Blood sprayed from Shotaro's lips as a tar black fist drilled itself into his face. In an instant, Shotaro retaliated with a punch of his own, turning the black being to flakes of black ash. Not a second later, a blow beat the back of Shotaro's head. Without looking, Shotaro reflexively threw a fist behind him, hitting his target, resulting in a dissipating puff of black ash. Almost instantly, a fist crashed upwards into Shotaro's jaw…

It had been going on like this for over eighteen hours now.

Since he'd started the training, he'd been punching and getting punched non-stop. Slowly but surely, the pace had been picking up. The Shattered weren't capable of movement until they'd been attacked and the same was true for Shotaro, but it was hardly noticeable at this pace. Shotaro estimated he'd begun trading blows at a regular pace with the Fake Shattered after about five or six hours. Soon enough, he felt a spike in his energy, strength and reflexes.

That was the moment he hit Tier 1. At that moment, the original group of Shattered that surrounded him were gone and had instantly been replaced.

These Shattereds' blows had been much faster, to the point where it seemed as if two were about to attack him simultaneously at the moment of his retaliation. To make matters worse, they didn't stop coming. Every time Shotaro ended one, another would show up. He quickly learned he had to kill them before another had a chance to appear.

Shotaro, whilst taking his hits, took note of the remaining Shattered that surrounded him. Seven. He threw a punch to one at his right. Six. At the same time, the falling snow in the Grounds had grown more rapid. The winds grew colder. Shotaro stood knee deep in the snow. He kept taking and giving hits. Three left. He threw a straight punch to one's abdomen. Two left, he thought as one punched him in his eye. In the same moment, he punched that Shattered in its throat. Last one! he thought as he and the Shattered threw punches at each other's faces. Shotaro's punch landed at the same time the Shattered's did. Shotaro flew back a few meters into the snow and the Shattered disappeared into black flakes.

As Shotaro stood up, he felt his body grow hypersensitive. He could hear the snowflakes glide through the cold air, feel the stings of bitter frost on the hairs of his skin. He could taste the iron in his blood, and see a dense black figure approach in the distance through the thick falling snow.

Second Tier.


Shotaro's thoughts were interrupted by a blow to his back that sent him flying through the air.

Damn, that hurt much worse than-

A fist intercepting him in the air shut his thoughts down and sent him rolling through the snow. A sensation in his body told him that an attack would be coming down on his head, so he somersaulted forward, just quick enough to avoid having a black Shattered stomp his head underfoot. Shotaro stood to his feet. The Shattered quickly disappeared from his sight and in the same moment Shotaro felt a sensation behind himself. He turned and blocked a fist from a Shattered on reflex, before the Shattered kicked him in his torso.

Hidden in the thick of the snowy air, Akira watched as his pupil slowly adjusted to the change from Tier 1 to Tier 2.

From now on he's got free reign of his body, but he has to deal with the fact that his enemy is faster and stronger than him. Akira thought as he watched Shotaro attempt a kick to a Shattered, but miss as the Shattered disappeared from sight, and appeared above him. As the Shattered dove down with both feet, Shotaro leapt away from the attack.

It looks like he's finally aware he was granted the ability to sense danger. Ironically, he's still not aware that he's been able to use his Archetype abilities since he reached First Tier. Akira smiled to himself. Doesn't matter, he'll figure it out when he needs it.

Takei stood in front of a wooden door to an abandoned shack. Dressed as he was in a black blazer, and black pants over crocodile shoes. He wore a red button down shirt with a thin black tie and had a cane in his right hand balancing him. He reached into his blazer pocket and removed an oddly shaped skeleton key, the Chamber Key. He put the key to the door then let go. It hung there, suspended, before phasing through the door and twisting itself. The door opened, a stark darkness greeting him. He took bold steps into the blackness, and emerged on the other side. There, he was presented with a large open space about the size of an airplane hangar. Columns on both sides lined the way from one end to the other. Above him, various man sized devices hung from chains off the high ceiling, nearly completely concealed in darkness. The devices bore different shapes, some like sarcophagi, some like iron maidens. Unlike the dark ceilings, the ground area was bright as the walls were fixed with vivid ethereal lights. This was the Chamber Hall.

At the end of the Hall, stood a man of about thirty years, surrounded by five young men and women. The man had short blonde hair and wore round glasses. He wore a long black jacket, the ends of which reached the back of his shins and ended just above his black boots. On his right sleeve was the Black Smile's white arm band. Those surrounding him were in similar dress code, other members of the Black Smile.

As Takei approached the crowd, he noticed what everyone had gathered around. Beyond the six of them, a red haired woman was bound from foot to neck with bandages and tied to one of the columns. The bandages had on them strange symbols and shapes that seemed to swim vertically across the entire covering. They were in Shattered language and read "Must Not Touch. Must Stay Alive."

The woman herself had very angular features. Her brown eyes especially were narrow and sharp. Her nose perked upward and her lips curled to one side. The Archetypes around her could feel the contemptuous aura her Impetus gave off, but even if they couldn't, they'd be able to read it right off her face.

Takei stepped through the lot of them and stood between the blonde man and red haired woman. He analyzed the woman for a moment before turning to the blonde man, "Trey, what's the meaning of this?"

"Last night, Misato happened to break into my lab and steal one of my devices," the blonde man thumbed at the tied up woman. His voice had a clear accent.

Takei turned to Misato in what appeared to be shock and disgust.

"She was obviously under the influence of some outside force," the blonde man said before Takei could keep judging her.

"How do you know this?" Takei asked without removing his gaze from Misato.

"I have the evidence recorded," he said, handing Takei a thumb drive. "Taken from my lab's cameras."

Takei slipped the drive into his blazer pocket, "Explain to me exactly what happened."

The blonde made a motion to Takei who understood immediately.

"You all, out!" Takei said to the five other members of the Black Smile. They whispered and murmured as they exited the Chamber Hall.

"I walked into my lab this morning to find the place ransacked and one of my inventions missing. I check my surveillance records and catch Misato on video destroying my things and stealing from me," the blonde man explained.

Misato merely rolled her eyes.

"As I reviewed the recording, I noticed a marking on her forehead; a circle with triangles inside of it," the blonde said.

"Shattered magic…" Takei said in a breath.

The blonde nodded. "The second I put the pieces together I tracked Misato down and restrained her."

"Which sounds brilliant in theory, but in practice seems to be a vain effort because I'm fine now," Misato spoke through her teeth.

"We can't know that for sure," the blonde said. "What if there are lingering effects? You seemed to be acting on the commands of another. What if there's a time based command set to initiate at a certain hour, or under certain circumstances? We can't be too careful."

"That's ridiculous Hellroy," Misato spoke. "You know me, you know my abilities. No one trick can work on me twice."

"Sorry Deuce, but I agree with Trey," Takei said to Misato. "Whoever set this up has done their research. They knew who to target, when to strike, where to go. I do believe someone's been spying on us."

"Right," Dr. Hellroy agreed. "Either they knew that only Black Smile members can enter my lab, or they didn't want to risk their life going against the lab's defense system. Or both. Either way, they made the intelligent move."

"We don't have to take too many guesses to know that this is that group of Shattered that have been killing off our weak," Takei said.

"I guess we know what they were after now," the doctor spoke.

"That's all well and good then, isn't it? We know who did it, so now you can release me so I can find them and kill them. They're just Shattered after all," Misato said.

"We can't risk it," Takei said, "Besides, you have more important things to do than hunt small fry."

"Like what? Being tied to a column?" Misato spat.

"If it is that group of Shattered, they must have someone very powerful backing their operation," Dr. Hellroy concluded. "There's no way Shattered of such low caliber could hypnotize Misato of all people. Their Impetus isn't strong enough. That magic must've been provided by a much stronger Shattered."

"One of the Addix maybe?" Takei suggested.

"It's certainly possible," Dr. Hellroy said.

"I'll have Ace look into it," Takei said.

"Ace is busy," Misato spoke. "On top of other things, some of his underlings have been getting marred and slaughtered by those Shattered, so he's trying to figure out what to do with them."

Dr. Hellroy's face lit up, "Oh right, yes. Ace sent me one of his own yesterday. A young man who had been tortured and had his arm removed. Clearly he wants me to heal it, but I have something much more interesting planned."

"I see," Takei hummed. "Trey, you never mentioned what it was Misato took from your lab."

"Yes, well, it was one of the Calcifiers. It's not a big issue really, I have many more, but what's interesting is which Calcifier she took," the doctor said.

"What about it?" Takei asked.

"It's the one with Shotaro Minami's Impetus sample in it," Hellroy answered.

"I see," Takei grinned. "Then I'm assuming the one that was stolen was one of the replicas."

"Correct," Dr. Hellroy assured. "They got one of copies I made of Shotaro's Impetus, not the original."

"And what is so special about this boy's Impetus?" Misato asked.

"Unlike your Impetus or mine, it's not raw. It's pure," Hellroy answered.

Misato cocked a brow, "And what significance is that?"

"First of all the properties are different, which I'm sure affects how it manifests and evolves, but due to the fact that the duplicate that I was researching was stolen, I'm going to have to start my experiments all over," the doctor said.

"So all that you've concluded is that the Impetus is different," Misato said.

"A new type of Impetus, fascinating isn't it?" Takei asked.

Misato rolled her eyes, "I'll never understand you science types."

Takei brushed her statement off, "Of those five that were here earlier," he addressed Hellroy, "which of those were your subordinates?"

"All of them," Hellroy answered.

"I see," Takei replied. "Deuce, what's the last thing Cinque set off to do?"

Misato rolled her eyes once more, "I wouldn't know, I'm not his keeper. Why?"

"It seems Siegmund the Rook has been spying on us and I refuse to lose to the Addix. Hellroy, round up your subordinates. I'll contact Cinque," Takei said as he turned to exit the Hall, "They've made their move, now it's time to make ours."

Six Hours Later

The Grounds

Shotaro ducked as his Shattered opponent's leg swiped for his head. Shotaro responded with a powerful leg sweep, brushing away the knee high snow on the ground. The Shattered however had disappeared from his sight yet again. An instant later, a fist came at Shotaro's left but was dodged by a quick backstep. Shotaro responded again but was still too slow to hit his opponent. It had taken Shotaro about an hour to realize that he was only fighting one Shattered now. It had taken him two hours since then to realize that he actually had his Archetype abilities again.

Neither of this helped, as he was still too slow to touch his opponent.

A kick came down on Shotaro's head but was blocked by his forearm. Before he could throw a punch, the Shattered had moved to his right side for an uppercut. Shotaro sidestepped it but was swiftly greeted by a punch to the face.

Akira watched it all in silence.

The kid's hand to hand isn't bad. He's fast and adaptive. Doesn't make too many clumsy or unnecessary movements. But he's too predictable. If he can't tell his opponent's next move he defaults into an offensive which almost always involves jabs and feints. It wouldn't be too bad if this were all those schoolyard scraps he's used to, but it's not. We're fighting Shattered, and above everything Shattered are smarter and stronger than the average human. They've got more stamina, they're sturdier, and they're all battle hardened. The kids going to have to learn some new tricks if he hopes to stand a chance.

The Shattered threw a straight punch to Shotaro's face, blocked by Shotaro's hand, the Shattered brought its leg up to kick as Shotaro did the same. As their legs reached each others' abdomens, the two flew in opposite directions. The Shattered skidded on its feet, while Shotaro was tossed through the snow. As Shotaro rolled on his back, the Shattered appeared above him and brought its leg down on him. Shotaro rolled out of harm's way and took to his feet. The Shattered rushed Shotaro with a punch, which Shotaro managed to dodge before returning a punch of his own. The Shattered dodged and replied with a kick that Shotaro was able to dodge.

The two were soon dodging and retaliating in tandem.

Akira's brow raised and a smirk grew on his face, That happened faster than expected. Now that he's got the easy part down, he's going to have overpower the Shattered before he can reach the next Tier. Let's see how this turns out.