After a day of meeting with reporters and a nice hot bath, Cibbie is finally on the way home.
It's time she learned what at least one of her fellow Dozen is capable of...
Pride eventually introduced Sharp to the other people in the room, the artificial intelligence warming up to them quickly. Michael shook her hand personally.
"Miss. Sharp, I welcome you to the Hunter's Guild. For observational purposes all robotic or cybernetic personnel must go through a course under our regime, it would be quite disastrous should something go awry with your body that would harm ours."
"I understand." Sharp replied. "Though an interesting precaution, I do understand the reasons. People who can tear others in half and lift buses are something that I would expect require some scrutiny."
"For the time being, you will be under the watchful eye of Commander Jay here; you will be joining your fellow classmates, of whom include these three-" at this he shuffled Flare and Cibbie to either side of Fortune to indicate who he meant, "These are Flare Wingspan, his daughter Fortune, and Sybil Heritance."
Sharp nodded in their direction, and Anisha trotted over from the console.
"The Sybil Heritance?" She asked, getting a firm nod from Cibbie. At this, Anisha seemed to become fanatic. "Oh my gods, I'm meeting actual royalty!"
"You do not appear to be mechanical in nature..." Sharp mumbled to Cibbie.
Cibbie held up her mechanical arm, only shifting her back a little at the sharp pain that originated in her arm, and it hastily changed into the weapon it was known to be. Anisha took a step back.
"What the hell..?"
"Allow me to fully introduce them;" Michael began, shifting Brenton next to his sister, "these two are Brenton and Sybil 'Cibbie' Heritance, the brother and sister pair who are the current head of the Archethal throne. Their entire race is currently under the control of the Polaris, a cybernetic race whose goals are unknown besides the control of every other sentient race. Cibbie and Brenton have been spared the mind altering effects of the controlling crystal, embedded in their chests, and as such are the last two Archethal in existence."
"A cruel fate;" Sharp mumbled, "that you are the last of your kind and cannot reproduce."
"Fortune Wingspan," Michael continued, putting his hands on her shoulders, "Is the adopted daughter of Flare. Due to unfortunate circumstances, her organic body perished and her intelligence and personality were transferred into the mechanical body she resides in now. We've developed a way to transfer the very essence of a person into a cybernetic brain, and she is how you see her now.
"Flare, on the other hand, is not mechanical." He continued, moving behind the taller dragon and peering out from one side. "Flare is the result of gene splicing experiments, as are the rest of the Underground race."
"I was one of the first." Flare mumbled.
"And yet he is in our class?" Sharp asked. "This does not seem safe for him..."
Flare looked down to Michael, who nodded to him.
In a flash, Flare grabbed Sharp by her midsection and lifted her with ease. She seemed startled, worried that he would harm her, but Flare simply held his stance, wings spread.
"Brute strength is my forte." He informed. "You mentioned ripping people limb from limb. I am well known for this; Flare 'Riptear' Wingspan."
"Flare accomplished several titles during the Mutenagenix war, including Riptear, Brushfire, and Kinslayer." Flare growled at this last one. "Don't call him by that one, though."
Flare let Sharp down, and she collected herself.
"Why Brushfire?" She asked.
Flare shuffled his feet. "You may eventually see why Brushfire..."
Jay stepped forward and grabbed Sharp's arm, his hands squeezing tightly. Sharp yelped at the feeling, his ministrations hurting a little.
"I am inspecting the craftsmanship." He said. "As the first mechanical created by human hands without alien interference, it is important that I see that you are properly constructed."
"I can send you her blueprints if you'd like?" Anisha asked, Jay's hands stopping short of Sharp's waist.
His hands retracted.
"Yes, that would be satisfactory."
Sharp sighed and nodded to Anisha with a thankful look.
"This is Commander Roy Jay of the Mechanical Division for the Hunter's Guild. He is one of our most potent trump cards, and is our head Mech. Other Mechanical instructors have learned from him directly. He will be your instructor for the duration of your learning career with the Guild. Should you want to pursue a civilian career after your training, you will be prompted with the paperwork and be honourably discharged." Michael informed.
"Your first training mission is tomorrow; I trust this is not a problem?" Jay asked.
Sharp shook her head. "Provided my personal equipment is back in my possession, I will show you what I can do to the best of my capabilities."
"Your rifle is being shipped to the Fairweather's cargo hold as we speak, and you will find that your armour should be with it. I've done some upgrading to it, and you should find it twice as durable as when you last wore it." Anisha said from behind her.
Sharp grumbled. "I hope so; last time I was wearing it, I almost died."
The rest of the day went rather smoothly; Cibbie discovered that she wasn't being bunked with anyone on the ship, which wasn't a pleasant surprise. She insisted that she share a room with someone, not wanting special treatment, and eventually managed to persuade Michael to move Fortune from her triple-bunked room to Cibbie's. He mumbled something about having difficulty finding someone willing to share a room with two other people in the first place, but she'd have none of it. She managed to get time alone in her reserved onsen, the last bath she was to have before moving up to the Guild quarters, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. After the days she'd been in the hotel, she finally felt like she had time to herself.
That was, until Terry appeared in the water in a little rowboat made for saki cups, complete with working oars. He remarked being lucky that he was waterproof.
She fed Amanda, again happy that the young drake didn't pick her medicine from the food, and thoroughly cleaned her bowl. Only her water bowl was to be left out until the morning, as that would take no time at all to clean and if Amanda grew thirsty she could get a drink.
Marcus dropped by for a visit just after dinner, bidding farewell and mentioning that he looked forward to meeting her again. He remarked how well she'd adapted, changing from the shy and timid girl he'd rescued from his colony planet into the rather bold woman that was leaving his hotel for war.
She slept soundly that night, with Terry dutifully plugging himself into his charging station for the night so he'd have full batteries for the next day.
Upon waking, she found her brother to be waiting in the dining room, her suitcase on the table and him trying to coax Amanda into a pet carrier. He sighed and stood up, waving to her exasperatedly as Cibbie stepped into the room.
"She just will not go in." He grumbled. "I've tried everything except food, but I don't think she'd go for that either."
Cibbie giggled, kneeling down and giving Amanda a gentle scratch before pointing to the box, the young white drake stepping in without a single complaint.
"How... what...?" Brenton complained. "Why the hell..?"
Again Cibbie giggled.
"You're not her mummy."
A few minutes later, and she was standing in a line, staring forwards as Jay walked down the rank. She entrusted her luggage, Amanda and Terry to Brenton, who had been debriefed by Michael himself due to him already being a fully-fledged solider, a sergeant. She, on the other hand, was still a private. Jay reached her and pulled her forward.
"Private Sybil Heritance;" he began, rather loudly; "do you know why I have singled you out?"
She shook her head.
"You have been issued Corporal skivvies, as you can tell by what you are wearing. This is not because you are royalty." He snapped, clearly being so formal because several captains were watching not to mention Hazard and President Washington. "Nor is it for actions. You are being promoted to corporal as a specialist, and for your potential. I shall demonstrate; please stand over there."
He pointed to a distant part of the hanger, and she did move over and stand where she was told. Michael stepped over and handcuffed her behind her back.
"He's going to trigger your Trump." He whispered into her ear. "Don't hold back, understand? King has allowed us to make you a public figure, because it's likely you might trigger it anyway on this mission."
She nodded to him, letting him move to a discreet distance with the rest of the Captains.
Jay looked to Flare, who was staring at the ground.
"Sergeant Wingspan, why are you staring at the ground?" Jay demanded.
"Old learning, Sir." He replied. "Raised eyes hurt in my old platoon."
"Well, this is going to hurt in my platoon." Jay said.
Flare looked up into the barrel of Jay's pistol. "What is-"
The gun went off.
Several of the captains exclaimed at this, and Jay holstered his pistol and turned his eyes on Cibbie.
She was growling deeply, far deeper than any creature of her size should be able to manage, and a light aura pulsed off of her body. Her muscles swelled, utter rage on her face as she flexed and the cuffs bound to her wrists snapped. In a near fluid motion, she charged towards Jay, who caught her fists as she pounded them towards him. Dust swirled around them from the sheer force released, and she used his own grip against him, lifting the solid tonne weight of his body effortlessly and swung him in a loop, managing to hurl him across the room.
"Captain Stillman," Jay began, waving to one of the captains, "shoot her."
He blinked at Jay dumbfounded, but did pull out his sidearm and released several rounds at her, all of which bounced off of her harmlessly. Michael stepped forth.
"My turn." He mumbled, holding out a hand. Light condensed in his palm, and he threw a bolt of energy at Cibbie. The glowing white bolt exploded violently on contact with her, but when the dust cleared she stood strong, even starting to pace towards them. Jay waved, spinning his hand in a circle, and all of the mechanical recruits dove on her, but they didn't seem to even weigh her down. Finally Jay clapped and Flare grabbed Cibbie, tugging her to the ground and pulling her into an embrace. Her face calmed, tears held in her eyes finally dropping to the ground, and the aura she was giving off faded.
"Captains, I introduce you to Twelve;" Michael said, "and her Trump, the Vengeance."
Cibbie struggled to her feet, and slowly walked towards the captains, stopping short.
"Vengeance is one of our greatest weapons;" Michael informed, "and it does exactly what its name states. Should a friend, loved one, or fellow Dozen be significantly harmed in any way, even mentally, Twelve's Trump transforms her into the Vengeance Avatar; there is almost nothing that can stop the Vengeance, as you saw she managed to throw Jay like a rag doll, dragged several a handful of mechanicals as if they weren't there, and even shook off one of my energy bolts. Codename Blastwave is useless against it, Jay's blades don't scratch it, and explosions cannot deter it. If the Polaris have something that can truly stand against Vengeance, we have already lost the war. Don't worry about her leaking any of our confidential information; she doesn't know much, and she is not the only eyes and ears the Dozen have. Be assured that she will be accompanied." He eyed the captains sternly. "This is your only warning; you are not to leak this information to anyone, and that goes for your crew also. I will find out should it happen, and I will not be kind."
His mood lightened at this, and he waved over his shoulder as he walked away.
"Have a pleasant flight."
Soon enough her unit was on their assigned ship, the Fairweather, and had been dismissed to their quarters. For the first day, they were being allowed to acclimatise to the ship and familiarise themselves with its design and layout. Brenton and Flare seemed to not mind being bunked together, the sounds of them getting along well filtering through the wall.
Cibbie, however, wasn't sure if Fortune liked her.
The young ewe had been silent from the moment she entered the room; unpacking her small amount of personal artefacts, making her bed, plugging her power adaptor into a wall socket all in the space of a few minutes without ever saying a word. Each passing second made Cibbie worry slightly more and more, feeling that she was alienating the girl somehow, or that she'd simply not liked Cibbie from the start.
Eventually something had to crack.
"F-Fortune..?" Cibbie nervously mumbled, looking over to the mechanical lamb with worry on her mind.
"I... You don't hate me for requesting that I have a dorm mate; do you..?"
Fortune looked over at Cibbie curiously, tilting her head. "Why?"
"It's just that... I don't know if you'd rather be bunked with the other students. I don't want you to hate me for dragging you away from friends..."
At this Cibbie hiccupped and Fortune sighed, grumbling slightly as she stepped over and sat on her bunk with her. She'd upset herself to tears worrying, and Fortune's grumbling wasn't helping.
"I don't hate you, Miss Heritance."
Cibbie sniffled. "Please, Cibbie."
"Alright, I don't hate you Cibbie; it's not like I'm not going to be with the other mechanicals for the next few days, and I was informed that you requested no special bunking treatment due to your status as royalty. I just assumed that I had been selected because you know me and that it would be easier for you to sleep if someone you know is in the same room. Don't worry about it; there're plenty of other things that I can pick on you for." She added with a sarcastic tone and smile, gripping a pillow behind her back.
The sound of squealing through the wall alerted Brenton and Flare to distress in the girls' room next door, and they hurriedly moved out their quarters and opened the door behind which the ruckus could be heard. A pillow, probably thrown by Fortune, slapped Brenton in the face through the door hard enough to topple him backwards onto the floor. Flare was caught off guard for a moment, ducking away from the door reflexively until his daughter poked her head out giggling.
"Oh my god, we're so sorry!"
Flare sighed as she took her pillow back from Brenton.
"Alright, who started it?" He grumbled. "And I don't want any crap about 'she did this', who swung the first feather filled sack?"
"I did, daddy." She admitted, before gaining a cheeky grin. "Why, you going to punish me?" She tilted slightly to one side, emphasizing her playful mood.
"No." He said bluntly, thwapping her over the head with the pillow. "I'll just warn that you might want to be a bit quieter, you never know who is listening." He pushed the pillow into Fortune's hands as he leaned down to lift Brenton back off the floor. "And I'd advise caution, Fortune, watch how hard she swings, she could hurt someone."
With that he tugged Brenton back into their quarters, the dazed Archethal hanging by one arm almost drunkenly asking about the bus that just hit him.
The next day, at about nine AM, the whole of Commander Jay's class was stood in a line on one side of a fairly sized room. Apart from being large and oval shaped, it was otherwise rather unimpressive with grey walls and flooring. Jay strolled into the room and dismissively waved at them over his shoulder.
"Yes, yes, at ease." He grumbled. "I've much work to do this morning, so until I am finished with this paperwork, you're all to spar." He put a large stack of paperwork onto the only desk in the room and looked over at his students. "I'll have you split into pairs, though I would like for Fortune and her father, Flare, to spar together if that's alright. I'll also have Audra pair up with Sybil, I hope I can trust you, Audra; we're a long way from home and I don't want to have to put you into the dunce corner."
A slender purple dragoness nodded faintly.
"Alright, you're each to go find some space and spar. Go on!"
The class mumbled 'aye aye sir' and all separated off into different pairs and into distant areas of the room, Cibbie following Audra to the complete other side from Jay.
"First we stand opposite one another," she began, adopting a fighting stance, "and then... we see who can outfight the other."
Cibbie giggled. "A catfight, in school;" She asked sarcastically, "this sounds too good to be true."
A fist grazed her cheek, her having barely dodged it.
Flare struggled against his daughter, in one way proud that she was managing to best him, in another miffed that he was losing his touch. He'd taken his shirt of beforehand, not wanting to tear it should she grapple him, and he took it in his pride when he had gotten a cat-call from one of the other students. The other students had moved away from Cibbie and Audra, also allowing for the little family to have enough space for their own fight. He heard a very heavy thud, and assumed it was one of the other mechanicals, sparing a look around.
He noted they were staring at Cibbie and Audra in shock, and perked an ear to listen.
"Did she just take that hit?"
"No way, that should have broken a rib at least!"
Fortune eased her struggles against her father as she watched his face become more concerned, his ears picking up the words of the students around them.
"She's really giving Audra a run for her money, but..."
"How is she taking that much of a beating?"
"Someone should stop them!"
Flare glanced over his daughter's shoulder at Cibbie and Audra, and watched the latter punch into the solid concrete wall. His eyes widened. The blow that they were all amazed Cibbie had taken was only taken because of her Card, and even that was at its limit on the punishment it could dilute without her truly Trumping. He watched as Audra spun, caught Cibbie very hard with her tail across her face and sent her sprawling across the room.
Fortune was caught off guard when her father, who has barely capable of lifting her, managed to swing her heavy metal body with almost no effort off of her feet and toward Jay, who looked down at her on the floor passively.
"He's tougher than he looks, eh Fortune?"
She shook her head and pointed towards her father as he slammed a fist into Audra's face, managing to knock her off her feet. Jay watched disinterestedly.
"Looks like I'm sending Audra to the dunce corner again." Jay grumbled. "Sharp; help Sybil up and get her over here!" He yelled at her, the mechanical hurriedly complying and turning back to the unfolding events.
The air around flare bubbled and warped, as if he were producing great volumes of heat. His eyes, whilst still green and vibrant, now seemed to glow of their own accord, and smoke gently swirled from his maw. His voice rumbled in a deep, constant and terrifying growl.
"Fortune, you once asked me what kind of man your father was." Jay mumbled to her, not bothering to hide his voice. "And I told you that he was both great and terrible."
"He was a great man because of his heart, as shown by adopting you; for more evidence, look at how easily he accepted your mechanical body."
"A... and for the latter?" She hazarded nervously.
"Within every great man is a great monster. You are about to see the most terrible that he can be."
Audra rose from the ground where Flare had knocked her and glared in his direction. She stayed confident, despite his now fearsome visage.
"Get out of my way, old man!"
Flare snarled angrily in response. "No."
She dove for him almost blindly, and he caught her fists effortlessly. While he had struggled under his daughter before, he seemed unhindered by the purple dragoness' brute strength. Flare leaned his snarling, smoking face down to hers and glared into her eyes.
"Challenge me? You dare?"
"Oh, I dare you old scaly bastard! I'll hospitalize you!"
Flare grunted and pushed Audra away from himself quite hard, as she slid almost a dozen metres. He held out a hand to one side as he paced towards her, and flames burst into life in his palm. The students around him gasped and mumbled between themselves over the sound of the flames.
"Flare the Brushfire..!"
Flare stopped his snarl for a moment, breathing heavily before speaking.
"Look away, Fortune; please don't see the monster your daddy can become..!"
He leapt from the concrete and rocketed towards Audra at a blinding speed, his flaming palm slapping into her chest and exploding. The dragoness was thrown back into the wall, cracking the concrete behind her with her impact. Her shirt had been incinerated, her jeans scorched all down the front and her chest burned black. She seemed hindered by the pain receptions in her artificial skin, but still managed to catch his hand when he swung at her again. His other hand, however, slammed into her flank with considerable force, sending her doubling over in reaction. Her grip on his hand loosened, and he grabbed her arms, slammed a knee into her gut hard enough to crush the organs of any flesh and blood, and swung her onto her back on the floor. She curled into a ball, the receptors in her entire front screaming agony into her artificial brain, and Flare's fists were caught in their downwards arc by Jay.
"That's enough, Flare!" He yelled furiously. "She has learned her lesson!"
Flare glared down at Jay's face, breathing heavily and furiously until his rational brain caught up with his instincts and he relented, the flames around his fists fading altogether as he calmed. He looked out across the room, noting the shock of all of the other students, but most notably the look of total disbelief on his daughter's face. His breath caught in his chest, his eyes widened, and he gritted his teeth, balling his hands into fists tight enough for his sharp claws to cut his palms. With not a pause, he strode across the room, grabbed his shirt, and stated pulling it on as he stormed out of the doors, slamming them behind him.
Jay looked down at the student on the ground beneath him patiently, waiting for her attention to be back in the room with him. He ignored Fortune hurriedly following her father, only motioning for one of his other students to attend Cibbie's injuries. Audra groaned, trying to stand, only to have him grab her shoulders.
"This is why he is known as Brushfire, Riptear, and Kinslayer." He said patiently, before leaning down to her face. "Because he can, without remorse, kill his own kind."
Fortune found her father in his dorm, leaning against the far wall with his back to the door. She could hear him crying quietly to himself, and she drew farther into the room towards him.
"Daddy..? Why are you crying?"
He stopped and turned, shocked that she was in the room, and sighed heavily, moving over and sitting on his bunk. He patted the mattress beside him, and she stepped over and sat down, looking at him worriedly.
"The day of the Endgame," he mumbled, trying to find the words that he could use, "I had with me my daughter."
"I know, dad, I was there."
"And on that day, she died." He said, as if she hadn't interrupted him. "You... you were only five." He inhaled sharply, his own memories burning his mind. "You had been shot by the humans who had ignored our white flag surrender, our last ditch effort to survive being eradicated. As we fled en masse, deeper into the catacombs of Hoven, my fellow soldiers demanded that I leave you behind."
"I refused... and only your uncle, Hazard, seemed to take my side. While he went on ahead with a few squads and the civilians, I was cornered by several of my own platoon. They demanded that I leave you, that I 'toss you to the wolves' or they would kill us both. With you in my arm, I retaliated, using my Trump to kill them, to brutally massacre them for their threat... I... I killed my own people, Fortune! I killed our kind in a vain attempt to save my dying child from a swifter death!
"In that... room, what you saw... that is my legacy." Flare huffed, staring at the floor as tears dripped from his muzzle. "The monster you saw in there is the very same monster that attempted, in vain, to save your life. I... I never wanted you to see it, see me, become that." He smiled faintly and gently brushed her curly hair with a hand. "I love you, with all my heart, Fortune; but, having seen me like that, I have no idea how you could possibly see me as anything other than what I am... a monster."
Fortune smiled and kissed his cheek.
"A monster cannot cry remorse." She said. "You're never a monster to my eyes, and you never have been. Audra had that coming to her-"
"That's not the point, honey." Flare snapped. "I shouldn't have done that; I could have killed her! I... I nearly did!"
Fortune sighed. "And think; we still have another entire day before we reach Nu'richè."
He laughed sarcastically. "I wonder who I'll almost kill tomorrow."
"Jay's got weapons training lined up tomorrow; if you manage to kill someone, you're pointing in the wrong direction."
The rest of the day passed quietly, with Cibbie suffering only minor bruising from her sound beating thanks to her Card, she was able to retire to her room to get Amanda and take her for a walk around the ship. The pair happened upon another drake owner, whose red male drake spent the entire encounter on his hind legs yapping at them furiously until they were out of sight. She heard, on the edge of her hearing, the drake being scolded for being as viciously rude as he had been while she walked away, and she rubbed Amanda's scalp for her being so calm during the whole encounter. Eventually they came upon the mess hall, and Cibbie managed to buy some jerky for Amanda before retreating back to their room, where Amanda hurried to her litter box.
"I hope she doesn't smell too offensive..." She mumbled apologetically to Fortune.
"I thought you'd put the litter box in the bathroom because you thought it easy to clean in there?"
"Sort of; if she's going to stink, at least she can do it somewhere we can clean and where bad smells are kinda expected."
Amanda came dawdling back out, followed closely by Terry who had been in the bathroom sorting the cupboards. She ran up to Cibbie and rubbed her cheek against Cibbie's shin.
"She's clean." Terry snipped before Cibbie picked her up. "And no, she doesn't stink too offensive."
Cibbie teased Amanda briefly before letting her down, the drake too exhausted from her exercise to be fussed, and she moved to her basket to snooze.
"Tomorrow will be interesting." Fortune said; standing and pulling Cibbie from the bed. "Firearms practice."
Cibbie giggled and changed her arm into its firearm self. "I wonder how much they'll enjoy having me in the class..."