The entire dining hall waited anxiously for the outcome of Neko Maneki and Gobbling Crows confrontation.
For the moment all was quiet as Neko merely glared at Gobbling Crow hatefully, while Gobbling Crow loomed over Neko with a look of smugness and arrogant disdain.
Although Morphan looked as impassive as usual on the outside, inside he was frantically weighing his options.
On one hand he was close enough to the door that he could just sneak out and leave before things got out of hand, but that would mean abandoning Harry and Neko, he couldn’t abandon Neko because he still needed her to help him find the bus and get out plus he couldn’t abandon Harry especially after Harry already risked so much.
On the other hand he could help Neko out of her predicament. But that would probably just antagonize the bandits and put both him and Neko into previously avoidable danger. Besides Neko didn’t seem like the type to ask for help anyway.
He could also do nothing but there was no way of knowing how things would go. They could escalate completely beyond his control and end up putting Harry, Neko and himself into even greater danger.
Before he could figure out what to do Gobbling Crow started to speak “Well go on take your best shot half-breed.”
Neko only scowled.
“What’s the matter, where are your boasts now?” Gobbling Crow asked mockingly.
Neko continued to glare at Gobbling Crow, with her fists clenched tightly.
“Tell you what I’ll let you have the first blow.” He then protruded his cheek for emphasis “Go ahead hit me, come on I dare ya.”
By now Neko’s arm was shaking with rage and her teeth were visibly grating. Neko started to shake in rage so much that it looked like she would lose it at any moment while Gobbling Crow stood on the table with his cheek out silently edging her on moving ever closer to. And then just when it seemed like she was about to explode with anger...
... She turned around and started to walk away.
While the rest of the bandits where either confused or disappointed, Gobbling Crow smirked as if he knowing in advance that was going to happen. He then started to clap slowly and sarcastically.
“Smart move, very smart move.” Gobbling Crow cooed “walking away will just make this whole little incident disappear. A dumber creature would try to fight me, and that would lead to you getting kicked out of the trope.”
Neko then stood still.
“I mean lets all look at the facts half-breed, these ladies and gentlemon don’t need much motivation to kick you out. And you can’t really afford to get kicked out of here. Now can you.”
Neko said nothing; head dipped low, her upper bangs shadowing her eyes.
“You’ve got no family, no friends, and no home. You lose this place and you’ve got nowhere to go and no one to take care of you.”
Neko said nothing.
“By the abyss even other half-breeds wouldn’t take you in.” Gobbling Crow chuckled. Some of the other bandits even started to chuckle with him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry blurted out. Instantly everyone’s gaze turned to Harry, who could only stand there in the metaphorical “spotlight”.
“Just asking.” Harry squeaked sheepishly.
“Well since you asked.” Gobbling Crow stepped down from the table behind Neko “As well as being a Damos Cross she is also a Damos Infirmum.”
“Damos Infirmum! You mean she’s a demon born without powers!” Harry was shocked by that news, while most of the other demons where pleased to be reminded of that fact.
Neko bared her fangs furiously.
The Gobbling Crow continued his demeaning speech “Neko is what you would call a Damos Infirmum Cross. No, no scratch that calling her that would be an insult to demons all over the Omniverse. An appropriate definition would be an Infirmum Cross.” Gobbling Crow then started to chuckle. “You’re a minority among minorities.” He then started to laugh at what he thought was a truly hilarious joke.
Almost instantly all the other bandits started to laugh as well.
Thankfully they were so busy laughing that they didn’t notice that neither Harry nor Morphan were laughing with them. Harry was confused and heartbroken to see how anyone could find this sort of thing funny. And Morphan stood stone faced, straight back, rigid body and shaking fists.
“You’re an outcast among outcasts!” yelled a laughing demon.
“A misfit among misfits!” yelled another.
“A FREAK among FREAKS!” another yelled particularly loudly. The whole trope then exploded into even louder laughter, with Neko remaining completely impassive.
“Your right.” She said, the entire troupe started to quiet down “I am a Damos Infirmum Cross; a half-demon born without powers, being a regular Damos Infirmum is enough of a handicap but to be a half-demon with only half the in-born combat prowess of a regular demon is a truly terrible handicap.”
Gobbling Crow and the rest of the bandits stood there on the verge of laughter.
“And yet...” as Neko yelled that the entire room got quiet “... even with this terrible handicap...” she turned around and glared mischievously at Gobbling Crow right in the eye before stating “... I am still the best bandit here!”
Gobbling Crow let out a bestial growl before jumping back, then he drew his energy pistols and let loose a volley of purple energy blasts.
Neko dodged them before she managed to grab a metal tray and use it to deflect the projectiles.
While this was going on Morphan, Harry and the rest of the bandits all ducked to avoid the projectiles.
Gobbling Crow continued to try and shoot Neko and Neko continued to deflect them with the remarkably sturdy tray.
Realising shooting her with his pistols wasn’t working he snarled loudly before holstering them. He then decided to go for more firepower and reached for his energy shotgun.
Before he could fully draw it however, Neko Maneki threw the tray like a discus right at Crows face.
As Crow was left dazed by the blow, Neko Maneki jumped and kicked him the chest.
After Crow was knocked to the ground, Neko Maneki jumped onto his chest grabbed him by the scruff of his neck with one hand and drew her claws threateningly with the other.
As everyone in the room peaked out from their tables they then loomed forward anxious to see what would happen. Neko Maneki let go of Crow stood up and asked “How does it feel to have lost to an Infirmum Cross... again!”
As if on cue the entire bandit troupe pointed and laughed at Crows “humiliating” situation.
Neko Maneki stood up and started to saunter over to the door. After a series of jumbling and angry grunts Crow managed to get up “Mark my word half-breed, you’ll pay for this, PAY I tell you.”
He then flew out the other door in a huff.
Immediately sensing that the action was done with, the rest of the bandit troupe went about their respective businesses. Harry and Morphan meanwhile used the quieter atmosphere to make their escape.
Once outside the dining hall Harry yelled “Way to go Neko!” he then held his hand up in a “high-five”, Neko enthusiastically high-fived Harry back.
“I wouldn’t celebrate too loudly if I were you.” Morphan said “I suggest we move forward, Neko if you would kindly lead the way.”
“Alright alright follow me... killjoy.” With that Neko moved forward with Harry and Morphan following her.
For a while they walked in silence till they came across a fork in the pathway “Okay the path to the left will take us down further into the base, while the path to the right leads to the vault, remember it because if you bozos forget you’re screwed.”
“I don’t see any guards.” Morphan pointed out.
“The password to open the vault is only given to select few, and besides most of the bandits focus on stealing the lesser treasures from each other. SO according to Jabberwocky there’s no need for a guard. Never-mind what I say, sometimes I think the reason he refuses to put a guard there is because I suggested we put one there, (humph) idiot.”
“You know if everyone is so mean to you why don’t you just leave.” Harry asked.
“Didn’t you listen to what Gobbling Crow said in the mess hall? I’ve got nowhere else to go! As much as I don’t like it here this place is all I got.”
There was an awkward moment of silence, and then suddenly Harry snapped his fingers “I know you could come with us.”
“Excuse me?” Neko and Morphan asked.
Much to Morphans discomfort Harry grabbed him tightly by the shoulders “You see Morphan here was chased out of Hellengaruo for being a half-demon so he is on his way to Mirabilis to start a new life...” Harry then grabbed Neko by the shoulders and held the two of them really close to himself “...So Neko should come with us to Mirabilis, and then you and Morphan can start a new life together.”
Morphan and Neko both shifted their gaze from Harry to each other with the word “together” echoing in their heads.
“I mean let’s face it if you half-demons don’t look out for each other then who will?”
Neko then forced her way out of Harry’s grip “Listen Harry that was kind of you to suggest that but as I said this place is my home.” She then focused her gaze on Morphan who had also forced his way out of Harry’s grip “So Lobster boy you plan to go to Mirabilis, huh?”
Morphan nodded in approval.
“You think Mirabilis is some sort of Utopia?”
Morphan went rigid.
“You think they are no half-haters in Mirabilis?”
Morphan said nothing.
“You honestly believe that life will be better in Mirabilis?”
“I have to believe that.” Morphan stated “I have to believe that somewhere there is a place I’ll fit in and that someday I will find it. Because if I don’t then there no point in living now is there.”
Neko was taken aback by Morphans statement, try as she might she couldn’t help but acknowledge the truth in his words.
“Look we’ve wasted enough time here let’s just get going.” With that Neko marched down the hall to the left.
“I thought our destination was to the right?” Morphan asked.
Neko tensed up “UH right I was testing you, yes testing you.” She then went down the left path.
Jabberwocky landed his Pairship the Duchess into the bases hangar. He had only just gotten out when Gobbling Crow came flying in a tizzy.
“Boss, Boss, I’ve been ATTACKED!” Crow yelled.
Jabberwocky simply stood there with a “please don’t bother me” smile on his face.
“By the half-breed!” Crow continued.
Jabberwocky remained unfazed. Unhindered he continued to walk forward “This is a bandit base not a pre-school if you lose a fight that’s your own problem.”
“But the last time the half-breed assaulted someone you disciplined her harshly.”
“Apples and Oranges, the demon that tried to rape her was killed before he could perform a very important mission. Your still alive aren’t you and at the very least in good enough condition to work. And that’s all I honestly care about.”
“I was attacked unprovoked and without purpose I demand the half-breed be PUNISHED!”
Jabberwocky stopped walking near the door, “You demand?” he asked with his back turned. Suddenly the spikes at the end of his frill disconnected and started to slither into the air via wire-like trendels of flesh. The spikes then flew over to Crow and stabbed him in various places.
“I am the leader of the Wonderland Circus, I make the demands and if anyone says otherwise then it’s off with their heads.” Jabberwocky said in a sinisterly calm voice as he continued to zap Crow with his Aura. The zapping caused Crow to buckle and fall down in pain. Once he was down Jabberwocky disconnected his spikes and they reconnected to his frill.
“Why?” Crow whispered on the floor, too injured to get up he could only growl on the floor “why do you keep her around, she’s a half-breed and what’s more she is an Infirmum.”
“What’s wrong with being an Infirmum?” Jabberwocky asked “after all you’re an Infirmum.”
Crow glared at Jabberwocky in utter shock.
“That’s right, I know, everyone knows.” Then he activated one of his spikes causing to slither in front of him with his power he caused some static-like yellow Aura to crackle around the spike “fascinating substance Aura, it can burn, freeze, cut, zap, pulverize or disintegrate. Heck it can do all those things at once if a demon is born with the right power. I have even seen demons that can use their Aura to defy the laws a nature and science.”
Jabberwocky retracted his spike so he could look at Crow who was still on the ground “Demons who can harness their Aura through guns and fire them off instead of bullets is certainly nothing un-heard of.” He then smirked arrogantly “I don’t know what powers those frog-blasters off yours but I know it’s not your Aura.”
“Frog-blasters?” Out of curiosity Crow took out on his pistols, he noticed for the first time that the green oval shape of the pistol combined with the bulging purple eye-like lights on at the front did make it look like a frog. He scowled in humiliation over not noticing that himself “So what if I use stolen guns instead powers who cares? You still haven’t told me why you insist on keeping the half-breed around.”
Jabberwocky stared at Crow for a moment before sighing loudly “Seeing as how you’re not going to let this drop, I might as well tell you the truth.”
Crow craned his ear to hear better.
“You see Neko Maneki used to be an apprentice to the legendary Bandit Siberian Jesus.”
“Siberian Jesus, you mean the leader of the Cats Meow Gang, the Robin Hood of Argus, that Siberian Jesus”
Jabberwocky chuckled to himself “Robin hood of Argus that’s a new one.” He then composed himself “As you’ve probably heard Siberian Jesus was among the few bandits that the Empire feared. Not just for his legendary skills in banditry but because he inspired others demons to secede from the empire. And that half-breed Infirmum contains all the secret techniques of that legendary bandit. Those secret make her more valuable than any pure-blooded fully powered demon. That is why I keep her around to learn those secrets so I can become a bandit as awed and feared as he was.”
“Are you sure you WANT to be a legendary bandit?” Crow asked as he got up, by now he had recovered from the pain of Jabberwocky’s shocking spikes “I mean considering what Argus DID to Siberian Jesus once they finally caught him?”
“A talented bandit he may have been, Siberian Jesus was also a naive idealist. I will not have the same weakness he had. With his apprentice at my disposal I will rule the Null Lands like a king.” Jabberwocky then headed out the door “Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be in my quarters.”
Soon Jabberwocky was out of sight and Crow was still in the room, tight fisted.
“OK here’s the way out!” Neko stated gesturing to what looked like a large metal double door.
Neko, Morphan and Harry had just come down some stairs into a large room that not only contained the metal double door at the end, but what looked like a giant closet to the left and to the right was a dark stairway leading deeper into the base. At the back of the room was the other end of the big spiral staircase they originally planned on taking before they discovered it was broke.
“Where does this door come out exactly?” Harry asked “I didn’t see any doorways on that wall when we got here.”
“This is a hidden base...”
“Right, right I forgot about that. I suppose a metal doorway in the middle of a stone wall in a desert canyon would look somewhat suspicious.” Harry then started to chuckle to himself “Even the Argus military wouldn’t be dum enough not to notice something like that.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate the military if I were you.” Morphan said warningly “Need I remind you that they have already conquered an uncountable amount of worlds.”
“Yeah they are great at conquering.” Neko stated “however that’s the only thing they seem to be good at. I mean maybe if they spent more time running the Empire and less time conquering alien planets Argus might be in better conditions.”
Harry rolled his eyes “It funny you know, a hundred years ago no body believed in alternate dimensions, now everyone acts like they couldn’t have survived without them.”
“And now the F-Troop is around to really make those military demons work for it.” Neko stated “Honestly the war between Argus and the F-Troop has only being happening for like a decade and everyone in Argus acts like it has been going on forever.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that Neko.”
“What do you mean by that Harry?”
“I mean ten years is nothing for a regular demon but for a half-demon...” Harry immediately shut himself up.
“What do you mean by for a half-demon?” Neko asked irritably.
Harry stood sweating furiously trying to think of a proper answer.
“What Harry meant...” Morphan intervened “...was that half-demons don’t live as long as regular demons. It’s a biological fact not a racial stereotype.”
Neko glared at Harry for a while before, dropping the subject “anyways over there you’ll see the supply closet. In there you’ll find bags, rations and maps.”
Morphan and Harry looked to the supply closet “Is it really a good idea putting a supply closet so close to the exit, I mean someone could just come in through the front door and take them?”
“I know what you’re saying Lobster-boy.” Neko griped “I suggested putting it somewhere out of the way so that someone would have to find it before they could steal from it. But Jabberwocky preferred his idea saying that it would be more convenient for the workers if they could pick it up as they left. I don’t get that guy, Jabberwocky says he wants me around to reveal my secrets of banditry to him but every time I offer advice he ignores it. What’s up with that?”
Neko then took a moment to rub her temples “(sigh) All-right anyways I’ll head into the supply closet and get a map for you guys you two stay here and try to stay out of trouble. OK.” Neko then left to do just that.
Morphan and Harry stood outside waiting while the sound of Neko furiously rummaging could be heard. The two of them got even quieter when they heard a series of profanities relating to her dropping something on her toes.
Morphan then heard something and looked around to investigate; he then found a small loaf of half-eaten bread on the ground. He went to pick it as he held it wondering how it got down here when he noticed something else in the adjacent stairway.
Suddenly lumbering down the hallway was one of the bandits. Morphan recognized him as the bandit that slapped Neko on the rear; he had a bruised chin to prove it.
“AH-HA!” he yelled as he pointed at Morphan.
Harry took on a battle ready pose only for Morphan to raise his arm to stop him “Listen Harry.” He whispered as the big demon marched up to him “No matter what happens don’t do or say anything.”
Before Harry could question him, the bandit was upon them. He was roughly 8 feet tall, covered head to toe in muscular red flesh. The only clothing he wore was a kilt (one can only hope he was wearing undergarments). His weapon was medieval knobbed club called a kanabo. He had two natural bumps on his head with small curved horns coming out of them.
Basically he looked like the red ogres from Japanese mythology.
“Did you steal my bread?” the demon asked furiously while holding his Kanabo in a threatening manner.
Morphan stared at the bread in his hand before saying “Yes!”
Before Harry could react, the red demon swung his kanabo into the side of Morphans face.
The impact sent Morphan to the wall where the red demon continued to pound Morphan with his kanabo.
Harry kept his promise not to interfere even though he had no idea why.
Eventually the red demon stopped hitting Morphan with his kanabo and instead proceeded to kick him. The red demon then got tired while Morphan slumped onto the floor numb from pain.
The red demon then walked over to the loaf of bread which Morphan dropped when he was getting beaten up “You want my bread go ahead and have it.” He then stomped the bread till it was flat and slid the dirty loaf towards a numb Morphan.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Harry yelled.
“Who am I, I’m the bloody King of Hearts. Dubbed so because of my handsome heart shaped head” yelled the red demon proudly “surely you’ve heard of me.”
Harry watched nervously as the King of Hearts tapped his big, heavy, metal kanabo on his shoulder “UHHH yes.” Harry lied sheepishly.
“Good fatty.” The King of Hearts then kicked Harry in the gut. While Harry was keeling over, the King of Hearts sauntered back up the stairs laughing all the way.
When he was gone Harry rushed up to Morphan and asked “What the hell was that about?”
Morphan didn’t answer bur simply picked up the dirty, squished piece of bread.
“Why did you let that bastard walk all over, we both know you could have taken him down no problem.”
Morphan then proceeded to pick and brush off the pieces of dirt from the bread.
“Come on pal give me a bloody answer!”
Morphan then stood up and walked towards the stairway leading downward “Come on its safe now you can come out.”
Coming out of the shadows so quietly that it appeared almost mystically was a small human boy. They could tell he was human because of his nose (as opposed to the reptile like slits that most demons had) and his ears (as opposed to the reptile like holes that most demons had). The human whore an oversized, brown work jacket that covered most of his body, he may have been white skinned but it was hard to tell with the amount of grim and filth covering him, he also had short fuzzy brown hair and big blue puppy-dog eyes.
“A human? Here?” Harry asked still confused.
Morphan got onto his knee and held the bread in front of the child “Go on take it.”
The boy stared at the bread “I promise, I’m not going to hurt you.” Morphan said.
With an almost rodent like nervousness, the boy slowly reached for the bread and then stuffed it into his shirt, in the brief time it took him to stuff the bread into his shirt a whole lot of bread could be seen.
“I don’t get it what’s a human doing here?” Harry asked.
“He’s a slave, stupid.”
Morphan and Harry looked behind themselves to see who was talking.
To be continued...