B5 — 36. Begin The Hunt


1. Rachel (Our Pissed, Week Lonely Lunar Hades Hare!)

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Leaning forward, Rachel rubbed between her eyes, letting her mind clear for a moment as the sounds around the dragon turtle and the frigid wind outside filtered into focus.  Fiona and the others arrived, checking emails, responding to messages, and talking to one another.

She’d need to carve out some time to go over Alexa’s new powers with her; Rachel had heard her practicing a few things in private since she was embarrassed but wanted to act surprised for her sake when they finally did have a test run.  The Crystal Event with Yseress seemed to be the place to do it.

Maria and most of the day crew had gone to bed with the exception of Nemesis; she suspected he wanted to talk since he was waiting outside with Jeanne.  He likely wanted to discuss her visit with Empress Wu since he had the hearing to eavesdrop.  She wasn’t particularly worried about the lion listening in since it was Nemesis, and his personality was pretty cut and dry.

On the other hand, oddly, the saint’s tiny devil child appeared to have escaped her tortuous nephilim mistress to prepare something in the empty kitchen, and it didn’t take long before she jogged through the halls with a beaming voice to offer a hot chocolate muffin to the holy woman as a peace offering.

It was more than a little suspicious to Rachel, but Jeanne saw it as a token of goodwill for saving her from Yseress.

Rachel ran her fingers over her drawn-back hair, folding down her ears for a second.  The boss-life was a lot more work than she expected it would be, and she wanted to punch something rather than go to this next gathering.

A thought made her ears rise, and a smile lifted her heavy features.  Getting to her feet, Rachel exited the room to greet Jeanne, Elinnila, and Nemesis.

The Lion King wasn’t surprised she’d finished—as she’d expected, he’d been listening—and he swiftly engaged her the moment the door cracked open, with the blonde forced to catch up.

“Humph.  Wu seems to be a threat.  I can go to China with Mara and deal with it,” he bluntly offered, making Rachel giggle a little; in short, he had enough of a tame society and wanted to go somewhere he could let loose, or he may also be trying to find his own place since leaving Cuba.

Jeanne’s sky-blue eyes widened.  “China…  Saint Charlemagne texted me he was currently there, and that it would be a topic in our discussion but he didn’t elaborate.  You aren’t going to start a war with China, are you?”

“A war?”  Elinnila’s brown irises lit up.  “I am quite fond of places of chaos where I can thrive—perhaps I can visit this North Korea place before returning to Hades—and I cannot feel the abomination’s, ahem, Jaenona’s presence nearby…  Is she gone?”

Rachel shook her head, leaning against the door; the devil just didn’t want to go back to Hades after her connection to Lilith had been cut, and she’d become Yseress’ underling.

“We do need to split up…”  Rachel said, addressing Nemesis and ignoring the manipulative succubus.  “There are a lot of things that we need to do, but Wu is less of a physical war I need to contend with and more of a mental or emotional one.  It’s a game to find a path we can both walk on… albeit a rather uncomfortable one since she got to choose the starting point.”

Nemesis grunted, crossing his arms.  “It’s not my strong place; Mara and the others handled most of that business.”

“Hehe.  Strong suit, to be specific, but ‘place’ works, and now I do most of the business—aren’t you lucky?”  Rachel grinned, ears drifting forward.  “How about I talk with you one-on-one?  You can wait for me outside for some light training after—have you done any training, gym gloves and drills?  I have some stress to burn.”

The man’s black lips peeled back to show a sharp-fanged grin.  “I do.  No gloves?”

“Heh.  I think your hands can handle some impact, and a punching bag can throw back every once in a while,” she chimed, reflecting his flashed teeth.  “It’s good to get wet, muddy, and sweaty before a morning shower anyway.  See you out there in a bit.”

“Haha!  I can’t wait.  I’m guessing there’s something special you have in mind for me?”

“Mara and you, but yes.  See you after my meeting.”

He turned down the hall to exit the mansion.  “I’ll warm up.”

Rachel drew in her bottom lip, scrutinizing his golden fur and thick muscles as he worked out his back; Nemesis did perform better operating in a team of his own, which was also something Anthony passively mentioned when discussing what happened the previous day.  He didn’t like being micromanaged—well, not by Anthony, according to him—Mara could handle that.

Mythic was still in its testing phase to discover how best to function as an organization, and she had to test out different angles to best optimize each team, even if it meant breaking into smaller pieces.

Jeanne sighed with relief and happily snacked on the rest of her muffin with a smile; it would be hard for the woman if they did suddenly plan to start beef with China.  Beside the saint, her succubus slave pouted—she was probably not used to being ignored—and the deviless was her next target, making the runt’s attitude melt in an instant.

“You will not be joining us for this because I don’t trust devils, which means…”

Tiny frame beginning to tremble, Rachel rolled her eyes at the downcast waterworks the disguised fiend put on.  “P-Please don’t make me go be with Yseress again…  Please.  Mistress, please…” she pleaded, scooting closer to Jeanne, who, shockingly, seemed somewhat conflicted by the succubus’ innocent appearance.

“Mmgm…”  The blonde licked her lips, glancing down at the muffin wrapper and struggling with how she should phrase what she wanted to say.  “Rachel, Yseress is particularly… nasty to her.  I get the feeling she has some kind of prejudice against succubi, which is, heh, strange for me to say, admittedly,” she mumbled, fidgeting with her braided golden locks.  “Solomon’s approach may be better.”

“She does discriminate against us!”  Elinnila hissed right after the saint finished, peeking up and down the hallway to make sure the half-devil, half-angel wasn’t listening.  “All nephilim fiends are jealous and spiteful… envious of succubi and incubi.  She made me sleep in her dungeon last time I was in her fortress… as a guest, and… the price of shelter for my master at the time was… not pleasant for me.”

Rachel wanted to reserve judgment until she got the full sob story; it was Hades, though.  She couldn’t see Jeanne sticking up for the devil, even with Solomon’s example, which he mentioned to her involved the carrot and stick, but, as could be expected when dealing with someone of Yseress’ power and position, the fiend had messed up.

“Hmm?  I thought I was quite attentive in my treatment of you when I sheltered your poor master from harm, Elinnila.  Such an ungrateful slut.”

The girl’s brown eyes unfocused, dread no doubt numbing all thought as black flames revealed the fallen nephilim, hiding nearby without Rachel even being aware; Yseress truly was far more powerful than Rachel wanted to admit, but she’d see her real strength later tonight.

Jeanne grimaced at her appearance.  “Must you skulk around as an angel… even a fallen one?  You’re too hard on Elinnila.”

“Is that right?  Hmm.  Something someone such as yourself may not understand, heh, being such a paragon of virtue and holy judgment,” Yseress crisply sneered.  “Naturally, you couldn’t truly grasp the depths of the bitter cup I’ve drunk.  You couldn’t fathom the torture a fallen nephilim experiences,” Yseress huffed, large black wings fluttering a tad.

The succubus took a step back, breathing quickly, skittish eyes searching for an escape.  “I… I’m sorry, Mistress…  I’m sorry…”

Rachel’s ears shifted to the left, eyebrows furrowed at Yseress’ bitter tone and wry smirk at the terrified girl; it was the first time she’d heard the woman truly complain about her experience after being purified from her fiendish state.

“Enlighten me,” Jeanne shot back, fire in her flaring eyes.

Yseress’ dull smile tilted toward her.  “Don’t get me wrong, it is simply a part of the process and something I accept; the cruelest punishment for a nephilim is to be left like this, and there is a reason we transformed into fiends more merciless than your more exceptional fiendish occupants…

“You could say I am… estranged from the chaotic flames of Hades, nor am I embraced by the warmth of Heaven; neither will welcome me as I am…  So, I am left with a crippling void; purpose and life drifting into the mediocrity of this unsophisticated material plane on my own.  Pain is all I feel that leaves much weaker nephilim in my position praying for something… anything capable of granting their death since suicide is impossible, yet… even that is but another gateway to eternal torture in Hades, where we end up, ring after ring until… Lucifer meets us.”

Jeanne’s fist closed closer against her chest.  “That’s horrible.”

“Meh.  I won’t milk you for sympathy because none of us are sorry for what we’ve done or what we are.  In short, those closest to the light require deeper darkness to snuff it out… but we walk through Hades nonetheless,” she smiled at Elinnila, causing the succubus to quake, hands closing around her throat as if the nephilim gripped it.  “We find our own light in the pits as our bleeding hearts grow teeth, and we welcome lava into our veins.”

Black flaming feathers enclosed her as she materialized behind the stiff fiend, leaning forward to whisper in her ear, making Jeanne step away and summon her spear, triggered by the wicked chill the succubus emanated… or something else she struggled with.

“Hmm-hmm.  Not that I had my grace for long, but that lost taste in budding liberty leaves a hole in our hearts that creates bone and bile in its place…”

Her left wing slowly veiled the hyperventilating child as Yseress’ soft voice became fangs that sank into the disguised succubus’ ear.  “My love is a willing surrender.  You see, nephilim are very greedy, and if you try to take an inch of what we love… our hearts might just bite.  You wouldn’t have the courage to tamper with your seal, now, would you, Elinnila?”

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  No…”  the fiend cried.  “P-Please, no more…”

Yseress straightened, licking away black liquid that dripped down the trembling girl’s split ear to stain her nightgown.

“What did you do to her?”  Jeanne asked, her shaking hand still not lowering her spear as the nephilim snickered, folding her arms and sampling the taste lingering on her lips.

Rachel could tell what this was about; the devil had been attempting to do a few things she shouldn’t, and Yseress’ biggest pet peeve was her toys not bending to her will or following orders.

Her black wings curling in to draw the terrified girl closer, Yseress’ middle finger traced the wound, making the fiend flinch; she followed it down her neck to tap the succubus’ collarbone.  “It’s fun on the darker side, I admit, Mistress, Jeanne… and succubus can make it so easy to slip into their appetite.”

She displayed the black liquid with a lilting smirk.  “Such an intoxicating mixture, take caution if you please, Saint, and do not take anything she offers you…  Elinnila will make you fall in love with her unpredictable pleasant gestures, and when a little mortal like you meets this little Chemical X pheromone within her blood.  Hehe-hmm.  I think you can imagine.  It makes you feel sick, yet the buzz is… irresistible, and you’ll want to, heh… experiment with her biology.”

Jeanne’s muscles tightened, focus darting to the child upon realizing the reason she’d felt less averted was because of some trick that Yseress had just clipped.

The nephilim walked away with a sway in her hips, gesturing in passing.  “Hmm-hmm.  Succubi and incubi are the final evolution of Hades’ devious imps, so you must be strict, or they’ll find their way into your heart with their games.  I look forward to our trip tonight, Mistress.”

Rachel was glad she’d taken Izanami’s deal—Yseress was changing—and this was proof of it; when they’d first met, she had no doubt the woman would have let or even coaxed Elinnila to play her games, turning everyone into her puppet, and thereby Yseress’.

“Hold up.”  She stopped the fallen angel, causing her to pause beside a branching hallway to greet Nia, Scarlet, Selvaria, Fiona, and her foxy lawyer/agent to have more fun.  “Let the others know that there will be a lot of stuff happening once I’m done with the meeting and sparing with Nemesis to process things.”

Yseress giggled as Jeanne grunted and retracted her spear, working through whatever the succubus had done to her.  “Ever the brute, Mistress.”

“Take the devil with you,” Jeanne snarled, storming into the sitting room Rachel had used without a glance at the pleading succubus.  “I just… can’t be around her.”

“It would be my pleasure,” the nephilim returned, showing a wicked smirk and getting exactly what she wanted from the beginning; she pointed at the weeping fiend and gestured for her to follow.  “Don’t let the fever in your veins take your name, Saint…  I suggest you pray.  Hmm-hmm.”

“I’m sorry…”  Elinnila whispered, head low while shuffling after the fallen angel.  “I just… I can’t handle nephilim…”

“Why don’t we have some fun, Elinnila; it appears you’ve discovered a tiny little hole in that design you were trying so hard to hide.”

Rachel wasn’t so sure the nephilim hadn’t been aware of it, and she waved at Tom as he entered the manor and brushed off the water on his coat; the snow seemed to be thickening by the rain that fell onto Zippy.

He took one look at the terrified child, smug nephilim, and the tail end of Jeanne’s braid disappearing in the room before muttering, “I see things are as chaotic as ever.  What did I miss?”

“Nothing too important,” Rachel returned, following after the miffed blonde; she likely was chiding herself for being fooled into thinking something kind could come from the succubus, having probably taken something from the child at breakfast.  “How’re the States?”

He stood in the doorway, watching her shift things around to allow Wu’s Mystickin Cyber Empress—still on the phone—to project their conference in the same way she’d done for their previous discussion; it was obvious Bao would create the holographic space by Wu’s parting comment about needing a new outfit.

Jeanne heard her explanation and helped to orient the room; Tom entered, listening to Rachel’s experience with the Empress of China.  Even the general was shocked to discover China was currently in a civil war among regions and connected several dots involving Taiwan.

If Wu controlled Eastern China, and the northeast was a warzone between warlords and Crystals, then Japan—as well as South and North Korea—would be in a stable position.  The empress has made very public addresses to the former two, assuring them China wouldn’t cause them trouble.

Zheng Yi Sao controlled much of the China Pacific area with her fleet, and all the support Wu had been offering Taiwan was actually in bolstering its borders against Liu Bei, the ruler over the Southern China provinces.

On the other hand, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines could be staging grounds for South China expansion.  Once Rachel had concluded the current power structure—at least, according to Wu—Tom deliberated, explaining the empress was playing a delicate game in drawing all other emperors to her.

India was already in a state of chaos due to the assassination of many of its former leaders the previous month, yet Wu’s gambit at taking the major power areas of their grid forced all the emperors on the woman.

They had to cut their conversation short since Wu had scheduled things so closely together, but Rachel was beginning to see just how formidable the Chinese empress was; then again, she knew she couldn’t keep this charade going forever—she needed allies, which was where the US and France came in.

The meeting began as Rachel realized Wu had only brought the two countries into her game due to Anthony; he was that important to her.

Wu…  Why did you have to take this angle…  Ugh.  Because it’s effective.

The empress took the same place and elegant chair she’d used not ten minutes ago; Rachel restrained her fingers from digging into her stomach upon seeing her regal dress and makeup.  “Well, don’t you dress up quickly?”  she stated dryly, appraising the chocolate-haired woman’s hidden smile.

Legs crossed in a casual manner, her twinkling caramel eyes shifted between a disgruntled Jeanne d’Arc, poised Charlemagne, and general.  “I typically dress for the occasion.”


Charlemagne cleared his throat.  “We can leave anything non-business related for private discussions; all of us have things to do.”

Wu lifted a finger with a chortle.  “Sleep, for me, when this is done; I am still recovering from the Battle for Beijing.  In short, I would appreciate it if we keep this brief.”

Translation, Rachel internally muttered, she’s not interested in the US or France and is only here to strengthen ties with me…  What unreasonable demand will it be next?

Jeanne’s narrowed blue irises hounded the empress, who presented nothing but a charming smile back.  Tom’s hard gaze also rested on the powerful ruler; without a doubt, China was the US’s greatest adversary, and to learn its balance was unstable must not have been comforting.

The handsome, raven-locked saint began, swiftly pulling Rachel’s attention by bringing up things she hadn’t shared with the emperor.

“The AISI informed DGSE of a security risk to our border when a Chinese citizen attempted to use a known mob smuggler to cross Italy to France…  The entire team sent to apprehend her was killed and raised from the dead to act as her mindless puppets.”

Bao put up the information he fed to her, transforming the 2D image into a 3D hologram of a greenish-white-skinned Chinese woman with smooth, waist-long white hair, the back tried into a thick bun while her bangs covered the left side of her face.

Unlike her historical counterpart, this Jiāngshī wore a more modern aquamarine-themed Cheongsam with tie-on sleeves that hid her hands, which seemingly appeared from nowhere within their folds.

Her features were shockingly elegant as she turned a fanged smile at the camera; she moved through jerky, hop-like movements that almost seemed to flicker her to each destination, which made sense given her revenant-like background.  The walking corpse didn’t have a talisman on her forehead like modern depictions, yet every one of her four undead showed the paper attached, forcing their spirits back into their bodies.

“Ying Yue Jiang,” Wu whispered, smile falling to be replaced by murderous intent.  “I commend you for sniffing her out, Saint Charlemagne, and I wouldn’t call them all mindless puppets.  She is a master of the Changquan Style and utilizes a few Feats in conjunction with it, such as that Flicker Step.

“Also, during the Beijing assault, she unlocked a Feat called Endless Ghost Armada, which allows her to use those she controls to further her cultivation, and used it to seal Yang Guifei’s spirit under her control.  So far as I can see, she can only control two higher-ranked undead with several middle-ranked and over three dozen lower.”

She spoke to Rachel, yet her attention went to Charlemagne once finishing her explanation.  “I assume she slipped your net soon after this video?”

“Unfortunately…  I judge she is from the north if she was in Beijing?”

“She is.  Rachel can get into those details if she wishes, but you must be cautious with her controlling Yang Guifei; Yang was a manipulation type who utilized a flute and her stunning beauty to take all those within the sound of her instrument into a world of her design.”

Rachel sighed, knowing it would be quite annoying to deal with; she’d need to increase her mental resistance, considering she was a provincial ruler in Wu’s army.  “I’ll handle it, Charlemagne.”

He nodded, and Jeanne frowned, likely thinking she was taking on too many things, but Rachel had plans to handle the complexities springing up; she had an organization now.

The emperor went into details regarding the aliens, who had split into two factions, as he’d feared: some continued to believe in the Cult of Reason, and others agreed to make their base of operations in France, introducing themselves to the world with their goals.

In a race that sought to expand a stagnant imagination, humanity had much to offer, and their technology was only more advanced in a few areas, specializing in specific fields that ended in space travel.  They could understand lies and fantasy—unlike the orange aliens Rachel had met—yet were far outclassed other than their physiology.

Rachel made it clear she had no interest in the Cult of Reason since they didn’t have Melissa’s sister, making their plans fairly set.  She expressed Mythic’s direction in the future, which is where Wu decided to get off.

Naturally, the empress had to stir the pot, though, and yawned, drawing their attention as she addressed Charlemagne.  “I fear I must retire.  When I awake, I will return to the main palace to see if you have anything else that requires my seal of approval.  Discretion is required, gentlemen,” she stated, showing she wouldn’t budge on the topic with the general and government leader.

Tom chuckled as he leaned back, having been mostly silent thus far.  “I assume another part of your condition is to remain in the loop regarding things moving forward with Rachel?”

Wu showed a mischievous grin while holding up her phone.  “Hmm-hmm.  I have that covered with dear Anthony’s help.  I do appreciate the offer, but any information I desire can be found in other channels; however, I would be willing to make a rather generous trade.”

“I’m listening,” Tom hummed, left eyebrow lifting as he sat back, and Rachel rolled her eyes, spoiling the surprise; it was obvious.

“Wolfgang, for me.  You’re sheltering the genocidal Hades-obsessed madman, correct?”

Jeanne stiffened at the name while Tom and Charlemagne leaned forward, eyeing the Empress of China.  “You are the one protecting that mass murderer?!”

“The three of us run in the same circles, dear,” Wu shrugged, sipping at some cold brew beside her chair.  “I required his expertise, and not one soul has been harmed in China… well, no mortal soul,” she snickered after setting down her cup.  “Wolfgang has the means to create Mystickin, among other things, as I’m sure you’ve discovered the recipe by now, Rachel.  Your step-sister is quite a cute sight—I bet her pout is adorable!  Hmm-hmm-hmm.”

Charlemagne probed further.  “Are you saying he’s accomplished everything you need from him?”

“Oh, by no means,” Wu returned, shifting to display a thoughtful look.  “What Wolfgang can provide China is very much important to me, seeing as he is giving me valuable time to keep stability.  Rachel is just… far more valuable overall.  Aren’t you special?”  she mused.  “I just need a promise that she’ll make a trip to China next week.”

Rachel snorted.  “Don’t fall for it; you’ll offer us one of his clones—the one no longer needed—and if you’re that frightened of my rejection, then you shouldn’t have come on so hard.  Don’t panic, I’ll be there next week to pick up my boyfriend… maybe to kill you—we’ll see,” she grinned, ears tilting to the side.

“Lovely!  I’ll set things into motion.  Oh, and before I forget, Shangguan Wan’er will be making a stop to bring you a small gift when you arrive at the pirate conference.  I hope you and Nia enjoy it!  Good night.”

She left with a short wave, making Tom and Charlemagne sigh as they rubbed their necks.

“She certainly does love to disrupt,” the general grunted.  “A woman with almost everything, yet not what she wants.”

Charlemagne chuckled, eyeing the spot she’d left.  “It’s worked for her thus far, and Solomon mentioned she walks a razor’s edge.”

Head bobbing in agreement, Tom’s brown eyes drifted to her.  “I feel for you, Rachel; quite the stalker you’ve gained.”

Jeanne looked like she wanted to say something—probably about Wolfgang—and Rachel could guess she had a bone to pick with the man, which could work in Mythic’s favor.

Rachel leaned over to nudge the woman’s shoulder, grabbing her attention.  “Hey… if you want, whenever I do go to China, you’re welcome to come.  I could use all the allies I can get when going into that dragon’s nest.”

A soft smile lifted her features.  “Thank you, Rachel.  We will see.  My first duty is to God and France.”

“Just leaving it open.  So… can we get done with the Lioness of Brittany business so I can stop the jitters inside my gut to move?  Heh.  I hate just sitting around; I… get the feeling I should be on the prowl soon.”

Charlemagne settled in, focus moving to several things on a screen beside him.  “I’ve been briefed on your misfortune ability… by Wu, might I add.”

“Of course she did,” Rachel grumbled, tail twitching against the back of her chair.  “Let’s finish this so I can tell the rest of the crew the plan.”

It didn’t take long to finish the meeting, and Rachel waved goodbye to Charlemagne and Tom after hitting each point again; something unexpected had happened to the Crystal, according to the emperor, and it would likely transition into a higher tier by the time they entered.

Wanting to see what Yseress could actually do, Rachel wasn’t concerned, and Jeanne went to gather the others as she cooled down to think.

Opening the door, Rachel let the pattering rain against the sidewalk and closed her eyes; the sound helped to clear her head, and she heard Nemesis’ chuckle halfway to the gate, waiting for her.

She slipped off her shoes and socks before launching forward, ears scanning each sound that painted a picture of her blind environment.  Her bare foot felt the expanse of liquid with each slowed splash as she closed the distance; a few things were bothering her, and she had to find her way through them.

Rain pelted her skin in her blurred movements; she’d become faster than she was against Nemesis the last time they’d fought, but he had also grown from the Legend’s Quest.  The sluggish movements without the lunar rays touching her left her feeling weak; she couldn’t hurt the Lion King like this without getting serious and accessing the Hades Moon, and, given his instincts, it would be hard to dodge, which was just what she wanted.

China is developing Qi cultivation techniques, such as what Grandpa uses, and is pulling from their rich history of martial arts.

Ducking the laughing man’s swipe, she cartwheeled around him, pushing off the ground to evade the lion’s reaching tail; twisting with her momentum, her shin connected with his side, yet it was her that was repelled as he stood his ground—he’d learned from their last fight to keep a solid foundation.

Wu is powerful enough to hold arguably one of the most chaotic and diverse casts of competing interests on the planet.  It’s perfect if I want to get stronger.

“Heh.”  Rachel barrel rolled midair, left hand touching grass to redirect her toward a wall.  Launching back at the Lion King, her heel struck his palm—it didn’t budge, yet a burst of air and compressed liquid spat everywhere—and she did a short backflip to deliver a flurry of blows against his moving hands.

She knows I can’t resist the urge for conflict and presented herself in a way to push us into a frenemy territory…  Twilight.  The Lioness of Brittany is a small shrimp I need to fry while Ying Yue Jiang is here from China, which will give me a chance to test my strengths against a captain from the north.

Nemesis went on the offensive, and Rachel’s ears carefully followed each muscle twitch; eyes flying open, she snickered, folding back her ears and retreating a few paces as he slammed his hands together, creating an ear-shattering crack that might have hurt at this range.

He roared with laughter.  “It’s so rare I feel any resistance; I love to feel pain in battle, and only you can give that to me!”

“Haha.  It’s so rare anything lives past a single punch!  How would you like to go on the hunt for me?”  Rachel asked, throwing up her guard to test the man’s punch; his fists felt like bricks, forcing her into a half twist to stabilize herself.

Nemesis jumped after her as she went for his feet after leaving his defensible ground on the concrete; he leaned into her foot, but Rachel feinted and aimed for the mud, causing the man to stumble.  She delivered a teep, throwing him back this time.  “Ho-ho!  I love the idea!  I can practically taste the meat.”

“Heh.  It’s already dead, by the way,” she said, returning to jab drills and counter swipes.  “A Mythickin known as the ‘hopping Chinese vampire,’ and, to be clear, I just need you to find her for me by tomorrow.”

“Consider it done!  Also, dead meat is fine by my stomach, as well, if you need the corpse disposed of.”

“Woah!  Haha.  No, you can watch if you want, but she’s a manipulation type like Mara, so I’d rather she be with you, and she’s got a heavy-hitter zombie with her.”

“Zombie?  Sounds interesting.”

“Pfft!  Okay, I’m sure Mara will inform you of the details.”

“Hehe.  I don’t need sleep, and Mara can function on two hours, given her passives; she’s just lazy.”

“Haha.  Throw the mermaid under the boat!  Alright, let’s keep this up for three minutes…  Full speed, so I actually start losing my breath.”

Blurring into action, she went for the throat, yet, at the last second, decided to go for a knee, sensing the misfortune that would have followed; he was caught off-guard and carried into the air—her playground—and Lunar Step took her into them into the snowfall.

Nemesis was a sitting duck in airborne combat—something he really should focus on correcting—and he didn’t touch the ground for the next three minutes, but he was laughing all the same.  She took him to the roof and around the manor to cheers from some of Cahira’s crew, making sure Zippy was cared for.

Chest heaving, and throat dry, Rachel saw stars—she still couldn’t operate at 100% for very long, and, for her, three minutes was an eternity—allowing the Lion King to land on his head in the ripped-up ground that would be naturally repaired given Zippy’s passives.

“Haha!  My ears are ringing,” she coughed, rubbing her eyes.  “Wow.  I need… haaa-huu-haa.  I, eh-heh, need to do this more often.”

Nemesis worked around his neck with a showy grin.  “Maybe you should stop messing around and actually use 100% because that felt more like thirty.”

“I would if… huu-haaa-ack.  If I didn’t have things, I had to do or, as Wu hinted, have a bounty on my head.  Good workout, nonetheless.  Maybe we will make it a normal thing.  I’ll think on it.”

Leaving him with a smirk, went to wash the mud and sweat off before delivering the news to the others; Nia and Yseress returned to her Core, anticipating the Crystal, while the others listened to Jeanne and her explain the plan—she wasn’t going to just wait for the ax to drop or the pirate conference to start.

“Melissa’s sister is counting on us; we need to have a location and make the rescue tomorrow night.   She’s too big to take around everywhere from everything we know, which means she’s nearby.  Fiona, Scarlet, Selv, Jeanne, Melissa, and, heh, yes, Selv, Galatea, will be scanning the coast with Charlemagne’s forces.  She’s hidden with the alien cloaking tech, not in some pocket space.”

She could hear Melissa’s heart pounding as she explained the plan; they needed to take away their enemies’ cards before they even knew they would become enemies.  “Just… make sure to call me if you do find her; she may attack anyone else…”

Fiona shook her head.  “No-go, Mel!  We don’t know what they did to her, so we need to be careful; my sister should be ready to go… she’s kind of in a food coma right now, trying to level her stomach, hehe.  I’m pretty sure she has a new skill that will help us.”

Rachel cleared her throat, catching Fiona’s eye.  “Actually, Nora will be with me tomorrow; Anthony asked me to check out some eldritch trouble.  In that case, you may need to pick us up, depending on when you do find her.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Heh.  Nora will be happy she can be useful.”

“And me?”  Alexa whispered, holding up a hand as her wings fluttered.

“Crystal with Nia, Yseress, and me tonight—oh, and Elinnila…”

The devil straightened, trying not to look at Jeanne’s glare.  “Yes?”

“You’ll be casting the biggest net to find where Melissa’s sister is.  I’m sure you can find lost or hidden things, so make up for your mistake earlier today, and put in 100%…  Maybe I’ll keep Yseress busy for a day.”

Relief flooded the child’s brown eyes.  “T-Thank you!  I will find her…  We should leave now, Mistress,” she said, turning to Jeanne and trying to act as if nothing had happened.

“Humph…  If you fail to find her before the end of the night…”

The succubus shuttered at the implication, knowing it probably had to do with Yseress.

“Oh, how I do love the devious side I am pulling out of everyone,” the nephilim fake cried.  “Is this what a mother feels like?”

“Big Sis…  You’re supposed to be learning how to be nice.”

“Have I not been quite nice to you, little gumdrop?”

Rachel snickered.  Just learned that one, huh?

“It is a funny word,” the woman snickered.

Breathing out a long stream of air, Rachel turned to Nemesis and the recently awoken Mara, practically drooling on the couch, and she was beginning to wonder if the Lion King hadn’t been ‘totally’ truthful regarding her sleeping habits, or maybe he had a false opinion of her since he wasn’t lying.

“Nemesis and Mara will be in on the hunt for our Jiāngshī…  We have our jobs.  Break!”

Rachel motioned to her sister-in-law, leaving to meet with Solomon on her way to the Crystal; she didn’t expect them to find Melissa’s sister in one night, but they should be able to cover it in two, given the scale of the operation and a powerful succubus involved.

If she finished with the Crystal soon enough, maybe they could pick up Nora for the eldritch hunt—Fiona took them to shore before starting the search—it was time to go on the offensive.

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