A lone figure emerges from the trees around the crater. He wears a dark cape – perhaps a royal purple or a navy blue, maybe even a near-black shade of red or green. Impossible to tell in the night. His pants are black, with red tiger stripes at the sides and two more red parts on the inside leg areas, along with some also-red areas on the side, towards the top, where the pockets would be if the pants had any. He has a shield on his left hand; it has two diamond designs on it – the shape, not the jewel – with an image of the shield itself within the diamonds. Outside of the diamonds are designs consisting of thin solid-color triangles. His right hand barely emerges from the long sleeve of the reddish button-down shirt he wears. It holds a heavy-bladed sword, close to the cross guard.

The split-toed sandals crush what little grass was not incinerated as he approaches the crater. The flaming trees burn with a soft red light; not an intense light, but a calm one. A small tuft of burning grass is extinguished as a foot came down on it. From behind the mask over his face, he looks towards a glint of light in the night sky. Against the quarter moon's weak light, the silhouette of a jumping figure flashed twice; once going up, the other time down. It burst forth from the trees once more, audible this time. A burst of birds flying away from the disturbance allows the masked man to track the point of launch. His bright red eyes follow the black figure as it flies across the midnight blue sky towards him. He walks over towards the center of the crater; he glances up again, then rapidly backs up a step.


The figure slams against the ground in front of the masked man, creating a smaller crater within the crater they stand in. It's clearly male; he wears a long-sleeved tight black shirt, so dark it stands out against the background, and similarly black long, plain pants. He has a pair of dimly reflective boxlike metal shoulder guards. He stands up slowly. His boots appear to be some sort of metal; probably an insanely hard kind. His gray eyes stare from under his black hair and study the mask; they trace the pattern – a set a triangular spikes going counterclockwise, with the one at the top going all the way over and through the right eyehole – he draws back momentarily with recognition of who it is, then takes an aggressive stance.

"Commander Kazuki requires the artifact, Monev. Leave now and you'll live… longer." Monev adjusts the perfectly smooth mask a little, then scratches the back of his head in a manner implying boredom. His hands do not touch the string of the mask, for there is none; it is simply attached to his face. The man Monev faces frowns at the obvious refusal of his offer. "Do you know who you face, Monev? Do you?" he threatens.

Monev tilts his head a little; a crooked smile was probably on his face, though the mask hid it if it was there. "I'm facing Gaius, supersoldier Number Ten, first of the Ten-Series of the supersoldier project, commissioned by Commander Kazuki under Emperor Sindhlot. Your primary powers – the ones you end up using most, at least – are thick skin (bulletproof, if I recall correctly), and obscenely strong legs. Your legs are both conditioned and genetically strengthened for maximum strength, and they are also your primary weapons. Anything I missed?"

Gaius's face tightens a little, and he springs forward like a rocket, screaming, "You forgot, I'm also the one who's about to kick your ass, demon!"

Monev threw his shield between him and Gaius. Gaius rotated a little in the air, bringing his feet in front of him. Gaius's legs curled in close to his body, then shot out like pistons as he met the shield. Monev stumbled backwards from the unexpected force. Gaius spun and landed on all fours. He stood up and pulled his right foot up. He grinned. He stomped.

"Son of a…" Monev muttered as the ground rippled under him. As he fell, he saw Gaius running up; Gaius swung his leg up and brought it down at Monev's head. Monev grabbed the leg two-handed and yanked it; with no footing, Gaius merely flailed around from the captured leg. Monev adjusted his grip a little and began to spin. Faster, faster, until Gaius was going to slip from his grip.


Gaius had brought his left heel forward and swung it back, smashing into Monev's ribs, making Monev bend forward with pain. Monev gasped for breath momentarily, then retaliated with a fierce lunge at the head of Gaius, who was once again on the ground.
He sliced at it, full-on and obvious, throwing his whole body into a right to left hack, and Gaius blocked by bringing his left leg straight up.

Monev spun the other way abruptly and a blade swung around from seemingly within the shield, slicing Gaius's side despite the bulletproof skin. Gaius's left leg shot down, releasing another shockwave. Monev was prepared for it; he vaulted up Gaius, bringing his feet onto Gaius's shoulders, then jumping off to land on the edge of the crater. Monev flicked a small object out from his pocket. It was a pen. He threw his sword into the air, scribbled something on his right hand's palm, and caught the sword in his left hand. Gaius edged towards him slightly. Monev's hand slapped the ground, and a tendril of dirt and rock grabbed Gaius by his arms, lifting him off the ground. Gaius struggled, but his arms had no special strengths and his legs were simply hanging in the air. The tendrils went slightly to the side, just out of Gaius reach, before connecting to the ground.

"I'm sorry, Gaius… I really am… or… might be…" Monev said with a slight tilt of his head. "But this artifact… Well, let's just say Commander Kazuki wants it for a reason." He walked towards the center of the crater.

"No…" Gaius murmured… "No…" Louder this time. "NOOOO!!" He yelled it with all the force he had in him, and swung his legs up with a fury unlike any Monev had any seen, cracking his own rib as his only weapons, his legs, flew upwards into the tendril at the horizontal part. The other one fell. Monev lunged and brought his sword down at Gaius, two-handed and glowing with power. Gaius grabbed Monev's arm and kicked straight upwards. Monev's right elbow exploded with pain. It was bent ninety degrees in the direction it wasn't supposed to go. Gaius spun on the ball of his grounded foot and his leg gave a backwards thrust, blasting Monev against a tree. Monev hung his head, tilted his mask slightly off his face, and coughed up blood. Before Gaius could see his face, he returned the mask to its normal position.

"Don't make me destroy you, Gaius," Monev warned. Gaius laughed.

"How? Cough blood at me? Ha! You can hardly put up a fight against me. I'd love to see you fight Jax! He's stronger than I'll ever be!" Gaius taunted.

"Jax, Zero-One? Heh. I have ways I could use to fight him," Monev laughed. "You're just not worthy of seeing them. For now…" his voice faded as his body did; Gaius's ears pricked up and his eyes watched in the dim light for any disturbances of the dirt. Some rocks slid down the slope to his left. He turned, looking carefully for any sign.

The next thing he knew, he had been impaled from behind. He coughed. Blood spattered onto his clothing. He felt an impact on his back and he fell onto the ground. The rocks pushed the sword back out of him in the most painful manner Gaius could imagine. He could hardly move. All he could think was, How did he get through my skin? How did he have the strength after what I did to his arm?

Monev picked the sword up and planted it in the earth. A deep rumbling from the center of the crater managed to get Gaius thinking a bit. On a cellular level, his wounds were already being woven shut.

This artifact, this machine that had fallen from the sky, this merger of technology and mana… this thing that Monev and Gaius had both been told to take… It was an enormous sphere, shining and smooth, so smooth that all the dirt it had been buried in had fallen off almost instantly. Certain parts with silvery, others colored and partially transparent. It was about the size of a medium house.

By the time Monev had taken all this in, Gaius's uncommonly used but very helpful talent had triggered.

That infrequently required quality was fast healing.

As Monev and Gaius both looked with dismay at the artifact as it floated slightly unsteadily in the air, wondering how to bring it back to those who required it.

Gaius silently regained his footing.

Monev began to look for any imperfection in the perfect sphere, or signs of an area that a crystalline plate would open up. The ball of Gaius's foot met the back of Monev's head, blowing through the wild black hair and straight to the skull, launching Monev forward into the pit created by the artifact's absence. Monev sprang out and ran at Gaius. Gaius waited for both the obvious attack and the actual one. Monev's fist swung at Gaius head. Gaius didn't even block with his leg.

Scribbled on Monev's hand was a small rune. When Gaius put his forearm in the way, Monev dropped his hand back and grabbed the arm. The runic magic discharged, shattering the bone in Gaius's arm. Gaius swore and dropped his right leg back. When he brought it around in a roundhouse to take off Monev's head, Monev was already under it. The shield's small blade, forgotten by Gaius, shot up under Gaius's rib cage, stabbing through a lung. Gaius choked out a disbelieving "No" and fell as the shield's blade retracted. The battered Monev stumbled away from Gaius. He was holding his right elbow; the punch had been a good idea but it had put his already injured elbow through even more trauma.

This time, Gaius slept.

Slept, but did not die.

Someday, he would have his rematch.

Some day…