The Final Strike
rating: +18+x

They could hear the ear-shattering sounds of explosions and gunfire, as the men of the Front brought their forces to bear against the Chaos Insurgency for the second time that day.

Three men were already dead. Seven were wounded and being carried back on stretchers. The other nineteen were still going, running through the blasted corridor that they had been fighting back-and-forth in for six whole years.

On the other side, the heavy machine guns of the Chaos Insurgency let loose, trying its best to tear into the lines of their enemies.

The space between walls was enough to make sure that most weren’t caught in the rain of bullets, but it was still too narrow to allow for anything more than throwing people at the enemy.

A hundred feet behind the lines, two men talked. One was tall and portly, with shocking brown hair and a beard that emulated a lumberjack’s. He wore a denim shirt and big blue jeans, both of which were barely enough to secure his large frame.

Right beside him was a man whose greatest days were long past him- nearly fifty, his face was gaunt, drawn and already had the beginnings of wrinkles, while his cheekbones were as sharp as thorns, his body thin yet muscular, his eyes as cold a blue as a glacier. He wore grey military fatigues, same as any other soldier in the army, and had a cap that delineated his status as an officer. A bizarre looking horn hung from his belt.

“This is war, Robo.” Clef said, gesturing to the scene in front of him. “This has been my life for the last six years.”

Robo stood silently, watching the scene in front of him with the same detachment that he watched the slaughter of Greattown three years earlier.

“How…” Robo’s voice was flat, like all the energy in his body had been sapped from him. “How do you manage it all? This war?”

Clef chuckled. It was mirthless. Cold. “After all the other leaders died a year ago? I just throw more men at the enemy.” He crossed his arms. “Officers down the line do the dirty work. Supervising the use of equipment, ammunition, training…” He sighed. “Just the normal shit in your average war.”

“How do you do it?” Robo said. “How do you just… kill the enemy like they’re nothing but rats under yer feet? Have you never even talked?”

“Same way you fight off skips. You know one will kill the other when they get the chance, so you kill first. No talking.” Clef shrugged. “Same as anything.”

Ahead of them, the latest attack of the Front was routed, the remaining nine soldiers running back as more and more soldiers fired upon them. Another two fell.

Robo sighed. “And you want to throw me and Siggy into that?”

Clef nodded. He gestured to the vents above them. “It’s just one mission. You said you wanted to make up for what you did to Greattown?” He gestured again to the battlefield. “You said you wanted to get out? Well, the only way is through us. And we’re not letting you get by until you take us outside with you.”

“But Siggy…”

“Siggy is fourteen, and she’s had to grow up fast in a world like this. You have abilities that not even she can parallel, and that will come in useful later.”

“But… back in Greattown, you were about to kill us. How the hell can we work with you when you've done that?”

Clef smiled. There was no joy in it, but a hint of anger showed. “Something of a spur-of-the-moment decision. I let my emotions get the better of me.”

“We can’t just-“

“It’s your only option, you son of a bitch.” Clef said, gritting his teeth. All at once, his anger had come to the fore. He glared at Robo with the same burning hatred as he did three years ago. “Do you wanna get the fuck out, or not?”

Robo sighed.

”Fine. I'll do it.”

What passed for night had settled over the people of Floor 0. The offensives for the day done, many of the surviving soldiers and non-combatants had consigned themselves to resting and regrouping, speaking to each other about the tales of their exploits.

In spite of this, though, three-fourths of the other active soldiers (those who hadn’t fought in the events of that day) were sitting around the lines on standby, their guns in front of them. They knew the consequences of being caught off-guard in the night- and besides, they were waiting for the signal to begin.

The signal that would come from Clef, Robo, and Alina.

Right above them was a vent- just enough to fit everyone, especially Robo. As he looked up into it, it seemed to be narrow and claustrophobic, which was exactly what he hated.

He looked at Clef. “Do I really have to go first?”

Clef crossed his arms. “Perils of being the most powerful here, 2006. Get the hell up.”

“I mean…” He sighed. “You’ll be behind me, right?”

“Right behind you.” Alina confirmed, giving him a smile. “We need to keep an eye on you, after all.”

“…Fine,” Robo said. He turned to the ladder, placed his hand on it, then made ready to climb.

Then he stopped and looked back at the two beside him, who were waiting for him expectantly to head up.

“The hell are you waiting for?” Clef said, irritated. “Get the fuck up.”

“Are you sure Siggy will be safe when I’m on the other side?”

Clef breathed in, summoned all the patience he could muster, and started. “I-“

“Of course, she will.” Alina cut in. “She’s our ace in the hole. We’ll give the signal, and they’ll all come running.”

Robo looked at her with a worried look on his face. “It’s just that I’m…”

“Worried?” Clef said, completing his sentence for him. “Welcome to the fucking club. Now get up the ladder.”

Robo looked from him, then to Alina, looking for anything in their expressions.

“Go on,” Alina said encouragingly.

Robo looked at them for another moment.

Then he sighed again, and started to move up the ladder.

“About fucking time,” Clef said. He looked up. “Hey,” he continued, as Robo struggled up the ladder into the vent. “Make sure you make this one count. We only have one chance at this.”

“Yep,” Robo said offhandedly, disappearing into the vent above. They could hear him begin to crawl through the passage. “I’ll nail it, don’t worry.”

As Robo moved into the vent, Clef looked to Alina.

“Nearly-traitors first,” He said with a smile made through gritted teeth.

Alina looked back, and shot him a look full of daggers. “Get off my back, Clef.” She nodded to the ladder. “You go first.”

Sneering, Clef turned to the ladder, and began to move up in an agile manner. In a few moments, he disappeared into the vent after Robo.

Right after Clef, Alina started to move up the ladder, and soon emerged into the dark, stuffy and narrow way.

Robo was right at the front, crawling forward with all the speed he could muster. As he did, he began to talk in a low voice.

“So why the hell didn’t you people use this throughout your entire war anyways?” He asked. “It’s not as if vents are non-axistunt anywhere else. They could’ve used it as well, couldn’t they?”

“Well, for your first question, I was saving it,” Clef answered behind him. “Took all my clout to get the other leaders not to use it. And for your second, the CI don’t have a map of the vents. I’d assumed that they wouldn’t risk exploring it and alarming us.” He sighed. “For our part, if we failed in using the only vent across the lines and into the reality anchor, we’re back to throwing men across the battlefield.” He sighed.

“So you were saving it for me?” Robo said, shaking off spider webs that had ended up sticking to his face. “And what’s this about the reality anchor, again?”

Clef began to speak. “It’s so that we can get Siggy across the lines in no time-“

“Feel honored, he means.” Alina quipped sarcastically, shooting it at Clef. “He spent a lot on his plan to use you and Siggy. Six damn years.”

Clef sighed irritatedly. “I thought we were past petty insults, Wojcik. For your part, you could have told me personally that they were in the town.” He chuckled darkly. “But you didn’t.”

“Shut up, Clef.” Alina shot back. “It wasn’t on me.”

“Anything that happened to those people is on you.” Clef said with a bite of anger.

Hearing it, Robo sighed. “Shut up, you two. Now isn’t the time.”

A moment of silence passed.

“I apologize for my lack of professionalism.” Clef said earnestly. “I was carried away.”

Alina scoffed. “Professionalism,” She muttered.

Robo sighed again.

Ahead of them, the vent already seemed to be ending.

“Heads up, you two. We’re about to drop in.”

The light on the other side was bright- the product of electric lights run over six whole years. Being used to firelight, Robo wasn’t used to the sheer glare.

The more they neared, he also noticed a particular hum in the air, echoing throughout the entire vent.

“That’s the reality anchor,” Clef noted. “Take it out first chance you get.”

As they got closer, he felt himself shivering.

“Pre-mission fear, Robe?” Alina asked, concerned. “It’s always like that on your first rodeo. Don’t worry about it.”

Clef spoke up. “Remember what I said: Don’t hesitate, stay silent. Think of them as skips, 2006.”

Robo exhaled through gritted teeth. “I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

The light really was nearing now. Just a few more seconds and they’ll be there.

“Same old, same old?” A voice said, right below them.

They could hear the sound of a cigarette being lit. The smell of tobacco filled the vent.

“Yeah.” Another voice said. “Foundies don’t seem to be wanting to break through this time of night. We’re in the clear.”

“Imagine if they did, though? Fuckin’ ‘ell, Watson would be furious.”

“Who cares about Watson? Fucker’s cooped up in his pigsty right now.”

“Still, he’s the biggest dude here. Just keep your eyes peeled, that’s all.”

Behind Robo, Clef whispered back. “On your mark, 2006.”

Robo exhaled. An involuntary shiver shook him as he did.

“Take your time, Robo.” Alina said. “Take your time.”

Robo breathed in again, then crawled forward until he could see down. Below him, two men were standing around, with no sign of anyone near them.

I’m going to kill those people. Robo thought. I am going to kill those people, and-

“2006.” Clef urged. “Robo.”

Robo didn’t hear him. -and I’m going to destroy the reality anchor and-

Alina shook him, rousing him to reality. “Go ahead when you can. We’ll be right behind you.”

Robo shook his head to get himself back in the game, then gulped.

"Ready or not,” He began.

“Here we come.”

With one coordinated movement, he unlatched the vent opening, moved himself through, and dropped to the floor on his belly with a soft thud, softening his body to ease the impact.

The other two men immediately noticed him. One looked at Robo with a sense of muted surprise. “Foundies.“ He said, immediately going for the pistol at his side. “You’re Foundies.”

Robo immediately panicked, swinging a punch at the soldier, who dodged it in the nick of time.

As he did, he raised his gun at Robo, getting ready to shoot. The soldier started to scream. “Foun-“

In the nick of time, Clef dropped from above, slicing the man’s throat with brutal efficiency and splattering Robo with his blood. He could taste it in his mouth, strong and metallic.

Right next to him, the other soldier began to shout. “There’s-“

Sparing not a moment of hesitation, Clef leaped, and, with a practiced motion, swung his sword and decapitated the man, silencing him. At that, the man's body fell to the ground, his head lying a few steps away.

“Professional.” Alina said as she dropped in from the vent, landing on her feet in a practiced manner, her legs absorbing the impact silently in a way that wasn’t dissimilar to a cat.

She looked behind her and in front of her, nothing that no one else seemed to have noticed their entrance.

“Clear,” She said.

Clef looked at Robo, wiping the blade off of his sword. “Fucking hell.” He sighed. “We got lucky. Now we have to hurry.”

He turned to leave, and Alina almost followed, before realizing that they were missing their important asset.

She turned around, and found Robo standing over the dead body of the man he failed to kill, frozen.

Alina approached him. Behind her, Clef stopped as well.

“What’s the matter, Robe?” Alina said. “You alright?”

Robo’s expression had the same look in his eyes as a deer in headlights. His ears were ringing, though he didn’t know why.

Alina grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him over to look into his eyes.

“Hey. Robo.”

Robo looked up. “W-what?”

“Shape up.” Alina sighed. “It doesn’t matter now, we-“

“-don’t have time.” Clef urgently said, looking in front of them. Throughout the long corridor, he could already hear the sounds of people being roused from their sleep.

He listened for the hum, low and alien. It was to his right. He walked a few feet in that direction, and came to a large metal door. A broken keypad was on one side, and on the door was a large, badly-welded handle. He looked back at them. "Come on," He urged.

Alina looked at Clef. “Have you found the anchor?”

Clef gritted his teeth as he put his hands on the handle and began to pull. “Not yet.” He said as he pulled. “But it’s on the other side of this door.”

Then, they heard the sound of a gunshot.

In one single moment, Robo felt a sharp pain on his face as a bullet grazed his cheek and buried itself in the wall.

Alina’s eyes widened, and as she looked behind her, she saw a barely-dressed Insurgency soldier with a rifle in his hand, his body shaking.

She looked to her left. He had come from one of the closest rooms in the long corridor in front of them.

She gritted her teeth, and raised her pistol.

Before the soldier can react, she fired, her pinpoint aim hitting him in the belly. With a grunt, the soldier fell to the ground, his eyes wide as he began to die.

“Son of a bitch!” Alina swore. “Clef, we got company!”

“I know!” Clef said, pulling at the door. “Buy me some fucking time!”

Alina turned to Robo. “Get to fucking cover. Now.”

At that moment, Robo was summoned back to reality. Surging forward, he ran to the back of one of the storage crates in front of them.

Alina looked in the direction of Clef and the long corridor, and saw that multiple doors were already beginning to open to the other rooms.

She looked around, putting her mind to work.

There’s cover. Storage crates. Robo's behind one now. Large columns flanking the anchor room. Clef is decently sheltered by the doorway.

She looked to her left.

A door that’s opening. Shit, I’ll be flanked if I try to go in front of Clef.

At that, the door immediately opened, and out came another soldier dressed for bed, running out with a pistol in his hands.

Immediately running for cover against one of the columns that were set farther back, Alina let off two shots with her pistol, sending the soldier back in.

“Fuck, Clef! I think they turned this place into living quarters!” Alina shouted as she clung to the column.

“No shit!” Clef shouted, as he pulled. The veins in his head seemed to pop out from his skin with the effort. “Buy me some fucking time!”

Alina looked at Robo, who was trying to stick to cover. "What the hell can you do? Help us the fuck out!” She shouted.

Robo's eyes widened as he looked behind them. "Alina, behind us-"

Alina turned to their rear, where the large doorway to the Front sat. Robo was right- behind them, dozens of soldiers were rushing to investigate, guns in hand.

She immediately pointed to the panel to her right. “Close the damn doors, Robo! Now!”

The soldier with the pistol popped off two more shots, taking pieces from the column that Alina hid behind. She flinched as the bullets hit.

As the soldiers began to approach, Robo looked towards where Alina pointed. There was a panel on the wall next to the doorway, where two buttons stuck out- one that said “OPEN”, and the other that said “CLOSE”.

At that, Robo sprung into action. He dashed the short distance between the area below the entrance of the vent towards the panel, pushing against the “CLOSE” button with all his might.

Immediately, the large door that encompassed the entire hallway began to close, and at that the soldiers on the other side shouted in alarm and began to run even faster.

“Fucking hell!” Alina exclaimed as she let off another shot at the soldier opposite her. “Robo, haul ass and take the CI out!”

He looked at her. “Take him out?”

“Yes, like you did the 939s!” Clef shouted. Already, the door was beginning to crack open. “Block the bullets, take out the bastard!”

He looked at the rapidly closing door and the soldier who was desperately embroiled in the fight with Alina. There was enough time to close the gap, but if-

Several more shots fired against the column, and as Alina tried to take a glimpse behind cover, she was able to count at least five more combatants emerging from the living quarters. Emerging out the other side, she fired off another round, sending them to their nearest places of cover.

There wasn’t enough time. Robo began to run to the column that Alina hid behind, throwing himself beside her as more soldiers started to emerge from their rooms. He turned to Alina. “What are you scared of?!”

Alina looked at him askance. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Just to her left, Clef was making good progress on the door. “ANSWER THE FUCKING QUESTION, WOJCIK!” He said. As he pulled, a bullet landed near him, nearly hitting his arm. “WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FUCKING TIME!”

Alina looked at Robo, then gritted her teeth. “A… a…”

“Just fucking tell me!” Robo said. “What the hell are you afraid of?”

At that, Alina blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Bears! Metal teddy bears made out of rusted metal!”

Robo was already gone, dashing out of cover.

“Robo?!” Alina shouted.

Then, suddenly, from behind her, she heard a thunderous roar, one that she hadn’t heard in three years.

She leaned out from cover, and found something that terrified her with awe and fear.

Where Robo was, there now stood a twelve foot tall monstrosity- a teddy bear made out of rusted metal, its arms large jagged blades that resembled saws more than knives. Its head was sharp and pointed, its face barely recognizable as a bear.

“A skip!” The soldiers were shouting, pointing at Robo. “A skip!”

Then, Robo took a thundering step, running towards them at full speed with its arm-blades held low to the ground. All the soldiers jumped out of the way, allowing Alina to take pot shots at them that hit some of their intended targets.

Looking behind her, the door to the battlefield finally closed, but as she started to sigh in relief, it began to open again- no doubt from the other side.

“Robo, we have-“

“YES!” Clef shouted in triumphant relief. At that moment, the door to the anchor room gave way. Sparing no time, Clef dashed inside.

The reality anchor was absolutely large, a great thing that seemed to stretch up by about 20 feet. It was a large crimson spike that seemed to jut out from a rectangular base, releasing a hum that seemed to echo throughout the hallway. Knowing from basic training where the off button was, he immediately dashed around the side and pressed the button on the panel.

At once, the hum turned off, and the lights flickered with the loss of the anchoring effect the device had on its surroundings.

Then, Clef took the horn from his side and blew into it.

It was a long, mournful noise, something that equaled the Reality Anchor’s hum in its loudness.

It was the signal.

As the large door to the Front began to open, they heard a boom, far off in the distance.

Then, suddenly, the world around them began to shorten, stretching this way and that like a rubber band as a large green light manifested right outside the door.

The moment after that, the door gave way with a mighty BOOM!, vaporizing all the soldiers on the other side in an instant.

As the ash settled, Alina’s eyes beheld the figure before her in all her glory.

In place of the glowing ball that she’d seen at Greattown, the witch seemed to glow with a great and searing light, outshining everything like a miniature green sun. Her eyes seemed to be conduits of fire, bursting with light like she had never seen it before. All around her, the flames pulsed and flared, like a wild forest fire blazing out of control.

“I’m sorry, I’m late.” She said in an apprehensive voice. She seemed sadder than usual, sedated. Sorrow colored her eyes, even as they glowed with power.

Siggy had arrived.

Lana’s tent seemed to be fully occupied with the addition of two more people and a table, as Clef stretched the blueprints of Floor 0 on it.

He indicated a point. “Here’s where we are,” He said, then dragged his finger across the map, passing a long corridor which opened up into a large room that was home to another winding hallway with sizable storage rooms on either side. He tapped the large room. “And that’s where we need to be. Alina, Robo, and I will shut off the reality anchor that is somewhere in this room,” He circled it with his finger. “And when that’s done, Siggy will go and wreak havoc.” He slid his finger past the hallway, then stopped it once it came to a large entrance that opened at its mouth. “After that, we get the hell out of here.”

Alina chuckled sarcastically. “Thought this out, haven’t you, Clef?”

Clef stared daggers back at her. “Yes, I have. I have had six years to refine my plan, why?”

Lana coughed. “Now, please, you two. Don’t fight-“

Alina crossed her arms. “No, it’s alright, Trondeheim.” She smiled in the fakest way possible, then gestured for him to go on.

Clef cleared his throat, then continued. "We'll need to be quiet, but-"

“But wait,” Siggy said, raising her hand. “I can’t do my magic. I can’t use my powers.“

Robo sighed. “Under normal circumstances, you can’t.”

Siggy looked at him. “Don’t tell me you’re-“

“But these are not normal circumstances,” Robo said. “Your power is dangerous, Siggy. You're too powerful for your own good. I don’t know if I can trust you with it.”

“But Robo-“

Robo put his hands in his pockets. “Can I trust you with it?”

Siggy stared at him, mulling over everything that had been said in her mind. “I…”

She bit her lip. Her eyes seemed to plead with him. Please, She seemed to say. Please.

“The last time she used her powers, she fucking killed my friends and my dad.” Chancey cut in. “What guarantee do you have that she’ll be all safe and shit when the worse comes to worst?”

Siggy looked at Chancey. “I know more now-“

“Bullshit. You don’t know what the hell you’re fucking doing.”

Siggy’s gaze turned to Robo, her eyes pitiful and sad. “I… I can try to harness it.”

Clef looked at her. “Yes, you can.” He said in a solemn voice. “But can you guarantee that you won’t go out of control again?”

“Yes, of course!” Siggy shouted. “I can do whatever you need me to, no problem. I no longer need spells, or anything, I just need your go-ahead!” Her gaze remained fixed on Robo.

“Robo, will you let me…?”

Robo looked at her as he considered it, staring at Siggy with a surveying look.

Then, he sighed.

“Fine.” Robo said. “But you have to promise me you won’t kill anyone…" He breathed. "…without good reason. Promise me you won’t get out of control.”

Siggy nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes, of course!”

“Then you can use your magic.” He put up a pointer finger. “Just this once.”

Siggy rushed to him, arms wrapped around his big belly. “Thank you so much! I’ll make sure you won’t regret it!”

He placed a hand on her head. “Make sure you do that, a’ight?”

Siggy nodded again. “Of course, Robo. Of course.”

Behind Siggy, the great sound of a hundred boots thundered down the hallway, a sign of the impending arrival of the rest of the soldiers from the Front.

Her job done, Siggy descended to the floor, the flames around her flickering out.

Soon, she was back to just being Siggy, blonde hair cascading past her shoulders, her grey-green eyes looking up.

In front of her, Robo was shrinking as well, turning back into his normal monkey form. All around him, the defeated Chaos Insurgency soldiers emerged from their rooms and arrayed themselves out in the hall, placing their hands up, scared about what the Foundation would do to them.

"Don't move," Alina said in a warning tone, raising her gun at the shuffling insurgents.

“Please, spare us!” The one who came out second shouted. He was an emaciated man, no more than 30 years of age. He threw away his pistol, putting his hands over his head. “We just wanna live. We didn’t know you had skips on your side. Please, let us live!”

Robo looked to Clef, silently plying him for their course of action.

Clef walked to the insurgent, his bloody sword reappearing in his hand. He looked down at him. “What’s your name?”

The soldier looked up at him. “Schofield, Sir. Jerry Schofield.”

Clef gestured with his sword. “Schofield. Can you tell us where your leader is?”

“I- I don’t know, Sir. Commander Watson, he-“

“I’m here.” A voice said, echoing from down the hall.

Clef turned his head to the source of the voice.

Coming from the end of the hallway and from the furthest room, a man walked out, his arms up in the air. For a Chaos Insurgent, he was barely dressed, same as all his other soldiers. A scraggly shirt and jeans covered him, but even those were covered in holes. In his hand, he only held a pistol, which he threw away as he walked towards them.

Schofield seemed alarmed. “Commander Wats-“

“You’re Commander Watson?” Clef narrowed his eyes. “I expected someone more…”

“Impressive?” The Commander laughed. “We’re the Chaos Insurgency. We haven’t been impressive for a long damn while.”

Clef found himself involuntarily scoffing. “What the hell?” He muttered. “What have you been doing up here for all this time?”

“Right now?” Watson said. “Surviving. We barely made it inside.”

Clef stood in silence.

Then he laughed- a baying, ridiculing laughter that dominated the entire room.

He stopped after a few moments, then he looked at Watson, an incredulous smile on his face.

“Do you expect me to believe that?” Clef said, chuckling again. “You fuckers gave us hell for six years and you… you’re dressed up in ratty shirts and call yourself the Commander?”

Watson spared a few chuckles at himself, too. “Weapons were all we had. That, and a desire to live.” He looked crestfallen. “Why the hell are you so surprised?”

Clef took a step towards Watson, then another. “Because I expected more, for fuck’s sake.” His voice betrayed his desperation.

“We’re nothing more than a group wanting to live.” Watson said, hands still in the air. He was about a dozen feet from Clef, now. “We stopped being part of the Insurgency a long time ago.”

“But what the hell are you trying to survive?” Clef said. “Why the fuck hasn’t the Foundation stopped you?”

Watson came to a stop, then sighed. “You really don’t know?”

Clef chuckled again, stopping in front of Watson. He seemed to be at his wit’s end. “Don’t know what?

Watson looked at his men, all standing up with their arms in the air in the same ratty clothes that he wore, and he sighed.

Clef was shouting now. “DON’T KNOW WHAT?!

All around them, the kneeling insurgents began to stand, but were sent back down with a gesture from Watson as he looked up at Clef.

In front of him, Siggy, Robo, and Alina were already beginning to gather behind Clef.

Siggy felt a sinking feeling in her chest.

Robo had much the same.

“Clef…” Alina said. She already put it together.

Maddened, Clef began rushing to Watson, his sword up in the air in preparation to strike. Watson immediately shrunk away, and all around him his men’s eyes widened.

“FUCKING… TELL ME!” Clef shouted, her expression on the very verge of madness. “TELL ME NOW, OR YOU FUCKING DIE!

Watson looked up at him.

And then he said those fateful words.

“The world…” He breathed in. “The world has ended.”

Clef just stared at him, his composure gone, his jaw open.

Siggy just watched on, sadly, her heart falling.

Robo shook his head in disbelief.

Alina bit her lip.

“There’s nothing waiting for you outside.” Watson continued.

Another moment passed as Clef looked down at him, sword in the air, eyes large with shock.

Then, at that moment, Alto Clef broke.

He screamed into the air, then brought the sword down on Watson, cleaving into his shoulder and killing him instantly.

The soldiers all around them gasped and screamed, but nothing stopped Clef. They stayed in their places, helpless as he pulled the sword from their Commander’s body, an arc of blood twisting in the air. Then, he brought it down again, decapitating the man's body with a clean strike, before returning with another swing as he struck the body in the torso, splattering him with even more blood.

"No…" Schofield said, his eyes wide open. "No!"

He ran forward on all fours, not thinking about the consequences.

Without even looking in his direction, Clef let his sword fall again, bringing it down on the soldier's back with a clean schlick!

Schofield was dead before he even hit the floor.

Then, in that moment, the soldiers from behind them finally arrived, guns up in the air in front of them.

Chancey was in the front, his eyes wide-open, bearing witness to the scene.

Clef turned around. A maddened expression was on his face as he walked towards them.

Siggy, Alina, and Robo watched him move past as he came to address the soldiers.

Each of them in the front ranks shared much the same reaction as Chancey- surprise, shock, fear.

And in many of their eyes, there existed disillusionment. Grief. An impending dread of futility.

Chancey was the first to speak. “What… what did he say?”

Clef’s eyes were vacant. Still. Blood was splattered on much of his face. He looked not an inch of the composed killer that he was, but more the maddened and disillusioned butcher that he had turned now into.

He spoke through blood-covered lips.

“The world outside… has ended.

All at once, a great silence settled over everything, as the onlooking soldiers processed the information they were given.

Clef shouted it, even louder. Madness infected his voice.



A moment passed.



Clef looked at each soldier in turn- then, throwing his head back, he began to laugh.

It was a crazed laugh, the final dying sound of a man who just found out his efforts were futile and wasted, the first birth cry of a broken mind.


The soldiers looked on in horror at what was happening to their leader, their eyes focused only on Clef.

Clef laughed even harder.

And harder.

And harder.

”AHAHAHAHAHAH! AHAHAHAHAHA!” Clef continued to laugh- mournfully, maniacally, maddeningly. It was as if he didn’t know what to do except laugh.

Siggy was the first to move forward from the trio behind him, stretching her hand out to touch Clef.

“Clef?” Siggy said, her voice returning once again to the childlike innocence that she possessed the first time they’d met. “Please stop laughing, please…”


Then, terrifyingly, as Siggy’s hand touched him, Clef stopped.

His head turned to her, his blue eyes wide open with madness, his lips drawn up in a wide smile.

Then it all vanished in one moment, as the cold glare of Alto Clef returned.

He spoke. His voice was hoarse and cold.

“I have no more use for you anymore.”

Siggy's eyes widened. "What?"

Then, with a movement that seemed nearly superhuman in its speed, he swung his sword at Siggy.

In that instant, her survival instincts kicked in.

She tried to jump back to avoid the blade, but she was too late- it struck the surface of her chest, tearing a gash through the front of her torso.

Siggy immediately fell to the floor, coming to a stop at Robo's feet.

"S-siggy?" Robo said.

The girl gave no answer. Her mouth was open, her eyes wide, her chest lifting almost imperceptibly as she tried to breathe. Before his eyes, the exposed flesh on her chest attempted to tie themselves together, but would immediately shy away as soon as they crossed the place where the blade had touched.

Alarmed, Alina rushed to Siggy's side as well, taking her hand. "Siggy?" She said. "Siggy?!"

"I…" Siggy rasped, barely able to speak. "I… can't… heal…"

Clef’s smile returned as he brought his sword back to his side, blood dripping on the ground. it was humming audibly now. He turned to the three in front of him, and smiled even wider. Nothing except insanity was present in his eyes.

“And now, all the loose ends will be tied up.”

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