Chrono Continuum
Chapter 82:
The Essence of Battle
1999 AD

Trading stealth for speed, Lucca dove through the open space between the capsules, allowing Brandt only a moment to try to make the shot.  Fortunately, he always fired. Lucca hoped that meant he'd have to reload soon. She'd heard him do so several times already. The downside was, of course, Brandt's skill. Each shot was closer and closer to hitting the inventor, and Lucca knew it would only take one shot to disable or kill her.
Brandt, however, suffered no such disability. Even as he cursed when he missed her, a smile stayed on his face. He'd get her sooner or later. They both knew it.

Lucca growled in frustration as a small, cat-like demon leapt toward her. Lucca's gun was between them in a moment, and in another moment, the creature was gone, blasted out of existence. And, in the background, so much quieter than the explosion, was a click. Lucca gasped. He's out of ammo. She smiled. A moment of distraction was all she really needed.

Making sure she was securely hidden behind a capsule, Lucca placed her back against the wall. Leaning against it for support, she raised up one boot and placed it against the capsule. Once that foot was planted firmly enough, she lifted her other leg, and placed that foot against the capsule as well. As silently as she could, she began to push against the capsule, trying to tip it over, so that it would fall onto Brandt's portable shield. If the capsule hit the shield just right, it would sap enough energy that a shot from her
Wondershot might be able to make it through. Her pistol didn't stand a chance, and she knew it, so she didn't bother pulling it out.

She stifled a gasp as she heard Brandt finish reloading, a clack resounding through the air. She smiled. At that moment he was most likely looking around, trying to find her. She was utterly silent, and she was, fortunately, not being attacked by any creatures, so she had the element of surprise, at least for a while. As she strained to push over the
surprisingly solid capsule, she watched him, securely hidden in the shadows.

He was walking unhurriedly through the capsule-lined corridor, searching for her through the green tint of the force field. The huge gun in his hand was cocked, and he was aiming it around carefully, trying to catch a glimpse of her. A strange contraption sat on the floor, which Brandt picked up and carried wherever he went. The shield generator. On his back was a backpack, bulging with grenades. A demon moved through the shadows on the other side of the hall, and Brandt turned and fired, apparently on edge. The recoil of the gun knocked him back a step as the sharp-nosed bullet was discharged. A faint glimmer of energy accompanied it, allowing the bullet to break through the shield so that he wouldn't have to compromise his defense. Smart, Lucca thought. Too damned smart. The bullet slammed into the chest of the demon,
nearly blowing it in half. Brandt cursed as he realized he'd wasted ammo. Lucca grimaced. Ouch.

Brandt stood silent for a moment, as if in thought, then placed the gun on a shoulder-strap fitted for that purpose. Lucca winced. She knew what that meant. Almost casually, Brandt reached into his backpack and drew out a grenade. He knelt beside the generator, and paused, looking around for a good target. Then, in one swift motion, he primed the grenade, threw it, pressed a button on the generator to disable the shield, then swiftly pressed it again as soon as the grenade was out. It was so quick that Lucca had thought it a bad idea to try to shoot and possibly give away her position, so she didn't react other than to watch the grenade as it sailed by. It landed about twenty feet away, and clattered loudly as it hit the ground. It stayed there, silent for a moment, before it exploded in a flash of heat, light, and sound. Brandt instantly pulled his gun, in case Lucca were to be seen running from the area, but he was disappointed to see nothing at all.

A little angered, he pulled out another grenade, and looked around, trying to figure out where to throw it next. Lucca's eyes widened as Brandt's gaze happened to randomly settle on her location. Time seemed to freeze. In slow motion, Lucca glanced at the energy levels of her gun. Half full. She could shoot the grenade in midair, with a little careful aiming, but then she'd give away her position, and she'd be back to square one. She felt a momentary thrill as the capsule shifted a little, giving her hope, but it was moot if she gave away her position before she managed to push it over.

Slowly, Brandt primed the grenade. His other hand slammed down, on the generator, shutting it off for just a moment. The grenade slowly rose into the air, and the field snapped into place just as the grenade passed its radius. Time stopped.

Lucca smiled. She had a plan. She was, after all, a genius.

Same Time Period

Christina parried the blow as best she could, but it was like standing under a waterfall. You could only shield yourself so much before you were overwhelmed. And overwhelmed she very nearly was. The Frogmasamune was light, for a broadsword, and certain magical properties allowed it to slide through the air with more ease, but despite the sword, Christina just wasn't the warrior her sister was, and probably never would be.

Assuming she survived to try.

Her arms were growing heavier every moment, while Schala seemed only to get more determined as time passed, her face impassive, belying the warrior's rage that burned within her. Christina simply didn't have the drive, or the experience, or the physical power. She was a thief. She wasn't a warrior, or even a sorceress, though she tried using both aspects. They didn't work.

Though she was at least as fast as her sister, her strength faltered under the strength of Schala's never-ending attacks, and she was hard pressed simply keeping the long sword away from any vital areas. She was bleeding now, from a dozen superficial cuts, while Schala wasn't scratched. Hell, she wasn't even breathing very hard. On the other hand, Christina had tried using magic, hoping her sister was a master only of the physical, not the magical. No such luck. Every attack thrown out by Christina was simply dodged, or more often effortlessly blocked with only a moment's concentration on Schala's part. Christina had a feeling that if Schala had wanted to take this to magical levels, she'd already have blown her less experienced sister into pieces too small to see with the naked eye. Schala would have given any of the original Travelers a run for their money, save perhaps Crono or Magus, but neither of them were around, and the one
original Traveler here, Lucca, was dealing with odds Christina wouldn't have gone up against if she had a gun put to her head.

Christina squinted, her vision blurring slightly as her blood loss began to affect her. She was only a thief. And against a fully-trained warrior, there was nothing a thief could do. She gave thought to using her magic to hide, but decided against it. This was more than win-or-lose. This was her only way to prove herself, and she suspected it was the same for Schala. In a last act of desperation, she charged forward, swinging her sword in an
upward arc towards Schala's head...

And it was the easiest thing in the world for Schala to swing her sword in a circular motion, and knock the Frogmasamune out of her sister's hands. The magical sword whistled as it flew through the air, finally clattering uselessly against the Generator, not harming the giant device. Christina turned to defend herself, only to find Schala's sword at her throat, not more than an inch from a vital vein. She stayed very still, and waited for the end, the only kind of end that her warrior sister would understand.

But, much to her surprise, Schala let the blade drop away, and effortlessly placed it back into its scabbard. Her face was expressionless, as always, as she told her sister, "Enough. This fight is over."

Christina blinked, relieved but wary. "Why?"

Schala continued to stare at her, or through her. "You are not yet strong enough to defend your beliefs. One day, you shall be, and then we shall fight again. Until then, there is no point in it."

Schala began to turn away, but Christina stopped her. "Why must we fight?  Isn't it enough that what I believe makes sense? Must I defend myself to prove it?"

Schala shook her head knowingly. "If you cannot defend your beliefs, you have no right to serve them."

Christina closed her eyes, human and electronic. "And what do you believe, Schala? What do you fight for? What's so important to you that you would be willing to fight to the death to defend? This Kingdom, with all its injustices? Tell me."

Schala turned away, looking off into the distance, as if seeing through the walls. "My beliefs are my own. I hold no allegiance to the Kingdom. I hold allegiance only to honor, and to the one I serve." She turned her head slightly, and observed Christina with one eye. "Believe me when I say that this is how it must be, sister. Destiny has given us our roles, and we must play them through to the end, no matter how abhorrent. I wish I could leave the sword behind, but it rules my life. As it shall rule yours."

Christina blinked. "The one you serve? But, don't you serve Parsa?"

Schala's mouth softened in what might have been a small smile. "I serve destiny. I am given over to enforcing it." She abruptly began to walk away. "I suggest you pick up your sword. Without me around to hold them back, the demons will soon decide to attack you. You must live to fight me again, Jara," she finished as she walked through a crowd of demons that Christina realized had gathered around the two sisters as they had fought. Very slowly, Christina, backed toward the quiescent Frogmasamune, and picked it up, just as the demons charged.

Same Time Period

It all happened so quickly that each action seemed to last an eternity in comparison. As the grenade flew through the air, Lucca's right hand aimed the Wondershot at the base of the capsule she was pushing so hard against. At the same time, her left hand undid the strap on the holster of her pistol, as her magic increased the power of her eyesight, giving her approximately 20/6 vision. In one fluid motion, she drew the weapon,
switched off the safety, pulled back the hammer, aimed at the grenade, slowly rotating in the air, and fired. The bullet seemed to take forever to hit its target, but it hit true. The bullet nicked the edge of the grenade, reversing its spin, and turning it around.

Without sparing further time on the grenade, Lucca turned her attention to the capsule. Dropping the pistol, she grabbed the Wondershot with both hands and pulled the trigger. This time, though, instead of rapidly tapping the trigger, she held it, releasing all of the gun's stored energy in a single long stream of power, which slammed into the base of the capsule, instantly vaporizing some of the more delicate wires, and blasting away large chunks of glass and metal, which acted as flying shrapnel, cutting her across her arms and face. She ignored it. As the fluid streamed from the hole in the glass, the weight of the capsule lowered considerably, enough to allow her to push the capsule from its damaged base.

With a loud groan, the capsule tipped over, heading straight for the energy field before it. At that very moment, the grenade struck the field, the energy of the field causing a chain reaction which prematurely detonated the explosive. As the energy pounded against the shield, the generator shifted its power away from physical attacks, and focused on energy defense-just as the capsule came swinging down. After a moment's pause, the capsule broke through the field. Brandt jumped to the side, just barely avoiding the heavy object. However, it still crashed down onto the generator, crushing the small device instantly. The field crackled, then disappeared.

For a long moment, neither of them did anything but stare at each other. Lucca had fallen to the ground after the capsule tipped over, and was now sitting with her back against the wall, the drained Wondershot in her hands, her pistol about three feet away, disturbed by the rushing liquid. Brandt was standing in shock of what had just happened, and stared blankly at the cause of his sudden troubles. The moment seemed to last forever.

Then time crashed back to normal. As Brandt reached for the rifle in his shoulder holster, Lucca dove to the side, her hand scrabbling for the pistol that lay so very close. As Brandt pulled the heavy gun out of its holster, Lucca managed to get a hold on the water-slicked grip of the pistol, and rolled over. They both aimed at the same time. They both fired.

The two bullets ripped through the air at speeds well past sound, and crossed the equal distance in less than a second. Brandt's bullet flew forward, and Lucca cried out in sharp pain as she felt a lightning bolt streak up her arm. She thought she'd been hit, but remembered the power of the gun, and realized she wouldn't have had her arm anymore, had she been hit. The bullet had come close enough to feel the air ripple as it passed by, doing no damage, but the energy surrounding it seared her skin in a straight line, leaving an instantly cauterized, and painful, scar.

Lucca's bullet hit Brandt underneath his rib cage, and went through at an upward angle, until it lodged in a muscle in his back. He grunted in pain, and fell to the floor, his gun clattering down and sliding a few feet away.  He died without another sound. He had been a Hellbound, but he'd never really been much more than human.

Lucca winced as she sat up, unable even to grin at her victory. It had been hard earned, but she'd used up most of her energy. She was tired. She still had her magic, but that was taxing on the body and the mind, and she didn't know if she was up to it. She still had her pistol, but her Wondershot was out of energy for the moment, which meant that if she were pressed into battle...

Her back stiffened. Now that she was no longer hidden by the capsules, demons of all shapes and sizes had surrounded her, blocking off all escape routes. She took a deep breath. "Damn," she muttered, and struggled to her feet just as they pounced.

Same Time Period

Janus cried out in pain, real pain, as his wife slapped him across the face. No, not my wife, he corrected himself. A thing in my wife's body. And for that reason he'd been trying to avoid any seriously damaging spells, but he didn't have many defensive spells to begin with, and fewer still dealing with physical attacks instead of magic. Which meant he either had to kill her, or avoid her until he could figure out something else to do. Not very easy when you're surrounded by demons.

He'd figured out that in close combat, surrounded on all sides by demons, Lucca's speed didn't mean a whole lot, but her strength did. It was much greater than Janus' merely human strength. And Janus' staff was good against her, but it meant nothing to the demons that surrounded him. Janus' nose was bleeding, there were marks on his face and arms of claws, and he kept having to spit up blood. But he wouldn't give up. It wasn't in him.

Lucca suddenly rushed forward and grabbed her husband by the shirt. Effortlessly, she lifted him off the ground. Janus gritted his teeth as best he could, trying to keep his wife from knowing the truth, that as she watched helplessly, her body was killing him.

"Please," she begged him, "Defend yourself, Janus. I can't break free of the chip, and you can't beat me unless you start using some serious magic!"

Janus shook his head as best he could. "I... can't. I won't kill you."

Tears were streaming down her face as she swung Janus around, slamming him into a wall. "Janus, you'll die!"

"I can live with that," Janus replied. He smiled, or tried to. It looked more like a grimace. "Sort of."

"Very noble, father," Schala noted aloud, surprising the two of them. Neither of them had noticed her come to stand behind Lucca. Lucca's expression of hope differed from her body's tense readiness to turn and strike her daughter. Schala continued, "You would die so that she may live?"

Janus looked at her sadly. "She's my wife, Schala. And your mother. A world without her wouldn't be worth living."

"Please, Schala," Lucca begged. "Kill me."

Schala considered it. "I have a better idea." And she snapped her fingers.  Instantly, Lucca's arm dropped Janus. In another moment, they were hugging each other tightly, as they both realized Lucca was free. Schala continued, "This is my last gift to the two of you. Enjoy it. I only regret that I shall not be there with you to treasure it."

Janus and Lucca looked towards her, only to find empty space where she'd been a moment ago. But before they could wonder about that, the demons, no longer held back by Schala's presence, charged the two. Or four. Janus and Lucca were surprised to find Christina and the other Lucca at their side, poised for battle.

Silently they all assessed the odds. Earlier there had been too many demons in too dark a setting to count, but now that their respective battles had whittled down the numbers, their numbers were closer to fifty, perhaps as few as thirty. Thirty against four. At best. And their backs were literally to the wall.

The Travelers and demons stood still as stone for a moment, measuring each other up. And then, on some unseen signal, the demons charged, a collective roar rising from among them. And the four Travelers prepared to defend themselves.

"Some days things wouldn't go right if you paid them." -Owen Deathstalker, Deathstalker Honor


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