allowed his eyes to drift across the plain taking in the three figures that stood at various points before him, their own motorcycles clustered far to his right as each rider explored the desert terrain. Each of them was dressed in the same simple black uniform devoid of both insignia and symbol, identical in every facet to his own clothing.

The tallest of the three, a wiry young man in his late twenties, uniform jacket open to reveal a plain red t-shirt beneath, approached from the horizon, a phone clutched to his right ear and his head bowed.

“No,” he said softly as he approached, lifting his head and revealing sharp blue eyes, “no, we haven’t found any trace of her either.”

The younger man nodded in the direction of MONARCH, who simply inclined his head by the merest fraction but gave no other indication that he acknowledged the gesture.

“She was here though,” the other continued, “Sun thinks she might have spent a considerable amount of time here, she says that the sand is rich with recollections of her power.”

He paused, a slow smile crossing his face as he listened to the words on the other end of the phone.

“She’s doing a lot better now, thanks. Since Star joined us, she’s been a lot calmer about the nature of her power. It’s almost as if she’s come to terms with what nearly happened during that time distortion deal when we were younger.”

Still smiling, he turned to look back over his shoulder at the young woman, her pale blonde hair spilling out over her shoulders and her arms stretched to the blue skies above. A short distance off from her stood a young boy, no older than 13 or 14, his hair dishevelled and the same colour as his own.

“We’ll keep you posted if anything turns up, until then, keep in touch,” he paused, careful not to look back towards the older man before adding, “Oh, and Hao? Take care of yourself.”

Before the other could reply, he closed the phone’s shell and swiftly slid it inside his jacket pocket.

There was silence for a moment and then, with a bemused, arch of his eyebrows, MONARCH reached up and removed his sunglasses.

“Getting to be quite the sentimental type in our old age, aren’t we, King?” the older man asked with a wry smile.
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