Right. This is just getting caught up, but the chapter's been out on Fiction Live in quest form for months now (I'm just lazy). This chapter came out around Lunar New Year and I offered to give chat +1 to DEX permanently in exchange for a bunny-related penalty.

Brockton Bay, NH, USA
Friday, January 28, 2011

The clock struck midnight and the cog that represented my power twitched and turned with an echoing clang. As it settled, I felt my soul blaze up energetically, a comforting flame I'd felt several times before.

For whatever reason, fire seemed to turn up often. Not that I was complaining of course. Fire was an awesome type to have. A bit on the destructive side of things, but I'd learned over the years that sometimes, a fuck-massive fireball was just the way to solve your problems.

But there was more. I felt it then, residual aura from my soul infusing my body. I couldn't tell exactly what was happening, but I felt stronger, more attuned to my own soul in ways I hadn't expected.

I felt myself get a little faster, a little more agile. It was like taking on the results of weeks of conditioning all at once.

Yesterday was wonderfully productive and now, it was time to follow through on everything that had happened. Then, as if in approval of my decision, I felt both the litwick and ralts in my soul evolve. The power of evolution was a heady feeling that filled me with an intoxicating high. Lampent. Kirlia. Powerful pokemon in their own right.

I lay in bed and whispered, "Shift, lampent."

I felt the lampent's nature threaten to influence me, coaxing me to take just a bit of life force from those who were sleeping in the orphanage, but I abstained. Lampent were dark pokemon, not in type, but in deed. They were said to linger in hospitals, waiting for people to die.

Whether they stole souls or acted as emissaries to the afterlife, no one really knew, but what was clear was that they could feed on the life force of the living. Their flame drained vitality simply by being nearby.

I quashed my fire and faded into the shadow. The last thing I wanted was to leave my friend bedridden for the day.

I headed outside, sneaking through the city by flitting from shadow to shadow. Once or twice, I thought I saw a cape go by. Flying perhaps, or maybe just running on rooftops. I wasn't checking too closely because no matter their business tonight, mine was more important: Coil

I snuck into my hideout and put on my armor, just in case something went wrong, and headed for the address I looked up.


Coil's house was on Captain's Hill. It was somewhat secluded by a sparse growth of thin trees that broke up the building's profile. Though it wasn't as big as the Pelham house, it was well-maintained and I could see several cameras that hinted at more robust security.

I shifted back around the corner and gave myself a minute before becoming lampent again. With my timer refreshed, I became one with the shadow.

Infiltration was… easy. I wished I could say there was some hair-raising feat of daring, but there was not. For all the Bond-villain stereotypes he ascribed to, Coil did not in fact have a shark tank in his living room. Nor did the walls break apart to form a laser laze.

No, it was, surprisingly, a normal house.

Still, I kept on guard as I floated through the building's floorboards. What would have been risky and complex was made almost trivial by the virtue of a ghost type, one known as an Infiltrator at that.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting to find, but Coil, Thomas Calvert, was seated at a lounge chair in some kind of sitting room. In his hand was a small tumbler of whiskey and he was dressed in a comfortable-looking nightgown that hid his thin frame.

The sitting room itself was… normal. No bleached skulls of his enemies, no black book of grudges, nothing. Hell, the man was watching House.

Coil watched medical dramas in his off hours.

I wasn't sure why it mattered or what I wanted to do with this information, but I knew it was something I'd remember forever.

It was just too… weird…

I expected to catch him jacking off to child porn or something, not… this.

Still, I had a job to do. I ducked into a hallway cabinet and carefully nudged the vacuum cleaner out of the way before shifting back. I didn't need to see him to sense his emotions after all.

Then, a minute later, I whispered, "Shift, kirlia."

I couldn't quite stop the smile that blossomed on my face as I realized that I was now a mini-Titania.

And then his emotions hit. Thomas Calvert was tired.

He was content. He was frustrated. He was enjoying that whiskey. He was raging violently at something I couldn't distinguish clearly.

Thomas Calvert experienced two lives simultaneously, and that wasn't good for anyone. There was a reason even powerful precogs didn't have their powers on all the time. By experiencing both paths, one tended to… not invest quite as much as they would otherwise.

Natural, right? Obvious, right?

And yet, humans, most pokemon, were creatures made to live in the moment. There was an emotional toll to be paid with the detachment.

Calvert was a monster, and now I knew why.

I was limited here. A part of me felt sorry for him. Perhaps he wasn't always a monster. Perhaps he was just a product of his power, a man who trifled with things he ought not to, split himself so often until a part of himself split away without his knowing.

A part of me wanted to fix him. I could. I could come back as a gardevoir, with a mastery of the mind arts that few could dream of matching. I could fix him like I fixed Elle.

But… Was that worth it?

I shook my head. No, no it was not. My conscience be damned, I couldn't just sit around with my thumbs up my ass waiting for psychic or fairy to roll around again. How many people would Coil hurt while I waited? He was undoubtedly looking for me. I didn't fear him, but I wasn't the only one I had to care for.

What would Coil do to the orphanage if he knew I lived there? What would Coil do to Emily, a random homeless girl who happened to cross my path? Sabah? Elle? Amy? New Wave?

I made sure to memorize his psychic signature and slipped out of the house as lampent again. I couldn't afford to try to fix him. I wouldn't. His choices were his own.

I slogged through math and history with bleary eyes. I wasn't exhausted, I knew what real exhaustion felt like, but I just wasn't interested in those subjects so even a little sleep deprivation was enough to make me want to conk right back to dreamland.

I plodded along to the final class of the day, English. We were on a poetry unit, something about creative writing and freedom of expression. I found it ironic that while she said that, she also levied the largest number of rules on each assignment. Rhythm? Stanza? Iambic pentameter?


Still, I was forced to put in some effort in this class. I'd gotten in to Arcadia on a creative writing scholarship after all. I had to maintain a B average, but I especially needed to do well in this class in particular.

Eventually, the bell rang and Dean tapped me on the shoulder. "Hey, you doing alright?" he asked, concerned. "You weren't at school yesterday. What happened?"

I stared at him with a dead, fish-eye look. I kept my voice flat. "Are you sure you want to know?"

"Yes, you're my friend, Blake. I'm also the student council president. It's both my pleasure and my job to help you if there's anything wrong."

I leaned forward with a whisper. "Well, if you put it like that… The PRT doesn't want me to tell anyone, but I'm Gallant. there was an operation against the gangs that I needed to be a part of. Don't tell anyone."

A half a dozen emotions flitted across my friend's face, too fast for me to identify them all, before he settled on irritation. There also was confusion, embarrassment, and… recognition…? "Blake, you can't pretend to be a Ward."

"But what if I am a Ward?"

"Blake, I'm serious. Pretending to be a licensed hero is like impersonating a police officer. Don't do that."

I held up my hands in mock surrender. "Okay, fine. I'm not a Ward. I am clearly a delinquent though, so give me your lunch money."

"Blake," he said tiredly. To my surprise, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. "You know I don't mind buying you lunch, if you don't have the cash. Just ask."

I shook my head and walked towards the cafeteria. "That was a joke, Dean. I don't need lunch money, promise. I was just feeling a little under the weather yesterday, that's all."

"Alright. You sure?"


"Good. Let me know if you need any assignments. The school collects the curriculum for each class so they can be passed out to absent students when they return."

"Joy… You are a wonderful student council president," I said flatly. "I'm so glad my friend won't let me fall behind on my education."

Dean laughed and punched my shoulder. "Heh, you say that, but it's good for you."

"Are you going to also feed me my veggies?"

"I might."

"Fine, I'll visit the office before I leave school. Happy?"

"I am content."

As we walked, I considered our recent interaction and froze, almost tripping into a trash can. Irritation, I could get; he was always a goody-two-shoes. But confusion? Embarrassment? Recognition? The only reason he would know right off the bat that I wasn't a ward was… Realization struck me light Zekrom's Bolt Strike.

Dean himself was a Ward. Given the circumstances, Dean was Gallant.

Dean. Was. Gallant.

I'd just called out a Ward. In his secret identity. By blindly guessing.

What the fuck was my life?

"Blake, you okay?" he asked me, his face twisted with concern.

I breathed deep. Dean was a tinker and an all around standup dude. There wasn't any reason to be alarmed. He thought it was a poorly worded joke, nothing to stress over.

"Yeah, I just realized Mrs. Rothelby's physics project is due in a week and I just missed a major lecture yesterday." It was true, not that I cared much, but I couldn't exactly tell him I knew.

"Ah, I see. So go get the class materials from the office, man. I'll save you a seat," he said, pushing me towards the admin building.

"Thanks, I'll catch up."

"Sure, man."

I ducked out after school, only to change into my armor and return. I wanted Amy to spend more time outside the hospital. Yesterday was great and the steaks were delicious, but I wanted a day for her that didn't involve long hours working herself to exhaustion. Pulling out my phone, I decided to text her.

Menagerie: Yo, Amy.

Panacea: What?

Menagerie: You busy?

Panacea: No? Vicky and I are going shopping. Why?

Menagerie: Oh, good. I wanted to make sure you weren't cooping yourself up in the hospital. We spent a lot of time there so you should take a day to relax.

Panacea: I am, thanks, dad.

I grinned under my helmet. I could practically hear the sarcasm. I also knew that beneath the prickly exterior, she did appreciate the concern.

Menagerie: I mean… not my kink, but if you want to call me daddy…

Menagerie: We can experiment.

Panacea: Eww! No, you pervert!

Panacea: Hi, this is Vicky. I stole her phone. I think you two are adorable together. We're just getting some last-minute shopping in so she'll look her best tomorrow. Do you want to come hang out with us?

Menagerie: You know, I wouldn't mind whatever she wears. We haven't even decided what the double date is going to be.

Panacea: Oh, you leave that to me and Dean. Also, wear something you can move in.

Menagerie: My armor?

Panacea: Oh… Haha, right… Good enough. So, coming? We're at the Hillside Mall.

Menagerie: You know what? Yeah. Isn't there a donut place nearby? Devil's Bakery, right? I hear they're pretty good. My treat?

Panacea: Sweet! Thanks, Menagerie!

Panacea: You're the best, sexiest, handsomest suit of armor ever and I love stroking your hairy body all over.

Panacea: Delete. That.

Somehow, I had the sneaking suspicion that Amy perhaps did not write that. Laughing, I considered my choices. I had to arrive in style after all. Magnificent entrances were practically my calling card at this point. Whether as a jellyfish-mushroom or as a rock 'n' rolling muscle car, I knew how to make an entrance.

Menagerie: Blackmail. Eternal blackmail.

Panacea: Excuse me while I strangle my sister.

Menagerie: You have fun. I'll meet you at the Devil's Bakery in… three minutes?

Panacea: Yeah, whatev.

I considered my catalog of fire types. I could arrive as a charizard, a classical dragon as far as this world was concerned. Or maybe as a volcarona? Eos did always hold a special place in my heart. Or maybe an arcanine? I already used the form before, but that just meant it'd be extra recognizable. The fire-doggo had a bit of a following online as it was.

After a minute, I decided. Why not be a rapidash? I'd shown off the Galarian version, so I may as well showcase the Kantoan variant.

I spun my arms like windmills before pointing one hand at the sky. "Shift, rapidash!"

I could feel it immediately. Something was very wrong.

My mind flickered back to midnight, when I felt my type shift once more. I'd noticed something then as well, a flow of something alien yet still noticeably me. It had strengthened me, but it was now interrupting my shift.

Was this Arceus' idea of a practical joke?

I in fact did not turn into a flaming unicorn. I wasn't even quadrupedal.

Instead, I was a white rabbit best known for kicking around fireballs: Cinderace.

I hopped from foot to foot as I felt my mind accustom itself to the shift in biology. Impossibly strong legs. Ears more sensitive than most bats. An unquenchable competitive spirit that loved the limelight.

I groaned. "You've got to be kidding me…"

I canceled the shift, waited a minute, and tried something else.

"Shift, charizard!"


"Shift, arcanine!"


"Shift, volcarona!"

More. Bunny.

I looked down at myself, reached up, and gripped my two new appendages. They were incredibly fluffy and distractingly sensitive.

"Well, fuck… Arceus has to be fucking with me." I looked up into the sky with a longsuffering stare. "This shit better not be permanent, you overgrown llama."

It was not lost on me that a cinderace was in itself an immensely powerful pokemon. Even without its dynamax, it was best known for kicks that could compete with any fighting type, fire hot enough to turn most metal into a puddle, and a fast, adaptive combat style that let it run circles around all but the most powerful pokemon. The number of capes strong enough to compete with me could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.

But still, going from having a breadth of choices down to just five, kirlia, lampent, cinderace, and its pre-evolutions, was a massive downgrade. "I really hope this isn't permanent," I grumbled.

I resigned myself to being a bunny and hopped across the skyline. It wasn't long before I found it. The Devil's Bakery was impossible to miss, especially considering the huge, plastic donut set on the roof.

The place honestly looked kind of sketchy, but it occupied prime real estate just across the street from Hillside so it got plenty of business. Beyond the usual glazed donuts, they were also known for having a rotating variety of different breads on hand, with interesting flavor combinations like maple-bacon and spicy honey drizzle.

I found Victoria and Amy waiting on the curb. Already, Victoria had a shopping bag in her hand from some brand-name store I didn't recognize.

"Yo, Amy, Victoria," I called as I hopped down from the large donut. "How's it going?"

Amy's face immediately scrunched up into a frown. "Seriously? Why are you a rabbit?"

Vicky, ever the opposite of her sister, let out an excited squeal. "Oh my god, Ames, he's a bunny!"

"Yes, I can see that."

"You don't like bunnies?"

"I don't like him turning into bunnies," she said with a scowl.

"Ooh, I smell a story~"


"Oh, come on, Ames. You tell me everything."

"You have enough black mail on me as it is."

Vicky pouted but saw she wouldn't get anywhere. So, she turned to me with big, soulful eyes. I felt her aura wash over me. "Oh, Menagerie~"

"Don't you fucking dare," Amy hissed.

I raised my fluffy, white paws in surrender. "Nope. Sorry, V, my lips are sealed."

"Oh, come on, you can tell me."

"I could, but Amy might turn me into stew."

"Damn straight," my grumpy friend growled. "Come on, let's get some fucking donuts."

I laughed as she dragged us all inside the bakery. "So, is it just me or are you grumpier than you are normally?"

"You try shopping with Vicky for two hours."

"Hey, it's not that bad," Vicky protested.

"It is but you're my sister and I'm obligated to suffer in silence."

I let out a snort of laughter. "Sorry, Vicky, I'm with Amy on this one. Shopping sucks. Why were you out here anyway?"

"So Amy can look nice tomorrow, duh," she said, as if that should be obvious to a blind man.

Seeing an opportunity, I slung an arm around my nominal girlfriend's shoulder. "Hey now, Amy always looks nice. Don't you know? The grumpy, sleep-deprived racoon look is so in these days."

"Do you want cancer? This is how you get cancer," Amy huffed.

Our regular stream of banter was interrupted by the employee, a young woman with far too many piercings to be attractive. She had pitch-black hair with purple highlights, green eyes, and a red, horned hairband that clashed horribly with her appearance.

Was this what they called punk? I legitimately had no clue.

"Huh, so it's our turn to see you three?" she drawled with a lazy smirk. "What can I get you?"

"I'll get a strawberry cream donut," Vicky started. "Ooh, and a hazelnut latte."

"Pecan bar," Amy grunted. "Americano, black."

The cashier girl didn't bat an eye at the grumpy brunette. She turned to me with a shit-eating grin. "And you, bun-bun? Got some carrot cake if you want it."

I rolled my eyes. I could see the humor on her face. She clearly recognized me from one of my other antics and didn't mind fucking with the hero.

In that case, I didn't see any harm in messing right back.

I took a deep breath and called the fire inside. It welled up like an underground spring to coalesce right between my eyes. My skin turned a neon-red, dying the fur an almost pinkish hue. Steam visibly surrounded my crest.

"A-Are you profiling me?"

"Yes?" she said, now a little unsure of herself.

"What? Just because I'm a bunny I gotta like carrots? Is that it? Huh? Are you specieist?"

"W-What? No, I just-"

"Cause I'll take three," I chirped happily, mouth wide in a buck-toothed grin.


"Oh, and a bottle of lemonade please."

"Oh, you son of a bitch," she grumbled as she input my order. "Fine, you got me."

"Don't talk about my momma like that. I'm sure she was a perfectly respectable bunny," I mock-chided.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Mind if we get a picture to hang on the wall or something?"

I glanced at the sisters. Vicky gave me a thumbs up while Amy looked constipated at the thought of anything resembling a good time so I took that to be consent. I gave Amy a hug while Vicky flew behind her sister and placed two fingers behind her head to make faux bunny ears.


After the obligatory picture, Victoria led the three of us out into the mall's eating area. We drew plenty of attention, but it wasn't as though the Dallon siblings had never eaten there before.

I had to hand it to Devil's Bakery, they really did know how to make a good carrot cake. And, it came in bite-sized cupcake portions!

"Are you seriously going to eat that much carrot cake?" Vicky asked skeptically as she nibbled on her own strawberry donut.

"Yeah? What's wrong with it?"

"You're going to get fat. Heh, chubby bunny…"

"Excuse you, I burn calories like kindling. This form is built for exercise."

"Oh, really? What's so special about this one?"

"Soccer. I play soccer. This form is basically tailor-made to be good at soccer."

"Soccer… You have… sports-themed… pokemon…?"

I laughed at the face she made. "Yup. This one does soccer."

"Bullshit," Amy called. "You can't have a body dedicated to soccer."

"Sure I can. Why not?"

"I'd buy that you're good at kicking or something, but you're saying you have unique biology meant to help you play a specific sport like some kind of biotinkered soccer-monster?"



I held out a furry paw. "Try me, sister."

She stared at my hand like it was barbed wire but ultimately reached out gingerly to hold it. Then her eyes widened. "Increased lung capacity. More robust circulatory system. More efficient red blood cells. Muscles built for stamina and quick bursts of power. And… your nails point further down than they should to act like natural cleats… The red and blue fur is thicker and you have a layer of fat deposit to absorb impacts from your feet…"

I preened as Amy rambled on and on about the different ways a cinderace's physiology was optimized to kick shit around. "Told ya~"

Amy threw down my hand with a look of conflicting wonder and disgust. "Why are your forms so damn weird?"

Vicky laughed. "Wait, so soccer? Specifically soccer? Not, like, just being a good kicker?"

"Soccer," Amy nodded. "The arch of his foot's even shaped to best scoop up a rounded object from the ground. The red tuft of fur on his forehead is thicker than the white so he can headbutt things too. It's like if someone examined every single pro soccer player, took their best traits, and then optimized a body to take advantage of them… and then put a bunny skin over it."

"Hey," I shifted back into human form and jabbed my girlfriend in the ribs, "at least I'm cute."

"Ugh, you wish."

"Come on, you don't think I'm cute?"

"I know what you really look like, so no."

"Ouch, the pain. Don't worry, I think you're cute."

"No one asked you," she huffed, but I could spot a hint of rose in her cheeks.

"Aww, you two are adorable together," Vicky cooed. She'd polished off the last of her latte and was using the straw as a pointer. "You know, Ames, you should give your boyfriend a few compliments once in a while. A man needs to feel appreciated, you know?"

"Yes, Amy, praise me like the divine existence I am," I drawled.

"Ugh, you're both impossible. Menagerie's got a big enough head as it is."

"I do," I admitted shamelessly. "Anyway, do either of you have anything planned the rest of the day?"

"We need to get back to shopping," Vicky chirped. "I got something for myself, but I want to get something for Amy. She keeps tossing out my choices though."

"I have plenty of clothes," Amy grumbled. "What's wrong with a t-shirt and jeans?"

"Not exactly date material, Ames."

"Actually," I butted in, "I don't really mind." It really wasn't as though we were dating for real. And maybe it was just me, but I thought the jeans and shirt she was wearing looked nice enough.

"Thank you," Amy said. "See, Vicky? What I have is fine."

"You two are made for each other," Vicky said, exasperated. "Alright, whatever. I'll let Amy go for today."

Amy opened her mouth to respond, only for her to be interrupted by the sound of drums and either a flute or some other woodwind. Who knew? I wasn't much of a musician. It was loud, loud enough to completely down out all conversation.

"What the fu-" I heard her sister start, but she too was cut off, this time by the loud grating of treads on asphalt.

Then the tank came into view. It wasn't any model I could imagine a real-world military commissioning, more like the idea of a tank drawn by a cartoonist.

It was also small, smaller than a tank ought to be. By quick estimate, it seemed like it could hold a single person at most before feeling cramped. Whoever made this cared more about the aesthetics than any combat effectiveness. It looked like the body of the tank would scrape against any sort of elevation.

What did worry me was the disproportionately large main gun on it. Its size relative to the tank made me think it couldn't fire off more than three or four shots before running out of ammo, but that was assuming this was a normal tank, which was clearly not the case.

A man rode on the tank. He was well-muscled, with overly broad shoulders that reminded me of Bruno or Chuck. He wore khakis, a white shirt, and a red vest with pouches and a backpack filled to the brim with some unknown tools.

Then there was more music as a dozen men dressed in green and wearing the most idiotic facemask I'd ever seen stormed into the plaza, each carrying an old-timey rifle.

The mask was locked in the single most idiotic smile I could imagine. They looked little green toy soldiers come to life.

And suddenly, I knew.

"Uber and Leet," all three of us groaned as one.

There was no one else who'd do something as idiotic as robbing a mall, in broad daylight, for the sake of views or clicks or whatever the fuck they wanted this time.

"Fuck, I like Metal Slug," I whined. It was one of the first games Mark introduced me to! We used to steal coins from a local laundromat so we could play together!

"Yeah, well, guess we get to punch little green men for real," Vicky said, cracking her knuckles dramatically. She'd already begun hovering a foot off the ground and I let out another internal sigh; I couldn't hide with my armor, but there was a chance she could have just walked away and done something out of sight.

Lamenting the lost initiative, I gestured towards the tank. "Leet? Piloted or remote controlled?"

"Who cares? The blonde one's Uber though. I think he dyed his hair."


Vicky turned to me. "So, what's the plan, Menagerie?"

I looked at her, surprised. "Me? Aren't you the veteran hero?"

"Yeah, at following Aunt Sarah's orders. Besides, you're the man with a thousand faces. you gotta have something for this, right?"

I bemoaned how untrue that was at the moment. Still, she wasn't entirely wrong; counting my past life, the gulf in experience between us was immense. Every veteran trainer picked up basic small-group tactics eventually; it practically came with the job description. I just didn't expect the normally headstrong girl to readily follow my lead.

I spared a second to catch my bearings and look around one more time. Twelve little green men. Uber, who was by all accounts phenomenally skilled when he wanted to be. One tank. We were surrounded and they'd definitely noticed us.

Before I could say anything, a speaker attached to the tank blared to life. "Holy shit, that's Menagerie!" came a voice I assumed was Leet.

Uber's gaze locked on me. A hand rose to scratch the back of his head anxiously. "So it is. And the gloryhole too. We should maybe rob a different mall, bud."

Vicky flushed indignantly. "Who the hell are you calling a glory hole?"

The pair ignored Vicky in favor of talking with each other. "No way, by the time we do that, there'll be heroes all over the place! It's do or die, Uber."

"Yeah, but Menagerie."

"He's just one guy, man. We don't need to win, we just need to keep him busy."

"Dude, he drowned Hookwolf."

"And? Come on, Uber, he's a hero. Proportionate force is a thing."

I left them to argue in favor of whispering to Vicky. "Vicky, you're going to guard your sister. Make sure no one takes potshots at her."

"What? I can help! They're not going to hit Panacea," the blonde complained.

"Probably not, but are you willing to trust the goodwill of villains with your sister's safety?"


"Get her to safety and start evacuating people."

"Fine. Give them a good punch for me."

I smiled slyly though she couldn't see it. "You'll have to settle for a kick."

They must have finished bickering because Uber turned back to me with shoulders set. "So, any chance you'll let us play our game?"

I stared at the duo like they'd just grown a third head. "You're kidding, right? You want me to just let you and your mooks brandish deadly weapons, rob the mall, and just walk away?"

"Ehehehe… Well… It's for the views, man. It's Metal Slug! You gotta respect the classics."

"Yeah, played it when I was a kid. I don't remember shooting up a mall being one of those missions."

"In our defense-"

"Oh, this should be good," Amy grumbled next to us.

"-the bullets aren't even lethal, just hurts like a kick to the balls."

I ticked them off on my fingers. "Okay, so disturbing the peace, assault, battery, grand larceny… Am I missing anything?"

Vicky shrugged. "You need a specific permit to drive tinkertech vehicles. And whatever Leet makes has to qualify as a bomb hazard at this point."

"Oh, fuck you, gloryhole!" the tank speakers blared. "You know what? We don't need your fucking permission to do shit. You wanna fight in a crowded plaza then let's go!"

I motioned for Vicky to usher her sister to safety. "Look, you can surrender or I'll actually kick you in the balls. Non-lethally of course. That's fair, right?"

"How the fuck is that fair?"

"Oh, so it's fine when it happens to someone else?"

"Fuck you, Menagerie, no one had to get hurt but you just have to play the big fucking hero. You think the tank's just for show? You wanna try me?" Leet said. I wasn't sure if he was bluffing or not; Uber said the rifles weren't lethal, but Leet could be carrying something else to deal with any heroes who showed up.

Still, it wasn't in my nature to back off. Besides, the more of their attention I captured, the better. I thrust my right fist forward and flung my left arm to the side as Lance used to do when he wanted to flutter his cape. "You know what? Yes, I think I do. You like Metal Slug. I like Metal Slug. So? Let's play Metal Slug. Shift, cinderace!"

I was once more the soccer-bunny, Galar's famed starter. In a lot of ways, cinderace was the perfect pokemon to deal with these two. It was competitive and playful in a way that most fully evolved pokemon weren't. Most would be too destructive or too dismissive. Cinderace struck that nice balance of not taking things too seriously while still being more than capable of dishing out the pain.

I crouched low as heat built between my brows. Sparks tickled at my feet as I got ready to cut loose.

"Fuck, fire! Shoot him!" Leet cried.

More than one of his hired goons hesitated. I didn't know how much they were paid, but it probably wasn't worth making an enemy of both me and New Wave. Or maybe their guns jammed, that was a distinct possibility where Leet-tech was concerned.

Uber had no such reservations. He swung his gun around, a heavy machine gun, I realized, and fired as people hit the floor. Vicky folded her sister into a ball and laid over her. Dozens of rounds from multiple directions came my way. I had just enough time to notice they were nowhere near as fast as real bullets, which hopefully meant Uber was right and these were nonlethal.

Regardless, I couldn't exactly let them continue firing.

"Agility," I whispered. Psychic power filled my body. My mind and body moved as one, a synchronicity that was otherwise impossible to achieve. All the little hesitations, the inevitable delays between thought and action faded away as my mind exerted control over even the smallest muscle group.

Flames licked at my feet, coating them like grieves as I leapt into the air. I met each bullet with a fire-clad kick, making the rounds explode harmlessly from the heat.

I stood proudly, the pokemon's competitive spirit blazing full force now. The tuft of crimson fur on my brow glowed hot enough to leave visible heat shimmers. Cinders rained down around my head even as my eyes shone an incandescent red.

"You mooks really weren't paid enough for this," I growled. My body blazed with the white light of Quick Attack as I blurred towards the first mook holding a rifle.

I moved so quickly that in the short distance, I may as well have been teleporting. I grabbed the rifle, cocked it towards the sky by the muzzle, then with my hand and his as braces, chopped through the middle with my other hand. Cinderace weren't known for being physical powerhouses, not like machamp, but falling short of a machamp wasn't exactly anything to be ashamed of.

I blurred away before he even realized what happened.

"Oh, shi-" the second managed to get out before I yanked the rifle from his grip, tossing it on the ground and stomping it to pieces on my way to the third.

It was only the fifth mook who was ready for me. He was burlier than the others and perhaps thought he could contest me with strength. He took a swing at me with the butt of his rifle in a way that made me wonder if he had any actual training.

The cinderace line's famous competitive streak raised its head, literally. I leaned forward and rammed my forehead into the stock of the gun, visibly cracking the stock and jarring the rifle out of his grip. I tripped him, broke the rifle over my knee, and moved on.

By this point, Uber collected himself and swung a different gun out of a pouch in his backpack. He slung it under his arm into a perfect grip as speakers blared from his backpack. "Enemy Chaser!" it cried.

I skidded to a stop. I was genuinely impressed with that level of detail. They were dedicated if nothing else. "Holy shit, you guys made the sound effects too?"

"Fuck yeah," Uber called back. "Now eat rockets!"

A hail of rockets as large as a child's forearms chased me. None of them were very fast so I shrugged and let them follow. They'd either run out of fuel and fall to the ground or crash into each other. Judging by how true they were to the source, I had to assume the weapons also shared their in-game counterparts' ammo capacity: forty.

In my defense, Metal Slug was a great game.

Mook number six saw me coming with forty micro-rockets close behind.

"Eahhh!" he yelped, dropping his gun and running the other way.

"Hahahahahahaha, you can't outrun rockets? What kinda mooks are ya?" I cackled as I ran from one to the other, feinting only long enough to manage the rockets' trajectory behind me. I ducked and weaved around the mall, even running on the walls at one point, just to keep the missiles in a neat parade behind me.

"This may have been a mistake, Leet," Uber grumbled as his weapon finally clicked empty. He switched out his weapon, this time for the laser. I was starting to be really impressed with the versatility of Leet's tech tree, whatever it was. If only it didn't explode half the time…

"No, fuck that. I still have the cannon," Leet replied. "Eat shit, Menagerie!"

Thus came the first deviation from Metal Slug guns: the tank's main gun actually did something. In the arcade game, the side guns fired blue variants of the heavy machinegun rounds while the main gun did practically nothing, occasionally dropping a grenade. Leet clearly decided he didn't like that.

The main gun roared and launched a shell the size of my torso at me. My eyes widened in surprise, I'd been expecting the vulcans, but I responded anyway. A wide grin tugged at my face. Rockets at my back. Cannon in front. The pressure, the moment, this was what cinderace lived for. Time seemed to slow in my accelerated state as I jumped into the air.

I twisted my hips, pulling my foot back even as the forty missiles finally started to gain on me. Then, with a vicious kick that ignited my leg, I shouted out the signature move of the cinderace line. "Pyro Ball!"

My blazing foot collided with the missile round and, in a quirk of aura that defied every law of conventional physics, sent the round straight back to sender. It careened towards Leet's tank like a meteor, clad in angry-red flames.

"HOLY FUCK!" Uber shouted as he dove to the side. His training then kicked in. He aimed his laser at the incoming missile and snapped off a round even as he dove aside. The concentrated beam was enough to destabilize my attack, causing it to detonate before reaching its target, which in hindsight was probably a good thing.

Leet didn't even get to shout in surprise before the round detonated just in front of the tank, sending it ragdolling through the yard. Uber, already flat on the ground, bled off momentum like the power-enhanced pro he was.

I barely noticed them on my end because I'd used the momentum of that kick to twist in the air, leaping further into the sky and forcing the flock of micro-rockets behind me to course-correct yet again.

I didn't give them the time. In that slight moment when they hung in the air with minimal momentum, I struck. I flipped upside down and kicked behind me, pumping my flames as hot as they could go to generate more downward thrust. Then, swerving with acrobatic talent that'd make a gymnast weep with envy, I rammed my foot through first one then a dozen micro-rockets.

Cinderace were excellent kickers. That went without saying, but what sometimes went overlooked was just how much force they could withstand on their legs. The heat and pressure caused by their kicks were enough to injure even fully evolved dragons, a set of missiles made more for fidelity to a game than actual destructive power just couldn't compete.

The sky erupted in a staccato of explosions as I kickstarted (heh) a chain reaction. I winced briefly as some of the impacts landed on my body and not my legs, but I recovered and alighted proudly on the plaza fountain.

I immediately fell to one knee and pumped my fists. My sportsman spirit demanded no less. Showboating too was part of sportsmanship… probably…

I raised my arms into the air. "And the crowd goes wild!"

An aluminum can beaned me on the head. "Fucking arrest them, you idiot!" Amy yelled back.

I slumped dejectedly, my ears drooping around my face. "Yes, ma'am…"

After that thorough ass-kicking, making the arrest was a simple matter. Victoria had left Amy's side the moment the goons went down and had begun to fly them into a pile like the world's least enthusiastic sheep dog. Uber still had the laser, but he was too concerned with fishing Leet out of the tank to even think about fighting back.

I left them under Victoria's less than happy guard while Amy and I walked around to ensure no one was seriously hurt. There were a few scrapes but we fixed that up in a minute or two. By the time the cops arrived, the mall ended up looking like a photo-op more than anything.

Several minutes later, I bid them farewell and headed home. As enjoyable as hanging out with the girls had been, I had much to prepare for if I wanted to take down Coil. Just to be certain, I shifted into Kirlia and hopped around until I found his mental signature. He was in the PRT building having a meeting alongside four others.

I headed to the ferry station and contacted Dragon. She confirmed that I could make copies of her virus to hand out to the adult members of New Wave. I intended to sneak into Coil's base and acquire a map, or at least confirm the general layout and exit points. Then, all we'd need was psychic confirmation that Coil was indeed in-base before starting the raid.

I smiled. Slowly but surely, the noose was closing around his neck.

But for now, homework.

Author's Note

I've been writing a lot of Bunny lately. It kinda became this week's theme when I got distracted with an omake series.

Anyway, thanks to all my supporters and whatnot. You can find ~20 chapters of different content on my pat-re-on. You can also vote on what I work on next or occasionally vote towards story direction (though that's rare admittedly).

I also started a new story (yes, I have problems). It's a CYOA-based fic in Harry Potter. Probably the darkest intro I've ever written, but check it out if you like the fandom.