[AC] Bush43 #17 - "Vulnerable" by Jason S. Kenney

Artifice Comics artificecomics at yahoo.co.uk
Fri Apr 30 11:23:28 PDT 2004



"Why again am I blindfolded?"

I crouched slightly, my hands up and ready, waiting for Alfonse to
begin kicking my ass.

"Because you will not always be able to see, Jeffery," said Alfonse
from somewhere to my right.

"Especially if I'm blindfolded."

"Yes, Jeffery," sighed Alfonse, "especially if you're blindfolded. 
You will have to rely on your other senses, listen, feel, and in order
to do this you will have to keep your mouth shut."

"In other words I'm never going to learn this?"

"Probably not.  Ready?"

"Will I ever be?"

He didn't respond.  We began.

I saw black.  Lots of it.  So much black that you'd think I was
standing in a cave that let in no outside light while wearing a

I turned to my right and then to my left, started to slowly turn
around in some sort of attempt to face all directions at once.  Like
that was going to happen.

The first hit got me in the back of the head.  I spun and lashed out,
missing whatever I was trying to hit.  I planted my feet and stood
there, trying to hear anything, only hearing my breathing.

Another punch, this one to my kidney and I bent backwards, one hand
groping my side as I turned and swung out with my free hand,
connecting a sweet ass punch into the air.

I stumbled and stopped my fall by planting my free hand on the ground,
clenching my teeth as I tried to rub at my sore back.  That son of a

There was a sound to my left, a scrape of foot on floor, and I tumbled
to my right and pushed myself around, my legs swiping to where the
sound was and coming around.  I missed but there was a slight pound,
feet landing on the floor, so I planted one foot and pushed myself
forward along the floor, reaching out and grabbing at the air as if
something were there.

I skid to a halt with my face.

I laid there for a moment, hearing only my breaths and my heartbeat,
trying to focus.

There was another scrape, this one to my right, down by my knee, and I
felt a foot come into my back a split second after the sound.

I clenched my teeth and lifted my head and listened.  Light footfalls,
circling me.  I started to push myself to my feet and heard a sound
again, in front of me, not a scrape on the floor or a thud, more like
the movement of cloth in the wind.

My head reeled back from the punch but I kept balanced and got to my

Step, step, step, reposition, I heard each move.  Front-right, two
o'clock position, the cloth in wind sound.

I pivoted, pulling my right side back and away and I felt the breeze
of Alfonse's fist passing where I was.  I chopped down with my left
hand but caught only air as he pulled away faster than I expected.

But I'd dodged.

I got my footing, felt the urge to make some smart ass comment, but
kept it to myself, my ears trying to place Alfonse again.

There was nothing.

I held my breath and listened longer.


Son of a bitch left me here.

"Alfonse?" I called out as I reached up for the blindfold.

My body instinctively pulled me to my right as my hands shot out and
grabbed at the air, catching an arm instead.  I brought my right leg
up and planted my foot in Alfonse's gut, letting go of his arm as I
pushed him back.

I reached up and took off the blindfold.

"That was a cheap trick," I said as I threw the blindfold at him.

"And you handled it well," he said as he bat the blindfold away with
his free hand while the other rubbed his stomach.  Didn't mean to kick
him that hard.  "Better than I expected."

"Say it," I said as I grabbed a towel.

"Say what?"

"'You also kept your trap shut for more than thirty seconds, Mister
Carter,'" I said in the most hoity-toity voice I could muster. 
"'Jolly good show.'"

"I do not say 'jolly good show'," said Alfonse as he caught the towel
I threw at him.

"Might as well."

I wiped my face and reached for some water when I noticed Alfonse
giving me this weird look.


"You seem to have taken to our sessions with a certain...
concentration that was not there before."

"I want to learn this stuff," I said with a shrug.


I swallowed my mouthful of water.  "Cause I can't fight worth shit."

"Why the sudden focus, though?"

"Guess I've just started thinking about things more recently."

"What things?"


"Like this New Mages thing."

Alfonse smirked.


"I had a feeling that was the case."

"Well, not THE case, just one of a few things on my mind, you know?"

Alfonse just smirked.

Deep breath.

"Okay, fine, it's mainly New Mages crap.  I don't know about this,
Alfonse, I really don't.  I mean, the whole thing's good in theory,
but what the hell are we doing?  We're killing things before there's a
chance to explain.  We're following someone who killed the mayor and
put himself in the role...  Christ, what's the point?"

"Then quit, Jeffery."

I laughed at that.  "I can't quit," I said as I shook my head, "not
with it the way it is."

"And how is that?"

"Unstable?  Hell, Alfonse, I never thought this would be the case but
I think I'm the most sane person in the group."

Now Alfonse laughed.

"Everyone is either depressed as hell or has some sort of ulterior
motive that fucks with their head.  They're too ready and willing to
kill anything that they go up against.  There's no restraint, no
conscience.  The whole thing frightens me now, I couldn't imagine what
they'd be like if I didn't say something once in a while."

"Do you really think you have that kind of influence over them?"

I didn't have an answer for that.

"Jeffery, I do not know much about Erlend Romanov or Anna Romanova. 
What I do know is that they could care less about what you think or
want.  You and the decisions you make are ultimately inconsequential."

I stared at my water bottle and tried to think of something to say,
but how do you follow that up?

"Ya know," I started, "I think I can honestly say that nothing scares
the shit out of me more than those two."

"And you would be wise to remember that," said Alfonse as he turned to


Issue 17
By Jason Kenney


The man screamed with rage as he lifted the car over his head and then
chucked it at me.  It would have been easy enough to dodge but behind
me was a bay of windows to a department store and behind that a bunch
of people who had no idea that they should have probably been running
away instead of gawking at a car flying towards them with only me
standing in the way.

Yeah, like I'm gonna catch a one ton Buick.

So in the second I had between it leaving Strongman's hands and
arriving at me I planted my feet, bent my legs and then pushed up and
reached out, hoping to get just enough counter-momentum to where I'd
hit the car and make it stop.

It didn't work and I got slammed back into the ground and dragged into
the side of the building and through the glass.

But not much further, really, so I guess I stopped enough of the car's

"Ouch," I said aloud but to no one in particular as I pushed the car
off of myself.

I looked around to see a few folks still standing and gawking at me.

"Uh, hey, guys, now might be a good time to get out of Dodge."

They didn't listen.

I turned around to come face first into the fist and elbow flying fury
of an angry Strongman.

Here I was out and around, trying to enjoy a nice day in Pacific City,
when I notice this guy trying to break into an armored truck with
little success.  I mean, it's a freakin' armored truck.  So, happening
to have my Bush mask handy (never leave home without it) I thought to

Now, the last time I fought this guy I couldn't help but laugh my ass
off at his thong.  Now he was thongless and wearing shorts instead. 
But they were short, tight shorts.  Booty shorts.

And I told him as much.

And he got pretty pissed.

Thus the car tossing incident and how this punching thing he was

"I will kill you!" he shouted, emphasizing his intent with a couple
punches to my face.

"Yeah, yeah," I said as I dodged a couple of hits and stepped back,
letting him swing and tire himself out.  "You said that last time too.
 I think I recall that meeting ending with you choking on your nuts."

With a scream of rage he threw himself at me and I simply moved,
sending him crashing into a glass perfume counter.

"Oh, now you're gonna stink all pretty like," I said as he pushed
himself back to his feet.  "You'll be beating away the other cons with
a stick!  And they'll be coming at you with theirs.  And when I say
stick, I mean pen..."

He came at me again but this time I didn't move.

I just punched him.

His head went up and back and then the rest of his body followed and
he fell right back into the perfume counter.

"Dude, if you want to test the fragrances I'm sure they have tester
bottles you can use," I said as he tried to get up again, shaking his
head in an attempt to clear it.

"Oh!" I said, walking up and then on top of him, being sure to plant
my foot on his head and push him back down into the broken counter.  I
continued to walk over and off of him and stopped and grabbed a bottle
of perfume.  I sprayed it in the air and smelled.  "Oh, yes, here," I
said, walking back to the man and spraying him in the face, making
sure to get some in his eyes.  He screamed and clutched at his burning
eyes.  "Isn't that a lovely fragrance?  Oh, the men will just go NUTS
for you."

While he grabbed at his face with one hand he came at me with the
other but I stepped back out of the way.  He tried to roll over and
get to his feet.

I looked around and saw a good ol' member of the baton brigade
standing back, agape, lost, wondering what the hell was going on and
having no idea what to do.

I walked up to him as Strongman slowly staggered to his feet, still
grabbing at his face and his burning eyes.

"Hey, can I borrow that?" I asked the security guard and I grabbed the
taser off his waist before he could reply.  I studied it a bit as I
walked towards Strongman, finding the button and pressing it to see a
lovely little bolt arc across the two metal points at the end.

"Sweet," I said as I got to Strongman.

"Hey, perty fella," I said, "get a load of this."

And I zapped him.

He fell to the ground, down for the count.  I turned from the spasming
Strongman and walked back to the security guard and handed him his

"Thanks, psudo-officer," I said, "you can't take it from here."

And I stepped through the broken window, nodded to a few hotties who
were checkin' me out, and ran down an alley and jumped onto the fire
escape, making my way to the rooftops and starting to head back home.


"So this is how you 'hero'?"

She was on the roof when I got there which shouldn't have surprised me
but did.  Not that I wasn't happy to see her.

"You make it sound like a bad thing."

Eldritch was a curiosity.  On one hand she seemed nice enough and to
generally seek me out for some sort of company, almost like a friend. 
Then again she sounded so hostile and seemed to really detest what I
did and how I did it.  And if I didn't know better I'd say she didn't
like me all that much either.

But she seemed to want to hang out around me.  Maybe it's because I
saved her life.  Maybe because she didn't know anyone else.  Or was so
freakin' bored that hanging out with me would do.

Or maybe, deep down inside, she just couldn't resist the charm of one
such as myself.


"It's funny," she said from where she stood towards the center of the
roof.  She was wearing her typical get up, the New Mages uniform under
the matted wolf skull on her head and fur she wore over her shoulders.
 She must have been hot in it given the day's heat, but she didn't
seem to mind.  "To watch, that is.  You have no style or grace in your
fighting.  You just throw yourself at whatever you're up against."

Alfonse would be ashamed.  After all of his efforts I still look like
I can't fight.  Sigh.

I shrugged.  "It works."

"You're lucky you don't get yourself killed."

"Yea, invulnerability."

"You're also lucky you don't fight more capable villains."

"Ah, but should I meet with more capable foes I find it better to
simply be kind and turn them to my side with my amazing powers of
charm and smoothness."

I smiled real big like but she couldn't see that behind my mask.

She stared back at me nice and cold.  Just made me smile more.

"You're not as charming as you think, Jeffery," she said.

"You're right.  I'm probably a hell of a lot more charming than I
think.  How do you resist me?"

Her lack of a response could be interpreted in so many ways.

"So I take it you're not just up here to tell me how much I suck," I
said as I walked towards her.

She straightened up slightly as if preparing herself for whatever she
was about to say.

"I came to ask for a favor," she said, sticking her chin up just

"A favor?"

"Yes," she said with a short nod.  "The... incident with your Mages
showed me that after six years in a desert, I may be a little rusty in
my fighting abilities."

"Uh huh."

"I need a sparring partner."

"So let me get this straight.  You stood there and talked smack about
my fighting ability and now you want to ask me to help you train?"

"Not train," she said, "simply refresh."

"Why me?  Why not fight someone with a bit more skill so you can
actually get a work out.  Someone like Lin."

She cringed at that.  Note to self: don't suggest Eldritch do anything
with Lin.  Bad blood there.

"Of the people I know here you are the only one I can think of that
would help me."

"Fair enough."

"And with your being invulnerable I would not have to worry about
having to restrain myself."

"Got me there.  I figure you'll want me to fight back, what about me
restraining myself?"

"I'd trust you not to.  Besides, you're assuming that it will matter."


"I just need a punching bag."


"And you owe me, so..."

"Okay, okay," I said, holding up my hands to make her stop.  Sheesh. 
"I'm convinced.  When and where?"

"There's a patch of dirt towards the center of the park."

"Bristol Park?"

She nodded.  "Ten o'clock tomorrow night."

"It's a date."

"No, it's not."

Huh, she was awfully quick with that reply.

And she turned, sprinted towards the edge of the roof and leapt to the
next building.  I watched her run for a bit and then just shook my

I don't know about her...


"Did I tell ya I ran into Eldritch yesterday," I told Alfonse as I
followed him into the sweetass almost-Bush Cave.

"That's nice, Jeffery," said Alfonse to humor me.

"Yeah, I'm supposed to meet up with her tonight.  We're gonna fight or

He gave me a questioning glance over his shoulder.  "You do have a way
with women."

"Don't I know it," I said with a grin.  "No, it's sparring or
something.  She needs someone to play punching bag and I guess that's

"Are you cheating on me, Jeffery?"

"Are you jealous?"

"Not in the least."

"My, you sound defensive.  I'm sorry, Alfonse, I didn't know this
meant that much to you.  But it couldn't possibly have lasted between
us, you, a dark and mysterious stranger with bulging biceps, me, a
helpless lass with supple... hey, is that fencing stuff?"

Sitting in the middle of the big room that made up most of the used
part of the cave was a small rack that held a couple swords and two
screen faced masks sitting on folded white jackets.  They kinda looked
like straight jackets and I almost had a flashback.

"Yes, Jeffery, that is 'fencing stuff'."

"So we're playing with sharp, pointy things today?"

Alfonse sighed and closed his eyes, seeming to attempt to focus on
remaining civil and not beating me up.  I love pushing his buttons.

"Sharp, pointy things?"


I picked up a sword and held it up, kinda looking at it, a thin sliver
of silver cutting the air.

"So what is the object of today's lesson?"

"Fencing teaches you the art of dueling.  You must observe your
surroundings and most importantly your opponent.  You have to feel his
moves before he makes them.  You must react."

"Uh huh," I said, swishing the sword around.  "Let's play."

"There are three forms of fencing," said Alfonse as we suited up. 
"Foil being the most well known.  The point is to strike your opponent
in the chest.  Anywhere else does not count.  Saber is to strike the
opponent anywhere above the waist.  Epee is first blood, strike

"We shall be using the foils."

Alfonse and I faced each other a few paces apart.

"Now, the proper form of holding the foil is to grip it..."

"How about we just swing the swords for a bit?"

Alfonse sighed.  "How about we do this properly?"

I stood ready, very proper like, holding the sword perfectly, over
handed, almost like one would hold a handrail while going down stairs.

"Like this?"

Alfonse was probably glaring at me under his mask.

He stood straight and brought his foil up in front of him and then
slashed it down, a salute of sorts.  I did the same, adding a little
circle sort of flair at the end.

Then we both stood ready.

"Engarde," I said with a smile.

He came at me first, a small lunge, and I parried his thrust.  He
jumped back and ready.  We stood facing for a bit and I moved forward
slightly, feigning to jab and he flicked to push my foil but I came up
and out of the way, nailing him right in the chest.

"Point," I said as I stepped back.

He didn't reply as we both stood ready.  He came at me again and I
pushed his sword out of the way but he was back and I pushed again. 
It was a flail of swords and after a few tries he stopped and stepped
back but I went forward, coming at him with a few thrusts of my own
that he flailed at and eventually failed to stop, my sword finding his
chest once more.

"I see that you've done this before, Jeffery," said Alfonse as we both
stepped back.

"Did a little in college," I said, standing ready.

"Define a little."

I didn't answer, lunging for him instead.  He parried my foil but I
went with it, continued around and back up into his chest.

"Are you even trying, Alfonse?"

"You did more than just 'a little' fencing in college, Jeffery."

"Took a fencing class one semester in college, P.E. requirement and
all," I said with a shrug and then I lunged again but he parried
perfectly and I stepped back.  "Got into it for the last couple years,
joined the fencing club, stuff like that."  He came at me and I easily
parried his attempts.  "Finished second in a state invitational my
senior year."  I poked him in the chest and we both stepped back and
ready again.  I came at him quick and while he feigned off a couple of
my thrusts he couldn't stop the one that got him.

He stepped back and lowered his sword, pulling off his mask with his
free hand, his hair already matted down with sweat.

I pulled up my mask and grinned.

"I finished sixth in Division 1 nationwide," I said with a shrug and a
deep breath.  "Then I came back here and haven't fenced since."

"I would not have thought you into fencing," said Alfonse as he pulled
the mask back on.

"I'm into a lot of things you wouldn't expect," I said as I did the
same.  "Besides, how could I pass up playing with swords?"

"Then if you are so proficient in fencing," said Alfonse as we stood
ready, "please explain to me why you show such little grace when you
fight otherwise."

"Because grace and form," I said as Alfonse came at me, "are
necessary," parry, "in a structured duel," parry, "whereas I rarely,"
thrust, "have a structured fight," thrust, "with people calling
themselves 'AssMasters'."

Alfonse nailed me in the chest.

I looked down at his sword and then back to him.

"Touché," I said.


We backed up and stood ready again.


It was a nice night out and I was kinda sorry to be missing most of my
patrol for the evening.  I mean, I still got a good couple of hours of
running around and soaked up enough of the air to not miss out

I got to Bristol Park a little early because of a combination of
nothing to do and not being entirely sure where this patch of dirt
was.  Part of me wanted to say it was the baseball field towards the
back but Eldritch did say near the center of the park.

It really wasn't all that hard to find.  I should have known,

The dirt patch was simply a place where grass refused to grow after
everything that happened nearly a year ago.

Eldritch was already there, sitting in the middle of it, eyes closed. 
She seemed to be meditating.

"You came," she said as I stood on the grass at the edge of the patch.
 Something made me not want to cross that line from green to brown,
living to dead.

"I said I would so here I am."  I shifted my weight from one foot to
the other.  "You know what happened here last year?"

"Romanov told me," she said, opening her eyes and looking at me.  "He
also told me what happened to you last year."

"Ah, good for him."  I don't know exactly what I expected from this
encounter, but it certainly wasn't this.

"Are you uncomfortable, Jeffery?"

"Yes," I said.  "Are we going to fight?"

"Yes," she said as she stood up.  She shrugged off the fur from over
her shoulders and removed the wolf skull from her head.  She bent over
and set the skull on top of the fur and then stood up straight, pulled
her hair back and tied it there with something from around her wrist,
probably a rubberband.

She stood in only the New Mages costume and waited.  She must have
known I was curious and answered my unasked question.

"I normally fight in the fur," she said, "but since I'm trying to
refresh myself I need to try unencumbered first.  Then move up."

"Gotcha," I said.  I looked down to my feet, where they toed the line
between grass and dirt, sighed, and took a step into the patch.

"Are you fighting in that?" she asked with a smirk.

I looked down at my suit and then back to her and shrugged.  "Why

"C'mon, Jeffery," she said, "let's see your face."

I looked around to make sure no one was looking.

"The park is empty, Jeffery," said Eldritch, "it's just you and me."


I pulled off my mask and stuck it in the inside pocket of my suit coat
which I took off and neatly laid on the grass.  Then I undid my tie
and threw it on the jacket, unbuttoning my shirt and taking that off
as well, laying it on top of everything else.

"Better?" I asked turning to her.

"Much.  Ready?"

"What are the ground rules?"

"Ground rules?"

"Ya know, no hitting below the belt, stop when they cry uncle, don't
talk about Fight Club..."

"Stop on uncle," she said as she stretched, "the rest is fair game."


"Alright, let's do this."

I don't know why but I was nervous as hell.  Maybe it was the
location.  Maybe it was Eldritch.  Maybe I was concerned about getting
my ass kicked by a girl.  Maybe I was worried about hurting her. 
Maybe it was because I had forgotten to send in my five cents a day to
help that starving child in Africa.  Whatever it was, I was feeling it
and I didn't like it.

"So how do you want to start?" I asked as I walked towards her.

She jumped at me in reply.

I jumped and rolled to the side and came up just to miss her swinging
a foot around for my head.  I stumbled back and got my footing in time
to sidestep her hand raking at my chest.

"Man, so rusty I think I hear ya creaking," I said with a smile as I
danced my way back from her.

"Are you going to fight or just run around?" she asked, crouching
slightly, her teeth bared.  I think she snarled.

"Depends.  You see, right now I'm using my 'keep-away' fighting
technique taught to me by a master of the style.  It is very effective

She interrupted me by pouncing at me.  I tried to get out of the way
but failed and she gripped my arm, pulled herself around and went back
to back with me, using her momentum to flip me up and over her

I hit the ground on my back with a thud and she reached back with a
punch.  I rolled out of its way as it tore where my head once was and
scrambled to my feet, putting up my arms to block another punch and
then ducking slightly to avoid another.  I reached up and pushed away
her arm and jabbed her in her side, pushing her back as I took a few
steps away myself, just to get some distance.

"You're pulling your punches," she said, rubbing her side slightly.

"Pulling my PUNCH," I restated for her with a shrug.  "And, yeah, I'm
pulling them.  Don't want to hurt ya."

"Don't hold back on me, Jeffery," she said, breathing deep, "because
I'm not going to hold back on you."

"Yeah, but I'm invulnera..."

She lunged and clocked me in the face and then in the gut.  She
dropped and swung out her leg, cutting my legs from under me and
sending me down.

I broke my fall with my hands and sprung back to my feet and quickly
stepped back but she kept coming, punch, punch, kick, claw, punch, I
tried my best to avoid her strikes but she got a few in, a couple to
the face, a few clawings tearing at my shirt.

"Fight back!" she shouted at she came at me with a particularly hard
punch to the face.

Fine then.

I took her punch because not only could I take it but it also left her
chest vulnerable, which I jabbed hard and knocked the wind out of her,
setting her up for a quick kick to one of her legs that bent her over
and then an elbow into her back.

I stepped back as she went down and barely caught herself before going
face first into the dirt.

"You okay?" I asked, standing ready because I needed to be.

She looked at me and smiled.

"I'm great," she said, and then she sprang at me.

I dodged her jump and she planted her feet.  I noticed her legs tense
and then her left shoulder and upper arm right before she came at me
again and swung with her left.  I blocked and watched as her right arm
tensed and came at me.

"Ya know," I said as I dodged and then blocked a couple hits right
before she got one to my chest and then another to my face.  I shook
that off and ducked low as she came at me again, getting under her,
grabbing her by her waist and tackling her.  I pinned her arms and
straddled her.  "As I was saying, I can tell when you're about to
attack and almost tell exactly where from?"

She stopped struggling and gave me a questioning look.

"It's the spandex," I said, "it shows every little mark.  It also
shows you tensing when you're about to come at me.  Your right
shoulder and arm tense when you go to punch with your right.  You're
projecting every move."

I stood up and skipped off to the side as she came up quickly and

"And the hits I have made?" she asked, stretching slightly, flexing,
preparing herself.

"Either you're moving too fast or in too close for me to notice, which
is a good way to distract me, but I could easily throw you off from
the get go were I to try."

"I told you not to hold back!" she shouted and then she came at me,
which I didn't see coming that time.

She got me good right upside the face and I saw stars for a moment
before I saw the ground.  I pushed myself up and shook my head to
clear it, looking over to see Eldritch standing with a smirk on her

"That was good," I said, sounding kinda groggy as I slowly got to my

"Are you going to keep holding back?"

"Are you sure you can handle the awesome aura of my greatness?"

Then I heard a growl behind me.  I looked over my shoulder to see
through what looked to be a ghost of a wolf a few yards behind me.  I
looked back to Eldritch.

"Friend of yours?"

I moved quick to dodge Eldritch coming at me from in front and the
dead doggie coming at me from behind.

"So, uh, is this a power of yours or something?  Summoning dead wolves
to jump at me?"

"Wolf spirits," Eldritch said as she planted her feet and the wolf
ghost started to circle wide to my left.  "Summon, channel, yes.  I'm
a wolf shaman."

"Kinky," I said as I tried to keep an eye on that wolf spirit ghost

I'd lost it.

I turned my head to try and find it which was a bad idea because I
then reacted a second too late to Eldritch coming at me again.  I
turned into a claw that, while it didn't break the skin, hurt like
hell as it raked across my face.  Then she punched me in the gut and
then a knee to my face.

I stumbled back and then fell onto my ass which is exactly what she
wanted because then that wolf ghost came out of nowhere and pounced on
me.  For a spirit it was pretty freakin' solid and I grabbed its neck
in an effort to keep it's snapping jaws out of my face.  The wolf
pulled back and then bit my arm.

Which should have been fine.

But hurt like hell.

I opened my mouth but didn't scream, more in shock than anything at
the red that came from my arm in the wolf's mouth.

"Uh... uncle?"

The dog disappeared, leaving me holding up my arm, staring at it and
the red that ran from the freshly formed holes in it, drops of blood
falling to my chest.

"Holy shit," I said, not quite sure what to make of this.

"Invulnerable, huh?" asked Eldritch, and I sat up quick, holding my
arm in front of me still, unable to take my eyes off of it.

"What the hell was that?" I asked, unusually amazed at the sight of my
own blood.

I'm invulnerable, for Christ's sake.  And, sure, while I bled when I
got my ass kicked by the Siege Engine and Mayor Jerrod and that freaky
angel guy on the moon and even once in a while when Alfonse sucker
punched me, that all took effort on their parts.  This was a
see-through ghost dog biting into my arm like it was a fuckin' pork

"A wolf spirit," she said.  I looked up to her.  Shock must have been
written on my face.  She held up her hands and wiggled her fingers. 

I looked back to my arm.

"Oh, come on," she said, coming up and crouching down by me and taking
my arm, "it's not that bad."  She looked at it for a bit.  "Barely
broke the skin."

But broke the skin just the same.

"Ow," I said, just staring at it.

"Don't be such a baby," she said, standing up and turning from me. 
"If I weren't so out of shape I'd have done a lot worse to you

"Maybe you're not out of shape," I said, starting to get over my arm
and get to my feet, "and maybe I'm that good."

She shot me a glance.

"No, you're not that good."

I opened my mouth to protest but she stopped me by continuing.

"If a little prick and some blood is going to knock you out of the
fight you are not that good."

"It's not that the prick or the blood bother me," I said, "not
themselves.  Just that they happened.  That's not supposed to happen. 
I'm supposed to be invulnerable."

She stopped and bent down to pick up her wolf skull and fur and spun
to face me as she stood up.

"Maybe you aren't as invulnerable as you think," she said with a

"Yeah," I said softly, looking to my arm once again.

"Go home and get cleaned up, Jeffery," she said with a laugh and she
turned and started to walk away.  "We'll have to do this again

"Yeah," I said again, though I hadn't really heard what she said.


I wrapped my dress shirt as best I could around my arm, put on my suit
coat and mask and ran back home to Burke Manor.  I was not in the mood
for any heroing tonight, not after that work out and the shock of
actually being punctured.

There were no unusual or new cars in the driveway to the Burke estate
so I just went up to the front door like I normally do and opened it
right up.

"Alfonse," I shouted, "do we have any band-ai.... uh, hello," I said
as I saw a particularly horrifying scene before me.

There was blood.  In a puddle.  Right there in the front room.  And a
woman lay in the middle of it, her face away from me so I couldn't
exactly tell who it was, but the figure and hair color said it could
be Victoria.

There was a woman standing over the body, sword in hand, and I seemed
to have just missed her delivering the final blow.

She spun around quick and quiet, her sword slicing through the air in
some sort of flair that ended with her holding it at her side at a
slight angle.  She held her left hand held up and out, as if targeting

"Can I help you?" I asked as I shrugged off my suit coat and let it
fall to the ground, my dress shirt unraveling from my arm and falling
as well.

"Who are you?" she asked, her green eyes narrowing slightly as she
crouched, ready.

"I'll give ya one guess."  I pointed at my still mask hidden face.

With a low growl she sprang at me.  I jumped back to avoid the
swinging sword but wasn't fast enough to dodge her kick that came up
and into my chest.  I stumbled back and ducked at another kick and
then quickly straightened and sidestepped the jabbing sword.

"So I take it you're not here to sell Girl Scout cookies?" I said as I
jumped back to put some distance between us.

I wished I had a sword so I could fight this chick better.

I wished I wasn't sore from my little exercise earlier in the evening.

I wished that Alfonse was somewhere around here to knock this bitch
out before things got really bad.

And then I saw him.  I missed him when I came in, but Alfonse was
laying on the floor near the door.  I couldn't tell if he was alive
but there was no blood so I assumed so.

God, I hoped so.

I turned my attention back to the chick with the sword as she crouched
slightly again, sword at her side, both hands on the hilt.  Something
started glimmering on the blade and it got my attention real quick. 
It looked like soft electricity flowing through it, charging it up or

Needless to say, I got a little worried.

She shouted as she brought the sword up and pointed it at me, a bolt
of searing energy shooting from the tip.  I threw myself to the side,
the shot barely missing me and tearing through what was probably an
expensive table and then the wall.  Invulnerable or no, that looked
like it would have hurt.

I rolled to my back and then quickly rolled some more to dodge the
sword being jabbed into the ground where I would have been.  I twisted
and tried to sweep her legs from under her but she jumped up and then
came down with the sword coming right for me.  I rolled and spun out
of the way, ending up on my feet and stumbling back to get some sort
of distance.

"Woah, woah, woah, time out!" I said, holding up my hands.  "Who the
hell are you?"

She didn't reply, at least, not with words, instead coming at me
again.  She slashed with the sword and I moved back again and again to
dodge, my back finally hitting a wall.  I leaned to avoid a jab and
lashed out with a leg, connecting with her gut well enough to push her
back and give me room to maneuver away.

"Ya know I'm invulnerable right?"

She smirked as she stood crouched and ready, her eyes looking from my
eyes to my bleeding arm and then back to my eyes.  Okay, so maybe not
completely invulnerable.  I had no idea what she was going to do next.
 This chick was too damn good for me to be fighting.

She was in the air before I could react, her foot tagging me in the
face, her other following up as she twisted in mid-air.  I was just
regaining my footing when she landed and slashed the sword up and
across my chest, slicing my undershirt.

And me.

"Shit!" I stumbled back and looked down at my torn shirt to see red
spreading almost as quick as the pain of fire down my chest.  I looked
up to her, her all crouched again, her smirk now a full smile.  "What
the hell is it with things hurting me tonight?" I shouted to no one in

She came again and I dodged faster than before, especially now that I
knew the sword would hurt me if I didn't.  I grabbed one of her kicks
and twisted, hoping her ankle would give, but instead she jumped and
twisted with her leg, her other coming up and into my face.  I let go
and she planted one hand to catch her fall and twisted to land on her
feet, standing but not pausing as she came at me again.

I dodged a slash and she punched at me.  I grabbed her wrist and held
it up and back.

"Who the hell are you?" I asked again.

Her response was sharp and piercing, right in the gut.

I looked down to see her sword in my stomach up to the hilt.  I looked
back up to her face, her smile wide, eyes shining with a wicked fire.

She pulled her hand free of my grip, grabbed my mask and pulled it off
my head.  Her smiled widened as she saw the look on my face.  She
pulled the sword and I went up against her, our faces close, her
breath warm on my cheek.

"Invulnerable, huh?" she whispered, almost playfully, a hint of flirt
behind her airy voice.

My eyes widened in pain, my mouth gaping in an attempt not to scream
as she pulled the sword from my stomach slowly, twisting it as she did

And then the sword was out.

"How'd you do that?" I asked in a whisper.

Then my legs finally gave away.  She stepped back as I fell to my
knees and then face first on the floor.

Then I thought that all this blood was going to be a bitch to clean
out of the tile.

Then there was a distant laugh.  I tried to move but my body screamed.
 The world started to move away, lose focus.

Then everything faded to black.

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