Criticality 23: Tentalor Rep


“What the fu– was that?” Pete stumbled backward across his own feet at the sudden appearance of Tentalor Rep.

The Ethereal might have been standing atop the hill outside of the Second Earth Special Police Force Base, however the appearance to every Human was directly in front of their faces from within their mind’s eyes. So wholesome, the vision was of such purity that the rugged cop was not responding to the startling revelation but the emotional letdown of the realization that he had just rejected the deity’s mandate.

dungeonResponses of this nature were tallied via the voice of a person’s soul as the conversation was being held at the celestial level in the plain of existence. Pete may not have comprehended the intricacies which were just explained directly to him by Tentalor Rep, but the rugged cop knew where he stood: His wife did not deserve to be made to suffer in the way that she had. And now, the Ethereals were pulling some semblance of rank in requiring an expressed servility where once it might very well have been only implied. For what? The nerve. He reacted with a bitterness which was both stubborn and technically wrong as far as the long side of eternity was concerned but could give a flying fu– less.

Raped and murdered for no reason – as if in this line of work either of those things were ever justified, the slaying of Pete’s wife was a retributive blow which did not come close to fitting the collar that he had made. Sure, a lot of executives went up the river during his cracking of the infamous technology company collusion case, but public opinion was demonstratively on the side of the Police Force, and killing the woman who he loved was nothing special if just messy. And criminals in that upper echelon did not do messy. Those types of crimes were reserved for the small-timer who believed that the handiwork of added barbarism would better prove their point or the psychotic nature of the brutality would eventually net some sort of leniency with its accompanied insanity plea.

All of this ran through Pete’s mind, and the overwhelming emotion of it all was almost too much to revisit. Time had been working to heal the emotional wounds and mental scars, but it was like the scab had just been ripped freshly open again. This torture haunted his every waking moment and prevented him from resting comfortably because closure could not fix the problem! Thanks to the Space Force and possibly even Stalkord, the person who took out the contract on his wife was identified, confronted, and isolated from any further shenanigans. However, the mercenary, Retsepar, who raped and killed her was still at large. Swirling of doubt, what good would revenge have even done him? She…was not…coming…back!

Again, Pete’s anguish was self-inflicted (as usual) but shortsighted. From the Ethereal perspective, there was all of eternity to sort out the wrongdoing of this fleetingly quick moment called life, but he belonged to a sect of Humans who did not view time in terms of existential starting, stopping, and restarting points. The here and now plus the afterlife equaled a conglomerate of duration which until this point had included a gap where anguish took the place of the time that his wife was supposed to be spending with him. And what of her sorrow? Until death did them apart was inexcusable!

Maybe these Ethereals could have done something to prevent the tragedy. Maybe they were incapable of meddling in the affairs of lower beings for some odd reason. Those Ethereals could have at least said something. Pete quite literally and admittedly was a scumbag Police Force officer who never really crossed the line but brushed up against it on multiple occasions, pressed it heavily with a regularity that caught the affections of Internal Affairs, and left it permanently bent when everything was said and done. Yet, his wife fell in love with him because opposites truly did attract, and she was the sweetest woman who many had ever known. Her kindness and amicable nature had caused him to take the testosterone down a few notches! Her relegation to that ominous fate was unforgivable.

Now, these Ethereals were coming around – acting like they had done everybody a favor by supposedly creating everything. The audacity! To carry on with an arrogance which allowed them to call in that so-called favor was beyond rebuke. Nobody ever seemed to want to hold an Ethereal accountable, as if they were only capable of receiving heaps of praise and impervious to well-meaning feedback. Pete was not a scholar, a philosopher, or even a gentleman, but realized that if what had happened to his wife was simply one of the mysterious ways that things were just supposed to be – then, he was content with being in the wrong because to him that was just not right.

This was an easy decision to make, and once made, Tentalor Rep faded from the view of Pete’s mind’s eye – perhaps severing as close of a relationship that a lower being could hope to achieve with an Ethereal…evermore. Upon his vision returning to actuality, he watched Chipshot hurry over to provide what appeared to be assistance for Julian. Had the rugged cop’s Enforcer counterpart been a factor in guiding his thought processes and broadening his perspective on the subject in order to net such a forceful and unflinching response? Scarier yet, how would he have responded otherwise?

“Welcome to ascension,” MC told Pete like what appeared to be their shared atheism put them in some sort of exclusive club. But neither was an atheist. There was no disbelief in the existence of Ethereals. Ascension referred to a belief that these very real Ethereals were not the be-all and end-all. “Are you alright, buddy?”

Pete was okay – winded but okay and said as much, “Yeah,” when MC traded places with Chipshot to see if he needed any help with his bearings.

By contrast, Julian was staggered with a paining facial expression that included contorted features, clenched teeth, and squinched eyelids which tried their hardest to conceal luminescent purple eyes. He saw Tentalor Rep very clearly within his mind’s eye, but Parsec had seen others succumb to the Pillorian Regime in the past and had a hand laser pointed at the Police Force officer’s head. Neither MC nor Cindra made a move to stop the mercenary either, and whether or not the trigger pad was pressed depended upon whether or not Chipshot could talk Pete’s partner back down to their reality.

“Police Force Officer Kazar,” Chipshot called out softly while placing a correspondingly soft hand on Julian’s shoulder, “I’m going to ask you one very simple question. We all know of Pete’s track record – from the Space Force to the Enforcers to the Second Earth Special Police Force to Internal Affairs, but you know his heart. In his heart and because he truly does not believe in what the Ethereals have to offer, are you fine with them relegating him to a fate of eternal torment for an honest belief?”

The fact remained that in this instance, some people were. Had Julian been, Parsec would have pressed the trigger pad, and Pete would not have stopped him.

Ethereals were supposed to come first, and how could an Ethereal be wrong? The Requirement as espoused by Tentalor Rep was very clear on the consequences of disobedience. Almost as if a pass was being given to the likes of childish lower beings who did not know any better but were graciously being afforded a second chance to get things right, Julian straightened out with a mouth that hung agape – expelling quick puffs of breath at the disbelief in having just joined the ranks of the ascendant individual and notarized his file with the Pillorian Regime as their enemy.

Parsec backed away and lowered his hand laser.

“Fu–ing with you,” Julian turned to Pete and admitted, “I always thought that it might get me killed, but I never would’ve imagined that you’d cost me my soul as well.”

“What are friends for?” Pete smiled back.

“We need to table this and reconvene later,” Cindra suggested as she started to receive some distressing information on her minicomputer which was instanced in real time when Police Force officers from inside the base began to flood into the motor pool.

Each Enforcer tapped the keys on their minicomputers to bring their respective Class V Fighters downward to a height which could easily allow them to board by leaping up, catching hold of the cockpit, and hauling themselves inside. No sooner had the ships arrived than was this the case.

Before Chipshot’s canopy closed, he requested, “Follow us. You do not want to get engaged in a fight with the Pillorian Regime or their converts right now.”

Correct but, “What about Edith, Slubbich, and the rest?” Julian inquired. A big point of contention from earlier in the night was the protection of Commissioner Gyro’s family, and they could not just leave them.

Sadly, there was no time to coordinate the retrieval of anybody from where the six of them stood outside the base, but this also meant that there was no time to keep up appearances, “Chipshot, your call.”

Without hesitation, Chipshot nodded back to MC.

“Yori Curch’s codename is Autopsy,” MC alerted before fingering his Ear-To-Mouth Com for the purposes of contacting the purposely outed Enforcer. “If any of your friends have not been turned, he’ll take care of them.” The next words that he uttered were quieted by the muffling of a private conversation.

To say that Pete was disappointed by the previously outed Enforcer now being openly exposed by the Enforcers leadership happened to underscore a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that witnessed a major piece of leverage simply swirl down the drain without any resistance. Ironically, the loss of a power play was also comforting because it meant that Chipshot was serious about making this Police Force/Enforcers partnership work. Though he already knew the information, its being divulged did not make it any less important. One could argue that the intel now became that much more crucial through a proper use such as this.

From her fighter, Cindra was typing away at its computer on other matters. “I’ve added Police Force Officers Rogue and Kazar plus Parsec to the exemption directory of our targeting feed. You guys officially don’t exist anymore and should be off of the Pillorian Regime’s map for at least the moment.”

Julian found the news and his newfound stature to be comforting but did not get too big of a head because it would have been that much easier of a target for the converts of the Pillorian Regime to see and point out. As a result, he made his way back over to the Mustang, got in, and raised its top.

About to step foot within the back of the car, Pete noticed that Parsec was not with them, so he questioned, “You coming, Parsec?”

“I’ll catch up with all of you shortly,” Parsec explained, “but first, I need to retrieve my gear.”

“Cool,” Pete accepted before opting for his normal passenger side seat, sitting down, and closing the car door, “don’t be too long.” Things were set to become quite interesting.

The canopies of the three Class V Fighters closed, and the Enforcers lifted away from the motor pool. The Mustang’s tread grabbed hold of the pavement and thrust itself in reverse out of its parking space before speeding away through the motor pool’s open gate. Parsec trailed behind the car until he could no longer keep up at the same pace and then trailed off to race away on foot.


“Of all the eBooks that I thought you’d follow,” Vim whispered to a Slubbich who finally had free arms and a rested back since Ardina was put down to sleep in the makeshift bed on top of Pete’s and Julian’s connected desks, “the Good eBook would’ve been the one.”

“Who says that I don’t?” Slubbich replied. “But my beliefs don’t need to enter into this.”

It was a conversation which was worth pursuing even if this meant that Vim’s chance at seeing Tentalor Rep – a real life Ethereal in person out on the hilltop outside the base was going to be delayed. He had completely fallen under the sway of the Pillorian Regime so the rookie challenged, “How can they not? Your convictions don’t seem to be too strong if you’re willing to subvert them so easily.”

Engaging in a peaceful disagreement, Slubbich kept his voice low and did not become argumentative in the slightest, “There was nothing easy about it, but that’s what makes the law so great. It’s applied evenly across the board, irrespective of belief. When you become a little bit more tenured, you’ll understand why what I’m saying is the truth.”

“There is no law greater than that of the Pillorian Regime,” Vim stated from what Slubbich considered to be an unequivocally naive point of view. “There is nothing in existence which is older than them, so by your own admission, your position is flawed if not trumped.”

Still cradling a knocked out Devore, Edith started to sense that Vim was becoming heated in his increasingly aggressive speech pattern and animated demeanor, so she threw a cautionary eye contact over toward him. It was no secret why the kids were not affected by Tentalor Rep’s levying of the Requirement as their innocence was founded upon a blank slate which had yet to be filled with such things as the Police Force officers were verbally sparring over. But what really surprised Slubbich was that neither her nor the Commissioner had attempted to impress these types of things upon them from the earliest of ages.

“And you’re basing that on what exactly?” Slubbich got back to his original point. “Faith? The appearance of some deity? Vim, because you can’t or won’t try to disprove it doesn’t mean that it’s true, but that speed limit at the convenience store is still the speed limit. Beliefs can be wrong; the law isn’t.”

In respect to the morally untainted children despite their mother being a nonbeliever herself, Vim heeded her polite warning and took things down a couple of notches, “How can you compare an Ethereal to a speed limit?” His tone might have been lowered but his inflection left behind no inkling of astonishment with Slubbich’ brevity.

Experience made the answer to Vim’s question known to Slubbich as it was him as a starry-eyed, young rookie who had once asked it of a Police Force officer who sat in a leadership and teaching position similar to his. He relayed, “Because it doesn’t matter your belief or my refusal (for this instance) to believe in those Ethereals as far as that five mile per hour speed limit is concerned. The law is the law – just the same, and it remains unchanged.

Now, if something so simple can bring people of differing beliefs together in the interest of protecting the entire public, why would something so complex threaten to tear us all apart for those very same beliefs while being concerned about public safety? You can’t answer it, and that type of uncertainty has no place in the law. Should a child run out in front of a car during the aforementioned parking lot speed limit scenario, you wouldn’t want there to be any doubt that you should have been driving slowly – would you?”

“But I don’t doubt the Pillorian Regime,” Vim countered, “so maybe their laws should be universally adopted as the law.”

“That’s a fair assessment,” Slubbich conceded, “but I once had a chance to speak to Jason Saint-Medieval about what he thought to be the origin of this separation of church and state theme. I’m not quite sure how things got on the topic of the death penalty, but he likened the subject to that.

Throughout Jason’s illustrious career, it seemed like he’d fought so vehemently against capital punishment, but the attorney took a moment to explain his position. It wasn’t that he was against capital punishment, but his position was stated as: If it ever turned out that a wrongly accused person was put to death, the law actually claimed that the prosecution, the jury, and the judge were legally guilty of murder, so they would each be subject to the same recourse. The proof happens to be glaring in terms of the wrongful execution, but you rarely see the precept enforced.

Jason’s point was this: Do you really want your system of beliefs to be chopped apart and dissected by lawyers – especially one as competent as him who technically knows your belief system better than you? I know that I don’t. Some things, in my estimation, are just better off left being vague – the law notwithstanding. This is exactly what could happen too.

Now, some societies don’t allow for that type of advanced interpretation or the flexibility to revise legal statutes. Do you really want to turn this into one of them?

There’s three sides to every coin, Vim: Your side, my side, and the rim of consensus which holds them together. Just because yours shouts the loudest doesn’t mean that mine is invalid. It simply implies that you have less empathy.”

Conflicted, Vim stepped into the motor pool and stopped at its entrance as one of the final Police Force officers to have left the base for what was going to be a short walk across the street to that fun hilltop development which had perfectly paved trails for biking and jogging plus beautiful daytime greenery to complement. The forested area became somewhat of a landmark in Atro City over the years because it was in the center of everything and highly trafficked like an attraction. People used it for their morning workout during mild weather. Families used the area for picnics while the lunchtime crowd also enjoyed the clean picnic tables with their attached benches or quick bites to eat, a relative calm and break in the day, and a breath of fresh air which put to shame the stuffy atmosphere of the life-effacing workplace. School field trips were as much of a fixture out there as was the occasional science project because the ecosystem of water that a person could technically put their hand in and drink from lured all forms of wildlife and manner of species. Races from across the universe made it a point to stop off there and snap off a few digital photos which could be uploaded and delivered to relatives, friends, and colleagues.

For this one night though, the hilltop played second fiddle to Tentalor Rep who exhibited a beauty of spirit which could not be matched. How was a person supposed to react? Everybody always waited for an Ethereal to make their presence known and deliver a portion of their celestial knowledge (which had been and would always be responsible for nothing short of holding the universe together across eons) as welcome guidance. But had this become a situation of open-mindedness on the part of Vim to hear the Ethereal out, or did he require further convincing after a conversation with Slubbich that had quite literally shaken his faith.

This was the problem with those types of things: Vim respected and trusted Slubbich – his partner in their daily life-or-death struggle as Police Force officers, but Ethereals would never steer a person wrong. So one side had to be incorrect. They could not both be right. Or could they? His eye contact dropped to the floor as he was torn between what he thought that he knew and what he knew that he thought. Completely confused, the rookie was again allowing his procession to be halted, and he hated the fact that he was faltering on the choice as demanded of him by his Ethereal because of a skeptic’s clever manipulations.

The luminescent purple glow in Vim’s eyes began to flicker back to a return as he took a deep breath of inhaled fresh air and started to put one foot in front of the other. It was a nice try by Slubbich and a clever tactic, but Ethereals’ wishes trumped partners, and he felt so strongly about this that there was no substantive reason to even ask let alone answer the question of why.

“Looking good, Vim,” a female voice complimented.

The rookie’s eyes raised all the way up through the third vision of beauty that he had seen tonight until they met those of his former partner – completely decked out as the Shokan Princess. Vim reciprocated the kind words, “You’re looking pretty good yourself, Sylvia. I’ve missed working with you.” She had seemingly appeared from out of the shadows, and he was not quite sure of that getup….

Although they were separated by circumstance and organization, Sylvia had never stopped looking out for Vim. She made sure that at least two sets of Shokan eyes were on her former partner at all times, so when it became clear that Slubbich’ attempt to break through the Pillorian Regime’s example of conversion had not yet succeeded, the Shokan Princess decided to lend a personal hand in assisting her successor by preventing the rookie from meeting up with Tentalor Rep for what would amount to being such a lopsided infusion of unfiltered propaganda that the old him would never be recovered. Once a Police Force officer, always a Police Force officer.

“This seems a little convenient,” Vim thought. “What, did Slubbich call you up? You’re not going to stop me from seeing Tentalor Rep.”

Sylvia shook her head in disagreement while saying, “Vim….” She could tell how deeply the Pillorian Regime’s influence was embedded within him by the brightness of the luminosity in his eyes. “Remember when I told you that something which will improve with time as a Police Force officer is your power of perception?”

Pressing past Sylvia, Vim accused, “You and Slubbich – you’re both hypocrites and should be encouraging me to get both sides of the story. Don’t try to stop me.”

Well, Vim was not there yet – Sylvia thought in answer to her own rhetorical question. As a part of an unseen attack that she unleashed, the Shokan Princess waited for the now unconscious rookie to fall peacefully into the waiting arms of two Shokan who had themselves just appeared out of the shadows. Under no circumstances was he going to be meeting with Tentalor Rep, so once her former partner was secured in the grasp of Shokan clutches, they each returned to the shadows by stepping forward into the darkness and departed the motor pool – whisking the rookie away with them.

That meeting had been reserved for Sheol who stood before Tentalor Rep on the hilltop as the masses of followers from throughout Atro City and around its surrounding neighbors jam-packed the area with their attendance and crowded into a concentric mob of subdued worship. When he drew the katana known as the He– Sword from his scabbard, the undeniable challenge to the Ethereal became blatant and virtually assured a large extent of collateral damage in the process of carrying out this virulent contempt for the Pillorian Regime’s rule.

The Brael Moonbeam
“Father’s returned!” Sheol beamed with a barely contained excitement which made him glow even more than what the usual radiance of his regal all-white attire would allow.

“I am aware,” Commander greeted Sheol at the entrance to her cabin as its door finished sliding open, “that his husk has returned, but you should know that Tentalor Rep is not your father in actuality.”

It was true as Sheol could no longer sense the genetic connection with the individual who happened to be standing out on the hilltop beckoning followers to fall in line. Being part Doran, their race was particularly astute at recognizing bloodlines as an ability which encompassed the crux of the genetic rank hierarchy. Family ties had already bound him so tightly to his mother that he was seen as almost asking for her permission, “I’m going to face Fa-…Tentalor Rep.”

It was obvious that Sheol was experiencing difficulty in meeting Commander’s disappointed gaze as his eye line skipped high off of the tips of the carpeted floor, but she happened to be far from a hideous sight. At least twenty years older than him – likely twice her son’s age, his life was flashing before her eyes as was stated, “I just got you back after decades of searching for you. The reminder of what your father gave up is standing on that hilltop. How dare you squander this opportunity?”

“What if I can bring Father back?” Sheol seemed almost meek the way he argued with no eye contact, staring at Commander’s legs and feet as she stood with crossed arms in a chemise which went along with the late hour of these unapproved theatrics.

“Sheol,” Commander berated, “what does it matter when everything that you do is guided by Acro’s control? I am proud of you for following in your father’s footsteps and impressed by the early success that you have achieved as the Shokan’s new leader, but to me, you are little more than a puppet of the man who has been manipulating your strings since birth – such a disappointment.”

Those words came crashing down upon Sheol – weighing heavily against his resolve with a mixture of fear, guilt, and sadness that forced him to his knees in penance before Commander. He could not bare the thought of incurring her ire and could barely stand to face up against it like an adult. There was to be no question as to who controlled the Shokan Leader, and if he was not willing or able to be that person, then his mother would surely step in to take those reigns away.

Commander’s wrath was of a nurturant nature but used her overruling genetic stature as the rod. There would be no spoiling this child by sparing Acro’s pesky influence. Genetic rank had rescued Sheol’s soul from the clutches of villainy and cleared his mind out of the confusion which had been fermenting there, undoing years of damage in moments by selectively reformatting the Shokan Leader’s psyche, but he was still going through the motions that the da-nable Crimson Red Belt guided.

None of what Sheol was talking about or accomplishing to this point had anything to do with saving his father, reuniting his family, or pleasing his mother by not worrying her constantly! Fighting Tentalor Rep, creating the Shokan Subsect, and boldly going on universal television to unveil an ambitious flush out maneuver to unify the Crimson Red Belts were strategies meant for the purposes of besting Acro. He even admitted as much during the interview with that reporter, Chip.

Sheol’s entire life to this point had been stolen by Acro, and his life since that point had been dedicated to killing the Crimson Red Belt. Sure, it was an important part, but the Shokan Leader happened to be stuck in the limbo of revenge – walled up into a ball that rolled down the ridges and grooves which the elusive object of the hate carved out. There was a much bigger picture to be concerned with right now of which revenge happened to be only one, small part, and the situation sickened Commander to no end that her son could not see or did not realize this. She continued, “You cannot defeat Tentalor Rep if your motivation is not planted firmly and cemented around bettering this family. He will wear you out, and I will have lost the souls of both men in my life to the Pillorian Regime.

Sheol, you have wonderful ideas. Your execution is often flawless. I can see that Angelica’s Doran Aristocracy and your Shokan may yet combine to one day destroy the New Alliance and reunite the totality of Doran people under my genetic rule. But you are not holding up your end of the bargain.”

Tears were now flowing from Sheol’s eyes as he whimpered, “I’m…sorry, Mother.” He was truly debasing himself before Commander, short of throwing himself onto her feet to plead for forgiveness.

“Yes, you are,” Commander replied before closing the door and returning to bed – kicking Sheol away nonetheless.

“No!” Sheol bellowed at the soundproof door with his hands thrown up – intensely clutched in a prostrate manner. Commander was his everything, but she was so angry with him, so he was left torn up inside, wrecked emotionally, and weak. The Shokan Leader had made a fool of himself in these endeavors and a mockery of their family name. His sister, Angelica, would have never disgraced them the way that he had and continued to do by lying on the floor like a sad sack when his place should have been to be out there trying to bring his father back to his mother’s lonely bed.


This was not about amassing power. That would come with experience. For a change, this was not about Acro. Revenge was important, but some things were more important. Ultimately, Sheol was consumed with a detrimental set of boohoo sensibilities, so for once, this was not about being selfish. What did he want to achieve out of and for his own life, and how did the absence of Commander’s happiness affect the regret that he felt for leaving the responsibilities as the man of the house unfulfilled? And she was not controlling him anymore than usual, but finally, a decision happened to have been made all on his own. The prospects of facing off against an Ethereal were bleak as not even a Crimson Red Belt had ever defeated one, but to the Shokan Leader, not doing something to assist his recently widowed mother grated against already fractured nerves which frayed to a constant rattling of him. He twirled the He– Sword briefly within his claw glove before lunging after Tentalor Rep – displaying a vicious rejection of the Requirement.

Above ground in the parking garage of the Ennead building that concealed the Brael Moonbeam, Sheol exited the elevator to greet a waiting Sylvia, “Was there any word on your friend?” He had not yet picked up his head, and the streams of tears which still continued to flow were all but masked from the deep night except for an occasional gleam that reacted with the dim lighting of the structure.

“Our scouts have said that Vim’s given in to the Pillorian Regime,” Sylvia alerted, “and with Tentalor Rep being that close to the Second Earth Special Police Force Base, I’ve got to get him out of there before it becomes too late to reverse the effects of their influence.” She noticed that Sheol was not himself but instead somber and trying to conceal his anguish from her.

“I’ll see if I can do you one better,” Sheol suggested, “by defeating the Ethereal.”

Sylvia’s man had been in such good spirits earlier that night before returning to the Brael Moonbeam to speak with his mom about the return of Tentalor Rep, so she sighed, “What did your mother say to you?” As far as mother-in-laws were concerned, Commander was the mother-in-law from the Doran Homeworld who had an extremely high genetic rank, so this meant that it was never her place to question the woman which was going to make for an interesting relationship and eventual marriage with Sheol….

With unsure eyes, Sheol finally looked up to address Sylvia and admitted, “What I needed to hear.”

“I shouldn’t say this because both sides of the issue will take issue with my stance,” Sylvia replied, “but I’m tired. Tired of your surrogate family. Tired of your biological family. I – I’m freaking exhausted, Sheol.” She threw her arms around her man and continued, “You are the nicest person who I’ve ever known, but I’m tired of these people using you.”

“Mother wouldn’t do that,” Sheol said softly.

Profiling was a part of Sylvia’s past life, “You knew the Smith’s and Acro all of your life, and they willfully dropped you in the middle of this madness,” and delivering hard truths was another part, “but you’ve been kosher with Commander and even Glove for all of a minute yet you trust them implicitly? Sheol, I know about your mother’s hold over you, and that’s the Doran culture, but she cannot just pop into your life and start to run it. Look at you.” The Shokan Princess backed away from her man but still held the palms of his hands as if to see what she was talking about, “I don’t care what your motivations were, are, or might change up to be. You ascended to the leadership of the Shokan and made the requisite moves which have held the discipline in prominence and expanded its reach into the realm of dominance. Be whoever you want to be. Do whatever you want to do. I’ll be by your side. I told you before that my love for you is unconditional. But one thing that I never mentioned, and you need to know this because you…you’re in no position right now to be fighting an Ethereal, but you need to return to me – us….”

That last part was a bit awkward, so Sheol asked, “What,” in request of clarification.

“The moment that I laid eyes on you back during your first match at Cipher Coliseum,” Sylvia explained, “I remember telling Vim that you not only had that match won but were going to be the father of my child.”

“What?” Astonishment with a twist of shock was to be Sheol’s answer here as the pH of his tears turned from sorrow to joy.

Sylvia repeated herself, “You’re going to be the father of my child – our child.”

Pregnant? Sheol was filled with questions but overjoyed with happiness, “When? When did this happen? When did you find out? The night of our first date?”

“You are such a slut,” Sylvia nodded and smiled with an aura which put a new spin on the maternal glow. Her voice had softened as she insisted with an audible yet leading whisper, “You’ve got a couple of obligations that you need to return to.”

“Yes,” Sheol knelt before Sylvia while still holding hands with his head bowed in her honor, “my Princess. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to give our child a better life than I had.”

But to do this, “We have an entire universe to pacify before that can happen,” Sylvia mentioned. How was that for motivation, Sheol? His mother might still be disappointed from not being at the root of the impetus, but Commander would net a grandchild. Perhaps this path was a result of the further planning out of three-dimensional strategy on Acro’s part, and maybe they should thank the Crimson Red Belt for allowing the Shokan Leader to be a little bit quicker to the punch of bearing offspring in order to form a more complete family.

Could it have been said that Sylvia was simply using Sheol like everybody else? If she was, out of the three parties who were vying for his attentions, the Shokan Princess made him feel the best, and he certainly did not mind.

But Sheol doubted that Sylvia had any ulterior motives. He was not exactly a prized catch with all of the nonsense that surrounded his very existence plus threatened to (and in many ways already did) drag his lady friend down too. So instead of worrying about if she was taking advantage of him, the Shokan Leader decided to focus on never taking her for granted.

Ethereals were said to be timeless, transcendent, and infallible. Sheol sought to test that theory by hacking away at Tentalor Rep whose arms flared up with an enraged brightness at the blatant disrespect. The He– Sword clanged off the deity’s right arm before the Shokan Leader took a two-handed grasp on its handle, thought tiny, and bunched up his stance by bringing that handle above his head in defense of the Ethereal’s retaliatory left arm swipe.

In this universe, a life force could be focused through the blade of a sword for the purposes of providing a staunch defense. The He– Sword blocked the attack, and Sheol proceeded to shove Tentalor Rep backward like he was fending off a boxer who had become too aggressive – which surprised him. The Shokan Leader happened to be powerful but not that powerful. The crowd! He was now totally out of position and being swarmed by the converted followers while the deity conveniently backed away.

What was it with Sheol’s enemies that always caused them to hide behind others? Why did they never fight him straight-up? Was there a sadly mistaken belief that he cared about the so-called innocents who were going to get in the way? His smile had returned.

Swooning followers – these people had no innocence after subverting their collective wills to the Pillorian Regime and apparently no common sense in willfully choosing to die for an Ethereal who was more than capable of defending himself! In the quick second that Sheol took to steady his footing, he did not have much time to get into the politics of everything, so he called the occurrence exactly what it was: A warm-up. And the Shokan Leader called Tentalor Rep out for the coward that the deity was by slashing the He– Sword backward to cut down the first few who had run up before turning around and jumping off into the crowd to do battle with minions who were adequately armed by their masses (not so) alone. Tens of thousands had gathered, and his aim was to slay them all.

Sheol would kill almost every person on Second Earth to get to Tentalor Rep, and he would extend the same courtesy to the inhabitants of the universe in order to get at Acro. Ambidextrous, the He– Sword now graced his left hand which freed the right claw glove up for some one hit, one kill bludgeoning. The internal injuries from the force of impact or the overt injuries which sent the connected bodies of broken jaws, busted noses, knocked-out teeth, and swollen eyes flying in a radius of directions were like a therapeutic session for him. These people had become the aggressors – meddling in his affairs, and this was simply self-defense, so no remorse was necessary, no mercy happened to be extended, and no prisoners were taken.

Swordplay and the claw glove were newer instruments for Sheol which added varying degrees of range to his repertoire. Fighters in the Dyoogie Discipline often used an off hand to gauge distance, so when he coupled his off left hand with the He– Sword, this extension of his left arm became a weapon, a defense, and a metric all at the same time. The claw glove on the Shokan Leader’s right hand became a balance point and a secondary attack which waited impatiently for anybody to get through the first. But in tournaments as a child, his feet were his claim to fame. In a battle where he was surrounded on all sides, transforming his body into a spinning top of doling punishment would be the only answer to the question of survival.

The He– Sword sliced the throats and bodies of men and women alike. The claw glove had the death grip of a grinder which either mangled body parts or tore them off outright. The force of an occasional roundhouse kick that was amplified by Sheol’s power level and outward extension and focusing of his life force cleared out mobs of people at a time. The scary thing happened to be that he was no longer even waiting for the people to attack anymore and savagely sought their challenge out by going after them to seal doom within the bottle of a lifetime of pent-up repression.

Not having left the immediate vicinity as of yet because it would take no time at all to catch up with the Mustang, MC hovered in his fighter high above the hilltop at the controlled speed of a holding pattern and commented, “It’s getting good down there.”

“On your six,” Cindra told Pete and Julian when she brought her fighter down low to a point of visibility for them – trailing down the street.

Forced to keep his eyes on the road when behind the wheel – go figure, Julian asked for a description, “What’s happening?”

“Sheol is really going at it,” MC responded back, “with everybody down here – killing anybody in his path! Tentalor Rep is just standing there – watching.”

Pete put out of his mind the thought of additional Police Force officers being lost during this nightmarish evening and made small talk in hopes of passing the time so that the tragic events might end more quickly, “Sylvia’s man?” Putting nothing past the potential for alliances, he just now realized that neither Sheol nor his former Police Force cohort had ever made a move against him or his officers since joining – heck, taking over and running the Shokan. She had been laying low while the Shokan Leader became the vocal party over the news broadcasts, but that always was her style, and the rugged cop was convinced that Sylvia was heavily involved in the organization’s dramatic stream of success as of late. What would Commissioner Gyro do?

With a simple confirmation, MC breathed, “Uh huh. The dude’s powerful – mowing down these Pillorian Regime converts until he gets a clean shot at the Ethereal.”

“Give him that clean shot,” Chipshot so ordered and was dead serious otherwise he would not have said it. What the Enforcers’ leader was thinking mirrored Pete’s own thoughts but from a slightly different angle. Sheol was the sworn enemy of Acro, and the Enforcer was always looking for friends.

The night’s strange occurrence with an active and bold Pillorian Regime making all kinds of noise within a Space Force jurisdiction also played into his alibi…that nobody was going to buy regardless. There were only three Enforcers out dealing with this mess, so the pain was surely coming, and it behooved Chipshot to surround himself with as many people that he could trust as possible in order to try and insulate the forthcoming blow. Strategically though, General Pile was waiting to make a move because Acro was awaiting the outcome.

“But,” MC made a hesitant plea. He was understandably a little leery about blanket annihilation after the snafu earlier. From an emotional standpoint, this type of discomfort was rare for him, and he rarely shied away from the assertive use of his beloved weaponry.

But nothing. Chipshot tensed up on his twin yokes because he understood how the given order might be taken with a fair amount of resistance, except, “MC,” was the most qualified man for this job.

“Go ahead, MC,” Pete urged from the Police Force perspective. He was able to put two and two together, and it added up to compunction, so the acting commissioner decided to give the Enforcer a pass while extending a vote of confidence to Chipshot.

The death warrant met with some silent eye contact being flung in Pete’s direction by Julian because he needed only to calculate the seriousness of its gruesome potential when adding up the numbers who were in attendance. A nod cited his agreement with the acting commissioner’s decision.

A breath of labored air pushed through MC’s lips as he looked around his fighter’s cockpit. The Enforcer did not possess the ability to slow time or its luxury, but the moment which passed helped him to gain some notable perspective. Both Chipshot and Acting Commissioner Rogue had neither an angle nor the means to play here, so his absolution would apparently come from returning to the job rather than shying away from it. Hopefully, a close friend and the man who was sworn to protect all of those people would not steer him wrong a second time. He agreed, “Acknowledged,” and dug in on the twin yokes in order to lean into a turn of course correction that might begin to right the path of his beaten up conscience.

“Cindra,” Chipshot figured, “since we’re taking on an Ethereal, you might as well cover MC. Acting Commissioner Rogue and Police Force Officer Kazar – gentleman, I’ll catch up with you at Staines Warehouse District in a little bit. Right now, I’ve gotta get into position.”

Out of the rearview mirror, Julian watched Cindra’s fighter drop back before reversing course and peeling off. A part of him wanted to offer assistance, but the other more sensible part offered, “Good luck,” and left it at that. Nobody inside his Mustang was qualified for what the Enforcers and Sheol were attempting to pull off. To defeat or kill an Ethereal? This had never been done before, and the thought was unfathomable, but what other choices were there? And he was not kidding himself either on the responsibility aspect. If Chipshot, MC, Cindra, and the Shokan Leader failed, it would be up to him and Pete to try next.

Police Force officers had gotten in on the festivities, but they brought LUNC’s instead of a potluck dish. With two hands around the handle of the He– Sword, Sheol batted the laser pulses from multiple forward-facing directions aside while steadying his stance with his right leg positioned slightly in back of him. He had been anticipating a blindside attack and used his balance to duck the errant blows of incensed amateurs. A savage elbow cracked one of those lesser foes in the jaw which dazed the keeling adversary and allowed the Shokan Leader to use a sweep motion with his claw glove upon a follow up motion which sent the person flailing onto a punished back.

All the while, Tentalor Rep observed. Sheol had rung up a body count of at least two hundred as the battle had caused the Shokan Leader to have to step over corpses in some patches of the hilltop, but the deity was unfazed and unmoved. The deaths did not add any power to its energy level which was already incalculable since he was fueled by perhaps creation, and the sight of so many converts being slaughtered brought about no emotion at all. These lower beings were expected to defend, protect, and even die for their Ethereals, so who was the deity to get overly sentimental in the wake of his subjects simply doing their job? In the end, each would be rewarded greatly for making the ultimate sacrifice as per the edicts of the Requirement. These infidels, on the other hand….

Well, it was their job to get a rise out of Tentalor Rep. The specialty of the Enforcers lied in their precision tactics, so this mission called for taking out everybody surrounding Sheol without hurting the Shokan Leader in the process.

First up was Chipshot who managed to alert Sheol that something was going down by loosing a series of head shots which fractured the front line that had been currently engaged and moving against the Shokan Leader. Cranial chunks were pegged, blown off, or punched inward as surely as he depressed the trigger pad of his laser rifle – rapid-firing from the open canopy of a hovering fighter, two miles away.

Tied into the targeting feed, Chipshot’s aim was guided through the intuitive HUD as illustrated from within the optional pop-up scope – highlighting targets who were properly aligned among the sights and the slim barrel (narrowed to a point like a bullet), but the task still required a sniper’s accuracy which consisted of equal parts: Trajectory, adjustment, and calm. Sure, the feed helped to get him pointed in the right direction, but this was not pool, and the large distance could alter each shot with every movement exponentially by multiple meters on a miss, so his nerves, patience, and instincts all needed to work together in the performance of a seamless tandem for any successful kill to occur. And he never missed.

A mowed down frontal lobe of masses held the fatal proof as Chipshot used the controls on the bulky rectangular handle which preceded the barrel at the head end of the laser rifle that happened to be paired with his fighter. The ship moved with his desires and allowed him to work a wider circumference of a pie-shaped shooting range.

In mid thrust and turn of the He– Sword through a person’s gut to ensure that the stab was fatal because the twist made it that much harder for the wound to keep any significant pressure on let alone heal, a laser pulse punched Sheol’s skewered adversary off of the blade. Taking a step back as bodies began to tumble about the hill before him but as a result of malice that he was not performing, the Shokan Leader lowered his sword and looked over his shoulder in an attempt to ascertain the meaning or the direction of the assist. He needed only to turn to Tentalor Rep and follow the angle of the Ethereal’s retaliatory attack.

This was an important chance to witness what appeared to be a primary function of Tentalor Rep’s arms which were lit up by the Pillorian Regime’s purple energy signature, so Sheol waited as whoever just helped him had managed to take out a couple thousand people to the tune of creating a moat which happened to be a grave for the masses in a fraction of the time that it took him to take out a couple hundred via melee. The Shokan Leader was not a fan of guns but impressed with the results and thankful for the timing. He was tiring of the weak assault from these converts and very nearly decided to end what had turned from a warm-up into an annoyance by using more of his real power to do away with the precious hilltop – anybody and -thing on it. Lowering the He– Sword allowed its tip to grace the flowing blades of grass which were obviously reacting to the intense energies that he had ruthlessly flung around the area.

Stealth or not. Distance be da-ned. Tentalor Rep knew exactly where Chipshot was, swung around to face the Enforcer, and then flung his right arm up and out across and over two miles!

How would the sniper react from being on the other end of the scope? Chipshot parted ways with his fighter and flipped to his left outside the canopy like a person who was trying to be acrobatic when flopping onto a bed, but this move evaded Tentalor Rep’s grasp and initiated a four thousand meter drop. Upon separation from the ship, the sly drone also took evasive action to avoid destruction – dodging upward before dipping to the right and trailing after its pilot.

Not much was known about the Class V variety of fighter because most of its tech was held in secretive regard, but the Class III predecessor had a theoretical top speed of one astronomical unit per hour which meant that the older ship could reach the sun from Earth in one hour, so this newer model had no problem in overcoming the rate that Chipshot was falling in order to catch up with him. The conditions for gravitational conditions on Second Earth mirrored those of Earth, so he extended his appendages outward like a starfish that had a laser rifle connected to one of them in order to increase his air resistance.

This was done until Tentalor Rep decided that he was not going to be confined to a single attack, and plunged his arm downward after Chipshot. The race had now become about who would reach the Enforcer first.

Tracking his assailant on the minicomputer, Chipshot flailed around into a bulb with his appendages pointed skyward in order to face down the danger with a spread of laser pulses plus decrease his wind resistance which increased the velocity of his headfirst drop. From the two-handed grip that he used to clutch the laser rifle, manipulations of the fighter with his left hand were occurring while the right hand fired at the super stretchy appendage. Each shot that pegged Tentalor Rep’s arm was met by a purple bubble shield which formed over any areas that were in potential danger – split seconds before impact, blocking the lasers. The Ethereal’s body was its own safe haven!

Very real occurrences included the potential of going splat and any number of probable detriments that could occur if Tentalor Rep were to get his hands around Chipshot. Honestly, he had no idea what would befall him during the latter sequence of events: Crushed, ripped in half, soul sucked out – who knew? The Enforcer sure did not want to know or be the first to find out, so he reached up to grab hold of the step ladder grooves on his upside down fighter which had matched the velocity of his downward plunge so as to not rip him apart during the attempt. There was going to be no chance of opening up the canopy to climb into the cockpit at these speeds, so the standing program was to ride this out to the ground.

In a sick fit of acceleration, the fighter sped away from Tentalor Rep’s previously gaining right arm and skated toward what was becoming clear as a normal subdivision. Chipshot closed his eyes and held tightly with his left hand as the ship put a couple of miles distance between the maliciously outstretched appendage, and this was where the last part of the macro that he had programmed kicked in – as well as the vessel’s momentum devices, slowing the descent.

To a sniper, everything was about timing. When Chipshot was originally two miles away from the hilltop, he had been tracking the speed of the attack, so unless things became dramatically different with Tentalor Rep’s quickness to attack from another two mile distance, the Enforcer had the controlled variable of the safety duration to program into the fighter’s disengage program.

With the pavement of a road that was lit by street lights came into view like a runway, the upside down fighter began to make emergency use of its stabilizers since the vertical takeoff and landing thrusters were pointed the wrong way. Stabilizers were tiny thruster pockets which surrounded a ship for the purposes of creating frictionless flight conditions in air and water while providing superior handling in space. Usually meant for performing correction and handling only, they now happened to be in the unenviable position of needing to handle this unorthodox landing in a correct manner so that neither the vessel nor its outside occupant skidded to an uneventful halt in the unforgiving pavement.

But they would never make it to a formal stop and disembark because the long arm of the Pillorian Regime was about ready to nab either one or both dependent upon any additional special abilities that Tentalor Rep possessed. At twenty-five miles per hour and one last upward swing, Chipshot let go and swooped to the ground like a child who had used the centripetal force of a swing to propel gracefully yet in an inadvisable manner over a backyard fence.

Chipshot hit the ground running. The fighter barreled away from the near death clutches of Tentalor Rep’s arm and bolted from the vicinity. Hot on his trail, he hauled down the street with the laser rifle clutched tightly to his chest. It appeared that the only salvation was going to be to get out of the open because the holy appendage was snaking its way around after him and would have no problem nabbing the Enforcer after spanning four miles worth of distance with relative ease.

The targeting feed continued to be a blessing that the Pillorian Regime did not bestow as it guided Chipshot to a house on the right side of the street that he veered for during a stark diagonal dash. His laser rifle was extended at this point and mowed down the front door that he ran bursting through. To the left he rolled which placed him in some front facing living room.

Tentalor Rep must have thought that Chipshot was fond of head shots when going for his own variety. The elusive Enforcer ducked to the right and rolled into a first floor kitchen which would have halted a normal person.

But the momentum carried Chipshot back to his feet as Tentalor Rep’s hand broke through the upper portion of the wall and doorway that he had just flung himself through. By now, the people who resided in this house were awakened because the Ethereal’s arm crashed through the wall – leaving a hole that was going to be too large to plaster. The Enforcer kept moving, and the glass patio doors which he just shot out were in sight.

And so was Chipshot. The Enforcer would never make it outside. The serpentine pattern was worthless, and Tentalor Rep had his adversary dead to rights.

Next up was MC. Sheol had already been alerted to the fact that somebody was there to help, but the Shokan Leader needed to realize that the light was going to be green for taking on Tentalor Rep without obstruction.

To accomplish this, MC set ten pulsars about the base of the hilltop. Prior to detonation, as there was no hesitation, he launched a missile per gap that lied between each pulsar and detonated those upon every successive impact from the missiles.

Pulsars were definitely the alpha munition, but the missiles were used to blunt the direction and surge of their explosions to a more contained and tepid massacre. For MC to have this kind of murderous inclination at this pinpoint of an accuracy from a moving fighter was astonishing. Tens of thousands of people were wiped out in a calculative strike which obliterated everybody in a devastating sea of flame that ran up until Chipshot’s mass grave moat. The only thing that remained from the annihilation happened to be decagon of fire.

Pleased with the result, MC offered a tongue-in-cheek apology to Tentalor Rep, “Sorry about your followers, but as we say on Second Earth: C’est la guerre.”

Chipshot charged through the shot-out patio doors, leaping over and through the jagged ridges on the way to the edge of a pool and another turn which would place him on path of a tall wooden picket fence. Tentalor Rep’s hand was clawing at his back, mere inches away from scratching his combat gear. He chose not to look back, but the Enforcer’s instincts felt the heat cool off some as he skied for the top of the fence and pulled himself up onto it without having been grabbed from behind.

When Chipshot did turn around, he watched Tentalor Rep’s luminescent green arm retract back through the house. And this was what it meant to call the Enforcers a precision outfit. Life and death would often come about at the same time, but proper execution of the plan always decided which side of the fence the balance would teeter upon. Enough of the pensive thoughts and perching – he was happy just to breathing, so catching his breath happened to be a little bit presumptuous at this stage. The Enforcer recalled his fighter to the position where he sat.

Frantic homeowners were now in sight, scurrying about the house – surveying the demolition. Chipshot would rather not stick around and have to address his part in it, so he used a simple hop from the fence to board his attentive and sturdy fighter that hovered beside his position. Once situated with his laser rifle tucked away into a diagonally-pivoted custom holder and the lap belts plus safety harnesses in place, he lowered the canopy and thundered away over the roof of the home as its owners skated out into the backyard to perhaps garner additional clues from all of the broken glass that littered the patio floor.

Talking to himself Chipshot spoke of Sheol, “I hope that you learned from my example.” The biggest point of his demonstration lied in its lesson. True, Ethereals were all-powerful, but not all of them belonged to the Pillorian Regime. Each had individual, unexplained powers which could be used for offense and defense and could have turned this skirmish into bad comedy upon a whim, but Tentalor Rep was not holding back. The deity was being held back by others of the Ethereal kind. Every one of them not only subscribed to but was bound by the notion of undue enrichment. Simply put, the only thing holding supreme beings back from running rampant with their unstoppable special abilities was the threat of other supreme beings doing the same.

For the ascendant, this meant that Ethereals were still formidable but vulnerable. To be quite honest, Sheol had entered into this fight thinking that he could survive (somehow) but now knew that he would survive if not emerge victorious. After catching the complimentary glimpse into a closely held scouting report for celestial fighters, the Shokan Leader realized that he merely needed to treat this like any other match and raise his skill level to exceed that of his opponent. Now he only required an opening with which to go directly at Tentalor Rep – the luster of the deity’s esteem diminished.

Tentalor Rep’s right arm snapped back like a tape measure into place or some semblance of normalcy before he raised both arms up behind his head and flung them into the uncanny extension which sent his lengthy appendages trailing after MC. The luminescence of the Ethereal’s green energy signature doused the evening sky with a streaking depiction of danger while the reddish-orange and smoke-laden spectrum from the ring of fire played to a foreboding precursor below.

Enforcers? Sheol could not believe it. His eyes did not yet begin to deceive him because the fighter that had graced him with this inflammatory ring was too busy trying to avoid the entanglement of Tentalor Rep’s arms and had not been able to power away to this point – reaching stealth.

Although every Enforcer knew how to fly a fighter, MC was much more of a weapons specialist than an ace pilot. He often felt encumbered by a cockpit which was full of gadgetry and diodes but only featured four distinct weapons for him to use.

Escaping the extension of Tentalor Rep’s arms should have been such an easy task, but MC found himself tripping over his own thoughts and movements – as if there were so many different options that it became impossible to just choose one. Regardless, zero distance of merit was being put between the fighter and those celestial appendages which happened to be gaining easily on the stalled ship. To put this into a real-time perspective, the aerial vessel had figuratively spun its tires and was now spinning around in an attempt to speed off. He knew that the attack was coming – anticipated from well before the start of the campaign, but his yoke play was horrible, confused, and not at all fluent.

With a sigh, MC realized that he could have used some more time practicing in the fighter’s built-in simulator rather than all the time that he spent training in Enforcer I’s shooting range. Self-admonishment about priorities and hindsight did him no good at this juncture, so he sharply lowered the right yoke prior to quickly raising the left yoke and caused the ship to perform a shaky, desperate barrel roll through the middle of Tentalor Rep’s clapping clutches.

Undeterred, Tentalor Rep’s left arm recovered by bouncing back in the manner and style of a spring-loaded coil as they rebounded against the path of the sharp angle that MC fled, but this time, his right arm retracted but only to be sent back out again into the forward-facing direction that the fighter was streaking for the purposes of heading it off before the pass – setting up for the interception. These Enforcers were resilient, but he always held the advantage because they could still be killed, and the Ethereal could not.

Wrong on both accounts – Sheol thought. As he stood and watched the mayhem that the Enforcers had wrought in spades, the idea that their mortality kept them on edge and introduced a killer instinct to coincide with their survival instincts which (in conjunction) wound up keeping them alive…needed to be conceded. The meaning of the assist simply eluded him, but an honest person could not deny the effectiveness of the tact against unfavorable odds. The proof was in the punishing: Tens of thousands were slaughtered, and Tentalor Rep’s stature was openly being challenged if not rebuked by people who supposedly could not win. Taking the hint and tipping his cap to the sentiment, if the Shokan Leader was afforded a one-on-one opportunity to face the Ethereal – they could not lose. Diverting his attention from the horizon, he turned his attention to the deity.

Last up was Cindra who held a firm grip on the twin yokes to match a firm command of the fighter’s flight controls as seen by her thrusting along parallel to the direction that Tentalor Rep’s arms had extended out from for a session of some laser-laced, head-on defiance. She chose a trajectory which allowed her ship to turn on target upon entering the aerial skirmish from directly beneath MC’s fighter. Once aligned within the dive-bomber position, the Enforcer unleashed her full complement of missiles to see if those would make any sort of dent in the Ethereal or at least punch the deity back to allow her wingmate the chance to reach his escape velocities.

Was there any wonder why Monster Master had begun his campaign to start targeting and eliminating these heretics? Where was the fault on the side of the Pillorian Regime? Tentalor Rep had done nothing but reestablish the domain of their rightful jurisdiction, and these dissenters attacked him! They systemically murdered tens of thousands of their own kind! The masses of Second Earth who remained connected to the Ethereal via a residual effect of the Requirement were afforded an opportunity to witness what each of them now happened to be up against. His faction offered peace. The Space Force, their Enforcers, this upstart Shokan group, and certain excess others of the Humans on this planet bantered about in the rapture and befuddlement of war. There could no longer be any doubt after this display of evil. Politicking was important to many things….

Forgetting about MC’s fighter, Tentalor Rep began to close his outstretched arms in the motion of a hug which was meant to ensnare Cindra’s streaking fighter. None of her lasers or missiles fazed the Ethereal in the slightest, so she broke out the even heavier artillery by way of the ship’s pulsars and let them loose sans setting their detonation timers. A multifaceted weapon which hung its hat on multipurpose uses, the things were incapable of even backing the deity up one, single step. They exploded on contact but on contact of what?

The luminescent green bubble which formed over the entirety of Tentalor Rep’s body encased him within an impervious cocoon of celestial protection that really happened to sum up Cindra’s chances of surviving this ordeal. It was time to say goodbye to this Enforcer.

Cindra could see Tentalor Rep’s arms enclosing rapidly from the peripheral vision that she snuck occasional peeks at outside the canopy and punched her thrusters for the purposes of racking up a thunderous acceleration. There was no looking back because that was a bleak sight of supernatural clutching hands, but moving forward, dive-bombing had morphed into a collision course. More speed was the only solution.

Prior to the impact which was not set to occur, Sheol trudged up the hilltop – lugging the He– Sword like it was an oversized branch pointed behind him in his left hand before launching his entire body up into the air and over the fighter! The Enforcers had done enough, and so he staked a claim on his adversary by yelling out, “Tentalor Rep!”

Cindra’s plan was to rack up enough acceleration that she could scoot the fighter past the rapid enclosure of Tentalor Rep’s grasp and his equally if not more threatening body at the speed of an escape velocity. But for as fast as the Enforcer was flying, she still felt two very telling footsteps dance speedily off the top of her canopy. Her eyes could not gather the stimulus that her ears had picked up and her instincts had felt by way of the bob from the subtle bounce to a tight flight pattern which mirrored the taut suspension of a car.

It was only when Sheol had exited his ninja speed technique after utilizing Cindra’s fighter as a springboard that she saw him soaring through the night sky on path of a downward plunge of his own for Tentalor Rep. “Whoa,” the Enforcer replied with the right yoke lowered greatly and the left yoke slightly raised which put her ship on the safer side of the clash – skirting out of there in an exit to stage right.

Guiding the He– Sword like a ski pole, Sheol brought its handle up to his claw glove where his left hand traded grip positions by turning underhand and grasping the sword below the right hand in a more natural baseball bat hold which had the blade pointed to his left and played into the momentum of his lunge – allowing him to bring it all the way across his head and engage in a normal right-handed slash as he touched down. The brunt of the Shokan Leader’s hate was focused through his weapon at the moment of impact: Hate for all of Acro’s manipulations. Hate toward his disowned surrogate family’s unconscionable lies. Hate saved up against the debit of the Pillorian Regime’s audacity to steal his father and hurt his mother. Hate that layered upon itself and wallowed within the layers to a fortified wall which happened to be his foundation – a resounding platform of duty and obligation to pacify an unseemly universe.

And Tentalor Rep’s defensive bubbles did not block this! Instead, he staggered backward – taken aback by surprise of an actual wound and its subsequent pain.

At the conclusion of the vicious follow through, Sheol let his claw glove release the He– Sword as he stood with extended arms, but this only played into the setup for his next strike. The Shokan Leader allowed the sword to swing all the way into a position of dangling between his powerful left thumb and index finger before tossing it a couple inches upward and reclaiming the ski pole grip that he used to rake the savage sharp side into the air like he was performing a wide uppercut except the blade caught all of an already reeling Tentalor Rep.

The impacts created fissures of the Pillorian Regime’s purple energy signature opening up and seeping through Tentalor Rep’s darkened flesh under the strain of each hate-enhanced slice. With his arms since returned, it was decided that time had long since passed to deal with Sheol’s continued antics.

From Sheol’s pose of power, the He– Sword’s handle jutted out invitingly from a height of the perfect reach, so he relinquished it to his claw glove, shielded his face with his left hand as he twirled the sword into a cocked back position which was prime for an overhead hack, and then used a two-handed grip to make it so via an ax-type chop from his leaning right side as the angular lead. Snapping off this combo successfully had not been expected, but the Shokan Leader welcomed the blitzkrieg bonus, and braced for Tentalor Rep’s ensuing counter.

An unsightly hack, the He– Sword tapped Tentalor Rep’s right shoulder blade which nearly brought him to his knees, but Sheol was in too close – as if that even mattered to his appendages, so they happily went to work. Shirking the blow partially out of pain but mostly because of the need for proper positioning, the Ethereal unraveled his left arm and wrapped it around the majority of the Shokan Leader’s torso – pinning his adversary’s arms to the side with a surge of celestial strength before the constriction of strangulation began. The deity had left the shoulders of his struggling adversary exposed in a move that was clearly a tit for the previous tat. He held up a sinister right hand with ravenous clutching fingers before snapping it onto his foe’s right shoulder like a limbless scaled reptile that had its prey trapped.

“Ugh!” Sheol moaned as Tentalor Rep’s wraparound grasp lifted him from his feet. He would have collapsed from the pain but could only dangle his feet and lay his head back in an expression of obvious discomfort. In fact, it was quite clear that the Shokan Leader’s blood was red as his bodily fluids spurted through the Ethereal’s fingers and stained their way down his white battle garb. The inability to breathe and what felt like a ferocious bite were only primary attacks however.

The secondary effect had Sheol experiencing what Glove must have probably gone through when being turned into the powerful shell that had captured him. A lot of strength was being dedicated to resisting Tentalor Rep’s crushing squeeze, but he had not anticipated the venom-like injection of the Pillorian Regime energy signature through the Ethereal’s right hand directly into his shoulder. At first, it seemed like the entire spectrum of colors was starting to reverse itself, but then, the Shokan Leader began to feel nothing else in the known realm of senses. There was no pain – no pleasure, no cold – no warmth; it was the absence of and an inconceivable nothingness. Were these the throes of death? Was this the best that the deity could do? Remember, he had used a lot of strength but not all – a lot by the measure of the average person but not even close to a fraction of what happened to be stockpiled within his arsenal.

Once again, Sheol drew upon his hate which insulated him from Tentalor Rep’s attacks and allowed him a chance to flex his way out of the holy grasp of a reaper who had lain claim to the Shokan Leader’s soul. He dropped to the ground with the He– Sword held loosely within his claw glove because, like it or not, his right arm was damaged, but he needed to take the hit for the adaptation that he could apply to the learning experience. This was the Dyoogie Discipline way whenever a threat was not fully understood: Experience a little bit of the danger in order to build up a defense or the knowledge of a means to blunt the harm like an inoculation. Ironic of him to still identify with the Djibouti Clan despite taking matters upon himself to dismantle the martial arts sect, but their teachings were powerful nonetheless, and his survival of the Ethereal’s coerced ascension move proved that he had surpassed Glove by fending off a previously believed certainty which his father did not escape, and he did it with relative ease.

As much of a nonstarter as death was, Sheol began to realize that some things existed at a higher level within the plain of existence than control over the infamous cessation of life. He had already ascended to the point where he knew that he could one day reach the celestial level of the Ethereals, but now it was clear that there were levels beyond the unfathomable. Otherwise, why was he still alive? No part of Tentalor Rep outside of the blackened shell of his father resembled any sort of familial significance in the eyes of the Ethereal, so this was not some sort of generational duel. The man who happened to be known as Glove was completely stripped from that deity’s body, so logic dictated that retrieving the husk might be the start to perhaps recovering a lost soul – not like that particular essence was never bartered for before, so maybe. Unfortunately for the Pillorian Regime, the Shokan Leader was not settling for anything less than the total capitulation of a lopsided negotiation. It was going to be his way or that faction was getting blown away.

Such an unnatural feeling – this hate was. The desire to hurt others coupled with the capacity to kill and mapping those up against an inclination that this chosen path was not only unavoidable but preferred boded an eerie sentiment. It was the completely adverse opposite feeling of what Sheol felt for Sylvia, and the fact of the matter was that nothing of the kind was hidden from a personal view of his life thus far. Looking at this from an outside standpoint, those feelings had been brewing self-actualization of a life that had been fabricated. The innocence of youth knew what the mind could not see and put in place the directional sails which could eventually right his ship. So wronged as if to be sunk, the Shokan Master’s defense mechanism became indistinct from a brutal offensive retaliation. But even the emotion of it all was incapable of consuming him. Nobody – nothing, ever again, would control the Shokan Leader.

A short-lived crouch turned into a backward roll with the He– Sword tucked safely perpendicular to Sheol’s waist. Upon completion of the evasive move, he took the sword in his left and thrust it behind his back in order to prevent a skid of lost balance down the sloping hilltop and created a subtle braking wedge in the ground. With leverage in hand, the Shokan Leader flipped backward from the newly distanced crouch over the weapon to his feet and plucked it out of the soil before offering up a pathetic defense to a stalking Tentalor Rep’s powerful right punch.

The defense was weak in that Sheol lost ground from defending against the latest barrage of boxing-based attacks. He was able to fend them off by fencing them away with the He– Sword in his functioning left hand, but nothing that he was doing had prevented any further attacks from being thrown. The Shokan Leader was simply baiting time until his next injury and needed to change up the strategy. But he must have been kidding himself to have believed that Tentalor Rep had exhausted all of his skill set in seeking to end the match quickly earlier by going straight for the finisher. Those sword strikes that got through during those early rounds? Gone. Healed. Flirting with the power of creation could do that for an individual.

Well, this was what Sheol wanted – to take on an Ethereal. What he received was Tentalor Rep’s right hand snapping around the blade of the He– Sword in an attempt to yank it away – no, pull him toward the Ethereal where his free claw glove was next to useless in defending against the deity’s threatening left hand. Whether the attack was to be a punch to stun, a grab to crunch, or a death blow to kill was irrelevant to the task at hand. The Shokan Leader needed to avoid the contact in any event and did so by relinquishing his stance, setting up the locked sword as a pivot point, and finally jumping backward to his left as the errant left blow sailed by.

With a standing right kick, Sheol bounced Tentalor Rep’s left arm aside at the wrist before planting his right foot into the ground at a forward position, taking an initial whack at the Ethereal’s left knee with a low left side kick, and propelling into a sweep which chose finesse in flooring the deity over brute force. That was to come later when the Shokan Leader flipped forward to land a spinning ax kick via the unforgiving heel of his boot on the deity’s face, a kick to that face with the sole of his boot, and a desperation side roll to his left which succeeded in wrenching the He– Sword free at the evasion of a introductory left hand swipe from his opponent.

Tentalor Rep concluded the combination by knocking the out of position Sheol into the air with a brutal right forearm smack which had actually been blocked, but the flailing one-arm defense mattered not to the punishment that was levied courtesy of the Ethereal’s unimaginable power. Quick to his feet, he stood and sent his left appendage up into the air after the Shokan Leader.

Since Sheol wanted to take this match to the higher levels among the plain of existence, he was just introduced to a pain that transcended the simple corporeal level. Physical pain paled in comparison to directional damage which happened to be aimed at his very soul. As a result, the Shokan Leader found himself blown out – hurling through the sky in a stunned ‘T’ position with his arms outstretched and his legs limply bent. To put it into perspective, he could have stood out onto a train track, thrown up a block against the morning commuter, and would have net the same result, but this was so much worse. Powerful, yet Tentalor Rep should not have been able to damage him so, but the Ethereal was being very deliberate in picking spots and stingy in terms of detailing those flashes of brilliance. These types of matches could always end on one, simple mistake which usually reared itself prior to the start – based upon fatal errors in or a negligible lack of preparation, but the fact that he was not shredded in his already weakened state by the deity’s unadulterated assault implied that finishing him off would not be easy in the slightest.

Pats on the back were unwarranted though, because things just became that much more dire for Sheol. That numbness in his right arm from what appeared to have been a nebulous shoulder injury – well, the wound had left more than enough of the Pillorian Regime’s purple energy signature as a residual poison within his body to begin spreading throughout it. The tertiary effect of Tentalor Rep’s initial barrage had revealed a Trojan marker which happened to be rewriting the Shokan Leader’s physical appearance like a sadistic editor as the darkened color scheme of the Ethereals began to wash over him – his right arm first but now the blackness was seeping into his torso. Little by little, he was being erased, and as his body went, so went his soul.

Tricks could not be housed up Tentalor Rep’s sleeves because the naked appearance of the Pillorian Regime Ethereals wore no clothing, but one could argue that he was sly in his own rite. For the Ethereal, matching or even exceeding the strength of a rather impressive Sheol was never the point. Time and exertion were to be his greatest allies in wearing the Shokan Leader down to a hastening of the fall because the wonderful power of creation would do the rest. This was a no-win proposition since the deity could not be beaten (or at minimum, defeated) in time, so his opponent could not win. He may not have been Glove, but he still possessed the former Shokan Master’s experience and knowledge of the rival Djibouti Clan’s techniques – and their preference to willfully take in and accept dangers like the luminescent green venom that was now coursing through his foe’s very existence in hopes of figuring out how to overcome it.

But there was no overcoming the power of creation, and the Ethereals knew this better than anybody else which was why they had conveniently cut lower beings off from recognizing this glaring inaccuracy by becoming celestial middlepeople and blocking its view. Yes, there was yet one notch above the powerful Ethereal on the existential food chain: The answer to the question of where these Ethereals came from! So they learned how to tap into creation’s power across eons of trying and authored modest albeit significant portions of its use to suit their own purposes. This was very similar to what Sheol happened to be doing by tapping into the power of destruction – on the fly….

Only, destruction was no match for creation. From royalty to affinity to corporeal to psychological to expert to temporal to celestial and to the metaphysical level where the power of creation resided, these layers of existence were numerous whereas the nothingness of nonexistence had yet to be unshrouded. Perhaps, it was true that one could not exist without the other, but this did not mean that the partnership was of equal halves. The power of destruction merely completed the three hundred and sixtieth degree of the circle, yielding to the other three hundred and fifty-nine degrees in an existential sense.

Sensing the upsurge of flames that Sheol’s brutalized body was apparently aiming for, he threw his head back and righted his momentum by stalling the flight and flipping his legs over himself like an aerial reverse roll that blunted his missile trajectory into an uncanny but controlled slow drop! Tentalor Rep’s extended left arm and hand missed locking him up by inches and had to retract, but for the first time during this match, the Ethereal dematerialized, dissipated, and then rematerialized in front of the Shokan Leader in order to meet the phantom appendage halfway. In too close versus the deity and using his off left hand to wield the He– Sword, he needed to resort to a quick jab with its rounded cross-guard to his enemy’s face.

Not even bothered by an attack which normally would have had an opponent dropping to their knees and tearing up from a busted nose, Tentalor Rep raked the rebound of Sheol’s attack aside with his right forearm and proceeded to extend that and coil it around the Shokan Leader’s left arm. He then pressed a clawing left hand of his own into his opponent’s chest, snagging a fistful of flesh which caused more of the Pillorian Regime’s energy signature to be infused and his enemy’s torso to be consumed at an advanced rate. Next, he made use of the leverage and thrust them both through the ring of flame! It would be interesting to bring this mixed half-Human, half-Doran fighter over to the Pillorians’ side and give them their first plus major inroads into the dangerous Doran race by usurping, for all intents and purposes, the highest-genetic ranking Doran Prince.

The endgame was officially here, and if Sheol’s life force pooped out, it was game over. The flames would fry him to a crisp and essentially hand-deliver his body to the changes that were already threatening to do the Shokan Leader in otherwise. It was a shame to say that he was operating on fumes because those would only serve to further ignite the volatile nature of the three-pronged predicament that had ensnared him. On all sides was a baptism by fire. Within him was a parasitical cancer which not only became stronger by spreading but unstoppable with death. And standing in his way was the Ethereal husk of his father – lifting him up and slamming him through a picnic table which was little more than firewood right now and splintered heavily with his back was being used as an ax.

Sheol’s eyes turned a cold shade of shale green. Sylvia…. Their unborn child…. The entirety of his pathetic life to this uneventful point…. Those visions all flashed before the Pillorian Regime’s now luminescent green eyes as the darkening of his features now reached the legs of a budding, new slave Ethereal.

The he–ish temperatures dripped off of Tentalor Rep’s body like inverted moisture but did not affect the Ethereal who backed away from Sheol’s limp body – relinquishing the coiled grip of the Shokan Leader’s left arm in the process so that the transformation could be completed. He began to dematerialize as it would only be fitting for his defeated adversary to emerge from the flames – reborn under the crest of the Pillorian Regime, father and son reunited for a second time.

But again – only on Sheol’s terms, and his conditional survival had caused him to rethink his turgid stance toward all things Dyoogie Discipline. After all, it was this training which made it possible for him to become the first person in the history of the universe to ever defeat an Ethereal. The power of his hate shielded him from the raging flames as well as the rummaging Pillorian Regime energy signature. As long as the transformation had not yet reached his head (sitting uncomfortably at his neck currently) and he could fight off its effects to certain areas of his body like his claw glove and left arm, victory was in literal reach.

Figuratively, Sheol executed a sequence of events which would catch the eyes from the upper echelon of the elite and most powerful throughout this universe in sealing that victory. He drew from that hate and sat up against the wishes of a paining groin among other negative factors and caught Tentalor Rep’s left wrist with his claw glove in the midst of the Ethereal’s dissipation. What was formerly a fine purple mist became corporeal matter within the Shokan Leader’s grasp. This was the overt extension of his hate at work here, pulling the deity out of teleportation and trapping his opponent in actuality.

The intrinsic extension of Sheol’s hate came when he burst out of the previous crumple and rammed the He– Sword through Tentalor Rep’s stomach and out the Ethereal’s back. No, the power of creation could not exist without the power of destruction, and the Shokan Leader had just given the deity a taste of the inverse opposite medicine, but he happened to have mastered his version – cutting his opponent off from the Pillorian Regime energy signature almost as easily as he had prevented the infection from reaching the areas on his body that he did not approve of, effectively ending this match.

Weak in a relative sense, Sheol’s momentum caused him to tumble over Tentalor Rep. With the He– Sword spiking through the Ethereal’s body and into the ground, he was afforded a rare moment to stare into the deity’s paining blackened eyes. Was his father in there – somewhere? The Shokan Leader had no idea. As the transformation which had bled over him receded, he ripped the sword out of his former opponent via a proper knife grip and used the claw glove of his ginger right arm to guide the blade back into its scabbard.

Pain was only part of the story as far as Tentalor Rep was concerned with confusion being the other. Where should a beaten Ethereal go from there? Existentially severed from his brethren, remorse took the place of purpose, and the eternal sadness from an utter loss of direction sapped any further resolve to exist. Was this a byproduct of the power of destruction? The deity had no idea – truly no ideas, none; and it terrified him.

Sheol used his one working left arm to collect Tentalor Rep’s languid body as he proceeded to carry the Ethereal back into the safer center of the ring – away from the testy fires which enclosed the decagon. After a well-warranted and well-earned sigh of relief, the Shokan Leader ventured off with his prize into the shadows – leaving the scene ablaze by contrast of his humble and subdued demeanor.

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Angie's Diary