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Endgame

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  • Violence
  • Intense Situations

Demigod Saga

Warcry / Dusk / The Long Walk / Conquest of Darkness / Court Of The Red Queen / The Gate of Genesis / Endgame / Monsters / The Last Resort / Return to Order

(Endgame is a co-operative saga between myself (Little-Red) and Inferno Pendragon - it is set 5 years after "Court Of The Red Queen" and 5 years before "Monsters", this allows events such as "The Gate Of Genesis" to have occured in the interim: since this is a saga those who join will be in for a long but hopefully enjoyable experience)

Prologue

The story begins with a young girl sitting by a window in a tall castle tower, she has curly hair of a dark brown coloration and is dressed in a little red dress and shoes - rather sparkly due to her youth, being only three years of age she was very much a "little princess" in looks and manner: though a few guards did look slightly uneasy at the girl's small draconic wings and grey skin color, not to mention her red eyes.

Yet none would dare question the child in the presence of her mother, normally Queen Red would be sat on her throne in eternal thought - her great axe sitting by her side, yet on this starry night she sat with her daughter, holding her on her knee as the two looked out at the stars together.

"Look mommy! it's the wishing star!" the girl cried out with excitement - pointing at a bright star.

"..Oh? ..why.. yes.. yes it is.. you know what that means, don't you?" Red smiled, even though she knew the bright star was nothing terribly special - yet if it made her daughter happy she was willing to play along.

"..I get a wish?" the girl asks.

"That's right, Sangria.. and since tomorrow is your birthday you get a special wish.. a Birthday Wish.. it only comes once a year.. but it's the greatest wish of all.." Red replied.

"Red, you shouldn't be filling her head with false hope.. you know as well as I do there's no such thing as a wishing star.." Inferno noted, walking into the room and dressed in regal gear - his wings folded down around himself as he approached the two.

Red holds Sangria close as she frowns at Inferno "don't listen to your father, Sangria - he is a stubborn old fool..".

"Silly mommy! daddy's not a fool - daddy's a pegacorn!" Sangria said with the innocence only a child could have.

Red chuckled a little, her frown soon vanishing as she snuggled Sangria closer - enjoying the feeling of being a mother again - "hush.." - she looks to Inferno again, her eyes softer now "..let her dream, she's only a child.." she says quietly.

Inferno simply looks at Red and Sangria for a moment, then turns away "..even children must learn to grow old.." he says, then walks out of the room.

Red's eyes grow sad as she watches Inferno leave, yet she doesn't try and stop him - Sangria seems to notice and looks to her mother with innocent eyes "..is daddy mad at me, mommy?" she asks.

Red holds Sangria to her and shakes her head, "no, daddy's just.. sad.. he's been that way for a while now..".

"Then I know what I want to wish for.. I wish daddy was happy again.." Sangria says.

Red nods silently and holds her daughter close, the stars in the sky sparkling as the two once again stared out of the castle window.

Chapter 1 - Child's Play

The following day saw Red's castle filled with excitement as the halls were packed full of visitors of all shapes and sizes, guards busily trying to keep order as the crowds chattered amongst themselves - the guests were of all ages and due to the unique nature of Red's world they were not all human: some winged fairies flew around, talking animals moved around and people dressed in exotic clothing from far away lands.

Away from the halls sat Red and Sangria, along with numerous other guests at a massive table filled with all manner of food and drink, many of which was catered towards younger audiences - indeed the castle was filled with laughter as many children played: Sangria watchinng but not joining them as she sat at the table.

Red smiled as she watched the scene, though her smile faded ever so slightly as she observed the vacant chair next to herself - "..come on Inferno.. please.." she whispers, looking back to Sangria - who was still looking around with childhood innocence at the world around her.


As the castle fills with visitors Inferno wanders alone in the gardens outside, coming to a stop near a fountain - sitting down at its base he watches the water sprouting up into the air and then down into the pool, seeing his own reflection - after a few moments another figure appears in the reflection, a young woman dressed in rags and having a rather wild appearance, yet she holds one of her arms as she affords a small smile and speaks: "..hello, Inferno..".

Inferno's eyes suddenly grow wide as he stands up, turning around to look at the figure - "..Aither?".


Back at the castle Red finally stands up, giving one final look at the empty chair beside her - sighing ever so slightly before she raised her arms in the air: as she did so the entire castle fell silent as everyone paused, young and old seeming to know better than ignore this signal.

Sangria's eyes widened a little as she looked over to her mother, a perpetual smile etched on her face -

"..attention one and all! you have travelled far today, some further than others.. for this I thank and welcome you to my home.. today is a blessed day, one that brings me more joy than you can ever imagine.. I know it will bring you joy today.. four years to this day I was given a beautiful daughter.. so now I ask you to rejoice with me the gift of life.. for Sangria.." Red says, addressing the room and looking to Sangria near the end, smiling as she held back tears upon seeing her daughter, so perfect in her eyes and so innocent.

"Aw, isn't she so cute!" Nebula squealed quietly from within the audience.

"Nebula..." sighed Ruichi in annoyance, who was sitting next to her. "Please, behave yourself."

From within the crowd Arbiter emerged, walking toward Rad and her daughter. "Hello Red, Hi Sangria." he said cheerfully. "How's the birthday girl?"

Ever since encountering Eclipse four years ago, Arbiter's memories had been shattered. Over time, they were coming back to him slowly, but with his memories gone, his personality seemed quite a bit more cheerful than usual. He even smiled happily as he greeted Sangria and her mother.

Amnesty also walks up to Sangria, following closely behind Arbiter. "I have a little present for you, Sangria. It's not much, but I hope you'll like it!"

Red smiles at Arbiter and Amnesty, Sangria looks over at her mother as if waiting - a small nod is all the child needs for her smile to grow even wider as she stands up on her chair: spreading her wings excitedly "me and mommy saw a wishing star last night! I made a wish.. so it will be the best birthday ever!" she replies to Arbiter, pegacorns matured quickly and Sangria was no exception - her intelligence already rivalling some of the older children yet in the end a child always remained a child and simple things gave her the greatest joys.

Upon hearing Amnesty's voice Sangria's little ears perk up visibly and she claps her hands a little - "..a present? for me? oh! mommy - can I?" she says, looking over at Red once again.

Red simply nodded again - "..it would be impolite not to, Sangria -" she replies.

Amnesty holds out her hand, revealing a small, neatly wrapped package. "Go ahead. It's all yours."

Sangria's eyes sparkle as she takes the package and tears away at the wrapping just like any other child - Red smiling as she sits back down, observing Sangria as the crowds return to their usual chattering.

As Sangria unwraps her present, a small silver necklace with an emerald-green pendant is revealed.

Sangria looks at the necklace and tilts her head side to side, "..oh.. look mommy.. it's so pretty!".

Red nods a little, "..what do you say, Sangria?".

Sangria perks her ears and squeaks a little as if suddenly remembering something "..thank you!" - she proceeds to do a little curtsy, as her mother had taught her.

"I've got something for you too." Arbiter said. Reaching into a pocket in his vest, Arbiter pulls out a gold-chain bracelet lined with tiny, glimmering opals.

"It took me a while to make this," Arbiter said, "But I think it will go nicely with the neckla-"

"OMIGOSH! IT'S THE BIRTHDAY GIRL! ISN'T SHE THE CUTEST LITTLE BUNDLE OF ABSOLUTE JOY?!?!" yelled the frantic, machine-gun voice of Nebula, who suddenly appeared floating behind Arbiter's shoulder, startling everyone in the vicinity.

"NEBULAAAAAAAAA!" bellowed Ruichi from a few seats down in almost comical frustration, causing everyone else in the nearby vicinity to roar with laughter.

The laughter suddenly begins to change as a familiar giggling sound echoes across the hallways, seeming to drown out the others - followed by a slow, sinister clapping as the crowds part: looks of confusion and fear appear across the guests' faces as a girl dressed in red (much like Red) appears, a jester, a humanoid hare and most disturbing of all a child with long golden hair and small impish wings:

"..I have a present for you too, Sangria.. I always bring the best presents.." the girl grins, sharp little fangs revealing themselves.

Arbiter observes the ominous new crowd, particularly the impish winged child.

"...I've seen her before, I swear." Arbiter says quietly.

Ruichi draws his scythe. Nebula hides behind Arbiter in fear.

Red's eyes suddenly grow wide, her smile fading as she leaps forward with startling speed - shoving Sangria towards Amnesty as she reveals her axe: racing across the table like a wild animal as she roars "..Amnesty! get Sangria to safety! Arbiter - help the crowds.. the rest of you.. fight!".

As Red does this the girl in red looks ready to attack, pulling forth an axe of her own - only for the jester to grab her arm and speak "..Rose, this isn't right - this is no place to fight..".

The hare pulls out a large mallet and rans forward, "..shut up, Jester - you heard what Pandora said.. they are nothing but murderers and thieves.. we have to save Sangria..".

Jester continues to hold onto Rose, looking at her "..a mother's love is strong, what we do now is surely wrong.."

Rose sighs a little, but ultimately shoves Jester aside "..you don't know my mother, she will hurt Sangria.. just like she hurt me.." - "..Hare! distract them as much as you can! I'm going for the girl!".

The winged child continues to smile as a few guards move towards her, looking ready to subdue her (though taking care, as they believe her to be a child) - only for the guards to fly across the room as the child simply picks them up and tosses them like ragdolls, slamming them against the castle walls with a sickening thump, she proceeds to look around the room and scowls a little upon noticing something missing:

"..where's Inferno? Inferno! Inferno! come out and play!" she calls out, casually smacking an entire table across the room, the wooden structure shattering to pieces in the process as the crowds panick.

"Everyone back away!" Arbiter calls out to the crowd. He steps forth, drawing his giant greatsword. Ruichi steps forth, pointing his green-bladed scythe at Arodnap.

"That is no child..." Ruichi muttered.

Amnesty grabs Sangria, holding her close to her and flying towards the ceiling. "Don't worry, Red. I'll protect her as if she were my own."


As the others battle within the halls of the castle Inferno wanders along a forest path with Aither, a fair walk from the castle - he and Aither continue a conversation they had been having since she had found him at the fountain:

".. how long has it been now, five years? Avalon is suffering without you.. especially now that Ebonscale has returned.." Aither notes.

"..don't mention that name, you know it's dangerous - the people of Avalon must not know of his return.." Inferno replied.

"..Equis is making sure of that.. I assure you.. yet Avalon needs you.. I need you.." Aither begins.

Inferno stops in his tracks and looks to Aither "..Aither.. stop..".

Aither grows angry as she stays in place, looking at inferno "..no! I won't stop! I won't! I love you! you can't just leave me! you can't - not after everything we've been though!".

"..its over, Aither - I am with Red now.. I have a daughter.. you have to understand.." Inferno begins.

Aither transforms into a glowing orb of energy as she flutters around Inferno angrily, like a buzzing bee "..I don't understand! don't you see that? I don't! I -!"

However Aither's rant is cut short when she suddenly notices something wrong in the distance, the sight of smoke from the castle - Inferno notices Aither's sudden lack of words and turns around, as he does so his eyes burst into red flame as he spreads his wings out: ".. RED!"


Back at the castle Red charges at Rose and the two clash with their axes, mother and daughter once again at each others throats as Red growls visibly - her eyes furious "..why!? why did you do this Rose!?".

"you're a murderer and a thief.. Sangria isn't safe with you.. let alone Inferno.. Pandora told me about your so-called "prince".." Rose replies, her words like venom.

"..Pandora? is that what she had you call her? you're a fool Rose! she's not a child - she's a monster.. a demon.. her name is -" Red begins.

"ARODNAP!" a loud voice bellows from across the room, the doors bursting open to reveal an armored pegacorn with a large sword, similar in many ways to Inferno but older and heavier built: next to him is an entire squad of pegacorn warriors as well as a pegacorn female dressed in flowing robes and holding a glowing staff.

As the new figures arrive the hare leaps forward and attempts to strike at Arbiter while the Jester appears next to Amnesty - unlike the others he doesn't make a move to attack as he looks to her and speaks:

"..you and I both know the danger is not Red, which why I suggest you use your head.. we are far from friends.. yet I'll take the child and roam.. until this fight does somehow end.. upon which I'll bring her back home.."

Amnesty looks at the Jester. "No thanks. I don't need assistance from someone like you." she speaks, before drawing her sword and pointing it at him.

Arbiter dodges the hare, preparing to strike at Arodnap herself; the hares mallet clashes against Ruichi's scythe.

Nebula flies up toward Amnesty, casting a protective shield of magic around them. "It's fine, Mr. Jester." Nebula says kindly, but firmly. "Little Sangria will be safe with us."

Jester makes no move to attack as he says something chilling, "..you may save the child but you fail to see - the mother is also about to pay the fee.. with me the child would be safe from harm, though I shall not try and force your arm.."

As the Jester says this Red and Rose continue to fight only for Rose to get the upperhand over her mother, knocking her down and prepared to strike - only to stop herself as she puts her axe to one side: "..get up".

Red stares at Rose and frowns, "..you should of killed me when you had the chance Rose.. because I don't fail twice.." - with that she leaps at her daughter only to let out a cry of pain as an arrow strikes her from the side: cutting deep into her as she feels poison flood through her veins.

The hare goes to strike Ruichi again with his mallet only to also let out a cry of pain as a vicious mouse suddenly leaps from nowhere, tugging on one of the hare's ears with such force he falls to the ground - unable to shake the attacker: "..remember us, old friend?" the creature snarls wickedly.

Another rain of arrows shoots through the room, heading towards Amnesty and Nebula - only to be blocked as the Jester makes sure he takes the blow instead, three sharp arrows hitting him in the back.

Arodnap watches all of this with an insane smile on her face, twirling a little as she begins to dance around the room in a twisted parody of childlike "play" - when she sees Arbiter her eyes light up, quite literally, before long a beam of red energy erupts from those eyes and act much like a solid battering-ram of force.

The pegacorns flood the castle, yet they are at a loss as what to do as the chaotic moves of the Resistance are not to their liking - they were used to the laws of war and this battle had no such code, as they witnessed as the rain of deadly arrows began tearing across the halls.

"..men! find that archer! I'm going after Arodnap - Arbiter can't face her alone!" the armored pegacorn yells, his sword suddenly glowing with power, revealing the figure as none other than Equis - the current King of Avalon.

Arbiter holds up his blade to counter Arodnap's beam; the force creates a maelstrom of energy that blows apart sections of the floor.

"Only too well." Ruichi responds to the mouse. He steps back and holds his scythe up in defense.

Arodnap's eyes stop glowing, the girl standing in place as her smile fades - seeing Arbiter still standing "..something's wrong.. my power.. decreased.." she states, her words almost mechanical in nature as she tries to process the information.

Equis leaps at Arodnap with his blade, readying a blow - only for Arodnap to suddenly leap into the air, transforming into a crackling red bolt of energy, smashing straight through the castle roof and beyond the skies with the speed of lightning: vanishing from the area.

Jester falls down on the ground, three arrows still impaled in his back - Sangria letting out a cry as she clings to Amnesty and yells out "mommy! I want mommy!" : from a dark corner of the room a cloaked figure pulls back the string of a bow, aiming towards the little girl as the archer prepares to release the arrow - a malicious grin spreading across his face.

The mouse laughs as he literally swings the hare by the ear, painfully tossing him at Ruichi with strength that should be impossible for something his size - then proceeds to scurry across the floor, towards a hole in the castle wall: "come on, Robin.. let's go.. we've had our fun..".

As this occurs Red falls to her knees, clutching her side as she shakes - trying to get to her feet but feeling the poison rush though her: Rose watches and grips her axe as if ready to strike, only to suddenly stop when she sees Arodnap transform and break through the castle roof:

"..I.. I'm.. sorry.. I.." Rose begins, only to rush out of the castle as the guards go on a full-scale assault - capturing both Jester and the Hare, taking advantage of their weakened state.

"Red!" Arbiter calls out, seeing that she was injured. "Nebula! You're better at healing than I; Get down here!"

Nebula floats down toward where Red is standing. "It's poison." Nebula says, the cheery edge to her voice long gone. "I can sense it. I can try this, it usually works..." Nebula whispers a few words. Cupping her hands, she proceeds to toss what appears to be a mist of sparkling green magic over Red.

"Yeah... this usually cures poisons... is it working?" Nebula asked.

Amnesty lands next to Red, putting Sangria down, but still holding her hand. "If that doesn't work, this might." she mutters, placing her hand on Red's forehead.

A pair of glowing red eyes appear behind the archer as a hand suddenly clamps down on his shoulder, sending the archer flying from his perch towards the group below - a pair of large draconic wings spread out as Inferno fliies down, forming a massive blade of black energy in one arm - crackling with red lightning: a ball of light flutters around him, glowing like fire and sparking every now and then as if sentient.

"Guards.. take them to the dungeon.. to await execution at dawn.. by my hand.." Inferno growls, pointing at the archer - his gaze also looking over to the fallen Jester and the Hare.

The archer is caught off-guard and falls to the floor, only to grin widely as he says "..what's a Birthday without a magic act? see you around, losers.." - with that a cloud of smoke suddenly surrounds the figure and by the time a few guards have charged their target had vanished completely.

The guards snatch Jester and the Hare, treating them quite roughly despite their injuries - the Hare looks ready to fight when Jester speaks out - somehow resisting the poison flowing through his system:"..no, my friend - the fight must end.. Robin's poison can not end my life - yet the Court may do so to end this strife..".

Red stays motionless for a while as the others tend to her, Sangria crying out for her as any child would - for a good few minutes Red stays deadly still, as if in a deep sleep: then suddenly her eyes open with frightening speed and intensity, bolting straight up like a ghost rising from the grave she barely even blinks before she utters: "..my daughter.. give me my daughter..".

Chapter 2 - Eve of Execution

The scene shifts to later that night, the castle having been emptied save for Red, her guards and the main group - some of whom no doubt have been tasked with watching over the prisoners: Sangria was still awake even though it was nearing her usual bedtime, the broken tables and large hole in the roof reminding most of why sleep was likely the last thing on anyone's minds at this point.

Amnesty comes walking into the room, walking towards Sangria and sitting down, still keeping an eye on the child.

Arbiter, meanwhile, is sitting a distance away, alone. A few memories seem to be returning to him, but none of them happened to involve the golden-haired girl that everyone called Arodnap. "Damn..." Arbiter mutters quietly. "I know I've seen that monster before... If I could only remember..."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ruichi had volunteered to keep watch over the prisoners, and Nebula, as usual, accompanied him. Yet her chatter was really beginning to put him on edge.

"You know, I've never understood the idea of dungeons... keeping dangerous prisoners holed up in the same building as the royalty..." Nebula chattered.

"Nebula..." Ruichi said, with irritation present in his voice.

"...and boy, does it smell bad down here, too. Hey, is that mold growing on the wall? And..." Nebula continued to talk and talk nonstop, and Ruichi was finally driven over the edge.

"NEBULA!" he barked. "Please, shut up and for once, take things seriously! This isn't a game!"

Nebula was taken aback by Ruichi's sudden outburst. She looked hurt and about to cry. "...I'm sorry..." she said, before she vanished into thin air.

Ruichi stared at where she vanished for a moment, before facepalming himself. "...I hate myself..." he muttered angrily.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Amnesty looks at Arbiter, before signing him to come sit with her.

Arbiter takes the hint, standing up and walking over toward Amnesty, sitting down next to her.

"This is crazy," Arbiter said. "All this stuff happening gives me the strangest feeling of deja vu, and I still can't remember anything."

Sangria looks to Amnesty and asks a question only a child could ask, her eyes showing innocence yet confusion - as if slowly awakening to a slow realization that the world was no longer a fairy tale "..why did the bad man hurt mommy? did she do something wrong?".

Red on the other hand waits by a fireplace, looking into the flame as if in thought - her hood covering most of her features as she keeps her axe nearby: "..oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's..".

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In the dungeon Jester and the Hare sit in their cell, the Hare looking out from the bars as Red's song drifts through the air "..you owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin's..".

"Aren't you going to cast a spell and get us out of here already? they are going to kill us!" the Hare snaps, looking to the Jester - who simply sits in a corner.

"death is the price we pay, for allowing ourselves to stray.. once we were heroes - you and I.. now we only see an "eye for an eye".." the Jester replies.

"You still believe in that nonsense? look around you, Jester! there is no such thing as heroes in this world.. no such thing as friends.. this is war.. in war the only thing that matters is staying alive!" the Hare replies.

"What joy is a life built on strife? if we live only to dread - we'd all be better off dead.." the Jester replies in turn

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++.

Amnesty looks at Sangria. "Of course not, little one. The bad man shouldn't have come here. Don't worry, all will be fine!" She then looks at Arbiter. "Arbiter. You remember the time you spent in my palace, the tales I've told you? This is exactly what I was talking about. The "girl" is Arodnap, the others were part of the Resistance. Even the Dormouse was there. All that I told you was true, and now we're in the middle of it."

"Yes, I believed you then, and I can definitely see you were not lying." Arbiter says. "I'd just like to be able to see the thought in my own mind's eye..."

A thought comes to Arbiter's mind, and he suddenly does something unexpected; he lifts Sangria, sitting her down gently on his lap, and recites a poem:

"Don't be quick to anger,

Don't fear anymore,

And love the people in our lives

Like we've never loved before."

"Someone important once told me that, little one." Arbiter says. "Now, there are bad people in the world, and there are good people. There's even people who fall in between. But no matter what they do, keep the people you love close in your heart. Remember the people who love you and love them back. And when you grow strong, protect them will all of your strength..." Arbiter was silent for a moment. "Um... did you understand all of that? Because I think I'm pretty lousy with talking to kids..."

Inferno enters the room, accompanied by a floating orb of light that buzzes around him - his shadow casting over the room as heavy doors open and two figures flag his side: one being Equis and the other being a female pegacorn.

"..Maria, take Sangria to her chamber - she needs her rest and we have much to discuss.." Inferno says.

Amnesty gets up and places a hand on Arbiter's shoulder. "All in due time. All will come back when the time is right."

Sangria nods a little and nods to Arbiter "..I think so.." - she then turns as Inferno enters and soon finds herself lifted up by the female pegacorn who waves her glowing staff in the air, causing the two to disappear in a golden light.

Red turns her head to look at Inferno and the others, "..where were you?" she asks, almost a whisper - obviously directed to Inferno.


Meanwhile in the darkness of the forest a lone Robin runs amidst the undergrowth, trying his best to keep from giving into fatigue - yet he eventually trips and tumbles into a clearing.. picking himself up only to grow wide-eyed as he stares up at a shadowy figure floating in a large chair:

"...how many times must I come to your aid, Robin?" the figure speaks, as he does so a small mouse appears on his shoulder - grinning wickedly.

"..no matter - come along.. the master wishes for us to find Arodnap.. she shouldn't be too far.." the figure notes, turning away from Robin.

"..Arodnap? you mean that girl from the castle? are you insane? you saw what she did! she'll kill us all!" Robin begins.

"..my dear Robin.. that's the point.." the figure notes darkly.


Back at the palace the Hare and Jester remain in the dungeon, the Hare finally gives up on trying to break free as he sits down in one corner of the room - looking over at the Jester at the other side of the room.

"..you remember when we started this whole Resistance movement? boy, those were the days.. back when we were stupid enough to believe we were actually doing something good.. you and Robin made one heck of a team.. me and Dormouse were unstoppable.. what happened to us?" the Hare asks.

"..I grew tired of a life dealing death - Robin won't stop killing until his final breath.. Dormouse was never your friend, he always tried to plot your end.." the Jester replies.

The Hare fidgets with his paws, scrunching his face up a little as if fighting the urge to cry "..you.. you're wrong.. he was my friend.. once.. we did everything together.. I don't know what I did wrong.. maybe I was too clumsy.. maybe I just talked too much.."

++++++++++++++++++++++

Inferno looks at Red for a moment, "..I was distracted -".

"..where you?" Equis notes "..or is this just another of your tricks? tell me, brother, how many lives are you willing to shatter in your mad quest for power? how many more lies must we contend with? your consort and daughter fought for their lives and you were not there to protect them.. I for one would not be surprised if you were the one to endanger them in the first place..".

Red turns away, looking back at the fire as she keeps her hood over her head "..enough Equis.. Inferno.. I want you to leave the palace.. this time.. I don't want you to come back.." - she lowers her head and closes her eyes, holding back tears.

Amnesty simply sits in place, looking at the ground, trying to block out the events around her.

"Red....." Arbiter says, unsure of what to say.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Nebula sat outside the castle, sobbing quietly to herself.

"Have I... just been a burden to him the whole time?" she thought to herself.

She thought of the way Ruichi had yelled at her- first during the feast, just before Arodnap broke in, and afterward, down in the dungeons. And... she couldn't pretend the others weren't just as annoyed with her actions and endless chatter. She didn't notice then, but looking back now...

"Perhaps it would be better if I just left..."

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Down in the dungeons, Hare's words make Ruichi feel even more guilty about the way he had yelled at Nebula. He sat down, resting his back against the stone wall.

"Dormouse... he was once your friend, you say?" Ruichi asked the Hare, trying to get his mind off of Nebula.

The Hare perks one ear as he twitches his whiskers, then speaks "..we did everything together - everybody said I was mad.. yet Dormouse didn't care.. he used to take me to tea parties.. we'd have so much fun.. that was until he tugged my ears or jabbed my eyes.." - the Hare rubs at the eye-patch he wears with one paw "..I stopped crying after a while.. it only made things worse.. but.. he never meant to hurt me.. he.. was just.." the Hare began yet lowered his head, unable to finish the sentence.

"..Dormouse meant every scar he made.. though in time they shall fade.." Jester notes to the Hare.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Inferno looks to Red for a few moments, ignoring Equis as he turns away "..as you wish" he says - walking out of the room with surprising calm and the buzzing orb of light follows him, Equis doesn't look content and sure enough as Inferno makes his way to the door Equis steps forward and yells out after him:

"..you see, Inferno? father was right about you all along! you ruin everything you come across - you're nothing but a monster!".

Inferno simply stops by the door, not even looking back "..enough Equis, you've won.." - with that he vanishes down the hall and out into the castle gardens.

"Inferno..." Arbiter begins, standing up as if to follow, but then sighs and sits down sadly upon seeing that Inferno wouldn't return.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Nebula looked up for a moment to see Inferno walking out into the gardens. Part of her wanted to go over and talk to him, but then she relented.

"He probably thinks I'm annoying, too." she thought bitterly to herself. She stood up, and trying with futility to stop her tears, began to walk away from the castle.

As Inferno walks out into the garden he stops as if in thought, when suddenly a heavy thud can be heard - Inferno falls to the ground as a familar girl with long golden hair stands behind him, grabbing the fallen prince by the wings and dragging him away from the castle with a merry skip in her step:

"..When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch. When will that be? Say the bells of Stepney. I do not know, Says the great bell of Bow. Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!" she sings - mysteriously finishing off Red's song from before as she and Inferno vanish into the forests.

Nebula, seeing this, gasps in horror at the sight. Looking back at the castle for a moment, she makes the (foolish) decision to take pursuit. She runs and disappears into the woods.

Luckily for both Inferno and Nebula a small orb of light miraculously survived the encounter, having no doubt hidden in nearby grass - the buzzing object flies back towards the castle at a rapid pace.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Amnesty still remains seated, frozen in place as if not knowing what to do.

Finally, after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Arbiter stands. "I'm sorry Red, Amnesty, but this all just went to hell. Arodnap is running loose out there, and someone needs to put her down. I'm going. And don't forget Ruichi, he's still with the guards down in the dungeon watching over the prisoners."

"Don't worry about me." Ruichi said, walking into the vacinity. "I'm sure the guards can take care of things down there. Has anyone seen Nebula?"

Suddenly a large explosion rocks the castle, coming from the dungeon below - as if someone had rammed a battering-ram straight into the castle wall: the sound of guards running around and yelling accompanying the chaos.

A look of serious irritation passes over Ruichi's face. "Well, just screw that." he says, raising his scythe, and walking back toward the dungeon. "Why does this always happen to ME?!"

Amnesty gets up as well. "Fine. Things can't always go our way. But it's the responsible ones that keep fighting. Arodnap is our main priority. Or rather, *my* main priority."

"..I AM THE QUEEN HERE DAMN IT!" Red yells, leaping up and holding her axe above her head as the flames in the fire blaze around her as she spins around, her eyes wild.

Yet Red's anger is quickly interrupted as Jester and the Hare appear, along with a small squad of guards - floating in the air, only to fall down as something throws them across the room: sure enough a bright light suddenly morphs into an impish woman.

"..all of you shut up - you are all as bad as each other.. senseless fools who are either too proud or too stupid to see what is happening all around you.. Inferno and Nebula are in danger.. due to you.. Red, you may be Queen but you are a mother - Sangria needs a father.. Inferno would never of missed the party if I hadn't distracted him.. I.. I'm sorry.. I just wanted to see him again.. I.. *grr* .. doesn't matter now.."

She turns to Arbiter and Ruichi "..Arbiter.. you and Inferno were like brothers.. he needs you now more than ever.. Arodnap isn't the only thing tormenting him.. Ebonscale is awake..".

Equis suddenly steps forward "Aither! don't mention his name!".

"..enough! Equis! you are King of Avalon - yet you are also a bigot and a coward.. I don't fear Ebonscale and I don't fear you.. Avalon sees you as a hero due to the sacrifices Inferno made.. sacrifices you've taken credit for time and time again.." Aither replies.

The only words that register with Ruichi were the ones where Aither claimed that Nebula was in danger. "Nebula is in danger? Where is she?!" he asked frantically.

"Enough." Arbiter says. "Ebonscale is a threat we will deal with when the time comes. Aither, lead us to Inferno and Nebula."

Red's eyes flare up as she speaks in a voice that is not her own, "..NO! I AM QUEEN AND I SAY.. LET THEM DIE!".

Suddenly a small voice echoes across the room, "..mommy? what's wrong? why are you yelling?" - Sangria appears, alongside Maria: the two find themselves blocked by Jester, who seems to recognize something in Red.

"..her mind is not her own - the seeds of ruin have been sown.." Jester says.

Aither flies at Red, not even bothering to change into her usual orb of energy - "..good - I've been dying to do this since I arrived in this world!" - with that she attempts to ram into Red with enough force to lift her off the ground and into a nearby wall.

Red reacts quickly and no sooner had she hit the wall than she in turn hit Aither with enough force to send her flying across the room - amidst the chaos Sangria breaks free and runs towards her mother, arms outstretched: "mommy!".

Jester quickly forms magical "darts" and tosses them at Red as Sangria runs over, trying to protect the child as Red snarls, her form starting to change into a more feral one as she looks at Sangria then to the others.

"mommy!" Sangria continues, trying to grab Red only for Red to leap across the room and out a nearby window - running into the nearby forest as Sangria runs towards the window, tears in her eyes "mommy! come back! mommy!".

With a chaotic burst of dark energy, Ruichi suddenly morphs into his familiar alter-ego of Dark Ruichi, sprouting demon-like wings; his eyes turning entirely black. Fire begins to swirl around him. "Damn you, Queen, I will not let her die!" he roars, darting after Red, also heading out into the forest.

Arbiter runs over to the window, scooping Sangria up in his arms and holding her. "Amnesty!" he called. "We need to protect Sangria somehow if we're going to follow."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As Red runs into the forest a shadow passes across the trees as the figure in the floating chair observes, placing his hands together as if in thought - a faint smile spreading over his face as he speaks to the mouse on his shoulder: "..good, now that we have created a distraction I believe we shall have sufficient time.."

"..you think this will work?" the mouse asks.

"..I designed the toxin running through Red's veins, the healers saved her life - yet they could not undo the hallucinogenic qualities.. Red is trapped in a nightmare.. it will wear off soon.. which is why we must hurry.." the figure replies, turning the chair in midair and hovering into the distance.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Amnesty looks at Arbiter, holding out her arms. "Give her to me, Arbiter. I will keep her safe."

"What are you planning on doing with her?" Arbiter asks.

Chapter 3 - Puppets

The scene shifts to a clearing deep within the vast forest that lays beyond Red's castle - Inferno awakens to find himself laying under a withered tree, Arodnap sitting cross-legged on a boulder nearby as if waiting.

"..oh good, you're awake - I was afraid I may of hit you too hard and shattered your itty-bitty skull.." Arodnap says, her usual smile completely gone as her face and words are eerily blank.

"..you're dead.. I saw it with my own eyes.." Inferno begins.

"..yes, I know.." Arodnap replies, rubbing her belly and revealing a large scar "..that axe carved straight through me like butter.. I felt myself being dragged into Tartarus.. yet someone brought me back..".

"..the Watchers.." Inferno growls.

"..no.." Arodnap replies, causing Inferno to blink in surprise "..truth is Inferno.. I'm confused.. I can't hear the Watchers anymore.. my power is weakened.. yet I've never felt stronger.. every time I close my eyes.. all I see is darkness..".

Inferno goes to stand up, only to fall back as Arodnap points a finger - an oppressive force wraps around Inferno's neck and pins him in place, he clutches as if wrestling with air.

"..stay.. I need you here with me.. I want us to be the last.. you and me.. then when everyone else is dead.. I want to kill you myself.. it's what big sisters do.." Arodnap says with chilling calm.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Amnesty looks at Arbiter. "I'm planning on keeping her close, yet safe. Hand her over, Arbiter."

Arbiter looks to Sangria for a moment. "It's alright, little one. We will do everything we can to bring your mother and father back." he hands her over gently to Amnesty, then lifts his greatsword. "Meet me in the woods, Amnesty. I fear we are going to have our hands full." he then sprints off with inhuman speed out of the castle, through the gardens, and disappearing between the trees.

Amnesty looks at Sangria. "Now what should I do... I could sent you away, and bring you back when all of this is over... Or I could keep you close... but that might put you in harms way..."

Sangria looks to Amnesty and speaks "..I don't want to go away.. I want mommy and daddy back..". +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Suddenly, Nebula appears in the clearing, launching a pink orb of magic at Arodnap.

Inferno falls back as Arodnap is hit by the orb of magic, still sitting cross-legged as the orb shatters against her torso - an expression of terrifying calm on her face as she utters a single word: "..run".

With that the ground suddenly trembles and a rift races towards Nebula with obvious sentience, like a homing missile - the ground splintering and shaking in the process.

Nebula rockets high into the air to escape the rift, then flies overhead, launching several more orbs of magic.

Arodnap studies Nebula for a moment, "..you fight to defend people who despise you - funny.. you remind me of someone.. don't you agree, Inferno?" - her eyes then glow just like they did in the castle, flashing dangerously before she is tackled from her perch by Inferno.

"No! I'm the one you want! fight me!" Inferno growls, only to be smashed into a nearby tree as Arodnap knocks him away - getting ready to unleash another beam of energy from her eyes when she finds herself engulfed in a prison of stone and black energy, Inferno holding a hand out as he concentrates.

"..Nebula.. get out of here.. you don't need to die.. not like this.. Arodnap is my curse.. all my life I've been running away from it.. well I'm tired of running.. I'm ending this.. before I do.. I want you to tell Red something.. tell her.. I'm sorry..".

"NO!" Nebula screeches, suddenly assuming a level of ferocity that seems most unlike her normal self. "It's all her fault everyone is mad... it's her fault that everything is ruined! Arodnap! I HATE YOU!"

Inferno's eyes grow wide as a small elfin fist suddenly smashes straight through the prison he created, flashing red light flickering like a hellish light show as the area shakes violently - he concentrates harder as he tries to keep Arodnap in place a little longer: "..Nebula! get out of here! please.. think about Ruichi.. he.. he needs you.. I know it doesn't always seem that way but sometimes when you love someone.. deep inside.. you get angry.. scared.. you say things you don't mean.. you forget stuff.. but that's important.. it means they truly care.. you need to survive.. for Ruichi.." Inferno speaks, somehow seeming to understand Nebula - his connection to the Twilight Force growing over the years, though he'd never admit it.. afraid of what it could make him become..

Inferno's words seem to strike a chord in Nebula, whose eyes seem to soften for a moment. Then her gaze is quickly overtaken with rage. "I AM thinking about Ruichi. He hates me, AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!" A massive sphere of magic forms above Nebula, who hurls it down at Arodnap; as soon as it collides, a pillar of pink flame bursts from the ground.

"That may have done nothing..." Nebula pants, with tears forming in her eyes, "but I hope that really hurts..."

Inferno closes his eyes and sighs, "..forgive me.." he whispers, thinking of his baby girl and consort - knowing he'd probably never see them again as he extends his wings just in time for the inevitable: as Nebula attacks Arodnap bursts free, cackling with laughter as Nebula's pain seems to renew her energy, malice in her eyes.

"..not my fault you are an annoying, clueless little -" Arodnap begins only to find herself lifted up in Inferno's arms as he flies up into the sky with her wrestling to free herself "..what!? let me go! let me go!" she demands, yet Inferno doesn't listen as he goes as far as he can, feeling like he's about to pass out.

"..love those who hate you.. protect those that shun you.. that is what it is to be free.." Inferno speaks out, his voice somehow reaching Nebula - the tone is sad yet determined, he knows what he has to do.

With those words Inferno dives down into the clearing, both he and Arodnap smash down with sufficient force it could be felt for a good distance - even those at the castle were probably aware of something happening by now.

Red continues running through the forest, now almost completely feral - her size and mass increasing greatly as she snarls upon catching a familar scent, leaping towards the clearing only to let out a yelp as Robin dives down from a nearby tree and clamps a heavy metal "collar" around her neck before leaping off, tugging at a chain and causing Red to fall down as he smirks: "..what do you know? even with all that toxin running through your veins you instinctively seek out your "true love".. cute.. in a completely stupid, pathetic kind of way..".

"enough, Robin - I had hoped the toxin would of lasted longer yet I fear I miscalculated.. just keep her away from the clearing.. the master and I have work to do.." a voice commands from above, the figure in the floating chair reappearing, the mouse on his shoulder leaping down to aid Robin in keeping Red pinned as the other figure hovers into the clearing towards where Inferno and Arodnap had fallen.

"In-Inferno?" Nebula asks aloud, the look of rage on her face turning into one of fear and concern.

The dust settles to reveal Inferno laying face down in a large crater, for a moment it seems as if he is rising to his feet only for it to be revealed he is simply being lifted - by Arodnap - who proceeds to roll her exhausted brother off herself, Inferno unable to move yet still alive.

Arodnap gets to her feet, shakily - clutching her head "..ugh.. wh-what's wrong with me? W-Watchers? why won't you talk? I.. I can't hear you.." she says, her tone suggesting she is still a little dazed.

The figure in the hovering chair suddenly appears in the clearing, lowering down just enough to observe the area while being out of the reach of those on the ground, ".your link with the Watchers was severed.. don't ask me why or how.. yet do not worry, little one.. I shall help you.. all I require is your co-operation in building a machine.. to bring the Watchers to you.." the figure says.

Arodnap looks up at the figure and her eyes flash dangerously "..you.. I've heard that voice before.. when I was being dragged to Tartarus.. a voice spoke to me.. it was you.. wasn't it? ..you broke the link!" - she spreads her wings and rises up, red energy crackling around her as she confronts the figure.

Meanwhile Inferno opens his eyes and strains, sitting up shakily as he watches Arodnap and the other figure - "..Nebula.. Red's here.. I can feel her presence.. please.. help her.." he says, his voice half-dazed as he tries to shake off the exhaustion and pain.

"I... I..." Nebula stutters, unsure of what to do. "I... lost control, didn't I...?" Her eyes grow wide with fear as her entire form begins to glow like a strange, black flame. She screams as she falls to the ground, clutching her head.

Let me out... I will make them pay...

"No... get out of my head..."

They all hate you, you know. Ruichi does. He thinks you're nothing but a pest... and that Arodnap girl, she ruined everything for you... let me out... I will make them all suffer...

"I don't want to hurt anyone..." Nebula pleaded weakly.

You won't be hurting anyone. I will.

At that moment, Ruichi- still in his dark form- and Arbiter enter on opposite sides of the clearing.

The figure looks to Arodnap and forms a large sphere of energy around them, encasing both figures before they appear to vanish from the scene entirely - as they do so the figure speaks: "..we'll have plenty of time to talk on such matters elsewhere.. come Arodnap.. I shall explain all..".

As this happens a loud howl suddenly erupts from nearby and Robin is hurled into the clearing, the pounding of paws accompanies as Red - now much larger and in feral-mode - charges after him, grabbing the collar around her neck and shattering it as she growls: only to fall back as Dormouse attacks from behind, transforming into a winged chimera as it yells out "..stop being a fool, Robin! slice her throat! break her spine! do SOMETHING!".

Ruichi and Arbiter started forward; Arbiter made his way over toward the Dormouse, while Ruichi, upon seeing Nebula, reverted back to his normal form.

"Nebula, I- " Ruichi began, only to be interrupted by Nebula hurling a ball of energy at him. Ruichi yelped in shock and dodged; the ball sailed past him and exploded in the distance.

"Nebula...?!" Ruichi began.

"I'm not Nebula." Nebula responded. "She's gone, and it's your fault. Your fault...."

Meanwhile, Arbiter lept into the air, preparing to bring his blade down on the Dormouse.

The Dormouse manages to roll out of the way of the blade, though it does cut its wing in the process - distracting it momentarily, which is all it takes for Red to spin around and clamp a large hand-paw against the Dormouse's throat, lifting the chimera off its feet as her eyes narrow:

"..get away from my family!" she roars, hurling the Dormouse at Robin with considerable force - the archer having barely had time to get to his feet before he was once again sent tumbling to the ground.

Suddenly Amnesty appears in the middle of the clearing, having Sangria with her, encased in a green orb. She quickly glances around to see what is happening before charging at Robin, the green orb automatically following her.

"Nebula, snap out of it! It's me, Ruichi!" Ruichi pleaded.

"Hey, let's play a game!" Nebula laughed maniacally. "If you lose... YOU DIE!" she launched several orbs of magic at Ruichi, who dodged them all yet made no attempt to counterattack.

Arbiter leaps into the air once more to strike down the Dormouse with his blade.

Dormouse rises angrily, yet their is also confusion in its voice as it growls "..what!?" - the sentence broken as Arbiter attacks, causing the chimera to fly forward and slash at Arbiter in turn with sharp talons, deflecting his blade.

Robin himself barely has time to get up before Amnesty is upon him, like Dormouse he is confused - yet anger also fills his voice as he reaches into a pocket for one of his many poisoned daggers "..why won't you just die!?" he spits.

As this occurs Red leaps forward, landing heavily on the ground next to Inferno - her paws sinking into the earth slightly as she leans down, her feral features slowly becoming more human as she looks to him with those haunting green eyes: "..I'm so sorry.." she whispers.

Arbiter makes a move to strike at Robin but finds himself blocking a massive ball of energy instead that came from Nebula.

"Dammit..." Arbiter mumbled, barely having a fraction of a second to refocus before Nebula was upon him, hurling deadly magic attacks at him.

Inferno looks to Red for a moment and reaches a hand out, stroking along her face as he smiles faintly despite all the chaos around him "..Red.. don't be sorry.. I'm not.. every moment.. no matter how painful.. no matter how mad.. as long as it's with you.. I don't regret any of it..".

Inferno then turns slightly, noticing the battle raging on around him, his eyes scan over to Sangria and he twitches slightly - focusing, knowing her to be safe from harm he instead reaches out with his mind and "sings" her a silent lullaby, the child smiling faintly as she closed her already tired eyes and curled up inside that protective bubble, blissfully falling to an enchanted sleep: Inferno's gift to his daughter, to spare her from further distress.. "..this is not her war, Red.. we mustn't punish her.. now let's do this thing right.." Inferno finishes, turning to Red again, his eyes now determined.

Red closes her eyes as she feels Inferno's hand on her cheek, she slowly reverts back to her normal form and nods to Inferno - looking over at the battlefield: "..Inferno.. I don't want to lose you.. Arbiter needs you.." - her eyes narrow as the Dormouse lets out a shrieking sound - "..Amnesty and Sangria need me.." she continues, gripping her axe "..go to him: I'll cover your back.." she finishes, her eyes also determined now and ready for war.

As Arbiter continues to deflect Nebula's magic, he can sense something dark in her mind, as if it was struggling to break free. His eyes narrow.

Amnesty slashes her swords at Robin. "I'm not ready to die just yet!"

Robin leaps back and growls, "..then give me the girl and I'll leave you alone! don't you get it? that's what he wants! you guys are just puppets!".

Amnesty sighs and motions to the orb that holds Sangria, causing it to lose its transparancy and from duplicates of himself. "Now you don't even know where the girl is... You won't get her. I can give you something else though," she speaks, pointing her sword at Robin once more.

A dark, green tendril begins to extend from Nebula's feet; pitch black eyes open along it's surface.

"Die..." Nebula hisses, sending the tendril at Arbiter, who raises his blade in preparation for the attack.

Robin glares at Amnesty and spits at the ground by her feet "..filthy witch! you're only prolonging the child's suffering - Gepetto always gets what he wants! can't you see that? Gepetto isn't going to give up until we're all dead - but if we give him that stinking little brat maybe.. just maybe.. he'll let us live! even you must admit that one little girl isn't worth sacrificing your entire life over!"

Red suddenly leaps next to Amnesty, hearing Robin's words she breathes heavily and she struggles to keep herself in check: "..Sangria is an innocent child.. my child.. men like you are the reason I gave up on life.. men like him made me start to believe in it again.." - she motions towards Inferno before turning back to Robin - "..so I want you to go to Gepetto and tell him to get his own family.. because he can't have mine!".

Inferno looks towards Red and Amnesty before he turns and walks over to Nebula, still holding one of his arms as his wings lay limp either side of his body - a sign of exhaustion: he speaks quietly "..Nebula?".

Upon seeing Inferno, Nebula cackles madly and launches another blast of magic at him. Ruichi tries to tackle her from behind, but is blocked as another tendril swats him aside.

Amnesty waves her hand, causing Robin to be blown backwards, though not very hard. "You heard her. Leave while I am still willing to let you. Stay, and I will unleash my wrath on you. For the life of an innocent child is worth dying for."

Inferno continues walking forward, stopping as the blast of magic hits him - absorbing into his skin with the crackling of red lightning, he then speaks again, his voice quiet and calm: "..you did good Nebula but I know you can do better - you're strong.. show me what you can do.. doesn't matter what they say in the end.. show me your true power..".

Upon hearing Inferno's words, Nebula frowns and unleashes a hellish blast of energy at Inferno.

"....stop.... fighting me...." she growls, although the statement is not directed at Inferno.

Inferno stands and absorbs the blast of energy, as he does so he falls to his knees "..you're stronger than you think you are, Nebula.. kind of sad.. you let everyone push you around.. I was like that once.. still.. if you want.. when this is over.. we can be friends, ok?" - he looks to Ruichi for a moment "..she loves you Ruichi.. and I know you love her too.. I guess we don't really know each other but I want you to know something.. she's fighting.. for you..".

Inferno's words have an impact on Ruichi, who bows his head. "Y-you're right. I've loved her ever since we've met, and I've always fought for her..."

Nebula's eyes grow wide. "NO!" she snarls. "Stop talking! Nebula's gone! She's GONE!"

"Nebula's not gone..." Ruichi said. "she's-"

"SHUT UP!" Nebula screams, launching a furious blast of magic at Ruichi, Inferno, and Arbiter; yet unlike before, the blasts seem weaker.

"I told you! I wouldn't let you hurt them!"

"No! Wretched child! You dare stand against me?!"

"Yes! I won't let you hurt them! They're my friends!"

"You fool! You don't understand! I am you..."

"No... you're just a monster..."

Nebula collapses suddenly and falls onto the ground, unmoving.

"Nebula!" Ruichi cries out, hurrying toward her.

Robin simply looks to Red and Amnesty with anger as he gets up, "..tough words from a witch, you may think you know what's happening in this world but you'll see.. the worst is still to come.. you should of just given me the girl.."

Dormouse suddenly swoops down and grabs Robin, lifting him into the sky as they disappear:

"..hear this, Red! Gepetto's going to tear this land apart - tell Rose.. Daddy's coming home!".

Red suddenly flinches and her grip tightens on her axe as a look of sheer terror fills her, all the color seeming to fade from her form as she looks in danger of fainting "..Rose?"

Chapter 5 - You Don't Know Jack..

The scene shifts to later that night in the castle with Red and a few of the others sitting in a darkened room around a fire, many tending to wounds both physical and mental - Red herself staring deep into the flames, her hood still up, she hadn't moved for hours nor spoke a word since the return from the forest.

Arbiter takes to pacing back and forth; a habit he acquired when deep in thought.

Nebula, still unconscious, was carried back by Ruichi, who laid her gently on a couch facing the fireplace. He knelt on the floor next to her and was holding one of her hands in both of his own, keeping careful watch over her.

Inferno observed the others before he said something very strange, for the "all-mighty" Pendragon.. "..I'm going to rest for a while..".

As Inferno leaves the room Equis, Maria and Aither enter - as Inferno moves past Equis the King suddenly places a hand over his half-brother's shoulder, briefly bowing his head in a strange manner that is both subtle yet obvious - Inferno follows in turn and the two seem to bump heads for a tiny fraction of a second.

"..go.." Equis whispers, then returns to his usual air of superiority - Aither and Maria simply heading further into the room.

Arbier regards this scene with a curious glance, then continues with his pacing.

Equis looks to Arbiter "..stop that infuriating pacing.. unless it can magically make that brain of yours function usefully..".

"Shut up and let me think, you arrogant fool." Arbiter snarls, continuing to pace.

"You should learn to respect me a little more, Arbiter - some day you may be the one in need of my aid.." Equis replies.

Arbiter stops pacing for a moment. For a split second, a dark look flushes over his face. "...respect?" Arbiter asks. "I do not respect the blind and arrogant. I respect those who can still fight for what they believe in after being kicked around and beat down all of their lives by fate and the cruelty of others. You may consider your half-brother to be some sort of monster, but he's earned my respect time and time again."

Equis looks to Arbiter for a few moments, "..yet never once have I gained your respect.. I fought with you and Inferno.. I gave him the Blade.. because no matter how much of a monster he is.. he will always be my brother.. no matter how many times he betrays me.. hurts me.. he will always be better than me.. and it angers me.. because I will never be respected.. like him.." - with that Equis leaves the room.

Although Arbiter doesn't show it, Equis' words do have an impact on him. He finally stops pacing and stares down at the floor, still and unmoving. Then he looks over the entire room, at everyone gathered and present. "Everything seems to come down to family..." a tiny voice said in his mind.

Aither on the other hand remains in her floating orb form as she approaches the fireplace: "...Red? ..I wanted to apologize.. I had no right to attack you.. my anger.. it is my greatest enemy.. I loved Inferno.. truth is I always will.. but I can not take him from you.. please.. understand..".

Red doesn't answer Aither as she stares at the flames, which reflect off her eyes - after what seems like an eternity she finally speaks out: "..do you fear the dark?".

"No." Ruichi said, responding to the question. "The dark makes me feel more secure..."

Red just continues staring into the flames "..when I was younger I was afraid of the dark.. that was until I met Jack.. he made me realize that their is nothing in the darkness to be afraid of.. he told me monsters were all in our minds.. when others tried to scare me Jack was always there.. to make me feel better.."

"...What happened to him?" Ruichi asked, with sincerity and curiosity.

++++++++++++

As the events unfold in Red's castle Inferno, despite his words, has entered the Courtyard and sat by a fountain - he watched as work was beginning on a tower nearby, a future santuary for Sangria with promises of protection from all present that night: many of whom had already agreed to help in its construction.

Yet as he looked down at his reflection Inferno felt a chill run down his spine, his reflection changing into a grinning vision of Arodnap - he closed his eyes and sighed as he turned away from the water.

"so you're the man who will replace me?" a voice sudden speaks out from the shadows and before Inferno can fully react a dark figure leaps over from the fountain, wrapping a red scarf around his neck and tightening it to the point of choking..

"..you want to know a secret, Pendragon? you were never really loved... you only got to taste her because I let you.. I'm just that nice.. but don't get too comfy.. Red's still mine.. I might of shared her with you but that doesn't mean I'm giving her up.. no.. you and me.. we'll just need to get used to sharing.." the voice continues.

Inferno gasps and tries to tug himself free, yet can't seem to do so - the scarf wrapped around his neck preventing him from turning round to face his attacker as he growls audiably:

"..who are you!?"

The figure releases Inferno, dropping the red scarf to the ground as he comes into view - appearing as a very familiar figure.. Arbiter himself:

"..oh, just an old friend.. of course.. you must of known, right? all the things we've done.. all the memories.. you think I did all that for free? nope.. you had to pay the price.. now I know.. I know.. you don't believe it.. this isn't me.. I mean.. we're brothers, right?"

The figure smirks, ever so slightly - looking to Inferno once more:

"..but really, how else would someone like you find a girl like Red? that's right - I did it.. you owe me everything you have Pendragon.. in fact.. I pretty much own you.."

Inferno's eyes grow wide as he becomes confused, angry and for the first time in quite some time geniunely afraid: "..n-no.. you're not Arbiter.. he's my friend.. you're lying!" he begins, yet as the figure continues speaking Inferno's heart beats faster and faster, every word stabbing into him like daggers.

"..I wouldn't say friends.. more.. flexible allies.." the figure replies, leaning idly against the fountain as he looks at Inferno "..you're not going to cry, are you? you always did cry - kind of pathetic.. come to think on it.. that's another thing you owe me.. your life.. if it wasn't for me and Amnesty and Red and even good old Equis you'd just be another forgotten nobody..".

Inferno no longer answers as he shakes visibly, beginning to clutch at his head in distress as he closes his eyes - when suddenly a second figure appears behind Inferno, two large wings spreading outward as a familiar voice spoke out from the darkness:

"get away from my brother!".

The figure breaks into a massive, inhuman grin before shattering as if made of glass - the sound of shrieking accompanying the disturbing display as a voice echoes afterwards in the air:

"..it's coming.. soon.. The Hatter.. reborn.. Arodnap.. gone.. two become one.."

Inferno curls up with his head between his knees as he folds his wings over himself, finally allowing himself to break into tears as he trembles ever more than before: "..Equis.. please.. don't go.." he begs.

"..it's alright, it's over.. I promise.." Equis says, kneeling down - folding his own wings over Inferno, the two Pegacorns no longer rivals, their hateful words and actions breaking down as their instinctual bond as brothers tore apart those years of pain: although they both knew it couldn't last it was enough to know that for now they still had a tiny piece of each other left to hold onto in a world that was increasingly against them.

"..you're right.. I'm a monster.. that's why this is happening.. you have to kill me.. before it's too late.." Inferno says, barely able to speak sense.

"..no.. we fight this thing.. monster or not.. we fight.." Equis replies.

++++++++++++

Meanwhile, in the room with the fireplace, Amnesty has her back turned to the others in the room, muttering strange words and waving her hands around in small gestures.

"...What are you doing?" Arbiter asks, stopping his pacing for a moment.

"..he died.." Red replies to Ruichi, looking into the flames before standing up and turning towards the others "..the same day I too died.. inside.. because once you know a man like Jack you never want to be without him.. he makes you feel as if you are something.. with a man like Jack you feel you can do anything..".

Maria looks to Red and finally speaks out "..Red - something is happening.. I can feel it.. something evil is returning to this land.. something you and your friends fought several years ago..".

Ruichi's eyes turn pitch black for a moment. "I can smell it too..." he says. "There is evil in the air..."

Amnesty turns towards Arbiter. "I am trying to improve the magic I used to keep Sangria safe... I might need to do it again, and you know it is a job in which I cannot fail..."

"...of course." Arbiter responds, continuing his pacing. "Carry on..."

There is a small groan from the couch as Nebula begins to stir.

"Nebula!" Ruichi gasps.

"Ruichi..." Nebula mutters. "...I... I tried to hurt you, didn't I?"

"No... no you didn't." Ruichi said firmly. "That wasn't you..."

"I... I don't want to hurt you... or anyone..." Nebula said sadly.

"You won't. It won't happen again... I won't let it."

"There's nothing you can do, Ruichi... I'm just... I'm just a monster... I've always been a monster... always pretending to be someone I'm not..."

"Nebula, no..."

"...I'm sorry... I couldn't live with myself if I hurt anyone... or if I hurt you... because I... I..." Nebula broke down into tears and ran out of the room.

"Nebula..." Ruichi begins to call out, but then he stops, and falls to his knees. His eyes flash black and he pounds his fists on the floor, angry with himself.

Red stands up "..the Hatter is coming.." she declares to the room.

A few moments later Equis and Inferno enter the room, Equis holding Inferno to help him walk - wing folded over him as Aither suddenly flies forward, "..Inferno!".

"Inferno... what happened?" Arbiter asks.

"..stay back.." Inferno says to Arbiter, strangely keeping his distance as Equis leads him to a seat nearby - then stands to one side.

"..we must prepare to leave this castle and head to the Wastelands.." Equis says, looking around "..Sangria should be safe in the tower.. although it is far from complete.. I assume the magick is still strong..".

Arbiter bows his head. "Order..." he whispers. A soft, white glow emanates from his body and fades away. He then looks up. "The Hatter... he is coming soon... we must be prepared..." he says in an emotionless voice.

Amnesty's eyes narrow. "I will not flee for the Hatter, no matter how powerful he is. Furthermore, I think it unwise to leave a child behind, to be protected by only walls and magic when there is no one to control the magic."

Equis frowns a little "..then I shall stay and aid in the protection of the castle - Arbiter.. take Inferno with you.. he has slain Arodnap before - maybe this time he can finish the job.. as for the rest of you.. good luck..".

Arbiter regards Equis for a moment. "Very... well..." he said in the monotone voice that he uses when under the power of Order. He begins to walk out the door.

Ruichi grips his scythe furiously. His face darkens. "I'm going." he growls, standing up and following Arbiter.

Red looks to Amnesty and Equis, "..I have talked with Jester and March Hare.. they will stand with us.. for now.. as much as I hate to admit it, they are formidable warriors.. they should keep this palace safe..".

Red then turns around and prepares to leave, taking her axe in hand, however she stops for a moment as Maria follows her - "..you're coming to battle? I didn't think you were the type for close-combat..".

Maria frowned slightly, a determined look on her face "..I prefer to heal than to harm, Red.. it doesn't mean I won't fight for what's right..".

Amnesty turns towards Equis. "Equis. It seems you and I will be fighting side by side. It seems so very long ago that we met each other. Do you even remember?"

Equis looks to Amnesty "..yes.. hopefully this time we won't be at each others throats.. I trust we've both learned the bigger picture.. however I don't know if I like the idea of allying with yet more rogues.." he says, referring to Red's inclusion of Jester and March Hare.

Amnesty shrugs. "I don't know Equis. I get the feeling we will need all the help we can get. I'd rather have more reliable companions, but by a lack thereof, we will have to do with Jester and March Hare."

Inferno keeps silent as he eventually moves, following Red - a strange look in his eyes "..I'm going.. Arodnap is my responsibility.. so when the time comes.. I am the one who must face her..".

Red turns and begins heading out once more, "..do as you will, if you are fit to join us do so - if not stay here, I know that Amnesty and Equis will have the strength to protect you and my home until we return.. and we shall return.. we will not fail..".

(edit chapter 6 now)

Chapter 6a - The Eye of Madness

The scene opens to a dark expanse of land far away from Red's Kingdom, the ground is rotting and corrupt while the trees are broken and gnarled, the sky itsef a swirling vortex of murky red clouds as a haunting breeze blows across the remote, barren area..

Standing by a large gate-like object are Arodnap and Gepetto, as usual Gepetto was sat upon a hovering chair and looked towards Arodnap with his single functioning eye:

"..do not be afraid, even the power of mystics are insufficient to penetrate this deep into the Wastelands.. however I fear this will not stop Red and the others pursuing us in time.. which is why I must hurry you, Arodnap.." Gepetto begins.

"..how do you know my name?" Arodnap asks, looking at Gepetto with a mixture of confusion and mild anger - her eyes then drift towards the gateway "..and what is this?".

"..oh, this?" Gepetto says, looking at the gateway "..this is the Gate of The Watchers.. you see Arodnap.. I am one of the Watcher's allies.. which is why I came to you in your hour of need.. I want to help you return to the Watchers.. this device will open a portal to the Realm of The Watchers and reawaken your link..".

Arodnap's eyes flash dangerously "..you're lying.. this place.. smells different.. besides.. even if you weren't.. why would you help me? you think I'm going to thank you? no.. I'll just kill you.. like everybody else.. only two people are going to survive the world I'm going to make.. and they won't include you..".

Gepetto nods, totally unfazed by Arodnap's words "..I would expect nothing less from the Champion of the Watchers.. I simply wish to join the dance like everyone else.. however if you do not want the chance to join the Watchers again you can leave.. weakened.. alone.. with only darkness to keep you company as you sleep..".

Arodnap growls a little and the ground begins to shake, after a few moments the shaking stops "..you sure this device will make me strong again?" she finally asks, glancing back at the gateway.

Gepetto forms a small smile as he floats over towards Arodnap "..my dear Arodnap.. I promise you.. you will never imagine the power this device shall give you..".

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"..Rose.. me scared.." said the child-like voice of Humpty-Dumpty, the gigantic egg-like monster moving with surprising timidness as he carried Rose on his back, the pair crossing over the barren landscape.

"..it's alright, I promise.." Rose said, patting Humpty-Dumpty comfortingly.

"..why we go here when friends are in castle? why we not smash castle and save friends?" Humpty-Dumpty asked.

"..Jester and Hare can take care of themselves, we'd only do more damage.. besides.. I caused this mess.. that girl.. she is my responsibility now.." Rose said, her eyes narrowing in anger.

"..little girl hurt friends.. little girl hurt Rose.. me not like this.." Humpty-Dumpty said.

"..I know.. look.. please.. just.. be brave, okay? for me.." Rose whispered.

"..okay.. me be brave.. for Rose.." Humpty-Dumpty replied as he moved on.

Rose sighed a little as she went silent, she hated herself at this point - for all the misery she had unleashed and for putting her friends in danger: when this was over she would make her mother understand.. somehow.. she would end this cycle of hatred the Hatter had made.. she had to..

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Red continued to walk along a long dirt path in the forest surrounding her castle, alongside those who had followed her - they had already made good progress and neared the edge of the forest just as the sun began to set in the sky above.

Inferno walked behind the rest of the group, his wings folded over himself like a cape as he thinks on something - keeping his gaze on the ground below.

Ruichi walked ahead of the group every now and then, maintaining a rather dark look on his face; his predicament with Nebula had put him in a rather sour mood.

Flying overhead the group was Arbiter himself, keeping a silent vigil for anything that might come their way.

Inferno waits until the group have moved on before he stops, wandering away from the main group and disappearing into the forest surrounding the path.

Arbiter took notice of this, and flew slightly over to keep him in his sights.

Inferno moves deeper into the forest until he is a fair distance from the group then falls onto his knees, breaking down as he simply weeps - Jack's word still echoing in his mind despite his best efforts to discard them "..you want to know a secret, Pendragon? you were never really loved... you only got to taste her because I let you."

"What troubles you, Inferno?" Arbiter asked, suddenly touching down on the forest floor nearby.

Inferno suddenly rises to his feet, sparking with Twilight energy as his eyes glow bright red and he unleashes a massive wave of energy at Arbiter - yelling in rage: "YOU LIED TO ME! ALL OF YOU! I'LL KILL YOU ALL!".

The wave of energy smashes into Arbiter, causing him to stagger back a few steps. "...that hurt." Arbiter said simply.

Suddenly Red and the others appear on the scene, Red looking to Inferno "..what's going on? why did you stray from the path?".

Inferno growls and rises up, spreading his wings as the Twlight energy sparks across his body "..pain? what do you know of pain? All of you.. lied to me.. I thought you were my friends.. and you Red, I thought you loved me.. yet I was just blind to the truth.. you don't love me.. you don't care about me.. you pity me.. you think I'm weak.. well, here is my weakness!".

With that Inferno lifts his hands over his head and forms a ball of Twilight energy using both hands that expands further and further, growing into a massive orb of Twilight energy which surges with power.

Red watches this and steps forward, Maria doing the opposite as she forms a small barrier around herself - Red tightening her grip on her axe as she looks to Inferno: "..why would I lie to you? I lost one family to the Hatter's madness - I won't lose another one!".

"Be reasonable, Inferno," Arbiter said. "We've been through hell together as friends, as brothers... would I have remained by your side all of these years if it were naught but a lie?"

Inferno's eyes stop glowing as he looks between Arbiter and Red, tears running down his cheeks - after a few moments he begins to relent and lowers his hands, the orb of dark energy fading as he says quietly "..I could kill you all.. none of you could stop me.. but.. what's the point? there's nothing.. nothing left.. for any of us..".

Red watches Inferno and drops her axe on the group as she holds a hand out towards him, "..Inferno, come back to me.. please..".

"What would make you think we would betray you?" Arbiter asks.

Inferno looks to Red, slowly reaching towards her "..Red.. I'm sorry.. I tried.. I..".

Then suddenly a portal bursts open behind Inferno and Arodnap appears, wrapping her arms around him as if giving him a hug - a demonic grin on her face as she proceeds to tug him into the portal:

"..sorry to interrupt but I have a date wit destiny and Gepetto said I can have a "special someone" tag along for the ride.. guess who I picked?".

Arodnap's manic laughter fills the air as Inferno disappears into the portal alongside her.

Red yells out in anger and leaps into the portal, in her haste she leaves her axe on the ground behind her - Maria flying forward and following in turn: glowing with golden energy.

Snatching up Red's axe, and brandishing his scythe into his other hand, Ruichi darts after Arbiter, and they both vanish into the portal.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A few minutes later on the other side of the portal Inferno manages to break free of Arodnap's grip and blasts her with a beam of Twilight energy, landing on the broken ground of the barren wastes - Arodnap's grin turning into a frown as she lands next to Inferno and delivers a massive back-handed slap which sends Inferno crashing straight through several gnarled trees.

"STOP FIGHTING ME DAMNIT!" she yells, clearly angered now as her eyes glow bright blue.

As Inferno crashes through the trees Rose and Humpty-Dumpty crash into the scene, Humpty-Dumpty unleashing a wave of gunfire from his right-eye at Arodnap as he forms a force-field around himself: Rose leaping off Humpty-Dumpty and brandishing the Vorpal Axe.

"This end now!" Rose yells out, attempting to strike Arodnap with the axe.

Ruichi had also already charged forth, swinging both his scythe and the huntsman's axe at Arodnap.

Arodnap reacts by forming a massive wall of solid energy between herself and her attackers, the wall exploding outwards like a shockwave - sufficiently powerful to knock even a being of Humpty-Dumpty's size and strength off their feet.

Rose and Humpty-Dumpty are both sent flying back at the shockwave but recover and begin to head back towards Arodnap, only to freeze in place as a dark and truly imposing vessel emerges from the sky above: resembling a huge floating ship.

Red and Maria arrive at this point, looking up Red growls - "..everyone, stand down!" she orders, continuing to look to the floating ship.

"Red?" Arbiter asked. "Why, what is it?"

Red doesn't answer as she keeps looking up, the vessel forms a beam which engulfs Arodnap and begins to drag her up - a voice speaking out as several other beams drop Robin Goodfellow, Dormouse, a deranged Piper and Irontwist the Mad (whose appearance may be startling, as he was thought dead by the group prior to this) onto the scene: "..Come Arodnap, we have much to do - we can not waste time here..".

Arodnap is transported into the vessel, before she leaves however she yells down "..INFERNO IS MINE AND NO ONE IS GOING TO TAKE HIM AWAY FROM ME! YOU HERE ME, RED!? I'M GOING TO TAKE BACK THE FAMILY YOU STOLE FROM ME!".

Red continues to watch as the floating vessel leaves, tracking its destination "..Gepetto is taking her to the Eye of Madness.. now that we know where they are going we can end this.." she says, holding a hand out "..my axe, Ruichi.. give it to me.. then prepare yourselves..".

Ruichi grunted and held out the handle of the axe for Red to take.

Arbiter stepped forward. "The Eye of Madness? Care to explain, Red?"

Inferno finally gets up and heads back to the group, "..Arbiter.. Red.. I'm sorry.. I.." he sighs a little and confesses "..back in the castle, a man confronted me.. calling himself Jack.. he claimed to know you Red.. Equis.. saved my life.. I've felt power my whole life, the son of a King.. raised by dragons.. with the Twilight Force running through my veins.. yet I was powerless against him.. it.. it scares me..".

Red keeps her eye on the gathered forces in front of her, still keeping her hand outstretched - waiting for the axe "..for years Gepetto has worked on a device that would allow the Hatter to be reborn into our world, the Eye of Madness.. I have failed to track it down.. now he has led us straight to it.. if Arodnap enters the device she will become one with the Hatter.. the Avatar of Madness.."

Red pauses for a moment and replies to Inferno "..Inferno, when this is over I will track down whoever harmed you and I will have them executed a thousand times over - for now I need you to fight by my side..".

"We'll fight through this nightmare together," Arbiter said. "We'll fight as family."

Ruichi handed Red her axe, and brandished his scythe at their enemies. Arbiter held out his greatsword.

Chapter 6b - Fortitude

(this will be a parallel chapter for the group who remain in the castle - it will take place the same time as the events of Chapter 6a)

Jester and March Hare sat silently as the castle remained strangely calm, the main group having headed off to battle - leaving behind only a small band of reluctant allies to guard the castle and Sangria, who was hidden within her Tower from the war that raged on around her, yet only a fool would believe she wasn't still in terrible danger - now more than ever she needed protectors.. some argued that heroes perished long ago, in an age of antiquity yet here in the halls of a castle besieged by unspeakable evil there were still a brave few willing to defend what they knew was right.

Amnesty completed her mantra, allowing her arms to finally rest at her sides. "Done," she muttered.

Meanwhile, in a desolate hallway within the castle, Nebula curled up into a ball, alone. The voice in her mind wouldn't leave her be:

"C'mon now... the Hatter's coming back... everything's gonna go to hell in a matter of minutes... why not have some fun?"

"Go away," said Nebula aloud.

"I mean, seriously... I wonder how flammable this castle is?"

"Go away," repeated Nebula.

"Away? But I wanna have some fun! Can we kill them? Please? Pretty please?"

Over and over, Nebula repeated "Go away," to herself, trying to drown out the voice in her mind, with little success.

Suddenly a new voice speaks to Nebula from the darkness, a glowing boy appearing next to her - sitting on the ground: he appears to be a Wisp like she is but his energy is dark red, almost crimson:

"..don't worry about her.. she won't kill anyone.. I won't let her.. you see, this is my world.. I make all the stories here and I'm not going to let some ghostie spoil all my fun: so don't be sad, I'll keep you safe.. I promise..".

Nebula hugged her knees tighter. "I'm scared," she whispered.

The glowing boy nods slightly and speaks to Nebula with alarming calm, smiling slightly:

"..we all get scared.. it's all right - hey, you know what would cheer us both up? surprising Sangria - I mean, she's stuck in that tower, all alone.. I mean you're a big girl, right? Sangria is still a child and missing her mommy and daddy.. I bet she needs Auntie Nebula about now, no? I'll come with you.. so you won't be scared..".

"But... but she'll make me hurt her," Nebula protested. "You don't know what she's like..."

The glowing boy slowly tilts his head to one side then manifests next to Nebula like a ghost, leaning close to her - his smile fading away as his voice becomes dark and he reaches out to grab Nebula by the throat:

"..listen here you worthless little Wisp, you may be a friend to that half-born prince of trash and his harlot wife but I'm in charge of this story now - so you better take me to Sangria or I'm going to show you how nasty this world can *really* get..".

"No," choked Nebula, "I won't do it! You can't make me!"

The glowing boy's eyes flashed like hot coals and he swung Nebula, trying to hit her against a wall as he snarled:

"oh but I *can* make you!".

With that the glowing boy forms disturbing glowing threads that begin to tie around Nebula's arms and legs, much like a puppet.

Dazed, Nebula could barely mouth a protest as the strings coiled around her like snakes. She felt her conscious slipping away, and a manic laughter echoing inside her mind...

Suddenly, like in the forest, Nebula's color changed from her cheerful pink to an eerie green. She grinned evilly.

"If you wanted to see Sangria, all you had to do was say 'please'!"

The glowing boy simply grinned right back, stretching his grin so far it almost reached ear to ear - sharp fangs exposed as his eyes lit up like ghost-lights, strengthening the bonds:

"No, no.. you'll have you're fun - soon enough.. Nova.. this is my story.. I don't say "please" or "thank you".. you see Nova.. here I am God.. you can pray all you wish - won't do you any good.. here people live or die because I allow it.. now let's go see my grand-daughter, shall we? I have a nice little seat for her at the Hatter's tea-party but she's late.. for a *very* important date..".

"Ooh, you're crazy in the head, alright... I like that," said Nova, allowing the strings to tighten around Nebula's body.

The glowing boy's grin faded for a moment, then without a shred of remorse he began to cause the strings to surge with incredible power, akin to being electrocuted several times over:

"..I don't care if you enjoy this or if it hurts beyond your understanding.. all that matters right now is you tell me where Sangria is.. come on, "Auntie Nebula".. I know you're in there.. don't you want to see what I can do to her? imagine the fun she'll have..".

Jack's words play like a nightmare as those strings keep pumping the Wisp with energy, the sadistic spirit also installing imagery into Nebula's mind of Sangria, the young girl crying.. then screaming.. the imagery shattering like glass.

Nebula's eyes snapped open, gleaming an eerie green. The strings binding her body burned, disintegrating in verdant flame. Her hair waved on an unseen wind, and she spoke in two voices, both hushed, both filled with dangerous malice:

"I'm going to kill you."

Jack's grin returned as his body fell apart, changing into a mass of glowing spiders that start to swarm over the ground in a circle, closing in on Nebula and clearly unafraid of that flame she produced as he chuckled:

"Fine, be that way.. I guess if "Auntie Nebula" won't come out I'll just have to go inside.. three beings in one body? a tight fit.. but I've done worse..".

Chapter 7 - The Battle For Wonderland

Arbiter, Red and Inferno Versus Robin Goodfellow + Dormouse

Inferno spreads his wings and forms two black blades, which crackle with energy and he stares out - snorting slightly as he takes a deep breath: "..Red.. Arbiter.. let's do this..".

Red growls slightly as she clutches her axe, looking towards Robin Goodfellow and Dormouse - her teeth already beginning to form into fangs as her eyes turn bestial "..it seems you enjoy the company of rats, Robin - that's good.. because if you survive this I'll ensure you have a cell in the darkest corner of the dungeon..".

Robin Goodfellow chuckles at this as Dormouse scurries forward and transforms into a grotesque, vaguely humanoid version of itself and produces a dark bow and arrow out of the shadows - the pair drawing their bows as Robin grins maliciously:

"..Gepetto is a crazy old man, Red - yet he's also giving me what I want.. the chance to kill people.. sure the world is going to end and I'm probably going to go insane but you know, in the end, when we look back at our lives I can say I regret nothing.. I'm a killer.. doing what I do best.. you on the other hand? well, you'll look back and you'll just remember how much you've failed..".

Arbiter leapt forwards, holding out his left arm, which suddenly turned into something akin to black energy, which began to shoot outward towards Goodfellow and Dormouse like a web of blades that branched off from one another.

The Dormouse laughs at this and fires a twisted black arrow that spreads into a web of blades much like Arbiter, Robin leaps into the air and fires several poisoned-arrows at the group despite Arbiter's blades narrowly avoiding the archer.

Red reacts by charging forward, fearless of the blades or arrows as she becomes larger and more aggressive - red fur forming across her body as her feet become large paws and her face takes on the properties of a wolf.

Arbiter's web of blades dissolves into black dust which twists itself into a shield that blocks Dormouse's attack. With his greatsword, he deflects Robin's arrows.

Robin frowns slightly and yells out, his arrows becoming more erratic as he fires wildly on the group "..why are you even fighting!? you are all going to die! why do you keep resisting!? why.. won't.. you.. DIE!?".

Dormouse growls slightly as it morphs its bow and arrow into a greatsword, leaping at Arbiter as it hisses at Robin "..three blind mice.. as the story goes.. let them fight.. it means there will be more to destroy..".

Inferno dives down at the ground below, shattering a large portion of it as dark lightning crackles across the area, standing up after the destructive landing - poisoned arrows lodged across his arms, wings and chest : eyes glowing red as he snorted, his twin blades still at hand.

Ruichi, Rose and Humpty-Dumpty Versus Pied Piper + Irontwist the Mad

Rose rides atop Humpty-Dumpty as she motions to Ruichi "come on, the sooner we get rid of these pawns the sooner we can get rid of the real threat..".

The Pied Piper on the other hand looks to Irontwist for a moment, then grins as he takes out a silver flute and prances towards the advancing group - his multicolored rags dancing around disturbingly as he moves: beginning to play a tune that causes Humpty-Dumpty to slow down as Rose becomes concerned.

"Humpty? why are you stopping? Humpty?"

Then Humpty-Dumpty jerks, tossing Rose off as he speaks out in a strange tone - "..no hurt Piper.. Piper friend.. Humpty not let you hurt.. Piper!".

Ruichi caught Rose before she hit the ground. "An enchantment," he muttered distastefully, taking his scythe to hand. Setting Rose upright, he flew towards the Piper, sprouting his draconic wings and raising his blade.

However as Ruichi does this Irontwist suddenly goes on the attack, the crazed figure using his pickaxe to block Ruichi's blade as he rams into him - eyes ablaze with fury as he yells out "it's mine! mine! all the gold is mine! you can't have it! not one piece! I won't let you take it away! not again! not again!".

"Ruichi!" Rose yells out, trying to leap forward to aid against the pick-axe carrying aggressor only to be slammed back as Humpty-Dumpty swings at her, knocking her to the ground as the Pied Piper grins maliciously and continues playing his flute, the melody becoming more twisted as time goes on - as if the Piper's madness was being made real by the distorted music.

"Get out of my way!" Ruichi snarled, leaping to his feet and swinging his scythe at Irontwist.

Irontwist goes into a frenzy, blocking Ruichi's swings as he spins erratically, pickaxe flying dangerously as he foamed at the mouth and spat : "you won't get my gold! I'll rip it out of your filthy guts!".

Chapter 8 - The Final Three

Chapter 9 - Peace

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