Twilight The Traveler Chapter 18 – Talk With The Devil

Twilight the Traveler

// Talk With The Devil// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

Tara was back in the somewhat disturbing room to speak with Arcana about the Black Blood and the seal. “I can see you want to talk about something. Feel free to ask me whatever you want. Be aware that while I won’t outright lie to you, I may not always tell the whole truth. Now ask me a question if you wish.” Arcana said, trademark smile in place.

Tara was less than trusting of her darker counterpart, but had no one else to ask who fully understood the seal, the black blood’s effects, and their semi-shared biology. It was pretty clear that Arcana’s physical abilities, including healing, were far in excess of Tara’s. They’d spent a few of these sessions beating on each other before Tara managed to add a section to the seal that allowed her to have her regular dreams if she actively did not want to deal with Arcana, and their abilities weren’t much different from the outside world.

“I have two questions. If I were to use the Black Blood, how long could the seal hold, and how exactly would it affect me? We’re both aware that between my origins, you, my connection to one of the Elements, and of course the l’cie incident, I’m human in only loose terms.” Tara asked.

“Well, you would display many of the more basic abilities Crona and Ragnarok possessed such as a boost in your soul-based abilities, physical strength and durability, and a smaller boost to both speed and healing.” At the slightly impatient look on Tara’s face Arcana held up a hand.

“However, you know all of this already, so I assume you were asking about mental effects. Based on your mindset, I predict that you would approach everything with a calm and logical analysis that would probably come across as super-creepy to normal people if you were to use the Black Blood. Your sense of right and wrong would be more or less removed as well.

As for how long the seal will hold out under constant bombardment by insanity, about 15 minutes. You must be so glad you installed an auto-repair for when you have spare magic.” Arcana explained.

“You’re being awfully helpful. I can believe you’ve never told an outright lie to me since you clearly like the name I gave you if you’re still using it and either told a half-truth or something a dark reflection of myself would believe on the other occasions we spoke. Tell me why you aren’t simply refusing to answer or telling me something extremely vague.” Tara asked suspiciously.

Arcana held up three fingers. “Three reasons. First, you expect me to try something like that, so it would make you more suspicious if I didn’t. Seeing you get flustered and paranoid not only throws some negative energy my way, but it’s very entertaining. Second, I am a manifestation of all the darker emotions you buried. In a sense, I am the truth in regards to your negative emotions, what you’d be like if you never felt anything positive. Since I am a reflection of the truth, I have difficulty lying. Your own poor skills at lying compound it to the point that even lies of omission give me problems, which is the main reason I’m telling you all this, but I’d be a fairly poor liar even if you were a master. Also, I’m in a good mood today.” she shrugged. “That’s really it.”

“Hm, I guess I can accept that.” Tara said, then concentrated for a moment, and a chess table and set appeared. “I thought so. It’s my soul/mind-scape, so I should be able to influence it. We probably have some time to kill before I have to get up and I highly doubt you’d let me out of here without a fight unless I was waking up anyway. A fight I would probably lose.” Tara said, causing Arcana to nod in agreement.

“Would you like to play a game or three?” Tara asked, throwing Arcana for a loop and causing her grin to falter in surprise for a moment. “We have nothing better to do, and you have yet to threaten me since that first incident with Orphan, beating on me for the fun of it doesn’t count. I have no reason to be overly hostile. It wouldn’t get me anywhere anyway.” Tara explained.

“…What the hell, I literally have nothing better to do and I like being just functionally insane rather than ‘babbling-maniac’ insane.” Arcana said, smile returning full-force and then taking the white pieces. At first glance this was ironic, but white moved first, which implied aggression.

*** Hospital Room ***

Tara and Soul had managed to visit Nurse Medusa at around the same time so as to avoid making Maka more guilty by rubbing her perceived fault in her face. Tara was fairly simple, requiring little more than a blood sample, but Soul had more or less needed a full physical since his original wound was much more severe.

“How have you been feeling?” Medusa asked Soul as she took his vitals.

“About the same as usual. …Except for some weird dream that I’ve been having over and over.” Soul said.

“A strange dream you say?” Medusa asked. Tara felt her suspicions bubble up, but pushed them down. Now she was just being irrational, any doctor would ask that!

“Yeah, and it’s been bothering me because I can remember it so well. Like it really happened. I’m always in this dark room, like pitch-black, and there’s a record going. It keeps skipping like it has a big scratch on it, and it’s playing a jazz song I’m pretty sure I’ve heard before, but I can’t remember where.

After I’ve been sitting there listening to the music for a while, this little devil in a suit appears from the other side of the room and starts dancing out of time to the music.”

*** Soul’s Dream ***

Soul sat on a chair, wearing a suit, next to a record player that was trying to play jazz, but kept skipping every few seconds. A red demon with stubs for horns who was about two feet tall and wearing a suit was dancing swing. “Swing! Swing! Swing!” he commented gleefully.

“Dude, this isn’t swing music, it’s jazz.” Soul deadpanned.

“Ah, but jazz is so much more appropriate for night time.” the demon responded.

“I’m pretty sure music’s not picky about when it’s played. You get to decide, so why not listen to actual swing?” Soul asked.

“That’s right, the decision’s mine. Yes sir! You know, you can decide too, you’re eligible!” the demon threw in, pointing at Soul.

“When you got cut open like a fish being gutted, you must have been afraid. Am I right?” the demon asked as he shimmied behind Soul. “And wouldn’t it be nice to have a mind strong enough to get rid of the fear you’ve been feeling, right?” the demon asked, a giant toothy grin on it’s face.

“If you forget your fear, you’ll become reckless. That’s something they teach at the Academy.” Soul countered.

The demon put a hand on his chair. “Heh, are you some kind of idiot or are you just blind? Do you think you’re in Heaven where you can’t get hurt anymore? If you don’t want to die down here like a rat you’re going to need more power than you’ve got now. Power so overwhelmingly strong you can say goodbye to all your fears!” the demon said exultantly, trying to convince Soul.

Soul was pulled out of his chair by one arm as the demon tried to lead him somewhere. “You’re nothing without that power, now come on and get out there already!” the demon said exasperatedly.

Soul stopped the demon. “No wait, please, I don’t want to leave this room. Let me stay in this room until I wake up! I’ll even put up with the lame music!” Soul said desperately. The door on one side of the room opened to a black void.

“Seek out the power you need! Find a rule to break! It will make you stronger, stronger perhaps than you ever thought possible!” the demon said, his grin stretching into the realm of insanity.

*** Hospital Room ***

“Why are you so afraid of leaving the room Soul?” Medusa asked.

“Whenever I leave the room, the darkness looks like it keeps going forever. Then all of a sudden there’s a light. I go toward it, but when I go through… I’m coming out of Maka’s stomach.” Soul was left breathing heavily and sweating when he finished speaking.

‘Interesting, the Black Blood in his system seems to be affecting him even while dormant.’ Medusa thought, the slightest of smiles on her face.

“I’m suddenly so glad I didn’t go through the door.” Tara said, then realized she’d said that out loud.

“Wait, you too?” Soul asked.

Realizing she wouldn’t be able to get out of this without some kind of explanation, she elaborated. “Yeah, only I have a chess set where that record player in yours is, and my ‘demon’ is just me with red eyes and functionally insane. She wants me to do something or other, but she’s kinda roundabout. She tries to convince me over chess rather than send me out the door.” Tara explained, not wanting to have to explain that she had Black Blood from a minor injury she’d gotten, which would immediately cause Medusa to realize it was in Soul’s system too. She still didn’t trust Medusa completely, so she strung along partial truths.

Not wanting to explain the exact origins of Arcana was more of a secondary concern. She was planning on telling everyone in her circle of friends eventually anyway, along with the rest of her story since being thrown out of Equestria.

‘Well now, it doesn’t seem to vary all that much from person to person. The differences with Crona can be explained by the Black Blood in him having it’s own consciousness as well as how young he was when his normal blood was replaced, but I’d like to be more sure.’ Medusa noted with interest, keeping her dark glee carefully masked.

She’d run some tests on some samples she’d kept around since replacing Crona’s normal blood, and was a bit surprised to discover that fire was a weakness of the Black Blood. The compounds that allowed it to harden broke down in the presence of flame and extreme heat. It would be best to check for other weaknesses, but she had a limited supply of Black Blood, and Crona might die if hit with any new weaknesses. Why risk Crona when there were other test subjects available?

“I’m sure I’m fine though.” Tara said with a slight smile. Medusa was the only one who noticed, but Tara wasn’t actually looking directly at either of them as she said that. An inability to lie well was somewhat working against Tara.

Soul seemed to accept this, nodding. “So, other than that, how are we doing?” Soul asked.

Medusa looked at her clipboard. “Well, you have slight arrhythmia, but other than that, neither of you seem to have any other problems. I predict you’ll both make a full recovery.” she got out the pump for checking blood pressure.

“As for your strange dreams, it’s not unusual for traumatic events to cause recurring nightmares. Your counterparts probably symbolize your fears or something similar. I don’t think you need to worry about it. Was that all, or were you concerned about something else?” she asked.

“Well, I’m not sure concerned is the right word, but Maka’s been off ever since we left Italy. I think something’s bothering her.” Soul said, his voice laced with an emotion that was most definitely concern.

“Soul, you got cut down right in front of her, trying to defend her. Most people would feel guilty about it, and more than a little angry at themselves for ‘failing’ their partner. I’m sure that’s why Maka’s acting funny around you. As for me, I helped rescue you two and got hurt doing it. Professor Stein as well, but he is both a teacher and more distant that either of us. She’s probably ready to tear her hair out. The only reason I haven’t talked to her is because I believe she needs to talk to you more.” Tara reprimanded.

Soul nodded slowly. “I’ll talk to her about it soon.” he promised.

After Medusa finished checking Soul for problems, he started to change out of the clothes he’d been wearing for school. He didn’t have much of a scar, but there was a faint line of paler skin where he’d been cut with Ragnarok. Healing spells could repair damage, but there were limits, and this cut was nearly 2 inches wide and almost twice as deep.

There was knocking on the door, then Maka entered with a slightly muttered “‘Scuse me. Then she noticed Soul changing, somehow her eyes zeroed in on the mark that had been left despite Tara and Stein’s best efforts. A guilty look crossed her face. “I’m going home to get ready for the party, see you there.” Maka said quietly, before closing the door.

Medusa blinked. “That was guilt if I ever saw it.” she commented.

Soul scowled. “I must be an idiot! Of course she’d feel guilty about me getting hurt, that’s just like her!” he said. Demon Weapons were meant to serve as both sword and shield for their Meister. Demon Weapons were far hardier than normal weapons and the human body, which was kind of the point. It was their job to protect their partner, so if they got hurt in the process, they were doing their job. Of course, that was what logic said, and emotions rarely got along with logic.

*** Earlier That Day ***

They were staring at a rather odd brown jar. It was big enough to stick most of one’s arm in, decorated with faces that were all wearing surprised expressions, and filled with what looked like regular water.

“A jar?” Blackstar asked, voicing the obvious question on their minds.

“Yes, a jar.” Stein said. Stein had told them he had exercises planned to boost all of their abilities. For some reason, Maka had elected to bring a blushing cat with dark purple fur and a witch’s hat, who was called Blair. It was Blackstar’s turn first.

“Is it a special jar?” Blackstar asked.

“Nope, nothing special about it. The water, on the other hand, is very special. It’s called Soul-sapping Water because it sucks out your Soul Wavelength. Compared to that, the jar is extremely ordinary indeed. Go on, try sticking a finger inside it, just for a second.” Stein suggested.

“Alright, but I’m still a little iffy about this jar.” Blackstar complained as he stuck the ends of his non-thumb fingers inside the water, which prompted a flash of yellow light. Blackstar immediately felt like he was having all the strength drained from him. He dragged his hand out of the water and fell to the floor.

“What the hell was that?!” Blackstar gasped in shock. “I knew that jar was dangerous!”

“No, just the water. I did tell you to stick one finger in, not dunk your hand in it. Try to acclimate one finger at a time.” Stein deadpanned.

“So I just have to get to where I can stick my whole hand in there and I’ll be able to use Tsubaki’s Enchanted Sword Mode professor?” Blackstar asked.

“That’s the basic idea.” Stein said.

“Just don’t stick your whole arm in or you won’t be able to walk afterward.” Tara warned. Granted, she’d been fine after a few minutes, and she had an idea to use very low powered Thunder spells on herself to force her nervous system to make her body move, but that was only because her Soul Wavelength was stupidly powerful internally as self-doubt only affected one’s Wavelength when they tried to use it to affect the outside world.

On another note, her electricity idea required far finer control than she had and a much weaker electrical spell than even the weakest possible casting of Thunder. Besides, a partially paralyzed soul was not conducive to fine control either way.

Considering 35% of her supposed full power was about a match for Blackstar at full strength, she wasn’t willing to chance it. Come to think of it, maybe that was why Arcana was so powerful. She had no power limiter in the form of self-doubt, plus all the power she derived from negative emotions. That would make at least 3 times as powerful as Twilight was, which might explain why her magic had just done what she wanted rather than using spells for very specific effects. She’d practically be a demi-god compared to a normal human or Twilight herself.

“Alright! This’ll be a nice break. All I’ve been doing lately is muscle conditioning and it’s getting old!” Blacksar said, holding the jar over his head.

“Well, that seems completely unfair.” Maka deadpanned.

“Waddya mean?” Blackstar asked.

“You can get stronger by dunking your hand in water, how does that work?” Maka asked, an emotion somewhere between jealousy and exasperation in her voice.

“Isn’t it obvious? Because I’m the Great Blackstar! I beat Death! I’m not letting a jar beat me!” he proclaimed, psyching himself up.

“Professor Stein, can I have some of that water too?” Maka asked.

“I’m afraid not. The only students who could last long enough to get any real benefit from this type of training are Blackstar and Tara. Tara’s Soul Wavelength has an internal strength beyond that of most of the teachers, and Blackstar’s constant self-aggrandizement motivates him to try and live up to it. I doubt he even realizes it himself.

‘There’s no stage too big for me! I can do it.’ That’s his answer to everything.” Stein said as Blackstar dunked his fingers into the jar again, pulled them out as his strength waned, then stuck them back in as soon as he recovered over and over. “Thus, he doesn’t mind pushing himself in order to accomplish the goal. Once he’s said that, he’ll put as much effort as it takes into the task at hand. He’ll try as many times as it takes, because he’s already decided that he’ll succeed. He’s trying to surpass God. Of course he’ll become stronger.” Stein explained.

“Right.” Maka nodded.

“Of course, since that’s Blackstar’s way of making himself stronger it won’t work for everyone. You’ll have to find your own way of doing it, something that works for you.” Stein said

“My own way…” Maka muttered.

“Right now you’re certainly lacking something. A certain level of stress and anxiety is perfectly understandable, even normal under the circumstances, but you don’t want to take it too far.” he continued.

“Wait, what do you mean lacking something?” Maka asked.

“Once you figure out what it is, come see me and we’ll decide what to do about it.” Stein finished, then turned to Blackstar. “Didn’t I tell you to start with one finger?” he asked as Blackstar tried his hardest to weather the water’s effects with his whole hand dunked in the water. He seemed to be in great discomfort. “You can take the jar home, today’s lesson is over anyway.” he said, walking off exasperated. Tara followed him.

They were going to talk to Lord Death. She had to hurry as Maka was planning to throw a party for Blackstar, Tsubaki and Soul. They were celebrating the former 2 finally collecting a soul, and Soul getting permanently discharged from the hospital and being allowed on missions again.

When they got to the Death Room, she told Lord Death what had been happening with Arcana. “Hm, that is troubling. The seal is alright for the moment though, right?” Death asked, one hand on his mask’s chin.

“Yes, I examined it as soon as I woke up. I specifically designed it so that it would require that Arcana have outside help if she wanted out. She’s 4 times as strong as what I can muster to affect the outside world at best, but only 10% stronger than what I could use without being limited by my tendency for self-doubt. The seal would hold just fine even if she were 8 times stronger, so unless I voluntarily overclock the Black Blood’s influence it should be fine.” she answered.

“Speaking of the Black Blood, I think it’s aggravating my natural paranoia. I keep looking for ulterior motives in the school nurse’s actions. Granted, something about her’s rubbed me the wrong way since day one, but still, that’s unhealthy. It’s definitely making the nightmares worse.” she continued. She was barely getting the usual 6 hours now.

“Well, there was something else I wanted to talk to you about. I think that you should focus on getting stronger as your main method of keeping Arcana sealed. If the seal keeps her contained as long as she isn’t significantly stronger than you, then reducing the percentage difference in your strengths would be most effective.

As such, you have my permission to absorb the Kishin Eggs you gather on missions. Frankly, the only reason I hadn’t already given you permission was that you were very unlikely to voluntarily take any souls into yourself now that you know what happens.” Death said.

When a soul was devoured or otherwise absorbed, it was completely subsumed by the absorber, effectively ceasing to exist as a separate entity. Kishin Eggs were eaten by Demon Weapons partially because it made the Demon Weapons stronger, and partially because Lord Death was a firm believer that the punishment should fit the crime. There were exceptions to the rule if the soul was significantly more powerful than the absorber, or if they were similar enough. Thus when Maka and Soul had failed to get their Witch’s Soul, their count was reset to 0, but Soul kept all the souls he’d eaten.

Similar souls tended to ‘fool’ the soul that absorbed them, rather like how one’s immune system knew not to attack their own organs. Family members tended to be similar enough that they were ignored.

Tara hadn’t wanted to absorb the Kishin Eggs because she disliked the idea of stripping the identity of another being from it, even a monster had a right to a will of it’s own. She didn’t object to others doing so because she saw it as a necessary evil to keep the Kishin Eggs from hurting people, but she was already plenty strong compared to the average Kishin Egg, and her training regimen had gotten her to the point she could overpower them if it came to that.

Still, Arcana would try to kill everything that moved, breathed, or emitted heat if she got out and she’d eat their souls after doing so just to get stronger. Considering the alternative, she supposed eating Kishin Egg souls was the lesser evil.

“Alright. Next time I’ll absorb the soul, or souls if there’s more than one Kishin Egg.” she said neutrally. She wasn’t exactly happy about it, but she was going to do it.

“Right, in that case, there’s a mission I’d like you to accompany Kid on.” Death said, after pulling a piece of paper from… somewhere and handing it to her for her to look over. “Also, I think I should give you the soul you collected on your most recent mission. I’d been planning to tell you this for a while now, and it would be best for you to get the first one out of the way.” Death said handing her the red orb.

Reluctantly, she took off her gloves and absorbed it. She shuddered at the feeling. “That is never not going to feel weird, is it?” she asked as she put her gloves back on.

“Look on the bright side, at least you won’t start to like it.” Stein noted.

“Feel free to hit me repeatedly if I do.” she responded, only slightly sarcastically. She’d pick up her own jar of Soul-sapping Water later, she needed to hurry to get to the party. “I’ll be seeing you guys. I can’t keep everyone waiting!” she said, then hurried off to the nurse’s office after checking her new watch. She’d gone for a digital watch so she wouldn’t have to try to puzzle out the minute hand’s exact location. She tried very hard to ignore the feeling that she was just a bit faster than she was when she came in, as it was followed by a decidedly unpleasant feeling she couldn’t identify.

“It’s a good thing she’s on our side and she dislikes violence so much. Otherwise we’d have to deal with the equivalent of hostile Soul-sapping Water that can fight on a level with a Two-star Meister if push comes to shove. That’s ignoring her analytical mind and whatever power boost the Black Blood would give her.” Stein said.

“Not to mention that all of the enhancement spells she uses have counterparts that do the opposite, which she didn’t use during your last encounter because not everyone there was in the loop about her powers. Fancy fighting her when you’re moving half as fast as normal, and your attacks are having a quarter of the effect they had in that first fight, while the opposite is true for her?” Death asked.

“That would be problematic. Lucky she’s on our side. Incidentally, I’ve been having doubts about that nurse of ours myself.” Stein responded, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.

“Hm, I have noticed a few odd things about her, and Tara has good instincts underneath the exacerbated paranoia. I’ll look into it.” Death promised.

*** Maka/Soul’s Apartment Approximately 2 Hours Later ***

Maka had made the food for the party, which had been devoured eagerly from the couches around the table. Blackstar patted his distended stomach. “Well it may not have been good, but it sure was filling!” he proclaimed.

“I’ve got an idea, why don’t you make it next time?” Maka asked, developing a tic mark.

“Oh don’t listen to him, it was great!” Tsubaki said.

“Tasted fine to me, besides which, he ate more than the rest of us.” Tara agreed, jerking a thumb at Blackstar.

“Yum yum!” Patty patted her stomach contentedly.

“Yeah, thanks for the snacks.” Liz agreed.

“You two have a nice place here. It’s so tidy! You must make a point of keeping it clean.” Kid commented as he looked around.

“It helps that Maka yells at me whenever I make a mess.” Soul responded.

“So is it just the two of you here?” Kid asked.

“Yoohoo!” a womanly voice called. A woman with yellow eyes and long purple hair walked up to the couch Kid and Soul were sitting on. Her figure was well-endowed, which was made obvious by the fact she was wearing nothing but a bath towel!

…Which she let fall. “Which one of you boys wants to come take a bath with me?” she asked, casually showing herself off. Tara was left feeling decidedly inadequate about her figure. Normally, she didn’t care since she was not originally a human/primate, but it was practically being rubbed in that she had a flat chest in this case.

“Is it always like this around here?” Kid asked, freaked-out.

Soul had gotten a massive nosebleed. “Yeah, anybody want the sexy kitty? She’s free.” he half-groaned in response.

*** Meanwhile Across Death City ***

Medusa was walking through some narrow, shadowy alleyways, a specific destination in mind. ‘Infiltrating the Academy was well-worth the risk. I’ll need to run some tests on those two.’ Medusa thought. She held up a brass key. ‘With this key it should be easy.’ She stopped walking as Eruka Frog stepped into her path and Mizune blocked the street behind her.

“Ah, Eruka Frog and Mizune, I was wondering when you’d reveal yourselves.” Medusa commented.

“Medusa. Do you know why we’re here, or would you like me to explain?” Eruka asked.

“Oh please, tell me.” Medusa said, acting as though there were nothing to worry about.

“Ribbit. Ribbit. Fine, I’ll tell you. We’re here to kill you.” Eruka said with a glint in her eye.

“Oh that’s terrible! Here I thought we were friends.” Medusa said in a false sweet voice.

“It’s nothing personal, we simply have no interest in attracting the attention of the Grim Reaper, nor do we care for whatever experiments you have going on at the Academy. You’ve become a liability.” Eruka explained.

“And liabilities must be silenced. I understand our policies, but before you do that let me give some advice. Soul Protect or not, your outfit is practically a big sign saying ‘I’m a Witch.’ There are plenty of young Meisters wandering the streets, and they know a Witch when they see one. Plus, living with the God of Madness under their feet, sealed away or not, makes everyone in this town a little paranoid, even if they’re resistant to his wavelength.” Medusa warned.

“Sweet of you to warn us, but we can always use our Transformation Magic to escape, which is a luxury you don’t have.” Eruka responded.

“I see, so that’s the plan.” Medusa said as the pieces came together.

“We know you have us completely outclassed, so a fair fight is out of the question. Using magic for anything but Soul Protect isn’t a good idea if you want to maintain your cover as a nurse, it’d be a dead giveaway. That makes this the perfect place to attack you.

If you keep your Soul Protect up, you can’t use magic. Without magic you’re effectively a normal human. We’ll defeat you easily, then escape in our animal forms. If you do release your Soul Protect to fight back, then we can still escape in our animal forms. Meanwhile, the Meisters will discover that you’re a Witch, and hunt you down. It’s a win-win for us no matter what you do. Not a bad plan, hm?

That’s the story of how the mouse and the frog beat the snake. Funny how the world works when you’ll be the one croaking tonight instead of me.” Eruka finished.

Medusa sighed. “If you’re going to kill me, then please get on with it and don’t make me listen to your bad jokes first. That’s just plain cruel.” Medusa commented dryly.

“Soul Protect Release!” Eruka said, which caused a gust of wind as pent-up magic was released, Mizune did the same, to the same effect. Both Eruka and Mizune were glowing purple very slightly.

*** Maka/Soul’s Apartment ***

Maka and Tara started as they sensed the Witches, though Maka had sensed and reacted to them a split second earlier. “Witch!” Maka said, raising her voice but not quite shouting.

“Huh? What’s going on Maka? You startled us.” Liz asked.

“There are Witches in Death City! No time for explaining!” Tara said, before opening the window, then jumping down while casting Protect to keep the fall from causing any harm.

“Wait, what the-” Blackstar was cut off as Maka spoke.

“I’ll be right back!” Maka said, leaving the more conventional way, through the door.

“Hey wait a minute Maka!” Soul called.

*** Meanwhile With The Witches ***

“While I would love nothing more than to drag this out, the Meisters will be here any minute, so we don’t have the time to make you scream in agony. Oh well, no one gets everything they want out of life.” Eruka mocked.

“Honestly, I’m insulted.” Medusa commented, disrupting the confidence Eruka and Mizune felt for a moment, which they quickly masked with anger. “You must have the brains of a frog and a mouse if you actually believe a tactic like this will work.” a sadistic expression overtook her face. “I’ll have to punish you. I can always use more test subjects. It’s too bad you aren’t even good enough for that.” Medusa said.

She was tempted to fight back, but her instincts were telling her to hold off for the moment. She was definitely going to keep her doctor’s coat on. Taking it off was asking for a random student to show up just when she started to use magic. …Perhaps she’d been reading a bit too much manga. Anyway, she had remained physically fit, unlike most Witches who relied almost exclusively on their powers, so she could probably simply outrun them, and she knew the city’s layout well enough to out-maneuver these two.

It would be best to wait until she was outside the city in case they decided to rush her when she revealed the nasty little secret, or rather, secrets she put inside them. That way she could use her magic if they decided to pull a ‘taking-you-with-me’ maneuver.

The two more junior Witches were getting increasingly nervous at the confidence their opponent was displaying. ‘This isn’t good. The longer we wait, the more likely a Meister is to show up. That must be why Medusa isn’t releasing her Soul Protect and slaughtering us.’ Eruka thought, but was unable to break the stand-off because her instincts were screaming at her that she would die if she pushed Medusa. Mizune finally panicked and fired a Whisker Beam at Medusa about 30 seconds after their stand-off began.

To all of their surprise, a DWMA Meister with long blue hair appeared in a flash of light, blocked the attack, then, moving almost too fast for either Eruka or Mizune to follow, let alone react, jumped up to where Mizune was floating, about 5 feet off the ground, and smashed her into the ground with a Soul Force to the face, before following her down and skewering her neatly in the heart. “Mizune!” Eruka called out in shock, watching helplessly as her friend dissolved into nothing but her soul.

Eruka ran into a nearby alley, transformed into her frog form, and slid through a sewer grate. She’d be killed if she stayed, so she had to at least get out of the city before she could risk human form again.

“Are you alright Nurse Medusa?” Tara asked, concerned, even as she casually stuck the Witch soul into her backpack. Any suspicions she had were crushed under a completely metaphorical foot and out of her mind. Medusa had been attacked by Witches on the street in the middle of Death City. That threw her being on their side into serious doubt. Therefore, she was to treated as an ally rather than a potential spy.

‘Well, I’ve certainly gotten something out of this, even if I don’t bother with Eruka later. From the look on her face, Tara seems to have lost her mistrust of me thanks to this little incident.’ Medusa thought. Out loud, she said “I’m fine, you arrived just in time. You have my gratitude.” Medusa bowed. It was of course an act, but she had to keep up her Nurse persona.

Tara sighed in relief. Still, she’d ask Lord Death if his decision extended to Witches’ souls. She’d barely been in time this time, and physical training was too slow to give a decent improvement in less than a month, and her Haste spell and it’s compatriot buffs boosted her based on her base abilities. That was their major flaw. Boosting oneself by more than one’s original ability was very taxing on the body and her reserves, so she couldn’t get around it that way. Running footsteps alerted them to Stein and Maka approaching.

‘That didn’t take long. I wonder how Tara got here even faster than they did though, she’s easily slower than Stein at very least, and a bit slower than Maka without her Weapon.’ Medusa filed that thought away for later. It was probably another spell, but she’d need to look into it more.

“Are you two okay?” Maka asked as she caught her breath.

Stein simply stood with his hands in his pockets, not the least bit drained from the exertion. “We detected two Witches in the area and came as quickly as we could. Although it seems someone else was faster.” Stein noted.

“We’re both fine. I managed to catch one of them by surprise, the other one left after her friend got killed.” Tara informed them stoically as she showed them the Witch soul before replacing it. Kishin Eggs were essentially serial killing abominations, but Witches were significantly more human. Several Witches had joined the DWMA side over the centuries, showing they didn’t have to be evil and/or destructive, which put more blood on her hands. “I suspect the fight would have been tougher if she’d been less surprised and I hadn’t hit her with a Soul Force almost in the same instant as when she saw me.” she explained.

“It wasn’t a fight so much as a one-sided extermination.” Medusa noted.

“True, but I also suspect she wasn’t all that powerful for a Witch. Nothing like the one controlling the Demon Sword.” she countered.

“Yes, that Witch was both powerful and cunning, she wouldn’t release Soul Protect in the middle of a crowded city without a reason. Especially this one. She certainly has an interest in Demon Weapons and Meisters, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she infiltrated the city to have a large number to study. She might even manage to take a position at the Academy.

Of course, that requires that she keep a low profile. One slip-up and she could find herself up against the Grim Reaper himself. Even a Witch of her caliber wouldn’t be able to stand against him, especially if he had a Death Scythe on hand. At any rate, it’s a relief you weren’t hurt by those Witches, Doctor Medusa. We only have one School Nurse, it would be trouble if something happened to you.” Stein said.

“Yes, thank you.” Medusa nodded, internally deeply suspicious. That was oddly specific. She had to assume he suspected.

“But still, if I see that sword or it’s Meister again…” Maka trailed off, a familiar guilty look on her face. ‘I promised I’d become stronger, but there’s no quick way to do that, and if we run into that Witch or that Meister again, we’ll lose. Dammit! I don’t know how much longer I can handle this!’ she thought.

“Hey! Maka!” Soul called from the other end of the alleyway. “You shouldn’t run off like that, it’s too dangerous.” Soul scolded.

“I’m fine Soul.” Maka reassured, still looking down on herself. She slowly placed a hand on his chest where he’d been cut. ‘I refuse to let him get hurt like that again. I wasn’t able to look at his injury, even when it was barely there. I won’t be controlled by fear anymore!’

“Look Maka, I chose to revert to human form to take the hit for you. It’s not your fault.” Soul said.

Maka nodded slowly, then walked over to Professor Stein. “Alright Professor, I’m ready. You told me to figure out what I was lacking, and I have.” Maka told him, full of determination.

Stein smiled. “Very good.” he said approvingly. ‘At last, Maka’s found the courage to fight her fear.’ “In that case, I’d like you and Soul to come to my office Sunday afternoon for a special lesson.

Tara smiled. Maka seemed to have started recovering from her guilt at last. She’d need to work on getting stronger too.

*** That Night. A Rocky Plateau. The Desert Surrounding Death City. ***

Eruka stopped, still in frog form. “I should be far enough, I can rest a bit now.” she said, relieved. “I’ll get that witch next time.” she growled, only for a foot to come down and partially squash her.

“Ah, that feels nice and cool on my feet. I could get used to this.” Medusa said, smiling pleasantly and applying just a bit more pressure.

“H-How did you find me!?” Eruka squeaked in terror.

“Remember when you stopped me at Witch’s Mass and I responded by shoving my hands down your throat and the late eldest-Mizune’s? I put some of the thousands of snakes in my body inside you both as insurance. The ones in Mizune escaped her body’s destruction and returned to me, but the ones in you are ready to tear you apart any time I want. They also let me track you wherever you go and use your various senses. You could literally be on the other side of the planet, and I’d still know exactly where you were. I believe I’ve made it clear you can’t outrun me.

Honestly I was going to use them to kill one or both of you after that little stunt you pulled earlier, but my instincts told me not to. A good thing too, because I have an errand I need someone to run. So in return for not killing you here and now, I’ll ask you a little favor. I’ll even remove a snake from you if you’re successful.” Medusa proposed, dropping a bronze key in front of Eruka. Crona watched silently.

“A key?” Eruka asked, in pain from Medusa repeatedly squashing her just enough to be painful, but not actually cause harm.

“Yes, you’ll need it to release an inmate of the Witch’s Prison. That’s the favor I mentioned. He’s number 13 among the prisoners, unless you’re somehow even more stupid than I already thought, you know what that means.” Medusa said, smiling cruelly.

“Th-The man with the magic eye? Not him! He’s the one who took the Grand Witch’s left eye! I’d be banished forever if the Grand Witch even thinks I did that! Forget banishment! She’d probably just kill me!” Eruka’s increasingly panicked rambling was cut off by another round of squashing.

“Probably, but I’ll definitely kill you if you refuse. So, do you pick ‘Probably die’ or ‘Definitely die’ little frog?” Medusa asked.

“Fine! Fine! I’ll do it!” Eruka cried out.

“Good, I have an experiment planned with 13, there are some questions I have about Soul Eater.” Medusa said as Eruka reverted to human form.

“You’re going to use him in an experiment? He’s a criminal even by our standards! You must be out of your mind! Ribbit!” Eruka asked as Medusa continued to squash her face.

“You don’t feel as good on my feet anymore.” Medusa observed. “Change yourself back into a frog.” she ordered slightly petulantly. The moon chuckled darkly overhead.

“Okay.” Eruka moaned.

*** A Few Days Later ***

A guard sat on a chair next to a cell. Like all the others, he wore a helmet styled like a grey wolf’s head. He was getting annoyed with this particular inmate. He kept saying “1+2.” over and over and then asking how many times he’d multiplied. It would be creepy if it wasn’t so annoying. Normally he ignored the prisoner, but he was in a bad mood and this guy was wearing on his last nerve.

“There he goes again.” he muttered as the familiar addition problem became audible. “I’m getting plenty sick of this.”

Suddenly, the inmate grabbed the bars of his cell and asked “What’s the answer? Tell me, how many times did I multiply?”

The guard decided to answer him this time, if only to break the monotony. “You’ve been adding ones and twos since you got here, you haven’t multiplied anything.” he said, voice laced by annoyance.

A moment after he said that, a roar of such force it created a gust of wind sent the guard tumbling from his chair, and causing the prisoner next to him to cry out in fear.

Prisoner 13 sighed in his cell. “I can’t see. I can’t see anything but darkness. It’s been literal ages since I’ve seen a good comedy.” he noted. Like all the other prisoners, he wore a shirt and pants with green-and-white stripes. Unlike the others, his clothes were old enough that they’d gotten ripped and torn despite the fact that he’d barely moved from this spot since being imprisoned. Thanks to his sharp hearing and the extremely echoy and cavernous quality of the place, he could more or less tell what was going on in the prison, especially when he roared that loudly and used the sound for echolocation.

Later that night, the guard was fast asleep thanks to a drugged drink. Eruka hopped along in frog form, snickering at the sleeping guard, who had a 50-50 chance of living after letting a prisoner escape on his watch. Since he’d been drugged it would normally be given a pass, but the Grand Witch really knew how to hold a grudge against someone who caused her actual harm, some of which would fall on the unfortunate guard.

13 also had a strong sense of smell, and though Eruka was being careful to be quiet, he could still smell the approaching frog. Since animals never got in here, he assumed it was intelligent. “Who’s there?” he asked as Eruka reached the cell.

“I’m here on behalf of someone who wants to break you out of here.” Eruka said, key jingling a bit as she lifted it towards the lock.

“A free handout from the outside, huh? What kind of person do you think I am?” 13 asked, causing Eruka to break out in a nervous sweat.

*** About 5 Minutes Later ***

“THANK YOU!!!!” 13 yelled as he hopped along, hobbled by his arm and leg restraints, as well as the ball-and-chain on one leg. “It’s real easy to escape from a cell if there’s someone from the outside with a key! But you wanna know what I was gonna try before you showed up?” 13 continued, talking unnecessarily loudly. He’d been in that prison for so long, a different set of acoustics was messing with his hearing a bit.

“Never mind that! We have to get out of here before they catch us!” Eruka said, hopping along as well, but because she was still in frog form.

“See, I was planning to do that thing they do in the movies where they use a spoon to tunnel their way under the wall by working away at the ground! I always thought that was a really cool idea, so I thought I’d try it myself! ‘Course, not being able to see would’ve made that hard, but I get by just fine on sound, smell and touch.” he was talking more normally as he adjusted to being outside for the first time in a very long time. He’d never actually seen a movie, but he’d heard about them from the guards and the occasional semi-sane prisoner. Most of the inmates were those who had killed Witches, or done things despicable even by Witch standards. His attacking the Grand Witch was the equivalent of regicide, which normally would’ve gotten him executed. He wasn’t normal though.

“But they must’ve thought of that, because all I ever got was wooden chopsticks! You can’t dig with those, they break!” 13 said, yelling again, purely from emotion this time. “So I tried to think of another way out. I thought about it all the time, but I’m a fighter, not an idea-man, so I never came up with anything.” 13 commented.

“I suppose it really doesn’t matter now, but you could’ve peed on the bars everyday and gradually eaten away at them, right?” Eruka asked.

“Actually no. I’ve got a really strong sense of smell, and wearing a blindfold only sharpens it, so I wouldn’t have been able to stand the smell. Besides, the guards would’ve figured out something was up when I never used the bathroom and the bars smelled like that. They’re not morons. Which might explain how they managed to surround us.” 13 explained, at which point the guards came out from the snowed-on trees around the pair of fugitives.

“Oh no! You can’t fight with your arms and legs shackled like that, and I don’t have any magic that’s going to take out a big group like this!” Eruka said. Normally she wouldn’t have said that in front of the guards, but the guards would charge them if there was even a slight chance of recapturing the prisoner, and 13 didn’t know about her abilities, or rather, her lack of combat abilities.

“Listen up Prisoner 13, the man with the magic eye. If you resist we’ll show you no mercy!” one of the guards said, all of them leveling their spears at 13.

“I was locked inside that prison for over 200 years. I’m not going back there without a fight. You must be crazy to think I would.” 13 growled, before getting speared in the face and abdomen repeatedly in response, showering the area with blood.

Eruka stared for a good 3 seconds, then cried out “Oh no! This is really bad! I’ll end up dead too if I don’t get you out of here!” Medusa had been quite clear what failure would mean for her. Her jaw dropped as 13 crushed the spear that had been lodged in his mouth with his teeth. Many of the guards took an involuntary step back.

“Calm down. The only way to kill me is to chop off my head, and even that might not work. Plus, last time I checked, spears aren’t good at chopping. You should know that.” he said, an air of menace having replaced his rather carefree demeanor.

“Damn!” a guard cursed, drawing a flamethrower and sending an enormous gout of flame at 13, which had no effect beyond charring the shackles on his hands and feet to the point he snapped them like twigs.

“The Grand Witch wasn’t keeping me alive all this time for the fun of it. She couldn’t kill me, so she dumped me in that prison.” he removed the blindfold with one hand. He had short brown hair, almost buzz-cut, but the most striking thing was his eyes. One was brown, but the other, with a ‘NO FUTURE’ tattoo above it, had no pupil or iris, instead it had a series of red lines depicting a small circle inside a triangle, which was inside another triangle, which was inside a circle. “‘Course that would’ve been tough considering… I’m immortal.” he grinned a wolf’s grin.

The guards screamed as they were slaughtered.

Later, 13 and Eruka approached Medusa, with Eruka riding on his shoulder in frog form.

“I see you’ve done it.” Medusa observed.

“Yeah, I brought the guy.” Eruka reverted to human form in front of 13.

“Good work Eruka.” Medusa said.

“Alright, I did my part, now take all your snakes out of my body like you promised!” Eruka demanded.

“Oh dear, you seem to have misunderstood. I specifically said I’d remove 1 snake for completing the task, as I will do for all of the following.” Medusa said with false sweetness.

“Wait, how many of them are in me?!” Eruka asked.

“That’s on a need-to-know basis, and you don’t. Even if I did remove them all at once, your body would be ripped to shreds in the process. Be glad you’re useful alive.” Medusa responded.

“That’s awful! You Devil-woman!” Eruka said, crying helplessly. Like it or not, she was Medusa’s to do as she wished with until there weren’t any snakes in her body.

“So you’re the one who freed me? Wasn’t expecting it from a Witch.” 13 said with a note of bitterness.

“Yes, I’m Medusa Gorgon.” Medusa introduced herself, removing her hood. “It’s a pleasure to meet the man with the magic eye.” she said.

“Hm, even I can’t remember what my name was anymore. What else could you call me but ‘man with the magic eye?'” a smile slowly spread across his face. “I lost a lot of things as a prisoner, but now I’m free. I like the sound of that so much, I think I’ll make it my new name. I don’t think there’s gonna be anyone around who’ll tell me my real name, so I might as well take my pick.” the newly-named Free said.

“Very well then, pleased to meet you Free.” Medusa said. ‘Free huh?’ she thought, inwardly smirking. ‘We’ll see about that, now won’t we?’

“I owe you a favor. I’d like to repay it somehow.” Free said.

“Oh, no no. Don’t worry about it.” Medusa said in a false sweet voice.

“Please let me. I try to get all my debts settled. Besides, unlike most people, I have nothing but time.” Free explained.

“Well, there is something you could help with.” Medusa baited with a smile that was almost innocent, before becoming a cruel smirk. “There a certain Weapon and Meister pair I’d rather like to see crushed.” Medusa continued.

“You mean from the DWMA?” Free asked rhetorically. Who else even had Weapon and Meister teams?

“That’s right.” Medusa answered.

A grin broke out across Free’s face. “I don’t like Death or that school of his, and I especially don’t like all those damn rules. I’d be more than happy to do that for you. Just tell me where to find them.”

Twilight The Traveler

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