"Crossing The Street"

[ Date Redacted ], [ "a.2012" ] - 3:27:55

015-R "Kyoku"

Ashen Wolves

Road Some Distance from Penshaw, Ylisse


"Anger is but a form of negative energy. Nothing to fear!"

—Grimoire Weiss, Nier


"LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING THE STREET!"

To describe the…absolute monstrosity that just "spoke", picture some burly punk you'd just love to punch. Or dismiss.

Now imagine that he has the neck of a woodpecker, upscaled to the thickness of a human neck.

We good so far? Okay.

Now imagine that, instead of a human head atop the neck, there is a crumbling rectangle of a modern-day-Earth street, American city variety, two lanes wide, sidewalks and all. (Actually, it wasn't to scale; about half as wide, I think?)

Now imagine that all of this freak is made of a black ooze and dark smoke—body and head. No human flesh, no bird, no asphalt; just "smoking" ooze, from its surface all the way to its centre.

Congratulations, new reader! You just brought up an "Umbral Form" from the depths of your soul!

Your dreadful human being.

…No, just kidding. That's not how they work, anyway. But at the very least, now you know what I sensed attacking someOne.

I just wasn't expecting to see, from my temporary hiding place in a bush (caravan's left), more than one person there.

"H-H-H-H-Help meeeeeee!" screamed the dismounted driver, trying to scramble away on his arse.

One of the two wooden carriages was completely pulverized—oak wood broken like disposable chopsticks (as in, not the usual way), crates of goods spilt, contents ruined. The horses had made like bananas and split, running terrified in different directions. A group of world-natives—villagers passing with the caravan—were either hiding from the Umbral behind the other carriage, or running for Ylisstol as fast as possible.

Is it just me, or do we tend to pop up in a world just before an Umbral attacks?

Ah, well. I didn't really care. Without a word, I reached up to my forehead and pulled out a multi-fold rectangle with a thread in the middle.

Ck-Clank! Ck-Clank! BOING!

In one second, I was holding in my hands the Glint Bladebow—a weapon that was half-bow and half-arch-of-a-blade. Quickly pulling it away from my head lest I lacerate my face, I gripped the handle and pulled the string taut a few times. Satisfied, I reached back into the quiver on my back, pulled out an arrow.

BOOM! BOOM!

"YAAAHHHH!" the driver yelped as the street-headed Umbral rammed its head into the ground, twice in succession, sending dust and rocks flying everywhere.

I took a deep breath, and drew the arrow back. Through the Bladebow's metal-hoop ironsights, I could make out the Umbral's woodpecker neck; on the right, the civvie was trying to get away from becoming some sort of "road sandwich".

"YOU'RE UNDER ARREST FOR SPEEDING, PUNK!" snarled the Umbral. It pulled its head back.

"AAAAAAAAGH!"

How annoying, I thought as I let my arrow fly.


30 seconds later…

017-R "Dreyza"


Let's set the stage we were racing across: a long road of dirt, about a car lane wide. Green fields stretched out on either side, with the left side ending about six meters out with dense forest. Just as well, too, since from here, the road from Ylisstol slowly arced to the left before heading right a kilometer or two out.

As we were running down the road, I knew we were in trouble when we saw A.) Kyoku jumping high above the trees, looking behind him, and B.) a dark bulk of a shape bulldozing the trees behind him.

Bluefield saw it, too. "UMBRAL AHEAD!" he yelled.

With a "triumphant" CRACK!, a massive monster of a wrestler smashed its way into view, trees splintering from its wide "beak" of asphalt road.

We all skidded to a halt. Trey, gasping for breath, stopped on my right, exhaustion quickly forgotten upon seeing the street-headed monster. "Wh-What is that?!" he exclaimed.

At that moment, Kyoku landed (somewhat clumsily) on my left. "Persistent bastard…" he gasped, turning back to face it, bow drawn.

The Umbral suddenly threw its "head" back in a roar—"FREAKOUTTAHERERIGHTNOW"—before sending itself hurtling towards us.

Crap.

"Scatter!" I barked.

From behind, Vespyr grabbed Trey by the shoulders and dove to the right; while Blu, Kyoku and I threw ourselves left. As I rolled across the ground, I reached for my chest…

…and as I landed onto my feet, turning around to face our prey, my Glint Sword elongated to full size in my hand, its katana blade glinting in the sunlight (well, duh).

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Blu hadn't followed suit. Instead of drawing his own blade, he pulled out his FN Five-SeveN handgun from his waist (this time). On the other side of the road, Vespyr had already pulled out her Glint Magnum from her left temple, and was walking further to her left, giving Trey a wide berth.

Wise decision, too.

Trey reoriented himself to face the monster. It wasn't his first time fighting Umbrals, but that didn't change how frightened he was—how frightened I was—of these freaks. Breathing as evenly as he could, Trey reached up to his neck with his right hand and made a yanking motion outward.

Whishhhhh-Whsh-Clan-Clan-Clan-Clan-Clang!

With a flash of light and a fluid clockwise spiral motion, Trey drew out his Glint Scythe in an offensive stance, its curved blade a wicked glint in the afternoon sun.

The "road rager" Umbral skid dedicated to a halt as its road head thing twisted 180 degrees at us. As its dark neck twisted, I saw an arrow impaled through the side of its coiled throat.

I glanced at Kyoku. "That shot your handiwork?"

The archer shrugged. "Coulda done it better."

"Hey, Dreyza!" Vespyr's Estuary accent rang out from my far left. "Friendlies coming in from behind the roadblocker!"

I leaned my head to the right. Sure enough, Sir Chrom and his fellows were running down the road toward us, stopping 10 meters away from the Umbral (who hadn't noticed them) and 20 meters away from us.

"By the gods!" exclaimed Sir Frederick, after stopping his steed. "What manner of…thing is that?!"

Good news: the Umbral didn't hear him.

Bad news?

"RED LIGHT GREEN LIGHT!"

Yeah, the big Umbral was charging us again. Stomp, Stomp, Stomp!

Without warning, Kyoku fired another arrow. Whsht—THUNK!

"Nice horn."

"Quiet, Leader."

And with that, we charged.

Ves and Blu unleashed a barrage of bullets against the Umbral's flat face, which glanced off harmlessly but still disturbed its charge. Kyoku fired arrow after razorhead arrow, slowly turning the "asphalt head" into a pincushion. Irritated, the Umbral swung out, its left arm out clawed—only for it to go flying away.

As it stumbled back, clutching the new stump in its arm, I whipped down my sword, the Umbral ooze evaporating from the blade.

"Trey!" I called, jumping back.

"On it!" With that, the reaper charged, hands pale as he gripped the Glint Scythe.

"LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING THE STREET!" roared the Umbral, screaming to the sky, ready to throw its head forward, its neck exposed.

Trey pulled back, then swung his scythe counterclockwise. SCHLING!

SCHLOCK!

An eerie silence hung in the air. The three Shepherds gaped at us, and the headless freak of nature.

The Umbral's body snapped out of its shock, stumbled down onto its back.

Then, out of shear dumb luck, its head landed on its upper torso. Hard.

Frederick's horse kicked up again, with startled whinnying.

"Whoa, whoa!" exclaimed its rider, trying to reign it in.

Upon seeing that, we Zeros all looked at each other.

And almost as if on freaking cue, the Umbral twitched—and shot one arm up, fingers stuttering. "GERGHRUGH…"

"Agh!" "ACK!" We jumped back. Shepherds 1, Ashen Wolves 1.

"Wh—Trey!" Kyoku accused.

"I'm sorry!" poor Trey exclaimed. "What didn't I do?!"

"I got it…" And Bluefield, pulling it out of nowhere (okay, not really, but it seemed like it to me), stabbed his Zero Sword hellwards, curved blade glowing, through its head and heart.

"GRAAAAAAAAAGH…!" it gurgled in excruciating pain as it burned away, sparks flying where its "flesh" once was. Within about ten seconds, only embers remained on the ground at our feet, and even those were evaporating.

I believe the rare sentence in this case would be, "What a cross road." Sucks we never used it.

Exhaling, Blu pulled away this sword and—to the Shepherds' shock—sheathed it back into his chest. Within about a second, the part that was sticking out, the handle and base of the blade, vanished into a vapor of light and shadow. The other Wolves and I followed suit, putting our weapons away in places that humans (as I've learned early as a Zero) physically shouldn't be allowed to.

With that done and no other Umbrals in sight, I looked up at the three Shepherds sheepishly. "Sorry about that," I said, hand behind head. "Where were we before the interruption?"

"I believe it was the title you Zeros go by, 017-R 'Dreyza'," piped up a familiar pair of voices—one boy, one girl.

"Oh, hi again," said Blu, turning to the source of the voices. The rest of us—Ones and Zeros alike—followed suit, Zeros very mildly annoyed (Trey was sweating bullets about something), Ones very surprised.

Striding out of the wood, steps in disturbing sync, came a pair of ghostly-pale ten-year-old twins in turtlenecks—one grey-eyed boy on the right, one grey-eyed girl on the left.

Newcomers, let me introduce you to our employer.

"I believe that 2.1 kilometers past the ruined caravan is the Penshaw Inn, which serves a mildly salty stew," said Vaire in unison. "Ashen Wolves, Shepherds—shall we?"


"made like bananas and split" - Not every day you see Kyoku try to be funny. —Vespyr

"the Umbral's woodpecker neck" - When I actually got a good look at that, my first reaction was "…What." —Kyoku

"stopping 10 meters away from the Umbral (who hadn't noticed them)" - If you somehow haven't noticed, Umbrals aren't exactly the brightest lightbulbs in your house. —Dreyza

"Ves and Blu unleashed a barrage of bullets" - Of course, Ves doesn't really have to deal with "actually reloading" her weapon. Much like her brother's counterpart, the Glint Magnum doesn't use an ammunition magazine system of any description. All I know is, it's "science fantasy stuff". —Bluefield

"LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING THE STREET!" (2nd time) - Yeah, these things tend to scream things repeatedly. And nonsensically. —Kyoku

"Whoa, whoa!" - Think how Punished "Vemon" Snake says it in a certain game. —Bluefield

"I looked up at the three Shepherds sheepishly" - "Pun not intended" and "I regret nothing". :) —Dreyza