Ptolemy felt his vision go black, and suddenly he was somewhere else, away from the battlefield-
The blood seemed to drip right off his hands and into the ground, the Death Cultist he was facing gone. Now, he was standing on a dirt road at the edge of a field of flowers.
“Do you like it here?’ A voice asked, and Ptolemy turned to find Aratta, standing and wearing a blue and yellow sundress. He felt a strange… tenderness towards her, but Ptolemy’s eyes narrowed.
“You’ve done this before,” Ptolemy informed her, cursing how polite he was, even now. “My instincts tell me you are a liar. I will not remain here, I have enemies to fight.”
Her laugh was soft, like the rustling of papers in a library, her long, dark hair a rich contrast to her caramel skin. Even now, Ptolemy waivered, thinking about the curves of her, wondering when the last time he had laid with a woman was. But he silenced that.
Ptolemy couldn’t deny his kindness made him vulnerable, in some ways, to this sort of illusion and trickery. But he had not forged himself a position in Donnyton for nothing. Shaking his head sadly, he used the Skill Dispel. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to happen. Ptolemy frowned.
“Ha, this… this is not an illusion, per se. It’s more of… a provided location for the performance of a ritual. Dispelling the location is useless… you need to stop the ritual.” Aratta said matter of factly, stepping towards Ptolemy. “You see… I did not choose to be here, but sometimes my orders aline with my baser needs. I had something very precious taken away from me… and now I use men to fill that gap. Aren’t I a cliche? And now that I have you alone, you will break for me, and-”
“Am I too early? I’d hate for my entrance to be… an inconvenience.”
Both Ptolemy and Aratta turned, to find a man standing there, with a motorcycle helmet over his face.
Aratta smirked. “Dauntless… that’s what you call yourself yes? How nice of you to join us. I’d hoped you wouldn’t be able to resist. It’s almost cute, isn’t it, how Ace thinks his insanity will protect him. Why don’t you also-”
“Break something, yes. And I have just the target in mind.” Dauntless said in his almost monotone voice, stepping forward and cracking his knuckles.
Aratta frowned, her nose crinkling. “I’ll make you regret that.”
Instantly, something in the air changed, and Ptolemy gasped. It was like 1000 hooks that he wasn’t aware of in his skin started pulling in either direction, slowly ripping small chunks of him off. Not only was the pain almost unbearable, but it also spread this thick, grey apathy through him, causing his eyelids to drop steadily downward.
Aratta beckoned them. “Come on then, I need this to be quick. That cunt Alana is chasing me very rapidly. Tsk tsk, she really hid her strength.”
“A pity, I’d hoped you would say that about me.”
The strong, almost blasting voice gave Ptolemy a bit of edge, and he forced his eyes back open. Dauntless walked towards Aratta jauntily, seemingly unaffected by the strange force that she had placed upon Ptolemy. Was he not under the influence of the same thing, or…?
Hissing at Dauntless, Aratta raised her hand and pointed at him. Instantly, the vision of the dirt road by the field shuddered, as the force of her ritual smashed through the transient mental location. Ptolemy groaned, his will buffeted by the collateral forces, and even that was enough to bring him to the brink of unconsciousness. Dauntless simply slowed for a second, then continued walking as if nothing had happened.
Aratta’s frown deepened. “This… is impossible.”
“Only the insane would argue with reality,” Dauntless retorted, stalking closer.
Aratta pursed her lips, then forced out a laugh. “Fine, I underestimated you, so what? What are you going to do about it-”
Ptolemy heard and felt it more than saw it because his eyes were slowly unfocusing under the influence of whatever Aratta was doing. But Dauntless’ hand blurred, and suddenly Aratta’s head was knocked backward, her jaw slightly… askew.
“You…” Aratta said, soundly surprisingly shocked as she held her hand up to touch her bleeding mouth. “You would just hit a woman, just like that? Oh, or are you one of the types that likes beating woman, is that it? Give in to me, you broken freak, and I’ll let you assault and rape-’
A gurgling noise came from Aratta’s mouth as she fell to the ground after Dauntless punched her in the throat. And his next move surprised Ptolemy; the man reached up and removed his helmet.
There was an expression of pure disgust on Ace’s face as he sat on his haunches next to Aratta. “I’ve never understood the taboo around hitting a woman. I suppose it’s an implicit cultural assumption that force is the most base and morally reprehensible of the methods to resolve conflict. Combined with the admittance that generally, men have greater strength, especially in the upper body, as compared to women. Therefore, to hit a woman is to flaunt you are superior in an ugly and immoral way.”
“But… you know…” Ace reached down and put his hand on Aratta’s throat. Then began to squeeze. “Since the System arrived… I realized that I care very little about what society deems morally reprehensible. Because society collapsed from the strain of encountering something stronger than it. Because to be strong is to make what you want possible. And to be weak… well….”
Ace stood, keeping his grip on Aratta’s throat, lifting her off the ground, “Setting aside your dubious right to claim the benefits of being a woman in Earth culture, I would say that your more glaring sin was to forget that what you are trying to current do is brainwash us, using the force of your need to overwhelm us. Is that any less vicious?”
“Ace…” Ptolemy said, finally regaining his tongue, but Ace was… well, monologuing now.
“Is it the brutality? Or the obvious anguish that sets it apart?” Ace said, his eyes glowing. “If this were a movie, the audience wouldn’t be able to feel the visceral agony you were going through being brainwashed. But look at you now. I don’t think even the stoniest heart could resist feeling pity for you, no matter how insidious your petty villainy is.”
Aratta’s face was turning red, and her legs were kicking wildly as she struggled, her hands scrabbling at Ace’s, seeking a purchase to free herself. Ptolemy felt his heart drop.
“You shouldn’t-” He began, but Ace kept talking.
“True, I’m taking other frustrations out on you, but I just find you… so mundane. A short lived villain such as you… give us a twist, why don’t you.” Ace said, shaking his head. Then he turned back to Aratta, his mouth firm. “You made two mistakes. First, was thinking Dauntless made me weak. I hope you learned that was a gross underestimation of what the System can do with a powerful image. The second was believing that your agony is greater than all others. I have felt it scrabbling for purchase on my soul and found it wanting.”
Now, as her face was turning purple, her arms falling to her sides Ptolemy found his voice and bellowed at the other man. “Ace! You are going to kill her!”
“So what?” And when Ace turned and looked at Ptolemy, Ptolemy saw nothing in his eyes. Just a dead, thick silence, like the crawl space in an attic, filled with corpses and bugs.
A new voice cut through, and the dirt road fell away. “If you kill her, she can’t answer what’s going on here. Which is a big issue. Put her down, Ace.”
They were back on the battlefield, and the Ghosthound was there with his arms crossed, staring daggers at Ace. The rest of the group was gathered around. Thea looked fearful. Rose was pale. Alana’s lips were pressed together in a thin line.
Shrugging, Ace dropped Aratta to the ground. “Just trying to educate an unwilling student. You’ll forgive me if my methods were… extreme.”
Alana snorted. No one else made a sound as Aratta curled up on the ground, coughing. Ptolemy made to go assist her, but the Ghosthound stopped him with a sharp gesture. Then the Ghosthound himself went to stand by her side, carefully reaching down towards the cloth that was tied over her eyes.
When she moved, it was with a speed that Ptolemy couldn’t follow. All he heard was Alana’s hiss and Rose’s “Watch out.”
And of course, Ace’s “I told you she was unwilling.”
When the blur of bodies had settled, the Ghosthound had both of Aratta’s hands pinned behind her back, and she struggled and gnashed her teeth at them. Carefully he held her down and reached up and removed the cloth covering her eyes. Instantly, the cloth caught fire, a strange emerald fire, and burnt up.
The Ghosthound frowned and spun her around. Her hands remained at her sides, and she largely just stood there, looking… extremely tired. And extremely attractive, Ptolemy admitted to himself. After scrutinizing her for several seconds, Randidly’s eyes widened. “You are…!”
“Ten’Malla, the once Wild Rider, yes,” Aratta said warily, reaching up and rubbing her eyes. Then she spat out a mouthful of blood and shook her head. After a few seconds of stunned silence from the Ghosthound, she turned to Ace and spat out, “How’s that for a twist?”