By Geoffrey J. Smith 12/03/12 12/31/12 Updated: 01/05/13
Port Haberson, United States
Rumbling like the roars of a beast, that's what the wind sounded to Jeanne as it rushed past her ears. Jeanne didn't remember the wind being so loud when she used to run through the fields of her father's farmstead; but then again, she had never run across the rooftops of three to five story building before, either.
As she leaped across rooftops, Jeanne tried her best not to remember her past. She had quite a few good memories, but she also had a fair share of bad ones, and it's often difficult to separate the two. Even now Jeanne's thoughts were drifting back to her old life, her friends, her family. The soldiers who fought by her side, the warriors who served her foes. The walls of the cell she spent seemingly endless months, the accusing faces of the so called holy men who accused her of heresy and witchcraft. And the pyre, that infernal pyre, where she spent her last moments, the immeasurable agony as the fire burned her flesh. Her screams echoing across the crowded courtyard, her voices screaming too, screaming for her to Look UP!!!
Jeanne snapped out of her remembrance a second too late as her right foot went over the edge of the roof she was about to leap from. The next thing Jeanne knew, she was hurtling headfirst towards a fire escape. Jeanne instinctively flipped midair, trying to catch the railing to stop her fall. Unfortunately she ended up smashing back first into the said railing, actually bending it inwards, ricocheting off of the fire escape before landing in the middle of an open dumpster, three stories down.
Contrary to the movies, falling into a garbage dumpster is not as soft a landing as most people think. Jeanne moaned as she clutched the back of her head, which had apparently smashed into some sort of vase. Gripping the outside edges of the dumpster, Jeanne arched her back, snapping her dislocated spine back into place. Once the feeling returned to her legs, she pulled herself free of an old mattress whose springs had gotten a hold of her cloak.
You see, Jeanne isn't your average five ft. three teenager: she is actually more well known in these parts as Joan of Arc. Six hundred years ago, she was born a simple peasant girl, unable to even write her own name. But when she heard the voices of three angelic beings, Jeanne took up the armor of a knight, and lead her fellow French men into battle. But eventually her divine luck gave out, and she was captured by the enemy before being branded a heretic and burned alive by the very order she had devoted her life to.
And now, centuries later, she was here, thousands of miles from her homeland, brushing rotten lettuce and other debris she'd rather not think about from her ragged clothes. Her appearance had changed quite a bit since the fifteenth century. Jeanne's entire body was now encased in a white armor, which fitted perfectly around her slim physique. Jeanne's hair was cut short just below her jaw line, starting pale white at the scalp and darkening to jet black at the spiky tips. Even her face wasn't real, but an eerily lifelike mask, fused into the ragged black and red flesh concealed beneath her armor plates. The one thing not covered in armor were her eyes, large and bright blue. A prominent blue crucifix rested on her forehead, terminating in a blue streak which rested on the bridge of the nose and under both eyes.
The rest of her body was concealed by the worn jeans and grey sweater she was wearing under her cloak, although unfortunately her clothes were pretty much ready to fall apart after a two week walk through the desert she had passed through on her way here; ripping herself free of the bed springs didn't help much either. Jeanne sighed, looked up, and then leapt upward, leaping back and forth between the sides of the two buildings until she caught the edge of the roof she had originally tried to leap to before she got caught up in her memories. Jeanne pulled herself over the lip of the roof and stood straight, looking over the rooftops to her intended destination. Off in the distance there were a pair of short cliffs jutting out of the ocean; Jeanne knew there was a city on the other side, and that she was needed there, although she still wasn't sure why.
Jeanne still had one problem... how was she going to get across almost two hundred miles of salt water? Her question was quickly answered by the sound of a horn rumbling from across the ocean. Jeanne could see a large, white vessel surging slowly through the water, making its return from between the two facing cliffs. Jeanne figured that it would arrive at the port's harbor in about an hour. In the meantime, Jeanne decided to go looking for some new clothes, she had some money that she had earned from several odd jobs she had done for people she had met on her journey... the rest of the money Jeanne had liberated from several would be muggers she had also met along the way. The world may appear so different compared to the one she once lived in, but deep down the world hadn't changed much.
Now she just had to find a nice little thrift store that wasn't too crowded... Jeanne didn't much appreciate the way people looked at her, the way they stared at her mask, like she was some sort of alien or freak.
Fifty minutes later...
Jeanne hurried through the crowd of pedestrians bustling along the street, keeping her head low. Her cloak was gone, now replaced with a light coat, its hood pulled over her wild mop of hair. Because of her small size the coat looked abnormally large, but was still less conspicuous then the shredded cloak Jeanne had been wearing. Jeanne had a new pair of baggy jeans... well, a newer pair to be more exact. The sweater was gone, replaced by a blue t-shirt, which ironically enough had a large, stylized white cross stitched to its front; the cashier had gotten quite a kick out of Jeanne's excited reaction upon discovering this little treasure. Her knee high work boots hadn't fallen apart yet, despite the constant travel, and the jeans covered most of the wear and tear, so Jeanne decided not to replace them. She was out of money anyways.
Keeping her head low, Jeanne pushed past a pair of arguing business men. The people in front of her had stopped, and Jeanne squeezed between them until she had reached the street intersection. Cars were passing by, a flow of metal colored in contrasting shades of silvers, blacks, blues, and even a couple reds and at least one garish yellow convertible. Jeanne had learned the hard way that walking out along these intersections when everyone else was standing on the corners was a pretty bad idea; one moment she was walking out on what appeared to be an empty street, then out of nowhere a blue truck had smashed into her, sending the ninety three pound girl flying through the air. Jeanne had quickly recovered and vanished from the scene, but she still had a head ache for a week after that little fiasco. It reminded her a little of the time she took a rock to the helmet while scaling a castle wall...
Jeanne shook her head, snapping herself back into reality. Everyone was walking past her, as apparently the sign on the other side of the street had given the walk signal. It was one of those lights which only had words on it, which did Jeanne no good since she couldn't read! Jeanne hurried to catch up with the crowd, skipping up onto the raised concrete of the street just as the walk sign changed, and cars began driving across the intersection.
Jeanne looked around, searching for the path that she needed to take in order to reach her destination. Her path became clear when she once again heard the rumbling horn emitted by the ferry, off to her left. Jeanne turned and rushed along the sidewalk, the smell of saltwater and the calls of seagulls confirming that she was heading the right way. Finally she rounded the corner of a building and saw it; a large stretch of pavement with lines of cars idling beside a couple of booths. The road lead to a large, white vessel, well over four stories in height. It almost looked like a strange building to Jeanne, the way it sat evenly upon the water, barely shifting with the waves as they splashed against the dock. A large ramp, not unlike a metal plank, was lying open, and more cars were slowly driving out into the port streets.
Now Jeanne had another problem; she had spent all of her money buying herself new clothes. She could see the drivers giving money to the people in the booths, so obviously the ride wasn't for free. Jeanne didn't have a car either, but she then spotted a raised walkway that ascended up to the ferry's third level. There was a booth at the walkway's entrance, so Jeanne was still faced with the same problem. Jeanne knew she wouldn't like what she was about to do, but it was obvious she had no other choice. Jeanne snuck over to the other side of the toll booth, dangerously close to the water's edge. Jeanne then crouched and leapt up almost two stories, grabbing the edge of the enclosed walkway's roof. She quickly pulled herself up before anyone saw her, other than a young girl holding her mother's hand, who pointed at Jeanne. By the time the girl's mother had looked in the direction her daughter was pointing, Jeanne had sprinted along the top of the enclosed walkway, leaping onto the fourth floor and rolling behind a row of outdoor seats before some ferry workmen checking the life rafts could spot her.
Jeanne then stood up, looking around to make sure the workers were out of sight, before walking out onto the top deck facing the port. The line of waiting cars were now funneling slowly into the open doorway. Once the last car had crossed the metal pad it slowly retracted, as the ferry's staff set up the safety lines designed to prevent any cars from rolling through the front and rear openings. The horn rung out once again, as Jeanne heard the engines start up and felt the propellers as they spun through the water beneath the ferry, pushing the large vessel forward on its hour long journey between the two small peaks that stood between Jeanne and her next destination.
Once again the wind rumbled past her ears, Jeanne's hair whipping about wildly as she pulled her hood down. Jeanne began to slowly walk forward along the deck rail, the wind buffeting her has she slid her delicate, cybernetic hand along the cold metal rail. Jeanne looked down, watching the waves crash against the side of the ferry as it tore through the water. She then slowly looked up, observing the port town of Haberson, now shrinking in the distance. Jeanne looked past the shores of the tiny peninsula, out to the open sea, a long stretch of blue as far as the eye could see.
Jeanne had only seen the ocean once in her short life, and she had been a prisoner on that occasion, which had made it hard for Jeanne to enjoy the view back then. Jeanne had finally reached the front of the ferry, and crossed her arms over the rail, leaning forward as she studied the two cliffs standing at each side of the mile wide pass, like two great stone horns rising from beneath the surf. Jeanne's thoughts were interrupted by a loud clicking sound to her left. She looked around, and saw a couple standing on the other side of the deck, taking pictures of the incoming scenery. Jeanne smiled, then turned to the door behind her, which lead to the ferry's fourth floor lobby.
The interior of the ferry was snug, enough room to move around while still able to fit seating and tables for the passengers. There were several interior walls which filled the otherwise open space at the floors center, with both stairs and elevators which provided access to the floors below the fourth. As Jeanne wandered past an interior wall, she saw that there were large, angled boxes standing at the corners. Some were obviously vending machines, while a few appeared to be some sort of arcade systems. Four youths stood huddled around one of these arcades, cheering on a fifth as he struggled with the steering wheel which controlled a small digital car as it raced across a pixalized track. Jeanne really didn't understand why so many people were so fascinated by these video games, why they preferred spending their time in a computerized fantasy.
Jeanne quickly saw one positive benefit of these games, however, as the boy at the arcade controls suddenly lost control of his car, the vehicle on the screen spinning uncontrollably into the track's border, disappearing in an exaggerated fireball. The others watching the now humiliated player laughed, then one of them pushed the losing player aside, stuffing a coin eagerly into the machine before taking the wheel. "Men," Jeanne muttered to herself in amusement, as she opened another door which lead down the third floor staircase.
Jeanne entered the third lobby, closing the door behind her as she walked into a room very similar to the she had left. The interior layout was almost identical, but instead of having a forward interior deck it had an open galley, with close to a dozen patrons eating and talking happily in their leather seats set alongside the windows on the sides of the ferry. There were no arcades sitting in the corners of the walls, instead there were several glass cases containing numerous artifacts and old trinkets.
Jeanne walked by several cases, admiring the collected pieces of art. Some of these objects were older than even her, tributes to a culture very different from the one she was born in. Then she saw it;
a mask... a mask carved from wood, shaped in the visage of a hideous demon, its mouth yawning open in a perpetual scream of hellish rage. The eyes stared straight ahead, the irises painted a bright shade of blood red. The "flesh" of the face was muddy brown in color, with two rows of black horns rising from the crown of its head.
Jeanne stood in front of the glass case, staring into the demonic mask's hateful glare. She could feel something, some sort of energy emanating from the mask, much more so than any of the other artifacts scattered around the room. And this energy was also familiar to Jeanne, for it had been this same energy that had fueled the anger of the English, who had so despised her for what she had done, for what she had stood for all those centuries ago...
When she looked at this mask, all Jeanne saw was the mindless rage and paranoia that had convince those who fought against her that she was a witch, a heretic who deserved nothing but hatred and contempt. Jeanne unconsciously reached up to her own mask, running her fingers over her cheek, remembering... she had been a pretty girl, not a vision of beauty, but still quite attractive for a simple peasant girl born and raised on a farm. But that beauty was gone now, her ragged, dead skin concealed under the smooth white mask that sat upon her face, so organic and light that it perfectly mimicked her expressions as though it was real. Many would consider her blessed, but to Jeanne, this mask was nothing but a mockery of her true face, a constant reminder of what her fellow man had taken from her...
"It's called the A-Mi-Kuk." Jeanne jumped, having once again become engulfed in her own memories, so much so that she hadn't seen the young Native American man as he walked up to her. "Sorry, didn't realize you were so deep in thought," he apologized, grinning in amusement at Jeanne who had her back against the opposite wall, her hand pressed over her rapidly beating heart.
The man who had surprised Jeanne was tall and handsome, his black hair tied into a long pony tail. He wore dark jeans and a tan jacket, his arms exposed and an odd looking necklace which appeared to be made of various animal claws, teeth and feathers. "The name's David, David Stardancer," he said, offering a hand for Jeanne to shake, which she did with little hesitation. "Stardancer?" Jeanne asked with a raised eyebrow. "It's an old family name, passed down for generations. And your name...?" David inquired. "Jeanne d'Arc." "d'Arc?" "Yes, an old family name which often changed depending on who used it." Jeanne responded cheekily.
They both laughed and made their way to a pair of empty seats set with a table beside one of the windows. "So, what brings you to the Tohamic?" "Tohamic?" Jeanne asked, confused. "The ferry. Its name is the Tohamic." David responded. "Oh!" Jeanne exclaimed. Jeanne knew that one of these days her inability to read was going to get her into trouble, but Jeanne just didn't have the time to stop and learn. The world was so unpredictable, it was taking every bit of her ingenuity just to keep up.
"So, you're here for...?" Jeanne realized she'd drifted off again, staring out at the craggy sides of the pass that the Tohamic ferry had now entered.
"I have business in the city," she replied hastily. "In Seaview? You do know that the city's going to be a mad house during the holidays." David said. "Why?" "Because... where're you from, Mars?!? Everybody's out buying gifts for their families while the prices are still good. The only time that's worst to go into Seaview is during the after Christmas sales."
It was that time of year? Jeanne hadn't realized what time of year it was; she had at least expected there to be snow or something. "I haven't been able to keep track of the season, but should there not be snow at this time of year?" "It's the Northwest, we don't get snow until late February."David answered, slightly confused by Jeanne's contradicting use and lack of use of contractions. "So if it is such a bad time to go to the city, why are you going?" Jeanne inquired. "Because my girlfriend lives in Seaview, and I promised to spend this Christmas at her place."David responded, leaning back into his leather seat, the look on his face showing that he wasn't completely happy about this arrangement.
"So, if you two are friends, why do you live so far apart?" "Well, we're a little more than friends," David explained, realizing that Jeanne may not have totally grasped the meaning of the world girlfriend. "You see, basically she wanted to move to the city because she wants to become an professional artist, and there are some really good art studios in Seaview that would be willing to sell her work. I couldn't leave home because of my responsibilities to my family, so we agreed to take turns spending the holidays at each other's homes..."
Jeanne knew that the conversation was heading in a direction that David wasn't comfortable about, so she chose to change the subject. "That mask, you called it the... what was it again?" "The A-Mi-Kuk." David answered, happy to discuss something else. "It's a demon from Native American folklore. The A-Mi-Kuk was a vicious beast, described as looking like an orca whale, but with four human arms instead of flippers. It would pursue its victims anywhere, through the water, across the land, even burrowing below the earth to reach its next meal."
David described this tale as though he knew it by heart, as though he had heard it a hundred times before, yet he retold it with the energy of someone who had just heard the story for the first time. "If this A-Mi-Kuk was so terrible, why would someone create a likeness of it?" Jeanne asked, turning in her seat to look across the room to the case, the demonic mask glaring through the glass. "Normally no one would have, but there were a lot of individual tribes back then, and they often fought against each other. The chief of one tribe, a man who called himself Raging Flame, decided to carve a mask in the image of the terrible A-Mi-Kuk. It was said that when he put the mask on, Raging Flame became all but invincible on the battlefield. He proceeded to devastate one village after the other, until a heroic skinwalker united the other tribes and defeated him." "Skinwalker?" "A shaman, a person who could commune with the nature, and summon the spirits of animals to fight beside him."
David paused, noticing Jeanne's disapproving look. "I take it that you're not a fan of Native American legend, are you?" David suggested, pointing at the cross etched onto Jeanne's forehead. Jeanne shook her head, then said "Where I came from, talk like that was considered blasphemy. But then again, I have also seen what happens when people try to hold onto an established belief too hard." There was a trace of disgust in Jeanne's voice as she finished her statement, her right hand compulsively stroking the exposed flesh between her mask and the plates on her neck.
Before either Jeanne or David could continue their conversation, the rumble of the Tohamic's engines became louder as it suddenly made a hard left. Jeanne could feel the change in momentum, and braced herself. She looked around, and saw that everyone one else had simply moved with the flow: clearly most of the passengers, including David, had ridden this ferry often enough to expect the sudden turn. "We're going through a tight spot in the pass. We get pretty close to the right side. Don't worry, the ferry's never crashed into the side of the cliff." David reassured the tense Jeanne.
But as he looked from the window to Jeanne, he saw something. He looked back to the window, leaning against the table to get a better look at what he saw. It looked like a black cord, just hanging down the cliff side. As the ferry moved forward, David saw more cords hanging at intervals from the first. "Okay... that's weird. Those look like ropes for repelling down a cliff." David said as he pointed out the cords to Jeanne. "Who would be crazy enough to try repelling down into the water?" "They're not repelling into the water." Jeanne stated, getting out of her seat. And when David looked back at Jeanne, he saw that her eyes and cross were both glowing bright blue. "They're repelling here." "Onto the ferry?!" David said incredulously as he straightened up.
Jeanne pointed to the windows. David looked to where she was pointing. The cables hanging down the cliff side were moving, whipping slightly back and forth slightly... as though something was going down the ropes. Jeanne turned from the windows, marching to the nearest door leading upstairs. "What are you going to do?" David called to her. "To do what I came here to do." Jeanne stated without looking back.
It was so obvious that Jeanne couldn't believe she hadn't seen it sooner. She had thought that the urgent event that was to come was going to happen in the city. Jeanne had misinterpreted the message her voices had given her. The exit door leading to the outer deck burst open, as several terrified tourists rushed down the stairs. Jeanne pressed herself up against the wall, allowing the tourists to run past her. As she continued up the stairs Jeanne could hear the sound of gunfire above. She reached the top of the stairs, catching the edge of the door right before it could close. Jeanne rushed through the opening, and immediately came face to face with a figure wearing black military fatigues and a cotton black mask with built in goggles, carrying an assault rifle in the crook of his right arm. His left hand was pressed to his ear, so when he saw Jeanne he had to reach down to grab his rifle's secondary grip under the barrel, and then point it at his target.
By the time he had done all this, Jeanne had seemingly vanished, only to reappear off to the man's left side. Shocked, he looked around a split second before Jeanne's elbow smashed into his jaw, fracturing it. The soldier staggered back, smashing into the wall as Jeanne delivered a roundhouse kick to his side. Jeanne reached down and plucked the unconscious man's rifle off of the deck. Jeanne had heard of these weapons, seen portrayals of these assault rifles on television. She inspected the rifle, finding the ammo clip and yanking it out before throwing the clip over the side; she still might have a use for the now empty gun.
Jeanne peered carefully out from under the balcony covering the rows of outdoor chairs. The man she incapacitated earlier had just been a scout; that was why he had his hand to his ear, he was using some sort of radio to communicate with the rest of his team. He must have given the all clear signal, because seven more dark figures were quickly descending the lines dangling from the cliff face. Jeanne knew that the Tohamic would quickly move out of reach, so these soldiers would be the only threat she would have to deal with. She pulled the scout over to the door, opened it, and unceremoniously shoved him through, not really worrying whether or not the scout hurt himself on his way down the stairs. Jeanne closed the door, then went around the corner of the deck lobby, out of sight.
The soldiers had reached a point on the cliff side parallel to the moving ferry. They then pushed off, swinging across the thirty foot span like pirates from one of those old swashbuckling movies. Once they landed safely on the deck, they detached themselves from their tethers and spread out, securing the immediate area. They were on guard, not being able to get a response from their scout. They split up into pairs, except for one, who hung back.
A pair of soldiers rounded the corner of the interior deck, only to be knocked back by Jeanne as she rushed them, tackling one to the floor and sweeping the other off of his feet. She then struck her pinned opponent, knocking him out before Jeanne then flipped to safety as the second man fired his rifle at her from his prone position.
Jeanne dodged the wild spray of bullets, then flung the empty rifle she had been carrying, knocking the weapon from the soldier's hands. Jeanne leapt forward, her target desperately struggling to draw his sidearm. Jeanne got to soldier before he could point his pistol at her, punching him in the gut. Winded, the soldier bent over, and Jeanne grabbed him by the collar, throwing him back by about a dozen feet. Jeanne looked around, then leapt back around the corner, as bullets whizzed through the empty air where she had been standing moments earlier. Another pair of soldiers had rounded the other corner, and were closing in on her.
This time one of the soldiers grabbed a grenade from his belt, pulled out the pin, and flung it around the corner. A couple of seconds later, it exploded violently, sending bits of shrapnel shooting out from the other side. The two soldiers had pressed themselves against the wall, then both ducked around the corner, one crouching low while the other stood just behind, both guns trained on where they expected their target to be. There was a large, smoking hole in the deck, but no sign of Jeanne.
The two men carefully moved forward, scanning the deck for any sign of Jeanne. Movement out of the corner of their eyes caused them to spin around, weapons at the ready. They then lowered their rifles when they saw that it was just the third pair of soldiers. They all converged around the hole in the deck, thinking that Jeanne had fallen in, and were expecting her to jump out at any moment. They should have had their guns aimed upwards, because Jeanne had leapt onto the balcony above.
Jeanne leapt down, landing behind the nearest enemy soldier. She kicked him forward into the hole, then rushed his partner. Jeanne dropped to the floor, sliding between his legs, then kicking him in the rear and sending him flying into the hole as well. Jeanne jumped back up to her feet, then leapt back into the air, spinning like a top as she sailed over her two remaining foes. The soldiers desperately fired up at their moving target, trying to keep their sights on Jeanne. She landed behind them, ducking as they fired at her. They then pointed their guns down at the crouching Jeanne, and pulled their triggers. Click... nothing. Their guns were out of ammo. The two soldiers looked at each other in dismay. Jeanne grinned in triumph and leapt forward.
The first soldier tried to reload, only to have his rifle smashed into his face. Jeanne then shoved him into the nearby wall with such force that he actually bounced off before flopping unconscious to the floor. Jeanne turned to the last man standing, who had dropped his rifle and drawn a pistol. Jeanne closed the distance quickly, flexing her neck to the right to dodge the point blank shot aimed at her face. Jeanne then struck out, the side of her outstretched hand striking his wrist, breaking it before smoothly twisting around his arm and smashing his elbow. His right arm now useless, he drew a knife from his belt and slashed at her throat. Jeanne caught his wrist in one hand, squeezing it so hard that the soldier had no choice but to drop the knife. She caught the falling knife in her free hand, the smashed her closed fist into the man's other elbow, breaking it too. The soldier dropped to his knees, and Jeanne finished the job with a sharp slap to the face, adding insult to injury as the soldier spun back and crashed facedown into the deck.
Surely this wasn't the grand threat that Jeanne was meant to fight; these soldiers may have been dangerous, but they weren't pros, and certainly no real threat to the likes of her. Which then made Jeanne wonder why these well equipped soldiers would attack a simple ferry carrying civilians? The attack had been well planned, so clearly the was something here worth all this, worth sending an eight man team... Idiot! Jeanne spun around and sprinted to the hole, jumping down the hole and racing past the two unconscious soldiers she'd thrown in.
There were still three soldiers unaccounted for, including their leader. They must have snuck down while Jeanne was fighting the others; the soldiers up top had been a distraction, and she had fallen for it, hook line, and sinker. Jeanne crashed through the door in front of her, reentering the third floor lobby. Everyone had been corralled into the galley, held at gunpoint by two more soldiers. Jeanne tensed, ready to strike, but froze when she heard a voice form the other side of the room. "I wouldn't advise doing that. Not unless you're content to lose a couple hostages in the two seconds it takes you to make it across the room." The cold voice had come from the last remaining soldier, the leader. He was standing there, hands crossed behind his back, staring into the case containing the A-Mi-Kuk mask.
"Is that what all this is about? A dusty old mask from some legend?" Jeanne inquired, keeping an eye on both the leader and his goons., making sure they didn't try anything. The man standing in front of the case laughed, then turned to Jeanne and removed his mask. He was Native American, like David, but was older, maybe in his early fifties. His black hair was cut short, and there were a couple of grey streaks visible on the temples.
"You can drop the act, Jeanne La Pucelle, or do you prefer the name Joan of Arc?" Jeanne's eyes widened in shock for a second, then she glared and responded calmly "How did you know?" "I have my sources, benefactors who would prefer to remain anonymous." The leader replied with a sneer. "Not that I expected you to be here, but in metaphysical affairs such as this, it pays to be prepared." "If you know who I am, than you must also know what that is." Jeanne pointed at the mask behind the mystery man. He raised his eyebrows, looked over his shoulder at the mask, then turned back to Jeanne, opening his mouth to continue the conversation. Instead he jumped slightly, shocked to see Jeanne standing only a foot away from him.
The two soldiers guarding the hostages instinctively spun around, training their weapons on Jeanne, but stood down as their boss raised his hand. "I'm impressed. I admit, I never imagined you could move that fast. Still, I doubt you're faster than a bullet." Jeanne read the subtle threat in this last comment, looking worriedly back at the crowd as she took a couple steps back, her right fist clenched in frustration.
"To answer your question, yes, I know exactly what the mask is. My family has spent generations searching for our birthright." "Birthright?" came a voice from behind the crowd of hostages. It was David who had spoken, pushing his way to the front of the crowd. "Yes, birthright." said the leader as he turned to David. "I am a descendant of Raging Flame, the creator of the A-Mi-Kuk mask. Only those who shares his blood can wield its power."
"Raging Flame never wielded the mask, he was possessed by it!" David retorted at the modern Flame. " The A-Mi-Kuk is a demon, driven only by hatred and bloodlust. Anyone who puts that thing on their face will never be able to remove it, and will spend the rest of their days as a raging monster." "You seemed well informed of the masks history. I wonder, how you could know so much about an old Indian campfire story?" "Because my family heritage, like you. Unlike you, however, I actually respect the stories of our people, and the warnings passed down from our ancestors!"
Caught up in his argument with David, the soldier's leader had stopped paying attention to Jeanne, who had slowly begun to creep closer to the other soldiers, who's attention was also focused on David. She only needed to get a few feet closer...
"My ancestor lacked the discipline to control its power!" "And you just happen to posses what the mask's own creator didn't!" The disagreement was quickly turning into a rambling argument, one which would have carried on for quite a while, if Raging Flame hadn't looked away from David in frustration, and spotted Jeanne closing in on his two goons. He pulled his pistol on Jeanne, who froze. "Stop! I've had more than enough surprises for one day."
"Then I guess this isn't your lucky day!" David growled, then he thrust both hands forward. And from his open palms flew a pair of ghostly serpents. The snakes latched onto the soldier's guns with their fangs, and ripped the weapons from their hands. David then swung the two ghost snakes over his head and back at the soldiers, the rifles smashing into their skulls like a pair of clubs.
Taken off guard, Raging Flame made the mistake of taking his eyes off of Jeanne yet again, aiming his weapon now at David. The flicker of motion from Flame's peripheral vision was the only warning he had before Jeanne was on him. By the time he had his gun pointed at her, Jeanne had grabbed his outstretched arm and forced it down, the fired bullet simply digging itself into the floor. Raging Flame then tried punching her, only to have Jeanne catch his incoming fist. Jeanne kicked him in the shin, unbalancing Flame before she head butted him, sending the would be tyrant sprawling to the floor in a heap.
Raging Flame tried to crawl to his fallen gun, but Jeanne swiftly kicked him in the side, sending the man sliding across the floor and into a nearby wall. Jeanne then reached down and picked up his pistol, as David ran up to her. "Jeanne, are you oka...Owww!?!" Jeanne had whacked him around the head with the back of the pistol, not enough to seriously injure him, mind you.
"What the hell was that for!?" "For not going out and helping me when the soldiers attacked, you jerk!" Jeanne snapped at David. "These people could have been injured, could have been killed!" Jeanne continued heatedly, waving her hand at the crowd now scrambling down the stairs leading down to the vehicle storage levels.
"I couldn't just go out there and leave the mask unguarded!" David retorted, rubbing the bump on his head where Jeanne had struck him. "So you knew that someone was coming after this ship!?!" Jeanne exclaimed, incensed, as she stomped angrily towards David. "Well, uh... yes, I knew that they were coming here for the mask. I was planning on stealing the mask and hiding it." David explained hurriedly as he backed away from the livid girl approaching him. "I just didn't expect them to come so soon."
"And how did you know they were coming?" David had by now run out of space, his back against the wall with an irate Jeanne glaring up into his face. "You know, I'm starting to wonder how you knew something was going on yourself." David retorted. The two stared at each other for a moment, before Jeanne broke the silence. "I was guided here by the voices of angels. I had thought that the object of my quest was in the city that we're traveling to, but I was wrong."
Jeanne took a step back and crossed her arms, waiting for David's response. "I'm the last surviving descendant of the skinwalker that helped to stop the original Raging Flame centuries ago. My father taught me how to harness the spirits of animals to fight my enemies, and to protect my tribe. I thought the stories and rituals were just a bunch of fairy tales, until my eighteenth birthday, when I accidently summoned a wolf spirit."
Jeanne cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow, still waiting for David to explain how he'd known about the attack. "A month ago, I was contacted by an ancestral spirit. It Told me that a man who shared the blood of Raging Flame was close to discovering the A-Mi-Kuk mask, and that if I didn't stop him, the spirit of the demon would begin a new reign of destruction and terror." David concluded his speech, as he looked into Jeanne's eyes, waiting for her own response. "So... what do we do now?" Jeanne asked David. "Well first we should tie up all these goons, let the police deal with them once the Tohamic docks at Seaview city. Then we take the mask..."
David was cut off as the sound of shattering glass echoed through the room. He and Jeanne spun around. Raging Flame had managed to crawl to the glass case containing the mask, shattering it with his bare hands. Jeanne and David ran towards him, but right before they could reach him Raging Flame placed the mask on his crazed, sneering face.
The resulting blast of energy sent both David and Jeanne flying back, as Raging Flame was engulfed by a sphere of fire. Flame doubled over, his hands instinctively scrabbling to pull the mask off as it literally fused with the flesh of his face. As the fire surrounding him burned away his fatigues, Raging Flame arched his back in agony, his arms splitting into two, his charred flesh falling away like shredded paper. His legs fused together, becoming a serpentine tail tipped with an array of black spikes.
Raging Flame's body had now almost tripled in size, his flesh covered in craggy, reddish scales. Each of his four arms had three clawed digits. The face had gone through just as much of an extreme transformation as the rest of his body. The mask had elongated, the head now taking on the appearance of a killer whale. The teeth of its head were like daggers, and the horns on its head had doubled in length. The eyes were now glowing red with fiery power, as the A-Mi-Kuk rose on its massive tail and let loose a roar of pure malice. The demon then settled onto its four limbs and crouched, preparing to charge.
Jeanne shook her head, recovering from the pulse wave. David was already back on his feet, and was reaching down to help Jeanne back up. Jeanne began to reach out for David's hand, then her cross began to glow, and she shoved David back and rolled to safety herself, as the A-Mi-Kuk smashed its claws into the section of the floor where the two had been sitting seconds earlier.
Jeanne leapt back onto her feet, crouched and ready to dodge away again. The A-Mi-Kuk seemed to be confused, however. It was looking back and forth between Jeanne and David, trying to figure out which one to attack first; clearly the A-Mi-Kuk was not a decisive beast at heart. Jeanne made the creature's decision for it, as she pulled out the pistol she had pocketed, aimed, and fired a bullet at the A-Mi-Kuk. The projectile blew off a small chunk of scale from its back. The A-Mi-Kuk hissed as it turned to Jeanne, roaring and lunging at her. Jeanne sprinted forward as well, leaping at the last second to avoid its claws as they swiped through the air. She contorted mid-air in order to dodge the A-Mi-Kuk's slavering jaws, grabbing the horns on its head and flipping onto its back.
The A-Mi-Kuk reared up, its spiked skull smashing into the ceiling, as it attempted to reach behind its back to grab her. Jeanne had her left arm wrapped tightly around the demon's neck, holding on for dear life as the monster began to spin around on the spot, trying to shake her off. Jeanne drove the pistol's barrel into the damaged section of the A-Mi-Kuk's shoulder, firing non-stop until she had emptied the twelve bullet clip into the wounded shoulder. The bullets torn into the A-Mi-Kuk's flesh, orange lava-like blood spraying out as the A-Mi-Kuk howled in pain.
The beast then reared its head, instinctively breathing out a torrent of fire into the ceiling. Jeanne saw the flames, and her mind instantly flashed back to her final moments on the stake, the flames crawling up her, searing her flesh, the agony... Jeanne screamed and let go, smashing to the floor. She didn't even get a chance to get back to her feet before the A-Mi-Kuk struck her with its tail, sending her flying right into a wall, smashing all the way through to the other side.
The A-Mi-Kuk slithered towards the hole in the wall, ready to finish off its prey. Before it could follow her through, however, it was struck in the side by a ghostly buffalo, and as the charging spirit pushed the A-Mi-Kuk aside, David ran to the hole and leapt through. He rolled back to his feet, looked around, and saw Jeanne just to the left of the hole she had made in the wall. She was curled up in the fetal position, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs, her face pressed into her knees.
David ran to Jeanne and crouched beside her, touching her shoulder. She was shaking violently. "Jeanne, what's wrong?" Jeanne mumbled something that David couldn't hear, so he gripped her by the shoulders and gave her a slight shake. "Jeanne, snap out of it! What's wrong!?" Jeanne looked up, tears pouring from her terrified eyes, and shouted "I'm afraid of fire!"
This exclamation was further punctuated by Jeanne's hysterical scream as flames poured through the hole beside her. The A-Mi-Kuk was breathing fire into the hole, and after a few moments of continued fire breathing it began to crawl into the burning hole.
David looked back at Jeanne, who had curled back into a defensive ball. "Jeanne, if that thing gets off of this ship, it'll burn down half of the city. I can't stop it by myself. I know you're scared, but you have to get up." Jeanne didn't respond, so David continued. "Look, I may not be a Christian, and I may not believe in angels or saints, but I do believe in faith... and I have faith that whatever power brought you here chose its champion wisely. The mask hasn't completely fused to its host yet. I'll distract it, give you time to sneak behind it and tear the thing off. Can you do that?" Jeanne didn't move, but both her hands clenched as she gave David a pair of thumbs up.
David smiled, gave Jeanne a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and ran at the A-Mi-Kuk, who had just stuck its head through the hole. David drew back his right hand, spirit energy forming into the shape of a bear's paw around his clenched fist. He punched the A-Mi-Kuk, the blow making the monster's head pull back into the hole. David rushed past , turning around as the A-Mi-Kuk ripped its way through the hole. Now both of his arms were encased in spirit energy, the transparent bear arm's muscles tensed, ghostly claws primed as David lunged, both punching and slashing at the four-armed monstrosity he faced.
As David and the A-Mi-Kuk dueled with each other, Jeanne looked up, staring at the brave shaman as he grappled with the A-Mi-Kuk, barely winching as a stray blast of fire singed the hair on the left side of his face. Seeing him so fearlessly face such a terrifying foe reminded Jeanne of how she herself had faced the English army; how she too had fearlessly charged into battle, trusting in God that she would emerge victorious, that she would free her homeland, no matter the cost... And now Jeanne faced a similar challenge. The A-Mi-Kuk was little different from the English of her time, other than that instead of being driven by conquest and greed, the A-Mi-Kuk simply sought destruction. Regardless, it had to be stopped, and Jeanne knew that she had to do be the one to do it, just as she did over six hundred years ago.
Jeanne stood up, a look of fierce determination on her face, as she stretched out her arms, and with a single flex, light condensed around her open hands, forming into a pair of energy blades. They fitted perfectly around her hands, shaped like a pair of triangular arming swords, not unlike the old sword she had carried into battle centuries ago. Jeanne leaned forward and leapt, flying at the A-Mi-Kuk, its back still turned to her, and struck.
Jeanne drove both of her light swords into the A-Mi-Kuk's back. The monster howled as Jeanne flipped off its back, just as it spun around. Halfway through her flip, Jeanne slashed the A-Mi-Kuk across the right side of its head, leaving a long, bloody gash. The A-Mi-Kuk screeched in agony, orange blood dripping between the fingers clutched over its eye. Jeanne landed and jumped back, dodging the enraged beast's retaliatory swipe. Jeanne then slashed the A-Mi-Kuk's extended lower right hand, her energy blade cleanly cutting through the armored scales, severing the hand.
The A-Mi-Kuk pulled back, ready to unleash a blast of fire from its mouth. That's when David decided to intervene, releasing a spirit hawk from his open palms. The hawk exploded against the A-Mi-Kuk's head, sending its fire blast flying past Jeanne, who was so focused on her opponent that she didn't even notice the fireball soar past her head.
Jeanne leapt again, delivering a flying kick straight into the A-Mi-Kuk's chest, the force of the blow actually sending the beast flying back, into the waiting arms of David, his ghostly bear arms wrapped around the A-Mi-Kuk's midriff. The A-Mi-Kuk struggled, David's supernatural strength barely holding it in place as Jeanne charged. She struck the monster in the chest, anchoring herself to the A-Mi-Kuk using her right energy blade, her left blade dematerializing so that she could grab the corner of the monster's jaw, gripping the edge of the mask and pulling with all her superhuman might. With both of its upper arms pinned to its sides by David, the A-Mi-Kuk struggled to grab Jeanne with its remaining lower arm, which Jeanne simply kicked aside. She then pressed her leg against the A-Mi-Kuk's stomach, releasing her hand from the blade still embedded in the A-Mi-Kuk, which quickly vanished.
Now clutching the A-Mi-Kuk mask with both hands, Jeanne pulled even harder, the muscles making up her synthetic body pulled taught, and with a sickening sound of rending flesh, the mask finally came off! Jeanne was thrown back by the sudden release of the mask, her back slamming hard into the floor, the mask flying out of her hands. The A-Mi-Kuk's mask soared all the way across the room, striking a window, causing both to shatter. Bits of charred wood and glass fell through the opening, the remains of the mask falling into the churning water below.
The A-Mi-Kuk itself was violently thrashing in agony, its body disintegrating as it lunged blindly, clutching its mask-less face as it smashed into another window, sharing the same fate as it fell overboard.
Jeanne didn't get up from her supine position, as she caught her breath, her heart pounding so hard that she was afraid she might lose it... again.
She closed her eyes, her heartbeat slowing as she relaxed. And when Jeanne opened her eyes, she saw David's open palm hovering above her. Jeanne smiled, gladly taking David's helping hand, and he pulled her back up to her feet. "So, got anyplace you need to be getting to this Christmas?" Jeanne laughed at this question. "Are you inviting me to your place for the holidays?" "Well, my girlfriend's; I'm really going there, just happened that my mission was taking me in the same direction. We can probably make room for you in the apartment." Their conversation was interrupted by the blaring of the Tohamic's horn. They were almost to shore, and from the window Jeanne could see the flickering red and blue lights of the dozen or so police cars lining the dock.
David looked to Jeanne, and asked "Change of plans?" Jeanne looked away from the window, smiling warmly at David. "No. I'll see you on Christmas Eve." Jeanne walked up the fourth floor staircase for the last time. David followed, carefully stepping over the still unconscious scout lying at the bottom of the staircase. "You'll be alright, with the authorities?" Jeanne called over her shoulder as she opened that led to the outdoor deck. "Hey, I'm a skinwalker! If I've learned anything over the years, it's how to avoid the cops. I'll be fine." David answered, catching the door before it could close.
Jeanne was now standing at the railing on the side of the ferry facing the city. The sun was setting, its orange rays filling the evening sky. David squinted his eyes, trying to make out Jeanne's figure standing in front of the sun. He saw something fly at him, and instinctively caught Jeanne's coat. "Don't lose that!" Jeanne shouted over the roaring wind to David, flexing her exposed, plated arms... right before a pair of glowing mechanical wings tore through the back of her t-shirt. They spread out, absorbing the energy from the sunset. Jeanne turned to the stunned David, and shouted "I'll be back for it!" She gave him a wink, and then leapt over the railing, disappearing for a moment, before rising back into sight, soaring off into the sky. David ran to the railing, watching Jeanne fly to the city, before she finally disappeared behind the cityscape. He stood there for a moment, before simply stating "Holy shit, I just crossed a river with a saint!"
3 Months Later: It floated on the surface of the water, nothing but a fragment of its former glory, but still the A-Mi-Kuk mask lived. All that was left of the mask was a section of its right side, the eye still baring the slash-mark left from Jeanne's blade.
The blood of Raging Flame had once again failed it, but its battle with the descendant of the skinwalker and his heavenly ally had an unexpected benefit; the power within was now greater than it was ever before, and was no longer tied to the original creator's lineage. It now sought a new host, one far more worthy of its elemental fury.
And when it did, it would not rest until it got its revenge on the saint which dared to stand between it and its ultimate purpose...END