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Story name
Oni: Holocaust
Michigan, USA
OCF thread

Mai walked along the stone hallway overlooking the rebuilt city. Since the destruction of the syndicate compound, the people living here had slowly come back, reclaiming the damaged rubble. Their spirit was admirable, for although there had been many battles and hardships, they had come through as a stronger community. Glancing out a window, Mai surveyed the spires and arches of the gleaming metropolis. The new city --named Konoko in honor of her heroic efforts-- had changed to accommodate the Daodan enhanced inhabitants. For example, the stairs she walked up now were steeper than a normal human would have been able to climb comfortably. But other than that, few things were significantly different. Mai had been pleased to discover that the effects of the chrysalis hadn’t affected the people physically, other than the few who chose to deliberately change their appearance. She shuddered as she wondered what the ninja Mukade must have gone through to gain his black exoskeleton.

And then her thoughts were interrupted as she reached the end of the hall. Composing herself, she walked through the door and entered her Father’s lab. James Hasegawa sat hunched over a microscope, his youthful face obscured by the hood of the machine. He had taken his wife’s name --the male version-- as his own after her death forty years ago. It was her death, infected by an unrefined Daodan plant and poisoned by the unclean air, that had driven him to develop the Chrysalis that had saved humanity.

“What did you do now, Father? Your message seemed urgent.” She stepped up to him as she spoke, careful to avoid anything that looked remotely explosive or toxic.

Jumping, he extracted his face from the machine and replaced his glasses on his nose, squinting through the lenses until his eyes refocused. He was constantly plagued by ‘glitches’ such as poor eyesight as a result of being implanted with an imperfect chrysalis. Griffin had offered to pay for a new one, but James had declined, saying that he felt somewhat attached, it having been extracted from the plant that killed his wife.

“Mai! Good! Yes! I’ve got a fix for that glitch in the Kanine strain of Daodan, and the next batch of Avian Chrysalis are ready to be implanted.” He slid a box of vials towards her on the table. “Tell Griffin that the Barabas strain is nearly ready to be implanted in humans. That should brighten his day.”

Mai nodded and called up the holographic display on her datapad, typing a quick message to Griffin telling him of the new developments.

“Is there anything else, or is that it?” She peered through the shimmering image at her father. He shook his head, and she sent the message.

Dr. Hasegawa relaxed in his chair, his left hand twitching as a glitch coursed through him.

“How’s Casey?” He asked. Mai blushed slightly.

“He just got back from hunting down another group of remnant BGI. They’re getting more active lately.”

“Hmm.... Has Griffin said anything about continuing the Raptor project? I’ve been wondering how the Daodan would hold up to a flying humanoid.” Hasegawa rubbed his eyes, pushing his glasses up on his head.

Mai shook her head. “No. He’s decided that it’s not worth the risk. He said that if the Remnants keep turning themselves into oversized bats, we’ll just hunt ‘em down with helicopters.”

They kept talking for a while, enjoying each other’s presence, and then Mai took the box and left, walking back to the New Order Department of Enforcement, or NODE for short. Entering the shiny steel building, she passed through a series of security checks before entering the main lobby. Walking across the carpeted floor to an elevator, she took it up to the communications and surveillance floor, where specialized, Shinatama strain humans were plugged into computers, watching over the city at the speed of thought. Mai walked past most of the stations, turning aside at the last one, where her friend Karen sat, staring blank-eyed at the flickering screens before her.

“Karen. Karen!” She snapped her fingers in front of her friends face, before remembering the wake-up procedure. She reached over and pressed the button, and Karen’s eyes flickered back and forth before focusing on Mai’s face. She sat up, extracting the neurological tendril that she used to communicate with the computer from it’s socket.

“Konoko?” She refocused her eyes. “Hey, Konoko. What’s going on?”

“Nothing much. I brought the fix for the dogs, and the next batch of bird chrysalises.” She placed the box on Karen’s desk. “Dad says the Barabas strain is nearly ready, so those weightlifters had better figure out what they’re gonna use it for, aside from playing volleyball with Griffin’s truck.” They both laughed at that, remembering when a group of SWAT had requested the special strain of Daodan.

“Okay. I’ll let the scientists know the package is here, and I’ll drop a memo by SWAT about the Barabas.” She reconnected to the computer. “By the way, you might not want to report to Griffin right away. He’s reading the patrol reports right now, and you know how he gets about his reports.” Her eyes drifted back to the screens, and Karen sank back into the computer network, watching the city through a thousand cameras.

Mai chuckled and continued to the stairs. Dashing up them, she soon reached the level her office was on. She strode past the doors in the hallway, stopping outside hers. The door was just closing, and she glimpsed someone disappearing into her office. Crouching, she crept up to the door and listened for a minute, hearing the person shuffling around inside. Then she opened the door and dashed into the room, determined to catch the mysterious snoop in the act. But before she could go three steps, Casey jumped out from behind her, catching her up in a bear hug until she calmed down. Then he set her back on the floor, and Mai turned towards him, shoving him playfully in the ribs.

“I thought you’d be at home by now. Not,” She smiled. “that I’m complaining.”

He grinned. “I thought I’d stay and see you first.”

Mai leaned in and kissed him lightly. “I’m glad you waited.”

“So am I.”

They spoke softly to each other in that fasion for a while, and then Casey left, saying he’d see her tomorrow. Mai walked slowly back to her desk, a slight purple glow drifting around her as her feeling of well-being activated the Daodan a bit. Sitting back in her chair, she closed her eyes and waited for the glow to recede before she opened them again. As soon as she started to shuffle papers, though, she noticed a small box on her desk. When she opened it, a small band of metal gleamed brightly from the velvet padding it rested on. Taped to the inside of the lid was a small note in Casey’s handwriting. On the note was one simple question that she realized she’d been waiting for him to ask her ever since they fell in love.

Mai-- Will you marry me?

Fifteen Years Later...

Mai was sitting at a table in an observation room overlooking her daughter’s Beta 6 training. She hadn’t wanted Sarai to join NODE, but her daughter had insisted on it, Casey said she was like her mother that way. Mai’s face must have betrayed her thoughts, for Casey held her hand and spoke soothingly to her.

“She’s doing fine. Besides, she’s got you to watch out for her. We’ve all but eradicated the BGI, and the Daodan glitches have all been fixed. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Sarai swept a pistol off of the table, slammed a clip into place, and pounded a walking drone with bullets until it fell over ‘dead’. She tossed the gun back onto the table, and walked to the data console to see her score. Mai glanced at her own console, reading the number displayed there.

“99.8 out of 100. That’s even better than what you got Konoko.” Griffin leaned back in his chair. “Considering what happened last time an agent got a score this high, even accounting for Daodan enhancement, the whole city was destroyed. I’m not sure I’m up to another cataclysm like that.”

Casey chuckled, but Mai didn’t share in their mirth. She looked down at the young woman who had just mercilessly slaughtered three opponents without so much as blinking. She had to agree with them, Sarai did remind her of herself, and she desperately hoped that the resemblance ended with the purple hair and fighting skills. No-one should have to go through the things that Konoko did all those years ago. Then a door opened and Sarai climbed the stairs to the observation room.

“I passed!” She beamed with pleasure as she spoke. Casey and Griffin both hugged and congratulated her enthusiastically, but Mai was more reserved. She stepped forward and embraced her daughter as well, a melancholy feeling welling up inside her.

“Don’t let it get in your head, Sarai. Now that you’re old enough to fight, you’ll have to do what’s necessary, but don’t ever get used to it. If you do, you’ll wind up just like Mukade.” She stepped back, and looked at her daughter.

“I won’t mom. You’ve told me that horror story too many times for me to go there.” She smiled. “But can we, just for once, celebrate like normal people?”

Mai laughed a bit at that, and the family walked out of the room and down to the Griffin’s van, a former TCTF transport that they’d salvaged from the rubble. Griffin pulled out of the parking lot, and soon they were at Sarai’s favorite restaurant. They filed in, and soon were laughing over dinner, as Casey made absurd jokes. Mai noted that the food still tasted strange since the conversion to more environmentally friendly supplies. But even a lobster that tasted of asphalt couldn’t dampen their mood. When everyone’s stomachs were full, and they were ready to leave, they piled back into the van and drove away. Griffin dropped them off at their building, where Mai and Casey owned the top level of a skyscraper. When they arrived at their floor, the family got ready for bed, bade each other goodnight, and retreated under their bedsheets with full stomachs. Night fell over the city of Órinkor silently.

Mai woke in the middle of the night and lay there for a minute. A blinking light flashed off to her left, and was accompanied by a soft buzzing. Rolling out of bed, she tapped a botton, activating the replay function of her commlink.

“Mai! Mai are you there?” Her father’s voice nearly shouted from the device. “Mai, something is happening. Something big. I don’t know what it could mean, but the Daodan in all my test subjects suddenly flared up, and I noticed it spreading like a wave. I looked outside after it passed, and the wave seems to be spreading to the rest of the city. It’s affecting humans as well as animals. They’re turning into... monsters. I wasn’t affected for some reason, I think it’s because my Chrysalis is an older version. I don’t know if this will affect you or not, but be ready for anything. I’m barricaded in my office, and I can’t get out. Come get me if you can, but if you can’t, then get out. Get away from the city, away from other people, away from everything. Hide until this is over.”

Mai was fully awake and running before the word ‘monsters’ had left the speakers. She dashed to a room that she kept stocked in case an emergency came up. She threw on an armored suit similar to the old TCTF Black Ops suits, strapping a pistol to one thigh, and a plasma rifle across her back. She ran from the room, jamming ammunition clips and hypos into her belt pouches.

“Get up NOW!” She shouted, running back into the kitchen and stuffing a backpack with supplies. Casey trotted in, his bedraggled pajamas wrinkled, but his face was alert. He took one look at the armor and ran for his equipment as well. Mai nodded to herself, pleased to see that Casey’s instincts were still sharp. Then Sarai shuffled in, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

“What’s up Mom?” She looked at Mai’s armor and huffed. “You woke us up just to tell us you got night duty?” Sarai was going to say more, but the backpack hit her in the chest, knocking her breath out and silencing her.

“Cut it, Sar. We’ve got bigger problems than lost sleep right now.” Mai looked at her daughter’s shocked face. “You wanted to be an agent? You wanted an adventure? Well now’s the time kid. Get suited up and have this pack and yourself in the car in five minutes.” Sarai started to jog back towards her room, but Mai stopped her. “Wrong way. There’s equipment for you in the armory.”

Sarai nodded and turned towards the armory, jogging past Casey who was coming the other way. He wore armor similar to Mai’s, but carried an SBG instead of a plasma rifle.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“There’s something wrong with the Daodan. Dad says it’s spreading like a wave, mutating the implanted Chrysalises into monsters. He’s trapped in his office, and we’ve got to get him out.” She hurried from the kitchen to their bedroom, searching for her commlink. Casey followed her.

“How come he’s not affected by this?”

“He thinks it didn’t change him because he has an older Daodan chrysalis, which means that it might not affect you or me either. I’m not sure about Sar.” She found the small device and strapped it to her wrist, talking while she moved. “We should pick up Griffin and as many unaffected people as we can along the way. This is not gonna be pretty.”

She and Casey jogged to the stairs, but Sar intercepted them, three extra hypos in her hands.

“We can’t go down there.” She said, “I heard what you said, and I for one don’t want to walk down, past who knows how many mutated people.” She held up the hypos. “We can use the overpower affect to jump out the window.”

Mai nodded, remembering the time she had leapt from a plane into Muro’s compound with nothing but an extra hypo and a lot of determination. So they ran back through the house, going to a window above the parking lot. Mai activated the hypo, reveling in the raw strength that poured through her body as she was suffused with a purple glow. She leapt, and within three seconds, landed on the pavement, crushing the concrete beneath her. Soon Casey’s blue glow appeared in the sky and plummeted down to her, followed by Sarai’s yellow one.

The small family clambered into their car as soon as Sarai landed. Casey started the vehicle, and they drove off, careening through the empty streets. Memories of speeding alongside a TCTF transport on her motorbike came back to Mai as she watched the city fly past outside. Sar leaned forward in between the two front seats, pointing at something outside.

“You see that? What is it?” Casey and Mai both looked where she was pointing.

“That’s Griffin.” Casey said, “James must have called him, too.”

Up ahead, Griffin was running from his own house, dressed in old-era combat gear and carrying a VDG pistol and a large box. As they watched, he loaded the box into his van and ran back into the building, reappearing a moment later with another box.

“Dad! What are you thinking? We’ve got to get out of here!” Casey called to him as they parked the car on the side of the street.

Griffin paused to zap a prone figure with the VDG before answering.

“I’m packing. If we’re going to be evacuating, we have to be prepared. Can’t figure out how to reverse this without the proper equipment.” He shoved the unconscious monster with his boot, then looked up at the family. “Well you’d better get in, we’ve got a scientist to save.”

Mai climbed in next to Casey, and Sarai jumped in across from them. Setting their weapons onto a rack, she surveyed the pile, mentally calculating their total firepower.

Three pistols, one black adder, an SBG, a Van De Graf, a plasma rifle, and one mercury bow. She sighed. It was a lot of firepower, and it was diverse enough for whatever they might need to do, but she didn’t like the idea of running through a city full of monsters unless they were completely prepared for anything. She shuddered as Griffin clambered in and started the vehicle. Pulling out of the driveway, they sped towards the NODE building, where Dr. Hasegawa was barricaded. As they passed building after building, Mai noticed more and more people --what used to be people-- coming out of the shadows and staring at the vehicle.

“What happened to everyone?” Sarai asked, looking out the window at the lumbering monsters.

“There’s something sweeping through the city.” Mai exchanged a glance with Casey. “It’s affecting all the newer strains of Daodan, mutating them into monsters. We don’t know whether or not it will affect you along with them.” Sar’s face went pale as she grasped the full meaning of what she had just heard.

The van swung around a corner and skidded into the parking lot, the rear doors swinging open as Casey released the latch. Casey and Sar leaped to the ground, and Mai tossed the weapons to them as Griffin came around to the back.

“Okay, We’re not looking for a fight here, so keep the chatter to a minimum, and don’t shoot unless you have to. Our objective is to get in, grab Hasegawa, and get back out as fast as possible, without attracting undue attention. Got it?” He tightened down his aging armor as he spoke. Casey and Mai both chuckled, trying not to laugh out loud.

“Always the commander, aren’t you Dad?” Casey’s smile reached from ear to ear.

“Just like I’m always gonna be Konoko. We’d better get a move on.” Mai’s grin faded as she faced the shadowy doorway leading into the building.

They nodded and walked to the door, where Griffin unlocked it and went in. Casey went next, followed by Sar and Mai. They ascended the stairs, after checking that the static defenses and alarms were disabled. Mai, looking up for a second, noted a flaw in Sar’s movements.

“Point your gun up the stairs, like this. You can get lower, and it quickens your reaction time.” She whispered to her daughter, demonstrating the technique.

“But in the manual it says to keep your gun pointed down, so you don’t shoot someone by accident.” Sarai protested.

“That’s why your father and I are rewriting the manual. The old version was written by people who’d never actually seen combat, and most of them were more concerned with the laws and money than with what worked.”

Sarai nodded, a slightly irritated look on her face, but she corrected her posture and continued up the stairs. They passed floor after floor, silently walking by the dark doorways, until they heard a scream from behind one. Mai hesitated only a second before crashing through the door. Memories flashed in front of her eyes, and for a horrifying minute, she was back at the TCTF, fighting to drive the syndicate from their building.

“Help! Konoko, help!” She saw, through Shinatama’s eyes, the giant Barabas looming over the small SLD, laughing as he ripped a man in half, stepping over the mutilated body to grab the cowering girl. She saw again, the syndicate- and TCTF’s firefight across the staggered floors, and a welder caught in the middle, running to get out of the way. She once again plummeted up the elevator shaft to fight the monster who had stolen her friend.

“Mai! Snap out of it!” Casey shook her shoulders while Griffin and Sar dragged two monsters off of the frightened Karen. Blinking, Mai realized that she had knocked out both the creatures by herself before passing out. She groaned as she sat up.

“I thought I was back at TCTF that time they broke in and kidnapped Shinatama.” She shivered, as if she were cold. Casey nodded.

“I had a flashback too, when we jumped from the building. I think it’s got something to do with the daodan anomaly. I’m just sorry for Griffin. He’s seen some horrible stuff during his career.”

They both glanced at the older man, noting his tense muscles and drawn face. He checked Karen over for injuries, and straightened.

“Ok, we’d better get going, before these things wake up.” He turned and addressed Karen, “You’re a shinatama variant. Can you tell me how many more mutants are in the building?”

She nodded and inserted her spindly hands into a computer socket, her eyes flickering behind half closed lids as terabytes of information passed through her mind.

“There are five more mutants within this structure.” She intoned in a mechanical voice, “They are on levels seven, thirteen, and the top floor.”

Griffin nodded, and they departed as soon as Karen had extracted her hands from the socket. Climbing the stairs once again, the family task force ascended to the top floor, where they saw a horrendous monster forming from the contents of spilled test-tubes and beakers. Before anyone could stop her, Sar stepped forward and unloaded her Black Adder into the sludge, which shuddered once and became motionless. Griffin lunged forward and knocked the gun out of her hand, but it was too late.

“What the hell was that for?” He roared, “You have no idea who that was. For all we know, it could’ve been the very man we’re trying to save!” He was about to continue, but a cold, echoing laugh interrupted him.

They all spun around to face the goo, but it wasn’t goo anymore. It had formed itself into a humanoid form, with spikes protruding from the back. As they watched, it grew a shiny black exoskeleton, and within seconds, Mai was facing her old foe Mukade.

[Mukade:] “Konoko. Only your daughter would so foolish as to force my hand.” He tossed a handful of bullets to the floor. “I would have thought you might teach her caution, if nothing else.” Mai shuddered at the cold voice from her past.

“How did you survive?” She said quietly, “I killed you on that rooftop.”

“You did. I lay dead for a long time, but now you have provided the means for my return.” He laughed again, and Mai lunged forward, desperate to kill the specter from her past, but Mukade dodged backwards rushed to the side, fading out of sight into the shadows. He reappeared near the door, but Sarai was already flying towards him, landing a punch in the small of his back and throwing him to the ground. The ninja rolled to his feet, but again Sar was there. She threw him to the floor, smashing his face against the tiles. His body went rigid for a second, and then fell limp. Mai saw the intentional move, and started to shout it to Sar, but was too late. The inexperienced girl relaxed her grip, thinking her opponent dead. The instant she did, Mukade leapt up and disappeared out the door, flinging Sarai against the wall with a sickening thud.

“Sarai!” Mai ran to her daughter, gently cradling the unconscious girl. Karen came up quietly to them, extending one unnaturally long hand, the other inserted into a socket in her PDA. An electrical spark flashed between her splayed fingers, weaving a semi-transparent web around her hand. She ran her hand over Sar’s body, hovering a few inches above the comatose girl. Again, her eyes flickered behind half-closed lids, and she spoke in a hollow voice.

“She has broken ribs in three places, a slight concussion where her head hit the wall, and numerous bruises and abrasions.” Her hand stopped glowing. “Two hypo injections should be enough to heal her, as her Daodan chrysalis is already working to repair the damage.” Karen opened her eyes and sat back against the wall, while Mai took two hypos from Sar’s belt and activated them on her daughter. Griffin watched the women for a minute before his patience ran out.

“We can’t just sit here. Casey and I will go pull Hasegawa out of his office, and we’ll pick you up on our way out.” He turned towards the doorway, but his son didn’t follow. “Casey, I know you’re concerned about Sar, but We’ve got a job to do, and Mai can take care of her just fine.” Casey nodded mutely and reluctantly followed Griffin from the room.

Five minutes later, Sarai opened her eyes and blearily looked about. Mai jumped a little when she felt Sarai move. She looked and saw that the hypos had done their job perfectly, judging from the slight yellow nimbus writhing around her daughter’s hands. Supporting her back, she helped the girl into a sitting position, and then into a standing position, but Sar shrugged off the help, rolling her shoulders and stretching to relieve the cramps that had formed from healing so quickly.

“How do you feel?” Mai asked, a touch of concern in her voice.

“I’m fine.” Sar bounced from foot to foot, trying to release some pent up energy. “I feel great, actually. Better than ever.”

Just then, Griffin and Casey came out of the office, James trailing behind them, lugging a box full of files and papers along with him. Mai, Karen, and Sarai fell in step with them, and the group descended down the stairs to the parking level. Mai kept a sharp eye out for Mukade, but didn’t see him, and she fervently hoped that he was just another hallucination, but judging from the way the others glanced around them as well, Mukade wasn’t just a memory.

What she did notice was that Sar had lost the fearful edge that had made her nervous before. The young woman strode along as if she were invulnerable, and Mai was reminded of the overconfident Furies she had fought all those years ago. Sar had inherited her father’s skin tones and Griffin’s serious face, but her green eyes and purple hair came from the Hasegawa side of the family. She was still thinking when the Shades attacked. Shades were a variant of Daodan that some people chose to mutate into. Looking like a thin hairless bat without wing membranes, they were preferred by criminals and other unsavory types, because of their superior night vision and climbing abilities.

The screams came a split second before the shades attacked, materializing from the shadows around the small group. Mai whirled, coming face to face with one, it’s fangs glistening in the darkness. The hideous thing shrieked again and lunged at her, barely missing as she dodged to the side. She jabbed back at it, her fist crushing it’s neck and crumpling the windpipe. But the obstinate beast wouldn’t die yet, and raked her face with it’s long claws, leaving three bloody streaks down her cheek. She hit it again, and managed to get behind the thing and break it’s back. Looking around, she saw that the others were similarly occupied, but were holding their own, except for James, who hadn’t fought in a long time. Even Karen had managed to put up a fight, inserting her fingers into a shade’s spine, attacking it with her thoughts. Mai ran to defend James, beating back the shade attacking him, but another swooped down to take it’s place, and she resumed fighting once again. The battle continued in this way for ten minutes, and then the shades suddenly retreated, disappearing into the shadows. Breathing hard, Mai looked around, checking to make sure that everyone was uninjured. Griffin had a few scrapes, Casey was cut on the arm, Karen had a few bruises, and James was a bit frightened, but otherwise everyone was okay. She nodded to herself, but then Casey asked a question that changed everything.

“What happened to Sarai?” His voice cracked.

Mai whirled around, but Sarai was nowhere to be seen. Then she spotted a trail of blood where something had been dragged away. She ran along it, but it ended suddenly, a lone scrap of purple hair laying at the end.

“No!” She cried, falling to her knees. “Sarai! Why Sarai?” Casey came up and knelt beside her, his face blank with shock. She crumpled into him, and his arms fell limply around her shoulders. Griffin and James also walked over, stopping a few feet away from the grieving couple. After a few minutes of silence, Griffin spoke softly.

“We need to go. The shades could come back any time, and we aren’t equipped to fight a horde of them.” He put his hand on Casey’s shoulder. “Come on, son. We’ll find Sar sometime, but if we stay here, she’s gone for sure.”

So they trudged back to the van, a broken family in the twice broken city. Griffin stated the vehicle as Mai and James climbed in the back and casey in the navigator seat. Driving out of the garage, they passed a street light, and Mai saw that there was a single large cocoon hanging from it. As they sped through the streets, more evidence of the mutation was visible. Webs spanned gaps between buildings; lights fizzled out of existence as strange creatures attacked the glowing bulbs; windows shattered; and doors were ripped from their fittings. Mai began to cry again, weeping for the city that she had worked so hard to rebuild. And then they passed through the city walls and sped out into the desert.

After an hour of driving, Griffin pulled up next to a cave entrance, and everyone piled out of the van. Mai sadly surveyed the jagged stone, rough granite that she was sure would be uncomfortable to sleep on. Walking inside, she shone a light around, looking for a flat spot to set up camp. She found it about fifty meters from the entrance, and set down the bundle she had been carrying. Heading back up, she nodded to the men, indicating that it was a good place to stop. They all hefted bundles of their own, and descended into the cave, their footsteps echoing off the hard walls. James laid his hand on her shoulder for a minute as he passed, murmuring:

“Our family seems to be intertwined with the Daodan, Mai. Whenever we extract a blessing from it, it takes payment in blood. We must break this cycle, Mai, or it will scour the world more surely than the poisonous air. This is the holocaust, and one race will serve the other at it’s end. Will we live as Humans, or Daodan?”

Then he walked deeper into the cave, and she stared after him, wondering at the man who’s life had been so drastically affected by the Daodan plant. Looking back at the van, she saw that Sarai had left her necklace in the vehicle, hanging from a hook in the ceiling. As she stared at the dangling pendant, a broken O with two bent ends, anger welled up in her, the same fury that she had felt when Shinatama was captured. Rising from her sadness, she stood and strode to the van, checking to make sure that her belt pouches were still stocked full of supplies. She holstered her pistol and slung the mercury bow across her back, emptying all the other supplies and weapons onto the stone just inside the the cave entrance. She left a note on top of the pile, explaining where she had gone, and then she walked back to the van and climbed in, but Griffin and Karen had extracted the battery cable, so that the van was powerless until they put it back.

Nice try. Mai thought as she activated her Daodan, pushing the energy away from herself and into the vehicle, powering it. Leaving the cave behind, she sped back towards the city, the hate and pain pumping more and more energy through her, which she then converted into speed. The desert blurred, and soon she was back in the city, flying through the streets deeper towards what was now an infected-looking hive where the mutations had started. Screeching to a halt, she leapt from the overheating vehicle and grabbed a shade that darted past. Flipping it above her head with one hand, she smashed it back down into the pavement, crushing it’s feeble attempts to escape.

“Where is Sarai?” She snarled, wisps of energy writhing around her. “What did you do with her?”

It struggled to answer coherently, speaking with a hiss. “Sssarai not hhhere. I not know Sssarai. Hive brothersss not tell me any Sssarai.”

“Prisoners!!! Where do you keep prisoners?” She shouted, the force of her cry slamming the shade’s head back into the concrete.

“We takesss no prisssonersss. All become Daodan. Mukade tell usss that humansss mussst become Daodan.” It gasped for breath, but Mai never loosed her grip.

“Where is Mukade? When will Sarai be transformed? Tell me!”

“Mukade at top of ssspire. I not know Sssarai.”

Mai growled in frustration and flung the shade into the van, locking it in a restraining harness. Then she faced the spire, and began her journey up it’s rough side, climbing the web like surface at a rate far beyond what a normal human could maintain.

Mai growled in frustration and flung the shade into the van, locking it in a restraining harness. Then she faced the spire, and began her journey up it’s rough side, climbing the web like surface at a rate far beyond what a normal human could maintain. Halfway up, however, she was forced to stop when the webbing became slick and hardened into a dark iridescent green shell. She looked back down and all around her, searching for an alternative route. Mai saw a shallow depression in the webbing to her left and climbed over to it. Probing the sagging webs, she found that they seemed to have been made over a window, but the window had broken sometime later, resulting in a soft spot in the tower’s defensive shell. Punching through it, she found that she was right, and tore a hole large enough for herself to fit through. Leaping through into the dark room, she rolled to a crouch and paused make sure no-one had noticed her entrance. Standing slowly, she saw that she was in an office, abandoned and desolate. Moving through it quickly, she was nearly at the doorway when she heard a noise outside.

Two Daodan Mutants prowled past, the deep shadows obscuring their hunched bodies until they were close, and Mai had to fight not to run from the hideous apparitions. She waited until they were gone, and then quietly ran down the hallway and turned to climb up the stairs to the next floor. For the next half hour she climbed the tower in this fashion, hiding from the Daodan and fighting them when she couldn’t hide. Eventually she emerged into the top floor, where the infestation was thickest. There were holes ripped in the walls, and hardened webs coated all exposed surfaces including the furniture, which had been turned into pillars of webbing, making the large room look like an ancient cave or forest. She crept along the surreal scene, scanning for any sign of Sarai. Then she rounded a pillar, and came face-to-mask with Mukade. He was seated in a throne constructed of the carapace. Sarai hung from the ceiling next to him, half encased in a cocoon. Her eyes widened, and she struggled against her bonds, trying to speak past the web on her mouth. Mukade laughed at the girl’s struggles, then, when she didn’t cease her struggles, he stood and stilled her with a vicious punch to the face. Sarai slumped unconscious. Mai’s fury rose up inside her, and she felt her Daodan stir, ready to lend it’s strength. Mukade turned back to Mai, impassive behind his mask.

“Mai Hasegawa. Again you have tracked me to the top of a tower and forced me to fight. Only this time I see that you have embraced the Daodan’s power. Or have you?” He crouched and circled, moving away from the throne so he had room to move. “You are afraid of what you could become if you opened yourself to it. Afraid of seeing your true self revealed. Such a pity.”

“What are you?” She asked, desperate to turn her attention away from the weakness Mukade had pinned down.

“I am the Daodan. I am the physical manifestation created by the human’s tampering with the Daodan’s power. Your brother brought me to life in his mad experiments. Barabas was my first incarnation, a flawed body, but it was quickly remedied when Muro gave me this one, by far the better, and then he allowed me to manifest in his own body, but you killed him before the transformation could be completed. In another path, I would have manifested fully, had you killed Griffin and allowed yourself to become dark. But now I have come back, fueled by the raw power generated by the masses of Daodan implantations happening every day, thanks to you and your father.”

He laughed again and lunged at her, the whipping his hands back and pulling daggers from the spikes between his shoulders. Mai unholstered her pistol and emptied the clip at him, but the ninja didn’t even slow. She tossed it away and was reaching for the mercury bow when he hit her, kicking out and slashing with his daggers. She parried quickly, but received a cut on her arm, which healed even as she watched. Somehow, she managed to land a return kick, and he staggered back a few steps, allowing her to pull the mercury bow around and fire a shot point-blank into his chest, knocking him down. But he rolled back, and stood, facing her. Then he exploded into color, blue and red Daodan glow pulsing around his shimmering body. Mai pumped her own Daodan to it’s maximum, lending energy to the mercury bow, enabling her to empty all her ammo clips in around ten seconds. But they all deflected off Mukade’s glow, hitting the ceiling and floor instead. Tossing the gun away, she threw herself at him, taking him by surprise and managing to knock the daggers from his hands. The two figures whirled around each other, blows flying between them and deflected before they could land. Finally, the black ninja got both his fists together and he delivered a punch to her chest, throwing her back against a pillar, where she slumped to the ground, her Daodan spent. He leapt at her, grasping Mai’s throat, choking the life from her.

“Foolish girl. You. Should’ve taken. The Daodan’s power. Now you will die.” She looked up into his mask, seeing her reflection there, struggling for breath. Mai looked deep into her face, now wavering and changing, emerging as Konoko, a cruel smile playing across her lips. And she reconciled herself to the girl, accepting herself. Then her eyes rolled back, and she slumped lifeless to the ground. Mukade stepped back, looking down at the defeated Mai. He turned away. And Mai exploded to life behind him, leaping up and smashing into his back, crushing him against the floor. She stepped off, and he rolled to his feet, stunned.

“I know who I am.” She whispered, then stepped forward and flexed her new Imago mucles, ripping him in half. Then she turned to Sarai, her white armor glowing, but with a hint of darkness, a wild untamed power that was halfway between good and evil, able to heal or kill with equal ease. She blasted the cocoon away, and Sarai rolled to her feet, running to her mother and enveloping her in a tight hug. Then they left the tower, the webs crumbling and the mutations writhing as they were returned to their original state.