A lone female figure was sitting on a stump-turned-footstool in the middle of an old wooden barn. She was wearing a set of yellow and brown monk’s robes, a dark purple waistcloth and a set of knee-high sandals with white socks underneath. A necklace of purple prayer beads rested on her neck, and a metal staff that was more akin to a fancy stick was propped up next to her. Her outfit left the upper right half of her torso exposed, though her rather sizeable bosoms was wrapped up tight in bandages, much like her forearms and fists.
One would expect her to be trembling in such light clothing due to the numbing cold. However, this Monk was a wielder of the Diamond Soul Skill, which allowed her to overcome such trifles of the flesh through sheer mind over matter. All the frigid air accomplished in doing was help sharpen her focus and senses, so that she could respond immediately should an intruder show up.
Not that such a thing was going to happen though. The structure she was residing in was part of what used to be a bandit hideout until a certain group of spies ‘evicted’ the previous residents. The new year’s first rays of sunlight were seeping through the cracks in the wooden walls, though the brightest light source in the mostly empty building was without a doubt the glowing blue crystal in the woman’s hands.
“That’s everything you got out of it?” asked Edward through the Comm-crystal.
“Affirmative,” responded Zone.
“It’s not a lot.”
“Full Appraisal was interrupted.”
“Ah, that would explain it.”
The Monk had just finished relaying the fragmented information she managed to retrieve regarding the Sandman’s Status. Not the fake one broadcasted by Essence Concealment, though. Her angelic disposition had allowed her to pierce that veil and get a glimpse at what truly lay beneath that Facade. Admittedly many of the Skills and Perks were unconfirmed, but the basic information such as Job Levels, Attributes, species and, arguably most important of all, the name were all there.
“What about Edge? You said she took a bad hit from this thing?”
“Affirmative. Knee to face. Fractured skull. Short term memory loss. Possible brain damage.”
“Damn. Will she be fit for duty?”
“Hook reports full recovery expected by end of day.”
“That’s something I suppose. Still, to think that damned box got this powerful so quickly,” grumbled Edward. “What are those idiots over at the Republic feeding it? And why are you so damn happy about this?!”
“You could tell?” was the immediate reply.
“Anyone could tell with that goofy smile of yours.”
Though the former Spymaster said it like it was blatantly obvious, only those who had worked with this weird woman for years would ever call the slightly curled corners of her lips a ‘goofy smile.’ The fact that he could even tell that much through the distorted holographic image relayed by the Comm-crystal was rather impressive in and of itself.
“I’m looking forward to having a serious fight with it,” she admitted.
“Ugh, this muscle-brained woman is going to be the death of me,” groaned her boss.
Zone was the type of person who walked the seemingly endless path of self improvement in her aim to obtain true strength. Not only of mind and body, but also spirit. That was why she had become a follower of Axel in the first place, for it was through the guidance of the God of War that she sought to achieve her goals. Unfortunately the deity in question had done little to respond to her various prayers and offerings, so she had to rely on other mortals as she forged her own path.
This was the main reason behind her current partnership with Edward. Working for him had allowed her to fight a large number of powerful opponents of both the monstrous and enlightened persuasion, steadily honing her skills and battle instincts to her heart’s content. Edward understood that behind that emotionless mask was a bloodthirsty woman who only truly felt alive in the heat of combat. But he didn’t shun her like the others. Quite the opposite, in fact. He encouraged and nurtured that side of hers, on some level perhaps even respected it, and for that she was deeply grateful.
However, though her simplistic personality and idiotic goals made her easy to manipulate at first, they were also why she was becoming somewhat troublesome for the old spy to deal with. The stronger she got, the fewer worthy opponents there were for her to test her mettle against, and the more she began skirting her orders and ignoring her duties. She never outright disobeyed them, but she became negligent and lost focus of the bigger picture whenever her mission was anything more complicated than wiping out a bunch of targets. That was why her assignments were normally limited to those that required ample applications of brute force.
“Requesting permission to crush Boxxy T. Morningwood.”
That quirk of hers was also why Edward was not the least bit surprised when she said things like this.
“Denied. We have more important things to worry about than an upstart monster.”
“Like what?” she inquired rather insistently.
“Like how did the FIB know we were coming? Question’s been working that angle all night and the only plausible explanation he could come up with was that someone tipped off the twigs we were coming. Enact blackout protocol and regroup at site C-6 with the survivors. Except for Hook, he’s to meet up with me and Question at B-3 so we can start sorting out this security leak. Now get to it!”
And with that, the Monk crushed the Comm-crystal within her grasp in accordance to her orders.
However, rather than immediately relaying those instructions to her sleeping comrades at the back of the barn, she remained seated on that old rotten log. She smashed her fist into her palm over and over, the clap of each strike getting louder and louder as her leg began twitching and a smile spread on her face. However, this wasn’t the barely noticable smirk she sometimes let slip through her ice-cold mask, but a full blown grin reminiscent of a child that was far too excited to sit still.
When was the last time she felt like this, she wondered? The last time when she felt she could truly cut loose against a living thing? And to think, the one who could make her jaded heart beat so fervently was nothing more than an adorably harmless chest just nine months ago. One that had grown rapidly and splendidly to become a vicious, bloodthirsty monster that even a deity had recognized as truly exceptional. Yes, she knew Boxxy T. Morningwood was the Hero of Chaos. She had strongly suspected as much for a long time, but it wasn’t until last night’s Appraisal that she was able to confirm it. The result was indeed as fragmented as she reported to Edward, but she had purposefully left out the fact that she caught a glimpse of its divine title.
Her reason for doing this was quite simple - she wanted a real fight. Not some recital where they sized each other up under the light of the aurora. Not dancing around an old teammate who was trying to deconstruct her. Not pushing a tired old elf off a perch so he would fall to his death. And certainly not some weakling that would get pulverized with a single love tap. There was no challenge in any of that, no thrill. What she thirsted for was a good, old fashioned brawl where both fighters aimed to end the other. A duel to the death with no superfluous distractions like storied pasts, morality or mission objectives getting in the way. Just a show of pure, unfiltered violence.
But she would never get the chance to experience that ultimate thrill with Boxxy, not if Edward caught wind of its identity as a Hero. If that were to happen, he’d surely send a hit squad after it, one that would stalk and then attack at an opportune time, leaving very little odds of it surviving. And although Zone would likely be a part of that task force, she would not be able to enjoy herself in the slightest. That was why she kept silent as she waited for the monster to grow. That was why she continued to keep her silence, as the little fish involved in that ‘catch and release’ was now a magnificent beast worthy of sharpening her fangs on.
However, last night wasn’t the time nor the place. Too many distractions, too many flies buzzing around. Not to mention both of them were wearing disguises rather than showing up literally dressed to kill. The next time would be different, though. Boxxy would not pretend or mask itself, and neither would she. It would come at her with all it had, and she would do the same until one of them was left beaten and bloodied. And this next time would most assuredly come, for she knew its deepest, darkest secret, and it hated her for it. The sheer animosity she felt emanate from the shapeshifter when it realized it had been outed spoke louder than any words that it would hunt her down and eliminate her just because of that.
She couldn’t just abandon or betray Edward, though. She owed the man too much to do that. Her own personal code, her own interpretation of ‘honor’ demanded that she leave no debts unsettled. This… omission of the truth, though? That didn’t count as betrayal. She had every intention of winning, after all, so she saw no problem with giving Boxxy time to prepare and face her at its strongest. There wouldn’t be much point otherwise. And that day would come soon, she could feel it. Had faith in it, even. She just had to patient and endure the itching in her fists for just a while longer.
|General Information||Attributes||Job Information|
|Guild||The Gilded Hand||END||831|
|Disciple of War||10.MAX||Item Identification||10.MAX||Toughness||10.MAX||Meditation||10.MAX|
|Ki Manipulation||10.MAX||Language Comprehension||5.19||Evasion||10.MAX||Stealth||10.MAX|
|Flow Perception||10.MAX||Basic Appraisal||10.MAX||Penetrating Strikes||10.MAX||Sword Mastery||11.83|
|Empowered Strikes||10.MAX||Advanced Penmanship||10.MAX||Blunt Weapon Affinity||10.MAX||Brawling Mastery||25.MAX|
|Parry Expertise||10.MAX||Contract Magic||3.67||Blocking Expertise||10.MAX||Staff Mastery||25.MAX|
|Ki-Imbued Skin||10.MAX||Eidetic Memory||6.25||Dense Muscles||8.45||Projectile Mastery||10.MAX|
|Projectile Deflection||10.MAX||Advanced Appraisal||10.MAX||Deep Reserves||9.15||Shield Mastery||8.30|
|Path of the Tiger||10.MAX||Fraud Detection||7.52||Armor Break||7.51||Special|
|Wholesome Being||10.MAX||Domination Resistance||4.59||Divine Flight||10.MAX|
|Strength of Stone||10.MAX||Job Manipulation||5.25|
|Purity of Thought||10.MAX||Administrative Oversight||2.84|
|Flurry of Blows||10.MAX|