"Good evening, agent. I suppose it's closer to a good morning now, really."

I stared blankly at the wall, my breathing shallow as my eyes dully shifted to meet his.

"I did what you asked." I responded numbly, feeling the cold air against my pelt. "She's dead."

"I'm afraid not. Your target is a special case." He answered matter-of-factly, shifting his white lab coat. "Your mission hours earlier was the first salvo, a prelude to the plan we have in place."

"What is it you even want from me?" I asked, closing my eyes in frustration.

"Compliance."

OOO

It wasn't often that I had a good night of sleep. Visions of impending doom always found their way back into my head, one way or another, and yet I remained on Theo's couch, staring at the ceiling fan without any notion of sleep.

"'My father sends his regards'. Who the hell did I piss off so much they'd blast me off a rooftop for it?" I muttered. "Can't be that many who'd lug around a handgun with as much kick as it had."

It seemed that despite my efforts to use the Oracle's gifts to the betterment of the future of others, I continued to make enemy after enemy. Whatever good I was doing…it was becoming increasingly difficult to see it.

"…Is this how Dietrich went insane?" The thought was blood-curdling, but I let it sit in my mind all the same.

Sitting up with a grunt, I rolled my eyes as I stared at the clock on the wall, seeing that it had barely passed midnight.

Quietly stepping through the house, I slid open the door to the back porch where Theo and I had spoken, and walked into the yard.

Kneeling in the grass, I closed my eyes and sucked in my breath, tasting the cool night air amidst the distant echoes of traffic that reached my ears. Earth, in all its non-magic traits, was a distinctly loud world, I realized. Technology and the lack of otherworldly traits that the rest of the universe held left it stagnant to senses like mine.

It was a dead world, perhaps not literally, but it was ultimately a wasteland.

Of course, all this was merely a distraction, one more effort to delay what came next.

I opened my eyes, seeing the familiar armor kneeling in front of me, mirroring my position in the grass.

"Draw." I spoke, my estoc forming in my hands as I rapidly drew to my feet. The armor did the same, mist dripping away from the feathered tasset of my counterpart's black, avian armor.

As always, it made the first strike, lunging forward with a piercing jab that I turned aside, the clank of metal striking together echoing through the air as I stepped backwards, deflecting a backhanded strike as my opponent righted itself from its initial attack.

"That's new." I commented, grunting as it took its weapon in a two handed stance, slamming the estoc against mine in a sudden grapple as I struggled to hold my ground.

The armor was silent as it strained against my own considerable strength, our swords humming with kinetic energy as I felt my feet sliding slowly across the grass, losing ground from perhaps sheer weight difference.

"Gggh!" I let out a cough as it turned aside my sword, lowering a free hand and delivering a short, but effective punch to my lower belly that practically vibrated across my entire body as I dropped to one knee, managing to deflect its next blow as I threw my body backwards into a clumsy roll, stumbling to my feet as the armor lunged once more.

This time, however, I was ready, twisting my upper torso to avoid the deadly piercing attack and slamming the pommel of my weapon against the helm, sending it stumbling backwards as I jumped into the air, feeling an unnatural surge of dark energy rush through my body as I phased forward, burying the tip of my estoc into the eye hole of my opponent's helm, driving it deep as I could and letting the armor fall backwards, twitching as it collapsed in a heap on the ground, defeated.

"Whew." I let out a breath of exhaustion, watching as the armor dispelled into nothing but black mist, retrieving my weapon from the grass. "Getting better at this."

I had learned much about the art of combat, particularly with the estoc that had been forged in Everyn from my soul, but the need to improve constantly presented itself in my mind.

Gripping the length of my sword and practicing a thrust, I tapped a finger on my chin thoughtfully.

"Half-swording…a bit of an old technique, but it might do the trick." Dispelling the estoc as I wiped my hands off on my shirt, I made a mental reminder to practice the technique later.

However, as I looked back up, I felt my heart sink as I saw my armor, standing only feet away from me.

"…Go." I glared at the suit of ebony armor, clad in raven feathers and darkness as it silently glowered at me. It did not move.

Narrowing my eyes, I stalked towards the armor, clenching my fists as my eyes shimmered purple.

"Leave." I demanded, the command dripping with venom as it appraised me for but a moment, eventually relenting and fading away, disappearing in the blink of an eye at last.

I held my ground for a moment, wondering if it would return, but as the minutes passed and nothing appeared, I gave out a breath of relief.

Not all of me so easily accepted the humiliating ambush I'd suffered…and I could feel a boiling anger and determination to find out where my attacker had gone.